Sing It Loud! – Philippians 2:1-11

I had a discussion with someone today who noted that it takes a lot longer to read these Bible Studies than it took to read the devotionals. It should. The devotionals, which I know were long by devotional standards anyway, were designed to help you read the Bible through in a year, and meditate on and apply God’s word to your life. These studies are designed to draw you deeper into God’s word in a large enough block of time that God will break through your daily busy-ness and speak to you. My plan is that you would read what I write and question everything. Look up correlating verses. Check your sources that might give you a different view. Wrestle with God’s word. I try not to put application in here, although that’s an important part of Bible study, because I want you to find applications that apply to you. I will be posting daily bites of the studies on my Facebook page, for those who want shorter reads, but I encourage you to study God’s word intensely and in large blocks.

This week’s study looks at one of the first hymns of the Christian faith. This hymn reflects on the natures of Jesus as fully God and fully man. Hymn singing is such an important part of worship and early Christians practiced singing praise to God when they met. This is but one of the hymns they used, but it’s a beautiful example of a hymn. The main message of the hymn is humility.

  1. If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, 2. Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

Paul could have begun this section by asking, “What does having a relationship with Jesus mean to you?” Instead he asked that main question using four conditional questions to drive home the fact that knowing Jesus should make a difference. Each of these conditional questions is of the format, “If this is true, and we know it is, then do this.” So, he asks them if they have any consolation or comfort according to other translations in Christ, with the implied addition of “and I know you do.” A relationship with Christ bring comfort and consolation in difficult times. Paul reminded them that when troubles came, Jesus was there comforting them. His next question could be rephrased as “if His love has ever brought you comfort,” with the same implication as the first question. Our relationship with Him comes from His love for us, and to me it appears to be repetitive. That’s not bad though, it was a re-emphasis that made the original proposition stronger. Paul upped the intensity of the comfort that comes from a relationship with Him.

He moved from their relationship with Christ to their relationship with each other in Christ when he asked if there was any fellowship of the Spirit. There is a fellowship, a community when God’s people get together that was best expressed by a non-Christian in ancient Rome when he said, with disgust, “Those Christians! They love each other before they even know each other.” If you read much of what I write, you’ve probably read that before, but it’s such a beautiful picture of how Christians should be seen. That’s fellowship of the Spirit. The last conditional is hard for us to look at from a modern perspective, but in the past, people used bowels the way we would use the phrase “depths of my heart.” So Paul here was asking if there was any mercy, any compassion coming from the depth of your heart toward others – and again, there should be. After all four of these questions were asked, he let them know what he was expecting: if all these are true, and we know they are, then make Paul’s joy complete be being on the same page in your Christians walk.

When you break down the words, “fulfill,” according to A.T. Robertson, could better be translated as Fill full. In other words. Paul’s cup of joy would be filled up if the Philippian church continued in unity. That unity comes from having the same mind-set because they were supposed to be focused on Christ. They were to have the same love, the love that Christ had for all people. They were to be united in word, thoughts, and deeds.

  1. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. 4. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

As Paul warned the church not to do things through strife, selfish ambition, or pride, I can’t help but wonder if he had in mind the preachers mentioned earlier in this letter. Whether he did or he didn’t, we’re reminded that it’s possible to do all kinds of things, even good things, with the wrong motivation. We may be at odds with someone and we want to show ourselves the better person. We may accept a challenge when someone says that we can’t do something and commit to accomplishing that challenge to show that other person they were wrong. Our goal is to accomplish great things to rub it in the face of those who told us we couldn’t. Motivation is an important part of our work for Christ, and Paul would remind us that our goals in life should never include putting people in their place or denigrating them. Instead, we should accomplish great things for God by putting others ahead of ourselves. We should see people with the same value that God sees them and seek to uplift them.

We live in a world that treasures the idea of “looking out for number one.” We devour self-help books, we’re into do it yourself projects, and we work hard to take care of our physical bodies. Paul would remind us, as Gale Sayers said in his autobiography, that “I am third.” We should be third because Jesus is first, others are second, and I am third. We’re called to look out for the welfare of other people while we’re caring for ourselves. My personal opinion is that we are personally responsible to help people in need. That may sound like an innocuous statement, but many Christians don’t agree with me. They believe that the best way to meet the needs of others is through government intervention. We could argue that point, and probably never agree, but I will say that I have more respect for those who think we need the government to help others and work toward achieving that goal than people who claim to be Christians, talk about the need to be independent and self-reliant, and never do anything to help others. Caring for others should cost us personally, but it’s a cost we should joyfully pay since our ability to help others comes from God’s provision for us. When we care for others, we don’t use our own resources – we use the resources of Almighty God who’s entrusted us to be stewards of these resources. Let’s use what we have to help others as we share the love of Christ with others.

