Acts 2:22 | Message and Mission

message

If the message from God to humankind is the good news of the Gospel that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and then is now raised to life then the mission is that each of us at some point in our short lives would repent of sins and be baptized to receive the forgiveness and the relationship that Jesus has secured with his death, burial, and resurrection.

The message is trustworthy. Jesus did not come with mere words. He came with power and authority. Not power and authority like the kind that men crave. He came with power to submit to the Father. He came with power to be humble seeking the best for his creation. And he came with power to serve. The people recognized the authority of Jesus and his message but how?

28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. Matthew 7:28-29 ESV

What about his words made the message trustworthy and astonishing? If I came and told you that God has spoken to me… that I held the way to be reconciled to God you should rightly question my sanity and my trustworthiness. So what makes Jesus different that he is trustworthy?

22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— Acts 2:22 ESV

God punctuated the words that Jesus spoke with “mighty works and wonders and signs”. Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, controlled the elements, walked on water, and feed thousands. Peter when preaching the message above notes that the audience listening to him has seen these signs. They were there first hand. Paul when he was on trial notes that none of this was done in a corner but plainly visible across the countryside.

26 For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. Acts 26:26 ESV

While the first-hand witnesses are not available to attest and confirm what Jesus said and did these thousands of years later their words and their accounts have been written and captured unchanged. God does not need to proclaim a new message or new revelation because the one that Jesus lived is available in the written form. I can boldly tell others about the good news that Jesus died, was buried, and is now risen (without being called crazy) because I have the written first-hand account of what happened. If you don’t believe me then you also can read and make a judgment for yourself. The Bible is one of the most common printed books in history because the message is recognized as powerful and trustworthy.

The message of Jesus is still going. Thousands of years after the fact people know who he is and believe in his words as well as the mighty works and signs. So, what of the mission? What is the purpose of all this Jesus talk? What is it that Jesus sought to accomplish?

The mission is to make people happy? No, not the mission because people hated him so much they killed him as a common criminal. Hardship, depression, and sadness were left untouched for the moment.

The mission is a political order? No, not the mission. The disciples his own followers wanted him to kick Rome out of Jerusalem. Judas believed in that future so much that when he realized Jesus was not going to make it happen he sold Jesus out for money. Jesus left oppressive governments untouched for the moment.

The mission is social justice? No, not the mission. Jesus an innocent died unjustly at the hands of corruption. Jesus did not free slaves or reform criminal justice and he did not end hunger, sickness, or war. He left the curse, the result, of our sin upon the world untouched for the moment.

What then did Jesus accomplish? What is the mission? Peter answers that when he speaks at the dawn of the church relaying what God’s spirit put on his heart.

37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Acts 2:37-39 ESV

The message of Jesus is forgiveness and relationship with the creator God. The mission of Jesus is to see that we his children respond to what he accomplished. Repent, turn away, from rebellion and selfishness. Turn toward God acknowledging the authority that he holds because of his trustworthy words and actions and you will be given the gift of restoration and fellowship with him established through the Holy Spirit. Count on it as a promise for his mission will be accomplished and this moment of grace from God to all who accept him is on target.

Acts 1:4-5 |A Heart of Stone No More

door

Religion is man striving and working to secure the favor of God. Live this kind of life, go to this kind of church, give money to the poor, follow the ten commandments… I could write for days all of the things people must do in the name of religion. Religion even carries a dark undertone when used to oppress those that do not follow the rules. It is an ugly business when one group to curry favor with the gods will crush another group who follows different rules for life and becomes offensive to those around them. Beyond this ugliness religion also has a major problem. How does one know when they have done enough or the sacrifice outweighs the guilt before god? I can’t even keep a new year resolution more than 60 seconds how do I know God will accept me and the life I have lived?

The answer is we don’t and so I hear from people all the time. “I hope my good is good enough” or “God knows I have done my best he will not hold it against me”. The problem is that these attitudes are subjective wishful thinking of people who have not spent enough time pondering this most important mystery.

God however knows that religion is not going to save anyone. We should understand that also.

