Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Today’s reading certainly can help in this regard. If we can remember the message that Paul is giving the Corinthians it will be an enabler to a wonderful New Year.
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (verse 21). What a wonderful verse indeed. Christ bore the consequences of, or punishment for, our sins. God made Jesus, who was completely innocent and perfect, identify himself with sin so he could take it away. Let us never forget what Jesus did for us.
In life, rarely will anyone claim perfection. Sin is a part of life, so much so that many people simply expect to encounter dishonesty, self-centeredness, and greed in other people. If they don’t, they are surprised. That is why many people in Jesus’ day expressed surprise at Jesus’ life. Jesus never knew what it meant to sin: He always followed God’s ways. Yet Jesus bore the consequences of believers’ sin for their sakes. Since Jesus, who was perfect and innocent, took on the penalty of sin, death itself, Jesus can make those who believe in him right with God. His perfect righteousness can cover our corrupt and imperfect lives. When people trust in Christ, they make an exchange—their sin for his righteousness. Believers’ sin was placed on Jesus at his crucifixion. His righteousness is given to believers at their conversion.
“Be reconciled to God.” (verse 20). Accept God’s free gift. Paul did not announce this message halfheartedly. He implored—even urged and pleaded—everyone who would listen to him to accept God’s free gift of salvation.
I submit, remembering what Jesus did for you and heeding Paul’s call to reconcile with God will make 2009 one of the best years of your life.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
In this season of Christmas we are thinking a lot about how God came into the world, born of a virgin – he came to be with us because he loved us. His love for us is His motivation – the same must also be true at the last judgment – his love for us – that is everlasting , and while we will stand before Jesus on the last day to receive our judgment – we can hear those same words John heard – “do not be afraid” because just as He loved us to come to us, so He will love us when He judges us.
Friday, December 26, 2008
One verse of today’s reading stood out to me. In verse 4, the leaders of the church said, we want to provide for widows, but we need to devote ourselves to prayer and to the Word. Today I often subconsciously view prayer as a “sideline” or tangential activity, but prayer is definitely part of the foundation of the early church. In Acts chapter 1, after the Ascension, the disciples “joined together constantly in prayer” (1:14). Here is this passage, after men were chosen to serve the widows, the apostles prayed for the men. Fervent prayer was not uncommon.
How did the apostles who formed the church know the importance of prayer? By learning from Jesus. In Luke 18:1 ff Jesus tells the story of the widow and the judge. His goal in telling the story, Luke says, was to “show them that they should always pray, and not give up.” So Luke understood.
Many people need our prayer, especially at this time of year. Our church needs our prayers. Prayer is one of our best traditions.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
The reading from 1 John also makes it clear what God did through Jesus when he got to the neighborhood: he loved us. And because God has taken the initiative to love us so deeply and at such great cost, so too we ought to take the initiative to love each other.
I am not sure when Christianity began to emphasize believing the right thing over doing the right thing, but the real test of the depth of our connection to God is not whether we can quote chapter or verse of the Bible, but how deeply we love one another.
So here is the question. Have we entered into our neighborhood?
How deeply do we know not just our families, but the people around us in our communities, our workplaces, our schools, our churches? Do we know their hopes, their dreams, and their aspirations? Do we know their hurts, their fears, their heartaches, their sorrows? Do we know the gifts that will genuinely bring their hearts joy and delight? Do we know what is capturing their interest, where they are feeling good about themselves, and where they are struggling?
If the answer to all the above is “Yes!,” God bless you and keep on doing what you are doing. You are putting your faith into practice. But, if you are like me and might not be able to answer all the above questions as well as you’d like … well, why not spend a little extra time this Christmas with your family, your friend, your neighbor.
“Move into the neighborhood” and enter into their lives in a deeper way than you have before. That is the way to love others like Christ loved (and loves!) us, and live out the true Spirit of Christmas.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
As we know, Advent comes from Latin roots, meaning “coming.” Christians of earlier generations spoke of “the advent of our Lord” and of “His second advent.” The former refers to Christmas day when Jesus wrapped himself in flesh and was born of a virgin almost two thousand years ago. The latter is related to today’s reading. It is a call to us all to be ready to meet Jesus – ready for judgment.
