Devotions from Romans

I have so enjoyed sharing Christmas devotions here. I hope that you have had a chance to catch a few of my musings on the nativity story. Tomorrow I will begin the New Year by sharing devotional thoughts from the book of Romans. The epistle is the longest of ones written by Paul. It was written to a church composed of both Jews and Gentiles. Paul dictated it to his friend Tertius around AD 56 when he was in Corinth. British theologian NT Wright says that it is "neither a systematic theology nor a summary of Paul's lifework, but it is by common consent his masterpiece." I invite you to travel with me in a journey to unwrap this beautiful masterpiece.

He will be called a Nazarene.

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. “Get up!” the angel said. “Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead.” So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother. But when he learned that the new ruler of Judea was Herod’s son Archelaus, he was afraid to go there. Then, after being warned in a dream, he left for the region of Galilee. So the family went and lived in a town called Nazareth. This fulfilled what the prophets had said: “He will be called a Nazarene.” -Matthew 2:19-23 NLT

This is the third and fourth time that we read of an angel speaking to Joseph in a dream. Each time the adopted father of Jesus acted on what he dreamed. Small wonder that such a man was entrusted with the human life of the Son of God. Has God ever spoken to you in a dream? I can only remember one time that I had a somewhat heavenly dream. It was so vivid and spoke to me about helping those less fortunate. I wonder how many are still led by God in dreams?

The nativity story has now come full circle. Mary is back to where it all started - back to where the angel first appeared to her. With her husband by her side things seem to be back to "normal". Jesus would grow up in Nazareth surrounded by grandparents and extended family. I so love that aspect of the story. It reminds me of how much we all need to be surrounded by a spiritual community of faith, family and friends that will lovingly support and encourage us.

Call us back to Nazareth Lord. Back to where we first heard you speak to our heart.

A cry was heard in Ramah ...

Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A cry was heard in Ramah — weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.”
-Matthew 2:16-18 NLT

I so wish that this was not a part of the Christmas story. Would that insane people like Herod never existed. Would that power-crazy leaders like him never ruled a nation. It begs the question of how such things could ever happen. Many blame and question God when people do horrible things like this. I am not one of those people. I see this sort of vile and evil action coming from within creation and not from without. Sick people like Herod have always done bad things.

So how are we to respond when we read and hear of such unspeakable acts? I believe that we are called to weep and mourn with the families of those who are hurting so much. We are to be the hearts, hands, feet and voices of Christ. Our actions should be ones that bring peace, not more turmoil, in the midst of the storm. And somehow we are called to forgive and love even deranged enemies like Herod. We must not allow hatred for such people to consume us.

Empower us today Lord to be your hearts, hands, feet and voices in the earth. Help us to be consumed with your love.

Flee to Egypt with the child ...

When it was time to leave, the Magi returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod. After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.” -Matthew 2:12-15 NLT

Just as things were getting "normal" an angel shows up in a dream and tells them that there is a bounty on the baby's head. Something tells me that this was not the life that Mary and Joseph had imagined when the angel first told them that the baby that Mary would carry was the Messiah. The joy that they had briefly experienced with the Magi has been turned inside out. Would that the Magi had stayed home. Perhaps then Herod would not have known about Jesus?

Have you ever had your plans turned inside out? Have your dreams ever come crashing down all around you? Many times our lives are filled with segues to Egypt. And life is not the one we wanted. In times like these it is good to remember Mary, Joseph and Jesus separated from family and living in Egypt. Sometimes the dream of a future resurrection has to percolate in Egypt. As we answer God's call we are often led into uncomfortable foreign places.

Dear Lord Jesus, teach us to trust you in places that are foreign, lonely and uncomfortable.

Magi from the east ...

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. -Matthew 2:1-2,10-11 NLT

Unlike the images that are seen on many Christmas cards the Magi, or wise men, were not present in the stable with the shepherds after Jesus was born. Some time has passed. Mary and Joseph have consecrated the baby Jesus in Jerusalem forty days after his birth. It has been a while since these men saw the star in their home land. When the wise men arrive they do not find a baby in a stable but a child in a house. Even so, they acknowledge him as a king.

Up until this time only Jews have been involved in the nativity story. Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, Simeon and Anna were all Jews. So interesting how men from another country (perhaps Persia) were alerted by some sort of astronomical happening in the sky. It reminds me that this message is not one that is limited to an ethnicity or race. The Messiah came not just for Israel but for everyone. And we, with the Magi, are overjoyed that he has come into the world.