  1. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

There is only one way for Christians to live in unity, and that’s if we have the same mindset as Jesus. As the following hymn, for most scholars believe that verses 5-11 are an early hymn of the church, indicates, that mindset is humility. We need to have the humility of Jesus who gave up everything to bring salvation to us – not because we deserved it, but because He loves us.

  1. Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7. But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

Paul makes it clear that he believes that Jesus is God. Jesus was in the same form as God. The NIV translates that as the same nature as God. When Paul described Jesus being equal with God, and Jesus thinking it wasn’t robbery, I believe that he meant that Jesus wasn’t robbing the Father of any glory by being equal with God. A.T. Robertson said that was how He appeared to those who saw Him in heaven. How often do we think about what Jesus gave up when He came down to earth? While it says that He was of no reputation, the circumstances of His birth caused many to think less of Him, since most hadn’t heard the story of the Incarnation at that point in time. When He came to earth, He didn’t come as a member of the ruling class, He came like a servant, a slave if you will, in a human body. His human body was real, just as His eternal divinity was real. He was fully God and fully man at the same time and Paul recognized that.

  1. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Although He was equal to God, He came to earth in the form, the nature of a man. Just as verses six and seven deal with the deity of Jesus, verse 8 speaks of the full humanity of Jesus. He didn’t exalt Himself and take a seat in a royal palace, instead, He humbled Himself; he obeyed the authorities even to the point of suffering one of the cruelest deaths at that time. The cross wasn’t the height of heaven, it was the bottom rung in the depths of man’s cruelty to man.

  1. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10. That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11. And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

If we just left the story at the cross, Jesus would have been one of thousands of Roman subjects (not citizens, because they couldn’t be crucified except in extreme circumstances) who had died on the cross. Instead we have the resurrection. Instead, God highly exalted Him by raising Him from the dead and seating Him in the heavenly places. How powerful is the name of Jesus? When the end comes, just the mention of His name will cause all beings in heaven, on earth, and under the earth to bend their knees and bow down to Him. Those who are in heaven, usually describes angels, in the earth are those who are living, and under the earth refers to those who have died. All will recognize Jesus as Lord. It may not be literal bowing, but it will include universal homage and a declaration of the lordship of Jesus. That declaration will bring honor and glory to God the Father. There will be joy and celebration when this work is finished!

Bible readings for the week

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A New Twist! Philippians 1:19-30

I have a YouTube introduction, but for some reason, WordPress isn’t letting me post it the normal way. So, ya gotta see it by clicking the link above.

I discovered that my pastor occasionally reads what I write, which I consider an honor knowing how busy he is. I discovered that because he made a comment about last week’s writing that made me think. He noted that many scholars are moving toward the belief that Philippians and other prison letters were written from prison in Ephesus. I did a double take because there’s no Ephesian imprisonment mentioned in the Bible. So, I did a little research. I’m going to link you to an article that makes the case for Paul writing Philippians from prison in Ephesus. After reading this article, I’m not fully convinced. I’ll have to do more research, but the idea seems plausible that a) Paul was in prison in Ephesus; and b) at least some of the prison epistles were written from that prison.  I’d be interested in your thoughts on this issue.

Wherever Paul may have been in prison, without access to Twitter, Facebook, or any kind of internet support, he still got the news. He knew what was happening in the world around him. He knew, as noted in the first section of this chapter, that people were taking advantage of his imprisonment to build their own reputations, and that some of those preaching Christ were made bolder in their proclamation of the gospel in a positive way. He also knew that people were concerned for him. How would these false preachers affect him? What would happen to him in his trial? How would Paul react if he were sentenced to death? Throughout this letter we see Paul’s response to these, and other questions, coming from the faith he had in Jesus Christ.

  1. For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20. According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.