In today’s reading Jesus says, "Behold, I am coming soon!” (verse 12). Advent reminds us that we must be ready to meet Jesus, and if we are not ready to get ready. We do not know the hour we will meet Jesus, but we all know that we will eventually meet him. If we are ready, Jesus promises a great reward, “My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.” (verse 12).
The book of Revelation shows what will happen when Jesus returns again – His second advent. Judgment will be final and evil will be destroyed!! The season of Advent reminds us that this will occur and it invites us to be ready to meet Jesus. One day it will be too late, as the book of Revelation clearly shows, but the invitation is still open today. Let’s all remember the reason we celebrate Christmas. It is great to give gifts to family and friends, but remember the gift Jesus has given us.
May God bless you this Christmas season.
Monday, December 22, 2008
In just three days we will celebrate Christmas. We will celebrate the birth of Jesus, the one who came to end the rule of Satan and put the powers of evil to flight. There is hope for the world and hope for us as well.
There are lots of people in the world who have lost their hope. There are lots of people who have placed their hope in that which does not save, and they have been or will be bitterly disappointed.
May we not be among them. May we be the most positive and joyful people on the face of this earth, resolutely resisting discouragement and complaint. May we remember where our hope lies, be deeply and profoundly encouraged by it, and share that hope freely with every one we meet.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Friday, December 19, 2008
I have certainly felt like a waterless spring and a mist driven by a storm lately. My job is taking up a great deal of my time and energy, much more so that the typical 8 to 5 routine. Plus, I have all the holiday issues weighing on me – shopping, cards, visitors, etc. etc. etc. I can’t remember a time when I have felt so far away from Christ at the very time when He should be the focus of my life.
I am reconciled to the fact that, as a human being with free will, I am a sinner and will always be a sinner. My weakness at this very time is an indication of that. By allowing myself to become self-absorbed, I have opened a door to the evil that is always there, trying to keep Christ from my life. I don’t open this door willingly, nor do I want to feel overwhelmed and overloaded. But, the point is that I allow it to happen. According to Peter, “people are slaves to whatever masters them”.
So, it’s time for me to pick myself up and remember what it’s all about, because it certainly is not all about me. If I’m sending Christmas cards out of obligation and not out of the love of the season, then I shouldn’t be sending cards. If I’m shopping just to pick up any old thing that I can find fast, than I’m certainly not celebrating the reason for the season. That door to evil is just getting wider and wider.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Interestingly, there seems to be two telling behavioral manifestations of the false teacher’s willfulness—sexual sin (eyes full of adultery) and greed. Just think of how many teachers in our own day have used their position in the church to gratify these “basic instincts”. For them, the gospel is merely a way to get what they want.
It is perhaps worth asking—is the Gospel any different for us?
Many people see in the Gospel a way to live like they are blessed by God while others suffer terribly. In other words, they think God actually approves of their selfishness and greed while their brothers and sisters literally die of hunger or thirst.
Others see in the Gospel a reinforcement of their rigid categories of who is in and who is out that in reality only affirms their prejudices.
Still others see the Gospel as approving an agenda that looks very much like the agenda of the world around us, where everybody is in with no regard for the seriousness or severity of sin.
It’s always easier to be negative than positive, to criticize and condemn others rather than change ourselves, to leave rather than come to grips with the hard work love requires if one were to chose to stay, to forsake the straight road and walk our own path instead.
But that is not the Gospel. The Gospel is meant to deliver us from ourselves. It is meant to reform—re form—us as it frees us from our various corruptions. It is meant to create a new world, not soothe those comfortable in the ways of the old one.
Knowing our basic desires—towards anger, judgmentalism, self righteousness, self centeredness and so on—how is God in Christ Jesus delivering us from them? Or is it possible that we, like the false teachers, are self deceived, following our own paths and thinking it is God who is doing the leading?