I amazed Lord at how much you confirmed your word to Mary and Joseph. Confirm your word in our hearts today.

Simeon took him in his arms ...

Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” -Luke 2:28-35 NLT

Another actor in this divine story now appears as Mary and Joseph takes Jesus to Jerusalem to be consecrated in the temple some forty days after he was born. Simeon is overwhelmed as he embraces the baby Jesus and understands that he is holding the Messiah. His prophetic words speak to the mission of this baby king to save us and radiate the glory of God. Interesting how yet another person has given confirmation and courage to the young parents.

I wonder what was going on in Mary's heart and mind as Simeon prophesies about the impact that her son will have on her fellow Israelis? Did she consider them as her son matured, confronted religious authorities and healed so many hurting people? And what did she make of "a sword will pierce your own soul"? I wonder if she looked back on those words as she watched her son carry his cross? It reminds me of how Jesus still reveals the thoughts of our hearts.

Open our eyes Lord that we might see your salvation. Please shine that light of revelation on our hearts today.

The heavenly host appeared ...

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. -Luke 2:13-18 NLT

This passage seems to indicate that the veil between heaven and earth was pulled back as divine beings could no longer restrain their voices. The entrance of the baby Messiah to planet earth seemed to overwhelm these as they spoke of God being glorified in heaven and peace coming to earth. Glory and peace seem to be fitting words for the occasion. From that day forward everyone who embraced him would see the glory of God and experience his peace.

Can you see the shepherds running towards that stable? The look on their faces must have been one of amazement as they saw the baby Jesus laying in a feeding trough surrounded by his young parents. And how did their appearance impact Joseph and Mary? Can you feel the joy welling up in their hearts as the shepherds told them of the angels and the heavenly host? These who have struggled for nine months had divine confirmation of what God had told them.

Open our eyes dear Lord Jesus that we might see your glory. Open our heart to experience your peace.

And there were shepherds ...

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” -Luke 2:8-12 NLT

I wonder what the glory of the Lord looked like as it encompassed the shepherds? I can understand why they would have been terrified. Yet the message that the angels spoke to them had to be even more amazing than that. How could it be possible that "the Messiah, the Lord" would come as a baby? And how strange it was to hear that such a birth would happen in a stable? I can almost hear the questions running through the minds of the shepherds.

It is interesting how angels first announced the birth of the Messiah to nameless people working the night shift on a hillside in Israel. The heavenly beings could have come to more prominent and more religious people but they chose keepers of sheep to visit. I think that it teaches us that, from the very beginning, God had chosen to reveal himself to humble men and women. It seems that people like these shepherds are often ones who respond best to the Lord.

Help us to hear that message again dear Lord. Help us to embrace the good news of the birth of the baby Jesus.

She placed him in a manger ...

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. -Luke 2:4-7 NLT

Caesar Augustus took a census that affected the place where Jesus would be born. Do you find it interesting how one like him would be a part of the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy? As the birth of Jesus approaches I can sense a divine mosaic being painted. The angelic visits and the prophetic words are woven together into something quite amazing and beautiful. Something that transcends heaven and earth is beginning as Joseph and Mary leave Nazareth.

Growing up I did not know that a manger was a word that described a feeding trough that animals ate from. How is it that one so divine would lay his head in such a place? Why was there no other place for the King of Glory to be born? And what was it like for Joseph to play midwife and deliver the Son of God? The events of the first Christmas humble me and teach me that God is not all that concerned about where we live as much as how we live.

Bring us back to the humble manger today dear Lord and help us embrace the glory of the One born that day.

A prophet of the Most High ...

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. -Luke 1:76-79 NLT

The Christmas story is not only about the birth of the Messiah but it is also about the amazing birth of His forerunner. These words are ones spoken over that forerunner by his father Zechariah as he was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied these words. It is so interesting that from the very beginning both Jesus and John the Baptist had words that described their mission. From infancy their parents were able to speak to them of their mission and destiny.

I love how Zechariah's prophecy tells us that the message of his son, John the Baptist, will be one of forgiveness, mercy and peace. I wonder if he could one day envision his boy standing in the waters of Jordan preaching this message? The phrase "the rising sun will come to us from heaven" tells me that this prophet, with his wife Elizabeth, believed that Mary was carrying God's son. In the years to come Mary would need to be reminded of these prophetic words.

