Posts Tagged “Philippians”

Hi Folks! I initially published this blog in March 2012. It is so appropriate to yesterday’s blog that I wanted to re-issue it – with a bit of updating. Enjoy! Sandy

It All Started with Edward
In 1855 there was a man named Edward Kimball. Edward taught Sunday School at a church in Boston. There was a 17-year-old boy in his Sunday School class who Kimball described as having one of the darkest hearts he’d ever seen. One day Mr. Kimball felt lead to visit the boy outside of Sunday School, so he went to the store where the teenager worked. By his own admission, Mr. Kimball was unsure of himself. He wrote about it later:

“I began to wonder whether I ought to go just then during business hours,” he latter reported. “And I thought maybe my mission might embarrass the boy, that when I went away the other clerks might ask who I was, and when they learned, might taunt [him] and ask if I was trying to make a good boy out of him. Then, I decided to make a dash for it and have it over at once.”

Can you sense Mr. Kimball’s insecurity from his own words? He later described himself as having made a rather anemic presentation of the gospel with the young man. But the boy was ready. God had been working on him.

That young man’s name was Dwight L. Moody.

I see several things in this story…

  • We never know what is in another person’s heart or when they are ready
  • Trust the Spirit’s prompting
  • Believe that God is going to use you! (Need a reminder of that? Read yesterday’s blog!)

Dwight Moody was holding a meeting in the late 1870’s at Lake Forest College in a suburb of Chicago. After the service, he counseled a student who was struggling with the assurance of his salvation. That young man later became a friend and co-laborer with Dwight Moody.

That man was J. Wilbur Chapman.

Mr. Chapman was an evangelist like Dwight Moody and later hired a young man to assist him in his ministry. That man was an former baseball player who had come to know Christ at a city mission in Chicago.

The man was Billy Sunday.

Billy Sunday was saved in 1887. Many years later he told the story like this:

“Twenty-seven years ago I walked down a street in Chicago in company with some ball players who were famous in this world … and we went into a saloon. It was Sunday afternoon and we got tanked up and then went and sat down on a corner. … Across the street a company of men and women were playing on instruments – horns, flutes and slide trombones – and the others were singing the gospel hymns that I used to hear my mother sing back in the log cabin in Iowa and back in the old church where I used to go to Sunday school.

“And God painted on the canvas of my recollection and memory a vivid picture of the scenes of other days and other faces.

“Many have long since turned to dust. I sobbed and sobbed and a young man stepped out and said, ‘We are going down to the Pacific Garden Mission. Won’t you come down to the mission? I am sure you will enjoy it. You can hear drunkards tell how they have been saved and girls tell how they have been saved from the red-light district.’

“I arose and said to the boys, ‘I’m through. I am going to Jesus Christ.’”

His story tells me some things:

  • God uses seeds planted in our childhood.
  • God used the Christians playing various instruments and singing on a street corner to touch long-overlooked memories.
  • God used the gentle boldness, enthusiasm and compassion of some unknown person to bring Billy Sunday to the mission and another nameless person in history to bring Billy Sunday to Christ.

Billy Sunday became a well-known evangelist. He held a series of evangelistic meetings in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1924.

Out of those meeting an organization of businessmen with a heart for evangelism was formed.

This group held an all day prayer meeting in the cow pasture of William and Morrow Graham. During that prayer meeting, someone prayed “Lord, raise up a man out of Charlotte, North Carolina, who will preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth.”

That summer the businessmen invited an evangelist named Mordecai Ham to hold evangelistic meetings in their town. There was a high school student in town who knew his mom and dad wanted him to attend the meetings – but he had determined to have none of it. He would not attend. During the meetings, Billy Sunday challenged students to attend and the student became curious. One evening he jumped in the back of a friend’s pickup truck, went to the meeting and sat in the back row.

That man was Billy Graham and he gave his life to Christ that night. He was the oldest son of William and Morrow Graham, owners of that cow pasture where they held that all day prayer meeting.

In June 1994 Billy Graham held his second crusade in Cleveland, Ohio. My Aunt Dolly attended one evening and gave her life to Christ. My Aunt Dolly died earlier this year. She is now with her Lord and Savior, Jesus. Thank you, Edward Kimball.

Trace it backwards, friends, and you see that Billy Graham (and my Aunt Dolly) came to Christ because Edward Kimball allowed God to use him in his fear and ineptitude. As I wrote earlier, Kimball later reported that he felt like his presentation of the gospel to Dwight Moody had been pretty anemic. It might have felt that way in the natural, but God added to it His dunamis power and a miracle occurred. Again, thank you, Edward Kimball for letting God use you to impact eternity.

Edward Kimball obeyed the whisper of God and stepped into the works God had prepared in advance for him to do.

Lots of Names, One Theme
Well, I’ve just thrown a lot of names and details at you, but the theme is that history is full of people – people just like you and me – whom God has used in extraordinary ways.

Beginning with Mr. Kimball – he was a Sunday School teacher of teenage boys, and by his own admission his presentation of the gospel was pretty weak – but God used him to bring one of the greatest evangelists of all time to the Lord, Dwight Moody. But Mr. Kimball’s influence didn’t end there. There is a direct line of influence from Dwight Moody all the way down to Billy Graham and then my Aunt Dolly. And of course the influence continues. Billy Graham’s son Franklin leads an organization called Samaritan’s Purse that provides food, clothing, shelter and medicine to people in need all over the world. It is not an exaggeration to say that thousands, perhaps millions of people have been impacted by this ministry. Billy Graham’s grandson is a good preacher in his own right. And let’s not forget about my Aunt Dolly – the people she influenced are no less important than those influenced by Billy Graham. Her children and grandchildren influence those around them to love Christ – including Aunt Dolly’s great grandchildren.

And we can trace all of them back to Edward Kimball, a Sunday School teacher in a church in Boston. And we can trace it back to a young man who struggled to believe Scripture that says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

And we can trace it back to men and women who played instruments and sang gospel songs on a street corner where drunk ball players took a break from their drinking.

And we can trace it back to some businessmen who attended an all-day prayer meeting.

