Wednesday, August 31, 2016

God's Promises are Abundant! Ephesians 1:1-14

I'm three days into all of my children being in public school. This is the first time in 16 years that I have had no one home with me and despite the fact that part of me is excited, another part is scared and struggling with this new chapter. It's totally different from what I'm used to as we spent around 6 years homeschooling and now I'm barely involved in their schooling at all. I spent 16 years answering question after question all the live long day and now no one is here interrupting my thoughts as I write except me. And strange as it may be, I miss it.

A friend of mine posted some things that she learned- or maybe was just reminded of- today in Ephesians 1 and that led me there too, in search of some encouragement for my morning.

Ephesians is yet another letter written to a church by Paul. This letter is written to the people of Ephesus. Paul opens his letter like this:

"I, Paul, am under God’s plan as an apostle, a special agent of Christ Jesus, writing to you faithful believers in Ephesus. I greet you with the grace and peace poured into our lives by God our Father and our Master, Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 1:1-2)

And then he jumps into his letter with both feet, sharing that which he feels God calling him to share. I'm reading and using The Message today, which breaks this section up into paragraph chunks. In order to create ease in listing out what is there, I'm going to share a paragraph at a time followed by what I see. Here's the first one:

"How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son." (1:3-6)

There is so much promise to be had in these verses! Look at this:

1. God is blessed by us and, in turn, we are blessed abundantly by Him
2. God himself escorts us to the highest of blessings in Him
3. God chose us from the beginning; we are wanted!
4. We are the focus of God's abundant, extravagant love
5. God makes us whole and holy through his love for us; we are no longer broken but whole because of Him!
6. We are adopted into the family of God; we are not alone, we are not unvalued, we are not without family.
7. God welcomes us into celebration because of Jesus!

"Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth." (1:7-10)

And even more promises and gifts from God:

8. We are abundantly FREE because of Jesus, because of his sacrifice for US!
9. God provides everything we need
10. Each and every one of us plays a unique part in God's great plan. He WANTS us to be a part of His plan. He chose us specifically for the part we play.

"It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone." (1:11-12)

And as if that weren't enough, there's more promise in these verses!

11. Our identity is IN CHRIST! We don't need to wonder who we are because God tells us!
12. God promises to show us what our purpose is in life, why we are living where we are.
13. And again, God chose each and every one of us even before we knew Him.
14. God has purpose, unique overall purpose for each one of us and for everything around us.

"It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life." (1:13-14)

And finally these for today:

15. Because of our salvation through Christ, we are free- signed, sealed, delivered from sin by the Holy Spirit.
16. Our lives on Earth are not the end, they are only the very beginning of his plan for us.
17. We are here to praise God
18. God promises us a glorious life.

With all of those promises laid out before my eyes, I can't help but feel that God joy deep within me and breathe fresh hope into my lungs this morning. And I'm not even a morning person! ;) I am so deeply thankful for the promises of God, for God's love, for his unending grace in my life. And I am even more thankful that there is NOTHING that I have to do earn any of it from him except to accept it into my life. And the same is true for every single person on the planet. What an amazing gift He has given to His creation!

Go and be blessed today! Don't forget to also be a blessing to someone else. :)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Interrupted- Luke 1:26-38 NLT

I find it interesting that our country was literally built on interruptions and yet, we all hate them. Think about that for a minute. Our ancestor's religious freedom was jeopardized. They packed up in the midst of the interruption to their everyday life and came here. Worse still, imagine the giant interruption that the Europeans were to the Native Americans who were already here. And still, through all of the interruptions, our country was born and thrives today.

And I get it. I hate interruptions too. The baby poops in the middle of your class at the gym so you have to stop and change him even though the class goes on without you. You have fun plans to go to the zoo or the park in the morning but you just had your ten year old puke all night meaning no one can leave. You're actually going to be on time for once in your blessed life but there is an accident on the highway making you late. Again. You can't wait to drink your coffee this morning only to realize you're out of creamer or coffee or both.

I've dealt with all of it too. Trust me. We all have interruptions. I think my biggest interruption, no matter how many times I went through it or how much I wanted it to happen, was always pregnancy. I did it five times myself and once with our biological mom to our adopted daughter. Initially it's exciting. You get to see the two lines showing a positive test. You get to tell everyone about it and everyone is always excited because NEW LIFE.

But then you're exhausted all the time. By 7pm you are dead on the couch while your other cherubs are jumping all over daddy and letting out loud exclamations of starvation after not eating their dinner. And then someone says chicken nuggets or banana and you almost vomit all over them. Not to mention the headaches from caffeine withdrawal because now coffee smells like diarrhea every morning and you just can't even. If that's not bad enough, you are peeing every 6 minutes, you are thirsty all the time, you are simultaneously hungry and nauseated, you are short-tempered from exhaustion, and you can't even get into a comfortable position to sleep. Pregnancy is a serious interruption to life.

And this is a lovely time to transition into our Bible story for today. I'm sure you can guess by now which one it is. It's Mary, of course. Teenager. Jewish virgin. Follower of God. Future wife to Joseph. Perfect life laid out before her, right?. And then this:

"'Don’t be afraid, Mary,' the angel told her, 'for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.'" (Luke 1:30-31)

Okay seriously? We have to pause here for a minute because I have been a single pregnant teenager and while it wasn't immaculate conception in my case, it was still scary and lonely none the less. This girl is still a baby herself and now she is going to have one? Can you imagine what that was like? She can see all of her future crashing down around her. Surely Joseph won't want to marry the pregnant girl. Her parents will disown her, they'll be so ashamed. She'll be lucky to survive the nine months since she could very easily have been stoned to death at this time. And she's supposed to see this as finding favor with God? I'd struggle with seeing God's big plan here, I have to be honest. I would have cried and had to breath into a paper bag as I concerned the scary uncertainty of my new future. But not Mary:

"Mary responded, 'I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.' And then the angel left her." (Luke 1:38)

If this were a story about me it would say, "Kristi's eyes bugged out of her head as she peered over the top of her glasses and whispered in a scary tone, 'I know you aren't serious. You have a camera hiding somewhere, right? This is my future husband pranking me right? Because this isn't in the plan. This isn't where I saw my life going. Maybe you should choose little Suzy down the street. She'd be better for this one." And then the entire story would have to be changed and it would be much less inspiring to us later.

Because here's the thing. Mary, in all her young innocence, knew something even then that I forget too often at 35. None of what happens in life is a surprise to God. He knows it's coming. He makes it a part of his bigger plan. And this too: Jesus is there quietly waiting right in the middle of the interruptions of our life if we only stop long enough, forget ourselves long enough, to notice him.

I know in my head that this is true and sometimes I can even hear my heart whispering it. So why is it so very difficult for me to step off my path and acknowledge the interruptions? I almost never handle them well either even when I do acknowledge them.

Last night we were taking a walk in our neighborhood. I initially thought that it would just be Shaun and me. But Andrew wanted to come. Interruption. I think I actually took that one well. But it's different because he's my son and I love him. We had the opportunity to talk to our oldest child who will likely leave us soon since he is getting old. We heard about his teachers and his new van driver. We heard about his classes and his feelings about the new year so far.

