You Need a Plan

He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

“What is it?” Del touched the wooden pole and then pointed to a pile of unpainted boards. “And those?” Layne sighed and ran his hands through his hair. “Yeah…that was gonna be a coat rack, and this one…maybe a bookcase. I never got around to finishing them.” He swept his arm to indicate what had once been a three-car garage, but now resembled the after effects of an explosion at Hobby Lobby. “Yeah, I start out great, but lose steam halfway through and never finish. I’ve got thousands of dollars’ worth of parts in here—mechanical, carpentry, technology—but they’re worth nothing unless I do something with them. He kicked a two-legged table. “Guess I should throw some of it away, but it’s good stuff. I really need a plan.”

Do you ever feel like one of those unfinished projects? God saved you, delivered you, and cleaned you up, but every time you turn around, you’re messing up. You don’t want to. You’re trying to follow Jesus, but all you see is a big mess. This verse is for you! It was God who began that good work in you and it is God who will finish it. He doesn’t give up on His projects halfway through because, unlike Layne, He does have a plan. Jesus doesn’t toss anyone on the scrap pile, because He’s an excellent carpenter. His sandpaper is rough and His knife is sharp as he whittles away ugly parts of our character. Being God’s project can be painful, but He’s the only One who sees the message inside our mess. He knows how to bring out the beauty hidden behind our stubbornness, pride, and selfishness. When we cooperate with Him, He continually refines, perfects, and molds us into works of art. Our Carpenter never gives up until our lives become masterpieces, fit for the house of a King.

When discouraged with yourself, remember that your Carpenter is still at work.
 Don’t criticize His masterpiece. 

Thank God for You

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Philippians 1:3

Every time I think of you, I …what? Depending upon our relationship with the “you” in this question, the answer often sounds like this: “Every time I think of you, I get nauseous…I want to scream…I have deep regret…I feel anxious.” Can we honestly say that we give thanks to God for everyone in our church? Some people make us question God’s judgment rather than motivate us toward thanksgiving. Paul had the same issues we have. Not every person who read his letter was Best Friend material. The church at Philippi had a few jerks in it too. Their church also included baby Christians, whiners, and trouble-makers. But, instead of reminding them of how far they had to go, Paul praised them for how far they had come.

Gratefulness is the secret to contentment. When we express continual thanks for our possessions, we stopped craving what other people have. When we thank God for our physical features—eyes that see, hears that hear, hands that move—we realize that bad-mouthing the way we look is simply ungratefulness. And when we learn to thank God for the good qualities we see in others, we can more easily extend to them grace and forgiveness. Our natural attitude says: “That guy is so-o-o slow, it drives me crazy!” Paul’s attitude says: “That guy is so careful that he rarely makes a mistake.”

Try this experiment: When you want to complain about someone, find something about them to thank God for.

Welcome to Phillipi

After they had been… thrown into prison…
Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. Acts 16:23-25 

WELCOME TO PHILIPPI. Paul’s experience in this city looked nothing like its tourist literature. He and his company had arrived for a stay and were leading people to Jesus and starting a church. But the city leaders were convinced that his message would upset the status quo, so they had Paul and Silas arrested, beaten, and thrown into a dungeon. Unfortunately, Paul had experienced several similar tours of Mediterranean jails, so instead of sulking in silence, he and his buddy considered prison their new mission field. The Dungeon Choir drew the attention of the other prisoners and even the jailer got saved. When the anti-Jesus mob couldn’t shut them up, they ran them out of town. And that was Paul’s introduction to Philippi.

How would you feel about a place that had treated you that way? It would be understandable if Paul wanted to shake the dust off his sandals and vow never to return. Holding a grudge or crossing them off his list would be reasonable. At the very least, he may try to forget it ever happened and focus his efforts on people who appreciated his message. 

But when Paul was invited to be a guest in another city jail, he wrote a warm letter to the church at Philippi. Some in that church may have been the very people who had mocked, arrested, and beaten him. But since that time, they had accepted the message they once rejected and been added to the church. Paul’s former enemies were included in his loving letter to the church at Philippi.

Who has been crossed off your list because of what they did? 
What if God wants to use you to bless them?

Veto Power

He humbled himself by becoming obedient… even death on a cross. 
Therefore, God highly exalted him... Phil 2: 9

You deserve more! Demand your rights! Flaunt your stuff! So much for the wisdom of our day. It’s all about ME. Nobody can offend or take advantage of ME. “It’s my way or the highway,” we announce proudly, as though God Himself might want to take notes. What if Jesus had that attitude? What if He arrived on earth, grew up to understand Who He really was, and became disgusted with the whole plan. “These people are awful, Father. They don’t appreciate anything I do for them: the miracles, food…and for what? Only a handful even believe in me and I deserve respect! I’m not dying for them. Beam me up.”

That’s how we might feel. But Jesus understood true humility. He knew that to exalt Himself would distract from His message. So He always exalted and obeyed God—even when that obedience cost Him His dignity, His wants, and His life. How far would you go to obey God? We might want to please Him, but we also want to retain the veto power— just in case. Being beaten to a pulp and then nailed to a cross would classify as veto-worthy; yet, Jesus earned future glory by His willingness to fully obey. Jesus knew that His Father would reward Him for all eternity. We can follow His example because we know that too.

Have you retained the veto power in your level of obedience? 
You’ll never accomplish all God wants for you.

