Saturday
Aug122017

Monday, August 14 — Saturday, August 19

Monday, August 14

Read: Philippians 1:12-19

Consider: We all have a need to feel vindicated. We want people to know that we are right, or at least we want people to know that our motives are right. That seems normal enough, but what we’ll discover in Paul’s letter to the Philippians is that what seems normal to us may not be right for us.

Paul found himself at a very precarious moment in life as he wrote this letter. And the magnitude of that time helped him put life into perspective. He didn’t seem to care about how he was perceived. He didn’t seem to care whether or not he was vindicated in the eyes of men and women. When it came to the people who were trying to “stir up trouble” (1:17) for him, his response was…

“What does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” (1:18)

Paul rejoiced that people were hearing about Jesus Christ. He believed that when they heard the Jesus story, the Holy Spirit would be active in helping them understand the liberating message of the gospel. It was about the good news, not about Paul.

One thing that always fascinates me about the first few decades of Christianity was the impact of the persecution leveled against those early believers. You would think that the persecution of a few would frighten the rest of the Christ-followers. You would think that Paul’s suffering in prison and being maligned from outside those walls, would cause others to say, “It’s not worth it.” But we find the opposite to be true.

“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel…because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” (1:12, 14)

No wonder Paul was thrilled. His faithfulness was being honored by God. Paul was not being exalted, but Christ was. And, after all, that was Paul’s reason for living and serving.

What would my life be like if I had no regard for my own vindication? What would it be like if my joy was found in seeing Christ honored. What if I could rejoice, no matter how people perceived my life and my ministry?

Pray: “Lord, we pray the prayer that John the Baptizer prayed concerning Jesus—‘He must become greater; I must become less’ (John 3:30). Teach us to pray that prayer with joy and with a sincere heart.”

 

Tuesday, August 15

Read: Philippians 1:20-26

Consider: I’ve never been at the point in my life where I wanted to die. I never have, but I have had several friends and loved ones who have been there. Their bodies were succumbing to disease and living in the flesh had become so very difficult. They were ready, waiting and even eager to be raised with Christ. Many times, I’ve stood with families at the bedside of someone that they desperately wanted to hold on to. But they knew that they would have to let that loved one go. They knew that it was the best thing that could happen.

Paul was tired. He had suffered so much physically, emotionally and spiritually. He had fought the good fight. Now he was imprisoned, and entering the Lord’s presence sure sounded good to him. But even at that moment in his life, we see that love constrained him. He was wondering if there was more that God had for him to do.

“If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” (1:22-24)

“…more necessary for you…”—that is a statement of self-sacrificing love. In a world in which we are taught to ask, “What is necessary for me?”, Paul asked a different question.

Within this passage is an amazing statement. It is so profound that I’ve never felt as though I really understood it. I’ve been trained to exegete scripture—to pull it apart into its smallest components and then put those pieces back together. I spend time looking into the original language of the New Testament to discover the exact meaning of a word so that I can teach it to others. But this statement—well, it defies logical explanation…

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (1:21)

I get the second part—“to die is gain.” But what exactly did Paul mean when he said, “to live is Christ”? I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t understand that in linguistic or logical terms. I’ve got to ask Jesus to help me comprehend that on a spiritual level. And it is on that level that I remember that Christ is in me and I am in Christ (John 14:20)—“to live is Christ.”

Pray: “Lord, I want to live with the abandon and love to which you’ve called me. Teach me what it means to say—with my life—that ‘to live is Christ.’

 

Wednesday, August 16

Read: Philippians 1:27-30

(Over the course of six days, we’ve looked at the first chapter of Philippians by taking it in small sections. At some point today, it would be good to read the whole chapter at one time so that you get the flow and beauty of it.)

Consider: Finding himself in strange and precarious circumstances, not knowing if he would see the Philippians again or not, Paul said…

“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” (1:27)

There is an awful lot in that statement. What would it look like to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel? Well, to begin with, we ought to remind ourselves what the “gospel” is. The word means “good news.” It means that in Christ, sin and death have been defeated (1 Corinthians 15:20-22). It means that the barrier that kept us from the presence of God has been destroyed (Hebrews 10:19-23). It means that we are forgiven (Matthew 26:27-28).

In light of all that good news, it seems that part of living worthy of the gospel would involve living a life of praise, gratitude and joy. This sense of gratitude and joy is at the heart of Paul’s letter, even though it was written from prison.

But there is more. Courage.

“I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way…for it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him…” (1:27-29)

Joy. Hope. Courage. Gratitude. These are worthy of the good news that came from the One who said, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).

Pray: “Lord, today help me to courageously live in the light of the good news. I choose gratitude today for your forgiveness and for your presence in my life. Thank you!”

 

Thursday, August 17

Read: Philippians 2:1-4

Consider: On the heels of Paul’s encouragement to “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27), he reminded us of the many blessings that the good news has already brought into our lives…

“…encouragement…comfort…love…fellowship…tenderness…compassion…” (2:1)

He then went on to more fully explain what it means to live lives worthy of the gospel.

