Monthly Archives: June 2014

Points from I Thes. 1

I Thessalonians is thought to be the first gospel letter that Paul wrote.  When he converted the Thessalonians, he was not able to stay there long.  He was forced to leave.  He was very concerned about the disciples he left behind.  He finally sent Timothy to check on them, and Timothy bought back the awesome news that the Thessalonians were doing very well.

We are so spoiled with many forms of communication to people far away.  Paul didn’t have that.  After hearing from Timothy, he wanted to relay important information to the Thessalonians, and this letter was his only shot.  Nothing would be wasted.  Each sentence was calculated to have import.  We can learn much from the wording and content.

Here are some of the things we learn.  For Paul:

God was the Father, and Jesus was Lord.  “To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1:1)  This is a great model for us on how we should regard God and Jesus.

The disciples were his treasure, and he prayed and thanked God for them constantlyWe always thank God for all of you and pray for you constantly.”  (1:2)  Can I say the same of my loved ones in the Lord?

The gospel changed character and actions. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1:3)  According to my research, the people Paul was writing to were probably Greek Gentiles who had a cultural background that viewed labor as repulsive.  Yet what Paul remembers is their work.  They must have seen Paul’s example, heard the message, and started to apply themselves to tasks.  Since he mentions that their labor was prompted by love, they probably started taking care of one another more.  They may have started making more money so they could give to needy individuals locally, and in other churches.

Also, they developed perseverance.   They didn’t give up, even though they went through struggles.  Their character changed from being lazy, self focused and wishy-washy, to hard working and long suffering.

Everything he did was in tandem with the work of the Holy Spirit. “We know, dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people. For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true.”  (1:4-5) 

In the same way, as we go around preaching, we watch to see how God will work.  We watch to see the Spirit move hearts.  We look to see whom God has chosen. We realize that deep conviction is only going to come through the Spirit.

The gospel and the Spirit produce a supernatural joy.   ” . . .you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” 1:6  

There was no way that the Thessalonians should have been joyful.  Yet they were.  This joy could only have come from a source outside of themselves.  Paul knew, when he saw their happy faces and lifted spirits, that it could only be the work of the Spirit.

In the same way, if someone responds to the scriptures, let us give credit where credit is due.  It is the work of the Spirit in the hearts of those we study with.

He was speaking the very words of God, even though he didn’t have the gospel in written form as we do. “You accepted what we said as the very word of God—which, of course, it is. And this word continues to work in you who believe.” 2:13

Do I treat my ministry the same way?  Do I share the very word of God with others, feeling a sense of reverence and import as I do so?

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Out of the Overflow, We are Changed

in the beginning

“Intimacy preceded creation.  Love was burning before the stars were born.  And it was out of the overflow of that love — ‘all things have been created through him and for him’ (Col 1:16) — that the material world sprang into existence.”  (From “Yawning at Tigers” by Nathan Drew Dyke.)

Love is a positive force.  Love started it all.

Love created the beauties of the world.   The flowers, the sky, soaring melodies, graceful dance — these are the reflections of a God who is as splendid and colorful as the world He formed.

The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship.  Ps 19:1

Love started it all with me.  Who am I that God would reach out, draw me to himself, and enter an everlasting covenant of devotion to me?  It boggles the mind, how much I am loved.  I am married, in a sense, to the prince of the universe!  And as such, God will be faithful to me forever, even when I am not faithful. God hates divorce!!

  • For your Maker is your husband– the LORD Almighty is his name. . .  Isa 54:5
  • Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . .   to present her to himself as a radiant church . . .  Eph 5:25-26
  • “For I hate divorce,” says the LORD, the God of Israel. . .    Mal 2:16
  • “In that day,” declares the Lord,“you will call me ‘my husband’ . . . I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion.I will betroth you in faithfulness. . . Hos 2:16, 19, 20

Love must be a positive force in our lives as well.  It’s not just a feeling, we must exert effort on its behalf.

I just read an article by Emily Esfahani Smith about research done by psychologists John and Julie Gottman on how to have a relationship that works.  They found that the relationships that worked, the “masters,” were the ones who looked for the best in their partner, were thankful, and made the effort to be kind and giving to their partner, even when they didn’t feel like it.  The relationships that didn’t work, the “disasters.” were the ones who were critical and reactive, even combative.

“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have, which is this: they are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes,” said Gottman.

