Just Perfect!

Posted by on November 30, 2006 under Bulletin Articles

Why did I dread the holiday season? I dreaded it because I seemed powerless as an onslaught of depressed people surrounded me. For many, this is a depressing time of the year. The millions of dollars spent in advertising to elevate expectations create either a false hope or force people to deal with a painful reality. Either they expect something unexplainable to happen that will not happen, or they are painfully reminded of what they have lost. All I had to use to console the depressed was the message (a) that there are no ideal families, (b) there are no ideal friends, and (c) often personal desires are not fulfilled in our physical world.

For a family who has experienced a death, for a person living in inescapable poverty, for those victimized by troubled relationships, and for those who have always wanted what many they watch take for granted, this is not a time filled with joy. It is a time filled with reminders of what they do not have and are powerless to change.

To the depressed, overwhelming questions crash upon them like the tidal wave that precedes a coastal flood. “Why me?” “What is so undesirable about me?” “Why do I not have what everyone else has?” “Why can I not experience my desires?” “Why have I experienced so much trouble and so little joy?” “What did I do to deserve this?”

May I make some suggestions about making this a tolerable time of the year for most? First, be grateful. When you take your eyes off of what you do not have and place them on what you do have, it changes your priorities. Second, do not minimize the agony of the troubled. I understood long ago that if I changed places with the struggling, I most likely would be worse than they. Third, encourage those you know who struggle. It is amazing how awareness of the struggling, thoughtful statements, and kindness can change perspectives. Fourth, realize we exist in an unjust world. You cannot eliminate all injustice, but you can represent the God who cares and is the source of hope.

God’s good news is not about physical circumstances. It is about eternal realities.

Hebrews 2:17, 18 “Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.”

Why Did They Do It?

Posted by on November 29, 2006 under Sermons

A person cannot read the book of Acts with open eyes and open heart and not be amazed at the actions and activities of men and women who were the first Christians. Can you imagine people so converted to Christ on a pilgrimage that they refused to return home when their money ran out because they wanted to understand the good news about Christ in completeness? That occurred with some converts who heard the good news on Pentecost. Can you imagine a congregation so close to each other that they met every day to encourage each other as they praised God? Can you imagine finding so much joy and fulfillment in Christ that we would meet every day voluntarily, without command, to glorify God? Can you imagine having an a community who where not Christians acknowledging the Christians were a beneficial part of the community? That describes the earliest congregation in Jerusalem. Can you imagine willingly selling private possessions to help people you do not know but who believe in Christ? That is what Christians did in Acts 4:32-37.

One of the most amazing qualities of early Christians was their evangelistic fervor. In about 70 years, those Christians took the good news concerning Jesus Christ throughout Palestine, to Syria, throughout Asia Minor, to Europe, to North Africa, with plans to go to Spain–and that is just where we know about! They commonly did this in pagan societies that were more immoral than today’s world. They often did it as they faced personal sacrifice and persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ. They did not have missionaries and evangelists–they were what we call missionaries and evangelist.

Look at what Acts says about the activities of some of these first Christians: Acts 8:1-5, "Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them."

Acts 8:25 says of Peter and John, "So, when they had solemnly testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they started back to Jerusalem, and were preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans."

Acts 8:40 says of Philip after he baptized the eunuch, "But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities until he came to Caesarea."

Acts 9:32 says of Peter, "Now as Peter was traveling through all those regions, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda."

Acts 11:19-21 So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.

The outreach work of early Christians was in no way limited to the activities of Paul and Barnabus. Evidence indicates the joyous fervor was characteristic of many converts to Christ. Indications are the congregations in places like Colosae and Laodicea existed because Christians from other places taught the people of those places.

To me one of the sad facts about today’s Christians is that many of us take the outreach of the church for granted. To often our attitude is, "So they shared their faith in Christ with others. Fine. But so what?" We are not touched by their incredible expression of faith and commitment. Their joy in Christ was too real not to share!

  1. To attempt to etch their sharing of Christ with others, mentally trade places with them.
    1. Suppose:
      1. The preacher, elders, and deacons were arrested for preaching the gospel, taken to court, and given a legal injunction against further preaching and teaching as were Peter and John in Acts 5.
      2. Suppose they defied the injunction, were arrested again, and were publicly beaten for their arrogant rejection of the injunction.
      3. Then a zealous leader, like Stephen, gets into a religious discussion about the identity of Jesus Christ, is arrested, and is executed for his public religious stand as in Acts 7.
      4. Then one who hates Christians obtains the legal power to make a house-to-house search for Christians, literally drags them out of their homes, has them jailed and tried, with the result is that some are executed.
      5. The threat is so real and close that you leave your home and property to find a new place to locate.
    2. What would you do?
      1. "I would get out of town just like they did!"
      2. Then what?
        1. Would you slip in quietly, go about your business, and avoid mentioning you came from the place that ran Christians out of town?
        2. Would you weep and complain about all you lost?
        3. Would you angrily denounce those who ran you out of town?
        4. Would you resent God for letting such injustice fall on you?
        5. Or, would you rejoice at the opportunity to suffer for Jesus and tell others about the priceless joy of being a Christian seeking to convert them to Christ?
      3. Remember, the outreach of early Christians was born in hatred, persecution, and rejection, not in the kindness of open hearts who asked for the good news about Christ.
  2. Why did they do it?
    1. "They loved the Lord!"
      1. I have no doubt they did!
      2. Do not you, too, love the Lord?
      3. Would any of you publicly declare you do not love the Lord?
      4. If they loved the Lord and you love the Lord, that does not seem to be the explanation.
    2. "They were commanded to do that!"
      1. Commands emphasize responsibility, but seldom motive that kind of commitment.
      2. Besides, most of us admit their commands are our commands.
      3. It seems there was more to their commitment than a command.
    3. "They had to do it!"
      1. When I read Acts, it seems obvious they did it out of desire rather the necessity.
      2. It surely would have been easier to find a quiet place, peacefully settle in, and dedicate yourself to being "Jesus private follower."
      3. It seems to involve much more than necessity.
    4. I submit they discovered something in Jesus Christ that was so valuable, so cherished, so priceless they wanted to share it even in the face of hardship.
      1. Forgiveness of sin and freedom from guilt was a priceless gift!
      2. Sanctification, justification, and purification were gifts beyond measure!
      3. The love of God and Christ was (is) beyond comprehension!
      4. To be children of God, not slaves to a deity is incredible!
      5. Everything they found in Christ was available to all people!
    5. I also submit that the first Christians found in Christ something many of today’s Christians never have discovered.
      1. How long has it been since you deeply, genuinely thanked God for all He did in Jesus Christ?
      2. How long has it been since you seriously thought about your forgiveness, that God remembers your sin no more, and that he does not impute sin to your life?
      3. How long has it been since you thought about what Christ contributes to your marriage, your parenting skills, or your personal relationships?
      4. How long has it been since you appreciated the gift and power of prayer?
      5. How long has it been since you valued the strength and hope of faith?
      6. How long has it been since you cherished the fellowship of Christians?
      7. How long has it been since you were grateful for being a new creation in Christ?
      8. Can you with hold those precious things from those who struggle because they do not know or have them?

