Captive Joy: Philippians and Life’s Lockdowns

Padlock, Door, Lock, Key Hole, Macro

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I have been in lockdown since the 16th of March.  In that time, I have really only been out of the house on four or five occasions and those were short walks around the block.   Many of us are feeling the burden of the limiting of our everyday freedoms.  It’s frustrating.  It’s easy to grumble.

If we are honest, how does our limited exercise of freedom compare to that of Paul?  What does the Holy Spirit and God’s word tell us?

If you think a couple of months of quarantine is bad, think about being a prisoner for the Gospel.  Paul spent four or five years in custody.

It is his attitude in this confinement that is an example to us.

Philippians 1, Paul notes his love and thanksgiving for his brothers and sisters in Philippi and then verses 7 – 14 says:

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.  God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Although physically isolated from them he is still in harmony with them as they shared the grace of Christ.  We may not physically be together today but we are linked and united in that grace.

Paul then continues in verse 12:

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.  As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.

Members of the Emperor’s household guard were coming to the Lord as a direct result of Paul’s captivity.   It may not seem it now, but you may well be making a bigger difference in this time of restrictions than you are aware.  It may be through your examples of faith and perseverance, or it may be through such links and forums as these online worship sessions which bring us together and link us to some who have never worshipped with us before.  We are only the sowers, but God will reap the harvest.

 

In Ephesians 3:14-21 Paul tells the church not to be disheartened by his tribulation.  He instead explains his wish for the saints:

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man,  that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

 

Paul’s desire was for the church was for it to know that no matter what the outward appearance of things may seem, God is bigger than it.

 

So in a practical application, we can see in Philippians 2:14 and 15:

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky   . . .

 

We need to examine where we are today.  Not only in this Covid crisis, but in all life’s other lockdowns, as well.   Job losses, bereavements, strained relationships, and the like are all lockdowns emotionally, but they don’t need to be spiritually.

 

What can we do?  Well look at the opportunities.  In this long isolation I have had more time for the word.  Have you?  More time to pray.  I have really focused on many of you, and for families around the world who have suffered loss in these times.  More time to encourage.  The internet is wonderful when applied to godly purposes.  I really have been blessed myself in being able to send little words of hope and encouragement to others.

 

In the end, in life’s lockdowns, it’s a time for joy.

 

Padre

 

If you have noted that the format of this isn’t exactly the same as my usual posts, it is because this in a manuscript of a sermon.

True Down-pouring

Rainbow, Cloud, Evening Sun, Rain

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Troubles and woes

Oft seem to downpour.

Life’s tribulations build up,

Till we can’t stand one more.

We suffer disappointments,

Grief, loss, and pain.

Sometimes feeling,

We’ll never be whole again.

But there are silver linings –

In those clouds of storm.

Moments of calm and peace –

Giving us a respite,

And a chance to release.

Look upwards beyond

Those menacing clouds,

To heaven’s grandeur

Above their dark shroud.

There you will find ready,

The Author of all Blessing.

He will downpour sweet things,

All your soul’s needs caressing.

 

Padre

 

Weekend Writing Prompt #158 – Downpour in 88 words

 

 

Above Giants

Jesus, Christ, God, Holy, Spirit, Bible, Gospel, David

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A shepherd boy to Elah went

To deliver supplies – he was sent

But in that valley – the thing he did see –

Was a giant that made men’s courage flee

The huge braggart – did taunt and fume

He mocked Israel and promised doom

But then God – he did deride

This was more than the boy could abide

So with a length of cord and five smooth stones

The shepherd crossed the valley “alone”

But alone he wasn’t – with God he did proceed

An aid that makes giants small indeed

A whir and a snap, a crack and a fall

The man from Gath in the sand did sprawl

A God in Israel, that day David did prove

The Philistine threat, the Lord did remove

When we face giants – be they doubts or fears

Remember God’s still here after all those years.

 

Padre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of Whom Shall I Be Afraid

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Psalm 27: 1—“ The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

Just about a year ago I lost my Uncle Woodie, and my wife Dianne was dying of cancer.  I was (as I do) reading through her prayer journal today and noticed that at that time her notes were about prayer for my Cousin Darlene and her family in their bereavement.  She also noted that she looked for opportunities to witness to her hospice nurse.  On the latter front I know that she did indeed testify to her on her visit later that week.  She made clear her lack of fear of death, and her assurance of everlasting life.  Dianne completed her entry with the verse above.