“…make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (2:2-4)

It is difficult for us in our twenty-first century, western mindset to comprehend the centrality of the community of faith as expressed throughout the Old and New Testaments. We tend to think about our faith as an individual thing. But at the center is our call to love, and that call is only fulfilled as our lives are immersed in one another and in our world. As our theological forebear, John Wesley, put it, “The bible knows nothing of solitary religion.”

So, when we hear Paul speak about conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel and when we hear him plead with us to make his joy complete, we must realize that this can only be done together.

Pray: “Thank you, Lord, for the encouragement, comfort, love, fellowship, tenderness and compassion that have come my way through the Body of Christ. Teach me as you teach us to be ‘like-minded,’ to have ‘the same love,’ and to be ‘one in spirit and of one mind.’

 

Friday, August 18

Read: Philippians 2:1-8

Consider: Paul’s statement in Philippians 2:5 is a large one. Probably no one English version of the Bible can do total justice to it. They all come close, but Paul was saying something that has multiple dimensions. One translation says…

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…”

I love the grandness of this statement in the King James Version…

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus…”

The original language of the New Testament encompasses both of these interpretations. We must take up the attitude—the heart—of Christ. But this includes the way we think. It involves our mindset, our values and our priorities. And Paul made clear the attitude, the mindset, the thinking, the values of Christ Jesus…

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…” (2:6-7)

Paul told us the way, but Jesus showed us the way. On the night that he was arrested, Jesus had gathered with his disciples in an upper room to celebrate the Passover. But on this occasion Jesus would re-define the Passover meal as the commemoration of his broken body and shed blood. But before the meal, he washed the feet of his disciples—an act reserved for the person in the room of the lowest social status. Then he said…

“Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:12-17)

Our call to the gospel is the call to servanthood. That is what it means to have the mind of Christ.

Pray: “Thank you, Lord, for calling us to servanthood. Today I rejoice in your promise that I can experience the blessing (John 13:17) of serving others.”

 

Saturday, August 19

Read: Philippians 2:1-11

Consider: I sometimes hear people say that Christ suffered so that we would not have to suffer. Well, in one respect that is true. Because of Christ’s atonement, I don’t have to pay for my sins. I also hear people say that Jesus became poor so that we don’t have to be poor. Again, there is some truth to that. Paul said that “through his poverty” we “might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). But it is clear from the context of that statement, that Paul was not speaking about accumulating material possessions. He was pointing to a much greater, eternal wealth—that of selfless giving.

While we comprehend that Jesus went to the cross in our place, we must also understand that he called us to do the same.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’” (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23)

That is a hard saying that we all find difficult to understand. What does it mean to take up the cross? Well, what did it mean for Jesus?

On the cross he absorbed pain rather than inflicting pain.

On the cross he responded to violence with love.

On the cross he forgave his enemies.

On the cross he totally submitted himself to the will of the Father.

On the cross he took on “the very nature of a servant” and became “obedient to death” (2:7-8) for you and me.

Jesus teaches that the cross is our liberation, but it is also our job description.

“Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped; rather, he made himself nothing…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (2:5-8)

Pray: Ask the Lord to help us understand what he meant when he told us that we must take up our cross. Ask him to help us see it, not in some abstract theological manner, but in the stuff of everyday life. Thank God for the results of Christ’s self-emptying journey to the cross…

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (2:9-11)

Saturday
Aug052017

Monday, August 7 — Saturday, August 12

Monday, August 7

Read: 1 Timothy 6:3-10

Consider: For several years now, I’ve been on a journey to learn and live biblical simplicity. There is a lot written today about simplicity—usually referred to as “minimalism”—and most of it is very good. There are so many resources to help us learn to declutter our homes, our schedules and our lives.

But we must always remember that simplicity is an inside-out job. And among the internal things that need to be simplified are our desires. Paul warns Timothy about misplaced desires, saying that “foolish and harmful desires…plunge people into ruin and destruction” (6:9). In this instance, Paul is speaking about the “love of money” (6:10), but we know the same is true of other “loves” that rob us of our contentment and drive us to pursue the wrong things.

Listen to the simplicity in Paul’s advice to Timothy…

“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” (1 Timothy 6:6-8)

Paul did not say that we “settle” for an unsatisfactory life. He said that this simple, godly contentment is “great gain.”  Misplaced desires convince us that “great gain” is found elsewhere. Paul is frank in telling us that because of this lack of contentment—this misplaced love and desire—many “have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (6:10).

We tend to think that our many desires and multiple pursuits are simply mild distractions. Paul believes our souls are at stake.

Pray: “Lord, teach me what ‘godliness with contentment’ means for my life.  Every day this culture tries to seduce me. Advertising, media and entertainment tell me that I should not be content with what you have given me. Lord, teach me your ways.”

 

Tuesday, August 8

Read: Proverbs 30:7-9

Consider: Almost all of us have encountered situations that moved us to pray for God to help us financially. We’ve prayed that God would keep us from poverty. That is a good and proper way to pray. But I’m guessing that very few of us have prayed the second half of that prayer prayed by the wisdom writer…

“…give me neither poverty nor riches…” (30:8)

In the words that follow, it becomes obvious why he prayed in that manner. He was asking God to guard his heart.

