Apostle Paul

At the beginning of Thomas á Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ he speaks of the most important thing a Christian can do in their life time is to study Christ.  Yet it is not enough to merely study him but to imitate him in our everyday lives.  The very practice of doing or saying what  Jesus said or did is to experience a bit of life through the mind of Jesus Christ.  Think about it, when Jesus didn’t ignore those who were often invisible in his culture (like children) but embraced them.  Such an act changes a person from the inside out.  One learns to see the disenfranchised with compassion and love.  Or when Jesus said to turn the other cheek or walk the extra mile for an enemy.  This sort of sacrificial living teaches that life is not all about us and that even the hearts of our enemies can be softened.

We can also examine the lifestyle of Christ, how he spent significant amount of time away in prayer.  We all need this time of prayer and fellowship with God.  We can often fall into the trap of feeding our rational/intellectual side of being human and neglect the other basic need of being a social being as well.  We need that time to simply have relationship with God.  This is vital for becoming like Christ.  Paul encourages us in Romans to have the mind of Christ, to renew our minds.  A very big element of this is spending time, getting to know Jesus.  What does this do?  It helps us to truly think, act, and speak like Jesus.  I believe that this is the reason for so much nonsense in the world and even among so-called Christians who appeal to a gospel, that Paul says in Galatians 1, REALLY ISN”T A GOSPEL AT ALL.  Why?  Because they have perverted the faith of Christ, the apostles, the early Church fathers and mothers, and great men and women of God down through the ages for a lie.  How?  Because they do not truly know Christ or have not spent significant time in his presence getting to know him.  Instead they follow their passions, imaginations, feelings, emotions, lusts…to create something that though it sounds biblical because they use scripture, it is not biblical at all because they twist scripture.

In Jeremiah God speaks of false prophets crying out, “Peace, Peace” but the message and warning from God was that “there is no peace” but judgment.  Why is this important to recall?  Because we need to be in tune with God the Father and be aware of what is coming down the pike.  We need to be able to heed his warnings.  We need to be able to know the truth when we hear it and know what is false.  There is a lot of false teaching out there as we speak.  We live in a very pluralistic society where people are making up beliefs as they go along.  While studying philosophy in my undergrad, one thing that drove me nuts was that there was a philosopher for every crazy belief you could think of.  One day my professor said, “Philosophy is a dangerous thing, with the right charisma and eloquent rhetoric, a philosopher or orator could prove that a toothpick is God.”  Sounds ridiculous huh?  Well there are people that teach that god is in everything, in all matter and that that matter possesses the essence of God.  Therefore if God is in a tree and that toothpick came from the tree that housed God…the toothpick is God too.

So what is the safeguard to all of this.  Praying, and sticking to the faith you have received.  Pay attention to that check in your spirit that says, “You know…that sounds all nice and stuff but something isn’t right here, something is off.”  St. Irenaeus was a bishop in the ancient Roman province of Gaul in the second century AD.  He was very close to the time of the apostles and had received the faith that had been handed down to him by very trusted and faithful men.  In turn he taught the “barbarians” in Gaul, the simple folks who could not read or write.  Yet he says in Against Heresies if someone came and began to teach them a different Gospel than what the apostles had handed down to them they would recognize it immediately as a lie and would turn and run the other way.  It is a faith that many have suffered for, died for, and guarded, not only with their words but with their hearts, minds and lives.  We need to honor them by taking our faith as seriously as they did.

The moral of that story is that it is better for most Christians to not even listen to deception and to flee from it instead.  Now God has called many throughout the Church ages to practice what is known as “apologetics” or the defense of the faith.  Yet these individuals are usually deeply grounded in the teachings of Christianity and are very familiar with why we believe what we believe and most of the details behind our faith.  But the truth of the matter is that most Christians do not have the time, the resources, the interest or the calling to engage in this.  We are all part of the same body with different gifts, passions, and callings that are equally as vital and useful to our community as the next.  I have no ability in leading worship because I sing like a sick duck.  Yet I am thankful for those who are called into this ministry who can lead us into the presence of God through worship.