The more you value your salvation, the more imperative it becomes that you share it. You do not seek to force it on someone–you share it. That is the key to evangelistic zeal and fervor. To share it, you must value it.

Never forget because you have Christ you have something to share. May your life and who you are encourage people to want what you have found in Christ.

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like …

Posted by on November 26, 2006 under Sermons

We do not need a calendar to know that the Christmas season is beginning. Starbucks uses a holiday paper cup – they actually started right before Halloween. City workers have been putting up lights long before they are lit. People lined up outside stores early in the morning for big savings. It reminds me of Johnny Mathis’ song …

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev’rywhere you go;
Take a look in the five and ten, glistening once again
With candy canes and silver lanes aglow.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas;
Toys in ev’ry store.
But the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be
On your own front door.

Of course we don’t have our decorations up yet. And there’s the sense in my family that it is time, past time, to string our lights and trim our tree. Why the sense of urgency? Because we can read the signs of the season and we know it is time!

Now, the weather may fool you right now, but right before the cold front comes some of us will know it – and you won’t need a weather report – you simply have the experience to look for the signs of the changing seasons.

As we read from the teaching of Jesus Christ this morning, I hope you will recognize that our Lord wants us to be skilled at reading the signs of the times. And I hope you will recognize the proper reason he wants us to be so aware … [Read Luke 21:25-38.]

There seems to be a entire cottage industry of biblical prophecy. It isn’t hard to find someone using the Scriptures to foretell the future and predict calamity. And that probably isn’t very appealing unless you are fan of disaster films. The sort of films in which a huge earthquake destroys the western half of the United States, or a meteor is about to strike the earth, or there is sudden climate shift, or nuclear war wipes out two-thirds of earth’s population. Whether you look toward the cinematic thriller version of disaster scenarios, or the prophecy preacher scenarios there’s one common element – they don’t inspire a lot of hope, do they?

Talk about reading the signs of the end often makes us fretful and anxious. We get reactionary waiting for the next crisis. There tends to be more gloom and doom than hope and faith. But notice that although Christ is all for us paying attention to the signs, he isn’t interested in gloom and doom. He isn’t trying to frighten us. No, much the opposite, he is trying to embolden us!

See, Jesus encourages us to stand up and keep our heads up. Why? Because our redemption is near. The promise of the Son of Man is about to be fulfilled. He wants us to read the signs so that we can interact faithfully with the events of history. And when we keep our heads up we see that history fitting into the larger context of what God is doing. And that gives us hope because we know that God’s purposes are larger than the brief interludes that we call current events.

Paying attention with faithfulness matters because we are accustomed to react to life rather than interact with it. For instance, we may be well versed in the teachings of the church and Scripture, but what do we do with that insight and knowledge? Are we storing it up for Sunday or some final exam on the day of judgment? If we are actively involved in hearing and doing the word, then we are going to take the teachings of Scripture and use them as a compass to navigate the signs of the times. The word of God builds maturity in us, and when we possess a mature faith we can read the signs of the times and keep our heads up and stand tall – rather than wring our hands fretfully worrying about the next great terror.

To read the signs as mature believers means that we recognize that there is a lot of anxiety and worry in the world. Jesus said that the signs would throw entire nations into turmoil – and they would be anxious about what is happening to the sea. And after a Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, there is quite a lot of fear that our own planet may destroy us. There’s a lot of talk of war. A generation has grown up not knowing the fear of Cold War nuclear conflict. But now we worry about random terror strikes and the rise of new nuclear powers such as North Korea and Iran – nations that aren’t on the best terms with us.

Let’s not be so arrogant to assume that these disasters and conflicts are the greatest that have ever been or ever will be. But we ought to recognize, as Jesus as indicated, that people are distressed. And just when we all might feel that vengeance and destruction are about to arrive, we can look up with hope because we know something! We know that our redemption is drawing near. We know that the Son of Man approaches!

Too often, end-time scenarios suggest that all of us have to change the world. These are a bit arrogant in that they claim that we fallen human beings someone hold all the answers and all the power to either destroy the earth or save it. But we have a mature faith and we know that it is our redemption at stake. It isn’t the world we need to change – we need to change ourselves.

As a people who know that the surest prediction is that the Son of Man will return to redeem us, there are some things we can change in our own worldview as we read the signs of the times:

  1. There will be an end time. Human life has limitations set upon it. Our hearts can be content and at peace when we learn to live as creatures rather than creator. How much better would it all be if all of us would live by hope rather than fear?
  2. God is in charge of the end. The end of time is not the end of life with God. God is in charge of the end time, not us. (In the movies, the hero is always trying to stop the end of the world. But the end of the world is a good thing for the one who is not ashamed of the Son of Man. The end of the world is good when it happens God’s way.
  3. God is worthy of our trust. God is not going to end the world because he is mad and throwing a fit. The end is the end of God’s work. And the beginning and end of time are the grace of God. Just as God has set a limit on how much power evil and sin can have over us, he sets a limit on injustice and sin. It cannot continue. Its days are numbered. That’s grace.
  4. The judgment of God and the Son of Man are passed on all of us. Jesus came the first time so that we could stand tall when he comes the second time. What makes us right for meeting the Son of Man when he comes again at the end is our relationship with him in the present. And that relationship has been defined by the life of Christ, the cross, and the resurrection. He went up to heaven and this same Jesus will return.