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
You will remember (and this passage reminds us) that Lot lived in Sodom. When angels came to warn Lot of its destruction, he invited the angels to stay the night with his family. Do you remember what happened next?
A mob of men gather and demand that Lot give him the angels (who appeared as men) for their pleasure. In Genesis 19:8, we read Lot’s reply:
"Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them."
Hmmm… A father offering his virgin daughters for rape and violent abuse? Doesn’t sound like much of a righteous man to me…
After Sodom falls, Lot and his daughters take refuge in an isolated cave. There are no other men around, so the daughters get Lot drunk, sleep with him, and bear children accordingly. So we can add drunkenness and incest to Lot’s character.
Good thing Peter told us Lot was a righteous. If he hadn’t, we might be excused for concluding otherwise.
I meet so many people—so many Christians—who are so quick to judge. But apparently, things are not always as they appear. Evidently such judgments may not be quite as simple as some would like them to be.
God spares Lot from judgment. That is something of a surprise. Could it be that we will be just as surprised by the people by the people with whom he chooses to share his grace and love?
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
There is so much Peter tries to communicate to the church in this letter, but this passage highlights 2 of Peter’s more important points. First – we are to be the light in a dark place. We are to shine the light of God in all we do for all to see. When we get up in the middle of the night for whatever reason and start moving around the house, the one single nightlight illuminates huge rooms enough for us to fine our way without bumping a toe. We don’t have to be a big light, or a beautiful lamp that shines or even a particularly smart light – just a light, any light that reflects the love of God can accomplish huge illumination for a dark world to find its way. When it is dark, really dark, we are drawn to the simplest of lights and are grateful to have them.
The same is true when we are the light for the world – keep the message simple. People don’t need complicated theologies, they just need the love of God.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Training will likely involve exercise, probably a combination of resistance training (weights or machines) and endurance training (running, jumping rope, elliptical trainers, etc). It will also require that the training is supplemented with the necessary fuel for maximum energy and recuperation. The athlete’s diet will need to ensure that they are receiving the necessary vitamins, minerals, high quality carbs, protein, and so on.
This combination of taking what we have already been given, training it, and supporting that training with the proper nutrition will enhance the athlete’s strength, ability, and performance.
Peter recommends much the same thing for our spiritual life. We have all been given the gift of faith; it’s a free gift God gives out of the goodness of his grace, and not something we work for.
But as it turns out, there is plenty we can do to take the faith we’ve been given, and “support it” so we are not “ineffective and unfruitful in our knowledge of Lord Jesus Christ.”
Our “spiritual training”, however, does not consist of doing bench press, bicep curls, running a few miles, and taking a good multi vitamin. No, it consists of goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual* affection, and love. One gets the sense that each of these is the building block for the other; we start with goodness, and end with love. In other words, to love as Christ asks us to love requires us the qualities listed before it.
It is also interesting that the highest qualities on this list are mutual affection and love. That’s the point of it all. These are the qualities that insure our faith is not in vain; the others are only stepping stone towards a higher goal.
The point is clear: the path of those faithfully following Jesus, whether in a marriage or a family or a friendship or a church, is NOT the path of deeper and deeper division. It is the path of strong and enduring love.
Would that the church remembered that.
Would that we did too…
Friday, December 12, 2008
As I read today’s passage I think how this can be construed as a review of Paul’s year, of his blessings and the things he yearns for.
Paul thanks God for the fact of salvation. He encourages the believers to stand firm. He prays that God would comfort their hearts. A lot of people, in these times, could use God’s comfort. I know a lot of people who will be reading my Christmas letter went through hard times this year and I pray that God comforts them.
Paul’s yearning, the thing he asks for prayer for, is that God’s word would spread and be glorified. He doesn’t ask for anything for himself, he wants God to be glorified. He prays for protection from evil. But as soon as Paul mentions that, he adds that God is faithful to strengthen we believers.
What a benediction Paul prays on his friends. During this Advent season let us pray that we would likewise bless others.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Even so, certain things seem pretty clear:
1. Some people are afraid the day of Jesus’ second coming has already come and gone, and they are quite upset they missed it.
2. Paul assures them this is not the case. There are forces that are at work against God, and since this is still the case, we can be sure Jesus has not yet returned and set things right.
3. The forces that work against God attempt to deceive people so that they will not hold to the truth taught us by Jesus Christ.
So: where does that leave us?
Well, I think we can probably safely assume that we haven’t missed out on Jesus’ second coming either.
It also seems to me that though there will be no ambiguity when Jesus actually does come—that will be a decisive event—there is a good deal of ambiguity about the specifics of what will happen before then. We would probably do well, therefore, to be wary of those who claim to have all the answers (and sometimes even the timelines!) about these things. We certainly should not allow them to steal our peace our cause us to become anxious.
Finally, I think these verses underscore how important it is we walk closely with Jesus, study his word, and submit to his authority. Lawlessness—the desire to do what we please when we please how we please—is alive and well on planet Earth. At least, it’s alive in me. And it can be quite deceptive, making things that are wrong look right.
Our salvation is in Christ alone, and that is something we must never forget.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Sometimes we look at the early church like everything was perfect and every Christian had it all together. This book, like the rest of the New Testament, readily disabuses us of this notion. Who else would we expect to find in a church but people with problems and failings, who are as wrong about some things as they are right about others, who sometimes fall woefully short of the example set for us in Jesus?
In short, who else would we expect to find in our local churches but PEOPLE JUST LIKE US.
Churches are full of imperfect people. They all have problems. They all have issues. That's the way it's always been. Until Jesus comes again, that's the way it will always be.
What is really needed today is people who, like the Apostle Paul, will not use this as an excuse to distance themselves from the church in general or local churches in particular, but will commit themselves all the more deeply to one another and by God's grace, forge ahead. That, I think, is what the kind of love Jesus commends to his followers (who he prays will be one) is all about.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Today, Paul gives the Thessalonians words to live by. He encourages them to take care of those in need – the sick the weak, and the faint of heart. He then says not to repay evil for evil – not to take revenge. But, not only that we are to give thanks in ALL circumstances. All circumstances?? That’s hard. Life is so full of difficulties and challenges that it is almost impossible to give thanks in those circumstances – and yet that is what we are called to do. I don’t think we have to give thanks FOR the circumstances. I don’t believe God causes bad things to happen but is with us in the midst of those bad things – and that is something to be thankful for - God’s presence, God’s guidance and God’s help and strength to show us how to best deal with those tough times in life. By giving thanks to God even though things aren’t going how we’d like, even though we’ve been hurt and really do want revenge, we will have our hearts changed and encouraged so that no matter what we face we continue to grow closer and closer to the living God.
Monday, December 08, 2008
Think about it. If we really thought Jesus might return at any time, and that nothing was more important than being ready, would we live differently? I would.
First, I’d be a lot less attached to worldly things. Now the truth is, I do live pretty simply, and I do so because of my commitment to Jesus. But even so, materialism and consumerism are still far more present in my life than I’d care to admit.
Second, I’d be a lot more careful with my time. Yes, I do give a lot of my time to service related activities. But even so, I still waste a lot of my time on trivial things that don’t matter one bit in light of eternity.
Third, I’d be a whole lot more willing to make sacrifices—little sacrifices and BIG sacrifices for the sake of the Gospel. What wouldn’t I be willing to sacrifice now if I believed eternity was going to begin any moment now?
I think part of the reason the early church lived so radically and changed the world so dramatically is that they took the belief in the imminent second coming of Jesus so seriously. And I think part of the reason the church today doesn’t look much different than the rest of the world is that we don’t…
Saturday, December 06, 2008
Friday, December 05, 2008
Reading this version, a number of images jump into my head. When I think of dogged religious plod, I see someone who is slumped over, totally fatigued, with no energy. As a parent, if I saw one of my kids looking like that, I would be very concerned. I would take him to the doctor and want to get to the bottom of what is making him like this, thinking that it must be physical and not necessarily emotional or spiritual. Whatever it is, I would want to fix it. Get some medicine or whatever it would take to get my child back to good health.
