(1 Thessalonians 1-3)

1Thessalonians 2:12 ESV we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

My son entered a competition to show cows this year. For a while he had been out almost every afternoon at a friend’s house walking a cow. He’d learned all sorts of tricks and maneuvers to get the cow to go where it is supposed to go and do what it was supposed to do. Yet when the day of the show arrived, he got nervous and he wasn’t sure he could pull it off. I pulled him to the side and encouraged him to get in there and give it his best that every day he’d been walking and training the cow, he was also being trained on how to show a cow. Once the show got going he calmed down and did great… I wish I could have had the same talk with the cow. Someone forgot to tell her that she was a show cow and that she’d been training for this for months.

Paul reminds the Thessalonians that he was like a father to them. He was always exhorting, encouraging and charging them to glorify God in how they lived their life. They had been saved from a pagan lifestyle of idolatry. They started following Christ and put their old live in the rear view mirror. Like all of us, that didn’t stop them from having a little self doubt from time to time. There was a temptation to quit or give up, but Paul pressed them to walk worthy of God…. They needed to be reminded of who they were and whose they were.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are a new creation. You aren’t your old self anymore. You don’t have to stay in a pattern of sinful habits. You don’t need to make excuses or rationalize that you can’t change or this is just the way you are. You have been called to walk worthy of God and you are able to do that because of the work of God in your life. We all need reminded of that from time to time and we need folks in our corner exhorting, encouraging and challenging us. Who does that for you? Who do you do that for?

Father, thank you for the promise that if we are in you, we are a new creation. By your grace today, let us walk and talk as new creations. I pray that we would walk in the victory that you have provided. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Praying for the Church (Colossians)

Colossians 1:9-12 ESV And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, (10) so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; (11) being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; (12) giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

We read a short family devotion after dinner when we eat together. Lately we’ve been reading through the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. The other night we read the account of Anna seeing Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:36-38). There was a prayer prompt at the end of the devotional encouraging us to pray to be like Anna who was devoted to seeking after the Lord. I was leading our youngest to pray and so simply restated the prayer prompt for her to repeat after me. So I said, “Lord help us to be like Anna.” and my youngest who has a name that sounds very similar but is different repeated, “Lord, help everyone to be like me.” The other kids started smirking and couldn’t contain their laughter. It was a good fun, family moment over a simple mistake.

As I ponder back and chuckle, I wonder how often we are guilty of praying like that. We hear of someone’s situation and we wouldn’t want to go through what they are facing and so we ask the Lord to simply remove the obstacle, hurt or pain, because that is what we’d want. While I think we ought to pray on this level to some degree, after all we are encouraged to love our neighbor as ourselves, prayer is intended to also go deeper than that.

When Paul shares about how he prays for the Colossians, their health, wealth, and general prosperity don’t make the list. Instead the list of things he prays for these folks is filled with things like knowing God, knowing His will, living up to their calling as believers and fruit or evidence of God’s work in their lives. When he prays for them, he doesn’t ask for their own strength to rally in weakness, but that they would experience God’s power, perhaps because he knows what it is like for God’s grace to be sufficient in his weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9). He prays that they might have endurance, patience, and joy. He thanks the Lord for them. Paul is always thanking God in his prayers.

Certainly there is room for us to pray behind Paul in this way for those we know and love. There are many in the wake of the pandemic who have real physical and spiritual needs. We might be tempted to pray just for health or the ability to attend church, etc. but what we also need to pray is along the lines of presenting everyone complete/mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28).

Father, thank you for your word that reveals how Paul prayed for the Colossians. My prayers are falling behind his today, as I pray in this way for my brothers and sisters in Christ. I pray that we would all know you, know your will, endure the trials we face and experience joy even in the middle of turbulent times. Thank you for the grace you’ve lavished on us all. Work in us all a fully mature faith. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Weeping for Enemies of the Cross (Philippians)

Philippians 3:17-18 ESV Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. (18) For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.

Several years ago I was cutting the grass. When suddenly my wife came in the backyard and took a picture of me. I thought it was weird that she was in such a hurry to snap a picture until I turned around and saw my little son pushing a toy lawn mower behind me. He was walking in my footsteps. He wanted to be like his dad.

Paul reinforces and encourages the church at Philippi to imitate him and those like him. Growing in Christ often looks like taking steps behind those the Lord has put in our life as examples of godly living. It’s one thing to be told that you should have a personal quiet time every morning. It’s another to be on a retreat and have an older friend in the Lord invite you in to see how they begin their day in the scriptures.

