Keeping Calm in Turmoil

Click here to read Acts 24.

After reading the scripture for today, do you relate to Paul in any way? After all, he had people rise up, spreading gossip, and telling the truth in a twisted way. My guess is we all would like opportunities for the complete truth to be told. We all may want for us to come out looking good in the situation.

The truth is Paul is still made to look like a trouble maker in the eyes of the accusers and the people they talk with the most. How does Paul react? We do not see him getting angry, or upset. Instead we see a person who is allowing the accusers to make their case and keep silent in the process. If he has a chance to speak, he will speak truth; but he stays quiet and still while they declare all of these “bad” things about him.

So, how do you think you would be in that situation? I believe most of us, at some point in our lives, go through something like this. The first thing we have to remember is not everyone is going to like us. This can be for all kinds of reasons: being hurt unintentionally or even intentionally, jealousy, and even more reasons. The point is for us to be able to remain calm and share grace whenever we can.

Do we allow people to walk all over us and say whatever they want to? No. You will get a chance to speak the truth. We find ways to talk with the right people who will actually listen and be able to discern what’s really going on. Finding peace in the situations is not always easy. It is better for an outsider to come in to carefully examine the facts.

Paul has been facing trouble similar to this his entire ministry. Jesus, our Lord and Savior faced trouble. We should not ever think that just because we follow Jesus Christ that our lives are going to be easy and perfect. What we can expect is because we follow Jesus Christ, we will face opposition because the gospel challenges the world.

Through whatever you are facing, have faced, or will face, it is important to rely on the movement and working of the Holy Spirit in your heart and life. The Holy Spirit will guide you and give you greater comfort and peace than you could ever have imagined. Trust that this is a great blessing and reminder of God’s presence in your life in the midst of strife. You just never know how God will use the situation, the people, or the people in power.

Keep these verses in mind:

Philippians 4:6-7 CEB

Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.

Proverbs 25:21-22 CEB

If your enemies are starving, feed them some bread; if they are thirsty, give them water to drink. By doing this, you will heap burning coals on their heads, and the Lord will reward you.

Colossians 3:15 CEB

 The peace of Christ must control your hearts—a peace into which you were called in one body. And be thankful people.

Galatians 5:22-23 CEB

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this.

Lasting Words of Encouragement

Click here to read Acts 20.

Paul had experienced incredible ministry while he stayed in Ephesus. He also experienced hardships and turmoil.

One of the things I love about the life of the Apostle Paul is how, according to the scriptures, kept his joy amidst everything he endured. Think about it. He was jailed, beaten, harassed, plotted against, and more. How would you feel like responding after this kind of treatment? Paul refused to let the joy of Jesus Christ out of his heart and life. Just read the letter to the Philippians as a great example of the joy of Jesus and how his life was completely changed. Our can be this way too.

Joy. That’s a word we don’t always seem to understand. Joy is more than simply being happy. Joy is from deep down in our soul. It’s one of the fruits of the Spirit Paul writes about in Galatians 5 (love, joy,…). This is able to see and experience the Kingdom of Heaven among everything that is going on around us. Can you grasp how awesome that is?

Not only does Paul keep experiencing this joy, that comes from God’s grace through the Holy Spirit; but he is continually working so others may know of true joy also. This can really only come into our lives after we experience the amazing grace of God through Jesus Christ.

As Paul proclaimed the gospel, he endured so much; but he keeps his focus on the one true Christ. This is what he hopes continues on, within the people, after he sails away on to his next mission.

Paul has to tell his beloved Ephesians he is going away and will not be back to see them. I’m am sure he is as heartbroken as they are. Even though he will not be with them, he encourages the people to basically stay true to the gospel message of Jesus the Christ.

