Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Category: Philippians (page 2 of 3)

A Writing Update

Let me give you a brief update on what is happening in the world of my writing ministry. I am delighted to announce that Kress Biblical Resources has agreed to continue the series of New Testament commentaries they have been undertaking with me.

The current titles are:

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The next volume will be Philippians for Pastors. I have been working on this commentary for years and am excited by what God has been showing me from the text of this magnificent New Testament epistle. My deadline for submission is June 1, 2016 with release sometime after that as their publication schedule will dictate.

Would you pray with me and for me as I use these next six months to refine, hone, rework, edit and proof the manuscript? I will very much appreciate your intercession on my behalf!

What Have I Got to Show for All This?

fruitless

The other day a man—a younger man—observed to me in conversation that I am now in my “legacy years.” Read that, if you will, as: “You’re in that stage of life where you’ve really achieved pretty much all you’re going to achieve and now it’s just about deciding how you want to exit the stage.”

Hmph. Well, thank you very much!

But there is some truth in what he says. In a mere fifteen years, should the Lord grant me that long, I’ll be 70 years old.

Not sure how that happened, but here I am. I feel great. I am in good health, thank the Lord. I dream dreams, have plans and have vision of what God will yet do. I’m not in the grave or the nursing home yet.

But still …

Earlier that same day in my personal devotions I happened to be studying Philippians 2:16: “… so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”

While studying I stumbled upon this statement by a commentator from the late 1800’s: “As the Apostle advanced in years the final result of his labours would have increasing prominence in his thoughts” (H.A.A. Kennedy).

Hmmm … even the great Apostle, the longer he lived, thought more and more about what his life and labors had amounted to. What would he have to show for it all at the throne?

That says several things to me as I think about this whole “legacy” thing.

First, I note that Paul wasn’t looking back as much as he was looking forward—to the great assize at God’s throne when each will give account for what has come of the grace of God extended into their lives. Legacy is not about nostalgia. It is about accounting for grace received. On that day, what will I have to show my Savior for all He has done for and given to me?

Second, “legacy” is not about what I’ve done (and certainly not about what I’ve accumulated), but about people, about lives changed by the grace of God that have flowed through my life. To whom will I be able to point on that Day?

Third, while it is a natural thing to think about “legacy” as we grow older, it is more than that. It is a supernatural thing. As a believer it is right for me to look for signs that God has produced something through my life.

Fourth, Paul’s words approve our desire to “see” at least some measure of the fruit God bears through our lives. I agree with whoever it was that said God lets you see just enough of what He is doing through you to give you hope to carry on, but not enough to make you think you could do it without Him. For His own sovereign purposes God may send seasons when He obscures almost totally what He is producing through us. But it is permissible, even appropriate to ask God to give you some glimpse that you are on the right track and bearing fruit for Him.

So I put that together and realize that what I want to be true on that great Day had better be true of this very day. What will matter in eternity had better become all important in the moments and minutes of my life here.

People matter, relationships must be a priority. Grace and truth must be the dominant quality of those relationships. The Holy Spirit at work through me and into the individual before me at any given moment is the big thing. And being able to at least “see” something of what He is doing—this gives me hope and sustains me as I anticipate that Day in which I will stand before God’s throne and review with Him what I’ve got to show for all His mercy to me.

God is not through with any one of us. No matter your chronological age these are still the days of “far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20-21). It is for that very reason that we ought regularly to sneak a peek at the approaching Day, look to the throne, and prayerfully consider what we’re going to have to show for all this.

The Life that is Life

To-Live-is-Christ-to-Die-is-Gain

I just finished leading a memorial service for someone—someone young. Death had not been expected. Life was the probability. But death came. It has been shattering for the family, as one would imagine.

Just a few hours before this I was meditating on Paul’s words to the Philippian believers, written from prison. His circumstances were reversed: death was a possibility, though he had optimism for a release from prison and continued earthly life and ministry. Nevertheless, his circumstances were frightening— more for his friends than for Paul himself. As he wrote he aimed to steady their nerves and reinforce their faith. So he began to speak of how he’d come to view life and death. He said, “For me, to life is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

The basics are pretty obvious: Life = Jesus; Death = Gain.

