October 18 – Grace Be With You

Philippians 4:15-23

15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

It’s important when we read the book of Philippians to remember that it is a letter—a letter written by a missionary/church planter to his supporting church! We were at a conference for missionary families many years ago where the Bible teacher for the week taught through Philippians, focusing on it as a missionary prayer letter. Aha! That was eye-opening and something we could relate to. Of course, it is much more than a typical prayer letter, but reading the book with that perspective in mind adds even more depth to its meaning.

Paul talks about partnership and participation in the gospel throughout the letter; Churches and the missionaries they send are partners in many ways, but here in the closing verses, he focuses on finances. Look at all the words that might make us think along those lines: give, receive, needs, gift, credit (or account), payment, offering, sacrifice, supply.

I found a very insightful commentary that delineates Paul’s teaching in this passage on the missionary/supporting church partnership in this way:

– the missionary is thankful (v.10), but not dependent or grasping (vv. 11-13). 

– the church does well to help the missionary in trouble (vs. 14)

– this fellowship relationship goes back to the early days (vv. 15-16)

– the missionary is not materialistic, but seeks the spiritual good of the church (vs. 17)

– the church’s gifts are like a sweet-smelling sacrifice to God (vs. 18)

– the missionary assures them that God will meet their needs (vs. 19)

– the missionary praises God (vs. 20)

(The author is not cited, but the commentary is found here: https://bible.org/book/export/html/18572)

What a great playbook for missionaries and churches! We know from experience that each of these points is true. We want to thank you, LSA, for being a partner in the gospel with us! For well over a decade, you’ve sent many of your people to Prague who have given of their time, talents and treasures serving the Czech church as well as unbelievers. You have sent gifts of support to our account that allow us to continue living there, doing the work of evangelism and church-planting, and passing those gifts along to others. We have seen fruit and there are saints you will meet in heaven because of your sweet-smelling sacrifice to us.  And multiply that by all the lives that have been changed through your gifts to the other missionaries and ministries that LSA supports! 

We want to continue to do our part as Paul has described it. We will continue to thank you and praise God for His provision for our needs through you. We give God the glory for this body of believers that has been and continues to be generous to so many people in so many ways. We will continue to pray for you as a church that God will guide you as you seek to uphold His word and reach out to the unbelieving world and that He will abundantly bless you as you trust Him to provide for all your needs. 

Similar to what Paul writes in verse 23, the believers in Czech churches have a custom when they visit another church of bringing greetings during the worship service from their home church. In unison, the congregation responds with thank you and the visitor asks permission to bring greetings from them back to their home church, which is of course granted. We will bring greetings from you back to our churches in Prague when we return in January. Our hope is that it brings you joy to know that you have brothers and sisters in Christ there. 

John Piper has pointed out that Paul opens each of his epistles with the phrase “grace to you and closes each of them with the phrase “grace with you” just as we see here in Philippians. He writes, “What then do we learn from Paul’s unbroken pattern of beginning and ending his letters in this way? We learn that grace is an unmistakable priority in the Christian life. We learn that it is from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, but that it can come through people. We learn that grace is ready to flow to us every time we take up the inspired Scriptures to read them. And we learn that grace will abide with us when we lay the Bible down and go about our daily living. In other words, we learn that grace is not merely a past reality but a future one.”

May each of us take the words of encouragement and the treasures of truth found in Philippians with us as we go into our day

P.S. If you would like to read more missionary prayer letters (albeit not inspired ones like  Paul’s, but Lord willing, they will be a spiritual blessing to you) you can send your email address to us at potma@email.com

October 15 – Content or Discontent?

Philippians 4: 10 – 14   (NLT)

“ How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. 11 Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. 14 Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.”

The first phrase that jumps out at me is, “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have”.  Wouldn’t that be great if we all could say that?  Are you content with the house you currently live in?  Are you content with your weight, your height, your appearance?  Are you content with the money you have available?  Are you generally happy with the life you are living now – especially right now in the fall of 2021?  Sometimes I wonder if we lived in some remote Third World area, would we be content there?  Or is discontent part of the human condition?  

Contentment or discontentment?  Those two ideas both have their place in life.  Discontentment is sometimes the motive for improving things.  Complete contentment might lead to a very complacent life with little accomplished. I think there has to be a balance between the two with contentment taking the majority place. If you look at Paul’s life, he certainly never sat still for long. He was eager to spread the Gospel to the known world, and he went through incredible difficulties doing that.  He certainly wasn’t a person to sit back and say, “This is getting too hard so I’ll be content with what we’ve accomplished and quit”.  

Reread those words that Paul wrote.  

“ How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. 11 Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. 14 Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.”

I think he was talking about being content with having things, or not having things.  He had a mission in life, and the things around him took second place.  He was very grateful for the help the Philippians sent.  He’s not trying to live a life without things.  There are some groups that think living an austere life is what God wants.  Paul said he was quite happy to have lots of good things if that is what came his way.  

If I apply that to my life, I start to think about what motivates me? What is my passion in life at this point?  (I think our goals can change at various times in our lives.) Goals/passions that are God-inspired are what should concern us the most, not the things we own.  And that is “the rub” in our culture, because what we own dominates us so much.  Advertising is in our faces constantly reminding us of what we need – oops, what we would like. 

There is another verse that jumps out at me as well.   “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength”.  I think that verse is sometimes misused.  On a North Point video, Andy Stanley talks about the misuse of this verse as a picture of a school marching band and a football team with that verse on a banner held by cheerleaders is being waved in the background.  This verse isn’t about the fact that God is going to help us win at whatever we are trying to do.  Paul uses this verse as the reason he can live with whatever comes his way.  And that I think is the real meaning in this verse.  It’s hard to live without things, to experience financial stress.  It can even be hard to live with too much. (really?)  Jesus mentioned that when he was talking to the rich young ruler who decided he couldn’t follow Christ because he would have to leave his stuff behind.  Too much can ruin our purpose in life if we get too focused on that.   

Our real challenge is to ask God what He wants us to do, what He wants us to focus on right now.  And then to ask Him for the strength to keep that focus and not get sidetracked by all the things we wish we had.  Ahh, “to be content with whatever I have”.

Our song for today is One Day by Matt Redman.

October 14 – What does Jesus Have to Say about Worrying?

The past two days have certainly been applicable to the Covid-19 era.  I don’t want to wear a topic out, but a couple of other scripture passages keep popping into my mind, and so after seesawing between continuing with the next verses in Philippians and looking at these other verses, I decided to stick with the worrying topic for one more day. So what does Jesus have to say about worrying?  Here’s what He had to say in the Sermon on the Mount.  

Matthew 6: 25 – 34  (NLT)

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today”.

These verses today are talking about worrying about a situation or problem that is right in our face.  Some of us are facing financial hardship. Some of us are having trouble with lives that are so boring and stifling being at home most of the time.  Or you may be facing a health crisis or a family member with mental health issues. Or you have a difficult marriage situation.  There are many specific problems that can be the source of anxiety and worry.  Generally, you cope with life just fine with a sense of humour, but this particular problem seems overwhelming.

Jesus’ advice is simple. Realize that your Heavenly Father knows what you need and He will supply it.  Jesus tells us to focus on living well and how God wants us to live, and then the other pieces will fall into place. “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”  Jesus goes on to give the proof for His advice.  If God takes care of the birds and makes sure the flowers are uniquely beautiful, then He definitely will take care of His children. I don’t think this advice means that whenever we face a problem that we just sit back and do nothing.  We are not robots controlled by God.  We are His children created in His image, so we have intelligence and creativity and hundreds of other wonderful assets and skills.  So, we can figure out a lot of things. We can seek help.  But the bottom line is that we leave the whole situation and all its worrying to God.  We consciously hand the problems over to Him and ask His help in figuring out what to do.

“Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?”  I love that statement.  My husband loved to tease me by telling me that worrying works. He loved to remind me that all the things I worry about haven’t happened, and therefore, my worrying has been effective.  But in reality, all my worrying has only made life miserable for me and for my family who have to put up with my irritability, and it has solved nothing. Jesus is totally right!  “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?”

There’s another part of the Bible that also speaks about peace.  Jesus is talking with His disciples before His crucifixion and ascension to Heaven. He wants to prepare them for the big changes ahead.  In a way, He is restating what He said in Matthew when He said, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need”.  There is a destination ahead that makes all our worrying about this life here on earth get put into perspective. And Jesus also tells His followers that He won’t be leaving them alone even though He won’t be here bodily.  As I end today’s devotions, I want you to read and absorb these verses about peace.

John 14: 1 – 3   “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. 2 There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.”

John 14: 26 – 27  “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.  27 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid”

Our song for today is Stand in Your Love by Josh Baldwin.

October 13 – Phew – I Still Get Upset

Philippians 4: 8 – 9  (NLT)

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.”

Notice the ending to these verses – “Then the God of peace will be with you”.  These verses actually belong with the ones we looked at yesterday.  So, I’m going to have you read those verses again, just to refresh your memory.  I also want you to notice how much the idea that peace originates with God is a basic foundation.

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus”.  (verses 6 and 7)

In 4 verses, God’s peace is written 3 times – “you will experience God’s peace”; “His peace will guard your hearts and minds”; “the God of peace will be with you”.  For those of us who struggle with worry and anxiety, these words bring a promise – an absolutely wonderful promise.  And these 4 verses also bring us concrete ways to deal with worry. Start to pray about everything, no matter how trivial, so that we create a pattern in our everyday lives of talking to God.  Talk to God openly about what we need. Also, thank God for all He has done in the past; those memories give us confidence moving forward.

