The new has come

There’s just something neat about new.

The smell of a new car, the look and feel of a new gadget, the cuteness of a new puppy.

Many of us get excited about a new year.

There’s optimism in the air, isn’t there? Yep, I messed up last year, but this year’s gonna be different.

It’s a beautiful new slate, clean start, fresh beginning.

New me for the new year, as they say.

God likes new things too, something Paul celebrates here:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

God gives newness, but it’s not tied to the calendar, of course.

And it has nothing to do with weight loss or gym memberships or quickly-made-but-easily-forgotten resolutions.

He gives newness in Christ.

In fact, he recreates us in Christ, which is incredible.

All those sins?

Gone.

The guilt, hopelessness, living only for self?

A thing of the past.

God gives you a new identity with a new hope, a new outlook, and a new future.

Maybe that’s just what you need on this last day of 2012.

Maybe you got sidetracked this year, got your priorities out of whack, became a little self-serving.

Now’s a good time to change that.

God’s not bound by our calendars, of course, but there’s no better time than today to ask God to give you a fresh start.

If you’re not a follower of Christ, trust in him as God’s Son and connect to his crucifixion in baptism.

Maybe you obeyed the gospel long ago, but today what you need more than anything is for him to be your Lord and Savior once again.

Ask him.

He’ll make you new, completely new, beautifully new.

In Christ, “the new has come.”

Wow . . . another year is almost behind us

Many people have told me that time passes more quickly as you get older.

I don’t know if it’s true for everyone, but from where I sit I think they’re right.

Can you believe 2012 is almost gone?

It’s been an eventful year. The presidential race occupied our attention for much of the year. We were intrigued by the London Olympic Games, horrified by shootings in Aurora and Newtown, and now we’re preoccupied by talk of heading over the nebulous but scary “fiscal cliff.”

What’s happened in your world in 2012?

Did you welcome a child into your life? Send one to college?

Get a new job? Change careers?

Perhaps you went through a divorce or lost someone you love.

I’ve been working my way through Philippians with you, so maybe it’s providential that we come to the end of it today.

The way Paul closes this letter seems quite appropriate as we end one year and begin another.

Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit (Philippians 4:21-23).

In the 1,950 years since Paul dictated this letter from a Roman jail, the world has changed in many ways. Nations have risen and fallen. Wars have been fought, and millions of people have lived and died.

But in so many ways, things are still the same.

We look at a world that’s not too different from the one Paul saw from his imprisonment. People are laughing and crying and dreaming and living and dying.

And what the world needs now—what we need now—is the same thing they needed.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We still live in a fallen world, and we’re a fallen people, but the hope Paul extended to the church at Philippi is the same hope God extends to us today.

He offers us hope through his grace, which is how Paul finished the letter.

And I think that’s a pretty good way to end a year:

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

But I need it

Sometimes—especially in the weeks before Christmas—one of my kids and I engage in a friendly back-and-forth that goes something like this:

“Dad, I need a new iPod.”

“You need one?” I ask.

“Yes, absolutely. Desperately.”

“Why do you need one?”

“Because the one I’ve got is three years old, doesn’t have Siri, doesn’t have enough memory . . .”

“But why do you need it?”

At some point, usually about here, he sees the smile on my face and realizes I’m sorta messing with him.

Sorta.

“Okay, I don’t actually need it, but I really do want it.”

I’m picking on my kids, of course, but I’m just as guilty as they are.

Apple convinces me that my iPhone is so 2010, that my busy life practically demands the latest version.

Oh yes, I need it, I convince myself.

The automaker convinces me that an eight-year-old car that’s missing most of the latest bells and whistles is beneath me . . . I need something better, and now would be perfect (after all, low interest financing is always available . . .).

I doubt I’m alone here.

One of the drawbacks of living in a culture of prosperity is that we get terribly confused about the difference between needs and wants.

If you’re like me, you received a few gifts over the past week.

How many of them were genuine needs? Were any of them?

I got a few books that I plan to enjoy, but I could live without them.

I got another electronic gadget that I love, but I won’t be able to eat it, and it won’t give me shelter or keep me warm this winter.

I need God to remind me again of what Paul wrote as he neared the end of one of his letters (written from jail):

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen (Philippians 4:19-20).

Maybe you need that reminder too.

