Saturday, December 25, 2021

A Reminder from a Christmas Commercial

I still remember that commercial from 40 years ago.  I don't remember what it was supposed to have advertised, but I remember the message.  It began with Santa Claus laughing his "Ho! Ho! Ho!" around a living room that was filled with Christmas decorations.  He began to empty his big of brightly wrapped gifts, then paused by the end table to enjoy the cookies and milk that were left out for him.  After some more jolly laughing he stopped at looked at the Christmas tree.  At once, his laughter stopped.  The jolly smile slowly left his face as it was being replaced by a look of deep contemplation.  The camera angle changed and showed that he was staring at a small Christmas ornament.  Inside the clear Christmas ornament was a nativity scene.  The camera zoomed in and focused on the nativity scene as the image of Santa Clauses look of quiet reflection went out of focus. 

I understand what the creators of that commercial were trying to do.  Even forty years ago, there were those who were complaining about the crass commercialism of Christmas.  The fast pace lights, glitter, music, and bustling sounds of holiday activity along with its price tags replaced the simply and silent wonder of divinity becoming flesh.  I have heard people speak of putting "Christ" back into "Christmas."  I have also heard people defiantly wishing people a "Merry Christmas" rather than "Happy Holidays."  There is understandably a desire to hang on to the baby Jesus and not let him get swallowed up.

But is this actually what's happening?  What does it mean to put "Christ" back into Christmas?  Are we talking about being able to say "Merry Christmas" without any repercussions?  Are we talking about more religious decorations and nativity scenes?  Are we talking about children singing Joy to the World rather than Jingle Bells for the school winter program?  How important would all of this be to Jesus?  It seems to me that a lot of this from the past was cultural window dressing.  It was a veneer of religiosity for the holiday season.  I think we all recognize very clearly what Jesus thought of this sort of thing from his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 7.

This worry about Jesus being swallowed up reminds me of a passage in the book of Revelation.  Here is what the birth of Christ looked like from a cosmic perspective.

"And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne" (Rev 12:4-5).

The dragon, the serpent of old who is called Satan and The Devil, tried to swallow up the child.  However, the child was caught up to God and his throne.  We know that Jesus died for our sin, was buried, rose from the grave, according to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, and we know that he ascended to the heavens, according to Acts 1:9.  1 Corinthians 15:25 tells us that he now reigns in his Kingdom, which is in us, his people, according to Luke 17:21, and will do so until the last enemy, which is death, is destroyed.

Neither Satan nor the culture can swallow up the Christ.  What is important is not putting Christ into Christmas, but putting Christ into our hearts.  Jesus' goal was not putting his name on a day for the calendar, but his name in our hearts so that every day is for him.

Who Is the Minister?

I have been reading Acts 6:1-7, which has reminded me of something I learned about many years ago.  I remember hearing about a particular religious group that does not believe in having a located full-time preacher.   They either have itinerant preachers, or a congregation will have their men take turns preaching. I was intrigued when I heard that Reuel Lemmons, who was a longtime editor of the Firm Foundation journal in Texas, was anti located preacher. His reasoning was not doctrinal or theological, but practical.  He had observed a typical pattern when a congregation that had no full-time preacher managed to hire one.  When a congregation had no full-time preacher, everyone was invested and active in the ministry of the church.  However, when a congregation hires a minister, less and less of the members are as invested and active.  He also said that he was anti-elders for the same reason.  When a congregation goes from no elders to appointing elders, he observed the congregation doing less and leaving it to the "professionals."  I am not sure if he was saying this tongue-in-cheek, but he did make a good point.

This also reminds me of something I once heard Flavil Yeakley point out.  Several decades ago, a congregation of 500 would typically have only one full-time staff member, the preacher.  Now days, larger churches hire numerous staff to take care of the various types of ministries in the church.  The reason churches in the earlier days did not feel a need to hire additional staff members is that more of the congregation was invested and active in the overall ministries of the church.  There were typically many more volunteers in the early days than there are now.

