Archive for August, 2011

Historical Deja Vue

August 28, 2011

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.  Ecclesiastes 1:9.

 

History, as well as everything else, repeats itself.  It’s part and parcel with the renewal process.  Think about it…When we speak of progress usually we mean industrialization or inventions which make us technologically advanced.  Rarely do we interpret this to be human awareness or progress in human relations.  I am always amazed at the public rhetoric when republicans and democrats speak about one another with heartless, cavalier statements about the other’s opinions or beliefs and never really consider what we’re teaching.

There’s an old saying which goes,  “One thing we learn from history is that mankind learns nothing from history.”  It holds true to this day.  People are so nucleic and self-centered when it comes to prioritizing their environment that they can’t get being in control out of their heads.  We legislate to make one group illegal, thinking we’re doing God’s will or believing we know what’s best for everyone, when if we look at history, we’d realize that God has had to live with sin for as long as mankind has been outside the Garden.  He’s tolerated the evil men do without interference for eons—with the rare flood or brimstone consequence thrown in for good measure.

But it’s this character change I really want to target here.  In the last 200 odd years we’ve eliminated slavery for the most part in the West, at least, brought about equality for “minorities” (strange how people of color are called “minorities” but make up 3/5 of the world’s population) and women, then educated ourselves in social justice language to the point of insanity.  We perform soapbox speeches about tolerance and sensitivity all the while being intolerant of groups who oppose our POV.  Until there is an eradication of sin, there will be no equality anywhere nor will we see poverty, racism and host of other problems go away.  Mankind must change the core of his/her being for such progress to take place.  Everything else is window dressing or band aids on a gaping wound.

 

Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”?  It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.  Ecclesiastes 1:10.

 

Strangely enough, most people wouldn’t think about history repeating itself.  I mean, we see the world through our “modern” eyes, believing what we’ve invented somehow is original, but I doubt it.  In fact, I wonder if the flood and a few other interventions by God weren’t expressly to limit man’s dominance of the earth in those times through machines similar to ours.  If you look at what we’ve invented over the last 200+ years during the industrial revolution and following into the computer era, most of the stuff is polluting our planet faster than nature can renew it.  I wouldn’t doubt either that somewhere in the mists of time the things we believe are “new” existed in some form.

All we have to do is look at birds to know someone or something already had the idea for flying.  It certainly didn’t originate with humans.  We make airplanes, rockets and gliders all to imitate what nature produced before we were a blip on history’s radar.  In the course of history, I wouldn’t doubt, however, that some of our technology has existed somewhere in the past.  There are the landing strip looking archeological finds on several continents which no one can explain; the drawings on the caves of space suited beings greeting humans; and a host of other unexplainable history that suggests past civilizations might have been more advanced than we thought them to be.

A tree is a biological machine synthesizing oxygen through the rays of the sun and utilizing carbon dioxide for its own growth.  Humans benefit from this symbiotic relationship without ever thinking about it much.  The earth is one big technologically advanced life machine which we only dream about duplicating; yet we somehow think that our advances in the area of computers or medicine are wondrous or special.  We know the ancient Egyptians were far and away better at medicine than anyone could’ve imagined 50 years ago.  There’s evidence in their records and mummies they performed delicate surgeries we have just begun to accomplish in the last 50 years.

Yet the arrogance of humanity continues be out of control.  Solomon warns us this is not only futile but the essence of foolishness and outside of wisdom’s boundaries.  Still we not only practice said arrogance, we ignorantly promote it through science, religion or cultural bias.

 

There is no remembrance of the men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.  Ecclesiastes 1:11.

 

History, archeology and genealogy might be fascinating hobbies or careers for some, but the reality is our curiosity for the most part is merely that and nothing more.  The only real stuff we get caught up in is that which affects our lives in the moment.  Most people couldn’t care less about their own family history much less the grander scheme of things.

If our civilization dies out, those who follow will remember us for as long as there is evidence of our existence and people still alive to tell the tale.  Our own memories are only as long as our life spans, therefore our legacy can only endure when we are remembered by being known.  The only one at this stage in human history to retain a memory of those in the past is God.  The rest of us may as well be non-existent as far as the modern world is concerned.

