Posts Tagged ‘Philippians’

Asking and thanking go together. They are a song that has perfect but unique harmonies. Asking & thanking in prayer is a tight union, like an A Capella group that intertwines the main melody with sounds and riffs, highs and lows.

Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. [Philippians 4:6, CEB]

I cannot ask without thanking. Well, I should not.

If I take my anxieties and concerns to God in prayer, then the next thing from my lips needs to be my thanksgiving because “God’s got this!” That’s the point. The prayer part, the appeal, is not so much about God or Christ, but about me. I am sharing, as transparently as possible, how I understand my  situation and what I believe I need to happen. But listen, I may (more than likely) be wrong about the best outcome. Thank God. I mean, sincerely, I thank God who listens but is not particularly moved by my limited discernment.

But when I’m hurting, I tell God. When I’m confused, I complain. When I’m angry, I confess. When I’m convinced, I give God an opening to disagree.

Thanks for your patience Lord. Sing with me.

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followHow many times have you heard someone say that he/she is leaving one church or another because of not being fed. Really! What does that even mean? You see, I can be indignant about this point of view because I was one of those people. And it was stupid and prideful and totally off base.

Honestly, is the gospel message so complicated that it requires years and years of Sunday sermons and adult Sunday School to get it? Is sanctification about learning the words or something else? Is it about memorizing the verses or walking them out?

Paul says, about his own journey . . .

I’m not there yet, nor have I become perfect; but I am charging on to gain anything and everything the Anointed One, Jesus, has in store for me—and nothing will stand in my way because He has grabbed me and won’t let me go. . . . For now, let’s hold on to what we have been shown and keep in step with these teachings. [Philippians 3: 12, 16; The Voice translation]

It’s application. Plain and simple. It’s practicing the message. It’s acting like a real human being.

How hard is it to understand this: “Love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.” [Luke 10:27] The words are simple, the message is simple, and the doing? Not so much. If I could just love and love love, that is, really love, so many other things would fall into place, wouldn’t they? After all, love covers a multitude of sins.

Here’s another complicated one [NOT]: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” [James 1:27]

Or maybe we’re not reciting the Apostles Creed enough, to remind ourselves of what we believe. Or the Nicene Creed. Or, if that’s not enough, we can review all the ancient creeds and the articles of faith and the statements of faith of most major denominations HERE. That will keep anyone busy for a week or so. Study on.

But will any of this additional teaching make me a better follower of Christ, a transcendent soul? If I “feed” on more messages of some of the greatest theologians or influential preachers of all time, will my heart and soul be on fire for God more than it was before . . . because of the teaching?

Or can it really be more simple than that?

I think most of us get the “message” within the first year or so of a committed relationship with Christ (either through fellowship, church, or bible study). We understand the gist of it from the beginning. We just don’t want to do it, to live it, to walk what we understood from the beginning.

I know I made it all more complicated. I spent so much energy looking for a shortcut or an inside track or a supernatural anointing, as though walking a life of faith is magic. It’s not magic and it’s not about the miracles. It’s just being real and authentic and transparent. And it’s living the paradox! That’s why it’s called FAITH. And for that reason, because the Christ life is woven in with the paradox [another word for true love] (with Bible examples like turn the other cheek, pray for enemies, walk the extra mile, and care about the other person more than self), I keep trying to work the system, the institution, the traditions, the rules.

And Jesus says to me today, “Just walk what you know.” Do that? And your understanding will be sunshine on a Spring day.


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Painting by Dorothy J. Ross

Painting by Dorothy J. Ross

Brothers and sisters, 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, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 3:13-14]

The prize is not death alone. If that was true, then we’d be lining up for the “big shot” (which is what I used to tell my children when our very sick dogs or cats had to be euthanized — probably not the best description). But if death itself was a prize, we would be racing toward it.

No, it’s not any death, it’s a death that is drenched in the Spirit of Christ and when that happens, death is a doorway.

But that’s not the most important part. At least, it can’t be for me. I am already so results oriented, I don’t really want to add another “ending” to which I am “straining” as Paul states. Instead, I want to be present in the process of knowing Christ. This is a way of living that is not dependent on circumstances. It’s a place so secure within that nothing can shake it loose. This place, this Presence, is the source of love and miracles.