Remind us today of our mission Lord. Help us to tell the story of one who came to guide our feet into the path of peace.

Joseph son of David

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” -Matthew 1:18-21 NLT

It is hard to consider how God called Mary to carry his son and not remember that he also called Joseph on the journey with her. Little is know about Joseph. He probably died never seeing the boy that he raised heal the sick and say the most amazing things. Jesus learned carpentry from Joseph and probably learned many other things from him as well. This passage indicates that he was a spiritual man who followed the Lord. I suspect that he was a good father.

I wonder how many of us would accept the word of an angel in a dream? Yet with just one solitary dream Joseph was convinced that Mary had told him the truth - the words of the angel were the same ones that Mary had told him. I so admire Joseph's response and want to be a man who will, in like manner, support my wife in whatever journey she is on. God knew that Mary needed help. Like her, we are not called to travel life alone. God sends us Josephs to walk with us.

Thank you Lord for the Josephs that you have placed in our lives. Help us to be a Joseph to someone today.

I am the Lord’s servant ...

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” -Luke 1:29-31,34-35,38

There is a magnificent purity in Mary's response to the angel Gabriel. My heart is moved and my eyes tear up when I hear her say that she is a servant of God and wants God's word to be fulfilled in her. How is it that one so young possesses such a rich faith in God? Consider what her cousin Elizabeth says when Mary visits her:
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! ...
 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
Mary believed. Mary was blessed. There is a connection between these two words. Even so, blessings often come with a cost. Mary had to deal with the cynics who did not believe what the angel spoke to her. This young teen had to grow up very quickly - her life would not resemble the one that she had dreamed about. And even more, the crown of thorns that her son would one day wear would break her heart.  Yet she will always be remembered as the Lord’s servant.

Teach us to embrace the simplicity of faith Lord. Help us to have Mary's response when you speak to us today.

The virgin’s name was Mary.

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” -Luke 1:26-33 NLT

This story is amazing and miraculous. Small wonder that so many are skeptical of it. It seems as unbelievable today as it did back then. I wonder what the angel looked like? His comforting words to Mary indicates that there may have been something awe inspiring about Gabriel. His words to this young girl speak to me of Mary's faith. She was favored. The Lord was with her. In the following verses her faith begins to shine and we begin to understand why she was chosen.

I wonder what it was like for Mary to hear the words that her son will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High? I wonder if she thought, like many of that day, that the Messiah would restore Israel? I cannot imagine what was going through her mind as she heard that her son's rule would be forever. Suffice to say that these words were spoken in such a way that she vividly remembered them. She would need the comfort of these words many years later.

Our hearts are full with awe Lord. Help us to embrace the magnificent wonder of this story once again.

Though you are small among the clans ...

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. -Micah 5:2-4 NLT

There was more than one Bethlehem in Israel - the one mentioned here belonged to the clan of Judah. And centuries before Jesus was born a prophet named Micah specified it as the birthplace of the Messiah. Bethlehem speaks to me of how something great can arise out of something small. It reminds me that God uses nobodies from nowhere to accomplish his will. Unless Micah predicted it who would have thought that a great ruler would have been born there?

When I read these words, and other messianic prophesies, I understand why people could not embrace Jesus as the Messiah - no one could imagine that the ruler over Israel would be a spiritual king and not a fleshly one. Who could have envisioned how an ancient one could come into the world by a virgin in labor? The story is too wonderful for human brains to comprehend! It is why that birth in Bethlehem is a matter to be discerned with the heart not the head.

Bring us back to Bethlehem Lord. Help us to embrace the wonder and the simplicity of the One born King of kings.

The government will be on his shoulders ...

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. -Isaiah 9:6-7 NLT

This is the prophecy that I think about when I consider Christmas. It is one of the most majestic in all of scripture. Handel used it when he penned The Messiah - I think that it inspired him as much as it does me. Written centuries before Jesus was born it speaks to us of the true nature of the Messiah. Isaiah describes the Messiah with these words:
    •  Son - not angelic but a temporal and a mortal human child like us;
    •  Mighty God - who could have imagined Almighty God coming in the flesh?
    •  Everlasting Father - he who had no beginning took on a human beginning coming as a baby;
    •  Wonderful Counselor - has there ever been a wiser teacher to walk the earth than Jesus?
    •  Prince of Peace - not a conquering warrior but royal, humble and loving servant.
Isaiah proclaims that such a Messiah will reign over an ever expanding eternal government that will influence humanity and establish peace, justice and righteousness. He tells us that this new King will be greater than any that has ever lived. He ends by declaring that this Messiah will be the explicit personification of the Zeal of God.

