Sunday, October 14, 2018

Quite a Blessing!

24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude)
Every week.  Almost every week for his over 30 years of ministry my dad prayed this blessing and benediction over the people.  I don't remember it ever becoming stale or monotonous or routine for him.  It is quite a blessing. To God be the glory, majesty, dominion and authority which is His, which he deserves, and which we we some day see in all of His eternal perfection. It is into His hands that we entrust ourselves and one another. He is able. He is able to keep us from stumbling and falling (the old King James translation). Christ is able to present us to the Father with joy, as overcomers who trust in Him.  He has made us part of His Big Story of Salvation, which someday we will be able to see from above, not below.  This blessing puts life, and its bumps, in persepective and keeps us going. We do not walk alone. He is there to hang on to so we don't stumble. He will get us to the end of the journey. Just keep walking and talking with Him. 

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Good Examples

11 Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. 12 Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself. We also add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true. (III John)
In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul talks about the things in Scripture written for our example.  What he was referring to were the people of the Old Testament - some did good, some did very evil.  In the ongoing Big Story of God, we then see how these things affected others - both immediately and over time.  We also are examples. Those of us who claim to be the people of God make an impact - good or evil - on those around us, and on those who follow.  Like Demetrius, may we have a good reputation to follow based on what we have done - being compared not to other imperfect people like us, but to the Truth itself.  

Friday, October 12, 2018

The More Lost Art

12 Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete. (II John)
I have heard of letter-writing being referred to as a "lost art." What used to be used for everything from official sealed documents sent by courier from one official to another, to love letters sent across the ocean to and from husband and wife separated by war, have now been replaced by texts, tweets, snapchats and the ancient email.  There is no lasting document to attest to the history of relationships.  But there is one form of communication equally on the verge of extinction: face to face talk.  Often even the written word of a letter can be misinterpreted and misunderstood, without body language and looking one another in the eye. This is the deepest form of communication, which John hoped to take place - for his recipients to be able to see his love, his passion, and his desire for their good.  Who have you been putting off going to see face to face? Don't let it be lost. 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Live What You Know

18 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.
19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols. (I John 5)
John's writings are considered by many to be the easiest to read and simplest to understand in Scripture. We often encourage new believers to read his Gospel. Yet, it is often the simplest things we forget, overlook, and fail to follow. We know that sin is inconsistent with following a sinless Savior. We know that we are opposed by someone who wants us to sin and surrounds us with temptation and his tempters. And we know that our Saviour has given us the ability to see through those temptations and lies.  But the closing command should hit us in between the eyes: "Keep yourselves from idols."  Based on these truths we "know", make conscious, intentional choices to follow Christ, obey God, and not put any of these tempting idols before worshiping Him. Simple, yes. Easy, no. Seek Him and His righteousness above all else; protect yourself today. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Diligence, not Doom

14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
(II Peter 3)
Peter had shared a number of negative things about what would happen before Christ's return: people will behave badly, believers will be persecuted, the world will fall apart.  But our response never should be to fall apart and be people of doom and gloom. As followers of Christ we should demonstrate such patience, persistence, and pursuit of holiness as He did.  It is not always easy and does not always make sense, but it is always becoming of believers. Stand strong. Trust God. Keep on going and growing.  

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Resistance.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (I Peter 5)
These people had problems.  They were suffering persecution.  The "roaring lion" using the lions of the arena to scare them.  Yet, they were to stand firm in their faith.  The way to stand up against such opposition is not lift our head in pride, but humble our hearts in obedience, dependence, and faith.  Resistance is not bitter rebellion; it is steadfast confidence.  When we "stand" in such a way, we will be able to see God at work, doing what we could never do.  

Monday, October 8, 2018

True Love Unspoken

19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5)
Peter, in his first letter says  Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.(4:8)  Here, James describes a very practical and real way to show that love - drawing an erring brother or sister in the Lord back in repentance from error.  It's like running back into a burning building to save someone - it takes courage, faith, and love.  Both writers are telling us the same thing.  In this journey of faith with all its distractions and discouragements, it can be tempting to give up, lose heart, and fall.  But when we walk together, encouraging and challenging each other, the journey becomes much more doable.   Come along side a brother or sister today.  Someday you may be the one tending to wander away.   

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Lord, Work in Us!

20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13)
The book of Hebrews is more of a sermon than a letter. The preacher/writer is talking about greatness in the Story of God. God has spoken and done things throughout history through the patriarchs, prophets, angelic messengers, and other people of great faith.  But He speaks and acts greatest through His Son, Jesus Christ. So, when he gets to the end of this sermon, he does what has often been done: he gives a benediction.  He asks for God's ongoing blessing - that He will do in his readers (and by extension, us who believe) what we need and He desires. What we need is a constant reminder of how great and good God is, and a dependence upon His grace and strength, through Christ, to live this life of faith, just as the faithful in chapter 11 have, so that we can finish this race of life, and run into His arms at the finish line.  No wonder we preachers so often use this benediction at the funeral service of believers, as they finish their race and enter eternity. May God equip us and work in us today what pleases Him. 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Taking it Personally