As we read the signs of the times we will find see more than enough to make us angry, afraid, worried, fretful, and despairing. But Christ wants us to lift up our heads and stand tall. He wants us to be hopeful and see beyond the initial sings and look at the bigger picture of God’s work in human history. [It isn’t unlike the concern that some have that the real meaning of Christmas gets lost in the glitz and symbolism of the Holiday Season.] Listen to Jesus and keep in mind that in every season and in our times the message of the Son of Man can be lost in the anxiety and confusion of the age.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas;
Soon the bells will start,
And the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart.

What song do we sing right within our hearts? Do we join in with the large chorus of gloom, despair, and agony on me? Or can we sing a song that pays attention to the pain and suffering in the world but ends with a crescendo of hope? It is a song that includes this line from our Lord: “Stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

A Message for Parents and Grandparents

Posted by on November 21, 2006 under Sermons

How much do you love your children? How much do you love your grandchildren? To conscientious Christians, children and grandchildren represent one of life’s most important and unique treasures. Few sacrifices are rejected if their well being is at stake. Regardless of circumstances, their well being is priority for parents or grandparents. At birth our concern is enormous, and that concern grows as they grow. In adolescent years, our concern passes description.

From years one to twenty-one, we make every possible preparation for their development and future. Does my child have a learning disability? Where can I get help for my child? Does my child have a medical problem? Where can I get treatment for my child? Does my child need special training? Where can I find it for my child?

We provide them the best educational opportunity we can afford. We create special opportunities for them in every form of development from athletics to talent. We alter our adult schedule and run ourselves crazy for them. We do everything possible to build their self-images, develop their skills, teach them poise, and give them advantages mentally, psychologically, and physically.

I pray you consider for a long time these things I share with you.

  1. We as Christians understand parents have a spiritual responsibility to provide our children spiritual instruction and guidance.
    1. That responsibility existed from Christianity’s beginning.
      1. Ephesians 6:1-4 "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (This refers to one of the Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20:12 with its focus on the responsibility on adult children.)
        1. Parents focused on God provide their children a reason to obey them.
        2. If they honor God, they can obey their parents without problem.
        3. Parents have not abused them, neglected them, refused to love them, or done things to generate and nurture a lasting anger in them.
        4. Instead, the parents provide them an example of how to live a disciplined life devoted to God and His instructions.
      2. Colossians 3:21 Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.
        1. Parents’ relationship with their children should not create and nurture a continuing frustration producing a state of discontentment.
        2. The severity and fault finding that destroys the spirit should not characterize the parents’ relationship with their children.
    2. Parents, do not be deceived into believing that our parental faith in and commitment to Jesus Christ guarantees our children automatically will become Christian adults.
      1. The Old Testament has a number of examples of godly persons whose children did not follow God.
      2. Perhaps the greatest period of Israelite godliness came in Joshua’s leadership.
        1. Judges 2:7 "The people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, who had seen all the great work of the Lord which He had done for Israel."
          1. What a testimony to godly influence!
        2. Then Judges 2:10 notes, "All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel."
          1. I do not think you could convince me that Joshua did not teach godliness to his children.
          2. Yet, his descendants did not follow God.
          3. I conclude they were deliberately ignorant and willfully forgetful.
      3. Samuel was a powerful spiritual influence in Israel in an extremely ungodly period.
        1. Listen to 1 Samuel 8:3 "His sons, however, did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice."
      4. King David made some serious mistakes, but he was a man whose love for God included the knowledge of repentance.
        1. We are still blessed by some of his powerful thoughts.
        2. In the New Testament he is still known as the man after God’s own heart.
        3. Yet, many of his children were truly ungodly.
      5. Hezekiah led one of Judah’s few spiritual reforms.
        1. Listen to 2 Kings 18:3, 5 “He did right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done.  …He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel; so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him.”
        2. Now listen to what is said about his son, Manasseh in 2 Kings 21:2, 9: “He did evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord dispossessed before the sons of Israel. …But they did not listen, and Manasseh seduced them to do evil more than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the sons of Israel.”
    3. The New Testament covers too brief a historical period to include such detail.
  2. The most important factor in determining what your child becomes as a spiritual adult is the person he or she marries.
    1. Your child will make that choice largely to your exclusion.
      1. You will not choose the person your child "falls in love" with.
      2. You will not choose how the experience of "falling in love" will affect your child.
      3. If you try to exercise an inflexible control over the people your child dates, you likely will severely injure your relationship with your child.
        1. While you certainly must provide guidance, there are restrictions on the guidance you can provide.
        2. Attempts to provide inflexible control can alienate, create an unhealthy dependence, or drive your child to the person of your disapproval.
      4. If you try to structure, control, direct, or alter your child’s marriage, you create more serious problems than you correct.
        1. Rarely is continuous parental involvement in a child’s marriage constructive.
        2. Attempting to "run or fix" a child’s marriage often produces undesirable results:
          1. Anger
          2. Alienation
          3. Resentment
          4. Impeding or destroying their maturing process.
          5. Destruction of healthy independence.
          6. Creation of a sick dependence on the parent.
        3. Interference in a child’s marriage can produce many bad things and few good things.
        4. We should understand that.
          1. Look at the impact of your parents’ unwanted advice and interference in your marriage.
          2. Recall the problems, stress, anger, and complications produced when your parents felt like they needed to structure an aspect of your marriage.
          3. Do not deceive yourself into believing your actions will be viewed as constructive and thereby appreciated.
    2. The possibility of your child experiencing a serious marriage crisis is frightening.
      1. The fact that you provide them the best home, best training, best environment, and best spiritual foundation you can provide does not eliminate the possibility of your child experiencing a serious marriage crisis.
      2. Your initial reaction may be, "That cannot be true!"
        1. For the sake of reflection, recall married people you know from 5 years younger than you to 5 years older than you.
        2. How many people did you go to school, college, or church with who are now divorced, separated, or in deeply troubled marriages?
        3. And those are just the situations your know about!
      3. Every major social influence in this society (today) works against "once for life" marriage, not in support of it.
  3. Consider a living nightmare.
    1. You witness your own child in an abusive, unloving, selfish, inconsiderate marriage.
      1. You watch as it happens causing your child suffering, pain, and agony.
      2. You see what this is doing to your child as a person.
    2. You witness your grandchildren in such a marriage.
    3. As you watch, there is little you can do.
      1. You cannot fix it.
      2. You cannot "make it go away."
      3. You do not dare try to take control for fear of making things worse.
      4. You cannot make the relationship healthy.
  4. If such happens in your family, let me suggest what to pray for.
    1. Pray he or she is in a congregation that believes in loving those that hurt and reaches out to those who are troubled.
      1. Pray he or she is part of a people who help the distressed.
      2. Pray he or she is not part of a congregation who turns it back on "Christians who have problems like that."
    2. Pray they are under a compassionate eldership who believes in shepherding.
      1. Pray they are under elders who know how to listen and be understanding.
      2. Pray they know how to be constructively supportive.
      3. Pray they believe in keeping confidences.
    3. Pray they are in a congregation devoted to administrating Jesus’ spiritual healing.
      1. Pray that scripturally uninformed members do not control the congregation.
      2. Pray their congregation is not filled with Christians who feel it is their duty to say:
        1. "If you genuinely believed in Christ, you would not have a problem like that."
        2. "Real Christians do not have marriage problems."
        3. "You are not a spiritual person."
        4. "If you trusted God like I do, this never would have happened."
  5. Constantly help us be a congregation that brings the troubled to Jesus’ forgiving healing, to Jesus’ compassion, to Jesus’ hope, to Jesus’ help.
    1. Help us want to be just Christians who are not afraid to let Jesus teach us how to compassionately care.
    2. Help us be a people that troubled Christians can turn to without fear because we are ruled by the Great Physician.
    3. Help us be the kind of people who care in the same way the first congregations cared.

