Philemon (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He is blessed when we generously forgive others

As a rule, we’ll do just about anything for our good friends.  We celebrate with them on their joyous occasions, and we run to them to give comfort and aid in their difficult moments.  It’s disheartening to have a friendship dissolve over a dispute or offense.  In our reading today, Paul was treading on dangerous ground in his friendship with Philemon.

Philemon was a prosperous businessman in Colossae who hosted the church in his home.  Paul had nothing but good to say about him, “I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon, because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people.” (4-7)  A careful reader may catch that this is not just a casual letter, but one with an agenda of sorts, “praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith.”  A request was coming.

Philemon’s slave from the past, Onesimus, had either stolen from him or damaged his property and had run away.  This betrayal by someone he trusted had obviously caused heartache to Paul’s dear friend. Sometime later, the slave happened to encounter Paul in Rome and accepted the Lord as his Savior. Paul had some choices to make – keep Onesimus as his assistant and remain silent, turn Onesimus over to the Roman authorities where he could possibly face death or return him to Philemon for punishment.

And now the request, “That is why I am boldly asking a favor of you. I could demand it in the name of Christ because it is the right thing for you to do. But because of our love, I prefer simply to ask you…I appeal to you to show kindness to my child, Onesimus.  I became his father in the faith while here in prison.” (8-10) Circumstances had changed over the course of time. Yes, Onesimus was a slave, sadly a role that was acceptable at that time, but now he was a fellow believer.  Salvation is the great equalizer in life. “Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.” (I Corinthians 12:13).

Paul may have been referring to the meaning of the name “Onesimus” which means profitable or useful as he continued in his request, “Onesimus hasn’t been of much use to you in the past, but now he is very useful to both of us. I am sending him back to you, and with him comes my own heart.” (11) Paul was definitely placing their friendship on the line when he added a promise to personally pay everything Onesimus owed Philemon. He added, “I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it. And I won’t mention that you owe me your very soul!”  (19)

Although this comment sounds remarkably like a major guilt trip, Paul was counting on Philemon to remember that at one time he, too, was forgiven and set free from sin.  Jesus paid a debt for him that he did not owe just as Paul was willing to do for Onesimus.  This personal letter of Paul’s serves to remind us all of the forgiveness and grace that has been extended to us.  How could we not extend it to others?

In situations where others have cheated us or been unkind, it is so very helpful to remember that God loves them as much as He loves us.  He may not like their deeds, but He sent His Son to die for that very reason. When we forgive and offer mercy to others, we are behaving like Jesus, and that could only be good. 

Moving Forward: Should the occasion arise today, I choose to forgive others for any unkindness, remembering that God loves them.

Tomorrow @ Numbers 21-24

2 Timothy 1-2 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He gives us a spirit of power, love and self-discipline to keep our lives burning brightly for Him

For most of us, the idea of “Passing the Torch” immediately brings to mind the Olympics. The torch is lit in Greece, home of the first Olympics, and then is passed from runner to runner until it reaches the Olympic host city where it remains lit throughout the games.   What an exhilarating experience for the last runner who carries the torch to its final destination, the Olympic Stadium.  2 Timothy is all about torch passing, certainly a somber moment for Paul.

The writing of 2 Timothy was Paul’s last words to Timothy and also to us and was written during his final imprisonment in Rome where he sat in a dungeon awaiting execution at Nero’s hand.  Of all the notorious individuals from my Italian background, Nero would be right there at the top as most despicable.  Needing to blame someone for the burning of Rome, he murdered Christians throughout the empire and Paul was one of his casualties.  But first, Paul wrote his final letter, passing the torch of ministry to his young charge now pastoring in Ephesus.

“I am writing to Timothy, my dear son.  May God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord give you grace, mercy, and peace.  Timothy, I thank God for you—the God I serve with a clear conscience…Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again.” (1:2-4)  The God I serve with a clear conscience.  Paul had no regrets in his final days, he was passing on a torch that was lit and shining brightly, and this is the responsibility of the torch bearer – to keep the flame going.

Paul continued his letter with advice for his young son in the faith on how to keep the flame going, burning and moving forward.  “Never be ashamed to tell others about the Lord.  And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for Him…I am not ashamed of it, for I know the One in whom I trust…” (1:8,12)  Keep the flame going.

