Friday, September 30, 2011

Loving As God Does (1 Thess. 4:9-10a)

Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia.
(1 Thessalonians 4:9-10a, NASB)

Our Lord God is described by many adjectives and names throughout the Bible, and I love that.

I love that He sees me wherever I am because He’s El Roi—the God who sees (Gen. 16:13). Or when I have a need, I know He’s Jehovah Jireh—the God who provides (Gen. 22:14). Or when I hurt, I know He will give me strength as I seek His refuge (Ps. 46:1). Or when I’m feeling anxious I can go to Jehovah Shalom—the Lord is peace (Judges 6:24). Or if everything around me seems dark, I remember God is light (1 John 1:5).

But most of all, I love that God is love—pure love (1 John 4:16). He loves me more that I could ever imagine. He loves me in spite of my sin and rebellion. He loves me so much that He was willing to send His Son—a literal part of Himself—to die for my sins, to provide a way for my salvation (John 3:16).

And because He loves me that much, how can I do anything less than love others—all others. In fact, the Bible makes it very, very clear: “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8). If I don’t love my brothers and sisters, I don’t know God. Convicting words, aren’t they?

So because I do know God, I must love others. No room for jealousy or hate. No room for envy or covetousness. No room for arrogance or pride.

Just love. Pure love. God’s love.

I think I have some work to do … What about you?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Be Set Apart (1 Thess. 4:7-8)

For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.
(1 Thessalonians 4:7-8, NASB)

God is in the business of saving lives. As soon as Adam and Eve made the choice to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—against God’s command—He has always had a gracious plan of salvation. His plan culminated in the death, burial, and resurrection of God the Son, Jesus Christ. It is only by the belief in and acceptance of this amazing gift that we are saved.

But our faith journeys don’t end at the moment of salvation; rather, they just begin. Once we commit ourselves to God—heart, soul, mind, and strength—He begins the process of sanctification in us.

Sanctification means being “set apart to a sacred purpose” (Webster’s Dictionary). And this is ongoing in the lives of believers. Every day, if we “take up our cross,” if we submit ourselves completely to God, He’ll continue to mold and refine us so that we can complete whatever purpose He has willed for us.

However, if we fight this process by constantly choosing our own way—or choosing to be impure in any way—or if we refuse to grow in our faith by ignoring His word or neglecting Him, then we prevent His perfect work in us. We are no longer being sanctified.

Our time on this earth is just a blip, a vapor, a miniscule dot on the timeline of eternity. What we do with our time has eternal impact. The question is: Are we going to spend our time here pursuing meaningless, impure things, or are we going to allow the sanctifying work of God to make us worthy vessels to be used by Him?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Abstain from Sexual Immorality (1 Thess. 4:3-6)

For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.
(1 Thessalonians 4:3-6, NASB)

I believe that God originally created man and woman (Gen. 1:27), and through them, provided the means for procreation: part of man and part of woman (Gen. 1:28). For reasons only He knows, that procreation comes naturally through sexual intercourse. And if it can't happen naturally, for whatever reason, it still takes part of man and part of woman.

But I also believe that God, in His infinite wisdom, chose to make that act pleasurable, something that actually “cleaves” a husband and wife. Nothing is more intimate than sexually connecting with another person, and I believe God intends for sex to be between married people. It is beautiful in His sight for a husband and wife to give themselves to each other in this way (see 1 Cor. 7:3-5 in The Message paraphrase).

Anything else goes against God’s original design.

Our bodies are temples housing the very Spirit of God. We must protect them and use them only in ways that please and glorify God. And that includes making certain we keep ourselves pure either through abstinence if we're single or being in a God-designed “leave and cleave” relationship—a covenant blessed by God (Gen. 2:24).

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Walk to Please God (1 Thess. 4:1-2)

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.
(1 Thessalonians 4:1-2, NASB)

We Christians often use the phrase, “Walking with the Lord.” Paul used it as well. He also described our lives as Christ-followers as a race, more like a marathon (1 Cor. 9:24, 26). I like to call it a journey—running just isn’t my thing.

No matter what you call your particular faith journey, how should you behave? What should all of us do to move forward rather than backward—or not move at all?

