“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, (14) I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. ” Philippians 3.13-14
Have you ever lost your focus? I don’t mean just for the moment or for the hour or for the day, but for life itself? It is easier than you think. I was impressed by something Franklin Graham said about his father. He said his only focus in life was the gospel. And nothing was ever able to distract him from that singular purpose. So, that begs the question for you and me right now, today. What is the focus of my life? Are you willing to ask yourself that question?
Paul makes three very significant statement in the verses above: (1) forgetting those things which are behind, (2) reaching forth unto those things which are before, and (3) I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. I wonder how many reading these words are still controlled by mistakes you have made in your past? You cannot change one thing about your past. You can ask God to forgive your past mistakes. And perhaps the hardest thing to do is to forgive yourself for what you have done that still controls you. I know that is a controversial statement for some, but nevertheless it is a vital part of moving on. “Forgetting … “
“Reaching forth … ” What are you focusing on that lies ahead of you? What does God have for you today? Have you asked Him? Are you arguing with Him over His answer? If He knows best (and He does), then accept that He has said and reach forth.
This one is significant: “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. ” If you’ve watched any of the Olympics, you know that every competitor has kept his/her eye on the finish line. Looking back only tells you who is about to catch up with you. Looking ahead tells you how far you have to go, and for us it is “the mark” … I don’t want to become sidetracked. I want my focus to be clear. I pray that is the same for you. Just my thoughts …
“And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.” Revelation 14.13
America lost a spiritual giant today with the death of Dr. Billy Graham. I don’t need to recount the things this man accomplished. His name is a household word in our nation and in many nations of our world. When I read the words, “their works do follow them”, I am reminded of the millions who came to Christ because of the witness of Dr. Graham. I wonder what his welcome was like when he entered the gates of heaven and was met by those saints of God who had gone before him and who were saved because of his ministry?
Let me suggest that you and I take a page from Dr. Graham’s life and ministry and pick up the mantle of declaring the gospel will compassion and boldness. What can you and I do beginning today that will make an impact on our world? What will we do that will demonstrate a boldness that will not be silenced because someone doesn’t like the truth? Dr. Graham put aside the criticism of others in order to have the greatest opportunities to share the gospel with the greatest number of people over the longest period of time. Are we willing to do that?
I pray that the gospel will be carried to “the uttermost” so that everyone has the opportunity to hear and believe. I need to begin with my own neighborhood and let the message spread from there. Will you join me? Let’s do this! Just my thoughts …
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (29) Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (30) For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11.28-30
Sometimes we get so overwhelmed with the pressures of this life that we long for the rest that we will get in the life to come. But that is not what Jesus is offering here. He is talking about giving us rest in this life: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” So, what does that rest look like? As long as I insist on carrying my own load, God doesn’t have the opportunity to help carry my load. Jesus said in these verses that we should “Take (his) yoke upon (us), and learn of (Him) … ” What does that mean? It means that He wants to be in the yoke of our lives with us. Life is too short and too demanding to try to live it all along. The peace and rest for which we are longing only comes when you and I give up control and let God be in control. Why can I rest then? Because I am no longer worrying about how I am going to get something done or how it will turn out.
“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Do you believe that? God’s desire for us in not a difficult life but one in which we find our rest in Him. We need never fear that He wants to make things difficult. That does not mean that difficult times will not come. But it does mean that in those difficult times I can share the yoke with Him and find rest. Trust Him. Believe Him. Find rest in Him. Just my thoughts …
“Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.” Psalm 37.5
“Commit thy way unto the LORD … ” Good advice, but how hard is that to do? We get up each morning with a mind full of things that WE want to get done, and off we go. “Look out, God, I have a lot to do today!” I admit that I have been guilty of that far too many days in my life. But the psalmist had a reason for this phrase. He had learned the wisdom of it over the course of his days of walking with God. In fact, the entire 37th Psalm is a marvelous treatise of how you and I should walk with God. (If you haven’t read it recently, take time to do so.) so what does it mean to commit our way to the Lord? Doesn’t it mean that WE stop planning our path and ask God for His direction for the next step? That requires that we move the focus of our lives from what WE want to what HE wants. And that is a big step for most of us.