“…give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” (30:8-9)

The wisdom writer was concerned about his own desires and motives. He wanted to desire God more than anything else and he wanted his life to honor God.

The Bible is not telling us that this is the model prayer we should pray. But this prayer does give us insight. And it is in keeping with the model prayer that Jesus gave us, which includes the supplication…

“Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11)

Simplicity of desire is taught by the wisdom writer of Proverbs, by Paul and, most importantly, by Jesus. It is the wisdom of God.

Pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:9-13)

 

Wednesday, August 9

Read: 1 Timothy 6:6-19

Consider: We’ve been talking about simplifying our desires. I believe that is an important step in living a life of abundance in Christ. I believe another vital step I must take is simplifying my joy. Where do I look for joy? Can I find it in the simple pleasures and relationships of life? Most importantly, can I find it in my relationship with Jesus Christ and time spent with him?

As we work on the inside—as we work on simplifying our expectations, our desires and our joy—we begin to find renewed contentment and hope. On Monday, we considered Paul’s words about “godliness with contentment” which he described as “great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). Then as he closed his first letter to Timothy, he repeated his call for rightly placed desires and hope…

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (6:17-19)

In our global community, we are those who are rich in this present world. We have food and clothing. We can be content with that (6:8) because our joy is found elsewhere. Our joy, gratitude, desire and hope place us in the position to “take hold of the life that is truly life” (6:19).

Pray: “Lord, teach me simplicity of spirit and show me how to translate that into simplicity of life. Thank you for the gifts you have lavished on me. May I grow in godly contentment and the peace that it brings.”

 

Thursday, August 10

Read: Philippians 1:1-11

Consider: As you read through this correspondence from Paul to the Christ-followers at Philippi you will discover a letter filled with joy, hope and optimism. It sounds as though we’ve caught Paul at a high moment in life—you know, one of those times when everything seems to be coming together. It is in those seasons that it is easy to encourage others. It is easy to proclaim that God is in control and we are victorious through Christ.

Well, Paul does proclaim those very things…

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! The Lord is near.” (4:4, 5)

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (4:13)

“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (4:19)

But as we hear and share the sound of rejoicing, we must be aware of where it originates. The Book of Philippians is known as one of the Prison Letters, because Paul wrote it from prison. That’s right, he was “in chains” (1:7).

This was not Paul’s only prison experience, so scholars disagree about which period of incarceration was the setting for this letter. Sometimes Paul found himself in a rat-infested dungeon. Other times, under house arrest, he was allowed to write and have visitors. But what was common to every one of his arrests was the uncertainty of it all. First century Roman justice was a far cry from our justice system today (even with all its flaws). When Paul was imprisoned, he did not know when or if he would get a trial. He had no idea of how long he would be in chains. The odds were always good that he would die in jail.

So, it is in this context that Paul writes his letter that begins, “I thank my God…” (1:3).

Pray: “Thank you, Lord, for Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Thank you for the fresh air of hope in a dark and oppressive place. Help us to know your presence, no matter how dark it is right now.”

 

Friday, August 11

Read: Philippians 1:3-8

Consider: Community was important to Paul. He had no grasp of the gospel apart from community. You’ll recall that it was Paul who gave us the extended metaphor of the church as the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12-14). And in the middle of that metaphor, he penned the great love poem (chapter 13) which described what it means to follow Jesus Christ.

German theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, also believed in community. One of his great works was called Life Together. Bonhoeffer spent the final two years of his life in prisons around Berlin and in concentration camps at Buchenwald and Flossenburg. He was put to death by the Third Reich on April 9, 1945. Bonhoeffer related many of his prison experiences in what was later published as Letters and Papers from Prison. One of the things he addressed was how much he missed the Body of Christ. He would lead fellow prisoners in worship and became a pastor to many of them. He made church where he was. As you read his words and hear his heart, you realize how vital it is that we never take the Body of Christ for granted.

I think of that when I read Paul’s letter from prison…

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel…It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart…all of you share in God's grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” (1:3-5, 7-8)

Whether we are together or separated, to love Jesus is to love his body.

Pray: “Lord, today I thank you for the Body of Christ. May my words, my actions, my prayers, my love and my affection strengthen your body. May I never lack gratitude for the fact that I have been included. Help me to always love the church ‘with the affection of Christ Jesus’ (1:8).”

 

Saturday, August 12

Read: Philippians 1:3-11

Consider: I resonate with and love Paul’s confidence for the Body of Christ.

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (1:6)

Christ will do His work in and through the church. But we must actively partner in his work (1:5), so Paul specifically prays for the equipping that we will need.

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best…” (1:9-10)

In the church, we always talk about growing in Christ. That’s why we teach, why we encourage one another to study the scriptures and pray. That’s why we talk about putting down deep roots so that we will not be blown away by the storms of life. But very often we see this growth as simply growth in knowledge or growth in relationship. But look at Paul’s choice of words. He doesn’t say that he hopes our brains will expand in knowledge. He doesn’t even say here that he wants our spirits to gain depth of insight. No, he has chosen his words carefully. He prayed that “your love (agape) may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.”

