What do we in the First World do with the bible’s promise of persecution?  This is not the persecution of sickness, or disobedient kids, or only having 1 house and 3 cars.  It is not the persecution of accumulated debt or anxiety or age.  The bible’s promise of persecution is the promise that this world and those in it will attack, demean, and attempt to stop us from sharing our message of God’s Kingdom and grace.  And this is a problem for us in America.

When was the last time you were persecuted like this for your faith?  Persecution is seldom an issue for us, and so we go to great lengths to find it.  We claim politicians and liberal media and fundamentalists and popular culture are persecuting us by disagreeing with our message.  But disagreement is not persecution.  Who among us has lost our job ONLY because of our faith?  Been attacked physically ONLY because of our faith?  Lost something of value ONLY because of our faith?  This is persecution, and we in American suburbia do not know it personally.

Is the lack of persecution because of “American religious freedom”?  Is it because God has protected us?  Is it because we have slyly gone about our subversive message of the coming Kingdom “off the radar”?  Or might it be more likely that we are simply no threat to our persecutors because we are not spreading the message with any effectiveness or enthusiasm?  Persecution comes when people don’t like what we are doing, as was the case in most every early church of Paul’s day.  But today our churches are far more likely to be aiding and abetting our cultural forces, our financial idols, and anyone who would persecute us.

Does the church today have the courage to take the stand to which we are called and live so differently than the world around us that we draw attention to ourselves?  Are we willing to speak the truth of God’s grace in such a way that we become a threat to both the society around us that wants our devotion and the Organized Religious Leaders who want the status quo?

Are we willing to stand for Jesus at work, school, neighborhood, church, and family even if this means persecution?

What do we in the First World do with the bible’s promise of persecution?  This is not the persecution of sickness, or disobedient kids, or only having 1 house and 3 cars.  It is not the persecution of accumulated debt or anxiety or age.  The bible’s promise of persecution is the promise that this world and those in it will attack, demean, and attempt to stop us from sharing our message of God’s Kingdom and grace.  And this is a problem for us in America.

When was the last time you were persecuted like this for your faith?  Persecution is seldom an issue for us, and so we go to great lengths to find it.  We claim politicians and liberal media and fundamentalists and popular culture are persecuting us by disagreeing with our message.  But disagreement is not persecution.  Who among us has lost our job ONLY because of our faith?  Been attacked physically ONLY because of our faith?  Lost something of value ONLY because of our faith?  This is persecution, and we in American suburbia do not know it personally.

Is the lack of persecution because of “American religious freedom”?  Is it because God has protected us?  Is it because we have slyly gone about our subversive message of the coming Kingdom “off the radar”?  Or might it be more likely that we are simply no threat to our persecutors because we are not spreading the message with any effectiveness or enthusiasm?  Persecution comes when people don’t like what we are doing, as was the case in most every early church of Paul’s day.  But today our churches are far more likely to be aiding and abetting our cultural forces, our financial idols, and anyone who would persecute us.

Does the church today have the courage to take the stand to which we are called and live so differently than the world around us that we draw attention to ourselves?  Are we willing to speak the truth of God’s grace in such a way that we become a threat to both the society around us that wants our devotion and the Organized Religious Leaders who want the status quo?

Are we willing to stand for Jesus at work, school, neighborhood, church, and family even if this means persecution?

“We were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well because we loved you so much.” – 1 Thess. 2:8

This verse from Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica has become a bit of a life verse for me.  For years I’ve used it to intro Annual Reports, congregational letters, and even personal missives.  I think it shows the result of good Christian fellowship.  And it’s a verse we could all learn a lot from.

The purpose of Christian fellowship is not entertainment.  Far too often churches get together for what they call Fellowship but is in fact just a time to have fun together.  And while this is not wrong by any means, and can be very helpful in some situations, it is not what Fellowship is all about.  Christian Fellowship’s purpose is to help one another grow.  If all a church does is play games together, then we are not growing each other.  Paul says that it was his delight to share with this Thessalonican church “the gospel of God.”  Fellowship is about sharing the gospel with each other.

And who doesn’t need to hear the good news of Jesus’ mercy and love?  If you aren’t a Christian, you need to hear it 7 times (by most accounting anyway) before you’ll consider it for your own life.  If you are a Christian, then you need to hear it again and again for encouragement in your own walk and encouragement to share it with still others.  The first purpose of Fellowship is to share the gospel of God.

The second purpose of fellowship, according to this verse, is to share life together.  Now this doesn’t mean sharing your opinions about the weather or the latest fad, but really sharing life together.  This is hardship and joy, confession and forgiveness, testimony and doubt.  This is stripping away the masks that hide our true selves and revealing the “I just woke up” you to others.  The second purpose of Christian Fellowship is to share life together.

How is your fellowship used?  Are you just hanging out with a Christian crowd but not growing in your faith?  Or are you sharing the grace of God and your very life with others in the church?  The choice is yours.

“We were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well because we loved you so much.” – 1 Thess. 2:8

This verse from Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica has become a bit of a life verse for me.  For years I’ve used it to intro Annual Reports, congregational letters, and even personal missives.  I think it shows the result of good Christian fellowship.  And it’s a verse we could all learn a lot from.

