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Daily Devotional

Jesus Rules Over the Rules

I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness. - Philippians 3:9 (The Message)

 

Do you ever get caught up in following rules? There is something in our nature that seems to draw us towards rules and regulations, especially when it comes to trying to be a “good person.”

In this passage for today, Paul is telling us there is a better way to be “good.” Paul didn’t want to be good, to be righteous, by completing some checklist. He found a better way in Jesus. Paul calls this God’s righteousness. See, Paul knows what it was like to try to follow rules and jump through hoops to be “good.” That was what his life was focused on before he knew Jesus. As a religious elite, following the rules became like a God to him. With Jesus, he knew all that effort was worthless.

Paul suggests for us to trust Christ. Well… trust Christ in what? It seems Paul is talking about trusting that Jesus and what He did for us on the cross. It was that act of love that makes God’s righteousness available to us all.

So it’s not about the rules. The rules that Paul is ditching were supposed to point people toward God, but the rules themselves became an idol. If Jesus is our focus, we don’t have to worry about earning our goodness. We inherit the goodness of Christ.

Take a few minutes and think about some ways you try to be “good” by your own effort. How has that worked out for you?

What would it look like for you to trust in Jesus, that His righteousness is extended to you?

Finally, spend a couple moments in prayer with Jesus to help reveal how you might be trying to follow rules in areas where you should be trusting in Jesus.

 

 

Make Our Joy Complete

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” – Phil. 2:1-2 

It all starts from remembering how deeply we are loved.  In Jesus, each one of us is seen completely, known completely, and loved completely.  That where we get our courage, that’s where we get our comfort, and that’s how our hearts and minds are changed.  Because if God can love us in all our brokenness, he can surely love that person… and that person… and that person, too.  And our joy is made complete.

Where have you risked revealing yourself to experience God’s love?  As Chris reminded us on Sunday, we often present a false version of ourselves to others, hoping to get their approval. Even if our efforts “work” in one sense, if they buy our act, our true self watches hopelessly from the sidelines, still convinced we are fundamentally unlovable.  It's just not true.

What if today you took a risk to reveal yourself in some way – your hurts, your struggles, your doubts, your fears?  What if your risk was met with genuine love?  Maybe it’s something you need to share with God in prayer; maybe it’s something you need to share with a friend over coffee.  Would you spend a few minutes talking it over with God now? 

The Never-Ending Cycle of Love

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Heb. 4:14-16

When we think of God raising Jesus up, exalting him, as we read yesterday in Phil. 2:9-11, it could be a little intimidating at first.  Rulers – kings, high priests – are awesome, literally; we stand in awe of them.  But they are often not the first place we go for help; despite their power, they are just not very approachable for average people like us.

This ruler though, this high priest, is different.  Just as God delighted in lifting him up, Jesus’ greatest delight is to help us.  He hasn’t forgotten his humanity, he hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to struggle.  And his love and his mercy towards us are overflowing.  The doors to his throne room are thrown wide open, and he beckons us closer constantly. 

God delights in lifting Jesus up; Jesus delights in lifting us up; we can take delight in lifting up others.  This is the never-ending cycle of love forming Christ-like community.  Would you take a few minutes with God and just ask him how you might pray this morning?  Perhaps he’ll give you a word or an image or someone to pray for; perhaps it will just be a moment to sit quietly in his love.

The Joy of Lifting Up

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Phil. 2:9-11

This passage comes right after the description of how Jesus so willingly humbled himself, even to the point of death for our sake.  From the very lowest of places, God raises Jesus to the very highest.  This is joy, this is triumph, this is love – power freely and gladly used to lift up the beloved.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once wrote: “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

Spend a few minutes with God mulling over these words and reflecting on a low moment or broken area in your life when someone took joy in lifting you up.  What was that like for you?  How was it an expression of the right use of power, of a strong love?  How might God use you in a similar way to care for someone else?

The Freedom of Letting Go

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” – Phil. 2:5-8

How often in life do I find myself grasping – for a sense of status, security, identity, worth.  I hold tight to the things I hope will fill me up, cover me up, make me whole.  But what we find in today’s passage is the opposite of grasping.  Where I tend to grab onto whatever I can reach with tight, anxious fingers, Jesus models a gritty but open-handed serenity.