We can even trace it back to that one individual who boldly prayed “Lord raise up a man out of Charlotte, North Carolina, who will preach the gospel to the ends of the earth.”

The thing that stands out so clearly to me from all of this is that within this chain of historic events there are a number of Christians who had large ministries that were used by God to sweep multitudes into His kingdom, and there were a number of ordinary Christians who faithfully lived out their calling and obediently ministered to the few whom God put in their path. The chain of events would have broken down without the obedient and faithful action of the ordinary Christians. While Edward Kimball and the slide trombone player on the Chicago street corner were never called by God to have a worldwide ministry like that of Dwight Moody or Billy Graham, both of those great evangelists can trace their spiritual ancestry back to those faithful Christian workers.

God has a plan for each one of us. Scripture makes that clear in both the Old and New Testaments.

Jeremiah 1:5 (God is speaking to Jeremiah) “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

There was nothing extraordinarily special about Jeremiah. What God did for Jeremiah, He has done for each of us – not necessarily calling us to be prophets to the nation, but creating us for a purpose.

The Psalmist wrote this awesome passage that has the same message:

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

16 Your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139: 13-16

The message is repeated in the New Testament:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:10

God has worked in your history, setting things in motion, preparing you and preparing the world in which you live, for the good works that He’s called you to.

So, everyone in that chain of history that began with Edward Kimball and ended with Billy and Franklin Graham stepped up to the plate to swing at the pitch God threw them. They had given their time and their talents to God. Instead of staying home and watching the latest episode of their must-see-TV, they spent all day in prayer. Instead of going out drinking with his buddies, Billy Sunday said “Today, I’m going to Jesus.”

I want to encourage each of us to get in the game. Let’s not be satisfied with life as we know it, but allow God to use us in ways that leave a lasting impact on this world.

I want to see God move. I’m not going to see it without getting in the game. I’m not going to see my community won to Christ by just going to church every Sunday. I’m not going to see men and women grow in their faith by just enjoying fellowship with other believers. I’m not dissing those things. Both are very important. But we can’t change the world without being in it and being purposeful in it.

What has to change for you and me to accomplish the purposes that God has prepared in advance for us to do? Here are some ideas:

  • Believe that God wants to use us (see yesterday’s blog)
  • Change our patterns and schedules
  • Know what He has called us to
  • Step out in faith, even when we don’t have all the answers

A Final Encouragement

Phil 1:4, 6 “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

God will bring the work He’s started to completion, but we have a role to play. Your role may be large, but more likely it will be small. You may not be used by God to lead thousands to Christ, but you may be used by God to lead the world’s next great evangelist to Christ. You are a part of God’s chain of events in human history.

Others can’t keep us from accomplishing the things God has ordained for us to do, but we can. We can step out of the chain of events and not have that impact that God wants us to have. God will still accomplish His purposes on earth…He’ll just use someone else. Don’t let someone else receive the blessing of serving God that He has set aside for you. Get in the game. Step up to the plate. Start today!

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I was watching a video clip of the Christian comedian Jeanne Robertson [http://www.jeannerobertson.com/] the other day and she said something that has stuck with me. What she said was “You find what you’re looking for.”

You find what you’re looking for.

If you’re looking for a fight…you’ll find one, right? You know why? Because your attitude will bring on confrontation.

If you’re looking for someone to make a mistake, they will. You know why? Because that person is human! And because you’re watching for the mistakes, you won’t see the hundred things they do right…but you will see the one thing they do wrong.

What a sad state! It’s made even sadder by the consequences it brings. In your life it leads to becoming disappointed in those around us and leads to a life of discouragement, bitterness and depression. All because you were looking for someone to make a mistake. In the lives of others, it also brings discouragement and frustration. Even if they are emotionally strong enough to realize they aren’t inferior because someone keeps finding fault with them, their life is less enjoyable because they still have to be around those who criticize. If they are not so emotionally strong, you may just convince them that they are a failure. I’ll repeat myself…what a sad state.

I don’t want to live that way, although I confess to sometimes being that person.

I agree with Jeanne Robertson – we find what we’re looking for. So why not look for the good? Why not look for the good in our circumstances and in people? Zig Ziglar called this being a “good finder” – find the good in people and circumstances and respond to that. Scripture puts it a different way –

Brothers and sisters, think about the things that are good and worthy of praise. Think about the things that are true and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respected.
Philippians 4:8 (NCV)

If we think about these things, we won’t be looking for a fight. We won’t be looking for someone to make a mistake. We’ll be looking for things to praise. We’ll be looking for things that are good and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respectable. We’ll see the good in people and circumstances.

Scripture says that all of us are created in the image of God. So if I say “well, that person is no good” what am I saying? I’m calling God a liar. Because the truth is that God has put goodness in each of us.

Now He’s also given each of us a free will – that is, a choice – of whether to pursue that goodness or to pursue things of the world. But as believers – those who have chosen to pursue God with our whole hearts – our job is to encourage others to make the same choice – to choose to pursue God.

What commission has Jesus given us? To go and tell everyone about Him – to encourage others to follow Him. To help them find the goodness He has for them. (Scripture tells us that every good and perfect gift comes from Him.)

We can’t others find the goodness of God unless we’ve found it – the goodness He has given us and the goodness He has placed all around us. And we don’t find that when we’re looking for a fight or looking for mistakes.

In 2 Corinthians 5, we read that the devil has blinded the minds of those who do not believe. They cannot see the light of the Good News – the Good News about the glory of Christ.

They can’t find God because of the darkness that surrounds them. But God has made His light shine in the hearts of those who follow Him – that light is the knowledge of the glory of God. It is knowing Jesus and the joy and protection and love and help and comfort that He gives. Knowing Jesus changes us…but only if we allow it. He puts that light in our heart – but if we want, we can still choose to look for the darkness – look for a fight or for someone to make a mistake. But God says “Let the light shine out of the darkness.”

Jesus described us as “the light of the world.”

14“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”   
Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)

We’re not being that light when we’re telling others what they’ve done wrong. We’re being the light when we’re showing them the joy that is in us.

