Friday, August 29, 2014

Philippians - Guard Your Heart


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

Part One: God's Peace will Guard Our Hearts.        

         This verse is such a beautiful promise! In a world full of turmoil, chaos, and devastation caused by sin, isn’t it a comforting thought to know that the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds? I think it is a fitting description to say that His peace surpasses or transcends all understanding because there are many times that people try and fail to make sense of what is going on, and we simply cannot, nor can we explain the peace we feel when God gives it to us in situations that should be devastating or stressful. We just know that the only way that we can have peace in this broken world is through the Father. As believers, we know that we are not going to have the safest and easiest lives just because God is our Father. Christians will still experience death, illness, tragedy, and the consequences of sin. Having God’s peace does not mean that there will be an absence of conflict. People wish they could know why things happen and why God allows or causes them. We simply cannot wrap our minds around the fact that God does allow bad things to happen to those who love him. Take a look at Job for a good example! The truth is that we do not know and understand everything, and God, in His sovereignty, has chosen to only allow us to know so much. As believers, and as women, it is comforting to know that the Lord cares about the needs of our hearts!
Bockmuehl states that “Peace is always the gift of God rather than humanly devised or achievedpeace is not merely something external to God which he bestows, but also something which he both ‘has’ and is’ in himself.”[ii] As humans, we know that there is nothing in us that can conjure up the reality of peacefulness or even feelings of peace. If our minds and hearts are in turmoil about something - our marriage, our children, our financial situation, our education, our job situation, etc - we cannot put our minds and hearts at ease on our own. God, in His very being, is peace and has peace, so He is the only one who can give us true peace. Paul wrote this letter at a time when the Pax Romana (or the “Peace of Rome”) was being advertised as true peace. Based on what we know of God and what we know of sinful man, we can easily conclude that only God through Christ can give true and lasting peace, no matter who else promises to provide it. Paul also wrote this during a time where he was in and out of prison and had experienced a multitude of physical punishments. Even Paul, amidst these difficult times, could still boast that the peace of God is sufficient!      
Another beautiful and comforting point about His peace is that it will guard our hearts and minds. Having our hearts and minds guarded is such a compassionate and vital act done by the Lord in Christ. Our hearts need to be guarded because as fickle people, our affections can easily be swayed to earthly things, and especially to our own selves as lord of our lives (which is dangerous!). Our minds can easily drift into doubt and worry if they are not guarded by the bigger truths that God is God, He loves us, He is in control, and He will work for our good and His glory. 

Part TWO: We are commanded to guard our hearts.

Proverbs 4:23: 
"Keep (or guard) your heart with all vigilance, 
for from it flow the springs of life."

          The Lord promises to guard our hearts in Christ Jesus, but we are also commanded to take an active role in guarding our hearts. On a personal note, this past year has been a difficult year spiritually. It has been a year where I have not guarded my heart very well. Before I had our daughter (last September) , I was on a spiritual mountaintop. I had been warned that I could get worn out and spiritually dry after she was born due to lack of sleep and energy to invest time with the Lord. I was determined that this wouldn't happen to me. Immediately after she was born, I still felt close to the Lord. During our early morning feeding, I would read a Psalm to her, and we would pray through it. We'd pray for Patrick as he headed off to work. As the weeks went by and I went back to work, I started being apathetic toward my relationship with the Lord. Instead of reading to Riley Grace in the morning, I would turn on the ESV Audio Bible, which provided a way for me to get other things done (or drift back to sleep) while the Audio Bible was playing in the background. I was plumb tired from being a new mom and starting a new job, and I drifted further and further. I felt dry, distant, and even began to lack the desire to grow in the Lord. I stopped guarding my heart. Instead of using any extra time that I had to spend with the Lord, I just wanted to relax and think about nothing, whether that be by means of putting on a movie or just going to bed. For the most part, I was busy with "good" and "necessary" things, but in my busyness, I neglected the most important relationship in my life: my relationship with my Lord. Within the last few weeks, the Lord has graciously brought me out of that desert season, but it definitely lasted too long. I never want to walk through a season like this again. Nothing terribly traumatic happened. There were no huge emotional or physical crises in my family. We were doing ok financially. The problem was that I was in a very long season of "going through the motions" and forgetting to guard my heart against worldliness, and I honestly didn't want to do anything to change it. Praise the Lord that season is over! 