In the days of old God set up an elaborate system of laws that the Nation state of Israel agreed to live under. These laws included religious observances that included ways to ask forgiveness for sins against God and neighbors. The people of Israel did not live up to the laws of that state very well and so after many generations of rebellion God dispersed the people all over the known world. This was a very violent dispersal in a very violent world. Yet even in this dark time God continued to reveal a plan and a promise that would impact the future we current live in.

26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 ESV

God through his prophet told the people that his plan was to give his people a new heart and a new spirit. This promise is fulfilled at the conclusion of the earthly ministry of Jesus. After Jesus was raised alive from the dead one of the last times he physically met with the disciples he asked them to wait what turned out to be a few short days for the promised Holy Spirit. The new spirit would be poured out generously to those who would chase after Christ.

4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Acts 1:4-5 ESV

So what does this new Holy Spirit have to do with Religion? What does the Holy Spirit an a new heart have to do with our hope that we have been good enough? The Holy Spirit is the fruit of the salvation that Jesus secured on the Cross. Without the Christ and the Holy Spirit living in me the gulf between God and man stands impassable. I can’t be good enough. So, God destroys the hard heart of religion and frees us to stand before him has rightful children. We stand before our heavenly father in full rights of relationship. Our communion takes place through the ministry of this new spirit that God has poured out on those who call on his name in Jesus.

13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV

The Holy Spirit is the promised heart and down payment of a guarantee. Not a hope not a work to be good but a guarantee that our relationship with God is permanently restored and one day, come soon Jesus my savior, I will be fully in possession of God’s presence in heaven to give him Glory for all eternity. Don’t live life with a cold religious doubt eating your soul. Submit now. Surrender now. Seek salvation now from Christ who has the authority to give you a new transformational heart of living breathing grace by way of the Holy Spirit.

Psalms 33:15 | Complete Perfection

made

What is the greatest thing you have ever created? It is an interesting question because there are so many ways to answer the question. I am not an artisan or an engineer so my physical creations are not all that great. I am happy with some of the things I have built, but great is not a word I would use. I like to write but those creations are a work in progress. My children are a great creation, the greatest, but biology is more involved in that creation than the work of my mind and hands. Oddly what does jump out as an answer is one of the early software development efforts I was assigned. I was given a task to modify the check printing software of the company to be able to print checks in French Canadian. Building logic to write out any number like “one hundred fifty-two” in French with all the nuance of that language on the payment line was something I was excited to create.

How does God answer this question about the greatest thing you have ever created? Would he pick a particular animal? What galaxy or star would be his greatest? What about the unseen beauty of the structure of DNA or the atomic level? My creation was just a replication of something that already existed. God creates from nothing out of nothing and the amazing functionality and beauty of his creation is a depth I can’t express.

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. Genesis 1:24 ESV

My software creation was confirming to an expected standard using an existing tool. Check writing has fixed rules of right and wrong. God on the other hand speaks animals into creation and he created the rules of right and wrong at the same time while using no tools other than his mighty word. God’s creation is not only perfect but consistent according to his plans for his creation.

So, what is God’s greatest Creation? For a being that is perfect I would think that whatever was planned first is the greatest. God tells us what was planned first from the very start.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. Colossians 1:15-16 ESV

Paul in this verse is talking about Jesus. Jesus is the firstborn and through him God creates everything. More than that God also uses this greatest creation to reconcile mankind unto himself. What we broke about the creation with our free will already had a fix in place. It is amazing that God knew in advance that Jesus would be needed to complete creation and so he was created first. Jesus is the greatest creation and he is the completion of creation.

My awesome software creation is broken but I had no idea. My changes were ultimately a waste of time. Only after I was complete did I realize that it would have been acceptable to simply place the number “152” on the payment line. The tables and lines of code I had in place with all the French words and sequences were not even needed. Worse yet 20 years later that code is obsolete and not even being used anymore.

Jesus suffers no such waste. His death on the cross completes the creation plan with the rules of our being and through him we have purpose. God has set right and wrong in our being. God is actively involved in all our lives from the beginning of time to the end time.