However, the people and accomplishments of today would be nowhere without the people and their struggles, failures and triumphs of yesteryear.  When we look back at the ignorance of science with anything but admiration for their accomplishments against pretty big odds, we do a disservice to the advances of today.  It is on the backs of those past accomplishments and failures that what we know today holds any value.  Without a Henry Ford and others like him working on the internal combustion engine, we wouldn’t have the transportation norm of today.

No, people are too quick to forget, and even less likely to be grateful for, the perseverance and intelligence of those who came before; which just goes to prove Solomon’s point.  C. S. Lewis postulated in one of his books that sin set us in a closed loop where we couldn’t progress past the fall until it was resolved.  This meant, as he explained it (or I understood it), mankind would repeat the build up then fall sequence till the end of time.  Until Jesus comes to stop the loop we are caught in an endless cycle because sin cannot create anything original.

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Getting the Big Picture

August 22, 2011

All things are wearisome more than one can say.  The eye never has  enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.  Ecclesiastes 1:8.

 

I’ve heard quotes from the Power of Positive Thinking many times in the past—I even own a copy which I’ve never read all the way through.  Most people take the advice from such a book to mean they can’t even acknowledge the negative because they might give credence to it.  The truth, though, is more complicated than that.  Negative thinking is dangerous and filled with pratfalls for sure, but so is refusing to look at it through the eyes of wisdom.

In the same way positive thinking to the exclusion of anything is self-defeating.  To think only positive thoughts isn’t the powerhouse many teach it is.  Just because I send out into the universe my wish-list and keep my mind positive doesn’t mean I won’t die in an accident or lose everything I own through some freakish market crash.  If positive thoughts could prevent disasters, don’t you think the world would be a better place than it is, since many people spend hours centering on a peaceful mindset.  To ignore the evil in the world is to deny reality just as much as obsession with the evil is out of touch. I’ve heard so many Christians refuse to look at a situation as something negative.  Most of us in the Christian faith have heard someone say, “I don’t receive that” as if a negative statement could force their future into it.  They point to Jesus’ statement, “By your words you will be commended and by your words you will be condemned,” all the while forgetting (or ignoring) how many negative statements the Lord made Himself.  This is a frustrating subject for me and I find it foolish in the extreme when I end up in a conversation with someone who refuses to even acknowledge the two truths.

What two truths, you ask?

We are dual natured, sinful and righteous; lost and found; good and evil; well-intentioned and full of selfish ambition.  The reason we need a Savior is because the old nature threatens to rule us to death while He’s healing us and guiding us out of it.  Believing anything else is foolishness by Biblical standards.  Outside of the Bible, however, anything goes.

It’s quite strange to me that other religions have less problems with the authenticity of their source manuals than Christians do.  For some reason we think because someone questions Biblical authority that the questioner and the questions are valid, which doesn’t add up all the time.  Most of the people who do the questioning have an ax to grind or do so in an attempt to justify their rejection of Christ.  The Bible is the authority of our belief system not because it wasn’t written by human sources but because it is the building blocks of our teachings.  If God didn’t inspire the writing, then everything we believe is bogus anyway.  If, however, He did inspire the message, then those who accuse the Scriptures of being merely manmade are completely foolish.  But whether or not the message is inspired matters little in the realm of knowing this is the source of our knowledge of Jesus’ ministry and message.

Our natures, however, deal us an incredible blow because we cling to the strong desire to rule our futures without God.  Very few will admit this truth but it’s nevertheless true.  How we know is that people will buy into the gospel just so far until it makes them look or feel good to themselves then they begin to macro- or micro- manage the teaching.  Of course, such “managing” creates a worlds within worlds of meaning to the Scriptures, which are pretty direct and clear for the most part—unless we get into prophetic studies.

Here’s my take on Scripture:  first we need to understand it as well as we can from its perspective and do our level best to grasp the teachings it claims are true from the original POV before we go off halfcocked and bring a bad smell to them.  It’s so irritating to me when people content themselves with surface interpretations of anything.  In other words, I’ve had people not understand the true intent of my words let alone the Bible’s and it’s so frustrating to communicate with someone who’s simply importing their own “truth” to what is being said.  Most of us hate this behavior and come to resent people who refuse to bridge the gap or learn anything more than their own perspective.  So I believe the people who will get the Scriptures the clearest are those who humble themselves to its perspective and refuse to impose their own preferred grasp of reality on it.  While they are doing such a task, they continuously question their views and conclusions in order to take their own understanding outside of the box they’ve either been educated to or have developed over years of social conditioning.

