October 29 – Building With the Right Partners

2 Thessalonians 3; Isaiah 29-30; Psalm 119:1-32

There are some people who seem to do nothing but stir up trouble. They seek to find a weakness in others and exploit it. They are contrarian just for the sake of being contrarian. If everybody in the church works together to accomplish something, they are the ones standing on the side criticizing. At the same time, they are often the ones seeking help from the church. Paul had a command about those people. “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6) Later Paul included a message that those who didn’t work shouldn’t eat. The church would find ways to feed their members who were poor, especially widows. Part of the disorderly nature of these types of people is that they began to drain the church not only spiritually by seeking to sap the strength of God’s work, but also materially by becoming dependent upon God’s people. God’s people tend to be sympathetic and forgiving. A disorderly brother can get by with his comments. He can get by while stirring up trouble. If anyone starts to rebuke him, he will find those willing to call out the one rebuking for being unforgiving and not understanding. Paul’s message, though is clear. If someone is disorderly; if someone is stirring up trouble in the church; if someone would seek to demand that others support them spiritually and physically, withdraw from them. Some people would do nothing but drag you down in life; get away from them. The flip side of this statement is that we should join with those who are working for God. We should join with those who are positively promoting God’s kingdom. We need to be building each other up. We need to be supporting each other. In short, we should “un-partner” with those who would sap our strength and we should join with those who would work together to build the kingdom.

Lord, as I read these words of Paul I realize how easy it is to become disorderly. I want to complain when things don’t go my way. I too easily engage in gossip. I too easily pick on the flaws of others. Give me the grace and strength to build those imperfect people up who would seek to follow You and then let them build this imperfect person up as I seek to be Your minister in this world.

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October 28 – God is Good!

2 Thessalonians 2; Isaiah 27-28; Psalm 118

We live in a demanding society and one of those demands is instant gratification. When we want something, we want it now and expect it to appear. If it’s something we have to buy and we don’t have the money, we put it on credit. We want it and we want it now! At the same time, we feel so entitled to getting whatever we want that we have seemingly lost our sense of gratitude. When we get what we want, instead of thanking those who have helped us we wonder why it took so long. Psalm 118, attributed to David reminds us that we should live in a state of gratitude; not in a state of immediate entitlement. We are to recognize God for who He is, first of all, and not just because He gives things to us. While God loves us immediately, He also loves us eternally. “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” (Psalm 118:29) These words call us from a demanding, entitled world to become a people of gratitude. We are not to be grateful for what He has given us; although we should express gratitude when He does take care of us. We are called to be thankful because of the quality of God’s character: He is good. That doesn’t seem like a whole lot to be thankful for unless you remember that when Jesus listed those who could be called “good” the list was very short: God alone is good. God’s goodness is such a higher “good” than that of any man or woman we might call “good.” One way that we recognize God’s goodness is that His mercy endures forever. We may show mercy for a short time, but when the person we extend mercy to messes up again, our anger returns. God’s mercy endures forever. That is just one attribute of His goodness. That alone should make us thankful. Make today a day of gratitude. How can we express our thanks to God – not just for the things He has given us but also and especially for His character: He is good!

Lord, so often my prayers are about things I want. Today, let me just thank You for being good. Thank You for loving me and drawing me to You. Thank You for Your mercy that does endure forever. I have hope and strength for every day living because You are good. Thank You!

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October 27 – Counted Worthy

2 Thessalonians 1; Isaiah 25-26; Psalm 117

There is perhaps no greater fear than the idea that we may not be worthy of the position we have received, even if we have worked hard to get there. How many CEO’s are secretly driven by the fear that they aren’t good enough. They may worry about the shareholders’ opinions or they may worry about what a parent would think. As followers of Christ, we have that same concern: are we worthy of our God who has called us to follow Him? In short, the answer is, “No.” That being said, Paul’s words to the church at Thessalonica give us hope. “Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12) While we are not worthy in our own efforts, the grace of God allows us to be counted worthy of His calling. As followers of Christ, we can achieve nothing of lasting value in our own strength. As we trust in Him, as we depend on Him in faith, we have the power to glorify the name of Jesus through our lives. What Paul prayed for the Thessalonians is a prayer for us today. May we be counted worthy of His call because of the grace of God and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lord, I’m not worthy. I know my weaknesses and my failures and I realize how unworthy I am. You know them better than I do, and yet, in Your grace You give me the strength to serve You. You take my feeble efforts and count them as worthy. Let the name of Jesus Christ be glorified in my life not because of my own strength, but because of Your grace.

