Praying About Difficult Decisions

I. Introduction

From time to time, we all come to a big decision in our lives. I’ve lost my job; what should I do now? I have a medical issue; how should I treat it? Is this person right for me? Should I compromise, or should I stand my ground?

We are faced with decisions often. Yearly, monthly, daily. Some of the decisions we face are very mundane. Should I wear this tie today? Some are more serious. Should I go to church and bible study today? And some are serious indeed: job, family, friends, moral choices. Many times, the choice affects not just you, but several or many people.

Several years ago, I had made a decision to get Lasik surgery to get rid of my very thick glasses. I read up the procedure, became familiar with the different types, selected a doctor and had the examinations and evaluations. And then the day finally came for me to have the operation. It was only a 10 minute operation, max, to treat both eyes.

There was a small hiccup. Apparently I have small pupils, but they had to be very dilated before the surgery could begin. So while it took 3 different treatments of those drops they put into your eyes, so they kept slipping my treatment later and later waiting for my eyes to dilate. I had time to walk around the doctor’s office.

Now, this doctor had a glass-walled operating table. I could see a patient laying on the table, bit computerize contraption over their head as the doctor began to work. And he also had a television monitor outside so you could see the surgery up close. And I watched an extreme close-up of an eye sliced open and lasered. And my appointment was next.

I don’t recommend that for anybody. I had been calm, cool, collected up until this point, but watching an eye sliced opened and lasered ten minutes before this butcher, Dr. Frankenstein, would do his science experiment on me filled me with anxiety. What was I thinking? What if something went wrong? Would this hurt? What if I was blinded? Can I change my mind? Can I get a refund? You know, now that I think of it, coke bottle glasses aren’t so bad after all. I mean, I had a lot of anxiety about this decision.

I can hardly imagine the anxiety Jesus faced with His most important decision. Jesus’ decision would make would affect the world and he would suffer serious pain, humiliation, and then death. How did Jesus get through this decision? That’s what we’re going to study today in Mark 14.

II. Mark 14, The Ministry of Jesus

First, let’s summarize where we are in history. Jesus has been teaching us parables, teaching us behaviors, and teaching us scripture and prophecy. But the end of the chapter of Mark is coming, and with that is the climax, the purpose for Jesus Himself. Soon, to fulfill prophecy, Jesus will suffer and die on the cross.

Mark 14 has a series of disappointments for Jesus. His ministry is nearly complete, and those closest to Him let Him down. Let’s look at a couple of quick verses –

Verse 1. “Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him.” These are the pastors, the deacons, the bible study teachers of Jesus’ time. They studied God’s Word looking for His purpose, and instead of recognizing Jesus for who He is, they plotted to kill Him. There are two very serious problems here – one, despite all their studying, they don’t accept the Messiah that fulfills prophecy. Were they really studying, seeking God’s purpose? I think one could answer that by the second problem, they sought to deal with Jesus by trying to kill Him.

How many commandments are there? Do one of the commandments deal with killing people you don’t like? So these leaders either weren’t really studying and didn’t know, or they were so full of their own self-righteousness that they believed the law didn’t apply to them.

And in verse 17, the disciples are all eating supper together, the Passover meal. And Jesus knows He is having supper with Judas Iscariot, His betrayer. A man who has spent the last 3 years studying and traveling with Jesus. Verse 43, Judas leads a mob from the Sanhedrin to arrest Jesus.

And in verse 53, the Sanhedrin put on a sham trial in order to convict Jesus who was innocent of any sin. And between the mob and the trial, one of His closest disciples who promised never to deny Jesus did exactly that in verse 68. And Mark 14 closes with Jesus alone, abandoned by His friends and convicted by those who wanted to kill Him.

Jesus knew all these things would happen. How do you think Jesus felt? Knowing all these things were to happen, Jesus was hurt, troubled, distressed, and even scared. Jesus is God, but Jesus is also man. He was about to suffer for who He was.

So the night before Judas leads the soldiers of the High Priests to Jesus to arrest Him, Jesus has to make a decision. What steps did Jesus take to make sure He was making the right decision?

III. The Prayer of Jesus

Mark 14:32-35 –

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.

How would you describe Jesus’ emotions this night?

Why do you think it was important for Jesus to take some disciples to the garden for prayer?

When people face a difficult decision, what type of person do they turn to?

What’s the first thing Jesus did when faced with a difficult decision?

The garden of Gethsemane was most probably an olive garden on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. Other scripture indicates that Jesus came here more than once with His disciples; it was probably a peaceful, quiet place. Jesus took His closes friends – Peter, James, and John – with Him for support.

The NIV says Jesus was troubled; the NASB version translates this word as “horrified.” His human self and sense of self-preservation was now at battle with His spiritual side. It had all come down to this. Three years of walking among the people, healing them and teaching them, offering a chance to know and accept Him and knowing that they would reject him. Before the next 24 hours were complete, Jesus would offer himself up for the world and for you and for me. The worst part must have been the anticipation, the anxiety of knowing that tomorrow He would die, and die painfully. Julius Caesar once said, “It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die than it is to find those willing to endure pain with patience.

And with those thoughts in His mind, Jesus fell to His knees and began to pray.

It is easy to forget the power of prayer. Our prayers are shallow. Somebody tells us about their pain or their anxiety, and we put our hand on their shoulder and say, “I’ll pray for you.” And I suspect most of the time we don’t. We return to our own life and forget our promise to pray. What are some of the reasons we don’t pray? (No immediate gratification, we’re too busy, we doubt the prayer will be answered.)

Let’s look at Jesus’ prayer in Mark 14:36 –

“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Once more he went away and prayed the same thing.

a. Prayer Depends on Our Relationship

The normal method of prayer for Jews is a standing position with palms up and open to address God. Jesus’ prayer is radical for the time; first, he’s not standing. He fell to the ground. He is in a position of pleading, making an urgent request. And His first word is…. Abba. This is not the musical group Abba of the 70’s. Abba is a term of endearment, a child’s word. Children in our culture might say “Dada;” the Jewish children said “Abba.”

And the first thing we know about Jesus’ prayer is that He knew who He was praying to. He had a relationship with God, a close, personal relationship. “Abba” is used three times in the New Testament. The second time is Romans 8:15 by Paul –

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

And the third time in Galatians 4:6, And because you Gentiles have become his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, and now you can call God your dear Father, Abba.

When you pray, who do you pray to? A concept? A belief? The Force, like in Star Wars? Some vague deity somewhere in the sky? God wants more from you. He wants you to know Him as He knows you already. He wants an intimate, personal relationship. That sounds great. How do I do that?

If we are going to pray to God “the” Father then it better be to God “our” Father. He only becomes our Father when we become his children. How do we become a child of God? John 1:12, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”

And as His Children, do we have any chores to do? Philippians 2:15, “You are to live clean, innocent lives as children of God in a dark world full of crooked and perverse people. Let your lives shine brightly before them.” This relationship should be evident to others; 1 John 3:10, “So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the Devil. Anyone who does not obey God’s commands and does not love other Christians does not belong to God.”

You are a child of God if you have believed in Jesus and accept him and you live clean innocent lives and obey God’s commands. Then you can call out to Him, Abba.

b. Prayer Depends on Trusting God’s Power

Jesus also knew the power of God. Everything is possible for you. What’s the point of praying if you don’t believe God has the power to answer your prayers? We have to understand and have faith that with God, everything and anything is possible. The biggest stumbling block to believing that is everyone who prays has unanswered prayers. I prayed and God didn’t answer.

What we need to understand is that God does not always answer prayers the way we expect. In my experience, most but not all my prayers are answered in ways I didn’t expect. God doesn’t always answer our prayers; I don’t know why. Some of my prayers I’m glad He didn’t answer. Some of my prayers I didn’t wait for an answer and took matters into my own hands. Some of my prayers, well, I prayed for God to make somebody else do something.