As people told Paul all the bad things that others were doing because of his imprisonment, not only did Paul rejoice, he realized that the long run, the endgame, was the important measure of circumstances. All these things, he noted, would result in his salvation based on their prayer and the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. That word “salvation” has a bit of a double meaning. Does Paul mean his salvation in the eternal sense or is he talking about salvation from Roman (or Ephesian) imprisonment. Or, is he deliberately alluding to both meanings of the word? I tend to think there’s a hint of both meanings of the word in Paul’s mind, although I doubt he would say that his salvation came because people preached the gospel out of envy. While this tradition is disputed, I believe that Paul was released (saved) from his first imprisonment in Rome. He would no doubt attribute that to those who were praying for him and the power of the Spirit of God. He also recognized that no matter what might happen to him, release or execution, he would never need be ashamed of his actions. He believed that he would always magnify the Lord whether through life or death. One things that Romans said about the Christians is that they died well – meaning that when they died for whatever reason, they didn’t go out in fear, but they left this mortal world in complete confidence.

  1. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

This short little verse has such complicated ideas. What does Paul mean when he says, “to live is Christ?” I believe he’s talking about a quality of life on this earth that oozes the love of God wherever he goes. People may not agree with him. People may debate him. People may ultimately put him to death. In all those circumstances, they’ll realize that no matter how they treated Paul, he still showed them God’s love. I think it deals with the self-sacrifice that Jesus showed when He left His place in heaven and came down to earth so that people could enter into a relationship with Christ. Paul had a great world and a great life ahead of him as a Pharisee, but he gave all that up to suffer and serve Christ in His great plan to draw all people to Himself. Paul was willing to do these things, even though it was even better to die and go to be with God in person forever. Some of the concerns expressed to Paul might have been, “But Paul, you might die!” to which Paul would have asked, “And what’s the downside to that?” Paul understood that living forever in the presence of God wasn’t a bad thing. He didn’t fear death.

  1. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. 23. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: 24. Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.

Some would ask, why a person doesn’t go straight to heaven when they come to Christ. Why do we have to live in this sinful world? Paul made the point that life in this body meant that we could be fruitful labor in this world. The King James has a strange word in the next phrase, as part of an intriguing concept. “Wot” is a form of “wit” and the meaning here is that Paul doesn’t know (wit) what he would choose between life and death. Perhaps he’s wondering if he should just throw in the towel at his trial, plead guilty and accept the death sentence. For those people afraid of death, note that Paul welcomed death because departing this world meant that he would be with Christ – a far better alternative than living in this sinful world. As we face mortality, and many of us do, we encounter sickness, cancer, car accidents, and many other possible ways to die often. Still, we fight for life. Perhaps we do that because life on this earth is what we know. Paul fought to live because of a sense of responsibility. He recognized that it was better for him to stay alive as an encouragement and a helper for the Philippians and an evangelist for the rest of the world.

  1. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; 26. That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again.

As Paul dealt with the uncertainty over his fate, he came to the conclusion that God’s plan for him was to live in this world and that in so doing he would share the joy of Christ with the Philippians. While I have no doubt that he didn’t think that the Philippian church would have an exclusive hold on him, he would be able to help them continue to grow and they would share the joy of seeing God work in and through the church. The church, seeing that Paul was delivered would rejoice in what God had done to free him. The NIV notes that their boasting in Jesus would abound because Paul had been freed and come back to them. Their catch phrase might be, “Look at what God has done!”

  1. Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; 28. And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.

When the King James Version uses the word “conversation,” it refers to a person’s life. Everything about that life. Paul reminded the Philippians that everything about their life was supposed to be appropriate for someone who claims to follow the gospel of Christ. He wanted their reputation in Christ to be so overwhelming that whether he came to them or not, when he heard about them, he would hear that they were continually working together for the sake of the gospel. He would also hear that they were doing so boldly in spite of the threat that might come from their adversaries. Perhaps Paul was reflecting on the boldness of those who were willing to preach the gospel fearlessly because he was imprisoned. Whatever the case may be, their fearlessness in the face of opposition would be a sign that those who opposed them would recognize: those who opposed them would face destruction while those who followed Christ would be saved by God.

  1. For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; 30. Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.

There are some things in the Bible that I don’t really like. This passage is one of them. It tells me that suffering for Christ is a gift. Like most of us, I don’t really want to suffer. So, perhaps the best commentary on suffering for Christ comes from a Chinese pastor, Wang Yi, who was sentenced to nine years in jail for being a Christian in late 2019.

Wang responded to his sentence in a message Early Rain church posted on Facebook, religious liberty advocate Open Doors USA reported Dec. 30.