How does this fit into Solomon’s statement above?

The nature of mankind hasn’t changed over the eons anymore than the weather patterns or sunrise/sunset.  We still expect something for nothing, though nature itself doesn’t give us any hint that this could be true except by a happy accident.  We still expect to control the uncontrollable, which makes no sense when the world around us demonstrates daily the fallacy of such a view.  We are insatiable in our desire to see and hear but rarely take the time to consider either with the eyes and ears of wisdom.  Why Solomon is so frustrated as far as I can tell is that he feels like things are stuck in limbo—neither progressing or digressing much.

If all Scripture testifies to Jesus, then the limbo-cum-hamster-in-a-wheel state we’re in cannot be solved without God’s direct intervention.  Jesus came to interrupt this futile treadmill existence we suffer through.  Without Him life will repeat ad nauseam till we destroy ourselves.  The weariness of Solomon’s view reflects a life without the hope of eternity, yes, but it is also the reality without Christ in the daily perspective.  At the same time any reality which extracts the negative or positive from its view refuses to look at the whole picture and ends up with a fractured perspective full of half-truths.

 

To No Purpose

August 18, 2011

What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?  Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.  The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.  The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.  All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full.  To the place the streams come from, there they return again.  All things are wearisome more than one can say.  Ecclesiastes 1:3-8a.

 

I looked up the word the KJV translated “vanity” and Vine’s said it meant meaningless or purposeless.  The NIV translated it as “meaningless” so I thought about why this could be true.  The more I considered it the more it seemed a matter of perspective.

True, if all we do is work for money to buy food, clothes, etc, then our very being holds no purpose other than to eat and beget.  However, if our existence comes not by chance but design, then a purpose can be found.

Random wind changes convinced me a thing can be simply there for the joy of it rather than holding some deep seated reason which we have to grasp.  On the other hand, God seems to set meaning in ever increasing layers.  For instance, a tree not only produces oxygen but a forest attracts moisture which cools the earth.  A desert might seem useless, but in reality it counters moisture and allows the earth to heat.  Bogs and swamps used to be seen as festering eyesores and harboring disease ridden insects or useless vegetation, where as we now know these places are the earths sewage treatment plants that filter the earths refuse.

Most of our lives are under a veneer of skin we believe identifies us.  The real “us”, however, is below the surface where we think and reason.  This physical reality of flesh and bone merely houses the spirit and consciousness we think of as who we are.  It’s actually tough to negotiate this inner reality since we lost touch with the God, who is spirit.

We are made for eternity.  Eating from the Tree of Life sealed a covenant between God and humanity which guaranteed an existence void of futile accomplishment.  The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil broke the covenant of life and sealed our dance with death and futility.  I don’t know if Solomon believed this about our origins, though I can assume he knew the history as taught by Moses well enough to be aware of why humanity ended up in the state it found itself.  Still, he sees purposelessness and meaninglessness coming from the hand of God without ever mentioning the reason we find ourselves in such a place.

The writer of Ecclesiastes, whom we assume to be Solomon, illustrates why chasing after life is so futile by citing what he considers the “fickle” nature of the wind.  It blows north, then south, then north, then south…seemingly at whim, yet consistently enough for it to be an operational pattern easily recognized.  Solomon must have been an elderly man because time appears to have worn him down and he’s beginning to recognize the futility of living without eternity.  The wind and earth stand throughout history but mankind, who is sentient and accomplishes things other than the repetitious occurrences in nature, is transient, while all he accomplishes during his lifetime either erodes or is worn down by the wind and weather.

So this idea of chasing after the wind began to chase around in my head for a couple of weeks; all the while I felt rather than knew the standard view of it I held missed something obvious.  Then a picture began to form of a man chasing the wind that went south and just as suddenly turned north to reverse itself, and so it went, ad nauseam.  The man could no more catch the wind than he could predict it—even if he knew that at any moment it would change directions, there would be no predicting when.  The futility of this pursuit sums up all man’s efforts to make himself either immortal or profitable.