It’s like this – I can pray that God make everybody I know be sweet and loveable. But God doesn’t force His will on anybody. But it’s not because God is not able. The angel Gabriel told Mary in Luke 1:37, “For nothing is impossible with God.”

c. Prayer Depends on Asking

So Jesus prayed to His daddy, believing that God can do anything and everything, and then… Jesus prayed for himself. I struggle with this, I don’t know why. I feel guilty, praying for myself. I should be praying for others, and I’m selfish if I pray for myself. But we shouldn’t feel guilty; if we can call God “Abba,” what father doesn’t want His children to be happy? And wouldn’t it make a father happy to give His children what they ask for?

Think for a second about the Lord’s prayer. How much of that prayer is for us? Our father, give us our daily bread, forgive us, keep us from temptation. It’s not wrong to pray for ourselves, to ask God to take care of us and provide for us and protect us. Jesus once asked in Matthew 7:9-11, “What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?”

d. Prayer Depends on Surrendering

So it’s ok to ask for things for ourselves. But here’s the hard part – letting God decide what is right. The fourth part Jesus’ prayer is the hardest. “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” How do you know the will of God? To me, the most incredible part is that God’s will for me has, for the most part, already been written in the bible. It’s already been revealed, I just have to seek it out.

The key, I believe to seeking it out, goes back to Jesus’ example. Troubled and anxious and in need of God, Jesus went to a quiet place to pray, to be alone with God. I confess I don’t always have the best quiet time with God. I tend to shortchange prayer in my life, I pray when I’m driving or showering or studying or something. Setting aside prayer for the sake of prayer is something I need to work on. I study often, especially when it’s time to teach, but that’s only half of what it takes to understand God’s will. Jesus set an example that prayer is needed, it is necessary, and it is comforting to pray to our most powerful heavenly Father.

Jesus didn’t want to suffer, and Jesus prayed for release from the events about to occur. But He added a “yet.” Yet not my will, but your will. Our prayers are most effective when we are not seeking to change God’s will, but by asking God to change us.

What does Jesus’ prayer reveal about His trust in God?

How can our prayers reveal our trust in God?

Why was it important for Jesus to declare His commitment to God’s will?

How can a person’s actions demonstrate a commitment to follow God’s will?

IV. Conclusion

The best way we can begin dealing with a difficult decision is in prayer. Pray. Focus on God’s will. Choose God’s will. Then do God’s will.

Jesus gave us a four part prayer example for when we are faced with a difficult decision. Know who you are praying to, know that He has the power to answer prayers, ask specifically what you need, and surrender your will to the Creator of the Stars.

Walking Together

Pittsburgh Steelers logo
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Let’s talk football. Today’s the big day, Superbowl 43, Pittsburgh Steelers versus Arizona Cardinals. Pittsburgh is going for their 6th Championship ring, and they are a football dynasty. Arizona Cardinals last won an NFL title in 1947 and hold the record for the longest drought without a title.

There are great reasons to root for both teams. For instance, Diane is rooting for Pittsburgh because it’s her home town. My mother is going to root for the Cardinals because their uniforms match her fingernail polish. Both excellent reasons.

But there is something bigger going on behind the scenes this year. Kurt Warner, the quarterback of the Cardinals, is a Christian evangelical who gives thanks to God in nearly every interview. Before his NFL career, he was bagging groceries, and now he holds weekly bible study sessions with as many as 20 of his teammates. Kurt says, “You just have to embrace it, whatever God does in your life and wherever He puts you.”

Troy Polamalu, safety for Pittsburgh, is an Eastern Orthodox Christian, savage on the field but gentle in person. This week, Troy said, “I feel like faith is the foundation of everything I do on and off the field,” he said this week in Tampa. “It determines how you live your life when you love God.”

And the faith of the Steeler’s coach, Mike Tomlin, is the cohesion that holds the team together. Here’s a snippet from an article from BehindTheSteelCurtain.com


The cohesion of a football team is the direct reflection of its head coach. The 2008 Steelers are the ultimate model of individuals coming together as one. It is said that truly great people take more than their share of the blame and less than their share of the credit. Through Tomlin’s leadership, you can hear that mantra ringing from each and every player. Not only do Steelers’ players not snipe at each other and look to blame, they genuinely love each other and defend each other. The camaraderie on the 2008 team was as good as it gets. Stan Savran, popular Pittsburgh media personality, has been around the team for more than 30 years. Heading into the AFC Championship Game, Savran could feel the unity. “There’s something very special going on in that locker room,” said Savran. “You can feel it.”

Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can attest first-hand about Savran’s intuition. “We have a special group. We call ourselves ‘The Band of Brothers.’ The offense picks the defense up. The defense picks the offense up. Special teams picks us all up. We say that nothing can come between us. We’re a real close group. We really feel that way. We want to go out and play for each other.”

LaMarr Woodley, a young player in just his second year, is experiencing something that he’s never experienced before. “I never imagined feeling this way about teammates,” revealed Woodley. “We’re not playing for ourselves. We’re playing for the team. There are no individuals in that locker room. It’s really hard to explain, but it is very real and very special.”




And how does Mike Tomlin hold the Steelers together? He puts into practice what he’s learned as a Christian. This week in Tampa, Tomlinson explained his faith in Jesus Christ this way: “First and foremost, I want people to know who I am and what the most important thing is in my life, my relationship with Jesus Christ. I want to lead with a servant’s heart. Football is what we do; faith is who we are all the time.”

For further reading on Mike Tomlin’s faith, follow the link.

• What role do you believe unity has played in the success of the Steelers?
• How important do you think it is for us as Christians to be unified?
• How does unity affect our effectiveness as Christians to non-believers? To believers?

Does God want us to work as a team? Of course He does. The bible says that we are made in His image, and He is a relational God we can know. The love God shows to us, we are to model by loving our neighbors as ourselves. This is the message behind Paul’s conclusion to the church at Thessalonica at the end of 1 Thessalonians, so let’s turn there now. Here’s a scripture for today, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 –


Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.



When I first read this conclusion, it reminded me of all those final instructions Grandma gave after a visit to her house. “Goodbye! Be safe! Eat well! Study hard! Wear clean clothes! Look both ways before crossing the street!” And she’d still be calling out all these instructions, even after the car window was rolled up and we were headed down the street and couldn’t hear her. There is much more to these last instructions, though; Paul is telling the Thessalonians how they are to live together as a church of believers.

There are no indications the church at Thessalonica was divided at this time; Paul’s just encouraging and teaching them to be in harmony with each other. In the first sentence, Paul calls them “brothers.” Paul uses this word 27 times in the letters to the Thessalonians; as Christians, we are all adopted children of God, and Paul saw the local church as his family.

I. Family Leadership

No family is perfect; each and every one of us know the dysfunction in our own families. We’re all imperfect and a little dysfunctional, but it is our love for our family that helps us overcome our dysfunctions. And so it is with our local church.

In each local family, we have a leader; without leadership, the family falls apart. God’s structure for the family is for the husband to be the head of the family and sacrifice himself for the good of the family. The wife is to stand next to him and make sure he sacrifices himself. I mean, she encourages him and supports him in love and cooperation. And the children are to obey their parents. This is God’s structure, and the family becomes dysfunctional when we don’t respect that structure.

And so it is with the church. Even though Galatians 3:28 says, “we are all one in Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 4:11-13 tells us that God has given each member of the church unique spiritual gifts –


was he [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.





So some people are given gifts to pastor and teach the church so that the church as a whole may be raised up in maturity and prepare God’s people for service. That is God’s purpose for the church, and God’s purpose for the spiritual leaders of the church.
Paul’s letter, though, is not addressed to the leaders; it’s addressed to the brothers and sisters of Christ. What responsibilities do we have as brothers and sisters in Christ toward those in leadership?

a. Accept them.