Love takes a relationship and transforms it into an amazing thing —  a melding of two people who strengthen one another, bring out the best in one another and become something better, something strong and good.  This is true in marriage, and in Christian fellowship.

From (Christ) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.  Eph 4:16

Beauty is a positive force as well.  Whether it is the beauty of nature, or of art, it is transcendent. It has the marvelous ability to change us.  Just seeing it, we feel differently, we are not the same.

Time lapse photo by Justin Ng

Time lapse photo by Justin Ng

My dream, my goal, is to bring people into an encounter with the transcendent beauty of God, His amazing love, and watch the miracle of transformation in their lives.

My hope and prayer is that this love, this animating creative force, will give life to my day and shape me moment by moment.  May I touch the Divine and never be the same.

 

 

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No Train, No Gain!

Training 1

On Saturday, I walked with a friend who is training for a three week walk through Spain.  She is trying to walk four hours a day, so when she gets overseas, she will be ready to travel on foot all day, day after day.

Walking the El Camino

Walking the El Camino

She talked about how important it is to train for an event.  For instance, if you train for a marathon, you have to train every day, or you won’t be able to run the marathon, much less win, when the day of the race comes.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. I Cor 9:24-25

It is the same thing spiritually.  We can’t expect to “win” — experience the joy and benefits of being a Christian (not to mention making it to heaven) — if we don’t put in the discipline of training.  This training is reading the Bible, praying, denying self, going to church, building one another up, making the choice moment by moment to do what Jesus would do.

Not only that, but if we don’t train, just like an out of shape runner, we will get tired and quit when the going gets too hard.

  • But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.  Matt 7:26-27
  • But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. Luke 8:15
  • For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge. . .(etc) For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  II Peter 1:5-8

Spirituality is subject to entropy just as the physical world is.  If you don’t make push yourself and make an effort to grow, you will grow weak.

Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. I Cor 9:26-27

But when you do push through and grow, you get spiritual endorphins!  When we run, we get a runner’s high.  When we get out of our comfort zone for God, we get a spiritual high.  Here are some ways to stretch ourselves and get those spiritual endorphins triggered:  sharing our faith, extended prayer times, fasting, digging into the Bible, opening up to a trusted friend, singing.

If you are a spiritual couch potato, you are cheating yourself of the best spiritual experiences!

And here is the danger of allowing ourselves to be comfortable: we lose our ability to be able to push through.  Every time we give in, it becomes more of a habit.   We become ruled by pleasing self.  We become a slave to fear.

The sluggard says, “There’s a lion outside! I’ll be killed in the public square!” Prov 22:13

Let’s discipline ourselves to do the things we need to do spiritually, even when it’s hard.  Let’s do the extra things that will make us grow.  Let us be the ones who will pray harder, love harder, dig deeper into scriptures, open our mouths more, speak the truth more, and step out on faith more.   Let us dream, and start trying to achieve our dreams!

God is good, and so many spiritual blessings await us.

 

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Using God’s Filter

Filter

Lately I am learning how to be filled with the Spirit, and to let this be my filter.  It’s a feeling of fullness and goodness, and I act out of that, and ONLY that.

I realized that what I have been doing is acting out of my reaction to the moods and attitudes of others.  I have been raised to respect others and their way of looking at things, so my radar is very sensitive to others.  But this has created a situation where my reservoir of the Spirit gets depleted each time I experience what I perceive someone else to be feeling.  Their worries and negative attitudes pollute my faith.

I was talking to Alicia this week about how some of us are more sensitive than others.  I am realizing that this is why I have the problem of others affecting my spiritual outlook.  I am a sensitive person.  Here is a link to a sensitivity quiz. http://www.hsperson.com/pages/test.htm

Some of the questions are:

  • Other people’s moods affect me. (So true!)
  • I am deeply moved by the arts or music.
  • I seem to be aware of subtleties in my environment.

So it is very liberating to me to be able to picture myself steadfastly acting from the Spirit, and not letting myself take on the moods of others.  I don’t get as worn out and stressed during social interactions.  I actually feel like I am more myself.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  Gal 5:25

those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.  Romans 8:5-6

fountain

whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. John 4:14

 

 

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Grace From the Beginning

I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.  I Peter 5:12

I love this passage at the conclusion of Peter’s letter to the churches.  He wanted to be very sure the believers knew that the gospel is the true grace of God.

We who have the complete Bible have a great many verses on grace, and we have a well formed picture of what grace is.  But what would the people in Peter’s time have thought grace was?  One of their main reference points would have been the Old Testament books.

