May 31 - Colossians 1:28-2:1

Monday, May 31, 2010

May 31 - Colossians 1:28-2:1

“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.”

When you teach about Jesus, or even talk about Him to others, do you pray for wisdom first?  One of the things Paul was dealing with in Colosse was a great deal of false teaching regarding Jesus.  He was so sensitive to the fact that if he didn’t use wisdom in his words, he would press people away from Christ rather than to the cross.  Do you think about that in everything you do and say?

The other day a friend told me that she had chosen not to rush through traffic because she had borrowed a company car and didn’t want to have someone cursing at her and her company.  She felt responsible to the company name.  Do you feel that same type of responsibility toward the name of Jesus?   Wisdom is offered to us freely and in enormous amounts if we just ask.  It seems easier to operate on our own and not ask, but when it comes to spreading the word of Christ throughout the world, I think we’re safer if we trust in Him to give us the right words rather than our own understanding.

Paul also did not depend on his own strength and energy.  He never could have done all that he did, traveling, teaching, writing, praying, etc.; were it not for the strength and energy he took from God.  He knew that. 

We tend to whine and complain a lot about how tired we are and how we can’t do one more thing because we’re completely worn out.  We go, go, go and then go some more to meet all the deadlines in our lives.  When we finally drop in the middle of the night, we don’t have anything left. 

Paul recognized that God’s energy flowed through him as he worked to teach people about Christ.  He wasn't working to build a building, or present a program, get his kids to a ballgame, rush them to Sunday School, write a proposal, take a meeting, complain about how his needs weren’t being met by the church, schedule lunch, design a presentation.  He spent his energy teaching others about Jesus and God kept him filled with energy. 

May 30 - Colossians 1:24-27

Sunday, May 30, 2010

May 30 - Colossians 1:24-27

“Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

As I read the first sentence a couple of times, I realized how many times I skim something over in the Bible (aw heck, I do that in any type of reading) and not fully understand or question what it is that I’m reading. 

The first impression is that Paul is filling in what was lacking in regards to Christ’s afflictions.  Umm … what in the world?  No … what Paul means here is that he is hoping to finish the work the Christ began so that the end of the world could come more quickly, that is, the work among the people of the earth – spreading the Gospel.  The word ‘afflictions’ is from the Greek word ‘thlipsis’ which has nothing to do with Christ’s suffering on the cross, but everything to do with trials, sufferings, pressure, or trouble of everyday life.  Paul had to deal with all of that much as we do and he was glad to do all of this for the church.

Now we see the glory of the mystery. This is so exciting for us.  The mystery was revealed as Christ, who came to earth to save everyone … not just the Jews.  Gentiles were made one with God – there was no longer a separation between Jews and Gentiles, everyone has access to the throne of the Father!  The ripping of the curtain at Jesus’ death was more than just opening God’s holy of holies to the people, it was opening that to all of the people of earth. 

The earth has waited for ages and generations for this mystery to be revealed.  Christ came to earth, first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles.  God gave the gift first to His chosen people and then threw open His arms and sent the Gospel to the entire world!  Paul was glad to suffer whatever it was he would face so that the Gospel … the mystery … the truth of Christ in you (in me, in all of us), He is the hope that we have for glory.

May 29 - Colossians 1:21-23

Saturday, May 29, 2010

May 29 - Colossians 1:21-23

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.”

The Colossians, like so many of us, stood apart from God because of what was happening in their minds and their emotions.  The Greek word used here for the mind is one that encompasses more than just our intelligence.  This is our entire spiritual being … our emotions, our acts of will, our thinking, everything.

Now, the word for enemy does mean open antagonism, outright dislike for God.  I suspect that for the most part, we would never recognize our lives before knowing Jesus as being antagonistic towards God, but the Colossians must have been just that way.  Their feelings toward God showed up in their behavior … Paul calls it evil.

All of that is set aside though because of what Jesus did to reconcile us to God.  Please take a moment to notice that the people of Colosse did nothing to make things right with God.  A behavior change wouldn’t make it right, lifestyle changes would fix it … the only thing that could possibly reconcile them to God was the work that Jesus Christ did on the cross.  We can never do enough to make ourselves clean, to make ourselves holy in God’s sight, to remove the blemishes of sin, to free us from the accusation of evil.  We can’t do it.  Only Jesus Christ can redeem us, can reconcile us to God.

Our response is to have faith and to trust in the hope (not in ourselves) that Jesus offers us.  That is what we can do.  We can trust in Him to be our redeemer, our reconciler, our Savior.

Before Paul closes the thought, he wants to ensure that they are confident in the fact that they have heard the truth from him and they aren’t alone in the hearing of this Gospel.  Paul says that the Gospel has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven … notice he doesn’t say that every creature has heard and understood it.  He is a servant to the Gospel, ensuring that everyone he comes in contact with fully understands the gift that God has given to the world.  That will be our job as well.

May 28 - Colossians 1:19-20

Friday, May 28, 2010

May 28 - Colossians 1:19-20

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Paul made a clear statement as to Christ’s divinity with Colossians 1:19.  All of God’s fullness dwelt within Christ.  Christ was fully God.  The Greek words here fill out the concept so beautifully … the Greek word for fullness means completeness … and the word for dwell means to abide permanently. 

What comfort these words bring to us in a world that questions the truth of Christ.  He is none other than God and He will be God forever.  The One who lived among mankind, died on the cross to redeem us and rose again to reign is God and will be throughout eternity.  We have nothing to fear … this is the One who loves us.

Christ will reconcile all things to God.  Mankind left God – God has no need to reconcile Himself to us, He never budged, we did.  To bring us back, to bring everything back into order with God, we have Christ.

When we think of reconciliation, we think of peace.  Christ died on the cross to make peace between man and God.  He is the embodiment – the image of God, by him all things were created, he is the firstborn of creation, he holds all things together, he reigns supreme, God dwells in Him completely and forever and he died to bring us back into reconciliation with God.

How can we do anything but worship Christ?

May 27 - Colossians 1:17-18

Thursday, May 27, 2010

May 27 - Colossians 1:17-18

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.”

I can hardly stand it sometimes.  I begin reading Paul’s words about Jesus, whom he so obviously adores, and everything in me just begins to smile.  Read that first sentence.  “He is before all things and in him all things hold together.”

