Intro to Philippians

Happy Fourth of July!

Taking the 50,000 foot approach to starting our devotional and reflections on Philippians is as Paul would say, “pure joy!” This letter is one of Paul’s prison epistles . It was a positive letter by Paul written to thank the Christians living in Philippi for their gift they had sent him for his missionary work.  It was also to strengthen fellow believers by showing them (us) that true joy comes from Jesus Christ alone. Amen!

As we look back in Acts 16 we read how Paul had a divine dream that told him to go to Macedonia to spread the good news.  (Acts 16:8-10)  God always has amazing perfect plans for all of our lives. This dream was perfectly planned. In Psalm 37:23, the psalmist writes, “the Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in Him“. God not only orders our steps but also orders our stops, especially in this case.  This vision lead to Philippi where they would be the first European City to receive the Gospel of Christ from Paul.

As I reviewed the various reflections on Philippians and read the intro’s in my study bibles I continue to land on the theme about the contrast between happiness and joy.  Knowing people want to feel happy and look for this in different material things, experiences, people, statuses, or even places like Happy Gilmore.  Yet all of this is just worldly happiness, that can often be related to our temporary current circumstances. What is your current circumstance? What is mine? The weather has been great, the pool is the perfect temp, camps have gone well, the pictures or final details are being finalized for all summer trips?  But what happens when the temperature changes, that 4th of July party ends, the children need to get back on a schedule…?  Or on a more serious side, a job has been lost, you lose a loved one, a bill comes in that leaves you strapped, your child faces addiction? Our happiness that is based on happenings can wither as each new trial prevails.  Going through Philippians will help remind us that in contrast to this earthly happiness or sadness true joy depends on our relationship with God. According to the Tyndale Study Bible it says,  “In contrast to happiness stands joy. Running deeper and stronger, joy is the quiet, confidence assurance of God’s love and work in our lives, that He will be there for us no matter what! Happiness depends on happenings, Joy depends on Christ!”

So rejoice and enjoy these four chapters and look for the themes that include; finding joy in suffering, serving, believing, and giving.  I know my wife Jennifer will enjoy me referencing once again “Consider it all joy… verse from James 1:2-3 that I use often in our household of two young boys that love to follow a fallen, broken, bigger boy in myself.  I pray for Jennifer and I, our boys, and all of you to not seek the happiness of the world, but know the true joy in our relationship with the Lord!

Dear God ,

We are blessed by these letters of encouragement by Paul. Please fill our hearts when we have the feeling of being overwhelmed or in despair. Help us to pray for others that need to know your promises. Help us to stay positive and trust in you no matter our circumstances. Lord, help us to follow Paul’s example and know you more so we will rejoice in you always. Amen

Philippians 3:13-14 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what lies behind and straining toward what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.



Happiness Isn’t Everything

Many thanks to my friend Erin Straza who was so gracious to agree to write for Bible Journal this week. Her encouragement as a friend and a fellow artist has been a blessing to me over the last year. She is an insightful and heartfelt writer. I am looking forward to her new book about comfort detox that releases in February.

I first met Erin when she was the staff writer for Spread Truth Ministries ( This team is best known for their amazing condensation of the bible to a brilliant, compelling, five minute animation which is inspiring millions across the world in thirteen languages and soon to be twenty two!

Now Erin’s fine work:

God’s Comfort Distribution Strategy

If our country had a national emotion, it would certainly be happiness. The pursuit of it is written into our founding documents. It’s become the highest aim of our lives and even our in-the-moment choices. Although being happy isn’t wrong, it isn’t the only emotion we will experience in this life. When other feelings show up and crowd happiness out, it’s easy to feel like a failure.

Something I appreciate about the Bible is that the authors are real people who experience real feelings—and not just the socially acceptable ones. Even Paul—who seems to be a persistent, get-it-done, no excuses sort of guy—admits to a whole host of emotions.

Today’s reading includes a portion of Paul’s second letter to the believers in Corinth, in which Paul admits to the entire church that he had been depressed (v. 6) because their “bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within” (v. 5). We’ve all had seasons when nothing seems to be going well and it robs us of rest physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Although we don’t know the extent of Paul’s despondency, whether it was short-lived discouragement or debilitating depression, he willingly confesses his struggle, his pain, his weakness.That’s a brave soul, indeed.

Admitting these needs is necessary, however, if we are to receive the comfort of God. He is our Comforter, our solace for every trouble. We know this—in theory. But in practice? Well . . . we all could use a bit more practice!

Practicing the practice of finding our comfort in God takes a concerted effort. We’ve been conditioned by our culture—and ultimately, our sin nature—to grasp for comfort everywhere else but God. Our efforts fall short because God made us for Himself, as Pascal has said. To this end, I see two principles in 2 Corinthians 7 that help us practice finding our comfort in God.