“If I…can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love (agape), I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2)

Paul wants us to love with wisdom and knowledge. He wants our “depth of insight” to cause us to love more. In what may be his final days on earth he longs for our love to be so profound that it glorifies and praises God (1:11).

Can you feel how he longed for God’s people “with the affection of Christ Jesus” (1:8)?

Pray: “Lord, I want to grow in Christ. May all my growing make me more loving—more like you.”

Saturday
Jul292017

Monday, July 31 — Sunday, August 6

Monday, July 31

Read: Romans 12:9-21

Consider: There is a view of Christianity that is prevalent today that is peculiarly modern, distinctively western and totally contrary to the Christian life described in the New Testament. It’s the view that you can be a Christian in isolation. Many people today believe that their Christianity is a private matter and that they do not need a church or any other kind of faith community. They can pray on their own. They can worship God on their own. They can fulfill the call of Christ on their own.

There are many problems with this approach that are too numerous to mention here. But the main problem is that “lone ranger” Christianity is not the faith of the New Testament. God always worked through a community. In the Old Testament, he formed a people—Israel—who would be the carriers and fulfillers of the covenant. In the New Testament, Jesus formed a community. The Book of Acts describes that community, and the New Testament letters teach us how to live in that community. Never does the Bible even address how to live for God in isolation, because that is never God’s design for us.

So, this week we’re going to look at some of the “one anothers” of the Bible. They are all through the New Testament, as in today’s reading…

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love.” (Romans 12:9-10)

“One another” describes a reciprocal relationship. It doesn’t work if I’m devoted to you, but you’re not devoted to me. It doesn’t work if you’re devoted to me, but I’m not devoted to you. That’s why this thing must be done in community. The devotion that we have for God is to be lived out in devotion to one another.

In our culture, we know what it means to be a devoted wife or a devoted husband. We know what it means to be devoted to our children. But what does it mean in the community of faith? That’s more difficult for us to discern. But that’s part of our task as Christians, to learn what it means to be devoted to the Body of Christ—his church.

Pray: Thank the Lord that he poured his Spirit into his people. Thank him that you get to encounter him in the lives of those people. Ask him to help you learn what it means to be devoted to the Body of Christ.

 

Tuesday, August 1

Read: Romans 12:9-21

Consider: Let’s consider the second “one another” of that passage that we read yesterday and today.

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:9-10)

When I think of the word “honor,” I also think of the word “dignity.” Jesus was emphatic at this point. He taught us to show dignity to all people. When you read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), you see numerous references to this. Jesus’ teachings on adultery, divorce, our words, the way we treat our enemies, giving to those in need, and judging others, all point to the demand to bestow dignity on our fellow human beings.

In Romans 12, Paul is specifically speaking about honoring one another in the Body of Christ. Imagine the atmosphere of a church where everyone honored—bestowed dignity—on everyone else. Imagine children, the elderly, the strong, the weak, the rich, the poor, the spiritually mature and the spiritually confused all being honored and shown dignity! That’s what Paul is calling us to do and to be.

There is something else interesting about this passage. In verses 17-21 Paul takes this notion of honor and dignity and applies it to our enemies. I believe that is possible when we are honoring one another. If we intentionally bestow honor and dignity on our loved ones, it will help us learn to do that to others as well. We then take the unity we have been building in the Body of Christ and use it to “overcome evil with good” (12:21).

What a way to live!

Pray: “Lord, please give me the opportunity today to bestow honor and dignity on another human being. Help me not to be so wrapped up in my concerns that I miss the opportunities that you give. I approach this day with joy because I can do for someone else what you have done for me.”

 

Wednesday, August 2

Read: Hebrews 10:19-25

Consider: People with the gift of encouragement use that gift in a variety of ways. They encourage through their words, through their actions and by their presence.

Presence. Have you ever been encouraged simply because someone showed up? Many times, as I’ve stood in a funeral home, I’ve seen the eyes of those who mourn light up as people entered the room. I’ve seen new courage in the face of profound grief. I’m always amazed at what can happen through the ministry of presence.

The writer to the Hebrew Christians instructed them (and us) to encourage one another and to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (10:24). And one of the tools he instructed us to use was our presence.

“Let us not give up meeting together…” (10:25)

In our age of consumer Christianity, many people decide whether or not to attend church on a given day based on their own needs. They ask themselves if they need to or want to go to church. A friend of mine used to say, “Maybe you don’t think you need to be there, but maybe someone else needs you to be there.” The ministry of presence.

We have a 2000-year history of gathering together. Christians have always gathered for communal worship. We gather so that we can worship, learn and grow. But we also gather to encourage one another and to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (10:24).

As you gather for a mid-week service, a small group, a Sunday service or another form of communal worship, determine to give as well as receive. Let’s encourage one another.

Pray: “Lord, forgive me for the times that I’ve acted as if the church existed for me alone. May my life be enveloped in your life and in your calling to the Body of Christ.”

 

Thursday, August 3

Read: Romans 12:9-21

Consider: Back to Romans 12. There is one more “one another” there.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. (Romans 12:15-16)

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Live in harmony with one another. Okay. We’re all believers in Christ. We have the same values and priorities. We have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus. How could we not live in harmony with one another?