Today we’ll look at the fourth practical way to deal with worry – focus on positive things.  “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise”. I have always loved these verses; I marked them in my Bible when I was a teenager. It’s so easy to get immersed in negative things.  The newspapers and TV news broadcasts are mostly about bad events happening in the world.  If you listen in on gossip at work, it’s often about things others have done wrong, or complaints about the workplace. Then there are the folks in your life who tend to see all life as a glass half empty. At home, as parents, we get caught up in the crazy stuff our kids do – the messes they create, their disobedience, their disregard for consequences and as a result, the mistakes they make. All the chaos that children bring can so easily outweigh the joy they bring – you know that joy you experience when you check on them sleeping angelically as you head off to bed?  

But God asks us to focus instead on the good things in life.  I think that means in our thought life, but also in our everyday life. When I was going for counselling during my panic attack days, my counsellor told me that it’s impossible to think about two things at once.  I remember at the time, trying my best to disprove what he said, but realized he was right.  It was during that time that I started to figure out how to replace worry and anxiety with a more positive outlook. So, I thought I’d share some of the practical things I learned back then, and maybe that will get you thinking about how you can do the same.

Memorizing scripture is a fantastic way of fighting depression and anxiety. Memorize verses that speak to your heart personally. Another verse that I love is “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). That verse is on my bedroom wall at the foot of my bed.  There are tons of comforting verses in the Bible; write/print them out and post them in places where you will see them frequently.

When you find yourself worrying way too much, write your worries down on a paper.  It’s amazing what actually having to put them into words does for you.  Then refute your worries on that same paper.  Write what you know to be actually real.  Most of our worries are about what if … . They may be possibilities, but are not likely to happen. 

Another way of reducing worry is to get involved in something that you have to think about, but is not stressful.  My big projects during those days were artsy – counted cross-stitch and needlepoint.  It’s really hard to stay focused on worries when you are counting which squares you need to do in one colour, and figuring out which colour is required next. The bonus to all that are some really nice pieces I framed and still have hanging in my home. So find something you enjoy, and when your worries are making your stomach churn, turn to that activity.  It may be working out, doing yard work, fixing something, chatting with a friend on social media – whatever does the trick for you.

Doing something for someone else also helps reduce your own anxiety, especially in these days of Covid-19.  Can you call someone you know lives alone and chat with them for awhile? Can you send a card – or even make one yourself – to make someone’s day better? Can you drop off a bag of candy, some flowers, or some store baked goods on someone’s porch? Is there some garden clean-up you could do for an elderly person?

All those things are positive things that help keep us calmer.  But really the major thing is developing a faith and trust in our Heavenly Father.  During moments of anxiety, there is nothing like talking with God and telling Him all about it.  Go looking for verses of strength and comfort in your Bible – just leave that Bible open on your kitchen counter, on your desk, or on your dresser – wherever there is a space to put a book. Then when you have a rare free moment, you can go looking for those verses.

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.”

Our song for today is Eye of the Storm by Ryan Stevenson.

October 12 – Panic Attack

Philippians 4: 6 – 7  NLT

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus”.

These verses smack me over the head every time I read them.  I’ve admitted before that I tend to be an anxious person.  When I was a young mom, I went through a period of time after the birth of my daughters where I was very anxious and experienced panic attacks. Perhaps that was tied to some kind of postpartum depression – it was too long ago to know if hormones had anything to do with it or not.  But the reality is that I worry way too much. From my own experience dealing with anxiety, and from some of the phrases in these verses, I think there is a way to deal with worry.  

“Don’t worry about anything” is a reminder that there are no exceptions to this worry thing.  So, you can’t think – don’t worry about small things, but it’s OK to worry about big things – that is not what this verse says.  In Philippians 2, we looked at setting goals in our personal spiritual lives. If you are a worrier, I think trying to cut down on worrying is a legitimate goal. It requires you to be very intentional about identifying the worry or the signs of worrying and to make an effort to deal with it. In this coronavirus time, I suspect that worrying has become a major pastime for many of us. There are so many things we can’t control. We see so much division about restrictions and the vaccines. We worry about whether some activities and places are safe or not. We need to remember that God is very willing to help us with this.  The Holy Spirit lives within us; God isn’t leaving us alone in this venture. 

“Pray about everything” is a first step in the process.  We tend to pray when things start becoming overwhelming, when we feel like we’re in a scary place.  But think about praying over little things.  When you get up in the morning, ask God to show you something He wants you to do today, some person He wants you to encourage.  When you are starting to lose your temper with your stubborn 2 year-old, pray for patience. My husband was one of the calmest people I know (I think that’s why God brought him into my life), and I can remember so vividly one time many years ago when I was having a fit about something or another, and he very kindly – and I don’t think he meant it as any reprimand or comment on my behaviour at the time – said, “Audrey, pray about it.  I pray all the time even to find my car keys in the morning”.  He was not a morning person at all, so I get it that he needed to pray about finding his car keys.  But what struck me at the time was his statement about praying about little things all the time.   Since then, I’ve come to realize that when I get used to talking with God about all sorts of things during my day, it calms me down.  You try it. Start intentionally talking to God about little things throughout your day.

“Tell God what you need” is another good piece of advice from God’s Word.  Sometimes I think we should sort out what we need from what we want.  But whatever … telling God what we need puts what is bothering us right out in the open.  I think that’s why I like praying out loud. I can’t get fuzzy when I actually say the words.  It clarifies to me what I’m asking for.  Sometimes prayer is actually asking God to show us what we need.  Admit what is bothering us, and then ask God what we need to move forward on that situation.  These conversations with God about what we need is an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to speak to us and for us to once again admit that God is in control and reinforce our dependence on Him. Both spiritually and psychologically, this is a good way of dealing with worry.

“Thank Him for all He has done”.  I love the fact that the Bible agrees with psychology in how to deal with life.   Or maybe I should say, psychologists have discovered that the Bible had it right all along. When we take our focus off our problems and refocus on the good things God has given us, that definitely cuts down the anxiety.  This is something over the years that I have learned to do when I feel overwhelmed.  In fact, I’ve learned to follow the three steps in the order the verses state them: 1. turn to God with the problem no matter how small, 2. tell God what I think I need and/or ask God what I need, and 3. then start thinking about and thanking God for all the wonderful things He has given me in the past. Remembering how God has helped us in the past calms us down in the present.

“ Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.”  All I can say is that statement is true.  I know I’m a bit of a control freak.  I like things organized and planned out well.  I like to have all the bases covered, and the outcomes as secure as they can be. Those qualities are actually good ones, especially if you are a leader in any way – like being a teacher.  However, those same qualities can be the cause for anxiety, because when things seem to be getting out of control, panic sets in.  But, I have found that God’s peace can arrive in ways we don’t understand or even expect. 

I hope my story will encourage you – that there is peace available. Over the years of being a teacher, being a mom, and dealing with my husband’s serious health issues, I have experienced times of peace that were divine moments in my life – times when I should have fallen apart but instead, I was calm and aware of God’s presence with me.  Looking back now, I’m glad I experienced that panic and anxiety as a young mom (I sure didn’t at the time), but that’s when I started my lifetime goal of learning to depend on God.  That time was the first time in my life where I couldn’t figure out some way to fix things myself, and I’m glad I had to learn early in life that I wasn’t in control. That was when I started to apply these verses in Philippians personally. Now, years later, when things start to go crazy, and I turn those events over to God with thanks for all He has done for me in the past, I feel a sense of peace and a relaxation of tension in my body almost at once. That doesn’t mean I don’t have to ask for it again in another hour or so, but I now realize that God does bring peace.

“His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus”.  I believe that the last phrase “as you live in Christ Jesus” is the key to God’s peace.  Intentionally living each and every day asking God to guide you, and doing your best with His help to live in a way that honours Him, puts you on a learning path that leads to peace.  God will guard your heart and mind, but you have to cooperate with Him in this process.  You may in a moment of desperation plead with God to give you peace, and He will.  But to experience peace on a daily basis, you need to “live in Christ Jesus” or live putting Him as a priority in your life. 

I am the first to confess that I haven’t always lived up to those expectations myself.  Especially when life seems to be going along just fine, it’s so easy to just float along with my personal relationship with God on the back burner.  I go to church and try to be a good person as a matter of course, but down deep I know that I’m taking charge, not turning to God on everyday matters.  Sometimes I wonder if that’s why God has allowed several crisis situations to remind me that I’m not in control – you know the way you do with your children when they are acting silly? You do something to bring them back to reality. I can say that God has brought a peace to my life that I don’t understand but that I treasure immensely, and my prayer is that you will experience that as well as you face life. 

Our song for today is I Will Fear No More by The Afters.

October 11 – Thanksgiving

I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness,
    and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High. Psalm 7:17

I’ll have to admit that even after being married to a Canadian for nearly 30 years, Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October always sneaks up on me. Fortunately, as a Canadian-American family, I have a second chance at doing a better job planning by the time we get to the fourth Thursday in November. The harvest decorations are usually up at our house for about six weeks, so we don’t have Thanksgiving Day, we have Thanksgiving Season! Of course, most years we celebrate on both dates in the Czech Republic (where there are some traditional harvest festivals, but there isn’t a church or state holiday called Thanksgiving). We typically have used the opportunity to invite friends from church or from English classes over to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal with turkey and pumpkin pie (neither of which were easy to find in the early years) and to make a point of being thankful to God. 

