Thursday, March 31, 2016

Pillars of Faith (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7)

Today’s scripture: 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7

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.

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

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Following Christ ... Really ... (1 Thessalonians 1:2-5)

Today’s scripture: 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5

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 that is 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 (Psalm 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.

Yes, being a follower of Christ takes focus and discipline, but the rewards of knowing you are in relationship with the God of the universe make it all worthwhile!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Grace and Peace to You (1 Thessalonians 1:1)

Today’s scripture: 1 Thessalonians 1:1

Today, as we continue looking at Paul’s epistles, we begin a journey through the book of 1 Thessalonians.

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. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Your Very Large Family (Colossians 4:7-18)

Today's scripture: Colossians 4:7-18

We who follow Christ are part of a family—a very large family. And what an amazing blessing that truly is.

Have you ever stopped to think about how blessed you are to have brothers and sisters in Christ wherever you go? How many times have you travelled to an unknown place and met a fellow believer? Suddenly, being with that brother or sister overshadows whatever uncertainty you may have in that new place.

Or have you moved from the safe and familiar, and then have found a church home? Immediately, you're part of a family again. When I moved from California to Tennessee, I found a new small group of women who have become my sisters in Christ. We come from very different backgrounds, and our journeys are very diverse. But because of our love for Christ, we are sisters, and we genuinely love each other. We pray for each other. We rejoice in answered prayers. We support each other.

I have a wonderful biological family, and I love each and every one of them. However, they're all far from me, geographically. And so I feel tremendously blessed that I have my family of sisters who love me and hug me and offer the support I can't always get from my own family.

If you're a follower of Christ and you don't have this kind of loving, supportive "family," I encourage you to find a church—a God-honoring, Bible-believing church—and experience the wonderful blessing of knowing your many brothers and sisters.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Bold AND Gracious (Colossians 4:5-6)

Today's scripture: Colossians 4:5-6

I’m going to be honest with you … One area I struggle with is being bold to share the gospel. I certainly don’t hide the fact that I’m a believer, but I’ve never been one to go up to a stranger and start talking about Jesus. Yes, I know that I don’t have the gift of evangelism, but I should be more vocal about my faith, sharing God’s truth with grace.

I’m often convicted when I read how bold Peter and John were in Acts 3-4. No matter what obstacles they faced, they couldn't "stop speaking about the things" they saw and heard (4:20). They were bold, yes, but they spoke to unbelievers with grace and truth.

I remember how Jesus spoke with unbelievers and seekers. He was always loving and gracious. The Samaritan woman. Nicodemus. Zaccheus. The throngs that would surround Him when He spoke.

The only time He showed righteous anger was when He was dealing with religious hypocrites. Then all bets were off. But as long as the person with whom He was speaking showed a genuine desire to know His truth, He answered questions with all the love He had for them.

I've been praying for boldness to share truth for quite a while now, and God answers this prayer bit by bit. I'm reminded, though, of how Pete and John were bold, yet loving. And how my Lord was exactly the same.

Be bold to tell truth, but temper it with love and grace. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Prayer Works! (Colossians 4:2-4)

Today's scripture: Colossians 4:2-4

Prayer is one of the greatest gifts and one of the greatest mysteries for Christ-followers.

It's a greatest gift because, through prayer, we can talk with our triune God—Father, Son, and Spirit.

Through prayer, we can praise Him for His blessings. We can praise Him for His attributes. We can praise Him for His work in our lives.

Through prayer, we can thank Him for provision, for healing, for protection.

Through prayer, we can intercede on behalf of our friends and family.

Through prayer, we can make requests, asking for the desires of our heart.

But prayer is also a great mystery. If God knows everything—and He does—and if He has a plan in place for each of us—and He does—then why do we bother praying?

Well, part of prayer, as I mentioned, is our praising Him. Our glorifying Him. Our acknowledging that He is God.

What about making requests, though? How can my asking for something have any affect if God already knows the big picture? You know something? I don't really know the answer. I do know, however, that we're commanded to pray. I do know that time spent in prayer brings me closer to my Lord. My focus is on Him and His will. When I do pray for something, I always ask for it according to His will.

And I do believe that God brings desires to my heart that come directly from Him, so when I pray for them, I'm praying for His desires for me.