Paul also was crying as he wrote this. He was crying because there were folks he knew that had come in and were preaching a gospel of works. They were examples to many people, some perhaps had even left the church to follow after these teachers. Paul reminds us that not everyone who has a platform is worth following. There were some false teachers who weren’t worth following. The folks at Philippi needed to be careful about whom they imitated. Yet even in sharing his sorrow, Paul demonstrates a godly reaction to those who had made themselves enemies of the cross by teaching a system of works… tears.

Father, thank you for the gospel. Thank you for mature believers in Christ who can demonstrate the practical application of your scriptures and who exhibit godly lifestyles. May there be many who walk in their footsteps towards a mature faith in Christ. I confess I haven’t wept enough for those who have made themselves enemies of the cross. Thank you for the reminder today that while they may persecute us, they are not ultimately our enemies, they have made themselves your enemies. I pray for grace that they may have a Damascus road type conversion for your glory. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Every Body Needs Coaching (Ephesians 4-6)

Ephesians 4:11-16 ESV And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, (12) to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, (13) until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, (14) so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (15) Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, (16) from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Every good team needs coach. The coach is the one who puts all the players into perspective. He/ she evaluates players different skill sets, teaches the fundamentals, keeps the team in shape, and works the team through practicing the plays. Then on game day the coaches determine who plays, when they play, and what plays to run in a given situation. If coaches do there job well, the entire team does well.

The Lord has given us coaches within the body of Christ who are there to help us develop and coordinate our individual gifts for the sake of the whole body. The goal is to bring God’s people to maturity both individually and corporately. Pastors/ teachers are not there to simply educate or inform us, but to equip us for the work of ministry.

Sometimes a congregation can expect one or two individuals to do everything. They imagine that they pay the pastor(s) to do all the work. That would be like paying a coach to play the game while the rest of the team sits on the sidelines and criticizes him/her. That’s not a healthy team and it’s not healthy when a church operates that way. It’s healthy when you and I exercise our gifts in relation to one another for the glory of God. Some encourage, others serve, still others figure out administration, others teach, and others still offer hospitality, etc. and the pastor encourages and equips so that nothing is missing from the people of God. We are all well trained, well loved, well encouraged, and we mature and help others mature in the faith.

Father, thank you for the grace of one another. Thank you that Christianity isn’t an individual event, but that you have called us together and placed us with in the context of one another to form your church. I pray that we would know and exercise our gifts in relationship to one another in such a way that everyone is encouraged, strengthened, and growing in the Lord. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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We Reap What We Sow (Galatians 4-6)

Galatians 6:7-10 NKJV Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Several years ago I set up a small garden in our back yard. I read up on gardening. I built a raised bed, purchased good soil, worked in compost, and even let a few night crawlers go that were left over from a fishing trip. Yet all of that study and preparation didn’t produce any tomatoes. It wasn’t until I planted tomatoes that some time later saw tomatoes growing in my garden. What get’s planted is what get’s harvested. I could have done all that preparation and planted something different. I could have left it to the birds and wind to plant and I’d have a garden bed full of weeds.

The Apostle Paul reminds us that what we sow into our lives is eventually what we will reap. There can be a lot of waiting between sowing and reaping. We are reminded that everything that we intentionally place into our lives or do for the glory of God will produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

This should encourage us in three ways. One is to sow to the Spirit. We should do the things that please and honor God knowing that this will produce the fruit of the Spirit. Second, we should continue to sow to the Spirit with patience. Just as a farmer waits for the crop to germinate, push through the soil, and finally produce fruit, we often reap the greatest fruit long after a seed has been planted. There are verses of scripture that I memorized as a child or teenager that are still being called to mind and producing fruit in my life today. Third, we need to be diligent to take every thought captive, knowing that even small seeds sown to the flesh will produce a harvest and create chaos in the garden of our lives.

Father, thank you for you Word. I rejoice that we have freedom in Christ to take every thought captive and ask that you give me grace to filter can catch anything I would be sowing to my flesh. I also rejoice that what we sow to the Spirit produces real and lasting fruit in our lives. I pray that I would live a Spirit filled and empowered life where the fruit of the spirit is evident in my life. IIn Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Playing With Wrong Motives (Galatians 1-3)

Galatians 2:11-14 ESV But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Growing up I used to love to play basketball. I would always go to the park and play pick-up games with whoever was there. Normally I was a really good team player. I’d set picks, pass the ball to my teammates, played an aggressive defense, and took good shots. Yet, whenever the girls would come to watch some of us play, my game changed. I didn’t pass the ball as much and I took way too many bad shots. The reason was simple. I wasn’t playing to win anymore, I was playing to impress the ladies. I was playing with the wrong motives.

