Philippians reading 25

Philippians 4
New International Version

21 Greet all God’s people in Christ Jesus. The brothers and sisters who are with me send greetings. 22 All God’s people here send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.

23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

 

How long would it take to greet every saint in Christ Jesus? For Paul in the first century AD, not too long perhaps; for us 20 centuries later, considerably longer. Who are the saints Paul is talking about? Just normal people like you and me – except not so normal, in that they, and we, believe in Christ Jesus. And that is who Paul means, all those who believe in Christ Jesus. Do you think of yourself as a saint? 

 

 

 

In these days of on-line worship we do tend to greet everyone in a way that we might not when meeting at the church building – we see all the faces on the screen at the same time and we can all greet each person as they ‘join’ the meeting rather than just the person on welcome duty have that opportunity. Will we continue to do that when we do meet in the church again?

 

 

 

It is interesting to see that while Paul was being kept in prison in Rome, he knew that even in Caesar’s own household people were being convicted and converted so there were believers within the ermperor’s own house. Amazing – one wonders how they managed to keep their jobs! Perhaps through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

 

 

 

And so Paul draws this letter to a close as he does most of his letters, blessing the readers at Philippi with the wish or hope that they will all know Christ within them and be able to show that grace to all who meet them.

Philippians reading 20

Philippians 4
New International Version

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

These are very familiar verses, and the basis of numerous hymns and songs. So much is packed into these four short verses it is hard to know what to focus on, but the four words ‘The Lord is near.’ are what hit me as I read them. The Lord is near, he is near through the Holy Spirit living within us; he is near through his word – the bible; he is near – and because he is near we do not need to worry or be afraid, but we can rejoice, and place all our concerns before God in prayer. In doing so we will know the peace of God deep within us, keeping our hearts and minds safe and completing the circle – keeping us close to Jesus, so the Lord is near. 

 

 

 

Let us all rejoice in the Lord and thank God that he is near to us. Let us bring our supplications with thanksgiving and rejoice in the peace we know deep within.

Philippians reading 15

Philippians 3
New International Version

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

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

 

Having drawn attention to and praised so many of his co-workers Paul suddenly changes tack (many scholars think 3:2-4:1 was a separate letter which was later incorporated into the first letter) and after a strange warning about dogs, evil workers and those who mutilate the flesh, focuses on his own story of the ‘life in the flesh’ as Saul, up to the moment on the road to Damascus when he was struck blind. His own background passed all the tests that might be brought to meet strict Jewish requirements, including circumcision or ‘mutilation of the flesh’, but in which, following that Damascus road experience, he realises is meaningless as it is all mere outward show, and pointless if the inner truth isn’t there. 

 

 

 

I doubt any of us would have such a perfect CV as Saul, but I am confident that we do all know with Paul that it is the inner ‘me’ and our commitment to Christ that is much more important than any worldly CV, perfect or otherwise.

 

 

 

Thank you, Father, that you have given us a much simpler – and less physically painful – way to salvation, as we place our belief and trust in you, and help us to help others to know that too. 

 

 

Philippians reading 10

Philippians 2
New International Version

12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.

 

Paul is confident that his friends at Philippi are following his instructions even though he isn’t there, but urges them again to look to God for their guidance which in itself would please God, warning them that doing things in their own strength and their own mind is not something to contemplate. 

 

God is at work in us too, enabling us both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Let us rejoice that God has chosen us to work for and with him, and seek his strength and guidance in the daily living of our lives.

 

 

 

Father, thank you for choosing me as one of your witnesses today ; thank you for entrusting me with continuing the work that your Son Jesus started two thousand years ago, and thank you for giving me your Spirit to guide me in living my life for you and being your voice, hands and feet on Northway today. Amen.

Philippians reading 5

Philippians 1
New International Version

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 

 

Paul remains remarkably positive and optimistic. Having encouraged his readers at Philippi to be a blessing to each other and those around them, to allow God to continue shaping their lives, to overflow with love and to grow in knowledge and insight, and to rise above rivalry and divisions in the church, he now touches on something a little darker, the possibility that he might be facing death. He is in prison, as Heather told us on Monday, probably when he had been sent to Rome to be tried, and yet he is still continuing to rejoice. He knows his brothers and sisters at Philippi are praying for him, he knows that the Holy Spirit is helping him and he knows that whatever the outcome he will be free – either freed on earth to continue preaching Jesus Christ, or sentenced to death and in heaven with Jesus Christ. Rather than worry about which way it will go Paul is asking that he will be bold in his own defense by doing what he would be doing if he was free – preaching Jesus Christ and exalting him.

 

 

 

Let us pray that despite our current situation, whether we are coping or not, we will continue to focus on God rather than ourselves and speak boldly about Jesus Christ and his saving grace for all. Let us pray it for ourselves and each other, knowing that our brothers and sisters at Northway are praying for me, for you, for each other.

Advent Devotions – Friday 11 December

BC:AD

This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future’s
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing
Happened.  Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.

U.A.Fanthorpe

Before Christ – BC:AD – Anno Domini (the year of the Lord) or before and after as U.A. Fanthorpe puts it in her poem.  And her before and after focuses on that infinitesimal nanosecond between the two ‘when nothing happened’ and the Romans had nothing better to do than count heads, and yet is the point at which Jesus was born and everything happened to the point that the reckoning of time in the then known world changed.  What an amazing moment when God came to earth and was born as a helpless baby and yet for most people at the time it was just another moment when nothing happened.

