Tuesday, 30 September 2008

No evil for evil

See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. - 1 Thessalonians 5v15

In the early days of my Christian life I remember the kind of things that had priority in the churches I attended. ‘Men, get your hair cut,’ was one of those rules. One of my very first ministries was a bus route. My first experience with the ‘rules’ was when he had to quit the bus route because his hair was just over his ears and he would not cut it. ‘Women never wear trousers, for any reason.’ The epitome of this silliness was when I saw pictures of women wearing skirts over skip pants on a youth outing. ‘Christians don’t go to the cinema.’ But it is fine to go rent a film. This kind of stuff did and still does confuse me.

One thing I never saw talked about, preached, or enforced was ‘Don’t render evil for evil.’ I have never seen a Sunday School teacher dismissed because they responded to a provocation with anger and reciprocation. I have never seen ‘church discipline’ even started against one who return evil directed at them with evil of their own.

What is the normal response when someone attacks us? What happens when we sit down and railing accusations begin? What happens when we get called on the carpet? Even worse, what happens when the ‘charges’ are either false or based on a false perception? Even worse than that, what happens when the chewing out is based on lies and half truths?

How about something like – ‘You can’t talk to me like that!!!!’ Our immediate response is often to go from there and return the attack on to the attacker. Evil is rendered in response to evil, and we somehow feel justified because the other person started it.

One may ask, ‘What, am I supposed to just be a doormat?’ I don’t think so. We can lovingly respond, not to the person, but to the issues, and not with evil, but with love.

Too often being a ‘Fighting Fundamentalist’ has just resulted in being a fighting jerk who is no better than the one who started the fight.

No evil in response to evil. Instead pursue good for all.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Be patient with all

Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. - 1 Thessalonians 5v14

Patience has never been my strongpoint, especially when it comes to people. In this nice little concise list we have a couple of key lessons in how to deal with people. It would be much easier if we could just lump all into one group and deal with them there. Sometimes we get the idea that we can do that. Leaders can forget that people are individuals and not just a group.

Some people are unruly. We need to warn them where their actions are leading. Some who are fainthearted and hurting – comfort them. Some are spiritually weak and struggling. Prop them up, be there for them, and even carry them along if need be.

I want to focus on the end of the verse, for that is where my lesson is. As we do those things we need to remember the phrase, ‘be patient with all.’ Far too often we see someone messing up, weak, or fainthearted and we just want to say, snap out of it! Once we have it ‘figured out’ we think everyone else should figure it out as well.

God reminds us two little words – be patient. How patient? How about remembering how patient God has been with us for a starting point?

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Be at peace

And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. Be at peace among yourselves. - 1 Thessalonians 5v12-13

I am not much for tick list Christianity. I have had enough of man made rules and regulations that are supposed to measure spirituality. If I am not careful I can be so put off by these that I can reject any kind of list.

Here at the end of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians however he gives a list of principles that we are to apply. As we go through them notice that he is dealing with matters of the heart, not a list of externals. If I were to make a tick list I think this would be a good place to start.

First off we are told to recognise and esteem those spiritual leaders that God has put into our lives. God knows the importance of godly leadership and instruction. There can be no doubt that God has put these men in place. Our response is not to put them up on a pedestal, or elevate them to some unreal adulation or idolatry, but to know that God put them there and esteem them for that.

Right after that Paul returns to a common theme – ‘Be at peace among yourselves’ The body of Christ should be a safe place. When we come together it needs to be the one place in this messed up world where we can be at peace. That means that we love and understand each other. That means that we can, in a sense, ‘let our hair down.’ It means we don’t hide behind a ‘stained glass masquerade.’ It means that we can share our hurts and pains and frustrations and temptations and fears and struggles and anxieties without fear of feeling left our or condemned.

Be at peace among yourselves. It is a Sunday morning as I write this and we are preparing for church, may our service today exemplify this concept. May we have a time of edification, encouragement, praise, worship, and teaching. And may we have a time and place of true peace.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Don’t go to sleep

Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. - 1 Thessalonians 5v6

I am afraid that the western church, especially in the large, prosperous nations, is a lot like my grandson AJ. He is only a few months old. At this stage it doesn’t take much to give him comfort and security. I usually get to babysit him at least once a week. After we play and chat for a bit he usually cuddles in on my lap. He sits there for a bit, in his mind at least, safe and secure, warm and comfortable. In a short while though his comfort leads to a lethargic dozing, and then his dozing ends up in a settled sleep.

Christianity has become far too easy in some parts of the world. Churches own vast amounts of property. On that property they have built marvellous buildings with amazing facilities. For the most part their members never have to worry about anything. They own houses, cars, and land and pretty much have whatever they want. Much like AJ sitting on my lap they are lulled into a false sense of security. I would give my life for him, but even that doesn’t mean he is really secure. All the stuff that the church has makes them comfy, cozy, and complacent. They cuddle in, fall into a lethargic drowsiness, and if they are not careful they fall asleep.