Why do this? We want to be just Christians. We want to be a congregation of people who fit the image of Jesus’ expectations. We want to be an oasis of spiritual healing for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren when worlds collapse and life falls apart. In a world filled with hopeless struggle, we want to be a refreshing place of healing. May we each say, "That attitude begins with me."

The Thanksgiving Family

Posted by on November 19, 2006 under Sermons

Psalm 107:1-2; 136:1-9, 23-26
O give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy.
O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever.O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth for ever.To him who alone doeth great wonders: for his mercy endureth for ever.To him that by wisdom made the heavens: for his mercy endureth for ever.To him that stretched out the earth above the waters: for his mercy endureth for ever.To him that made great lights: for his mercy endureth for ever:The sun to rule by day: for his mercy endureth for ever:The moon and stars to rule by night: for his mercy endureth for ever.
Who remembered us in our low estate: for his mercy endureth for ever:And hath redeemed us from our enemies: for his mercy endureth for ever.Who giveth food to all flesh: for his mercy endureth for ever.O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever.

Psalm 105:1-5
Oh, give thanks to the Lord!Call upon His name;Make known His deeds among the peoples!Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him;Talk of all His wondrous works!Glory in His holy name;Let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the Lord!Seek the Lord and His strength;Seek His face evermore!Remember His marvelous works which He has done,His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth.


Read Ephesians 5:1-20.

“Because of your confession in Christ, I baptize you now in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, for the forgiveness of your sins and so you may receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and walk in newness of life.” I have spoken those words – or words very similar – almost every time I baptize someone. Very early in my experience of baptizing people I learned that those words carried a lot of freight. After leaving out certain phrases (i.e. “for the forgiveness of sins” or “to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”) I was approached by anxious brothers and sister concerned that the baptism was somehow invalid because of my error in recitation. I have since resolved it in my mind that the power of baptism is not dependent on my ability as a “baptizer” but it rests completely in the mercy of God and the saving power of Christ’s blood.

But I have learned that the words we speak at a baptism are meaningful. We use words to describe the reality and truth of baptism. And we also use those words to communicate to everyone what is really taking place in the experience of baptism. Just recalling the words spoken at your baptism should remind you of the reality that you have been immersed into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Your sins have been forgiven. You share in the gift of the Holy Spirit. You have new life.

These words are not the words that have always been spoken at baptisms everywhere. Other words have been used to express the same truth, and in the text we just read we have what may very well be the words used in the first century churches: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Paul is recalling these words for the Christians in Ephesus so that will remember who they are. He returns not only to the words of the baptism, but he also unpacks the freight that those words carry …

We are dearly loved children. We are children of light. This is family language. God is our Father and we are a family. And that has meaning as well. We are called to live up to the family name. We are to be imitators of God. And that’s why we need to return to these words that shape us. In a culture that isn’t always in synch with God’s ways, it can be challenging to try and imitate God. And there is always a tendency to slip away from the center of God’s way into one of two ruts on either side …

One option is to be consumed with the values that are contrary to God’s values. Paul describes this as darkness and foolishness. Falling into the darkness and foolishness immerses us into all kinds of immorality and impurity. Not simply sexual immorality, but also impurity such as greed: (I hope you got your PS3 if you stood in line for one. In some nations people stand in line for food, but here in America we will stand in line for a video game system that costs more than what some people in the world make in an entire year.) ?Tis the season – the shopping season – but watch out for the immorality and consumption of greed. That’s not you! You are children of light, you are people who live by the wisdom of God. The reason there isn’t to be even a hint of such impurity is because this isn’t proper for God’s family. It’s not that someone is going to scowl at us or sneer because we break the rules – it is because that is not who we are!

The other rut is to become cynical and combative against a culture that runs counter to God. This happens when we are constantly condemning of others. But that’s not our identity as God’s children either. We do not have to resort to “dirty politics” and “negative campaigning.” We don’t have to talk about what the disobedient do in secret – we aren’t interested in scandals and rumors. We aren’t so angry or cynical that we are reduced to obscenity, foolish talk, and filthy joking. We are not going to partner with those who talk a lot of empty words. We don’t have to get drunk in our despair and self-destruction. None of this is what it means to be God’s people.