Prayer also leads to trust. If I trust God to care for me and provide for me, I can trust Him to answer prayers according to His will. Prayer also helps make us more patient because, even though He may answer "yes" or "no" right away, often times He asks us to "wait."

I may not always understand how God does what He does, and I may not have a full understanding of how prayer works. But one thing I do know. Prayer does work.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Supervisors? Take Note ... (Colossians 4:1)

Today's scripture: Colossians 4:1

Many who don't know Christ read the word "slave" in the Bible and immediately focus on the atrocity of the slave trade in the United States, However, it's important to understand context. Timothy Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, wrote a wonderful book called The Reason for God. In it, he expounds on this topic:

In the first-century Roman empire, when the New Testament was written, there was not a great difference between slaves and the average free person. Slaves were not distinguishable from others by race, speech, or clothing ... From a financial standpoint, slaves made the same wages as free laborers, and therefore were not usually poor. Also, slaves could accrue enough capital to buy themselves out. Most important of all, very few laves were slaves for life. Most could reasonably hope to be manumitted within ten or fifteen years ...
So in the time Paul wrote about masters and slaves, his words were really more about our modern employer and employee. Employees are paid fair wages and many work at the same job for ten or fifteen years.

Employers should, therefore, look at today's verse as an exhortation: Just as they are "masters" of employees, they serve the Master in heaven. And just as they want to be treated by God with "justice and fairness," they should treat their employees in the same way.

Do you supervise others? Take these words to heart.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

There Are Always Consequences (Colossians 3:25)

Today's scripture: Colossians 3:25

Many wonderful attributes describe the triune God. He is gracious, merciful, and loving. He is our Redeemer, Savior, and Teacher. He is our refuge, our stronghold, our strength. He is personal. He is holy, righteous, and just.

Most people can get on board with the majority of these descriptors. But many have a problem with the last. God is just. They say if God is loving, then why does He punish? Why is there a hell? Wouldn't a loving God just let everyone go to heaven?

The fact that God is just goes hand-in-hand with the fact that He's holy and righteous. God cannot co-exist with sin. Yet, because He loved His first created man and woman so much, He gave them the choice to obey Him and remain in intimate communion with Him or to choose their own way. And though it's a mystery to us, the all-holy, all-perfect God allowed sin to enter the world.

It was always God's plan, though, to offer the means of man's reconciliation with Him, first through animal sacrifice and then through the once-for-all sacrifice of God the Son, Jesus Christ. God has revealed Himself to mankind throughout the ages, and He still does so today through the general revelation of His creation and the biblical revelation of the gospel.

We all have the opportunity to choose to follow Him or choose to go our own way. And if we choose the latter, there will be consequences. Those who choose not to follow Christ on earth—to, in essence, separate themselves from Him—will spend eternity separated from Him.

Yes, God is love. Yes, He offers grace and mercy. But He is also holy and righteous and just. And because He is a God of justice, He must deal with sin. He must deal with those who don't choose Him.

And they will reap the consequences.

Monday, March 21, 2016

As For the Lord (Colossians 3:22-24)

Today's scripture: Colossians 3:22-24

Few of us are able to do our "dream jobs." It seems like most of us fall into whatever we do for a living, and sometimes, that's hard. I'm very blessed that now I'm able teach writing and literature, which I love to do, but for many years, I worked various jobs and much of the time, I did so just to make a living.

I have been blessed with great bosses and co-workers, but far too often, the jobs themselves were ... just jobs.

And far too often, I'd whine and complain, if only to myself. Why do I have to do this? Or why can't I do that?

I found Colossians 3:23-24 years ago, and it put everything into perspective. No matter what I was doing for an occupation, if I focused on doing it "heartily, as for the Lord," I found myself more content. If I remembered that it is the "Lord whom [I] serve, "I could find the joy in doing whatever He'd called me to do for that season.

You may not be doing what you dream of doing. You may be "just" doing a job. But no matter what, you can still find joy and contentment in where you are now. You can still work "heartily" as you remember whom you serve.

The Lord. Not men.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Healthy Families (Colossians 3:18-21)

Today's scripture: Colossians 3:18-21

In these three verses, Paul gives some guidelines for healthy families. If Christian families followed them, I truly believe this world would be impacted greatly for God. The family is—or at least it should be—the foundation of society, and when families are healthy, so will society be.