13 The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; 14 from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, 15 he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds. Psalms 33:13-15 ESV

God knows everything. He knows our hearts. He knows our selfishness. He knows our every thought. The Palmist writes he “fashions the hearts” of us all. The Palmist also writes that our every day is known by God.

14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. Psalms 139:14;16 ESV

He has formed you. He has involved himself in the life he has given. He has created the perfect reconciliation and the perfect purpose for life if we surrender it all back to him. Thank him as Father, Creator, and King. Give him all that is his to begin with. Christ only always.

1 Samuel 8:5 | Not my President

judge2

Leadership is a valued focus of the world we live in. Books on leadership are endlessly published. At the university level there are entire classes focused on leadership. The Kindergarten teacher recommended my daughter be held back not because she was deficient in the core academic competencies but because she was immature and lacked leadership skills. We spend billions every four years to pick a leader for the country.

In the Old Testament God laid out a very strange culture and government for the nation of Israel. It was a culture that was an anti-leadership program. The government was decentralized where families and communities lived their lives free of a King. As needed the Israelite life relied on judges. These judges were not voted into office. They did not come from prescribed class or family. Sometimes they were male and sometimes female. They were priests and they were average joes. Judges were chosen by God according to his will as they were needed. They were imperfect people with all their own strengths and weaknesses. Notable judges like Samson was hardly a model citizen. Deborah a woman. Gideon came from a small insignificant family. And Samuel served as priest as well as a judge. These men and women came and went. No family dynasties. No privilege was created to carry over into succeeding generations. This type of non government is outside of human nature and must have been very difficult for the populace to accept.

4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah 5 and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” 1 Samuel 8:4-5 ESV

This was not the first time the people wanted to install a king. Gideon had been so successful as a judge that the people tried to make him a king. They were desperate to install a family dynasty to rule over them.

22 Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” Judges 8:22 ESV

It seems so very strange. But is it? History class told me that Americans wanted to make George Washington a king and he refused. Look at modern government today. If we had polling numbers how big would the percentage be that would want President Obama to be King and rule for the rest of his life? Or how many people would want President Trump to set up a kingship with his children to rule over us into the future? I bet those percentages would be more than expected. The desire I think is born out of insecurity.

19 But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” 1 Samuel 8:19-20 ESV

So why did Israel not have a King like “all the nations” around them? Both Gideon and Samuel answer that question and it is an answer that all of us living even today should take to heart. The reasons they provide apply just as directly to how we live our life and how we approach the world, church, and even our own governments.

23 Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.” Judges 8:22-23 ESV

6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 1 Samuel 8:6-7 ESV

God organized the government into Judges because He is the King. God is the only King. The people did not need a king to rule them or to fight their battles. They had access to the very creator of the universe. When we cry out for leaders to rule over us (take ear evangelicals that are desperate for Trump to save Christianity from a liberal society! Take ear those who are woke and want government to lead society into the promised land of perfect morality and reparations!) we are rejecting the King of Kings. We are rejecting the true ruler of all things. We are clamoring for a god made in our own image and it is an evil selfish image. Salvation will not be found in books on leadership or the people who wrote them. Salvation will not be found in wall street or the mega church. Salvation will not be found in Republicans or Democrats. Salvation and true leadership will only be found in God through Jesus the King of Kings.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:15-17 ESV

The Easter Goat

goat

Easter is upon us and just like clockwork a story to undermine Easter makes the news cycle. Easter is a holiday event marking the weekend of the good news of the gospel that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and then left the grave to provide salvation. So of course, there is breaking news to pull against Easter and that news takes the form of a story that claims the Pope believes there is no eternal Hell (To their credit the Vatican is denying the Pope said this). If true this is news because it breaks with thousands of years of Church teaching and seemingly conflicts with the words of Jesus himself. It is also news because many people want this anti-gospel this anti-Easter view to be true. The reported conversation linked here claims the following quote from the Pope.