I see another situation in Acts chapter 6 which needed ministers to tend to a ministry in which Grecian widows were being overlooked.  What strikes me about this situation is how the leaders handled it, and how the congregation responded.  In the first church, there was a "daily distribution," or a "ministry/service of tables."  The church had grown to a point that there were those who were being overlooked and brethren begin to complain. 

I was struck by what the leaders did not do in this case.  They didn't ignore the problem and hope it would go away but dealt with it directly in a positive way.  They didn't have a series of secret meetings, but wisely called the congregation together, since it was a congregational problem.  They didn't take care of the problem for the congregation, but gave them instruction and guidance in how they were to participate in fixing this problem.  They didn't scold the congregation or lecture them for possibly being prejudice.  It was likely an oversight.  Instead, they offered a workable solution that was much more edifying than a lecture.  This pleased the congregation, and they continued to grow in faith and in number. 

What a blessing to be able to have a ministry of tables, or a daily distribution!  This ministry was important enough to charge the congregation to participate in selecting seven reputable, spiritual, and wise men to oversee their contributions as they brought their resources to help brethren in need.  Both the ministry of the word and the ministry of the table flourished in this environment. 

This is a reminder that all ministry is important, whether it is ministry of the word, table, or something else.  This is also a reminder that all ministry is participatory.  I remember seeing the list of personnel on the front page of a church bulletin.  There were the expected names of the elders, preacher, deacons, and other ministry leaders.  The name under "Minister" was "Every Member."  This was a reminder that every Christian is a minister who ministers in the name of God.

My Cup Runneth Over ... Argh! What a Mess!

Someone said that we now live in a culture of complaining.  But as I read over the Bible, I recognize that this has always been a challenge wherever there are people.  Whether it was Israel in the wilderness who complained that the provisions and leadership God gave were not up to their standards, or those who complained about the faithful prophets for discouraging the troops by speaking a message of repentance or consequences.

What does it say about me if my "cup runneth over" and I, instead of thanking God, complain about the mess?  It occurs to me that I will never have to go very far to search for complaining material.  It is always readily available. Real-estate in "whine-country" is always in abundance. 

Complaining is one of the most destructive methods of the enemy to destroy peace, steadfastness, and faith.  This is especially true when my complaints are directed at the church or church leadership.  I have never seen any edification come from a culture of complaining, but I have seen destruction.  When I was a teen, my Dad told me that he observed that, "Those who regularly complain that loudest are usually those who do the least."  I have noticed this to be true.  If I am complaining, then I am usually not doing.  It enables me to think (usually wrongly) that the problem is something other than me!  Looking through the window of complaining helps me to avoid looking into the mirror of self-reflection.

I have found that regular and prayerful meditation alongside scripture with pointed questions helps to avoid the trap of complaining.  This is especially true when meditation is in fellowship with a spiritual mature and wise Christian brother who will be honest with me.


1.      1) Concerning the Church, I am

a.     Happy with the church

b.     Ambivalent about the church

c.      Unhappy with the church

2.      2) When I notice a shortcoming in the church, I usually respond with

a.     Asking what I, as part of the church, can do to help, including prayer

b.     Doing little to nothing

c.      Criticism and/or complaint of the church and leaders

3.      3) Which describes my attendance best?

a.     I am usually at every meeting of the church, including classes and events

b.     I am usually at church most Sundays

c.      I am rarely at church and church activities

4.      4) As far as my awareness of what is happening related to the church

a.     I am generally well-informed about the church and activities, listening to announcements, reading emails, taking note of the bulletin, etc.

b.     I am not very well informed about the church and activities. 