Thus, I searched it out.  What was grace in the Old Testament?  Here are a few of the insights I gained.

Ultimately, in the OT, GRACE IS GOD’S FAVOR ON US.

Grace is the Lord’s face shining on us. “The LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you.”  Nu 6:25

Grace is goodness.  “And he said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” Ex 33:19

Grace is showing compassion.  “Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.”  Is 30:18 

Grace is acting on our behalf.  “How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you.” Is 30:18-19

GOD FORETOLD A TIME WHEN HE WOULD LAVISH HIS FAVOR ON US.

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication.  Zech 12:10

I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.  Isa 42:16

For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.  Is 44:3

But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves Mal 4:2

WHEN JESUS CAME, IT WAS SEEN AS THIS TIME OF THE OUTPOURING OF GOD’S GRACE AND FAVOR.

Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.  Luke 1:78-79

. . .  the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  John 1:16

(Jesus) stood up to read, . . . “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”. . . He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  Luke 4:16-21

AND WHEN THE CHURCH WAS ESTABLISHED, IT WAS ALSO THE WORKING OF GRACE. They depended on the grace to build the church.

When  (Barnabus) arrived and saw what the grace of God had done. . . Acts 11:23

From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed.  Acts 14:26

. . . but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord.  Acts 15:40

THUS, AS WE STAND FIRM IN THE TRUE GRACE OF GOD WE ARE THE CULMINATION OF GOD’S PLAN TO LAVISH FAVOR UPON MAN.  He fills us with his Spirit.  He builds us up and strengthens us. He gives us everything we need.

Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. Acts 20:32

It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace . . Heb 13:9

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  II Peter 1:3

MAY WHATEVER WE DO TODAY BE THE WORK OF GOD’S GRACE IN US

. . .  now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.  II Cor 6:2

 

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Things I am Learning

dream__8_1

1. Dream!  In a recent talk, one of the sisters shared how she keeps a dream journal, and writes in it all the things she would like to do, and see God do.  This is a great idea.  I want to start doing this.  Dreams give us a reason for living.   We need something to look forward to, something that makes us excited about the future.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you; who have set their hearts on a pilgrimage.  Passing through the valley of Weeping, they make it a place of springs.   Ps 84:5-6

read-the-bible-through

2.  The basics are universal.   I was talking to an elderly man who has been a part of Alcoholics Anonymous for years, and he told me he is sponsoring a new person who is trying to become sober.  Here is what he told this person to do in order to succeed:  “Read the book, come to meetings, and call me every day.”  That is the same advice I give people when I study the Bible with them!

An article inspired by Tim Ferris, an expert in being productive in the work place, says the best thing to do is to start the day with a routine of being quiet.  “If you start the day calm, it’s easy to get the right things done and focus.”  We all need the same thing — a time to get centered on what is really important.

Caring for others

3. Teach others to care for others. “Some church leaders wrongly assume that all of the responsibility for discipleship and spiritual growth falls on them as the main vision caster and leader in the church. But this line of thinking will only frustrate them, exhaust them, and burn them out. Why? Because one person cannot do all that it takes to disciple everyone in the church. If he spreads himself out too thin, he will end up spiritually and physically unhealthy, and the people will not get the spiritual care and investment that it will take to help them grow to maturity as well. It will leave the congregation in a perpetual state of spiritual childhood.  Because they are not taught, disciplined, and encouraged, they will end up demanding to be fed and cared for and never grow to the point that they can take care of others.” – Jim Putman

On call

4. I am on call.  I am God’s vehicle for reaching out to others.  I can’t see my time as mine.  I have to be prepared to address whatever need comes up.

So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’  Luke 18:10

Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time?  Luke 12:42

IMG_4523

5. Quality over quantity.  It becomes increasingly clear to me that loving people well is more important than achieving a large number of things during the day.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,b but do not have love, I gain nothing.  I Cor 13:1-3

1529840_651025674952839_752902502142490133_o

6. Be Spirit led!  No, that picture above isn’t a holy roller service, it’s a wedding.  But we’re all having a great time, and I think it’s because three years ago, following the Spirit, Tre and Ketera were invited to church.  They became disciples, and their whole life changed!  This is a scene from their wedding, and all of us celebrating what God has done, and will do.