Do you think you could say similar words to the people around you? Reread his speech here:

“You know how I lived among you the whole time I was with you, beginning with the first day I arrived in the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears in the midst of trials that came upon me because of the Jews’ schemes. You know I held back nothing that would be helpful so that I could proclaim to you and teach you both publicly and privately in your homes. You know I have testified to both Jews and Greeks that they must change their hearts and lives as they turn to God and have faith in our Lord Jesus. Now, compelled by the Spirit, I’m going to Jerusalem. I don’t know what will happen to me there. What I do know is that the Holy Spirit testifies to me from city to city that prisons and troubles await me.But nothing, not even my life, is more important than my completing my mission. This is nothing other than the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus: to testify about the good news of God’s grace. I know that none of you will see me again—you among whom I traveled and proclaimed the kingdom. Therefore, today I testify to you that I’m not responsible for anyone’s fate. I haven’t avoided proclaiming the entire plan of God to you. Watch yourselves and the whole flock, in which the Holy Spirit has placed you as supervisors, to shepherd God’s church, which he obtained with the death of his own Son. I know that, after my departure, savage wolves will come in among you and won’t spare the flock. Some of your own people will distort the word in order to lure followers after them. Stay alert! Remember that for three years I constantly and tearfully warned each one of you. I never stopped warning you! Now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all whom God has made holy. I haven’t craved anyone’s silver, gold, or clothing. You yourselves know that I have provided for my own needs and for those of my companions with my own hands. In everything I have shown you that, by working hard, we must help the weak. In this way we remember the Lord Jesus’ words: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

The challenge for today is to find a way to give encouragement to those around you, especially if they have wronged you in anyway.

May God’s Spirit of peace and joy be with you all today and each day after.

Between Two Friends

Click here to read Acts 15:36-41.

Just when everything seemed to be going well, or at least moving in the right direction, another conflict arises. This time it does not come the outside world; but inside the Christian faith. The argument is between Paul and Barnabas about whether or not John Mark should continue to go with them.

This may not seem like that big of a deal, on the surface. Paul was really hurt when John Mark left (deserted) them in Pamphylia. Why did he leave? Acts 13:13 says, “Paul and his companions sailed from Paphos to Perga in Pamphylia. John deserted them there and returned to Jerusalem.” We know where he went; but why did he leave? It doesn’t say. Maybe he got scared after “Bar-Jesus’ eyes were darkened and he began to grope about for someone to lead him around by the hand.” (Acts 13:11) John Mark would have been there when “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Saul, also known as Paul, glared at Bar-Jesus and said, “You are a deceiver and trickster! You devil! You attack anything that is right! Will you never stop twisting the straight ways of the Lord into crooked paths? Listen! The Lord’s power is set against you. You will be blind for a while, unable even to see the daylight.” (Acts 13:9-11a) Constantly seeing acts like this and being there when Paul and Barnaba were thrown in prison and treated harshly, would make be nervous as well.

Maybe John Mark left because he needed a break. The point is Paul felt hurt by the desertion on their colleague. They wanted and needed him to be there with them; and he left. He went back home to a safe, familiar place. Paul did not want him to rejoin their group, Barnabas wanted to give John Mark another chance. Paul and Barnabas split ways.

This is how it seems to happen, even for us today. We can look at this passage and say that Paul was being too harsh and should have shown more grace. But Paul was too hurt and had a hard time believing John Mark would continue to stay with them even in the difficult times to come. But did he really have to get angry over the situation?

We should remember that anger is a secondary emotion. This means anger is manifested because we are hurt, tired, emotional, or a whole host of possibilities. When someone is angry, the best thing to do is let them calm down. Nothing productive comes to pass when both parties are angry and not listening. Staying in a state of anger can, and does, ruin relationships. So, listen to what is being said, ask questions (without making it worse), and be patient.

Maybe going different directions is what is needed at times. Maybe it is easier to part company than it is to work things out and get to the heart of the matter. But maybe we can allow our pride to get in the way and miss out on even greater things if we continue to pursue tasks out of anger.

Keep in mind, we are all human beings. We all live in this fallen state of humanity. It is when we experience the Holy Spirit living and moving in our lives that we will produce the fruit of the Spirit in us. It will not always be easy; but the time it takes to develop love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control will eventually prove to be worth it.

