Thankful In All Things

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I Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV) – “Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Verse 16 tells us to “be joyful always”: not easy to do, but the joy of the Lord conquers the toughest of trials, if we allow ourselves to trust in him.

Verse 17 tells us to “pray continually”: we’re not talking about constant, deep, time consuming prayers that would eventually impede on your daily life tasks. I think what Paul is talking about is developing a heart and attitude of prayer, where you constantly speak with the Lord throughout the day. Anything from small desires to dire needs can be addressed when we have an attitude of prayer throughout the day. There doesn’t need to be a specified time.

Verse 18 says give thanks in all circumstances. My bible notes make it clear that evil does not come from God. As I said last night, we live in an imperfect world. Evil is everywhere. But, I believe we need to thank God even while we are in the midst of the storm; we should thank him for walking us through the trials. It’s hard to see God when we’re in the middle of a struggle, but know that he is there beside us; guiding our steps and helping us to persevere.

The content of these three verses doesn’t come naturally to us. In fact, we have to diligently practice them. Learning to be thankful in all things teaches us to love and respect the God who created everything.

The Epistle to the Laodiceans

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*This one’s a question…maybe even a topic of discussion…for my fellow bible nerds out there.*

I’ve read through the Apostle Paul’s Epistles(letters) many times. Seems like each time I do, something new grabs my attention. This afternoon, I finished off Colossians, and right at the end of the book, Paul says something that skipped past me dozens of times:

Colossians 4:16 (NIV) – “After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.”

Wait. What was that? There’s a missing letter?

“…and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.”

THERE’S A MISSING LETTER!

Man, for a moment I thought, “This would make a great story! No one knows what the Lord gave Paul to write about, to the church in Laodicea, so I could make up anything that I want! Who’s gonna know the difference?”

But, since the bible is the indisputable and inspired word of God, trying to add to it–even for entertainment purposes–might not go over well for me. So, I quickly nixed that particular idea. This knowledge did make me wonder however: what in the world did Paul write to that church, and how might its contents effect the world we live in today?

Can you imagine if there were actually 67 books of the bible? How might the addition of one more book truly shape the world? What did Paul say to them? How had they responded to his council? Or, how about this: was that one book so powerful that the enemy worked hard to get rid of it? On the flip side: was that one book deemed unimportant by the Lord, and therefore left out on purpose? Could the Epistle to the Laodiceans have saved them from destruction?

I did a little digging. It seems that some Greek scholars suggested there was no letter written specifically to Laodicea; that in fact the letter to the Ephesians was meant to be a general circular shared among many different churches within that area. Why would Paul then purposely instruct the Colossian church to swap specified letters. He could have simply said, “Get that letter I wrote to the Ephesians, and read it to your church.” That’s not what he said. He gave direct instructions to acquire and read that unique letter originally written to the Laodiceans.

I guess in the end, what really intrigues me about the lost letter is its mystery. It’s sort of like the mythical lost city of Atlantis. What treasures might Paul have stored up in that letter? Will it ever make a reappearance, like the dead sea scrolls, or the shroud of Jesus? Or…is it gone forever; lost for good like miracles performed by the Lord that were not recorded in the bible?

Ultimately, that’s what I love about the word of God. Every time I read with an open heart, he shows me something new and exciting. His word never disappoints.

 

Little Gifts

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My 10-year old son, Isaiah, is your average variety video-game junkie. I claim full responsibility, because I was hooked from the days of the Atari 2600. Ahhh, Donkey Kong…

…where was I? Oh yeah…

Isaiah doesn’t take to reading the bible on his own, so I have to make him pick it up and read alongside me. From time to time, I catch him actually digging the stories and chapters we read. Tonight was one of those little gifts. As we read through Luke 10, my little guy had questions pertaining to his own responsibilities as a believer.

“What happens if I try to tell someone, who doesn’t know me, about Jesus and the bible? They’re not gonna listen to me.”

“That’s not your responsibility, son,” I told him. ” It’s not up to you to fully convince people of the gospel, because that’s a work of the heart by the power of the Holy Spirit. Your job is to tell folks about the Lord, and to do your best to live the Christian life in front of people and when you’re alone.”

He thought about this for a moment.

“So, I don’t have to try to get everybody to believe? That just seems too hard.”

“No. Not everyone will listen to what you have to say. But don’t let that keep you from telling them anyway, because God can use you to get to whomever he wants. But just remember that it’s not your responsibility to save anyone. You can’t. That’s God’s responsibility. We’re called to follow him, and spread his gospel.”

I saw it click in his eyes. For one brief moment, he wasn’t thinking about YouTube, Rhett & Link, Creepers or MarioKart. He was thinking on things of the Lord, and he was planning to go to work in school tomorrow; kingdom work.

Tonight, I felt like an accomplished dad.


 

Proverbs 22:6 (ESV) – “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Step By Step

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“It only takes one step to start. That’s what he told me. Seemed simple enough. So…why can’t I find momentum?”

You’re not ready yet.

“I thought I was. A man can only take so much, before something gives.”

I know. I understand. It takes time, and a real commitment. Unfortunately, many people choose to go the other way.

“But, the prayer was the first step, right? I mean, I feel like I’m not so…alone…anymore.”

