Married for a day… like Britney Spears

Colossians 2:6-7 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Imagine a wedding without an ensuing marriage.  There is all the build up, all the excitement.  The bride and the groom get dressed up, say some vows, and eat some cake.  Then a couple days later, they decide not to be married anymore.  What a waste of time!  All that planning and preparation and build up just to end it.  It happens though.  The most famous example of recent time is Britney Spears, who married a childhood friend on a Saturday and filed for an annulment on a Monday.  I knew Hollywood weddings didn’t last long, but that has got to be a record.

We all look at that and say, “how foolish.”  Who would go through with marriage and decide not to be married?  Unfortunately, it happens every day – just not on that short of a timeline.  We base our marriage on the feeling of falling in love and when we don’t feel it, we conclude that we have fallen out.  We thrive in the thrill of newness, but when the thrill wears off, we are compelled to go seek a new thrill of sorts.  This isn’t marriage at all!  Marriage is a decision.  It is making a decision to live it out, to work on it and to build it.

The same decision awaits us when it comes to our Christianity.  Here in Colossians 2:6-7, Paul reminds us that even though we have received Christ, we need to choose to live in Him.  He is where we are to be rooted.  We ought to be working at strengthening our faith, not spending time in places that wear it down.  The instruction here is simple, but the walk is not.  There are days where we feel up and days where we feel down.  However, our Christianity is not based on a feeling; it is based on a decision. When I have decided to throw my life into Christ, I am saved.  What will I do with that salvation?  Will I live as a bride pretending to be unmarried?  Or will I invest and grow and build up my faith in my Jesus?  Today, I choose to live in Him.  In this relationship, I choose the long road.  I choose to remain married to my faith and to my Savior.

Who is Jesus?

Today, I am going to approach the subject differently than normal in that I will lay out the commentary first and the scripture second.  There’s this idea going around today that God is this Being who embraces many and all paths to Him and to Heaven.  We are told we should stop telling people about Christianity and let them decide for themselves what their path to God will be.  We are told that we should be more inclusive and less offensive.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it completely removes Jesus from the picture.  So we have these religious concepts floating around in our society and Jesus is not mentioned.  This is catastrophic!  Why?  Because if you remove Jesus, you remove the only way to God.  If you remove Jesus, you remove creation.  And if you remove creation, then I guess you remove people, which would eliminate the whole problem entirely.

Jesus is the only way!  He preached it and He proved it.  There has never been any one like Him nor will there ever be.  And in the church we must do more than just preach God, we must preach Jesus.  We cannot allow Him to be lost in the sea of religion.  Jesus is where it’s at!  His life is the message of the gospel.  So who is this Jesus?  What is the gospel?  Colossians 1:15-23 lays it out rather nicely:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Peace. I don’t get it.

Philippians 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Peace is often defined rather simply as a state of tranquility and rest.  We want peace with our friends, our family, and even our world.  Remember the hippie era?  “World peace, man.”  And we talk about peace in these settings of relationships and world, it is inferred that peace is something we will attain when we work at it.  Now we can work hard at getting along, but I am not sure that we can achieve peace.  That would likely require that we agree on philosophies and ideals.  The countries of the world will never agree with each other.  People won’t agree with each other either, which puts humanity at odds against itself.  So this striving for peace is a worthless pursuit.  It may be attained externally, but never internally.

Philippians 4:7 describes peace in another way.  It is not an object to be attained or even understood.  Rather, real peace transcends all understanding.  It doesn’t happen in the place of the mind, but in the spirit and the soul. We are ineffective in achieving it when we make it an issue of understanding.  Peace doesn’t happen that way.

Peace happens when you are in Christ.  It is not something you get, it is something you have. And you only have it when you have Christ in you and He gives it to you.  It all starts with being in peace with God and that extends to all other areas of our life.  We have been going at it backwards; we try to achieve it in our minds and hearts.  True peace on comes when it is given by Jesus.  It is that peace that goes beyond your understanding.  It is that peace that actually guards your mind and your heart.

So if you really want peace today, start by running to Jesus. Live your life IN Him.  Peace will naturally come out of that relationship.  If you want to know more (shameless plug), you can come to church Sunday morning and I will talk about the shoes of peace that have been given to every believer.