Yes, we will continue to respond in anger; but I hope and pray that we can all learn to get past ourselves and really listen to the other side. Maybe, just maybe, we can all learn how to better live with each other, developing more and deeper relationships instead of having more division.

NOTE: Paul does let John Mark rejoin him later on. J

Separating Out

Mark 10:9 “Therefore, humans must not pull apart what God has put together.”

This is a verse that can get taken out of context, if it is used incorrectly. Remember, yesterday, Jesus was answering the question from the Pharisees about whether or nor it is legal for a man to divorce his wife. Jesus answered it was because of the people’s hardness of heart that Moses allowed divorces to happen.

This verse begins with a “Therefore.” Whenever we see a “therefore,” we have to ask what is that “therefore” there for? It is here because Jesus is continuing his answer to the Pharisee’s question.

We all have been through situations that make us want to separate ourselves and leave. In this context, Jesus is stating that God is the One who joins a man and a woman together, therefore what God has put together, man should not try to separate.

Why would this be a big deal? Let’s think about it. When God brings two people (or materials) together, He is stating there is a purpose behind the union. When God creates, He only makes good things. Therefore, when we separate what God has joined, or created, we end up saying we can do it better.

What are somethings (besides marriage) that God has joined together that would be bad to separate? How about our gifts and our vocations. Our personality and our character. Our faith from our thinking. It is when we combine these (and many other joinings) that we can experience and see fruit and positive growth when we use everything together. If we begin to separate (i.e. our mind from our faith), we begin to not see the big picture; and, become very one-sided.

Therefore, do not separate what God has joined together. God has great plans for you.

What Drives You?

James 3:14-18 “However, if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, then stop bragging and living in ways that deny the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above. Instead, it is from the earth, natural and demonic. Wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and everything that is evil. What of the wisdom from above? First, it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine. Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts.”

This week, we’re continuing to look at wisdom and our lives. Today, I’ll ask the question, “what drives you?” Maybe a better way to ask this is, “where do you get the motivation to do what you do?” I think this is a very important question to ask because it shows where we get our “wisdom” from: culture around us or God in heaven.

If we get our wisdom from the culture around us, we’ll be more interested in what the majority of people think. We’ll look to news and media for sensationalism and entertainment instead of seeing the world as a broken place that God is working in. We’ll say it’s okay to be jealous because people are messing with “our possessions” or our relationships. We’ll focus more on what we want and do anything to get it instead of doing what we can to improve the lives of those around us, including our own.

Wisdom from God is different. It is a way of life that sows the seeds of the gospel for the good of the Kingdom of God. We’ll see evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in our life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Our way of life, our actions will show this. God gives us a spirit that, if nurtured, will grow and bring forth fruit that will transform the world with the power of God working in us and through us.

What drives you?

Jesus, we call on you to work in our lives and nurture the gifts you and given us. May we have the wisdom to hear from you and allow you to continue to work in us and through us for the transformation of the world. Amen

Cookie Cutters?

Romans 12:4 “We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if all of us had the same function, same mindset, same gifts and talents as each other? Wouldn’t that make life easier? I know we say (and hopefully tease), “If only [insert name or group] would think (or act) just like me, then everything would be right.” After all, I am the one that is always right, correct?

Sometimes I believe we slip into the mindset and attitudes that it would be so much better if everyone else acted and thought just like we do. One of the beauties of the creativeness of God is how much diversity is out there for us to enjoy. Let’s be honest, we like diversity and can get a little bored of the same thing over and over. We like to make choices.

We are not all “cut out of the same mold.” We are all created individually with specific gifts, talents, interests, preferences, etc. This is one of the beautiful parts of our world – how much diversity there is. Yes, we all have differing gifts and talents. Yes, we live in different communities and countries. But I believe this shows the creativity of God.