Believing this second phrase is paramount to doing the first phrase: “trust also in him … ” When my trust in God is without question, then the decision to commit my way to Him should be without question. When I begin to question the wisdom of the path God has chosen for me, I am not trust Him completely. I am thinking that He may have made a mistake. After all, I am not happy with His choice. But that betrays the idea of absolute trust.
“he shall bring it to pass.” What is “it”? He shall take the way that you have committed to Him and cause to happen what He knows is best for you. Notice the English construction here: “he shall … ” When shall is used in the third person, it is a demonstrative statement meaning that it will surely happen. And, my friend, it will surely happen. Just my thoughts …
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Psalm 23.4
We hear people refer quite often to “the valley of the shadow of death”. It doesn’t always mean a reference to death, but may be a reference to an experience that seems as horrible to them as death. Such an experience causes each one of us to struggle unless we realize the truth of the phrase: “thou art with me … ” A realization of God’s presence with us in any and every situation is a source of strength that we can find in nothing else.
I find strength and comfort in David’s words: “I will fear no evil … ” The moment we entertain the thought that the evil we face is greater than the God we serve, we will fear that evil. But David knew, and you and I must come to know, that nothing, absolutely nothing, is greater than our faithful God. God is not simply great. He is the greatest. He reminded Israel over and over in the Old Testament that He was God and beside Him there was none else.
When I read the words. “ … thy rod and thy staff they comfort me”, I need to remember that God has a purpose in every experience He brings into my life or that He permits to be a part of my life. Everything may not be good, but God can use that as a rod to teach me something I would not otherwise learn. Let’s live today in the light of David’s words that bring comfort and confidence. The valley may be dark, but we need not fear. Our God has said He will be with us. And His presence is enough. Just my thoughts …
“Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.” James 3.13
My wife and I attended the funeral of a man in our church this morning and one of his grandsons used this verse to describe his grandfather. It was a great encouragement to me to hear this grandson speak of his grandfather in this way. I think all of us want to be wise and endued with knowledge. Sometimes we confuse much learning with wisdom. You and I have met people who had a great deal of knowledge but seemed to lack wisdom. Wisdom is leaning how to apply what we know.
How is this wisdom useful to others? The next phrase tells us: “? Let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.” Consider this translation: “By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” Conversation in this verse translates manner of living or good conduct. We have all heard someone say that we need to “walk the walk and not just talk the talk.” It is really easy to speak about a godly life and to want to tell others how they should live for God. But the truth of the matter is this: “what we are speaks so loud that the world can’t hear what we say.” Doesn’t this demand of us a life that is lived in such a manner that how we live drives other to listen to what we say. That seems to make good sense to me.
“meekness of wisdom … ”What is that? It is a life lived without the flashy trappings that say, “Look at me. I am great.” But rather they tell the one who is watching to look to Jesus. He is the reason we are what we are. Just my thoughts …
“Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness.” Psalm 143.10
I find it interesting that the psalmist would pray, “Teach me to do thy will … ” All of us need to pray that prayer at some time or another. I like this rendering: “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!” The advantage that you and I have over the psalmist is that we have God’s complete revelation to man in the form of His Word. We can look at any time we choose into His Word and read to see what His will is for us. “But,” you say, “sometimes I have a really hard time figuring out what God’s will I for me.” Let me make what sounds like a really simple statement, but it has become profound for me. God will never show you what to do that is not revealed in His Word until you do what He has already shown you to do that is revealed in His Word. Does that sound confusing? Here is what I mean. I have talked to so many believers in my years of ministry who want God to somehow show them what He wants them to do, but when I ask, “Have you been reading His Word?” the answer is, “Well, no!” God’s love letter to you clear about what He wants in your life.
