Daily Reflections on Philippians

Monday, March 30, 2020 – “Jesus Is Lord!”
The Faith Confession of the Early Church

Philippians 2:9-11
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
  and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
  every knee should bend,
  in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
  that Jesus Christ is Lord,
  to the glory of God the Father.

We have been looking at the ancient Christian hymn quoted by Paul in Philippians 2. In the hymn’s first stanza, 2:5-8, we have seen Jesus emptying himself of divine privilege, fully embracing the human experience, and giving himself as a self-sacrificing servant, to the extent of giving his life on the cross.

Today we look at the hymn’s second stanza, Phil. 2:9-11, which describes God’s response to Jesus’ self-giving.

Although it is in what we now call Greece, Philippi was a Roman colony where status and social climbing were important, and the humility of Jesus would have been seen as a short-coming. Yet Paul claims that God has vindicated the servant life of Jesus by promoting him from the bottom of the social spectrum to the top: Lord over all.

Romans were clear about who was Lord over all: Caesar!  In a world where people were made to kneel and call Caesar “Lord,” Paul claims that someday all people—even Caesar himself—would bow the knee and proclaim that this servant Jesus is in fact the highest Lord of all. Fighting words! There is a new king in town, and his ways have little in common with the ways of power politics and intrigue.

Many think that “Jesus is Lord,” may have been the earliest confession of faith of the Church. Today when people become members of our church, the first membership vow is “Do you confess that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior?” What does “Jesus is Lord” mean to you?

Many years ago, Presbyterian pastor Bob Munger wrote a little booklet, “My Heart, Christ’s Home.” He wrote about life as a house containing many rooms: living room, play room, bedroom, dining room, etc. and asked which rooms of life you had opened up to Jesus and which you had kept closed to him.

These days of pandemic are a good time to reconsider that question. Might there be parts of your life that are closed off to Jesus as Lord? How would your life look different if you invited him to be Lord even in those parts of your life?

Let us pray:
Lord Christ, we open ourselves to you and invite you to come afresh into the closed places of our lives.

The peace of Christ be with you!
Kathy Sizer, Associate Pastor

Saturday, March 28, 2020 – A Love that Descends

Philippians 2:6-8
Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

At the beginning of the year, the stewardship committee of our church placed before us the stewardship theme: 20/20 Vision. Central to this theme is asking God for a clarity of vision for LPC’s mission in the next decade. Our hopeful expectation is that God is calling us to a mission that extends into our neighborhoods and communities and into the world.

Several years ago, ok I’ll admit it, over a decade ago, I started getting headaches. It became apparent after seeing an optometrist that I needed to get glasses. I will never forget putting on that first pair of glasses, everything came into focus. The dim and blurry became bright and clear. The thing is, I didn’t realize what I wasn’t seeing until I put on those glasses. Once I did, what a glorious day!

As Paul writes to the Philippians he is giving them new glasses, new lenses. He wants them to put on Christ. Christ is to become the lens through which they view the world. This passage has been called the great parabola of Scripture

What does that mean? Jesus descends from the highest position in the heavens, enthroned at the right hand of God the Father, to the lowest position in the universe—born as a vulnerable infant, and then to his death on a cross. 

Paul goes on to say that Jesus voluntarily humbled himself by revealing to us a love that descends. The creator of all became part of creation as he humbled himself as a human in the form of a servant, obedient to death, even to a painful and humiliating death on a cross.

This is the lens through which we are called to live our lives. Seeing God, ourselves, and our neighbor through the humility of Christ: a love that descends. Every day and night we are called to put on the lens of Christ. As we do, we will see Christ in our circumstances more clearly and follow in his ways more responsively.

What might this look like for us in this time of safe at home? We might secretly bring in our neighbor’s trash cans; check-in on some one who is alone; make “another” meal for someone; help a child with homework or some fun craft; deliver needed items to the Laguna Beach Food pantry; stop and give thanks for someone; stop and pray for someone; send a quick text; make a phone call; give financially to the church; or even think of the next person who goes to the grocery store before we buy that 3rd package of toilet paper, and on and on it goes. 

