Think About These Things

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8) 

Against a lot of opposition, the apostle Paul boldly proclaimed truth. Through three missionary journeys and endless preaching, Paul’s ministry bore much fruit as many came to faith in Jesus Christ. Paul had strong relationships with the churches he founded and pastored. The church at Philippi was one of them. Founded on his second missionary journey, Paul loved this church. They proved to be faithful partners in the ministry of the gospel. He knew they had a strong foundation of faith and that their faith would persevere (Philippians 1:6). But as was always the case with Paul’s letters, once he laid out the theological basis of faith, he always followed with how to live out that faith in day to day life. And that exactly what he’s doing in Philippians 4, exhorting and encouraging them to be mindful of what they allow to influence their thinking. He writes to them saying, “Finally, brothers, whatever is…

  • True – genuine, reliable, trustworthy, valid
  • Honorable – worthy of respect
  • Just – right, righteous or upright. In the New Testament “just” refers to God’s proper standards and actions.
  • Pure – innocent, clean
  • Lovely – pleasing
  • Commendable – admirable, appealing or praiseworthy
  • Excellent – moral, goodness

The gospel changes things. It changes our relationship with God and secures our eternal destiny. However, never does a conversion to faith mean that we’re not to be attentive to what we allow to capture our thoughts. God’s Word must be our filter for determining truth. To live in a way that’s pleasing to God, we must set our minds on things above, not on things of the earth (Colossians 3:2). 1 Timothy 4:7 says “train yourself for godliness”. Proverbs 21:21 tells us that “whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness and honor”. Don’t think as the world thinks. Instead, think about those things that are worthy of our God.

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Pay Close Attention

“But the high places were not taken out of Israel. Nevertheless, the heart of Asa was wholly true all his days”          (2 Chronicles 15:17)

Very few proclaim truth more directly than Oswald Chambers. I was reminded of that this morning when a friend of mine shared a quote from him. The quote read, “You no more need a day off from spiritual concentration on matters in your life than your heart needs a day off from beating. As you cannot take a day off morally and remain moral, neither can you take a day off spiritually and remain spiritual. God wants you to be entirely His, and it requires paying close attention to keep yourself fit. It also takes a tremendous amount of time. Yet some of us expect to rise above all of our problems, going from one mountaintop experience to another, with only a few minutes effort.” The context from which this quote came was 2 Chronicles 15:17, where over time, King Asa refused to continue his early efforts in removing the high places (pagan places of worship) in the territory in which he reigned. As Chambers puts it “Asa was not completely obedient in the outward, visible areas of life but only in what he considered most important”.

The overall assessment of Asa’s reign was a good one, but there were times when he made decisions based on his own priorities and belief in what was right even though God had given different instructions. We often do the same thing. We make assessments based on our own priorities or belief in what is right even though God has told us differently. Life is not always lived on the top of the mountain. That’s why we must pay close attention to the deep things of God. We need to take the time to diligently study His Word so we can not only discern His will, but survive in the valleys.

Satan infiltrates through the smallest of cracks and then before we know it, he has a foothold in some area of our life. If we are to keep this from happening we must stay in tune with God. We must push aside those things that would distract us. We must let go of not just the bad things, but also the good things that because they’ve taken priority over God, they’ve become an idol.

God speaks to us through His Word and the Holy Spirit uses that to guide us in obedience to God’s will. Don’t get distracted. Instead, be sure and pay close attention.

I Have Decided

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37-38)

I love music, all kinds of music. I especially love knowing the story behind songs because it gives me a fresh perspective and a greater appreciation for that particular song. In their book Living Among Lions, David and Jason Benham tell the story behind the hymn I Have Decided to Follow Jesus. If the title sounds familiar it might be because there’s a popular Christian song entitled Christ is Enough that borrows a portion of its lyrics from I Have Decided…. We sing this song at church and I listen to it often on iTunes. I’ve always appreciated the lyrics of this song, but until reading the Benham brothers book, I had never heard the story behind them.

The story behind I Have Decided to Follow Jesus began with a family of four who lived in the Indian province of Assam. They had professed faith in Christ and were subsequently baptized by a Welsh missionary in the 1880’s. As one might imagine, their profession brought about intense persecution. The leaders in their village arrested the family, demanding the father renounce Christ. He refused their demand saying, “I have decided to follow Jesus, and there is no turning back.” His two children were then killed right in front of him. He still refused to renounce Jesus saying, “The world can be behind me, but the cross is still before me.” Then they killed his wife. Still no renunciation. “Though no one is here to go with me, still I will follow Jesus” was his response. The village leaders then killed him. According to the Welsh missionary, when he returned to the village some time later, revival had broken out and he came to find out that those who had murdered the family had themselves come to faith in Christ. He passed this story along to a prominent Indian evangelist named Sandhu Sundar who then made this man’s dying words into a great hymn.

