For Now We Live

For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord (1 Thessalonians 3:8).

When you read 1 Thessalonians 3, you can see the heart of Paul was anxious as he thought about the brethren in Thessalonica. He was really concerned about them and how they were doing spiritually, now that he was gone.

Two times in chapter 3 the phrase, “When we could bear it no longer” is used. They couldn’t take it anymore. Paul sent Timothy over to Thessalonica to see how they were doing and bring back a report.

You can read chapter 3 to see a noticeable change in tone. Once Timothy came back with good news, Paul’s whole demeanor changed.

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?
(1 Thessalonians 3:6-10)

Paul was in the middle of being persecuted for preaching the gospel, but now he could endure the trials and afflictions? Why? Because he heard good news about how his brethren the Thessalonians were doing. It gave him some more gas in his tank. His statement says it all, “for now we live if you are standing fast in the Lord.”

Grown kids need to remember this. Your stand for faith will give life to your parents. College students, remember this. When you stand for Jesus, even when your parents are not there, you cause your parents to live! You put gas in their tank. It’s amazing what we can endure when we know that others we love dearly are living strong for Jesus.

David and Goliath – Facing the Giants, Part 3

As we continue our unpacking of 1 Samuel 17, we can see David being run down by those in his life who should have been encouraging him. Here’s what is said by David’s oldest brother and by King Saul himself.

1 Samuel 17:28-33 Now Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men. And Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.” And David said, “What have I done now? Was it not but a word?” And he turned away from him toward another, and spoke in the same way, and the people answered him again as before. When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul, and he sent for him. And David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him. Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.”

Don’t be distracted by naysayers on the sidelines.

Who of all people should have encouraged David as he went to face the Giant?

How about his brothers? Yes, they should have, but they didn’t. Eliab made fun of his little brother and called into question David’s motives. You can see why God refused Eliab (see 1 Samuel 16:6-7). What was Eliab doing about Goliath? Nothing but tucking tail and running like the rest. So how do you think Eliab liked it when his little kid brother comes from watching sheep saying he could take on Goliath? That didn’t go over well, did it? Those who are sitting on their hineys doing nothing have all kinds of comments about those who are standing up and facing the Goliaths of the world.

How about the king himself, King Saul? If anyone should have been an encouragement to the man who offered to take on Goliath, it should have been the King of Israel, but that’s not what happened. Remember that Israel wanted a king to go out and fight their battles for them (1 Samuel 8), but King Saul isn’t facing Goliath, is he? And what words does the King have for David? “You can’t do it! Goliath is too much for you, you are not even close to being able to do this.”

This happens today, too. Sometimes those who are older are not as encouraging as they should be to the younger. In fact, Paul had to encourage Timothy not to be swayed or discouraged by those who would “despise” or “look down upon” his youth (1 Timothy 4:12). There are times when the younger person is reminding the older ones about faith, courage and the proper way to behave. That is exactly what Paul told Timothy to do. Timothy was to be an example to the believers and that includes those who are older. We all need reminders, don’t we? Even if we are older, and even if those who are reminding us are much younger, we still need to accept the lessons God is sending our way. David was probably a teenager, and King Saul was older (not sure how much older), but David was showing the King and all of Israel what real faith looks like.

What does David do with all of this negativity? Here is a great quote, and I’m not sure who first said it…

“In order to lead the orchestra, you must first turn your back on the crowd.”

David had to turn his back on the negativity and keep his focus on God’s strength. Verse 30 says that David “turned away” from his brother and kept asking about the reward. David had to move away from the negativity and keep his eyes focused on God and on the reward for following God.

Draw from past victories, don’t just sit on them.

David answered Saul’s negativity and discouragement by focusing on what God had already done for David.

1 Samuel 17:34-37 But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you!”

God had already worked amazing things in the life of David. With God’s strength, David had already struck down and killed lions and bears. What was a giant to the God who helped him kill such dangerous creatures? David was able to look back on what God had already done for him and draw strength for the next battle. This is what we need to do, too! What has God already done for you, with you and through you? Meditate upon the amazing things God has done for you already. If He helped you then, will he help you now? Of course God will. He promised it!

Remember that God’s victories He has worked through you are not intended to be used as trophies filling a case, they are intended to give you strength and courage to face the next Giant.

Hebrews 13:6 – So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

Worse Than The Flu

Proverbs 18:14 – A man’s spirit will endure sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?