Once we put on Christ-lenses we will see life and neighbor as Christ in our midst. In doing so we grow into a 20/20 vision church and the path ahead is clear: Ain’t no stoppin’ us now! Christ in us, a love that descends!

Let us pray:
Christ, open our eyes to see you. Christ, open our ears to hear you. Christ, open our hearts to love as you love. Amen.

Thankful for you,
Steve Sweet, Senior Associate Pastor

Friday, March 27, 2020 – Defer to One Another

Philippians 2:1-5
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.

Before Paul asks them to take the next step in following Jesus, he asks his readers to reflect on how they have felt supported and connected. Have they experienced encouragement, comfort, and connection together in the Spirit of Jesus? Many of you have said how much you have felt that sort of support of one another in these weeks of sheltering in place.

If you have experienced others walking alongside you, Paul challenges you to take the next step—to have the same mind. That doesn’t mean we would agree on everything! Even Paul and Barnabas disagreed enough that they went their separate ways in ministry. The one mind to which we are called isn’t my mind (though sometimes I wish it were!), or your mind, or even Paul’s mind. It is the same mind that Jesus had: of thinking of others as better than ourselves and considering their interests, not only my own.

It flies in the face of our spirit of American independence to defer to one another, but thinking of the interests of other people has become a life or death issue with every decision we make or don’t make about social distancing, hoarding toilet paper, over-buying groceries, sheltering in place. COVID-19 has caused us to realize how interdependent we are.

Some churches are talking about abandoning social distancing to meet together for Easter Sunday worship. As much as we’d like to be together, that’s not the decision we’ve made. It isn’t fear that is keeping us apart, but it is this “same mind that was in Christ Jesus,” to choose not what we prefer, but what will protect the most vulnerable among us. May our own experience of support from one another cause us to extend that support to others, even when it means our own inconvenience.

Let us pray:
O God, we thank you that you walk with us through every season of life, even this one. Teach us to choose the ways of Jesus, even when it means we might have to give up our own preferences. Give us grace and wisdom in these days. Amen.

– Kathy Sizer, Associate Pastor

Thursday, March 26, 2020 – Suffering for Christ

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. – Philippians 1:29-30

Paul’s letter to the Philippians turns at this point in verses 29-30. Paul directs his focus from a discussion about how his current situation is serving to actually advance the witness of the gospel, to one of comfort for the church in Philippi that he loves.

Paul affirms them in their suffering. Though they are not in prison as Paul is, Paul knows they are concerned for the future of Paul’s ministry, the church’s ministry, and yes, even for the safety of their own lives. How discerning and compassionate of Paul. Paul’s love is so deep for the Philippians that he doesn’t want them to miss this opportunity to see God in the midst of the current circumstances of life.

I was grateful for Steve Sweet’s writing yesterday. I was so encouraged by the picture of his family together, bumping up against each other, yet committed to growing together in love. I thought about many of you. Though we are not together physically we will be tempted to bump up against one another in frustration and anxiety. 

Paul wants us to know that we are called to suffer together. This word suffer is the word, paschal. You have heard the phrase the paschal mystery. This is the mystery of our faith –– in dying to self, we rise to newness of life. In Jesus’s death, there is resurrection and new life. So if we believe in Christ, we will also suffer for/with Christ.

How is the church suffering like Paul? They have to surrender Paul into God’s hands and trust in God’s goodness for Paul and for the church. At the same time, Paul is doing that with them! There’s the mystery! This is how the love of Christ binds us together in suffering. When we love one another, we suffer together.

So, we are suffering together. We are dying to self during this COVID-19 crisis. We have entered into the paschal mystery during the season of Lent. We are called to suffer compassionately on behalf of one another, on behalf of our city, our country and our world. 

Maybe you are as surprised by these verses as the Philippians must have been? Be comforted this morning that Christ is in you, and Christ is with you. I’m thankful for the fellowship and love we share in Christ. 

Paul’s question for the Philippians and for us is: Don’t you know that if you believe in Christ, you will also suffer for the sake of Christ?