Now if you’re like me, there are days when you wake up and it’s hard to find that joy and it’s hard not to be critical of everyone around us. It’s at those times that we need to take a deep breath and ask God to work through us – because we just can’t do it ourselves. We can’t be the person who shows Jesus to the world because all we want to do is complain. I’ve been there. Sometimes it seems like I’m there every morning.

The Apostle Paul understood that. Continuing in 2 Corinthians 5, he wrote this:

“We have this treasure from God – that is, knowing Him, knowing His goodness, having seen His glory – we have this treasure, but we are like clay jars that hold the treasure.” In other words, we’re not up to the task of holding this valuable treasure.

It’s like putting a precious diamond on string around your neck. There’s something wrong with that picture! A precious diamond belongs in a beautiful gold setting. Or it’s like serving the most expensive and tasty meal on paper plates! No, they deserve to be served on fine china!

But God has entrusted the Good News – which really should be called the Best News – the news that Jesus is alive and that He loves us and offers His forgiveness in exchange for our love – He is serving that rich, delicious nugget on a paper plate – and we’re the plates!

He has chosen the simple to confound the wise. We’re the simple. He has chosen the poor to teach the rich. We’re the poor. He has chosen us – with all our faults and weaknesses. He has placed the treasure of knowing Him in clay jars.

Why would He do that? Paul gives us the reason – to show “that the great power is from God, not from us.”

On our own, we can’t be the person who always thinks on good things, things that are worthy of praise, things that are true and honorable and pure and beautiful. Because in our own strength, sometimes we’re the people who just want to complain.

But the beauty of knowing God is that we don’t live life on our own. At those times, we turn to God, who has put His Holy Spirit in us, and we say “Lord, live your life through me. Lord, help me show your light to others. Lord, Your word says that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Give me strength now, Lord.”

It’s only with the help of the Holy Spirit that Paul was able to write the verses that follow:

8We have troubles all around us, but we are not defeated. We do not know what to do, but we do not give up the hope of living. 9We are persecuted, but God does not leave us. We are hurt sometimes, but we are not destroyed. 10We carry the death of Jesus in our own bodies so that the life of Jesus can also be seen in our bodies. 11We are alive, but for Jesus we are always in danger of death so that the life of Jesus can be seen in our bodies that die.
>2 Corinthians 5:8-11

In this life we will have troubles. With the Holy Spirit in us, we are not defeated. In this life there are times when we don’t know what to do – there are times when everything seems hopeless – but in God, we don’t give up because we have Christ in us, the hope of glory.

Paul continued in verse 16:

16So we do not give up. Our physical body is becoming older and weaker, but our spirit inside us is made new every day. 17We have small troubles for a while now, but they are helping us gain an eternal glory that is much greater than the troubles.
2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Our spirit inside us is made new every day. No matter what’s happening with our bodies on the outside, our spirits are renewed every day. God’s mercies are new every morning. So every morning, we return to Him and say “God, help me today. Help me to find Your goodness and help me shine the love of Jesus to those around me.”

I started this article with the quote from Jeanne Robertson – we find what we look for. Jeremiah 29, verses 13 and 14 say that “‘When you look for me, you will find me when you look for me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord.”

God promises that you will find what you’re looking for when you’re looking for Him. What a great and compassionate and merciful God we serve. He promises that we will find Him when we look for Him with our whole heart.

The Apostle Paul ends our passage in 2 Corinthians 5 with this encouragement:

We set our eyes not on what we see but on what we cannot see. What we see will last only a short time, but what we cannot see will last forever.

What we see, friends, is all the hardship around us. What we see are troubles. What we see are people making mistakes that affect us. God tells us to lift our eyes – look for the good – look for Him – every moment of every day. When you do, your world will change. Yes, all the difficulties will still be there, but what fills your mind will be those things that are good and beautiful and worthy of praise. Your heart will be filled with joy because your mind is set on what we cannot see just yet – our eternity with a compassionate and merciful God. Friends, think on these things – that which is true and honorable and right and pure. Set your mind on Jesus.

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And I know that I am right to think like this about all of you, because I have you in my heart. All of you share in God’s grace with me while I am in prison and while I am defending and proving the truth of the Good News.
Philippians 1:7 (NCV)

What a relationship Paul had with the Philippians (and the Ephesians and the Colossians and so many others)! He writes in verse 7 that he carries the Philippians in his heart. Another translation reads like this: “You have a special place in my heart.”

Notice that there is a progression in verses 3 through 7. In verse 3, Paul begins by saying that he always remembers the Philippians and prays for them with thanksgiving and joy. Paul first has the Philippians in his remembrance – in his mind; what follows is that they are in his prayers; and he finishes by saying they are in his heart. While there are many reasons for the Philippians to hold a special place in God’s heart, I would suggest that keeping people in our minds and in our prayers leads to them having a special place in our hearts.

Have you ever tried to stay angry at someone you are regularly praying for? It’s pretty hard to do. God changes our hearts as we pray for others. He opens our eyes to what He sees in them, enabling us to pray with faith and confidence as Paul prayed for the Philippians – that God, who began a good work in the Philippians, was bringing it to completion. Seeing God working in someone and seeing the person He is creating them to be increases our appreciation of them and opens our hearts to loving them in a greater way – even when their current behavior isn’t consistent with the person God created them to be.

Is there someone you’re struggling with? Ask God to bring them to your mind frequently. As He does, commit to pray for them. God will change your heart toward them.

Here’s how Paul prayed for the Philippians:

9And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Philippians 1:9-11 (NIV)

Wow! What a great prayer. Let’s break it down.

Paul prays that their love would “abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” What an interesting combination of elements – an overabundance and every growing degree of love combined with knowledge and insight. We often think that love is blind. Not the kind of love Paul prays for! Paul isn’t praying for love that sees no faults or dangers. He is praying for love with wisdom, love with discernment.

He is praying for that overabundance of love combined with knowledge and insight “so that [they] may be able to discern what is best.” Paul wants the Philippians to be able to make wise choices. He wants them to be “pure and blameless.” Some commentators suggest that Paul is praying for both their relationship with God – that it be pure – and their relationships with others – that they may be blameless or without offense. Both are the result of making right choices. Both are hallmarks of Christian maturity. Paul is praying that the Philippians become mature in their faith and actions.

