Tuesday, November 24, 2015

In Everything, Give Thanks...

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  Colossians 3:16-17 ESV

A couple of years ago, I went on a missions trip to Haiti with several people from Northwood Community Bible Church, as well as people from other churches in different parts of the country.  Many of us were making the trip for the first time, while others were on their second or third return visit to the island.  Across the entire group, there was a sense of excitement and anticipation. 

As we arrived in Port au Prince and made our way out of the airport into the bustling streets, the sights, sounds, smells, and warmth of the tropical environment hit us in stark contrast to the cold winter snows we left behind.  Haiti is at once a place of great beauty and devastation.  The survivors of the major earthquake that struck the island several years ago have found ways to live and make the best of it, though they live amongst peril and deprivation.  In many cases, the adaptations they have employed are simple, pragmatic ingenuity.

In the market place, I saw women who were selling food graters made from repurposed license plates.  I saw necklaces made from plastic bottles that were cut into strips, rolled up and melted over a fire to form beads.  Another man worked with long boards that he was milling with a hand saw.  Everywhere people were using what they had available to them to make the best of a difficult situation.  

And that’s when it hit me.  I thought about the many resources around me that might otherwise be considered junk, but now seemed to take on a new perspective.  I was filled with an appreciation for things that I had previously overlooked.  I know that God has blessed me in so many ways, and I am thankful for that, but when I consider how even the things we throw away would be considered treasure by so much of the world, it blows me away.  I think it is this kind of realization that makes Colossians 3:17 a realistic instruction, “…do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  

This Thanksgiving, you will have an opportunity to sit back and take a look at all of the blessings God has given to you, and give Him a sincere offering of gratitude.  Instead of looking at the blessings of others, or giving in to the temptation to grumble about the things you lack, make it your goal to give thanks to the God who has given you every blessing you currently enjoy.  

“...whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things”… and give thanks.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Whatsoever is True...

…whatsoever is true…” Philippians 4:8

“What is truth?”  Do you remember which famous Bible character asked this question?  Here is a clue, his question arose while he was interrogating the most famous man in history.  If you guessed Pontius Pilate, you were right.  Pilate shot off this question in an almost sarcastic manner, after Jesus made a peculiar claim.

When Pilate asked Jesus if He was really a king, Jesus responded by saying that He was indeed a king, and He went on to describe the essence of His purpose in coming to earth.  He said, "You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”  Pilate seems to dodge this claim by doubting the very definition of truth, but his dodge is not successful.  Jesus’ assertion that He is truth, and that everyone of the truth hears Him, remains strong to this day.

Truth seems hard to come by these days.  Between advertising and political campaigns, false information and conspiracy theories, it is a great challenge to get our hands on something that we can rest assured is true.  This is no more prevalent in today’s American society than in the area of morality.  More and more, people seem to seek to define for themselves what is moral, and what is not.  Ultimately, these moral systems only work when they are in line with God’s declared morality, and when they oppose God they utterly fail.  

Christian author and apologist, Ravi Zacharias, speaks on the matter of understanding truth in a culture that has exchanged its value for propositional statements (truth claims) for a new priority on images and icons.  That is to say, we have moved from believing in over-arching truth, and replaced it with entertaining images.  He quotes poet William Blake, saying, "This life's dim windows of the soul distorts the heavens from pole to pole, and leads you to believe a lie when you see with, not through, the eye.” [emphasis added].

What a powerful statement!  You and I are souls that look through the windows of the eyes, not merely eyes with no soul! In Philippians 4:8, the apostle Paul’s first admonition to us is to find "whatsoever things are true”, and when we find them, think on these things.  God has been very gracious in showing us His truth in His word, the Bible, and He has been supremely gracious in showing us what truth looks like by taking on human flesh and dying on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins.  And that, my friends, is a grand truth to think about.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Your Dwelling Place

Where do you dwell?  I know you probably have an apartment or a house or some other accommodations where you sleep and spend time on the weekends, but the question is, "where do you dwell?”.  That is to say, where do you spend the majority of your time during the day (or night)?  Do you work in an office, a classroom, behind the counter in a bank or in the cab of a truck or tractor?  Where do you spend your time?  Wherever it is, you most likely have made your mark on that corner of the world, making it your own.  