I say all this because it is necessary in our day to stay anchored in the faith and know what that faith is.  There are a lot of false gospels as Paul says in Galatians, but they are no gospels at all.  In fact, he says “If anyone teaches you another gospel than the one we have given, even if I or angels come doing so, let him be cursed.”  Pretty strong language that wouldn’t go over big in our day.  But his language emphasizes the urgency of his warning.  This is why Jesus was so sturn with those who departed from the true faith, same as the apostles, same as the early Church fathers and mothers.  Thomas Oden says in his three volume work Systematic Theology that “the vital question for Christians is not rather it is palatable but rather it is true.”  We are not interested in only the things we like about scripture but what is true…what is scripture and the teachings of Jesus and the apostles claiming is true.  That’s what we want to know.  That’s what we need.  That’s what God expects of us.


Life is busy!  Right?  I know I am not the only one experiencing this.  Fall always seems to be a busy time of year and just when I feel like I am starting to get a routine going and settling into the semester a bit…WHAAM!!! The Holidays Hit!  That’s right folks…Thanksgiving in the U.S. of A. is almost a week away.  Insane isn’t it?  Well that has nothing to do with my post but I thought I would just reach out for some support here:) Misery loves company.

Anyhow, what I really want to think about  is how the world sees us Christians.  I feel like I have this issue on my heart a lot.

The other night I was sitting on the couch and my wife had one of those “girly” flicks on.  You know, those movies that are oozing with sappiness.  They have more sap than a Maple tree in February.  But here’s my confession–the other night as I was sitting on the couch reading, my man-eyes found themselves watching the ooey gooeyness.  I found myself being entertained.  I know…AHHHH!

The movie was based on a novel where this young Christian couple move out west in the 1870’s to settle a ranch.  They hire some farm-hands to help them keep up with the work.  This couple is unlike most ranch owners in that they genuinely care about the farm-hands.  They invite them for dinner in their home, give them gifts, and even have them in their home for a Sunday morning gathering in which they read scripture and pray.

What caught my attention most was how one of the farm hands turns to another worker and says, “If what they believe makes them the way that they are, then I want to know what it is that they believe.”  I thought immediately, “Well that’s Jesus’ vision of true evangelism in a nut-shell.”  Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Sounds pretty close huh?

If the world could see the love of Christ in the Church in how we act towards and treat each other they will know that we are the disciples of Christ.  A few chapters later in John 17:23 Jesus states that if we are one in relationship the world will believe in the reality of Christ and God’s love.  Sounds a lot different than what Ghandi said about Christians, “I would be a Christian if it wasn’t for the Christians.”  You know, I don’t blame him.  I listen and watch what the Church is often up to today and I see so much division and self-righteousness that I know that it is the reason why the spirit of Ghandi lives in many unbelievers.

Want proof?  Turn on Christian radio and listen to the right-wing conservative Christains demonizing and bashing so called “liberal Christians.”  The term that usually get’s thrown around is “Pharisees” and “heretics.”  I hear a lot more “Rushian” (that’s my word for followers of Rush Limbaugh) and “Beckian” then Christian coming out of many of their mouths.  Their rhetoric is twenty-first century, capitalistic, republican jargon that often high-jacks verses of scripture to support their preconceived ideology.  They make Christ look like…well Rush Limbaugh.  If other Christians do not conform to this type of Christianity then they question the “other’s” committment to Christ and wonder if they are really saved.

In addition, I am in seminary and I hear plenty of moderate to liberal voices that dismiss the right.  They call them “fundalmentalist lunatics” who would burn everyone else at the stake if they got the chance.  They often view the right as uneducated and uninformed cavemen.  They feel that the right interprets the Bible way to literally and at times are offended if they actually accept scripture at face value.  Oh my gosh how horrible, wouldn’t want that!  Oh yeah…they call the people on the right “Pharisees” too.

