Over a million angels are singing in heaven ‘worthy is the lamb who was slain.’ Heaven is singing all about Jesus. And many of us here on planet earth sing our own song and we make it all about us. We cannot be in harmony with both heaven and the world. As we examine our lives what song do we sing?
Christianity is in many ways a paradox.
We are encouraged to go out into the world and make disciples yet it is obvious from our experience and the scriptures that we are aliens or strangers in this world.
We reach out with our Easter buns and Christmas farmyard activities on the mall in the hope that at least someone will respond. Our gifts are either politely received or impolitely rejected by the public.
As to our Christian message and what it represents, for most people it is “thanks but no thanks”.
Rejection, persecution and suffering are the indelible marks of a true individual Christian or Christian community.
1 Peter is the New Testament letter “par excellence” on rejection, persecution and suffering.
How did Peter recommend the Christian communities of his time deal with such responses ?
How do we, in our day and age, deal with them ?
“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse”. (Philippians 4:8)
Philippians is sometimes called “the letter of joy”; which is strange because Paul’s letter is also filled with things like imprisonment, jealousy, sickness, betrayal, spiritual danger and betrayal. Joy, it seems, isn’t having perfect circumstances but rather enjoying God’s presence, love and power in our imperfect circumstances. Even there, we can experience incredible joy.
In Philippians 4, Paul encourages us to nurture our relationship with God (and find joy) with joyful thinking. He gives us some clues about dealing with anger, abolishing anxiety and focusing our thoughts on what’s positive and true.
By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward – to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.
Philippians 3:12-14 (Message)
Every one of us is rushing into the future at a rate of sixty minutes an hour, whether we like it or not. And our attitude towards tomorrow, has a powerful effect, on our joy today. So, how are we going to live out our future?
In Philippians 3 Paul describes how we can have a healthy attitude towards the future. He talks about –
not being content with the present (“forgetting what lies behind”),
having a clear commitment (“straining to what is ahead”), and
defeating discouragement (“we must be transformed into heavenly bodies”).
May God help us to have our eye on the goal, to press on and not turn back
Sometimes, it’s easy to think of all the things we’re not proud of and the things we wish could be changed. But maybe it’s more important to recognise the things we do believe in and are proud of; to recognise our accomplishments. Our accomplishments play an important part in determining our joy in life.
In Philippians 3 Paul describes how he was focussed on all the wrong accomplishments in his life; how he was living with a lot of energy, a very successful and powerful life, but it was completely without joy.
He finally comes to reveal that his greatest accomplishment was knowing Christ. And it’s true for us! The accomplishment in life that will bring us joy is to know the one who gave his life for us.
As we move through the time of Lent, towards Easter may you more deeply know Jesus.
Matthew 5:48 says - “Be perfect therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Now that sounds like a high bar to get over! “Be perfect”! How is that even possible if it means “sinlessly” perfect for the rest of our lives.
I think Matthew means for us to understand that God wants us to grow, for the rest of our lives, to become more and more, like the God who made us; to realise our God given potential.
In Philippians 2:12f., Paul helps us understand how we go about reaching that potential.
We’re to work out (practice/rehearse it), we’re to be patient and we’re to work hard.
May God help us to do it, to do those things that help us grow in Christ Jesus.
"This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)
Don’t we long for that – strength? One of the places that we can miss out on joy (strength) is our own inner attitudes. Paul, when he writes to the church in Philippi (chapter 2) talks about how our attitudes can bring us joy and therefore strength.
He explains how –
we invite joy with humility,
we build joy on the foundations of encouragement, comfort, fellowship and tenderness and compassion, and
we grow in humility (and joy) by following the example of Jesus.
There’s no such thing as perfect circumstances, in any of our lives.
So, if joy is perfect circumstances, we’re doomed to a life without joy.
Yet, over and over, Scripture tells us that God wants to bring joy into our lives.
James 1:2-3 (Message) is just one example of many …
“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.”
Paul, writing to the Philippians (Chapter 1:12-30) gives us some clues about how we can live joyfully in our circumstances –
Look beyond our circumstances
Look beyond the personalities
Look beyond the temporary
Look beyond the bad news
The writer of Hebrews says - “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2 (New International Version)
Author Mike Mason (Champagne for the Soul – Celebrating God’s Gift of Joy) asks – “If you were given the chance, to be happy for the rest of your life, wouldn’t you jump at it.”
And the Bible makes that very offer, but most of us hang back, reluctant and sceptical. We might agree that the Bible teaches and offers a life of joy, but deep down, we’re not convinced that such a life is practical.
Nevertheless, it seems, that joy is truly ours to claim and embrace. What we hold in our hands is God’s call to throw off our worries and complaints and “to come and share your master’s happiness” (Matthew 25:21).
"Thank you, thank you very much" – Elvis Presley
We have just enjoyed Christmas. Most of us will have given and received presents? Were we grateful? Disappointed? Most of us had special meals. Were we thankful or did we take them for granted? How often do we say “Thank You”? What are we thankful for? How much of our lives do we take for granted? Giving thanks is hard when life is difficult. Even then there is reason to be thankful. When we experience blessing we often are thankful for a while and then forget our good fortune.
Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ. This is what God wants you to do.
1 Thessalonians 5:18