Don’t buy into the lies your culture is shouting at you.

We probably don’t really need much of what we think we do.

But the needs we actually have? The real ones?

God’s got them covered.

Why giving is good

Well, the holiday gift-buying rush is on, isn’t it?

I made the massive mistake of going to the mall yesterday, which only confirmed my personal conviction that if a gift can’t be ordered online and shipped to your doorstep, it’s not worth having.

But most of us like exchanging gifts this time of year, don’t we? Hearing the squeals of delight from kids as they open gifts on Christmas morning is unforgettable.

And, though we adults aren’t as keen to show it, getting something we’ve wanted for a long time isn’t so bad either.

Paul’s philosophy on gifts is both interesting and challenging. It’s fascinating to think of his eyes lighting up when a friend from Philippi brought him a gift from the home church to his prison in Rome.

In this passage Paul comments on the gifts he’d received, but notice carefully why he was excited about what they’d sent.

Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen (Philippians 4:14-20).

It must’ve been a welcome sight when Paul saw his friend approaching with the gift. Unable to get out and earn a living for himself, he depended on the generosity of others.

But did you notice why he was most thankful?

“Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.”

Even as he suffered in prison, Paul enjoyed the gifts he received mostly because he knew it blessed the ones who had sent them.

He was putting into practice some words from Jesus he had quoted earlier: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

That’s an important lesson for us, especially this time of year.

Getting the top item on your wish list is great, but it’s so much better to give to the needs of others.

Someone once said, “We’re never more like Christ than when we’re giving,” and I think that’s right.

We ought to practice that during this holiday season. Let’s think more about what we can give than what we will get.

Let’s teach (and show) our children not to be obsessed with how many packages they’ve got under the tree.

Find some underprivileged children whose needs you can meet.

Donate some time to a homeless shelter.

Invite someone without a family to eat a Christmas meal with yours.

Whatever we give to the needy, to paraphrase Paul’s words, is like putting it into the hands of God himself . . . it’s a “fragrant offering” that brings a smile to his face.

Enjoy a giving holiday season.

When do we get the good life?

There’s a tendency to postpone contentment, or to explain away why we don’t have it right now.

The condition is so common that it’s got its own street name: the “Greener Grass Syndrome.”

Sometimes the good life is almost within grasp, just the other side of a 5% raise.

Or it’s in that house across town, the pretty one with 500 more square feet, the fenced-in back yard, better school district, and less traffic.

Yep, I’d be content there, I know I would.

Sometimes it’s got a chronological component.

I’ll be happy when I get these kids out of diapers

If not then, I’ll get it when they go to school.

And so on.

At some point, or so I’m told, you live long enough to realize that you should’ve just enjoyed the good days you had instead of thinking they were just past the next milestone.

That’s why Paul always challenges me. He doesn’t let me sit here and justify my restlessness with feeble excuses about the life I wish I had.

He says it plainly: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11).

Seriously?

How?

The key is in what he writes two verses below, a verse that’s quoted so much it’s almost become a cliché.

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

I suppose those words of Paul have been crocheted and hung on more walls than perhaps any other verse.

Everybody can quote them, but do we know what they mean?

Contrary to popular opinion, they don’t mean you can do anything you set your mind to, that God will always give you the strength to do whatever you choose.

What they mean is right there in the paragraph.

Jesus Christ will give you the strength to be content regardless of what’s going on around you.

Understanding that is crucial.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

No matter how hard you try, you won’t have contentment aside from the power of Jesus.

It’s also true that he’s not going to force it on you . . . there’s an “I can do” part to the verse as well.

So where do you stand today?

Is your contentment just around the corner but always out of reach?

Paul tells us to stop making excuses, turn our lives completely over to Jesus, and embrace commitment in him.

There’s some pretty bad stuff going on in our world right now, but I suppose it’ll always be that way.

We’ve got to choose to submit everything we have—including our disposition—to the one who saved us.

Praying for Newtown

If you watched the news over the weekend, you heard reporters grasping for some kind of adjective to describe what happened Friday.

Unthinkable. Unconscionable. Horrific. Unimaginable. Grotesque.

Everyone who was trying to talk about the murders of twenty 6- and 7-year-olds and six adults in an elementary school simply didn’t know what to say.

I don’t either.

I’ve got more questions than I’ve got answers.

How could anyone do that?