I think at times that this is just where the great Deceiver wants the church. He knows he cannot destroy it, he has tried. Make them believe instead that Christianity comes with all the ease and comfort. Make them believe that they are entitled to all the stuff that the world has. Use the stuff to make them comfortable and complacent.

Until the last few decades true Christianity has never been comfortable. This new comfort zone has made us complacent. This complacency has made the church drowsy and off guard. We are happy enough just to crawl up in Grampy Materialism’s comfortable lap, snuggle into his substantial belly, and go to sleep.

‘Don’t go to sleep’ God says. Wake up, watch, be sober, and be diligent. Jesus is coming back. We don’t know when. If we are not willing to step out of our comfort zone, into the face of the unknown, where the storms are tough and the giants are tall, then we are not really prepared for His coming.

Don’t go to sleep. Be ready. Jesus us coming again.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Comfort one another

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. - 1 Thessalonians 4v16-18

Eschatology or the study of future events is surely NOT my strongpoint in theology. Some guys really seem to ‘get it.’ (Although I have noticed that they all seem to ‘get it’ differently :insert a grin here: ) All of the prophecies, weeks, dates, images, underlying meanings, and such just haven’t fully dropped for me. I simply don’t know all of this stuff.

I do know one thing however; I do know that Jesus is coming back for me and it could be any moment. In that I agree with Patrick, the 5th century missionary to Ireland who said, ‘we look for the soon advent of our Lord.’ It may be today, it may be tomorrow, it may be next week, it may be next month, next year, or, as for Patrick it might be another 1500 years. The truth is that He is coming back.

One day, maybe in my lifetime and maybe not, Jesus is coming back to sort it all out. This world, with its ways and systems is not going to win. At the end of the day the victory is already ours. Jesus said he was going to prepare a place for us. When He left the angel said He was coming back. Paul says here that He is coming back. It is a fact.

Someone had been trying to tell the believers at Thessalonica that they had missed it. Paul told them had not. When it happens we are not going to miss it.

What wonderful comfort for us. One day all of this will be over. Either I will die to forever be with the Lord, or He will come back to get me and I will forever still be with Him.

He is coming back – I am looking for His ‘soon advent.’

‘What a day that will be, when my Jesus I shall see. When I look upon His face, the One who saved me by His grace. When He takes me by the hand to lead me through the promised land. What a day, glorious day, that will be.’

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Mind your own business

that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, - 1 Thessalonians 4v11

There are many time when I prefer the English of the 17th century for its clarity and preciseness. There are also times when I prefer 20th century English for the same reason. This is one of the latter.

God is so good to not just give us a heavy theological treatise, though theology and doctrine are vital. He also graces us with sound, every day, and practical instruction. The teaching in today’s passage is just that. Aspire for the quiet life, mind you own business, and do your own work.

These are pretty simple commands. I wonder how many fight, squabbles, divisions, and church splits would be avoided if we simply followed them? It all hinges around these simple little words – mind your own business.

We are told in other places never to tolerate sin. That we have to deal with. When a brother or sister in Christ sins the loving thing is to point out their sin and lovingly correct them.

That’s not what we are talking about here. We are talking about just going about our daily lives. I have never seen the word ‘nosey parker’ in a list of attributes of the flesh, but we all know it is a part of us. We simply have to know what is going on and then impart our supposed wisdom and logic to sort it out. We need to learn to keep our noses on our own faces.

I know that I can get all bent out of shape by worrying more about what someone else is doing and how they are doing it. I can fine myself saying things like, ‘that’s not fair!’ and having a regular hissy fit because I am so focused on the affairs of others.

Live a quiet life.
Mind your own business.
Do your own work.

How simple it would be if we could apply those three little lessons.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

This is the will of God

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, - 1 Thessalonians 4v3-4


I don’t really have a whole lot to say about this, except that I think it is important that we not neglect the fact that God stresses the importance of dealing with sexual immorality. God specifies here that among the clear things that are God’s will, one of them is to abstain from all sexual immorality, for our bodies and to possessed in ‘sanctification and honour’ not in gratification.

The danger is greater than just the physical repercussions of immorality. It defrauds the brethren and God will deal with it. Apparently some in Thessalonica were saying that it was not really a big deal, because the body and the spirit are two different things so you can do whatever you want with your body. Amazing how people will find ways to justify sin, isn’t it?

Anyway, in case there is any doubt – God’s will is that we abstain from all sexual immorality – full stop.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Blameless in holiness

And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints. - 1 Thessalonians 3v12-13

‘Blameless in holiness’ is a beautiful phrase. Not only does it describe a holy life, but it is a holy life where no one can point the finger and cast blame. When we think of being blameless in holiness we might think of not having so and so sin, or being pure, and spotless. I am certain that is part of it.