The sad result of God’s children breathing out hateful and combative words is seen in Sam Harris’ recent book, “Letter to a Christian Nation.” …

“Thousands of people have written to tell me that I am wrong not to believe in God. The most hostile of these communications have come from Christians. This is ironic, as Christians generally imagine that no faith imparts the virtues of love and forgiveness more effectively than their own. The truth is that many who claim to be transformed by Christ’s love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism. While we may want to ascribe this to human nature, it is clear that such hatred draws considerable support from the Bible. How do I know this? The most disturbed of my correspondents always cite chapter and verse.” – Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation

As much as I may disagree with Harris’ philosophy and worldview, I do believe that he has probably been confronted by angry Christians who demonstrate an unloving spirit. Some might say, “Well we shouldn’t give in to an atheist like Harris. What do his feelings matter?” This is isn’t just about the Sam Harris’ in the world – it’s about imitating our Father and living up to the name he gave us. It’s about living a life of love – just like Christ who gave himself up for us (and Sam Harris!).

Our family is a Thanksgiving Family. Instead of obscenity, foolish talking, and coarse joking, we give thanks. We speak a family language and it is a language of praise. We give thanks to God and encourage one another with our words. We are the Thanksgiving family and we need to be wise.

Rather we are filled with the Spirit. We sing praises, even though we are persecuted. We are a thanksgiving people and we need to be very careful how we live. We need to be wise and make the most of the opportunities around us because these are dark days. And the way to make the most of our opportunities is to be a people who express Thanksgiving in our words and in our actions.

Brothers and sisters, remember who you are. We are people whose native tongue is Thanksgiving. We are children of light. This is our time to shine!

Philippians 4:4-9
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus.Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy-meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.

When the Cock Crows!

Posted by on November 17, 2006 under Sermons

Satan does not have a one battalion, one gun army. He is a capable enemy who can and does wage a deadly warfare with people in every form of existence on every front in life. Satan has such an arsenal of weapons that there (a) is no level of spiritual existence, (b) no point in Christian life that is beyond his ability to attack. When a Christian fails to realize that Satan has effective attack weapons that targets the spiritually strong, that person invites serious spiritual crisis and perhaps spiritual disaster.

I fear none of us give proper consideration to Satan’s ability to attack the spiritually strong. We know the evil person should fear Satan. We know people trapped by sin are enslaved. We know Satan controls and manipulates the person outside of God through his/her thought process, reasoning, and understanding. We know the person who rebels against God is the victim of his/her own rebellion and weakness and is powerless to defeat Satan alone.

We understand the godless person is Satan’s victim. We know Satan commonly attacks a person’s weakness. We know Satan tempts people who does not belong to God in the attempt to capitalize on their weakness. We know such people are easily deceived by Satan . We know that the only hope for those who live in the absence of God’s presence or in spiritual weakness is to grow closer to God and find strength in Him.

We acknowledge all those things without hesitation.

What about the spiritually strong? What about the person who used his/her weaknesses to grow spiritually? What about the person who overcame major temptations? What about the person who built his/her faith on knowledge and understanding of God’s word? What about those who are committed to God’s service? What about those committed to serving and evangelizing other people? What about those who worship God from the heart? Is this person beyond Satan’s attack? Should he or she be afraid of Satan?

I ask you to consider a paradox in the way we think about ourselves. Ask us individually if we are spiritually strong, and most of us will say, "No! I have too many flaws!" Ask us if our weaknesses are so significant that as Christians we are going spiritually to fall, and the most of us will be insulted. We might even say, "I hope not and seriously doubt it. I am much too strong and committed for that to happen!" So most of us feel weak and strong at the same time with the strength being our dominant force. In that strength many of us feel secure.

