Harmony Not Discord

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There are days that go by that I feel the Church likes to bicker about what is right and what is wrong. We should worship in this way. We shouldn’t be accepting of this or that. We cannot participate in certain activities. While I can agree that this conversation is important, I think far too often it becomes the focal point. In all things the Church has one major function, to glorify God here on earth. So how can we learn to put our differences aside in order to help people see God?

If we go back to Paul’s letter to the Roman’s we read these words, “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.” (Romans 14:17-19, NLT). This is found in a section where Paul is talking specifically about food, but I think there is a deeper point to be made here. We all have a difference of opinion. We cannot help it. No two people can agree on anything, and Paul knew this. He is saying here that it is more important for us to be cooperative than counter-operative. We should recognize where we have disagreement and seek to make a compromise as quickly as possible. As long as we fight, we become less effective at reaching people for Jesus Christ.

In another letter, Paul speaks about prophesying in the Church. He says that it is important for each member to get a turn to speak and finishes by saying, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the meetings of God’s holy people.” (1 Corinthians 14:33, NLT). Our God doesn’t like chaos, he wants us to be peaceful with each other.

I realize that theological disputes will always happen. But we cannot reach a point where unbelievers see us as a group of people that can’t agree on what we believe. Rather, they should be seeing God in us. God knows what is right, and what is true. If we keep our eyes focused on Him, the better we can be at showing him to others. When we keep our focus on what we think is right or best, we don’t focus on what God says is best. Trust in Him is the most important thing. I think many of the problems the Church faces today could be solved with a little more faith and trust in God.

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Faithful Work, Loving Deeds, and Enduring Hope (1 Thessalonians 1)

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We are going to start taking a look at Paul’s first letter to Thessalonica. This epistle is one of the first that Paul wrote, probably even the first. This letter was written in order to give encouragement to the Christians found in Thessalonica. This would have been something the church needed since it was located in Greece. At the time, Greece, not only was highly philosophical, but also believed in many gods. The Christians faith, not only taught against several things the Greek philosophers were teaching, but also taught that there was only one God. In this world, I’m sure Christians needed lots of encouragement.

Paul opens this letter the way he typically opens, with acknowledgement of who is writing and giving thanks for the church and what it is doing. Paul gives thanks for their “faithful work, loving deeds, and enduring hope” (1 Thessalonians 1:3, NLT). These are the marks of the Christian lifestyle. If we are to be true followers of Christ, and get to know the heart of God, than these three things should be present in our own lives as well.

“For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true.” (1:5a, NLT). This fits with something Paul writes later, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” (1 Corinthians 2:12-14, NASB). These two passages together show me that the Spirit matters. Many evangelists get frustrated when they tell people about Jesus, but they see no conversions. We must be filled with the Holy Spirit in order to make any difference in people’s lives. Plus, the Spirit must also be affecting the people you’re talking to, otherwise it won’t make sense to them. People who only see the world, can only think in terms of the world. My mother remembers a time before I became a Christian where I asked the simple question, “How can you believe in a god you can’t see?” I feel that this is common of people who don’t have faith, because they judge the world through scientific observance, which largely relies on experience. Paul was this same way, but if we read Acts 9, we see that his experience changed him into one of these “spiritual people”.

“So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you.” (1:6a, NLT). This is also important for us to hear today. The Christian life isn’t easy. Looking back at 1 Corinthians, people often think we are foolish, because they don’t understand Jesus Christ or God. So they make attacks, calling you “dumb”, “silly”, “ignorant”, and when it comes to current issues “hypocrite”, “bigot”, and other hurtful things because you are standing up for the God that loves you. The message of Jesus Christ brings suffering on our lives. It isn’t easy. But it is our duty to spread the message as far and wide as we possibly can, despite any harm that can come to our bodies or reputation.

“And now the word of the Lord is ringing out from you to people everywhere,” (1:8a, NLT). Our faithfulness to God, speaks volumes louder than any words we could use. Paul is writing that because of the love and joy the Thessalonians showed, the message of Jesus was spreading just from knowledge of who they were. It reminds me of churches that are known around the world like Passion City Church (Atlanta, GA), Hillsong Church (Sydney, Australia), Saddleback Church (Lake Forest, CA), among many others. People know these churches, and knowing who they follow causes people to want to search out who this Jesus is. By living like Christians, we cause people to want to know what is up with us. Often times when people first accept Christ, people notice a difference and ask what it is. When they hear that it was Jesus, many others begin to try to find Jesus for themselves. So our own lives and actions can teach better than any amount of speaking and teaching we could ever do.

The Spirit Inside

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There is a Scripture that I’ve been wrestling with this week. It all started while I was preparing my heart for worship on Sunday, and watching a sermon video. I think I’ve gotten what it has been saying to me, so I thought I would share. The passage is found in Ezekiel, right before one of my favorite stories in the Bible (the Valley of Dry Bones). God is talking to the people of Israel, for after they have been exiled from the Promised Land:

“For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land. The I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” –Ezekiel 36:24-27, NLT

This passage floored me when I read it that morning! I couldn’t believe I had ever missed this section before (during the other times I’ve read through Ezekiel).

As I was saying yesterday, sin makes us dirty and filthy. It’s not a place you, or God, want to find yourself in. So God is saying to the people of  Israel that He knows what they have gone through, but He wants to make them clean. He will take their sin from them, so that they may learn to live a clean life. This new life that He wants to give them is by taking away their selfish desires and giving them a heart to care for others. He then says that He will put His own spirit within them so they will know what it means to follow God.

