Scripture: Ephesians 1:16
I don’t stop giving thanks to God for you when I remember you in my prayers.
Thought for the Day: These are familiar words, but today, they are words I wish to repeat to the people of Cypress Creek Christian Church. This congregation has been incredibly generous and kind to me and my family. I am currently beside myself with excitement as I think about leaving for Greece in the next couple of days. What has impressed me is that I have not heard a single word of complaint about my Sabbatical. It really doesn’t come as a surprise, but I know fellow clergy who were continually browbeaten about their Sabbaticals, a few of them got to the point that they cancelled their Sabbatical all together. Instead, Cypress Creek has been excited for me, offering words of blessing these last few weeks. It means a lot to me. Now I truly believe the church will benefit from my experiences in Greece, but no one has suggested that as a prerequisite. So today, I give thanks to God for you, and I will remember you in my prayers throughout this journey.
Prayer: So often we go from day to day without pausing long enough to appreciate all the amazing people who bless our lives. Confessing that failure, I pause in this moment to express my gratitude to you, Gracious God, for you are the source of all goodness and generosity. Clearly the people of Cypress Creek Christian Church know your grace. Amen.
Scripture: Philippians 1:21-24
Because for me, living serves Christ and dying is even better. If I continue to live in this world, I get results from my work. But I don’t know what I prefer. I’m torn between the two because I want to leave this life and be with Christ, which is far better. However, it’s more important for me to stay in this world for your sake.
Thought for the Day: I am going to say it out loud. Personally, I think it is better to live. Paul can have this internal debate over whether it is better to live or to die, but I’m going to stick with living. Of course, I have the luxury of saying that as I sit back in my air condition home with plenty of food within 15 feet, and no one (that I know of) wants me dead. Paul has been on a journey that has seen tremendous highs, and equally difficult lows. He currently finds himself in prison, and a death sentence is what the Romans do to folks like him. I don’t believe Paul says these things because he has some death wish, but at some point a person has to prepare him/herself for what is coming. Paul appears to have found a peace, and though he’d like to continue his work, he understands that his death may come in the next hour or so. What does it take to have that kind of peace in one’s life? I imagine a lot of people claim to have that kind of peace, but what they have resembles the peace of Paul in no way, shape or form. The Christian journey is an ongoing and intentional odyssey into greater and greater peace. Not simply a lack of hate or violence or turmoil, but genuine peace that exudes faithful contentment with whatever the next moment brings.
Prayer: Keep me moving forward, God of Peace, as I desire to know a greater depth of peace tomorrow as compared to what I know today. Amen.
Come And Hear
Rev. Marilyn Fiddmont
Scripture: Philippians 1:12-14
Brothers and sisters, I want you to know that the things that have happened to me have actually advanced the gospel. The whole Praetorian Guard and everyone else knows that I’m in prison for Christ. Most of the brothers and sisters have had more confidence through the Lord to speak the word boldly and bravely because of my jail time.
Thought for the Day: As has been stated recently in some other devotionals, Paul was writing from prison (a jail cell). Scholars debate which imprisonment, though I tend to believe it was Rome (his last before his death). If that’s the case, this letter would have been written around 60 or 61AD. Paul referenced the “Praetorian Guard,” an elite military group within the Roman army. These soldiers knew who Paul was and, we can only guess because of his passionate preaching, they also knew who Christ was. These kinds of stories raise a very important and often challenging question, a question about how God works in the world. Did God “cause” Paul to be imprisoned as part of a larger plan, and if so, what does that say about God’s relationship to human suffering? Or did Paul’s preaching have repercussions, including causing discomfort among the authorities. Paul was arrested, but God was able to use him in that situation. How we answer that question has some pretty dramatic implications in regard to our understanding of God – both theoretical and practical. If you believe God “caused” that to happen, then you will have a very different understanding when you are sitting with your doctor and you receive some bad news. If you believe certain things just happen, maybe because of our choices or maybe just because there is disease and suffering in this world, but God can use us amidst those experiences, then you will have a different response. So often I have had someone say, “Oh, it’s just semantics.” That is usually said by someone who has never sat in the doctor’s office and received bad news. It is never said by someone who find him/herself in prison or persecuted for simply sharing love. If you can’t guess, I am one that believes that God is never the cause of our suffering and pain, but is the One who can bring true ministry from our misery.
Prayer: You are love, O Lord, and you love me beyond measure. No matter what life and the world throw at me, I pray that your love will be a source of encouragement and a means by which I find value and purpose. I ask this in the name of Jesus, the one who showed this love so clearly. Amen.
Scripture: Philippians 1:9
This is my prayer: that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight.
Thought for the Day: It has been said that we were made for love. I would claim that to be true, and even take it a step further, saying that we were made through love for the sake of love. At the same time, life is complicated, and for that reason, loving can be complicated. When life has no stress, we are getting plenty of sleep, and we are not dragging behind us a bunch of unresolved stuff (grief, anger, disappointment, etc.), love probably comes easy for most. But place us in a situation of insecurity because of monetary problems, and then one of the kids gets sick and is keeping us up at night, all of a sudden love does not flow quite as well. Not only are we irritable and cranky, but there is fear brought on by a sense of scarcity. Suddenly we are looking for someone to blame. We find a group of people, who have absolutely no connection to our problems, and we cast all the blame upon them because they cannot defend themselves. We hate them, demonize them, and hold them up as the reason for all our struggles. Both religion and politics have encouraged a blame-game sort of transference as a way of stoking people’s insecurities and fears. It is a great tool for those who are driven by power and greed. When Paul speaks of our love becoming something more through knowledge and insight, I hear someone who is encouraging his readers to go to school for this love thing. Part of what we do in community, of communal worship and study, is doing the necessary “classroom” work so that we can be successful in sharing love when love is not easy to share. We were made through love for the sake of love, but it does require us to attend the school of Agape (Greek word for God’s unconditional love) if we truly desire to be that love day in and day out.