It’s not that “last” death but the small dying to self each day so that God, in Spirit, is more. Or, unified, who I am is not lost entirely but married to the One. We are called the bride for a reason. But until then, we are still guests at the wedding, relatives at the ceremony, even witnesses. The prize is in the marriage vows and certificate. The prize is becoming one with the Christ Spirit within.


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Photo from Flickzzz

A two-part requirement is implicated in the advice of Phil 4:8 — First I must recognize what is true, virtuous and lovely while I consciously decide to “think on these things.” I must choose to move my mind there. And secondly I must put what I know into practice.

Philippians 4:8-9
Finally, brothers and sisters, 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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

This is one of those core messages from scripture, a bare bones instruction that can be followed and if, I could exercise such a truth, my world would be better.

This lesson is taught in secular circles as well. My daughter struggles with emotional swings that are fueled by her raging thoughts, sometimes from her difficult past before we adopted her and sometimes from her daily struggles. In any event, these mind games steal her sleep, her well-being, and her confidence. The process of moving the mind to another place is a discipline she is trying to learn, but it’s a slow kind of progress, the two steps forward and one step back kind of schlep through life.

But am I any different just because I understand it better? I do a lot of replays in my mind and I find my mind pulling up old scripts all the time. The holidays are often the worst: “Why does Christmas cheer depend on me?” “Why am I always placating everyone else?” “Why do I end up doing all the cooking, wrapping, cleaning, and planning?” “Can’t anyone help me pick up some pieces of the weight of our responsibilities?” “Will we always struggle financially?” “I don’t want to be poor again.”

Every one of these inner questions is laden with stories and history and images that can replay forever, if I allow them to start. They go from some sort of righteous indignation through a variety of pity parties to fear. It’s a sad, downward spiral. These are the gifts of an undisciplined mind.

And so, I must choose to set these thoughts, and others aside for a time when they can be addressed in the safety of my inner counselor, when my connection to Spirit is strong and lush. Not before.

Another trouble begins however if I don’t remember the second part: the practice of what I know. This is the part that supports my inner health so I’m not just putting my mind and my head in the sand forever. It is the practice of what I know that gives me the ability to move my mind both to AND from the harder elements of life on this earth.

Writing and praying and reading, these are three of the key disciplines in my life.

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Photo by KarenBeth

Oh contentment, you elusive partner. I have lost you again and you have become a stranger. What happened to us? We were together only a few weeks ago.

Philippians 4:12-13
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Slow down. I’ve got to slow down. No, it’s more than a slow-down.

Today, I read a newspaper article about stuttering and how stutterers feel the world moves on without them as they are caught in a vortex of a word that refuses to be spoken, caught in the mouth, unyielding.

Chaos and busyness are the same for me. I am on a treadmill and I am making no progress forward. I am working hard, but the world continues to whirl past me. No matter how fast I move, everything else moves faster. I am a life stutterer, repeating my mistakes, stumbling at another threshold.

Contentment has two parts: stopping without remorse and watching without guilt.

When I stop, time and situations continue to spin. I understand it all intellectually. At first, I am overwhelmed and then slowly, the longer I stay in a moment of stillness, I can differentiate tasks, colors, and sounds. As I tolerate this state a little longer, clarity and priorities do emerge. This is when I can let go of non-essentials.

I’ve been through this process before. But I cannot seem sustain it.

When I am doing, I must “do” 100%, and not think or plan the next thing, the next event, the next task. There can be joy in the doing if it is the right activity for the moment, fully experienced.

And sometimes, there is no doing at all. But I find these times the hardest. I see what needs to be done around me: the unfinished tasks of yesterday, the collected piles of trouble and responsibility. How can I “just be” when there is so much “to do?”

There is no going back, I can only go forward. This morning, I stole the hour to pray and write. It’s grounding. I can start with this. It’s all I have for now.

Take a breath. Exhale slowly. And when I stand up from this chair, I will be gentle with my stuttering life. I will give the next thing time to form fully. It’s a day and it’s part of my story.

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It should be fairly simple to sew something from a pattern. And yet, no matter how many times I’ve tried, I muck it up. Either the directions have vocabulary I don’t understand or I can’t fit the pattern to my body. The other day I found one of these projects, pins and all, folded up in a storage box.

Philippians 3:17
Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.

