Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Suffering so Others May Be Saved

Faith in Action

The Early Church Proclaims Faith in Christ


Faith to Persevere

2 Timothy 2:1-13 The Message

Doing Your Best for God

2 1-7 So, my son, throw yourself into this work for Christ. Pass on what you heard from me—the whole congregation saying Amen!—to reliable leaders who are competent to teach others. When the going gets rough, take it on the chin with the rest of us, the way Jesus did. A soldier on duty doesn’t get caught up in making deals at the marketplace. He concentrates on carrying out orders. An athlete who refuses to play by the rules will never get anywhere. It’s the diligent farmer who gets the produce. Think it over. God will make it all plain.
8-13 Fix this picture firmly in your mind: Jesus, descended from the line of David, raised from the dead. It’s what you’ve heard from me all along. It’s what I’m sitting in jail for right now—but God’s Word isn’t in jail! That’s why I stick it out here—so that everyone God calls will get in on the salvation of Christ in all its glory. This is a sure thing:

For Reflection

Maturing in your faith is not just about knowing scripture and believing and trusting in God. Maturing in your faith means acting upon it, never forgetting that your faith demands an evolution toward perfection. Paul shows that to grow in grace means that one pleads for justice, prays for God's intervention into lives for the salvation of all people, and prayers of praise and thanksgiving.

Pray

Pray that you will have the courage to follow Christ. Pray for the salvation of all peoples.  Pray so that the Holy Spirit will enter your soul and drive your life closer to the perfection shown in the life of Jesus.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Believing and Suffering in Christ

Faith in Action

The Early Church Proclaims Faith in Christ


Faith to Persevere

Philippians 1:25-30 The Message

22-26 As long as I’m alive in this body, there is good work for me to do. If I had to choose right now, I hardly know which I’d choose. Hard choice! The desire to break camp here and be with Christ is powerful. Some days I can think of nothing better. But most days, because of what you are going through, I am sure that it’s better for me to stick it out here. So I plan to be around awhile, companion to you as your growth and joy in this life of trusting God continues. You can start looking forward to a great reunion when I come visit you again. We’ll be praising Christ, enjoying each other.
27-30 Meanwhile, live in such a way that you are a credit to the Message of Christ. Let nothing in your conduct hang on whether I come or not. Your conduct must be the same whether I show up to see things for myself or hear of it from a distance. Stand united, singular in vision, contending for people’s trust in the Message, the good news, not flinching or dodging in the slightest before the opposition. Your courage and unity will show them what they’re up against: defeat for them, victory for you—and both because of God. There’s far more to this life than trusting in Christ. There’s also suffering for him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting. You’re involved in the same kind of struggle you saw me go through, on which you are now getting an updated report in this letter.

For Reflection

We cannot underestimate the suffering Paul endured in prison.  Here, Paul seems to suggest that he entertained suicide, that being with Christ was a powerful draw.  But the divine opportunity gave hope to his terrible predicament. He calls for all believers to conduct themselves in a way that honors the Gospel.  He asks the Philippians to trust in the message and face the challenges of suffering for Christ.

How does your witness to the Gospel honor Christ?

Pray

Pray for the opportunity to suffer in witness to the Gospel.  Pray prayers of thanksgiving that in your trust in God you find rest in a suffering world.

Forward to a friend

Monday, December 11, 2017

Rejoicing while Struggling and Suffering

Faith in Action

The Early Church Proclaims Faith in Christ


Faith to Persevere

Colossians 1:24-2:5 The Message

24-25 I want you to know how glad I am that it’s me sitting here in this jail and not you. There’s a lot of suffering to be entered into in this world—the kind of suffering Christ takes on. I welcome the chance to take my share in the church’s part of that suffering. When I became a servant in this church, I experienced this suffering as a sheer gift, God’s way of helping me serve you, laying out the whole truth.
26-29 This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now it’s out in the open. God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore, you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. That is the substance of our Message. We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less. That’s what I’m working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so generously gives me.
2 I want you to realize that I continue to work as hard as I know how for you, and also for the Christians over at Laodicea. Not many of you have met me face-to-face, but that doesn’t make any difference. Know that I’m on your side, right alongside you. You’re not in this alone.
2-4 I want you woven into a tapestry of love, in touch with everything there is to know of God. Then you will have minds confident and at rest, focused on Christ, God’s great mystery. All the richest treasures of wisdom and knowledge are embedded in that mystery and nowhere else. And we’ve been shown the mystery! I’m telling you this because I don’t want anyone leading you off on some wild-goose chase, after other so-called mysteries, or “the Secret.”
5 I’m a long way off, true, and you may never lay eyes on me, but believe me, I’m on your side, right beside you. I am delighted to hear of the careful and orderly ways you conduct your affairs and impressed with the solid substance of your faith in Christ.

