Saturday, December 31, 2016

God's favor

2 Corinthians 3

1 Are we beginning to praise ourselves again?

Are we like others, who need to bring you letters of recommendation,

or who ask you to write such letters on their behalf?

Surely not!

2 The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves.

Your lives are a letter written in our hearts;

everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you.

3 Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you.

This "letter" is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God.

It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts.

  4 We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ.

5 It is not that we think we can do anything of lasting value by ourselves.

Our only power & success come from God.



Paul is writing these verses in his second letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth.

Evidently there were people questioning Paul's credentials as a carrier of the Gospel.

Also, it would seem that some of these evangelists depended on letters from various churches & groups of followers to authenticate their ministries.


It sounds like there was some ego & self-importance involved in some of these evangelists.

Surely not in the early church when everyone was uber-holy!

I think we all know better than that – people are people, whether in first century early church or 21st century church ;-)


The idea of some folks thinking Paul needed credentialing is kind of laughable.

He was probably one of the most highly educated workers in the early church – maybe the most educated.

It is believed he had the equivalent of more than one PhD.

Our daughter, Hannah, is working on a PhD in American History. I can't imagine ANYONE have more than one of those – just doing one wears you down to a nub!


We also know Paul also spoke Hebrew, Aramaic, & Greek - & probably Latin, since he was a Roman citizen by birth.

He was a Pharisee – iow, he knew the law of Moses inside & out.


Iow, this man was no slouch...


The interesting thing about this passage is what Paul says at the end.

He basically says that he's not the one who is making things happen when he goes to an area to encourage people to follow Jesus.

He clearly says it all because of what God does in the minds & hearts of people, not Paul.

Anything that happens is because God favors their work with His power.


I can remember especially in those early years of ministry 40+ years ago when I was trying to figure out how to do it, people would basically tell me the same thing.

I can remember asking successful people what was the secret to their success.

It was interesting that most of them said think ahead & plan ahead, & then work your plan.

But all of them also said, to the person, something that absolutely drove me CRAZY!

They all said “seek first the kingdom of God, & all these things will bee added to you.”

iow, if I wanted ministry to happen, the best thing to do was to get closer & closer to God, & let Him change me into the likeness of Jesus.

I couldn't see that reasoning at all.

I thought they just didn't want to tell me their secrets of ministry.

Remember how young & inexperienced (read: stupid) I was back then.


But ya know what – it's true.

If we spend more time letting God recreate us in His image – iow, let Him beat out the sinful parts we've allowed to come in – then the impact we want to have will follow, whether we're in active ministry positions, or just living life & being of impact wherever we live & work.

iow, whatever we are & whatever we are able to be do depends on God's favor – His power working in us & through us.


I wish I'd known that way back then.


I've said all that to say this...


Spend the bulk of our trying to get closer to God, allowing Him to make us like Him in the way we think & act.

If so, the rest of our life will take care of itself.


Hard to believe?

Too risky a proposition?

What if...?


Yeah, I've thought all those things.

But it's true.

If we spend more time surrendering ourselves to God, we're not the ones making our lives make sense.

It's God.

And He's better at it than we are.


I hope all that made sense. Sometimes when I sit here writing this, it seems to make sense.

I just wonder sometimes if it really does in the light of day. ;-)


Anyway, Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2016

we stink

These few verses are from Paul's second letter to the followers of Jesus who lived in Corinth.



2 Corinthians 2

14b Now (God) uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere,

like a sweet perfume.

15 Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God.

But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing.

16 To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom.

But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume.



This has always been an interesting passage to me. It's something I've tried to keep in the back of my mind.


We spend a lot of time trying to connect with people who do not walk in a faith relationship with God.

And I think that is good & certainly appropriate.

I mean, where would you or I be if the people instrumental in showing us the way to God had not tried to connect with us?

Yeah... not a comfortable thought!


At the same time, maybe we should bear in mind that for people who aren't connected to God, we can appear VERY unappealing.

And this doesn't have anything to do with us individually, or anything we're doing or not doing.

Correct me if I'm wrong in my thinking here...

As followers of Jesus, we are people who have the Holy Spirit living inside of us.

Like it or not, people who are not following Jesus...

especially those who have decided that, come what may, they are NOT gonna have anything to do with this Jesus stuff & this God connection...

these folks are going to be turned off or become VERY uncomfortable around us.

And it's not because of us.

It is simply because these folks are responding negatively to the Holy Spirit who lives in us.


Is that all a little too mystical, a little to supernatural?

Or is it just a very practical, reasonable thing?

I mean, our connection with God IS a pretty supernatural thing.

And the concept of the Holy Spirit living inside of us is more than just a little mystical!


But does that all make sense?

That, like it or not, people are going to be uncomfortable around us because of Who lives inside us.

They would never label it that way – they would probably label us a obnoxious jerks – or worse.