Maybe you have noticed recently as I have, especially during these Covid times, that many blogs and articles about health and wellness are mentioning the benefits of gratitude. Just do a search for something like tips for stress relief. For example, one article quoted an expert’s definition that “giving thanks and expressing gratitude is one of the oldest concepts in society. It reminds us of how special, beautiful, and blessed our lives are even when we are faced with challenging, stressful, and overwhelming situations.” The article noted in a sidebar that, “one study of 118 adults found being grateful resulted in significantly fewer physical health problems such as sleep disturbances, headaches, gastrointestinal problems, and respiratory infections.” (verywellmind.com)

Amen to that! It’s a good article overall, except that it doesn’t mention to whom we are ultimately expressing our gratitude. When I looked up “give thanks” on Biblegateway.com, there were 68 references and every one of them was followed by “to the Lord” or “to his name” or something similar. It’s worth taking the time to read through all the verses. For example, 

 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever! Psalm 107:1

It is no wonder that being grateful and thankful lead to health benefits. It is God who designed our bodies and it is God who is commanding us to give thanks. We can be sure that anything He commands us to do is for our good. And we can also be sure that anything, when He commands us to do something, He will also give us the strength to do it. 

One verse in the list of “give thanks” verses that stood out to me as different from the rest is Romans 1:21 where Paul describes why the world is in a sinful mess.  “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” That should make us take thanksgiving seriously. There are benefits to giving thanks and consequences when we don’t!

When I was growing up in Minnesota, my church would have a special Thanksgiving service either on Thanksgiving morning or the evening before. An old hymn we sang during those services often comes to my mind during this time of year:

Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin;
God our Maker doth provide
For our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come,
Raise the song of harvest home.

Even though most of us are far removed from the farm in our daily experience, it is good to be thankful to God in our homes and in our church for the harvest and for God’s bountiful provision as He supplies even our wants. Words of gratitude and thankfulness to God don’t naturally flow out of my mouth, so I need songs and psalms rolling around in my head to help me do that. 

The last verse of the hymn is a beautiful expression of the kind of harvest that is more to be desired than abundant crops brought from the fields. As we give thanks, let us also petition the Lord to gather each of His chosen children into His family and to return for His church. Maranatha!

Even so, Lord, quickly come,
Bring Thy final harvest home;
Gather Thou Thy people in,
Free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified,
In Thy garner to abide;
Come, with all Thine angels come,
Raise the glorious harvest home.

Our song for today is 10, 000 Reasons by Matt Redman

October 8 – You are Driving Me Crazy!

Philippians 4: 1 – 5   (NLT)

“ Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stay true to the Lord. I love you and long to see you, dear friends, for you are my joy and the crown I receive for my work.

Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the Book of Life.

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon”.

When you read the title of today’s devotions and then read the verses from Philippians 4, did anyone in your own world come to mind?  Conflict between people is a given, but how, as Christians, are we supposed to deal with it?  In these verses, Paul pleads with two women to settle their differences, and if necessary, accept help from others in the church.

Paul was no stranger to conflict.  Paul went on his first missionary journey with Barnabas and a young man, John Mark.  Not too long into the journey, John Mark decided to leave and head home; we don’t know the reason for his departure.  When it came time for the second missionary journey, Barnabas wanted to take John Mark along again – give him another chance.  Paul disagreed, and as a result, Paul and Barnabas separated and Barnabas went on a journey with John Mark and Paul headed out with Silas. That must have been some disagreement since Paul and Barnabas had become close friends shortly after Paul’s conversion.  After Paul became a Christian, he went to Jerusalem, but the Christians there were frightened of him and didn’t trust him.  It was Barnabas who stood up for him and convinced the church to accept Paul.  So, for them to argue and separate over whether John Mark could be trusted enough to be given a second chance, must have been an interesting discussion, to say the least.  Did they ever get back together again? Yes, they did.  And in some of Paul’s epistles, Paul recommends John Mark to the believers.  Many scholars think that it was John Mark who would later write the Gospel of Mark. So, this conflict was resolved well.

The Bible tells us to love one another, and that our love for each other as Christians is a sign to the secular world that our faith is the “real deal”.  John 13: 34 – 35 says, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”  That’s about as clear as one can get, but how do I put it into practice?  Can I have disagreements with other Christians?  If so, how do I handle that?  What if another Christian really “bugs me”?  What am I supposed to do about that?  Can I cut someone out of my life if we can’t get along?  At what point do I put my own sanity and peace first?

Paul gives us some suggestions about resolving conflict in these verses.  First of all, the two people that Paul is addressing are not fringe members of the church, people who don’t really make that much difference in the church.  Paul mentions that they have both worked hard with him in “telling others the Good News”; they “worked along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers”.  So, the fact that they are not getting along has an impact on the church; otherwise, I doubt Paul would have named them.   

He starts with “because you belong to the Lord”.  That is an overriding principle in the Christian life. Our commitment to God is the top priority in how we deal with everything.  What would God want us to do?  What has He said in the Bible?  What example did Jesus give us to follow?  Here are some really blunt statements about getting along with each other.  

If anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is still living in darkness. 10 Anyone who loves a fellow believer is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble.11 But anyone who hates a fellow believer is still living and walking in darkness. Such a person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by the darkness.”  (1 John 2: 9, 10   NLT)

“And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil. … 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”  (Ephesians 4: 26, 27, 32   NLT)

God is telling us that we need to be kind to each other. Remember chapter 2 of Philippians? Paul emphasizes in that chapter that we are to be loving to each other, and to understand that others can be better than ourselves.  We are not to be taken with impressing others and building up our own reputation. We are to respect each other.  If we take this Scripture seriously, when we are in conflict with someone, especially someone in the church, we are to admit that God’s ways are higher than our ways, and do our best to resolve the issue.

Paul also asks “his true partner” to help in resolving the issue.  We don’t know who that partner was – perhaps it was Timothy.  But, here is another suggestion about settling differences.  We need to be willing to let another mature Christian help us to figure out a solution.  It means we need to be willing to listen to that third party, to let someone else help us, to admit we are not always right.

Finally, Paul brings us back to the focus of our lives.  “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!  Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon”.  (verses 4,5)  God has brought so much joy to our lives as His children.  We need to remember that when we get caught up in our own opinions.  Jesus is coming soon.  If Jesus came back today, would that issue you’re so upset about matter?  

Today’s verses are a real challenge to me and to all of us.  What kind of example of God’s love am I setting to those around me?

Our song for today is Love God Love People by Danny Gokey.

October 7 – What is Your Goal?

Philippians 3: 12 – 14  (NLT)

“12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

I love the phrase “forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead”.  We are not perfect people by any means, and we can get tangled up in regrets that impact our future.  God wants us to leave those regrets behind and make plans to improve.  Just as God removes our sin “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12), we need to let the past go.  That doesn’t mean we don’t learn from our mistakes, but we don’t let those mistakes weigh us down.  If you have things in your past that are still making you feel unworthy of God’s wonderful plans for you, claim these verses as your own.  Post them on the mirror of your bedroom or bathroom – somewhere to remind you frequently that your focus is on the future, not the past.

Paul continues by using a comparison to a race. This is where our part comes in.  As an athlete, you practice like crazy to make improvements.  You are very aware that you are not perfect, but you keep on trying.  If an athlete kept looking back at all the times they didn’t win a competition and focused on what a loser they were, they would never move forward and get better. It’s really important to learn from mistakes, but not to focus on that past.  Your job as an athlete is to focus on improving and winning.  Our job as Christians is to combine our will and determination to be the person God created us to be, and to use God’s power and resources to make that happen.

My daughters were involved in various sports, and now my grandchildren are as well.  So I’m very aware of the practice and time spent in preparing for competition.  I think the craziest example of consistent practice was my middle daughter, Janet, who swam for Kennedy’s swim team when it was the best team in Ontario high schools.  Her swim practices started at 6:30 am and included strength and weight training.  Then after school they practiced another two hours perfecting their strokes, as well as starts and finishes in the pool since can mean a fraction of a second on the clock. This went on for months, and even continued during Christmas holidays. But she did experience the euphoria of receiving those gold medals at the OFSSA swim meets for several years.  Interestingly, now that she’s a mom of three active kids, she sometimes swims lengths in a community pool to keep in shape, and when she does, inevitably someone will comment to her about her amazing swimming style.  It appears all that training has become an integral part of her. 

But during those years in high school, while she was in training, there were days when she was exhausted and wondered if it was worth it.  She competed in many swim meets and didn’t come close to winning at all. What if she’d quit, or what if she’d decided to just hang around so she could say she belonged to this “famous” team?  She would never have experienced the joy of that gold medal, the reward for all her hard work.  She would never have experienced the knowledge that hard work pays off, and that all that tough training would never leave her.

That’s kind of like our faith.  Once we are God’s child, He wants us live out our faith in practical ways.  Others should be able to see a difference between us and those who have no faith.  That doesn’t mean we are perfect, but it does mean we want to show the people around us what God is like; we want to be like him. This is something we think about, and we do our best (like practising like an athlete) to behave that way. When we fail, we don’t keep looking back, but once again press on to the future and to the time when God tells us personally that we’ve done a great job – that we’ve been faithful.