And that maturity begins with love, not knowledge. It begins in love and is matured as love grows in knowledge and insight. Love is the cornerstone that holds knowledge in its place. Knowledge without love becomes pharisaical. It becomes rules and regulations. It becomes religion. It doesn’t lead to verse 11.

Paul prays for that love that grows in knowledge and insight, “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” It is only through Jesus that we have any righteousness before God. Our acts of service are as filthy rags if not done in the name and love of Jesus Christ. I can’t be good enough, no matter how much I do or how good I am, without the blood of Jesus. It is through Him that I can be pure and blameless. That abounding love and knowledge and insight takes me through the blood of Jesus in all I do.

“To the glory and praise of God.” When we love more, when we grow in maturity and make right choices – it is to God’s glory and praise. Which is pretty amazing. That we, puny humans that we are, have the awesome opportunity to bring the Creator of the Universe praise and glory! And it all starts in love and wise choices.

Here’s a wonderful secret – you can pray Paul’s prayers for yourself and loved ones, too. When I wake in the middle of the night and Phil is sleeping beside me…or he’s not because he can’t sleep for some reason…I pray Paul’s prayers over his life. I pray that his love would abound more and more in wisdom and depth of insight so that he can discern what is better and may make wise choices so that God would be glorified through his life.

When I’m in trouble, I’ll pray “Lord, I need more and more of your love to flow through me. Lord, may I grow in wisdom and insight. Lord, give me wisdom to make right choices. Lord help me to live a life that glorifies you.”

Sure, I ask for physical healing and help with the every day stuff. But these prayers of Paul go beyond the things of this life into eternity. And I want to live for eternity, not just this life.

Christian maturity starts with prayers like this – prayers for abounding love. To the His praise and glory!

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3I thank my God every time I remember you. 4In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:3-6 (NIV)

“I thank my God every time I remember you,” the apostle Paul says. You know what? The Philippian Christians weren’t perfect! We’ll see in chapters 2 and 3 that there were some problems in the church. But Paul doesn’t begin his letter praying for those issues. He chooses to be thankful for His friends. He chooses to pray for them with joy. Not frustration. Not defeat. Not discouragement. Thankfulness and joy. I am challenged by this. Sometimes, even with those I love, I pray with some of those other things – frustration, defeat or discouragement. Or I am tempted to pray to “fix” something that is causing me to be frustrated with that person. That’s not how Paul prays. Paul prays for them with thankfulness and joy.

As we’ll see in chapter 2, we’re to do all things without complaining and grumbling…that goes for praying for others, too. There’s no grumbling in praying…or at least there shouldn’t be any grumbling in our prayers for others.

In the natural world, we may not see reason to pray with thanksgiving and joy. But we’re not to be looking with our natural eyes. Paul goes on to say that he is confident – confident – that God – who began a good work in the Philippians would carry it on to completion! Another translation of this verse says that Paul is “fully persuaded.” As I was studying this passage and came upon that translation, the Holy Spirit whispered in my ear – “Are you fully persuaded?” In other words, am I fully persuaded that God will finish the work He’s started in me? Are you?

God’s Word is full of encouragement that He is at work in us. If and when we believe His Word – truly believe it – we can pray with thankfulness and joy – for ourselves and for others. God is at work in us and in those around us. He is working out His eternal plan in our lives and the lives of those around us. That’s exciting stuff! Believing that overcomes fear, uncertainty and doubt about our future.

So, my friend – are you fully persuaded that God is at work in you and will work out His purposes in your life? I hope so. If you have doubts, may I suggest that you write out this verse and put it where you will see it several times a day. Say it out loud – God is at work in me and will bring that work to completion.

Let Him whisper it in your ear…

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Philippians 1:2 (NIV)

I love Paul’s blessings and this is one of my favorites.

One of the blogs I’ve written that has impacted me the most personally was about this verse. Back in July 2007, I wrote one of my shortest blogs. It was about grace Paul’s double-powered prayer. It’s one of those teachings that has stuck with me and comes to mind almost every time I hear the word “grace.” You can read about it here.

In my previous blog in this series on Philippians I focused on our relationship as slaves to Jesus. It is only by His grace that we can have that spirit of immediate obedience I prayed for. And that kind of obedience gives us peace. When I delay in my obedience, my stress level rises quickly. Responding – even when I only know the very next step and there are so many unanswered questions – brings peace. My obedience gives me an assurance that I’m leaving it up to God and He will provide.

While studying another letter of Paul’s during a Bible study last week the discussion turned to the topic of the power of our words and the power of blessings. Unfortunately, we agreed that none of us speak or write blessings as Paul did. Imagine how different our culture would be if we did speak in blessings.

First, the impact on the one doing the blessing would be tremendous. I am convinced that I would think differently if I were to develop the pattern of speaking blessings more frequently.

Secondly, the person receiving the blessing would…well, I’m not sure how they would feel about it. At the very least they would have had a blessing spoken over them and if you believe that your words have power in the spiritual realm, that blessing is a big thing. Beyond that their experience will vary based on their perspective of spiritual things and their experiences. When someone speaks a blessing to me, I experience an unexpected moment of joy. And it becomes something my mind goes back to throughout the day. Someone who has less experience with blessings may be confused or uncomfortable. That’s OK. A blessing spoken in an upbeat and positive way will work its way through the confusion and discomfort into the person’s spirit. God’s Word does that. If the person is alien to the Gospel, they may be taken aback by it, but it is the rare person who will take offense at it. And if someone takes offense, we can always apologize for offending them (and silently pray for them).

Thirdly, the impact on our society could be pretty exciting. I believe our words have power in the spiritual realm. I believe that speaking blessings change the spiritual atmosphere in a home, a business and a community.

Lord, teach me how to speak and write blessings as a natural part of my day. I want You to be on my mind and on my lips throughout the day. I want to bring You into the lives of those around me.

Will you join me? Let’s start a revolution of blessing. Don’t wait for someone’s birthday to bless them. Do it today!