“They are not punished, those who repent obtain the forgiveness of God and enter the rank of souls who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot therefore be forgiven disappear. There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”

This idea of a limited or nonexistent hell is not a new idea and if one accepts this view it changes everything about our relationship with God. Here are a few consequences of accepting the idea that Hell is nonexistent or is not eternal.

No Hell = No Consequence

Those that reject God and continue on in their rejection of the creator will have virtually no consequence for the life they live. One might live the life of Hitler or a child abuser and know that at the end of the day the consequence will simply be to “disappear”. It will be as if one was never born. Jesus taught something much different.

5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Matthew 18:5-6 ESV

If you are an unrepentant abuser and you destroy the soul of a child with perversion then it would be better to be drowned in the bottom of the sea than to face the judgment of God (as if one could escape from God to begin with). Jesus went on even further in the same verses.

7 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! 8 And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. Matthew 18:7-9 ESV

Jesus makes the point that it would be better to live life on earth broken and damaged than to be “thrown” into the “eternal” hell. Consequence to sin is a heavy price, it is a scary price, and Jesus was not shy about making that reality clear to his listeners. Many people in their heart hope that hell is not real because being unmade and disappearing forever would be welcome relief to the reality of eternal fire.

No Hell = God will be Mocked

The atheist preaches that when one dies the chemical reactions stop firing in the body and brain causing the self to end. Only the material is real. There is no immaterial soul that continues on. Darkness overtakes the mind and death is the end. If there is no hell and rebellious sinners just cease to be then the atheist is mostly right about their view of God. God who is true will then be replaced by the lies of men. People will be free to set themselves up as god and make themselves in whatever image they want. There is no right or wrong only what mankind states as the truth. This short life we live right now will be the only thing that matters. Why does God even need to communicate “woes” if God and truth become relative?

20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5:20 ESV

No Hell = No need for Jesus

Finally, if there is no Hell then what did Jesus die to save me from? What is the point of Easter and the gospel of Christ? What do I need salvation for?

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes Romans 1:16 ESV

Salvation is defined as deliverance from destruction. While true that Salvation could be a deliverance to eternal life from a destruction of nonexistence that is not the context that Jesus taught and it is not the context of day in which Jesus taught. A timeless existence is the context for both those with God and those opposed to God. God through Jesus made a way to save the creation so that we are able to glorify, worship, and have a loving relationship with God the Father for all eternity. Jesus is the good news of salvation. I pray that everyone would submit to that plan. The alternative is not going to be peaceful nonexistence.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-33; 41; 46 ESV

1 Samuel 2:25 | Intercede for Me

church_cross

I have made mistakes and hurt people. I cringe when some of those events come to mind. What happens when make mistakes are made that reach the court system? The idea of getting wrapped up in court or dealing with police would cause me enough stress that panic attacks would not be far behind. So when I read news reports like the recent one that an elderly nun, Sister Catherine Rose, while in court dealing with a lawsuit collapsed and died I immediately think of the frustration and the anxiety of that situation contributed to this sad news. The court case is regarding a property dispute in that the nuns wanted to sell their property to a particular individual but Katy Perry, the famed pop star, also wanted to purchase the property. Before fighting for my rights in anything when it comes to judgment of a court I would want to take measure of the cost and make sure I was well represented. This nun spent her last moments in court and her death is now sadly linked with Katy Perry and Perry must live with the result. As intimidating as man-made laws and courts might be I have a greater fear and that is standing before the God of Creation and being left to represent myself on my own merits.

Eli a priest of God for the nation of Israel had a problem with his sons. His evil sons were breaking laws of men and God for their own selfish gain. These sons were abusing the people they should have been serving. Eli pointed out a problem and truth that they refused to understand.

25 If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” 1 Samuel 2:25a ESV

Eli’s question is profound. We have arbiters, mediators, and peace makers who might broker restitution between men but who is qualified and who is strong enough to broker reconciliation between God and man? Eli’s protégé Samuel years later answers the question that Eli proposed. Samuel had become the priest and leader of Israel when the rebellious people came to him seeking God’s mercy.