Without eternity, every effort a person makes falls short of anything permanent.  Even posterity doesn’t guarantee any form of remembrance.  I remember my mom’s dad quite vividly because I knew him personally; my son doesn’t even know my parents except in the stories I tell him.  Without experiencing his grandparents they become merely family legends without faces—or if there are pictures, the only substance is history and a pose.  My son’s children will barely be aware of their great grandparents and probably not care much about them one way or another except as family history.

Solomon’s purpose only becomes clear when we admit the impermanence of life and futility of striving so hard for a fleeting glory.  Very few humans have remained in historical memory, though some of their accomplishments, words and anecdotes remind us of a facet of who they were—or claimed to be.  No one can catch the wind.  We might use it to move things such as a ship or windmill, but predicting it is just impossible.

Watch the weather news.  The best predictions always fail to be accurate, not because the people involved don’t study the weather patterns but for the simple reason the shifts in pressure, movement of the clouds and a host of other things aren’t plainly written for us to know how they are moved about.  The memory of where the wind hit yesterday will not guarantee we will know its patterns today.  Futility comes into the picture when we begin to believe it’s our job to know.

Striving for permanence in an impermanent world is chasing after the wind.  Our insatiable need to see things, hear things or do things as if fixating on our goals and lives will matter in a hundred years, is chasing after the wind.  Worry is chasing after the wind for it usually takes on an unknowable future and strives to squeeze foreknowledge out of it.  Fortune tellers make an absolute fortune giving people a sense of control over something as unpredictable as the future.  Life for us works like a algebraic word problem or something like one of its equations that go:  a+b-c=d…a+c-b=e.  The outcome of any equation depends on what the various numbers symbolize.

The purpose of mankind is spelled out throughout the Bible as:  first, be fruitful and multiply and take care of the earth; next, fear God and keep His commandments; last, glorify God.

The first gives us our job description, what God expects us to do with what He’s given us.  The second, reminds us who’s in charge and the only way for us to find satisfaction or meaning is to keep aligned with our Creator.  The last is about reflecting God’s nature, actions and attitudes to those around us as well as in any and every situation we encounter.  Any other way of life or pursuit is chasing after the wind; pursuing the unattainable.

Picture a man in a field trying to capture and hold a breeze by running after it.  That is the picture Solomon is trying to convey.

The Pursuit of Wisdom

August 13, 2011

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem.  “Meaningless!  Meaningless!” says the Teacher.  “Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.”  Ecclesiastes 1:1, 2.

 

At the moment I’m not up for studying another book, at the same time I’m craving another pass through this one.  It satiates a thirst in me for what things mean and through which lens we should look at the world.

Jesus said,  “You diligently search the scriptures…but these testify of me.”

Nothing we read in the canon subtracts Him from equation.  Each gospel has Him quoting from nearly every book in the OT, so that whatever passages He quotes, we know that book is supported by our Teacher.  Why this is important to say, in my view, is that so often people in the church dismiss a book because they don’t think it relevant or possibly authoritative.

I once played at a youth camp with a pastor friend of mine.  The speaker was a fiery young man filled with hell fire and brimstone, ready to take on the world for Christ.  However, the more he preached, the more uncomfortable I got with his content.  Nearly the last day of the camp, after a week of warning the youth they had an obligation to choose Jesus, he let the cat out of the bag theologically by claiming every person on earth was merely a puppet on a string dancing as God twisted the marionette.  He very passionately quoted Romans 9 in an effort to support his conclusion we had no choice about our eternal future as well as the hopelessness of some people’s condition spiritually.

After the service, I went up to him to see if I couldn’t troubleshoot this weirdness.  My first question went something like,  “If you believe we are all puppets on a string without choices or responsibility for the outcome of our lives, why preach the gospel?”

His reply fit,  “Because we’re commanded to spread the news!”

“What would be the point of trying to convince people if we don’t have any choice anyway?”  I countered.

He tried to pass it off with,  “I am not God and His ways are a mystery.” Or something like that.  The truth is he didn’t know nor did he own the wisdom or knowledge of Scriptures to divide the Word properly.  Theological circles love conundrums and bask in their improbable answers or unanswerable dilemmas.  One thing theologians also do often is play with the truth in a way which serves no purpose but to demonstrate their education.  I get tired of this because we all play god with Scripture—quoting passages we buy into without their counterweight to keep us from teetering over the edge of spiritual madness.