There’s a book I read some time ago called Becoming a Resonant Leader by Annie McKee, Richard Boyatzis, and Frances Johnston. In general, I enjoy books on leadership principles and this text is one of the better ones. However, I hated the very first exercise: “think about how you came to be the person you are today, and think about who helped you along the way. ‘Who Helped Me?'”

This exercise was intended to reveal to me the many people who helped me along my path. Instead, my mind drifted to all the people who didn’t help me. Instead of feeling better and stronger from these memories, I felt empty and alone. Who did I admire? Who mentored me? Who helped me get a job or learn a skill?

Of course, there were people along the way, but it was always in pieces and not the whole. My mother taught me to persevere, my brother taught me ambition, and there were friends who answered questions and held my heart while men and lovers betrayed it.

Perhaps that was one of the reasons I grabbed on so tightly to the cloak of Christ. Here was a flawless mentor.

But then, I ran afoul of the Christ interpreters who laid out Christ patterns before me to follow. Play nice in the sandbox. Be humble. Don’t confess fears or pain that show lack of faith. Don’t swear. Watch what you say. Love your neighbor. Stay married. Submit. Dress quietly. Sing loudly. Speak softly. Dance. Praise. Tithe money, tithe prayers. Let go of dreams. Serve the poor. Go to Africa. Live in the ghetto. Adopt the orphans. Sell everything. Give more. Be strong. Be weak. Be happy. Weep with those who weep.

Nothing really so wrong with any of it. But the patterns were too hard to follow. And so I folded them up and put them away.

The way may be narrow, yes, but the yoke is supposed to be light.

So, here’s what I think today: when I feel lost, I can look ahead and see others who have blazed a trail for such a difficult time as this. There’s a light ahead and I can follow it. But there are also times when I can make my own trail. And, if I look back, there may be people who need my way and my light.

When Jesus did miracles, they were all different. Sometimes he spoke a word, sometimes he laid a hand, and one time, he spat and created mud from the earth. He intentionally avoided a set pattern because life isn’t like that.

Christ patterns are made with dotted lines, not fat magic markers. God allowed each of us to be unique: eyes, nose, mouth, voice, skin color, abilities, etc. Doesn’t it make sense that the way would also be unique? My pattern is not your pattern. My pain is not your pain. My healing is not your healing.

Eyes on the prize from the inside out.

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To know . . . to know . . . to know. What does it mean to know Christ? What does it mean to know the power of his resurrection? And what does it mean to know the fellowship of his sufferings? I mean, really!

Philippians 3:10a
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings . . .

To understand with certainty, that’s one definition. Or, to establish or fix something in the mind (like memorization). Or, to be acquainted with (like a friend). Or, to understand with experience (like baking a cake). And finally, to be able to distinguish one thing from another (like right from wrong).

In some ways, each one of these definitions can be applied to this verse. Like Paul, I want to “know” Christ with certainty. I don’t want a casual acquaintance but a deep knowing that comes from exposure. I want the sunburn of Christ (no sunscreen) inside and out. With that kind of knowing, there is trust, contentment, patience, confidence, and security. To the degree that I don’t have those attributes is the degree to which I don’t really know the Christ. Perhaps “to know” really means “to love” (which is how the more archaic definition for knowing meant a sexual union). There is nothing more beautiful than transparent sex, the give and take of pleasure, the concern for other. Too bad. most sexual unions miss the sacred part.

And how about knowing the “power of his resurrection?” That’s formidable. Can anyone imagine being acquainted with this type of knowledge or certainty? That is supposed to be the case for every Christian, but we don’t walk our lives with that kind of confidence. I know I don’t: I still fear illnesses and teens driving home late at night and violence. Besides, isn’t Paul actually asking for the knowledge of this power to operate in the present and not just for raising his own body. Undoubtedly, this kind of power heals the sick, makes the blind see, the deaf to hear, and the lame to walk. Same power, I’m sure of it.

And lastly, to know and share in the afflictions that Christ suffered: not just physical but emotional, mindful, and spiritual. Can I bear the pain? Can I accept it? Or do I still run away from pain. Sweet paradox again.

I’m thinking they all go together. I cannot “know” one aspect without the other. I cannot be acquainted with healing power without knowledge of pain and hardship. My certainty is strengthened by the operation of all three in my life.

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