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October 26 – Gaining Strength for Today

1 Thessalonians 5; Isaiah 23-24; Psalm 116

Does God really understand what we go through here on earth? Troubles hit us from every side. We endure sickness and pain. We face constant persecution for our faith. (Ok, maybe not us, but many Christians do.) We deal with financial issues that try our faith and patience. Obviously, each of us could add our lists of complaints to this simple start. We could sit around self-righteously and have an amazing pity party…at least so long as no one brought up these verses. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18) That puts a damper on our gripe fest, doesn’t it. As noted earlier, God must have no idea what life is like on earth to allow these words in His word. Paul must have no idea what it’s like to suffer if he wrote things like that. Then we realize that God Himself walked on earth and was abused and crucified. We realize that Paul underwent all kinds of attacks, suffering and deprivation. It was Jesus on the cross who sought to forgive those who put Him there. It was Paul who sang in the Philippian jail. The question then changes. We realize that God does understand what we go through here on earth. How then can we rejoice? How then can we pray constantly? How can we give thanks in the midst of all that happens? We do so because of our faith; our faith that God is in control even in the difficult situations of life. When going through difficult times we rejoice that God considered us worthy to suffer and that He believed that we have the strength to endure. We pray constantly because just as breathing is necessary for life, praying is necessary for our spiritual life and strength. We give thanks in the midst of all situations because we know that God is in control and if we stay faithful to Him, in the long run we will overcome and have victory. As we face the trials of today, let these words of Paul reverberate through your soul today. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Lord, I have it so much better than I want to think. It’s so easy to complain about the problems if I don’t keep my focus on You. Help me to focus on You and on Your way so that I might truly rejoice always today; pray constantly and give thanks in the midst of all things that happen. Give me Your grace to deal with today.

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October 25 – Holiness

1 Thessalonians 4; Isaiah 20-22; Psalm 115

We are often lackadaisical about sin. We know that God forgives us, so we let ourselves slide into sin. Nothing big, of course, but still we slide. Of course, once we start that slide, it’s easier to keep going downhill and our sins become s great it’s more difficult to turn back to God. That’s why Paul reminded us: “For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.” (1 Thessalonians 4:7) While Paul is dealing with sexual purity in this part of 1 Thessalonians, the truth applies to all sin. He reminds us of the teaching of Jesus who taught us that considering a sin was the beginning of our problems and thus was as bad as the sin itself. God called us in holiness. Holy means to be separate – to be set apart for God. If God called us in holiness, then that means that our lives should be separate. Too often we want to fit in with the world. We go along with the crowd whatever the situation may be. We baptize our actions because “our friends need a Christian witness.” And so, we go along with the crowd sharing a witness that there doesn’t need to be any change; there doesn’t need to be any difference. A Christian witness is remarkable for it’s holiness. Holiness is not an “I’m better than you,” attitude. It’s remarkable in that we can be with other people without engaging in their sin. When Jesus went to parties, He was the life of the party. He didn’t go along to get along. It’s a fine line, to be sure. There are times when we will have to separate ourselves from friends because their activities would be too much of a temptation. We are to remember, though, that God called us in the midst of our uncleanness so that we might become holy. The power of a changed life, especially when that life shows God to be the change maker, is the most powerful message of all. So live each moment as if you are separated from God and show the world what God has done in your life.

Lord, how easy it is to fall into old patterns of life. That which directed my life before I met You still calls and allures me away from You. Remind me daily that You have called me to holiness. Never let me take Your forgiveness for granted; always help me focus on living for You.