Cephas was a leader in the church who was acting hypocritically. Even though he was from a Jewish background, he was visiting and eating in the homes of the gentiles on a regular basis (A great thing for pastors to do.) It was a very real demonstration of how we are saved by faith in Christ and not the rituals that we keep. Yet when the Jewish folks came from headquarters, Cephas began playing a different game and no longer went to eat/ visit with the gentiles. So much so, that other folks who were looking to Cephas as an example stopped hanging out with the gentiles as well. This was a problem because it also communicated that the faith of the gentiles was inferior because they weren’t born into a Jewish family and they didn’t keep all the religious customs of the Jews.

Paul knew better, he’d fought many battles with folks who’d antagonized him on this issue, been to the first ever church council to clarify a major doctrine, and had seen many gentile believers firmly established in the faith. Yet now he encountered a church leader who had changed the way he was doing ministry and it was hurting the church. Paul called him out on it publicly because it was a public issue that affected the entire church. Public sins should be dealt with in public, private sins should be addressed in private.

This isn’t just an issue for church leaders though. Each day we have an opportunity to live a clear gospel witness. Indeed through the great commission we are called to take the gospel to the whole world. We may encounter some situations where we find ourselves hiding or muddying the waters on the gospel in order to fit in with the crowd. In such instances we may be playing to an audience rather than running the race the Lord has put before us.

Father, thank you for the grace. Thank you for friends and ministers like Paul in our lives who will call us out in our sin for the sake of the gospel. I pray that you give us wisdom and courage to live a clear gospel witness in whatever we do. Give us wisdom in living out a clear gospel witness today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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The God of Peace (2 Corinthians 13)

2Corinthians 13:11 ESV Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

I dislocated my shoulder when I was a teenager. At first we weren’t exactly sure what had happened, so I attempted to throw something and the pain was more than I could handle. I ended up at the hospital and everything was put back right. The pain didn’t immediately disappear but after a few weeks of physical therapy I was pretty much pain free again.

Sometimes there are folks who get “out of joint” with the body of Christ. They have sinned and the church needs to practice church discipline (such as Paul addresses in 1 Cor. 5) or they grieve one another with their conduct (such as suing one another, bragging about spiritual gifts, eating meat sacrificed to idols in front of a weaker brother, or the other incidents mentioned in 1 Corinthians). When a brother or sister is out of alignment with the body in these ways it is painful, tender to the touch, and no real spiritual work gets done. What needs to happen is reconciliation and restoration.

Paul reminds the church that if we are to ever really experience the peace of God, we always need to aim for restoration. This is how the body of Christ heals when we experiences damage in our relationships with one another. We can’t just bury it, hide it, or go on as if nothing happened. We need to be comforting one another, agreeing with one another, and seeking peace. After all, God is a God of love and peace.

The questions we can ask ourselves in reflection today is this: Is there anything I’m doing that might cause the body of Christ to be out of joint? Are there molehills that I’ve turned into mountains? Are there things I’ve done to cause my brother to stumble? Is there blatant sin in the camp that needs to be addressed? Is there someone who is seeking reconciliation that I need to forgive?

Father, thank you that you are a God of peace. Thank you for the peace that was made with us through Jesus Christ. Thank you that you have put us together with other believers to be the body of Christ. I pray that when we find ourselves at odds with one another that we do everything with in our power to seek reconciliation. I ask that we always practice church discipline with an aim towards restoration. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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(2 Corinthians 4-6)

2Corinthians 5:8 NKJV We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.

It has been a difficult start to the year. We’ve had several funerals for local folks that have been well known and loved. It’s almost like being at the ocean on a red flag day and wading out into the tide. You get knocked down, before you ever really get up, another wave comes and knocks you down again. It’s been frustrating, emotionally exhausting, and difficult to mourn one loss for the sake of another.

One of the comforts is that many of the folks I’ve had to say goodbye to in 2021 have had a strong testimony and legacy of trusting in the LORD. As I read these words today I couldn’t help but be comforted and encouraged. While we struggle here on earth, they have a much better body in a much better place.

I’ve shared before at funerals that those who have gone on wouldn’t want to come back (to this earth before Christ’s return). I’m reminded that this is doubly true in the sense that many have who have passed away have left frail bodies for us to bury here on earth. They are experiencing bodies with out the aches and pains that they had grown accustomed to in this life. No more bad knees, aching joints, coughing spells, no more fatigue. Then there is the better joy of being in the presence of the Lord!