But there was another interruption to that conversation. An interruption to our interruption. We walked past another family walking their dog on our same street. They stopped to introduce themselves as they knew we were new(ish) to the area. And I think maybe I dealt with that one well too because we learned their names, how long they've been here, how many kids they have, and where they go to church. Oddly, the same one we go to. Who knew? We got to know one of our neighbors right there in the street.

And then another interruption. Cars wanting to use the very road in which we were standing. We moved apart, allowed them to pass. But that made us an interruption too. An interruption to that person driving that car trying to get wherever they were going.

All of those interruptions last night led me to this point, to this story. How do we deal with the interruptions? How well are we embracing them? Can we see Jesus in the midst of them? What can I do differently to handle them better? Because they rarely go over as well as they did last night. At least, not for me they don't.

And I think the difference between yesterday and other days is margin. Time. I wasn't so overscheduled in my life that day that I didn't have time. I wasn't so uptight about getting the next thing done on my list that an interruption was unwelcome. When an interruption comes today, because let's face it, they are always all around us, how will I respond? Will I say no to Jesus interrupting me? Or will I say yes and embrace it with a good attitude?

I pray that I choose the good attitude and the yes, but I know that I won't always make that choice. And I pray for anyone else reading this today too. A thought as we go:

When interruptions to your plans come your way, will you be Mary and tell God that you want what he wants in your life?

Be blessed today and don't forget to be a blessing!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Unnamed But Still Dearly Loved- 2 Kings 4:1-7

"One day the widow of a member of the group of prophets came to Elisha and cried out, 'My husband who served you is dead, and you know how he feared the Lord. But now a creditor has come, threatening to take my two sons as slaves.'

2 'What can I do to help you?' Elisha asked. 'Tell me, what do you have in the house?'

'Nothing at all, except a flask of olive oil,' she replied.

3 And Elisha said, 'Borrow as many empty jars as you can from your friends and neighbors. 4 Then go into your house with your sons and shut the door behind you. Pour olive oil from your flask into the jars, setting each one aside when it is filled.'

5 So she did as she was told. Her sons kept bringing jars to her, and she filled one after another. 6 Soon every container was full to the brim!

'Bring me another jar,' she said to one of her sons.

'There aren’t any more!' he told her. And then the olive oil stopped flowing.

7 When she told the man of God what had happened, he said to her, 'Now sell the olive oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on what is left over.'"

As this story begins, we see Elisha talking to a prophet's widow and her two sons. They are out of money. They are desperate. They have no means to care for themselves. They need help. The boys are about to be taken into slavery as a payment for their debt, which was a very common practice of the time. This will, however, leave the widow all on her own. It could end in her own slavery, in her entering into prostitution, or even in her death if this thing goes all the way.

I'm sure at the time, despite being surrounded on all sides by God's prophets, she felt all alone and totally helpless. Where was God? Why didn't he help her? And so she bravely tepped out and asked for help. What choice did she have at that point? It was ask for help or face the impending consequences with no hope. She chose hope.

According to, a widow was a woman whose husband died and she remained unmarried. The Hebrew "almana" actually goes further to define it as a woman whose husband had died and who was left without any economic or social support. It goes on to say that "the loss of husband in ancient Israel was normally a social and economic tragedy." This same site also indicated that this poor woman left behind isn't typically the legal owner of the land she and her children are on in this story, but is likely caring for it for her boys to take over in the future. Can you imagine what life was like for this woman? For any woman unlucky enough to lose their husband before them?

This woman is in desperate need of a miracle from God. She needs him to step in and we know that he will. In his own time. God's time is not the same as ours. He is infinite. Time is meaningless to him. We are finite. We want that help now. But this story proves that God is there. He is coming. It might not look the way we think it should look or play out in the way we want it to, but God will swoop in.

Look at verse 4a again:

"Then go into your house with your sons and shut the door behind you."

This is interesting to me. This woman needs a miracle. She needs God to step in and rescue her. She stepped out in faith and hope that Elisha would help her and what does God tell her to do through Elisha? He wants her to "go inside and shut the door behind" her. He doesn't want it to be a big show. This miracle is just for her. It's not about everyone else. It's only about her.

I love that this woman, this unnamed woman, stepped out in faith the way that she did. She knew she needed help. She knew she needed prayer and intervention on her behalf. She also knew that she didn't have a clue what to do for herself anymore. And so she told a trustworthy believer who prayed with her for her miracle. And then when she knew what God wanted her to do, she didn't sit back and wait for things to happen. She didn't argue or claim that it was impossible. No! She stepped out in that faith and did what God told her to do, one step at a time.

Was the task easy? No. She had to go to every neighbor begging for jars. She had to pour and pour until her hands were numb. But she did the hard work required of her and participated in her own miracle. Because she believed and trusted then put her faith into action (just as James calls us to in the New Testament, though she wouldn't have known that then as he wrote it WAY after she was gone), she saw her God-sized miracle come into fruition!

This story made me think about my own life and my own circumstances as the Bible often does. How often have I asked God to make something happen- like he's just my genie waiting to do my bidding- and then was unwilling to do the hard work that came with it?

It also made me realize once again that God knows me. He loves me. He cares what happens in my life. He is always there, always willing to listen and to help me out. This woman from our story today doesn't even get a name but God knew it. No one knew she needed anything at all but God did. By society's standards at the time, this woman was a nobody and not worth the time or the effort. But she was worth it to him.

And so am I. So are you. You are worth it in God's eyes. No matter what you've done, what you believe, what your past holds, what is coming in your future, where you're residing in your present, what you look like, what you act like- you matter to God. We are all loved, period. It's my prayer that we can all remember this as we go through our day today.

Go and be blessed today. And don't forget to be a blessing!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Insignificant- 2 Kings 5:1-27

There are many days when I feel insignificant and unimportant. I look at what I do everyday and I wonder if anyone would even notice if I weren't here to do it. I mean, anyone can make dinner. Anyone can remind kids to do their chores. Anyone can drop a kid off at work or at baseball practice. If I'm honest, I often feel replaceable. And it's in the midst of feeling like this that I often find stories that lift me back up.

There's a story in 2 Kings 5:1-27. You can read it here as it's a bit long to post in this blog:

There are a few cool points to this story that I never noticed before. I've read it a bunch of times but somehow I missed these things before. I've been reading this book by Shauna Niequist called Present Over Perfect. In that book she reminded me that we run everything through our own filters. The filters I often use are negativity, fear, and insignificance. The one she uses in her story is shame. And I have done that over and over again throughout my life. But in reading this particular story, I asked Jesus to show it to me through His filter. And I think it was because of that that I saw this insignificant slave girl that made a huge difference.

This story starts out telling us about Naaman who is the leader of the army of Aram and who has just raided Israel, taking more slaves. In the first verse, we are told that God has used Naaman repeatedly to bring victory to Aram over Israel. This guy is valuable to his master. If you read the Old Testament, then you know that the people of Israel end up in slavery a lot. They sin, God punishes them by allowing other countries to invade them. Many die while others end up slaves. Over and over again, it happens. And the reason that we are reading about it happening over and over again is because we are meant to see God's endless, extravagant love for His people. He never gives up on them. He pursues them over and over again.