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October 24 – Upside Down

1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13; Isaiah 17-19; Psalm 114

Thessalonica was one of many cities where Paul caused an uproar. The local city leaders accused Paul and Silas of “turning the world upside down.” Paul and Silas left the city under the cover of darkness for their safety and the safety of the church. They prayed for the Thessalonians because of the trouble. They couldn’t go back immediately for fear of the physical violence that would destroy the people and the church. They sent Timothy back and got word that not only had the church not died out, it was thriving. As Paul wrote to them, they rejoiced at that news. “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?” (1 Thessalonians 2:19) The joy in knowing that people he had led to the Lord were not only continuing in the faith but thriving and growing as a church was exhilarating to Paul. We should feel that same exhilaration when we see those we have led to Christ, those we have worked with on their journey to follow Christ or those whom we have helped disciple after they have followed Jesus. In fact, our joy at the coming of Jesus, or our death – whichever comes first – will not be our material wealth, the positions we have held or anything else; our joy when we stand before Jesus will be to see those whom we have worked with throughout our time on earth glorifying God each and every day. Whose world can we turn upside down today? Who can we share the love of Jesus with? Let’s figure that out and do it with great joy!

Dear Lord, when I think of all of my efforts to serve You I realize that they really don’t add up to much. The service that really lasts is service that leads people to come to You. So, let my life reflect Your love and grace to others when I can’t share openly about You and help me to share Your love openly as I have opportunity. Let my witness and commitment turn the world upside down for many people.

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October 23 – Integrity

(still working a day behind…sorry)

1 Thessalonians 2:1-16; Isaiah 14-16; Psalm 113

Jesus taught a lot about integrity. He taught that amidst the background of those who would use God’s word and the worship of God as tools to get around upholding their word while maintaining the semblance of having integrity. As Paul taught the Thessalonians and reminded them in his letter, our integrity is far too important to compromise for personal gain as some did. He taught them “…that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” 1 Thessalonians 2:12) Their society valued turning phrases and cutting sharp business deals so that they could cheat others to make lots of money. Today, we see the same attitudes. There was a time in the life of our country when our word was our bond. At worst, a handshake meant a deal was consummated. Nowadays, even for what would seem to be the simplest transactions, we need a contract approved by lawyers from both sides of the table. Even when we have these contracts, there are other lawyers who make it their job to break the contracts if one of the sides can get a better deal. Paul’s words still ring true and indict Christians and our society today: we should walk worthy of God who called us into His kingdom and glory. Does this mean we shouldn’t sign contracts? No. It does mean, though, that anyone who does business with us in our litigation-laden society will say or think, “I know I don’t need this contract with you, but my lawyers demand I have it.” Paul taught the Thessalonians the same thing that Jesus taught: Let your yes be yes, and your no be no. Walk with personal integrity in a world of tricksters and schemers. Let the world watch us and be impressed that we always maintain our integrity; that our lives are always worthy of the God who called us into His kingdom and glory.

Lord, it’s so easy to cut corners and try to get ahead. We call it shrewd business, or great business practice. Remind me that who I am as a man of God is far more important than how much material wealth I gain. Let me life reflect Your kingdom and glory to others.

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October 22 – About My Church

(Yes, a day late. I’m a day behind right now)

1 Thessalonians 1; Isaiah 11-13; Psalm 112

So much of the New Testament consists of letters written by Paul to churches. What would Paul write about your church? If he were to write about you as a member of that church, how would he describe you? As Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica, he began by describing the church and the members. “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.” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7) While it’s a simple description of the church, those words say so much. They didn’t receive the gospel because of the promise of wealth, riches and a better life now; they received the gospel in the midst of affliction and still became followers of the Lord. They followed so closely that other believers saw them as examples of living for Christ. Paul had a way of complimenting a church, when possible, in a sincere way that highlighted their strengths. Did the Thessalonians have troubles, of course! Most of those letters that Paul wrote were to churches in trouble, or at least with theological difficulties. In the midst of their troubles though, they were an inspiration to others. Too often we look at our churches as either the greatest church of all time with no troubles at all, which is guaranteed to be false; or a church that has nothing but troubles and for which there is no hope, which is also false. Our churches are made up of sinful human beings. As has been quoted by many people, “I could never join a perfect church; as soon as I joined it, it would be imperfect.” No church is perfect, yet all churches have reasons for being placed where they are in the world. No church is so bad that God can’t use it, if the people repent. So perhaps the question isn’t “What would Paul write about my church?” but “What would I want Paul to write about my church?” That last question should compel us to act like the church we want to be.