Prayer: I have plenty of stuff to work on! I have places of weakness, especially when I am tired or feeling insecure. For these reasons, I seek your help, Merciful God, and seek the insights of those who journey with me. Let me forever be a student of your love so that when I am tested, I can actually receive a passing grade. Amen.
Scripture: Philippians 1:4-5
I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy. I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now.
Thought for the Day: Can I confess something here? I have always been troubled by the words, “…and it’s always a prayer full of joy.” Now the way it is often translated, it makes it sound as if the prayers specifically for the church in Philippi is what brings joy to the heart of Paul, but I had to write a paper on this verse years ago. Another confession, my Greek was never very good. But as I translated the original Greek of this verse, it could be translated in a way that made it sound that all of Paul’s prayers are full of joy. Strangely, there is a part of me that hopes that is not the way to translate it, but there is just enough possibility that I am called to task. You see, a lot of my prayers don’t have a lot of joy. I don’t want to make it sound as if they are all dark and foreboding, but I take a lot of pain and heartache to God in prayer. It’s rarely mine. Instead, the pain-soaked words belong to those who talk to me, confide in me, and confess to me. As a pastor, I need to do something with that information and knowledge. I can’t just let it sit, and so it goes with me in prayer. It is almost a debriefing session. I tend to think that Paul’s prayers were full of joy no matter the circumstance. I believe Paul’s faith, though troubled and challenged and harassed, was linked so tightly to Jesus that joy was always present. The current situation could be dark and frightening, yet the hope and love put on display in Jesus could not be diminished. This is where I need to work, for though my relationship with Jesus is pretty good, the darkness can appear to eclipse the joy. Maybe you find yourself needing to work on this as well. Please understand that I’m not suggesting some sort of naive or unrealistic understanding of suffering and pain. It is real, yet at the end of the day, it is powerful to know that no matter what the suffering and pain brings, I cannot be taken somewhere that love isn’t fully present. That should be a catalyst for joy.
Prayer: May joy – the joy centered in your unconditional and far-reaching love – be a part of every aspect of my life. Lord God, I ask that I be tethered to your joy even as I find myself wading deeply into the rough and unforgiving seas of life. Amen.
OUR YOUNG PEOPLE
ATTENDING CHURCH CAMP
Scripture: Philippians 1:1-2
From Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus. To all those in Philippi who are God’s people in Christ Jesus, along with your supervisors and servants. May the grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Thought for the Day: Paul knew these people well. He did not use his usual list of credentials (apostle) as you don’t usually list your degrees or resume when writing to your friends. Philippi was a city of great significance, founded by Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. It was located along the Egnatian Way (Via Egnatia), an important road constructed by the Romans in the 2nd Century BC. It also was located near some significant gold mines, and for that reason, there was a lot of money moving through Philippi. The language of ‘grace and peace’ would have been well known by the Philippians as Caesar was understood as the provider of grace and peace, for he was understood as the Savior of the World. For Paul to speak of Jesus as Lord, and the God of this Jesus as the provider of Peace and Grace would have been a bit shocking to some. Some scholars suggest it would have been consider treason. Yet Paul wants these followers of Jesus to understand their unique place in a very important city in the Roman Empire. He doesn’t want them to hide or water down their message. Instead, he is inviting them to be bold and courageous. So often we can sprint our way through a few lines of scripture without ever pondering what was really being suggested. Paul offered a beautiful greeting, but one that carried with it a risky invitation. Paul’s words would have been read out loud to the community in Philippi, and so in the first few sentences, a community would have been declaring that the Roman Emperor, the most powerful human being on the face of the planet, was really not who he claimed to be. Wow! That’s powerful stuff!
Prayer: May the language of faith that I hear and share not be released from my lips without being processed in my mind and heart. Let me, O Lord, hear and discern the challenge being put before those who first heard these words. Let me hear and discern the challenge being put before me this day. Amen.
A Quote Pastor Bruce posted to the church’s Facebook page…
Prayer for the Week: Your church is born! Your church is alive! Your church is on fire! O Living and Life-Giving Spirit, you provide life and purpose and power to this, your body in the world today. In this Season of Pentecost, we look to you as the source of revival. We call upon your Spirit to break open the facades that we have created that seek a winsome and non-threatening image of Christianity. We call upon your Spirit to shatter institutional religion that seeks self-preservation at the expense of life-giving and life-sacrificing love. We call upon your Spirit to create anew your vision for the church, your Body at work in the world. Come, Holy Spirit, rebuild us from the ground up. Prepare us to be the voice for those who have no voice; to be advocates for justice in a world where too many human lives are viewed as expendable; to be a guiding hand to those who feel utterly lost; to be a source of encouragement to those who know only hopelessness; to be prophets in a world that still seeks to kill the prophets; to be those who passionately announce the Good News of your relentless and reckless love. Too often, we talk about going to church on Sunday morning, yet your Spirit is challenging us to be the church every hour of each day. In the name of Jesus, may we rise to the challenge. Amen.