An elephant never forgets

Philippians 3:12-14 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

There’s an old saying, “an elephant never forgets.”  Some people use it on their kids to remind them that even an elephant would remember what happened or to grab his coat.  Sure elephants have great memory, but what in the world does an elephant have to remember?  Let’s see, did I eat today?  Did I give myself a bath?  The list is pretty short. If I could count on my hand the things I was supposed to remember, I would never forget either!

But we have lot’s of things we are supposed to remember.  It requires a calendar to keep it all straight.  Add kids into the mix and you are surely doomed when it comes to remembering all the things of life.  But it’s not so much the details that we remember for a long time, it’s the best times of our life and the worst times of our life.  Those are the things that really stick.  Very few people can remember riding their bike in June when they were six.  But many people remember riding it for the first time.  Even more people remember crashing.

Which is an odd phenomenon when it comes to memory.  It seems we tend to remember more of the bad stuff than the good stuff.  The wonderful things that our spouse does get lost, but the things that made us mad stick around a while.  Why is this?  Why do we remember our mistakes, our shortcomings, and our sin at a greater rate than we remember our victories?  It’s not right, I tell you!

Here in Philippians 3, Paul tells us that if we are going to run a successful race, we are going to need to let go of that past.  Paul certainly had a past – he was a murderer of Christians.  That certainly doesn’t go well on a preacher’s resume! But if he would have dwelled on that, it would have been impossible for him to move forward with an effective calling on his life.  Focusing on the past sins, mistakes, and hurts would have just kept him captive to guilt and condemnation.

That’s really what focusing on the past does – it keeps us captive. Our past failures hold us back and keep us from moving forward effectively in our walk with Christ.  The only solution is to move from the past into the present.  We’ve got to forget about it.  We can’t be like elephants when it comes to the memories.  If we insist on remembering, we won’t be able to walk free.  The solution?  Cast it all on the Lord. Do this today: take a few moments and ask God to show you what you have been holding on to.  Search your heart and find the past failures that are defining your present and your future.  Then let go of them once and for all.  If you need to repent, ask God for forgiveness.  Then ask Him to help you forget.  Ask Him to usher your mind into the present and what He wants to do in your life today.  He isn’t held back by your past and you shouldn’t be either.

The Biggest Loser

Philippians 3:7-9 7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

I’m a sucker for watching people’s lives be transformed. It’s one of my favorite things to do.  That’s probably why I enjoy shows like The Biggest Loser.  I haven’t watched the show much before this season, but as I watch, I see this physical transformation taking place in these people.  They are not only dealing with the weight, however.  They are also dealing with the emotional stuff that got them there.  It’s a brilliant concept for a show – one that I mocked when it first came out.  The Biggest Loser?  Sounds lame.  But the paradox of the person who loses the most ends up being the winner is really a good idea.

Now this concept of losing is somewhat anti-cultural, except in the case of weight loss.  Society tells me that I should strive to be a self-made man.  Winning has become everything.  In fact it has gone so far that now we tell everybody they are a winner – even when it’s not true.  Win win win win win win win win win!  The problem is that it all depends on my striving.  It depends on my ability to pull it off.

Paul took a different route to victory.  He was truly the biggest loser.  In Philippians 3, he tells us that he has every reason to be the greatest man among men. He has all of the qualifications necessary.  He’s got Hebrew nationality combined with Roman citizenship.  He has tradition, religious upbringing, and even the life to show for it.  Instead of putting all of his stock in his qualifications, he chose instead to lose them.  He considered them a loss, garbage, junk, worthless stuff.  Because when you stack all of our qualifications next to the immeasurable greatness of Jesus, it just looks silly.

So Paul made the decision to be found in Jesus rather than being found in all the stuff he had going for him.  It was so much more worth it to know Jesus fully than to hang onto the worldly ideals that would advance him.  I think we are faced with a similar choice.  We can put our confidence in ourselves and what we have going for us or we can put our confidence in Christ.  We can either rely on ourselves to get our lives straight or we can count on the righteousness of Jesus to handle it.  The clear choice for me is to be found in Jesus.  I want to be found in Him, known by Him, defined by Him.  But I’ve got to be willing to lose in order to win. So today I will strive, like Paul, to become the Biggest Loser.

I’m #1, I’m #1

Philippians 2:3-4 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Chant it with me now… I’m #1, I’m #1.  Okay now stop, because you are making a scene.  It’s not attractive really, is it when people are so self-absorbed that they completely ignore the rest of the world around them.  I swear that there are people out there that  believe that if they ceased to exist, the world would stop spinning on its axis.  In other words, the whole world revolves around them.  I hope that is none of us who are reading this or you might be offended by now and quit reading.  Please don’t though, continue on.