Who cannot bow at your name Lord Jesus? In unison we declare that you are Messiah and King - now and forever.

Prayer for the Families of Newtown

Lord, we come to You as a nation in shock and mourning for those who were killed yesterday in Newtown, Connecticut. Words escape us and we have no context to understand the pain of the families that are suffering and in need of comfort. Please visit them with gentleness and compassion as they mourn this great loss.

Give these strength and courage to live life vigorously again and to not be afraid of stranger or friend. Turn their despair into hope, hate into love and anger into joy.

Lord we pray for Your mercy and compassion on our nation. We live in troubled times, and the answers to our problems are not simple or easy. Send Your Spirit upon us to strengthen our resolve to root out the violence, hate, and fear in our country. Create in us hearts of courage, grace us with the ability to stand against the violence of our day: violence in ourselves, our homes, streets and communities.

In your name we pray. Amen

Your concern for me ... a fragrant offering ...

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
-Philippians 4:10,14, 17-19 NLT

I love the way that Paul connects concern with offerings. In many churches the phrase "love offering" seems to be way overused. Yet real and actual love for God, his servants and others should always be the banner that we fly as we support people like Paul. Even so, I think that it is very difficult to gain this mindset because of the professional, and sometimes sterile, way that missionaries and others are supported - many of us have never met the ones we support.

In thanking the Philippians for their help Paul makes outrageous claims. He indicates that when they give to him they are actually giving to God. This had to be so different for people with a history where gifts to God were presented on an altar. Paul uses the altar imagery to remind them of the fragrance of the Jewish altar of incense. And lastly he encourages them by saying that, because they have met his needs, God in return will meet their needs.

Help us Lord, in this season of giving, to remember that our gifts should be motivated by a loving concern for others.

Content ... through him who gives me strength ...

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. -Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

The phrase "I have learned to be content" reminds me that contentment is a lifelong learning process. When Ann first got her motorized wheelchair I did not think that I would ever come to accept it. I believed that she would soon walk again. Did not know that I was grieving our loss and in a bit of denial. Eventually I learned to be content. Hearing Paul speaking of this learning process from jail encourages me so much - he was learning contentment while in chains.

What do you think Paul means when he speaks of doing all this through him who gives me strength? Is he speaking of some sort of mystical revelation or could he be speaking of the sort of prayer that he wrote of a few verses back? My view is that contentment comes as we cast our hopes, our dreams, our sorrows, our anxieties, and everything else that brings discontentment on the Lord in prayer. As we do this our heart is strengthened and we learn to be content.

Help us today Lord to be open to the lessons of contentment. Teach us to pray though our discontentment.

Think about such things ...

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. -Philippians 4:8-9

Thought that I would begin today by meditating on these words that Paul recommends to us:
  • true :: reminds me that God wants me to live a life that is true to who I am in Him;
  • noble :: speaks to me of the honor that we have to live as children of the most High;
  • right :: to know the right thing to do and to do it is an act of righteousness;
  • pure :: teaches me that I should always keep my conscience clear and my motives pure;
  • lovely :: encourages me to personify grace with lovely acts of graciousness and compassion;
  • admirable :: helps me to remember that I want to be a man who acts with dignity and integrity;
  • excellent :: reminds me that God brings beauty from ashes when we seek Him with all of our hearts;
  • praiseworthy :: causes me to live in such a way that I may one day hear: "well done faithful servant".
Help us Lord to remember these words and sow them into our lives today by putting them into practice.

Do not be anxious about anything ...

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
-Philippians 4:4-7 NLT

I once heard that fear is the opposite of faith. Along those same thought lines, I wonder if worry is the opposite of trust? Worry feels a bit different than fear for some but I suspect it has the same roots. An old friend once told me that it was her right to worry - I think some feel that worry is a sign that they care. I can relate - even my prayers are sometimes an expression of worry. Yet this is not the sort of prayer that Paul speaks to here.

In these verses we read of a type of prayer that rejoices, releases and gives thanks. It is the sort of intercession that, as James says it, casts our worries on the Lord and leaves them there. Such prayers are answered with a peace which transcends all understanding because such a peace can only be experienced when we pray trusting God with all of our heart. In contrast, when we pray with our heads we often are simply expressing our worries and not our trust.