Yet I can hear the voices of those Christians on the fringes of the Church bashing everything that is orthodox, doctrinal, dogma, creedal, patristic, traditional, ritualistic, theological, ecumenical etc. as nothing but traps put in place by mean authoritarian monsters who just want to control the nice and good-intentioned masses.  These people feel that they have been specially ordained by God to set the record straight and teach us all what Jesus REALLY meant that the Church has gotten completely wrong over the last two-thousand years.  Oh and by the way…they call the two groups above “Pharisees.”  Yet the two groups above call these people “heretics” and even “Pharisees” at times.

So will the real Pharisees please stand up???  I’m confused.  Yet I know that all of us usually fit into one of these categories and I probably just upset most everyone who read those descriptions.  I think I offended myself too actually:)

I wonder however, if there is a golden mean…that is, is there something in common we all have?  UHHMMM YEAHHH!  Probably 85 to 90% of what we believe if not more.  Yet we major in the minors and demonize each other.  We allow our differences to become divisive.  WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?  My guess: because we all think Jesus favors our point of view over everyone else’s and would be on our team in the arguments.  But I think we are getting it wrong.  I think scripture teaches that God is aware of the differences and that often times they are gifts and not reasons for division.  Scripture teaches unity and “one-ness” in the midst of differences.  Relationship in the face of disagreements.  Disagreements and differences are good.  The challenge is not letting them become divisive.

Paul in Galatians 5 says that in this new kingdom, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free.  He is not saying that ethnicity ceases or cultural heritage is obsolete.  He is not saying that women stop being women and men stop being men.  That is mere foolishness.  What he is saying is that those things are no longer reasons for division and that we all look upon each other as equals…”one in Christ.”  The love of Christ is all-embracing and requires us to “love one another.”  NO EXCEPTIONS.

I admit, I am guilty of my own prejudice against a certain group of believers that I find rude and abrasive.  It may be okay for me to address this concern with my brothers and sisters but it is not okay for me to get on the radio and attack them in front of the whole world.  It is not right to name drop and attack like vicious wolves.  Whatever happened to correcting your brother in secret and in love?  I think we think it makes us seem more right  when  we boldly and abrasively demean each other.  If this is how we continue to act I am sure the world is not going to witness the reality of Christ and God’s love among us.  We are being a disobedient Church.  Ghandi said, “You Christians don’t act like your Christ.” (paraphrase).  He is usually right.  Not because we can’t but because we choose to ignore his command.  Yet Christ says in John, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Loving Relationship in the midst of differences is what I am encouraging here.  As the world becomes more pluralistic and more violent toward Christianity we need to recoginize those precious things we have in common and embrace each other as family.  This is what our Christ commands.  We would do well to heed his words.  Let’s look past the differences and see Christ in us all.

Now don’t run off on me!:) I am aware that terms like “morality”, “virtues” and “ethics” seem quite dry and archaic.  But I think that some of my readers that would initially tune me out here will find this post very encouraging and invigorating.

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is a classical historical work by Edward Gibbon that was been a foundational authority on the Roman Empire for the past few centuries.  It is certainly not an easy read, but it is full of priceless information about the long period of time that the Empire existed.  This work is important to Christians because it is during the reign of this empire that Christ lived, died and rose again.  It was during this empire that the early church grew rapidly and thrived.  It was eventually this empire that would adopt Christianity as the state religion under Constatine.  And when this empire collapsed in the West, it was Christainity that remained as the leader of the West in its institutionalized form as well as in its pastoral role.

In one part of this great work, Gibbon addresses the phenomenon of how the Church grew so rapidly in the first several centuries.  Gibbon gives five solid reasons.  For the sake of this post we will examine one, and address the others in later posts.  The one I want to focus on in this post is that the Church grew rapidly because of “The pure and austere morals of the Church” or as he puts it later on “The virtues of the first Christians.”