     The reason that I wanted to share all of that is simply to say GUARD YOUR HEART. With the Lord's strength and guidance, guard against complacency, apathy, worldliness, bitterness, compromising godly standards, disobedience, self-centeredness/inward focus, etc. Guard your hearts and minds against thinking that you can do this on your own, that you are too far gone to return to the Lord, or that anything is more important than the Lord. Guard your heart so that you can be a shining light for your family, friends, and anyone you come in contact with. Most importantly, guard your heart to glorify the Lord. 

TRUTH #1: God is the source of true, lasting peace that will guard our hearts and minds.  No earthly entity can produce or provide this kind of peace.   

TRUTH #2: Believers cannot use human knowledge to explain or understand the peace of God.

Truth #3: The Lord calls us to guard our hearts with vigilance. We can't just sit back complacently. Worldliness will creep into our lives if we don't actively guard against it. 

Truth #4: The Lord offers forgiveness for seasons where your heart has not been guarded, and He wants you to come back.

APPLICATION from Part 1: Would you describe your heart and mind as being controlled by the peace of God, or would you confess that worry, doubt, and sinfulness plague you more times that you would like to admit? Do you find encouragement in the fact that the peace of God in Christ will guard your heart and mind? Have you ever experienced a time where you felt the peace of God in your life in a way that surpassed all human understanding? Write a prayer to the Lord thanking Him for his compassionate and loving character in providing a way of peace for us. Plead with Him to guard your heart and mind against doubt, worry, and sinfulness so that you can live a life of peace and be able to focus on rejoicing instead of living in anxiety. 

FURTHER STUDY from Part 2: Are you guarding your heart? Ephesians 6 explains that the enemy or the adversary is actively scheming against us. He is not just sitting back; rather, he is plotting our destruction! If we are not carefully guarding our hearts, he will gain a foothold. Read Ephesians 6:10-20, and prayerfully consider ways that you can guard your heart from worldliness in order to pursue godliness. Praise the Lord that He will give you the strength to stay near to Him. Grab a friend to hold you accountable in guarding your heart and keeping it sacred unto the Lord!


[i] Melick, 150.

[ii] Bockmuehl, 247.

[iii] Martin, 173.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Philippians - Trust, Pray, and Be Thankful!