I brought up a quote from Ecclesiastes 9:11 which countered his conclusion of a control freak God and his retort irritated but didn’t surprise me:  “Ecclesiastes is not a theological book!  It doesn’t have the truth of the NT in it nor can we trust it to speak to these eternal themes.”  (I’m paraphrasing and shortening his replies, plus it’s been 20 years.)

My retort went something like this,  “Then it shouldn’t be in the Bible but should be removed from the canon!  Are you saying that?”  That seemed to knock his confidence so he said,  “I’m not saying that…”  “Then what are you saying?  If this book doesn’t contain truth God approves of, it needs to be removed because it’s full of heresy and not fit to be in with the rest of the Bible.”

His face changed from a set look of…I don’t know rock hard determination?…to thoughtfulness.  At the end of the week he came to me and thanked me for giving him something to think about and I never saw him again.

Several years later, I had the same experience with a pastor whom I served under as a worship leader.  Though he wasn’t a hard line predestination-alist, he didn’t think much of Ecclesiastes because of Solomon’s apostacy.  I brought up a quote from the book and his response mirrored the one of the young preacher 15 years before,  “Ecclesiastes is a book of wisdom not theology and Solomon was a bitter old man without the gospel.”  Since he was my pastor, I wanted to respect his knowledge, but I asked the same question again,  “Then why did God leave it in the canon?  If it’s doesn’t teach us truth, then it teaches lies and we can’t afford to listen to it; therefore it should be removed.”

He thought for about ten minutes on what I said and the passage I’d quoted from it, then asked,  “So what you’re saying when you quote this verse is…?”  He accepted the truth the book espoused because he understood the implications of rejecting it.  Years later we would have a similar discussion and I challenged him to study the book through the eyes of Christ—who quoted from it a couple of times.

Now it could sound to someone like I’m patting myself on the back for being so wise or a staunch defender of the Bible, but that’s not the point at all.  Too many Christians buy into popular viewpoints on the Bible which have no basis in fact.  Instead they allow a leader’s bias to guide them.  I did this for years until someone challenged me on my assumptions.  The Bible as a whole needs to be studied because Jesus claimed the law and prophets testified of Him.  If we don’t study the whole Bible, we won’t understand Jesus.

“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them possess eternal life.  These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”  John 5:39, 40.

Ecclesiastes is riddled with sharp observations and poignant truths which, if we ignore, we will find ourselves overbalanced on the side of one argument or another.  Contrary to popular opinion in Christian religious circles, Jesus was not a zealot for austere living.  Yes He fasted.  Yes He practiced self-denial and focused His energies on correcting the mistaken theology and POV many held.  But He also celebrated marriage by turning water into wine—not just plain old cooking wine or cheap stuff but the best one could find on the market in that era.

I’m not explaining the book in this way to justify studying it, rather I want to point out popular opinion rarely takes into account healthy reasoning.  I’m also not attempting to buck popular opinion or win any argument against it because I find futility frustrating and a waste of my time.  This book has blessed my life with commonsense and a grasp of reality I otherwise might have avoided because of my religious upbringing.  One of the main points Solomon (or whoever the “Teacher” is) brings out is that God made everything.  This means food, work, sex, joy, hate, war, peace…the list goes on in chapter 3.  The first time I read it the truth in it recalibrated my thinking to such an extent that it affected the rest of my life.  Returning to it again just reminds me to remember these truths and grow in understanding.

Let This Be So…

August 8, 2011

To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever.  Amen.  Philippians 4:20.

 

Paul wrote a thank-you letter to the Philippi church.  Almost every word written spoke to his desire to encourage and stabilize their community, small as it was.  He started out greeting them and ends with another.  These people were more than just acquaintances they were family.

His instructions to them came from a concern he held for all the churches—pure gospel and deliverance from not only sin but the tyranny of idolatry in the guise of pleasing God.  For that’s what legalism really is—the setting up of man’s efforts to please God through man’s methods.  Oh, we give lip service to the law and whatnot, but really we’re out to either save our own necks or earn that extra bit of reward and honor at the Great Supper of the Lamb.

One of the reasons I love the letter to the Philippians so much is that it troubleshoots statements made to other churches which would otherwise lead us down another understanding.  Paul delves deep into Christian growth in all his letters but never does he deal a blow to man’s wisdom as much as he does in the instructions to this church.  Every one of his points refocuses our attention on the whole reason for the gospel in the first place:  reconciliation with God and mankind.