He lets go of rank to become a servant – he’s still in the embrace of God.  He lets go of his divine form – still in the embrace of God.  He even lets go of life, is willing to die for our sake – and finds himself still in the embrace of God.  As Greg remarked on Sunday, it seems to be in the letting go of all the other "stuff" that he discovers more and more the freedom of truly resting in God. 

What do you sense God calling you to let go of today?  How might God meet you in the process?  Spend a few minutes talking with him about these things.

Our Call

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind… Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…” - Phil. 2: 1-2, 5

Community is hard!  (Just think of groups you’ve been part of before – teams, clubs, committees…)  Community with people who are really different from us is even harder.  But that’s the call we hear from God in this passage – learn how to do real community.  Learn how to live in “full accord,” in true unity.

Here at City Church, we want to grow into that call.  As our mission statement goes, we want to be a “multi-everything community of people who hear and respond to Jesus, and help others do the same.”  We truly, deeply desire to develop a Christ-like way of thinking and being and the community that comes with it. 

How do you personally respond to this call?  Spend a few quiet moments this morning asking Jesus to help you notice, gently, the parts of you that come alive in response to this invitation, and the parts of you that shrink away.  Take comfort and be encouraged that he sees and loves you just as you are; invite him to help you this week to develop a mindset more like his.    

And in the middle

Philippians 1: 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."

Yesterday, we talked about how Jesus is the one who carries our sanctification (the process that makes us more like Jesus) to completion. But we also noted that this doesn't make things easy.

Sometimes in church, we like to pretend that having Jesus around immediately and permanently revolutionizes our lives and makes everything simple and easy. But that's just not the case. There will definitely be moments of extraordinary joy and freedom in Jesus. Lots of them, in fact.

But there will also be moments where we wonder where he is or if he has forgotten about us. When we have those moments, it can be hard to read passages like this one and believe that they are true. But they are. Do you believe that today? Talk with Jesus about it. If today's a day where you believe, thank him for his faithfulness and love. If it's a day where you don't believe, talk with him about where he is.

Start to Finish

Philippians 1: 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."

This is a wonderful promise.

There are days (sometimes many of them in a row) when I'm not sure that I'm doing this whole Jesus thing right. And there are some days when I really don't want to! But Paul says here that Jesus has started this work in us, and he's going to "carry it to completion."

There are two things here that stick out to me. The first is that word "completion." This is not a project that will be left half finished. The second is that "he who began it" will finish it. That means that it's not all on us! Of course, we participate and take part, but Jesus is the one who gives us strength and carries us through.

Chris and Diana pointed out on Sunday that this doesn't mean it will be easy (more on that tomorrow), but it does mean he'll be there. Do you find that hard to believe? If so, talk to Jesus about that today.

Pardners

Philippians 1: 4-5 "in all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,"

Here we start to see some of the reasons why Paul has such great joy over the Philippians - they had a partnership. They worked together to bring the Kingdom of God into Philippi, and in doing so they built a strong relationship. 

On Sunday, we talked about how that partnership builds relationships at City Church. There are so many people in our little family who have partnered with each other in the gospel, and who have found so much joy in each other as a result. 

What a gift that God has set it for us to build joyful relationships with each other through partnership in his Kingdom! Who might you partner with in the gospel this week? 

Every time

Philippians 1: 3 "I thank my God every time I remember you."

Who are the people in your life that you are most thankful for? Paul's letter to the Philippians opens with a statement that most of us would probably find almost unbelievable, or at least crazy humbling, if it were said about us: "Even just thinking about me causes you to stop and offer thanks?! Every time?!"

But Paul says that of an entire church in our passage today. As we spend the next month in Philippians, we'll start to get a sense of just why it is that Paul is so thankful for this group of people, but it makes me stop and think about who those people are in my life. 

Often they are people who have walked with me through difficult things. People who have laughed with me and shared their table with me. They are people with whom I have also walked in their dark times. And I have had the chance to laugh and share my table with them as well.

Who are those people for you? Take a moment this morning and thank God for them.

Built for a Purpose

Joshua 1:9 "The Lord your God is with you wherever you go."

All last week, the kids at Kids Camp learned that they were built by God for a purpose. They sang songs about it, built crafts intended to remind them of it, and learned Bible stories about the purposes for which God had built other people (like Rahab and Gideon).