The purpose of Christian fellowship is not entertainment.  Far too often churches get together for what they call Fellowship but is in fact just a time to have fun together.  And while this is not wrong by any means, and can be very helpful in some situations, it is not what Fellowship is all about.  Christian Fellowship’s purpose is to help one another grow.  If all a church does is play games together, then we are not growing each other.  Paul says that it was his delight to share with this Thessalonican church “the gospel of God.”  Fellowship is about sharing the gospel with each other.

And who doesn’t need to hear the good news of Jesus’ mercy and love?  If you aren’t a Christian, you need to hear it 7 times (by most accounting anyway) before you’ll consider it for your own life.  If you are a Christian, then you need to hear it again and again for encouragement in your own walk and encouragement to share it with still others.  The first purpose of Fellowship is to share the gospel of God.

The second purpose of fellowship, according to this verse, is to share life together.  Now this doesn’t mean sharing your opinions about the weather or the latest fad, but really sharing life together.  This is hardship and joy, confession and forgiveness, testimony and doubt.  This is stripping away the masks that hide our true selves and revealing the “I just woke up” you to others.  The second purpose of Christian Fellowship is to share life together.

How is your fellowship used?  Are you just hanging out with a Christian crowd but not growing in your faith?  Or are you sharing the grace of God and your very life with others in the church?  The choice is yours.

I was chuckling the other day at the new Domino’s campaign.  Apparently we are done trying to prove that our pizzas are better than others.  Now we have to prove that our company is better than other similar companies.  What distinguishes Pizza Hut from Little Caesars or Papa John (ok, bad example) or the local pizza place?  And they’ve gone with highway repair.  Not kidding, only wishing I were.

Everyone has known the pain of watching helplessly as your pizza slides from the passenger seat where it has sat comfortably for most of the ride to the floor because you hit a nasty pothole.  In fact, let us show you what this looks like with a dramatization (no kidding, they really show a person pretending to hit a pothole and watch in horror as their pizza slides to the floor, presumably ruined for all eternity.  But now, Domino’s is sending out a Pothole Repair Vehicle complete with workers, asphalt, oil, and shovels, to come repair any pothole that might give you grief.  That’s right folks, Domino’s is here to fill your potholes, because that has everything to do with pizza.

I don’t think this is what God means when He speaks in scripture about making your rough places a plane and your mountains and valleys taken care of.  But it is interesting that Isaiah uses this image twice, and each time the service goes the other direction.  The first time, we are called  – in Isaiah but also through John the Baptist – to straighten the crooked ways and level the mountains and valleys in order to prepare the way of the Lord.  Today, we read that it is God who will do this work for us, His chosen yet blind people (42:15).  Then He will lead us, blind though we are, on straight paths.

When you feel like the road of life ahead of you is just one huge potholed mess, filled with mountains and valleys you cannot get over, remember that the Lord goes before you and can straighten the path.  Hope springs eternal for the People of God, for He has already prepared the path before you – you just can’t see it until you’re there!

I was chuckling the other day at the new Domino’s campaign.  Apparently we are done trying to prove that our pizzas are better than others.  Now we have to prove that our company is better than other similar companies.  What distinguishes Pizza Hut from Little Caesars or Papa John (ok, bad example) or the local pizza place?  And they’ve gone with highway repair.  Not kidding, only wishing I were.

Everyone has known the pain of watching helplessly as your pizza slides from the passenger seat where it has sat comfortably for most of the ride to the floor because you hit a nasty pothole.  In fact, let us show you what this looks like with a dramatization (no kidding, they really show a person pretending to hit a pothole and watch in horror as their pizza slides to the floor, presumably ruined for all eternity.  But now, Domino’s is sending out a Pothole Repair Vehicle complete with workers, asphalt, oil, and shovels, to come repair any pothole that might give you grief.  That’s right folks, Domino’s is here to fill your potholes, because that has everything to do with pizza.

I don’t think this is what God means when He speaks in scripture about making your rough places a plane and your mountains and valleys taken care of.  But it is interesting that Isaiah uses this image twice, and each time the service goes the other direction.  The first time, we are called  – in Isaiah but also through John the Baptist – to straighten the crooked ways and level the mountains and valleys in order to prepare the way of the Lord.  Today, we read that it is God who will do this work for us, His chosen yet blind people (42:15).  Then He will lead us, blind though we are, on straight paths.

When you feel like the road of life ahead of you is just one huge potholed mess, filled with mountains and valleys you cannot get over, remember that the Lord goes before you and can straighten the path.  Hope springs eternal for the People of God, for He has already prepared the path before you – you just can’t see it until you’re there!

Hezekiah is another biblical character who is shown in all his human frailty and sin.  Faced with the Assyrian empire in all its glory, he prays and is delivered by the hand of God.  He then gets a fatal illness, a boil of some kind, and prays and is healed and given 15 more years.  By this time, you would think Hezekiah was a deeply faithful model and hero.  But the very next story is him showing off his riches and power to envoys from Babylon, who we know in hindsight will ultimately be the downfall of Judah.