Empty Yourself

…although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Phil. 2: 6-7 

Imagine the scene. The Adored One of heaven steps to the portal and looks down. On a faraway planet, the humans He loves are murdering, raping, and stealing from each other, while the religious ones are frantically trying to make themselves righteous enough to impress God. They are all without hope. The Son looks at the Father and hears, “It’s time, Son.” Jesus nods and lifts the ornate crown from His head while a thousand angels gasp in astonishment. The warriors draw their swords. What was happening? The Son removes His royal robes, but when angels rush to serve Him, He holds up a hand. “No, I’m not going there to be served. I’m going to be a servant.” Emptied of His privileges as God, the Son steps through the portal.

When Jesus “emptied Himself,” He willingly set aside everything that kept Him from coming down here and being with us: His rights, His history, His comfort, His own will. He left them in the hands of His Father and would depend upon the Holy Spirit’s power to help Him fulfill His mission. He set the pattern for us. Jesus emptied Himself of everything that kept Him from uniting with us physically, and we must empty ourselves of everything that keeps us from uniting with Him spiritually. We set aside our rights, our history, our comfort, and our own will, leaving them in the hands of the Father, and depending upon the Holy Spirit’s power to help us live for Christ. As Jesus emptied Himself to be one of us, we must also empty ourselves to be one with Him. 

Think Like Jesus

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Phil 1: 5

Whoa! Wait a minute. We know we are supposed to try to BE like Jesus, ACT like Jesus, and LOVE like Jesus. But those are all external behaviors, things we can choose to do. Now, we’re told to THINK like Jesus. That sounds about as possible as leaping over Mt. Everest in a single bound. We’d be more likely to win the lottery without buying a ticket than to have the same mindset, the same attitudes, and the same motivations as the Son of God. Yet, there it is. A command we’re expected to follow. So when we’re confronted with an impossible-looking command in the Bible, should we: 

A) treat it as a suggestion?

B) pretend we didn’t see it? 
C) pretend we’re doing it but we’re really not? 
D) ask the Holy Spirit to do it through us?

If you guessed A-C, you’re wrong, but probably in the majority. If you guessed D, you’re right, but it might not be the way you think. Asking the Lord to “do this through me” is often spiritual code for “It’s God’s fault if I don’t obey Him.” That’s not what it means. Before the Lord can do the impossible through us, we have to be willing to get ourselves out of the way. If we are to have the same mindset as Jesus has, that means we cannot hang on to the old mindset that belongs to us. 

To think like Jesus means Self has to pack its bags. Self no longer gets to vote or veto. We capture those self-centered, prideful, lustful, envious thoughts, call them what they are, and kick them out. We stop excusing our sin, and agree with God. Then answer D will work.

 Are you willing to have the same mindset as Jesus? 
It means surrendering to His right to change your thinking.

Biblical Christianity

…not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others. Phil. 2:4

“Yeah, but I like things this way! I can’t believe you’re changing it.” “I don’t want our small group to grow. Those people aren’t like us.” “I should help support missions and our church, but I like nice things.” It would be great if those comments were pure fiction, but they’re not. Every church has its own version of them. Every family does too. Me First! My Wants Should Rule! Of course, we don’t say it like that. We’ve come up with milder ways to express those selfish tendencies. But the motives are still there. The very root of all sin is this: I want what I want when I want it. I’ll do right, as long as it doesn’t infringe on what I want.

What if we let Jesus rule our lives to such an extent that our first reaction to any idea was: “What would Jesus have me do? How can I best represent Him in this situation?” Imagine the transformation in our homes, our churches, and our communities if that was the default response of every Jesus follower. 
Most divorces would never happen. 
Families would live in harmony. 
The church would never need to beg for volunteers because the lists would be filled months in advance. 
Giving would overflow the buckets, every orphan would have a home, and there would be no needy among us. 

Is this utopia? No, it’s biblical Christianity. 

Prideful Humility

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. Phil 2:3  

Alphonso flashed his award-winning smile as cameras snapped. “Get a couple more orphans in this shot,” he murmured to his press secretary while resting a manicured hand on a toddler’s fuzzy head. “Alphonso! Alphonso!” journalists shouted. “How much have you donated to this project?” The superstar lowered his gaze in practiced modesty and waved a dismissive hand. “A little over ten million, but really it’s nothing—” Fans cheered from the scarlet-roped viewing area, drowning out the next question. Alphonso exchanged a wink with his accountant. Ten million was a small investment that paid off in publicity. Charity work was rewarding in itself, made him feel like a good person. But it was also tremendously profitable—if you did it right.

“Prideful humility” is a paradoxical term that needs to be added to our dictionaries. Guilted by constant reminders of how blessed we are, we can be tempted to publicly demonstrate our generosity. We’re so used to posting and tweeting every minute detail of our lives that we can forget what true humility looks like. Culture’s attitude is: If you can’t Instagram it, why do it? This verse nails us. We do most things out of selfish ambition and vain conceit, but Jesus reminded us in Matthew 6:3: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” That means that we should give, serve, love, and forgive quietly and privately because God sees our inward motivations. He wants to reward us for eternity, but He can’t if we’re already rewarding ourselves. When our greatest desire is to please the Lord, it doesn’t matter who else knows. God does. And that’s enough.

How often do you make choices simply to please the Lord without anyone else knowing about it?