Scripture leaves no doubt as to where our allegiance as believers must lie−with Jesus. Jesus’ own words make that abundantly clear (Luke 14:25-33, Luke 9:57-62, Matthew 16:24-28). At first glance, the level of commitment these verses communicate might seem a bit unrealistic, but not only is it not unrealistic, this level of commitment is what’s expected. Our love and commitment to Christ must be unrivaled. Everything must take its place behind Jesus. And when it does, persecution may, and most likely will come. As disciples, we must be willing to count the cost. It’s not that we wish for the persecution, and it’s not that it will be anyway near as intense as this family underwent. It’s that in whatever form it comes, and however intense it may be, we focus on Christ and His promise to be with us in the midst of it. It was the Holy Spirit alone that enabled this father to not renounce Christ. It will be the Holy Spirit that will see you through whatever persecution results from your commitment to Christ as well.

So, are you willing to count the cost? Have you decided to follow Jesus? Have you resolved to not turn back? If not, grab hold of Jesus. If you have, just hang on. Trust that He is always with you, that His promises are true, that He is enough, and that yes, His grace is always sufficient. “I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back, no turning back. The cross before me, the world behind me. No turning back, no turning back.”

Gracious and Seasoned with Salt

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6) 

It’s no secret as to how Christians are to engage an unbelieving world. Having received grace, grace should always be the manner in which we approach anyone with the good news of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul was a staunch defender of the gospel. As a result, he had plenty of opposition. There were many false teachers who tried to corrupt, even in very subtle ways, the true gospel. Not falling prey to this false teaching was a primary emphasis of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. His desire was for them to “be filled with the knowledge of God’s will and to walk in a manner worthy of the call of Christ (Colossians 1:9-10). Ultimately, Paul’s goal was for them to know that to be accepted by God, all they needed was Christ.

Our goal in Christian ministry should always be to have people run to Christ, not from Him. Christians are to be the “salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). How we approach and engage an unbelieving world matters. It’s not that we have to deviate from the truth of the gospel or lessen the discussion around the issue of sin. Sin is what separates us from God, and no matter how much our culture might try to redefine it, sin is what God says it is. But as we do engage, we must first and foremost extend to others the grace God extended to us. You and I can’t know what someone else may going through or what may be causing their resistance to the gospel. We are simply called to lovingly share the message of Jesus. We’re to meet people where they are and interact with them in a way that would commend the gospel to them. We’re to be a vessel that God uses to draw people to Himself.

Always remember, those around you are watching. Do they know your story? Do they see Christ in you? You never know where people might be at a particular time. And you never know if your actions in a moment will be what God uses to extend His saving arms to those in need of His grace. That’s why you must make sure to always let your speech be gracious and seasoned with salt.

Teach Me Your Way, O LORD

“Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name” (Psalm 86:11)

I love the stories of God’s grace in the lives of the people in the Bible. I especially love the lessons that Scripture has to teach us about King David, a man after God’s own heart, yet a man who sinned greatly. David sinned on the biggest of stages and suffered heart wrenching consequences for those sins. 1&2 Samuel tells the story of David’s life, and his writings in the Psalms tell of his emotions at those various stages. Psalm 86 is a prime example of such a psalm. David was in trouble. There were people seeking to take his life, “O God, insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seek my life.” (v.14). There’s no doubt that David brought some of his problems on himself. He found himself calling on God for mercy often. And though he sometimes stumbled, David’s heart was faithful to seek instruction from the Lord on how to better walk in truth.

I believe one of the reasons David’s stories are so loved is that they bear a resemblance to our own lives as Christians. Just as David did, we slip, slide and stumble through this life. David’s wide ranging emotions are much like ours. And you can see them clearly as they flow freely from his pen in the psalms. In his devotional Morning and Evening, Charles Spurgeon writes that the reason David’s psalms are so universally loved is that “no matter our frame of mind, whether ecstasy or depression, David has exactly described our emotions”. He goes on to say that David “was an able master of the human heart because he had been tutored in the best of all schools—the school of heartfelt personal experience”.

The Christian life will always have its ups and downs. Our emotions will sometimes run wild and there will always be choices for us to make along the way—a choice to obey God’s way, or a choice to seek our own way. Which way will we choose? “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name”. That was David’s cry and God was merciful to hear that cry. Let that be our cry as well.