For Reflection

Imprisoned in a WWII concentration camp, Victor Frankel suffered depersonalization, oral deformity, bitterness, and disillusionment. Yet, he survived, and in his struggle for survival, he discovered that, even in suffering, life never loses a sense of meaning.  He says, "A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth—that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love."*  In his spiritual being, Frankel found hope in the most hopeless situation.
*Victor Frankel, "Man's Search for Meaning, 1948"

In God's mystery, Paul finds the truth and hope in the most basic belief in the Gospel.

Pray

Pray that you will let yourself "become woven into a tapestry of love." Pray that you will find rest and confidence in God's great mystery as shown to all in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Forward to a friend

Friday, December 8, 2017

Door of Faith Opened to Gentiles

Faith in Action

The Early Church Proclaims Faith in ChristFaith in Jesus

Acts 14:21-28 The Message

Plenty of Hard Times

21-22 After proclaiming the Message in Derbe and establishing a strong core of disciples, they retraced their steps to Lystra, then Iconium, and then Antioch, putting muscle and sinew in the lives of the disciples, urging them to stick with what they had begun to believe and not quit, making it clear to them that it wouldn’t be easy: “Anyone signing up for the kingdom of God has to go through plenty of hard times.”
23-26 Paul and Barnabas handpicked leaders in each church. After praying—their prayers intensified by fasting—they presented these new leaders to the Master to whom they had entrusted their lives. Working their way back through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia and preached in Perga. Finally, they made it to Attalia and caught a ship back to Antioch, where it had all started—launched by God’s grace and now safely home by God’s grace. A good piece of work.
27-28 On arrival, they got the church together and reported on their trip, telling in detail how God had used them to throw the door of faith wide open so people of all nations could come streaming in. Then they settled down for a long, leisurely visit with the disciples.

For Reflection

No social media for these people!  All word of mouth.  Individual testimony one-to-one.  Who do you trust more, the person who takes the time to talk face-to-face or a nameless person in a paid advertisement?

Not a fair question? Perhaps not in today's world, but it's all that mattered in the early stages of Christianity. Christ is known through you.  Not so much your words, but how you act and what others say about you.  If some are critical of you because you don't conform to their secular standards, so much the better.  If you are known 
for being kind, hospitable, trustworthy, and honest, and with a sense of humor and justice, building people up rather than tearing them down, strong on knowledge and weak on opinion, you may be known as a Christian.

Pray

Pray for the knowledge and wisdom that fortifies your witness to Christ and the Way.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Paul's Strategy


Faith in Action

The Early Church Proclaims Faith in Christ

Faith in Jesus

Romans 1:8-17 The Message

8-12 I thank God through Jesus for every one of you. That’s first. People everywhere keep telling me about your lives of faith, and every time I hear them, I thank him. And God, whom I so love to worship and serve by spreading the good news of his Son—the Message!—knows that every time I think of you in my prayers, which is practically all the time, I ask him to clear the way for me to come and see you. The longer this waiting goes on, the deeper the ache. I so want to be there to deliver God’s gift in person and watch you grow stronger right before my eyes! But don’t think I’m not expecting to get something out of this, too! You have as much to give me as I do to you.
13-15 Please don’t misinterpret my failure to visit you, friends. You have no idea how many times I’ve made plans for Rome. I’ve been determined to get some personal enjoyment out of God’s work among you, as I have in so many other non-Jewish towns and communities. But something has always come up and prevented it. Everyone I meet—it matters little whether they’re mannered or rude, smart or simple—deepens my sense of interdependence and obligation. And that’s why I can’t wait to get to you in Rome, preaching this wonderful good news of God.
16-17 It’s news I’m most proud to proclaim, this extraordinary Message of God’s powerful plan to rescue everyone who trusts him, starting with Jews and then right on to everyone else! God’s way of putting people right shows up in the acts of faith, confirming what Scripture has said all along: “The person in right standing before God by trusting him really lives.”