Isaiah comes to him and declares that the kingdom will fall to Babylon and that Hezekiah’s own offspring will be maimed as eunuchs serving the Babylonian King.  And what is the response of Hezekiah, our hero and model?  “No problem, as long as it’s not in my lifetime.”  Can you believe a national leader willing to sacrifice the future of his own people if it doesn’t disrupt his current happiness?

Yet God’s grace reigns again.  This story ends Ch. 39, and the very next words in Ch. 40 have become some of the most encouraging words in scripture.  “Comfort, comfort my people,” declares the Lord.  Yes, Isaiah has declared captivity in Babylon, but be comforted, for there will come one proclaiming the coming of the Savior.  Grace reigns indeed.

Ever feel like Hezekiah, where you have some huge spiritual successes followed by a huge spiritual failure, which in turn is met by the Grace of God?  Few if any of us are consistently successful in our faith, so when you fail, hear these words from God loud and clearly: “Be comforted, for the Savior has come for all of us, not just for the constant failures or the constant successes.  He’s come for us all, the inconsistent and mildly consistent alike.”

Hezekiah is another biblical character who is shown in all his human frailty and sin.  Faced with the Assyrian empire in all its glory, he prays and is delivered by the hand of God.  He then gets a fatal illness, a boil of some kind, and prays and is healed and given 15 more years.  By this time, you would think Hezekiah was a deeply faithful model and hero.  But the very next story is him showing off his riches and power to envoys from Babylon, who we know in hindsight will ultimately be the downfall of Judah.

Isaiah comes to him and declares that the kingdom will fall to Babylon and that Hezekiah’s own offspring will be maimed as eunuchs serving the Babylonian King.  And what is the response of Hezekiah, our hero and model?  “No problem, as long as it’s not in my lifetime.”  Can you believe a national leader willing to sacrifice the future of his own people if it doesn’t disrupt his current happiness?

Yet God’s grace reigns again.  This story ends Ch. 39, and the very next words in Ch. 40 have become some of the most encouraging words in scripture.  “Comfort, comfort my people,” declares the Lord.  Yes, Isaiah has declared captivity in Babylon, but be comforted, for there will come one proclaiming the coming of the Savior.  Grace reigns indeed.

Ever feel like Hezekiah, where you have some huge spiritual successes followed by a huge spiritual failure, which in turn is met by the Grace of God?  Few if any of us are consistently successful in our faith, so when you fail, hear these words from God loud and clearly: “Be comforted, for the Savior has come for all of us, not just for the constant failures or the constant successes.  He’s come for us all, the inconsistent and mildly consistent alike.”

God’s victories seldom stop with us.  Though we are trained daily to believe the world revolves around us – just try thinking about the fact that the guy passing in a car right now has an entire life as large as yours that you know nothing about – it doesn’t.  It revolves around God.

For Hezekiah, God’s victory over Sennacharib isn’t just a victory for Israel, or a defeat of Israel’s enemy.  When Sennacharib’s stooges are bragging, they bragged about the fact that Assyria has destroyed every nation it’s faced.  It has destroyed the gods of Gozan, Harran, Rezeph and the people of Eden who were in Tel Assar, Hamath, Arpad, Lair, Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah.  Yet the Empire of Assyria cannot face Yahweh, the God of Israel, the God of the Church today.  So God’s victory doesn’t just humiliate Assyria, but all of these other nations as well.

And the means of God’s deliverance is not only familiar but common.  Again and again, God’s people win battles without even fighting.  From Jericho, their first battle as the new Nation of Israel, to this one, God wins the battles for them.

When God gives us victories, can we see beyond the immediate victory and see what God is teaching us on a grander scale?  And are you able yet to trust God to win your battles for you?  That’s a tough thing to do because it requires trust in God, which is just another word for faith.

God’s victories seldom stop with us.  Though we are trained daily to believe the world revolves around us – just try thinking about the fact that the guy passing in a car right now has an entire life as large as yours that you know nothing about – it doesn’t.  It revolves around God.

For Hezekiah, God’s victory over Sennacharib isn’t just a victory for Israel, or a defeat of Israel’s enemy.  When Sennacharib’s stooges are bragging, they bragged about the fact that Assyria has destroyed every nation it’s faced.  It has destroyed the gods of Gozan, Harran, Rezeph and the people of Eden who were in Tel Assar, Hamath, Arpad, Lair, Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah.  Yet the Empire of Assyria cannot face Yahweh, the God of Israel, the God of the Church today.  So God’s victory doesn’t just humiliate Assyria, but all of these other nations as well.

And the means of God’s deliverance is not only familiar but common.  Again and again, God’s people win battles without even fighting.  From Jericho, their first battle as the new Nation of Israel, to this one, God wins the battles for them.

When God gives us victories, can we see beyond the immediate victory and see what God is teaching us on a grander scale?  And are you able yet to trust God to win your battles for you?  That’s a tough thing to do because it requires trust in God, which is just another word for faith.