One of my favorite talks I give is “Refresh Your Faith.” I talk a lot about what we can do to keep our faith fresh and vibrant. I emphasize how important it is to keep God—Father, Son, and Spirit—first and foremost in our minds and hearts. And to do that, we can and should do several things:

Take time for personal Bible study and prayer. I believe this is the most important of all. When we spend quiet time alone with God’s word, we learn more about Him and His will for our lives. And when we pray, we draw closer to His throne.

Spend time in solitude listening to His voice. It’s one thing to talk to God. It’s another to listen to Him. When you quietly sit in His presence, focusing completely on Him, He’ll often speak to your heart.

Take times of retreat. Whether this is a weekend with the women or men from your church, or a few hours of personal retreat, it’s important to regularly get away from the “stuff” of the world to fully focus on God.

Spend time with others of faith. As often as possible, get involved with a group Bible study. The Holy Spirit reveals truth to each of us differently, and it’s inspiring to hear what has touched others’ hearts.

Memorize scriptures. Knowing God’s word by heart helps in so many ways. It offers encouragement when you face difficulties. It helps to combat the lies of the enemy. Jesus Himself used scripture to counter the enemy (Luke 4:1-13). Should we do any less?

These are just a few of the things we can do to keep our focus on God … and that’s what we need to do to win the race or arrive at our destination: eternity with Him.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Love Each Other (1 Thess. 3:11-13)

Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you; and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.
(1 Thessalonians 3:11-13, NASB)

Encourage each other. Comfort each other. Rejoice in each other.

Love each other.

I’ve written about this before: Our creator God is love, and He created us to love. We are created to love Him and each other.

The English language only has one word for love. And we use it in many ways. I love my husband. I love my dogs. I love ice cream. I love my family. I love musical theater.

I love God.

The Greek language has several words for love. Eros is intimate love in marriage. Storge is familial love. Agape is unconditional love—the love God has for us.

And Philia is love between friends. This is the love we often find when we meet our brothers and sisters in Christ. So often, we meet someone who shares our faith, and there’s an immediate connection.

Just recently, I began a new Bible study at my church. I met a new group of ladies as we broke into small groups. It’s still early, but as we share prayer requests and what God is doing in our hearts, we’re learning to love each other.

We’re learning to do as Jesus commanded: Loving each other as we do ourselves.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rejoice in Each Other (1 Thess. 3:9-10)

For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account, as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?
(1 Thessalonians 3:9-10, NASB)

We are encouraged by our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are comforted by them.

And we rejoice in them.

When I see a child of God use his or her gifts and talents to serve God, it brings me great joy. I’ve spent the last eleven weeks or so with a cast of wonderful actors as we’ve rehearsed and performed a new dramatic adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. We close today, and it’s rather bittersweet. Part of me is happy to get my weekends back! And yet, I know I’ll miss this particular group of actors.

What I’ll miss the most is seeing the fellowship and camaraderie that’s occurred as we’ve grown closer. And I’ll miss the joy I feel as I stand off-stage to watch my cast mates give their all to tell a powerful story of grace and redemption.

But I’ll continue to rejoice as they pursue God’s plan for their lives. And I’ll continue to rejoice as I watch all my brothers and sisters do what God has gifted them to do.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Comfort Each Other (1 Thess. 3:6-7)

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord.
(1 Thessalonians 3:6-7, NASB)

Yesterday, I looked at how wonderful it is that we Christ-followers encourage us. Today, it’s all about comfort.

Each of us goes through our own peaks and valleys, and when we hit bottom, the best comfort comes from those who have walked similar paths. And then we in turn can comfort others.

Paul said it well, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4, NKJV). I especially like the Contemporary English Version’s paraphrase of verse 4: “He comforts us when we are in trouble, so that we can share that same comfort with others in trouble.”

I know this is true in my life. God has given me such great comfort through the valleys of my life, and I am so blessed to be able to comfort others.

I’ve held the hand of a young woman crying because she isn’t pregnant. I’ve led a small group of women who are married to men who don’t share their faith. I’ve hugged those who suffer from physical pain.

