5 Years Ago

Five years ago, July 3, 2011, is a day I cannot forget.  It was the first time I had been to church service in quite some time.  I had been to Bible study, Sunday School, and other things but not a service where the Word of God is to be preached (Baptists sometimes call it “big church”).

I went with a hard heart.  And what I saw made me weep.  It was song after song of America worship.  Even the preaching of the Word was less about God and more about the worship of America.  This was my perspective of church on this holiday (and others like it).  It is still my perspective.  Which church has the biggest flags?  No wait, which one has the most small flags all over the grass?  No wait, which one has the most patriotic theme inside?  I could go on.  And there is no doubt that many (most?) of these people worshiped America more than they worshiped the God who created the universe.

I left church service that day and cried.  I cried for the church.  I cried for our country.  I cried for myself.  When did America become an idol for the church?  When did the time of worship for God turn into a worship of America?  Christian – this is not your country!  We are foreigners, exiles, sojourners in this world.  We are worshipers of the one true God.

The following day, July 4, 2011, the weeping continued.  I went to my office and opened my Bible and began reading Philippians.

Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose.   –Philippians 2:1-2

When I got to those verses, the love of God overwhelmed me.  God saved me in that moment and my life changed.

I got a text this morning.

Praying that the pride in our nation that is preached today across our country will not hinder us from loving and going to the nations…this Sunday is a rough one for me.

My response was to be encouraged because God saved me five years ago on a holiday weekend just like this one.  It brought me to tears.  Weeping once more because of the grace He has poured into my life.  Despite all the bad things I continue to do, His grace has saved me.

I have been fighting apathy, bitterness, anger, and lack of caring for people for an amount of time I would rather not disclose.  I plead with God to free me of these things, put me back like I was, in love with Him and His grace, in love with the image bearer of God.  And yet here I am a broken vessel.  He reminded me of something this morning.  Something I now recognize that He has been showing me for a few days (weeks?) – God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing (1 Corinthians 1:28), but I am a worm, not a man (Psalm 22:6), but who indeed are you—a mere human being—to talk back to God? (Romans 9:20).

Praise be to God that He delights in saving the sinful immoral outcast.  –David Platt

God came into this world to save sinners.  Like me.  Like you.  Praise be to God.

Long For All Of You

A memory associated with this verse immediately came to mind.  I do not know what kind of memory it is – positive or negative.

For God is my witness that I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.  –Philippians 1:8

After God saved me, I see people (rightly or wrongly) as blind like I was.  I see so many church folk walking around talking and acting like I did with no idea that they are not saved.  This is problematic at best because I can never know their hearts.  Not only that my data set is limited to what they display in a church setting.

It made me ask what happened to the church, the bride of Christ.  It makes me ask this still.  Yet I longed for them to have the same thing God had given me.  This new, changed heart that God gave me was just a life changer, is a life changer.

How do you talk to someone about this change without questioning the very foundation of what they have grown up believing?  I find it unlikely that I would have listened if someone had approached me.  And yet I still had this longing for them, I still have this longing for them.

God had me do some unusual things.  Maybe one day God will show me that something He had me do produced fruit.

Act The Fool

I arrived at Philippians 1:6 in this project of mine.  This was a different kind of memory for sure.

For I am sure of this very thing, that the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.  –Philippians 1:6

I know I mentioned I used to ask people their favorite Bible verse.  I was not ashamed.  I do not know why I stopped asking that question.  Oh well.

So I asked the bank teller one day what her favorite verse was.  She did not recall the verse exactly but we looked it up and had a grand discussion on it.  This lead to many future conversations and eventually I got bold enough (dumb enough) to ask her out.  I love to act the fool and that was that.  It was too soon after the divorce to be healed but I felt pressure from people and even myself to “move on” as they say.  She was a bit dumbfounded and that was that too.  I still talked to her without embarrassment until she moved away which is unusual for me.  Typically I would have been embarrassed and avoided her.  Does that mean I have changed?