5 Then Samuel said, “Assemble all Israel at Mizpah, and I will intercede with the Lord for you.” 6 When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the Lord. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord.” Now Samuel was serving as leader of Israel at Mizpah. 1 Samuel 7:5-6 NIV

Eli asked who could intercede between man and God. Samuel answers the question with action. As priest and leader between the people and God he could intercede and he could bridge that gap. Samuel is a great defense attorney navigating the perfect justice of God. Samuel tapped into God’s mercy just as Moses had done generations before.

7 And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. Numbers 21:7 ESV

This kind of intercessory prayer seems to have been lost in the generations between Moses and Samuel. Eli the previous priest asked the question, but had no answer and it does not appear that he knew how to intercede for even his own children. God knowing that people are limited put into motion a plan to create the perfect unlimited priest. A priest that would not die or be limited by space and time. God provided for mankind a priest that could be perfect representation to all people at all moments.

22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. 23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:22-25 ESV

Jesus always lives, Jesus continues to live making intercession for anyone ready to accept his gift. Notice when Moses and Samuel interceded for the people it was an act that started by the people asking for help and submitting to the authority that Moses and Samuel represented. Jesus does not just represent that authority. He is that authority and he ready to intercede for anyone who calls on his name and that is God’s perfect gift to creation.

1 Samuel 2:12 | Worthless Apart from God


fire

Is there such a thing as a worthless person? I can think of a few professions that are worthless like drug dealer and television pundit. But to call an individual worthless is hard because we are all created in God’s image. We all have worth even drug dealers and television talking heads have families that need them and love them. Yet the word of God unceremoniously tells me that there are people who are truly worthless.

12 Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord. 1 Samuel 2:12 ESV

These sons of Eli were the active priests serving in God’s presence for sacrifices being brought by the Israelites. God calls these men worthless. They were not worthless because they were born outside of a privileged cast. They were not worthless because they were the “wrong” ethnic group, culture, or skin color. To call anyone worthless because of these temporal and earthly reasons would be a sin against a fellow human. These men are worthless in their service to God and his laws. And that is the danger we all face. That God our creator might call us worthless because of our sins and rebellion against what God has called true. They are a warning to the reader. What is worthless is ultimately destroyed by fire.

But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. Hebrews 6:8 ESV

Eli’s sons were evil because they abused their power over the people to enrich themselves. In the older King James, the translation calls Eli’s sons בְּלִיַּעַל (Belial or bel·e·yah’·al) which means worthless, lawless, or wicked. Eli’s sons were much more than worthless they were worthless servants of Satan who is the father of worthlessness.

12 Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the Lord. 1 Samuel 2:12 KJV

Worth is defined as something desirable and useful. From God’s perspective if we are pursuing our own selfish desires we are not of worth. If we are following our own laws made by our selfish desires then we are not of worth. They are worthless to God because they do not believe in Him. Paul uses the word Belial to contrast the life lived apart from Christ. Righteousness vs lawlessness. Light vs darkness. Believer in Christ vs unbeliever. There is no middle ground.

14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 2 Corinthians 6:14-15 ESV

Jesus is perfectly worthy because he is unselfish even unto death. Jesus is of perfect worth because he perfectly fulfilled the laws of God. Because of Christ and his gift, we have an opportunity to be reconciled and shed the worthlessness nature of our sins. We can avoid the death that comes to worthless men like Eli’s sons. We can find life in Christ by giving ourselves to him and his perfect worth.

38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:38-39 ESV

1 Thessalonians 4:1 | Self Help

more43

Growth and maturity are aspirations of the self help and be all that you can be motivational speakers. With education and wealth that most in free societies have in abundance, growth and maturity would seem to be a waste if not taken advantage of even in small measure. Within this space some pastors write books or sermons themed on how to have the best life. Even more motivational speakers outside of religion will focus on the power of positive thinking. If you can dream it you can do it they preach. None this is wrong within limits, but when taken to selfish extremes self help and achieving dreams can become a trap. Paul in his letter to the church in Thessalonica did not have much to correct in their behavior. The reports he received must have been glowing, compared to some of the other early churches at least. Paul challenges this church asking them to have growth and maturity in two key areas. If one is looking for self help and big dreams then Paul’s words are the God inspired way to approach life. For the contemporary church that means following the teaching of the Bible which is a record of what the apostles taught to the early church.