Wives are to be subject to husbands. Oh, I know how controversial this is. I know some women will rise up and say, "I will not submit to my husband. I'm an independent woman, and I don't need to cater to his whims." I believe there is a huge misunderstanding about this whole issue. I wrote a short Bible study for a small group I used to lead. We were a sisterhood of women married to unbelieving spouses. In that study, I wrote that being submissive to is "being willing to be subject to something." I went on to say, "Did you catch that? To submit is an issue of willingness. I read recently that a wife-to-husband relationship is similar to a vice-president-to-president relationship. Certainly, a vice president is able to do as much (or perhaps more) than the president. They work together, often make decisions together. However, he willingly submits to the authority of the president because there needs to be one leader. In the same way, we wives contribute and have a voice, but there does have to be a final authority." As long as a husband doesn't ask his wife to go against biblical principles and is not a bully or abuser, we wives need to be willing to be subject to our husbands.

Then, Paul writes to husbands. Husbands are to love their wives. Elsewhere, Paul writes they are to love as Christ loves the church, and His love caused Him to lay down His very life for the ones He loves (Ephesians 5:25). In addition, husbands are not to be "embittered against" their wives. They should not antagonize or aggravate, disgruntle or estrange. They should, instead, love their wives with the tender love with which Christ loves them.

Next, Paul writes to children. Children are to be obedient to their parents. The first commandment that was written regarding how we're to interact with others is, "Honor your father and your mother" (Exodus 20:12). Honor means to "treat with admiration and respect" (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). Some might say, "But my parents mistreated or abused me. How can I honor them?"

This leads us to the final exhortation: Parents aren't to "
exasperate [their] children." Exasperate means to "excite the anger of; to cause irritation or annoyance to" (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). Parents should raise their children with discipline, certainly, but also with love, nurturing, caring, gentleness, and kindness.

If wives willingly subjected themselves to the godly guidance of their husbands, if husbands loved their wives with devotion and Christ-like love, and if children obeyed their parents who raised them with love and caring, imagine how healthy families would be.

Imagine how healthy society would be.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

What If ... (Colossians 3:17)

Today's scripture: Colossians 3:17

This verse is one that all believers should memorize. Seriously.

We should be living for Christ. We should be dedicating ourselves every day to Him and His will. Our work. Our play. Our relationships. Our words. Our actions. Our thoughts. All should be done in the name of our Lord Jesus.

The Message paraphrases Paul's words, "Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way." Every detail. Every moment.

What would our lives be like if we really lived this way? If we really did and said everything in Christ's name?

Before we spoke, we'd ask ourselves: Does what I'm going to say glorify God? Before we acted, we'd ask ourselves: Will what I'm going to do edify myself and others?

What if we spent each moment seeking how we could honor the name of our Lord. What if we spent each moment giving thanks for God's abundant blessings.

What if.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Peace of Christ (Colossians 3:15-16)

Today's scripture: Colossians 3:15-16

Nothing quite touches my soul than then concept of peace. God-given, all-surpassing peace. A peace that sustains me no matter the situation. A peace that reminds me that this world isn't my home. A peace that will "guard [my] heart and [my] mind through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7, NKJV).

I honestly don't know how someone who doesn't know Jesus has true peace. When circumstances are painful or difficult, where does she find comfort for her heart and soul? Through relationships? And what happens if those relationships fail? Through drugs or alcohol? These can destroy. Through a career? Careers end.

No, true, all-encompassing, never-ending peace comes only through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This peace carries me through days when the pain and weariness are unrelenting. This peace covers me when earthly relationships fall short. This peace showers me with hope of eternity with my Savior.

And because of this beyond-understanding peace, I can rejoice. I can sing "with thankfulness in [my] heart to God."

Do you have this peace? This peace that "surpasses all understanding"? Surrender everything to the Lord. Give Him loving control of your life.

And then ask for peace. The peace of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Chosen By God (Colossians 3:12-14)

Today's scripture: Colossians 3:12-14

I began journaling over 22 years ago, just one year after I recommitted my life to the Lord. Whenever I begin a new journal (I just started number 40), I reread several of the previous. It's a wonderful way to reflect on my journey and God's faithfulness.

Many themes run consistently throughout: forgiveness, humility, love.