Dear Lord, my church isn’t what it should be. The people who are members are sinners, especially me. The people who are members are weak in faith, especially me. For my church to be the church You want it to be, the change needs to begin in me. Take me just as I am and mold me to be the man You called me to be and the man my church needs to be for it to grow in grace.

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October 21 – God Wins!

Revelation 21-22; Isaiah 9-10; Psalm 111

In the beginning of time, God set before man two trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Time since then has been an exploration of the knowledge of good and evil. God speaks of the end coming in Revelation and in Isaiah’s reading today. In the end, no longer is the focus on the knowledge of good and evil; now the focus is on life. “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:1-2) In the end the focus will be on healing, on justice, on eternal life. The curse of sin will be gone and all people will serve the Lord joyfully. It’s hard to see the end, when we are caught in the middle times. We live in a world where evil is rampant and good seems like a short-lived, but refreshing change of pace. Oppression exists. That which is evil is called good and that which is good is called evil; even though deep in our hearts we know the real difference. God revealed His plan to John and to Isaiah. The end will come. The end will bring healing. There is hope. That hope sustains us in the most difficult times. We’ve seen the back of the book. We know who wins. We can approach the difficulties of this life with confidence knowing that whatever happens, if we are on God’s side we will win. To put it in football terms, it may be fourth and goal from our own one yard line with one second to go on the clock. We may be losing by six points. When we come up to the line of scrimmage, we come up with confidence because we know the outcome of the game. God wins. God wins. When today’s trials come upon you, remember that God wins. When life seems overwhelming, remember that God wins. When we take our last breath, remember that God wins. That hope will keep us going in the best of times and the worst of times. God wins.

Lord, remind me today that You win. When the traffic is annoying and that mom tailgates me in the school zone – You win. When I get cut off in the free way remind me that You win. When the troubles and stresses of the job seem ready to crush me, remind me that You win. Let me live victoriously today not from my own strength, but from the sure and certain knowledge that You win!

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October 20 – Overcoming False Piety

Revelation 20; Isaiah 7-8; Psalm 110

Judah was fighting for her life. The kings of Syria and Israel gathered together in war to take Judah out. King Ahaz was worried and God sought to strengthen him. He sent Isaiah out with a message. Israel would soon be no more. Syria would not be able to threaten. God Himself would prevail. God gave Ahaz an opportunity: “Moreover the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying, ‘Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above.’ But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!’ Then he said, ‘Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.’” (Isaiah 7:10-14) Ahaz had the opportunity to ask for any sign he wanted to be fulfilled. In a fit of false piety said he wouldn’t test the Lord. We often hear that we shouldn’t ask for signs from God, but when God directs us to ask for a sign, we need to be obedient. Isaiah broke through that false piety and gave him God’s message: you will have a sign and the sign is that the virgin will conceive and bear a child. God’s word is amazing in many different ways. We know this as a prophecy related to Jesus. Yet for Ahaz, it was a prediction that God would protect. God fulfilled this prophecy for Ahaz as the child was born in the right time frame so that he could see God’s work. God also fulfilled this prophecy in the birth of Jesus. There are some lessons for us. First is obedience. When God asks us to do something, we should do it immediately. Second, we need to understand that God has ways of fulfilling His word that we may not understand. If we are obedient to His call on our life, He will use us to fulfill His word. If we are disobedient, His word will still prevail – we’ll just miss the blessings of being part of that fulfillment.

Dear Lord, help me to be sensitive to how You speak to me. Let me be willing to listen. Help me to be obedient. You will deal with the problems and the fears of this world; You will provide for Your people. Let me be a part of Your work each and every day.

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