Yesterday, we took a look at the help available to us as we live out our Christian faith. God does make a difference in our everyday, practical lives.  What I would like you to do today is to ask God to show you what changes you may need to make in order to move forward in your life with Him.  God has exciting, special plans for you in this life – like a coach has for his team members, like a father has for his children. What should be your goal for today or for this week?  Ask Him. Ask Him to show you how to honour Him the most with your life and your circumstances – especially the crazy circumstances here with Covid-19.  You are not where you are without a purpose.  God wants to use you to bring Him honour in just the place you are living right now.  So what should be your next “training” move as you compete in this life race?

And then … trust God to supply All You Need for that journey forward.

Our song for today is I Will Follow You by Chris Tomlin


October 6 – Can I Do Whatever I Want?

Philippians 3: 12 – 21  (NLT)

We’re going to take 2 days to look at the verses at the end of Chapter 3.  Today, I want to examine the Biblical basis for what we are responsible for once we become Christians.  I think it’s important that we see what the Bible says, so we aren’t living on incorrect beliefs.  Yesterday we looked at how some Christians were sidetracked into thinking they needed to do something to earn God’s favour. That totally negates what Jesus did for us, and the wonderful acceptance we have as God’s children. 

Now, Paul is concerned about the other extreme – Christians who are so confident God accepts them that they think they can do whatever they want. So here are verses 12 to 21:.   

“12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

15 Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. 16 But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.

17 Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. 18 For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth.20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. 21 He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control”.

Paul tackles this issue of behaviour once you have accepted Jesus as your Saviour.  If God accepts you just as you are, then does that mean it doesn’t matter how you behave at all?  These verses in Philippians echo the same idea expressed in Romans 6: 1 – 2, “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?”  (NLT)  In verses 18 and 19 of Philippians 3, Paul is in tears over the people who think they can do whatever they want, and it doesn’t matter.  

God wants us to experience the complete forgiveness He offers us through Christ’s sacrifice, but that adoption into God’s family should change the way we live from that point on. We are now part of a family. Families that have good relationships include members who work to get along, who understand that a person’s behaviour affects the whole family. We look out for one another, we love each other. At times though, we do things that upset the family. We’re not perfect.

So, Paul also stresses that belonging to God doesn’t mean perfection here on earth.  He definitely states that he hasn’t reached perfection.  Does that mean that I’m accepted into God’s family totally on faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection for me, but … then I have to work hard to be a good Christian?  Yes and no.  We do have a part to play in what happens once we are in God’s family; we are not some God-controlled robot.  But God also doesn’t leave us all alone in this lifetime venture.

The first thing we need to know is that when we fail, God will forgive us.  It’s important to realize that we are not asked to be perfect in our lives as God’s children any more than we are asked to be perfect for God to accept us in the first place. The Apostle John is writing to believers when he wrote these words. 

1 John 1:7-9   (NLT)

“ But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.  If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”

So our sin can be dealt with as we confess when we know we’ve messed up.  We also have the Bible to guide us in how we should live. II Timothy 3: 16 – 17 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”  (NASB)  That’s why it’s important for us to read the Bible on a regular basis and become familiar with what it says.

When we become Christians, God gives us His Holy Spirit to dwell in us permanently. I want you to read the verses I’ve included about the Holy Spirit and what He does for us. I think it’s important that you are aware that you are not living life alone, but that God’s power is available to you.

Romans 8:14-16  (NLT)

 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children”.

John 16: 7 and 8; 12 – 15  (NLT)

 “ But in fact, it is best for you that I (Jesus) go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate (Holy Spirit) won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you.And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. … 12 “There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now.13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. 14 He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me”.

Titus 3:5  (NLT)

“He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit”.

1 John 2:27  (NLT)

“But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ”.

Romans 8:26  (NLT)

“And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words”.

Galatians 5:16  (NLT)

“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves”.

Galatians 5:22  (NLT)

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.”

To sum it up, God accepts us as when we realize that Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins and we accept his sacrifice for us personally. God has given us the Bible so we have the information we need to understand who God is and what he expects of his family. God is willing to forgive us when we mess up. He gives us the Holy Spirit to teach and guide us in our life. God provides all we need to live in a way that honours him!

Did you get that?  God provides all we need!

Our song for today is Lord I Give You My Heart by Michael W. Smith.

October 5 – How Hard Do I Have to Try?

Chapter 3 is a ‘teaching chapter’, a chapter where Paul wants us to think about what we believe – more officially called a chapter on church doctrine.

What we believe influences what we do. For example, if we believe the coronavirus transmits easily, we won’t be out and about in the community the way we used. We’ll be sure to wear our masks when we head to the store.  If we don’t believe the virus is a threat here in Windsor, we’ll meet with friends as usual, and take minimal precautions when we are in public. What we believe definitely influences what we do.

Philippians 3: 1 – 11    (NLT)

  1. As you read these first verses, figure out what Paul is warning the Christ followers about?  If you were to modernize this warning, what would you say Paul is cautioning us about?

“Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.

Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved. For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort, though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!

  1. Read the next few verses. If Paul were to be introduced in the synagogue in Jerusalem, what would the priests include in his introduction?

I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!”

  1. Now that Paul is a Christ follower, what would he have to say about his qualifications?
  2. What does Paul depend upon for his relationship with God?

Do you ever wonder if you have done enough to please God?  Do you think you are basically a good person, and hope that God recognizes that as well?  Were you raised in a church where you got the message that you needed to do certain things to be accepted by God and avoid other things that would displease Him?  These questions have been around for literally ages.  

In this chapter of Philippians, Paul is addressing some people who are claiming that it was necessary to be circumcised to be a Christian, to be accepted by God.  The Old Testament established circumcision as a necessary part of the Jewish nation and religious laws.  Other nations didn’t follow that practice, so when Gentiles became Christians, Jewish believers thought they should be circumcised. Those new Christians from a Jewish background were having problems with separating their old customs from the new life in Jesus Christ. That issue came up in Acts 10 and 11 when God convinced Peter (who was the lead pastor of the church in Jerusalem) that Gentiles were accepted on faith, not on previous Jewish law, and the church in Jerusalem debated the topic and agreed that circumcision was not necessary for salvation.  But it takes a while for everyone to hear about what happened, and to agree with the new ways of doing things.  Paul is very adamant about not falling for that requirement; in fact, he calls the people who proposed that idea, “evil mutilators”.

Among Christians, it is sometimes easy to fall into the trap of thinking that what we do is required for our salvation.  I think we get caught in the crossfire between thinking Christians should behave in a way honouring to God, and thinking that certain types of behaviour are necessary for God to accept us.  My husband came from a very conservative Mennonite background, and it was interesting to talk with his family and church friends about their practices.  Many of them fully believed that faith alone in Christ’s death and resurrection was the basis of God’s acceptance, but some got that all mixed up with their social customs – wearing a prayer bonnet, wearing no jewellery at all – not even a wedding ring, wearing black clothes without adornment, staying away from modern inventions such as cars, electricity, etc.. Some felt you couldn’t possibly be a true Christian and adapt to the modern way of life.  I’ve also met Christians who get very upset if you are OK with drinking any kind of alcohol, or going to movies and secular concerts, or if you don’t attend church services every single week.  Again, these folks are sincere and not bad people, but they miss the wonderful news that our behaviour is not what God requires.

Listen again to what Paul says, “We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort” (verse 3).  Paul says the same thing in Ephesians 2: 4 – 9. 

“But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”   (NLT)

Paul goes through a list of all the things he did with enthusiasm and conviction to be accepted by God prior to coming to know God personally through Christ. It’s quite the list.  But Paul also says firmly that all those things he did faithfully were actually “worthless garbage”. Paul has talked earlier in the book of Philippians about behaviour honouring to God, but he doesn’t want you to mix that up with knowing you are accepted by God. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1  NASB)

Truly understanding this brings me to tears.  I have a tendency to measure myself by how much I’m living up to the expectations I’ve set for myself, or the expectations others have of me.  I want to do well.  I want to be a good person, a good Christian, a good mom. But I also know I don’t always live up to those expectations.  But the fact that God accepts me just as I am ‘blows me away’.  It is such a solid basis on which to build my life being forgiven, accepted, and loved by God.  That unconditional acceptance and forgiveness is so amazing there are no words to express it adequately.  

And this acceptance can be yours too.  All you have to do is believe that Jesus’ death covered your personal sins and ask God to accept you as His child as a result of that faith. If you’re not sure you are accepted by God, talk to someone at LSA.  Call the church office and ask to speak to one of the staff.  We’d love to see you confident of your place in God’s family.

Our song for today is Just As I Am by Jason Crabb

October 4 – Supporting Each Other

Philippians 2: 19 – 30 (NLT)

“ If the Lord Jesus is willing, I hope to send Timothy to you soon for a visit. Then he can cheer me up by telling me how you are getting along. 20 I have no one else like Timothy, who genuinely cares about your welfare. 21 All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ. 22 But you know how Timothy has proved himself. Like a son with his father, he has served with me in preaching the Good News. 23 I hope to send him to you just as soon as I find out what is going to happen to me here. 24 And I have confidence from the Lord that I myself will come to see you soon.

25 Meanwhile, I thought I should send Epaphroditus back to you. He is a true brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier. And he was your messenger to help me in my need. 26 I am sending him because he has been longing to see you, and he was very distressed that you heard he was ill. 27 And he certainly was ill; in fact, he almost died. But God had mercy on him—and also on me, so that I would not have one sorrow after another.