We outfit our homes with furnishings and decor, our offices with pictures of friends and family, the truck cab might even have an air freshener and favorite set of radio stations.  Wherever we dwell, we tend to invest ourselves and make that space our own, giving it that touch that reflects our individuality.  We allow ourselves to interact with our surroundings in a personal way.  In the same way, the Bible tells us to be careful of the “spaces” in which we allow our minds to dwell.  

Philippians 4:8 says, "Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.”  It is important to be mindful not only of the things we allow our mind to think about, but where we dwell mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Can you imagine what it would be like to allow yourself to dwell on the opposites of this list?  Try it on for size- just for a moment:

whatever is false, whatever is undignified, whatever is wrong, whatever is defiled, whatever is grotesque, whatever is repulsive, if anything is poor quality or worthy of derision, think about such things…

Wow!  What a list, and what a thought life that would be!  The unfortunate reality is that there are many who do exactly that, at least in part.  They spend their time with their heads filled with things that are not real, not lovely, not pure, not admirable.  Media, advertising, 24-hour news stations and popular culture tend to be overrun with these qualities.  Social media, and idle conversation promote and further these qualities until they seem to overshadow the existence of truth and beauty.

Just think about how dwelling in such places must interact with our deepest selves at the most intimate levels.  How much needless grief and trouble do we bring on ourselves by not keeping a hand on the reins of our thought life?  An old hymn expresses this thought in this way,  “O, what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer”.  

God’s call is to rein in the mind by filtering our thoughts through constraints that reflect His character.  God is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and worthy of praise!  The God that created us and daily provides every good thing for us, calls us to acknowledge Him, even in the way we manage our thought life.  So, what is beautiful about your life today?  Do you dwell on that beauty, or do you lean toward the brokenness of life?  Is God beautiful to you, and are you directing your thoughts toward Him?  Perhaps your first try at it could be a prayer to ask God to help you “think on these things”.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Taking the Reigns of our Minds

“Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.”  Philippians 4:8

This familiar passage from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Christian church in Philippi hold within its few words a volume of profound and practical instruction regarding the way we manage our minds.  Living out these instructions will revolutionize the way we look at the world, our families, our churches and our town.  For the next couple of weeks, I would like to take a look at this passage and what it means for our daily lives.

First, the big picture.  The city of Philippi was a busy place with tradesmen and merchants selling their wares, women washing clothes by the riverside, side-show spectacles being performed in the public square.  In the rush of everyday excitement, and out of a pagan culture, God began to call out a group of people for his own.  The apostle Paul came to preach the gospel, and many heard and responded to his message in belief and surrender.  They were touched to hear that a holy God would so love them that He would come to offer them forgiveness and grace.  Their hearts warmed to the call of Jesus to come out from the darkness of their pagan practices and the hustle and bustle of secular life, and they began a new experience following the ways of Jesus.

As you can imagine, this must have been quite a challenging experience.  Their priorities, their list of friends, acceptable behaviors and attitudes…all of it began to change as God graciously showed them how to live in a way that was pleasing to Him.  Sometimes, outward behaviors can be easier to change for the better.  They are easier to recognize when they are wrong, and easier to see when they have been corrected.  More challenging, however, are internal struggles and attitudes that plague our minds and hearts.  So it was with these Philippian believers.  The transformation of their hearts and minds would require self-discipline.  

The first half of Philippians chapter 4 is devoted to Paul’s coaching about how we manage our thought life.  He speaks of “rejoicing in the Lord”, giving thanks, about bringing our concerns to the Lord, and more.  Then in verse eight he lays it on the line.  Paul instructs us to park our minds on things that will bring life to our existence.  Not only are are true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable things nice to think about, they are necessary to keep a healthy perspective on the challenges of life.  More about this in the weeks to come.

For now, here is what we need to know.  Our thought lives are NOT outside of our control.  God has granted us an ability and opportunity to assertively take the reigns of our thoughts and cause them to run on a positive path.  We do this not just for our benefit or to bless those around us, we do it to honor the creator God who gave us creative and intuitive minds- minds that are capable of great beauty, great ingenuity, great care and love.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!