Father, thank you that to be absent from the body is to be present with you! Though I mourn the loss of those who have passed away this year, I rejoice that they are enjoying new heavenly bodies. I rejoice that they are in your presence. I look forward to the day when we will all be together again without the limits of this earthly body and fully in your presence. Thank you for comforting and encouraging us through your Word. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Love (1 Corinthians 13-15)

1Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

What good is a brand new sports car if you don’t have a battery or any gas? You can’t drive it. It won’t go anywhere because it doesn’t have any power. It might be nice to look at and admire, but it’s fullest potential will never be unleashed without some sort of power.

Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13 that while the gifts of the Spirit are to be sought, love is what is really needed. Love empowers and directs the use our Spiritual Gifts. We shouldn’t use spiritual gifts to pump ourselves up and inflate our egos, but we should demonstrate love in how we use the spiritual gifts that God has given. Paul works this out in 1 Corinthians 14 when he illustrates what order in a church service should look like. Love seeks to edify the whole congregation, not just itself.

1Corinthians 13:8 ESV Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

One of the thing that will we see just a taste of in this life, that will be perfected in Heaven, is the gift of love. Right now we love in a fallen and a broken world. In Heaven where all brokenness is either outlawed or mended to be whole, we will know love without bitterness. There won’t be envy, prideful boasting, back stabbing, arrogance, or selfishness. Where love remains and is perfected, the people who walk the streets of gold will genuinely want the best for one another. Between the folks there, there will only be the fullest expression of everything listed in this chapter as an attribute of love. Between God and His people, there will only be the deepest love. Love remains. Other things pass away, but one thing we know for certain is that beyond the vail of death, for those in Christ, love remains.

Father, Thank you for loving us. I pray that we earnestly seek to love you and love one another as you empower us with the Holy Spirit. May we be better at loving you and loving others every day of our lives this side of eternity. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Sexual Immorality (1 Corinthians 4-6)

This will probably be an unpopular post. To clarify a few things up front. 1. The reason we are talking about this issue is because it is addressed in the scripture. 2. The primary audience I have been writing for are those who profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. 3. There is no expectation on my part that an unbeliever would understand or live by a Christian ethic of sexual morality. 4. My comments are intended to encourage wayward brothers and sisters to repentance.

My youngest child the other day intentionally hit me with a toy and it really hurt. I said, “ouch” and put the toy in time-out, effectively grounding her from playing with it. Several moments later she came to where I was reading and asked, “Daddy, do you still love me?”

How do you think I responded? Of course I still loved her and I told her so with my words and a great big hug! But I couldn’t endorse or permit her behavior that was hurting others. The way she was playing with the toy, she was also in real a danger hurting herself. She couldn’t see it then, but it was precisely because I loved her that I addressed her behavior.

From Today’s Reading:

1Corinthians 5:1-2 ESV It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you

Immorality was rampant in the Corinthian church. There were many who were strongly influenced by the culture they were living in. A kind of immorality that was celebrated in the culture was now being celebrated in the church. This was wrong! Indeed it was one of the very few things listed by the church council at Jerusalem that gentiles who convert to Christianity should avoid.

Acts 15:19-21 ESV Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”

Today in our culture sexual immorality (simply understood as sex outside of a marriage between a biological man and a biological woman) is being celebrated and championed in our culture. There are even some churches who are also championing the cause of sexual immorality inside the church today. I believe that Paul would lovingly, but strongly rebuke those churches and call them to repentance.

Sexual immorality is a serious sin. Paul reminds us that this category of sin is different because it involves our bodies in ways that other sins don’t. Our bodies are special because God has put the Holy Spirit inside of us. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and so we should pay special attention to glorify God with how we use our bodies. Sexual immorality at its core mocks God’s design in nature and His establishment of the institution of marriage and family.

1Corinthians 6:18-20 ESV Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Paul reminds the Corinthians that those who live sexually immoral life styles will not see the kingdom of heaven. Don’t be deceived though, while this category of sin isn’t great, there are other sins that will keep you out of heaven as well. Indeed, you really only need one sin to be a sinner and one sin will keep you out. All sin is serious.

1Corinthians 6:9-10 ESV Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

Yet, Paul doesn’t write to condemn you if you’ve sinned in these ways. He isn’t writing at this point to say that your side of Hell will be especially hot for this type of sin. He’s actually writing to let us know that God through Christ even forgives these sorts of sins when we come to Him in faith and repentance! There were many in the Corinthian church who had lived sexually immoral lifestyles before they trusted in Christ. Trusting in Jesus changed everything. Just look at the very next verse!

1Corinthians 6:11 ESV And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

I’m so grateful that there isn’t a sin in my past or yours that the Lord can’t redeem us from!

Father, Thank you for a direct but loving word on this topic. Give us grace and wisdom today. We ask that you would be glorified in our lives. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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