Lots of folks around us are sick right now. The flu and other yucky-ness is going around. I had my own bout with it the past few days.

The above verse says that a man’s spirit will endure sickness and even carry us through the few days we are ill. We can be sick for a few days, fight a cold or flu and get over it. Our inner spirit isn’t much worse for the wear.

But Solomon says that if our spirit is crushed…who can bear it? It is a sad thought, but very true. We see in the previous chapter of Proverbs that “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). A vibrant and hopeful spirit can sustain a person and give them the drive to heal physically, but when someone is completely broken inside, their physical condition will many times deteriorate to match their inner state. They just give up physically because they have given up on the inside. David said it this way, “my heart is wounded within me” (Psalm 109:22).

There are those living in our midst who are broken and crushed, and are on the verge of completely falling apart. As we think about those around us who are like that, I want us to consider what the Proverbs says about words and the power of words to those who are broken.

Proverbs 12:25 – Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.

Proverbs 15:13 – A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.

Proverbs 15:23 – To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!

Proverbs 16:23-24 – The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips. Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.

If you see those who are broken, remember that “a good word” may help him or her today. Those “gracious words” are like honeycomb and may actually help improve that person’s health. Our words have that power!

Singing with Libby

Last night, my daughter and I had our bibles open and were discussing a host of topics.  What I love about Libby is when we are having these discussions she will ask “does it say that in the bible?” or “where can we find that?”.   So we were  jumping around to different verses from spying out the promised land to what it will be like being in heaven with God for eternity.

At some point she asked me “what’s a psalm” and my simple answer was a bible song.  She wanted to take a look so we landed in Psalm 19.  I began reading and got to verse 7 and the words became familiar to Libby and by verse 8 we were singing.  It was so awesome to see her smile, the recognition of the words, the clear joy on her face and that I got to share in it.  Libby makes me a better man in so many ways and I am always at my best when I am present and participating in her life.  She leads to me to Jesus and invites Him into our relationship…and she’s only 10…thank God for her and for all of our children.  In my children, I find great understanding of my Abba Father’s desire for me and having me as a child.  I thank Him for that too.

Draw your children near.  Be present.  Participate in their lives.  Sing a song…why not this one?

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.

In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun,
Which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
And rejoices like a strong man to run its race.
Its rising is from one end of heaven,
And its circuit to the other end;
And there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse me from secret faults.
13 Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins;
Let them not have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
And I shall be innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.

Working Together

12 And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.  14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. 15 See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. (1 Thessalonians 5: 14-15; NKJV)

Paul, along with Silvanus and Timothy, offer a series of exhortations, admonishments and blessings at the close of their first epistle to the church of the Thessalonians.  The bold words are underlined in my Bible and wanted to offer what comes to my mind when I read them.

Recognize:  I need to take time and consider the work of those who are working and leading in my church and pray for them.

Admonish:  I don’t need to feel like everyone is coming down on me when I am admonished.  It is a powerful word but it’s not all about correction.   It is also about warning, advice, urging from God’s word delivered by a fellow laborer.  If I am being admonished in love from someone with a comforting and patient heart, then I need to recognize it is coming from God and His word and I need to be thankful and hold my brother or sister in high esteem (respect, admire).

Warn, Uphold, Patient, Good:  I need to see the fellowship or joint participation of the work of the church.  I need to pay attention, build relationships, and be ready and willing to warn another or maybe point out things to someone they cannot see themselves.  I need to be there to uphold another brother or sister in a situation where they  may not be able to stand but I can…and visa versa…I have to be willing to receive help too. I need to be patiently working with a confidence that God is working too.  I need to pursue what is good spiritually for me but also for my family in Christ…which means I don’t have permission to do what I think is “right” or “best” if it does not benefit the whole…it is not all about me no matter what…it is about Jesus!

There are so many more lessons in this text and more things that could be said but take some time today and consider the text and examine yourself in terms of your work with the church and your brethren and pray that God might open your eyes and heart for continued growth individually and with the Body.

Disciples, Baptism, Teaching

Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (19) Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The passage above is called by many the Great Commission. Jesus sent out His followers to the whole world to preach the good news to all people. For this morning, I wanted to make a few observations about this passage.

A disciple is a student. We are told to make disciples, but I believe that phrase “make disciples” means on our part we are to teach. We cannot “make” anyone learn. But if we are constantly teaching others, there will be those who listen and want to become students of Jesus. Our mission is just like that of Philip with the Ethiopian…preach the good news about Jesus (Acts 8:35).