c.      I am clueless about the church and activities

5.      5) When it comes to participation in church activities

a.     I jump in and volunteer, seeking out church activities and opportunities with enthusiasm

b.     I might participate if I am asked to participate and have time to think about it

c.      I rarely participate in church activities

6.      6) When it comes to leaders, servants, and other members in the church

a.     I pray for them regularly and encourage them

b.     I rarely pray for them and encourage them

c.      I usually complain about them or to them

Optional and Required

I have been thinking about the difference between what is optional and essential as it pertains to my faith.
  How do I decide what is optional (I can do without and there is no negative result) and what is essential or required?  My mind then compares this to how I answer this question in other areas of my life, such as my job.  When I was working on Airplanes, how did I determine what was optional and what was essential?  At an absolute minimum, showing up for work was absolutely required.  If I did not show up, it would have reflected poorly on my commitment, and I would have gotten a reprimand in my file.  If I made a habit of not showing up, the Air Force would have punished me and booted me out.  But I had to do much more than just show up.  I had a job to do as part of a larger picture in fulfilling our mission.  I had to do it well and with the proper attitude.  I had to get along with and work well with others.  Attending ongoing training for updates on our equipment and software was also a must.

As I reflected on this, I came up with similar lists whether it was related to my time as a student, or to my voluntary participation on a team or some organization.  After considering all of this, I came back to this question in regard to my faith.  I know what my words have said about my commitment to God and his will, but what do my actions say?  I am reminded of what Jesus said toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:  "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter in the Kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father in Heaven."  What do my actions reflect when it comes to my faith?  Am I more committed to my job, team, recreational activities, and other such things, which will pass away when Christ returns?  When I have a choice, do I choose these over Christ and his church which he purchased with his own blood?  Do I, at a minimum, show up, or am I absent more than I am present?  Do I follow Jesus' instructions and engage in mutual encouragement with my brethren without forsaking attendance (Heb 10:24-25)?  Am I doing my best to present myself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15)?  Do I participate in Bible Classes, study, and training to become better in my job in serving Christ?

As I reflect on this, I realize how the employee analogy falls far short of describing the nature of my relationship with our Lord.  After all, the Bible does not say that we are employees of Christ, but it does say that we are the bride of Christ.  Being a spouse is worlds apart from being an employee.  If I approached my marriage by doing the minimum requirement for marriage, then my marriage may be in trouble.  Key actions in marriage include love, honor, and selflessness.  Love does not look for minimum requirements but overflows as much as possible.  The root idea behind honor is value.  Jesus showed his value for his bride by literally giving his blood for us.  We, collectively as his bride, show honor for him by pleasing him as one in selfless service.  Someone once said marriage is not 50/50 relationship, but a 0/100 relationship.  Both partners focus selflessly on loving the other 100% of the time. 

This puts commitment to Christ and his church in a very different light.  It causes me to move beyond the Sunday morning attendance requirement to being together with church and participating whenever I can.  Whether it is a Bible Class, Picnic, ministry effort, or simply staying after church and visiting, I don't view any of this through the lens of "required vs. optional."  I view it through the lens of being the bride of Christ.

Perhaps the question I need to ask myself is, "Am I faithful to Christ as a bride should be to her spouse?"  and as a follow up, "How should my words and actions reflect this?"

How Do I Smell?