But this time, there is an insignificant detail pointed out in verse 2: "It so happened that Aram, on one of its raiding expeditions against Israel, captured a young girl who became a maid to Naaman’s wife."

There a couple of things that you need to know here to move forward and I'm going to operate under the assumption that you didn't read the verses I told you to read earlier (just in case you really didn't) so that you understand why this is so important even though it doesn't look like it is.

Remember, Naaman is the commander of the army of Aram. God has used him repeatedly to bring victory to Aram and so his master values him. The problem? He has leprosy. Leprosy was a terrible skin disease and it was so bad that people who suffered from it were typically shunned. It's pretty amazing, therefore, that his master kept him on. It shows just how important Naaman's success was to him.

So, going back to that seemingly insignificant detail. "It so happened..." This is another way of saying, "Wow! What a coincidence!" But I think by now we can all agree that there are no coincidences in the Bible. God doesn't DO coincidence. He does things on purpose.

Look at this from this girl's perspective though. I don't know who she was in her previous life in Israel, but she went from free and having a future to look forward to straight into slavery. Her future is no longer hers. She will not be living the life that her family chooses. She'll be living the life that her master chooses. She could get a great master or a mean one. She could live a decent life or a bad one. And here she is. God allowed her to be taken into slavery. And why?

We get to see that here. Look at what she says as an almost offhand remark to Naaman's wife: "One day she said to her mistress, 'Oh, if only my master could meet the prophet of Samaria, he would be healed of his skin disease.'" (5:3)

Remember that Naaman has a terrible skin disease. There is no cure for what he has at that time. Most people just go into seclusion. They die alone, untouched. He is desperate for a cure. He is willing to do anything. And so he goes straight to the King who sends him off to meet Elisha, who this girl says can heal him.

And who is she? She is just this girl from Israel. A nothing. A no one. She is, by all accounts, insignificant. But she had complete faith in who God said he was. She believed that God could and would do exactly what he said through Elisha and so she risked a lot by speaking up. She told Naaman's wife what she knew. And it was her telling that changed the entire course of Naaman's life. This insignificant girl who doesn't even get a name in the story shows total bravery and trust in the Lord by speaking up.

I just think it's amazing that this particular story is 27 verses long. This girl- this unnamed, insignificant slave girl- got 2 verses. At first glance, her part in the story looks so small but it's actually huge! She was a slave amongst her enemies and rather than sulking or keeping God to herself, she shared him with them! The world would say that she had every right to hate this guy and his family. He is the reason she is in slavery right now. It's because of his leadership that she is in Aram rather than in Israel with her family. But she chose to be bold. She chose to share God with Naaman and his family. She chose to follow God's will in her life. And it's because of her and what she did that Naaman's entire household turned around and started to worship God! God used this one small, ill-equipped slave girl to draw a man of great worldly importance to himself.

So how do we apply this to my earlier statement? I often feel like I am doing insignificant work. I feel like God could use anyone to do this job and I'm right. He could. But the fact is, he picked ME for this job. He picked me to raise these kids, to drive everyone everywhere, to be married to this man, to clean this house, to write these blog posts, to break up these fights between my children because he saw value in me. He saw something in me that was just right for this job. I don't know what it is yet, but like that slave girl, I'm going to keep doing what I feel God leading me to do. I'm going to let him use me. And who knows? Maybe I'm playing a bigger part in my story than I even realize. But it doesn't really matter. I'm playing the part that God gave me and giving it my all. That's what matters here.

Be blessed today and don't forget to be a blessing!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Let Them Eat Cake- 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18

My oldest son has this t-shirt that I really enjoy. It says, "I'm not lazy, I just really enjoy doing nothing." It's a funny shirt and it's a little true. I really DO enjoy doing nothing. If I could lay in bed watching movies all day while eating a large chocolate cake, that would be a perfect day. Seriously. There's just one problem (aside from the stomach ache I'd get from all that cake, not to mention the sugar rush AND crash). And it's this:

" And now, dear brothers and sisters, we give you this command in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stay away from all believers who live idle lives and don’t follow the tradition they received from us." (2 Thessalonians 3:6)

Drat. Paul is telling me here that he doesn't approve of this plan of mine. Sitting around eating cake all day while watching movies is not a good use of time. It's the epitome of living an idle life.

And if we rewind a couple hundred years (okay, several hundred), we'd see that the Thessalonians were dealing with some of the same issues we face today. I am not the only person who enjoys doing nothing. And there were apparently plenty of people who felt the same way and then acted on that desire in the days of the Thessalonians.

Let's keep reading:

"For you know that you ought to imitate us. We were not idle when we were with you. We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so we would not be a burden to any of you. We certainly had the right to ask you to feed us, but we wanted to give you an example to follow. Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: 'Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.'" (2 Thessalonians 3:7-10)

I so enjoy doing nothing that I sometimes wonder if this is the example that I am actually setting for my children. Are they learning to work hard even when they don't feel like it? And trust me, I don't feel like it a lot but I still do what needs doing. Or are they learning to sit around too much, to play too often rather than working, and to rush through the jobs they have so they can get back to their precious nothingness? That's not what I want them to learn and I pray that it's not what I'm teaching. Because the fact of the matter is that, like the Thessalonians, most children learn by example. If I am being the example of the person that I want them to be, then I am doing the best that I can.

And then there is this in the scriptures:

"Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people’s business. We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living. As for the rest of you, dear brothers and sisters, never get tired of doing good.

Take note of those who refuse to obey what we say in this letter. Stay away from them so they will be ashamed. Don’t think of them as enemies, but warn them as you would a brother or sister." (2 Thessalonians 3:11-15)

So before we start blaming ourselves for any lazy children that we have, it's important to remember that they are not fully grown into who they will be yet. I may have kids who enjoy doing nothing a lot right now and that is okay. They aren't fully themselves yet. They are still learning. And even if they do grow to be lazy (which I doubt), Paul says in verse 11 that despite the example that they set for them, some of the Thessalonians still made poor choices.

We are not responsible for our children's choices. Please read that again. No matter what we do, how we raise them, how we teach them, how we guide, how good or bad an example we are, our children have their own brains and their own free wills. They get to decide who they are going to be as adults. We can't decide that for them no matter how much we might want to. Some of our children will get pregnant too young, do drugs, drink when they're still underage, steal from others, lie to others, and make any number of other bad choices.

Furthermore, we will-sadly-all know people who wander away from God despite their upbringing. We'll know people who settled into a bad job and struggle through their entire lives. We'll know people who marry someone we don't approve of. We'll have friends who choose abortion, who choose an abusive spouse over their children again and again, and more. It's the world that we live in. We live in a sin-filled world.

But read verse 13 again.

