Monday, March 28, 2016

Our worthy walk in grace

"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. 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 2:7-12 (NASB)

The letters to the Thessalonians were written by Paul, Silvanus (Silas), and Timothy, and the pronoun we is always used in the letters. The gospel of God’s grace is a “we” gospel, and one of the components of this wonderful grace that God extends to us is the way God uses us to exhort each other. None of us stand alone in God’s grace.

This is why our walk with God is so important. As Paul, Silas and Timothy write in the scripture passage above, an important part of their ministry was to work alongside the Thessalonians so they (the Thessalonians) could witness God’s grace through Paul, Silas and Timothy’s actions and their love for the members of this Thessalonian church.

God uses our walks to exhort each other, stand by each other, work with each other, and love each other. It is not our walk that is worthy of God, but our walk with a worthy God that witnesses to others.

I like the word walk because it implies a journey, and we can infer that journeys are not without hardships, errors, misdirection, detours, and stumbling. In spite of this, God still continues to call us to Himself, and by His miraculous grace, He allows us to reach Him, even if our journey is not perfect. Walking worthy of God does not mean that we must walk in perfection. It means that we allow God to use our walk to minister to others who are on the same journey.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The pursuit of the goal

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14 (ESV)

Paul begins this passage by saying “Not that I have already obtained this…” What is “this” that Paul is seeking to obtain? In the preceding verses 8-10, Paul talks about having a righteousness that comes through faith in Christ. in verse 10, Paul makes a very powerful statement: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection…”

In verses 12-14 quoted above, Paul states that he has not attained this righteousness that comes through faith. He has not completely and fully known Christ. He is pressing toward the kind of faith that makes us righteous in God’s eyes. Paul is pressing on to fully know Christ. He is going in the direction toward this goal.  

We must remember that the goal is not to attend church every Sunday and give 10 percent of our income to the church. These might be good habits to help us toward the goal, but they are not the goal. It is not the church attendance that makes us perfect—it is Christ that makes us perfect.  

As Paul states in verse 12, the perfection from Christ comes in the pursuit of Christ. Christ calls us to Him, and it is responding to that call that is our goal. We hear it from afar and we strive to find Him, much like a child responds to his mother’s call to come home to dinner. If the child is playing and having fun, he or she may not respond right away. If the child is hungry, he or she runs home quickly, heeding Mother’s call. Paul is urging us to run home, to respond to the call and to develop an appetite for the things of God that can never be completely satisfied so that we are always running home to eat.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A recipe for peace

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV)

The scripture passage above is a recipe for peace. It is not an easy recipe to follow because in this short passage of Paul’s letter, he describes very particular guidelines to follow. First, Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord always, which is not easy. It takes a lot of effort to rejoice when physical, emotional and economic problems plague us every moment of our lives, and the lives of our loved ones. Yet in the next sentence, Paul encourages us to be reasonable ( or kind, gentle fair). How can we be reasonable when rejoicing when we are sick or bankrupt?

The answer, in part, lies in whom or what we rejoice. Paul does not ask us to rejoice in our sickness, but to rejoice in the Lord. There is a difference—a reasonable difference. A good analogy to explain the difference is when a friend of my mother, Betty, was in the hospital close to me (but many miles away from her home) and I went to visit her. Betty told me that she was so glad to see me. Betty was not glad that she was sick, but she was glad for my presence. It lifted her spirits. This is exactly what Paul tells us to do. To rejoice in the Lord, no matter what the circumstances, because He is at hand. He is near us, and will bring us peace.

The recipe for peace described above is difficult for two reasons. The first reason is that we do not keep the ingredients for it on hand, which are patience and humility. Patience is required in order to rejoice in the Lord despite the circumstances, and the humility is required so we can give everything to God and recognize that we cannot handle our problems on our own. The second reason is that this recipe requires a tremendously long cooking time—every minute of our lives. One we start preparing the recipe, we must mind it constantly. We cannot neglect it because it will either burn in the oven, or it will not bake at all. But above all, we must remember that it is God’s grace that makes peace a possibility!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Known and loved by God

"Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray." Psalm 22:6 (NRSV) 

"For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed." Psalm 139:13-16 (NRSV) 

The first scripture above, Proverbs 22:6, is quoted often to parents, and it is a good guideline for parents to remember as they raise their children.  Often, society looks at a person’s life, sees his or her faults and crimes, and blames the parents for not training correctly.   
Some things that we should remember about Proverbs 22:6 are: 
  1. These words of wisdom were not written by a mother instructing her daughter how to raise her children. The Proverbs were written by an intellectual, someone similar to a college professor in today’s time, who was commenting on society as a whole, not on individual families. 
  1. Proverbs are not promises. Training and discipline are part of what makes a person who they are and how they behave, but only a part. The greatest factor that determines a person’s life is that person’s creation, as described in Psalm 139.   
  1. The scripture in 139 is the promise. God promises that He has known us from the very beginning, not only from the moment of our conception, but from the foundations of the world.   
  1. Finally, Proverbs 22:6 suggests that the training of a child is the responsibility of the parent, but the main part of the proverb is that when the child is old, he/she has the tools to be responsible for their own walk.  
In light of Psalm 139, Proverbs 22:6 becomes a good social guideline to help parents raise children. But what we all must remember that each person who lives, has lived or ever will live was actually conceived in the mind of God at the foundation of the universe. We exist because God loves us and planned for us.     
The promise, the great promise in these scriptures is that God has always known us, loves us, and His grace is sufficient to allow us to live with Him in eternity, no matter our childhood training. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Violence and grace

Come, behold the works of the Lord,     how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;     he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;     he burns the chariots with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God.     I will be exalted among the nations,     I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord of hosts is with us;     the God of Jacob is our fortress.  Psalm 46 8-11 ESV 

What is happening in this Psalm? First look at what God is doing. God’s work is so powerful that He can make wars cease, and bring desolation to those who are waging war. God work can destroy the handiwork of men if He so chooses. Then look at the work that God has charged to men.. We are to be still and KNOW that He is God. This is the way that God is exalted, by allowing Him to do what He pleases, and for us to rest in the knowledge of God.

We tend to think of God as a God of peace, not of violence. But we witness violence in God’s creation every day. The sunlight that gives us life is created by violent combustion of gas. Lightning and wind have the power to completely destroy any kind of protection made by man.  Volcanic eruptions and meteor strikes can create more destruction than any man made bomb.  
Every natural disaster occurs because God deemed it so.  But why? Why would a God who loves us allow such things to happen intentionally? I do not have the answer to these kind of questions, but God does. He is the one who created the questions.
Death and destruction, from our point of view, is the worst thing that can happen to us.  However, from God’s point of view, death and destruction are only a means to produce something better—physically or spiritually. For example, the terrible Black Plague that spread across Europe in the mid 14th century helped to develop a human population that was more resistant to disease. Our economic recession in 2008 has helped to create a trend toward more economically frugal life styles.
God loves us in spite of the trouble and suffering that we experience, and what He asks of us is to be still, know that He is God, and allow Him to be exalted