God is constantly working in us, perfecting us for the day of Christ Jesus.  We often do not see this because we struggle to see our lives over the long term.  This is when we look back and see the work He has done in us.  The changes He has made, how He molds us into what He wants us to be.  Even when I get to act the fool…

To Die Is Gain

I was surprised when I selected that title that it was not already taken.  You see Philippians 1:21 is my life verse.  I have loved that verse for as long as I can remember.  OK while that is not technically true, the point is I knew it was my life verse a long time ago.  I actually probably just made it my life verse when I was younger for reasons that should become obvious soon enough.

For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.  –Philippians 1:21

Dying!  It seems like most people would see this verse as morbid and so I most likely selected it for this reason.  Now I knew it meant something very different but it was just so…me.  I know that this gain is not something that I will ever fully understand at least until I get home.  What a glorious place that will be.

Recently (within the past four years) the other words jumped out at me – living is Christ.  I had missed or more likely ignored those words for most of my life.  Such beauty in those words.

The verse seems so simple doesn’t it?  Yet the depths of it are beyond me and this brings me to my knees.

I have really enjoyed remembering stories about the book of Philippians.  I wonder what else I can find.

Having One Purpose

Since I decided to share some stories from Philippians, I would be remiss if I did not share the story of the time God saved me.  I have mentioned in the recent past how I left church service on July 3, 2011 and wept because people were worshiping America and not the God who created the heavens and the earth.  I read Philippians 2 the next day.

Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose.   –Philippians 2:1-2

I actually believe that I did not get any further than verse two but that does not really matter.  What matters is I knew that God had written those words for me two thousand years ago.  After reading those words, I was in love with God and knew He loved me too.  He had loved me before I was even born.  How could He write those beautiful words for me?  Why would He do that?

I poured over those words again and again.  I cried for longer than I care to admit as I read them.  Any encouragement in Christ.  Complete my joy.  Having one purpose.  Such beautiful words even now.  I wish I could bring back the feelings I had that day.  They are hazy, blurry feelings now.

I do not know why He saved me and I do not think it really matters why.  What matters is how I glorify Him now that He has saved me.  This means I have to fight complacency in my life.  I have to get up each morning and shake away my fear.  Oh, if it were only that simple.

What am I going to do today?

I Thank My God

I went through my divorce with someone.  Since that time I have sent her a text every Monday morning.

I thank my God every time I remember you.  –Philippians 1:3

At some point (during or right after the divorce), I was reading Philippians and all I could think about, when I read this verse, was how I was thankful God put her in my life.  She helped me during a very dark time in my life.  I love to think about her when I read this verse and even more I love to pray for her and her family as I read it.  I know it is a simple pleasure in life but it is a great privilege to pray for people.

I have a few more stories I want to share about the book of Philippians.

I used to ask people what their favorite Bible verse was.  One morning at church several years ago I asked Kristi this question – she is married to Jason, the pastor from my previous church.  She told me the entire forth chapter of Philippians was her favorite.  It was the first time I had someone tell me an entire chapter was their favorite but it was a great conversation.  Later when the kids and I left to go to Belize, she wrote each of us a card which we were not allowed to open until we got on the plane.  Mine had several verses from Philippians 4 in it.  I still have this card.

Philippians 4:8 is the “whatever” verse.  I was dropping off a check at the school and spoke with a lovely lady who had this verse on her coffee cup.  She was all smiles and really brightened my day which happened to be particularly dark for me because of the divorce.  I like to remember her and how she made me remember the joy of talking about Jesus each time I read that verse.

I remember Philippians 1:12.  It was particularly powerful for me when I came to realize that God used the divorce to break me of the idol I had created in a family.  He used the divorce to save me and I knew that God had used (and would continue to use) that situation in my life to advance the gospel.

There are so many good memories to recall from the book of Philippians.

What Kind Of Prayer

What kind of prayer…

And I pray this, that your love may abound even more and more in knowledge and every kind of insight so that you can decide what is best, and thus be sincere 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.  –Philippians 1:9-11

I prayed this prayer for a couple once.  I had no words of thanks for them at the time so it was what I could give them oh so many years ago.  I remember this with great affection several times each year as I read the book of Philippians.  As they come to mind, I love to pray for them again.  Prayers from the Bible always seem more eloquent than mine.  Today, this couple is my special prayer request.  What is your favorite prayer in the Bible?