"As for the rest of you, dear brothers and sisters, never get tired of doing good." (2 Thessalonians 3:13)

In the middle of the mess, Paul offers these words of hope. Never get tired of doing good. Never get tired of doing what God is calling you to do. Because when we do good, when we do the right thing, we are being lights in the darkness. We are representing God well right where we are. And that is what God is asking us to do. Over and over again throughout the New Testament we are called to strive to be like Jesus. That means doing what we know is right even when no one else does. In this example, it's about overcoming laziness even when others don't. But it's so much more than that too.

That means parking far away at the Sneak a Peak at school even though there is a lovely spot open amidst the other illegally parked cars. It means sharing chicken treats with the neighbor's free ranging chickens and ducks who are always visiting because they like chicken treats too. It means making dinner for your family each night even when your husband is going to be late from work again. It means sitting down with your kids and working through that homework anyway even though you don't want to and you remember hating that particular lesson the first time you went through it (do we really have to learn Algebra four additional times in this house?? I had that in school, I don't want it again).

Paul offers this advice in his letter to deal with the lazy Thessalonians:

"If anyone refuses to obey our clear command written in this letter, don’t let him get by with it. Point out such a person and refuse to subsidize his freeloading. Maybe then he’ll think twice. But don’t treat him as an enemy. Sit him down and talk about the problem as someone who cares." (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15MSG)

Basically this says to me that we shouldn't just watch people doing the wrong thing. We shouldn't sit around and talk about how they are always doing the wrong thing. We should get actively involved and actually tell them. And there is a right way to go about it.

But I have to add to this that I don't think you should be telling people that you don't know that they are stupid. The Thessalonians knew each other. They were a church together. Words of warning and concern mean a lot more coming from someone you know and trust. Having a stranger point out your flaws helps no one. That means that if your kids or your spouse are struggling, it's time to come alongside them and ask them how you can help them through. Maybe it means it's time to take them to God in prayer and hand them over to Him because he loves them so much more than you ever could.

Before you approach someone about something that is going wrong in their life, pray. Always pray about what God would have you do. Always pray about the things that you will allow to escape your lips. Because this isn't about judgment and shaming and "how could you." It's about loving the other person too much to let them continue down this path. If that isn't your purpose in approaching them, then don't do it until it is. Paul said to "talk about the problem as someone who cares." And that's also what I think Paul is saying here:

"May the Master of Peace himself give you the gift of getting along with each other at all times, in all ways. May the Master be truly among you!" (2 Thessalonians 3:16MSG)

Paul is wrapping up his letter at this point and so I will take his cue and wrap up this blog. I pray that something I've written here helps someone, anyone. I pray that we all take a look at our lives and identify the lazy places. And believe me, there is a difference between lazy and taking some much needed rest here and there. Jesus came to give us life to the full, not a full life. Please don't confuse the two. Please don't think I am challenging us all to go, go, go until we drop. That's not healthy either. Talk to God, he'll show you what needs improving and what is just fine the way it is.

Let me end this with Paul's final words in this letter:

" May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all." (2 Thessalonians 3:18)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Running and Negative Self Talk- 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

"One more thing, friends: Pray for us. Pray that the Master’s Word will simply take off and race through the country to a groundswell of response, just as it did among you. And pray that we’ll be rescued from these scoundrels who are trying to do us in." (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2MSG)

I just got back from a run with my middle son. The human part of my brain says, "you can't do this, you weren't made for this, stop wasting your time. You will never be good enough to keep up with your son. Aren't you lucky he possesses so much patience that he is able to stick with you through this absurd phase of yours?" I read back over those words and I can't believe that I talk to myself like that. I would never say such things aloud, even to my worst enemy (if I had one, which I don't).

Maybe that isn't the human part of my brain. Maybe that's Satan, the evil one or the scoundrel that Paul is describing. Maybe that's my negative self talk that I am slowly defeating with every single run. Because you know what? I know that God gives me strength. I know that I can lean on God to carry me through and provide the endurance that I need to just keep going. And when I run with my baby? I can feel my heart filling up. I can feel the feelings that I work so hard to suppress all the time because what if I offend someone? What if I hurt someone's feelings or let them down? What if I'm just not enough no matter how hard I try? I tell myself that my feelings are wrong and that I have no right to feel them because I am just not that important and I don't know if that's true or not true but it doesn't matter. Because true or not, God cares. He wants to hear about it. And I need to admit them to him so that I can work through them.

And maybe none of that is really what Paul meant when he said those words so beautifully so many years ago. But when I see words like "race" and "countryside" within the verse, I can't help but think of those runs and all the parallels just waiting to be discovered. And my mind jumps on this crazy train of thought and you've seen where it takes me. Those are my real feelings.

"I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:13)

And those are God's real words. They are meant for me. I can feel them coursing through me. And I think of them over and over again every time I go for a run with my thirteen year old baby boy. I get the pleasure of seeing Jesus reflected back to me in his face as he cheers me on and encourages me every step of the way, as he cares for my heart and watches out for my endurance by asking if I need a break. He is being Jesus with skin on for me and is being this amazing example. And I have to wonder if maybe there is some little thing that I've done right to have this awesome kid in my life?

And look at this:

"But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. And we are confident in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we commanded you." (2 Thessalonians 3:3-4NLT)

With every step that I took today, especially as I was striving to finish the last few feet of our path with my son silently cheering me on, I prayed these words in my head. I reminded myself that God is my strength. He is faithful. He will carry me through. The evil one's words are lies that I don't need to believe because God made me strong and capable and faithful. He gave me this unwavering desire to get done whatever I put my mind to. He made me this way. And while I don't always see the value in that, I can see it clearly when I am running behind my son. Because it feels like everything is clearer when I am out there with him in the silence of the countryside.

And I can't help but think that all of those runs are like a symbol for life. How often do we run, run, run until we collapse as moms? We run up and down the stairs getting things done for our kids and our husbands. We find lost things. We fix broken toys and broken hearts and broken knees (the skin, not the bones. I don't have the training for bone repair ;) ). We run to the library to return forgotten books and run to the store to get more milk or forgotten soap. But stuff isn't all we forget. We often forget ourselves in the process.

And there's a parallel in running for that as well. If I forget myself too long on a run, I will collapse because I don't have the proper amount of oxygen getting to my brain or the right amount of water coursing through my body to keep things going. It's the same in our lives. If we forget ourselves too long, we will collapse from exhaustion and be useless to those around us. We must, must, must take care of ourselves too.

And I don't even know how far I have strayed from the original verses at this point, but this is where I feel Jesus leading and this is where I must go! There's a parallel to the runs there too. When I am running with my baby, the world is quieter. I can hear Jesus easier because there is nothing else and no one else screaming for my attention. I need more of that, more of the quiet in my life. I need to purposely carve out that time because I will never stumble into it. I must allow Jesus to lead me there. Am I the only one that feels this? I know that I can't be.

And that brings us to the final verse for today:

"May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ." (2 Thessalonians 3:5NLT)

So here's the deal. This is what I am desperately screaming out to God for today, not only for myself but for all of my family, all of my friends, and all of the people who read these words today. I pray that we can find our patient endurance and that we can fully allow God to take control of our hearts as we soak up the "full understanding and expression of the love of God" that Paul is describing in this verse. These are the vital components to the lives we are searching for- full understanding and acceptance of God's unending love and patient endurance in our lives. I pray that we can see us as God sees us. His creations, fearfully and wonderfully made.

