Category Archives: Sunday

The Firsts: II Thessalonians 1 – Simple Addition

TLB 
11 And so we keep on praying for you, that our God will make you the kind of children he wants to have—will make you as good as you wish you could be!—rewarding your faith with his power.

MSG
11 …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.

NIV 
11 With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.

God + Prayer = You
– as good as you wish you could be 
– fit for what he’s called you to be 
– made worthy of his calling
– with faith rewarded with his power
– with good ideas and acts of faith filled with his own energy
– with every desire for goodness and deeds prompted by faith brought to fruition

The Firsts: Colossians 1 – Sacramental Personality

📌 NIV 9…We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives…
📌 NLT 11 We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need.
📌 NLT 28…perfect [or mature] in [your] relationship to Christ.  

It’s interesting that Paul’s long ago words are prayers of encouragement from an old friend I’ve never even met.  There’s another complete stranger who’s become a friend over the years too: Oswald Chambers.  His book My Utmost for His Highest has been a meaningful companion to my life of faith for almost 40 years now.  That’s pretty notable considering it’s “just” a 365-day devotional.  It’s online, free and most importantly a searchable resource.  [https://utmost.org]

Here are two perspectives from Chamber’s writing on Colossians 1 that directed my own thoughts.
📌 [9/30] sacramental personality.
📌 [11/9] If we preach the effects of Redemption in human life instead of the revelation regarding Jesus, the result in those who listen is not new birth, but refined spiritual culture

Jesus is our redemption. Our salvation is the revelation of him and that changes our heart and mind about many things. In my own experience as dramatic as that revelation is it doesn’t automatically change the habits of personality.  I think what Oswald Chambers calls sacramental personality is exactly what Paul is addressing here. Sacramental personality is letting the transformation of that revelation to your heart and mind reveal itself in your personality too.  That’s why Paul prays for “God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.”

Sacramental personality is our post-redemption challenge. It’s pretty easy to get comfortable with the assurance of your salvation and end up finding you’re only part of the “refined spiritual culture.”  It’s very easy to excuse personality issues as “it’s just the way I am.” Jesus has done his part, he’s changed your heart and mind. You now belong to him but your personality is where you begin to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” That’s why Paul reminds us “we also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need” to be ”perfect [or mature] in [your] relationship to Christ.

The Firsts: Ephesians 1 – Destiny

“Predestined” is an attention getting word. The dictionary definition of predestined is “an outcome or course of events determined in advance by divine will or fate.”  I’ve heard the “elevator” explanation of predestination: when you step into an elevator you trust it’s going to take you where you want to go.  The “airplane” explanation is similar; you get on the plane trusting the pilot will get you safely to the planned destination. Those explanations make some sense to me. They’re based on faith not fate. Nobody gets on an elevator or in a plane saying “whatever will be, will be.” 

What doesn’t make sense to me is that the God who sacrificed his own Son to remove sin’s power to destroy us would then turn around and pick and choose those who would be saved.  The phrase “turn around” became my catalyst to turn these eight verses around and read them in reverse changing only the punctuation at the end of verse 14 because that’s a question I could answer.

V14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory[?]
V13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 
V12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 
V11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 
V10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. 
V9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 
V8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding,  
V7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace,

I turned around those verses and as I read I found myself caring less about my understanding of how “predestined” relates to personal choice and more about the question I could answer.  “Who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory[?]  Predestination is still an elusive concept but I do know the answer to V14 is where destiny begins.  The big turn around ends at the right destination too; “in him [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.  

The Firsts: 2 Corinthians 1 – Comfort

2 Corinthians 1:3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4 He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 5 For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.  6 Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer.  7 We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us. [NLT]

This passage is remarkable for the number of times some form of the word “comfort” is used in just five verses.  Certainly that’s repeated for emphasis.   The need for comfort is more frequent that we realize and that need doesn’t always look the same.  Sometimes what comfort looks like turns out to be a surprise too.  We know “God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort” but when faced with a heart in need it “takes one to know one.” 

Comfort is the presence of one needy heart’s response in humility to the need of another.  It may take the more familiar form of shared scars of experience, love, grace, compassion, Scripture and prayer…OR sometimes it may just take a plate of cookies

Let your heart respond…”when they are troubled…give them the same comfort God has given us.”   Comfort is not meant to be the solution.  Comfort is the revelation of Jesus from one heart to another and He’s the solution.

Jesus was a revolutionary, who did not become an extremist, since he did not offer an ideology, but Himself.” Henri Nouwen from The Wounded Healer

The Firsts – Romans 1 and Contrast

There’s a thread of thought that ties together the different parts of God’s Word written by different authors.   It’s a thread that always emphasizes the contrast between what God is willing to offer and what man in his own spirit is willing to ignore. 

Here’s what God is willing to offer: Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”  [NIV]

Here’s what man is often willing to ignore: “Romans 1:21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. 22 Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools.” [NLT]

Not taking notice of God is not a neutral position at all.   The Bible brings that contrast into clear focus with the daunting list of consequences of not accepting God’s offer and the outcome of choosing what man in his own spirit is willing to ignore “Romans 1:26…Worse followed. Refusing to know God, they soon didn’t know how to be human either.” [MSG]

New Year’s Questions

Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I lay awake as an early morning thunderstorm crashed over us thinking and praying about the presence of God in all circumstances and choices without being anxious.  I found myself stumbling over my own words of prayer.  It was sort of the “digital” version of prayer where I had to keep backspacing and editing because it’s such a mysterious thing that the Sovereign God is always present in the thoughts, actions, emotions and choices of the believer. 

I swear I believe that but then I find myself asking for “something more.”  Some  “sign” that will be confirmation my heart, mind, emotions and choices are right because there aren’t enough details to guarantee that.  That insecurity belies what I swear.  I don’t really have a good track record with New Year’s Resolutions so here’s my alternative: Three New Year’s Questions to read and ponder throughout 2019.

• What if the presence of the Holy Spirit really does dwell within us as part of every thought, action, emotion and choice?
• What if it were possible to quit struggling to figure out all the details and be assured the relationship the Spirit has created between God and us through Jesus is enough for “every situation”?
• What if questions are a purposeful part of how God works to take captive our thoughts, actions, emotions and choices guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to give us access to “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding…”?

“God is always speaking to us, but it requires spiritual discernment to hear God’s voice, see what God sees, and read the signs in daily life.”  Henri Nouwen from Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life

The Firsts – Luke

Luke 1:1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught

This chapter’s recent history as part of the Christmas celebration gave me pause as I began.  The familiarity of these beautiful Christmas passages can make it easy to overlook other details.  I read the chapter several times before something caught my eye.  The angel brings up the Holy Spirit when he introduces Mary to what God has in mind for her but the Holy Spirit “filling” John, Elizabeth and Zechariah is a big truth that got lost for me in the familiar.

*15… he [John the Baptist] will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.
*41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
*67 His [John’s] father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied

It makes so much sense now that I’ve noticed that truth.  The main characters of this unlikely mystery were given the verification of one Spirit to another.   The Holy Spirit was a work of God in the flesh for them that knit them together in unique kind of baptism of spiritual recognition. 

This is truth for us today too.  Living a life of faith is still a mystery of God that only becomes recognizable to the eye or mind when the Holy Spirit verifies itself in the flesh, one to another.