Gibbon points out that the early Christians “demonstrated their faith by his virtues.”  That is to say, someone outside the Church could pick out a Christian based upon their virtues, moral and ethical behavior.  Imagine that.  In a contemporary society when pastors are divorcing their husbands or wives; ministers are having adulterous affairs or skimming off the top of ministries to buy a Rolls Royce or expensive clothing; Christians are suing Christians at the drop of a hat and so on.  Yet, these early Christians put strong emphasis on the transforming power of God to cause a change in their behavior that they committed to maintaining.

When they repented, they expected a “reformation of manners.”  Good ethical and moral behavior was expected of them.  We see this taking place even in Paul’s letters to the church of Corinth.  In the words of one of my professors, Paul was basically saying in those letters, “Stop acting like that…true Christians don’t behave that way!”  A life of vice was not acceptable.  So much so, that when the “most abandoned sinners” observed this lifestyle, many were attracted to the faith and the possibility that they too could be changed into the image of Christ.  They observed that the “driving passion” of these Christians was a “perfect life”, that is a virtuous lifestyle free from malice and vice.  In fact, they were so concerned with living holy lives, that if they were guilty of anything they were “guilty of an excess of virtue.”  Some of those early Christians would read scripture and take things very literally and at times perhaps legalistically.

The pagan world looked at that early Church and although they might not understand why there was a change in their ethical behavior, they were amazed by it and often drawn to it.  This is recognized by historians like Gibbons, who often states that he as a historian is not interested in establishing theological truths but understanding and stating history.  Yet it is also recognized by external evidence by secular officials of Rome like Pliny the Younger.  While emperor Trajan was in power, Pliny wrote to him asking how he should deal with the people known as Christians in the mid to late second century.  It is a priceless document because in it Pliny states that besides the fact that the Christians refuse to worship Caeser as a god, they are law abiding, loving, and good citizens.  He attests to their moral fortitude.  In fact, the early Christians thought it very important to be blameless citizens, unless the laws interfered with the laws of God.

Further on in the Roman Empire, Justin the Apostate came to power.  Under his reign he attempted to reestablish paganism as the state religion.  However, he admitted that he had an enormous struggle.  The struggle was that even though he had estabished a pretty efficient system of bishops and officials to oversee the practices of this pagan religion, the Christians’ moral and ethical behaviors, as well as their endless acts of charity far outweighed anything the pagans could do.

Gibbon and many other scholars point to this as one of the main reasons why Christianity grew so quickly in the Roman Empire and throughout the world.  There is no doubt in my mind that the Church today needs to return to this.  The Church needs a moral, ethical, love revival.  The Church needs to stop apologizing for its high moral standards found in scripture and tradition and begin to live it out.  Part of why we do and don’t do the things we do is because God expects us to be holy and different than the world.  There should be a contrast that is markedly different about us.  So that when it comes to issues like pre-marital sex, drunkeness, violence, gossiping, bickering, oppressing, ridiculing etc–the Church should be pure and blameless.

Many unbelievers argue that they can be moral and ethical too without Christianity.  I argue that they do not have the longevity, pure motives, and complete ability to do so.  I argue that all you have to do is walk into a mall and see just how well they live out those so called morals by the way they treat each other.  I also argue that the morals and ethics they have are not solely intrinsic but they are running on the fumes of morality taught to our culture by Judeo-Christian inheritance.  Lastly, I argue that any ability they have to give the appearance of morality is based upon what the patristic fathers saw as a mere imprint of the image of God that they were originally created in.  That is to say, that their morality is based upon an inward conviction that God has installed to warn them of what is wrong and right.

The problem today is that the world looks at the Church and doesn’t see much of a difference.  People are not dumb, they know when we talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.  I argue that Christians through the power of the Holy Spirit have the ability to live moral and ethically pleasing lives before the Lord.  However, most Christians don’t even try.  We join churches (which are basically social clubs for many) take on the title of Christians, carry our Bibles, act special on Sundays and then lead worldly lives the rest of the week.  This is not good enough.  Paul would say, “That is not how Christians behave.”