Be blessed today and don't forget to be a blessing!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Overflowing Thankfulness Even When the Path Changes- 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

"Meanwhile, we’ve got our hands full continually thanking God for you, our good friends—so loved by God!" (2 Thessalonians 2:13)

I love this imagery that Paul is using. Can't you picture it? Your hands just overflowing with all the thankfulness? I imagine tons of little paper hearts with thank you notes written on each one. My hands are trying to hold them all, but they are pouring down over the sides and pooling at my feet. My little hearts are all different colors by the way. They have names on them, events that I've experienced with my friends, and things that they've done. Some of the words I think I'd see? I would have a pink heart that said, "hospital visits" and a red one that said, "unicorn necklace." A purple one would say, "dinner at a diner" and a yellow one would say, "coffee breaks." I have an orange one that says, "veggie straws" and a blue one that says, "chicken talk."

Do you feel this way about your friends? I know I don't always feel this way. I often take them for granted when I should be overflowing with thankfulness to God that I have them at all. Friends are such a blessing. If you nurture the relationship correctly, friends can be closer than family. They can be the stand-ins when your family isn't around or when it simply doesn't exist. I don't have a biological sister, but I do have several friends that stand in as sisters to me in that empty place and I am so thankful for it. Do you have any friends that are close enough to be family?

Let's keep reading, because today's verses are going to be awesome:

"God picked you out as his from the very start. Think of it: included in God’s original plan of salvation by the bond of faith in the living truth. This is the life of the Spirit he invited you to through the Message we delivered, in which you get in on the glory of our Master, Jesus Christ." (2 Thessalonians 2:14)

From his talk of thankfulness and friends, Paul goes on to talk about how God has chosen these people, his friends, to be a part of salvation, to be a part of his plan. Over the last few weeks, I have heard over and over again from various sources that this- the place we are living right now in our lives- is God's plan A. He doesn't have a plan B for us. The place he has us, the things we are doing, the people we are affecting, and the lives that we are living? It's God's plan A. He wants to use us exactly where we are. Isn't that a thrilling (and maybe a little scary) thought?

This year, after homeschooling my kids for six years, I felt God calling me to send the last one to public school. I could almost hear him whispering-through my son's very excited voice about wanting to go to school- that it would be okay, that God knew what he was doing, that I could trust Him. So I enrolled the last kid in public school and took a deep breath. I closed my eyes and opened my hands like a little kid waiting for a surprise from her daddy.

And over the last few weeks, He has taken a few things out of my hands. It started with homeschooling of course, and then he lifted serving with high schoolers from my plate and the possibility of volunteering at my kids' schools. Those were two big things that I thought for sure I'd be doing, but I'm not. And at first, I was a little sad, but I have to keep trusting that Jesus knows what he is doing here.

I've also had to say no to a bunch of opportunities. I was offered a couple of jobs that I declined. It was suggested that I apply to a few places. Others see my free time and seem to think they need to "do me a favor" and fill that empty time because why would I want to leave my time so empty? I only get a little bit of it here on earth, I should use it all to the max, right?

But that's not what God's been telling me these last few weeks at all. He has led me to this verse over and over again:

"I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10b)

It says nothing about living a life that is overflowing with stuff and time that is packed to the gills. I need the empty time. I have to have it there. God wants it there in my life. He reminds me of that each and every time a fun opportunity comes along. There have been several that have tempted me, but I keep saying no. Why? Because I want to live my life to the full just as Jesus called me to do, not have a full life.

At this point, some may be wondering what I plan to do with all that empty time. Others don't care I suppose, but then why are you reading right now? ;) This is one thing I plan to do:

"So, friends, take a firm stand, feet on the ground and head high. Keep a tight grip on what you were taught, whether in personal conversation or by our letter." (2 Thessalonians 2:15)

Paul called his readers to remember what they were taught. One way to remember what you were taught is to study it. When we were taught new concepts in school, we studied for the test to prove that we knew the information. We can apply that idea similarly here too. There's not really a test, but studying God's word draws us closer to God because it's the way that God speaks to us. I don't come upon these verses that speak to me so clearly about my present circumstances by accident. I honestly believe that God is guiding me here. I pray each time that I write these posts that He will speak to me and show me what He wants me to know. It still amazes me every time that he shows me new things.

And then there is this:

"May Jesus himself and God our Father, who reached out in love and surprised you with gifts of unending help and confidence, put a fresh heart in you, invigorate your work, enliven your speech." (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)

Do you know what I see when I read these verses? God loves me. He loves me so much that I am worth every effort. He has continually reached out to me. He has loved me fiercely and worked out surprise after surprise in my life as precious gifts. And that realization leads me to thinking about all of my own surprises and gifts: my husband, my children, my family, my dear friends, my home, my neighbors, our chickens, the ability he has given me to write, the spark of an idea or ten, the Bible to study and learn and grow closer to Him, coffee (of course)...I could go on and on.

My list of things to be thankful for is a long one (seriously, I took the challenge that Ann Voskamp offered up in her book One Thousand Gifts). If you've never done it, I highly recommend writing out all the things that you are thankful for. It's a great spirit lifter and opens your eyes to the positive things around you rather than all the negatives that are so very easy to see. At least they are for I the only one?

In those verses, I also see a promise. I see God promising that he is there to be my help and my strength. He is there to be my confidence and my courage when I am afraid. He is there to give me a new, unblemished heart that is open and ready to follow Him. He is there to guide my hands as I write because that is the work that I feel Him calling me to do. And He will be there when I am called to speak aloud about Him because that is the scariest of them all on that list. At least it is for me.

Take a moment and read those last verses again. Think about the following questions:

1. What is God calling you to release to Him?

2. What has God given you in your life as a surprise?

3. What are some of the gifts God has given you, whether they are physical things, relationships, or abilities that you have?

4. Are there ways that you are using your time that you need to release to Him to free up that time to spend with Him?

5. Are you thankful for your friendships? Are there any that you dread?

I pray that you have an amazing day today and that God shows you what he wants you to know and what you need to hand over to Him to handle. Be blessed today and remember to be a blessing too!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Decisions, Decisions...2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

"Now, dear brothers and sisters, let us clarify some things about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and how we will be gathered to meet him. Don’t be so easily shaken or alarmed by those who say that the day of the Lord has already begun. Don’t believe them, even if they claim to have had a spiritual vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us." (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2)

It seems like every year lately, someone comes along claiming that they know the end of the world is near. They claim to have heard from God himself that Jesus is coming back on a certain day and we should all make sure we are ready. I'm telling you now, it's a lie. God isn't going to give us some strange sign or forewarning beyond what he has already promised in the Bible. And the Bible tells us- through Jesus' own lips in the gospels- that NO ONE knows the day, the time, the hour that He will return.

