Month: April 2020

Philippians 1:9-11

Prayer- Father God, through this passage, teach us how to pray… better.

Scripture9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

What’s your prayer for others? I mean, once you’re done with the immediate health needs that so preoccupy our prayer lives? Paul has already told his readers that he prays for them with joy and affection, but how does he intercede for them? In the NIV, he prays for the quality of their love, that it would be “smart” love, discerning love, so that they wouldn’t just not do the bad thing, or even the just OK thing, or even the good thing. His prayer for them is that their love would be discerning love, so that they could discern what is BEST. (Sneak a peak ahead to his advice to them in 4:8-9.) Do you make the same connection that Paul does here, that our LOVE needs to be discerning, not just our intellect or wisdom? There are so many ways that our “love” can settle for less than the best-

  1.  conflict-avoidance,
  2. Dishonest communications,
  3. Placating the bully, rather than defending the one being bullied.

AGAPE love requires our best intention, but then DOING what is best for others. Paul desperately wants that for the brothers and sisters in Philippi, and we should want it (and pray for it ) for our brothers and sisters who worship together here in Warrenton. And why do what is best? So that we can be “pure”- unmixed with conflicting motives- and blameless until the day of Christ… (Did you notice that this is the second time he has brought up “the day of Christ?” Seems kind of important, doesn’t it?)

…But wait, there’s more! Paul is still not done. He wants us pure and blameless (check, got it…), “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” by us staying connected to the vine (John 15:1-8). And the outcome of ALL of this? – “to the glory and praise of God.” Discerning love leads to best thoughts and behavior, resulting in us being blameless and pure and fruitful… to the glory and praise of God. Good stuff. That’s what Paul prays for them; will you pray it for someone else as well?

So pick one person, just for today. Intercede for them before God. With all your heart, bring them before God and ask God to help their love “abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,” that God would give them smart, discerning love.

Prayer- for all those who read this blog today, Heavenly Father, I ask you to give each one a love that grows in depth, in richness, in scope, in understanding and discernment, so that they can truly live what is BEST, the life that you want for them. And I ask it for me, as well.

Philippians 1:7-8

Prayer- As we approach your Word today, give us a sense of eager anticipation about what you will teach us- teaching not just our heads, but our hearts as well, because after all, it IS “all about the love.”

Scripture7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

How do you get somebody into your heart? Is it based on the cuteness factor, like kittens and puppies? Is because they did something nice for you? In the case of the folks in Philippi, was it because they were “partners in the gospel” with Paul, whatever that means? He says it is right for him to feel this way about ALL of them, since he has them in his heart. But what is that based on? He says, regardless of whatever HE is doing, or whatever is happening TO him, they all share in God’s grace with him.

Does that mean they share in COMMUNICATING God’s grace? Sure, let’s start there. Could it mean that like him, the “worst of sinners” (I Tim. 1:16), they are RECIPIENTS of God’s grace? Seems to fit, doesn’t it? God has decided to pour “grace upon grace” down upon His children. So which is it? Do we have to decide which way to read the passage for it to still fit? (How might that shape some of our approaches to Bible study and interpretation?) The implication here is that Paul has these folks in his heart because whatever he means, they share in God’s grace with him. It’s not based on how good THEY are, or how magnanimous Paul is. It’s based on mutually sharing (koinonia) in God’s grace.

So, that being true- 8 God can testify how I long for all of you                                                   with the affection of Christ Jesus.

In this time of Covid 19, “longing with affection” is something I think we can understand better than we could a few months ago. Zoom is good, but in-person is better. All Paul could do was dictate a letter, and hope the messenger would administer hugs on his behalf.

Prayer– Today, for THIS day, Heavenly Father, help me to have a big, gracious heart like you do, like Paul had, as I partner in your grace with your people.

Philippians 1:3-6

Prayer- Gracious Father in Heaven, I don’t feel very joyous today, even though I know I “should.” (Is it OK for one of your kids to have the “blahs” after a couple of weeks of quarantine?) I approach your Word hungry for some good “soul food.” Please feed me with “food that endures for eternal life” (John 6:27).

Scripture- 3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 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.

“Would you please just let me finish?” Ever heard that? Ever said that? We live in a culture of interruption. I admit I’m one of the worst offenders, jumping in when I should be listening, wanting to get out my thought before I forget it (old age does that to you). But it’s rude, it really is. And not just in conversation, but in the completion of tasks or entertainment as well. We’re in such a hurry, we even use word  contractions…

But some things take time to be done right, things like the growing up of a child, or the maturing of a Christian. And what if it is the Heavenly Father slowing us down and saying, “Would you please just let me finish?” Only finishing takes more than a lifetime. Salvation comes with a death to self and commitment to Christ Jesus, but the “good work” begun in us requires patient, steady, often painful progress and learning.