What’s so different about his take on it all, though, is he knows none of us can accomplish the necessary changes in our natures to pull it off.  The confession that he himself had not attained perfection or a sinless state at the time of the letter testifies to the fact he didn’t expect anyone else to either.  If I summed up his point to the Philippians in one terse statement, it would be “stop being anxious and grow up in Christ!”

The rest of the message is not simply a self-help how-to manual but the only way to be like Jesus.  When Paul tells them, Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…, he’s not giving them a suggestion but a definitive description of the mind of Jesus.  In the NT “amen” means “let this be true” or “let it be so,” or in our modern vernacular it could be said like “that’s a fact.”  Paul wants them to catch the attitude demonstrated in the cross, for our natural tendencies lead to be self-serving, be self-gratifying and to worry about self-preservation over any form of sacrifice.

If we have nothing for which we need to worry or be anxious about because God will supply all our needs, then the attitude of Christ makes sense.  If we can’t trust God with our present or future needs, then fear and anxiety make sense, because it’s all on us.  If, however, we experience God’s provision and contentment, any anxiety on our part becomes foolish and faithless.

Yet, I know God understands where we come from and how far we have to go in this journey of faith.  It’s not like we can just snap our fingers and be changed over night.  I also don’t think that this instant kind of change brings about the necessary heart adjustments failure does.  To clarify that last point:  our efforts to be like Jesus almost always fail when we attempt them in our own strength; we learn more from this failure than we do from our success.  Yet without the Spirit to guide our efforts, we will fail to retain the mind of Christ, trading it for a form of godliness while denying the power.  However, once we submit, the change is a natural state of mind because He begins to live in us as the only God in charge (as opposed to our attempts to be little gods).  Once He lives in us, our efforts to be like Him don’t come from any human methodologies or self-help lists but from the sheer power of His glory in our hearts.  Where Jesus lives as the reigning power, sin holds no sway.  Yet this state of being is a progression not an instantaneous one.  The word “growth” implies progressive stages of being.  In other words, we don’t begin the journey of faith with anything but what Jesus called a “mustard seed” sized faith, which grows into a big plant.

Submission doesn’t come natural to us, though it is the very essence of our growth in Christ.  If we are to grow at all, submission must be the first act of righteousness we perform.  Resisting the devil doesn’t come from our confronting him but our submission to God.  By default the positive action of submitting to God automatically resists the devil; drawing near to God draws us away from the devil.  Instead we somehow buy into the “truth” that we are strong enough to beat our own natures by methods bastardized from Christian teachings.  In another book Paul warns the prevalent attitude of the last days would have a form of godliness but deny the power.  When we attempt to use Christ’s teachings while subtracting Him from command we will fail.  The only way to success in Christ is complete utter submission to Him.

Paul ends the letter with “Amen” or in our language, “let this be a fact.”  I desire more than ever that the mind of Christ take over mine in order that I might rightly divide His word and demonstrate His life.

Let this be so.

A Fragrant Offering

August 4, 2011

And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:19.

 

This is a pivotal life verse for me.  It’s one of the promises most likely to keep me from panicking when things don’t go as expected; and, of course, thwarted expectations are the key to understanding why we panic or get stressed at all.

The context centers on the offering the Philippians sent Paul.  He’s been supplied by them time and again, which tends to make a person grateful after a while.  The promised blessing grows out of their willingness to be a blessing to others, and herein lies the secret to Paul’s declaration of God’s supply.

The discussion of their gift to Paul at various stages of his ministry followed by the promise that God will supply their needs explains how and why this is true.  It isn’t enough that they believe in God or that they have the right understanding of the cross or even that they are nice people.  Where the rubber meets the road for God’s work in their lives is in their generosity.  In one sense, this spirit of giving tells the tale of their transformed hearts and declares their faith in action.  In another sense, it can be viewed as an investment with returns.  As they expend generously for the cause of Christ they open themselves up for the blessing of heaven—not only in goods and services but in connection to the Almighty.