Apparently, this same issue has been going on for centuries because here's Paul addressing it halfway through his second letter to the Thessalonians. Honestly, people are obsessed with what we don't know. Let's see what Paul can tell us about what will happen leading up to Jesus' return:

"Don’t be fooled by what they say. For that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed—the one who brings destruction. He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship. He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God." (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4)

Paul urges us not to be fooled and then says that there will be many people rebelling against God before God returns. There will be people leaving the church and falling away. He goes on to describe the one who will come before God as well. Paul calls him the "man of lawlessness" here and the NASB adds that he is the "son of destruction." I believe that this is what we often refer to as the "antichrist." Whatever you call him, he will do something that is unforgivable. He will claim to be God.

Paul goes on:

"Don’t you remember that I told you about all this when I was with you? And you know what is holding him back, for he can be revealed only when his time comes. For this lawlessness is already at work secretly, and it will remain secret until the one who is holding it back steps out of the way. Then the man of lawlessness will be revealed, but the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendor of his coming." (2 Thessalonians 2:5-8)

There is no way for us to know exactly what Paul said when he was with the Thessalonians. It isn't recorded anywhere that I know of. But that doesn't matter so much. He goes on to further explain his opinion of things. He says here that God is holding this man of lawlessness back until the time is right. And when he finally is released, he won't have much time to get anything done before Jesus is here obliterating him. Paul says that "the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendor of his coming." Isn't it amazing that our Jesus is that powerful?

It reminds me of this sign we have here in our house. It says, "Don't tell God that you have a big problem, tell your problem that you have a big God." And isn't that so true? Our big God is way bigger than any problem we can face including all that Satan is trying to do to destroy our lives. God can handle it. We can trust him with it.

It's tempting to assume here that the man of lawlessness that Paul is talking about is actually Satan, but it's not. Paul goes on from these verses to say this, which shows us that Satan is indeed not the man to which he is referring:

"This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. So God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies. Then they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth." (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12)

I'm not going to pretend to understand all that these verses mean. "God will cause them to be greatly deceived?" The only way that I can make that statement right in my mind is by realizing that we follow and love an amazingly patient and loving God. He has given us SO. MUCH. TIME. to figure out where we stand with Him. He has waited centuries- and is still waiting- for us to come around. If it gets to be end times and you still haven't come around, at that point, God is saying it'll be too late. There is such a thing as waiting too long to come to God's side.

And making no decision, I have to warn you, is a decision all by itself. To be on God's side, you must choose it. He will not force you onto his side. He loves you too much for that. He isn't going to force the issue. He is persuing with you unending, relentless love, but he will never force himself on you. Choose him. Choose him before it truly is too late.

I pray now that if you are on the fence about this and still reading, that your heart would be softened and you would be given eyes to see Jesus for who he truly is. I pray that you will take the time to really look at the Bible, really read it and see what you think. Check out John for a great starting place to read about Jesus, the one who loves you.

Be blessed today and remember to be a blessing to someone else!

Friday, August 19, 2016

It Takes a Village! 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12

"You need to know, friends, that thanking God over and over for you is not only a pleasure; it’s a must. We have to do it. Your faith is growing phenomenally; your love for each other is developing wonderfully. Why, it’s only right that we give thanks." (2 Thessalonians 1:3)

You know, I read this over and over again to myself this morning and it occurred to me that we don't do this much in our culture. At least, not in my experience. How often do you look around you at the amazing people in your life that are selflessly giving and doing God's work and THANK HIM for putting them there? I think that we often take people for granted and I wonder, based on this passage from Paul's second letter to the people of Thessalonica, if we shouldn't be doing the same? Should we be thanking God for each person he has placed in our lives? And shouldn't we also be telling those people what a blessing they are?

Encouragement is a beautiful thing and oftentimes, we need it. I know in my own life there have been many times that I've done what I knew needed doing without any thanks. Honestly, it's the life of a mom many days. You get cups of milk and clean up spilled macaroni; you wash clothes and unload the dishwasher; you make dinner and listen to all the tough things that happened throughout the day for everyone else in your family. And many times? It's not only met without thanks, but with some lovely whining and fighting sprinkled in for good measure.

And that's not to say that we should be doing the things that are in our lives just to get a little praise and recognition, but it also wouldn't hurt to hear that someone noticed what you did and saw the value. As moms, we could be doing this for one another but it feels like, more often than not, we rip each other down further instead. I wonder what our lives would be like if we followed this one simple verse from Paul every day with each other?

Rather than saying, "You know, breast is best" to the mom with a bottle of formula, we could say, "You're doing a great job today."

Instead of saying, "I would never put a paper diaper on my baby," we could be saying "I saw a coupon for that brand in the mail the other day, could you use it?"

The words, "Public school is terrible these days; no child should be subjected to that!" to another mom who's crying about dropping her baby off at school aren't helpful. "You are making the best choices for your child right now. Great job!" would be far better, whether you homeschool, cyber school, or use a public or private school.

I think that as a culture, we are often better at these words from Paul:

"We’re so proud of you; you’re so steady and determined in your faith despite all the hard times that have come down on you. We tell everyone we meet in the churches all about you." (2 Thessalonians 1:4)

In my circle at least, I feel like we are pretty decent at lifting up those who have been knocked down. We see a fellow mom who is struggling and we all join together to lift her up. I see it repeatedly on my Facebook feed. Meal trains, Gofundme pages, pictures of notes other moms have gotten from each other, and even flowers sent from one mom to another.

When a person is already down, I think sometimes it's easier to see them there. Why? I don't know the answer, but maybe it's because they stand out more down there. Why do we have to let them get to that position before we lift them up? Why can't we walk alongside one another so that we know when down is coming and can help carry the burden? Wouldn't that be great?

But in our social media filled world, I guess it's actually more difficult. We think we know everything there is to know about our friends and acquaintances because we see pictures and statuses and emojis of all kinds coming off their pages. We see the articles they share and the hundred Pinterest posts they've shared and we're sure they have it all together. They don't need us. In fact, maybe it's us that need them but we can't say that because we have to be independent! We can't NEED anyone! We need to be able to function on our own! We are women! We have this! Isn't that what society is teaching us? Aren't those the very thoughts that are pushed into our minds every single day? That weakness is unacceptable? That needing others is just another sign of weakness?

But it's all a lie! We were built to do life in community! Paul talks about living as a body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12. He talks about how each body is made up of many different parts and that each part relies on the other parts for various things. If you haven't read it recently (or ever), I highly suggest you turn there and take a look. He does an amazing job of explaining all of this.

Working together in our communities, let's see what Paul says we should remember as we go through the rough stuff as a united front:

"All this trouble is a clear sign that God has decided to make you fit for the kingdom. You’re suffering now, but justice is on the way. When the Master Jesus appears out of heaven in a blaze of fire with his strong angels, he’ll even up the score by settling accounts with those who gave you such a bad time. His coming will be the break we’ve been waiting for. Those who refuse to know God and refuse to obey the Message will pay for what they’ve done. Eternal exile from the presence of the Master and his splendid power is their sentence. But on that very same day when he comes, he will be exalted by his followers and celebrated by all who believe—and all because you believed what we told you." (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10)

The fact of the matter is that we live in an imperfect and sin-filled world. Trouble is going to happen. This isn't heaven. But rather than falling down and suffering alone, we should be working together in community with one another and seeing what we can learn through the suffering. God always uses the evil for good in some way. Oftentimes, he will use it to draw you closer to Him. He will develop your character through it. He will build endurance in you through it. Paul actually talks about this in another of his letters elsewhere in the Bible. Romans 5:4 says this:

"And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation."