Do you ever worry that God might grow discouraged by your/my lack of progress, by our inattentiveness, our timidity or our stubborn worldliness? Paul does not share that concern. He says in v. 6, “Being CONFIDENT of this…” If I were a betting man, if I were going to count on someone, if, if… Paul is confident that God, who began a good work in us, will carry it on to completion, to maturity. How long is God committed to working on us? Until the day of Christ Jesus. As long as He needs to. Long enough. He is in it for the long haul.

Some days I just don’t feel very on top of things. God is still working. Some days I’m just on fire with the power of the Spirit. God is still working on those days, too. Some days, my behavior pleases Him. Some days, probably not so much. But He loves me no less on those days, and His work continues; The work HE began in me, HE will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Prayer– Thank you, Heavenly Father, for going the distance with me, for loving me when I feel unlovable, for having a vision for who I can become, when I just can’t see it. And thank you for working on me, with me, through me- every day. Through Jesus, Amen.

Those MAGA-Hat Protestors: Compassion, Contempt, and the Way of Christ (by Ed Stetzer)

Often, our compassion meters are put on display when it comes to how we respond to those who seem least like us. The way of Jesus is better. 

Compassion is an odd thing. When we think we don’t have enough of it, it can emerge from seemingly nowhere. When we are certain we are filled with it, we find we respond in ways we ought not. And often, our compassion meters are put on display when it comes to how we respond to those who seem least like us.

We are seeing a lot of scorn and anger targeted at protestors wanting to open the economy— often MAGA-hat wearing pro-Trump supporters. “They must just be ignorant hicks,” some say. “They are going to get sick—and get us sick.” “What a bunch of idiots.”

It’s important, however, that before we judge, we consider. That before we condemn, we pray. All of those who act in ways we disagree with are made in God’s image. We may believe our thoughts and opinions are the correct ones, but we must never forget that there are two sides of each story and many lenses through which to see the world.

There are a lot of frightened people out there, many of whom were already having financial strains. Now, too many of these people are unemployed or underemployed because of the impact of COVID-19.

So, if you are sitting at home, working from home because your job allows it, have a little compassion for people who are watching their future dissolve, are fearful for their children’s future, and who just want to work.

Compassion or contempt

Hard truth, friends: we have got to listen a bit more to one another right now.

A lot of people are afraid and frustrated. And, there are some groups who are being disproportionately affected. Among them, economically, are working-class white people.

Jenn Thomas, a single mother with two children, is worried about the economic impact of government restrictions on businesses. She observed in an interview, “We can’t just continue to keep closing things up and disrupting people’s lives where [COVID-19] is not affecting people like myself physically.”

The story explained that Thomas moved to California to open a hair salon last September. Her business was doing well until the mandated business closures came in response to the pandemic. “I don’t want to lose my house,” she said. “My livelihood is in dire straits. When is this going to end?” She planned to participate in a protest at the state capital calling for state officials to reopen businesses.

Can you have compassion for her? Does that compassion not apply if she is wearing a red hat?

Like Thomas, many Americans who are currently jobless fear the long-term implications of the closures. They wonder if the restrictions are necessary in areas where the virus doesn’t seem as widespread.

They are afraid. The pictures of them, sometimes protesting with political signs, makes them easy to caricature.

But don’t.

We need to feel a sense of compassion, but instead, far too many of us feel contempt.

We explore the issue of contempt at length in Christians in the Age of Outrage— it is one of the great challenges of our day. Far too many people rush to contempt when they might consider compassion.

People are afraid.

I’m not endorsing everything that everyone says. And, I get some politicians are taking advantage of the situation. But, I can’t get past the fact that there a lot of people who are afraid— for their families and their future.

I’m hurting with them.

African Americans

But, of course, working class whites are not the only ones experiencing disruption. Actually, African Americans are dying at a much higher rate.

They are experiencing both economic and disproportionate health challenges.

Jay Banks is a New Orleans City councilman. He is also chairman of one of the many Mardi Gras entities there—one which has seen six of its group die of the disease in recent days. He worries about the disproportionate number in the African American community who are dying from the disease. “You’ve got to get people to understand just how serious and devastating this thing [COVID-19] is,” he says.

The evidence is clear that African Americans are disproportionately affected by this virus. I recently talked to Chicago African American pastor Charlie Dates, who had two members of his church lose their lives to COVID-19. The Church of God in Christ, the nation’s oldest and largest African American Pentecostal denomination, reports that well over a dozen bishops and pastors have died.

The statistics are cause for concern: in Cook County, which includes Chicago, black residents make up 23 percent of the population, yet account for 58 percent of COVID-19 deaths. In Milwaukee, black residents represent 26 percent of the population, but accounted for almost half of the cases and 81 percent of its deaths.