Mike has been touting the importance of letting the Spirit us more, and not restricting God, or ourselves, to routines.  He referenced a book called, “Wild Good Chase,” by Mark Batterson.  This book relates that  walking with the Spirit should be like, “another day, another adventure.”  “Take the Spirit out of the equation and it would spell one word, b-o-r-i-n-g,” says Batterson.

Here’s a little side note to this:  If the Spirit is to lead us, pride is the worst enemy. 

Which leads me to —

Salmonella attacking human cells.

Salmonella attacking human cells.

7.  Maybe aging is God’s plan to purify me.  Is it possible that God has us get old and feeble, with our mind and body breaking down, because this humbling will prepare us for heaven?

I am finding that the process of aging is bringing my sin to the surface.   My mind drifts more, and as this happens, veins of conceit become more apparent.

When I am irritable, the pride is like a red light alarm that goes off over and over again, because I experience it so much.

I have to believe that God loves me and in his adoration allows me to go through these trials to help me get rid of the toxins in me.

For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.  James 3:16

God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.  Heb 12:10

breaking_down wall

8. PRAY to change impossible character traits.  This has come up so much recently.  A friend said he had longtime weaknesses he couldn’t do anything about.  Someone asked him, “Are you praying every day for God to change this?”   Since then I have encountered others in similar situations.  As I wrote in the last point, I myself am in a similar situation.  I want to be loving and giving, but sometimes I am hitting a wall.

Our best hope is to pray daily that God will show us how to break down that wall!

And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”  Mark 9:29

love believes

9. Believe in others more than they believe in themselves.  This great advice was given to me to help me deal with a bad attitude I have towards someone.  It is just what I needed to hear!  I am going to put it into practice.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  I Cor 13:7

Jesus believed the best in others.  Look at his attitude when he called Peter and Nathanial:

  • Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter.)  John 1:40
  • Jesus asked him, “Do you believe this just because I told you I had seen you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.”  John 1:50

burdened

10. My job is to thank and praise, NOT micromanage God.  I walk around burdened, my shoulders heavy with so many people I think I need to help, so many chores I need to keep up with, so many expectations for myself.

It puts it all into perspective when I focus instead on praising and thanking God.  Then I can see the miracle of how He’s working, instead of what still needs to be done.

So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.  I Cor 3:7

 

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The Divine Pursuit

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Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, Ps 23:6 (HCSB)

Christianity is the only religion where God pursues man.

“The truth is that the various religions of the world—whether Islam, Buddhism, atheism, or any of the others— place the responsibility for humankind’s survival and growth directly upon human beings. They must pursue God, knowledge, or whatever is essential to obtaining their salvation.”  Shawn Brace

It is intensely moving to realize that God has sought me all my life.   It is a story of divine pursuit, of orchestrating my life to have encounters with Him, of dramatic rescue from the slimy pit of my wayward folly.

GOD PUTS FORTH GREAT EFFORT ON OUR BEHALF.

Throughout history, God put forth effort to bless man, initiating, pursuing a relationship with him.

  • “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; . . .  and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.  Gen. 12
  • The Lord will grant you that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated…The Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to…The Lord will establish you as his holy people…The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity…The Lord will open the heavens to send rain on your land…The Lord will make you the head, not the tail.”  Deut 28
  • For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him  2 Chron 16:9
  • You did not choose me, but I chose you  John 15:16
  • The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.  Acts 2:39

The pursuit is indefatigable, a passionate expression of love:

  • The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.  Jer 31:3
  • “Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day”  Ez 34:11-12
  • I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.  Hos 11:4
  • If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?  Matt 18:12

The pursuit is the most faithful thing we can imagine:

  •  I will never leave you or forsake you. . . Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:5,9
  • If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me”  Ps 139:7-10
  • For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:38-39

He pursued us through pain, though humiliation, through fire and water, through death:

  • Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,. . . But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.  Isa 53:3, 5
  • I am the good shepherd:  the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.  John 10:11
  • But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8
  • But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  Eph 2:13
  • he emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant, by becoming like other humans, by having a human appearance. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, death on a cross.  Phil 2:7-8

And once he has us, He continues to put forth effort on our behalf, fiercely protecting us: 

  • I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.  John 10:29
  • If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  John 15:7

It is the best romance there is.  I could go on and on, but I will close by sharing the chorus of a song I wrote:

Oh, Lamb of God, my knight you are,

You gave all you had to rescue me,

You set out to gain the jewel of your heart

And now we are one eternally

 

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