17 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18 If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 22 At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you. (Philemon)
Often, when we think about things concerning our faith/church/"religion"/Bible, we can come to approach it in a very "objective" way.  We even can view the writers like Moses and Paul to be very detatched from what they wrote. But this is never the case. Each and every one were writing from a passionate experience with the true and living God and also as those in close relationship with those to whom they wrote. This is especially true in these personal letters from Paul to individuals (Timothy, Titus, Philemon), which God and Paul really did not mean to be kept secret.  We need to view our faith as something we share, seeing ourselves as partners interrelated with one another, brothers and sisters with a web and network of relationships. There can hardly be anything impersonal about it.  God's plan is for these relationships to continue to grow and spread, so any believer, anywhere, in any era, has a tie to one another. So even as we read Paul's words separated by time and space, there is a connection we have, a reason to listen, and an obedience to God's instruction.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Reminded of our Hope

3 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.  (Titus 3)
The latter part of this paragraph repeats some of the practical exhortations of Timothy and other letters in its closing, but before that, Paul reminds Titus to remind others of our past, present, and future.  We were, but now we are, which then propels us to what we will be. We are heirs, waiting for the promise, the hope of eternal life. That is what will motivate us to good works. That is what will keep us from the distractions and divisions along life's journey. That is what will fill us with an overwhelming sense of joy, living lives of hope.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

All Alone, but Not!

16 At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!17 But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (II Timothy 4)
Paul had just listed those who had abandoned and opposed him in the ministry, along with those who were very supportive of him, but at that time could not be with him.  Like Elijah, like many of us, he was feeling all alone.  He had to stand alone in court to defend the gospel and his proclamation of it. It had been close.  The real opposer wanted to silence him.  But Paul knew he was not alone.  The Lord would see him through, even if it be through death.  There really are things worse than death - especially being alone forever, separated from God.  As Paul says elsewhere, nothing can separate us from HIM, even death.  Whenever that haunting voice tells you you're all on your own, talk to the One you know is with you.  He will see you through.  

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

To the Next Generation

20 O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” 21 for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.
Grace be with you.  (I Timothy 6)
As we look at the continually unfolding story of history, each book leaves us with a hope, and often a challenge, that looks forward.  This young man Timothy lived in a demanding culture.  How would he fare as he made his way, and sought to remain true to the faith?  First, he needed to regard the Gospel and the truths of Scripture as a sacred trust.  Second, he needed to not get side-tracked by all the distractions, both secular and spiritual, which would try to derail him. Third, and most of all, he needed to receive and cling to the Grace of God - trust in His ability and power to do what we cannot.  Paul's challenge and blessing are no less relevant today than they were two thousand years ago for us and the generation we seek to impact.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Waiting together

13 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. 14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. (II Thessalonians 3)
In his letter to the church at Thessalonica, Paul had a lot of good things to say. They were doing well, but they were beginning to get weary waiting on the Lord to return.  How were they to persist? By positively focusing on encouraging each other - not in a critical way, but a challenging way.  They had come to be a part of the body of Christ together. It is much easier to stay faithful together. We need each other, and we need His grace. And we need to not just be watching as we wait, we need to be looking for every way possible to do good, both to those in the household of faith, and outside looking in. May we not grow weary today. And may we look for someone else who needs encouragement along the way. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Who Can Do THAT?

23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (I Thessalonians 5)
I have to admit, my "THAT" in the title was due to a stray pinky finger on the CAPS LOCK button, but it is so appropriate. Who can sanctify us - make us holy? Who is able to keep us pure and true the rest of our days? Who can help us "Finish Well"?  The Faithful One, the God of Peace. He is able to work it all out. Of course we are more than passive participants in this journey. We have the well-known exhortations that preceded this paragraph: 
15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.
But even these things are done by the grace of the God of Peace. He is Faithful. He will surely do it.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Supply and Distribution

14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen (Philippians 4)
Being a missionary can be a scary venture.  Relying on others for support, then leaving the security of home and easy access to resources behind makes them very vulnerable.  They depend on the faithfulness of God's people.  In recent years I have seen many missionaries "left to dry" when churches cut or drop support in the middle of one of their terms overseas. It's a distribution problem. God provides for God's people. They don't always distribute and deliver.  Paul had lived through some pretty lean times, working and serving no matter what, to make sure the gospel went forward.  Over time, people became faithful, and he had "more than enough".  What he really longed for was that all of God's people would learn the joy of distributing, giving. When we let God's recources flow throw us to His church, His Missions, and those in need, we will find that the supply never runs dry.  That's because He is the supplier.  But when we clog the distribution line, we will have less to enjoy, and enjoy what we have less. It is a lesson on faith. Do we really trust God to supply all our needs? 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Let's do this Together!

10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him), 11 and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. 13 For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. 14 Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.16 And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. 17 And say to Archippus, “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.” (Colossians 4)
Paul learned a lesson we all would do well to put into practice: we cannot do it alone.  The life of following Jesus is best done the way Jesus demonstrated with His disciples: two by two and in small groups, as well as larger congregations. Paul was thankfor for those he had opportunity to work with one-on-one, and for the team of "fellow workers" with whom he served. He encouraged his readers (including us!) to have that same appreciation and teamwork.  Stop and think, as Paul did here, of those you are thankful for who share in the journey. Let them know; let others know; let Him know.  Then, serving together with them, "see that you fulfill the ministry that YOU have receivced in the Lord."