But that doesn't change the fact that to non-believers, there may be just something about us that makes their flesh crawl, & they can't or won't quantify it.


So, what do we do about it?

I guess be kind, loving, & caring, be who we are, & trust the Holy Spirit to draw people to God through us?


Why do I bring all this us?

I spent a lot of years feeling guilty about the sometimes unexplainable way some people reacted to me & other follow Christ followers.

Sometimes I'm sure I was an obnoxious jerk.

But sometimes maybe it was just a reaction to the Holy Spirit inside of us.


Ok, have I beat this subject to death? ;-)

Think about it, & kind of keep an objective view of what may be going on with folks who aren't interested in anything we have to say about Jesus, God, or the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

just read it

Just read this psalm & hold it in your heart...



Psalm 37

1 Don't worry about the wicked or envy those who do wrong.
2 For like grass, they soon fade away.
  Like spring flowers, they soon wither.

3 Trust in the LORD and do good.

  Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.
4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart's desires.

5 Commit everything you do to the LORD.

  Trust him, and he will help you.
6 He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn, and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.


7 Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act.

Don't worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes.


8 Stop being angry!

  Turn from your rage!
Do not lose your temper - it only leads to harm.

9 For the wicked will be destroyed, but those who trust in the LORD will possess the land.


10 Soon the wicked will disappear.

  Though you look for them, they will be gone.
11 The lowly will possess the land and will live in peace and prosperity.

12 The wicked plot against the godly;

  they snarl at them in defiance.
13 But the Lord just laughs, for he sees their day of judgment coming.

14 The wicked draw their swords and string their bows to kill the poor and the oppressed, to slaughter those who do right.

15 But their swords will stab their own hearts, and their bows will be broken.

16 It is better to be godly and have little than to be evil and rich.

17 For the strength of the wicked will be shattered, but the LORD takes care of the godly.


18 Day by day the LORD takes care of the innocent, and they will receive an inheritance that lasts forever.

19 They will not be disgraced in hard times; even in famine they will have more than enough.

20 But the wicked will die.

  The LORD's enemies are like flowers in a field - they will disappear like smoke.


21 The wicked borrow and never repay, but the godly are generous givers.

22 Those the LORD blesses will possess the land, but those he curses will die.

23 The LORD directs the steps of the godly.

  He delights in every detail of their lives.
24 Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the LORD holds them by the hand.

25 Once I was young, and now I am old.

  Yet I have never seen the godly abandoned or their children begging for bread.
26 The godly always give generous loans to others, and their children are a blessing.

27 Turn from evil and do good, and you will live in the land forever.

28 For the LORD loves justice, and he will never abandon the godly.


He will keep them safe forever, but the children of the wicked will die.

29 The godly will possess the land and will live there forever.

30 The godly offer good counsel; they teach right from wrong.

31 They have made God's law their own, so they will never slip from his path.

32 The wicked wait in ambush for the godly, looking for an excuse to kill them.

33 But the LORD will not let the wicked succeed or let the godly be condemned when they are put on trial.


34 Put your hope in the LORD.

  Travel steadily along his path.
He will honor you by giving you the land.
  You will see the wicked destroyed.

35 I have seen wicked and ruthless people flourishing like a tree in its native soil.

36 But when I looked again, they were gone!
  Though I searched for them, I could not find them!

37 Look at those who are honest and good, for a wonderful future awaits those who love peace.

38 But the rebellious will be destroyed; they have no future.


39 The LORD rescues the godly; he is their fortress in times of trouble.

40 The LORD helps them, rescuing them from the wicked.

He saves them, and they find shelter in him.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

GPS

Look straight ahead,

& fix your eyes on what lies before you.

Mark out a straight path for your feet;

then stick to the path

& stay safe.

Don't get sidetracked;

keep your feet from following evil.

Proverb 4:25-27



T D Jakes used an illustration that I think might be appropriate for these verses.

He was talking about following God & trying to ascertain if whatever direction he was going was correct.

He compared it to the GPS on his car.

If he's following his verbal commands from his GPS, the GPS will alert him to an upcoming change of direction.

And when it is time to make the change of direction, the GPS tells him to.

But there are periods in his traveling when there isn't any talking going on from the GPS.

GPS's don't prattle on about places along the way – their job is to keep us on track.

T D Jakes says lots of the time he wonders if he is still going in the right direction.

His GPS has a “panic button” - a function that he can punch to check with the GPS if he still going in the right way.

Usually his GPS don't talk to him except when he needs to make a course change.

But if he gets to worrying that he might have strayed, all he has to do is poke the panic button.

Usually, if he's still on the right path, the GPS will reply, “continue going in your present direction.”

He also mentions that if by some chance he gets confused & makes the wrong course change or somehow misses the turn off, the GPS alerts him to what he missed, then redirects, & gets him back in the right direction.