What was going through his mind?

What went wrong to get him to this point?

Why, oh why, did it have to be kids?

We might never know the answer to most of those questions, but as Christians we have several convictions.

We know that God cares, and that he can bring good out of awful situations.

We believe that today just as strongly as we did last Thursday.

“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

“Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).

We don’t know all the reasons why, but as Christians we believe even when we can’t see.

We trust even when we don’t know.

And so now we pray to a Loving, Omnipotent, Sovereign God.

Please take the names of these 20 kids and 6 adults to our Father’s throne, and pray for their families. And also pray for the Lanza family

The children:

Charlotte
Daniel
Olivia
Josephine
Ana
Dylan
Madeleine
Catherine
Chase
Jesse
James
Grace
Emilie
Jack
Noah
Caroline
Jessica
Avielle
Benjamin
Allison

The adults:

Dawn
Rachel
Anne
Lauren
Mary
Victoria

Our Father, though we don’t know why some things happen the way they do, we trust in you as our Loving God. We ask you today to bless these families and give them comfort in a time of terrible grief. We pray that you will turn their hearts toward you and your word and your people. We pray that you will guide everyone who will minister to them, counsel them, hug them, love them. In some way, Father, we pray that more people will come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Thank you for being a God of compassion, and for expressing your love to us as you watched your innocent Son murdered because of the things we’ve done wrong. Through him we pray, Amen.

In Christ,
Chuck

Learning to be content

Are you content?

Truly content?

Some of you didn’t sleep well last night, or perhaps your back is killing you.

Are you content?

You might have a teenager who’s questioning everything you say and do, and the constant conflict is about to make you lose your mind.

It’s mid-December, and you’re nervous about having enough money to buy the gifts you need to buy and still have enough to pay January’s mortgage . . .

Real contentment is elusive, isn’t it?

How can I relax when I’ve got all this to worry about?

I love the apostle Paul, but sometimes his level of commitment seems almost out of reach.

Here is one of those passages. By the way, as you read this, remember that Paul is writing from a Roman jail—not exactly the best of circumstances. (In comparison, I’m writing this while sitting in a comfortable chair in a climate-controlled room . . .)

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:10-13).

The church at Philippi had sent Paul a gift, and part of the purpose of this letter is to thank them for it.

But he wants to be clear: he’s fine if he receives gifts, and he’s fine if he doesn’t.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m in prison I’d much prefer receiving gifts over not getting them.

Paul’s faith is incredible.

He had grown so much in his relationship to Christ that his contentment wasn’t tied to how much stuff he had, or if he had any at all.

His happiness wasn’t based on his surroundings—his smile was as big in prison as it was on the outside.

I get the feeling that Paul wouldn’t have been too tolerant of people whining about not having the fastest horse on the street or the coolest sandals on the block.

Which brings me to us.

I’m thankful for our country, but one of the problems about living in a prosperous part of the world is that we come to expect it.

We think we’re entitled.

My house doesn’t have enough bedrooms, or my clothes are a year out of style, or my car doesn’t have the bells and whistles of the latest models.

I wonder how Paul would respond to some of the things I’ve grumbled about?

Here’s a challenge: Pray that God will help you to be content.

Ask him to give you a spirit of happiness that isn’t tied to what’s on the outside—your health, your house, your things.

Ask him to remind you daily that you can smile no matter what’s going on in your life.

If Paul could be content on the inside of a Roman jail, surely the rest of us can learn to focus more consistently on all the good we’ve got.

The little feet that follow

The song “Slow Fade” by Casting Crowns always makes me think.

Especially as my kids get older.

Be careful little eyes what you see, It’s the second glance that ties your hands as darkness pulls the strings; Be careful little feet where you go, For it’s the little feet behind you that are sure to follow.

It makes me think again of a little boy who’s trying so hard to walk around the house in his daddy’s way-too-big shoes.

Of toddlers who say incessantly, “Watch me jump, Daddy! Watch me run! Watch me throw!”

In their little minds I was the standard, what they wanted to be like, who they wanted to be.

It’s humbling, and a little scary.

A lot scary.

Here’s that principle in Paul’s thought:

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:9).

He’s not doing it arrogantly, of course, but he’s urging these Christians to model their lives after him.

“Just follow me,” he says. “And I’ll lead you where you need to go.”