It’s such a privilege to know God uses me to comfort others. Just as He has comforted me.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Encourage Each Other (1 Thess. 3:1-5)

Therefore when we could endure it no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith, so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know. For this reason, when I could endure it no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be in vain.
(1 Thessalonians 3:1-5, NASB)

We have such great benefits as children of God. And one of the best is how we have brothers and sisters to encourage us. And pray for us. Just as Timothy encouraged the Thessalonian believers.

I haven’t been feeling well lately, and it’s been such a blessing to know my siblings in Christ are praying for me. For example, I’m in a play right now at a faith-based theater, and I’d asked for prayer a few days ago … and at last night’s performance, several of my cast mates made a point of asking how I was doing.

While I might not feel any better physically, knowing I’m being supported in prayer certainly helps me emotionally.

Paul experienced the same encouragement throughout his ministry. Yet, he sometimes felt concern that his fellow believers weren’t feeling encouraged when they heard of his “afflictions.” And rightfully so.

Haven’t you sometimes felt discouraged when you hear about someone else’s pain and suffering? You hear of a friend’s battling cancer or a colleague’s child is in an accident. And you wonder why …

When these moments—or seasons—come, you have a great opportunity to bless others by encouraging them. Even if all you do is pray—it’s more than enough.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Encouraging Words (Ps. 37:3-7a)

Trust in the LORD, and do good;
Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.
Delight yourself also in the LORD,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass.
He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light,
And your justice as the noonday.
Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him;

(Psalms 37:3-7a, NKJV)

I’m taking a little break from 1 Thessalonians today to meditate on a few verses that never fail to touch my heart.

In these few verses from Psalm 37, we’re encouraged to do a few things:

Trust in God, and do good. When we trust the Lord and His faithfulness, we desire to serve Him. And serving Him means doing good to others—or as Jesus quoted, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).

Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart
. Delighting in the Lord means focusing on Him, making Him the number one priority of your life. It means wanting His will for your life. And when you do this, He really will give you the desires of your heart—because your desires will be His desires.

Commit your way to the Lord. Surrender yourself to the Lord every day. Seek His plan for your life by meditating on His word and spending time with Him in solitude and prayer. Seek godly counsel from trusted friends.

Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him. I love the first part of this verse. I’m so often weary—bone-weary, and knowing I can crawl up into my Abba’s lap and rest in Him greatly comforts me. I know He’ll give me whatever strength I need to accomplish what He’s called me to do. And yes, I need to patiently wait for Him to reveal His will.

I needed these words this morning … I pray they encourage you as well.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Blessed Relationships (1 Thess. 2:17-20)

But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while—in person, not in spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and yet Satan hindered us. For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.
(1 Thessalonians 2:17-20, NASB)

I’ve been blessed with so many amazing, wonderful, talented, unique people in my life. Friends for a season; friends for a lifetime. Family. Even acquaintances who have briefly touched my life.

The older I get, the more I appreciate how God created us for relationship. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t have people who encourage, affirm, and love me—yes, and even convict me when I’m off track.

My husband who has loved me and supported me—and put up with me—for over 23 years. My mom who prays for me and who has loved me unconditionally my entire life. My siblings whom I greatly admire. My nieces and nephews who give me hope for the next generation.

And my friends … hugs. Words of encouragement. A listening ear. A ready shoulder.

What would I do without them?

They truly are my glory and joy.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Suffering for Christ (1 Thess. 2:14-16)

For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.
(1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, NASB)

Have you ever suffered for the name of Jesus Christ? Have you experienced ridicule or persecution? Rejection? Betrayal?

If you have, then you can be assured you’re doing something right.

Jesus told His followers—and that includes us—that they’d suffer persecution, sometimes at the hands of those closest to them (see Matt. 10:16-26).

Paul and James both wrote about trials and tribulations that followers of Christ would go through. In fact, when Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, he couldn’t have made it any clearer: “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (3:12).

But why do we experience sufferings? Why isn’t the Christian life all rainbows and butterflies?

Because we are at war. We are in a fallen world that craves darkness, and we shine the light of Jesus. And those who live in darkness can’t stand that light. So they do what they can to snuff it out, even when that means snuffing the life out of us.

So if you’re laughed at for reading your Bible or praying, or if others scoff at you for being “na├»ve,” or if you’re rejected for practicing your faith, remember: You’re not alone. And the God whom you serve in spite of whatever persecution you face will honor your faithfulness with eternal life with Him (see Mark 10:29-31).

