Category Archives: Sunday

The Firsts: Philemon 1 – Grace and Freedom

NASB Philemon 1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
6 and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake.9 yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you—since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus—10 I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment,
16 no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Philemon is clearly the wronged party in this story of slavery and freedom.  The slave Onesimus has effectively stolen his “property” simply by running away from him.  Onesimus ran away hoping to find freedom in the crowded city of Rome. God had a different plan to teach him about a different kind of freedom from a man “now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus.”  The Apostle Paul writes of “my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment.” Onesimus found his freedom in the faith of Christ from a man in chains.

God led Onesimus to Paul in that crowded city.  It was receiving grace and freedom that made it possible for him to return to the master he’d run away from.  It was receiving grace and freedom that made it possible for Philemon to accept Paul’s word that Onesimus has become part of the fellowship of faith and “more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.  

What began as a story of slavery and freedom God turned into a blessing of grace and freedom for both Philemon and Onesimus.  

The Firsts: II Timothy 1 – Fly!

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus,… 3 I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day…. 6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you… 13 Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Long before I recognized Jesus as “Savior” I believed he was the Son of God.  Those two things are very different but even in those early days I knew enough to ask: “how can you overcome that life teaches you to build a protective shell around yourself?”  That reminded me of this short video.  It’s a visual picture of what’s at the heart of evangelism; the desire to nurture the vulnerability of new life with “the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus.“ It’s also a lesson about what the heart of an evangelist looks like; prepared, persistent and present.

Do you remember when you were freed from your protective shell you were stuck in?  Do you remember how helpless and exposed you felt? Was there an “evangelist” who maybe looked like a neighbor or friend who was prepared to nourish you with their “prayers night and day…by the will of God…according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus?”  Maybe today, you’ll have the chance to be an evangelist for someone longing to break out of their shell. This is your reminder: “fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you… Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard…” Fly!

The Firsts: II Thessalonians 1 – Simple Addition

TLB 
11 And so we keep on praying for you, that our God will make you the kind of children he wants to have—will make you as good as you wish you could be!—rewarding your faith with his power.

MSG
11 …we pray for you all the time—pray that our God will make you fit for what he’s called you to be, pray that he’ll fill your good ideas and acts of faith with his own energy so that it all amounts to something.

NIV 
11 With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.

God + Prayer = You
– as good as you wish you could be 
– fit for what he’s called you to be 
– made worthy of his calling
– with faith rewarded with his power
– with good ideas and acts of faith filled with his own energy
– with every desire for goodness and deeds prompted by faith brought to fruition

The Firsts: Colossians 1 – Sacramental Personality

📌 NIV 9…We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives…
📌 NLT 11 We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need.
📌 NLT 28…perfect [or mature] in [your] relationship to Christ.  

It’s interesting that Paul’s long ago words are prayers of encouragement from an old friend I’ve never even met.  There’s another complete stranger who’s become a friend over the years too: Oswald Chambers.  His book My Utmost for His Highest has been a meaningful companion to my life of faith for almost 40 years now.  That’s pretty notable considering it’s “just” a 365-day devotional.  It’s online, free and most importantly a searchable resource.  [https://utmost.org]

Here are two perspectives from Chamber’s writing on Colossians 1 that directed my own thoughts.
📌 [9/30] sacramental personality.
📌 [11/9] If we preach the effects of Redemption in human life instead of the revelation regarding Jesus, the result in those who listen is not new birth, but refined spiritual culture

Jesus is our redemption. Our salvation is the revelation of him and that changes our heart and mind about many things. In my own experience as dramatic as that revelation is it doesn’t automatically change the habits of personality.  I think what Oswald Chambers calls sacramental personality is exactly what Paul is addressing here. Sacramental personality is letting the transformation of that revelation to your heart and mind reveal itself in your personality too.  That’s why Paul prays for “God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.”

Sacramental personality is our post-redemption challenge. It’s pretty easy to get comfortable with the assurance of your salvation and end up finding you’re only part of the “refined spiritual culture.”  It’s very easy to excuse personality issues as “it’s just the way I am.” Jesus has done his part, he’s changed your heart and mind. You now belong to him but your personality is where you begin to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” That’s why Paul reminds us “we also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need” to be ”perfect [or mature] in [your] relationship to Christ.

The Firsts: Ephesians 1 – Destiny

“Predestined” is an attention getting word. The dictionary definition of predestined is “an outcome or course of events determined in advance by divine will or fate.”  I’ve heard the “elevator” explanation of predestination: when you step into an elevator you trust it’s going to take you where you want to go.  The “airplane” explanation is similar; you get on the plane trusting the pilot will get you safely to the planned destination. Those explanations make some sense to me. They’re based on faith not fate. Nobody gets on an elevator or in a plane saying “whatever will be, will be.” 

What doesn’t make sense to me is that the God who sacrificed his own Son to remove sin’s power to destroy us would then turn around and pick and choose those who would be saved.  The phrase “turn around” became my catalyst to turn these eight verses around and read them in reverse changing only the punctuation at the end of verse 14 because that’s a question I could answer.

V14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory[?]
V13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 
V12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 
V11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 
V10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. 
V9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 
V8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding,  
V7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace,

I turned around those verses and as I read I found myself caring less about my understanding of how “predestined” relates to personal choice and more about the question I could answer.  “Who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory[?]  Predestination is still an elusive concept but I do know the answer to V14 is where destiny begins.  The big turn around ends at the right destination too; “in him [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.  

The Firsts: 2 Corinthians 1 – Comfort

2 Corinthians 1:3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4 He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 5 For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.  6 Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer.  7 We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us. [NLT]

This passage is remarkable for the number of times some form of the word “comfort” is used in just five verses.  Certainly that’s repeated for emphasis.   The need for comfort is more frequent that we realize and that need doesn’t always look the same.  Sometimes what comfort looks like turns out to be a surprise too.  We know “God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort” but when faced with a heart in need it “takes one to know one.” 

Comfort is the presence of one needy heart’s response in humility to the need of another.  It may take the more familiar form of shared scars of experience, love, grace, compassion, Scripture and prayer…OR sometimes it may just take a plate of cookies

Let your heart respond…”when they are troubled…give them the same comfort God has given us.”   Comfort is not meant to be the solution.  Comfort is the revelation of Jesus from one heart to another and He’s the solution.

Jesus was a revolutionary, who did not become an extremist, since he did not offer an ideology, but Himself.” Henri Nouwen from The Wounded Healer

The Firsts – Romans 1 and Contrast

There’s a thread of thought that ties together the different parts of God’s Word written by different authors.   It’s a thread that always emphasizes the contrast between what God is willing to offer and what man in his own spirit is willing to ignore. 

Here’s what God is willing to offer: Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”  [NIV]

Here’s what man is often willing to ignore: “Romans 1:21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. 22 Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools.” [NLT]

Not taking notice of God is not a neutral position at all.   The Bible brings that contrast into clear focus with the daunting list of consequences of not accepting God’s offer and the outcome of choosing what man in his own spirit is willing to ignore “Romans 1:26…Worse followed. Refusing to know God, they soon didn’t know how to be human either.” [MSG]