What this tells me is that we are all part of the same “body.” I also think of this as community of faith or universal church. The body of Christ is the church here on earth. Each part of the body has different functions, and this is what makes the body work.

The challenge I think we have today is to think about the diversity there is around us and how we are really all (hopefully) working toward the same goal. There are people we do not agree with; but this is an opportunity to be thankful and praise God for their gifts and talents being used to build the Kingdom of God here on earth. You and I have a great part to play, even though we may have different functions.

God should be praised daily for the diversity.

What A Joy!

What a joy it is to wake up each day and see what the new day brings. Each day I wake up is a reminder to thank God for the opportunities that lie ahead, and thank God for His presence with us. This is truly a great gift.

What are some of the gifts you have been given? What would you say is your best gift? I asked these questions to some teenagers recently and I was actually surprised by their answers. They started off by saying things like forgiveness, love, family, friends, talents, humor, etc. Just when we think we have teenagers figured out, they go and say what they really value.

We all have special gifts we have been given by God and it is good for us to use them to work with God to help people live into the Kingdom of God here on earth. These gifts can probably be viewed as several things, but my encouragement for you and I today is to see how we can help people see and experience the Kingdom of God here and now and live into life. So, what gifts do you have that can be utilized for this?

I love this passage from the book of Romans. We’ll look into it for the next few days; but this is a glimpse of how we can begin to live our lives today. We get to work with God and the gifts given to us today. What a JOY!

Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other. We have different gifts that are consistent with God’s grace that has been given to us. If your gift is prophecy, you should prophesy in proportion to your faith. If your gift is service, devote yourself to serving. If your gift is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. If your gift is encouragement, devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. The leader should lead with passion. The one showing mercy should be cheerful. ~Romans 12:3-8

Higher Grounds

trees on mountains

Colossians 2:16-19 So don’t let anyone judge you about eating or drinking or about a festival, a new moon observance, or sabbaths. These religious practices are only a shadow of what was coming—the body that cast the shadow is Christ. Don’t let anyone who wants to practice harsh self-denial and worship angels rob you of the prize. They go into detail about what they have seen in visions and have become unjustifiably arrogant by their selfish way of thinking. They don’t stay connected to the head. The head nourishes and supports the whole body through the joints and ligaments, so the body grows with a growth that is from God.

Paul is wanting to be clear of the point he is making: stay grounded in Christ and firm in your faith. He wants to make sure that when the time comes people make fun of ceremonies you or I do or do not participate in that we will stand firm in our belief in Christ. Several of his letters seem to address similar situations. Everything we do should reflect Christ, not cast a shadow over the message.

There will be people we encounter who say we have to do certain rituals, or act a certain way to worship Christ. Paul says the people will even go into detail and become arrogant that they have had certain experiences and others have not. We are all on the same playing field because of Jesus Christ. This means that Christ is not looking for specific acts of worship. Although He is looking for us loving each other and showing love toward others to prove we are His disciples. Christ is simply asking us to follow Him and Him alone. He is not looking for anything we can use to justify our faith, He just wants our faith and love.

It is easy to say that other people are the ones who need to watch their arrogance; but this applies to us also. Our lives are meant to glorify Jesus Christ in all we say, do, even think. We stand on a higher ground, not because we want to be better than anyone else; but so we can be sure to be close to Christ in all we do.

#ToTheGloryOfChrist

Reconciled

god-strenght

Colossians 1:21-23 Once you were alienated from God and you were enemies with him in your minds, which was shown by your evil actions. But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through death, to present you before God as a people who are holy, faultless, and without blame. But you need to remain well established and rooted in faith and not shift away from the hope given in the good news that you heard. This message has been preached throughout all creation under heaven. And I, Paul, became a servant of this good news.

As you read these words, what comes to your mind? Is this something you’ll read and think “this is for (insert name)”? Afterall, what “evil actions” could you and I have done to be enemies of God? Paul outlines some of the “evil actions” in Galatians chapter 5 and more in Colossians chapter 3. The place we should start is, what is broken and how have we gone against God?