But it isn’t always so simple, is it? We all know that to accomplish this, we must submit ourselves to Christ and to one another.

Paul followed those words about harmony with three simple instructions:

“Do not be proud…”

“…be willing to associate with people of low position.”

“Do not be conceited.”

In other words, harmony is not about me and my desires. It’s about us.

The great conductor, Leonard Bernstein, was once asked which instrument is the most difficult to play. He said, “Second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who plays second violin with enthusiasm is difficult. Yet, if no one plays second fiddle, we have no harmony.”

When we are willing to be anything God wants us to be and willing to do anything God wants us to do, there will be harmony in the church and in our lives.

Pray:  “Lord, help me to be an instrument that adds to the beautiful harmony that you create through your people. You take the lead, Lord. I’ll follow. It’s not about me. It’s about what you want for your people.”

 

Friday, August 4

Read: Ephesians 4:1-6, 29-32

Consider: As Paul calls us to unity in the Body of Christ, he reminds us that doing life together requires patience and forgiveness. There are three “one anothers” in this chapter.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (4:2)

“Be kind and compassionate to one another…” (4:32)

“…forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (4:32)

If I am going to live in relationship with other human beings—I mean real relationship—I am going to have to repeatedly forgive and be repeatedly forgiven. Perhaps “repeatedly” isn’t the right word. Maybe the best way to express it is to say that we must continually forgive and continually be forgiven.

Paul gave us a reminder to help us with this when he told us to forgive “just as in Christ God forgave you” (4:32). If we always remember that God is patient with us, he is kind to us, he has compassion for us, and he continually forgives us, it will be easier for us to see others the way that he wants us to see them—as he sees us.

Pray: Thank God for his forgiveness and thank him that you can be an agent of his forgiveness this very day.

 

Saturday, August 5

Read: John 13:33-35

Consider: The command to love was not new. Yet Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another” (13:34). What made it new was what Jesus said next…

As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (13:34)

That command may sound intimidating. Of all the “one anothers” we’ve looked at this week, none is more demanding. How can I possibly love as Jesus loved? Yet, we do not need to fear. Jesus and the apostles taught us how to love. On Monday, I emphasized that Christianity can never be lived in isolation. It can only be comprehended in community. That’s because to be a Christian is to love, and to love means to live in community. Reciprocal community. “One another” community.

So, as we walk this way together, we spur one another on toward love and good works, we honor one another, we forgive one another, we are kind to one another, we are patient with one another, we treat one another with compassion and we bestow dignity on one another. And as his Spirit fills us, guides us and teaches us, we learn how to love one another as he loves us.

Pray: “Thank you, Lord, for the call to communal life—life together with you and with my sisters and brothers in the Body of Christ. Teach us—teach me—to love as you love.”

 

Sunday, August 6

Before you join other believers for worship today, let’s re-visit Wednesday’s passage…

“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another…” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Make today a great day of encouragement in the Body of Christ. Be especially attentive to and sensitive to guests. Encourage them with hospitality and love. And encourage others with your presence, for today we can be the embrace of Christ to one another.

Saturday
Jul222017

Monday, July 24 — Saturday, July 29

Monday, July 24

Read: Acts 11:19-26

Consider: “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (Acts 11:26). That term has stuck for two thousand years. Christian. What does it mean to you? What does it mean to our culture? What did it mean when they first used it to describe Jesus-followers?

Originally people referred to the early believers as Nazarenes—followers of Jesus of Nazareth. But the new name they received at Antioch showed a deeper understanding of what it was that these Jesus people believed.

The Greek word, “Christ”—Christos—was simply a translation of the Hebrew word, “Messiah.” The Messiah that the Old Testament prophets spoke of, was the One who would come and set all things right. Isaiah said….

“Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.” (Isaiah 40:4-5)

Luke later quoted that prophecy from Isaiah to tell us that Jesus of Nazareth was, in fact, that Messiah (Luke 3:5-6).

When the people of Antioch called the first century disciples “Christians,” they were calling them “Messianists.” They were saying, “These people actually believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. And they believe it with their lives!”

Do you believe that Jesus is the Messiah—the Christ? Do you believe that he is making “everything new” (Revelation 21:5)? Do you believe that he is setting all things right? Are you allowing him to use your life to make his will a reality “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10)? If so, Christian, proudly wear the name of the Messiah.

Pray: Thank the Lord that the long-awaited Messiah has come. Thank him that you know Messiah and Messiah knows you. Ask him to empower you to be an agent of the Messiah’s work here on earth—this very day.

 

Tuesday, July 25

Read: John 1:35-46

Consider: As Jesus called his first disciples, we can see that the concept of the Messiah was familiar to them and important to them. Look at the first words that came from Andrew when he found Jesus (or when Jesus found him).

“The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (that is, the Christ).” (John 1:41)

Nathanael’s response was interesting. After Philip told him that they had found the Messiah—“the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote, Jesus of Nazareth”—Nathanael replied, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:45-46).