First Paul challenges the church to grow more and more in their sexual ethic. To please God one must recognize right and wrong in this area. This challenge from Paul is not some rule that men have made up to stop people from loving or having fun as they see fit but it is an expectation from God himself and will save many from a life of loneliness and regret.

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 3-8 ESV

The sexual liberation of current society is nothing new. Lust fulfilled through pornography, affairs, and a hookup culture are a hollow gratification that is championed by those who are dead inside. You want a better you? You want to please God? Then submit your body to Christ. Stop polluting your heart, soul, and mind with dishonor and impurity. God is holy and pure so we should at least acknowledge what is right even if doing right is near impossible. What we know is for sure impossible is pleasing God if selfish desires rule your every waking moment. Paul put these words into another form in his letter to the Roman church.

6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:6-8 ESV

If your life is self-centered and self-accommodating you are living in the “flesh”. This is death because our flesh leads us away from God. Much of God’s law is in place to confirm to us that our selfish fleshly desires should not rule over our lives.

Second Paul challenges the church to grow more and more in how we live our daily lives as citizens in a country and community.

9 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 ESV

For the woke brothers and sisters (both white and black) and for the conservative evangelical brothers and sisters this challenge from Paul needs to be front and center at all times. Where is our brotherly love? Paul found no need to write to the Thessalonians on this topic because they had love for others. They served others without judgment. But Paul wanted them to grow more and more. So if you think you have this kind of love  in place then Paul says go further. Seek the welfare of others over self. Seek not to be dependent on the government. Seek not to be so concerned with the affairs of others. I can’t change someone else any more than the government can force people to change. True change only comes from the Spirit given to us by Christ. And why does Paul want more and more of this? So that we would walk properly before outsiders for God’s glory. Sadly, at this moment much of the outside world sees sides pitted against each other competing for worldly influence apart from Christ.

Finally, some of you reading this will reject it all. This post is not the typically kind of self help because Paul wants yourself to be put aside. The best help one could ever provide to self is let self-die and be made alive in Christ.

Some of you reading will agree but are afraid of what putting away the self will mean when it comes to your job, your friends, and your community. It is true you may lose all of those things but God is so much more important than anything else.

42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in [Jesus], but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. John 4:42-43 ESV

*original photo by Scott Webb from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/colorful-plant-pot-rocks-395676/

You really like me!

stage

Sally Field when she won an Oscar for best actress gave what may be the most memorable, and misquoted, line of any awards speech. “You like me, you really like me”. That line is not a direct quote but it is the impression many remembered and has since been referenced and copied in so many other places. The quote highlights the vanity of awards shows in general but it expresses a truth that most people want to be recognized and loved. What better way to be loved than recognition? Paul opens his letter to Thessalonica telling them that he remembers them before God for all their faithful works.

3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 1:3 ESV

If an Apostle wrote a letter to my church letting us know that we are in his prayer and that he appreciates the hard work I would be ecstatic. What an encouragement this letter must have been. Actors work hard and so few of them achieve the kind of success that comes with an Oscar win. There are many people who have toiled long nights, put in hours of practice, and have spent personal wealth all at a shot of becoming a star. Yet how many of them receive the recognition that is due? I think it is the case in all professions that recognition is hard to come by. If we all desire recognition for earthly temporary things what about recognition for the things heavenly eternal things? We do not generally take that kind of recognition well. Worse yet many want to avoid spiritual conversations altogether. But Paul wanted the church to know that he saw their works in Christ. In the second letter to this same church he made the point again but provides a little more detail on what he is praising them for.

4 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. 2 Thessalonians 1:4 ESV

Now this kind of recognition is not the kind that comes with positive press, overnight success, or financial gain. Paul is using words like work, labor, and steadfastness in the presence of persecution and afflictions. This sound an awful lot like drudgery, sorrow, opposition, and operating far away from the world’s approval. In fact, this sounds like a people who might rightly say of the world “you hate me, you really hate me!”. Paul is recognizing them for the fact that they have endured the awfulness of life for the sake of Christ. Jesus points to a future time before he returns where Christians will be persecuted and one can see where Paul sources his comments on the glory of one enduring under harsh conditions.