But let us look at the context here. What is Paul talking about when he says, ‘that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness?’ Look in the same sentence. What comes just before that phrase? ‘May the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all…’

Doesn’t it look like we can’t be blameless in holiness if we are not first abounding in love to each other and to all? Can it really be that love is a precondition for practical blamelessness in holiness? Yes, we are holy in Christ at salvation, but we are talking about the outworking of the blamelessness that comes with true holiness.

Can we be blameless without love?

Monday, 22 September 2008

We live if you stand fast

therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith. For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord. - 1 Thessalonians 3v7-8

I continue to be amazed at Paul’s absolute dedication to others in his ministry. He was in the midst of severe trials and afflictions. He could have been in a great pity party, feeling sorry for himself, and looking for a way out.

And yet, his thoughts were on the believers in Thessalonica. In the midst of all his afflictions and distresses and troubles he found comfort in the fact that those in Thessalonica were remaining faithful. The next line phrase really nails it – ‘We live if you stand fast in the Lord.’

I really love that – Paul’s whole life was focused around the lives of those believers in Thessalonica. ‘If you stay faithful, I know that my whole life will have been worthwhile. All that I have been through will be worth it.’

This is one of those places where I need to pause and consider – what really gives me life? Is it my stuff and my conditions, or is it seeing people that God has allowed me to minister to growing and staying faithful?

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Not shaken by affliction

and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this. - 1 Thessalonians 3v2-3

Paul’s concern for the folks at Thessalonica was so great that he had to send Timothy to check on them. He was worried that the trials and afflictions would just be too much for them. He was afraid that things would be so tough, even though he had clearly warned them that it would not be easy, that they would just give up.

I am tempted to move on and tell how they did, but I want to focus on this part for the moment.

Paul was worried that the tempter would come along and use their trials and affliction to discourage them. He even said that he was worried that his work there had been in vain. That can’t be talking about their salvation, but their dedication to serve the Lord and be faithful. He was worried that the trials and difficulties of service would defeat them and they would just give up.

I don’t know where we get this concept that serving the Lord is going to be easy. Maybe I as an American got the idea because that is all I knew before I came here. I got saved, went to Bible college, was always in a good church, had a Christian school for my kids, was surrounded by Christian friends, had plenty of fellowship, and so many other benefits. The thing was, I could do all of that and still have all the amazing stuff that comes from living in the most prosperous country in the history of the world. We never had much, we always struggled to pay bills, but we still had spiritual and physical comforts and prosperity.

I can understand why Paul was so concerned for the believers in Thessalonica. After Paul left the afflictions got worse and worse. It wasn’t easy to be a Christian in Thessalonica. Satan knew that and he would try his best to bring that to the forefront of the people’s minds so they would give it up.

Sometimes I feel that way. Sometimes I get so tired of the service God has called me to that Satan can slip in and remind me of all that I could have. Paul was just like the rest of us. He knew about the trials, and theirs were so much worse than most of us would ever encounter today. No wonder he was so worried for them.

Shaken by afflictions. I was talking to someone in our little church this week. She had read something about being able to just move on no matter what comes along. I was reminded of Daniel who, when the law was passed outlawing his worship, just did what he was accustomed to doing.

I long for the day when I can say that I am not shaken by afflictions.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Our glory and our joy


For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.
- 1 Thessalonians 2v19-20

Thessalonica, in northern Macedonia, was far from Paul’s hometown of Damascus. The church there was one of the churches established in his missionary journeys. And yet there is a wonderful relationship between Paul and this church. He desired to see them again, but according to verse 18 Satan hindered them over and over. He couldn’t get back to them.

We see his love in the words used to describe them. They are his hope, his joy, and his crown of rejoicing. Seeing them at the return of Christ would be his glory and joy. This is one of those places where I think every missionary can identify with Paul. In spite of the challenges, difficulties, and in Paul’s case persecution, his greatest joy was these dear saints that God had allowed him to work with. Unless Paul had gone to Thessalonica no church would have been there. Paul would see these folks at the rapture, and that joy exceeded everything else.

I don’t know how big the church in Thessalonica. Thousands? Hundreds? Dozens? Or maybe a handful? It doesn’t make any difference really. Paul could rejoice and glory in the fact that he had a part in seeing this body of believers established in the faith and as a local body.

That kind of supersedes everything else. Praise the Lord for these little reminders.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Which effectively works

For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe. - 1 Thessalonians 2v13

Man’s persuasive speech can be brilliant. We have all heard and known men and women who could move nations with their words. Emotionally charged sound bites can shake the masses to action. I think of Gov. Palin’s speech at the Republican Convention this year, which, if nothing else, brought excitement to a dull and boring campaign.