God makes this same offer to you and me. The difference between them and us is that we understand God fulfilling this promise through Jesus Christ. While he was on earth, Jesus taught us what it meant to follow God and live godly lives. It wasn’t all about the religiosity of the Pharisees (and even the same as many Christians today), instead it was about loving God and loving one another. To love God means to help others and love them. John writes this, “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17, NASB). So knowing the love of God, compels us to love and care for others. This is the problem that the ancient Israelites were facing. They knew God, but they cared more about the rules then what it meant to be the Children of God.

The Spirit of God lives within us. This means God lives within us. He is not some bearded man in the clouds watching the world from his throne. He lives within you and I, by our acceptance of Christ’s saving death. The Cross not only saved us from our sins, but allowed us to have the closest relationship with God no one before him was able to have. We are able to know God in this way because of the Spirit. Paul writes, “For to us God revealed [the things of God] through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depth of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by humans wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.” (1 Corinthians 2:10-13, NASB). This knowledge of God helps us to see and know what it means to follow him!

Are You Keeping Focus?

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I started a book a couple weeks ago called The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer. I’m a little embarrassed it has taken me so long to read it, since it is only 70 pages long! But I started it back up yesterday (after having had to take a break from reading since I’m so busy). The chapter I read yesterday was entitled “The Gaze of the Soul”. In it, Tozer is making the argument for what faith is. We can read in Hebrews 11, what faith does.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hope for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval.
By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” –Hebrews 11:1-6, NASB

Tozer isn’t satisfied with this being what faith is. Instead he states that faith is the soul looking towards God. I feel that this is very important in our lives and our worship. We must keep our gaze upon God and none others. But how can we do this? It is by placing our eyes on the prize every day.

Paul often refers to his life as running a race. He says, “do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.” (1 Corinthians 9:24, NASB). I used to run Cross Country in high school, and if there is one thing I learned it is that distance running is difficult! The thing that helps you get through that, and keep up a pace that you may win with is keeping your eyes on the prize and setting goals. Paul did this in his own life as well, “I press on toward the goal for the prize for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14, NASB).

In light of my post yesterday, I realized that my eyes had started to drift way from the prize. My focus had started to fail, and I need to refocus. So I began to wonder how can I regain my focus on God. And yet again I was led to Hebrews.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” –Hebrews 12:1-2, NASB

So what is the author saying? He is calling us to come out of everything that holds us back from God. It’s the things that push us down, rather than lifting us up; which is something God wants to do (i.e. Philippians 3:14). I’ll finish this post by first encouraging you to keep looking towards God. He is how we gain our focus, and what draws us in for a better life. And secondly, by quoting from Tozer’s book:

“When the habit of inwardly gazing Godward become fixed within us we shall be ushered onto a new level of spiritual life more in keeping with the promises of God and the mood of the New Testament.” –A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Everything Else Is Worthless

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So yesterday, I had a Scripture on my mind all day. I woke up early and read Paul’s letter to the Philippians. There is a statement he makes, that just floored me.

“Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become on with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.” — Philippans 3:8-9, NLT

It took me awhile to wrap my head around such a statement. So I dug around Scripture for some time, really trying to understand this issue. To me, my family is a rather large priority. At times I can get my priorities messed up, and place them before God. So I started to question how they could be worthless in comparison to Christ, and God lead me to another passage from Paul.

“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body to be burned; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.” — 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NLT

But I do love others. I honestly could do a better job loving you, if you aren’t my wife or children. So I didn’t quite understand yet what God was trying to piece together for me. So He lead me yet to one final place.

“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.” — 1 John 3:16, NLT

There it was! The only reason I know how to love my family is because of Jesus! There are so many other things that come from a relationship with Christ, like salvation from my sins. But yesterday, I discovered that it is only because of my relationship with Christ, that I have the life I do, and I am so thankful for it. I can now see that it is worthless when standing next to Jesus. He is my God and my Savior. There is no higher relation to me! This doesn’t mean my family is no longer important. It just means that I have a higher priority than them.

The way Paul says it in Philippians shows us that we must keep Christ at the center of our lives. He must have the highest place in our hearts for worship. Everything must pale in comparison to Christ! If this isn’t true for you, I encourage you to seek Scripture and pray for God to show you how you have given Him a lower priority than He deserves, and how to change that. Our lives are meant to be Christ-centeric, not anything else.

Happy Halloween!

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Sorry it’s been awhile since I’ve posted. Life has been moving pretty fast in my little part of the world. Yet, I thought I would make sure to post today.

In 1 Corinthians Paul writes, “I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:21b NASB). I would say that Paul’s message here is to be relate-able to everyone. I think that the churches that are having attendance issues (especially with the younger generations) tend to not think this way about this Scripture. But in light of a day like today, I think it is important to use the world’s festivities in order to show Christ; that’s a big way that we can become relate-able. So I found a poem that I thought I would share. I did not write it, and unfortunately don’t know who did.

I am a Jack O’ Lantern
My lights will shine so bright
For I’m a Christian pumpkin
My symbols tell what’s right

My nose is like the cross
On which our Savior died
To set us free from sin
We need no longer hide

My mouth is like a fish
The whole wide world to show
That Christians live in this house
And love their Savior so!

The story starts at Christmas
My eyes are like the star
That shone on Baby Jesus
And wise men saw from far

My color, it is orange
Just like the big bright sun
That rose on Easter Day
Along with God’s own Son

And so on Halloween
Let’s set our pumpkins out
And tell the trick or treaters
What God’s love is all about!