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.

Taking a Stand

Click here to read Acts 13:13-52.

What is something you feel people need to hear? When we have something to say, do we always speak up? Or do we shy away? Sometimes we take the chances and sometimes we don’t.

Paul and Barnabas were travelling and entered into the synagogue. The leader was reading from the Law and the Prophets. Notice this is a time of hearing scripture, learning, and worshipping as a community. Gathering together was and still is important in our faith development.

After the reading of the scripture, the leader asked the crowd (congregation) if anyone would like to speak and give a sermon. I know of many people who would stand up to speak at every opportunity, mainly to speak to their own agenda. We hear propagandas all the time. A person or group just want to speak to “make sure” everyone hears what they want to say. Notice the key word there, “want.”

If there is something from the Holy Spirit, in my experience, we see how the community is build up, how God’s Kingdom is expressed and experienced, and how much it weighs on our hearts and spirits until we speak or act. I think Paul had something like this kind of desire everywhere he went. His only agenda was to speak and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. All he needed was an opportunity to speak.

When the opportunity arose at the synagogue, he took it and captured the congregation’s attention with his knowledge of the scriptures and his passion. There is a difference when people tell what’s in the scriptures versus passionately speaking about what’s in the scriptures. One has an agenda to hold people down. The other has an agenda to lift up Christ and to build the community.

Paul’s intention is to build the community. He walked through the, what we call, Old Testament and showed how everything pointed to and lead to Jesus Christ. This is a great recap of the Old Testament story through the Gospels. (Another place to find a recap of the Old Testament is in Acts 7.)

Paul spoke with such passion and authority that people believed the message and wanted to learn more. There were also people who were upset and angry about the message that they just wanted Paul and Barnabas to leave. People will respond to grace when we proclaim and take opportunities to speak about Christ, the Holy Spirit will use the message to fill the hearts of those who are truly hearing.

Remember that when we have an opportunity to speak about grace, take it. You never know how the Holy Spirit will be experienced in the hearts of the people listening. Let’s continually work to build people up and bring the Kingdom of God with us wherever we are.

Peace: Have No Fear

ADVENT WEEK 2: Peace

The four weeks leading up to Christmas is a time we should take each year to prepare ourselves Jesus Christ coming into the world: a time of celebrating his birth, and also preparing ourselves for his return. When we take this time seriously, we have the opportunity to again place our hope in God through Jesus Christ, to experience the peace and joy the Holy Spirit brings us, so we can truly live in love and experience true life, life in the presence of God here and now AND in the life to come.

This week, our scripture focus brings us to The angel’s proclamation to Mary she is the one to give birth to the Messiah, Emmanuel, Jesus the Christ.

Luke 1:26-38 (CEB)

“When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. When the angel came to her, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.” Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son. Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled ‘unable to conceive’ is now six months pregnant. Nothing is impossible for God.” Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her.”

More than likely, these are words you have heard many times. It is too easy for us to read a story, scripture passage, message that we have heard time and time again and think we know what it says. Remember, “God’s Word, is living and active” (Hebrews 4:12) so each time we carefully read it, we can experience God speaking. Take a few minutes to reread the scripture passage again.

What stands out to you? What have you not noticed before? What do you hear, feel, touch, see? If you placed yourself in this passage, where would you be? What would you be feeling?

Mary is in the middle of her day, when angel appears to her and delivers this incredible news. Mary, like us, would most likely have responded in fear at first. Thinking about what would happen to her and her family, to her husband, if this all came to be.

Fear seems to make sense. We say we need to protect ourselves, so our self-preservation instincts take over. We are all driven by fear on some level. We save up excess money for the future because we get fearful we don’t have enough. We buy many imperishable foods because we’re fearful a storm will come and take out our power. We give our kids everything they want because we’re fearful they will through a fit in public. We buy the best and most expensive clothes, toys, electronics, houses because we’re fearful people won’t like us or we won’t feel valuable. Fear if kept unchecked will result in a person feeling anxiety, then turning to stress, then turning to anger. But, this is not how God desires us to live. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear… The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

Everything around us can be chaotic, messy, scary; but God gives us grace so we can live in peace. Peace is not the absence of conflict. Peace is the presence of Jesus Christ around us and within us. Mary could have stayed fearful; but soon she would have the physical presence of Jesus the Christ growing inside her.