We’ve already seen that Jesus was the firstborn of creation, but He is before all things.  That means that even before the chaos that preceded creation … Jesus was.  You know, I think that we try to understand the fact that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are One entity, but in our limited minds, we lose contact with the immenseness of the idea.  It’s hard for us to imagine anything happening before creation.  But, Jesus Christ is. 

“In Him all things hold together.”  Last night as I was driving, I saw the moon in the sky and began to think about the rotation of the earth and how it works so perfectly.  I considered the fact that the Mars Rover has died on Mars and while that planet can’t sustain life, if it were gone from our system, then neither would the earth.  The Law of Gravity and that we circle the sun at a specific rate of speed and a specific distance, with all of the balances that have to occur to bring life to earth are thoughts that become overwhelming … if we try to figure out how it works without knowing that God … that Jesus holds all things together.

As tender as His love is for each of us individually – so much so that he knows every hair on our heads (even the ones that left some of you at early ages), He also loves us so much that He holds the planets in place, He commands the universe.  From the smallest of lives to the infinity of space … Jesus reigns.

Paul isn’t quite finished telling us about the power that Jesus wields.  He is the head of the body – the church.  I wonder if Paul knew how that might make some chuckle in this day and age.  I wonder if Paul had any idea that the church would deteriorate to the point where we tried to be in charge rather than allow Jesus sovereign rule.  This is a strong reminder to us.

Jesus died on the cross so that He had power over death.  Our fears can be removed as we realize that Jesus died and was raised.  He is firstborn from the dead.

In all of these things – Jesus reigns supreme.

May 26 - Colossians 1:15-16

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

May 26 - Colossians 1:15-16

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”

At any given moment, we look like one of our parents, or our children, or a relative.  Sometimes we look like our dogs and we get really excited if we look anything like a celebrity.  But there’s nothing more to it than that.

Jesus, however, is the image of God.  The Greek word used here implies that He is the essence of God, the embodiment of God.  Paul is saying nothing new here.  Jesus claims over and over again that as we see Him, we see the Father.  But, what Paul is about to declare is Jesus’ supremacy over all things and the first thing he needs to show us is that Jesus comes is fully qualified.

Now, before I leave this, I want you to look at one more ‘out-there’ concept.  In Genesis 1:27, we read that mankind was created in the image of God.  Jesus IS the image of God.  We know that Jesus is the Word made flesh and that God spoke creation into existence.  Jesus is the author of our creation – the Word of God.  If we are created in the image of God … we are created in Jesus.  The very essence of God, the very essence of Jesus flows through all of us, whether we believe in and have faith in Him or not. 

I will never be able to read that the same way again – being created in the image of God means something completely different to me at this point.  I am created within the essence of God – Jesus.

Jesus embodies the invisible God.  While I may fervently wish that I could see God, I can be thankful that for 33 years, people on earth did actually see God in flesh.

In the Old Testament, the firstborn was given sovereignty over his father’s lands, slaves, animals … everything.  Before anything was created … Jesus was there. 

Paul goes on to finish this thought by affirming that Jesus is the author of creation.  Everything that came into being came through Jesus … through the essence, the embodiment of God. But, not only did He create all things – but they were created for Him … as the firstborn of God. 

Jesus is sovereign.  He has created all things and He will reign over all things. 

May 25 - Colossians 1:13-14

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


May 25 - Colossians 1:13-14

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Ok, wow.  There is a powerful punch in these words.  God made it possible for us to live in the kingdom of light – through nothing we’ve done or accomplished. 

Jesus rescuing us – this is all about salvation.  The word ‘rescue’ used in the New Testament usually has something to do with deliverance.  From the Lord’s Prayer – rescue or deliver us from evil.  Deliverance from danger … like the Israelites needing to be delivered from Egypt.  We don’t rescue ourselves, our prayers don’t rescue others, our friends don’t rescue us.  Only Jesus.  Only Jesus.

He rescued us from the dominion – from the authority or power of darkness.  We don’t have to submit to that authority! I know that many of us have a lot of trouble with authority figures – we’re generally trying to figure out how to subvert their authority.  Maybe it’s just rolling through a stop sign or inching over the speed limit, maybe it’s getting to work a few minutes late or extending lunch; whatever the authority is, we do our best to thwart it.  But, when it comes to the power of darkness over our lives we find it easy to allow that.  Sin is so prevalent.  You know – my father always used to say that when we know what is right to do and we don’t do it – it’s a sin.  Whether we act or refuse to act … if we don’t do what we know is right, we’ve sinned.  That is allowing darkness to have dominion over us.

But, salvation … rescue.  This is what Jesus came to offer.  And he did it through redemption.  He paid the price.

When I was young, there was a Green Stamps store in our little town.  Every time we went to the grocery store, the cashier would give us little green stamps from the amount of the sale. We’d take those stamps home, lick the backs of hundreds of them and paste them into books.  As soon as we had a bunch of these books, we could go to the store and redeem those books of stamps for something we needed.  Believe it or not … this is how I learned about the word redemption.

There was a price for those fun items at the Green Stamps store and we were willing to pay the price.  We had the books of stamps, we turned them over and received an item. 

Jesus’ life was turned over so that we could receive salvation – rescue.  Redemption so that we could be rescued from darkness’ power over us.  Now, if we could just figure out how to live every day like we have been rescued!

May 24 - Colossians 1:10-12

Monday, May 24, 2010

May 24 - Colossians 1:10-12

“And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.”

Paul is nothing if not practical.  He and his team are praying for the Colossians and they have a goal.  They’re prayers are that the people they have brought to Jesus will live lives worthy of the Lord and will please him in every way.

I doubt that many (if any) of us can say our lives consistently please the Lord … aw heck, we just plain screw up a lot of the time.  Anything else would be a lie.  But, look at how Paul phrases all of this.  He doesn’t talk about these things as if they are a done deal … these are continuing processes.  We are a continuing process.

We haven’t born fruit in every good work so that we can look back on it and be proud, we are bearing fruit … we are still in the process of bearing fruit.

We haven’t got all the knowledge of God; we are growing in this knowledge. 

We aren’t strong with all power, we are constantly being strengthened.

All of these things are happening as we grow in our relationship with Jesus.

Graduations are happening a lot right now – at many different levels.  But, I’m willing to bet that there is no parent out there who believes their child has accomplished everything that they ever will accomplish.  However, parents everywhere are pleased with their children as they strive for goals that have been set before them.