Yesterday I found out that my friend Leanne is in the ICU at Mission Hospital. She is a pastor in our presbytery. I’m suffering with her because we are bound together by the love of Christ. This crisis suddenly got real for me yesterday. We were planning to lead a women’s retreat together in early May.

Pray for my sister in Christ, Leanne, her husband, Kevin and their son Noah. Pray for Community Presbyterian Church to our south. This crisis touches all of us because each of us is called to enter into the paschal mystery where, in dying to self, we are raised to new life and we see God in ever deeper, more truthful ways and we are transformed to love God and to love neighbor even as we love ourselves.

Let us pray:

Lord, we lift up to you all who are suffering this day with this virus and ask for your healing and sustaining love. We pray for Leanne and her family, for our sister church, and for all the churches within our presbytery. We pray for our families, our neighborhoods, the places where we live, that we might show the compassionate love of Christ so that all may come to know the love of God in Christ. Show us ways to nurture your presence in us, to see your grace around us, and to trust in your faithful love towards us in Christ. Amen.

Christ be with you all.
Beth Pinney, Director of Worship

Wednesday, March 25, 2020 – Side-by-Side

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.  – Philippians 1:27

Like yours, my house has changed drastically over the last few weeks. My two college sons are now at home doing all their schooling online. We went from three of us at the house to five in just a few days. Three daily routines, existing side-by-side, are now five routines all happening at home! School, work, meals, exercise, loud voices, video games, music that’s not my jam, co-existing, as the Sweet family does its part in social distancing by staying at home. Talk about a challenge. 

In just a few days we quickly realized that we needed to work as a team if we were going to still like each other at the end of this quarantine. As a result, we decided that we will do whatever it takes to stay strong together. We now have a common goal to stay strong as a family. But how? We realized the importance of communicating issues regularly, eating and praying together and sharing common responsibilities. We’ve had our ups and downs, but so far, so good. In that, I rejoice. 

As we read through Paul’s letter to the Philippians we are becoming aware that there are certain aspects of church fellowship that cause Paul to rejoice. In verse 27 we see three of them: living a life worthy of the Gospel, standing firm in one spirit, and standing side-by-side with single-minded faith for the gospel. 

Do you notice the one thing they all have common? The community of faith is living together with a common goal. They are committed to working together for the advancement of the gospel of Jesus Christ

Yes, there is much that can cause division in a time of crisis, but a family and community of faith can endure and thrive as they keep their eyes on a common goal. Laguna Presbyterian Church is committed to a common goal. We are committed to standing side-by-side as we share together one faith, one hope, one baptism, one Lord. We are standing together, side-by-side, committed to proclaiming the hope of the good news of Jesus Christ in every season of life.

Standing side-by-side with you in Christ,

Steve Sweet, Senior Associate Pastor

Monday, March 23, 2020 – I Will Continue to Rejoice
Philippians 1:14 and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear. 15 Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. 16 These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; 17 the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. 18 What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice.
Paul’s imprisonment, rather than discouraging the Christians in Rome, has had the opposite effect. While Paul can’t be out and about telling people about Jesus, they have picked up the mantle and are doing what he is no longer free to do. There is a rival group also talking about Jesus. Some people believe it is a Christian group whose teachings are different than Paul’s. Paul doesn’t resent this other group, because the word about Jesus is getting out one way or another.

One way or another seems to be the way the word of Jesus is getting out in these days. Have you watched or listened to the online services of other churches? There’s a huge variety out there. Some of it feels comfortable to my style of worship; some doesn’t. Some proclaim Jesus as I understand him; others not so much. But who am I to stand in the way of their ministry? God is at work through them all. It’s not about competition, but cooperation. It’s about trusting that God is at work to bring about his purposes as Jesus is proclaimed everywhere.

He’s got this.

Let us pray:
Lord, we thank you for the many ways your people here and around the world are responding to this virus. Bless their ministry. Give creativity and courage to them and to us as we seek to serve you in these days. Amen.