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The book of Philippians is often called “The Book of Joy!” That sounds like a perfect book to study as we look toward the most joyous event in the Christian calendar – the resurrection of Jesus. So over the next few weeks I’ll be writing blogs that look at Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi.

Just as the path to Jesus’ resurrection lead Him through suffering and even death, we’ll see in Philippians that there is a relationship between joy and suffering. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start with Paul’s greeting:

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 elders and deacons.
Philippians 1:1 (NLT)

The greetings in the New Testament letters are fly-over country for many people. Not me. The Apostle Paul wrote greetings that were personal, sincere and instructive. Let’s not miss the treasure in this greeting.

If you read the New International Version of the Bible, verse 1 describes Paul and Timothy as “servants of Christ Jesus.” Whether the word in your translation is servants or slaves, in New Testament times, it denoted someone who didn’t have the freedom to obey their owner/master or not to obey him. What the master required, the servant or slave did.

It’s important to understand slavery in New Testament times to get an accurate understanding of Paul’s greeting. Slavery has existed in different forms in many different cultures. In New Testament times, slavery was not based in racism (that is, slaves were not a single race) and slave masters were typically not abusive. Most slaves worked hard but lived at least as well as other lower class citizens. They didn’t have freedom to leave or pursue the trade of their choice, but they were treated with respect. Masters often trained their slaves in their own trade so slaves could be found in jobs at many levels of society. Slaves had the security of having a place to live and food to eat. What they did not have was freedom to spend their days as they might want or to leave their masters. Slaves belonged to their masters.

Paul could have used many different words to describe himself and his relationship with God, but he chose “servant/slave.” The word would have had clear implications to the Philippians – Paul and Timothy were slaves of the Lord. Bound to serve Him.

After defining his relationship with the Lord, Paul goes on to define the relationship of the Philippians to the Lord. He describes them as “God’s holy people…who belong to Christ Jesus.” What an interesting juxtapositioning of phrases:

  • As believers, we are God’s holy people. What an awesome thing – that we (1) are God’s and (2) we are holy people. Knowing that just makes me feel good – because it emphasizes to me that I am God’s in a protective way. I am His and He will take care of me. One of the ways He takes care of me is that He has made me holy – cleansed me by the blood of Jesus.
  • As believers, we belong to Christ Jesus. As I read Paul’s greeting, this phrase carries a different connotation than the previous one. Just as the slaves in New Testament times belonged to their masters, we belong to our master. Just like Paul, we are slaves to Christ.

So we are God’s both in the sense that He treasures us and cares for us and we belong to Him as a slave is bound to his master.

My guess is that you’ve heard lots of sermons about how you are treasured by God and how He promises to care for you. I wonder if you’ve heard any lately that encourage you to reflect on your relationship as a slave to Christ. As I read this greeting, the Holy Spirit whispers a few questions:

“Do you submit to the Lord as a slave to his master?”

Hmmm. If I’m honest, the answer to that is no, not always.

“Do you view yourself (and live your life) as an indentured servant of the Lord?”

Well, I’d rather think of myself as a child of the King, co-heirs with Christ. Or I’m happy to meditate on being the Bride of Christ or a part of the royal priesthood. I’m afraid meditating on being a slave of Christ isn’t something I do regularly.

It’s true that if we know Christ – if we’ve placed our trust in Him – that we are children of the King, co-heirs with Him. We are the Bride of Christ and a part of the royal priesthood. And yes, we are also to be slaves of Christ Jesus – listening for His voice and ready to be immediately obedient.

Ready to be immediately obedient…whatever the task. Perhaps that’s the best description of a slave. At least that’s the description that I’d like to have applied to me. Ready to be immediately obedient to the Lord.

Lord, help me to hear Your voice. Give me a heart that is ready to say “yes!”

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Woman Reflecting by the WaterThis afternoon I was reading about the many tensions that exist in planning a typical worship service — competing values and goals that those of us sitting in the pews are happily ignorant about. Tensions like planning for both a personal and a corporate worship experience, honoring the heritage of the past while still meeting the needs of the present, and balancing the teaching of objective truth with every believer’s need for a subjective experience of God are just a few of the challenges that make planning any service much more difficult than most of us realize.

As I pondered these issues, I began to think about the Christian life in general. As we begin to walk with the Lord, we become aware of how short we fall of the glory of God. Walking a little further, we begin to get a glimpse of who He wants us to be and how He might want to use us. Even further down the path, that glimpse comes into sharper focus until at some point we have a picture with some definition to it. We can see that He wants to shape us and mold us into an image of His Son that is still uniquely us.

But we’re not there yet. So we begin to live our life in the dynamic tension of being one person while we’re becoming another person; of seeing both the present and the future and remaining both “content” and “discontent” with the present while we look and work toward the future. That tension can cause guilt and frustration or excitement and joy.

Sometimes I get so excited about the person God is slowly changing me into. That person is so very much better than the person I am today. And yet, I can also see that the person I am today is at least a little better than the one I was ten years ago. And she’s definitely much better than the person I was twenty years ago! The difference between living my life in guilt and frustration or excitement and joy is a result of which of these three “people” I’m focusing on.

Focusing on the person I am today generally leads to a discontented Sandy. I periodically say to Phil “If I were really a good daughter, I’d _________________” (I can fill in the blank with any of a number of things that I’m apt to feel guilty about not doing for my parents). That’s focusing on the incomplete person I am today. And that person isn’t doing all those hundreds of things I sometimes think I “should” be doing. That person is tired, frustrated and guilty. She is just one step away from being ashamed and defeated. That person doesn’t see God at work in her life; she just sees her life as it is here and now – falling far short of the glory of God.

Focusing on the person I was twenty years ago can lead to either totally inappropriate shame or the very dangerous emotion of pride. I’m not the person I was ten or twenty years ago, so it isn’t appropriate for me to be burdened with guilt for my shortcomings in the past. God has already changed me. My sins of the past are forgiven. If I compare my “twenty-years-ago self” to my current self, however, I might easily exaggerate my improvements in my mind and say “Wow, look how much better I am today.” I pray that when that happens, the Holy Spirit reminds me loudly and clearly that “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Prov. 16:18)

The best place to be is focusing on the person God is changing me into. When my focus is on that person, I have hope. I have excitement in my life, because I can begin to see how He is using even my failures to move me closer to becoming that person. When my focus is on that person, life is more fun because I can enjoy the process of growing. I can view my maturation process as an adventure with God instead of Him pounding me into shape. It is this view that actually transfers my focus from myself to God and His work in me.