Yet there is something that is fully energised or effectualised only in God’s people. Man’s words can move anyone to an extent. The believers in Thessalonica did not receive Paul’s preaching that way. They received it as the word of God and as such, it effectively worked in the believer. I am not a big believer in ‘’reverse translation’ but I do think the English transliteration of the Greek word energeo (energy) can help us get a picture of how God’s works in those who believe.

God’s word, not man’s, is our energy source. It is that and that alone that will empower is to do the work. All the humanistic begging, pleading, cajoling, quilt tripping, and bullying is ineffective in the long run for God’s people. It may work for a while, and it may produce false impressions of salvation, spirituality, and servant hood, but if it is not God’s word working that will soon fade into a dim memory.

What motivates us today? Are we moved and energised by the words of men? Or is it the word of God what works in us?

As a father does

as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, - 1 Thessalonians 2v11

I love this little section where Paul uses familial language to describe how they had taught the Thessalonian believers. You can almost see the ‘family of God’ imagery he uses. Paul loved the believers as gently as a nursing mother loves her baby. They faithfully used the word of God to instruct them. They gave the gospel and poured out their lives. They were devout and just and blameless. They set the right example,

In verse 11 we see that they not only were as gentle as a nursing mother, but they also acted in a fatherly role. The exhorted, comforted, and charged he believers like fathers do their children. These three aspects to the fatherly role of leadership set an example for leaders today.

They exhorted the believers. They were always there to encourage the church to continue on. They picked them up when they were down. Their teaching was such that people we motivated to carry on.

They comforted the believers. In times of discouragement they were there to give comfort. In times of personal pain they were there to ease the pain. They knew what trials were like and were therefore able to help other in their trials.

The charged the believers. They motivated them through the truth. They reminded them that there was a job to do, a task to be accomplished, and a godly life to live.

This is a fascinating section for any church leader or teacher. Are we as gentle as that sweet nursing mother? Do we, in a loving, fatherly way exhort, comfort, and charge others?

We often talk about pastors equipping the saints with the right tools, but it is there is also a personal and loving aspect to our ministry.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Gentle as a nursing mother

Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. - 1 Thessalonians 2v6-7

I doubt that there are many things as precious and gentle as a mother nursing her child. It is the epitome of love, nurturing, compassion, sweetness, kindles, love, and concern.

However, it is hardly a picture that most Christian men I know would like to take on themselves. We have the idea that a Christian man must be a real tough guy, a brute, a sort of Christian Rambo, a Hulk Hogan of the church. Too many men use their tough guy tactics to bully their point across and get things done the way they want them done.

If any one had the right to do that, it would have been Paul. He had apostolic authority that no man has today and he could have said, ‘Hey, I am Apostle Paul and you folks need to listen to me. I am God’s man and I want you to respect my office. I am in charge here and you all need to honour and obey me, and I would really like an Apostle Paul Appreciation Sunday to acknowledge just how important I am.’

But did Paul do that? No. He compared himself instead to a quiet, unassuming, loving, gentle, protecting, meek, sweet, humble, nourishing, nursing mother. ‘We were gentle, just like a mother nursing a baby.’

I have a pastor friend in a nearby town. He is one of the sweetest, gentlest Christian men I have ever met. Many men would say that he is soft and effeminate. Some would say much worse about him because he is so gentle and loving. But this man loves God. He left kith and kin to come to Ireland almost 15 years ago. He is in a struggling church. His family back in the States has faced illness and death, and yet he plugs away. I think this is the kind of image that Paul is portraying here.

The gentleness of a nursing mother. Maybe that is not such a bad description for the man of God after all.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Examples

And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. - 1 Thessalonians 1v6-8


What makes a church great and successful? I am tempted to go off on another pet peeve today, but I will avoid that temptation. In reality the greatness of a church has nothing at all to do with the size of the congregation, the building where they meet, or their programmes, projects, or prestige.

I don’t know the heart of any congregation, but I do know that we tend to judge a church’s greatness by temporal things. Our eyes are caught up in the things we can see, and of course we are drawn to that. We don’t often see a church in affliction as a successful church. Instead we feel sorry for them.

Paul saw the church at Thessalonica as a success. They were successful because although they had received the word of God with ‘much affliction,’ they had also done it with the ‘joy of the Holy Spirit.’ Their faith was spoken of everywhere. Everyone knew of this church that joyfully endured affliction.

No one said things like, “Wow! Have you seen the new building at the church in Thessalonica? Did you see their new Family Centre? Did you know you can get a Starbucks latte at their cafĂ©? And their preacher, he is a famous speaker and author. That place is amazing!’

When word spread out about Thessalonica people said. ‘Have you how they endure affliction? Do you see how they stay full of joy in the middle of their struggles? That’s the kind of faith I want.’

Faith is easy when things are going well. Joy is simple when we have it all.