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Word of God (1 Thess. 2:13)

For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.
(1 Thessalonians 2:13, NASB)

What do you believe about the Bible? Is it just a book with a lot of stories? Or a book with some good advice, but no more important than any other book? Or a book with some truth, some words to live by, but with a lot of irrelevancy?

Or do you believe it to be the inspired, inerrant word of God?

I guess my thought is either you believe the Bible to be God’s word or you don’t. To take bits and pieces and reject the rest seems so odd to me. If God is the sovereign of all creation, then He certainly worked through the pens of men to create a written documentation for us to know more of whom He is.

God breathed His truth through the writers, and He breathed His truth through those who gathered the books into what we now know as the Holy Bible.

Many people don’t necessarily have a problem with the idea of God’s inspiration of the Bible, but the idea of inerrancy doesn’t sit well … throughout the ages and with all the translations, there are no errors, they say. Inerrancy defined means there were no errors in the original manuscripts. And yes, as fallible man copied the original manuscripts, some fractional errors may have occurred.

But again, if God is sovereign, if He is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, then don’t you think He guided the pens of the scribes? And don’t you think that if any error entered a copy, it was so minor so as not to make any real difference in His final message?

Believe what you will about the Bible. But if you believe it to be God’s word, then believe it to be God’s word.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Walk in a Worthy Manner (1 Thess. 2:9-12)

For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
(1 Thessalonians 2:9-12, NASB)

“… walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” What does this really mean? What manner is worthy enough to deserve being a part of God’s kingdom?

I believe it means behaving in a way that pleases God. It means spending time in His word learning more about Him and His character. It means praying and communing with Him, listening to His voice.

It means striving to live by the greatest commandment, and “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). And living by the second greatest, as well, by striving to “love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 31).

It means allowing the Holy Spirit to manifest His fruit in you so you are loving, joyful, patient, gentle, and kind (see Gal.5:21-23). It means serving the “least of these” (Matt. 25:31-40).

Or as Paul wrote, it means to live devoutly, uprightly, and blamelessly, and exhort and encourage your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Sounds like a very high calling, doesn’t it? When the end result is being with God in His kingdom, it’s really the least we can do.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Loving Others (1 Thess. 2:7-8)

But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.
(1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, NASB)

Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). He went on to say. “… love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

As followers of Christ, we are to love one another. We are to be kind and gentle. We should show compassion. Throughout the gospels, we see how Jesus cared for others.

He showed compassion to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:11) and to the woman with a flow of blood (Matt. 9:22). He was gentle when he met the Samaritan woman in her shame (John 4:1-26). He grieved with Martha and Mary (John 11:35).

And Jesus’ heart broke when He saw the rebellion of His people: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34).

So as Jesus showed compassion and gentleness, we should do the same. We should treat our brothers and sisters with affection and kindness, loving them as we love ourselves. Even more, loving them as Jesus loves us.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Serve to Please God (1 Thess. 2:3-6)

For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness— nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.
(1 Thessalonians 2:3-6, NASB)

God has called each of us to serve Him. We’ve all been given spiritual gifts, and the number one purpose of our using those gifts is to glorify Him. You may have been called to teach or preach (see Eph. 4:11). Or you may be a generous giver or have a heart to show mercy (see Rom. 12:8). You might love to help others or perhaps you’re a gifted administrator (see 1 Cor. 12:28).

No matter our gifts, using them should never shine the light on us. None of us should “think of himself more highly than he ought …” (Rom. 12:3). We should never “seek glory from men”; rather, everything we do should be “pleasing … God who examines our hearts.”

When you use a gift the Lord has given you, are you so focused on pleasing God that it doesn’t matter what others might say? Would you preach or teach even if no one ever told you that your words had encouraged or convicted them? Would you give generously to your church if that giving was never acknowledged—even by the IRS? Would you be merciful to those less fortunate, never hearing a “thank you”?

If you can say, “Yes, I’d serve anyway even if I never, ever received any human kudos,” then you’re serving for the right reasons. You’re using your gifts as God intended. But if you sense that sometimes you seek a bit of glory for yourself, then ask God to help you examine your motives.

