At the end of 1 Thessalonians 3, we find Paul praying for the church in Thessalonica. He had prayed God would bring him to the church there, but God had not allowed it to happen. So Paul prayed three things for the church. First he prayed that the Thessalonians’ faith might mature (1Thess. 3:10). Looking to the Old Testament, God shows how faith matures by testing. Abraham was tested by God when he arrived in the land of Canaan and found a famine. Abraham had to trust God to take care of him, but he failed and went to Egypt for help. Each step of the way, God brought about moments where Abraham had to learn to trust him. Faith that is not tested cannot be trusted.
Second, Paul prayed that the Thessalonians’ love might abound (1 Thess. 3:12). As hard times come from the testing of faith, people have two reactions–shut others out or reach out to God and His people. Paul was praying the people in Thessalonica would not shut down and close themselves off to each other but would rather depend on God and reach out to their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. By doing this, their love for one another would grow and they would be able to help each other out. Jesus said in John 13:34-35 that the world would know that we are his disciples if we love one another.
Lastly, Paul prayed for holiness of life for the Thessalonians. Paul was encouraging the people to allow their lives to be transformed to look more like Christ as they were preparing for the return of Christ. We, too, should be preparing for His return.
As you look at your life three thought to ponder:
- How are you maturing in your faith?
- Where are some areas of your life you could show more love?
- What are you doing to be transformed to be more like Christ?
I feel like there are a plethora of oxymorons in our everyday language. I know that I use them frequently. One of my favorites is the phrase “clear as mud.” Paul is writing to the church at Philippi while he is sitting in jail in Rome. One would think that he would be depressed, sad, or even angry being in jail, but Paul is filled with joy thinking of his brothers and sisters in Christ who are in Philippi. Our lives as Christians are to be a constant oxymoron compared to the current culture that we live in. We are called by Christ to not seek our glory but to seek his glory. Paul totally contradicted the normal view of life in verse 21.
For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.Philippians 1:21
Paul’s words might sound like a contradiction to the culture around us, but in the church, they show us the manner of life worthy of the gospel of Christ. We tend to think of death as something to fear–as loss, not gain. He is reminding those of us who are in Christ that when we die, we are not losing this world but gaining our place in eternity with him. Also, while we are still alive in this world, we are to be seeking Christ’s glory and not our own. Paul was so focused on Christ that he struggled to choose between being present on earth working for Christ and being in Christ’s presence in eternity. What about you? Are your thoughts about your life and death consumed by fear or consumed by Christ?
Paul is battling for the soul of the church in Galatia. There was a group of people called Judaizers following behind Paul, who were coming into the community of believers and telling them that what Paul had preached to them was not complete. These people believed that followers of Jesus still had to be completely obedient to The Law of Moses. Paul is writing to them to correct this falsehood. He taught the church in Galatia that it was by faith and faith alone that they could be saved and not by the law. Paul begins by appealing to their personal experiences of seeing Christ Jesus crucified and how they had suffered because they believed in him.
Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”Galatians 3:11
Then Paul shifts his argument to the Word of God. Warren Wiersbe said, “Subjective [personal] experience must be balanced with objective evidence, because experiences can change, but truth never does.” God’s Word never changes. We should always check our experiences against God’s word. Paul’s arguments make us examine how we lead people to Christ. Do we present only faith as the way to salvation? Or do expect people to do more than just have faith?
I am the person who reads the Bible and looks at the way people do things and think, “How could they miss it?” Especially when reading the gospels. In this passage, we meet Barabbas, a murderer and rebel. He is the worst criminal in jail, and Pilate has given the Jewish people the choice of who he is going to release, Jesus or Barabbas. Now the logical choice to us here is Jesus, but in God’s plan, our logical choice is not always his choice. Jesus is standing here silent, knowing fully he had not done anything wrong and hears the crowd call for Barabbas to be be freed. At this moment, God had to treat Jesus like Barabbas so that God could treat Barabbas like Jesus. Jesus willingly stood in the place for a criminal who will more than likely reject him.
As we are at the midway point of Holy Week and are looking toward Resurrection Sunday, the question is who have we written off as not worthy of Jesus’s love because of what they have done? Have we written ourselves off? Jesus willingly went to the cross for you and for me. There is nothing any of us could do to disqualify us from being able to accept the gift of life. Jesus even went to the cross for the person we think will reject him. Who in your life needs to hear that Jesus loves them no matter what they have done? Seek these people out. Find the “unlovable” people, and share the love of Jesus with them.
In this section of Matthew 21, Jesus is setting the religious leaders up again to show their true hearts. The religious leaders are so caught up in trying to catch Jesus in a some hypocrisy, they do not even notice that what he is doing. Jesus tells a parable about two sons who are told to go and work in their father’s field. The sons respond differently, and Jesus asks the religious leaders who did the will of their father. The religious leaders answer correctly, but in doing so have shown themselves as not not following the Father’s will. Jesus points out that the people who the religious leaders have considered not worthy and outcast in society will “go into the kingdom of God before you.” This has happened not because of what the outcast did but because of their belief in Jesus. The question we have to ask ourselves is, are we acting like the religious leaders and missing the Kingdom of God? If so we need to repent and turn back to Jesus.