Lord, knowing you are near we rejoice and give thanks. We cast our cares on you knowing how much you care for us.

They will be like his glorious body ...

Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! -Philippians 3:20-4:1,4 NLT

For months the pain levels in my wrists and shoulders have elevated. Doctors are telling me that my wrists will need to be surgically fused to alleviate the pain. Next week I am headed to physical therapy to deal with my shoulder pains. So I am much encouraged when I think about my body being transformed at death to a glorious and resurrected one. Knowing that a new pain-free heavenly body awaits those who believe in Jesus inspires so much hope.

Small wonder, in light of this future bodily transformation, that Paul from prison encourages each of us to rejoice in the Lord always. Sitting in chains the apostle sets a wonderful example for us of a person who found a way to transcend his pain and his disappointment. Knowing that he found a way to rejoice in such a dark place encourages me today to find a way to rejoice even though my body is hurting. It is such a compelling message of resurrection life.

Help us Lord to transcend our pain, discouragement and disappointment. Teach us to rejoice in you always.

Their mind is set on earthly things.

Only let us live up to what we have already attained. Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven.
-Philippians 3:16-20 NLT

This is the second time in this letter that Paul speaks of the responsibilities of heavenly citizenship. He contrasts such a life with people who live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Describing such people he says their god is their stomach, their glory is in their shame and their mind is set on earthly things. It speaks to me of what citizenship in the kingdom of heaven is not. In the book of Romans Paul says that citizenship in the kingdom of God:
"is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit"
The difference between citizens of heaven and those of earth is what is focused on. Earthly citizens focus on physical things while citizens of heaven pay attention to the invisible aspects of life. One group fixates on rules about what should be done while others are concerned more with how they are done. One groups emphasizes religious rules and the other spiritual ones. One is concerned with law and the other with love. It is a contrast between head and heart.

Lord help us to know, with every fiber of our being, that our real citizenship is eternally in heaven.

I press on toward the goal ...

I want to know Christ — yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. -Philippians 3:10-14 NLT

This passage reminds me of the story of Derek Redmond running the 400 meters semi-final race at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Derek was favored to win yet halfway into the race he tore his hamstring. Refusing to stay down he fought through the pain and, with help from his father, managed to complete a full lap of the track as the crowd gave him a standing ovation. I can imagine heaven on its feet and cheering us on as we get up from a painful fall and press on.

Paul tells us that the key to knowing Christ and experiencing resurrection power is simply: "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead". The imagery is compelling and helps me to understand that knowing Christ is never about the past but about the present. We cannot press on today if our eyes are not fixed ahead - we cannot walk a straight path when we look back. Perseverance is the means by which we answer His heavenly call.

Help us Lord to heed these words. We need your grace to persevere. Open our heart to your call on our lives.

To know the power of his resurrection ...

I want to know Christ — yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. -Philippians 3:10-14 NLT

This passage is so full that I thought that I would take two days to share about it. The first thing that I see in it is the partnership between power and suffering. In these verses Paul indicates that there is no opportunity for resurrection power apart from the type of suffering that Christ experienced on the cross. It makes you wonder why any of us would desire "to know the power of his resurrection". Knowing that, how many if us would sign up for that power?

Even more interesting is that Paul considers that he has not laid hold of this resurrection power. The one who sits imprisoned for proclaiming Christ feels that he is lacking. The one who has been beaten countless times for his faith feels that he must still press on for a power that he does not possess. Does this not humble every part of you? Knowing this, can you ever feel good about your spiritual progress? I cannot but I can, with Paul, press on toward the goal.

Help us to become like you Lord. Help us to know your resurrection power in our sufferings.

I consider them garbage ...

As for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. -Philippians 3:6-9 NLT

Can you feel the remorse in Paul's words as he speaks of considering his Pharisaical leadership as loss? As he looks back he remembers how his zeal for the Mosaic Law caused him to persecute those who believed in Jesus Christ. Perhaps, as he sat in chains, he saw images of those that he put in chains flash before his mind as he looked back? Interesting how the things that we treasure most can become garbage as we compare them with knowing Jesus.

Interesting how he compares two means of righteousness. On one hand he remembers the days when he believed that righteousness was based on obeying the law of Moses. Many today still believe that being right with God is all about following the rules. Paul calls that idea "garbage" as he proceeds to speak of "the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith." This idea makes no sense to our heads. How could it? Righteousness is an issue of the heart.