I’m not denying that life is difficult at times; in fact, I’m going through one of those “difficult seasons” now. Aging parents and increasing responsibilities can be a heavy load at times. But I can see, and others have told me that they can see, how God is using this to soften some of my sharp edges. And that is good, because the person God is molding me to be (and has shown me glimpses of) needs softer edges. So we’re working on softer edges right now. Next week (month, year?) we might be working on something else. I don’t know. I’m just along for the adventure! And the joy. And the relationship with Him.

Perhaps this is some of what Paul was feeling when he wrote to the Philippians:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, 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 3:12-14 (NIV)

Of course the ultimate prize is Christ Himself. Along the way, though, there are many preliminary rounds with prizes to the winners. Prizes like softer edges and the wonderful adventure of becoming the person God already sees. What a God we serve! Let’s serve Him well in 2014.

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Now that we are in the short respite between Christmas and New Year’s, I thought I’d share with you the focus of my December meditations. My month was a bit too hectic to get this into a blog earlier, but perhaps God’s timing is at play and you will have a greater opportunity to absorb this today. I know this is a long blog, but I’m confident that you’ll be blessed by it. Take a few minutes in your devotions to read and meditate on it. God will bless you as He has me.

In late November, God brought to mind a story about my dad. His name was Pat. After his funeral we were sitting in my step-mom’s living room and my aunt said something very special to me. She said “Everyone knew when you kids were little, you better not touch any of you kids or you’ll have to answer to Pat.” I’ll make it personal – “You better not touch sandy, or you’ll have to answer to Pat!” Now that obviously was a very special thing for me to hear. It was wonderful to hear how much my dad loved me. But that wasn’t the lesson God had for me in reminding me of that conversation. The lesson for me was that I didn’t know my dad that way. By the time I reached an age when I remember things, my dad was an over-the-road truck driver so he was only home every other day to sleep. And when he wasn’t sleeping he and mom were arguing. Now I knew my dad loved me, but I didn’t know the dad that my aunt told me about.

The message God had for me was that, while I know God, there are many other ways to know Him. He is so much more and so much bigger than the little bit that I know of him. So my prayer became “Lord, reveal yourself to me in a new way this year during the Christmas season.” Along with that was the thought that when I preached in December maybe I would preach about the extravagant love of God that is embodied in the birth of Christ.

And I’m so excited about the passage God led me to study those themes. My December message was a special one. And when I finished preparing it, God led me to a worship song that fit perfectly. I had apparently bought it about a year ago and then promptly forgot about it. It totally expresses my heart as I prepared this message. Before I share the message with you, let’s listen to the song.

“Let Me Rediscover You” by Downhere

Oh, Lord, let us rediscover you this week. Don’t let this season end until we’ve seen you in a new and glorious way. Reveal Yourself to us, Lord. We want to see you and cry holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come. We want to worship the God who came to earth and returned to heaven. All for me. Amen!

God took me to the book of John. Now I have to admit – many people love the book of John, but it’s never been my favorite!

A common question new believers ask is “what should I read” and many people tell them to read the book of John. I don’t get that.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.”
John 1:1 (KJV)

Say what? Quite honestly, that’s never done much for me. But God…He brought it alive to me this this year. We’re going to look at it in the New Living Translation

1In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He existed in the beginning with God.
John 1:1-2 (NLT)

At the simple reading of this, we don’t know that the Word is Jesus, but as we get further into the passage, it becomes clear. So, knowing that it is Jesus, what does the verse tell us?

Well, the first thing it tells us is that there was a time that God refers to as “the beginning” and God existed before that – He existed before the beginning of time. That’s why we call him the everlasting God, the eternal God – He existed before the beginning, He exists now, and he will exist beyond the end. That boggles my brain. But it’s true. There’s absolutely nothing I can do with that statement except accept it by faith. And worship.

We don’t worship a God who was born on a given day in human history and then died on a given day in history. Yes, Jesus did those things.

But in order for him to do those things, He had to step out of eternity and into the boundaries of human time. Think about that for a minute. We often focus on Jesus coming and dying for our sins and are amazed that He would do such a thing…and we should be amazed…but think about the bigger picture for a minute. Lose the “what’s in it for me” mindset that we all have, and think about the process.

Jesus existed before the beginning of human time. Jesus was with God. Jesus was God.

There’s a lot I don’t understand about the spiritual realm. One thing I’m pretty sure of is that it’s beyond my imagination and understanding with a WOW factor to the nth degree.

Jesus existed in that realm with God before the beginning of time.

And just in case you have developed a hierarchy in your mind that consciously or subconsciously considers Jesus less than God – I mean it only makes sense, right – The Bible says that Jesus is the Son and God is the Father; it also says that God sent His Son to die for our sins…so it only makes sense that God is greater than Jesus. Just in case you have started thinking that way, John includes that last phrase of verse 1 “and the Word was God.”

So not only did Jesus exist before time, and not only did He exist with God, but He is God. Scripture says if you have seen the Son – that is Jesus – then you have seen the Father. That’s not a “like father like son” statement – that’s a statement of the reality that the Father and Son (and the Holy Spirit) are one.

In those two verses, John starts his introduction to the Christmas story by making sure we understand that the One who came to earth is the One who existed before the beginning of time and is God Himself.

Let’s go on, starting again with verse 1:

1In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He existed in the beginning with God.  3God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.
John 1:1-3 (NLT)

Here we have a new piece of information. That God created the world through Jesus. Jesus was the force behind the creation of everything. Jesus was the power that God used to create the world. Jesus was the creativity that God used to create the world.

The word translated “created” is a form of the verb “to be” – so we could also translate the sentence “Everything is” or “all things are” or “all things exist” because Jesus created them.