Kathy Sizer, Associate Pastor, LPC

Saturday, March 21, 2020 – Truthfulness and Hope
Phil. 1:12  I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; 14 and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.
The church of Philippi was curious about the Apostle Paul’s condition in prison. Rumors were spreading rapidly. Questions were being asked. With each rumor and each question, there was the potential for increasing either their joy or their anxiety. Would Paul be released to continue God’s mission of spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ or was Paul still in prison? Would they ever see him again or had Paul been executed? If so, what would this mean for the church in Philippi? 
In Paul’s day it could take months, if not years, to get a report. How different from today! Think about it: we learn within seconds what is happening on the other side of the world. Can you imagine the church’s response when they finally received Paul’s letter?

Paul never shied away from truthfulness –”telling it like it is.” As a leader, he made the decision to be honest about his condition and how he understood God’s purposes in every situation. Yes, he continued to be in prison. Yes, he was still under guard constantly (probably chained to a prison guard 24/7). Yes, he was in fact suffering. And yes, he was missing community tremendously. Yet Paul is fully confident that this condition will lead to God’s greater good. Fellow prisoners were hearing about Jesus. Prison guards were hearing about Jesus. The entire Imperial Guard was hearing about Jesus, the only life-giving Lord. Because of Paul’s example, the church could be encouraged to walk through fearful times with boldness and faith. Paul’s leadership brought truthfulness, saturated with hope.

How do you pursue truthfulness? What gives you hope during this time of crisis?How can you and your family speak both the truth of the current situation, while living in the hope of our life-giving Jesus?
Psalm 121 came to mind as I was walking this morning. While we can’t meet together, we can make this our prayer today as a church.

Let us pray:
I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. 
The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time on and forevermore. Amen.

Steve Sweet, Sr. Associate Pastor, LPC
Listen to “I Lift My Eyes” (Psalm 121) by Keith and Kristyn Getty

Friday, March 19, 2020
How can we help others when we are self-isolating at home?

Phil. 1:9 And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Many of you have asked how you can help others when you are self-isolating at home. Some of you have more time on your hands than you usually would. How about being intentional about setting aside time to pray for one another and for our world? What will you pray? Healing, health, protection, containment of COVID-19, for sure. You could also pray as Paul did here for the church in Philippi

When Paul prays from the isolation of his prison, he prays for their growth in the ways of Jesus – that they will overflow with his kind of love — agape love which is not based on only affection or attraction, but which is love in action; self-giving love. He prays that this love will lead to discernment, so they can wisely sort out and choose God’s ways in the midst of a world full of choices which look like shades of gray. The purpose? That they might grow more and more to become mature in Christ.  

What a great way for us to pray for one another, that in these strange days, God will use this time to grow us in love and discernment—that we may emerge from this time more mature in walking in Jesus’ ways. I like this poem which I’ve adapted from the work of poet Lynn Ungar.

What if you thought of this time
As the Jews consider the Sabbath—
The most sacred of times?
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
Reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
In ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)

Know that our lives
Are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
Of compassion that move, invisibly,
Where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love—
For better or for worse,
In sickness and in health,
So long as we all shall live.

And one of my favorite prayers adapted from St. Augustine of Hippo:

Watch, O Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep today.
Tend your sick ones, O Lord Christ.
Rest your weary ones.
Bless your dying ones.
Soothe your suffering ones.
Pity your afflicted ones.
Shield your joyous ones, and all for your love’s sake. 

With love and discernment, 
Rev. Kathy Sizer, Associate Pastor

Thursday, March 19, 2020 – Confident that God Is at Work

Phil. 1:6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. 

How is your confidence today? It’s really striking to me that Paul can be so confident in his current situation, in prison. Paul is confident that God, who started the Philippians on this journey of faith will complete the good work among them—fully and completely by the day of Christ’s return. Honestly, it takes faith to say something like that! Especially when it doesn’t look like it!

Paul knows what we’re thinking: “Oh Paul, can’t you see what’s happening? You are in prison; we are struggling!” We could add our own thoughts to this too: “Oh Paul, how can you say that? Are you the only one not watching the news?” Paul says, “It’s not crazy for me to think like this because I know you love me! I know that you and I are bound together by the grace of God in Christ. I can see the gospel at work in your lives. Yes, even right now!” 