So I have this tree.  This tree is a black walnut tree.  It doesn’t bloom and get leaves until June and begins losing it’s leaves in August.  At some point in July it grows black walnuts.  Sounds cool huh?  Walnuts in your own backyard.  Well it’s not so cool.  Because as soon as these walnuts come on the tree they begin falling off the tree all over the yard.  Needless to say, this tree makes a mess of my yard and the leaves and walnuts begin killing the grass.  Last year I got so frustrated with the mess I told my wife I wanted to cut it down this year.  So at one of our picnics I told my father-in-law that I wanted to end this tree’s life. 

My father-in-law knows a guy who would do it for us and would take the wood too.  It would be a quick easy clean up.  I had my mind made up…this tree was going to get whacked!  But then my father-in-law said, “Yeah  we can cut it down, no problem.  You’re gonna lose some shade though.  It’s a really good shade tree for your backyard.”  Why did he have to say that?  I had my mind made up and everything.  I looked around the yard to see how much shade it really offered throughout the day and sure enough it covers almost half the yard.  But it makes such a mess.  “Nope we’re cutting it down.” I thought. 

Then my niece overheard that I wanted to take this tree out.  “Oh my gosh, you can’t do that!” she said.  “I love that tree!”  And in fact I did recall that every time she comes over my house one of the first things she does is run to that tree with a book, climbs it, sits on one of its branches (it looks like it was made for sitting) and reads.  Her younger brother went into the same type of panic mode as well.  He’s a young boy and loves to climb it too.  But dog-gone-it I hate the mess it makes.  But it does provide some nice privacy as well from neighbors. 

Then I realized, I was so obsessed and focused on the negative characteristics of this tree that I failed to see and appreciate  gifts.  In fact, I underestimated this tree and took it for granted.  Maybe this tree isn’t so bad.  So what if I have to clean up a mess now and then.  I think I want that shade and I really do enjoy seeing the kids run to that tree as soon as they get to the house. 

But isn’t this how we are with people?  At times we get so caught up in what we don’t like about them that we fail to see and appreciate the gifts God has given them.  Instead of encouraging them in their gifts we often become jealous, envious, and at times even covet their gifts.  One of my gifts is a gift of learning and teaching scripture.  I can’t count how many times a week I am told by some Christian that “you can have all the knowledge in the world but it doesn’t really matter to God.”  I am constantly reminded that one doesn’t need to go to seminary to be used of God, as though I was not aware of that.  I have even mentioned to my wife countless times that being a seminary student is one of the most thankless things I have ever done because of the passive aggressive attitudes I get about it, FROM CHRISTIANS.  Yet I believe it has mainly been my wife and father and a few other family members and friends who have strongly encouraged me in this calling.  Usually from others though it is a smug dismissal.

But it has caused me to reflect on 1 Corinthians 12-14 where Paul addresses the fact that we have all been given various gifts from the Holy Spirit.  Those gifts come to us only by the grace of God.  Paul often uses anatomy metaphor to illustrate this sundry gifting.  The hand for instance has its own gifts which are far different from the eyes’ or ears’ giftings.  But do we ever get mad or jealous of the eyes because they have the gift of vision or the feet for walking.  No way!  Why?  Because we clearly understand that we NEED them and if they all work together the harmony creates a glorious and productive outcome. 

Am I ever jealous of another’s gifts?  I would be a liar if I said, “No.”  But I have tried to transform that reaction from jealousy to genuine excitement for that individual.  How can I be mad at or jealous of them because of what God has chosen to give them by his grace?  I can’t.   I think the remedy therefore is to be thankful to God and appreciate the fact that he has given the body of Christ an individual with such wonderful blessings as to edify the Church and its mission to the world.