So push through the tough stuff, push through your suffering and challenges because God has this. He will take care of it for you. It's not your job to hand out justice. He will do it for you. Just lean into Him and allow your community to help you through it. My BFF actually refers to her community as her village. As in "it takes a village to raise a child?" She calls us all her village and leans in when she needs help. I love that she demonstrates this for those of us in that village.

Do you have a village? Who is in it? If you don't have one, you should. Who can you ask to join you in your village? I'd suggest starting with family members and close friends. Work your way out if you need to. Some villages can have different levels. Maybe you only trust really close friends to babysit so you only ask them. That's okay. The outer level can handle things like meals and prayers, right? Let's get better at this one. Let's get better at banding together as moms in our communities and leaning into one another. It would make our burdens so much lighter!

As you work to build your village, find people that can fill the following jobs: laughter, encouragement, a listening ear, prayer, grace for where you are, physical labor, back-up on the tough days, and Godly advice for the unknown. I don't know how to describe these better than this, but when you find the person that fits, you'll know so long as you are asking God to guide you to them! Some people may fill multiple rolls. I have one friend who is great to get me laughing and to lift me up. Another is wonderful for offering me Biblically sound advice. Still another encourages me, listens to me, and prays for me. I depend on this village of ladies. I pray you find your own village too because life is tougher without it!

I want to end with these words of prayer from Paul because they are my honest and heart-felt prayers for all of us:

"Because we know that this extraordinary day is just ahead, we pray for you all the time—pray that our God will make you fit for what he’s called you to be, pray that he’ll fill your good ideas and acts of faith with his own energy so that it all amounts to something. If your life honors the name of Jesus, he will honor you. Grace is behind and through all of this, our God giving himself freely, the Master, Jesus Christ, giving himself freely." (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

An Introduction to a Study of 2 Thessalonians

Yesterday we finished up our study of 1 Thessalonians, written by Paul. I don't know if I mentioned this then or not, but experts believe that 1 Thessalonians was likely the first letter Paul ever wrote to a church in his time. 1 Thessalonians was written around 51AD and 2 Thessalonians was written around the same time between the years 51AD-52AD.

The interesting thing about 2 Thessalonians is that it is questioned whether or not he actually wrote it. According to The MAP by Nick Page, 2 Thessalonians "has attracted a lot of debate about its authenticity."

The biggest issue with it is the writing style. 1 Thessalonians was passionate and excited. Paul didn't mince words there. 2 Thessalonians is more reserved. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul says Jesus will return suddenly. In 2 Thessalonians, he talks about signs leading up to Jesus' return. The argument for Paul having written it is that perhaps people were misunderstanding his last letter thinking that Jesus was coming back at any moment whereas he clarifies in this letter that it may be awhile.

Either way, most agree that it is more likely than not that Paul wrote this letter as well. The writer also introduces himself as Paul, together with Timothy and Silas as you can see here:

"I, Paul, together with Silas and Timothy, greet the church of the Thessalonian Christians in the name of God our Father and our Master, Jesus Christ. Our God gives you everything you need, makes you everything you’re to be." (2 Thessalonians 1:1-2)

In the interest of focusing on why we're here- to study the Bible, not start a debate- we are going to assume what the bulk of the world already believes. We are going to assume that Paul wrote this book exactly as it says in the Bible already.

Through this book, we will be studying Paul's words about the Thessalonians' faithfulness. We will read about Paul's encouragement to them that God is a God of judgement and that those causing their suffering will be punished. From there, we will move into the signs that Paul sites as evidence of Christ's imminent return. He talks about the antichrist and other signs. He then moves into several verses about prayer and finishes up with his blessing on the Thessalonians.

This book is very short- just three chapters. It won't take us long to get through it at all.

Join me tomorrow when we get started on this little book!

Be blessed today and don't forget to be a blessing to someone else!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Listening for God's Voice and Trusting His Promises- 1 Thessalonians 5:19-28

The end is upon us and we're wrapping up with Paul's final words (in this letter, at least) to the people of Thessalonica. Let's look at the place that we left off and see what he says:

" Don’t suppress the Spirit, and don’t stifle those who have a word from the Master. On the other hand, don’t be gullible. Check out everything, and keep only what’s good. Throw out anything tainted with evil." (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22)

We have touched on this idea in past posts from other studies. But let's look at it again as Paul is offering up this advice again for a reason. Number 1, the people of Thessalonica would have had almost no way of getting this advice from another source. News traveled, but not very quickly. And this one may have gotten lost in the shuffle.

Number 2, it's vitally important to the life of a believer. If it weren't, Paul wouldn't have wasted time, ink, and paper saying it. If we are listening, the Holy Spirit is talking to us, guiding us, pointing us in the right direction. Is this an actual audible voice? For most of us, no. Look at verse 20. Paul suggests we "check out everything." How do we do this? There are several steps one should take to check out the direction in which they feel the Holy Spirit is guiding them.

1. Pray- If you feel led in a certain direction, stop and ask for clear guidance before barging forward on it. Ask God to make it abundantly clear to you. The last thing you want to be doing is listening to a feeling (remember, feelings are sometimes used to mislead us) and find out that it wasn't God pointing you in that direction.

2. Read your Bible- What does the Bible have to say on this subject? Are you feeling led to leave your husband and children behind to become a great painter in France? That's not God telling you to do that. I promise. It goes completely against what the Bible has to say about marriage and family. That's Satan using your feelings to lie to you.

Are you feeling led to talk to that woman in the pharmacy who's standing off to the side quietly crying? You don't need to check your Bible for this one, honestly. I can tell you it says to love others and comforting those in need is a great way to show love to others. This is one argument for reading your Bible regularly, not just when you need something. If you are a regular reader of your Bible, then you are allowing God to speak clearly into your life on a regular basis. You'll start to just know what it says.

3. Talk to a Trusted, God-following Friend or Two- Run your thoughts and your leadings past another Jesus follower. See what they think. Are there holes in your plan that they can see that you didn't? Do they have any Biblically-based reservations about it? Ask them to pray with you on it.

If your plan passes all of the tests above, then do as Paul says in verses 21-22. Keep the good. If not, throw it out with the bad. God will show you which it is if you take the time to ask him.

From here, Paul moves into his final words and closing remarks in his letter:

"May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!" (1 Thessalonians 5: 23-24)

What a great reminder from Paul! If God said it, he'll follow through. He is trustworthy. He has made us, His followers, so many good promises that we can count on. Here are just a few to lift you up:

Joshua 23:14b- "Deep in your hearts you know that every promise of the Lord your God has come true. Not a single one has failed!"

Luke 18:27- " He replied, 'What is impossible for people is possible with God.'"

Ezekiel 36:26- " And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart."

Psalm 103:12- "He has removed our sins as far from us
as the east is from the west."

John 16:13- "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future."

