December 13 - Philippians 1.12-30, Ezekiel 19 and Isaiah 48

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To Live Is Christ

Philippians 1 12I want you to know, my friends, that the things that have happened to me have really helped the progress of the gospel. 13As a result, the whole palace guard and all the others here know that I am in prison because I am a servant of Christ. 14And my being in prison has given most of the believers more confidence in the Lord, so that they grow bolder all the time to preach the message fearlessly.
15Of course some of them preach Christ because they are jealous and quarrelsome, but others from genuine good will. 16These do so from love, because they know that God has given me the work of defending the gospel. 17The others do not proclaim Christ sincerely, but from a spirit of selfish ambition; they think that they will make more trouble for me while I am in prison.
18It does not matter! I am happy about it--just so Christ is preached in every way possible, whether from wrong or right motives. And I will continue to be happy, 19because I know that by means of your prayers and the help which comes from the Spirit of Jesus Christ I shall be set free. 20My deep desire and hope is that I shall never fail in my duty, but that at all times, and especially right now, I shall be full of courage, so that with my whole being I shall bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. 21For what is life? To me, it is Christ. Death, then, will bring more. 22But if by continuing to live I can do more worthwhile work, then I am not sure which I should choose. 23I am pulled in two directions. I want very much to leave this life and be with Christ, which is a far better thing; 24but for your sake it is much more important that I remain alive. 25I am sure of this, and so I know that I will stay. I will stay on with you all, to add to your progress and joy in the faith, 26so that when I am with you again, you will have even more reason to be proud of me in your life in union with Christ Jesus.
27Now, the important thing is that your way of life should be as the gospel of Christ requires, so that, whether or not I am able to go and see you, I will hear that you are standing firm with one common purpose and that with only one desire you are fighting together for the faith of the gospel. 28Don't be afraid of your enemies; always be courageous, and this will prove to them that they will lose and that you will win, because it is God who gives you the victory. 29For you have been given the privilege of serving Christ, not only by believing in him, but also by suffering for him. 30Now you can take part with me in the battle. It is the same battle you saw me fighting in the past, and as you hear, the one I am fighting still.

A Song of Sorrow

Ezekiel 19 The LORD told me to sing this song of sorrow for two princes of Israel:
2What a lioness your mother was!
She raised her cubs among the fierce male lions.
3She raised a cub and taught him to hunt;
he learned to eat people.
4The nations heard about him
and trapped him in a pit.
With hooks they dragged him off to Egypt.
5She waited until she saw all hope was gone.
Then she raised another of her cubs,
and he grew into a fierce lion.
6When he was full-grown,
he prowled with the other lions.
He too learned to hunt and eat people.
7He wrecked forts, he ruined towns.
The people of the land were terrified
every time he roared.
8The nations gathered to fight him;
people came from everywhere.
They spread their hunting nets
and caught him in their trap.
9They put him in a cage
and took him to the king of Babylonia.
They kept him under guard,
so that his roar would never be heard again
on the hills of Israel.

10Your mother was like a grapevine
planted near a stream.
Because there was plenty of water,
the vine was covered with leaves and fruit.
11Its branches were strong
and grew to be royal scepters.
The vine grew tall enough to reach the clouds;
everyone saw how leafy and tall it was.
12But angry hands pulled it up by the roots
and threw it to the ground.
The east wind dried up its fruit.
Its branches were broken off;
they dried up and were burned.
13Now it is planted in the desert,
in a dry and waterless land.
14The stem of the vine caught fire;
fire burned up its branches and fruit.
The branches will never again be strong,
will never be royal scepters.
This is a song of sorrow; it has been sung again and again.

God Is LORD of the Future

Isaiah 48 Listen to this, people of Israel,
you that are descended from Judah:
You swear by the name of the LORD
and claim to worship the God of Israel--
but you don't mean a word you say.
2And yet you are proud to say
that you are citizens of the holy city
and that you depend on Israel's God,
whose name is the LORD Almighty.

3The LORD says to Israel,
"Long ago I predicted what would take place;
then suddenly I made it happen.
4I knew that you would prove to be stubborn,
as rigid as iron and unyielding as bronze.
5And so I predicted your future long ago,
announcing events before they took place,
to keep you from claiming
that your idols and images made them happen.

6"All I foretold has now taken place;
you have to admit my predictions were right.
Now I will tell you of new things to come,
events that I did not reveal before.
7Only now am I making them happen;
nothing like this took place in the past.
If it had, you would claim that you knew all about it.
8I knew that you couldn't be trusted,
that you have always been known as a rebel.
That is why you never heard of this at all,
why no word of it ever came to your ears.

9"In order that people will praise my name,
I am holding my anger in check;
I am keeping it back and will not destroy you.
10I have tested you in the fire of suffering,
as silver is refined in a furnace.
But I have found that you are worthless.
11What I do is done for my own sake--
I will not let my name be dishonored
or let anyone else share the glory
that should be mine and mine alone."

Cyrus, the LORD's Chosen Leader

12The LORD says,
"Listen to me, Israel, the people I have called!
I am God, the first, the last, the only God!
13My hands made the earth's foundations
and spread the heavens out.
When I summon earth and sky,
they come at once and present themselves.

14"Assemble and listen, all of you!
None of the gods could predict
that the man I have chosen would attack Babylon;
he will do what I want him to do.
15I am the one who spoke and called him;
I led him out and gave him success.

16"Now come close to me and hear what I say.
From the beginning I have spoken openly
and have always made my words come true."
(Now the Sovereign LORD has given me his power and sent me.)

The LORD's Plan for His People

17The holy God of Israel,
the LORD who saves you, says:
"I am the LORD your God,
the one who wants to teach you for your own good
and direct you in the way you should go.

18"If only you had listened to my commands!
Then blessings would have flowed for you
like a stream that never goes dry.
Victory would have come to you
like the waves that roll on the shore.
19Your descendants would be as numerous as grains of sand,
and I would have made sure they were never destroyed."

20Go out from Babylon, go free!
Shout the news gladly; make it known everywhere:
"The LORD has saved his servant Israel!"
21When the LORD led his people through a hot, dry desert,
they did not suffer from thirst.
He made water come from a rock for them;
he split the rock open, and water flowed out.

22"There is no safety for sinners," says the LORD.

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This reading is from The Holy Bible, Today's English Version, Second Edition copyright © American Bible Society, 1992;
Old Testament copyright © American Bible Society, 1976, 1992; New Testament © American Bible Society, 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992.

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