“I hope God uses me, by means of first losing my personal freedom, to tell those who have deprived me of my personal freedom that there is an authority higher than their authority,” the church quoted Wang, “and that there is a freedom that they cannot restrain, a freedom that fills the church of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.

“Jesus is the Christ, son of the eternal, living God. He died for sinners and rose to life for us. He is my king and the king of the whole earth yesterday, today, and forever,” Wang said on Facebook. “I am his servant, and I am imprisoned because of this. I will resist in meekness those who resist God, and I will joyfully violate all laws that violate God’s laws.”

Wang Yi is suffering joyfully because he knows that his suffering will result in the proclamation of the gospel to people who might not otherwise hear about Jesus. He seems to have the same attitude that Paul had, and that Paul urged the Philippians to show. While the Philippians were beginning to see some persecution, Paul implied that it would get worse for them. Meanwhile, Christianity continues to be the most persecuted religion in the world. While we may not be facing it now, it’s likely that persecution will come some time in our lifetime. We may face uncomfortable situations because of our faith. Smile and accept it as a gift from God to be able show the love of Christ to others. We may be in a situation where we’re persecuted for our faith by individuals with a little power. Accept it as a gift of God and respond like Paul, like Pastor Wang, like Jesus.

Here are the passages I’ll be reading for my personal reflection next week. On a personal note, I’d appreciate your prayers as I finish preparation for a sermon I’ll be preaching on the 19th.

By the way, if you’re missing my daily devotionals, this is a link to  free copy of my January-February Devotional eBook edition. Please feel free to a) download it, and b) share that link with anyone else who might be interested

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Philippians: The Epistle of Joy – Looking at 1:1-18

Here’s the video introduction to this week’s Bible Study

Philippians 1

Philippians is also known as the epistle of joy. Paul wrote this while he was in prison. I believe it was while he was in prison in Rome during his first imprisonment. Two other possibilities are the imprisonment in Caesarea or even the second imprisonment before Paul was executed. There is some discussion as to whether or not this is one letter or three different letters combined. I’ll look at that more in-depth in future weeks. This week, though, we’ll begin looking at the first half of Philippians 1. I’ll be using the King James Version mainly due to copyright issues, but will allude to other translations at times. So, get your Bible, your notebook, your computer, and your thinking cap. Don’t take my word for anything. Check this out with other sources. I reserve the right to be wrong and/or hold a different opinion on that which can’t be proven.

  1. Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:

The letter begins with a simple introduction. We’re used to letters ending with the signature at the end. Ancient Greek letters began with the name of the sender. It would be much like a phone call today when the caller says, “Hi, this is Bob James. I’m trying to find so and so.” Paul notes that he and Timothy are servants of Jesus Christ. The word for servant here (doulos) is the word used for a slave in ancient Rome. He noted that the believers in Philippi were saints – those set apart for God. These were the ordinary Christians, not people who had achieved some great spiritual victories. Still, maintaining faith in the face of Roman persecution could be considered a great victory. Paul then included the bishops and deacons: the leaders of the church. Everyone was part of the church and included in the message.

  1. Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul loved the idea of unity between Jews and Gentiles in the Church. This greeting contains the greetings of the Greeks (charis) with the mention of grace and the Jews (shalom) with the call of peace. Both grace and peace are found through God.

  1. I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4. Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, 5. For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;

This passage is why I call this the epistle of joy. As Paul prayed for the Philippians, he had nothing but thanks for how God had used them in his life. He made requests for the church not out of a grudging sense of obligation, but with joy since they had kept strong in their faith in the gospel since the day they heard the good news of Jesus Christ.

  1. Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

This is one of my favorite verses. Whenever we have an ordination service, those who are ordained pass by and whisper a prayer or words of encouragement. Before I pray, I always utter these words. What has begun in us, is a good work, God began it, and He will continue working in us until the end of our time, whether that be natural death or the Second Coming. This verse reminds me that I’m not perfect yet, nor is anyone else. Because of that, I need to be patient with myself and with others. I’m confident in the God who does the work in me.

  1. Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace. 8. For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.

