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The MCF Summer Bible Reading Challenge takes on a different format this summer. We are focusing on the New Testament book of Philippians, taking our good, sweet, lazy inter-tubing-down-the-river time, perusing only one chapter a month. What? Just one chapter a month? Yep. Nice and slow like a fat ol’ bumblebee humming around a field of wildflowers on a hot summer day.
You can choose your level of commitment, from skimming a monthly, on-line devotional to independent, “going deeper” study. It’s up to you. Do you want to receive an I’m floating-on-the-surface, skimpy blessing? Or a my-cup-is-full-and-running-over ‘cause I dove deeper blessing? Choose your preferred dose of blessing and plan accordingly. This is a great opportunity to apply the “just 3 minutes a day in the Word” challenge from Pastor Joey.
So, no sunscreen needed for this Sonshine, but grab your snorkeling duds for exploring and jump on in. The water’s fine. Actually, it’s more than fine. It’s healing and inspiring and live-giving. God has breathed every word and He will use it to “show us truth, expose our rebellion, correct our mistakes and train us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are shaped for the tasks God has for us”. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, the Message)
The map for this laid-back journey looks like this for the months of June - September:
Week 1: Read the on-line focus devotional for the week. Easy-peasy. Your ankles are wet.
Week 2: Read the focus chapter in two translations, highlighting words or phrases that strike you. [If you haven’t already, download the free YouVersion on the Holy Bible app onto your devices. Pronto, you have dozens of translations at your disposal.] Your commitment is growing as is your blessing. Your waist deep in the living, pulsating Word of God.
Week 3: Go Deeper! Get your snorkel on and, using a study Bible or concordance, use this week to examine each verse, working through anything that stuck in your crawl or made you go “hmmmmm….” during your readings in Week 1 and 2. You’re soaked head to toe and dripping with glory.
Week 4: Now, tell us about your favorite discovery/truth for the month from soaking in the Word. A conversation post will be started the fourth Monday on MCF Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/MechanicsburgChristianFellowship/), where you have all week to share a thought, inspiration or testimony. Keep your sharing pint-size so your audience isn’t snoozing up under their beach umbrella when you’re done. Just a shout out to your Lifeguard and fellow swimmers for what He’s opened your eyes to this month. Praying to hear more than “crickets” come June 24.
The devotional for Week 1 will post on Facebook and our MCF website (mcf-online.com] on Monday, June 3. Mark your calendars. Set an alarm. Write it on your bathroom mirror. Watch for the banner-furling airplane over the skies of … wait. Scratch that. Maybe an accountability partner? A small group focus? Chipotle lunch conversation? Whatever you need to do to make a splash, or at least a ripple, in our MCF Summer Reading Challenge, “just do it”.
Hand in hand brothers and sisters, let’s get into the Word together.
Often in difficult, hindering circumstances, especially ones that prevent us from accomplishing what God has called us to do, we cry out to be rescued. We plead that God would change our situation. We may wrestle with feelings that God has abandoned us. If this thinking prevails, we soon find ourselves ineffective, feeling oppressed, filling with bitterness and hopelessness. But perhaps it is not our circumstances that need changed, but our perspective.
In Philippians 1:12-14, we encounter an interesting dichotomy of perspectives. The church in Philippi versus Paul in their opposing views concerning Paul’s circumstances; his imprisonment in Rome. The church interpreted this as a huge setback. Paul has been in chains for years and the advancement of the gospel to other nations, his passion and God-directed mission, appear at a standstill. But Paul is about to blow that perspective out of the water.
Let’s get a little background. Paul has endured an incredible journey, consuming two years, that entailed: false accusations, near death beatings by fellow Jews, being arrested and chained by the Romans, facing several hearings and trials, and his military escort that sailed into a harrowing storm, culminating in a shipwreck.
Several months later, Paul finally reached his destination, Rome, where he was handed over to the “captain of the guard” to await his trial. Despite being constantly chained to the wrist of a soldier, with no freedom to move about the city, Paul was allowed to stay in a rented house where he welcomed all who came to see him.
So, the church in Philippi receive word of Paul’s situation, including words like shipwreck, chains, guards, prison. Perhaps they fasted and prayed for a quick trial and resolution with an immediate release so he could get on with his work. But as the situation drug on for years, they become troubled and discouraged. Why would God allow this great missionary and teacher to be imprisoned, under false charges, while his ministry comes to a screeching halt?
Then they receive a letter from Paul with these stunning words. “Know this, brothers! What has happened to me has has turned out to ADVANCE the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard, and to everyone else, that I am in chains for Christ.”