One Row Down and To My Right

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1-3) 

One of the blessings of being in choir is the opportunity to watch from the choir loft as people worship the Lord through song. Music has a special way of stirring hearts and engaging emotions. This is especially the case when the lyrics espouse the great truths of God’s Word. I’ve heard it said that sometimes worship is like a dance, but at other times it’s more like a fight. I suppose the point is that when things are going well, it’s easy to praise the Lord. However, in difficult and uncertain times, giving God praise may not be so easy. I think that’s true.

A few weeks ago, our choir anthem was a song entitled, I Am Not Alone. It is a beautiful song. Some of its lyrics are borrowed from Exodus 14:14, Psalm 23 and Isaiah 43 and emphasize God’s presence with His people in times of trouble. As we sang, I looked out and saw people begin to stand and raise their hands as they praised the Lord. This doesn’t happen all the time, nor does giving praise to the Lord require standing or hand raising. But when it does happen, it’s moving. Sometimes it makes me wonder what that person may be going through in that particular moment. In most cases, I have no idea. This day, however, was different. I saw several people in the congregation standing whose stories I did know. Then I noticed that one row down and to my right stood Mike Bratton. Mike was diagnosed with cancer about two years ago. He has already undergone two rounds of treatment for two cancer diagnoses and has just been diagnosed for a third time. He is again undergoing more treatment. During this song, I couldn’t help but glance over at him a couple of times, wondering what he might be thinking as he sang the words of this song. I also wondered if I could sing the truth of these words if I were in the same situation. I would hope that I could.

Recently, Mike shared his perspective on his battle with cancer by writing the following, “While doctors and clinicians have been killing cancer cells, God has been slowly growing my faith. I cannot do a quarter of what I could two years ago, but God is doing more in my life, and for that, I am unutterably grateful.” He then asked for prayer, prayer for himself and for his family, but also that we would pray for God to do more in our own lives, and that we would follow Christ more nearly. I don’t know Mike Bratton very well. Outside of choir, I can’t really say that I know him at all. But I know this, for me, he has been a wonderful testimony of God’s presence and unfailing grace and faithfulness in the midst of trials. Not for the cancer, but for that, I’m grateful. God’s grace is always sufficient. He promised to never leave us nor forsake us and He never will. He is always at work, even in the midst of great struggles, drawing us to a greater reliance on Him. I believe Mike Bratton trusts in that truth. And along the way, the Lord is using him to teach me that no matter what, I can trust it too.

Shelter from the Storm

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1)

Outside of checking the local forecast, I don’t normally watch the Weather Channel. The one exception is if I happen to come across an episode of Storm Stories while channel surfing. I find some the episodes having to do with hurricanes and tornadoes particularly fascinating. The intensity of these storms is amazing. Hurricanes are those slow-moving storms so deliberate in their approach that unless you have personally experienced one before, you may not believe it could be so powerful. That is, until it arrives with all its fury. On the other hand, tornadoes are often right on top of you before you even realize it. Though radar detects their risk, there can be little time to prepare. And what about the devastation they can cause in just a matter of minutes? Images from these episodes on the Weather Channel make it clear the destruction these storms cause. Which one presents the greater risk depends on the area of the country in which you live. Part of how people prepare for these storms is by knowing the best places in their homes to take shelter in hopes of remaining safe and secure until the storm passes.

Safety and security in the midst of adversity is the central theme of Psalm 91, but it’s security that comes from the Lord. The Hebrew word for “dwell” means to be settled. In verse 1, God is referred to as both the “Most High” and “Almighty”. “Most High” emphasizes God’s strength and sovereignty. We are to be settled in the shelter that He alone provides. When God is referred to as “Almighty,” the emphasis is on His self-existence, His activity in the world, and His guardianship over our lives. To “abide” means to remain; a faithful person abides in His “shadow,” shadow being a metaphor for being under the care and protection of the Almighty.

Storms appear in life as well. Maybe they’ve appeared in yours. Life storms don’t discriminate. They don’t care about geography, social status, income, race, gender, or anything else. What kind of storm have you encountered? Was it like a hurricane, that slow-moving and progressive storm, maybe a drawn-out illness you or someone you love is battling? Perhaps it was trouble in your marriage that you and your spouse just can’t seem to get through. Or was your storm like a tornado—the sudden death or disability of a spouse, child, parent, or friend? Maybe it was the job loss you never saw coming. In all these storms, have you ever considered that just maybe you’ve been seeking the wrong shelter? God is powerful and sovereign over any storm. And He loves us greatly. When you and I settle in the shelter that He alone provides, He is pleased to keep us in His shadow and see us through any storm. Believe that! If you’ve been fortunate to thus far be “storm” free, thank God for it, but don’t wait until the storm hits to seek His shelter. Seek it now. There is an amazing rest to be found in God. Seek the only shelter that is truly secure.