Now there’s another passage that describes creation – Let’s look briefly at Genesis 1:

1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning–the first day.
Genesis 1:1-5 (NIV)

God spoke and Jesus, the Word, created light.

God spoke and Jesus, the Word, created heaven and earth.

God spoke and Jesus, the Word, created land and the oceans.

God spoke and Jesus, the Word, created – as it says in John chapter 1 – everything – all things – nothing was created without Him.

Let’s go back to John 1:

1In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He existed in the beginning with God. 3God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. 4The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.
John 1:1-4 (NLT)

Jesus gave life to everything that was created. It was Jesus who breathed life into Adam. And His life brought light to everyone.

Jesus was the creator of life at the beginning of time, He is the giver of new life for those who follow Him. He is the good shepherd who lays down his own life – who gives up his life – so that we might have life.

John writes more about the light:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.
John 1:5 (NLT)

Other translations of verse 5 say the darkness has not “understood” or “comprehended” it. Interesting that they translated it as they did. The word used is katalambano, which is more frequently translated apprehended.

The verse that this blog takes its name from is Philippians 3:12. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Philippians 3:12 (NIV)

Jesus, the source of all life creates light and the darkness is not able to apprehend or grasp it. I don’t want to be like the darkness. I want to live in the light. I want to grab hold of all that God has for me. I want to apprehend that for which Christ has apprehended me (as it’s worded in the King James Version).

Skip down to verse 10:

He [Jesus] came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him.
John 1:10 (NLT)

Jesus, who existed before the beginning of time, who is God. Jesus, the one who created all things, who breathed the breath of life into Adam, gives life to all things. Jesus came into the very world He created…but the world didn’t recognize Him.

Jesus stepped out of eternity to come into a world where His people said…”What? Who did you say you were? I don’t think so!”

I think perhaps that is a betrayal worse than His crucifixion. The complete betrayal of the world He created – they didn’t even recognize Him.

He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.
John 1:11 (NLT)

The ones who He called to be His very own. The ones He chose. The ones he chose again and again as they turned to idols made of wood instead of the One who gives all things life. The ones who chose power or money or fame or leisure or…any of the so many other things we turn to instead of God. The ones…they are us…we rejected Him. I rejected Him.

Isaiah foretold this when he wrote this about Jesus:

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Isaiah 53:3 (NIV)

Jesus left the heavenly realms – left the world of eternity to step into the world of human time – for this. To be despised and rejected. To not be recognized by His own people. To offer abundant life only to have His creation reject it.

That’s extravagant love. God knew. Jesus knew…that many would reject His tremendous gift of salvation. And still, He stepped out of eternity, took on the form of a man, living among the indignities of this world of disease and sin.

That’s extravagant love. There’s no other explanation. Jesus was born as a helpless baby so that we might experience the love of God. He gave it all up for you and me. That’s how much He loves us. He gave up heaven and lived the rejection and betrayal…so that we may become children of God.

12But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.
John 1:12-13 (NLT)

To all who believed and accepted Jesus – it’s not enough just to believe. You have to believe and accept – the word there is lambano – remember katalambano – this is just the second part of it, lambano – so the words are very similar. To all who grab hold of Jesus – to all who      believe and receive Him – to those people, He gave the right to become children of God. He gave them new life – reborn, not physically, but spiritually – He gave them (us) a new birth that comes from God.

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
John 1:14 (NLT)

That’s extravagant love. That the eternal God left behind the glories of heaven to show His glory to us, through the person Jesus. Jesus who created the world. Jesus who existed before the beginning – before time began. Jesus who gave up everything to show His extravagant love for me. So that I could become a child of God.  So that I could experience a new birth.

And for the sake of brevity, let’s skip to verse 18:

No one has ever seen God. But the one and only Son is himself God and is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.
John 1:18 (NLT)

Jesus has revealed God to us. Whew!

Jesus is the baby who was born in the manger. Jesus is the man who lived a sinless life. Jesus is the One who died for my sins so that I might be reconciled to God and have eternal life now and forever more. But He’s so much more than that. Jesus is the eternal God who left heaven to reveal God to us.

That’s how extravagantly He loves us.

If you don’t know that love, talk to God. He specializes in revealing Himself to individuals. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you. My first prayer went something like this: “Lord, I don’t even know if you exist, but if you do, I want to know you.” I was 23 years old. God revealed Himself to me in a way that left me no doubt of His existence. And now, 34 years later, He continues to reveal the extravagance of His love to me. He’ll do the same to you.

May God bless you abundantly with His presence now and throughout the coming year. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you. He’ll do it.

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In the Parable of the Lost Son, we’ve looked at the repentance of the prodigal son and the compassion and love of the father. That leaves the final character in the parable, the older son. I’ll start with the parable to refresh your memory of the story:

11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Luke 15:11-32 (NIV)

Of the three characters, I find the older son to have the saddest story, but perhaps not for the reasons you think. He has been the obedient son. He stayed home and worked for the father during the years that his younger brother squandered his inheritance. Obedience is a good thing. Unfortunately in this case, it’s squandered obedience. The older son had a wonderful opportunity to grow in his relationship with the father during that time, but it doesn’t appear that he did. He clearly didn’t absorb the nature of his father – he showed neither compassion, love or mercy when his younger brother returned home. He was not ready to forgive. In fact, upon learning that the party was to celebrate his brother’s homecoming, he refused to go into the house.

He lacked a servant’s heart, instead using the phrase “all these years I’ve been slaving for you” to describe his efforts. The word translated “slaving” literally means “in bondage to.” The younger brother was enslaved to sin during his years of riotous living. The older son was enslaved to sin of a different kind. He had become a slave to his sense of duty and his belief that it was his own efforts that would earn him his father’s inheritance. He served his father out of obedience, not out of love. He was obedient out of duty. He viewed himself as working for his inheritance. What a drudgery those years must have been!

But there’s an even sadder element to his story. Read again the words of the father:

“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.”
Luke 15:31 (NIV)

“Everything I have is yours.” The son had at his disposal all that belonged to the father and he never availed himself of it. He didn’t even realize it was his.