We are in troubled times.  The world has a lot of unsettled things happening.  People are concerned over disease, isolation, and employment issues as things seem to come to a halt.  But the same is true today as it was a year ago,“ The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

Padre

No Need To Fear

Jesus, The Good Shepherd

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John 10: 11 states, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  In these words Jesus is speaking symbolically of His relationship with His church, and literally in a prophetic tone of what is shortly to come to pass.

Speaking of the sheep under Jesus’ stewardship, the shepherd-king David reveals five promises that the Good Shepherd makes to us.  These are found in Psalm 23.

The first of these promises is found in verse 1 and 2: “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.”  The Shepherd promises to provide for our needs.

The second promise is that we will be provided with rest and revival.  Verse three reads, “He restores my soul. . . .”  This leads directly into the third promise: He will guide us and lead the way.  Not only leading the way, but preparing the way.  “He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (v 3).”

The fourth promise builds on this even further, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,  I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”  He will accompany us in the darkest of times and provide us with emotional comfort.

The fifth promise, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever,” is one of overcoming.  Enemies and evil have no power over us in the presence of our Shepherd.  He, as in verse one, provides for us – our table prepared.  But there is so much more at this point.  We are anointed, and blessed to the overflowing.  Best of all, when our journey through the valleys of danger and the shadow of death is complete, we will find an even better rest than in verse 2, because “we will dwell in His house forever.”

We His sheep need to follow.  We need to stay close to Him, and maintain our relationship.  John 10 continues, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father (vs 14-15).  We need to know our Shepherd, and heed his voice.  When we do, we need to have no fears.

Padre

Based on a sermon outline prepared for me by Dianne on 21 February 2018.

A Faith To Live And Die For

Stoning of Steven – Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn

A few weeks ago I spoke on the topic of faith.  In that message I noted the centrality of faith in the Christian life.  The Apostle Paule wrote,

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (I Corinthians 13:13).”  Faith can be defined as a belief in which one has total confidence.  But scripture calls us to an even higher level of expectation.  “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).”

I have on several occasions had students who remarked that the Hebrews passage is “stupid.”  I usually respond with asking why they see it that way.  I usually receive a reply along the lines that, “if you haven’t seen it yourself, how do you know that it wasn’t just made up?”

To this I reply, “No one knowingly dies for a lie.”

Jesus said,  “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).”   He stated that He was the path to salvation.  He also knew that that path would require Him to die as a sacrifice.

If we look at Jesus’ temptations in the desert, we see in the third test, that Satan gave Him “an out.”  He said if Jesus would worship him, he would give the peoples of the world to Jesus.  Jesus’ death wouldn’t be necessary.  Jesus however refuses the temptation, He was prepared to die to fulfill His mission (something that if He had made it up He would not have done), and He also refused to buy into a huge lie that Satan was worthy of worship.

Remember, you don’t die for a lie!

Peter in Acts 2:22 and following capsulises the Gospel by saying that Jesus was crucified, died and was buried.  But then he adds that Jesus is risen, and that he (Peter) is a witness.  His testimony is firm.  But “what if he made it up?”

In Acts 4 Peter is arrested, and ordered by the authorities (the same that had killed Jesus) to not speak the Gospel again.  His response is to question,  “Who should we obey?”  Should he obey God, and tell the truth, or cave in to the treat of those in power?  His action is one of confident faith.  Something many would not do, especially for a lie.

In Chapter 5, Peter is arrested again and beaten for the message.   Would you be beaten for a lie?  Maybe/maybe not, but Peter holds firm.

In Acts 7 Stephen filled with the Holy Spirit speaks of the same Gospel.  He then to express its fulfillment when he said he could see Jesus at the Father’s side welcoming him, even as he is being stoned to death.  He died, and for the truth.  He not once hesitated in his testimony, even in the faith of death.  You don’t die for a lie!