The question is, how does that joy and faith do when things get tough?’

Monday, 15 September 2008

Three Thessalonian traits




remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, - 1 Thessalonians 1v3


One of the nice things about the way God gave us His word in the New Testament is that He uses letters to local churches to do so much of it. As He does so it is easy to see how our local churches, and how we as part of them, measure up.

Paul commends the church at Thessalonica for three things in this part of his introduction. He talks about faith, love, and hope, but he makes an application for each of them.

The church there was praised for their:

Work of faith
Labour of love
Patience of hope

The work they did not was not to impress anyone. The work they did was not results based. The work they did not based on monetary reward or human recognition. In other words, their work was not based not on sight, but on faith.

Their labour for the Lord likewise was not from outside pressure. They did not serve the Lord so that they could build up a reputation for themselves. The love of Christ is what constrained them to labour for Him.

They had patience based not on what they could see, but on the calm assurance that God would do His work and on the eternal hope that awaited them.

To put in simply, as they served the Lord they had learned not to set their affection on things below, but they looked above. The were more concerned about the things they could not see than the things they could see,

My question for the day? What motivates my life and my service for Him?

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Take heed



And say to Archippus, "Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it." – Colossians 4v17



Back in the late eighties and early nineties Mary and I taught in a Christian school. It was a school that always faced serious economic troubles. There came a point when finances got so bad that they could not pay Mary and they cut my cheque. Things were pretty bad.

At the same time a large, financially well off church in the area offered me the position of Education Pastor, with a very good income. Oh the battles I fought. I loved the school, and I loved the students, but this seemed like the answer to all our woes.

One day in devotions I came across Colossians 4v17. I knew then what I had to do. God gave us that ministry and we had to fulfil what God gave us to do. A couple of years later the school had to close and sometimes I thought, ‘What if I had taken that position?’

Because I did not take it, God had me in the right place at the right time for Him to direct us to Ireland. There have been plenty of times in this ministry when I have wanted to pack it up and move on. One day, during an especially tough time we drove out of our estate and I had decided to just leave this town. Mary reminded me that day of the ministry we still had, despite all the problems. God brought this verse back to mind. ‘Take heed to the ministry you have received from the Lord, and fulfil it.’

There are certain verses that have an extra measure of preciousness to them because God has specifically used them in my life.

It doesn’t have to be the pastorate or other ‘occupational’ ministry. Whatever ministry God has given you, be it your church, your school, your workplace, your sports team, or whatever – take heed to it. Pay attention to it, and fulfil what God has called you to do.

Seasoned speech



Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. – Colossians 4v6



The term ‘salty speech’ today has come to haven taken on a reference to vulgarity. That was not the intention of the translators. The Greek word is the word for salt, but the idea for the Greeks, and even for the translators, was that of prudence, or discretion.

I am amazed how often that we Christians use this concept when dealing with others. Too often when posed with a verbal challenge we respond with anger. We rant and rave and rail and revile and respond in anything but a gracious and prudent manner. Our wrong way of answering often results in the door being closed and relationships damaged.

The right amount of salt in our food improves its flavour. Too little and it is dull and bland. Too much and it is inedible. As we strive to season our food with just the right amount of salt, so we must season our grace filled speech with just the right amount of discretion. In a reversal of the salt usage, too little discretion makes our speech offensive and irreceivable. Too much discretion makes it weak and insipid.

How do we answer the critics and the sceptics? Only graceful, properly seasoned speech is effective to give the answer.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Those who are without

Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. – Colossians 4v5



I don’t think it is any coincidence that this passage is in the same context as ‘praying that God would open a door.’ Immediately after that, Paul tells us how to deal with those who are outside the body of Christ. He says, ‘walk in wisdom toward them, and redeem the time.’

I think there is a generic sense where we can take this verse and apply it. I think it is a good general statement. It is a good principle for daily living; walk in wisdom, redeem the time.

I think, considering the context, I be wrong to point out a contextual application.

The pervious verse tells is to pray that God would open a door to share the gospel. I contend that it is at least possible that the next verse tells us what to do while we pray. It is easy enough to just take the easy way out and say, ‘Well, I am praying for an open door, and when it opens I will step in..’ That doesn’t appear to be God’s way though. It seems that God is saying, “pray that God would open the door, but while you pray be wise in dealing with the lost, and use the time you have.’

Our life is not all about doing. It is not all about praying. It is about praying and while we pray use the time God has given us wisely, especially in dealing with people.

While I pray, may I for one, be wise in dealing with my lost friends and use the time God has given me.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

An open door



meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, - Colossians 4v3



‘Open doors’ is an interesting topic. We are, or should be, always looking for open doors to share the gospel. Sometimes our answer to a closed door is just to kick it in, smashing the door frame like some ‘God cop’ to boldly confront someone with the gospel. I knew a ‘soul winner’ who had safety shoes to wear when he went door-to-door ‘soul winning.” Why? So that as soon as someone opened the door he could stick his foot in so that the open door could not be shut.