28 So I am all the more anxious to send him back to you, for I know you will be glad to see him, and then I will not be so worried about you.29 Welcome him in the Lord’s love and with great joy, and give him the honor that people like him deserve. 30 For he risked his life for the work of Christ, and he was at the point of death while doing for me what you couldn’t do from far away.”

In the middle of the book encouraging Christians to live well, we have these verses that are more personal in nature – Paul talking about his situation and his friends.  Remember, Paul is under house arrest in Rome while he is writing this letter.  He mentions in these verses that he is suffering, that he has enough sorrow, and that he is uncertain of what the future will bring. In fact, if we look at Paul’s life history, he spent a lot of time going through horrendous experiences all because he was determined to get the Message out to the world of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross. Take a look at this summary of Paul’s hardships listed in 2 Corinthians 11 as Paul argues his case against people who are out to destroy this new church movement, and who are saying that Paul really can’t be trusted, that Paul is just out for his own importance and fame.

 2 Corinthians 11:23-28      (NLT)

“ Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him (refers to Christ) far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. 24 Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. 26 I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. 27 I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.  28 Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches.”  

In our culture in Canada today, we really don’t have any idea of what suffering for what we believe is like.  We do face restrictions in the workplace because we need to be tolerant of others’ beliefs, or we know people who think we’re a little crazy and too religious.  But we don’t face death or imprisonment or persecution in some form because of our faith – or at least, that is not legal in our country.  But when I read the newspaper or watch the TV news, I know that Christians face very awful situations in other countries around our world.  For example, right now, I wouldn’t want to be a Christian in a country like Afghanistan with the Taliban in control.  I sometimes wonder if I would be brave enough to stand up for what I believe if I would likely die for doing that.  I think I would, but then I’ve never had to face such a terrifying experience.

But today, I want to look at the support Paul had while he was under such pressure.  Paul does acknowledge God’s power and direction in all that happens, but he is also so thankful for Timothy and Epaphroditus.  Here are some of the things Paul says about them:  “Timothy genuinely cares about your welfare”; “Timothy has proved himself”; “like a son with a father”; “give Epaphroditus the honour that people like him deserve”; “he was at the point of death while doing for me what you couldn’t do from far away.” Those words show how much Paul appreciates the support those two men gave him. 

While we do trust God, and while we know that God is in control, it’s still hard for us to do that completely.  We can’t see God or touch God or hear God the way we can with our friends here on earth.  I think God understands that, and sends supportive friends our way to give us that human, caring touch we need.  I know over the years I have had Christian friends who have been there for me when I needed support in some way. They helped me in practical ways, and they also reminded me that God cared too.  I can never thank them enough for what they have meant to me.

Today, I’m going to ask you to think of someone in your life who has been a support for you.  It may even have been someone who has done something in the past week or two to make life with the pandemic more bearable. Write down that name(s) so it doesn’t leave your mind as soon as you stop reading this devotion. Say a prayer thanking God for sending them your way, and asking God to give them a special blessing today. Then think of a way you can express your thankfulness to them.

Our song for today is All the People Said Amen by Matt Maher

October 1 – Half Empty or Half Full?

Philippians 2: 12 – 18      (NLT)

“Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. 13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

  1. How do you get the motivation and strength to live pleasing to God? (v. 13)

14 Do everything without complaining and arguing, 15 so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. 16 Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless. 17 But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God, just like your faithful service is an offering to God. And I want all of you to share that joy. 18 Yes, you should rejoice, and I will share your joy.”

  1. Stop and think about this phrase – “shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people”.  What does that mean in everyday, practical life? How can I be a bright light? Who are the “crooked and perverse people”? 

There are two phrases from these verses that strike me the most.  “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” and “Do everything without complaining and arguing”.  It’s a good thing these two verses are close together because without God’s work in my life, I’d never stop complaining and arguing.

Paul starts these verses with a sentence that some people misinterpret. “Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.” This doesn’t mean you have to work hard to gain your salvation.  You don’t have to work to prove to God that you are worthy of His love. Paul is asking us to work at showing the results of our salvation.  God is the one who provides a way for a relationship with Him. “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” (Ephesians 2:8  NLT)  Paul is simply asking us to take our salvation seriously.  But we also know that is hard for us to do.  I’m so thankful that “God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him”  It is God who gives us the motivation (you know those whispers in your mind about something you need to change or do) and the power to follow up.  

Complaining and arguing are things that I swear come naturally to children as soon as they can speak.  Ever noticed that with your kids?  Their first accomplishment is learning the word “NO”.   I think that’s the first word they learn after mama and/or dada.  So I think it’s not out of the way for us to assume that arguing and complaining are fundamental flaws of humans.  We just get smarter at it as we grow older – knowing when to argue and complain to get the best results for ourselves.

This idea of living clean and innocent lives without complaining or arguing is really something to think about.  How much do you complain?  I’ve met some folks who are experts at it; in fact, they are so expert that most people don’t want to be around their negativity that much. Rather, let’s be a “bright light” in the place in this world where God has placed us – a person like Paul describes in Philippians 2. 

Right now in the middle of this pandemic, complaining and arguing is becoming the ‘norm’. Whether you are in favour of vaccines or not, whether you advocate ‘vaccine passports’ or not, whether you are upset with the restrictions placed on gatherings at sports events or even churches, or not … is it possible to live a life of joy? Do people think of me as a ‘bright light’ or a cloud they’d rather avoid?

Paul says, “Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights”.  In the middle of all this chaos and worry, how can I do that? Paul told us that “God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him”.  We need to stop and comprehend that God does give us the desire and power to live like bright lights. It’s not all up to us by ourselves. So, think about how you can be a bright light today. God can put those ideas into your head. Act on it today. It might even be just a phone call to brighten someone else’s day. 

There’s another area of complaining that I personally need to address. Realistically, I may not complain much out loud, but I know I complain and argue inside.  I’m especially good at this with God.  I find myself comparing my life to others and wondering why they get so many good breaks, or why they seem to have so much fun, or why they get all the recognition, or ….  and the list goes on.  I am so thankful that God listens to my complaining, but also teaches me lessons about growing beyond all that complaining.  

It reminds me of the days when I would explain to my children why they couldn’t have something they desperately wanted at the time, and I would try my best to help them understand that we don’t always get what we want.  Sound familiar? If you have young students at home who had to do online lessons last year, I imagine you heard a lot of complaining, and you were trying to be creative about getting them motivated. Well, God is working to get us motivated to be those shining lights inside and out.

These verses in Philippians today remind me once again to be thankful for what I have and for the wonderful relationship God has given me with Himself.  I don’t want to be a complainer, but rather I would like to “shine like a bright light”.  This is one of the reasons we need to read the Bible – it reminds us to stop the pity party and get on with living joyfully.  We all need those reminders.

Our song for today is Joy of the Lord by Rend Collective.

September 30 – Who’s Better – Me or You?

Philippians 2: 1 – 11     (NLT)

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

  1. On your fingers. List at least 4 qualities that Paul is asking us to have as Christ followers.

The next verses give us the example to follow:

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.”

Do those verses ever bring me to a full stop.  WOW!   So there’s my example!  I can’t understand one iota what it must have been like to be God – all knowing, all powerful, all EVERYTHING wonderful – and to completely limit himself in human form.

How in the world did Jesus ever endure life on earth when at any moment, He could have said, “This is ridiculous – that’s it!  You’re all done!”  Think of all the arrogant people who challenged Him, think of all the suffering He saw, and think of the horror of the cross and being convicted of criminal offenses.  God a criminal?  Or at least that is what His created people claimed.  Talk about being completely unknown and misunderstood! Totally unappreciated! Yet Jesus did that for you and me. How much more selflessly humble could Jesus have been?

Being like Christ is the challenge Paul presents in the first verses of this chapter when he tells us, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.  Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”

This quality of being humble is something I’ve struggled with all my life.  I do want to follow Christ’s example, but it is hard and I think if you’re honest with yourself, you’d agree.  It’s so easy to get involved in something, or help out, because we think we’re good at it, smart, more organized, more qualified, etc.  More of whatever.  Or we just want to impress people and hope they think we’re wonderful.  (Yuck! What an admission.)

This self absorption is part of our human, sin nature.  Remember Eve?  When Satan whispered to her that she could become like God, she fell for that dream.  She ate the fruit from the forbidden tree, and we have followed that pattern ever since.  We each put our selves first, wanting to be able to control our world around us.

There have been moments in my life where this quality of humility really struck home.   One of those moments happened while our family was living on the Kijabe mission station in Kenya for several months.  I was there to teach at Rift Valley Academy and my husband was there to help the mission hospital go from paper records to computerization. We were there to help! The national woman who looked after our house invited us to have dinner with her family; she cleaned, did laundry, and did a lot of food preparation for us.  Alice lived several kilometres up the side of the Rift Valley escarpment, so we drove up most of the way before she met us, and we trekked to her village and home.  As I sat perched on a wood plank set on stones – her sofa – in her tin-roofed hut, I realized that I wasn’t here to help, but to learn and admire.

Alice walked those several kilometres up and down the steep escarpment every day to work at my house – a walk that was way too hard for us to walk even once. I was taking a course from a professor from the University of Nairobi who came to the Academy to teach the graduating high school students a course on Kenyan literature.  Alice read all the books I bought for the course, and loved to talk with me about the books and the Kenyan culture written about in the books.  I think I learned more from her than from the professor. She laughed at me (in a nice way). She was sympathetic as I tried to adjust to living in rural Kenya, and frankly, I couldn’t have survived as well as I did, if Alice hadn’t become my mentor and friend.