And serve “not as pleasing man, but [as pleasing] God …”

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Facing Tribulation (1 Thess. 2:1-2)

For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition.
(1 Thessalonians 2:1-2, NASB)

Some people seem to think that once you become a Christian, your life becomes calm, peaceful, and stress-free. Clearly, those people haven’t really studied the Bible. Troubles are pretty much promised.

James made it crystal clear when he wrote, “Consider it all joy … when you fall into various trials …” Not if you fall, but when you fall. And Jesus Himself promised difficult times when He said, “In the world you will have tribulation …” (John 16:33). Again, it isn’t a maybe; it’s a will.

Paul knew more than most what it meant to suffer for the name of Christ. In his second letter to the church at Corinth, he described trials and tribulations beyond comprehension. He was beaten, stoned, robbed, imprisoned, and shipwrecked. He experienced weariness, hunger, and thirst. (See 2 Cor. 11:22-27.)

Yet he was able to rejoice in the chains that imprisoned him. He was able to withstand pain and suffering. Why? Because he knew he was following the will of his God and that any suffering he experienced on earth meant nothing in the light of eternity: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18).

More importantly, he was confident that nothing would ever separate him from the love of his Father:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:
“ For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:35-39, NKJV)
Yes, we will have trials and tribulations, but we can be confident of one thing. Our Lord and Savior will be victorious. Or as Jesus said at the end of John 16:33, “... be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

Monday, September 12, 2011

Preach and Teach (1 Thess. 1:8-10)

For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.
(1 Thessalonians 1:8-10, NASB)

Some are called specifically to be pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:11). God has gifted them uniquely to preach the gospel and teach from His word.

But that doesn’t mean they’re the only people who should be sharing the good news of salvation. Paul commended the church at Thessalonica for its “sound[ing] forth” the gospel. In fact, the church members had been so good about letting their “faith in God [go] forth” that Paul and his comrades had “no need to say anything.”

Each of us who has accepted the gift of salvation through belief in the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, should be sharing the gospel. While we might not be standing at a pulpit, we can preach and teach wherever we are. We can share the “hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7).

In fact, many people have been won to Christ, not because they heard a preacher, but because they saw the evidence of changed lives. They saw the light of Jesus shine through sincere believers. They saw anger turn to compassion. Addiction replaced by hope. Despair overcome by peace.

They saw walking, talking illustrations of Jesus.

As you go through your day, look for opportunities to preach and teach. Share what God has done in your life. Give the reason for your joy through sorrow. Be Jesus to someone today.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Imitators of the Lord (1 Thess. 1:6-7)

You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
(1 Thessalonians 1:6-7, NASB)

We have been blessed with so many pillars of faith who have walked before us. So many godly men and women whose lives are worthy of our imitation.

People like Paul, who went from persecuting followers of Christ to being one of the great leaders of the Christian faith. His letters to the first churches, including the one we’re journeying through now, have inspired and encouraged—and convicted—millions.

People like John, the disciple whom Christ dearly loved. His final book of Revelation gives us insights into God’s ultimate plan for our eternity with Him.

People like Corrie ten Boom, who survived incarceration in a Nazi death camp, and was able to forgive her persecutors.

People like Joni Earekson Tada, a quadriplegic who serves God from her wheelchair, and whose inspiring story has touched countless lives.

People like my maternal grandfather, whose heart for Christ and love for others instilled compassion and faith in his daughter, my mom. She in turn continues to illustrate faith to me.

I’ve learned so much from these examples of faith … and so many others. They have helped to form my faith. And I’m so grateful for their godly influence.

Who in your life can you imitate? And who might find inspiration in you?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Christian in More than Name (1 Thess. 1:2b-5)

We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you; for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.
(1 Thessalonians 1:2b-5, NASB)

Being a Christian is so much more than just saying that God exists. As the Bible tells us: “Even the demons believe—and tremble” (James 2:19). And it’s so much more than just going to church each Sunday or saying a prayer now and again … usually when something goes wrong. Or quoting a Bible verse every once and a while.

Being a Christian, a follower of Christ, means committing your life to God’s will. And when you commit your life to God, surrendering everything to Him, your desire is to serve Him. You want to work for Him, serving and loving others as you hope in Him.