From this text I am not so sure that opening doors is our job, but His. ‘Pray for us,’ Paul wrote, ‘That God would open a door for the word for us.”

Let me share a very recent example. I have two friends (well I hope I have more than two, but you get the point). For the purpose of this anecdote let me call them Andrew and Steve. Andrew is lost, and a long time friend. Steve is a Christian who has joined with me in being burdened for Andrew’s salvation. Steve has been praying for about three years for an open door to witness to Andrew and because of circumstance time was running short for that door to open. Yesterday, out of the clear blue sky, Andrew, who works in a religious school, asked Steve to come and share his testimony with a religion class. The great thing was that while Steve shared the gospel Andrew was sitting in the room! God opened the right door at the right time for Steve to share the gospel!

I know for a fact that there were times when Steve wanted to kick the door down. I have been the same with Andrew, but God, in his time, has opened the door for me as well. Instead though, Steve waited for God to open the door, and He did so in a marvellous way. Just think - if Steve had kicked in the door in his time, none of the teens in that room would have heard the gospel.

Praise God for open doors! And while you are at it, pray for Andrew. God will know who you are taking about.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Do it heartily

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, - Colossians 3v23


We have already read that whatever we do we need to be able to do it the name of the Lord. All of our actions must be those things that we can do for Him. Even our leisure and fun activities must be those things that we can do and not be ashamed at His coming.

That being the case whatever we do we need to do with all of our hearts. There is no room for lackadaisical Christianity. There is also no room for a Christianity that seeks to please other. Our lives are to be lived for Him. That doesn’t mean that we can ignore others. We are not to offend them. We are not to use our liberty in Christ to serve our flesh. Our liberty in Christ must be used to put each other first. It does mean that as I go through this life and as I live it ‘heartily’ my primary focus is to live it for the Lord and not for others.

As I go through this day, and every day, may I do whatever I do heartily, and may I do it for Him.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Discouraged children

Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. – Colossians 3v21


I looked at the principle of provocation of our children back in July. What a tragedy when our parenting provokes our children, and no wonder God warns us against it.

In this passage though, we read part of the reason, and this will break the heart of any parent. “Fathers, don’t provoke your children so that they don’t get discouraged.” If you have ever seen a discouraged child you know how heartbreaking it is. Discouraged, disheartened, disappointed, and spiritless. These words should never really describe a child, should they?

What comes next? From my experience, it is one of two things. Sometimes a child just gives up and withdraws. They quietly comply just to keep the peace. Their spirit is gone. They know that any disagreement is going to bring our wrath, so just play the game.

On the other hand, some children can react in the opposite way. Since they can’t do it any way, why bother? ‘Hey, since I can’t do anything right anyway, I am just going to do whatever I want!’

Neither of these is a good solution. When either of them happens, as a result of our provocation, we have failed.

Parenting is tough. There is no easy solution. Every child is different. Praise God for all of the parenting instructions in His word. Praise God for parents who have already done it who can give us advice if we are willing to listen.

I think this an area where it all comes home though. Every father knows when we have provoked our children. We see the look in their eyes. We see it in their faces. We see it in their body language.

Instruction? Of course. Discipline? Yes. Correction? Sometimes. Provocation? God forbid!

Monday, 8 September 2008

Four ‘simple’ rules for harmony at home



Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them. Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
– Colossians 3v18-21


For a pastor I don’t have a large library. My books are numbered in the hundreds instead of the thousands or tens of thousands. As I looked today though I found out that ever I have 37 books on the family. I am sure that there are several hundred Christian books on the family available. Family seminars are very popular.

These are, depending in the source, basically good things. The word of God makes it clear that those who have experience in spiritual matters should teach and help those who don’t. There is plenty of wisdom to be gathered from the experience of others. Books I have read and seminars I have attended were helpful in our child rearing years.

Saying that, if we could just get a few simple concepts down, and everyone in the family would do their part, our problems would be solved.

Wives submit
Husbands love
Children obey
Dads don’t provoke

I realise that the passage goes on to talk about teaching, but I want to hold that for a while.

This little list really nails, because I think any one of us, no matter what our family role, can immediately see where we fail. We husbands and dads, maybe because we are so stubborn and sure of us selves, get two requirements. Just in case we say, “Yeah, I love my wife” (Like Christ loved the church?), we are told – ‘Don’t provoke your children so they don’t get discouraged.

All those books and resources are great tools, but maybe we should at least give a look at the basic instructions.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Whatever you do



And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. – Colossians 3v17



There are a few verses that just seem to encapsulate the whole message in just a few words. Praise God for the many specifics He gives on Christian living. He loves us so much that He doesn’t just tell us to live for Him, but He tells us how to live.