The word Paul uses for “advance” is the intense Greek word “prokope”, which depicts “the cutting away of any barriers hindering the progress of an army; to beat or drive forward”.
Paul has every reason to be frustrated and discouraged. Precious years are lost and his great vision of taking the gospel to other lands and peoples is halted. Yet, he does not perceive his ministry as standing still or even waning mediocre while in prison. Why? Barriers have been broken. It is a time of full-on advancement of the Good News.
Guards who were chained to Paul day and night for two years (the finest and most trusted selection of the Roman army, none-the-less), heard over and over about Christ as Paul shared with his visitors. But even more, do we have any doubt that Paul, with boldness, would have opened up discussions about Jesus with the soldier he was bound to at the wrist? With the rotation of the guards, many heard the gospel. And as hearts were won to Christ, that good news would spread through the city and beyond, advancing the kingdom of God.
Likewise, my friends, God seldom changes our circumstances immediately. Instead He desires to change our perspective from a human viewpoint to a sovereign one. In that change of outlook we find hope, courage and faith to move forward.
We are being called to advance the gospel; to get out of our spiritual ruts where perhaps we have dug-in during a hard. God will open doors because of our difficult circumstances, to take us somewhere we otherwise could never go.
Every single thing we perceive as a disadvantage, God can use to His advantage.
My dear brothers and sisters, that hard thing you are up against can turn from a barrier into an avenue to spread the love of Jesus to hurting people. Like Paul, let us strive to understand and embrace God’s perspective in our hard.
(find more inspirational reading @ revablaker.com, Treasures in the Hard)
July’s study of Philippians 2 comes filled with so many nuggets of truth, we need a decade of summers to excavate its depths. So we focus this week on a small portion that lies smack-dab in the middle. Let’s pick apart these three verses, applying this exhortation of Paul to the church in Philippi to our own body of believers.
“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.” v.14-16a
Though these concepts can be applied to us as individuals, in this context Paul is talking about the body of believers. Together we are called to set our house in order so that we can accomplish God’s purpose for us as a witness to Him to the world.
There are two phrases in this passage that can make us cringe: “do everything without complaining or arguing”, and, “blameless and pure”.
Brothers and sisters in Christ are to work together without complaining and arguing; avoiding rebellious murmurs and complaints against each other. Reaching up from a place of selfishness and self-righteousness, we are inclined to express discontent and grumblings, stirring up disputes that profit nothing, and lead to a spirit of division. The exact opposite of Christ’s example so beautifully expressed in verses 6-11. Paul carries deep concern that the church not fall into disunity.
Also, we are to be without blame, so those watching cannot point a finger of criticism at the church. Echoed in Romans 12:17 (“Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.”), the church’s public conduct should keep in line with the high moral standards of the gospel so we do not provoke the contempt of unbelievers and discredit the message of salvation.
Well. That does not often describe the behavior of the church, does it? We don’t have within us the ability to live out these directives. Our self attempts do nothing more than put filthy garments over our sin-infected lives. (Isaiah 64:6)
But, what we do have within us is His Spirit. And the work is His. Blamelessness and purity are the continuation of His transforming work in our lives. God transforms our criticisms and complaints into appreciation and understanding of our differences, guiding us to find peaceable solutions to conflict. We can reflect these traits only because of Christ in us.
Also, the purpose is not bring credit or merit to us. It is not for the church’s benefit or glory; so we can boast and feel good about ourselves. But for the glory of Christ, shining through us to the lost world in which we live.
We are planted here in this place in this time, not so we can prosper, but so the message of the Good News can prosper. Not so people point to our church and our members and proclaim “What good people attend there. What a good church.” But so the joy and hope that fills us can shine and point to Jesus. It is not we who are lifted up, but Christ is lifted up and His message of salvation goes forward.
For a world hostile to the gospel surrounds the church. We see the results of this “crooked and depraved generation” all around us, every day. But as the stars shine in a darkened sky, we live as light-bearers of Jesus in a dark culture. Lanterns through which the Light of the World shines forth. By reflecting God’s character, the church stands out against the darkness of the world and reveals the transformative power of the gospel.
As we act as light bearers and “hold onto, and hold out, the word of life”, we become beacons of hope to our generation.
So shine on brothers and sisters. Allow His Spirit within to slay criticisms, complaints and arguments against each other and to continue His work of transformation into blameless and pure children of God. Go forward, holding fast to the gospel message, being light-bearers of Jesus, shining forth joy and hope to the lost around us.