You read God’s word—with its “scarlet thread” of salvation weaved throughout—and with the inspiration and illumination of the Holy Spirit, you are encouraged and convicted. You hide God’s word in your heart, knowing its words will keep you from sinning against the Lord (Ps. 119:11).

You spend time in prayer, praising God and interceding for others. You listen to God’s voice as He leads and guides you along His chosen path.

So ... which kind of Christian are you?

Friday, September 09, 2011

A New Journey (1 Thess. 1:1-2a)

Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
(1 Thessalonians 1:1-2a, NASB)

Today, we begin a journey through the book of 1 Thessalonians, another of Paul’s letter to one of the churches he planted.

Letter-writing—true pen-to-paper writing—is so out of vogue. And that’s kind of sad. In the day, people would often collect and save letters, and those letters captured histories. Stories of romances. Stories of families. Births. Deaths. It’s truly a lost art.

Where would we be if Paul hadn’t written his letters? We’ve been given so much wisdom, encouragement, affirmation, exhortation, and conviction. Some of my very favorite passages, words that I’ve memorized, come from Paul’s letters.

And as we journey through 1 Thessalonians, we’ll be visiting some of those passages.

I’m really looking forward to reading Paul’s pen-to-paper letter. And I begin by greeting you as Paul did: Grace and to you and peace.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

In the Presence of Our Lord (Ps. 47:8-9)

God reigns over the nations;
God sits on His holy throne.
The princes of the people have gathered together,
The people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
He is greatly exalted.

(Psalm 47:8-9, NKJV)

Days like today make me long even more for the day when I can bow before God’s throne and bask in His presence. When I feel particularly weak or when the pain is particularly intense, I picture myself face down in humble reverence, just whispering His name over and over. Pain-free with supernatural strength to serve Him.

And one day, all of us who follow Christ—“the people of the God of Abraham”—will gather together at His throne.

We’ll life our voices in praise. We’ll exalt His name. We’ll worship, lifting holy hands.

When this fallen world gives you one too many moments of stress, when the pain is unbearable, when a relationship breaks your heart … picture yourself in the presence of your Lord God. Picture yourself surrounded by all your brothers and sisters, just praising God.

One day, that’s exactly where you’ll be. Exactly where I’ll be.

Oh, Lord Jesus, come quickly.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Sing Praises with Understanding (Ps. 47:5-7)

God has gone up with a shout,
The LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth;
Sing praises with understanding.

(Psalm 47:5-7, NKJV)

I know I’ve written this before, but one of my favorite things to do is singing praises to the Lord. Traditional hymns. Contemporary songs.

But I have to say, I’m a bit convicted with the last part of verse seven: “Sing praises with understanding.” Sometimes, I fail to think about the words I’m singing. Or I sing just because I like to do so. Or because I have the words memorized, I think of other things besides the words and their meaning.

Just as I sometimes become distracted when I pray, I can become distracted when I sing praises.

That’s just not right. It’s a privilege to lift my voice in praise, knowing the Lord is pleased when I make that “joyful noise” (Ps. 66:1). And when I focus on the words—many of which come directly from scriptures—I’m not only praising the Lord, but I’m also gaining more understanding about His attributes.

His faithfulness is great. He is mighty to save. He is God of all creation. His grace is amazing. He is worthy.

Such richness. Such meaning.

So sing praises to God. But sing them with understanding.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Our Conquering God (Ps. 47:3-4)

He will subdue the peoples under us,
And the nations under our feet.
He will choose our inheritance for us,
The excellence of Jacob whom He loves. Selah.

(Psalm 47:3-4, NKJV)

One day, the Lord of all creation, the Sovereign King of the universe will reign. Everyone will acknowledge Him as the one true God—Father, Son, and Spirit.

Paul wrote these words of affirmation: One day “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11). Every knee will one day bow, Christ-follower or not. Jesus Himself said that many would one day call Him “Lord,” but would not truly know Him (see Matt. 7:21-23).

God will conquer and “subdue the peoples.” And those of us who follow Him, those of us who are His children through the death and resurrection of the Son, will inherit eternal life. We will spend eternity with our Lord and Savior. We too will be “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37).