I imagine when God sees us this way He would react very much the same, although since he knows our heart, he can tell the difference between physical fatigue and spiritual depletion. The difference is that he does not judge us. Just as Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is a gentle and loving reminder of how to live a life through Christ, God is always present, with gentle loving nudges and prods.
My image of a living, spirited dance is so full of energy and light. I see the most beautiful ballet dancer, filled with grace beyond explanation. I want to be that dancer. I want to be filled with the light and grace of God, and I know that He wants me to have that life as well. The only barricades to living life in a spirited dance are those that we put up – both consciously and unconsciously. I think Paul is reminding us all to be aware of those barricades and to tear them down by living the life God wants us to live.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Lots of people start out well in their Christian life. But somewhere along the line they lose their focus, drive, inspiration… Paul is afraid that this has happened to the Thessalonians, and that therefore his labor there will have been “in vain”.
This raises a couple questions for me. Who are we laboring for? That is, who are the people in our lives for whom we are devoting time and energy to introduce them to our Lord Jesus Christ, and then to help them grow in their relationship with him? It could be a Sunday school class, for instance, or maybe a youth group. It could be people we’ve studied the Bible with, or that we’ve served on a mission trip or service project.
If we can’t think of specific people we are laboring for, I suggest we need to start there. We are not living the Gospel if our life does not include such service and the relationships that grow out of it.
My second question is that if we can clearly think of people for whom we labor, how are we following up on them? Are we checking in with them to see how they are doing? When trouble comes for them, as it surely will, how are we encouraging them and helping them through it?
Faith is a long term commitment, even in—especially in—the face of adversity. May we offer one another the love and support we need to not simply continue in the faith, but to grow ever stronger in it.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
In verse 18 Paul writes, "For we wanted to come to you ... but Satan stopped us." I like this verse because I believe Satan is real and that Spiritual warfare is real. As Christians we should attempt to understand God's will for each of us through prayer and meditation. Satan does not want God's will to be accomplished so he will devise all sorts of schemes to distract us from our communication with God. When there does not seem to be time for prayer in our busy lives, this can be Satan adding too many things to our plate. It is our job, our duty, to overcome Satan's distractions and make sure we do find the time to pray. Now in Paul's case I am sure Satan did not keep Paul from understanding God's will, but Satan evidently kept Paul from returning to visit the Thessalonians.
The other verse I want to touch on is verse 20, "Indeed, you (the Thessalonians) are our glory and joy." The ultimate reward is not money, prestige, or fame, but bringing new people into a relationship with Jesus Christ. No matter what ministry God is calling you to be a part of, your highest reward and greatest joy should be those who come to believe in Christ and are growing in Him. Remember, God's highest priority is people. The heavens are His, the stars, moon, and sun were made by Him, and the mountains and oceans are His handiwork - but people are His pride and treasure. If people are God's pride and treasure shouldn't they be ours too?
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
It is in this context that Paul encourages the Thessalonians to be strong in their faith and steadfast in their own proclamation of the Gospel in the world around them. He reminds them that we proclaim the Good news of God in Christ, not seeking our own reward, but providing only glory to God.
Just as Paul cared so much for those to which he was writing and encouraging, as we approach others with the Gospel and as we live lives that are reflective of the Gospel, so we too must treat people gently. No one likes confrontational, aggressive faith that ignores the individual in the name of religion – Jesus wasn’t that way and neither was St. Paul. Our approach to others must always be one of respect for the other’s dignity and must reflect the love of God at all times. Our witness must not seek glory for glory’s sake, but must bring glory to God. The only way that is done is through gentleness, kindness and reflection of the unsurpassed love of God for each and every one of us.