Friends, our heavenly Father says the same thing to us “Everything I have is yours.” Notice the words “everything” and “all” and “all things” in the following verses:

6Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done…19And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6, 19 (NLT)

2Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
2 Peter 1:2-4 (NKJV)

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Romans 8:32 (NIV)

“Everything I have is yours,” says the Father.

Remember, the parable is an illustration of spiritual principles. The younger son is a perfect picture of willful rebellion and then humble repentance. The father beautifully illustrates the loving and compassionate Father we have in heaven, ready to forgive and celebrate with us. Now we have the older son, who I’m afraid is very much like us sometimes. We so easily fall into the trap of serving the Lord out of duty.

Obedience is important in the Kingdom of God, but it must be obedience out of love for all the Father has done for us and gives us. Obedience out of duty creates in us the same attitude it created in the older son – bitter jealousy.

The Father’s message is “Everything I have is yours.” Let’s not live like slaves but as the son or daughter who has been given the Kingdom.

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I used to make fun of my husband. Many years ago he purchased an 8-volume set of commentaries on the book of Ephesians. That’s 8 2-inch thick books on Ephesians (by Martin Lloyd-Jones) – which takes up about 8 pages in my Bible!

Well, I am being so blessed by Paul’s letter to the Ephesians this year that now I’m seriously considering tackling those books! A few months ago Phil and I lead a Bible study on the book of Ephesians with some nursing home residents. We’ve been leading a weekly study with them for about three years. This is the first study I’ve recorded because I was being so blessed. Now as I am reading it in our Resting at the River’s Edge reading, I am equally as blessed. I’m picking just a few paragraphs from the letter each day to write on, but I suspect there’s a more comprehensive Bible Study of the letter coming soon.

Today, we have to look at Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians that we find at the end of chapter 3:

For this reason I kneel before the Father,
Ephesians 3:14 (NIV)

Even this first sentence grabs me. “For this reason” – what reason? All that he has written before, which is a discussion of how we have been reconciled with God through Christ.  “We are no longer foreigners” he wrote in Ephesians 2:19, “but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” He then went on to write that he had been given the privilege of preaching “preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).

It is for this reason that Paul “kneels before the Father.” Do you kneel in prayer? I rarely do. I have a spur on my knee that makes kneeling painful so I rarely kneel. But, I find that when I humble myself by physically putting myself in a position of humility like kneeling, my prayer changes. Usually I get comfortable in my “prayer place” – a chair I frequently sit in while reading, journalling, blogging and praying – before praying in earnest. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s good to be comfortable with God. Yet, when I kneel, or often in my case simply sit on the floor with my head bowed, I have a stronger sense of God’s greatness and my smallness. It’s good to be reminded that He is God and we are His servants. I need to kneel more.

Paul takes the position of kneeling which emphasizes the master/servant relationship, yet he immediately acknowledges the intimate relationship we have with God – He is our Father. He is almighty and He is our Abba, Daddy. Without the intimate relationship, He becomes only a hard task-master. Sin has a price which must be paid, but His love caused Him to pay the price for us. Remember yesterday’s blog4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (Ephesians 2:4-5). It is to this God that Paul prays. It is to this God that we pray.

16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
Ephesians 3:16-17a (NIV)

What a wonderful thing to pray! Paul first prays that God, who has immeasurable riches, would strengthen us in our inner being. That’s where I need God’s strength. That’s where I need to know that I know that I know that He loves me, that He is with me, that He is working in me and that He has purposes for my life. In my inner being. That’s where my strength comes from – deep inside, knowing God’s love for me. Paul prays that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith. Again, I need that fully confident knowing – that’s faith. In the face of opposition or failure or just everyday life, I need to know Him. I need Christ in my heart through faith. Remember, Paul is writing to Christians. He asks God to strengthen them in their inner being so that Christ would dwell in their hearts by faith. As a Christian, pray this for yourself and those believers around you. Because we all face life and the enemy uses circumstances of life to try to tear Christ from our hearts. He tries to use disappointments to attack our faith. Pray that out of his glorious riches that God would strengthen our faith.

Yes, I know what that means. It means the testing of our faith. It means that we will face challenges. But they are challenges designed by God to help us grow stronger in our faith. They are challenges designed by our coach – the One who is training us in godliness and faith – to make us victorious. They are not challenges by our enemy that are designed to defeat us. They are designed by God to help us defeat our enemy.

Paul goes on, picking up the theme of love again:

17bAnd I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  
Ephesians 3:17b-19 (NIV)

It is out of God’s great love for us that He made us alive with Christ. It is in that great love that we have been rooted and established. That is our starting place and it is from that place that Paul prays that we might have the power to grasp – to apprehend, to take hold – how wide, long, high and deep God’s love is. The word “grasp” is the same word Paul used in Philippians:

I press on to take hold of [to grasp, to apprehend] that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Philippians 3:12b (NIV)

This is not a “gaining by osmosis” or even supernatural impartation. Yes, there is supernatural impartation involved, but there is also action on our part – a pursuing and grabbing and holding on. Paul prays that we would have the power to grasp the depth of God’s love for us. God will empower us, but we must also grab and hold onto that love – so that we might be filled to the “measure of all the fullness of God.”

In a long paragraph about this phrase, Matthew Henry concludes with this sentence:

Those who receive grace for grace from Christ’s fulness may be said to be filled with the fulness of God, according to their capacity, all which is in order to their arriving at the highest degree of the knowledge and enjoyment of God, and an entire conformity to him.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible

Are you “filled up” with Christ? Do you experience the highest degree of knowledge and enjoyment of Him? I’m not. But I press on to attain it. And I pray that God would give me the power to grasp His immeasurable love for me.

Let’s pray for ourselves and others as Paul prayed for the Ephesians.

Should a sliver of doubt creep into your heart as you pray for such understanding and filling, Paul ends this prayer with a doxology:

20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Ephesians 3:14-21 (NIV)

He is able, friends. To do more –immeasurably more – than all we ask or imagine. More than all, not just more than some of what we ask, more than all of what we ask. And not just more than we ask, but more than we can imagine. He can do it. For His glory. Amen and amen.

Let’s pray for ourselves and others remembering that He can do immeasurably more than we are asking and more than we can imagine!

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