No Hiding: Learn to Receive. When I’m downcast, reaching out to others for help takes all the courage I can muster. I need courage to be real like Paul was—upfront, no mask, no hiding. But mainly I need courage to be tended to in my moment of need. Inviting others to draw near and be close when I am at my lowest is a place of great vulnerability. The people I invite into this tender realm must be trusted allies who speak full truth in full love. Coming to others with my full self requires that I allow others to come to me with their full selves too. This is the mark of Christian community, where everyone is “walking in the light;” it’s essential if we are to enjoy true “fellowship within one another” (1 John 1:7, ESV). Learning to receive help and comfort from others is foundational to a healthy fellowship—and a healthy person.

No Hoarding: Learn to Give. In this world of trouble, it’s tempting to back away from people like Paul who confidently announce their needs. But a healthy fellowship cannot have members who only know how to receive help and comfort—they must also know how to give it away. Sometimes I withdraw from others because I don’t want to invest the energy required to be a comfort. Sometimes the magnitude of a need just plain scares me. But as a recipient of God’s mercy, I am now commissioned as a steward; hoarding the comfort I’ve been given is not becoming of God’s redeemed. Paul explains how comfort is meant to be the gift that keeps on giving:

“But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you.” (2 Corinthians 7: 6–7)

Paul received comfort from Titus, who got it from the Corinthian believers. Ultimately, the comfort came from God who, it seems, “comforts the downcast” through His people. We are truly His comfort agents, commissioned to give away all that God has given us, wherever we find a need. Comfort is never meant for a single, onetime use. It grows in power when we pass it on.

In sum, all comfort comes from God, as He is “the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3). But God often uses flesh-and-bone people to deliver it. Comfort abounds when we readily admit our own needs and readily tend to the needy. In this life, happiness may come and go with our circumstances, but God has a comfort that prevails when His people refuse to hide and learn to give.

Today’s reading link:  2 Samuel 14; 2 Corinthians 7; Ezekiel 21; Psalm 68

Erin Straza is a freelance writer, editor, and marketing communications consultant. Her first book, Comfort Detox: Finding Freedom from Habits That Bind You, releases February 2017 from InterVarsity Press. Learn more at

A Father and a Son

Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well. – Ecclesiastes 11:6

Numbers 1; Psalm 35; Ecclesiastes 11; Titus 3

We never know what might become of our small acts of kindness. By sharing our love, each of us play a part in the restoration of God’s kingdom. The coolest part, is God does most of the work. When we submit to God’s will, we are more able to be used — and as we are used, we are transformed in the cycle of spiritual rebirth.

One morning when I was six, my dad woke me while it was still dark and we drove to the Boynton Beach Pier. I was half a sleep and filled with wonder about this strange new pre-dawn world and with the joy from being alone with my father. Just the two of us, on our own adventure, walking hand in hand out onto the old pier. Together we wandered into the coolness of the early morning, before the sun rose up out of the ocean.

At the end of the pier, my father crouched down, looked into my eyes and asked, “do you want some hot chocolate?”

“Yes!” I said.

The chill of the morning had penetrated my skinny frame, and as I sipped hot chocolate with my father, I felt the warmth that comes from security, and sugar.

After dropping my fishing line over the side rail I looked down and saw fish of all sizes swimming in the bluish green water, circling in and out of the range of our bait. Eventually I got one on the hook. As I reeled it in, I looked up at my father’s warm peaceful smile. “That’s a red snapper Ricky, you caught a red snapper!” The world was a good place then.

My dad built a boat in our garage that year. We worked on it together when we had the time. Often after dinner, before I went to bed, me in my pajamas and him in his Bermuda shorts and a t-shirt. Occasionally I would hand him a tool or remove a scrap of wood, making me feel as if we had built it together. I knew that one day we would ride in the boat with my brothers out to the sea, through the treacherous currants of Boynton Inlet that had swamped bigger boats and better captains.

Working with my dad was an absolute joy; I was an important part of something big, just not in the way I had thought. Since then I have come to realize helping my father build a boat was like helping God grow His kingdom. God, in His love for me, and in His infinite wisdom, includes me in His work when I am willing. The amazing thing is this: when I surrender my selfish ambitions to the will of God, He does his best work in me.

It has been said, through the relationship with our fathers we first begin to understand God. And while I believe that God can reveal himself through anyone, it is those closest to us that often have the greatest impact. I know not everyone has, or has had, a positive relationship with their father, and like mine, this relationship can be cut short through divorce and death. Even so, it is by acts of love and compassion between people, that God reveals Himself.

Each of us has the power to show God’s love. And when we do, we are helping to share the Gospel, to lift each other up and grow God’s kingdom. Sharing God’s love is one way we can find joy and hope in His will.

God please enable me to share your love with my children and everyone I have contact with. Amen.