Philippians 4:6
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Do you trust the Lord? Or do you trust in yourself? Is “trusting the Lord” a cliché statement that we have come to speak in a well-meaning but utterly meaningless way? I find it very difficult sometimes to trust the Lord in the midst of disheartening or uncertain circumstances in my life. To a fault, I love control. I absolutely despise not knowing what is going on. I am a planner, which means that when a season in my life arrives with few answers and many unknowns, my initial response is to worry instead of trust many times. You would think that after being alive for twenty-six years that I would know myself well enough to know that I am not a trustworthy source when it comes to planning my life in comparison with the sovereignty and wisdom that the Lord provides for us!
My husband and I were married in November after dating for eleven months and being separated by 7,000 miles for six of those months! We found ourselves living in a very humble apartment on our seminary campus that I was more than eager to decorate with all of our many wedding gifts our first home! At the time, he was a full-time student and held a job on campus, and I was a second-grade teacher. One month into our marriage, we discovered much to our surprise that we were pregnant! We were surprised and overjoyed. In the meantime, we felt that the Lord was calling us to move off of our campus and closer to our church in order to serve more obediently there. Before we knew that we were expecting a child, we had already felt a calling to move. After only a few months of marriage, we were not sure of where we would live in a few months, and we were not sure of how we were going to be provided for since we were both going to have to find new jobs in a new place. The only thing that we were sure of was that there was absolutely no way that we were going to make it without the Lord’s provision. This particular season has truly been one of the Lord’s miraculous work in my life because He (so far!) has given me the faith and trust in Him to combat any worries that may creep into my mind about the many unknowns of our current situation. In this one situation alone (on top of the newness of learning how to be a godly wife after a few short moths of marriage), we are facing the reality of becoming parents, the reality of moving, the reality of finding new jobs, and the reality of financial burdens, all of which could easily become a source of worry and anxiety. Within the course of about three months, we have found a place to move to, and the Lord has abundantly provided us with fellow believers as well as financial blessings in order to journey down the path that He has for us. (At the time that I’m posting this (about 12 months after it was first written), the Lord called us to move back to our seminary campus before we had any job prospects, housing, or daycare for our 11-month-old daughter Within the span of about four weeks, He has provided jobs, housing, and childcare! He is so faithful, even when we are not!)   
I think I can conclude with confidence that if you are reading this post, you would not consider yourself to be an atheist. Yet even though we may not classify ourselves in that way, atheistic tendencies may infiltrate much of our thought patterns, especially when it comes to choosing to worry instead of choosing to trust in the Lord. Bockmuehl penned the following statement about worry that is rather convicting: “Worry can be a delayed symptom of a practical atheism that grows from persistent neglect of prayer and an addictive belief in self-sufficiency. Its remedy is prayer, thanksgiving, and gentleness towards others (vv. 5-6).”[i] When we neglect prayer and in turn attempt to “solve” and “reason” with our own problems, we are really dismissing the truth that God is the only One who has any control or wisdom over what we are going through. As believers, we should take great comfort in leaning on Him instead of on our own understanding, which is very limited (Prov. 3:5-6). For people who like to be in control, we sometimes cannot see how relinquishing that control is a very freeing and refreshing thing. Ultimately, even if we think we are in control, we aren’t; God always is in control. We just cause ourselves more stress and heartache when we fool ourselves into believing that we have to control and figure out everything. 
Martin makes the following statement: “Do not be anxious is a negative command based on the idea that anxiety (merimna) betrays a lack of trust in God’s care and is a species of ‘unconscious blasphemy’ against him.”[ii] When stated clearly, he makes it obvious that if a person worries, that directly shows that he or she does not trust the Lord to be who He says He is. How quickly we can drift into focusing on ourselves, our own strength, our own knowledge, and our circumstances and leave behind the beautiful truths that the Lord is in control, He is sovereign, He is wise, He is loving, and He is the ultimate source of peace! Even amidst the direst of circumstances, we have a reason to rejoice because of who He is. I want to be identified as a woman who trusts the Lord for who He is despite my circumstances. Our circumstances should not be the determining factor for our joy and trust. 
One author gives an antidote for the anxiety that can plague our hearts and minds: “rejoicing in the Lord always and in all circumstances, focusing on the needs of others and being compassionate, and of course prayer of the various sorts, always offered in gratitude.”[iii] Is prayer, with supplication and thankfulness, a part of your daily life? Can you rejoice in the Lord no matter what your circumstances hold? Do you call out for the needs of those around you? Do you daily remember the faithfulness of the Lord, which causes you to overflow with thankfulness?  

TRUTH #1: Believers have a command to be anxious for nothing.

TRUTH #2: All aspects of our life and experience should be covered in prayer.

TRUTH #3: The prayer life of a believer should include supplication and thanksgiving.  

APPLICATION: Do you trust the Lord? That seems like a simple question, but there is so much depth to it. If we really trust the Lord, then we will not turn to worry, anxiety, and control, which are all things that an atheist would do who does not believer that there even is a personal God. As believers, we do believe that there is a God, and not just any god, but the God of the universe who made us, loves us, called us, saved us, and cares about every detail of our lives. Make a list of at least ten things that the Lord has blessed you with or has done in your life over the course of this year. If you are like me, once you start your list, you’ll quickly realize that you could easily list way more than ten things! Our God is faithful and wise! Thank Him for being a personal God in whom we can trust for our every need.

