Philippians 1-2 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He empowers us to do what pleases Him 

@ Philippians 1
What a treat it is when we attempt to encourage someone who is going through a difficult time and find ourselves encouraged the most! This is probably how the Philippians felt when they read Paul’s letter to them.  The Philippians were his first congregation on the European continent, and his affection for them is obvious. “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.” (3)  I feel this same way about so many people in my life.

The Philippians had supported him throughout his ministry, including his time in prison where he sat writing his letter to them.  I’m sure their hearts were breaking for this father of their faith who had nurtured them and was now in prison for sharing that very faith. Their gifts and messages sent through Epaphroditus – never will I complain about my name again – were no doubt intended to lift his spirits and encourage him.  His response was the joyful letter of Philippians.

Just like a father would do, Paul encouraged them to continue to mature and grow in the Lord regardless of their concern about his prison confinement.  “I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.  For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives…” (9-10)  Don’t worry about my state of affairs and what I am going through, but press on and you will understand what really matters in life.

“I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die.  For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.” (20-21)  We can tell if we have discovered what really matters in life by how tightly we hold on to this world and what it has to offer.  Paul had let go.

Oh, that I would always view the trials I face with the heart and attitude of Paul, “And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News.  For everyone here…knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.” (12-14)

What if Paul had responded to his chains with depression and fear, disillusioned by his situation?  The local Christians in Rome, who would soon face great persecution themselves, would have no role model of tenacious faith to follow.  There would be no encouraging letter to the Philippians that we so often quote and receive a blessing from today.  Thank you, Paul, for showing us what really matters. 

@ Philippians 2
Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.  For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.” (12)  When we reverence God and obey Him, the same power that raised Christ from the dead (Rom 8:11) and the power that changed Saul to Paul will empower us to do what pleases Him, to do what really matters.  Just as Paul was not alone sitting in that prison cell, we are not alone in our trial.  We can respond to our testing with the same heart and attitude as Paul because of what God is accomplishing within us. 

Moving Forward:  With God working in me today, I am empowered to face this day with tenacious faith, living His example of one who knows what really matters in life – the eternal side of living. 

Tomorrow @ Leviticus 7-9

Galatians 1-3 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He replaced the law with Christ, focusing on His grace.

This is difficult to admit, particularly to my riding friends, but I’m not terribly fond of motorcycles.  I’ve always found them noisy and smelly, and for one who doesn’t like to wear a hat, a helmet is just not going to happen.  One can safely assume that I’ll probably never be found on a motorcycle, the football field or roller blades.  I tried to indoctrinate my son with my attitude about motorcycles early in his life.  Whenever a motorcycle passed us on the road with its thunderous roar, I would say to him, “Oh yuck, Brady, we don’t like those motorcycles,” and I also shared many subliminal messages.

When our son was a little older, an especially sweet Harley passed us on the road and my husband, the traitor, said to our son, “Brady, look at the cool bike!” And my precious innocent son replied, “Wow! I like it!”  It was then I knew that my years of brainwashing had been in vain. The words of Paul to the Galatians came to mind, “Oh, foolish, Brady!  Who has cast an evil spell on you?”  I knew I had lost the battle. So to the bikers of the world, I acquiesce; but Paul, on the other hand, was not so quick to cave.

“Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you?” (3:1)  Poor Paul.  He had spent a great deal of time discipling the Christians in Turkey on several missionary trips and now to have them fall for the false message of the Judaizers!  “You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all.  You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.” (1:6-7)

In Chapter 2 we learn that the Judaizers were Jews who resisted Paul’s message of freedom from the Jewish law.  To them, belief in Jesus and what He did on the cross was just not quite enough.  They believed that all Christians, Jews and Gentiles alike, must follow the law given to Moses, and those who did not follow it should be avoided.

The Apostle Peter, unintentionally I am sure, added validity to their message when he would not eat with Gentiles in front of other Jews in order to keep the peace.  I would love to have been sitting with a cup of coffee over in the corner of the cafe or wherever it was when Paul and Peter had their discussion in Chapter 2.

Paul, seldom concerned about diplomacy, said it straight up, “When I tried to keep the law, it condemned me.  So I died to the law…so that I might live for God.  My old self has been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.  So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God…For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” (2:19-21)  Christ and His Holy Spirit (3:2) living in me are more than enough!