Apparently, Nazareth was not a highly respected place. So, when the Jesus-followers were called “Nazarenes” it probably was not a term of respect. The same is true when the people of Antioch started calling them “Christians.” It was probably not a term of respect and may even have been a term of contempt.

I think we would be safe to say that to some people today, the term “Christian” is still a term of contempt. But we discover it usually doesn’t stem from contempt for Jesus, but from contempt for people who have done atrocious things in the name of Jesus. History is replete with those who did unspeakable acts in the name of Christ—the Crusades, the Inquisitions, persecution of the Jews, the Ku Klux Klan—as well as examples we see in today’s headlines. But history is made every day. And today you and I can make history in the lives of people we know. We can be the face of Christ to hurting people in such a way that the name of Jesus is honored.

Pray: “Lord, I want my life to bring honor to you. Get me out of the way. I don’t want people to see me. I want them to see you in me. Help me today to bring honor to you by how I serve you and how I serve others.”

 

Wednesday, July 26

Read: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Consider: Let’s be honest. Sometimes the world has contempt for Christians because some Christians have contempt for the world. I know we don’t like to admit to that. We say we love the sinner, but hate the sin. That may sound good to us, but doesn’t really sound good to those who feel condemned by our words.

God loves this world and everyone in it. If we claim to be the people of God, we must love what God loves. And that means treating people with whom we disagree with dignity and respect. Listen to Peter’s advice…

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15)

…and Paul’s…

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:5-6)

An ambassador is someone who goes to a foreign land to speak for his or her leader or country. An American ambassador abroad is the face and voice of America to that foreign government. Paul used this image when he said…

“We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)

We must take seriously our charge to be the face of Christ and convey the love of Christ to the kingdoms of this world. Only then can we carry the “message of reconciliation” and participate in the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18, 19) to which we are called.

Pray: “Lord, today may the world see Christ in Christians—starting with me.”

 

Thursday, July 27

Read: Acts 15:1-11

Consider: Old habits are hard to break. It is difficult to grow out of old belief systems. The guilt of the past can rear its ugly head again and again. Suppose that for your entire childhood and adolescence you had been taught that it was a sin to wear brown shoes—only black was acceptable. Suppose this had been beaten into your consciousness. Then you became an adult and realized that this prohibition made no sense whatsoever. So, you started wearing brown shoes. You would know that it is fine, that there was nothing wrong with wearing brown shoes. But there is a good chance that every time you laced up those brown shoes a twinge of guilt would surge through you. Your head would know what is right, but your heart may not cooperate.

The Pharisees had a deeply held belief that it was the strict observance of the law that would bring salvation. Some of those Pharisees (like Saul) became followers of Jesus Christ. They had experienced the liberating power of the cross. They had been forgiven of their sins based on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But old habits die hard. It seems that there was some residue of belief (perhaps induced by false guilt) that our observance of the law makes our salvation possible. So, when Gentile believers—who had never known the law of Moses—started coming to Christ, “some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses’” (15:5). Some bluntly said, “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved” (15:1).

Wow! Imagine that! Christians telling other Christians, “If you do not live in the manner I live, you cannot be saved.”

What was at stake was the very meaning of Christianity. What does it mean to be a Christ follower? What does it mean to be saved? How is one saved? Is it based on Christ’s work, my work, or a combination of both? Paul and Barnabas disagreed with those who said salvation was dependent upon the laws of Moses. When the apostles and elders met to discuss it, Peter stood up and said…

“Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith… We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (15:7-9, 11)

There is so much in that statement, so much that was life-changing for them and continues to be life-changing for us. But, for now, let’s consider just one thing—“it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved” (15:11).

Remember today, that it’s all about grace. You are God’s child because of grace. You can experience God’s presence today because of grace. God has removed your sin from you “as far as the east is from the west” because of grace (Psalm 103:12). If you forget that, you may try today to be good enough to earn God’s favor. You may lose the joy of your service to God, because you’ll be doing it out of duty rather than out of gratitude. Don’t lose your awareness of grace today or you may lose your joy.

Pray:  Thank the Lord that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

 

Friday, July 28

Read: Acts 15:12-19

Consider: This really is a big deal. The meeting at Jerusalem that is described by Luke in the fifteenth chapter of Acts is one of the most significant events in the Bible. You see, up until that time, the Jewish Jesus-followers were viewed as just another sect of Judaism. You had the Pharisees, the Sadducees (or the Herodians), the Zealots, the Essences, and now the Nazarenes (Christians). But when the Gentiles began to follow Jesus, the early Christians had to deal with a specific question: Do you have to be a Jew to be a Christian? Some of the Pharisee Christians said, yes, the pagans must convert to Judaism to become Christ-followers.

“This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them” (15:2). Paul, Barnabas, Peter and others affirmed that you don’t have to be Jewish or convert to Judaism to be a Christian. Later, some Christians would swing in the opposite direction and say you can’t be a Jew and be a Christian. That unfortunate misinterpretation of Acts 15 has brought untold pain to our world. You certainly can be a Jew and a Jesus-follower—the first Christians were. But the wise believers of Acts 15, led by James, said that the grace of Jesus even transcends our religion.