I've documented how I was able to forgive others because Jesus forgave me. I often—very often—humbly thank God for His grace and mercy He continually showers on me. I revel in the abundant and everlasting love with which He envelops me.

I am blessed. So very blessed.

My God has given me so much more than I deserve, so how can I do anything but show His love to others?

Paul wrote to the Christians in Colossae that they were to be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, and patient. These are attributes that are sometimes in short supply, even in the church. How often do we complain about others or question their service, thinking we could do something better than they?

We're to bear with and forgive each other. How often do we hold a grudge instead of forgiving any complaint? When we hold on too tightly to anger or unforgiveness, we're allowing a cancer to grow in our hearts. One of the most freeing things we can do is forgive someone who's hurt us. I know this from personal experience.

Finally, we are to put on love, the "perfect bond of unity." I pray every day that the body of Christ would be unified, that we'd celebrate those things we have in common and agree to disagree about the rituals or traditions that aren't foundational to our faith.

If we would love each other with genuine love, we would show the world what it really means to be like Christ, the One who loves us all so much He was willing to die for us.

This is nothing less than those of us who are "chosen by God" should live.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Dead ... and Alive (Colossians 3:5-11)

Today's scripture: Colossians 3:5-11

When we accept the gift of salvation through belief in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we truly become brand new. Whatever sin we committed prior to becoming followers of Christ is forgiven, totally wiped off the map. In gratitude for what Christ did for us, we should strive to live to please Him in all we do. We cannot—we must not—continue to live in sin. If we do, we're saying that what Jesus did for us doesn't mean anything. We've received our "get out of hell free" card, and now we're just going to live how we choose.

As Paul often wrote, "May it never be!"

We should consider our former fleshly selves as dead. Dead to immorality. Dead to impurity. Dead to anything that takes our focus off of our Lord.

Instead, we should be alive to the joy and peace that God showers upon us. We should love Him and others. We should serve Him using the gifts He's given us. We should spread His light and share His truth.

Dead to sin. Alive to Christ.


Friday, March 11, 2016

Treasures in Heaven (Colossians 3:1-4)

Today's scripture: Colossians 3:1-4

We so often spend much of our time seeking things on earth. We seek the best house, the best car, the best job. We want the best marriage, the best children, the best friends. And none of this is bad unto itself. However, it becomes a problem when our total focus is on those things instead of things above.

As followers of Christ, we should be focused on Him and those things above. We should seek out those things that will build God's kingdom, that will have eternal value.

Instead of buying bigger and better, perhaps we should downsize and donate extra funds to missions organizations. Instead of hoarding all our "stuff," perhaps we should give it to someone less fortunate. Instead of spending the weekend watching movies with our kids, perhaps we should volunteer at a homeless shelter with them.

One day, each of us will stand before the throne of God. We will see our Savior face-to-face in all of His glory. As we stand before Him, what will we offer Him to show how we served Him? Those things we left behind that have no value whatsoever? Or will we show Him how we served Him by serving others? How we "sacrificed" on earth to help others see God's grace?

I don't know about you, but I pray I will truly listen to the words of Jesus: "Do
not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal ..." (Matthew 6:19-20).

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Profitable to My Soul? (Colossians 2:20-23)

Today's scripture: Colossians 2:20-23

Sometimes, I have to go to the experts to help me understand scripture ... This is one of those times. While I understand verse 20—since I have died with Christ, I don't need to be submitting to the world's "decrees"—the other verses require a bit of clarification. And so I'm looking to one of my favorite commentaries:

These are not matters of eternal moment; the different kinds of meats were made for the body, and go with it into corruption: in like manner, all the rites and ceremonies of the Jewish religion now perish, having accomplished the end of their institution; namely, to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. All these prescriptions and rites have indeed the appearance of wisdom, and are recommended by plausible reasons; but they form a worship which God has not commanded, and enjoin macerations of the body, accompanied with a humiliation of spirit, that are neither profitable to the soul, nor of any advantage to the body; so that the whole of their religion is nothing worth. (Adam Clarke Commentary)
In other words, only those things that keep my mind focused on God's word, only those things that help me grow in faith, and only those things that glorify God are worthy of my time and effort.

Is what am I doing, saying, thinking, reading, or watching "profitable to the soul"? If it's not, then perhaps I shouldn't be doing, saying, thinking, reading, or watching ...