My Kenyan experience is a rather dramatic example of learning to “be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves”.  I suspect we all struggle to keep a balance of self-esteem with humility.  I don’t think it’s psychologically sound to keep putting yourself down, nor do I think that is what God intends.  God loved us and even died for us – we are not without value.  So while it’s OK to recognize and value our own skills and abilities, we also need to have the right attitude as described in the first verses of Philippians 2.

This past year and a half have been hard. We’ve struggled in so many ways. When we read the verses today, we wonder if we reflect those values – tender, compassionate, agreeing, loving one another, working together, being unselfish, being humble, looking out for others. If there was ever a time in history for us to be like Jesus, this is it. People around us are feeling desperate. How can we help? How can we put aside our own frustrations with the pandemic and reach out to the people around us in a safe way? Start talking about it with your family and friends. How can I do this?

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

Our song for today is Humble King by Vineyard Worship’

September 29 – Live as Citizens of Heaven

Philippians 1: 21 – 30    (NLT)

21 For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. 22 But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. 23 I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. 24 But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.

25 Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith.26 And when I come to you again, you will have even more reason to take pride in Christ Jesus because of what he is doing through me. 27 Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News.

28 Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. 29 For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.30 We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.”

Let’s look at these verses in a practical down-to-earth way. Here are a couple of questions:

  1. Paul says that he wants his life to bring honor to Christ.  Further down he says he wants the Christians at Philippi to “live as citizens of heaven”.  What do you think that means in very practical ways?
  1.  Why does Paul say we should not be intimidated by non-Christian comments or actions?

Paul says that he is living to help “all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith”. This seems to be the main idea of these verses – that our faith should grow and bring honour to God – and it should be joyful.  What in practical reality does that look like?  It can be so easy to talk with religious words – growing in faith, bringing honour to Christ, fruitful work for Christ, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.  But when it comes right down to it in the 21st Century, what does that look like?  How would I know if my life is showing others what it is like to belong to Christ?

Personally, I think we know by reading the Bible and taking its instructions and advice to heart.  So, that means I have to read the Bible and know what is in it.  Some of what the Bible says is direct such as, “Be angry and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger”. (Ephesians 4: 26 NASB) So, I know that I can be angry, but I’m not to carry anger and grudges around with me.  I need to deal with whatever made me angry and get over it. An angry, bitter person doesn’t reflect what God is like.  

Sometimes I learn what God is like from reading the Gospels describing Jesus’ life here on earth.  I can learn how Jesus deals with things, and then that’s what I will try to do.  For example, when Jesus is asked to comment on a situation when a group of angry, religious leaders bring a woman caught in adultery to Jesus to see if He will condemn her the way they do, Jesus asks them to think about their own sin, and if they think they are perfect, then they can cast the first stone. (John 8: 1 – 11) This tells me that I should hesitate before I go around judging and condemning others for the things I think they are doing wrong.  I need to be aware of the sin in my own life.

2 Timothy 3:15-17 (NLT)  says:

” You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”

That is exactly what we’ve been talking about.  Here’s a challenge for you:

Think of some personal quality that demonstrates what Christians should be like.  Write your idea down and then see if you can find it in the Bible or figure out where you got that idea.  You don’t have to have an amazing or incredibly intellectual answer.  I just want you to think about something you think is important for a Christian to be like, and what in the Bible makes you think that is true.  I’m just trying to get you to think about how the Bible influences what you believe is right behaviour or beliefs.

If you can’t think of a place in the Bible where the characteristic you’re thinking about is located, go to biblegateway.com and type in the characteristic you have in mind.  It will give you the places in the Bible where that word appears.  You can also choose your translation in the top right-hand corner, so you can use modern language. 

Our song for today is I Will Follow by Chris Tomlin.

September 28 – Good Can Come from Bad?

Philippians 1: 12 – 20   (NLT)

“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. 13 For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. 14 And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.

15 It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. 16 They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News. 17 Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. 18 But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice. 19 For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance. 20 For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die.” 

Can good things come from bad situations?  Paul says that they can. Look at what has happened because of Paul’s imprisonment. The whole palace guard now knows about Jesus and this new life one can have with God. The guards rotate as they watch over Paul day and night. They get to hear first-hand when Paul talks with his visitors. They get to listen as Paul and Timothy confer as Paul writes the various epistles. They watch a man, who they have likely come to realize is a very intelligent and caring leader, face unfair imprisonment and yet is still calm and joyful. I’m sure they talk among themselves and with their friends and family. Paul knows that group of people would never have heard the gospel message if he was not in prison.

Then Paul is also aware that the Christians in Rome have become bolder in sharing their faith. They see Paul in prison, carrying on with his speaking and writing, and it gives them the courage to talk themselves. Stop and think for a moment about your own experience today. I’m sure there are people around you who are angry, nervous, depressed as a result of the pandemic. Can you share your faith with them?  Can you let them see that life is still full of joy and calm at your house?

It’s also interesting to note that Paul is not upset by people who are preaching the gospel with impure motives. In other books Paul wrote, he denounces people who are twisting the truth of the gospel.  In this case, it appears that these people have not introduced any incorrect doctrine or beliefs, but rather preach the truth.  They are doing it out of ‘selfish ambition’; apparently, they like the spotlight and the fame it brings.  Paul only cares that the gospel is being spread to the world, and really that should be our focus too.  As long as the message gets out, we aren’t to worry about who is spreading it, or how they do it. 

Where does Paul get all this peace and joy? You might be thinking “I’m not that joyful. I’m nervous”.  He tells us. “For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance … I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die”.  (v. 19 – 20)  I see three things here – others praying for him, Jesus helps him, and he has a specific belief goal for his life. 

Paul is praying for the Philippians as he writes this letter, and he knows they are praying for him. During these difficult times let’s pray for each other, and don’t be shy about telling someone that you are praying for them. Hearing that would ‘make their day’. 

Also, know that the Holy Spirit lives in you; God loves you, and is very willing to give you the strength you need to face whatever problems you have. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of that; we can get so carried away with figuring out how to solve our problems, we forget to ask for God’s help. Take some time each day to pray and meditate.  With things still not at full speed in our communities, now is a good time to start practicing that alone time with God.

Finally, Paul says that he wants his life to “bring honour to Christ” whether he lives or dies. This is not Paul’s wish to do well, to impress God, or gain God’s favour. Paul is just so grateful for God’s presence in his life, he wants to deepen that relationship with God. This is a poor example, but as a wife who was in love with her husband, I didn’t want to do things that would upset him. I didn’t want to do things that would embarrass him. I wanted him to be proud of me, just as I was of him. That is our relationship with God. It is a love relationship and as such, we want to do the things we know God wants and loves. That is what brings joy and peace.

But, Paul also mentions that he wants to honour God whether he lives or dies. Remember he is in a ‘lock-down’ waiting for a trial.  He may be freed or he may be executed. I doubt most of us are looking forward to death. There are lots of things we still want to do here. But death comes for everyone sometime. I’m praying that the people I know, the people at LSA will come through this pandemic healthy. But regardless, God is present with us here, and we will be present with him in heaven. That can bring peace.

This idea of something good coming from a difficult situation is not only found in these verses in Philippians.  In the Old Testament, we read the story of Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery because they were jealous of him being dad’s favourite.  He ended up working for a soldier whose wife tried to seduce him which landed Joseph in jail when he rebuffed her. After a very long time in jail, he finally ends up working for the Egyptian Pharaoh and gets promoted to second in command in the land. He prepares for a famine that God told him was coming, and as a result, his family ended up in Egypt under Joseph’s care. He could have been angry with his brothers, but here is Joseph’s take on a difficult situation:

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (Genesis 50: 20  NASB)

Good things can come from difficult situations. This pandemic may have changed the way you see life, helped you concentrate on more meaningful things. It may have strengthened your relationships with your family, friends, and co-workers as you realized how much they mean to you. You may get the ‘nerve’ to actually talk about your faith with a neighbour or friend. They may see your calm and be ready to listen.   

Here is another reassuring verse:

2 Corinthians 12: 9, 10   “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.  Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”  (NASB)

Our song for today is Battle Belongs by Phil Wickham.

September 27 – How Do We Keep Surviving This Pandemic?

Philippians 1: 1 – 11  (NLT)

“This letter is from Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus.

I am writing to all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the church leaders and deacons.

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. 10 For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. 11 May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ – for this will bring much glory and praise to God.”

In Paul’s introduction to this letter, you can see how much he loves the church at Philippi. He has a relationship with everyone, not just the church leaders. Paul starts this letter saying, “I am writing to all of God’s holy people in Philippi … including the church leaders and deacons.” That almost makes the leadership appear to be an afterthought. Paul loves everyone in that church. As a result, this letter is an upbeat one, one that stresses all the good things they have done, and encourages them to keep on going. It’s a good book to read as we continue to face this pandemic and all the stress and difficulty it has brought and continues bring to our lives and to our churches.

“Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners”. That is something each of us can do as well.  Stop for a moment and think of the Christ followers in your life who have been a positive influence in some way, or those who have worked with you in some area of ministry and have been so great to work with. Right now, stop and pray for those people and thank God for bringing them into your life. 