People in church leadership are doing their best to utilize the gifts God gave them. Church leaders are not dictators, they are example to follow and have been given spiritual authority from the Lord. As they follow the Lord, so we, too, must follow them.

b. Appreciate them.

Verse 12 says, “respect those who work hard among you.” Spiritual leadership is both a great responsibility and a difficult task, whether one is serving as a pastor, deacon, director, or other spiritual leader like teacher, mission leader, social director, or His Honor, Royal Guardian of the Lunch Ministry. Encouragements are few, battles are many, and leadership is always under attack by Satan. As brothers and sisters, we should pray for our leaders, encourage our leaders, and appreciate our leaders, and serve joyfully with them. There is nothing wrong with honoring faithful servants as long as it is God who gets the glory.

c. Love them.

Paul chooses his words carefully, verse 12 says that our spiritual leaders are our brothers and are “among us,” but they are also leaders “over us in the Lord.” This can easily strain relationships as leaders are called to speak the truth in love. For a pastor to be “among us” and be “over us” at the same time requires the power of the Holy Spirit to be effective. If our ministry leaders are just our good friends, their authority to be over us and lead God’s will is weakened. On the other hand, if our ministry leaders are too authoritative, we view them as a dictator. Our leaders have to practice fellowship and authority at the same time and it requires careful balance.

d. Obey them.

Hebrews 13:17 says,


Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.



Spiritual leaders are not always right in everything they do. They’re human and often fail. David, a king and a man after God’s own heart made serious errors in pride, adultery, and murder. Peter denied Christ 3 times and is almost a study unto himself on how to say and do goofy things while in the ministry of Christ. But wise leaders know this; they are jars of clay, prone to cracking, and they seek Christian counsel in their decisions. As leaders, they are God’s servant, and when they call us to obey God’s word, then we must give them willingly our cheerful obedience unless it is obvious they are strayed from God’s message.

If we do these four things for our leadership – accept, appreciate, love, and obey them, then we win the Church super bowl. Paul tells us that the fruit of this cheerful following is that we will be at peace among ourselves. If there’s no peace and harmony, it’s almost always because of selfishness and sin on the part of the leaders or the followers or both. This leads to dissension and division. James 4:1-3 says


What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.




Which do we want as a church? Peace and harmony, or strife and quarrels? It’s clear that only through submission to those appointed as our leaders will we enjoy peace in the family. But we cannot put the burden of peace and harmony squarely on our leaders, so Paul also talks about how we should get along with each other.

II. Family Relationships

In many churches, people expect the church to provide for them. The laymen give their tithes, the church provides the services. But church leaders can’t do everything, and then the people grumble, the leadership weakens, and the church becomes ineffective.

But that’s not God’s plan for the church. The people of the church are supposed to do the work of the ministry. The purpose of the leadership is to equip the people to do the ministry according to Ephesians 4:12 which we just read a moment ago. Instead of blaming the church for the weakness we see, we are to step up and serve. Titus 2 tells us that the older members of the church are to instruct the younger members. As brothers and sisters, we help our brothers and sisters. We don’t have to wait for the leadership to tell us to help.

Some of our brothers and sisters are… special. Paul tells us specifically in verse 14 about three family members that need our help –

a. The unruly. The NIV calls these the idle, but the word means “careless” or “out of line.” The word was usually applied to a soldier who couldn’t march in line. Anybody in here want to admit to marching to the beat of a different drummer? We’re all unique individuals with special gifts, but there are some rules we have to follow if we are to be a cohesive church. We conduct this class according to certain rules, church starts at a certain time, we volunteer to fill specific roles. Otherwise there is chaos. As parents, we love to see our children grow and express individuality, but if that individuality leads to rebellion against our standards, it causes us grief. Individuality is good, rebellion is chaos.

b. The feebleminded, which the NIV calls the timid. The literal translation means “little-souled.” These are the quitters, the criticizers, the pessimists. Paul calls us to encourage them and comfort them and help them grow into bigger souls.

c. The weak. Paul isn’t talking about the physically weak, he’s talking about the spiritual health of the church. Paul means those that are weak in the faith of the Lord. As Christians, we tend to think of the spiritually weak as new believers or those in danger of falling away, but Paul’s actually referring to those people that do not understand their freedom in Christ. New believers in Paul’s time were still also trying to fulfill Jewish law, and they were full of condemnation for those that ate meat on holy days, did work on the Sabbath, and so on. The spiritually weak among us may think they’re strong, but if we criticize or condemn another brother or sister, *we* are the spiritually weak. To be strong is to learn how to be encouraging instead of judgmental.

Ministering to the unruly, the timid, the criticizers and spiritually weak isn’t easy, especially if we don’t realize when *we* are the unruly and spiritually weak. Paul tells us to keep three things in mind when we are ministering to our brother or sister –

1. Be patient. Be patient with whom? Everyone. Patience is a difficult thing to learn, especially when dealing with others. Everybody grows in faith at a different speed, and God speaks to us all individually in His perfect timing. Romans 15:5-6, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

2. Watch our motives. Paul elaborates on this in Romans 12:17-17, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.”

3. Be kind. Paul tells us to be kind to each other and to everyone else. While the bible is useful for teaching, rebuking and training in righteousness, too often we wish we had a really heavy bible so we could beat our unruly brothers over the head with it. Criticism and complaining never yields the fruit Jesus expects from us; instead, use kindness and encouragement. Kindness and encouragement is very effective at motivating others to grow.

III. Family Worship

Worshiping the Lord in church gives glory to God, and it’s what we are called to do as brothers and sisters. We must start with worship, otherwise ministry becomes stressful, teaching becomes dry, and relationships aren’t fruitful. All of our activities as a church must begin with worship and praise. I bet Paul had instruction for us in worship, too. Let’s run through verses 16-28; Paul gives us a bunch of instruction in rapid-fire –

a. Be joyful always. God wants a joyful family, not one of dissension or criticizing or irritation. Each family member should contribute to the joy of all. Worship in joy. Then, when we give, give cheerfully. When we serve, serve with joy. Nehemiah 8:10 says, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”

b. Pray continually. Being a mature member of Christ means being in constant conversation with God. I don’t mean we are to be constantly mumbling prayers, but that in our thoughts and actions we stay in touch with God to see if what we say and do pleases him. We are called to “pray without ceasing.”

c. Give thanks in all circumstances. Thanks and praise must be an integral part of the family of God. Ephesians 5:19-20 says “speak… to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Study alone is insufficient; application of God’s word begins with praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God.

d. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire. Many things can extinguish the Spirit’s fire. Complacency, legalism, criticism, discouragement. But God is at work, halleluiah.

e. Don’t despise prophecies. In 1 Corinthians 14:3, Paul says the purpose of prophecy is to strengthen, encourage, and comfort the church. One way to quench the Holy Spirit’s fire is to look down on the work others are doing. I know occasionally I criticize the “name it and claim it” preaching I hear from other pastors, but the Holy Spirit is at work, even when the message is incomplete. It’s one thing to correct and rebuke, but despising the message is going too far.

f. Test everything, hold on to the good. The “nam
e it and claim it” messages may be incomplete, but they still contain some truth. How do we know what is truth? We test it, compare it to the rest of scripture, and keep that part of the message that is true. The Christian life involves hearing a lot of spiritual messages, and we must learn to keep the message that is authentic and discard errors and falsehood. The only way to learn how to do that is to read God’s word and learn it.

g. Avoid every kind of evil. We’ve heard the instruction to be in the world, but not of the world. Temptation abounds. When we recognize it, we should avoid even the appearance of evil.

h. Rely on God. Whew. Grandma’s almost finished. We’ve just read a whole lot of instruction to our family of believers about how to treat our leadership and how to treat each other. Fortunately, we don’t have to do it alone. Paul reminds us that God Himself, the God of Peace, is at work in us. If we are in prayer without ceasing, Jesus is faithful and the Holy Spirit will give us the strength to be the brother and sister of Christ that encourages and builds up one another.

Sixteen short verses; a lifetime of instruction to practice if we are to be a model family of believers. There is a purpose to all these instructions; Jesus will return, and we are to be ready. “May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Word of God is at work in our lives; let us continue to build the fire of the Holy Spirit in each and every one of us until the coming of our Lord and Savior.

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Walking in Christ

What is your philosophy of life, and what does it say about you? I found a collection of quotes about life; here’s a small sample –

  • Erma Bombeck: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.'”
  • Henry David Thoreau: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
  • Richard Bach: “Here is the test to find whether your mission on earth is finished. If you’re alive, it isn’t.”
  • Ashleigh Brilliant: “My life has a superb cast but I can’t figure out the plot.”
  • Dennis Wholey: “Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are good is like expecting the bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian.”
  • Unknown: “Life is a whim of several billion cells to be you for a while.”
  • Cary Grant: “My formula for living is quite simple. I get up in the morning and I go to bed at night. In between, I occupy myself as best I can.”
  • Mark Twain: “Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.”
  • Unknown: “Life is an endless struggle full of frustrations and challenges, but eventually you find a hair stylist you like.”

Some philosophies of life are awe-inspiring. Others are depressing. Philosophies of “live it up” or “just getting by” or “what’s in it for me” tell us a lot about the person who believes them. Would it surprise you to know that Christ has a philosophy for us? Jesus Christ wants us to walk the Christian walk.

A walk implies a starting place. It also implies a destination. In between, there is a journey. Depending on the road traveled, the journey is bumpy or smooth, uphill or downhill, paved or muddy. Some people say they need to find themselves, as if going on such a walk, they’ll eventually find a path that leads back to them. But that doesn’t work; I’ve discovered that no matter where I go, there I am. I am the walk.

Paul talks a lot about the Christian walk. In Ephesians 4:1, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” Ephesians 4:17, “walk not as other Gentiles walk.” Ephesians 5:2, “walk in love,” and Ephesians 5:8, “walk as children of light.”

Walking suggests progress, that on the journey we do not stay in one place. The new Christian begins his new life with a single step of faith. But that step of faith leads to a walk in faith. 2 Corinthians 5:7 says “for we walk by faith, not by sight.” We mature along a path; Hebrews 6:1 says we are to press on to maturity, and Philippians 3:13-16 says we are to press on toward the goal to win the prize in Christ Jesus. And because Satan has put traps and detours along the way, 1 John 1:5-7 tells us to walk in the light as He is in the light.

Jesus says that narrow is the road that leads to life. On the left side of the Christian walk is liberalism. A Christian will say, “I have accepted Jesus as my Savior, and I’m free in Christ. Doesn’t God want me to be happy?”

• What’s wrong with Christian liberalism? What is wrong with living to please yourself? How widespread is this attitude among Christians?

At the root of liberalism is often selfishness; we are trying to please people or trying to please ourselves more than God. But if the left side of the path is a ditch of liberalism, there is a ditch on the right side, too. The right side is the ditch of legalism. Christians get wrapped in the rules of being a Christian. We get wrapped up in finding rules in the bible, define rules for our lives, refine the rules, and judge others by the rules we’ve discovered. The problem with legalism side of the path is that we mistakenly think that by applying and living rules that we can earn our way to heaven by doing good deeds. We forget that salvation is a gift that we cannot earn on our own.

In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul describes how to walk this Christian walk. The first step for the new Christian was a step of faith; the first part of the journey is to walk in holiness.

I. Walk in Holiness (verse 1-8)

Let’s read 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.

1. To please God (verse 1)

Everybody lives to please somebody. Many live to please themselves. Eat, drink, be happy. That’s great advice if you’re on vacation. But in terms of lifestyle, Christians should not spend their life in selfish pleasure. Romans 15:1 says,

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

We can see one goal is to please others. Instead of criticizing the weak for their failing, a solid Christian will bear with their failings and try to help instead.

But we must also be careful when pleasing others. It’s possible to please others and dishonor God at the same time. Paul says in Galatians 1:10,

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Paul opens 1 Thessalonians 4 that the Christian walk consists of living to please God. Jesus Himself says in John 8:29, “I always do what pleases [God].”

Pleasing God is a lot more than simply doing God’s will. If you are obedient but have a bad attitude, that displeases God. Remember the story of Jonah? After obeying the Lord, Jonah sat outside the city, angry with everybody, including God. God blessed His Word, but could not bless Jonah with an attitude like that.

Children should please their father. We should please our Lord. How do we know what pleases God? By listening to Him, living with Him, reading His Word, and fellowshipping in worship and in service. When we understand God’s heart, we’re better able to please Him with our obedience.

2. To obey God (verses 4:2-3)

Obeying God with the right attitude pleases God; verse 3 spells out part of God’s will for us. It is God’s will that we should be sanctified. Where the NIV says, “It is God’s will,” it doesn’t do the word justice. The Greek word for will is “thel?ma” and it’s a military term that means “command.” It’s God’s command that we should be sanctified. What is sanctification?

In the Greek, “sanctification” is the same word as “holiness”. “Hagios” means a separation. What are we separated from? In the theology of original sin, we are separated from God by sin. Becoming a believer, becoming “saved”, is a first step in faith that Jesus is Lord. Sanctification is the lifelong purification process that separates us from worldly sin. It’s the path we’re walking. It is a practical, progressive holiness in our lives as we manifest Christ and the Holy Spirit, becoming less of the world and more of Him. When we are perfectly sanctified, we will be perfectly holy. When does that happen? Well, not in this lifetime. The sanctification journey is complete when we stand before the Living God, blameless in His sight because we’ve accepted the sacrifice of Jesus. Previously, we were part of this world and separated from God. God wants us to separate ourselves from the sin of the world and be part of Him.

Some Christians are saved, put one foot on the path to salvation and never take another step. Some Christians select certain rules regarding study, prayer, service, church attendance, whatever, and stop in the middle of the path. But God’s will for us in this life is that we should be sanctified, continually examining ourselves and separating ourselves from worldly sin. It’s a continuous journey. It is us saying to God, “Yes, I place my life in your hands, mold me according to Your will.” It’s an active process; we cannot simply wish to be sanctified. That isn’t going to happen. We have to actively seek God’s full measure take control of our mind and body, soul and spirit. Living in a way that pleases God is not optional; it’s a command, it’s a moral necessity, and it’s an obligation.

Paul selects a specific worldly sin to warn against; sexual immorality does not please God. God created sex and He and He alone sets the rules for how sex is enjoyed. In the beginning, when God created Adam and Eve, God established marriage as a sacred covenant between one man and one woman. God created sex for reproduction and God created sex for the pleasure of marriage partners. Hebrews 13:4 says,

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.

God sets very strict rules about sex, not to steal joy from people, but for protecting them so that they may not lose their joy. Here’s some disturbing statistics:

  • 30% to 60% of all married individuals in the US will engage in infidelity at some point in their marriage. That sounds high, but when you consider that half of all marriages end in divorce and that as relationships fall apart, people are more likely to stray, some researchers believe even more individuals may engage in adultery.
  • Infidelity is increasing, especially among people under 30, because of greater opportunity and multiple partners before marriage.
  • Men used to cheat more than women, but with more women financially independent, infidelity among married women has nearly caught up to men.
  • Emotional infidelity rates are even higher. No physical contact takes place, but emotional infidelity occurs through the internet, email, and chat rooms.

Where can infidelity start?
What are excuses for infidelity?
What are the resulting damages from infidelity?
What are the best ways to protect against infidelity?

Sexual immorality is a great stumbling block on the walk of sanctification; that’s why God warns us so many times, and Paul specifically tells us here that the proper application of sex is between a married man and woman, and no amount of Hollywood glorification of casual sex or adultery and no amount of Massachusetts or California court rulings about homosexual marriage and no amount of societal acceptance of premarital sex, adultery, or living together will change one iota of God’s Word about sex.

3. To glorify God (verses 4-5)

God’s message is more than rules consisting of “don’t do this” and “don’t do that.” It’s a positive message; live our lives in a way that glorifies God. When we were gentiles, we lived heathen lives because we did not know God. As saved Christians, our lives are more than selfish pleasures; we are members of the body of Christ and are supposed to live lives separate or sanctified from gentiles. “Be in the world, but not of the world.” Most bible interpretations say “control his body” but the literal translation is “possess his vessel.” That can also possibly mean to possess or to live with his own wife since the same word is used in 1 Peter 3:7, calling the wife the “weaker vessel.” Regardless, the principle that God gives us additional talents if we are faithful holds true here. We are to be able to control our own bodies, our mouth, our thoughts, our actions, in a way that honors God. If we cannot be spiritual leaders over ourselves, men cannot be expected to be effective leaders over their household, and 1 Timothy 3 requires men to be leaders of themselves and over their own homes before they are entrusted as leaders within the church. True self-control means willing ourselves to obey God. Either we control our bodies, or our bodies control us. Either we control our thoughts, or our thoughts control us. Self-control is a habit of holy obedience which is perfected and strengthened over time.

4. To escape the judgment of God (verses 6-8)

God hates sin and will judge it accordingly. The Lord will punish men for failure to control themselves, and God must also deal with His own children when they sin. Colossians 3:23-25 says to Christians,

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.

I heard a story about a church member who criticized a pastor for preaching against sin in the lives of Christians. Christians are forgiven, so sin in the life of a believer is different than sin in the life of the unsaved. The pastor replied, “Yes, it is different; it’s worse.”

We are forgiven, of course; that is why Christ died for us. That’s not an excuse to disobey the Lord. Being saved is not a “get out of jail free” card. Remember the story of David we just studied? When David confessed his sins of adultery and murder, God of course forgave him, but could not change the consequences of that sin. It’s the same for us today; God’s Word against sin is to protect us from ourselves and the consequences of our sin. 2 Peter 2:19 tells us that every “man is a slave to whatever has mastered him” and we are all mastered by something. In our walk with Christ, our goal is to be master by Him alone. That’s why Paul reminds Christians here in 1 Thessalonians 4:7 that God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Those who reject God’s Word also reject God.

Any comments about Walking in Holiness? Are there any sins that Christians don’t have to worry about because they’re saved?

II. Walk in Harmony (verse 9-10)

Let’s read 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10 –

Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.

Paul transitions from holiness, our separateness, to brotherly love. Just like God’s holiness should motivate us toward sanctification and removing sin from our lives, so too, God’s love for us should motivate us to love one another. A Christian should love one another.

In the Greek language, there are 4 basic words for love. “Eros” is physical or sensual love. Our modern culture elevates this form of love above all others, but this type of physical love, unless it is within the boundaries of marriage, is sinful. “Storge” (stor-gay) is family love, the type parents have for their children. And there’s agape love which we often study in bible study, the love mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13, the love of patience and kindness, the love that isn’t rude and is not easily angered. It is a self-sacrificing love. Agape love is doing something that is in someone else’s best interest, regardless of whether it’s in your own best interest.

Paul’s talking about the fourth kind of love, “philia,” affectionate love, the type of love between close friends and between married couples. Christians belong to the same family. We have the same father, and we are all brothers and sisters. Paul calls us to be affectionate with one another, and then he calls us to do so even more.

God teaches us to love one another more and more, to be affectionate and loving, by placing us in circumstances that force us to practice this. Anybody in here ever had a serious disagreement with another Christian brother or sister? Somebody else in this church? Perhaps in this class? Perhaps at home? I’ve heard wonderful stories from my Christian brothers and sisters about difficulties they once had with another Christian, but by practicing philia love, affectionate love, they overcame their difficulties. In many cases, they are very close friends today because they practiced this love. There is no point in the Christian life where we can ever feel we have completed the Christian walk, we can never sit back comfortably and decide we have grown enough and no further sanctification is needed. All believers need to keep growing in love.

Any comments about Walking in Harmony? Do we always get along with each other? Is there somebody you don’t get along with?

III. Walk in Honesty (verses 11-12)

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

I like the King James translation better than the NIV because instead of “win the respect of outsiders”, the King James says “that ye may walk honestly toward them that are without.” Paul tells us we are to live an honest life, one without hypocrisy. If we say we believe something, let our actions show it. Show that we truly believe it. We’ve heard the saying from St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words.” If you want to be a poor example for Christ, tell people you’re a Christian but lead a mean-spirited, unloving life.

Christians have the obligation to love one another, both philia love and agape love, but also to be good testimonies to the rest of the world. Paul says be ambitious about leading a quiet life, but being ambitious seems at odds with being quiet. Paul is talking about the quietness and gentleness of spirit, having an inner peace that trusts in Christ. Paul reminds Christians that while we are waiting on the Second Coming of Christ, we are not to be idle. The walk of life, the walk of sanctification, is not a moving sidewalk that carries us toward a destination. We must each and individually do our own walk with Christ. You’ve heard the phrase that idle hands are the devil’s workshop. Idle people are selfish, depending on others for their upkeep. Idle people have time to interfere in the lives of others and getting into trouble. Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 3:11 “We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies.” Believers who are about the Lord’s business have little time or desire to meddle in the affairs of others.

Some believe that to work the earth is a curse. That’s a misunderstanding of Genesis. Adam had work to do in the Garden of Eden while still in Paradise. It is the ground that is cursed which makes us toil and sweat. And working enables us to be givers, not takers. If we want to be able to give to those in need, it is better if we are not in need ourselves.

So the exemplary Christian life should be an example, not a hindrance to others. We should live a life of honesty and integrity. The word “integrity” comes from the word “integer” which means “one.” We are to be one person, the same inside as we are outside, the same in public as we are in private.

Any comments about Walking in Honesty? What happens when a Christian’s words and actions toward their family or toward their Christian brothers is not completely honest with what they say they believe? Do you think we are better Christians in public or in private?

Unsaved people should be able to see our quiet walk in Christ towards our sanctification. They should be able to see how we live holy lives of sexual purity, how we live harmonious lives of brotherly love with our Christian brothers and sisters, and how we live honest lives of diligent work and not meddling idly in the lives of others. Living in a way that pleases God, pure and sanctified in obedience and brotherly love is the whole purpose of our walk with Christ.

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How to Gain the Christmas Spirit

The best way to give wings to the Christmas Spirit is to give gifts to people who need them. My wife and I exchanged few gifts this year, opting instead to give to charities instead. Instead of giving somebody a trinket they didn’t need, we’d ask them what their favorite charity was. Then we’d give to that charity, to people in need. We hope many lives were brightened this year.

Giving a gift to those in need is precisely what God did for us 2000 years ago. We are, each one of us, people in need. We want mercy on us for the lies and cheats and naughty or evil thoughts we’ve had. Instead, we deserve justice. Instead, we received a gift of forgiveness. It all began when God came down out of heaven with a baby in His arms. Merry Christmas.

Here’s what happens when you give a gift to those who need it. Fair warning; you may need a tissue to wipe away a tear or two. Try cheering for those who need encouragement.

They played the oddest game in high school football history last month down in Grapevine, Texas.

It was Grapevine Faith vs. Gainesville State School and everything about it was upside down. For instance, when Gainesville came out to take the field, the Faith fans made a 40-yard spirit line for them to run through.

Did you hear that? The other team’s fans?

They even made a banner for players to crash through at the end. It said, “Go Tornadoes!” Which is also weird, because Faith is the Lions.

It was rivers running uphill and cats petting dogs. More than 200 Faith fans sat on the Gainesville side and kept cheering the Gainesville players on—by name.

“I never in my life thought I’d hear people cheering for us to hit their kids,” recalls Gainesville’s QB and middle linebacker, Isaiah. “I wouldn’t expect another parent to tell somebody to hit their kids. But they wanted us to!”

And even though Faith walloped them 33-14, the Gainesville kids were so happy that after the game they gave head coach Mark Williams a sideline squirt-bottle shower like he’d just won state. Gotta be the first Gatorade bath in history for an 0-9 coach.

But then you saw the 12 uniformed officers escorting the 14 Gainesville players off the field and two and two started to make four. They lined the players up in groups of five—handcuffs ready in their back pockets—and marched them to the team bus. That’s because Gainesville is a maximum-security correctional facility 75 miles north of Dallas. Every game it plays is on the road.

This all started when Faith’s head coach, Kris Hogan, wanted to do something kind for the Gainesville team. Faith had never played Gainesville, but he already knew the score. After all, Faith was 7-2 going into the game, Gainesville 0-8 with 2 TDs all year. Faith has 70 kids, 11 coaches, the latest equipment and involved parents. Gainesville has a lot of kids with convictions for drugs, assault and robbery—many of whose families had disowned them—wearing seven-year-old shoulder pads and ancient helmets.

So Hogan had this idea. What if half of our fans—for one night only—cheered for the other team? He sent out an email asking the Faithful to do just that. “Here’s the message I want you to send:” Hogan wrote. “You are just as valuable as any other person on planet Earth.”

Some people were naturally confused. One Faith player walked into Hogan’s office and asked, “Coach, why are we doing this?”

And Hogan said, “Imagine if you didn’t have a home life. Imagine if everybody had pretty much given up on you. Now imagine what it would mean for hundreds of people to suddenly believe in you.”

Next thing you know, the Gainesville Tornadoes were turning around on their bench to see something they never had before. Hundreds of fans. And actual cheerleaders!

“I thought maybe they were confused,” said Alex, a Gainesville lineman (only first names are released by the prison). “They started yelling ‘DEE-fense!’ when their team had the ball. I said, ‘What? Why they cheerin’ for us?'”

It was a strange experience for boys who most people cross the street to avoid. “We can tell people are a little afraid of us when we come to the games,” says Gerald, a lineman who will wind up doing more than three years. “You can see it in their eyes. They’re lookin’ at us like we’re criminals. But these people, they were yellin’ for us! By our names!”

Maybe it figures that Gainesville played better than it had all season, scoring the game’s last two touchdowns. Of course, this might be because Hogan put his third-string nose guard at safety and his third-string cornerback at defensive end. Still.

After the game, both teams gathered in the middle of the field to pray and that’s when Isaiah surprised everybody by asking to lead. “We had no idea what the kid was going to say,” remembers Coach Hogan. But Isaiah said this: “Lord, I don’t know how this happened, so I don’t know how to say thank You, but I never would’ve known there was so many people in the world that cared about us.”

And it was a good thing everybody’s heads were bowed because they might’ve seen Hogan wiping away tears.

As the Tornadoes walked back to their bus under guard, they each were handed a bag for the ride home—a burger, some fries, a soda, some candy, a Bible and an encouraging letter from a Faith player.

The Gainesville coach saw Hogan, grabbed him hard by the shoulders and said, “You’ll never know what your people did for these kids tonight. You’ll never, ever know.”

And as the bus pulled away, all the Gainesville players crammed to one side and pressed their hands to the window, staring at these people they’d never met before, watching their waves and smiles disappearing into the night.

Anyway, with the economy six feet under and Christmas running on about three and a half reindeer, it’s nice to know that one of the best presents you can give is still absolutely free.

Hope.

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How to Kill the Christmas Spirit

The message of Christmas is simple: God loved us, so He sent His son to us. We’re celebrating His birthday.

Ways to celebrate this gift to us are many, and bring peace and joy to us, knowing that God loves us. We can spend time with those we love. We can spend time with those that need love. We can give gifts to show our love.

And then there are horrible ways to honor this gift. Here’s a sample from today’s news:

Focus on the shopping. Shopping is war.

Shopping is war.

The battle is not just among the jostling crowds at the sale bins and cash registers in these pre-Christmas days; it is also between warring factions of our own brains, some economists and neuroscientists say.

Recent studies suggest that each buying decision plays out in the brain as a fight between a pleasure center seeking the bliss of acquisition and an aversion center seeking to avoid the pain of paying.

Waste money on consumerism. With so many needy people around the world, lining up a day before Christmas to overpay for a limited-edition set of sneakers is a complete waste of time and money. Before you spend $2000 trying to get something that moths and rust will destroy, try to imagine how many low-cost sneakers you could buy for the millions of people in this world that have no shoes.

Criticize Santa. Criticize parents for lying to their children instead of nurturing imagination in children.

Vandalize a nativity scene. It’s a sad commentary that churches have to outfit baby Jesus with a GPS to catch petty thieves trying to ruin Christmas for others.

It’s easy to kill the Christmas spirit, but in doing so, you miss the gift that was meant for you.

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Christian Carnival CCLIV

I could call this the “Day After Trying to Recover From What Might Have Been a Minor Flu Edition,” but I won’t. Christmas Season and Flu Season accompany each other every year, like Hansel and Gretel, or Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum. I had just enough aches and pains to baby myself to prevent a flu… heck, enough of the excuses. Instead of posting the Christian Carnival last night, I took some Nyquil and went to bed at 8pm.

Feeling good today, and ready to roll. And whoa, there are a lot of submissions this week. Here’s the 254th Christian Carnival in reverse submittal order-

Vickie Sloderbeck presents How to Be a Sidetracked Mom posted at Sidetracked Moms. Apparently this takes instruction.
:)

Jeremy Pierce presents Bob Jones and Race posted at Parableman. A reflection on some Christians’ resistance to Bob Jones University’s repentance on the race issue.

Jody Neufeld presents Wanted: an Available Tool in the Hand of God posted at Jody’s Devotionals. Have you considered the story of the widow who gave her all and what that might mean in your life?

Henry Neufeld presents Stories in a Chronological Context posted at Participatory Bible Study Blog. Sometimes we behave as though the Bible consists of nothing but God’s interventions. Perhaps we ought to consider the time that passes between our favorite stories as well.

A Sower presents Solomon- God’s Greatest Disappointment? posted at A Sower’s Heart. What can we learn from Solomon’s life?

Minister Mamie L. Pack presents Open Confessions posted at The Life I Now Live. A beautiful study of a transparent life.

Tiffany Partin presents Five Bucks and a Piece of Tin Foil posted at Fathom Deep: Sounding the Depths of God. A simple gift, 2 opposite reactions. This is the season to offer help to those who really need it.

A. Lee presents Edvard Munch : the Man behind the Scream ~ Biography posted at e Art Fair .com. What does Munch have to do with Christianity, you might ask. Everything, I’d like to answer. Munch comes from a strictly religious upbringing and this influence has permeated his art.

In a post entitled God’s arrival in Jerusalem, Weekend Fisher traces an Old Testament prophecy of God’s arrival in Jerusalem back to when God’s arrival was first announced: “Prepare the way of the LORD”. These are among the words which Mark uses to open his gospel. WF considers the possibility that Mark considered Jesus to be the LORD spoken of in the prophecy. Read the article at Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength.

Vickie Sloderbeck presents Some Thoughts on Why I Homeschool My Children posted at Sidetracked Moms. Good thoughts on the benefits of homeschooling. Yeah, I know it’s a second entry from this blog, but if I can post the carnival a day late, then Vickie can have 2 posts.
:)

Drew Tatusko presents the great emergence from abundance posted at Notes From Off Center. God’s grace is a gift that extends beyond any contingencies in which the cause and effect of life finds all people. This includes death itself. Because God’s grace is not contingent on what happens in the world in which we live, God must deserve thanks at every point in time and history. A more fitting alternative is to say either that God simply must not exist, or at least the God who gives the gift of grace to all, for all, and forever must not be real.

Allen Scott presents Living in the Land of Denial posted at Journey Across the Sky. Many people live their lives in a state of denial. An altered state of reality you could say. A place where, in their opinion, everything is as it should be, but those around them hold to a different viewpoint.

Mike Weaver presents Will I Ever Finish? posted at COURAGE FOR TODAY. Lessons I have learned in my Christian walk with the Lord, this time about procrastination.

Mike Weaver presents Red, Yellow, Green, and Blue posted at COURAGE FOR TODAY. Lessons I have learned from my Christian walk with the Lord, this time about my grandmother’s Christmas tree.

Richard H. Anderson presents Date of the Crucifixion according to Luke posted at dokeo kago grapho soi kratistos Theophilos.

Raffi Shahinian presents 7 Christian Clichés…Re-appropriated posted at parables of a prodigal world. Bite-sized morsels of Christianity.

Gil presents Matachines posted at gilocafe. Soldiers of the Virgin dance in her honor.

Jennifer in OR presents Christmas Music: Annie Moses Band! posted at Diary of 1. Contemporary and Classical mix of Christmas music.

ChristianPF presents What the Bible says about this economic downturn posted at Christian Personal Finance Blog. A look at what the Bible says about the economy and what we should be doing now.

ChrisB presents A Concordance as a Devotional posted at Homeward Bound. Even the “begats” can teach us something important with just a little work.

MBB presents Christmas Shopping Credit Tips posted at Money Blue Book Blog.

Stephen Miracle presents Christmas Charity: Giving This Holiday Season posted at Inspirational Articles @ AltNoise.net. It might be harder to give this Christmas season, but it gives us the perfect opportunity to help those in need. It will no longer be automated action, but something actually coming from your heart.

FMF presents Free Money Finance: The Fuel to Feed the Fire posted at Free Money Finance. You can turn your financial life around if God is with you.

Rodney Olsen presents The Bishop of Harare posted at RodneyOlsen.net. Christians in Zimbabwe are suffering persecution. What would the church be doing to stand beside our brothers and sisters?

Henry T (Hank) Imler presents Objections to Calvinism Part 8 of 5 posted at Think Wink.. Does the New Testament discuss Limited Atonement?

Henry M Imler presents Seeking One’s Own Glory posted at Theology for the Masses. God’s glory, which is God’s own being, is God’s love.

Tom Fuerst presents Culture, Theology and Gender posted at Theology for the Masses. The traditional role of women in the home and church versus secular feminism.

Johnny and Kate Brooks presents Hey! You’ve got my nose! posted at Pure Christianity. Way back, we all came from the same family.

The 253rd edition from last week, the Advent (Conspiracy) Edition CCLIII, can be found at “Parables of a Prodigal World.”
http://www.parablesofaprodigalworld.com/2008/12/christian-carnival-ccliii-advent.html
You know you’re itching to submit an article. You can do so with the Christian Carnival Submission form http://blogcarnival.com/bc/submit_1551.html

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We Are the Message

Candle of Loreto
Image by Loci Lenar via Flickr

I’ve discovered the secret to time travel, and have successfully traveled into the future. I’m still doing it – at the rate of 1 second per second. I can’t seem to go any faster or slower.

It amazes me that Thanksgiving has been over for more than a week, and Christmas will be here and gone in a blink. I’m sure time moved slower when I was a kid. The time between December 24 and December 25 was at least a week.

Our Christian life changes over time. The Christian faith we had last year and the year before that should sanctify over time and draw us closer to the Lord. How many remember the day that you gave your life to Christ?

Most of us will fall into one of two groups. For some of us, including me, we gave our life to Christ as an adult. Christ changed our lives abruptly and we became new creatures in Him. Others became Christians as a child or a teenager; lifestyles changed little. I should have been in that last group; I was exposed to Jesus at a very young age and never turned my back to Him. But repentance requires more than that – I also never turned my face toward Him. I did my own thing, not His.

So now my time travel is limited to retrospection. What decisions, good and bad, have I made, and how they steered my life. Only one decision steered my afterlife. A young pastor noticed something – I was coming to church every week, but there was no fruit of my faith. Attendance every week is not fruit, it’s fertilizer that helps us grow.

I can look back with thankfulness for that pastor that devoted a couple of hours a week to me, making sure my faith was laid on a biblical foundation. And I can look back over the last 10 years and thank the Lord for His work in my life. Today, we’re going to look at 1 Thessalonians 1, new believers in Christ, who became wonderful example of Christians.

Paul was on his second missionary journey at this time, during the time in Acts 16-21. Around the year 51, Paul and Silas left Antioch, picked up Timothy in the town of Lystra, through Philippi. Paul and Silas are thrown in prison for their prison but freed by an earthquake. They travel to Thessalonica where Paul teaches in the synagogue for three weeks. The Jews stirred up trouble and then at night, Paul and Silas slipped away to Berea and began teaching in the synagogue there. The Jews from Thessalonica followed Paul to Berea and stirred up trouble. Paul leaves from Corinth and meets Pricilla and Aquila. Over the next 2 years while in Corinth, Paul writes two letters to the Thessalonians to encourage those he had to leave because of persecution.

So that’s our situation; Paul is in Corinth, encouraging new believers in Thessalonica. From the two letters Paul sent, we know a lot about Paul’s feelings. For one thing, he’ saddened he’s unable to return to Thessalonica, and later, Paul would send Timothy back to them to minister to them. Timothy later returned and brought a letter back to Paul.

The letter Timothy brought back concerned Paul. The persecution in Thessalonica had not ended, and the early church there needed encouragement to stand firm. Also, the enemies of the truth were spreading lies about Paul, claiming that Paul was only traveling to make money and build up his reputation. The enemies also claimed that Paul had stirred up the trouble and then fled, leaving the early converts duped into facing the consequences alone. Paul’s letters defended his actions and his integrity, encouraged the new church, preached against paganism that was creeping back into Thessalonica. He also taught them on several topics, including their reputation outside of the church, to love each other, to work diligently, and discussed the end times when Jesus returns, and then teaches them about the fundamentals of Christian living.

There. We finished 1st and 2nd Thessalonians 2 months early. Any questions? Actually, for such a short chapter, there’s a lot of information here. Let’s go a little deeper. 1 Thessalonians 1:1-4 –

Paul, Silas and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you.

We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,

Paul expresses thanksgiving to the Thessalonians for the gospel in their lives and gives thanks to God. There are 10 verses in 1 Thessalonians 1, and Paul mentions God 7 times. Have you ever had anybody thank you for your faith? Do you give thanks to others for their faith? This is worthy of reflection when you consider the work of Jesus in your life.

Paul addresses this letter to the church of Thessalonica; the Greek word used is “ekklesia” and means a gathering of people called for a purpose. So Paul is letting the Thessalonians they have a purpose and that God has called them. Every church is called for a purpose, and every church has both a physical address and a spiritual address. Physically, the church was located in Thessalonica. Spiritually, the church was located in God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Those last four words, “our Lord Jesus Christ,” are beautiful together. “Our” reminds us that we have a uniquely personal relationship with God. “Lord” shows He is the ruler of our lives and our submission to His authority. “Jesus” reflects that God became one of us and reflects His humanity. “Christ” is our savior, the Messiah, fulfilling the prophecies that He came to save us for all eternity. “Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul encourages the church by letting them know he prays for them daily, giving thanks to God. Because of their faith, their work was evident. Because of their love, their labor was evident. And because of their hope, the early Thessalonian church was able to endure the persecution. This is why Paul gives thanks – these are new believers, yet their faith and their love, their hope and endurance was evident. Paul will tell us in a moment why all these are important.

Verse 4 tells the Christian brothers that they are loved and chosen by God. The credit for the existence of the Thessalonica church, and our church, too, belongs entirely to God, not to us. I think as believers in Christ we often take our salvation for granted, as though because we chose to become baptized that we have done a great thing in ensuring our eternal life. But our salvation is not something we earn by our choice, is it? Our salvation is a gift, and God chooses us first. While we make a decision to follow Christ, it is God who first calls us while we are still sinners. We do nothing to deserve salvation. That’s why Paul opens his letter with “grace and peace to you.” Grace is a uniquely Christian concept that God has shown us favor, even though we have done nothing to deserve it. On the contrary, we deserve judgment. But because of God’s grace, we have peace. God has called us and our salvation is secure in Him.

The Thessalonians were new believers, and Paul gave thanks for them. Not only that, it appears Paul had a daily prayer list that included praying for these new believers. This calling of new believers by God is the purpose He has set for us. Paul gave thanks because he could see the “work of faith”, the “labor of love,” the “endurance inspired by hope” in their lives. If somebody examined our lives, will they see the same? What evidence of our faith and love will others find if they examine our lives?
Many people hear the good news yet still refuse to accept Christ. The Holy Spirit does the work of convicting and converting, and Paul encourages the Thessalonians to respond to the Holy Spirit in their lives in 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6 –

because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

The gospel Paul preached follows a specific order. First, the gospel comes to us with words. Faith is useless without knowing why we have faith. Then comes power, the ability to do something. When people hear and accept the good news, lives change. Then Paul mentions the Holy Spirit, God’s gift of Himself to every believer. When the Word of God and the Spirit of God meet in the life of a believer, there is joy and assurance that he or she has freedom from the bondage of sin and is now a child of God.

Notice how Paul encourages the Thessalonians to be imitators of the Lord, but also of himself. We are to be like Christ in our growth as Christians. Paul often asks people of faith to imitate him. In first Corinthians 11:1, he says, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” Ask yourself if you are a good imitator of Christ. Do you have the confidence of Paul? Can you imitate his transparency? If you don’t, why not? Can we be confident that our lives are so Christ-like that we would ask somebody to imitate us? What keeps us from this sort of confidence?

This is an important question because if we are not good imitators of Christ, then we are poor witnesses on His behalf. A good imitator of Christ is a good witness for Christ. We know Paul was a good witness, both by words and by action. The Thessalonians, in turn, became good witnesses despite persecution. They understood that their faith in Jesus Christ might mean temporary suffering but eternal joy. Instead of being embarrassed or hiding their faith, the Thessalonians instead welcomed the message with the joy from the Holy Spirit.

It’s just as important today to be joyful for the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as it was for the Thessalonians. Just like the Thessalonians, we can worship every week with our church, read the scriptures, thank the Lord for the gifts in our lives, and pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit so we make good decisions. As a result of their faith, the Thessalonians became influential in spreading Christianity. Look at verses 7-10 –

And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

Do you see the cycle of evangelism? First, Paul shared his faith by both word and action to the Thessalonians. The Thessalonians imitated Paul, and then shared their faith by both words and actions. The Thessalonians became an example of joyful Christian living to the Macedonians in northern Greece. The Macedonians, in turn, influenced new believers at least 200 miles away in Achaia in the southern part of Greece. Paul says their reputation has become known everywhere.

Paul called the Thessalonians to be like Christ, and offered his own life as an example to them. The Thessalonians, in turn, were an example to the Macedonians. And so on through the centuries, until you, too, heard the word of God and saw it modeled in someone else. The word Paul used for “example” literally translated meant the mark left by a hammer when making a coin. *Stamp*. You have an original that made an imprint, and now you have another just like it. In John 20:25, Thomas says he that unless he sees the imprint of the nails in the hands of Jesus, he would not believe. The word John uses for “imprint” is the same word Paul uses for example. *Stamp* We are to be just like Jesus. Jesus tells us (Matthew 5:48) that we are to be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect. Like a coin made from a hammer, we are to bear the imprint of Christ.

The lifestyle of the Thessalonians provide an example to us today. Verse 9 and 10 summarize the lifestyle of a truly effective Christian in 5 points –

1. Repentence. They turned to God from idols. A saved life, a life in Christ, always begins with a deliberate decision to answer God’s call. A Christian turns from the negative and to the positive. This is repentance. Repentance is a deliberate change to turn from sinful ways and to face the living God. The Thessalonians turned from their lives of idol worship and to a life of faith.

2. Serving. They have a new master. Before, they were slaves to their sin. Slaves to power, to money, to self, to pleasure. Now they are willing slaves to Christ. The Thessalonians serve the living and true God.

3. Goal. They have a new hope. The Thessalonians wait for His Son to come from Heaven. When will this day be? We don’t know. Jesus says it will come like a thief in the night, and we won’t know until it is here. But we are to live every day, every hour, as though Jesus was coming today. If Jesus returned today, are you ready? Paul ends every chapter of 1st Thessalonians with a reference to the Second Coming of Jesus.

4. Foundation. They have a firm foundation. The Thessalonians were secure in their faith that Jesus was raised from the dead, that He was resurrected in accordance with thousands of years of prophecy. Jesus conquered sin, He conquered death for us. The gospel is the good news that we have eternal life with Him, and He really does have that power.

5. And finally, the fear of God. The Thessalonians were well aware of their sin, and that perfect judgment on sinful humanity before an all-powerful God means that by all rights the wrath of God should be poured out on us. God hates sin. The only reason God does not turn his righteous anger against us is because of his love for us. Only Jesus can rescue us. For that we are thankful and saved from His wrath.

Paul tells the Thessalonians that their lives are showing the cycle of evangelism that Christ calls us to live. First, everything begins with Christ, our perfect example. Second, Paul and missionaries such as Silas and Timothy imitated the behavior of Christ and spread the gospel. Third, the Thessalonians modeled their lives after Paul. Fourth, the new Christians throughout Macedonia followed the example of the Thessalonians.

Where are you in this cycle? What about your reputation? You’ve accepted Christ, and you live in a circle of influence. By your words and by your actions, you influence your spouse, your kids or your parents, your brothers and sisters, your friends and coworkers. If your reputation got back to you, what would it say about you?

Here’s a questionnaire on the last 3 verses of 1 Thessalonians 1. I want you to think about these questions. Wherever you are in your walk with Christ, you should be able to answer these questions to yourself. If you have an answer to these questions you’d like to share, I’d love to hear it. After all, everybody in this class is an example to me and if you tell me your answer, I can imitate you.

1. The evidence this week that I “serve the living and true God” is:

2. I demonstrate to myself that I “wait for His Son from heaven” by:

3. People can tell I believe God “raised Jesus from the dead” because:

4. Someone I know that needs to be rescued “from the coming wrath” is:

We are God’s message. God’s Word tells us who He is, but it is by our words and actions that others come to know Him. Everybody in here has a story of somebody that shared their love of God. We have all been evangelized. But we cannot keep this Good News to ourselves. The cycle is only complete when the evangelized becomes the evangelist. We do this through thanksgiving, through prayer, through encouragement. Like the Thessalonians, we demonstrate our works of faith, our labor of love, and our steadfastness of hope. We look back with thankfulness that the Holy Spirit and the gospel’s power changed our lives.

Are you waiting confidently for Christ’s return? Are you living a life that is a testimony to God’s grace and miraculous transformation of your life? Is your life “the message”?

Let’s offer thanks and praise that it is.

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