Today's passage from Joshua highlights an important truth built into this idea - if God made us for a purpose, then he's going to watch out for us too. 

Sometimes it's easy to forget that God is with you. But he is. And that's pretty good to know some days. Take comfort in God's presence with you today. May you enjoy him being with you.

In Blackwater Woods

Read this poem by Mary Oliver. Consider how much beauty and power there is in truly loving God's gifts in our lives (even our own lives!) but loving God more, still. 

"In Blackwater Woods" 

Look, the trees

are turning

their own bodies

into pillars

 

of light,

are giving off the rich

fragrance of cinnamon

and fulfillment,

 

the long tapers

of cattails

are bursting and floating away over

the blue shoulders

 

of the ponds,

and every pond,

no matter what its

name is, is

 

nameless now.

Every year

everything

I have ever learned

 

in my lifetime

leads back to this: the fires

and the black river of loss

whose other side

 

is salvation,

whose meaning

none of us will ever know.

To live in this world

 

you must be able

to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

 

against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it

go,

to let it go.

Divine Dividends

Mark 8:34-35

“Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

Following Jesus is very difficult. It is often surprising on how much it costs us to live our lives for God.

Committing yourself to the work of Jesus in your life is the most expensive decision you will ever make. Jesus is a part of every facet of our lives, and He commands attention. It’s important to admit this to ourselves, and it’s also important to communicate this to our children and the people in our lives who value our opinions on spirituality and God.

Counting the cost and choosing Jesus will give us more fulfillment in our lives, our relationships, and our work. Let’s embrace the difficultly honestly and when our situation feels dire, let’s remember that, although pricey, our relationship with Jesus is infinitely more worthwhile than any of our other pursuits. 

The God Gotham Deserves

Mark 8:31-33 'He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”'

When Jesus entered Jerusalem the week He was to be crucified, the crowds surrounded Him shouting, "Hosanna!" meaning, "Save Now!" Throughout this time, many Jewish people believed the Messiah was to come help them overthrow Roman rule and grant Jews freedom once again. 

When they thought of rescue and freedom, they looked at the most obvious sign of oppression they experienced. We do the same thing all the time, don't we? If This could be gone, my life would be so much easier! If This Person would just stop, I wouldn't have to feel like this all the time! 

Jesus redeems our lives in ways we do not expect and frankly often leaves many of the sorrows we've come to most want Him to remove. Peter is not alone in his exasperation here, is he? Merely human concerns feel awfully important most of the time. And most of our human concerns probably are much smaller than overthrowing an empire! 

Jesus teaches us again and again how to get out of our own way and listen to Him. He knows what we need rescuing from far better than us. If you find yourself angry or upset with His saving capabilities this week, pray this morning for the grace and patience to listen to His instruction in your day today. 

The Ultimate Renaissance Man

Mark 8:27-30

27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” 28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” 30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

God is so many things to us. He is described as our Father, our Savior, our Light, our Redeemer, our King, and so many others it would take up this whole post just to list them. Most often when this is brought up, we are reminded of how blessed we are to have this sort of multiplicity with our God. It feels limitless. We are told to not put Him in a box or see Him as small when things get frustrating or  hard. This is often good advice, but sometimes it can feel very impersonal. 

This vastness can almost start to feel generic. We know He's always there. We know He's all powerful. The knowledge of our spiritual situations almost drowns out the overwhelming truth of God's role in our lives. He has so many roles! 

What do you need today, friends? Who do you need today? Can you ask God to fulfill that need? Explore the ways in which He does greet you in the concrete, specific minutiae of your life. When we invite Him into the small parts of ourselves, we become much more familiar with God's person. 

 

A prediction come true

Acts 2: 44-15 "All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need."

In Acts, we see the reality of Jesus' prediction that we will always have the poor but that he would not always physically be with us. And the church's response to this is radical generosity! It's exciting to see the early church giving so much of themselves in order to care for the needs of everyone.

What do you think this could look like at City Church Long Beach? What would it looks like and what would it take for us to give to anyone who has need?


The last organization for the week is His Little Feet. We've had shoe drives for them before. You can check out the work they do giving shoes and school uniforms to Long Beach kids at https://www.hislitfeet.org/

The reason for the hope that we have

Mark 14: 6-9 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them anytime you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Jesus’ response to Judas’ derision might surprise us here. Jesus’ standard line is to call us to feed the hungry and provide a bed for the homeless. But here he prioritizes himself over the poor. Why?