FURTHER STUDY: Meditate on Proverbs 3:5-8 and Isaiah 55:8-9. List the specific truths we are supposed to obey based on these Scriptures. List the specific truths we learn about who God is.  How can you apply these truths to your life?

[i] Bockmuehl, 247.

[ii] Martin, 171.

[iii] Witherington III, 248.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Philippians - The Gentleness of Christ


“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;”

Philippians 4:4 talks about the inward fruit of joy. Verse 5 talks about how the personal fruit of joy in the believer’s life is supposed to affect others as “reasonableness” or “gentleness”. Sometimes, I think people find it difficult to be reasonable and gentle because it’s much easier to be critical and hard on people. Also, we may feel as though we have a right to something and therefore it must be “ok” to insist on those rights. Read the following quotes about living a life of reasonableness and gentleness in the context of our interaction with believers and nonbelievers. 

“This is how other people are to experience the Christian’s joy in the Lord; the word everyone is literally ‘to all people’, and clearly refers to both Christians and outsiders.”[i]

“In the present context, too, it is undoubtedly the gentleness of Christ who did not insist on his rights (2:6) which the Philippians are to adopt: both their joy and their gentleness are grounded in the fact that the Lord is near.”[ii]

“The gentle person does not insist on his own rights.”[iii]

a person willing to be magnanimous above and beyond what is strictly faira compassionate person like Jesusleniency and understanding”[iv]

“Gentleness refers to a gracious and reasonable spirit. In particular, it forsakes insistence on one’s own rights in order to benefit others.”[v]

I would like to be able to always say that I am full of gentleness and grace, and that I easily extend grace to others. When people are hurting or in need, I am able to be compassionate and gracious. However, when people have hurt or offended me or someone I love, I am less quick to be compassionate and gracious. In fact, I'm quick to be spiteful or critical. If I am hurt (or someone I love is hurt), I feel as though I have the right to let the person know what they did. They don't deserve grace from me! The fact is, as believers, we don't have the "right" to choose when we extend grace. 

Think about God. Does He extend His grace based on His character or our character? Based on the fact that He is perfect or that we are deserving?? That's an easy answer because we are definitely NOT deserving. We are called to imitate Christ. Soooo, since He extended grace based on his perfect character, as Christians, we should extend grace based on God's character not on if the person is deserving. (I borrowed this illustration from something Patrick said in a message before!) 

When we get in these situations where its not easy to show gentleness, we should remember Jesus Christ. He had every "right" to NOT be gentle because He did not deserve any of the physical and emotional ridicule, pain, and shame that He received. He remained gentle, humble, and forgiving amidst the pain. Why? Because of LOVE. Because His character is perfect. Because it was God's will for Him to extend grace. And it is His will for us to extend His grace, as well.

TRUTH #1: Believers are to be gentle, loving, and humble in following Christ’s example (2:5).

TRUTH #2: All people, believers and non-believers, will (or should) be affected by our gentleness. (And if we are not gentle, they will be affected by that, too.)

TRUTH #3: The Lord is the One who enables us to be joyful and gentle.

APPLICATION: How is your gentleness? Perhaps this question would present a more accurate portrayal of your gentleness: How would other people describe your gentleness? Do you naturally and instinctively insist on your own rights and preferences instead of thinking of others before you think of yourself? Pray about and think about ways that you can be molded into a compassionate person who models after the servant heart of Jesus Christ. What are some specific traits that characterize your personality that you need to “put off”, and what are some qualities of Christlikeness that you need to put on in order to positively affect believers and non-believers for the Gospel?

FURTHER STUDY: Read Colossians 3:1-17 and Galatians 5:16-25 to study different traits that you should “put off” and “put on”. Create a list from these passages, and pray over all that you discover from these Scriptures.

[i] Bockmuehl, 244.

[ii] Ibid., 245.

[iii] Melick, 149.

[iv] Witherington III, 246

[v] Anthony L. Ash, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, The College Press NIV Commentary, (Missouri: College Press Publishing Company, 1994), 117.