Paul is so confident that the church at Philippi will keep on growing in love for each other, and in a close relationship with God. “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”  That is something we can be confident about as well today. It feels so strange to attend church spread out over the auditorium to make sure we aren’t close to one another. We don’t have the same programs at church that we used to since hanging around, talking and eating together are not permitted. We need to remember that God is still at work; God is at work until the day Christ returns. Maybe we should try to think about ways we can connect with others at our church. At LSA we are hoping that we can start community groups, groups of people who keep connected, pray for one another, and grow in their spiritual lives together. With the pandemic restrictions, meeting in homes makes some of us rather nervous. But, we can meet online. Or we can book rooms at the church where there is much larger space.

Paul did not live in easy times. As he wrote Philippians, he was in lock-down – far more that we have ever been. He spent 3 years locked in a house with a guard watching over him day and night while waiting for an audience with Caesar.  We can’t believe it’s been a year and a half that life has been turned upside down by Covid.  Yet Paul was in lock-down for 3 years! He was allowed visitors, and he loved that. He also wrote several of the epistles. He made use of that closed in experience. So perhaps we should start thinking creatively how we can stay connected in this historical time.

The church at Philippi didn’t have an easy start either. Philippi apparently didn’t have a very large Jewish population. When Paul arrived, he discovered there was no synagogue, likely because there were few men to organize and build one. But he did discover a small gathering of Jewish women near the river. That church started with Lydia, a business woman who sold expensive purple cloth (likely a strong personality) and a Roman jailer (maybe a tough guy).  Interesting that that church was known for its love and spiritual growth. Hard times often produce amazing results. 

Just in case you want to reread the story of the founding of the Philippian church, I’ve included it. As you read, think about it for a few moments. Can God give us good things in difficult times? How is God leading me in this hard time?

Acts 16: 6 – 40    (NLT)

A Call from Macedonia

6 “Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas.

That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” 10 So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.

Lydia of Philippi Believes in Jesus

11 We boarded a boat at Troas and sailed straight across to the island of Samothrace, and the next day we landed at Neapolis. 12 From there we reached Philippi, a major city of that district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. And we stayed there several days.

13 On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there. 14 One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying. 15 She and her household were baptized, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged us until we agreed.

Paul and Silas in Prison

16 One day as we were going down to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit that enabled her to tell the future. She earned a lot of money for her masters by telling fortunes. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.”

18 This went on day after day until Paul got so exasperated that he turned and said to the demon within her, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And instantly it left her.

19 Her masters’ hopes of wealth were now shattered, so they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities at the marketplace. 20 “The whole city is in an uproar because of these Jews!” they shouted to the city officials. 21 “They are teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice.”

22 A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. 23 They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. 24 So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks.

25 Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. 26 Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! 27 The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. 28 But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!”

29 The jailer called for lights and ran to the dungeon and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” 32 And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household. 33 Even at that hour of the night, the jailer cared for them and washed their wounds. Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized.34 He brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God.

35 The next morning the city officials sent the police to tell the jailer, “Let those men go!” 36 So the jailer told Paul, “The city officials have said you and Silas are free to leave. Go in peace.”

37 But Paul replied, “They have publicly beaten us without a trial and put us in prison—and we are Roman citizens. So now they want us to leave secretly? Certainly not! Let them come themselves to release us!”

38 When the police reported this, the city officials were alarmed to learn that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. 39 So they came to the jail and apologized to them. Then they brought them out and begged them to leave the city. 40 When Paul and Silas left the prison, they returned to the home of Lydia. There they met with the believers and encouraged them once more. Then they left town.”

Our song for today is Shoulders by King and Country.

September 24 – Rahab

If you had a chance to attend Sunday School as a kid, you probably know the story of Joshua and the Walls of Jericho.  Most military strategists would concur that you can’t win a battle with a horn.  But in the Old Testament God often did strange things to win battles.  He did this so there was no doubt that it was God who was with the victors, that is, Israel.  It was all about obedience and recognizing who is truly God in a culture full of gods and goddesses.

Rahab was a prostitute.  She had a home built into the wall of the city (Joshua 2:15) and in her trade, men were always coming and going.  She was a woman of ill repute but was seeking God.  When Joshua sent spies into the land, she already knew of their God.  She said to the spies she was hiding in her home, “I know that the LORD has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you.  We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed.  When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”  (Joshua 2:9-11)  Wow!  Based on what she had seen and heard, she knew that the city recognized the God of Israel, and she herself makes a profession of faith in His sovereignty.

In rest of the story (you can read it in Joshua 2-6) Rahab hid the spies, helped them escape, was promised safety for her help, was given 2 commands to follow to ensure the safety of her household, watched the army march around Jericho, saw the walls fall, and was carried off into safety with her family and all in her household.  We next hear of her in Matthew 1 where she is mentioned as one of the 5 women named in the genealogy of Jesus through Mary. 

Rahab was truly a woman of faith.  She trusted in what she had heard about God, obeyed the contract, and saved her family.  “Now then, please swear to me [Rahab] by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you.  Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them—and that you will save us from death.”  The spies answer, “This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house.  If any of them go outside your house into the street, their blood will be on their own heads; we will not be responsible.  As for those who are in the house with you, their blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on them.  But if you tell what we are doing, we will be released from the oath you made us swear.” 

“Agreed,” she replied.  “Let it be as you say.”  So, she sent them away, and they departed.  And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.”  (Joshua 2:12-21)

I always believed she was rewarded for helping the spies and her act of faith was to bring her family into her home and drop the scarlet cord outside the window so she could be easily found and rescued.  But then I tracked the timeline.  During this whole timeline, Rahab and her family is staying inside her home.  Patiently.  Waiting to be rescued.  It goes something like this:

*Rahab lowers the spies and ties the scarlet cord.  She brings her family inside. (2:21)
*the spies hide in the hills for 3 days (2:22)
*the spies go on their way back to camp which involves fording the river (2:23)
*they arrive at camp and report all that has happened (2:23)
*a military decision is made (context between chapters 2 and 3)
*they go to the river and camp (3:1)
*3 days pass (3:2)
*a plan is made regarding ‘tomorrow’ (3:5)
*they break camp and cross the Jordan (3:14-17)
*40,000 military armed soldiers ‘hurry’ across the river (3:17; 
*they camp at Gilgal and build an altar of stones to remember (4:1-9)
*the uncircumcised men are circumcised (5:2,3)
*they stay put until these men have healed (5:8)
*the Israelites celebrate the Passover (5:10,11)
*the army arrives at Jericho (5:13)
*they march around the city 6 times in 6 days (6:12-14)
*the 7th day the walls come tumbling down (6:15)

All this time, Rahab’s mother, father, brothers (plural), sisters (plural) their families and all those in Rahab’s household are INSIDE her home, waiting to be delivered.  By tracking the dates given, and the events, it would easily be not less than 2 weeks, and more likely a month or more.  Her faith—her trust in the promise–was great.  For at least 14 days she managed to convince the whole of her family to wait upon the Lord, and to not go outside into the streets lest they be destroyed.  

Rahab.  A woman mentioned in the lineage of Jesus.  A woman with quite the past.  A woman who was not beyond redeeming and certainly a woman of faith in a God she had only heard about from the surrounding nations.  What a reward to see that same God at work, rewarding her faith and trust, as the walls came tumbling down.  

“Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, ‘Go into the prostitute’s house and bring her out and all who belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her.’  So, the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother, her brothers and sisters and all who belonged to her.  They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel.”  (Joshua 6:22, 23)

May God grant us patience as we wait for Him to fulfill His promises.  May we have the faith of Rahab to stay under the umbrella of His care, even though we know the walls are going to come tumbling down all around us.  May we have the faith of Rahab to wait not for a day or two, but for however long it takes.  For He is faithful, and He will do as He has said.

September 23 – Bathsheba

We have just looked at the sad and tragic story of David’s daughter Tamar, and today’s devotional is about one of King David’s wives; Bathsheba, the infamous woman bathing on the roof within sight of the palace, and eventual mother to King Solomon.  Her story is found in 2 Samuel 11.

“In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war… David remained in Jerusalem.” (2 Sam 11:1)  The trouble began because King David was not where he was supposed to be, doing the things he was supposed to be doing.  It was the time of the year when kings go off to war, and instead, “One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace.  From the roof he saw a woman bathing.  The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her…Then David sent messengers to get her.”  (2 Sam 11:2-4)

We all know the story of how Bathsheba became pregnant from this encounter, and in order to cover up the truth that this was his child, David put into place an elaborate scheme to first trick Bathsheba’s husband, and when that didn’t work,  put him (Uriah) on the front lines to ensure that he was killed and the truth never known.  But God knows.  The chapter ends with ‘But the thing David had done displeased the LORD.’ (2 Sam 11:27)  

David saw Bathsheba, wanted her even though she was the wife of another, and took her.1  We don’t know what say Bathsheba had in all of this, but she lived in a time when women were seen not as individuals but as property.  The word ‘took’ means seize, take captive, to be captured, in the original Hebrew.  In addition, when the King sent his men to get her to come to the palace, she wouldn’t have the right to say no.  We know that when Nathan the prophet confronted King David (2 Sam 12:1-10) it was King David who was accused and found guilty.  Nothing was said of Bathsheba.

When Uriah died, Bathsheba grieved for him.  (2 Sam. 11:26)  He had gone off to war, she was pregnant against her will and now she was an expectant widow, all alone.

King David took her to the palace and married her.  She gave birth to a son but only 7 days after David was confronted about his sin of taking another man’s wife, the baby boy died.  Once again, she grieved.  If she knew David’s hand in the murder of her husband and the consequences of sin as a king, it would be hard to not be biased against him.