For Reflection

The Romans were miffed. They felt Paul needed to spend time with them. Paul was conflicted.  Strengthening the faith of the newly converted Jews had taken time away from what Paul considered his most important mission, the strengthening of the gospel to all peoples.

Paul is clear, though, that the movement in Rome was exemplary. He compliments their commitment to spreading the Good News. 
To a Roman, it is remarkable that Paul, a poor insignificant Jew, can speak so eloquently in Greek to a Roman. God has prepared not only Paul to spread the Gospel successfully, but God had also prepared the Romans to understand, accept, and pass the Good News to all.

Pray

Give thanks to the living God who prepares the way for the establishment of God's kingdom here and now.  Like the Romans, who in the absence of Paul formed an active fellowship of believers, pray that you will have similar confidence in your faith.

Forward to a friend


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Blind Man Discerns Jesus as Prophet

Faith in Action

The Early Church Proclaims Faith in Christ

Faith in Jesus

John 9:13-17 The Message

13-15 They marched the man to the Pharisees. This day when Jesus made the paste and healed his blindness was the Sabbath. The Pharisees grilled him again on how he had come to see. He said, “He put a clay paste on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see.”
16 Some of the Pharisees said, “Obviously, this man can’t be from God. He doesn’t keep the Sabbath.”
Others countered, “How can a bad man do miraculous, God-revealing things like this?” There was a split in their ranks.
17 They came back at the blind man, “You’re the expert. He opened your eyes. What do you say about him?”
He said, “He is a prophet.”

For Reflection

Since the beginning of Christ's ministry, there were those who feared him.  Christ challenged the function of the existing religion and the political power of the religious leaders. The blind man whom Jesus had given sight was brought to the Pharisees to enrage them and to provide proof of Christ's criminal activity.

It seemed to have the opposite effect.  Those who were convinced of Christ's ill intent were separated from those who had an opposing point of view.  The evidence of the violation of the Sabbath backfired when the blind man declared Jesus was a prophet.

Those who are blinded by malicious adherence to legalism cannot see the spiritual truth in the gospel.

Pray

Pray that you are not blinded your adherence to doctrines that are not consistent with emerging truths that are a natural part of growing into Grace.  Pray about that which challenges your faith and study the scriptures so that you may mature in the manner of God's will.

Forward to a friend

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Test the Spirits

Faith in Action

The Early Church Proclaims Faith in Christ


Faith in Jesus

1 John 4:1-6 The Message 

Don’t Believe Everything You Hear

4 My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world.
2-3 Here’s how you test for the genuine Spirit of God. Everyone who confesses openly his faith in Jesus Christ—the Son of God, who came as an actual flesh-and-blood person—comes from God and belongs to God. And everyone who refuses to confess faith in Jesus has nothing in common with God. This is the spirit of antichrist that you heard was coming. Well, here it is, sooner than we thought!
4-6 My dear children, you come from God and belong to God. You have already won a big victory over those false teachers, for the Spirit in you is far stronger than anything in the world. These people belong to the Christ-denying world. They talk the world’s language and the world eats it up. But we come from God and belong to God. Anyone who knows God understands us and listens. The person who has nothing to do with God will, of course, not listen to us. This is another test for telling the Spirit of Truth from the spirit of deception.

For Reflection

Judging the authenticity of teaching and preaching the gospel is not an easy task. Many who openly confesses faith in Jesus may not or may believe that he or she is truthful to the gospel but in reality is not. Many have difficulty with the whole idea of judging teachers and preachers.  We are warned many times in the scriptures that evil cloaks itself in good to deceive us.

Here is where it is important that Christians study the scriptures and know Christian doctrine.  The lack of knowledge makes us vulnerable to deception. One test is to compare the doctrine teachers and preachers profess with what was revealed to us through scripture; not just selections of passages which support a particular position, but which reflect the full intention of God's will.

Secondly, ask, "What are the fruits of such doctrine?" Do the teachings lead others to love forgiveness, kindness, and grace?  

Pray

Pray for those who have been deceived by false teaching.  Pray for the teachers who by intent or ignorance of the word mislead others away from God.  Pray so that you can strengthen your understanding of how to practice your faith and shield yourself from false preaching.

Forward to a friend