Every parent says, “I don’t have a favorite child. I love all my children equally.” If Paul were to say that about the churches he founded, he would add, “…but ya gotta admit, that Philippian church has been with me through thick and thin.” We’ll see that Epaphroditas was the one carrying this letter back to the Philippians. The church sent him, along with a financial offering, to support Paul in his imprisonment. They were one of the few churches that continued to support Paul throughout his ministry. But it wasn’t the financial consideration that made Paul love them, it was their defense and confirmation of the gospel in the face of persecution. The lived with the grace of God guiding them in all they did. While we would use the idea of “heart” rather than “bowels” today, Paul made it clear that he thought of the Phihlippian church with great favor.

  1. And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; 10 That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ. 11 Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.

As Paul prayed for them, he prayed for growth in their love, knowledge, and judgment. Would that as we live each day we would continue to grow closer to Christ. Part of that growth comes from love, God’s love (agape). As we grow closer to God and increase in His love, it will cause us to gain more knowledge. We’ll see things through God’s eyes of love. It will allow us to judge as God would judge – recognizing right and wrong and extending grace to those who’ve done wrong. As we experience His righteousness in Christ, it compels us to acts that show our relationship with him. (see Matthew 25) If we aren’t involved in such acts, if we aren’t ministering to others with the love and grace of God, and witnessing to His glory and grace through those actions, we’re revealing that our relationship with God is lacking.

  1. But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; 13 So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; 14 And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Paul saw the big picture in regards to his imprisonment. He might have been in jail, but he recognized that because of his time in jail, people were entering into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The gospel was being advanced. It gives pause to think here, but what would you be willing to undergo if it meant that more people would enter into a relationship with God through Jesus. Paul was no ordinary prisoner because people around the palace talked about him. People knew who he was and why he was in prison. I have no doubt that those living in the palace got into discussions about whether or not Paul should be executed. People in the palace saw a man who wasn’t broken by the prison experience, but one who used his position in chains to advocate that others adopt the relationship with God that put him into chains.

At the same time, many other followers of Christ looked at Paul and realized that although he was a prisoner because of his faith, he didn’t falter. He grew stronger even. When they realized that, they realized that they could preach the good news about Jesus without fear of the consequences. After all, what was the worst anyone could do to them? If Paul could preach with such confidence knowing that death awaited him for his faith, they realized that death itself could not deter them. They preached more boldly when they realized that.

  1. Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: 16. The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: 17. But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel.

Some looked at Paul’s stay in prison as an opportunity to build their own reputation and enrich themselves. Perhaps their envy and strife came from their desire to be seen as the most important man in the early days of the church. They thought as they became more well-known, it would cause Paul agony as he saw them rise to prominence in the church. Others preached sincerely out of love. Perhaps they thought that as the authorities realized that more people were coming to Christ, they’d be afraid to buck the newfound popular opinion and release Paul. They preached hoping it would aid Paul in his defense of the gospel before Nero.

  1. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.

Paul didn’t care why people preached the gospel, he rejoiced that people were hearing the gospel and turning to Christ. He recognized that main thing: the people who heard the good news of Jesus and turned to Him would experience the joy of eternal life. Paul didn’t have an ego problem. He didn’t care who got credit when people came to Christ. The main thing for him was that people came into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ and grew in that relationship to become stronger in their faith.

I’m stopping here for this week. I’ve included the readings from January 1 – 11 if you want to read through the Bible this year. (Next article on Sat Jan. 11) It’s important to remember as you read that you are reading to hear from God, not just put a check on the to do list. As you spend that time with Him, your relationship will develop a little bit more each day.

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Daily Enduring Truth – A New Vision Going Forward

I have been writing devotionals of one sort or another for over ten years, beginning in the year 2009 or 2010 on Facebook. I felt it was important to share, as a form of accountability, what God was teaching me with others. This year, in one of the Bible studies I paticipated in at church, a renowned scholar noted that people need to read and meditate on the Bible daily (Got that one covered) and do in-depth Bible study weekly. (gulp) I began thinking about how to do that, as well as recognize that what I am doing here is more of a discipleship ministry than anything. So, I began pondering how I could transform Daily Enduring Truth into a more in-depth discipleship ministry.

Here are some of the things that I am looking at doing…after months of prayer. Some will happen quickly. Others may take years. All of them, of course, are subject to God’s direction.