Chapter 9 shows us Saul, an enemy of the Gospel converted by an encounter with the resurrected Lord.  He surrendered a promising position in the Jewish hierarchy, to speak boldly the experience of his encounter.  Would he give up reputation, and position for a lie?  But that is not all.

2 Corinthians 11: 16f summarises Saul, now known as Paul’s payment for teaching the Gospel:

“Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. 17 In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. 18 Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. 19 You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! 20 In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face. 21 To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”

To top it all off tradition tells us Paul was beheaded in Rome. Just as James had been beheaded by Herod for the Gospel.  Tradition says Peter crucified upside down, and his brother Andrew sideways, while Bartholomew was skinned alive and Thomas impaled.  The other Apostle James was stoned John boiled in oil but survived.  Each died, or was prepared to die for the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  Not one recanted. 

Decide for yourself, does the gospel sound like something Steven, Paul, and the Twelve “made up?”

With that knowledge before you.  In what do you put your faith today?  Is it something worthy to live and die for?

 

Padre

 

Peerless

Image result for sun through clouds

image: YouTube

As I ponder things which oft leave me feeling helpless

I turn to Him who offers His compassion boundless

And although He is silent and materially formless

His promises are kept in a way that’s flawless

My worries then soon prove so often needless

His mercy to me,  leaves me repeatedly wordless

So I shall trust and praise Him, the Peerless

 

Padre

 

Tuesday Poetics: Less is More, more or less

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the World Consorts – God Answers: Reflections from the Valley of Death

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The Twenty-third Psalm is one of the most familiar passages from the entire Bible.  It speaks of David’s reliance on the care and protection from God, no matter what the circumstances.  It reads:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,  and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

It has been a comfort to countless Jews, Christians, and yes indeed others since it was first written.  I remember it as a regular reading in my Boy Scout days as part of morning  devotions.  It is just so full of promise for a coming day.

My wife Dianne held on to this Psalm as well.  The following is one of her posts from just a couple of months before her passing:

“This week has been hard and tiring. Over the weekend i developed an allergic reaction to a new steroid i was trying for pain. I became hyperglaecemic and borderline dehydrated even though i couldnt stop drinking. With blood sugar over 18 points, dizzyness and loss of bowel control things looked to be setting themselves up for a hospital admission. However, we attended an emergency gp appointment at 8.30am and the young locum was a blessing, he reassured us and gave clear guidance so we could monitor from home. After a total of 72 hours awake and feeling agitated and ill, i finally slept. I took the rest of the week to recover slowly, but today i was able to go out for a cup of tea for the first time in about 10 weeks. That made me feel very blessed.  Even in our greatest trials, God is there to aid and bless throughout. ‘Though i walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil for thou art with me.'”

She had planned of reflecting on this Psalm in her final days, but as the trials and “valleys” worked out she fell into a coma.  I therefore recited and sang it to her (using Kieth Green’s arrangement) as I sat by her bedside.  It was in a very real sense “the valley of death.”  But – The Lord was with her, and with me.  Surely goodness and mercy will continue to follow me all of the days of the rest of my life – for he has been a comfort for me every day so far!

Padre

The Mightiest of Fortresses

 

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Walls of Jerusalem

“I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,  my shield  and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold (Psalm 18: 1-2).”

This brief passage says so much!  God is a focus of our love and affection, but he is so much more.  He is our strength giver (in fact The strong One for us).  He is a rock on which we can find refuge.  A rock or strong physical feature offers sanctuary.  He is a refuge or hiding place in times of trial or trouble.  He is a shield – again a form of defense.  He is the ultimate stronghold.

The world may throw at us what it may, but it is God who is greater!

Dianne saw this.  Her entry for 26 January reads,

“Had a visit from Pastor Vince and Lisa.  Lovely to see them and spend time praying with them.  I appreciate all of my friends who support us and lift me up in prayer. However ill I may become or feel, much as I face the reality that I may die soon, I am constantly aware that my God is able to completely heal me. I live accepting death and [yet] believing for full health.”

She made God her rock and strength.

The Reformer Martin Luther penned these words which are fitting:

A mighty Fortress is our God,
A Bulwark never failing;
Our Helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

 

Let’s take refuge in the mighty fortress today!

Padre