To start with, we look at our pride and how we do everything we can to “take care of number one.” This means we tend to look at our desires, our wants, our thoughts and try to get what we need satisfied. G.K. Chesterton reminds us what Jesus was saying when he said, Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye? You deceive yourself! First take the log out of your eye, and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5). We all have something to take care of in us before we try to point out other people faults and failings.

So, it is in this place of realizing how we have gone against God, and what we have done that were considered “evil actions” against God, that we can come to a place to see how glorious and how incredible and awesome the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for you, me and the world truly is! Because of Jesus, we have the opportunity to be reconciled to God. Because of Jesus, our relationship with God has been changed forever. Because of Jesus, we can experience new life.

We do not forget what we used to be like before we met and encountered Jesus Christ; instead, God uses our former way of life as a testimony as to what God can do through the trial and struggles of our lives to bring healing, wholeness and reconciliation. Not only with other people, but with God also. This means that we have the chance to accept and live into the grace that Jesus has given. Because of this grace, Christ presents us as “holy, faultless and without blame” to God. So, when God looks at you and I, God sees Jesus Christ in our place.

We have been given this new life, this new opportunity to be reconciled to God. Through this gift, we have the opportunity to spread the good news of how other people can experience the Risen and Living Jesus Christ in their lives here and now. God has been preaching this message throughout all creation, and is speaking through each one of us today. We work with God to bring life, healing, hope, joy, peace, love and so much more that God gives through us.

This is not done so we can have the glory or recognition. We share this glorious news of Jesus Christ to give Him the glory in all we do and all we say. We can begin to see how God is working in us and through us to be reconciled to each other (even the people who wronged us badly) and to God.

#ToTheGloryOfChrist

Strengthened in Christ

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Colossians 1:9-14 Because of this, since the day we heard about you, we haven’t stopped praying for you and asking for you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding. We’re praying this so that you can live lives that are worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way: by producing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God; by being strengthened through his glorious might so that you endure everything and have patience; and by giving thanks with joy to the Father. He made it so you could take part in the inheritance, in light granted to God’s holy people. He rescued us from the control of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. He set us free through the Son and forgave our sins. 

Yesterday, we looked at the prayers that Paul was praying for people while he was in prison. He was filled with joy how God was working in the lives of the congregations he formed. As we continue with Colossians 1, we get to see more of Paul’s prayers for the people. He prays for those reading this letter to be strengthened by God. Who do you think is praying for you to be strengthened in your faith? Who should you pray for to increase in strength in their faith in God?

Why should we pray this? If we trust that God is working in people, we will be more attentive to their faith life and can be more encouraging in their walk with Jesus Christ. As we do this, we get to be the ones to walk with God alongside them to help them grow the seeds of God’s grace that will produce a fruit. This fruit will allow the person to do even more good works for the Kingdom of God.

Paul also makes a statement that, if just read quickly, can be missed. He says “so that you endure everything and have patience.” In this statement, Paul is saying that life is not going to be easy, but we can be strengthened by God to endure anything we go through. It will hurt at the time, but in the end we will be able to develop patience through life. What a great promise to hold on to. Imagine how much different the world would be if we allowed patience to develop in each of us and this fruit of the spirit takes over our lives!

For us to be strengthened in Christ means that we look to the light to guide our path. We seem to be more comfortable walking in the dark (doing things and traveling paths that actually lead away from Christ) than we are walking in the light (moving with and toward Jesus Christ with our lives). Why are we this way? It can be painful for our weaknesses and sins to be exposed to the light, but this is how God takes care of our sins. God brings them into the light so we can see what we need to do and how we should live a life that is worthy of Him.

We are set free from the paths that try to keep us in the dark; the paths that lead us away from Christ. The darkness creeps in and can make us believe lies and dark things about us. Letting the light in and moving toward the light really gives us the freedom to believe the best things about us because that is what God believes about you and I.

#ToTheGloryOfChrist