Until the day we die, we are constantly striving for perfection and holiness, to be like Jesus, to grow into His likeness.  But, we aren’t perfect, we aren’t holy, we will never finish the tasks set before us.  We can’t sit down and feel that we have accomplished all God has called us to do.  We can’t be satisfied with our lives.  We are not finished and neither is God.

Paul is praying for the Colossians (and for us) to live lives that are worthy of the Lord – not worthy of ourselves or of the people around us. 

One day, we will share with other Christians the inheritance that God calls us to, but remember – even though we are constantly working towards perfection and holiness – those things aren’t going to get us to heaven.  We can’t work hard enough to get us to heaven … that work has already been done.

Paul says it again – the Father is the one who has qualified us to share in the inheritance.  It is His deal, all we have to do is accept it.

May 23 - Colossians 1:9

Sunday, May 23, 2010

May 23 - Colossians 1:9

“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”

Don’t you just love the way Paul prays?  There is so little that is selfish in his personality – especially in his prayers.  Unceasing prayer for another.  That is something we want to count on, but rarely do.  Why not?  Because it is something we don’t recognize in ourselves.  Unceasing prayer.  Oh, we want to … we really want to, but the distractions that pile up on us take us away from God’s presence and before we know it, several days have passed.  So, we believe that in others as well.

My dad used to tell a story about a young man on the battlefield in World War II.  As they were dashing back to a foxhole, one of their fellow soldiers was hit and went down. Bullets and shells were flying and there was no way to get to him to drag him back to safety.  They heard him crying and screaming and there was nothing they could do.

One young man kept checking his watch and all of a sudden, he bolted out of the foxhole, ran to his friend and dragged him back.  When he got back, the others were in complete shock and questioned him as to his stupidity.  But, he was calm as he responded, “Every day at 9 am at home, my mother prays for me.  As soon as that time hit, I knew that her prayers were surrounding me and I would be safe.”

That was a young man that trusted in the prayers of his mother.  Paul wants the people of Colosse to know that he has been praying for them and will continue to pray for them; he won’t stop and neither will those that work with him.  The spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was much too important.  Everything that they would face in the years to come as Christians would be handled because of the spiritual wisdom that God spread throughout the church.

Prayer is so important, whether it is a request or plea, a moment of thanksgiving, intercession or adoration of our Lord.  Unceasing, constant prayer is the foundation of Christianity.  Jesus taught us to pray, his followers moved out of their small communities in prayer and Paul spread the Gospel with prayer.

May 22 - Colossians 1:6-8

Saturday, May 22, 2010

May 22 - Colossians 1:6-8

“All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.”

In Luke 15:7, Jesus tells several parables about the joy of finding something that was lost, the shepherd with one hundred sheep, one is lost and rejoices when it is found; the woman with a lost coin who calls her friends to rejoice with her when it is found and finally the story of the prodigal son, whose father throws a great party upon his return.

Within the telling of the first two stories, Jesus says something wonderful, “There is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent,” (Luke 15:7) and then again, “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10)

As the Gospel of Jesus Christ spread, the world was transformed.  This has happened in incredible ways throughout history.  Many in our contemporary world were able to see the Gospel race across Asia and then across Africa.  People who had never been exposed to God’s Word were offered hope that changes lives and they grabbed this hope and shared it with their friends and family.

The first flood of this change came as Jesus’ disciples and then Paul traveled throughout the Mideast.  It was spreading and flourishing, bringing hope to Jews and Gentiles alike.  From the day the Colossians heard about God’s grace, they began to bear fruit … they began to share this truth with others.

If we look back at Colossians 1:4, Paul tells them that he has heard of their faith AND their love for the saints … other Christians.  This ‘fruit’ that Paul is talking about is their love. 

Epaphras was the man who evangelized this area.  Paul didn’t do the work here, but Epaphras is obviously part of Paul’s team.  He has returned to Paul to report on the work that has been done and he has done so with great excitement.  People have responded to God’s grace, churches have been started and God’s Word is being spread throughout the region.

May 21 - Colossians 1:3-5

Friday, May 21, 2010

May 21 - Colossians 1:3-5

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints— the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you.”

As I read these verses, I thought about that first sentence.  Do you thank God for the people you are praying for?  I always get so caught up in the prayers and requests that sometimes I don’t even think about this part of it.  God is the source of all good things and for that we give Him thanks, but He is also the source of our friends.  We don’t do this alone.  He places in front of us those people that need us, those that will help us, those that simply love us because we exist, not because of what we can do for them.  So, as I pray for my friends, I want to remember to thank God for them because He brought these people into my life and I’m so grateful.

Faith, hope and love … Paul intertwines these three continually throughout his writings.  In 1 Corinthians 13 he tells us that the greatest of these is love, but look what he does with this here!

Faith and love spring from hope.  Hope is stored for us in heaven.  I have an image in my mind of this glorious golden treasure chest nestled into soft pillows of cloud with gems and golden chains, pearls, silver and rainbows of color pouring out of it.  But hope comes from this treasure chest … the rest is just ornamentation.  The imagery is glorious.  As hope is poured out, fountains of faith and love flow, bubbling up from the river that finds its source in heaven.

You know, if hope is stored in heaven … it comes as an eternal, infinite gift.  We will never run out of hope, which means we will never run out of faith and love.

There have been times in all of our lives where we feel as if all hope is lost.  We can no longer see the light at the end of the tunnel, so we worry and fret, doing everything in our power to change the outcome.  But, the promise from God is that hope is eternal … hope is infinite.  We may not see it today, but it is there and soon we will experience it again. 

While we’ve experienced times where hope is gone, we also know that we can turn a corner and find our hope once again.  Hopelessness ends … every time.  Hope will always return.

This is the Good News of Jesus Christ.  He brought hope to the world and through it come love and faith.  Nothing that we can do will change this fact.  Christ is the hope of the world. 

May 20 - Colossians 1:1-2

Thursday, May 20, 2010


May 20 - Colossians 1:1-2

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse: Grace and peace to you from God our Father.”

Paul begins this letter as he does many of his letters stating that he is an apostle of Jesus Christ.  Look how he continues this statement, though.  He is an apostle of Jesus Christ – by the will of God.  By God’s will, Paul was chosen to be an apostle of Jesus Christ.  Note that Timothy is considered a brother, but is not designated here as an apostle.

The apostles were envoys – messengers.  Originally the twelve that Jesus chose, Paul was added to their number.  Jesus gave to them the ‘keys of the kingdom’ equipping them to begin the work of His church.  We see in Luke 6:13 that Jesus called the twelve and named them as His apostles.  Paul was added to their number after his encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus.

The church in Colosse was probably not begun by Paul himself, but was definitely a part of his family.  More than likely Epaphras was the missionary to this territory.  He and Philemon were part of Paul’s retinue and would have been sent out on their own to evangelize.  Paul is concerned with what he is hearing because deception is occurring (Colossians 2:4) and he wants to ensure that they are aware and can combat this.

We will look at Colossians 2:8 later, but it is certain that there were a group of people that were preaching nonsense, that humans and the things of the world as truth rather than Jesus Christ.  The theme of this letter is the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ for our needs.

Once again, the early church was seeing a conflict between the laws of Judaism and the saving grace of Jesus Christ.  Gentiles were being told that unless they were circumcised, they wouldn’t be allowed into the Kingdom of God.  Requirements of religious festivals (Jewish), dietary laws, fasting and other ‘religious’ forms of faith were being set above a simple faith in Jesus.  Paul would have none of that.

He has heard much of this church … he identifies them as being holy and faithful.  Before things get too tough for them due to outside influences, Paul wants to ensure that they know the truth of Jesus Christ and how He calls us to live in the world that surrounds us.

May 19 - Philippians 4:20-23

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

May 19 – Philippians 4:20-23

“To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

“Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send greetings. All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.

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

As you read the closing of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we such the intimacy of his love for this church as well as get a peek at some more details of Paul’s life.

Paul is in prison in Rome and all glory for all things goes to God.  No matter the circumstance he faced or the position he was placed in, Paul begins and ends every portion of his life giving glory to God.

When I was young, my bedroom was adjacent to the bathroom.  Every morning, Dad was up long before the rest of us and I was awakened at ungodly hours as he spoke with God in the shower.  But, every morning the words I heard him speak were giving glory to God for the new day.  No matter what he had to face that day or had dealt with the day before, Dad began his day with words of praise to the God who would walk with him throughout the rest of the day.

There were mornings I wasn’t probably quite as holy as I should have been about his conversations with God, but that memory is filled with more thankfulness than bitterness at my loss of sleep.  (Hey, some mornings it was 4:30 am!!!!)

Those saints that belong to Caesar’s household were probably guards around Paul that had come to know Christ through his imprisonment.  Imagine how transformative that was for them.  Here was a man who had been imprisoned for his faith, ready to face whatever might come before him, but he lived a life that changed the people surrounding him.  That is a life we should all strive to live.

Paul opened the letter to the Philippians offering grace and peace and closes it the same way.  In all things, Christ is pre-eminent.  His grace in us will be all that we will ever need.

May 18 - Philippians 4:17-19

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

May 18 – Philippians 4:17-19

“Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

This is another reason that reading Paul’s letters brings me pleasure.  He screws it up, realizes it and tries to fix it.  Rather than re-write the previous part where he talks about the Philippians caring for him monetarily, he works it over a little in the letter:  “Not that I am looking for a gift.”

That is exactly what I would end up doing – generally in a conversation rather than in the written word, though.  I know how to use the backspace on my computer and do so quite often.  I’ve been known to shred perfectly good letters to pieces because I screwed something up while writing in pen.  But, Paul just kept going.

It wasn’t about Paul’s needs.  The financial support that the Philippians had so generously extended to him was welcome and he was grateful, but more than that, Paul new that their generosity was a reflection on their heart.  They had been abundant in sharing with him.  He had received more than he needed.  These people couldn’t stop giving.  Their hearts and their pockets were all lined up on the same page.

Paul knew that the generosity of spirit living in the Philippian church was extraordinary.  He referred to it as a fragrant offering.  In Leviticus, the fragrant offering was one that pleased God.  In Ephesians 5:2 the fragrant offering was Christ offering himself.  This is what he wanted the Philippians to understand.  The generosity of their spirits was something that pleased God, something that was akin to the offering of Christ.  This was something extraordinary and found in very few churches.

Paul assured them that their needs would be met.  The pleasure that they brought to God through their generosity would in turn be reflected in their relationship with God.  Their needs would be met by the one whom they gave glory to through this generosity.

May 17 - Philippians 4:14-16

Monday, May 17, 2010

May 17 – Philippians 4:14-16

“Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need.”

Paul was content in all circumstances, but at the same time was grateful for the assistance and care the Philippians offered to him.

The church in Philippi had begun a pattern of sending aid to Paul when he was Thessalonica and continued this pattern through his ministry.  What a fabulous early notion of supporting mission work! 

It’s hard for me to think about the realities of missionaries in today’s world because I see them through the eyes of an American.  We tend to look at people who need Christ in developing countries as less than us because they seemingly have so much less.  So, as we support missionaries, we want to see that they are caring for orphans and widows, providing food and care to people.  We don’t see missionaries as a bridge between two equal groups, as the means for the gospel to reach the entire world.

We lived in one church community that had sponsored several immigrants from Southeast Asia.  While these people were welcome in the church, they were never treated as equals. In fact, as we watched the relationship between the church and the families we sponsored, we realized that they were treating these people as pets – well cared for pets, but pets still the same.  They didn’t want to recognize that there were skills and talents equal to their own.  As long as the families needed help with rent, food, education, etc., they weren’t given the respect due to an equal, they were less than children … more like pets.

In another church community, the church had sponsored a young man a bit differently.  As he grew, they helped him finish his education, bring his wife and children to America, taught him the ropes of American culture, watched as he got a good job, bought a home and entered into the life of the church fully as an equal.  It was something else entirely for them.

This is the model of missionary support that the Philippians offers us.  Paul was moving among people, not to just meet their physical needs, but to bring Christ to them in whatever way possible.  The support came to him immediately and willingly, knowing that he would use it honorably whether for himself or the church he was a part of.

Over and over, the Philippians met his needs. Jesus commanded his disciples (that includes us, now) to take the Gospel to the world.  If we can’t go, others will.  We have to support them freely so that they can do whatever it is God calls them to do, wherever it is He calls them to do it.

