Tag Archives: Philippians 4

Infinite beauty

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again – rejoice!

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

(Philippians 4.6&8)

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

(Isaiah 53.5 & 61.1-3)

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…From the fulness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No-one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

(John 1.14-18)

There is a common misconception about what it means to be a follower of Jesus in this messy and troubled world, where life can be unbelievably hard and painful for so many people. It arises from this verse in Philippians, when Paul exhorts his readers to ‘rejoice’ always in the Lord. It is not only false, but also deeply unhelpful, to argue that this means that we are all meant to triumph continually over every adversity, to smile perpetually in the face of pain or tragedy, and to face injustice and oppression as though they were nothing.

Look carefully at what Paul says – we are to rejoice in the Lord, not in our circumstances, nor in some pretended victory over those circumstances. It is only right that as mortal beings, created in God’s image, we should grieve over death and destruction, should be provoked by injustice and deceit. As followers of Jesus – who wept over Lazarus, and delighted to heal those who suffered in their bodies – we should feel the pain of this broken world, not pretend it doesn’t exist for those who profess faith.

So what does Paul say? That our primary source of gladness, of joy and the strength which comes with it, is to be Jesus Christ, our Lord. It is as we contemplate this man, this God-made-flesh, that we are refreshed in our spirits,  growing in faith and trust, and thus able to continue to witness to God’s goodness and saving power. This source of joy can never fail us, never dry up or become contaminated. We can never reach the end of his loveliness. This Jesus combines in himself all the wonderful attributes of God, and a perfect humanity, and therefore ticks all the boxes of things Paul is exhorting his readers to think about!

Every good quality that we celebrate in one another, is seen to perfection in Christ.

Every need that we find in ourselves, and most desperately the need for forgiveness, restoration to fellowship with God, and freedom from sin; is given abundantly in Christ.

Am I weary? He is patient and strong.

Am I grieving? He is my tender comforter, and ever-present companion.

Is the devil stirring up dead ashes of guilt about old sin? He is my all-conquering captain, victorious over that enemy and blowing the ashes away with the strong breath of his forgiving and cleansing love.

Am I toiling with private griefs and seemingly endless trials? He is faithful in bearing the burden as I repeatedly lay it upon him; and as I contemplate his death for me on the cross, I am comforted that even through my troubles, he can work all things together for good.

My beautiful Lord..faithfulness made visible, love made flesh and blood, holiness completely allied to mercy..

Praise God, praise with great praise, for the joy which we receive as we gaze upon the infinite beauty of Christ.

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Celebrating the ordinary

Then I realised that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labour under the sun during the few days of life God has given him – for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work – this is a gift of God..

(Ecclesiastes 5.18&19)

Praise the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendour and majesty. (The Lord) waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work. He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate – bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.

(Psalm 104. 1,13-15)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

(Philippians 4.6&7)

What does it take to make you realise how many gifts you receive daily from the hand of God? I know that I sit far too lightly to the bounty which is bestowed upon me constantly, and am guilty of a perverse and persistent discontent, recklessly discounting so many good things.

Perhaps you have suffered periods of illness, been confined to your bed, or to the house, even unable to move independently. Is it not the case that in the early days of your restoration to health and freedom of movement, you rejoiced in every step, every breath of fresh air? I know that has been my experience, and there is some faint memory of the depth of my gratitude for the gift of health and physical strength. But it quickly fades, and we become impatient of lingering weaknesses, or inexplicable aches and pains, choosing to focus on the negatives instead of rejoicing in the good things we have.

Perhaps you have been deprived of the company of those you love for a long period of time – due to work commitments, study arrangements, or even just the natural process by which children grow up to leave home.. How sweet it is to be reunited, to see their faces, feel their hands in ours, have their physical presence once again. And how long before their habits, their opinions, all those little things that are not quite to our liking begin to irritate us, and we long for their absence?

What fickle creatures we are, how much in this regard we fall short of the image of God in us! Our God never tires of his people – think of that for a moment…NEVER! In our most irritating moments, when we have chosen for the umpteenth time to disregard his loving care and to resent his directing of our lives – even then, he is waiting patiently for us to turn again in repentance and glad desire for a fresh start in his company along the road which he knows is best for us. We have so much to learn from him in the ways that we receive and celebrate one another – may we grow in this accepting and affirming love, willing always to see the good, and to build up our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Not every one of God’s children has enough to eat and drink, not all have the shelter and peace they need to thrive. But if those of us who do have these things fail to give thanks and appreciate them, does that help anyone? Of course not! In fact, the more grateful we are for what we have, the more aware we are of those who do not, and the more generously we will seek ways in which we may meet those needs. The gift of contented gratitude for all we receive is not one which should anaesthatise, but rather galvanise us, into reaching out to others.

Let us give thanks for simple food, seeking to restrain our greed so that we may provide for those who hunger and thirst.

Let us give thanks for health and strength, seeking to resist self-indulgence so that we may serve others whose bodies are not so vigorous.

Let us give thanks for our gifts, no matter how insignificant they may seem, so that we recognise we too have things which our God desires to use to bless his people.

Let us give thanks for the gift of contentment, recognising that God has freed us from the prison of envy and  that our personal worth is not determined by our possessions, looks, career or anything except the priceless sacrifice of Jesus for us.

Contented people are able to serve others gladly, selflessly, sacrificially and joyfully because their worth is in Christ; their peace comes from knowing him and trusting him to do all things well.

God grant us this gift of grateful content, that we may freely give…

 

 

Just be gentle…

“Go out and stand before me on the mountain”, the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

(1Kings 19. 11-13)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. the Lord is near.