I can’t get past the fact that there a lot of people who are afraid— for their health, for their communities, and for their families and their future.

I’m hurting with them.

Deaths, unemployment, and enough compassion for everyone

So, the statistics on unemployment are dire. In February, unemployment rates were at a multi-decade low of 3.5 percent. The U.S. was cruising along well in terms of jobs. But now, estimates are that unemployment will hit 16 percent by July, the highest since the Great Depression.

Many Americans were already vulnerable economically before the pandemic hit. The working poor, many who live in both rural and urban areas, live just above the poverty line and have no savings or recourse in times of sudden joblessness. “If they don’t show up for work, they don’t get paid. To get to their jobs, they have to take mass transit, putting themselves in closer contact with more people and, therefore, at greater risk of infection,” one article noted.

And, still, people are dying. If we open up the economy too soon, more will die.

And vulnerable people are losing everything.

We can care about both

I’m of the opinion that we need to keep our businesses and non-essential services closed as long as we need to keep them closed as long as we are saving lives, and that we must slowly reopen in such a way that we do not have a rush of new cases. Doctors tell us we aren’t ready to reopen; business owners are saying we should begin doing so responsibly. We can have our opinions, but during the crisis we must lean on experts to make well-informed, well-considered decisions.

And we continue to be the church. And we cannot do as the church is be blind or insensitive to people who are hurting due to pride, prejudice, or misinformation. We cannot treat urban African Americans who are seeing family and friends die as invisible. Our priority is to all. Always. Neither can we judge Trump supporters based on what we do not know of their lives.

The world does not need more contempt. It needs more compassionate Christians.

Now is the time to move past our narrow thinking, worldview, and experience, and to step into the shoes of the other, for the sake of the other. We need to listen to all who struggle in this pandemic. And the list of those who struggle is long: Trump supporters who have lost their jobs, urban minorities experiencing injustice, those who suffer from mental illness or abuse, healthcare workers unable to be with their families, children in broken homes, single parents, the homeless, the hungry, the hopeless, the elderly.

Now and in the coming days and months our first priority is not to ourselves or our churches. Our first priority is for those suffering and on the margins.

May we never forget it. Jesus didn’t. And his call is still on our lives to leave all and follow him in caring for others. All others.

So, let’s pass on the contempt and follow the way of Jesus.

Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. The Exchange Team contributed to this article.

Philippians 1:3-5

Prayer- It’s a new day, Heavenly Father. So much to thank you for. Everything good we have comes from you, including the people in our lives. Help me learn to pray thankful prayers with joy because… through Jesus, Amen.

Scripture- 3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now…

So much here, so much to learn about how to pray, even for folks that are fussing. Paul will address their lack of unity later throughout the letter, but that’s not where he starts.

  1. I thank my God- that makes it prayer, right? Grateful prayer- for what? Grateful every time he remembers his brothers and sisters in Philippi. Who are you grateful for TODAY? Is there somebody you are NOT grateful for today? Paul says “EVERY time I remember you.” Even on the “bad days,” when other people are being stinkers, Paul thanks God for them.
  2. But then it gets even tougher-

                                            “In ALL my prayers for ALL of you.”

I can pray for people I like, some of the time. But Paul prays for all of them all the time. Or is it that WHEN he prays for them, he “always prays with joy?” I always pray with joy BECAUSE…

Yesterday, I asked you to make a list of people God wanted you to greet or communicate with. Today I’m asking you to make a new list, of those who you can pray for with joy. But then add those who make you crazy, who are harder for you to pray for with joy, but are part of the “in all my prayers for ALL of you…”

For each person on your now-expanded list, next to their name, come up with at least one thing that you can pray a prayer of thanks to God for that person. Yes but… No “yes buts.” If that person is a brother or sister in Christ, then they are a partner in the gospel with you. God made them family- you didn’t, they didn’t. Together we are partners IN the gospel, and partners SHARING the gospel- you your way, and me mine. But I can thankfully pray with joy for you because… (because I need prayer, too? Ummm, could be.)

Prayer- In the same way that I need grace from you, Father, I need to extend grace through grateful, joyous prayer- for all the brothers and sisters that I interact with. Help me to focus on the good parts, not the parts that drive me crazy, in the name of my savior Jesus, Amen.

Philippians 1:1-2

Prayer- God, open up our hearts today to receive your word for each of us. Help us set aside our worries and fears, and enjoy precious time with you. There is so much to do today, but nothing more important than this time with you. Amen.

