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.

Filled With The Spirit

Click here to read the passage for today: Acts 6:8-15 CEB.

Whenever you are out in public doing great things, doing great work, opposition will come. How we handle this opposition is important.

First of all, I would need to ask if we are bold enough to speak and do good works even when there is a chance for people to oppose or to speak ill? If we were honest, we would most likely not want that to happen because we would want to protect our reputation. So, then we need to ask, “what is more important? Our reputation or doing what God calls us to do?” Either way, we always have people watching whether or not we will stand our ground, or simply give up when the situation becomes challenging.

Now, this is not a license to say whatever we want or do whatever we want and claim God called us to do it. Instead, we learn that when God calls us to a specific task or vocation, it is always to build up the Kingdom of Heaven and will not do anything to cause division in this incredible Kingdom.

Stephen, from our scripture, was doing great works and signs in public and speaking grace. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and this caused an uproar with the religious leaders who were seeking to keep the status quo and their position. But God’s work in us will always come out in powerful and transforming ways which people will take notice of.

Look at what’s going on around you in your community. Where do you see God working? What do you notice? I hope the people of God will be revealed in such a way grace will be shown. Stephen was filled with the Spirit and was shown to be full of grace which caused his face to exude peace.

As you go out into the world, your daily life, pay attention to where God is working and join him in the task. Allow his Spirit to fill you so much that you will show how to handle opposition. The way to handle any opposition is to be filled with the Spirit of peace that comes from God. This is a peace that is beyond understanding; but comes out naturally when the Holy Spirit fill us.

Seek the face and peace of God in all you do and see what incredible works God will perform in and through you.

Filled With Expectation

As I read the verses for today, I think of the Johnny Carson show where Ed McMahon announced, “Heeeeere’s Johnny!!!” The expectation of the audience was raised when those words were spoken with excitement. I remember watching the Johnny Carson Show and loving hearing him announced.

I think a similar response happened with the crowd around John the Baptist when he was telling the crowd about the Messiah who is coming.

Click here to read Luke 3:15-18.

John has just finished telling the crowd what a changed heart and changed life (repentance) looks like and many were wondering if he was the Messiah promised or not.

It can be easy to read these verses in a monotone, unenthusiastic tone; but I do not believe this was John’s tone at all. I believe he would have been excited about telling the people of the coming Messiah. He would have been convicting, yet excited about telling the crowd of repentance and baptizing. This excitement must have transferred to the crowd.

The crowd gets rev’d up when something amazing is happening or about to happen. John is telling the people about the coming Messiah (Jesus Christ) and some of how He will live out His life. John proclaimed Christ to all who came and would listen!

How excited are we when we read the story of Jesus’ birth? How does our tone, our inflection, or volume change when we speak about Jesus Christ to others?

The Savior of the world is here. This is exciting news of great joy for all people! Our challenge is to have our attitudes of excitement become contagious so others will see there is something great and amazing about the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Proclaiming God’s Forgiviness

We have several topics of conversation during the Christmas holidays. We’ll talk of love, family, weather (good or rough), relationships, parties, gifts, etc. Our conversations are around the goodness of the season. Yet, this is one of the most stressful times of the year.

During this season, it seems we are more likely to be harsh with another person because they say the wrong thing. We see through the media doing anything they can to get the “perfect” gift. We are more likely to give this time of year; but we get frustrated with how many people are asking for donations.

This time of year, we say “Jesus is born” and “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Before Jesus preached his first sermon, John the Baptist was on the scene telling people to repent and receive God’s forgiveness.

Click here to read this week’s scripture passage.

Repent. God’s forgiveness. These are topics of conversation that we really only hear in the church. It is so easy to get caught up in the to-do’s and all the festivities that we can forget to proclaim the forgiveness and grace of God to people. This is the real gift that comes at Christ’s birth.

His life, His death AND His resurrection were all done so we can be reconciled to God. No longer to we have to live in fear. No longer do we have to live separate from God.

The question we all have to answer is “will you accept this gift?” Gifts that are held on to don’t really live out their full potential. It is when we share that the gift brings extra joy. This is how it is with Jesus Christ.

So, instead of simply saying “Merry Christmas,” how about taking time to give someone the gift (out of love for God and them) of Jesus Christ by telling how He changed your life and how their life might be different.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Reconciled

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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

Word of Grace

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Colossians 1:1-2 “From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, and Timothy our brother. To the holy and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae. Grace and peace to you from God our Father.”

This is the beginning of April and Easter is just a few days away. Each month, I have been reading one of Paul’s letters in their entirety each day and then journaling about a few verses. This has been an awesome tool for spiritual growth. Not only do I have the opportunity to see the whole letter, but I also have been looking at shorter passages within the letter and seeing how it fits in with the whole context. I have learned, even more, how easy it is to take verses and ideas out of context and fit into what we want them to say instead of viewing them in the light of the entire work and historical context.