Look at this phrase: “Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!” Level ground does not mean that there are no difficult paths. It means that we are on the path God wants and we trust Him to lead every step. Psalm 119.11says: “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” When we listen for the Spirit’s whisper, we can take the right steps as God leads us on level ground. Just my thoughts …
“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, (4) Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, (5) For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; (6) Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1.3-6
Paul had good memories of his time with the Philippian believers. I believe we all should remember the good times God gives us with fellow believers because those memories will sustain us in time of trial and distress. Paul was writing these words from a Roman prison, so being able to look back on his memories with his Philippian brothers and sisters in Christ was a real encouragement to him.
Let us focus on this last verse: “that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” God always finishes what He starts. Take a look at the opening verses of Genesis where He finishes the acts of creation. His crowning act was creating Adam and then Eve. Then after their sin, He laid out the plan of salvation in Genesis 3.15: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” The only person ever born of the seed of the woman was Jesus Christ. He was God’s fulfillment of His promise to provide redemption for man.
As we look at Paul’s words here to the Philippian believers, God had begun a good work in them when Paul went there to establish a church in the city of Philippi. Those early believers came together and formed this church at Philippi. Paul reminded them and us that whatever God begins He always finishes. He will not leave us to the devices and desires of this world. He will carry us through this life and take us on to heaven. We will get to be a great part of the day of Jesus Christ. I don’t know about you, but I am looking forward to that day when God finishes what He started in my life. Just my thoughts …
“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” 1 Corinthians 13.13
It is a little clearer in this translation: “So now faith, hope, and love abide; but the greatest of these is love.” Every time I read the words of this verse, I am overwhelmed with the meaning of the word love. Simply translated it means, “No matter what you do to me, I will seek nothing but your highest good.” Let me begin by saying this is the kind of love that God has for us. No matter how we respond to Him, He always has our best interests at heart. He never reacts to what we do. He always acts in love. I realize this is a difficult truth to comprehend, but once we grasp it, it changes the way we look at God and the way we respond to others that we say we love.
Do you think marriages would be different if we responded toward each other in the truest meaning of this word love? How many times have we done something out of spite, anger, or disappointment when we should have responded in love? I can here the naysayers now, “But you don’t know what they did to me!” My response is, “it doesn’t matter what they did to you, no matter what they do to you, real love says you will seek nothing but their highest good.”
Do you think our churches would be different if we responded toward each other in the truest meaning of this word love? How many times has another church member offended us, or snubbed us, or said something untrue about us, or any other hurtful thing? “They don’t deserve to be treated any differently!” Really? I wonder if loving them would make a change in their response to us? I wonder if loving them would bring a spirit of unity to our churches that would literally amaze the world who is watching? It’s just a thought! And it isn’t even my thought. It is God’s thought and that’s the one that counts. Just my thoughts …
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Romans 8.28
Most people love this verse for what they think it says: “all things work together for good … ” Somewhere in that phrase we want it to imply that all things are good, but that is not what it says. When we read these words closely, we get a different truth: “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God … ” The key truth here is that all things work together for good. That is different from all things are good. Is God going to allow some things into our lives that are not good? Just ask Joseph. Just ask David. Just ask Peter. Just ask Paul. (And there are many others.) each one of these servants of God experienced some things in their lives that could not be called good by any stretch of the imagination. But everyone of them would say to us today that “all things work together for good”. Our struggle comes with wanting to know why something is happening, at the moment it is happening, so we can try to make some sense of it to ourselves. Joseph’s brothers sold him off to a caravan of Ishmaelites who took him to Egypt and sold him to Potiphar. Joseph had to be thinking, “What is the world is going on? This isn’t consistent with my dream that God gave me.” It made no sense at the time, but in time it would all make perfect sense. All things would work together for good.
There are two caveats in this verse: (1) we must love God, and (2) we must be called according to His purpose. I believe we would all say that we love God. I think we would look at our lives and declare that God has called us to that which we are doing now, so that puts us in line for all things working together for good. Just don’t forget that God’s time and purpose are not the same as our time and purpose. Just my thoughts …