“Hold on to the pattern of wholesome teaching you learned from me—a pattern shaped by the faith and love that you have in Christ Jesus.” (1:13)  Keep the flame going.

“Be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus…Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2:1,3)  Keep the flame going.

“Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive His approval. Be a good worker..who correctly explains the word of truth (2:15)  Keep the flame going. 

“Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts…pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love and peace.” (2:22)  Keep the flame going!

Someday the responsibility to carry the torch will be on those who follow us.  Paul’s challenge to Timothy was to “fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you.  For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.” (1:6)  Fanning those flames will keep it going!

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.” (4:7)  Paul’s faithfulness to God to the very end credentialed him to pass the torch, the torch that was aflame.  As we live and work, in whatever we do, will those who come behind us find that we were faithful to God?  Will the torch that we pass on to the next runners be burning brightly? And will we say, “I thank God for you—the God I serve with a clear conscience.”

Moving Forward:  Planning to keep my flame burning today!  “May all who come behind me find me faithful.  May the fire of my devotion light your way.” (J. Mohr) 

Tomorrow @ Numbers 9-12

I Thessalonians 1-3 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He calls us to nurture and care for His young ones

We always thank God for all of you and pray for you constantly. As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1:2-3)  Paul loved his children. Well, at least we know he loved his spiritual children.  Almost two years earlier Paul had started a church in Thessalonica but had to leave the city abruptly because of hostility from the Jewish leaders (Acts 17).  He sent Timothy back to the city to check up on this new congregation because he was anxious to hear how they were standing up under the Jewish opposition. After receiving Timothy’s report, Paul immediately responded with a letter of encouragement and counsel to his dear ones in the church in Thessalonica.

@ I Thessalonians 2
Paul’s demonstration of his love and commitment to this new church reminds me of my feelings after the birth of my newborn baby girl.  I found myself constantly checking up on her, feeling for the rise and fall of her little chest, inspecting those diapers, just wanting to be sure she was okay.  You see, I just loved her so much, and I needed to know that all was well with her.  With similar feelings, Paul wrote, “We were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children. We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too.” (7-8)  He loved these new ones in the faith and wanted to encourage them and help them grow in the Lord

This causes me to think about the new Christians I encounter in my walk each day, whether at church, in the neighborhood or on the job, and I think about how much God loves them and wants to see that all is well with them.  Many are filled with questions about their new faith, and some even face persecution for their decision just as the Thessalonians did. They really need our encouragement and help.

Of course, just as Satan hindered Paul’s attempt to visit this church (18), the enemy will discourage us from helping new Christians. He would love for us to feel inadequate or too time-pressed to be of any help to them.  Just as my baby daughter did not need constant professional tending, these young ones in the Lord do not need a theologian.  They just need someone to check up on them and guide them along as they grow in Him.

Well, my newborn baby girl is now grown and a mother herself.  The joy she brings me as I watch her faithfully serve the Lord and raise her own family is indescribable.  I am blessed beyond measure.  And Paul, too, understood this blessing, “After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown, as we stand before our Lord Jesus when He returns?  It is you!  Yes, you are our pride and joy.” (19-20) Indescribable joy! 

Moving Forward:  I’ll keep my eyes and heart open today for the young, the newbies in the Lord, encouraging them, helping them and making sure that all is well with them. 

Tomorrow @ Leviticus 19-21

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

2 Corinthians 6-8 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)

It’s the time of year we give honor and attention to the one person on this earth we know loves us unconditionally – Mom!  The list of great qualities our mothers’ possess is endless, but most will agree that generosity is right near the top.  Only a mother would stay up half the night sewing costumes or baking cupcakes for her children.  She will give and give until it hurts and then give even more, sometimes to a fault. A mom’s generous spirit reflects the love of God within her. Her thrifty manner with coupons and sales stretches each dollar and provides for the family. Unfortunately, in our reading today the Apostle Paul had to deal with a situation where individuals were less than generous and nothing like our mothers. They hadn’t learned the secret to financial freedom 

@2 Corinthians 7
Paul had a turbulent history with the church at Corinth.  The Corinthians had been plagued with insurrection within the church, misuse of spiritual gifts and flagrant sin, just to name a few of their problems.  Paul addressed their issues with a difficult visit as well as at least one previous letter.  Many believe the letter mentioned in verse 8, called the severe or harsh letter, was lost and not recorded in the Bible; others believe it to be I Corinthians.  In any case, their response to Paul had been cold at one time.