Just like that tree, I have had to change what it is I am focusing on.  Am I distracted by the seeming weaknesses and being blinded to the precious gifts?  I think so.  But now I can’t imagine a backyard without that shade, privacy and special children playing on it.  So I will keep the tree and my cherished brothers and sisters I have in the body of Christ.  “Thank you Lord for the gifts you have given to us all in your wisdom and grace.”


I am finding that the book of Acts is becoming my favorite book in the Bible.  If you haven’t noticed already, the book of Jeremiah is my favorite OT book for many reasons.  One of the main reasons how ever is that as I read it I can feel the aching and hoping heart of God.  It is such an intimate book.  However, Acts is so powerful and exciting.  It gives valuable insight into the early Christian Church from the ascension of Jesus to the narrative of Paul under house-arrest in Rome. 

The book is commonly called the Acts of the Apostles which many scholars and ministers state may be a bit misleading.  Many claim that the true main character is in fact the Holy Spirit and perhaps the book should be renamed, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.”  I once heard how many times the Holy Spirit is referenced in Acts but I forgot and to be honest I do not want to take the time to count how many times he is mentioned from the concordance.  But if you want to do it for me and reply to this post–feel free:)  But the number of times is a lot and it dominates all other nouns. 

Given this fact, as I read through Acts I am always shocked when I come to the story almost in the middle of the book in Acts 19:1-7.

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the inland regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 2He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’3Then he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They answered, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ 4Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.’ 5On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied— 7altogether there were about twelve of them (NRSV).

WHAT!?!  They never even heard?  Okay, maybe I can give these guys some slack because the Gospel was just beginning to be spread over those first several decades and these guys were all the way in Ephesus.  This city was in Asia Minor and was a long ways off from Jerusalem where the Holy Spirit was first given on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2.  Yet we must note that it was vital and essential to Paul that these gentlemen receive the Holy Spirit.  In fact, the reception of the Holy Spirit is one of six main features that seem to be the essentials for joining the Church and being part of God’s people.  Here they are: 1.Hear the core teachings of Jesus culminating in an account of Jesus’ death and resurrection; 2. Repentance; 3. Faith in God through Jesus Christ; 4. Baptism in the name of Jesus; 5. Forgiveness of sins; 6. Reception of the Holy Spirit. 

These six essentials are found throughout Acts in the conversion accounts.  They are not always present in every account but are frequent enough to be recognised by most scholars as being necessary.  So Paul takes this opportunity to inform these men of the Holy Spirit and he lays his hands on them and they do indeed receive.

What troubles me however is that I often visit many churches or come acrossed many so-called Christians who remind me of this passage.  I begin talking about the Holy Spirit and they look at me like I am telling them about my best friend’s roommates step-uncle who is twice-removed on his father’s cousin’s side.  I talk about the Holy Spirit and they respond in complete confusion. 

I have sat Sunday after Sunday in churches where the Holy Spirit is never mentioned once except maybe in a reading of scripture.  Why is this?  Would Paul recognise our churches as Christian churches?  Would he walk in and start talking about the Holy Spirit and the congregation respond, “No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”  Now if this is one of the six features that we see dominating early Church conversions and recognition of one belonging to the people of God…shouldn’t we have him as a more dominant subject of our conversations, sermons, books, and experience?  I think so!

So this is how I want you to think about it.  We know that in many of the cities Paul visited and established churches there were theaters of entertainment.  In these Hellenistic cultures entertainment was everywhere…like our culture.  If they had ratings on the theatrical dramas they acted out in these theaters in Paul’s day, would he have gone to ‘R’ rated ones and would he have encouraged his churches to do the same?  Secondly, how does your understanding of that impact your opinion if Christians should go to ‘R’ rated movies now.  Let’s have fun with this one!