22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. Matthew 10:22 ESV

The apostles are gone and they have left only the words inspired by God and a historical legacy. They cannot write an encouraging letter directly to me or my church today. However, these words of encouragement that have been left speak of recognition that no Oscar winner could ever dream for. The Bible tells us that God himself will recognize the endurance and the labor that is done in His name.

10 For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. Hebrews 6:10 ESV

The kind of works and love that God is looking to recognize is an unselfish work that gains glory not for the servant but for God himself and sadly that is where the Oscars and most recognition go wrong.

3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 1 Thessalonians 2:3-4 ESV

Isaiah 26:7 | Level Paths

path

I enjoy hiking on mountain trails in search of new views or waterfalls. Just being out to get exercise with family in tow is part of the most important activities of life. I pray my children will fondly look back on these times and will desire to explore God’s creation when they come into their own. After miles of up and down on technical terrain one of the most enjoyable places of a hike is a level area of soft ground covered in pine. Usually this calm level area might be near a winding stream with plenty of smooth rocks to hold and throw. This section of the trail is perfect for a break and a place of rest to enjoy on an otherwise difficult trail.

I find that hiking is a wonderful analogy to life. Both are a journey. Both are more difficult if we try to forge our own path. Both contain beauty. And both are unknown as to what the journey or the destination will reveal to our own eyes. Until I walk the path and arrive at the destination I don’t really know what will be experienced. Even if I have a map or a guide the journey is still unique to my experience. Life is this way also. On this journey of life, the Bible tells us that God has a path for each person and he has made available a light for that path through his Word the Bible.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105 ESV

But he has done even more than provide a light and direction on the path. He can be active to a life that is surrendered to his direction.

The path of the righteous is level; you make level the way of the righteous. Isaiah 26:7 ESV

He makes “level” the way. God levels the path of the righteous and I think about those level soft sections of trail where the switch backs and difficulty are put on hold. Where one can walk comfortably and revel in the glory of the trees. This is the kind of path that God makes for the righteous.

Now this begs the question who are the righteous that God has given a lamp and a level path? Especially if an attempt at righteousness for many is a burden of work and journey of its own.

For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his paths. The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin. He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray. Proverbs 5:21-23 ESV

Am I righteous? Have I done enough good things or prepared enough for the trail ahead? God knows that I have not. God knows my thoughts. He knows my ways and they are not his ways. He has seen all my selfish thoughts. He has seen all my evil done in secret.

as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. Romans 3:10-11 ESV

Never could I be found righteous before his perfect standards. So, God provided a solution so that his plans for me will be accomplished. God has made those who are called by his name righteous. Not by works or by effort but by the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God knows we fall short of his perfect standards so he came to earth in the form of a man and lived a perfect life on our behalf. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. God lowered himself to be part of his creation. To save his creation.

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law … the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. Romans 3:20-22 ESV

Righteousness is given to all who put their trust and faith in Jesus. For those that accept what Jesus has done God is then free set them on a path that brings them home as his children. Dear reader now is the moment of grace to accept Christ and submit to his desire and plans for your life. God calls to you as a loving father calls his children home.

Does a level and lighted path mean that life becomes easy? Well no it does not. This life is full of consequences many of them our own doing. There is a promise that I hang on as I daily put my trust in God. Daily as I want to submit and honor him. That promise is that the righteousness given to me through Christ allows me to get back up every time I fall short of where I should be.

for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes. Proverbs 24:17 NIV

This proverb tells us the righteous will fall but get back up. But those that reject God will stumble in that day of judgement. But note that the righteous do not get back up on their own. It says that even if they fall seven times they rise. Seven is the number of God and stands for perfection. It is through God’s perfection, through Jesus Christ and the perfect life he lived that those who are called by his name will rise again and continue on the journey to find rest in God.