So, we can choose to respond in fear, or trust God, even when it seems impossible. This was Mary’s stance. She did wonder and ask how this can be since she has not been with a man. But the angel told her, “nothing is impossible with God.”

Many people get stuck on the question, “how can a virgin give birth to a baby?” If we stay in this Lin of thinking we will miss a much more important question: “How big is your God?” Here’s what I mean:

  • Is God big enough and grand enough to create the world in 6 literal days and give it the appearance of age?
  • Is God big enough to create a world, set it in motion, create the math, science, down to the smallest detail for the world to evolve and get ready for humans over a few million or billion years?
  • Is God big enough to shut the door of an ark, fight battles for the Israelites, bring a whole nation into the promised land?
  • Is God big enough to supply the missing DNA needed to give birth to his son here on earth?

We do not have to have all the answers; but we can trust that God can make it happen. Personally I find great peace in this because I know God is holding a tight grip on us and is giving us everything we need.

Mary really did not get an answer as to how, exactly, this was going to take place except for hearing the “Holy Spirit will overshadow her.” But she resolves to step out in faith and trust that God’s plan for her life is much better than anything she could have dreamed of or planned. Which brings us to a final thought.

Was Mary’s life easier because she said “yes” to God? No. Too often we have this idea that following Jesus makes our life smooth and easy. Following Jesus does not mean this. If anything it makes out lives harder because we have to go into the world to shine his light. People will look down on Jesus followers because they don’t understand or know. We get to help those and be in relationship with those who everyone else says is scary or dangerous. We get to go to places that we hear on the news is war torn and in complete chaos. But…

We don’t need to fear because the real presence of Jesus Christ is with us.

This Advent season, take time to experience the peace of Jesus Christ in your life. Fully embrace the grace God gives, fear not or be anxious about nothing because the best task is to focus on Christ.

In the words of Jesus, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)

Life Lived for Christ

Max Lucado says, “think what you think about.” One of the things I appreciate about this is that is forces us to think about why we do the things that we do. Our life is supposed to show our love of God and love of people. Jesus said in John 13, “everyone will know you are my disciples when you love each other.” Love begins with a thought and permeates every part of our being. So, we should think about our motives and how we live our life.

If you were in this crowd, how would you respond to John the Baptist? Click here to read Luke 3:7-14.

The other gospel accounts have John calling the religious leaders “brood of vipers” or “children of snakes.” But in Luke, something else happens. John is calling the crowd, “you brood of vipers” or in this translation, “you children of snakes.”

I’m not sure about you, but this would catch my attention being called that. The next few words out of his mouth would determine whether or not I would stay to listen.

John Wesley also warned people to “escape the wrath to come.” We have a choice: to live a life focused on angry judgement, or the grace of God. John the Baptist simply says, “produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives.”

What does this looks like? This is not about “earning” God’s grace or “earning” salvation. This is about allowing Jesus Christ coming into our life to change how we live. John the Baptist gives examples to people how this life looks when we change our hearts and lives (repent).

Christmas is a great time to remember that God came down in human form, Jesus Christ. His real presence in the world changes everything!

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Unjoining Union

Mark 10:2-8 “Some Pharisees came and, trying to test him, they asked, “Does the Law allow a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus answered, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a divorce certificate and to divorce his wife.” Jesus said to them, “He wrote this commandment for you because of your unyielding hearts. At the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. Because of this, a man should leave his father and mother and be joined together with his wife, and the two will be one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh.”

Today, we look at a passage that can be a place of argument and division among people. There may be things I say people may not agree with, and that’s okay.

What is happening in this passage? The Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus by getting him to say anything contrary to the Law that was passed down by Moses. In one way, I think, they were trying to show their own superiority based upon their knowledge and were trying to show how “ignorant” or “uninformed” Jesus was. As we already know, Jesus proves the contrary.

The Pharisees were asking about a Law that was given by Moses. Right away, we can see they were elevating Moses to the position of God by saying his law had more authority. Jesus listened to their question, and answered their question directly. Not really going into further details or explanation except what had been written down in the Scriptures. The Pharisees were looking at this life from the point of view of man. Jesus was looking at life from the point of view of God the Father.

So, where does this leave us? I believe there is something in Jesus’ words that we can take out and help guide us today. What was He talking about? Division. Separation. Consequences of doing our own things.