May 16 - Philippians 4:10-13

Sunday, May 16, 2010

May 16 – Philippians 4:10-13

“I 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. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I 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. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Paul was an itinerant preacher.  He had many needs – shelter, traveling cash, support for those who were with him, food, clothing, etc., but unless the churches that he planted and the people he brought to Jesus supported him, he would be unable to function.

I love his comment, “Indeed you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.”  That actually just smacked me in the middle of my head.  Until the church was able to send Epaphroditus to Paul, they actually couldn’t get him money or assistance.  They were concerned for him and they prayed for him, but they couldn’t show him any of that.  There were severe limitations on their travel and it wasn’t safe to send money to him other than with a trusted friend.

It’s not that way for us.  We have opportunities to show our concern and many times we ignore those opportunities.  Concerns over the terrible tragedy in Haiti abounded, yet I saw way too many comments from people who found reasons to not help.  Concerns over the flood in Nashville, concerns over the oil spill in the gulf, concerns for children in Africa who have nothing, concerns for earthquake victims around the world.  Opportunities abound and we seem to be overwhelmed to the point that we do absolutely nothing rather than finding how we can help.  How can we reach beyond ourselves?  Because sitting around and talking about it gets no one any help at all.

Paul goes on to speak words that many of us have taken to heart.  We know the difference between need and plenty … we’ve experienced both.  To truly learn to be content no matter the circumstance is something that we can only do through Jesus Christ.  We can’t do it on our own.

I can do everything through him (Jesus) who gives me strength.  Everything is a possibility.  Nothing is too hard for us to accomplish.  Whether we need to learn to set anxiety aside or to learn how to be more thankful, whether or not we need to learn to be content in all circumstances, no matter how difficult or how easy, it is possible in Jesus. 

Nothing is impossible with Christ, whether it is changing our emotional attitude, our life goals, our circumstances, our career … nothing is impossible.

May 15 - Philippians 4:8-9

Saturday, May 15, 2010

May 15 – Philippians 4:8-9

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

While many have used this verse to decry the influence of television, movies, music, books and things of the world on our minds, Paul is still talking about the influence of anxiety and worry.  There is every reason for us to protect our minds from the evil influences that are in the world, but burning books, picketing television stations, suing gaming companies, and banning music will not change the world, nor will those actions set forth the will of God.

It is not for us to decide how the rest of the world should live – whether they live with or without our idea of smut in the media – no matter how much we think we are right.

Paul makes this all about our own attitudes – not the ideas and attitudes of someone else. 

So, what in your life is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy?  What do you do to exude these qualities?  What parts of you are obviously in communion with the Lord?  These are the things to concentrate on.

When you worry and are anxious, what distracts you from those emotions?  During the darkest days in my life, when I was up at night trying to figure out how to face the next day at work, I ended up distracting myself in several ways – sometimes it was just mindless television.  But, other times, I would force my mind to be creative – I would try to write a story in my mind, filled with characters that traveled throughout many universes.  For me that was wonderful.  That was where my mind could finally relax.

I know that the creativity in my mind was a connection to God.  It is where I meet Him personally.  He is the Creator of all things, so when I create, I connect to that part of Him.

Each of us has a different type of connection with God.  But, these things in our lives that link us directly to Him are those things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy.  Find them, focus on them, connect to God through them.

May 14 - Philippians 4:6-7

Friday, May 14, 2010

May 14 – Philippians 4:6-7

“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.”

Don’t worry about anything.  Hah.  Paul knows his readers quite well, but telling us NOT to worry seems a little like telling a swimmer in shark-infested waters that it will be ok.  We are surrounded by things to worry about.  If there aren’t enough actual things to worry about, we make extras up.  Night time is the worst of all … if you’re lying in bed trying to fall asleep, you can’t manage and handle all of the things that worry you, so the worries increase.

This sweeping generalization by Paul, as absurd as it may sound, is followed up by a practical resolution: Here’s how you can alleviate worry – present your requests to God.  Notice one more point, though in this directive – do it with thanksgiving.

These words show us Paul’s insight into the human psyche.  When we are overcome with worry, thanksgiving is one of those things that we can’t (or don’t want to) incorporate into our thinking process.  We become so focused on the problems, the issues, the details of the situation, that we can’t be thankful about anything.  Paul knows that the moment we turn to thankfulness, we release the power that worry has on us.

Worry is a lie.  Worry tells us that we can handle everything on our own.  Worry tells us that we don’t need anyone else.  Worry tells us that not even God can help us.

Thanksgiving reminds us that we aren’t alone.  It breaks through the morass of fear with a sense of calm.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Read that sentence again.  Do you see what happens?  The peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Worry tears at you, exposing your heart and mind to many negative emotions.  Anxiety and stress destroy your heart, your mind and your body.  I could point to research that proves how anxiety tears us apart physically, but it is obvious to each one of us.

The peace of God, which comes when we go before Him with thanksgiving … which comes when we go before Him with thanksgiving … will guard our hearts and minds.

Think about that today.

May 13 - Philippians 4:4-5

Thursday, May 13, 2010

May 13 – Philippians 4:4-5

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

One of Paul’s continuous exhortations to all believers is to “Rejoice.”  In Romans 12:12, he describes the actions of a Christian, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”  Over and over throughout his letters, he reminds us to be joyful, to rejoice.  In the letter to the Philippians, he says it several times.  Philippians 3:1, “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord!”

In Romans 14:17, Paul also tells us that joy is a characteristic of the kingdom of God: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

Joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and that its evidence in times we are suffering signifies our relationship with Jesus to the outside world. “…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4)

Circumstances dictate our level of happiness, but not our level of joy.  Paul isn’t telling us to be happy; he is telling us to Rejoice!  Not only does he say it once, but he repeats himself so that we will get it.  For Paul, joy and rejoicing doesn’t come from the world, but from Jesus Christ. 

The next sentence is hard for many of us … let people see your gentleness and the fact that you are considerate.  Heck it’s hard for us to even be gentle and considerate to the people we know, much less to all.

This is such a call for us to be Christians that the world would see and desire to emulate.  Our self-centered, whiny, complaining, power-hungry, sense of entitlement selves will never draw people to the Christ we say is our Savior. 

We don’t have time to put ourselves first.  The Lord is near.  Every time we set aside His purpose for our own, we miss a chance to show Him to the world.  The Lord is near.   