Then there are times when He just says it, and if we could just grasp that it would make our lives so much simpler. The word of God doesn’t cover every thing. There are times when we don’t have a clear instruction on what to do. Some men have chosen to answer that by giving us a list of rules and a tick list of do’s and don’ts. If we are not careful we can learn to depend more on that list, than on really doing what is right with the right heart.

God’s standard deals with the heart right away. “Whatever you do or say, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, and give thanks to God.” What a simple test, if we could really apply it. Something will happen, probably soon, when we won’t know what to do. Is it right or is it wrong? Obviously, if it is flat out unbiblical it is sin and the answer is no. But what if there no answer? Then we apply the principles of God’s word, pray, seek the help of the Holy Spirit, and determine whether or not we can do it in Jesus’ name.

I think if we are honest, if we are saved and relying on Him we know at that stage whether or not we can do it in Jesus’ name. We know if we can give thanks for that activity.

If we can’t – well, we have our answer, don’t we?

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Teaching and admonishing each other

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. – Colossians 3v16


I must say that as I read this today, journalled it, and now begin to type it for this platform I have been growing more convinced that there is something we are missing when it comes to music in our churches. There is so much backed into this one verse that I am having hard time deciding where to start.

‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.’ Here is one of those many times when I regret not having studied Greek. I will have to trust the translators here who consistently have made a connexion between this and the rest of the verse. In some way the word of Christ dwells in is richly, in all wisdom as we teach and admonish each other. We do that in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. We are to sing with grace in our hearts, and we are to sing to the Lord.

I haven’t got my head around this yet, but I am convinced that most of us do not put the importance in singing in our services that we should. The purpose of our singing should be to teach and admonish each other. Our singing should always be done with grace in our hearts, and it should always be to the Lord.

Most of the time I have just seen the song service as an addition or as something stuck on because it is expected. Sometime songs are even done for their performance or entertainment value. Singing has not always been done for the purpose of teaching and admonishment. I know that my singing has not always been done with grace in my heart. I would love to be an idealist, but I am certain that some of the ‘specials’ I have heard through the years are done more to the congregation than to the Lord.

Its time for me to consider my philosophy of music in church, to see if it is truly in line with the word of God, or what is expected by men.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Let the peace of God rule


And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.
– Colossians 3v15


We just finished the Olympics a couple of weeks ago. I also enjoy watching them. I like watching the underdogs compete and I like cheering for the ‘good guys’ and pulling against the ‘bad guys.’ For the first time since the Cold War I had ‘bad guys’ to pull against this year! I didn’t want the Chinese to win anything!

A vital part of the Olympics are the officials. Whether we like what they do or not, these folks run the games. They determine who wins and loses. They enforce the rules. They give the prizes to the winners. They have been doing this since the ancient games when the brabeus presided over the games, preserved order, and gave out the prizes. There are several sports that use the term “umpire” for the on field officials, and for convenience sake that is the term I am going to use today.

It is this word that we find in Colossians 2v15. There is something in our lives that should but too often doesn’t umpire our lives. Far too often all kind of things run our lives, we let our flesh and our passions rule, we let circumstances rules, we let peer pressure rule, and sometimes we let the enemies rule. God says, ‘let the peace of God umpire your lives.’ We let corrupt and rotten umpires have control. When we do that, the result is always going to be a disaster. What happens when corrupt judges make the decision? The wrong guy wins. (I would mention a gold medal match between a Irish boxer and a Chinese boxer, but I am above that).

So what happens when we don’t let the peace of God rule? The wrong side gets the victory. Even worse, the dead guy wins!

A couple of helps to mention along the way here: the peace of God rules when there is unity and the peace of God keeps us when we are thankful.

Who is going to umpire our lives?

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Put on the new man

and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. – Colossians 3v10-14


So, what do we replace the old man with? If we ever get to the point when we can kinda, sorta, maybe put him aside, with all of his works – what do we do next? What do we replace it with?

Now e put on the new man. This new man has had his knowledge renewed in the image of Christ. We could stop here and look at all the theological implications, but I just want to see how this new man manifests himself. I just noticed, I think for the first time, that all of these manifestations regard others. Sometimes it helps me to see things in a list rather that in a body of text.

The body of believes, which are all one, holy, and beloved are challenged to put on:

Tender mercies
Kindness
Humility
Meekness
Longsuffering
Bearing with each other
Forgiving each other with Christ’s forgiveness

Look how every aspect of the new man in this part of the list deals with others. Notice as well which aspect of the new man comes first.

The first way that we manifest the new man is in relation to others. Others always go first. We don’t think about us. The old man was all about gratifying himself, the new man is all about treating others right.

After all, isn’t each part of that list perfected in Christ? And isn’t He the perfect model for the new man?