So as we live our day-to-day, moment-by-moment lives, we can be confident that we’re on the winning team. We don’t have to worry about this world and its sins. We can be assured by the words of Jesus: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Monday, September 05, 2011

Our Awesome God (Ps. 47:1-2)

Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples!
Shout to God with the voice of triumph!
For the LORD Most High is awesome;
He is a great King over all the earth.

(Psalm 47:1-2, NKJV)

Our God is truly awesome. He is truly “a great King over all the earth.”

He is our strength (Ps. 46:1). He sees us exactly where we are (Gen. 16:13). He is our Healer (Ex. 15:26). He is love (1 John 4:16).

He cares for us and meets our needs (Luke 12:22-32). He walks alongside us, never leaving our sides (Heb. 13:5).

And it is our privilege to worship and honor and praise Him. We can give Him honor and glory. Lifting holy hands in praise. Raising our voices in worship.

It is no less than He deserves.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The King of Glory (Ps. 24:7-10)

Lift up your heads, O gates,
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in!
Who is the King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty,
The LORD mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O gates,
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in!
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
He is the King of glory. Selah.

(Psalm 24:7-10, NASB)

I don’t really have to add anything to this …

Praise the Lord our God this day we set aside to worship Him.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Seek God's Face (Ps. 24:5-6)

He shall receive a blessing from the LORD
And righteousness from the God of his salvation.
This is the generation of those who seek Him,
Who seek Your face—even Jacob. Selah.

(Psalm 24:5-6, NASB)

Oh, that we would be “the generation of those who seek Him …”

Yet it seems our society is seeking anything other than Him. Entertainment. Drugs. Sex. Meaningless relationships. Money. Work.

And where has it landed us? In and out of one recession into another. Sky-rocketing divorce rates. Families whose members don’t even know each other.

Our nation, which was founded on biblical principles, is anything but a “nation under God.” And I wonder how long it will be before God completely removes His hand of blessing on us. Perhaps He already has.

But we could experience a “blessing from God and righteousness from the God of [our] salvation.” How? By turning back to Him.

God’s chosen people turned away from Him again and again (see the book of Judges), yet when they turned back to Him, He welcomed them with open arms. I believe He’ll do the same for us.

God spoke these words to the people of Israel … and I believe He speaks the same words to us today:
… if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chron. 7:14, NKJV).
We are people called by His name. We just need to seek Him and surrender everything we are to Him. Then He’ll bless us.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Stand in His Holy Place (Ps. 24:3-4)

Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD?
And who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood
And has not sworn deceitfully.

(Psalm 24:3-4, NASB)

God is holy. He is righteous. He is perfect. And He cannot abide with sin and unrighteousness.

Since we are innately sinful creatures, God cannot abide with us. At least in our sinful state.

But He offers a way for us to become holy, for us to have “clean hands and a pure heart.” Since Adam and Eve chose to defy God in the garden, He has had a plan to make us righteous. First, atonement came through the sacrifice of a perfect, flawless lamb. But then through the ultimate sacrifice of the perfect Lamb.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life” (John 3:16). “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

When we accept the gift of salvation through belief in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Son, we become new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17). We choose to commit our daily lives to God, and we choose to live as Christ did. We strive to live according to God’s word, manifesting the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).

And one day, we will “stand in His holy place,” spending eternity with our Lord and Savior.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Earth Is the Lord's (Psalm 24:1-2)

The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it.
For He has founded it upon the seas
And established it upon the rivers.

(Psalm 24:1-2, NASB)

Our society really likes its stuff, doesn’t it? Grand houses. Fancy cars. Exotic vacations. And we take a lot time working to get our stuff.

The more, the better.

And we tend to hold on to our stuff very tightly.

We also take pride in what we can do—whether it’s our profession or our vocation.

And as we work hard, get more and more, and do more and more, we forget something: None of our stuff is ours. None of our time is ours. None of our talents are ours. None of it. Everything we have, everything we are, is God’s. If He chooses to bless us, then we should be grateful. And we should manage His stuff—and ourselves—well.

We should take care of what He’s given us. We should share what He’s given us with others, whether it’s giving money or our time or our talents.

We should be willing to give it all back to Him, should He ask for it. We should hold onto things very loosely.

Because it’s all His anyway.