The line that strikes me more than any of the others is “Because of your hardness of hearts…” The people were given what they wanted, a chance to break union “because of their hard hearts;” because of the human rebellious spirit. Now, to be clear on something, I don’t see Jesus here saying that every divorce is because of a person’s rebellious spirit, just wanting to get what ever they want. Commentators point out that Jesus was simply answering the question of the Pharisees. He wasn’t, here, giving regulations or stipulations that are acceptable for divorce.

I do think that Jesus is bringing the human condition to light. We simply want things our way, and will try in whatever manner to get it. Instead of leaving this statement alone and walking away, Jesus points all the way back to the beginning…God. He stressed the basis and purpose of God’s creation of humans, to be in relationship with one another. Then He talks about the two becoming one.

Glue is fun to use. I like to glue objects together to try and fix the brokenness. What happens when I try to take apart something that has been joined together by glue? A mess, the two piece are never the same. There has been an unjoining of the union. The two are no longer part of the one, they are separated. If this were done on people, we would feel a lot of pain.

I believe one of our purposes is to be in relationship with other people. Our relationship with people should be based upon our relationship with God. But our hard, rebellious hearts cause us to not look to God. But, we can go back and see God’s original purpose. At points like this, we can see grace because God has not left us.

Get ‘Em

James 5:19-20 “My brothers and sisters, if any of you wander from the truth and someone turns back the wanderer, recognize that whoever brings a sinner back from the wrong path will save them from death and will bring about the forgiveness of many sins.”

James has been a great series to be in for this month. The ending is not what we might consider “normal.” After all, what has James been doing the entire letter up until these verses? Getting the community of faith to live their lives in the manner they speak and worship.

There have been ups and downs, as with all aspects of human life. Living to a higher standard, is difficult. It is possible to try and live a decent life through good works; but it is because of our faith and living out our faith are the works we do elevated to give God glory.

Prayer is a communication between man and God and God and man. This is one of the most powerful things we can do in our lives. When people get together as a community and pray, souls are aligned. This is one reason I believe Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.” (Matthew 18:20). There is just something special and powerful when we get together as a community.

There are times when there is a rift, a division within the community of faith and a person has abandoned the faith. People will run off and do there own things. Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians that he handed people over to Satan for their benefit so they would come back to God anew. When someone decides to walk away, James says to go get them!

Now, we do not go bring them back so numbers will be higher, or giving will increase. We go because God desires all people to have a saving knowledge of Him. We grow in our faith because of the community of faith we are part of. If a person walks away, it becomes easy to hold on to the parts of our life we are ashamed of. We miss out on the opportunity to take the burden off our hearts and confess sins, confess wrong doings.

Confession, repentance and forgiveness is something powerful that we cannot ignore. Going to get people who walk away, or who have never known the faith helps us maintain relationships and walk with people through their hurts, their joys, their life.

Who do you believe God is leading you to go get?

Stories

James 5:17-18 “Elijah was a person just like us. When he earnestly prayed that it wouldn’t rain, no rain fell for three and a half years. He prayed again, God sent rain, and the earth produced its fruit.”

There are incredible stories of God answering prayers throughout the Bible. Sometimes I think we do not think that God answers prayers in the same way as recorded in scripture; or we may believe that we are not as good as the people who had the answers to prayers.

One thing is for certain, the people mentioned in the Bible are real people who did their best to keep their hearts in tune with God. We do not have to worry about them being better than we are. They made mistakes as well; yet they still stayed faithful to God and hearing from Him.

There are people who have incredible stories of prayer and God’s answer to them. We can praise God for any answer He give: yes, no, not yet. Often times we hear of how a person prayed and God miraculously stepped in to deliver them from several kinds of situations (health failing, finances, work, etc). But what about those stories that do not get as much press or media attention?

Think for a moment about the times you know God has answered your prayers. Were they always the way you wanted them answered? Most likely not. Yet, we still have stories of how God answered prayers, even when we didn’t like the answer, to be an example of faithfulness to our Creator.

Jesus prayed for the cup of suffering to be taken away from Him; but He still followed through. You and I can be examples to show how we keep communication open with God, through our prayers, in all aspects of our lives.

What kinds of stories can you tell about God’s answers to your prayers? If this is something challenging to think of, I invite you to begin a Prayer Journal. In this journal, record the date, time, prayer you prayed and leave a space for answer. Every now and then go through this Prayer Journal to recall your prayers and see how many answers you received. This will be an incredible story of faithfulness that will make an impact not only on your life, but on the lives of your family and friends that will be able to help them in their walk with Jesus Christ.