Transform our thinking Lord. Help us to reject the self-righteousness that comes from following the rules.

Put no confidence in the flesh ...

Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh — though I myself have reasons for such confidence. -Philippians 3:2-4 NLT

When Paul says that we are people who "put no confidence in the flesh" he is speaking directly to the false notion that the Jews were part of God's elect simply because of their ethnicity. In just a few words he dispels the idea that his fleshly relatives had some sort of a privileged position with God simply because they were circumcised when they were young. These days some might substitute having confidence in their infant baptism for confidence in circumcision.

The myth of salvation through ethnicity was fully dispelled when God revealed to Peter in Acts 10 that non-Jews are not unclean. Peter responded to this revelation by saying "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right." Paul and Peter both understood that salvation is an issue of faith and not ethnicity or tradition. We who serve God by his Spirit boast in Christ Jesus alone.

Help us to be aware Lord. Teach us to put no confidence in ourselves or the religious things that we do.

Work hard ... God is working in you ...

Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. 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 a world full of crooked and perverse people. -Philippians 2:12-15 NLT

There is a divine cooperation at work in those who are believers in Christ. Paul says it plainly here: work hard, for God is working in you. Sometimes I do not like the idea that kingdom living is a partnership where God leads and we follow. I sometimes wish that the choice was sometimes not so hard. For example, who has not struggled doing everything without complaining and arguing or living innocent lives? This kind of living requires the Holy Spirit's work in our heart.

Yet it is needful to say that we work out our salvation but we do not work for it. Saying yes to Jesus has never been about working for salvation. Receiving a gift has never been considered work for the recipient. Who has ever boasted about how they worked for that birthday gift simply because they cashed a check or used a gift card? Yet a gift is not a gift unless one has the power to refuse it. The gift of salvation can be refused but how glorious it is when we say yes.

Thank you Lord for the gift of salvation. Help us to live lives that reflect the bright light of salvation.

The name above all other names ...

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. -Philippians 2:9-11 NLT

The exaltation of Jesus Christ speaks to me about the eternal aspect of humility - he who humbled himself on earth by taking on human flesh is forever exalted in heaven. Divine exaltation requires divine humility. We are called to this kind of humility. It is a matter of perspective. We cannot confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and then walk in a prideful fashion. We must live humbly acknowledging that that everything we have is rooted in divine providence and sovereignty.

The phrase "name above all other names" informs us of the divine nature of Jesus Christ. No other name can match this name - humans names cannot. Demonic and angelic ones bow to that name as well. The Greek work kurios is translated Lord and tells us of Jesus' full deity as God the Son - the Father does not want us to bow our knees to one who is not His equal. It is again a matter of bowing to Jesus in humility knowing who he is and who we are.

In unison with believers all over the world we confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Be glorified in our lives today Lord.

He took the humble position ...

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. -Philippians 2:5-8 NLT

These words break me and inspire me. When I compare my attitude to that of Jesus I find myself severely lacking. It is impossible for us to comprehend what it was like for Christ to lay aside eternity and enter a finite existence. It has been compared to a human being being born as an ant, living as an ant and giving their life so that other ants might live. Even that scenario comes up short. I cannot image how Jesus humbled himself as a human his whole life.

The phrase "he took the humble position of a slave" teaches us what real humility looks like. It is hard for many of us in America to understand what it is like to be a slave. Yet how many of us have worked in jobs that we hated or have suffered in abusive relationships. These images begin to describe the humility of Christ Jesus as he walked amongst us and was lastly condemned to a cruel death. Yet who can understand trading a royal crown for one made of thorns?

We are in need of humility Lord. Teach us to walk as slaves. Help us to embrace the crown of thorns.

The same attitude that Christ Jesus had ...

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. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. [Philippians 2:3-5 NLT]

The heart of humility is not so much our opinion of ourselves but our opinion about others. Humility is not a narcissistic quest to debase ourselves in some monastic self-flagellating fashion but an attitude that sees ourselves in the context of something greater. A humble person is willing to put themselves on the line for others. There is no greater example of this than the incarnation, life and death of God the Son. On the cross Jesus showed us personified humility.

I think that Mother Teresa was a humble person. Here is something that she once said: "Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work." She saw humility as something more than an attitude. Teresa of Calcutta set an example for all of us as she touched others with the loving hands of Christ. This is the kind of humility that changes the world.

Transform us dear Lord. We do not possess humility. Help us to not to be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.