We don’t teach all things Jesus commanded BEFORE someone is baptized and becomes a Christian. What does a person have to know in order to become a Christian? It’s pretty basic, isn’t it? They have to know Jesus and Him crucified. We don’t have to go into a long series of studies on learning everything about how a Christian is to behave or how the church is to worship. That all comes later. Are we trying to make sure a person has all the religious answers so they can pass the test and be approved to become a Christian? If so, we’ve got it all wrong.

We keep teaching. The work is not over when someone becomes a Christian. Too many times Christians have dropped the ball on this matter. We work so hard to help someone become a Christian, and once they obey the gospel, we move on to the next person who needs to become a Christian. It’s like the assumption is made that all the other stuff they need to know is going to be learned by osmosis. Would we take a newborn baby, set it in a crib and walk away for months? That would be negligent homicide. Jesus told us that the bulk of teaching happens AFTER the person becomes a Christian. We can’t stop teaching, instructing, encouraging, etc.

Along with that is to understand that a person who comes up from the waters of baptism is not going to understand a lot of things you and I have know for decades and maybe even take for granted. What are God’s guidelines for marriage? How do you live a godly life? What does it mean to love others in relationships? How do you worship God? Why do we need to be part of a local congregation?

Let’s remember to keep teaching. Keep in mind that we don’t have to shove all the word of God into people’s heads before they become Christians. But also, remember that we all need to be taught continuously after we become Christians. There will never be a time when we no longer need to be taught all that Jesus said.

Daniel: Still in Need of Encouragement

Here are a few observations from a sermon by Max Dawson on Daniel 10.

Daniel needed encouragement!

Age, Maturity – Daniel had served God for 70 years, but he still needed encouragement and comfort from God.

Position and Status – Daniel served in a very important position in Babylon, but he still had to receive strength from God.

Experience – Daniel had faced all kinds of trials and adversity in those 70 years, but he still was not above needing help from God.

Knowledge – Daniel was well-acquainted with the word of God, probably knew it backward and forward, but that knowledge was not enough. He still needed encouragement and comfort from God.

So, there you go for today. If you are 15 or 85, you will always need your Father in heaven. Being in need of encouragement and comfort from God is not a sign of weakness, rather it is a sign of strength.

Where Does Suffering Come From?

It can come from God in the general, physical suffering and death unleashed in the world after man sinned (Genesis 3:16-19).  “And so God placed the curse on man and on his whole environment, thus forcing him to recognize the seriousness of his sin, as well as his helplessness to save himself and his dominion from eventual destruction.”  (Leon Morris, The Genesis Record, p. 126.)

The curse on man himself was fourfold: sorrow, pain and suffering, sweat or tears, physical death.  “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope…” (Rom 8:20).  Romans 8:20 seems to be an allusion to Genesis 3:16-19 and this reference to the past must surely be to the judgment of God, which fell on the natural order following Adam’s disobedience.  The creation was the recipient of the action indicated but only as a result of man’s sin.  God is the One who did the subjecting.  The curse of sorrow, pain and suffering, sweat, tears and physical death was brought about by God…but He did it with purpose…God subjected the creation in hope.

 It can come from God in specific cases to humble and/or strengthen…consider Israel (Deuteronomy 8:2-3), Miriam (Numbers 12:1-10),  and Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:10-20).

It can come from Satan through God’s allowance…consider Job (Job 1-2) and Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).  We must note, however, though Satan caused suffering for one purpose…God used each of these for very different purposes than the Tempter intended and in such a manner as to humble and/or strengthen one of His children.  God sees suffering differently than we do and His heavenly “forest” gets lost on us for our earthly “trees”.

Finally, it can come as the inevitable fruit of our own sins…“…the way of the transgressor is hard.”  (Prov 13:15)……be sure your sin will find you out.”  (Nu 32:23).  Sin has temporal consequences – physical, emotional and social.  “What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed?  For the end of those things is death.”  (Rom 6:21).  Yet, at last, unless there is some direct link to our sin it is very difficult to know the exact origins of our adversity…and that is just as well.  For far more important than knowing why we are suffering, is our response to it.