It was. You’re not. But, it can’t stop there. I have so much more in store for you. The plans I have for you, are to give you a hope and a future you can’t even begin to imagine. But, you have to willingly choose to go deeper.

“Pastor says that all the time. I never really understood what it meant. Go deeper, how? He told me one step would change my life.”

And it has. Now that you have a new life, you need to lay down the old one. Part of doing that is getting to know me. I don’t want you to simply know my name. I want you to get to know me intimately. That’s going deeper.

“How do I do that exactly? You’re not going to tell me I need to throw out all of my music, ditch all of my friends, relinquish my intelligence and start meditating all day, are you?”

HA! That’s funny. No, nothing like that. I want you to get close to my Word. Don’t fear it anymore. Learn from it. It’s me. In time, you’ll find me throughout its entirety. I’ve always been there. I’ll always be there. I AM.

“You are—”

I AM.

“What’s that mean?”

It means from the beginning to the end, I will always be. Since you’ve called, and I came, I will never leave you. I will fight for you, but I will not compete for your love. You have to willingly choose.

“What’s the choice I have to make? Why can’t you just come into my life and add good things to what I already have? Why does there have to be a choice?”

I know it seems hard at first. Maybe even unfair. But it has to be this way. Light and darkness can’t coexist. You have to choose between the life I offer and the life behind you.

“So…no middle ground? No compromise?”

No. But I promise you this: though the road may get rough, I’ll always walk it with you; one step at a time. Soon enough, you’ll find that the music you loved, some of the friends you cherished, even your former way of thinking will seem flawed compared to what I will show you.

“And what’s that? I’m already bad off. Giving up all the good stuff in my life is going to gain what?”

My peace.

“Peace.”

My peace; a peace you’ve never known but have always yearned for. You already feel a small portion of it.

“How do you know?”

We’re talking.

“-”

Yes. Let that sink in for a moment.

“Jesus—it feels weird to speak your name out loud.”

I know it does, at first. Don’t be ashamed.

“Jesus, I want to try to get to know you better. Will you help me?”

Absolutely. Now, we’re walking together.

 

* Jeremiah 29:11*

Raw Deal…Or Not

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The Apostle Paul made the fate of believers blatantly clear in 2 Timothy 3:12, when he said,

“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,”

Wow. Taken at face value, who would want to live that life? It seems like a raw deal, doesn’t it? Especially when you apply your own struggles to this verse.

But, there is hope. More to the point, there is faith. Paul also strengthens us through Romans 8:28, when he said,

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

So, maybe following Jesus Christ is not such a raw deal, if everything that happens to us leads toward a greater good, we’re unable to see through human eyes.

Many people refuse the Lord because they think following him means a life of servitude, boredom, restrictions and constant troubles. Actually, following the Lord leads to a life of freedom, excitement, protection and countless victories. Jesus does not persecute. Jesus saves!

*always*

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Everyday Struggles

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This morning, I walked into my supervisor’s office fully planning to plead my case for a merit review. In my opinion, I think I deserve a decent raise based on my consistent performance for the past few years. After 30 minutes of conversation, I left his office with the realization that he’s fighting to keep me busy, for the upcoming winter season. The idea of a bump up in pay never entered the conversation. For the first time in my professional life, I’m facing the possibility of temporary unemployment.

The struggles of everyday life are real for us all. I tell you this because I don’t want you to think that I live an extravagant lifestyle, far removed from the average Joe’s daily problems. I am the average Joe. There are times when I seriously have to decide between paying the utility bill and buying groceries, because my check isn’t enough to cover both. I worry. I deal with sleepless nights. I pray angrily. I’m just like you.

Despite my relentless trials, I still praise the Lord and thank him for his blessings. Every time a need surfaced, he was there. Whenever I was backed up against the wall, God never let me fall to my enemies. His blessings may not have been ridiculously abundant, but they were always exactly what I needed.

Isaiah 26:3 says, “You keep in perfect peace, him whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in you.”

Tonight, I received a rejection response from a literary agent. It’s one of many. Agents just don’t seem to be interested in my book.

Instead of sulking over the rejection and allowing fear to demoralize me, I’m choosing to thank God for the ease in which my book came about its self-publishing history. I’m thanking him for the blessings yet to come. I’m thanking him for giving me the strength to persevere through the everyday struggles.

*always*

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Joy In The Struggles

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Trials are a surety in life. “Whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,” is how the old saying goes. “No Pain, no gain” is another catchy one. Personally, I like the way James 1:2-5 addresses trials:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Ever notice how hard it is to stay the course, when everything around you is falling down? In the midst of real struggles, it may seem impossible to find joy in the testing of your faith. But that’s what we’re supposed to do. We’re challenged to look beyond our present circumstances and recognize God’s presence right in the middle of our struggles.

Perhaps you’re down to your last few dollars, but somehow your needs are still met. Maybe you’re marriage is rocky, but the thread hasn’t been broken yet. Maybe your dream seems a million miles away, but somehow, tiny doors of opportunity still open up effortlessly.

Tonight I want to challenge you to look at the big picture of your trial. Within that snapshot, find that subtle blessing that continues to provide amidst the constant struggle. That’s your joy. That’s God walking you through the struggle.