May 12 - Philippians 4:2-3

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

May 12 - Philippians 4:2-3

“I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

Oh, don’t say it … yup, there were two women in the Philippian fellowship who were causing dissension.  Doesn’t it just figure?

Euodia means ‘prosperous journey’ and Syntyche means ‘pleasant acquaintance.’  I’m guessing that they had set aside the positive portions of themselves to get into some type of argument.  For Paul to call them out publicly implied several things.  First of all, he knew them and knew their hearts … they probably meant well, but weren’t working together.  Secondly, their disagreement was disrupting the entirety of the church, not just their area of ministry.  He goes on to say that they had worked with him before when he was bringing the gospel to people, he wanted them to stay focused on the common bond, the gospel.

This is so easy to forget when we want to have our way in the church.  We get so focused on the miniscule, the legalism, the rules, the need to have it our way that we forget what our main purpose is.  Paul knows all of this – that’s why it is in this letter.  When we spend too much time focusing on the busyness of the church, the minor details and we turn them into the main reason and purpose for our activity in the church, we completely lose sight of the fact introducing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world is what Jesus commanded us to do.

Matthew 28:18 doesn’t spend much time talking about the organization of the church, the building of buildings, the structure of programming and trying to get kids excited about coming to worship.  We are to go … make disciples … baptize them … teach them to obey Jesus (not the church, by the way – Jesus!).

This is the common point of unity that the church in Philippi should focus on.  This is the Gospel that Paul has preached and for which he is imprisoned.  When we sow seeds of disunity, it stops the flow of the Gospel, no matter how hard we try to make it happen. 

May 11 - Philippians 3:20-4:1

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

 May 11 – Philippians 3:20-4:1

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!”

We continue to read and hear that we are aliens in an alien culture.  Our citizenship – our home is in heaven, while we simply reside here on earth.  Those folks from yesterday who are only mindful of earthly things face destruction while we will be safe in the New Jerusalem.

Paul says that we eagerly await a Savior from there.  The words ‘eagerly await’ are translated from a Greek word that gives us the image of standing on tiptoe with anticipation.  This is as exciting as waking up on Christmas morning and peering into a room filled with a brightly lit tree and presents overflowing underneath.  We can hardly stand it, we are so filled with anticipation.

The Savior will return.  He has the power to bring everything under his control and one day will transform the bodies that we have grown used to, though they bring us pain and limit our freedoms, into something like his glorious body.

Even the most athletic person can anticipate the freedom that comes with this transformation.  No more pain, no more limitation … movement is no longer limited, thought processes are no longer limited by the slowness of the brain’s synapses.  We can barely contemplate the differences, in fact there really is no way to comprehend this, but Paul tells us that THIS is how we should stand firm in the Lord.

When the world tells us that we can’t be who want to be, or do what we want to do and when the world drags us down into the muck and mire of sin, pain and loss; we are reminded of this tiptoe, breathless anticipation that we feel as we wait for the Savior to return to take us into heaven.  The day is coming, the time is at hand … the Savior will return!

May 10 - Philippians 3:17-19

Monday, May 10, 2010

May 10 – Philippians 3:17-19

“Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.”

Paul knew better than to ask the Philippians to imitate him in every form of his life – he’d already admitted to the fact that he wasn’t yet perfect.  There was one thing that Paul would want everyone to imitate him in, though … his relentless pursuit of Christ. 

Sometimes I get really excited about my relationship with Jesus.  I can write and read and pray and study and do everything that revolves around Him.  But, before I know it, I’m distracted by the world.  Sometimes my relationship with Jesus actually gets way too intense and I become exhausted.  Other times I feel like I’m working way too hard at it and recognize that I’m not allowing Him to be the king of my life, so I back off and try to find my way again with Him in control.

Would I call myself relentless in my pursuit of Him?  No, not at all.  I fail miserably.  With every different reason and distraction that is possible.

Paul looks at those who live as enemies of Christ through tears.  Those who live selfishly, trying to set distractions in front of Christians who are doing their best to get through life while maintaining their focus on the cross.  Paul didn’t want to lose anyone to the opposition and his great passion for bringing the world to Christ was seen in the huge number of miles he traveled throughout his life.  But, the Judaizers – those who sought to bring Christians back to the Law – were out there conniving and conspiring to stop people from believing in the simple things of God.  They offered truth in flesh … a truth that was appealing because it makes so much sense to us as humans.

They encourage us to think only of ourselves (gluttony – thinking only of filling their stomachs).  Then, they take praise for actions onto themselves, rather than giving glory to God.  Finally, they believed that caring for things of this earth would allow them to gain merit with God. 

We work so hard to make up the rules that will bring us into favor with God.  He’s not asking us to follow rules and regulations – He wants us to believe and have faith that He alone is our Savior.

May 9 - Philippians 3:15-16

Sunday, May 9, 2010

May 9 – Philippians 3:15-16

“All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.”

Though Paul has acknowledged the fact that he has yet to attain perfection in Christ, he does expect that he and the Philippians along with him, to have gained some spiritual maturity.  Paul has spent much time with different churches, teaching them to move beyond spiritual infancy to maturity.

Paul and I probably wouldn’t have gotten along too well … I’m fairly certain that if we were in the same room and given enough time, we would have butted heads pretty hard.  In the next part of this verse, Paul lets us know that if you disagree with him on any of these matters, God will clear you up!  That just made me laugh!

I know that there have been people that, when in matters of disagreement, will announce they are praying for the opposition … in essence, garnering God’s power on their side … obviously they are in the right and God will support them.

Paul was absolutely certain of this fact and while I am also assured that he only spoke (and wrote) what God told him to speak (or write), it still makes me laugh a lot to read his words telling the opposition that one day God will take them down a notch or two … he’s just going to pray for them.

Then, he speaks again to the Philippians, “Let us live up to what we have already attained.”

Every day we make choices; we either live according to the life God calls us and to which we have already responded or we don’t.  We live a life that is filled with all of the possibilities that God offers us or we live lives that close doors and remove options for our futures.  We have already attained everything by having faith in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation.  Paul calls us to live each day as if we remember that!

May 8 - Philippians 3:12-14

Saturday, May 8, 2010

May 8 - Philippians 3:12-14

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Yesterday we read that all Paul wanted was to know Christ … with every breath, to become like him.  Without hesitation, Paul tells us that he’s certainly not there yet. 