  1. I will no longer be publishing original devotionals on a daily basis. I will post the Bible reading I do for the day. I may include a link to a previous year’s devotional. I will make my devotional eBooks available for free or for $0.99. I will lower the price of the paperback copies. The January-February book is available here.
  2. I will develop a mailing list to pass on information. (you can sign up here if you like.)
  3. I will be posting an in-depth Bible study once a week
  4. I will be writing or working with other writers to get books on growing as a disciple available.
  5. I will be looking at publishing Clean/Christian Fiction – especially anthologies – to provide more wholesome entertainent.
  6. I will develop this ministry as a non-profit ministry so that I can provide materials to people who could not otherwise afford it to help them grow.

Here’s the thing: my goal is to see people grow in their relationship with the Lord. I’m open to other suggestions. I’d love to see you take this journey with me as we help God’s people all over the world, grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. As you see changes happening, thank God for them and ask Him to use them for His glory.

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December 31 – Seeing Strange Things in the New Year

Luke 5:1-26; Ezekiel 48; Isaiah 66

“And they were all amazed, and they glorified God and were filled with fear, saying, ‘We have seen strange things today!’” (Luke 5:26 NKJV)

One day Jesus was teaching. Then, the crowds started coming for healing. Luke even notes that Pharisees and teachers of the law were there and that the power of God was present to heal them. One group of friends brought one of their posse to Jesus, but they had a problem. He was paralyzied and they couldn’t make it through the crowds to get him to Jesus, so they climbed up on the roof and let him down in front of Jesus through the hole they made in the roof. Jesus started off by forgiving his sins, which made those religious leaders mad, then He said, “and to prove that I can forgive sins, I’m gonna heal this guy now.” (He used different words, of course.) So, the guy was healed and walked out of there. It was at this point that we see the people amazed, glorifying God, and being filled with fear. This is also when they said, “We have seen strange things today!” 

How’s your year been? Many people think back over the past year in the days leading up to the new year and think about all that’s happened. Did you see any “strange things?” Did you see God working in your life, or in the lives of others? Think about how God worked in your life this past year and celebrate all those strange things. My prayer for you this year is that it be filled with “strange things” that you can only explain as the power of God working in you. As you see God working, be amazed and glorify God for the “strange things” He’s done for you. Make sure you share His love and grace so that others can see “strange things” also. 

Lord, thank You for all the strange things I’ve seen this past year as You’ve worked in the lives of friends and strangers. I pray for strange things to keep happening, for You to work in this world in ways that those who deny Your existence today will recognize Your power and praise You. Draw people to Yourself through Your goodness, love, and miracles.

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December 30 – Serving With Authority

Luke 4:31-44; Ezekiel 46-47; Isaiah 65

“And they were astonished at His teaching, for His word was with authority.” (Luke 4:32 NKJV)

The Luke passage today seems to be a summary of a number of weeks. We see that Jesus taught in their synagogues, that He healed a demon-possessed man – in the synagogue, that He was willing to heal numerous people, and that He spoke and taught with authority. This passage reveals a couple of other things as well: He could have had a healing ministry that would have drawn people to Him from all over the place, and that He rejected that temptation to bring a more important healing to people by introducing them to a relationship with God in the Kingdom of God.

The main lesson here, though, is that Jesus taught with authority. He healed with authority. He decided to proclaim the Kingdom of God with authority. His decision to preach the Kingdom of God instead of developing a healing ministry came after a period of prayer – that was interrupted by people who sought Him. Jesus’s authority came because He was God the Son and maintained contact with God through prayer. As followers of Christ, we walk in His authority and can share His love and grace with authority. The key to that is keeping our relationship with God strong through prayer. Seek God’s leadership as we head into the New Year. Follow His guidance so that You can serve Him with authority.

Lord, lead me. Let me know Your will, and then commit to doing that in service to You and to this world that You love.

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December 29 – Jesus Defines His Mission

Luke 4:1-30; Ezekiel 44-45; Isaiah 64

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19 NKJV)

These are the opening words of Isaiah 61. It was no coincidence that these were the words scheduled to be read in the synagogue as Jesus returned to His hometown of Nazareth. The people of Nazareth had heard rumblings about His teaching and as He kicked off His public ministry in His hometown, the amazing scope of His upcoming work made quite an impact. The end result of the dialogue with the people in the synagogue was that his homies wanted to throw Him off a cliff. Let’s face it, it was at this point in time that He claimed to be the Messiah. Perhaps the Nazarenes had their fill of “messiahs” after seeing the road lined with crosses when Jesus was a young child. Getting rid of Jesus would save the people of Nazareth a lot of heartbreak. Even if they didn’t think back to those days, the concept of liberty for captives and the oppressed could get them into trouble with Rome also. In short, as beautiful as those words sound today, they were subversive to Roman society and a Jewish people who were trying to survive the rule of the Roman empire. 