  1. Let me use Peter to illustrate Satan’s ability to attack the spiritually strong.
    1. I want to begin by acknowledging Peter’s deserved recognition as an exceptional man.
      1. He was decisive, and that is an admirable quality.
        1. The morning Jesus asked him and his brother to be followers, Peter immediately accepted the invitation.
        2. Have you wondered how receptive you would have been in the same circumstances?
          1. Peter had worked all night fishing.
          2. He could have said, "Jesus, I am too tired right now to think this through."
          3. He could have said, "This is the wrong moment for me to make a decision like that without first getting some sleep."
          4. He could have said, "I am complimented and interested, but I have to get some rest!"
          5. Instead, he made an immediate decision that would unsettle his life for two or three years that meant giving up his job with no promise of income.
      2. Peter was a wholehearted man.
        1. No matter what the circumstance, he never wondered about his commitment or his loyalty.
        2. He always knew he was 100% for Jesus and 100% with Jesus.
      3. Peter was a perceptive man.
        1. He really saw, and he really heard.
        2. In John 6 a multitude of disciples permanently left Jesus because they disagreed with a difficult teaching.
          1. Jesus asked the twelve if they, too, were leaving him.
          2. Peter replied in John 6:68, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."
        3. Of all the twelve, Peter knew and confessed Jesus was the Christ (Matthew 16:16)
      4. Peter was a loyal man.
        1. To him it was unthinkable and unacceptable to consider any possibility Jesus would be killed.
        2. If it was necessary for him to prevent it, he would die trying to prevent it.
        3. Jesus had no one more openly, totally committed to him than Peter.
      5. Jesus recognized and complimented these highly commendable qualities.
        1. He made Peter one of his inner three disciples.
        2. Jesus always took Peter with him on special occasions.
        3. In Acts 2, he used Peter to open his spiritual kingdom to the Jewish people.
        4. In Acts 10, he used the Jewish Peter to open his spiritual kingdom to the gentiles.
    2. Because we know how common it was for Peter to say something, it is important to realize the man was not boastful but quickly said what he felt.
      1. It is easy to look at some of the things he said and conclude he was an arrogant grandstander.
      2. I am personally convinced that is an incorrect view of Peter.
      3. What Peter felt, he totally felt.
      4. What Peter thought, he said with conviction.
      5. Certainly there were times he opened his mouth when he should have kept it closed.
      6. Certainly there were times his conviction lacked good judgment.
        1. There were times when he was so certain he was right that he equally was certain he could not be wrong.
        2. On such occasions, even if Jesus disagreed with him, he was sure he was right.
      7. Certainly there were times when he overestimated his knowledge and understanding.
        1. Sometimes he was so confident he was right that he would not hesitate to tell Jesus he was wrong. (Can your picture anyone doing that?)
        2. He regarded his insights so "on target" he thought he knew when Jesus was mistaken.
      8. Yet, none of this was arrogance; it was just wholehearted conviction.
    3. Note Peter was a combination of notable success and notable failure.
      1. Peter’s successes were many.
        1. His immediate following of Jesus was incredible; he left job and economic security with a family and with no material promise about the future.
        2. He stood up for Jesus in Gethsemane.
        3. He masterfully preached to the Jewish people on the Pentecost following the ascention.
        4. As a Christian, his courage in his arrest, trial, and abuse are nothing but admirable.
      2. Yet, his failures were just as memorable.
        1. His denial of Jesus will never be forgotten.
        2. His giving up and returning to Galilee to fish is surprising [after the resurrection].
      3. My point: it is not unusual for a person committed to Jesus to be a combination of notable success and notable failure.
        1. If you are observant, you have noted it in the lives of the spiritually strong many times.
        2. People who do great things for God often make significant mistakes.
      4. How can that be?
  2. The foundation of Peter’s problems rested in Peter’s faith.
    1. Begin by examining Matthew 16:21-23.
      1. This incident occurred shortly after Peter’s confession.
      2. Peter had just openly confessed Jesus was the Christ.
      3. This Christ began to tell the disciples he would be killed.
      4. Peter dared contradict Jesus.
        1. "Lord, you are wrong!"
        2. "This cannot happen to you!"
      5. Why would Peter contradict Jesus so strongly?
        1. He did not believe this would happen.
        2. He did not want it to happen.
        3. He would not let it happen–it was not in his plan for Jesus to die.
      6. Jesus who shortly before blessed Peter now condemned Peter by calling him Satan and declaring him a stumbling block.
        1. Satan used Peter as a serious source of temptation to Jesus.
        2. Here "stumbling block" comes from a word that means a bait stick in a trap.
        3. Satan used Peter (consider that) to be a bait stick in a trap Satan hoped to spring on Jesus.
      7. Look at the contrast: in Matthew 16:16 Peter is the decisive man who knew Jesus was the Christ, and in 16:23 he is the bait stick in Satan’s trap.
    2. Continue your examination by looking at the events prior to Jesus’ betrayal.
      1. Examine Matthew 26:31-35.
        1. Jesus said everyone would be offended in him that night.
        2. They would flee like a flock of sheep when the shepherd was killed.
        3. Yet, he would be raised and precede them to Galilee.
      2. Note the conversation:
        1. Peter: "They may be offended, but not me!"
        2. Jesus: "You will betray me three times before the cock crows."
        3. Peter: "If I have to die, I will not betray you!"
        4. All the disciples agreed with Peter–they would die rather than betray.
      3. Look at the account in Mark 14:27-31.
        1. Peter was "exceedingly vehement", or as the NIV translates, "insisted emphatically."
        2. Peter regarded Jesus’ prophecy as outrageous and disgusting.
      4. Luke 22:31-34 contains the statement the Satan wanted to sift Peter like wheat.
    3. Since Jesus said it would happen, why did Peter strongly deny the possibility?
      1. This is the weakness, the flaw I want you to see: Peter had enormous confidence in Peter.
      2. Peter’s confidence was not in Jesus, but in his own personal strength.
      3. Peter had great faith in himself.
        1. He trusted his commitment.
        2. He trusted his loyalty.
        3. He trusted his judgment.
        4. He trusted his strength.
        5. He was so confident in himself he could not imagine a situation too big for him to handle.
      4. He genuinely, devoutly believed in Jesus, but he believed in himself more.
  3. With all of Peter’s confidence in himself, it happened.
    1. It happened exactly as Jesus said it would.
      1. Judas came with soldiers and betrayed Jesus.
      2. Jesus was arrested as if he were a common criminal.
      3. Peter in his own way tried to stop it from happening, and Jesus stopped him.
      4. Everyone, including Peter, fled.
      5. The Jewish trial began.
      6. A timid, scared, bewildered Peter came to the trial quietly.
      7. Peter was recognized.
      8. Three times he denied even knowing Jesus, the last time with cursing and swearing.
    2. The third time the cock crowed.
      1. Jesus looked at him.
      2. Shattered, crushed, inwardly destroyed, Peter fled into the night.
      3. He wept bitterly–I doubt any man ever cried harder with more anguish, frustration, and despair.
      4. I wonder how Peter felt for 3 days before Jesus’ resurrection.
    3. I am confident of this truth: for every Christian who dares to grow and mature in Jesus Christ, there will come a moment when the cock will crow for us as well.
      1. Satan’s most powerful weapon against the spiritually strong is to attack their confidence in themselves.
      2. Just as Peter could not be told of the danger, the spiritual mature of today resist that knowledge.
      3. It is essential that every spiritually mature person have self-confidence.
      4. It is also essential that he/she not place his/her faith in his/her self-confidence.
      5. Ironically, the stronger and more mature a person becomes, the easier it is for us to feel like we are taking care of the Lord instead of him taking care of us.
      6. Inevitable we will be tested in ways we never dreamed we would be.
      7. As a result we often make mistakes we never thought we were capable of making.
      8. When the cock crowed for Peter, he wept, was broken, retreated in confusion, but ultimately let the Lord put him together again to be an even stronger servant.
      9. What will we do when the cock crows for us?
        1. Quit?
        2. Be a permanent critic or negative evaluator?
        3. Never exert ourselves again?
        4. Never serve again?
        5. Be hurt, frustrated, and jealous?
        6. Or, let the Lord put us together again, learn from our mistakes, and serve mightily?