Before we jump into Colossians this month, I wanted to follow Paul’s example and offer you a word of grace. We have been on this 40 day journey through the season of Lent. This journey can bring up many feelings or attitudes and we can begin to feel like we are in the desert. When we begin to feel this way, we notice we become more distant from others, our temper has a shorter fuse, our frustration level and pet peeves begin to rise more. We simply forget that we are not alone. Yes, we may feel like we are in the spiritual desert, but Christ is with us as well.

We are not just taking a journey through the desert; we are taking a journey that will lead us to the cross. Most importantly, we are taking a journey that shows us the resurrection. The resurrection shows us the power Jesus has. This is the same power he gives to us. We may feel as though we cannot come back to life after being in the desert and parched for water; but Jesus can and does bring us back to life.

This is the great message in Colossians. Jesus Christ is central. Everything we do we should do for the glory of God. God is granting us the grace and peace to go through this life. We do not journey alone. We journey with The Creator of the universe, The Creator of you and I. This means we can experience peace beyond understanding in the midst of trials and scorching heat from enemies and challenges. God is freely giving grace to us so we are equipped to go through life and reflect the light of Jesus Christ in all we do, all we say, even all we think.

You are the “holy and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.” This is your calling. I pray God’s grace and peace will be reflected in you and through you in all you do.

Let’s take this journey to explore Paul’s letter to the people of Colossae.

#ToTheGloryOfChrist

Praying in Confidence

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Ephesians 6:18-20 Offer prayers and petitions in the Spirit all the time. Stay alert by hanging in there and praying for all believers. As for me, pray that when I open my mouth, I’ll get a message that confidently makes this secret plan of the gospel known. I’m an ambassador in chains for the sake of the gospel. Pray so that the Lord will give me the confidence to say what I have to say. 

Now we are getting toward the end of the book of Ephesians and Paul is shifting his focus on teaching the people to asking for prayers for himself and his ministry. Normally when we ask prayers for ourselves, we will ask about physical healing and for circumstances to improve. This was not the case for Paul. Not once does he ask to be free from the prison he’s been placed in or asking for people to pray for any physical limitation or condition he may have or may be going through. All he says is “Offer prayers and petitions in the Spirit all the time.”

Our lives should be constant prayer. We should have lives that reflect constant communication with God. What kinds of things should we pray for? We should pray for our situation and for God to be known through the situation. We should pray for healing: physical, emotional, spiritual, relational. We should pray for other people, our leaders, our family, our friends. We should pray for and about anything. Praying keeps our focus and attention on Christ and we are better able to see the world through His eyes than solely through our own eyes.

Paul asks for something unique, in a way, that he would like people to pray for. He doesn’t ask for his situation to be improved in the way that we might. He asks for the confidence to speak the message of Jesus Christ to any and all people he encounters – especially the guards. His life is in prison, at this point, and he is asking to be able to speak the peace of Christ to those who are guarding him and all those he is able to encounter.

So, who is it around you that needs to hear the message of Jesus Christ? Who is it that you will encounter that you will need the courage and confidence to speak the truth about Christ? The truth is all people need Christ. Many people just don’t know that’s who they need. Maybe there is a part of you that doesn’t feel confident enough in the gospel. This may be God reaching out to you right now to show you that He is with you and is giving you the confidence and the words to speak when they are necessary. The only “magic formula” for presenting the gospel to others is trusting in the power of Jesus Christ to help give you the words and equip you at the time you need it.

The power of the gospel is that is changes everything about us, especially about what and who we pray for.

#TheGospelChangesUs

Imitate

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Ephesians 5:1-5 Therefore, imitate God like dearly loved children. Live your life with love, following the example of Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us. He was a sacrificial offering that smelled sweet to God. Sexual immorality, and any kind of impurity or greed, shouldn’t even be mentioned among you, which is right for holy persons. Obscene language, silly talk, or vulgar jokes aren’t acceptable for believers. Instead, there should be thanksgiving. Because you know for sure that persons who are sexually immoral, impure, or greedy—which happens when things become gods—those persons won’t inherit the kingdom of Christ and God. 

Paul has been talking and teaching about the old life versus the new life. This is something that is of utmost importance because our faith in Christ is supposed to change us from the inside out. The power of the gospel is not just to show people heaven and bring people into the Kingdom of God; the power of the gospel is that it transforms and recreates us into new creations to live a life that is holy before God and we can bring people to faith through our life.

We are supposed to live like Christ; he was and is our example of how to live. How can we know how Christ lived? I would recommend reading the gospel accounts. Start with the Gospel of Luke to see the compassion of Christ, then go to the Gospel of John to see the divinity of Christ and the new life that comes from him. After that, go to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. Reading all of the gospel accounts will give a great picture of who Jesus is and how we should imitate him in our life.

The first thing that Paul speaks against is sexual immorality. We live in a culture that is obsessed with this and the truth is we do not realize how much this has control over us. It is important that we do not live in a way that immorality does not live in us because we should view each and every person as a child of God and a beautiful creation of the creator. People are made in the image of God, we just help them realize that fact to guide them to faith in Christ. If we look at people with the wrong set of eyes, we end up devaluing them and it is much more difficult to express the love of God though Jesus Christ when they are hearing a different message from immorality.

Paul then goes on to teach about how we speak to each other. Our words have much more power than we sometimes remember. Our words can bring hope and joy, and then the very next minute bring devastation and fear. Instead of talking down to another person, what if our language, jokes, and communication exuded love yet truth? This is a much more effective way to bring people to faith because they feel as if they are truly valued enough to become who they are made to be.

Finally, Paul warns that sexual immoral, impure or greedy are actually serving other gods, which is idolatry. The first and second commandments God gave Moses was “You must have no other gods before me,” and “Do not make an idol for yourself.” (Exodus 20:3-4) Idols are anything that distract us from the One God. We may or may not have idols in statue form today; but we do have idols in our life: money, sex, power, and anything else that forces our attention off of God. For us to embrace all that God has to give us, we should be of singular focus and see the Creator working all around us and in us.

God does not want us to acknowledge Him some of the time; He wants it all of the time. We do this when we treat others as the precious creations they are and help them see their value, not only to us, but to the Creator of the universe. Our entire lives (attitudes, thoughts, actions, words, etc) should reflect Christ to all we encounter and show that we are changed. That is an incredible power of the gospel.

#TheGospelChangesUs

Old vs New Part 4

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Ephesians 4:29-32 Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say. Don’t make the Holy Spirit of God unhappy—you were sealed by him for the day of redemption. Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil. Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ. 

This is where I feel Paul is really stepping on my toes. How can he write this and expect that people live like this? It almost seems too difficult. After all, don’t the people around us make us do the things that we do? Aren’t we obligated to speak what we want to say and “need to say” so the other person knows how they are in the wrong? Paul is finishing this chapter with this seemingly negative command. It can almost seem like he is in your face and telling you directly that you and I are the ones in the wrong and he is proving it to us. But, this is not what Paul is talking about. For the past few days, we have been looking at the differences between the “old” way of life and the “new” way of life.

So, why should we desire to live this way? What’s in it for us? The truth is that we should live this way because it is God who forgave us and is compassionate toward us. How bad is it when you give a gift and the person you gave it to treated everyone else as poor? This is the same kind of thing. God has shown us grace, forgiveness and mercy, why shouldn’t we freely give as we have been given?

Jesus said the greatest commandments are to love God and love people. Even if someone treats us wrong, we should look at our response. We like to justify our actions and show people why they are the ones in the wrong; but we are all asked to live to a higher standard. This means loving our enemies, feeding them, turning the other cheek, not judging, etc (see Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount). This kind of life is not easy with out Christ. For, when we lean on Christ and trust in Christ, we can see the value in other people and live lives of humility and patience toward all people. God has freely given us grace and forgiveness, how can we pass this on to others so they too know God’s grace and love personally?

Tomorrow, we journey into Ephesians 5!

#TheGospelChangesUs

Worthy Life

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Ephesians 4:1-6 Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all. 

“But you don’t know what this person did to me!” “How can I treat them with gentleness and patience when they are the ones clearly in the wrong?” I have heard people say many times, “I wish everyone would just follow the Golden Rule (treat others the way you want to be treated).” As I heard the person say this, I remembered how they bad mouthed another person right before that.

Living in humility, gentleness and patience in this world is not easy. This kind of life is so against how everyone else wants us to live. We walk around wanting to get revenge, or even hold back forgiveness. But, in reality, who is holding back forgiveness and plotting revenge really hurting? See we want to have justice done, but we forget how damaging attitudes like that actually are to our soul. We become calloused and do not see people as God sees them. We’ll focus on the brokenness and become blinded to any amount of goodness in another person. There is no one too far away from God to come close and know God. We can be the people to show others this incredible grace by our words, actions, and even thoughts.

Our attitudes are the most important thing that people will remember about us after we have an encounter with them. This realization struck me several years ago when I found myself not wanting to offer forgiveness to a person who hurt me. Somehow, God brought healing into my heart and I was able to forgive. This doesn’t mean I condone or tolerate what the person did; instead I released the control that negative attitude had on my life.

Though I am far from being a very humble person, I ask God daily to show me the qualities in people He desires me to see. When I look at people, I am in awe at how God is moving in their life, even when they can’t see it for themselves. We are all called to show and teach people about the Kingdom of God and God’s grace. People will be turned away if we have, even the slightest hint of, a feeling we think we’re better than them. Jesus Christ has made it so that everyone is equal in the eyes of God. “There is no slave or free, Jew or Gentile….all are one in Christ Jesus.” This is the spirit we should work with because the Spirit of God is residing in us.

God is working in all people, in some way. He has also called us to a live of serving and loving those around us, even the difficult ones (add your own phrase); but God still desires we live in humility, peace and gentleness with each other. This does not come easily to us; in fact it goes against our basic instincts. But, this means we have the chance to call on God and allow His Spirit to work through us.

God is calling, and has called, you and me to change the world with Him by proclaiming Jesus Christ in all aspects of our lives; and to make us a “city on a hill whose light cannot be hidden.”

#TheGospelChangesUs