You see the parallels here ;-)


God is good at letting us know when there needs to be a course change in our lives.

If we ain't hearing anything from Him, it does not usually mean we're off course – it just means we're going in the direction we need to go.


If we need to change course, He will let us know ahead of time - & when it's time to change direction, He'll tell us exactly when we should.


And if we get off course, He will let us know, recalculate, & do what is necessary to aid us in getting back on the course He's chosen for us.


Is this an oversimplification?

I don't think so.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

depends on how you read it

Paul, writing in his 1st letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth...


So, my dear brothers & sisters,

be strong & steady,

always enthusiastic about the Lord's work,

for your know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.

1 Corinthians 15:58c



Nothing you ever do for the Lord is ever useless.


NOTHING you ever do for the Lord is ever useless.


Nothing you ever do for the Lord is ever USELESS.


Nothing YOU ever do for the Lord is ever useless.


Nothing you ever do for the Lord is EVER useless.


Nothing you EVER do for the Lord is ever useless.


Nothing you ever do for THE LORD is ever useless.


Nothing you ever DO for the Lord is ever useless.


Nothing you ever do FOR the Lord is ever useless.



It all depends on how you read those 10 words...


The truth of those 10 words is no less staggering, no matter how you read it.


This has been one of the verses I've held on to during 2016.


I've needed to hang on to them dozens & dozens of times.


It's like God knew I would need them ;-)

Monday, December 26, 2016

a rich man

Just read these words of Jesus & see if & where they apply...



Luke 18

18 Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question:

"Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?"


  
19 "Why do you call me good?" Jesus asked him.

"Only God is truly good.

20 But to answer your question, you know the commandments:

'You must not commit adultery.

You must not murder.

You must not steal.

You must not testify falsely.

Honor your father and mother.'"


  
21 The man replied,

"I've obeyed all these commandments since I was young."

  22 When Jesus heard his answer, he said,

"There is still one thing you haven't done.

Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor,

and you will have treasure in heaven.

Then come, follow me."

  23 But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich.

  24 When Jesus saw this, he said,

"How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!

25 In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!"


  
26 Those who heard this said,

"Then who in the world can be saved?"

  27 He replied,

"What is impossible for people is possible with God."


  
28 Peter said,

"We've left our homes to follow you."

  29 "Yes," Jesus replied, "and I assure you that everyone who has given up house

or wife

or brothers

or parents

or children,

for the sake of the Kingdom of God,

30 will be repaid many times over in this life,

and will have eternal life in the world to come."

Sunday, December 25, 2016

that night

Luke 2

1 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire.

2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)

3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census.

4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David's ancient home.

He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee.

5 He took with him Mary, his fiancĂ©e, who was now obviously pregnant.


  6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born.

7 She gave birth to her first child, a son.

She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger,

because there was no lodging available for them.


8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.

9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord's glory surrounded them.

They were terrified,

10 but the angel reassured them.

"Don't be afraid!" he said.

"I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.

11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!

12 And you will recognize him by this sign:

You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger."


  13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 "Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased."


  15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other,

"Let's go to Bethlehem!

Let's see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."


  16 They ran to the village and found Mary and Joseph.

And there was the baby, lying in the manger.

17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.

18 All who heard the shepherds' story were astonished,

19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.

20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.

It was just as the angel had told them.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

gifts of the Holy Spirit

The gifts of the Holy Spirit...

A subject & reality that scare many folks to death.

I know it used to scare me too, before I went to Christ Chapel in Macon.

These gifts & their gifting are nothing to be afraid of.

They won't turn any of us into something weird – well, not any more weird than we already are!

Just read about them, & think about what Paul says about them.

He wrote these words in these 2 passages in his first letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth.



1 Corinthians 12

1 Now, dear brothers and sisters, regarding your question about the special abilities the Spirit gives us.

I don't want you to misunderstand this.

2 You know that when you were still pagans, you were led astray and swept along in worshiping speechless idols.

3 So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus,

and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.

  4 There are different kinds of spiritual gifts,

but the same Spirit is the source of them all.

5 There are different kinds of service,

but we serve the same Lord.

6 God works in different ways,

but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.


  
7 A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.

8 To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice;

to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge.

9 The same Spirit gives great faith to another,

and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing.

10 He gives one person the power to perform miracles,

and another the ability to prophesy.

He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit.

Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages,

while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said.

11 It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts.

He alone decides which gift each person should have.



 27 All of you together are Christ's body,

and each of you is a part of it.

28 Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:

first are apostles,

second are prophets,
third are teachers,
then those who do miracles,
those who have the gift of healing,
those who can help others,
those who have the gift of leadership,
those who speak in unknown languages.

  
29 Are we all apostles?

Are we all prophets?

Are we all teachers?

Do we all have the power to do miracles?

30 Do we all have the gift of healing?

Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages?

Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages?

Of course not!

31 So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts.