If God Heard a Report on You, What Would it Be?

Paul sends Timothy to check out the church in Thessalonica

If God Heard a Report on You, What Would it Be?The missionary Paul and his crew wonder how things are going with the church they started in the city of Thessalonica. He can’t send them an email, follow them on social media, or give them a call. His only option is to dispatch someone to check things out. Paul sends Timothy, a worthy disciple who he trusts fully, to investigate.

Timothy’s concluding report of them is a positive one. He brings back good news of their faith and their love. That’s it; nothing more: Faith, check; love, check.

Although he could have chronicled the numeric growth of their church, the size of their collections, or their latest board decisions—all things seemingly important in today’s church—he doesn’t. He addresses matters of the heart: faith and love. They excel at both and nothing else matters, at least as far as Paul is concerned.

If God sent someone to check out your church, what would its report card be? Would you get a passing grade or fail?

More personally, if God sent someone to evaluate you, what would the testimony be? Would God say, “Well, done, good and faithful servant?” or would the conclusion be more along the lines of “epic fail?”

If these questions make you squirm, even just a bit, then reduce your action list to the core essentials: faith and love.

Do you have a growing faith in Jesus? Is your faith in Jesus shown by your love of others? If the answers are “yes,” then the report will be a positive one. May it be so.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Thessalonians 1-3, and today’s post is on 1 Thessalonians 3:6.]

The Power of David’s Example

David models bold action and his nephew learns from it

The Power of David's ExampleMost people are familiar with the story of David and Goliath in the Bible. It tells of the young boy David, armed only with godly confidence and a sling, killing the warrior giant of a man Goliath. It’s an inspiring tale of courage and faith in the presence of improbable odds. But this story isn’t in our text for today. It’s found in 1 Samuel 17 instead.

Though today’s passage is about David, it occurs much later when he is king. Squeezed among three chapters packed with battle stories of strategy and victory stands an incidental tale of David’s nephew Jonathan. In this story Jonathan kills a huge man from Rapha. In addition to his ginormous size, he is noted for having six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot. Like Goliath before him, this man from Rapha taunts the army of Israel. And like his uncle before him, Jonathan slays the cocky titan.

Why is this significant?

Jonathan, no doubt, heard of the exploits of Uncle David in confronting the jeering giant of a man Goliath. Of how, in godly confidence David, though completely outmatched, fell the hulk with a small stone guided by his sling and then cut off the fallen warrior’s head using his own sword.

Talk about inspiring.

What bold action will we take in our lives that will inspire others in theirs? When we trust God with the outcome, it isn’t hard.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Chronicles 18-20, and today’s post is on 1 Chronicles 20:6-7.]

When Given a Faith Ultimatum is Martyrdom Required?

Elisha seems to allow an alternative to taking a life-threatening stand for God

When Given a Faith Ultimatum is Martyrdom Required?I love the story of Naaman in the Bible. He commands the enemy army, conducts raids into Israel, and even has a Hebrew girl as a slave. It’s this girl, full of faith and void of resentment, who suggests Naaman go to the prophet Elisha for healing of his leprosy.

Despite Naaman’s complete unworthiness (sound familiar?), God has compassion and wants to remove this disease. Though there are some twists along the way, God does heal him. However it’s easy to miss a small detail in the middle of the story.

After he is healed, Naaman seeks forgiveness for something he knows he will do in the future, something he now comprehends as wrong. In the course of his service to his king, Naaman will have to go into the temple of Rimmon and bow down in worship.

Naaman’s life will be on the line if he doesn’t. If he fails to kneel to this foreign god, he will be summarily executed.

Today we hear stories of those fully committed to their faith in Jesus; they refuse to bow in worship to anyone but him. They stand firm and are summarily executed. They take a stand for Jesus and are martyred.

I expect Elisha to tell Naaman to do just that, to affirm God as the only true god, to refuse to bend his knee, and to die for his convictions.

But Elisha doesn’t. Instead he gives approval for Naaman to not take a stand and permits him to bow in worship to another god. Elisha says, “Go in peace.”

This gives me pause.

God knows Naaman’s heart and that his bowing to Rimmon is merely a life-preserving subterfuge. Through Elisha, God gives Naaman permission to pretend to worship another god and live, instead of refusing to and die.

Most martyrs have no control over their fate and are helpless victims of hate and opposition, but some have an option: affirm your faith and die or equivocate and live. While we shouldn’t take this passage as permission to avoid taking a stand for Jesus if our life is at stake, we also shouldn’t conclude that God doesn’t allow for exceptions. Our response, if faced with such a situation, is for us to discern. May God grant us the wisdom to do so.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 2 Kings 5-7, and today’s post is on 2 Kings 5:18-19.]

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Why Does God Sometimes Say “No?”

We must trust that God always has our best interest in mind regardless of what happens

Why Does God Sometimes Say “No?”I recently prayed for a friend who was interviewing for a job. I have prayed for her interviews many times in the past only to not receive the answer we wanted. Sometimes she was summarily removed from consideration at the very beginning of the process, but often she would make it to the final round only to be edged out by another candidate.

This time the position was a perfect match; the situation, ideal. I prayed in faith with confident expectation. I knew this was it: the right job, in the right place, at the right time. I assumed God would finally say “Yes.” How could he not? This was exactly what my friend had been waiting for.

She progressed through the interview process; all indications aligned. It got down to two people, a fifty-fifty chance, but with God on our side, I was sure it was a slam-dunk. But slam-dunks don’t always work out, and neither did this job opening. The final answer was “No.”

Devastated for my friend, with my faith a bit deflated, I vented to a wise friend. He tactfully reminded me what I already knew but had forgotten in the emotion of the moment. Here is what he shared:

Protection From Unseen Danger: It could very well be that a landmine of troubles surrounded this job: internal strife from coworkers, personal attacks from patrons, a hostile work environment, poor working conditions, or any number of potentially devastating hazards. Maybe my friend didn’t get this job because God was lovingly shielding her from harm.

A Better Opportunity Ahead: It could be that God has an even better job awaiting my friend, one even more ideal: better pay, closer to home, superior hours, more fulfilling, or a better work environment. Maybe my friend didn’t get this job because God was lovingly guiding her to an even better one, a job she wouldn’t be looking for if she had received this one.

The Other Person Needed the Job More: It’s not all about us. God isn’t our personal wish-granter. He has other children he cares for, too. It’s quite possible the other person also prayed for this job. What if his need was more pressing, his situation more urgent? Maybe my friend didn’t get this job because God was lovingly caring for another of his children whose situation was more dire.

In this life it is likely we will never know the reasons why sometimes God says “No.” Yet we must move forward, despite profound disappointment, confident that God wants the very best for us and will provide it at exactly the right time. After all, that’s what the Bible says: that all things work together for good (Romans 8:28).

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Are You One of God’s Chosen People?

Isaiah tells the people that God will choose them again, but did he ever stop?

Are You One of God’s Chosen People?One phrase jumps out from today’s passage in Isaiah’s prophecy to God’s people: “once again he will choose Israel,” (Isaiah 14:1, NIV). God, through Isaiah, gives his people hope for a better tomorrow.

At this particular time, however, God’s people are discouraged; they feel he has abandoned them. They have no reason to celebrate; they have no cause for joy. God, it seems, has turned his back on them; it feels like he has left.

In reality he’s giving them a timeout, a deserved punishment to get their attention over their repeated disobedience. He wants to remind them of who he is and how they should act.

Yet they despair. They call out for him, desperate for a response.

But God delays.

Yet as he tarries he offers them hope for a better tomorrow. He promises he will choose them once again.

He chose them in the past, and he will choose them in the future. And though they don’t realize it, he chooses them now. But they don’t see it; they don’t feel chosen.

We all have times when God feels distant, when it’s hard to pray, when his voice remains silent, when faith falters. Some people call these the dry times or their desert experience. Yet God will choose us again.

The reality is that God never un-chose us. We remain chosen by him – even when we don’t feel like it. We are his chosen people. May we remember to act like it.

Do you feel chosen by God? Are you in a desert place waiting for him to choose you again? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Isaiah 14-17, and today’s post is on Isaiah 14:1.]

Is Jesus Our Model For Masculinity?

Should we emulate the man who drove merchants from the temple and denounced hypocrisy?

Is Jesus Our Model For Masculinity?When I blogged about the need for a male role model I wondered if the life of Jesus might stand as an example for men to follow. Is he the perfect blend of godly power and God-intended masculinity?

Indeed the character and actions of Jesus is compelling, more gripping than any other. Here are the lessons we can learn from Jesus:

A Man of Action: Incensed over sacrilegious commerce being conducted in the temple, degrading worship and exploiting people, Jesus makes a whip and drives the merchants away. He scatters their money and overturns their tables; animals flee. He makes a real mess. Jesus takes bold action to confront wrong behavior (Matthew 21:12-13, John 2:15-17).

A Man of Strength: Jesus is physically strong, able to endure the barbaric tortures of crucifixion. Being flogged (Mark 15:15) was enough to kill some people; Jesus survives. He withstands the soldiers as they beat him (Luke 22:63-64) and carries his own cross (John 19:17). In this Jesus stands as our modern view of manly power.

A Man of Faith: Jesus prays (Luke 11:1) and fasts (Matthew 4:1-2). He places priority on his relationship with God.

A Man of Boldness: Not afraid to condemn misguided spiritual practices, Jesus speaks against hypocrisy (Matthew 12:34). His concern is righting spiritual wrongs, and he has no worries over offending religious leaders in error.

A Man of Spiritual Power: With supernatural insight Jesus knows what others are thinking (Luke 5:22), has command over nature (Mark 4:39), heals people (Matthew 4:23), and raises the dead (Luke 8:54-55).

A Man of Love and Compassion: Jesus blesses children (Matthew 19:13-14). He longs to love and protect them (Luke 13:34). He cares about the masses, offering compassion (Matthew 9:36) and loving them (Mark 10:21).

This is an impressive list, one truly worthy of emulation, yet Jesus is not our model for masculinity. Instead Jesus stands as a model for humanity, both men and women. Jesus is the ultimate paragon, our model of excellence and perfection, a peerless example.

Jesus is an example for all to follow, not just the guys.

Which of Jesus’s characteristics do you most identify with? Which ones seem aligned with one gender more than the other? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

God Seldom Reveals the Big Picture to Us – Just the Next Step

God Seldom Reveals the Big Picture to Us – Just the Next StepGod first comes to Abraham when he is still known as Abram. God tells him to leave all he knows and to go – somewhere – to a place God will later show him. The final destination is apparently on a need-to-know basis and Abram doesn’t need to know.

If it were me, I’d want some details. Where are you sending me, God? Why? What is your end game? How long will I be gone? What should I pack? What preparations should I make? Am I coming back?

Then I’d do some research, check with others, and spend a lot of time thinking about it. And I’d pray, too. God would likely need to tell me a couple times before I obeyed. I like to see the big picture, but God doesn’t seem to work that way – at least with me.

Though God promises to make Abram into a great nation, this is not conditional on Abram’s obedience. In this case God’s promise is unconditional.

Again, if it were me, I’d be tempted to ask God to make me into a great nation right where I was, without the ambiguous travel command into the unknown.

Yet Abram goes. This is his first recorded act of faith. It isn’t until he reaches Canaan that God reveals more. He promises to give that land to Abram’s descendants. That is God’s big picture, or at least a wider view of it. Abram has to move out in faith and go to where God leads him. Only then does God give him more information.

I guess that’s why it’s called faith.

Does God show you his big picture or just the next step? When God tells you to do something, how do you respond? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Genesis 12-14, and today’s post is on Genesis 12:1-7.]

What Do People Remember About You?

When Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica he professes three things he recalls about them. He remembers them and their characteristics before God, presumably as he prays, offering thanksgiving to God for their lives and the examples they provide.

What Do People Remember About You?Three things stand out as the testimony of the Thessalonian church, their witness to the world around them:

Faithful Work: Their faith in God produces their work. They don’t work for the sake of working or do things just to do things. They work with intentionality because of their faith. They couple actions with belief, with their actions springing forth from their spiritual moorings.

Loving Labor: Their love for others prompts them to help others. They don’t love in name only or in theory, they show their love by their deeds. For them love is a verb. Because of their love, they toil for others, laboring for the benefit of those around them.

Enduring Hope: They persevere because of Jesus, through their hope in him and the promises he offers. This hope inspires their endurance; it motivates them to persist regardless of the situation or circumstances. Their hope propels them forward.

When Paul thinks about this church, this is how he remembers them. He recalls their faith, their love, and their hope. In another letter Paul upholds all three of these ideals and then adds that the greatest of them is love.

What do people remember about us?

How do you love people? Does your faith, love, and hope shine through? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

(1 Thessalonians 1:3, 1 Corinthians 13:13)

We Shouldn’t Be Afraid When it Comes to God

Matthew writes about Jesus sending out his disciples to tell others about him. In the middle of his lengthy instructions, he simply reminds them, “Do not be afraid.” That’s good to know. He is about to send them out by themselves to do something risky. After all, people criticize Jesus; they will certainly criticize his followers, too.

We Shouldn’t Be Afraid When it Comes to GodThe idea of not being afraid reoccurs often in the Bible, ninety three times. Seventy times the Bible says, “Do not be afraid,” and another twenty-three times it’s shortened to “Don’t be afraid.” This occurs throughout the Old Testament, starting in Genesis. It continues in the New Testament in the Gospels and Acts, last popping up in Revelation.

Though sometimes this is God’s people telling others to not be afraid, usually it is God telling us. This may be during a supernatural encounter, before doing some hard task, or in the face of a humanly impossible assignment. We need to not be afraid. And if we follow God, he is with us, and we have nothing to fear.

Of course, this is easier to think about than to actually do. But we can give our fears to God, trusting him to protect us, guide us, and keep us safe. God wants us to live by faith, not cower in fear. Being bound by fear is only seeing today; being freed from fear is only seeing the eternal.

How do you deal with fear? When you give your fears to God, do you sometimes take them back? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below

[Matthew 10:31]

Can an Actionless Faith Save You?

There are some people who try to earn their way into heaven. They do good and obey God’s commands – at least most of them anyway. They work hard their entire life to get God’s attention. Surely when their time comes, God will throw open the doors to heaven. With a wide smile and a gracious gesture he will say, “Well done good and faithful servant.” But he could say, “Go away, I don’t know you.” They’re really not sure. They hope they’ve been good enough, but doubt lingers.

Can an Actionless Faith Save You?Others laugh at this approach. They say you can’t earn your way into heaven. Eternal life is a gift, given in grace and received by faith. They say a little prayer and figure it’s all good. They have their get-out-of-hell card. Since heaven is a present, they continue living a life unchanged. They set God aside and live for themselves.

Is faith alone enough to save them? Maybe it is and maybe it’s not. James writes that it’s through our actions – that is, our good deeds – that we confirm our faith.

Yes, we are saved by God’s grace through our faith, but then we prove it by showing his love to others through our actions. We need to have faith and then we need to do good deeds. Both are required.

What do you think about faith and doing good deeds? Do you agree with James? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

[Matthew 25:19-23, Matthew 25:12, Ephesians 2:8, Romans 6:1-2, James 2:14-17]