(Philippians 4.4&5)

My father was a ‘gentle-man’, it was one of his outstanding qualities. He was strong, physically and emotionally, stubborn and loyal, but very gentle. He had big hands, but would delicately cup a rose bud or seedling as he transplanted it. He never shouted or snapped at us as children – and I don’t think I have just forgotten it either! I have no memory of him talking about others to demean or mock them, but sometimes he would express regret that their actions and words had unfortunate consequences.

As I go on in life I increasingly appreciate gentleness, and thank God that in my father, I was shown such a clear example of God’s own gentleness in his dealing with his children. I will always be a child of God. I will always need my Father’s love and provision, and part of that provision is for the balm of gentleness.

When a child is frightened, hurt or astray and worried about coming home in disgrace, they need above all to be met with gentleness. That quality speaks of a love which understands our weakness, and knows that we need above all reassurance, not a brisk reprimand or exhortation to ‘get over it and get on!’ Perhaps in due time, the reprimand will be given – gently – or the exhortation to continue on the way will come. But first and foremost is the comfort, the healing of a forbearing love.

True gentleness is hard to fake, and easy to recognise. It is a quality which draws people towards itself, as moths to a flame, as cold hands to a warm glowing fire. Jesus had it, and so drew to himself so many wounded and rejected, worthless and despised people. They knew that he was different, that he would not add to their pain but would recognise, respect and minister to it.

Jesus valued everyone as a child of God, created to know and love and be loved, to add their own unique voice to the eternal song of glory to God. When we fail in gentleness, we are failing to demonstrate that same awareness of the priceless value of each person. Surely that is part of what Paul is driving at when he exhorts the church in Philippi to be known for their gentleness, by reminding them that ‘The Lord is near.’ This Lord who crafted each person in his own image; who longs for each one to come into a loving relationship with him; who longs for each one to know life in all its fullness within the community of God’s people here on earth.

I know what it is to crave gentleness from those around me, in times of distress and even in times of gladness, I find it hard to be handled brusquely and feel somehow diminished and irrelevant. A lack of gentleness tells me that I do not matter, that my feelings don’t matter, and I am of little value. This is not what the story of God’s love tells me, and I cling so closely to his gentle arms, listening for that gentle whisper which speaks his presence and his constant love. He tells me that I am special, beloved, worth everything to him, and that gentle voice brings healing.

Let me minister this healing to others, since I know how precious it is for me. Let us all seek to grow this Christ-quality in all our dealings with one another, so that we may build one another up, and not cause any to fall down or become discouraged, thinking that they do not matter to us – or to God.

Let our gentleness indeed be known to all, that God might be glorified and his people blessed!

An open hand..

Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. He said

I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!

In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God.

(Job 1.20-22)

Grief, and worship.. How often do we actually manage to put these two together in our own experience? Perhaps if our idea of worship involves singing songs that make us happy, then we can’t begin to combine them. But this is not what Job was doing, and it helps me to see past the current fashion for worship leaders, bands, fancy lighting, and music-induced emotion. In Job’s actions here, his response to a devastating loss of life, I see true worship – which is to give God his rightful place, to acknowledge his power, majesty, mystery, and to put myself in the right place before him – flat on the ground.

How hard we find it to get rid of the persistent notion that we are entitled to anything in this world! Our culture continually encourages us to acquire, to aspire, to achieve, and even to demand – because we are ‘worth it’. We are exhorted to stand up for our rights – even when that means trampling the rights of others. And what does the bible say about this? That we came with nothing; that every day we live, every breath we take, is the free and undeserved gift of God! We can expect nothing as of right; not health, wealth, freedom from oppression, family life, or fulfilling work…Nothing.

And yet we have so much! Perhaps it is the very bounty of God, the mercies we have enjoyed daily since birth, which makes it so easy for us to take it for granted, take it all as our right. Job knew better, and when he lost everything dearest to him, he continued to give God the right to be God, to be good and just and holy, and altogether greater than Job could comprehend. He didn’t pretend that he was happy about the loss of his children, and subsequently his health. He lamented, and poured out his grief in some of the most powerful language recorded in the bible. But he always addressed himself to God, as God, never questioning that this was the right and proper thing to do.

 I am thankful not to be facing such appalling loss, but the forthcoming change in our family circumstances does mean that I will be giving up some very precious – to me – activities and things.

For ten years, I have sung as an amateur singer with a Symphony Chorus, performing alongside a professional orchestra, world-class soloists and conductors, and making music at the highest level. It is very hard for me to express how much pleasure and satisfaction I have been given through this gift, but I know that as I face leaving the city, and the chorus, I will lose one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. Does God know, does he care? Of course he does! It was his gift of music in me which I celebrated in joining the choir in the first place. And every concert has been a time of rejoicing in what music is, one of the greatest gifts mankind has been given.

So as I close the music, say farewell to my fellow singers for the last time, and as the echoes of the final bars of sound die away, I will grieve, bitterly. And that will be fitting, because I have been deeply blessed, and and profoundly thankful for all I have been able to do and experience.

And my Father will see the tears, the pain, and in his tenderness will come closer than ever to hold and reassure me. He gave, and he is taking away. Blessed be his holy name.

I must and will trust him for these losses, for the wounds caused by parting. His love for me, and my dependence on his grace is what will keep the wounds clean and wholesome, will make the scars themselves a thing of beauty. I will – with his help – rejoice for what has been, give thanks whenever I remember, and turn any pang of regret into prayer for greater trust, so that I might say , with Paul that I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances, and that through Christ who gives me strength.