The answer might lie in the specific thing Jesus says Mary is preparing him for: his burial. The death and resurrection of Jesus are central to the Christian faith. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says that the resurrection is the reason for the hope that we have. It's the reason we are able to follow him in radical generosity to the poor and to our community. I wonder if Jesus is working to remind us the power of his death and resurrection here. What do you think? Why is Jesus so willing to accept this radical gift?


Today's organization is NorthEast of the Well, an organization that works with women in recovery. You can find their website here: http://northeastofthewell.org/

I want measurable outcomes!

John 12: 4-6 “But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”

In John’s version of this story, it’s specifically Judas Iscariot who grows indignant about Mary’s action. This is also interesting. In terms of the people who are named in the gospels as followers of Jesus, it strikes me that no two people are less alike than Judas and Mary. Judas (“the keeper of the purse”) eventually betrays Jesus, while Mary is the woman famous for learning at Jesus’ feet instead of helping her sister in the kitchen.

We have talked before about the possibility that Judas ultimately betrays Jesus simply because Jesus is not turning out to be the sort of Messiah that Judas hoped for. Jesus is humble, patient, and spends time with the sort of people who dump a whole bottle of nard on his feet for no apparent reason. Judas wants action, efficiency, and concrete results (he’s also a thief, but people are complex, so let’s look at one thing at a time).

I, too, want results. I want a measurable reduction in homelessness. I want specific legislation ensuring fair hiring and voting practices. And if it doesn’t help accomplish my goals, I want to burn it all to the ground!

But Jesus says here, “Hey, you’re right. That’s important, but if that’s all you’re thinking about, then you’re missing it.” So what is it that we’re missing? Spend some time contemplating that question today.


Today's organization is New Hope Grief Ministries, which journies with grieving families and individuals. You can check out their website here: http://www.newhopegrief.org/

The work of servants

John 12: 3 “Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”

In the John version of our story for this week, Mary’s gift is even more extravagant. Not only does she pour the perfume on Jesus’ feet, but she actually uses her hair to wipe down his feet.

No wonder the others in the room found her action beyond understanding. What might it mean to love Jesus so passionately that you would humble yourself so deeply and give of yourself so freely? What do you think it symbolizes that Mary not only poured all of her valuable possession on Jesus’ feet, but also used her hair to wash his feet? This must have seemed bizarre to the gathering at Simon’s house. Washing feet was the work of servants. And a woman’s hair was considered to be her glory. What do you think Mary is saying by using her hair to wash Jesus' feet in this way?


Today’s local organization is Precious Lamb Preschool, which serves the homeless children of Long Beach with free preschool. You can learn more about them here: https://www.preciouslamb.org/

Pure Nard

Mark 14: 3 “While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.”

Often, when we use this passage to talk about generosity, the commentary runs something along the lines of, “the people in the room with Jesus didn’t understand generosity at all, so make sure you’re like the woman and not like the people in the room.”

But Greg pointed us to something interesting when we looked at this passage on Sunday – this gathering took place in the home of Simon the Leper. Now, lepers in this time were outcasts. They weren’t supposed to live within the boundaries of the city, and people weren’t supposed to associate with them. So it’s worth noting that the people in this room were following Jesus at least enough that they were willing to go and be with the sick and outcast. They had figured generosity out at least that much.

This means that the folks in the room really aren’t that much different from even the best of us. It seems that they were making an honest effort at following Jesus, and that the ways in which they failed here are likely common to anyone who makes an effort to follow Jesus.

I think that will be important to keep in mind as we pick through and apply the passage this week. This conversation about generosity takes place among people who are already (at least outwardly) living generously. In your reflection this morning, take stock of the ways in which you think you are succeeding in your generosity and the ways in which you might not be doing so well. Be honest with yourself. Even go so far as to write it down. It’s worth contemplating.


P.S. Since we’re talking about generosity this week, it seems appropriate to include a link each morning to a local organization with connections to City Church. If you feel lead to be generous with your time or money there this week, step into that generous impulse! Today’s organization, inspired by Simon the Leper, is LA Christian Health Centers. This is a clinic that works with the poor and homeless in Skid Row and Los Angeles. You can check them out at www.lachc.com