Let’s take a look at these two phrases in verse 3: selfish ambition and vain conceit.  I’ll define them both.

 

Selfish ambition: outdoing each other for personal gain, getting ahead, running for office (I like that one)

Vain conceit: pointless, useless pride; lifting yourself up, even though it has no real value

Elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul writes that we are to focus on building up.  We should be focused on lifting each other up, but we tend to have this default to lift ourself up. Maybe it is our insecurity or our fear, but we do things for our own gain rather than seeing the bigger picture.  And then there’s the pride that comes with that; it’s the vain conceit.  I love that definition of pointless pride, pride with no value.

That’s where humility comes in. And Paul is talking about genuine humility, not that kind where someone walks around stating how humble he is.  Quoting Helen Nielsen: “humility is like underwear, essential but indecent if it shows.” It is only when we are humble that we can focus on building others up.  If you take a look at Ephesians 2:8-9, you will see that you were saved by the grace of God.  Paul reminds us that this is not because we are so great, therefore there is no reason to boast about it.  Rather humility comes when we point it all back to Christ.  He is the reason I have something to boast about.  He is the hero behind my success.

Now pouring yourself out for others is  essential.  But let’s not be a bunch of martyrs either.  Verse 4 says that we should NOT ONLY look to our own interest, but to the interests of others also.  That means it is okay to pay attention to our own needs.  We should have our interest in mind.  It’s perfectly fine, not sinful.  The problem is when we do things at the cost of others.  It is when we trip someone to win the race.  It is when we lie about someone to ruin their reputation, thus making our reputation better.  That’s selfish ambition and it has no place in the Christian soul. The answer to all this?  Simply this: check our motives.  Examine our heart and see where it stands.  Check in with your words and actions and see if you have done anything outside of yourself.  Are people around you being built up?  If not, start by being a builder of others today.

The difference between worthy

Philippians 1:27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel

Just because I am worthy doesn’t mean I am worthy.  I know that probably doesn’t make any sense, but let’s take a look at the difference between worthy and worthy.  First of all, I know that I am worthy because Jesus has made me worthy.  He extended something to me that I couldn’t earn myself – grace.  Because of His grace, I am worthy to be in relationship with the Father.  I am worthy of speaking the gospel.  It’s all because of Him that I am worthy, it took no act on my part besides the act of surrender.  Essentially, once I made the decision to do nothing (stop striving by my own efforts), He was free to do everything.  I like this concept a lot.  So I embrace it with open arms and a surrendered heart.

Even though I am worthy, however, I have to make the choice to be worthy.  It’s a different kind of worthy I am talking about though.  I am not talking about a cleaned up life courtesy of Jesus Christ.  I am talking about a lived out life FOR Jesus Christ.  Grace loses it’s functionality when I choose not to live in it. But when I receive that grace and walk out a changed life, I can become worthy of the gospel.  That’s a choice.

The word Paul uses here is the word conduct.  He says to conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.  In other words, choose to live a redeemed life.  If you spend your life tearing others down and then share the gospel, who is going to listen?  If you live your life in sin and tell others that Jesus will clean them up, what evidence do you have that this is remotely true?  If you are full of bitterness, unforgiveness, and hate, how can you say that Jesus changes our hearts?  Because to the world, it doesn’t appear that he has changed yours.

So even though we have been made worthy, we have got to make the choice to live worthy. Our life should line up with the gospel that we say we believe in.  I am reading a book by C.S. Lewis and he addresses how we get to that place.  I’ll paraphrase what he says. “If we are going to make our world a Christian place, we must first become fully Christian.  In order to ‘do unto others what you would have them do unto you,’ it will first require that you love your neighbor.  And if you are going to love your neighbor, you will first need to love your God.  And if you are going to love your God, you must obey Him.”

It is a profound statement that gets to the heart of the matter.  Living a life in a manner worthy of the gospel begins with obedience. It requires laying down the things that God calls us to lay down.  It means cutting off the things that God tells us destroy us.  It starts in cultivating our relationship with Him.  When we are in that place, our life will begin to line up with the very gospel that we preach.  It is then and only then that the gospel we preach will be effective in reaching the lost.  It is when they see changed lives that they will desire to have theirs changed too.