A person cannot be told to trust in God instead of himself/herself. A person must learn to trust in God instead of himself/herself. The irony is this: we usually learn that truth when we think we are already trusting the Lord instead of ourselves. I am confident that if we had interviewed Peter just prior to the events of Gethsemane and after and asked if his faith was in the Lord, he would have replied indignantly, "Of course! Why do you think I follow him, serve him, and sacrifice for him?" Though Peter was sure his confidence was in Jesus, it was actually in Peter. It was only when the cock crew that Peter saw that truth.

There is a lot of Peter in all of us. What about you? Is your confidence in God or yourself?

God’s Fingerprints

Posted by on November 16, 2006 under Bulletin Articles

David and Joyce on 12 Nov 2006 There is no way Joyce and I could begin to thank you for the many, many kindnesses of last Sunday. The thoughts, written notes, and vocal expressions of love and appreciation touched us. We are delighted my mother was here to witness your love and kindness. Many times she said, “This is the best possible place you could be.” Thank you for the love that provided her so much joy and reassurance, and provided us so much gratitude.

When I think back a decade to the time we considered moving here, I recall critical blessings. I think of Duane and Marquetta Walker’s role in our coming. They opened the “possibility door.” I think of Jim and Deborah Wilson’s assurances. [These four were the only adults we knew in this area.] I think of the elders’ constant encouragements and their willingness to hire a 56 year-old man. I think of the Oxford visit made by the Matt Griffins and the Paul Shirleys. I think of all the potential for growth and development God placed here.

As I think of beginning our work together, I think of Helen Pratt’s assistance. I think of the countless ways Brad Pistole helped me. I think of Roy Dunavin’s encouragements. I think of the endless help of the secretaries. I think of your personal prayers and encouragements. I think of how quickly all of you made us feel “at home.”

Joyce and David on 12 Nov 2006 Several asked if we were leaving. I asked, “Do you know something I do not know?” Joyce and I hope to be a part of you for a long time. As the last year and a half has proven to me, none of us know what lies ahead. At this time, we have no plans to leave West-Ark. I told several they could nickname me “velcro.” I have no doubt that my role will change, but we hope to continue to be part of you.

We feel blessed and humbled to be a part of you. We thank God that we have been and are blessed by all who have been part of our lives the last ten years! No congregation will ever be perfect, but opportunities always will increase if we are devoted to God’s purposes in Jesus Christ. Because we are, may God always be praised and honored!

Ephesians 4:30 “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

1 Thessalonians 5:23 “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Spirit of Jesus

Posted by on November 12, 2006 under Sermons

Read Acts 15:36 – 16:10.

One of the best mission trips I went on was a failure. It was a spring break campaign to Piedras Negras, Mexico. I first went there months before the campaign to prepare for the project. It was on that trip that we met the leaders of the congregation in Mexico. Their minister was known as Hector Jr. and he had a large family, some of his children were soon heading to college. His father, Hector Sr., had an even larger family. Hector Sr. had a large lot of land and we were going to partner with them to build a new house of worship on that land. It was a sort of church planting. Hector Sr.’s place was in a collonia outside Piedras. The trip into Piedras Negras to their only house of worship was quite a journey for most of the church. This location would serve them better and give them an opportunity to share the gospel with others in the collonia.

So, we set out to build a church building. Our plan was for people of the Mexican congregation to dig the foundation and put up the cinder block walls during the six months from October to March. It was a simple building. The kind that can be built in a month’s time or less. The challenging part was the roof. The Americans were going to build the roof with our engineering expertise and access to resources. We brought our college engineers down to observe the site and make plans for the roof build. The goal for our week campaign in Piedras Negras was the completion of the roof and the opening of the doors to the new house of worship for the Iglesia de Cristo in Piedras Negras.

In the next six months we did our best to organize our team of college students. We prayed. We got together to study. We learned songs in Spanish. Our singing style in four part harmony was sort of a novelty in Mexico and we planned to do some singing in public and in worship. We recruited more and more students. We planned our food and the transportation. And of course our engineers finished their plans for the roof and told us how we could all participate in the build.

You could feel the buzz of excitement when we finally arrived at Old Hector’s land in the collonia for the campaign. And we looked all around for the cinder block building just waiting for our expertly designed roof. When we got off the bus we were greeted warmly by the church in Mexico and we finally came around to asking where the building was. “Are we still building on the same site?” “Yes,” they said, “and we will start digging the foundation tomorrow!”

All of our plans and schemes were frustrated. Our engineer was ready to throw his note book away. Instead of building a roof and cutting a ribbon on a new building, we were left to begin the sweaty, dirty, back breaking work of digging a foundation in the stony Mexican soil. We wouldn’t even get to build the walls on this trip. It wasn’t what we expected. The buzz of excitement changed into the grumbling of frustration. Tensions that had been simmering were soon brought to full boil. There was controversy and gossip among our well-honed mission team even though we had prayed and sung songs holding hands. All of the leaders seemed a bit confused. It wasn’t nice. It wasn’t pretty.

But I consider this “failed” mission trip as one of the best. I say this because I know the Spirit of Jesus was there. When the efforts of human leaders fall short, but powerful things still happen, then one becomes aware of the involvement of the Spirit of Jesus Despite the frustration of our project, conflict, and the shortcomings of myself and others, we were involved in mission that week. I had amazing and humbling experiences that week: I dug a trench alongside Old Hector, a man three times my age but four times as strong as me. We came thinking we would teach the church in Piedras Negras how to build but instead we were schooled. We learned the spirit of fellowship from the Christians in Mexico. In time the scales fell off our eyes and we came to learn that the church was indeed the people – it was us, Mexicans and Americans; not the brick structure with the expertly designed roof that we had been so desperate to build.

And we were taught to love each other despite our flaws. With tears and confession, the members of our mission team repented of the ways we had been unkind and offensive to one another. And some of us tasted the sweetness of reconciliation and unity. With humility we learned that the mission of God is not about privileged Americans helping the poor – there are plenty of international aid agencies that can do that. Instead, we learned that the mission of God is about showing up to witness what God is doing to help all of us.