I can't help but notice how much of man's relationship with God is depicted as various kinds of aromas under the former covenant.  Whether it is the pleasing aroma of an offering on the altar, or the scent of the anointing oil for the priests, or the incense that fills the holy place, there are all kinds of aromas that go from human activity to God's nostrils. 
As I reflect on all of this, it occurs to me that these are connected to emotions.  They are not just smells, but "pleasing" aromas.  I am reminded of a Star Trek character named Data.  He is an android that has no emotions.  Therefore, when he smells something, he can describe the chemical make up of what is creating the smell and nothing more.  Nothing smells sweet, nor does anything stink to him.  On the other hand, when he receives an emotion chip, suddenly things like smells, tastes, and art are completely different.  He has emotional reactions to them.  They are either pleasing or revolting. 
I am reminded of certain aromas that evoke vivid memories and associated emotions that go along with the memories.  The smell of fresh fatigues takes me back to basic training.  My heart races just a little as I remember the instructor yelling at my face with the brim of his smokey bear hat pressing on my forehead as I stood still at attention.  The aroma of fresh baked pies brings me back to my aunt's house during the holidays and the feeling of peace and contentment.  Someone once said that the most powerful sense that evokes memory and emotion is the sense of smell.  You can immediately see the reaction on a person's face as to whether it is pleasing or repulsive.
I had to ask myself what I am to learn about all the aromas God instructed for the worship Israel was to offer him.  What does this teach me about worship and service?  I am reminded that the prayers of the saints in Revelation 5:8 are portrayed as incense to God.  Paul in Philippians 4:18 refers to the contributions from churches for missions as a "fragrant offering...pleasing to God."  In Ephesians 5:2, Paul points out that Jesus provided the ultimate example of a fragrant offering to God when he wrote, "And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."  This teaches us that sincere service and worship to God is a pleasing aroma to him.  God has an emotional response to our aroma.  He either finds it pleasing or revolting.
It occurs to me that what makes an aroma pleasing to God is not the chemical makeup of the offering, but the spiritual makeup of the heart.  In Isaiah 1:13, God says that their incense was an abomination to him.  It was the same incense they had offered before.  However, their hearts were not devoted to God as was evidenced by their oppression and wickedness.  Therefore, rather than being a pleasing aroma, it was a putrid stench to God.  My heart must be faithful, obedient, humble, and sincere if my offering is to be pleasing to God.
The next time I pick up my toothpaste, mouthwash, soap, or deodorant, I will think of these things.  I practice physical hygiene so that I will not repulse the people around me.  What kind of spiritual hygiene do I need to practice before God?  Is my heart pure?  Do I offer service in his name motivated by commitment to him?  Am I obedient and faithful to him?  Do I worship and pray to him sincerely without putting on an empty performance?  How do I smell to God?

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

From Awkward and Embarrassing to Peace and Comfort

Can you imagine the stares?  Could there not have been a more awkward moment?  No one would expect this sort of thing when you have been invited as a guest to dinner.  In Luke 7, Jesus went to Simon's house for a meal.  As he reclined on his elbow and enjoyed the food, he felt something behind him at his feet.  He looked back and saw her.  A woman had come into the house and was kneeling at his feet.  How did she get in here?  I can imagine a hush came over the room as this woman knelt at Jesus' feet.  There were probably looks of disapproval.  Jesus said nothing, so neither did anyone else.  She anointed his feet and the aroma filled the room.  The sounds of her sobs pierced the silence as her tears fell on Jesus' feet.  With nothing else to wipe them off, all she could do was use her hair to dry his feet.  Did she not have any self-respect?  How dare she intrude into the home of decent people during a meal to honor a prophet like Jesus!  The more this went on, the more awkward this became.  There were those in the room who knew who this woman was.  She was not a respectable woman by any means.  She was likely the town tramp.  Simon, the host, was probably embarrassed and disgusted.  I am sure he wondered about Jesus' reaction.  I can imagine the look on his face as he muttered, "If this man were really a prophet, he would know what kind of woman he is allowing to touch him.  She is a.. sinner."  I can imagine Simon was wondering what Jesus would do next about this poor excuse of a human being.


Jesus finally spoke up.  "Simon, I have something to say to you."  I wonder if Simon thought, "Finally!  I was wondering how long he was going to allow this embarrassing situation to continue.  Simon replied, "Say it teacher."  Jesus then tells a story.  “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”  Simon correctly answered that it was the one who had the larger debt.  Then Jesus does something unexpected.  He contrasts the woman at his feet with Simon at the head of the table, but not in the way he expected.  Simon did not offer water for Jesus' feet, nor give him the customary kiss on the cheek, nor did he anoint him with fragrant oil.  All of this would have been the customary way to honor a guest.   In contrast, the woman wet his feet with her tears, did not stop kissing his feet, and she anointed his feet with ointment.  What a stark contrast!  She showed more honor to Jesus at his feet than Simon did at his head.  She came into the house seeking Jesus in complete humiliation and emptiness.  Jesus acknowledged that she had many sins, but then he forgave all her sins.  The last thing he said to her was, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." 