Christ had taken hold of Paul on that Damascus road.  He has taken hold of each of us at some point in our lives.  That point when we recognize that Christ will actively work in our lives if we allow Him is the moment that we begin to take hold of His purpose for us.

Paul uses a lot of athletic imagery in his letters and here we see him pressing towards a goal.  He hasn’t achieved it yet, he still is reaching for it.  Can you see him running with his entire body stretching towards the tape at the end of the race?

The other day, I was driving through Webster City up here and there were a couple of young men running on the sidewalks … one was enjoying his run, the other kept turning around to see what was coming up behind him.  He couldn’t focus on the run because he kept turning his head to watch the traffic that would soon pass him.  I don’t know what he was looking for, but I could recognize an uninvolved runner and one that wouldn’t be able to win … he kept falling further and further behind his buddy.

Paul knows that looking back will do him no good.  The mistakes, the pains, the things that people have said about him, the controversies, the persecution; all of those things that we so easily focus on and allow to define our future are in the past.  That which is important lies before us. 

The goal – the prize at the end of the race is not our past.  Eternity with Christ Jesus is not dependent on the things that we have in our past.  Even though it seems nearly impossible for us to forget them and allow them to fade into obsolescence, Paul calls us to strain towards the goal, forgetting what is past … don’t look back, don’t lose focus.  Jesus stands before us.

May 7 - Philippians 3:10-11

Friday, May 7, 2010

May 7 – Philippians 3:10-11

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

The Greek word used for ‘to know’ in this verse means to know by experience.  Paul already knew Jesus Christ.  He had met him on a road one day long ago.  But, that wasn’t enough for Paul.  It’s not enough for me!

He wanted to know Jesus, to experience all that he could with Jesus.  Every moment of every day, to know Jesus more … that was Paul’s desire.

He wanted to know the power of Jesus’ resurrection.  Power here means the ability to overcome resistance.  All believers have been ‘raised in Christ’ (Col. 3:1), so we know about this power and have access to it.  Paul wants this to be continually flowing in his life.

The fellowship of sharing in Jesus’ sufferings.  Not the suffering on the cross – Paul knew that there was no way he could possibly share in that - it was something that only the Son of God could do.  But Paul knew there was more was coming in his life … and in the lives of those who worked towards righteousness. 

Paul wanted to become like Jesus.  The Greek word here means “being conformed inwardly in one’s experience to something.”  Jesus died on the cross for our sins, we must die to our sins.

He wanted to attain the resurrection from the dead.  Paul looked forward to the final resurrection, the moment when he would finally see Jesus face to face and in that moment when eternity began for him, he would be like Jesus.

Everything that Paul was on earth was not enough.  He wanted to know Christ with his every breath – he wanted to experience Christ was ever fiber of his being – so that when he breathed his last, he would be able to know that he had strived to be like Christ.

May 6 - Philippians 3:7-9

Thursday, May 6, 2010

May 6 – Philippians 3:7-9

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

All of those things that humans used to define Paul are nothing in Christ.  He once saw them as profitable.  They gained him more status and prominent positions within His faith.  He was able to move freely and do whatever it was he wanted because of who he was and who he had become.  All of those things he released when he met Christ.  In fact, as he reflected back on his life, he sees that losing them was far surpassed by the greatness of knowing Christ.

They’re rubbish … trash … things to be discarded.

I have to admit that I’ve grown to love Paul a bit more by reading this letter.  He had worked to become the man that he was before meeting Jesus on that road.  In one day, everything changed.  All of his need for the things of the flesh was gone.  These are things I can’t give up and I’ve called myself a Christian my entire life.  I will always struggle with pride, with trying to find my worth in the things that I do and the people that I know.  We want to be known, we want others to acknowledge the work that we do – even if it’s not out loud – we just want to have them know that we’re there and doing our best.

Paul simply wanted to gain Christ.  He wanted people to see Jesus in him.  His righteousness, the things of flesh, those things that he did every day to prove that he was worthwhile.  He sacrificed and did what was required in the temple.  He zealously stood for the Law.  He knew the rules of life – all of those things that would gte you in good with the right people.  He went to Temple each week and was there throughout the week.  He studied the Torah, He taught in the Temple. 

But that righteousness was something he earned on his own … it came from his obedience to the Law. 

Do you see how this translates into our lives today?  It is so easy to define the rules and regulations that we have to abide by to be good Christians.  We look down on those who only come to church when they feel like it and we feel so much more holy than them.  We judge those who live their lives in ways that we don’t approve.  We give our money to the church and wonder just how much someone else gives so that we can measure ourselves against them.  We’ve made our own Law – so that we can define our own righteousness.

We spend too much time with the rules and regulations – with the Law and forget that our righteousness is defined by our faith in Christ alone – it comes from God.  Paul didn’t forget it and took every opportunity to ensure that people understood it.

May 5 - Philippians 3:3-6

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

May 5 - Philippians 3:3-6

“For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence.  If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.”

We are all fully aware that at the moment Paul met Jesus face to face, everything became radically different in his life.  He set aside all earthly … fleshly things on that day and set his sights on the One man who would change the world.

But, the people in Philippi were just as we are now … still so concerned with those things that we believe define us.  Our status, our position, our homes, our cars, our jobs, our children, our parents, our power, our work in the church, who we know, where we have vacationed.  We drop names and hints of our prosperity … unless of course, our poverty will gain us more status.

That’s not what Paul is doing here.  He is reminding the Philippians that he had a lot to set aside.  There was a lot of expectation for Paul’s life and all of that dropped away when he met the Lord.

I was a perfect Hebrew man, highly educated, raised correctly.  He moved into the Pharisee’s council, he believed fully in the cause of the Jews and knew the Law as well as anyone.  He would be able to stand with pride before any gathering of Jews knowing that he was as straightforward and upstanding as any.

When he talks about putting no confidence in the flesh … in the things of this world that we believe define us … he knows what he is talking about.  He has a lot of reasons to put confidence in the flesh … it defined him and defined him well for many years.

The glory of Christ Jesus defines him now.  None of the rest of that matters.  Paul walks among Gentiles, teaching and living with them, loving them with no reservation.  He does this because of Jesus, not because of who or what he knows, where he works and what his associations are.  This is a real call to us to proclaim who or what defines us.