Sometimes I think the problem with Christians is that we’ve grown too accustomed to the status quo. We’ve worked with power so much that we’re uncomfortable with people who don’t fit into society: the poor, the broken-hearted and hurting, the prisoner, the disabled, the oppressed, the down and out. Our call, as God’s church, is to minister to the down and out, to the oppressed, to the marginalized of society. While we don’t ignore the mainstream members of society, we continue to share the love of God with them, God has always looked out and cared for for the outcasts of society. Take the time to join with Jesus in following the words He used to define His mission. Reach out to the unloved, the oppressed, the poor and share material and spiritual blessings as you live in the acceptable year of the Lord.

Father, help me to remember the forgotten, love the unloved, feed the hungry, and show Your love to all people.

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December 28 – Fully God, Fully Man, Always With Us

Luke 3:21-38; Ezekiel 42-43; Isaiah 63

“When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, ‘You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.’” (Luke 3:21-22 NKJV) 

As the people came out to see John, wondering if he was the Messiah, which John denied, they were convicted of their sins and were baptized as a sign of washing away sin and starting a new life. A new convert to Judaism back then was often baptized as a way of saying that he was leaving his old way of life behind. Then came Jesus. As Matthew told the story, John objected to baptizing Jesus. John knew that Jesus was God’s Messiah. He knew that He was sinless and had nothing to repent of, and thus said that Jesus should baptize him. Instead, Jesus was baptized. I believe He did that to identify with sinful humanity. (I could be wrong, though, check back with me in about a hundred years.) The end result, though, for people who understood what they were watching was that God identified Jesus as His Son. This marked the onset of Jesus’s earthly ministry at about the age of thirty.

It’s in this story that we see the truth portrayed that while Jesus was fully God, as God’s Son, He recognized that He was fully human. It’s because He’s fully God that we know that He’s sinless; it’s because He’s fully human that we know that He was tempted and can understand what we’re going through. As we approach the end of the year, many people look back over the last year looking at victories and failures. If you do that, try to understand how God was there with you: celebrating your victories and consoling you in the failures. He cares. As you look forward to this next year, seek His guidance in your planning. He will lead you, and walk with you, in far greater ways than you can imagine for yourself. And, when you fail next year, as you surely will at some point or another, recognize His presence in that dark time. When you succeed, rejoice with Him and give God the glory knowing that He’s been walking with you all the way.

Lord, thank You for walking with me this past year. You’ve walked with me when it seemed the world was falling apart and You gave comfort. We rejoiced together in good times. As I look forward to next year, remind me that You’re still walking with me. Inspire me to bless others because of Your presence.

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December 26 – A Light of Revelation

Luke 2:21-52; Ezekiel 38-39; Isaiah 61

“A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:32 NKJV)

Jesus had a two-fold mission: He was the Son of David, calling the people of Israel back to the good old days when people’s hearts were in tune with God’s will. (More or less) He was also to be a light of revelation to the Gentiles. He was to bring the message of God’s love and redemption to those who had not been members of the family of faith. This was a revolutionary statement uttered by Simeon, since the general belief of Jews at that time was that God had created Gentiles to fuel the fires of hell. Jesus, as John would describe it later, came not to judge the world, but to redeem the world and bring all people into a relationship with God the Father. 

Our call, as followers of Christ, is to share the light of revelation we’ve received and spread the good news to a world that’s walking in the dark. One of the problems with walking in the dark is that our eyes become accustomed to the lack of light and we make adjustments. The light of Christ is hard to endure when it’s first revealed. Yet little by little, our eyes begin to adjust to the light and we can see what the darkness hid. There are cities that look beautiful at night, as the artificial lights draw your attention and you don’t see the problems around you. Those same city streets are filthy in the daylight. The difference here is that when the light of Christ shines on a person, the light itself begins the process of transforming them into the image of Jesus Christ. God doesn’t see the dirt in our hearts, He sees the glory of Jesus. It’s time to begin the process of leaving the manger, like the shepherds did, and spreading the light of Christ to the people who walk in darkness.

Lord, If the people who walk in great darkness are to see a great light, You will use people to spread that light. Purify me, and let me reflect the light of Jesus in this dark world.

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