Everyone in that room was in need of forgiveness.  It is likely that Simon did not recognize his need.  However, this woman had no defense.  She knew her condition and she knew she needed to get to Jesus.  She intruded into the dining room because she had to get to Jesus.  There was no pride, no hiding behind a veneer of respectability, only the overpowering need to get to Jesus.


I am struck by Jesus' actions. He took an extremely awkward and humiliating situation for the woman and turned it completely around.  He did not shame her the way Simon did.  Instead, he took away her shame. The woman left that day in peace, not humiliation.  Jesus' words shamed Simon.  She treated Jesus better than Simon did.  She humbled herself before Jesus, and he lifted her up.  This was a kind and beautiful thing Jesus did.  One of the things to reflect on is this: How can I be like Jesus in similar situations?

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Spiritual Sensuality

Spiritual sensuality.  These are two words we would not normally put together.  Spiritual things are of God.  However, sensuality seems to be anything but godly or spiritual.  There has been a prevailing attitude toward eroticism and sensuality that sees it as something that is sinful and worldly.

If this is true, what do we do with Song of Songs?  This is an entire book of the Bible that belongs in the adult section for married couples.  Jews have often interpreted this book as being about God’s love for Israel.  Likewise, Christians have historically interpreted this book as sort of a parable of Jesus’ love for the church.  The obvious reason is that the passionate sensuality of the book seems beneath the exalted message of the scriptures.  Therefore, it must be about something higher, such as our Lord’s love for his people.   This view is reflected in some of the songs we sing in our hymnals, which applies the images in the Song of Songs to Christ.  These include the Lilly of the Valley from 2:1, The Fairest of Ten Thousand from 5:10, and The Rose of Sharon from 2:1.  There is even a children’s song that comes from 2:4 - “He brought me to his banqueting table, his banner over me is love.”

The only problem with this view is that if eroticism is too worldly, then why would God use it to describe his relationship with his people?  If the passionate and sensual love of the Song of Songs is scripture, then why can’t it be what it appears to be?  It describes smoldering, passionate, sensual love between a husband and wife.

Consider the opening words of the book…“The Song of Songs…”  This grammatical construction is the same as “crème de la crème,” (cream of the cream), or the best of the best.  In other words, this sensual, erotic, passionate love poetry is the best of the best.  The best of the best is found in scripture!  This tells us that all love is of God, including the passionate love between a husband and wife.  It is exquisite, sultry, and passionate.  It expresses overwhelming admiration and overpowering desire.  In the marriage, these are good and godly things.  They are just as God intended.  It belongs to God, not Hollywood or the music industry.  In fact, Hollywood has taken this exquisite creation of God and gleefully destroyed it.  Taking it outside of marriage with no real commitment and turning it into a means of self-gratification and objectification of another human being rather than mutual expressions of love in a committed marriage has led to untold damage.  However, when honored in the way God intended, it is the best of the best.

Some of the recurring phrases still resonate with us across the language and cultural barriers.  We comprehend the suggestiveness of the aromas and fruits.  We can understand what the secret garden, or walled garden means when it comes to the romantic and passionate love between spouses.  We can relate to phrases such as “the one whom my soul loves.”   However, there are other phrases and images that either do not communicate well, or are completely obscured through the language and cultural barriers.  One could analyze each phrase, but then something may be lost.  Poetry is not meant to be merely analyzed, but to be experienced.  This is one of the reasons I suggest reading freer translations and paraphrases when reading Song of Songs.  The New Living Translation, The Message, and other such renditions offer a fresh reading that often communicates more in the way the poetry of the verses were intended.

Why is this book in the Bible?  Perhaps it is meant to function for the godly marriage the same way the book of Psalms function for all who love God.  As the poetry of the Psalms model worship, devotion, prayer, confession, and self reflection for the worshipper, Song of Songs models romance, passion, sensuality, and making love in both words and action for the married couple.  Sensuality in this way is intensely spiritual and is of God, not the world.  There is no shame or guilt when spouses honor this exquisite creation of God according to his intent. 