The leaders of the church at Jerusalem put their belief on this matter down in writing—in a letter to the Gentile believers. I love the way they worded it as they welcomed them into the family…

“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (15:28)

Beautiful. I’m so glad our early leaders were sensitive to the Holy Spirit. It changed our lives.

Pray: Pray for the leaders of today’s church—local, national and global leaders. Ask the Lord to help all Christian leaders to be humble and to live in such a manner that they can know the leading of the Holy Spirit. Thank God for the leaders who have gone before us.

 

Saturday, July 29

Read: Acts 2:1-12 and 15:7-9

Consider: We often say that the “Acts of the Apostles” could also be called the “Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles.” In the two passages we read today, you can clearly see what the Holy Spirit was up to and how God was forming the church.

First, the Holy Spirit came and broke down the national barriers within Judaism.

“Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven…each one heard…in his own language.” (2:5-6)

Then the Holy Spirit directed the leaders of the church to remove all barriers to the non-Jewish believers (Acts 15). Our covenant-keeping God is also a barrier-breaking God.

So, it is intrinsic to our concept of Christianity that Jesus is for everyone. We live this out in two very important ways. One way is that we emphasize the equality of all people within the church of Jesus Christ.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

Secondly, we reach out to everyone—regardless of who they are, where they’ve been or what they’ve done—with the good news of Jesus Christ.

“You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

If it were not for the barrier-breaking—really, barrier-destroying—work of the Holy Spirit, you and I would never have heard the good news.

Pray: Thank God that his Holy Spirit “destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14) that kept us away from Him. Ask him how you can tear down walls today in the environment in which he has placed you.

Saturday
Jul152017

Monday, July 17 — Saturday, July 22

Monday, July 17

Read: Acts 7:54-8:4

Consider: It’s a sobering statement. Every time I read it, I hurt for our sisters and brothers who went before us. Luke tells us that…

“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.” (8:1-2)

It’s difficult to comprehend all the pain and suffering in those two simple sentences. One of their leaders was murdered and now they had to leave the city. They were spread out—Luke says “scattered”—throughout the rural areas. The Body of Christ that gave them strength, stability and love was no longer physically together in one place. Unlike today, when we can keep contact with family and friends across the miles, these believers had no contact with the church as a whole. And they had no idea when—if ever—they would be together again. There was deep mourning for Stephen, but also deep mourning for all the losses they were taking. This man, Saul, was going from house to house, ripping families apart and terrorizing the children by throwing men and women into prison (8:3). Imagine being separated from your children and not knowing if you’ll ever see them again. Imagine the panic of wondering what had happened to them and hoping that they knew that you had not intentionally abandoned them.

But out of this dreadful chaos came something remarkable.

“Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” (8:4)

Saul was trying to “destroy” the church (8:3), but instead, he forced the church out of the city, into the outlying areas of Judea and Samaria. And there the word of God spread. There the message of Jesus flourished. There Christ was at work in new and wonderful ways.

Sometimes the circumstances of life will force us into areas we never intended to go. Life-threatening illness, depression, financial reverses, the loss of loved ones, and many other situations take us from our safe place. But we must remember that Christ is still with us. Christ is still at work. And Christ still wants to work through us to touch a hurting world.

Pray: “Lord, when I’m ‘scattered’ to places I don’t want to be, remind me of my brothers and sisters who have gone before me. Thank you for their faithfulness in horrendous circumstances. Thank you that I also can cling to you and be used by you no matter what comes my way.”

 

Tuesday, July 18

Read: Genesis 50:15-21

Consider: To fully appreciate today’s scripture reading, it would be good to read the entire narrative of the life of Joseph. His story is told in the latter part of the book of Genesis (chapters 37 and 39-50). What you read there is a fascinating account of jealousy, deceit, crime, faithfulness, blessing and pain. Joseph was cruelly betrayed by his brothers (and by some others along the way) and experienced years in oppression because of them. Yet, as Joseph remained faithful, God used him in remarkable ways. The story builds to a climax, at which point Joseph put it all in perspective.

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (50:20)

The same could have been said by the early Jesus-followers to a Pharisee named Saul. God used those believers to save many people, even as they faced severe persecution that was inflicted on them by that madman.

We don’t say that God brings evil into our lives. We believe the opposite—“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17). But we all know that life takes us through deep waters and times of great pain and sorrow. We would love to know the reasons why. We try to make sense out of pain the best we can. But most of the time we can’t fully comprehend the why of our suffering.

So, we trust. We trust the One who is doing far more than we can see. And we humbly make ourselves available to him. We believe he uses wounded people and people who are presently experiencing pain and suffering. The enemy of our soul wishes to destroy us, but God can heal our wounds and use them to do amazing things for eternal purposes.

Pray: “Lord, I don’t claim to understand all of your ways, but I choose to trust you. Your wisdom is higher than mine and your love is so much deeper.”

 

Wednesday, July 19

Read: 1 Timothy 1:12-14

Consider: Ignorance is a dreadful thing. I’ve always been fascinated by one particular scene in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The Ghost of Christmas Present was just concluding his time with Ebenezer Scrooge when he said, “Look here!”