But what does that mean . . . really? Let’s start with the first: Life = Jesus.

There is great economy in the Apostle’s words. Literally, says “to live, Christ.” Is Paul merely using artful expression or is he describing an existential reality? Is his brevity mistaken for more than he intends? Or has he taken off his sandals because he is walking on holy ground and measuring his words lest he misspeak?

The life of the indwelling Christ was a daily, moment-by-moment reality for Paul. He seems to have especially sensed this reality in times of extremity: “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:8-11). The actual, fleshly, earthly engagement of life and all its realities is the arena wherein Jesus personally shows up with the manifestation of His life in and through His child. It is not merely an inward thought, feeling or attitude. It is that, but it is more than that. The life of Jesus is “manifested” in us and through us. It finds expression and evidences itself. Thus Paul can say, “to live is Christ.” He can confess in another place “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). He reminds the Colossian believers that it is “Christ, who is our life” (Col. 3:4). Jesus commanded His followers, “Abide in me, and I in you” (John 15:4a). This is mystery deep, but it is also life indeed.

The Lord Himself, by “the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (v.19), takes up residence in the believer. He Himself is the very eternal life He promised us. His life is my life. And moment-by-moment, circumstances-by-circumstance, thought-by-thought, conversation-by-conversation, relationship-by-relationship Jesus aims to manifest His life in me, to me, and through me. He intends that I live by His indwelling life.

This is the privilege and calling and hope of the believer. This has dramatic, transforming implications for our minds/thoughts/reasoning, our words/relationships/interactions, our service/ministry/witness, and our bodies/health/healing … for all of life!

And Paul, with equal brevity can say: “… to die is gain.” Death = gain. But honestly, that just doesn’t compute for most of us. And the only way it will is for us to first begin to live out the reality that “to live is Christ.” The one leads necessarily and supernaturally to the other. Until I have tasted of the life of Christ now as an abiding, sustaining, empowering, sanctifying, satisfying reality, I will never truly believe “to die is gain.” When I do, I will … for to die is to enter more immediately into the life and reality of Christ’s life.

To live = Jesus. To die = gain. They are not merely parallel statements; there is a causative relationship between them. First the life of Jesus manifested in me, to me, and through me in the details of daily life. As satisfying as that is (and it truly is!), once you’ve tasted of His indwelling life the notion of the unfiltered presence and life of Jesus as a manifested reality is too all consuming and the child of God begins to anticipate the release that physical death will bring … and they find themselves genuinely confessing: to die = gain.

Life = Jesus; Death = gain. Both are truly true. But they are only true in experience when we settle the first part: “For to me …”

How do I come to this place?

I’m afraid you won’t like the answer.

Ready? Here it is: disappointments.

Sorry, but it’s the only way.

When I realize that this life can never keep its promises, I will be ready to look elsewhere. Not merely to another day, but to another life. The life of eternity is available to me in time. The life of God manifested in my mortal body, mind, emotions, and will. When I decide that He alone, His life alone, is “For … me” then I am ready to experience the indwelling of His divine life.

The Fellowship of His Sufferings

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“It was sin that broke that fellowship, but it was suffering that restored it. And if we are to truly enjoy that fellowship with God once again, we must be willing to share in His suffering.” (M. Esther Lovejoy, The Sweet Side of Suffering, p.78)

That I may know Christ

“I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him … that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death …” (Philippians 3:8-10)

“I was alone for ten days. I felt so close with God in solitary confinement that I spent the time in praise and worship. Such close communion with God! I talked with Him. He comforted me. It was a spiritual feast for me. During this time, I received new strength, though my body was wasted away to nothing. Tears of joy ran down my face. Here, in the DS prison, alone and with nothing, I had everything—Christ. Stripped of everything, without any worldly distractions, I found a deep and beautiful communion with God. Joy and peace flooded my soul. My body ached with starvation but my spirit has never been closer to God. Lying starved, alone and too weak to move, I felt I could reach out to God and be taken into His arms.” (Haralan Popov, Tortured for His Faith, p.45)

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