Friday, January 29, 2021

God's Gifts to the Church

For years I missed it when reading the passage from Ephesian chapter 4.  It says that grace was given to each of us according to measure of Christ's gift.  This is not the grace God extended to us that led to salvation, but the grace that God extends to his people for ministry.  It is the same type of grace Paul speaks of in Ephesians 3:8, where he declares, "To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ..."  It is the grace Peter speaks of in 1 Peter 4:10 where he writes, "As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's grace in its various forms."  This reminds me that grace moves from salvation to service in the name of Christ.

What I missed for a long time in Ephesian 4 was the nature of the gifts God gave to the church.  After declaring that Jesus "gave gifts to men," the text goes on to say in verse 11 that, "He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints..."  God's gifts to the church are people who equip the church for her calling!  I had to ask myself if I give thanks for God's gifts, or do I, like Israel in the wilderness, complain about God's gifts?

I have been focusing on the gift of apostleship because this may refer to more than the twelve.  After all, the Ephesian church was likely never equipped by the twelve.  Apostolos is an untranslated Greek word, which might lead to confusion on its meaning.  Greeks used this word to refer to an envoy sent by an authoritative figure.  It was not an inherently religious word.  In Luke 6, Jesus chose 12 of his disciples and designated them his "Apostles."  As his apostles, he conferred authority on them, which is why they were able to do many of the same miracles he did, and why their teaching carried the authority of the master.  Paul became an apostle of Christ directly from him.  This is why Paul introduces himself in Galatians 1 as, "Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father..."  Paul differentiates himself from others who are also designated as "apostles," such as Barnabas in Acts 14:14; Epaphroditus in Phil 2:25, or the brothers who traveled with him in 2 Corinthians 8:23.  In the latter two references, "apostle" is usually translated as "messengers," which obscures the fact that the text uses the word, "apostle."  Epaphroditus is not an apostle of Christ such as The Twelve or Paul.  Like Barnabas who was sent by the church in Antioch, Epaphroditus was an apostle of the Philippian church.  "Apostle of whom?" is a significant question.  The twelve and Paul are in a different class of apostleship and authority because they are apostles of Christ.  Everyone else is an apostle of the church.  Our word today for this is usually something like "missionary."  Tent-maker and Church-Planter fall in the same category.  I used to think that "missionary" is not a biblical word, but perhaps "apostle" in the generic sense could translate legitimately to "missionary."   Therefore, "apostle" in Ephesians 4:11 could refer to more than The Twelve and Paul.

How does a "missionary" equip the church?  It involves equipping the church for fulfillment of Jesus' commission in Mark 16:15 to "proclaim the Gospel to all creation."  In this sense, the entire church has received apostleship.  Romans 1:5 says that "we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith..."  The church is not just the called-out, but the sent-to.  Hebrews 3:1 says that Jesus is the apostle and high priest of our confession.  Jesus was sent by God into the world.  Jesus then sent the Spirit to the church when he left.  The church in turn, is sent by our Lord and empowered by the Spirit to continue his mission in the world. 

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Think On These Things

“January 1st is just another date on the calendar.”  I have heard several people repeat this phrase as last year concluded.  However, the challenges, issues, and problems do not suddenly disappear when you throw out the old calendar and hang up a new one.  It is understandable that there is a sense of renewal when the old year ends with short days and the new year gradually brings longer days.  But the events in the world around us are a reminder that all that has happened was a changing of the calendar.  Little else has changed.

We should be encouraged at some of the things that have not changed.  Jesus is well and alive yesterday, today, and forever.  We worship and serve he who was, who is, and who is to come.  Our Lord inclines his ears to the prayers of his godly ones.  Our Lord is with us even to the end of the age.  He who began a good work in us is continuing to complete it. His Kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and the gates of Hades have not and will not prevail against it.  With the rising and falling of nations throughout history, his Kingdom continues to thrive.  He will set up his heavenly kingdom after he has abolished all rule, authority and power.  We will reign with him forever and ever.

Jesus said this in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  Amid the world’s troubles, which are to be expected, we have peace.  We are not ruled by fear, but by faith in our King who has overcome the world.