David went in to comfort his wife, and within 9 months she gave birth to Solomon, the one who would build the earthly temple for God.  God loved Solomon and renamed him Jedidiah meaning beloved by the LORD.  (2 Sam. 12:24)  God redeemed Bathsheba’s pain and heartache by giving her another son.  It didn’t remove the grief but did add joy to it.

When Bathsheba was included in the lineage of Jesus in Matthew 1:6  it wasn’t by name.  It never says, Bathsheba but rather ‘ David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.’  I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t some sweet tribute to Bathsheba as a wife; a recognition that she loved and wrongly  lost her first spouse.  We assume she loved David and was ok with all that happened to her, but from her perspective she lost her husband and was taken to marry the man who was responsible for that death.  Tamar’s name is not silenced, and neither is Uriah’s.  Bathsheba; it isn’t forgotten that she was Uriah’s wife; and perhaps this is how she wanted to be known.

Nothing is hidden from God.  We may think our secrets are safe, but God loves too greatly to sweep anything under the carpet.  We are never forgotten nor abandoned to our ways.

When God disciplines us, let us remember that it is because He loves us and truly wants what is best for each and every one.  

1  Yesterday we looked at Amnon, the son of David.  He saw his sister Tamar and without any thought of her, took her for himself and destroyed her life.  It is interesting that the son follows the father’s example of lust and greed.

September 22 – Ruth

There are only five women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 1.  They are Tamar, Ruth, Rahab, Bathsheba and Mary.  In the recorded and mentioned line of Christ we have an adulterous woman (perhaps by no choice of her own), a prostitute, a foreigner who is a  non-believer and has married a man from the tribe of Israel, and a daughter-in-law who is unfairly treated and deals with it in a treacherous way.  And then we have the mother of Jesus.  Obviously, for each generation in the line of Christ, there had to be both a mother and father bringing forth the next generation.  I am sure there are some noteworthy, trumpet announcing, outstanding women of faith and trust.  But God continually challenges that voice in our heads that says we are not worthy enough, and in this case chooses to include 4 out of 5 women who easily could be shunned, overlooked or considered ‘unredeemable.’  For the rest of this week, we will take a peek at the lives of three of these women—women considered by the Holy Spirit to be important enough to be the ones highlighted in the genealogy of our LORD.

Ruth—our first woman has a whole book written about her life.  The book of Ruth, found in the Old Testament, tells us in a brief summary that she is someone who was welcomed into a family that had much hardship and heartache.  Loved by God, but certainly not living the life of health, wealth and prosperity, she would be considered by some present-day religious leaders as unloved by God by His lack of blessing on her life.  Oh, how differently God sees things!  I encourage you to read through the whole book of Ruth.

“In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land.  So, a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.  The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion.  They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah.  And they went to Moab and lived there.” (Ruth 1:1-2)

They belong to the tribe of Ephraim, one of the 12 tribes of Israel.  They are of God’s chosen people.  Their move wasn’t to get away from their family, beliefs or tribal lands, but simply to find food; there was a famine in the land, and they moved to survive.1  

“Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons.  They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth.  After they had lived there about 10 years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.” (Ruth 1:3-5)

Ruth is a Moabite; a foreigner, one that ‘belongs to’ or worships a god other than Yahweh.  

She is married to her ‘Christian husband’ for about 10 years, but still does not worship the true God.  Yes, we have a woman in the line of Christ who is worthy enough to be mentioned but starts out rather roughly according to the Biblical guidelines for marriage.  

In Ruth 1:6 we are told that when Naomi and her two daughters-in-law (all three are widows) hear that there is food again in Moab, they set out to return to the land of Israel.  And here we have the reason we see Ruth in the genealogical line of Christ.

In Ruth 1:8-14 Naomi implores her daughters-in-law to return to their father’s tents and take up life from there.  Perhaps they will find a new husband to love and take care of them from within their own.  She reasons that she is too old to find a husband, have more sons, let them grow up and then see them marry these girls; to redeem the situation.

Ruth’s response is ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you.  Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay.  Your people will be my people and your God my God.  Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.  May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.’

It is this faith in God and a commitment to belong to Him, whatever that looks like, that gains Ruth a spot in the lineage of Christ, and rightly so.

She doesn’t know everything about Yahweh.  She says, ‘the LORD’ but also ‘your God will be my God.’  She has tasted grief (3 deaths, including her husband of about 10 years), hardship (famine and widowhood) and despair (the culture pattern of redeeming a situation of widowhood won’t work here).  Yet she is willing to trust this God who doesn’t always appear benevolent, and to take the good with the bad.  This family from the tribe of Ephraim must have had quite an impact on her life.

Paul Harvey would say, ‘Read the book of Ruth for the rest of the story,’ because God does redeem the situation through another family member.2  And Ruth learns much about the Lord and lives the rest of her life for Him, both in devotion and deed.  

Ruth, our first woman of the lineage of Christ as found in Matthew.  An unbeliever.  A worshipper of other gods.  Redeemed.  Since God included her, we know He will do so for those finding themselves in this situation today.  There is hope.  And so, our application is to love, in word and deed, and to never stop praying that those around us will want to make our God their God.

1 When Naomi heard in Moab that the LORD had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. (Ruth1:6)

2 The Hebrew word for guardian-redeemer in Ruth 4:1 is a legal term for one who has the obligation to redeem a relative who is in serious difficulty.  See this requirement in Leviticus 25:25-55.

September 21 – Tamar

Our second woman this week is Tamar1.  Her father is King David; the same David who killed Goliath, ran from Saul and became King of Israel and the father of Solomon.  Because David had many wives, he had many children who were half- brothers and sisters to each other.  In each case, David was their father, but their mothers differed.  

David’s son Amnon admired Tamar.  They were related and lived in the same palace because David was the father of both.  Now Amnon didn’t admire her in the ‘respect and admiration’ sense of the word but in the love-sick, lust focused sense.  In fact, we are told from the beginning that his admiration of Tamar was a self-seeking, evil intended lust.  “Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill.  She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her.”  He had a lustful intention to fulfill, but Tamar would do no moral wrong.  One day Amnon’s cousin (2 Sam 13:3) asks him why he continually looks so haggard.  He is a son of the king and yet looks literally heart sick.  “Amnon said to him, ‘I’m in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.’”  Jonadab immediately responds with a way to trap Tamar so that his other cousin, Amnon, will be able to rape her. (2 Sam 13:5-10)   Amnon puts this plan into effect, and after deceiving Tamar into feeding him from his sickbed, Amnon grabs her and says, “Come to bed with me, my sister.”  “No, my brother!” she said to him.  “Don’t force me!  Such a thing should not be done in Israel!  Don’t do this wicked thing.  What about me?  Where could I get rid of my disgrace…But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.”  (2 Sam 13:12-14)

Tamar is shamed.  Tamar is now ‘damaged goods’ and no longer eligible to be married.  To cast her out now meant the crime would continue.  She could never marry or have children; she would never have a normal life.  She begs her brother to marry her and redeem something from this horrible situation.  But instead, she is immediately hated, thrown out and abandoned.   “Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred.  In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her.  Amnon said to her, ‘Get up and get out!’  No longer his beloved Tamar, she instantly becomes ‘this woman.’  Amnon has ‘this woman’ removed from his sight, the door bolted, and Tamar weeps and mourns aloud as she tears her royal garments and places ashes on her head.  Placing her hand on her head as the sign of a bereaved woman, bruised and hurt she makes her way back to the haram quarters.  

Poor, tragic Tamar.  What a horrible story.  But it doesn’t end there.  Absalom, her full brother takes her out of the haram and into his own home, so she won’t have to walk the halls and see her rapist again.  She has to leave her home, but Amnon gets to remain in his.  Absalom names his beautiful daughter after her, and eventually avenges Tamar by killing Amnon, the perpetrator.  But at this time when she is hurt and broken and her spirit is utterly destroyed, he says, “Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you?  Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother.  Don’t take this thing to heart.”  It is almost unbelievable that she is told to remain silent, to think about what a scandal this would be on both Amnon and the rest of the royal family, and not to take her rape to heart!  And so, it is no surprise that the Scriptures record “and Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman.” (2 Sam 13:20b)

A woman raped.  Broken.  Dreams shattered.  Any future life of marriage and family removed from her.  She is moved from her home and told to be silent. Her father (King David) acknowledges his anger but does nothing to rectify the wrong done.  (2 Sam 13:21) There is no restitution.  There is more care and concern that the story might get out than for what has happened to her.  There is no happy ending.

Sometimes things happen to us in our lives and it appears that no one cares or even sees.  Sometimes the wrong is made worse when we are expected to stay silent and ‘not take it to heart.’  But the story doesn’t end here, because God is the God who sees all.  God is the God of the broken hearted, and the wounded and the afflicted.  Tamar was wrongly silenced, but God placed her name in the Holy Bible for all to see and remember, and her story is not silenced but told well beyond her place in time.  

There is nothing that can be done to us that separates us from the love of God.  His love for us is pure and holy and good.  Eternal love.  Never forgetting us.  Redemptive love.  A Saviour to forgive all of us our sins, and a Father to embrace us in His love.  And one day heaven will be very different than the hurt and heartache and unfairness of this life.  

1 There are 2 women named Tamar in the Bible.  This is not the one mentioned in the lineage of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 1.