That became so clear to me when Karen and I had the privilege of sharing in a wonderful communion of sorts. I had been digging in the foundation all week with a brother who was only a few years older than me and yet we was working and supporting a family. (He was the first Spanish-speaker to teach me the real language. I remember the first word he taught me, “Sigue”: which essentially means, “I’m done, it is your turn to work the pick ax awhile.” I said that a lot.) My brother invited Karen and I to his house on Sunday. His house was a one room structure no larger than our LFC student center. The ceiling wasn’t even as high. This man and woman lived there with their children and her mother. But they shared their home with us. And with a sincere joy they shared their food with us. It is one of the simplest meals I have ever eaten, and it was a grand feast.

Now I ask you – who were the missionaries on that trip? Who were the witnesses and who was witnessed to? Who was evangelizing and who was evangelized?

I say that this failed and frustrated mission project was the best because the Spirit of Jesus changed our course. Really, the Spirit of Jesus kept us on course and didn’t let our own project get in the way of what God was doing. We were kept from going our own way and accomplishing our own project and instead we got caught up in the work of God.

The text in Acts has helped me to understand what happened in Piedras Negras. And it is that interesting way that Luke speaks of the Spirit of Jesus that has been critical to my understanding of not only that one mission campaign, but many other events in ministry.

We want the Spirit of Jesus to bless and empower all of our projects and efforts. But reading this Scripture, we are taught that the Spirit of Jesus is able to do more than bless and empower our efforts, sometimes the Spirit of Jesus prevents or redirects our efforts. And that is good news! For mission efforts that are nothing more than human initiative are not the same thing as the mission of God. The Spirit of Jesus does not simply bless every project we dream up.

You see that so clearly in Luke’s writings. I don’t think it was part of Paul’s plan for him and Barnabas to have a sharp disagreement. I don’t think it was part of Paul’s plan to meet up with Timothy. It certainly wasn’t his plan to go to Macedonia. No, in fact we know that Paul had an alternative. He wanted to go to Asia or even Bithynia. Macedonia was toward the ends of the Earth and took him closer to Rome. But Paul and his team concluded that the Spirit of Jesus interfered with their plans and that God was calling them to Macedonia.

When you believe that the Spirit of Jesus encompasses all that we do, then we find it a little easier to surrender our plans to go into Asia or Bithynia. If we believe that the Spirit of Jesus rules over our life together, then we are not frustrated beyond hope when we are prevented from building a roof and we just might take joy in joining Christ as we dig in the earth of Mexico, or Macedonia.

It is in Macedonia, or Mexico, that we meet friends who invite us to “come up here.” And they are saying help us. Help us with what? Paul would have known that this help has to do with the Lord’s salvation. He would have recalled the way the word help is used in the old Scriptures. That help is the Lord’s saving power – not Paul’s, not ours. When Paul and Silas arrive in Macedonia they end up needing as much help and saving as anyone else. And they are helped: by Lydia, who provides hospitality and a place for the growing band of believers to meet. She welcomes them because God welcomes her into the kingdom. They are helped by a jailer who attends to their wounds and shows them mercy because he had been shown mercy by God. Who is helping who? And who is doing the saving? It wasn’t in their plan, but Paul and Silas were witness to what God is doing.

When you speak with our friends and partners in other countries, the missionaries, you get a keen awareness that they are simply witnessing what God is doing and living within the work of God in Laos, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Nigeria, France, Guyana. Why do we think it is any different here? When we follow the Spirit of Jesus, we needn’t lose hope when our plans fail. And with hope we conclude that God is still calling us to participate in mission.

Years after I dug a foundation in the Mexican dirt with the ache of my frustrated plans in my heart, one of my college students told me about a mission effort he had been called to. His talents with the Spanish language and construction were needed. He told me he was going to with a team to complete the construction of a building in Piedras Negras that some other group had started years ago. I was sure to point out to my student that if he went he needed to know that the Spirit of Jesus was in charge.

Joy Is Contagious!

Posted by on November 9, 2006 under Bulletin Articles

When Paul wrote those encouragements to the Christians at Thessalonica, the situation in that Christian community was not wonderful with a rosy physical outlook. Though Paul, as he often did, opened his letter with words of encouragement and appreciation, it is obvious in chapter 2 that some in the Christian community attacked Paul’s original motives for planting the church there. In chapter 3 Paul even explained why he sent Timothy back to them when his company had to leave hastily (Acts 17:1-10). In chapter 4 Paul warned them against sexual immorality and challenged them to continue growth in love. He also urged them not to grieve as godless people grieved. There actually were some Christians who thought death prevented a Christian from receiving God’s blessings in Christ. In chapter 5 there was serious confusion about the end of time, about proper attitudes toward leaders, and about treatment of Christians who made mistakes.

2 Thessalonians revealed the situation continued to be bad. There was suffering (1:5) with the encouragement to leave retribution in God’s hands. There was continuing confusion about Jesus’ return (2:1-5), Christians deliberately living ungodly lives (3:6-9), Christians refusing to provide for themselves (3:10-15), and gossips among them (the same reference).

To these Christians in these circumstances, Paul encouraged rejoicing. To me, that suggests two insights into Christian rejoicing. (1) Our rejoicing results from being in Christ, (2) not from wonderful physical things happening in our lives.

Three weeks ago a couple asked me why I was so happy. My first internal reaction was that I was not aware of being happy-I was just being me. After time to reflect, I wondered, “Why shouldn’t I be happy?” I have a wonderful wife who loves me. I have children who care about me. I have an extended family who is supportive. I have more caring friends than I deserve. I am part of a congregation that tirelessly encourages me. I have a spiritual leadership who provides me opportunity. I have an understanding God who forgives me. I have a Savior who strengthens me. I likely know as much about my future as anyone knows. Would I be happier if I did not have and enjoy that?

Would that every Christian (man; woman; teen) would say seriously, “My desire is for you to be a better person because you know me.” Husbands would be better husbands; wives would be better wives; children would be better children; friends would be better friends; neighbors would be better neighbors; communities would be better communities; Christians would be better Christians; congregations would be better congregations.

The results? God would be glorified. Christ would be served. We would grow.

Be happy in Christ! May people be encouraged because they know you!