Understanding Paul’s plight, we might say today, “Oh, foolish Americans!  Who has cast an evil spell on you?”  For the Judaizers of today, the law is irrelevant, but then to them, so is Jesus…irrelevant.  The man-made religions of today, the Oprah feel-good ones, may seem more open-minded, more compassionate and inviting, but they have nothing backing them up.

A handful of crisp, new counterfeit $100 bills may look good, feel good in my pocket and may give a sense of prosperity, but when I go to spend them I’ll find that nothing is backing them up!  Of course, some may reason that even authentic dollars do not have much backing them up today, but then that’s a topic for another day.  Convenient, man-made devotion to some higher power is only just that, a counterfeit, and it doesn’t spend well.  Jesus paid with His life, backed by the true and living God, and that we can take to the bank! 

Moving Forward: I resist the trappings of the counterfeits today and depend on Christ crucified, living in me to direct my life.  He’s all that I need and more than enough! 

Tomorrow @ Exodus 33-36

Mark 9-10 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He welcomes all who minister in His name

When I’ve worked hard on a project from the beginning, knowing all the ins and outs of it, I tend to take ownership – it’s my baby! Others may come along to work on the project with me, but they always seem to do things differently. I have the tendency to think that without following my expertise, everything could be ruined. Most of us have felt this way at one time or another, and we’d almost rather go it alone. Because of this, we can somewhat understand the disciples’ hearts when newcomers on the scene started preaching about their Jesus.

@ Mark 9
“Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.” (38) He wasn’t in our group sounds cliquish and juvenile, but the disciples were more than likely concerned about protecting the name of Jesus. Perhaps they were questioning why this man wasn’t in their group? What group was he representing? What if he prays in a different style than ours? How will this affect our Lord?

Jesus was not terribly concerned about His reputation in His response. “Don’t stop him!” He said with emphasis. “Anyone who is not against us is for us. If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded.” (39-41) To spread this Gospel, to reach the lost around the world, the disciples were going to need all the help they could get. Many of their encounters had been met with much opposition to the message of Jesus, but this man appeared to have faith in His very name.

We face this same issue in spreading the Gospel today. We need all the help we can get! The churches down the street or other ministries so often have a different style than we do in reaching the lost. Some are hard-sell, some are soft-sell and some, like us, get it just right. While we can appreciate the humor in that statement, why would we ever criticize a genuine move of God just because the method is different than to what we are accustom?

The criterion, according to Jesus, is not the style or method we use, but in whose name we are ministering. (39) Rest assured, He knows who belongs to Him and exposes charlatans and cons in due time. We all answer to Him directly, bypassing the opinions of others, and it’s His acceptance of our methods and results that have eternal value. So, I relinquish any ownership to the message of the Gospel and pray for all who minister in His name.

Moving forward: I’m thankful today for all who minister in the name of Jesus with pure hearts, regardless of style or method.

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 15-16

Mark 7-8 (NLT)

Discover His Heart: He calls us to surrender everything so that we may receive everything

I give up! Or, I should say, I gave up! Many, many years ago this reluctant college-bound student knelt at an altar and gave up her plans and aspirations for a career in decor and design in exchange for His plans and aspirations for her. It was a struggle, but He won – and so did I! There’s nothing wrong with a career as a designer. It just wasn’t His plan for my life. The life I’ve walked since that day of surrender hasn’t been without its challenges, but His abiding peace and guidance has been with me every step of the way. I’m so glad I gave up.

@ Mark 8
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross and follow me.” (34) Mark was writing to the Romans who understood the significance of taking up the cross as surrender to Roman power, and it was important for Mark to relay these words of Jesus. Jesus was calling those in the crowd that day to follow Him, to lay down their own aspirations in surrender to His guidance and to accept Him as their Savior. And He is calling each one of us today to do the same.

This challenge from Jesus includes our willingness to allow His will for our lives to take preeminence over our own will. Is the trade worth it? If we think about it, this struggling over decisions and direction in life all on our own and then living through the consequences of wrong choices is not all that appealing. Instead, receiving guidance from One who knows the future and who has our best interests at heart, while offering sweet fellowship here on earth with the promise of eternal life in heaven…well, how do you improve on that? Wisdom would say the trade is worth it.

Jesus took commitment a step further, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (34-37) Jesus taught by example. He gave up – He gave it all through His death on the cross so that we may have eternal life.

At least ten individuals, His disciples, listening to Him that day ended up giving up their lives as martyrs, for His sake and for the sake of the Good News. A sobering thought, to say the least. While our surrendering to Him today does carry this potential, most of us will continue on as businessmen and women, doctors, nurses, sales clerks, grocers, missionaries, ministers or whatever He has guided us to do. But for the sake of our souls we will continue on our journey, ever surrendered to Him “for His sake and for the sake of the Good News.”

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”  These are the words of Jim Elliot, a man who gave up everything in the jungles of Ecuador for the sake of the Good News!

Moving Forward: With joy I repeat, I gave up! I surrendered it all to Him, and I’ve gained it all! With His help, I’ll never take it back.

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 13-14

Job 23-24 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He desires our trust even in His silence

Xenophobia. Now isn’t that a scary word.  Most often referring to the fear of strangers or foreigners, it is also a term for fear of the unknown.  It’s not a fear based on what is, but rather on what could be.  Fear of the unknown is a natural fear that everyone experiences at one time or another; but when it becomes life-controlling for individuals, they may be labeled as xenophobes. This would not look good on a resume’ to be sure.

In reading the book of Job over the past several weeks, we find an increasing determination in Job to find the reason for his trial. Chapter 13 was significant in his quest to discover the unknown, but in today’s reading, we find him overcome with fear about what he does not know.  However, my heart doesn’t want to label him with a phobia.  No, my heart goes out to him. 

@ Job 23
After defending himself against the accusations of Eliphaz in Chapter 22, Job pleaded his innocence once again, “I have stayed on God’s paths; I have followed His ways and not turned aside.  I have not departed from His commands, but have treasured His words more than daily food.” (11-12) Along with his defense came an even stronger need to know what he didn’t know.  Why did all this happen to him?  Then Job admitted his tremendous fear.

“Whatever He wants to do, He does. So He will do to me whatever he has planned.  He controls my destiny. No wonder I am so terrified in his presence. When I think of it, terror grips me. God has made me sick at heart; the Almighty has terrified me.” (13-16)  I must admit that I wonder, at this point, of what was Job afraid?  Having lost everything he possessed except a crabby wife and his own life which was, by his own admission, at death’s door, what impending loss was left to terrorize him?  What did God have left to do with Job?  What unknown was hanging in the balance?

Perhaps Job’s greatest fear was eternal divine silence.  God had been silent to Job throughout his trial, but what if God never revealed Himself to Job again, what if he was eternally separated from God?  I can understand the very thought of this bringing terror to a heart!  Once we have known the fellowship with God as Job described above, the fear of eternal separation is an unknown we never want to experience.

That thought alone should compel us to reach the lost, our friends and loved ones who do not know Him. “He will come with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with eternal destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power.” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9)  The world today groans with a terror they do not understand, and this is it!  It is separation from God. This terror, however, is not for those who know and love God.

Job declared, “But [God] knows where I am going.  And when He tests me, I will come out as pure as gold.” (10)  Good preaching, Job!  Unfortunately, the fear of the unknown hand of God robbed Job of this message.  We have this known promise to carry us through the trial even when it seems like we are facing divine silence: “So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” (I Peter 1:6-8) No fear.

Moving Forward: We can cling to His promises today, not focusing on those things that are unknown, but claiming the known promises of God.  When we come through the fire, we will be purer than gold.

Tomorrow @ Isaiah 62-66

Mark 1-2 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He sees and responds to our faith

Youth today often get a bad rap in the press.  Yes, they are facing some significant struggles because of the evils of our day, but not all have bowed to the god of this age.  Across the country on any given day, thousands of teenagers will gather to worship the true and living God.  They gather in churches, at school flagpoles and anywhere the name of Jesus is lifted up, gathered to pray for their country, their homes and their friends.

Many teenagers work all year long and save money to travel to foreign lands during their summer breaks, not as a tourist, but as missionaries delivering the Good News.  They give their strength and energy to aid in disaster relief around the world.  Nothing thrills me more than to see thousands of youth gathered together in rowdy praise and worship to the Lord – I think it makes Him smile. Mark was older when he wrote his gospel, but at one time he was a young follower of Jesus and some of the participants in our reading today were young and full of faith. 

@ Mark 2
Mark was not one of the twelve disciples, but it is evident that he was a disciple of Jesus, a young follower, who recorded more miracles of Jesus in his book than the other gospels contain.  Even today in this world of skepticism, nothing excites a group of young people more than a bona fide miracle like the one told by Mark in Chapter 2.  A paralyzed young man’s friends tore open the roof of the crowded home where Jesus was speaking in order to lower him down right in front of Jesus.  Awesome!

“Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’”(5)  Although He knew that the man was placed in front of him for physical healing, Jesus chose to bring healing first to his soul by forgiving him of his sins.  Sitting in the house that day was a group of religious leaders that probably was not there in a supporting role, but rather one of judgment and criticism of this new teacher in town.  In light of Jewish custom, it was their view that forgiveness of sins was necessary before a body could be healed, sin being the original cause of all sickness, pain and suffering.  In forgiving the sick man, Jesus had their attention. The religious leaders were correct in saying only God could forgive sins – they just did not accept that they were talking to God.

Now that Jesus had the attention of everyone present, He healed the man’s body as well, and the miraculous healing of his body added credibility to the miraculous healing of his soul.  The crowd was stunned with shock and awe! They praised God for this miracle, but most of them did not understand that it was Jesus they were praising as well.

“Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’” Apparently, Jesus knew the paralyzed man believed in Him, or his sins could not be forgiven, but the word says He saw their faith – those tenacious men who so believed in this miracle worker that they tore up the roof to get their friend to Him.

This causes me to question – will I tear up the roof, so to speak, on behalf of those who are in need of healing, whether physical, spiritual or emotional?  Will He see my faith and confidence in Him?  When I pray for others, do I really believe He will heal them? The bottom line according to Mark 2 is that He sees when I believe and He responds to that belief.  Jesus is never fooled.  It humbles me to know that my faith carries this potential. 

Moving Forward: Unlike the religious leaders, I know who I am talking to when I pray – the true and living God!  I will tear up the roof on behalf of those who need healing of any kind today because I know He sees my faith. 

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 7-8

Isaiah 56-61 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He has anointed us to bring Good News

Several years ago I was waiting in my car for my daughter to finish her music lesson and reading my scripture portion for the day that happened to be in Isaiah.  I was going through a difficult time, dealing with some minor health issues and also with some ministry challenges, and I remember saying, “Lord, can’t we do better today than Isaiah.  Come on!”

While Isaiah seems to be mostly about judgment, my reading that day happened to include Isaiah 61.  As I began to read the first verse, I felt His Spirit fill my little car, and before I knew it, I was singing the Word, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.  He has anointed me to preach Good News, Good News. To bind up the brokenhearted, to set the captives free, to deliver the prisoners from darkness and to comfort those who mourn.”  I sang it over and over again until my spirit was soaring with His.  I believe He gave me a song that day to highlight His mission and to remind me of my mission. 

@ Isaiah 61
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.  He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come…” (1-2)  These words in Isaiah repeated by Jesus in Luke 4 sent a shock wave through those gathered in the synagogue of Nazareth in Jesus’ day when, “He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them. ‘The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!’” (Luke 4:20-21)  This was how Jesus announced His earthly ministry.

Jesus did not complete the scripture in Isaiah which continued, “…and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.” (2) Most feel he stopped because the day of God’s judgment had not yet come, and the next time He came to earth would be the Day of Judgment.  Today we are living in the time of the Lord’s favor, the time the Lord has given to save the lost, the acceptable year of the Lord, the year of Jubilee!  This was His mission.

What did Jesus come to do?  Anointed by the Spirit of Adonai Yahweh, the Sovereign Lord, His mission was clear:  He came as Prophet to preach the good news, the gospel of the Kingdom, to all those who would humbly listen.  He came as Priest to heal the brokenhearted, all those who were broken and sought healing for body, soul and spirit.  He came as King to deliver, as only a king could do, all those who were held captive by sin and sinful enemies.  He came as Comforter to comfort all those who mourn.

This was His mission, and so it is ours as well. As Jesus was leaving this earth, He told His followers, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.’ Then he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:21-22)  Isaiah prophesied that those who accept the One who sends us will receive “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” (3, KJV) How can we help but share this good news!

On that day so long ago when the Lord gave me His song, He was reminding me of His mission, my mission.  He was encouraging me to not get bogged down with the challenges or heaviness of the mission, but to allow Him to breathe on me and receive help from His Holy Spirit.  We are not alone in our mission; He has anointed us to bring Good News. 

Moving Forward: All I can say today is, Holy Spirit, breathe on me and pour on the oil of joy. 

Tomorrow @ Mark 1-2