   From the folding of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

  “Oh, Man! Look here. Look, look, down here!” exclaimed the Ghost.

   They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meager, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shriveled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters’ half so horrible and dread.

   Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

  “Spirit! Are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.

  “They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy…

I’ve always found it intriguing that when Dickens (who grew up in poverty) warned about want and ignorance, ignorance was the thing he said to fear the most. It begins to make sense when you consider today’s scripture reading. Saul was a violent persecutor of the followers of Christ. Mercilessly he separated families, threw men and women in prison, and encouraged the lynching of Stephen. And those are just the things we know about him. Only God knows what else he did to “destroy the church” (Acts 8:3). He was a man of “murderous threats” (Acts 9:1). Yet, he would later confide to Timothy, “I acted in ignorance” (1 Timothy 1:13).

What that means is that, at the time that Saul was persecuting the church, he was convinced that he was doing the right thing. His actions were not motivated by a desire to destroy the work of God. He thought he was doing the work of God.

That’s why I say that ignorance is a dreadful and frightening thing. What does Saul have in common with the Crusaders who tried to convert Muslims at the point of a sword, or Islamic terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Center? They all did unspeakable acts in the name of God.

We have two mighty weapons against ignorance—revelation and love. Revelation comes to us from God when we humbly seek his face in the accountable context of the Body of Christ. And love protects us when we are confused in our faith. If Saul had put love into action, he would have been able to avoid his gravest sins until he received revelation from Jesus Christ. “God is love” (1 John 4:16). We must always remember that his love is the context for everything we do. If we love, we can learn. If we don’t love as he loves, we may become the victims of our own ignorance.

Pray: “Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” (Psalm 25:4-5)

 

Thursday, July 20

Read: Acts 9:1-9

Consider: Saul was an impressive man. Before his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, he had gained prestige and power within the religious establishment.

“I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” (Galatians 1:14)

He was a brilliant theologian and leader with tremendous confidence in his religion. That is, until Jesus dismantled his religion and replaced it with a relationship. I love the simplicity with which Jesus spoke to Saul in that vision…

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting…” (Acts 9:5)

It was as though Jesus was saying, “I’m not going to introduce a new religious system to you, just allow me to introduce myself.” (I know. I’m reading a lot into that, but that’s my paraphrase.)

At some point, we all should make that exchange. We have to discard our religious accomplishments and rely solely on a relationship with Jesus Christ. The simple call that was extended to Saul is extended to each one of us.

And when he met Jesus, Saul understood. He got it.

“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. 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…” (Philippians 3:3-8)

Pray: Thank the Lord that it is by his grace, not your accomplishments, that you are saved. Praise him for the relationship he has offered to you.

 

Friday, July 21

Read: Acts 9:1-15

Consider: I don’t know what kind of underground intelligence system the early church had, but somehow Ananias knew about Saul’s mission.

“Lord, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” (9:13-14)

It strikes me as a little humorous. Ananias seems to be giving the Lord more details so that he will fully understand the situation and change his mind. Well, the Lord already knew about Saul’s mission, but he was planning a greater one.

“But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument…’” (9:15)

I know that we don’t see ourselves as we see the great leaders who went on before us. After all, we now call Saul, “Saint Paul” or “The Apostle Paul.” We don’t put ourselves in the same category as saints and apostles. But that is unfortunate, because saints are precisely what we are called to be. And that is how Paul would later address the people of God. He wrote his letters to “the saints”—to us.

If that seems like a stretch (perhaps you grew up in a tradition that reserved that term for a select group of people), consider another designation. Jesus called Saul his “chosen instrument” (9:15). Now there’s a title we can’t ignore. Each one of us is a chosen instrument for the purposes of Christ on this earth.

Don’t deify Saul (later called Paul). He was not cut from a different cloth than you or me. He was a violent, blasphemous, murderous man who was chosen by Christ to be an agent of God’s grace and mercy on this earth. You may not be violent, blasphemous or murderous, but you are chosen.

Pray: “Teach me, Lord, what it means for me to be a chosen instrument. I humble myself before you. I give myself to discovering and fulfilling your will for my life. I’m honored that you have chosen me.”

 

Saturday, July 22

Read: Acts 9:15-19

Consider: There is a statement in the passage we read today that stands out to us. It could sound threatening or it could sound challenging or it could sound comforting (or all of the above).

“This man is my chosen instrument…I will show him how much he must suffer for my name. (9:15-16)

We may want to recoil from that. We don’t want to be shown how much we must suffer. We want the kind of religion that promises us ease and riches, with uninterrupted peace of mind. But that is not what Saul was called to and our calling is no different.

In one of his letters Saul/Paul reflected on the experiences that followed his calling…

“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)

Yet, there is something very special about Paul’s response. Even though he recounts his trials, he never seems to complain. Quite the opposite. He seems to be filled with gratitude and contentment…

“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.” (Philippians 4:11-13)

Don’t fear Christ’s calling on your life. Praise him that you are counted worthy to be his chosen instrument for a hurting world.

Pray: “Lord, perfect your strength in my weakness. I give my life to you. Do to me, in me and through me all that you want to do.”