The principle behind that statement is true whether we like it or not.

Some of the people in our lives are going to practice what they “learn and receive and hear and see” in us.

Our kids will, to a great extent, at least.

I urge parents to teach their kids Bible lessons in home devotionals and casual conversations, and I still think we ought to do that.

But honestly, they’re going to learn so much more from just watching us than they will from listening to us.

Oh, and they’re watching us more closely than we think.

Paul didn’t write this verse to parents, at least not explicitly, but it convicts those of us who have kids.

Maybe God’s Spirit will convict you today with this verse.

Maybe there are people in your life right now—kids or grandkids or friends or neighbors—who haven’t seen what they ought to have seen in your life.

And maybe God’s getting your attention through Paul’s words to humble and challenge you.

Regardless, the Lord is telling us to live our lives so that people around us—who may not know much about Jesus—can get a glimpse of him by looking at us.

A challenging thought, isn’t it?

Take a brief break from all the bad stuff

Bad stuff is everywhere, and you don’t even need to leave your living room to see it.

Watch ten minutes of primetime tonight, or scroll through what’s new on Netflix, or browse the Internet.

You’ll see it.

If you leave home, you’ll see it out there too.

Glance at the magazines in the check-out line, go see one of the movies that opened Friday night, listen to your peers talk in the break-room or the locker room.

It’s a messy world.

Crude humor, illicit sex, vulgarity, smut, dishonesty, superficiality.

It surrounds us, and I don’t think I’m overstating it.

You’ve probably felt yourself being affected by it.

Maybe you’ve gotten sick of the constant stream of gossip and profanity that you can’t seem to escape.

Maybe you’ve felt yourself getting sucked into the negativity and hopelessness of the people you work with or go to school with or even live with.

Maybe you’re just tired of it all, ready for a break from sin’s bombardment.

There are tons of reasons why we desperately need to take time every day to commune with the Lord, but this is definitely high on the list.

We need to get away from the garbage for awhile so God can get us ready to be his light in a dark place.

I think that’s what Paul’s talking about here:

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).

We can’t run away from the sinful world, of course, but it’s important for us to put a filter on our hearts.

It’s hard to live how we ought to live and think how we ought to think when we face a daily barrage of ungodliness.

Make up your mind to take time to focus on the good and limit how much you’re exposed to the bad.

In your devotional time today, enjoy being in the presence of God, the Ultimate Good. Love him. Enjoy him. Talk to him.

Ask him to fill your heart with truth, honor, justice, purity, and loveliness.

Ask him to focus your heart on what is commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy.

Maybe you’ll have only 10 or 15 minutes, or perhaps you can take an hour or more

But take some time.

Then you’ll go back to the real world, and you’ll be better equipped to face what you’ve got to face.

One day, of course, the Lord will come back to get us . . . and then we’ll be surrounded by everything that’s good—and only what is good—for eternity.

The peace we crave

I don’t know what your prayer life is like, but there’s a connection between how you talk to God and how much peace you have.

Have you been praying lately?

Is there restlessness, anxiety, in your heart?

If your answer to the first question is “no,” your answer to the second is probably “yes.”

Notice Paul’s connection between prayer and peace:

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 (Philippians 4:6-7).

All of us want peace, but many of us don’t have as much of it as we’d like.

Paul makes three important points about it here:

Peace comes from God. It’s the peace “of God,” not the peace “of us.” I think sometimes we miss that point. I find myself believing that if I could just get everything on the outside fixed (less stress, fewer problems, etc.), then I’d feel better on the inside. If I could do it. But it actually works the other way around . . . when I accept God’s peace on the inside—his gift—it helps fix the stuff on the outside.

Peace is inexplicable. It “surpasses all understanding,” which implies that sometimes we won’t understand why things happen the way they do. Because it’s from God, though, it can overcome inadequate explanations.

Peace protects our hearts. “Guard” is a military term, suggesting that peace “stands on duty to keep out anything that brings care and anxiety” (R.R. Melick, p. 150).
And most of us need that. We live in an anxiety-ridden world that’s overwhelmed by the search for something to get rid of the uneasiness we’ve got in our hearts.

But the answer is right in front of us.

Paul urges us to turn everything over to God, accept the peace of Christ, and let him stand guard at the door of our hearts to ward off all anxiety and worry.