Much is being discussed on the media of whether Christmas can be celebrated this year but most people today only celebrate the social trappings that have become associated with the festival and have become traditional in a relatively short space of time: the exact opposite of Fanthorpe’s description of Jesus’ birth.  What a contrast of the non-celebration of the most amazing nanosecond in history and the obscenely extravagant celebrations of nothing in most people’s lives.  With the benefit of hind-sight we can celebrate that amazing moment in history, not with an overspend on excesses of food and drink and unwanted gifts, but with real rejoicing in our hearts, with joy in our voices in well-known carols as our minds remember again God’s gift of Hope, Jesus, come to save us.  Let us share it with everyone we come into contact with, as and when we can!

Verse and Prayer for Friday 20 November

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.  I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
Psalm 9: 1-2

It is so easy to read or sing these words, as it is so many of the scriptures, but really thinking about them and whether I can really say them truthfully is hard.  

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart: but do I?  Have I really given my whole heart or are there little corners I’ve hidden away?  Even when I’m reading or singing, there are times when I know there are things I’ve not given to God, or I’m wondering about what to have for lunch, or whether that person wearing that purple jumper knows it really isn’t their colour.  

I will tell of all your wonderful deeds: Sometimes I tell of quite a few of them, but all of them?  Do I know my bible well enough to know all that are in there, and what about what God has done in my life? And do I sometimes shy away from telling of God’s wonderful deeds, a little worried – even ashamed – to talk about them for fear of being laughed at?

God is the Most High and we should sing, be glad and exult in Him, giving those last corners of our heart to Him, reading His word so we know of all His wonderful deeds in scripture as well as those in our own lives which we can tell to others who need to hear about Him, or to share with others who also have deeds to tell about His work in their lives.

Praise you, Lord God, O Most High, that you know my whole heart, even when I don’t give thanks to you with all of it.  Help me to flush out those little corners, to put Peter’s docking band on them and see them fall away.  I will then have more wonderful deeds to tell of as you help me to victory over my sins.  I will be glad and exult in you and I will sing praise to your name.   Amen.

Verse and Prayer for Friday 13 November

Keep your face always toward the sunshine and shadows will fall behind you.

Walt Whitman

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And the rain fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

Irish Blessing

Not a verse today but something which Walt Whitman wrote and an Irish Blessing. Whitman was an American poet, essayist and journalist by profession, and a Humanist in his belief, and his words are, in a way, just a statement of fact: if you always face the sun (or the light) the shadows will always fall behind you. The Irish Blessing also has the sun falling on our face, in which case we must be facing the sun and any shadows, although not mentioned in the blessing, be behind us.

If we always look towards God, the trials and tribulations of daily life will be in the shadows behind us and not get blown out of perspective. As we look towards God we will be less likely to be tempted into doing, saying, or thinking the wrong thing as we concentrate on God and the good things in the light in front of us.

Father God, thank you that you are light and in you there is no darkness. Thank you that we can look to you and see your goodness and the good things you have for us – those already given, those for today, and those yet to come. Help us to keep the shadows behind us and guide us in your paths of righteousness. Amen.

Verse and Prayer for Friday 6 November

Luke 18:9-14
Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people, thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector.  I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”  But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”  I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Although our scripture today is a parable Jesus told to those who considered themselves righteous and regarded others with contempt, we can learn a number of other things from it.  It contains Jesus’ simplest guide to prayer ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!”  Many liturgies have a prayer of confession after the initial call to worship, saying sorry and admitting our shortcomings to God and we would do well to follow this pattern. The tax-collector in the parable didn’t even move on from this admission of sin and request for mercy to ask for anything else for himself or to intercede for others.  

The parable also tells us not to make assumptions about other people.  How did the Pharisee know that the tax-collector didn’t also do as he did and fast twice a week and give a tenth of all his income – he didn’t!  He assumed that because he was a tax-collector he wouldn’t do such things.

Father God, be merciful to me a sinner. Forgive me for making assumptions about other people and judging them when I am just as much a sinner as they are.  God, be merciful to me a sinner.  Forgive me for the times I fail to ask for your forgiveness and try to live while still carrying burdens I should have brought to Jesus’ cross and left there.  God, be merciful to me a sinner.  Forgive me and bless me in all you would have me do and be and achieve for you today.  May I bring glory to your name.  Amen.

Verse and Prayer for Friday 30 October

John 4 Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, verses 34-38

In this passage of scripture Jesus tells us that the sower and the reaper are not always the same person, as some of us thought about in our Harvest service a few weeks ago.  We may sow and not see the results, or we may reap the harvest of another sower.  Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman at the well and the disciples were surprised at her – and many other Samaritans’ – belief following this encounter.  This was a double surprise – Jesus bothering to talk to a Samaritan and a woman – but to Jesus she was just another human being who needed to hear his message; race and gender had no relevance to her need to be saved, unless it be that her need was greater since to others she did not count.  As we meet people who need to hear about Jesus we do not know what they might have already heard about him and must guard against preconceptions of who ‘it might be worth witnessing to’; everyone needs to hear the good news! The main thing is to be ready to witness to everyone and be happy to sow or reap as the relationship develops in God’s planning.

Father God, help us to see everyone with your eyes and love them with your heart.  Make us blind to the unconscious bias in our own eyes and hearts as we witness to those around us who need to hear about you.  Give us your grace and your words to talk to them, your hands to help them as far as we are able at this time of social distancing.   Amen.