This letter, probably needed more today than in his day, was a rough one, “I am not sorry that I sent that severe letter to you, though I was sorry at first, for I know it was painful to you for a little while.  Now I am glad I sent it not because it hurt you but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways.” (8-9)  At the time of this writing, Paul was in Macedonia facing many conflicts and admitted to discouragement (6), but Titus arrived from Corinth with the good news that the Corinthian church had responded well to the severe letter and Paul was encouraged. 

@ 2 Corinthians 8
Paul was encouraged, things were better, and Paul took the big leap and decided to address the M word – money.  Paul was a brave man.  Citing the example of the very poor Macedonian church and their generous giving to the struggling church in Jerusalem, Paul encouraged the Corinthian church to do the same.  “I am not commanding you to do this. But I am testing how genuine your love is by comparing it with the eagerness of the other churches.” (8)

As the saying goes, we know when someone is really a Christian when their commitment reaches all the way to their pocketbook.  Paul, always the disciple-maker, was willing to risk his new peace with this congregation to teach them about giving gifts.  “Give in proportion to what you have.  Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly.  And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have.” (11-12)

Paul’s instruction on giving was reasonable.  Jesus was more blessed by the extravagant giving of a widow’s all than He was blessed by the considerable gifts of the wealthy in Mark 12:41-44.  I want to bless Jesus in that way.  In my heart, I want it all to belong to Him so that when a need arises, I’m not counting the cost, counting the percentages or counting the dollar signs. When there is a need somewhere, I want to give with joy, and like the widow, not miss an opportunity to bless Him.  To me, this is financial freedom. 

Moving Forward:  May I approach this day with a generous heart, blessing Him with my response to those in need of help. 

Tomorrow @ Exodus 21-24

I Corinthians 15-16 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He promises a resurrected body for all who believe in Him

Over the past few years, the resurgence of vampires, zombies, occult books and movies has captivated the world, each giving a false depiction of the resurrected body. The devil has a counterfeit for everything. While many of these books, movies and television programs are entertaining and spine-tingling for some, their message dilutes and brings confusion about God’s incredible promise of the resurrected body and eternity. As believers, we should not be ignorant of their agenda. Evidently, the New Testament Greek Church was dealing with its own brand of confusion over resurrection, and Paul had plenty to say about it.

@ I Corinthians 15
“But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless.” (12-14) Greek culture believed that only the soul lived forever which would dismiss the fact the Jesus walked this earth and His body was recognized after His resurrection. (Luke 24:22-49)

In Chapter 15, Paul confirmed the resurrection of Christ, the only valid reason for the gospel, and the resurrection of all who follow in Christ. Without it, reason might dictate a party-on mentality because tomorrow we will die and that’s it. Paul said, “Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for ‘bad company corrupts good character.’” (33) What we believe about eternity definitely affects how we live today.

“How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” (35) Brilliant Paul remarked that these were foolish questions, but I, not so brilliant, appreciate them and his explanation in verses 36-44. We understand the process of planting a seed, its death in the soil and then the transformation into a beautiful plant. What a great explanation of what happens to our bodies from death in the soil to the beautiful transformed body at the resurrection, one that can last for eternity.

“But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed.”(51-52) I love to imagine the experience of His coming for those who are still living: Trumpet sound> transformation> out-of-this-world flight – all in a blink! What a trip! Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

It only stands to reason that the enemy of our soul would want to bring confusion and water down this wonderful promise of resurrection. As a believer, I’ve chosen to avoid the popular books and movies of our day, from Harry Potter to the Twilight series – they just don’t sit right with me. “For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14, NIV). “I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar,” (Psalm 101:3) I remain ever mindful of the company I keep.

Moving forward: Thrilled with the prospect of a resurrected body, I continue this day with eternity on my mind, encouraging others to join me on that glorious day.

Tomorrow @ Exodus 9-12