Matthew 6:33- "Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need."

Philippians 4:19- " And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus."

James 1:5- "If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking."

Proverbs 3:5-6- "Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take."

Psalm 138:7- "Though I am surrounded by troubles,
you will protect me from the anger of my enemies.
You reach out your hand,
and the power of your right hand saves me."

Aren't those some amazing promises from God? I could have listed hundreds more, but in the interest of time and space (and to encourage you to read your Bible yourself), I am going to stop with those. Let's finish up Paul's letter here:

"Friends, keep up your prayers for us. Greet all the followers of Jesus there with a holy embrace. And make sure this letter gets read to all the brothers and sisters. Don’t leave anyone out." (1 Thessalonians 5:25-27)

Pray for one another. Paul's words. We should be praying for one another, not just for ourselves. Lift up your friends and family to Jesus. Lift up the mom at school drop-off that you don't know, the check out guy at the grocery store that never says a word to you despite your best efforts, and the dude who is always walking somewhere weighed down with reusable bags on the side of the road. Pray for everyone.

To wrap up this final post on 1 Thessalonians, I want to use Paul's closing words from the letter. Remember to be blessed today and to choose to bless someone else as well.

"The amazing grace of Jesus Christ be with you!" (1 Thessalonians 5:28)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

How Can We Practice the Golden Rule? 1 Thessalonians 5:12-18

"And now, friends, we ask you to honor those leaders who work so hard for you, who have been given the responsibility of urging and guiding you along in your obedience. Overwhelm them with appreciation and love!" (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)

Sometimes I wonder if Jesus is really just teaching the kids at church, or if he is talking to me too. I don't know why I still wonder that. I know the answer. Every single lesson is an opportunity for everyone to learn.

I mention the kids at church because this weekend's message was directly related to the verses above. It just took seeing these verses to realize (again) that Jesus was also talking to me on Sunday when he was talking about obeying our leaders.

In verse 12 above, Paul actually says to "honor those leaders." actually defines honor this way: "to hold in high respect; revere; to show a courteous regard for." And offered these synonyms for the word: "admire, appreciate, commend, observe, praise, prize, revere, lionize (I like that one though I don't fully know what it means, haha), value."

Being a leader is hard. There have been a handful of times in my life where I have been the leader and it really makes me appreciate all that those in leadership above me do day in and day out. It's not an easy job. It truly is something you do because Jesus is calling you to it. Can you imagine what the world would be like without our leaders? There would be no teachers in school or even principals for that matter. There would be no rules at home for children to obey. No government telling us what we can and cannot do. No president making the tough (often seemingly impossible) choices.

Paul goes on in the verses above to describe the responsibilities of a leader. He says that it is their job to guide and direct us, to show us the right way. So while some people may be reading this thinking, "no government? Sign me up!" It would really be a major problem. We need people to assume the role of "boss" to lead us well. Do all of our leaders do a fantastic job? Maybe not, but that's exactly what makes us all human! No one is perfect at this thing called life.

So instead of picking apart our leaders and saying how we would do it differently, Paul is saying here that we should appreciate them! We should appreciate them so much that we overwhelm them with that love and appreciation. Rather than complaining about those who lead us, why not praise them for the things they are doing well? Rather than pointing out all of their flaws, why not pray for them to follow Jesus and lead us well through Him?

Let's keep reading:

"Get along among yourselves, each of you doing your part. Our counsel is that you warn the freeloaders to get a move on. Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs. And be careful that when you get on each other’s nerves you don’t snap at each other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out." (1 Thessalonians 5:13-15)

From here, Paul moves into describing how to get along with those around us. We should be encouraging one another into action, helping those who are too tired to keep going, exercising patience with each and every person we encounter (mental note: that means road rage isn't acceptable then...), and practicing appropriate responses to stressful situations.

And here's the verse that screams to me in this set: "Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out."

Each and every one of us has our own filters through which we run life. We fill in all of the gaps in our knowledge with our own stories in our own heads. And too often those stories paint others in a bad light.

For example, you're at church and the sermon is just finishing up. Out of the corner of your eye, you see a woman stand up and walk out leaving early. She does it every week. In your head, you think she is just being selfish, skipping out early so she doesn't have to wait in traffic or avoiding someone in the congregation because you heard she doesn't get along with the pastor's wife at all. You heard they had a fight. So you keep telling yourself these stories over and over again each week. You're sure that your right about why she is leaving early. And then you hear a prayer request for her. Her only child is in the hospital and isn't doing well. She leaves early because there is a treatment that he receives every Sunday morning at the same time that the service would be ending. You realize that this woman you've been judging for so long has a really good reason to be skipping out of church early.

We do this all the time. Other people are speeding because they think they're more important than me. Suzy didn't talk to me after church today because I obviously offended her when I was just being honest. Dan is late for our meeting because he is terrible at time management and just can't get himself together; he obviously doesn't care about his job at all. My son didn't respond to my questions because he was ignoring me and doesn't value our relationship.

I could go on and on. It's a daily event. I'm challenging us to put an end to it. Let's all stop assuming the worst and filling in the gaps of our knowledge with negative stories. Maybe others are speeding because they are late or they need to get to the hospital. Perhaps Suzy just didn't see you and that's why she didn't say anything to you. I wonder if Dan was late because his wife just had a baby and she really needed his help? Maybe if I'd given my son enough time to consider my questions, he would have answered. Maybe he was trying to come up with the right and honest answer rather than just answering to get the conversation over with.

So what can we do to change this? How can we truly stop the negative dialogue that is constantly in motion in our heads? Paul answers these questions too:

"Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live." (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

We can choose our attitudes and we can pray when our attitudes are doing their best to slip back into the negative nelly area. Choose joy. Over and over. It isn't easy. It is honestly challenging to do and we can't actually do this one all by ourselves. That's why Paul follows it up so closely with "pray all the time." Because when life gets challenging, it's really easy to slip back into anger, impatience, stress, and just plain negative attitudes. When joy isn't easy, that's when we need to lean into Jesus the most.

My father-in-law had a phrase that goes with this. He used to constantly say, "Praise the Lord!" Something good would happen- a new baby was born into the family, a diagnosis was eliminated, a new job was gotten- "Praise the Lord!" But he also said it every time something bad happened. He hit his thumb with a hammer? "Praise the Lord!" They think it might be cancer? "Praise the Lord!" The car broke down again? "Praise the Lord!" And why did he have this attitude? Because he knew these verses! 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says it very clearly that we are to "thank God no matter what happens." Good or bad, thank God. Because he will use it for his glory one day.

Let's review the challenges for today with some questions:

1. What's your attitude like on a daily basis? Are you mostly joyful or are you negative?

2. How are you at choosing joy despite your circumstances?

3. Do you think Paul is onto something here, suggesting that we can choose joy despite our circumstances and that praying will help us do just that?

4. Where is one area in your life that you feel like God is urging you to change your attitude?

5. What are some tangible steps you plan to take to make that happen? (Ex: a friend to hold you accountable, journaling, more Bible studies, writing a thankfulness list, etc)

Be blessed today and don't forget to be a blessing to someone else!