May 4 - Philippians 3:2-3

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

May 4 – Philippians 3:2-3

"Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—"

Do you remember the story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman from Matthew 15:21-28?  She begged him to heal her daughter.  His response was meant for the Jews in the room when he responded that it wasn't right to take the food from the children and give it to their dogs.  He was teaching the Jews a lesson in compassion, but I'll bet they didn't learn it. 

'Dogs' was one of the degrading terms the Jews used for Gentiles and here in Philippians 3:2, Paul turns it around on the Judaizers who just couldn't be satisfied with the idea that Jesus actually expected nothing more than faith in Him for salvation.  They wanted to impose the Law on Gentiles and were making the church in Philippi nuts with their demands.

Paul was actually playing with words here.  'Mutilators of the flesh' comes from a Greek word which means 'harshly cut.'  Well, the last thing anyone wants to do when performing a circumcision is to mutilate the child.  When they attack the Gentile Christians, they are mutilating the spirit.

Circumcision is a symbol of the covenant between God and His children Israel.  But, Paul goes on to say that was all about the flesh.  When Christ came and the New Covenant was set into place, there was no longer a need to put confidence in the things of the flesh.  With His resurrection and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, we put our confidence for salvation and eternity into the Spirit.

We are no longer bound by the Law, but by the Spirit.

May 3 - Philippians 3:1

Monday, May 3, 2010

May 3 - Philippians 3:1

“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.”

Paul uses this word over and over again in Philippians:  rejoice!  Obviously this was something that the church in Philippi needed to hear … a lot.

In fact, it is probably something that we all need to hear … a lot!

Sometimes it astounds me that the Bible which was written between 4000 and 2000 years ago is still so applicable today.  Eternal truths.  Mankind does not change much, no matter how we might progress.

We get quite wrapped up in our stress, our problems our circumstances.  We spend so much time trying to manage all of the stuff around us so that we can function; we don’t even understand what this word ‘rejoice’ means any longer. 

Paul was a prisoner in Rome.  His circumstances were nothing like what he would desire for his life, yet he understood what it meant to rejoice in the Lord. 

Do you rejoice only when things are going well?

I am constantly reminded of the song “It Is Well With My Soul” when I think about this.  In 1871, Horatio Spafford’s son died, followed by the Chicago Fire which ruined him financially.  He sent his wife and daughters to Europe in 1873, planning to meet them there later.  But, the ship sank and his four daughters were lost (his wife survived).  Rather than fall into dark depression, he traveled to meet his wife and wrote those amazing words, “When peace like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll;  whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well, It is well with my soul.’”

In the depths of greatest sorrows, in every day stresses, in the annoyance of circumstances, when we turn away from ourselves and to reliance on the Lord, we can learn what ‘rejoice’ really means.

May 2 - Philippians 2:25-30

Sunday, May 2, 2010

May 2 – Philippians 2:25-30

“But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.”

Poor Epaphroditus.  He so desperately wanted to be there to take care of Paul, but his poor body failed him miserably!

Normally, in Paul’s letters, these words of commendation come at the end of the letters, but in this letter to the church in Philippi, Paul needed to let them know about the two young men (Timothy and Epaphroditus) that were coming to them with this letter.  In Phil. 4:18, we see that the church had originally sent Epaphroditus to Paul with gifts of cash and supplies.  More than likely, the church had intended for him to stay with Paul, but a sickness that nearly led to death scared Paul. 

The name ‘Epaphroditus’ means ‘charming.’  Epaphroditus was very close to Paul.  He was like a brother, he worked alongside Paul and the words ‘take care of my needs’ literally means to act as a priest.  Paul saw Epraphroditus’ service to him as nearly a holy thing.  This young man was important to Paul.

When Paul saw that Epaphroditus was willing to stay even though he had put his own health at risk, that was too much.  Paul couldn’t ask that of him.  So he sent him back to Philippi to be with his family and friends.  That way they would be happy and Paul would no longer worry. 

He asked the church to honor Epaphroditus because of his willingness to sacrifice and because he was willing to do so in the name of this church.  Since they all couldn’t go to care for Paul, Epaphroditus was the one who represented them. 

As I’ve been writing about the growth of the missionary societies throughout the 1800s and the importance of their work, I wonder about how we honor those who go to serve Christ in our name.  Even closer to home, I wonder about how we honor those who serve as pastors and leaders in our churches.  They are placed in these positions with a lot of responsibility and expectations.  Do we honor them and welcome them home with great joy?

May 1 - Philippians 2:19-24

Saturday, May 1, 2010

May 1 - Philippians 2:19-24

“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.”

Philippians 1:1 seems to imply that Timothy is a co-author of this letter with Paul, but by Phil. 1:3, we’re pretty certain Paul is writing this letter by himself.  Timothy’s role is explained quite well in these few verses.  He will take this letter to the Philippians and ensure that they are able to understand all that Paul is saying and intends with his words.  If there are questions from the people in Philippi, Timothy will be able to explain Paul’s intent.

Paul is still unsure of his status as a prisoner.  It is obvious that he doesn’t know whether or not he will be released or executed or if he will simply remain imprisoned.

I think of all the things that I wish God would make clear to me regarding my future.  I get frustrated because I can’t seem to ‘get a sign’ regarding His plans for my life.  I like to have everything organized, on the calendar and in some stage of preparation.  When I can’t do that, I get frustrated and sometimes a little belligerent!  As I read this letter, I sense a little of Paul’s frustration at not knowing what is going to happen, but he continues to write knowing that God is in control and will guide his life in the way that will bring the most glory.  That seems like a better way to live than my way.

Do you know of anyone who is not self-seeking, but sets the interests of Jesus Christ first?  I’d love to say that I know these people, but I don’t think I do.  Of all of the people that Paul knows and all that he is close to, the only person that sticks out for Paul is Timothy.  Paul says that ‘everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.’  How disappointing that has to be for him.

Timothy has proven himself over and over and Paul is as proud of him as any father would be of a son.  This young man was set apart, treasured because of his commitment to Jesus Christ and to Paul’s ministry.  Paul trusts that when he sends Timothy to the Philippians he will do everything just as Paul asks and everything will be done for the glory of God.  

Then Paul repeats his words of hope that he will be freed to come and spend time again among the people of this church, but if not, his words in Phil. 2:19 tell us that he knows when Timothy returns to him with news of the church, he will be cheered.