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Substance ... Not Structure (Colossians 2:16-19)

Today's scripture: Colossians 2:16-19

In Paul's day, many festivals and feasts were celebrated, and apparently, some new Christians were judging others regarding how to celebrate those days. This isn't so different today. With so many denominations, we often adhere to structure rather than substance. We cling to our "this is how we do it" leading to division, instead of focusing on what makes us the same: sons and daughters of God.

Only a few non-negotiables are important if you're a Christian: belief in the One True God of the Bible, belief in His word, and acceptance of salvation through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God the Son.

When and how communion is taken isn't a "stake in the sand" issue. We shouldn't come to blows because your church sings hymns and mine sings praise songs ... or vice versa. Even how one is baptized isn't a deal-breaker.

For far too many years (decades ... centuries), the world has looked at division in the church, and has said, "They can't even get along with each other; how can they expect to get along with the rest of us?" Division has caused unnecessary anguish and conflict. And how this must break our Savior's heart. He died so that we could come to salvation, and when we come to salvation, we're a part of His family. We are His church, His bride.

We need to take our focus off of the things that don't really matter and put it on the one thing that does: the "substance [that] belongs to Jesus Christ."

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Empty Deception ... (Colossians 2:8-15)

Today's scripture: Colossians 2:8-15

We are bombarded these days with "philosophy and empty deception" that strive to take our focus off of Christ. Some of it sounds viable. Or interesting. Or compelling. However, their only purpose is to make us question biblical truth.

Anything that isn't of Christ, anything that proclaims Him as being anything less than what He is needs to be discarded.

Someone says He was just a good man or teacher? That can't be because He Himself claimed to be one with God (John 10:30).

Someone says He was just another human being and sinned just as we do? No. The writer of Hebrews, whose words were God-breathe, wrote, "
For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin" (4:15). That "high priest" is Christ Himself. 

Someone says Christianity is just one of many ways to get to heaven? Not if you believe the Bible. Jesus made it very clear that He is the only way to get to the Father (John 14:6).

If you're a true Christian, a Bible-believing Christ follower, than you cannot believe anything that contradicts what Christ Himself said or what God breathed through the pens of men. Jesus Christ, God the Son, our Savior, is the foundation of our faith. Read His words. Meditate on His truths.

Follow Him and Him alone.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Practice Makes ... Well, You Know ... (Colossians 2:6-7)

Today's scripture: Colossians 2:6-7

So many people call themselves Christians because they were born in the United States, or their family background is Christianity. Others say, since they're not anything else (Muslim, Buddhist, Hindi, Jewish), they must be Christian. And tragically, much has been done by so-called Christians that has been detrimental to the truth.

Being a Christian—a true follower of Christ—is so much more than a name. Being a Christ-follower means one has "received Christ Jesus the Lord ..." She has accepted the gift of salvation the death, burial, and resurrection of Him. Most of all, it means she walks with Jesus every day. She focuses on becoming more and more "firmly rooted ... built up in Him and established in [her] faith ..."

To be firmly rooted and built up and established requires a few things:

We must know truth—God's truth—through daily study and meditation on His word. We must read the Bible and prayerfully seek God's will as we do so.

We must pray. Praising Him. Thanking Him. Interceding for others. Listening to His voice. As the apostle Paul wrote, we should, "... pray without ceasing ..." (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

We must worship with others. The writer of Hebrews reminds us to “not forsake … assembling together” (10:25). Something really, really special happens when we're surrounded by others who share our faith in the one true God.

We must practice Christ-likeness. To do this, we need to study His character. How did He interact with others? How did He interact with His Father? What was more important to Him than anything else? How did He react to temptation? When we study the character of Christ, we learn how to love others, how to show mercy and grace, how to counteract the enemy's lies.

We must demonstrate the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, gentleness, self-control and all the rest (Galatians 5:22-23).

If we practice these things, we become were to practice these things, the world would see something very attractive, very compelling in us. And perhaps we might be the light the brings someone to Jesus.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Family! (Colossians 2:1-5)

Today's scripture: Colossians 2:1-5

One of the greatest gifts—among so many—about being a follower of Christ is the fact that we're a family. Those of us who believe in and follow Christ are brothers and sisters. What I love most about this is, no matter where you go, you can find a whole new set of Christian "siblings."