I would much like to tell you a story if I may.  It is a true story but I will refrain from using real names to protect the identity of the individuals involved.  This story involves a mother and a very young girl–toddler age.  One evening, while the father was taking a nap in his bedroom, he awoke to mother and daughter arguing out in the living room.  The little girl refused to pick up the mess of toys that she had made.  So, like any good mother would do, she sent the little girl to her room. 

A couple of minutes later, the mother went and got the girl and explained to her that she was put into “time-out” because of her refusal to clean up her toys.  So the mother guided the little girl out to the living room and told her once again to pick up her toys.  As toddlers tend to do, the little girl refused and told her mother she wanted her to do it instead.  If you are a mother, have a mother, know a mother, or in any such way have contact with a mother (even in a grocery store) you will understand what happened next.

The mother in a bit of frustration told the little girl if she did not pick up her toys she would throw them in the garbage.  At this point the father who was still laying in his bed heard the rustle of garbage bags as the mother actually went to the kitchen to get them.  He slowly struggled out of bed into the living room to observe this activity.  Sure enough he saw garbage bags with toys stuffed in them like Santa’s sack.  Unfortunately these toys were going and not coming. 

If you are not a parent you might think that the little girl was crying and horrified that her toys were being thrown out.  On the contrary however, she was somewhat curiously making a game of it.  The father noticed that the little girl was not at all sad or angry but peculiarly having a bit of…well fun.  The mother to get her point across kept mentioning the point that the toys were being thrown out and that the little girl would never be able to play with them again.  Ironically, the little girl didn’t seem to hear these words, as if they just didn’t matter.  So she kept helping.

When all the toys were picked up and in garbage bags the little girl stood in the middle of the living room for a moment as if she was thinking.  Then at once she bolted to the window and started opening and closing it with the little turn handle.  When she had enough of that she started chasing her brother and they giggled and  tickled each other.  As they were on the floor she found a little plastic toy orange that suddenly became a ball that was thrown to mommy and daddy and across the big wooden window sill. 

At that moment the father realized the most precious gift that lives inside this little girl.  Contentment.  She is not tied to those toys, there is no deep attachment to those things.  And she is the polar opposite of the vicious and covetous attachment that adults often have to their things like Gollum is to the Ring.  If she wakes up in the morning and those toys are not there, my guess is she won’t even notice.  If she does, there will be a game made out of the most simplest of objects, like a shirt or a shoe.  She will find a pencil and some paper to doodle on.  Or she will simply harass her brother all day.

I must mention that the father did ask the mother what she really intended to do with those toys and she responded that they were going to be organized and put into the basement (which has become a sort of play room for the family).  But every mother can relate to her reaction and some have done or said worse.  I know… I have a mother.  Ha! Ha!

Yet as I read scripture tonight from Philippians, I came across a passage that reminded me of what this father observed in his daughter.  Paul encourages the Philippians throughout his letter to them to be content and not greedy or self-serving.  But I think he says it best in 4:10-13:

 10I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength.   

Note that he writes this from prison. Then again in 3:8 Paul says that he counts everything that was profitable for him as loss compared to knowing Christ.  Why? Because true righteousness and contentment is in NOTHING except in Christ.  Christ is all we need and this is why Paul says that he can do everything.  Christ gives us the strength when we are full or hungry, rested or tired, rich or poor, clothed or naked, healthy or sick.  If you wake up tomorrow and find that everything is gone will you be like that little girl?  Will you be content with Christ?  We all need to learn to detach ourselves from not only our toys, but all things that come between us and Christ.

Notice in 3:19 that Paul’s opponents had made their bellies their gods.  These were ministers who were not content unless their bellies were full and they had it all good.  If you know ministers like this…run from them because that is not the reality of preaching the gospel.  Paul says in 1:27-30:

  27Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel 28without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, 30since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have. 

Paul preaches that preaching the true gospel includes believing in Christ but also suffering for Christ.  We will struggle.  It is when we live lives that are all good that we must realize something is off.  Therefore be content in all situations and in all things knowing that you have what truly matters–our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus.

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