Paul’s greatest desire is to be with them again. Can’t you just hear the emotion in Paul’s voice: “it is with all the compassion and affection of Christ Jesus that I long for your friendship and for the fellowship of the church.” 

It’s when we are without someone or something that we really sense its true value. I long to be back in worship and fellowship with each of you. I want to have the faith of Paul to trust that God who began a good work among us is at work in the now to bring it to completion: yes, even in our inability to physically gather together.

Just writing this short devotional has given me confidence. So with confidence I ask: How is God encouraging you today? Is there a word or a phrase that speaks to your heart in these few short, but powerful verses from Philippians 1:6-8?

Here is a prayer that was shared by our presbytery yesterday:
May we who are merely inconvenienced
remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home
remember those who must choose between
preserving their health or making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children
when their schools close remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips
remember those that have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money
in the tumult of the economic market
remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home
remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our country let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot
physically wrap our arms around each other
let us find ways to be the loving embrace of God
to and from our neighbors. Amen.

Confident that God is at work among us,
Beth Pinney, Worship Leader

Prayer for Pandemic by Cameron Wiggins Bellm of Seattle, WA

Wednesday, March 18, 2020 – Constantly Praying

Phil. 1:3  I thank my God every time I remember you, 4 constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5 because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 

I had a seminary professor remind our class every day that it “all starts with prayer.” He emphasized how prayer reveals our dependence on Christ for life and ministry. We started and ended every class with prayer. He challenged us to make that a pattern for our lives, starting and ending every day with prayer.

Paul begins the letter to the Philippians saying that he is constantly in prayer. How can that be possible?

Today, I will be driving one of my sons, Joe, down to San Diego to clear out his dorm room. All of the students have been asked to clear out their rooms by Friday as the college will go completely online during this crisis. It’s going to be a big job. We have our work cut out for us! Can I just sit back while Joe packs up his stuff and loads up the car and say, “Joe, I can’t lift that box, I’m in a constant state of prayer?” That would not go over well with him.

Paul is saying that whenever he thinks of the Philippians he is constantly in prayer, praying with joy. That makes more sense. Whenever God brings someone to mind, we pause, we pray, we lift them up with joy and entrust everything to God. Paul was experiencing joy because the people of Philippi were sharing together in the fellowship of Jesus.

I was talking to a pastor today and he said, “We may have suspended our Sunday worship for a time, but we have not suspended our community, our hope and our mission.” Then with joy, we paused and prayed for our churches.

Who or what are you being drawn to pray for today?
What do you need prayer for today?
Who can you reach out to with a call, email or text, to let them know you are praying for them?

Lord Jesus, we pray constantly with joy for our church in such a time as this, empower us to continue to find new and innovative ways for us to be the community of faith you have called us to be. Amen.

Constantly praying,
Steve Sweet, Associate Pastor

Tuesday, March 17, 2020 – When Confined, Choose to Serve

Phil. 1:1  Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: 2  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is widely believed the Apostle Paul wrote the Philippian Letter from a Roman prison (with Timothy his disciple) where he was waiting trial or facing death. He had limited and narrowing options. But he used what freedom he had to reach out to others and care for them. It is quite likely he made friends with the jailers and guards and court personnel. He prayed for his friends and the churches he founded around Eastern Europe and the Middle East. He and his colleague Silas established the Church in Philippi as the first church in Greece (Acts 16:11-40). He had a long term relationship with them and loved them deeply.

Paul’s first desire was to use all his resources, time, skills, mind and relationships, to be a servant of Jesus. He spent all he had reaching out to the people around him in whatever means possible. He was disciplined in his focus upon Christ and every human being he knew. This letter is the act of a servant leader reaching out to the church and any who would read it. He prayed for them and wrote to them.

How are you using your increased confinement to reach out to the people you know?

Gracious Lord Jesus, help us to continue to reach out to those we know and love as well as those we barely know. Help us to use technology to touch others. Amen.

From My Home Self-Isolation
– Gareth Icenogle, Interim Pastor
© 2020 Laguna Presbyterian Church
415 Forest Avenue, Laguna Beach, CA 92651