I am reminded of a letter Paul wrote while he was in prison due to his commitment to Christ.  Being in prison for doing the right thing could potentially be faith destroying without the right perspective.  But we need to remember that Jesus said we will have trouble in this world, and that he has overcome it, bring us peace.  The letter Paul wrote from prison to the Philippians is full of joy and rejoicing.  Paul was not weakened, but strengthened due to the perspective our King on his throne gives us.  Here is his instruction:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 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. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil 4-9).

Two phrases stand out.  “With thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  Thanksgiving as a discipline shapes our outlook on life.  It is a reminder that our blessings always outweigh the problems.  It gives us the ability to focus on hope and to take hold of the joy that strengthens us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  It is not escapism but is merely standing back and looking at the true and larger picture.  If all we do is focus on the tiny smudge at the edge of the plate, we miss out on the magnificent feast that our Lord has prepared for us. 

The other phrase that stands out is, “…if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  This goes hand in hand with thanksgiving as a discipline.  Another word for thinking is meditation.  Meditate on this passage.  In order to do so, it is necessary to turn of the T.V. and put down the newspaper and pick up God’s word.  It will remind us that we are and always will be blessed in the Lord, not in the world.  We need to as Paul said in Thessalonians, encourage one another with these words.

Our Tent

One of my memories growing up was staying in a tent.  My father used to take us on road trips.  Instead of staying in a motel, we always stayed in a tent.  My Dad had purchased a large canvass Coleman tent.  Sometimes we traveled for the purpose of camping.  At other times, we traveled to get from point A to point B.  Regardless of the reason, we stayed in a tent.  I can remember waking up to frigid mornings as well has hot and humid ones.  I also remember meals coming from either a grill or campfire.  After we were finished, we literally pulled up stakes and packed everything back up in the trunk of the old, blue, beat up '69 Chevy Bell Air that served as our family car.  That tent served us for several years.  However, like so many other things, it became old and worn out.  Eventually, the tent was no longer serviceable and had to be discarded.  

Even though we had fond memories of trips with the tent, we would not have wanted to live in a tent.  A tent is not intended to be a permanent home.  It is portable and temporary.  It is quite different than a house built on a foundation.  When we lived in Vermont, we went shopping for a home.  I was struck by the age of some of the houses we looked at.  I used to think that a house built in the1920's or 1930s was old, but there were houses for sale that were built in the 1800's or even older.  They were older than myself, my Dad, and even my grandfather.  They were still very solid homes despite their age.

A passage of scripture I have been reading brought back memories of the tents and old dwellings of the past.  In John 1, after stating that the Word was with God and was God and created all things, it states, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."

There is more than one word that can translate to "dwell, remain, abide, etc." from Greek.  This particular word, skēnoō, means to pitch a tent, or dwell in a tent.  This is an interesting word choice to describe what Jesus did when he left Heaven and came to earth to live among us.  It is a remember of what God did when he made a covenant with Israel at Sinai.  He gave instructions to Israel to build him a tent as his sanctuary.  After construction of the tabernacle, his glory came and dwelt in the tent, which was pitched in the midst of the camp.  God had come down to dwell among his people.  The reason it was in a tabernacle was so that it could be portable.  God and his people moved from one place to another together at temporary lodging places until they arrived at their permanent home. The same is true for Jesus.  He pitched a tent for a time and lived among us.  This was not his permanent home.  After his death and resurrection, he ascended back to the Father.  

2 Corinthians 5 tells us that we also are living in a tent.  Even though the tent will wear out, we have a permanent home built by God in Heaven.  The tent that this text is referring to is our body.  Our bodies, like any other tent, wears out over time.  The text says that while we are living in this tent, we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.  This becomes more apparent as the years go by and the tent continues to wear out.  Our stay in this tent is only temporary.  Like Abraham in Hebrews 11:10, we are looking for a home with foundations.  Our Lord has gone to prepare this home for us.  This tent is not our home, we are just passing through.