Our Scripture

Paul and Timothy, servants (slaves) of Christ (Messiah) Jesus,

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons (those who serve): Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

  1. Here’s who WE are- just like Paul and Timothy, I am a slave of Messiah (or, as Prof. Wright says, King) Jesus, bought with the incredible currency of his own blood.
  2. What does it mean for me to be a slave… today, this day in April, 2020? __________________________________________________________________
  3. What kind of master is King Jesus, who also just happens to be my older brother? ________________________________________________________
  4. What is the hardest part of being someone else’s slave? _________________________________________________________________________
  5. How is that different for me today, with King Jesus? _________________________________________________________________________
  6. Paul is writing to the saints, the elders and “those who serve.”
  7. Am I one of them today? Why or why not? _________________________________________________________________________
  8. IF I serve, how do I uniquely do it with MY life? _____________
  9. Who am I going to communicate with today, like Paul wrote THEM letter? Family? Coworkers? Who is on your heart that needs a word from you? ________________________________
  10. Paul wishes to all of them “grace and peace,” a common enough greeting, but then he adds who it is from- God our Father and the Master- Jesus, the Messiah.
  11. How does that change the greeting? _________________________________________________________________________
  12. What do YOU want for the people in your world today- Peace?Prosperity? Health? A closer walk with God? Make a list of your “today” people. Next to their names- what do you want for each one? And not only do you want those things FOR them, but those things FROM God the Father and Master Jesus, the Messiah.

Prayer– This time is for you and me, Heavenly Father, but today your Word points me to connect with others, especially during this time of pandemic. Who needs a special word from you, a special blessing? As your special servant today, may I administer your grace and peace to others. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

What does the Bible Say?

In this delightful and thought-provoking sermon, Bob raises some interesting questions about the motives of the heart when we turn to the phrase “what does the Bible say?”. Are these the same motives as those of the pharisees so long ago?  And if you like the book of Philippians then you’ll love some of the scripture choices Bob shares with us in this wonderful message.  See how these passages are as relevant to us, today, as they were when they were first penned over twenty centuries ago. 

99-Year-Old WWII Veteran Walks to Raise £1000 for National Health Service

News from the UK, Captain Tom Moore, a WWII veteran, set out to raise £1000, for the National Health Service by walking around his garden 100 times just before his 100th birthday has now exceeded his goal. At the time of writing this, he has raised over £30,000,000, and the donations are still pouring in.

In just a few days this humble and modest man has become a household name not just in the UK, but around the world, as his now legendary charitable effort to support the National Health Service have inspired an overwhelming international response. In a bid to help the battle-weary Doctors, Nurses, and Staff in the fight against Covid-19, Captain Tom decided to try and raise £1,000 by walking around his garden. As it turns out, Captain Tom is something of an over-achiever. God bless you Captain Tom, your spirit inspires us all.

Who’s most important?

(again we have a blog from Rob Hoagland, one of our many theologians-in-residence. Enjoy!)

Since Covid-19 reached our shores, I have been seeing tons of posts, about truck drivers, how important they are, and how they are single-handedly saving the American people. I’ve seen these to the point its almost infuriating (but maybe that’s just me; I get mad about weird things). Yes, they are important, but not the absolute most important, like some of these memes are boldly claiming. Then I see a meme that’s a lot more up my alley, that says something like: if you have enjoyed a book, movie, music, etc. to help you through the quarantine. You should thank an artist, you know, the true heroes…. 

Basically, there are a whole lot of people saying who should be making what, who the country actually depends on, and who is more important than who. Which, as someone who has grown up in the church, to me it is a rather familiar story. 1 Cor 12 talks about the body of Christ, and it sounds a whole lot like the Corinthians were arguing about who was more important: Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be?

And yes, absolutely, sometimes the “book” of Warrenton can look a bit like that, where we think that ours, or possibly even someone else’s talent isn’t as important, or can’t be used for the church. The song leader cannot say to the social media coordinator, “Because you are not a song leader, you are not part of the body.” Covid-19 has had the amazing side effect of making us see some things in a different light. Before the virus, our social media presence was nice, it was novel, and maybe it could help bring a few of those elusive youths in, but if we’re honest, our social media game wasn’t very strong. Now, in the midst of the virus, we see just how important that talent is.  And I honestly feel that without Neil’s immense knowledge, we would be dead in the water, or at the very least run a lot less smoothly. Now seamstresses and crafters are being thought of when it isn’t anywhere close to VBS and we are out of costumes. And Bruces’s talents, while I think we have always known to be useful, how much more apparent are they, now that we are a church in lockdown operating on a shoestring budget? This is the time that all our “small”, “worthless”, “novel”, “inconsequential” talents are really taking a forefront, and I am really glad for that, because we have some amazing talent in the church. 

Is any of this to say that the old “key” talents are any less useful? NO! There will be a time (hopefully soon) when those gifts will be returning to the forefront, but when they do, let’s not forget our hidden gems.