When my husband and I relocated from Southern California in April 2015, one of my few regrets was leaving my church and a faith-based theater I was involved with. I knew I would miss my “family,” my brothers and sisters in Christ. But one thing I knew; when we “landed” in Tennessee, I would find a new church home and a new “family.” It took a few months, but I have not only found a church home where God is revealing my “fit,” but I am also part of a small group of wonderful women who pray for me and with whom I fellowship.

It's such a blessing! And as Paul writes, even when we're not physically with our Christian brothers and sisters, we're still part of His family. All those wonderful Christian friends I left behind and whom I will rarely see in person are still my “siblings.” We are still part of the same family. I know they pray for me and love me. As I do them.

What a wonderful gift!

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Focus. Time. Effort. (Colossians 1:28-29)

Today's scripture: Colossians 1:28-29

While we're on earth, we who follow Christ have one mission: glorify God, proclaiming His goodness, sharing His truth.

In order to do that, we must know His word, and in order to that, we must study and meditate on it. Daily. In fact, to use a word from Paul, we must labor in learning God's word. While in the context of these verses, Paul is referring to "admonishing ... and teaching every man ...," I believe that word also applies to our study of God's word in order to proclaim Him well.

To labor means to "exert one's powers of body or mind especially with painful or strenuous effort" (Merriam-Webster online). Now I certainly don't find studying God's word painful, but I do find myself needing to "exert" my mind with "strenuous [defined: "vigorously active") effort." To really understand and apply God's word, yes to admonish and teach, but to proclaim Him, takes focus. And time. And effort.

And it can't be a short skim through a verse or two although any time in the Bible is certainly worthwhile. Throughout God's word, we learn of how we can labor to know God's word.

Psalm 1:2 tells us we're to "delight" in and "meditate on [God's word] day and night." Then Joshua 1:8 says we're not to allow His word to "depart from [our] mouth ..." And, again, we're to "meditate on it day and night." Finally, Psalm 119:97 says we're to "love [God's] law" and "meditate on it all the day."

That's how we labor to know God's word. That's how we're able to admonish and teach others.

That's how we can proclaim Him.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Hope ... (Colossians 1:25-27)

Today's scripture: Colossians 1:25-27

To unbelievers, our faith in a "dead man" is a mystery. How can those Christians worship someone who's been dead and gone for centuries? they ask.

Oh, but we know the truth. Christ, our Savior, is not dead. We know this because the Bible tells us so. We know this because the original disciples, those who walked and talked with Jesus after He rose from the dead, were willing to die for Him. If they hadn't seen Him with their eyes and touched Him with their hands, they wouldn't have been willing to be martyred for their faith.

Most importantly, though, we who follow Christ know He is alive because we see how He changes lives. We know because He's changed our lives. We see Him work in miraculous ways. We feel His peace and comfort during the difficult times, and we feel His pleasure when we serve Him.

This world offers little hope. But for those of us who follow Christ? Our hope is in Him. Our hope is in the promise of salvation, the confidence of His walking alongside us, and the anticipation of eternity with Him.

Where do you place your hope?

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Rejoice in Suffering ... Really ... (Colossians 1:24)

Today's scripture: Colossians 1:24

Rejoicing in sufferings goes against society norms. How one could find anything good in pain and affliction is a complete contradiction to nonbelievers.

Yet throughout the Bible, especially the New Testament, followers of Christ are told to expect suffering. And, yes, even rejoice in it. James, the brother of Jesus, wrote that we are to "consider it all joy" when we face trials or difficult times (James 1:2). Why? Because God will use our suffering for His glory.

And again, our non-believing friends don't get it. They say, "Why would a loving God allow His children to suffer?"

The Bible says a lot about this very thing. If we continue to read the passage from James, we learn that going through trials will one day make us "perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (v. 4).

In another letter, Paul wrote that his suffering helped him to realize from where his strength really came: God Himself. He discovered that it was only in his weakness that he came to rely solely on God, and therefore, he could say with conviction, "... when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10).

I know this is true. When I lived under my own "strength," I often failed. Yet, because of chronic health issues that keep me relatively weak, I find strength in Jesus. He's with me, walking alongside me ... often carrying me.

And so I can rejoice in my suffering because it draws me closer to my Lord God. Even more, my suffering makes me long for eternity, for the day when I can stand whole and strong before my God.