If you have ever tried your hand at making bread, you know that the yeast is the leaven that makes the dough rise . A small amount of yeast is all it takes. In Jewish culture, leaven was associated with evil, so when Jesus warned the disciples about the “leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” he was not referring to the bread they might have had but their religious lives. He was pointing out that these two groups had placed their own personal preferences and beliefs ahead of what God had called his people to be. They were so caught up in their own preferences and beliefs that they could not see that God himself was standing right in front of them. More then likely, for them it started small but quickly grew and over took all of their focus.
We tend to get set in our preferences and traditions as Christians. Sometimes we let them take priority over God himself. I know that I have been guilty of living like a Pharisee or Sadducee. For me, the problem is I do not recognize it in myself until someone points it out to me. If I do not check myself and repent, then that preference or tradition will grow in importance just like the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. So here is our wake up call: Check your heart and yourself to see if there are preferences or beliefs that you have elevated above God. If there are, then turn to God and repent. In all that we do, we should seek to elevate God above everything.
A little leaven leavens the whole lump.Galatians 5:9
We see the Pharisees after Jesus again. This time they are attacking him by using his followers’ actions to catch Jesus not following “The Law.” The accusation that was leveled was that the disciples were hungry, and as they were walking by a field, they picked some grain to eat on the Sabbath. This seems really crazy to me that the Pharisees were upset that some hungry guys picked some food to eat. Now, the Pharisees were known for their strict adherence to the law, so much so that today, we more than likely would label them as legalistic. Jesus calls them out in verses 6-7 saying they have missed the whole point by not recognizing who he was. Their legalistic approach to the law can reflect on us today if we hold too tightly to the traditions of the church and miss the mercy and love that Jesus extends to us. My challenge to you and me today is to examine your life and see if there are any traditions that we cling to? If so, we should let go of them so we can extend the love and mercy of Christ.
“Of How much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”Matthew 12:12 ESV
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek. and you will find; knock, and it will be open to you.Matthew 7:7
I have a two year old nephew I love a whole lot. Every time he wants to talk to me, I drop everything I am doing and give him all of my attention. If he asks me for something, then I do everything in my power to get if for him. I want him to have all that he needs and wants. The creator of the universe is similar in that he loves you and me so much that when we pray, he listens to us and wants to hear from us. Also, he wants to give us good gifts. How awesome a thought is that?
If you and I would seek God out, we would find him. He wants us to join him on this journey though life that he has laid out for us. If we are persistent in looking for him and asking for good things, he will honor those requests. Where are you looking for God? What are you asking him for? Are you persistent in asking?
When I was younger, my family, mom, stepdad, and three younger siblings, went on vacation to the beach. Now, we decided to drive from Kentucky to Florida. That was a long trip. It seemed to me that the trip was never going to end, but when we finally arrived and I saw the white sand of the Gulf Coast beaches, the excitement overwhelmed me. The Wise Men saw the star that arose in the sky when Jesus was born and started on their journey to worship him. The time from seeing the star to seeing Jesus must have stirred up great anticipation and excitement in them because they finally arrived and Matthew said,
“When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”Matthew 2:10
The joy and excitement that the Wise Men felt are rarely seen in our churches today as you look around at God’s people. I know I have to remind myself that it is a privilege to be able to come and worship the King of Kings. Our attitudes and actions as we gather each week for corporate worship should reflect this. We need to find that joy and excitement every time we come together because Christ is there waiting on us to worship him. What attitudes are you and I going to have to change so that we experience the same joy as the Wise Men when they came to worship Jesus?
to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.Ephesians 4:22-24
The most important decision anyone will ever make is if they are going to follow Jesus and become one of his disciples. After that comes the difficult task of allowing our old habits, or our old self, to die. I know when I first decided to follow Christ my old habits were hard to give up. It was so easy to fall back into my old routine. I had to allow the Holy Spirit to come and change my daily habits. I was no longer a citizen of this world but had gained citizenship in heaven. I had to stop looking and acting as the world around me did.
Over the past few months, I have looked around me and seen some of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ acting according to their old self. We have all had moments where we placed our hope in a politician, a vaccine, or a something else to give us hope and help us explain what is going on in our lives. All of us who are disciples of Christ need to stop, ask forgiveness, and repent of our misplaced trust. By doing so, we will allow the Holy Spirit to come in and renew our minds so that we can shine the light of hope of Jesus into a dark world that needs a savior.
Take some time today and ask God to show you where you have misplaced your trust or hope. How are you going to live as “the new self” and show that “the old self” has died?