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Stop lying to each other

Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, - Colossians 3v9

 

I hate lying. I hate it other people lie to me and I ALWAYS and especially hate it when I tell a lie. I think God is helping me and I am growing in that area, and it makes me ill when I do tell a lie, but it still happens.

 

Why do we do that? And why does Paul include in this list of awful stuff? And why does he use lying specifically in relation to the old man being dead? And does this mean all lies, including little white lies? 

Well, I don’t think the Lord could make it a whole lot clearer – ‘Don’t lie to each other,’ is pretty blunt. Lies are the weapons of the old man, who is dead. That dead guy has no power over us, but we still love him so much at times. We really, really miss him and try to honour him by doing what he wants. 

So what do we do it make things easy for ourselves? We just lie. We lie to save face, we lie because we worry about how someone might respond, and we lie just because it is convenient. When faced with a difficulty we ignore God’s choice to ‘speak the truth in love’ and we just lie instead. 

I wish I could sell a book on how to stop it. I wish I could run a seminar series on ‘dealing with lying.’ I wish I could sell a few CDs or DVDs on the topic, but God just says ‘stop it.’ 

When we lie we are elevating the old man’s desires above God’s desires. Lying is not something to be taken lightly, whether it is a great big ugly black lie or a little tiny white lie. 

Its time we stop it. 

Monday, 1 September 2008

Covetousness = idolatry



Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. – Colossians 3v5



I don’t think any of us would have any problem condemning idol worship. We look at all the religions around the world and see how many of them worship idols and statues. We often even say that those who use images, statues, and icons as prayer reminders are guilty of idolatry without really knowing their hearts. It is a sin that we rightly condemn and rightly so. It is a sin that we should be so careful of that we don’t give even the impression that we are worshipping idols because then we are putting physical things before God.

There is however, an idolatry that doesn’t usually merit our same attention because it is an idolatry that most of us have to deal with. It is interesting that virtually every time Paul gives a list of sins to avoid he includes covetousness. We often joke about covetousness being a desire for what some one else has, and therefore it is not coveting to want something that does not belong to some one else. ‘I don’t want their car, but I want one just like it!’

Though we say that in jest, I wonder how often it expresses our true desires. In reality, covetousness is an inordinate desire for ‘stuff.’ I may not want someone else’s possessions, but I want it because they have it. I want stuff that other people have. It’s not fair that they have something I don’t have. Why do they get to have this or that and not me?

If you ever watch young children play you will see an interesting phenomenon. If one child has a toy another will reach and scream for it until they get it. Often once they get it they will lay it aside. They don’t really want it, they just don’t want someone else to have something they don’t.

So it goes with covetousness. We see something and we want it. The desire to have it becomes so overwhelming that nothing gets in our way. We are going to get it and not even God Himself is going to stop us.

Now we see why God puts covetousness in this list. The desire to have these things overrules the desire to please God. These things get the attention that only God deserves.

Slay it. Kill it. Put it away. Trust God instead of stuff.

Kill ‘em off

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry…But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. – Colossians 3v5-8


I think as the Lord directs, I may camp on this passage for a couple of days. Today I want to look at the overall picture of putting to death our members.

Sometime along the way in my life I saw the film “Night of the Living Dead.” (The 50's version) I don’t know if I was still lost, backslidden, or just being fleshly. I don’t recommend it by any means. It was the epitome of a “B” movie waste of celluloid and certainly not edifying for believers.

However, I think I can take a picture from it to illustrate a truth. Please forgive me if I miss any specifics, and I doubt anyone would correct me anyway J . The story was that on a certain night the dead would come out of their graves to attack the living. Putrid, rotting, stinking corpses, with flesh falling off, would climb out of their graves and I think, try to eat the living. The living were constantly trying to fight off these zombies - these living dead.

As believers we learned that the old ‘us’ is dead, gone, and vanquished. Yet, we still have to battle the stinking old rotten flesh. It is kind of like those zombies trying to destroy our new lives. Fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desires, covetousness (which is nothing more than idolatry), anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language, and so on are crawling around, zombie-like, trying to get to us.

Too often we don’t even have the sense to cut them off. At least the people in the film knew enough to fight. We, however, far too regularly, welcome these stinking rotten members with rotted filthy flesh falling off with open arms. “Come back to me Uncleanness, I miss you!” “I can’t live without you Covetousness, it is so good to see you again!” “Here, let me make you a cuppa tea Passion, and we can sit and have a chat!”

You say, “Roger that is absurd!” Well maybe so, but I suspect that most of us know exactly what I am talking about.

What’s God’s answer? “Kill them all! Cut them off! Throw them off!”

I remember one scene where one of the living people had a rotten arm crawling up his back and onto his shoulder. He didn’t take it, caress it, and pamper it! He threw it off and ran.

Why is it that we don’t treat our ‘living dead” members the same way?