Adversity and discouragement, regardless to its source, is one of God’s most effective tools to deepen our faith in Him and transform our lives.  “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.”  (Psa 119:67)…“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”  (Psa 119:71).  It is difficult for us to truly understand through our earthly lenses…it is only as we come to understand God’s perspective that we are able to respond appropriately.  What better example than in the anguish of Christ on the cross in regards to:  the influence of God…“…the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  (Isa 53:6)…the sufferings of Christ both humbled and strengthened Him (Hebrews 5:7-8).  The influence of Satan “…the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him…Satan entered him…”  (John 13:2, 27).  The influence of our own sins…“…who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree…” (1 Pet 2:24)…yet it was our Savior’s trusting response to this awful suffering that enabled God to work by it something transcendently wonderful.

So it will be with us if we choose our response to suffering wisely – especially when we don’t understand why…“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  (2 Cor 4:17-18)…“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”  (Rom 5:3-5)

At last, like that ancient blind man, what we suffer here is in order that “the works of God may be revealed in us.”  (John 9:2)  Our God is Holy…He is eternal…He is love…He is merciful…He is gracious.  Take comfort in that He will not give you more than you can bear…and in all your suffering or adversity or disappointment, whatever the cause, glorify your God and Father, trusting Him to work all things together for your good (Genesis 50:20; 1 Pet 1:6-8).

God has left you here for only a little while (1 Pet1: 6-9) not only for your sake…but for the sake of your brethren (2 Tim 2:10).  In your adversity…go to your Heavenly Father and your Elder Brother and your brethren to be sure…but take the time to see past your suffering or disappointment…see that God has begun a good work in you (Phil 1:6)…and be encouraged… so that you might be an encouragement to me and those of the household of faith!

Daniel – For You Have Strengthened Me

And behold, one in the likeness of the children of man touched my lips. Then I opened my mouth and spoke. I said to him who stood before me, “O my lord, by reason of the vision pains have come upon me, and I retain no strength. How can my lord’s servant talk with my lord? For now no strength remains in me, and no breath is left in me.” Again one having the appearance of a man touched me and strengthened me. And he said, “O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage.” And as he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.”
(Daniel 10:16-19)

We’ve already looked at the fact that the visions that Daniel and others saw had an exhausting effect upon them. “By reason of the vision pains have come upon me, and I retain no strength.” God’s express purpose is to put these men into a position where they will need both strength and wisdom from him. Daniel will need strength to recover from what he just experienced. He will also need wisdom even to begin to wrap his mind around it and understand it.

Who put Daniel into that condition? God. Who will bring strength back to him? God. This is a consistent pattern throughout Scripture. Who led the Israelites out of Egypt? God. Who brought them right up to the Red Sea so that they would be trapped on one side by the water and on the other side by the pursuing Egyptians? God. Who allowed the Israelites to hunger in the wilderness? God. Who then fed them? God.

What is Daniel experiencing of which we all need reminding? That strength comes from God. The words of this heavenly being and his warm touch upon Daniel brought him strength. Daniel then asked for more of it!

And as he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.”

Let’s ask for more of it today, too.

Safety and Encouragement in God’s Word and Blessings

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; NKJV)

1God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.  2 Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the  sea; 3 Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah…7 The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.  (Psalm 46: 1-3, 7; NKJV)

Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’  (Isaiah 41:10; NKJV)

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7; NKJV)

I have set the Lord always before me; Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.  (Psalm 16: 8; NKJV)

Cast your burden on the Lord, And He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved. (Psalm 55:22; NKJV)

He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved. (Psalm 62:6; NKJV)

…casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.  (1 Peter 5:7; NKJV)

The Lord is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble; And He knows those who trust in Him. (Nahum 1:7; NKJV)

You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. (Isaiah 26:3; NKJV)

I hope you find these verses encouraging today and invite you to work them into your prayers and for the prayers of your brethren.

There have been times when I have sent a text, an email or left a voicemail just trying to encourage a brother or sister and they have either texted me back or called me a few days later apologizing that they didn’t acknowledge it or thank me or some other closure to the gesture.   The last time this happened I told my brother that it was not necessary at all…that I look at encouragement as a “heat seeking missile”…something that you target on what you want to hit and then “fire and forget” knowing that it will hit its mark and have the effect you were hoping for.

That is how I see encouragement…as the encourager we can take heart our effort will have a positive effect and if we are the one being encouraged we might just let it…and leave it at that.  Either way, I am “firing” these verses your way and am confident they will bring you comfort and encouragement…that is God’s blessing and work in your life.

Live blessed today and be a blessing to others!