The heavenly rewards are based on works, though eternal life is not.  What I mean is everywhere in the Bible the reward of accepting God/Christ is life, yes, but there are additional medals of honor given to those who stand for Christ through exceptionally harsh circumstances.  1 Corinthians 3 speaks to the house we build on the foundation of Christ and the apostles.  The teacher lays the foundation of Christ as the measuring line for it, of which the apostles make up the rest along with the prophets, then the person building the spiritual house (which can symbolize either an individual or church) must be careful what materials he or she uses.  The materials available are not only the doctrines but the works of Christ lived out and designed to declare who’s house it is.

Some might decry this idea as legalism, but as far as I am concerned, it’s the furthest thing from it.  Salvation is free to all, the rewards of a righteous life are not.  To receive a reward for a righteous life one must live a righteous life.  I know it sounds elementary to some, but the confusion around the teaching of rewards and punishment set off a lot of rabbit trailing ideas meant to clarify the subject which instead just muddy the waters.  The pursuit of righteousness has given us many crazy doctrinal bylaws and denominations.  The monastic design set out to accomplish the unhindered pursuit of God but ended up being something else many times entirely.  Jesus spoke to it when He spoke about the sheep and the goats—the former ministered to widows, orphans and gave generously, the latter ignored the world and its problems.  Both the sheep and goats claimed the name of Jesus as their identity, yet only one was declared a friend of God.

1 John 2:6 Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.

Walking is a physical activity—even spiritually.  Jesus traveled the country blessing others and taking care of His world.  He also taught faithful, earnest passionate pursuit of heavenly things and God; none of which is merely cerebral.  The practical nature of God’s law shouts out how well He designs things.  Sure, the Law couldn’t make us righteous but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t righteous.  Any problems we have with it didn’t come from it but from our sinful natures.

One of the problems I find in my own psyche is that my values in spiritual things are completely backwards.  See if God really is my Father and I’m an heir to everything in Christ, then worrying about supply is crazy.  Again, if God tells us we are His children and He’s gonna’ supply our needs, then anxiety over them is silly.  It would be like my son worrying about whether or not I’ll feed him at lunch time even though he knows full well we have food in the fridge and elsewhere.  We know God promised to feed, water and clothe us what else do we actually need?

In our minds, quite a lot.

It’s futility in the practical aspects of the story when we think somehow our faith is solid yet worry or grow anxious about our needs.  If the God we serve doesn’t come through, then we have something to worry about.  If we see ample evidence He does, then any anxiety on our part comes straight from distrust.  We cannot simultaneously trust and distrust God or anyone else.  Oh we might be able to selectively trust someone but total trust is out.

The big thing for me is following through on the belief that God will supply all my needs, without concerning myself with how.  What I’m finding out about myself tells the tale of someone who believes his “needs” encompass more than God promises.  God never promised a TV in every household nor did He ever promised prosperity beyond the basic needs.  Where all these twists in expectations come from is our own desire for security and prosperity in the here and now.  Remember the story of Lazarus and the rich man?  One sought to be well thought of in the here and now, while the other was poverty stricken and an outcast.

Before anyone thinks I’m condemning wealth or the wealthy, think again.  Paul’s warning to Timothy rings true, however, to the point we need to sober up and recognize our own pursuit of self-fulfillment many times mirrors the attitude of those who run after wealth.

 

But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some people, eager for money have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.  1 Timothy 6:6-10.

 

The warning here could not be more timely in our study of Philippians for the values of the world infiltrate the church through wolves disguised as sheep and pierce the church with grief the Lord never intended His people to go through.  Rejection by the world is hard enough, being told one’s faith is not enough because we can’t pay the bills is a burden beyond comparison.  But the Word of God is sharper than any two edged sword and divides the truth from lies, light from darkness and reality from fantasy.

When Paul claims God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus, he means just that, nothing more, nothing less.  We need to stop comparing our status, possessions or anything else to the world’s value system.  Our only rule for what is profitable is the Word of God demonstrated in our crucified and risen Lord.  Anything or anyone else who sidesteps this essential monolith of the Christian life and doctrine strips the cross and the resurrection of their power and makes both a lie.

The reward promised to the Philippians was that God would meet all their needs, right?  The reason is their hearts were generous towards Him and the offering they gave to Him through Paul went up to heaven like a fragrant offering.  Our giving to the saints in the pursuit of God’s will smells good to heaven and the rewards are He will meet all our needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.  If you have food and clothing, God has met your needs and you can consider yourself rich.