"For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,” (1 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV)
We are an idolatrous society. We worship everything (by worship I mean we adore with great affection and honor over the one true God)! We elevate people, things and relationships above God with such frequency that often we don't realize we are idolizing. We are shameless in idolizing people (I mean we have a TV show that advocates our idolizing in American Idol). We put movie stars, sports figures and men and women of power on pedestals and honor them unconsciously (and sometime consciously) as "mini gods and goddesses". Now, you may be reading this and say, "I'm a Christian, I don't have any idols." I hope this is true, but I would ask you to think... really think; are you maybe a "little guilty"? When you see some sort of famous person do you like to brag a little to those around you? “I was in the city the other day and I saw (fill in the blank of a celebrity)”! Or have you ever stood in line to get an autograph of a person? Maybe this famous person was even a Christian! Let's be honest we all idolize a little. Is this ok? I think the scriptures are very clear on God's views of idolatry, even if it is a little bit. He doesn't like it and He will share his thrown with NO ONE!
This is another quality about the Thessalonians that I admire. They turned from idols to serve the "living and true God." They weren't star struck with royalty and celebrities. They didn't allow money or possessions to rule their lives. They had forsaken all of that for the living God.
Now there is nothing wrong with having people you admire and are an influence. It is just important for us to NOT allow them to take the place of God in our lives. Take a look at your heart. Do you have idols in your life that you have placed before God? Are you idolizing your family, or maybe your finances, possibly a relationship, how about a celebrity or (Lord forbid) a television show? Is there a preacher , Christian author or Christian musician that you are elevating above God and his word? If so, take some time and repent and seek to put God back on the throne of your life... right where he belongs.
Random Thought: Turn from your idols and serve the living and true God.
“for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 (ESV)
Affliction and joy; two words that you rarely see together in a positive manner. I did a nearly a year long study in the Book of Acts back in 2007—08 and one common thing I noticed throughout the book is how the Apostles and followers of Christ were able to remain joyful during times of trials and persecutions. For example the Apostles get a beating and they leave rejoicing because they were considered worthy of the cause, Paul and Silas were singing in the prison... Singing??? Really???There are so many times I read about the believers rejoicing after or during trials and persecution. I think about persecution and the church in America today and we are far from the example of the early church. We have become sort of "whiney" in America. If we face injustice we cry out to the public and shout, "NO FAIR!" Our name gets dragged through the mud and we call the lawyers to fight for us. We face any kind of trial or persecution and we immediately question why God is allowing this to happen to us.
I want to imitate the Thessalonians and no matter what I face, I want to receive the word of God with joy of the Holy Spirit. I pray that when I am reviled, made fun of or physically harmed for my faith that my response will be joy; because God is worth it. Does joy mean I will be happy and have fun in these times? Not necessarily. It means I will rejoice because I am counted worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ.
Random thought for the day: Seek to be filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit in all circumstances of life.
"And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit," (1 Thessalonians 1:6, ESV)
The evidence of salvation in a person is a changed life. Paul writes to the Thessalonians that after they received the Gospel and through the power of the Holy Spirit they became imitators of them (Paul and his travel companions) and imitators of Christ.
There are a number of times in the Bible where Paul tells his readers, "Imitate me". Most of the time he writes, "Imitate me and the Lord." He actually equates the two, he essentially says, "If you imitate me, then you imitate Christ." I don't think Paul is exalting himself by saying these things. I think he was simply saying, "Do as I do because I am imitating Christ." Imagine for one moment that your life was so dedicated to Christ that you could honestly tell others to imitate you what that would look like. How would that change the way you live your life? If you knew people were watching you and using you as an example what would you do different? What would I do different? Would I change the way I talk? Would I change the way I treat others? Would I change the way I drive? The list goes on...
The fact is, people are watching us and they are not impressed. It's a sad thing when I hear the reason someone does not want to be a Christian or attend church is because "they are all a bunch of hypocrites." They look at us and see we don't always practice what we preach. Our response is often, "Hey don't look at the actions of God's people, look to God." This is unfortunate that the people who supposedly represent Christ here on earth say, "Don't look at us, we are merely human and imperfect" (which is true). I know I long to be like Paul (and I am a long way from being like him) so I can say with an honest heart, "Imitate me because I am imitating Christ."
Random thought... Strive to be imitators of Christ; not for our benefit but for his glory.
"For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you," (1 Thessalonians 1:4, ESV)
How is this for reality, "For we KNOW that God has chosen you"? Do you know this and believe it? God chose YOU! Do you ever "feel" like your not worth much? Remember that God chose you! Ever think that no one cares? Remember that God chose you! Isn't God good? I'm going to stop here because I don't want you to think I am going to get into this fluffy rant about, "How special you are" and so on. That's not the point. God didn't choose you because you are special or because you are a likeable person or even because he saw a great potential in you to do great things for the Kingdom. So why did God chose you? Because He is God, He is good and He is full of grace. In his grace He reached down and saved you, FOR HIS GLORY. Why did He choose you and not your neighbor next door? I would answer, you don't know that he hasn't chosen your neighbor next door. This is why we are to take the Gospel and preach it. We are to plant the seeds of faith and then let God do the rest. We certainly cannot save anyone, but we can certainly introduce them to the saving faith of Christ.
Some people have a problem with believing that God chose them and not vice versa. Jesuse said "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you." (John 15:16, ESV) God chose you unto salvation. He gave you the faith to believe. You are saved and redeemed. You have the freedom to turn your back on sin. You are free to choose to do good works. You are free from the bondage of sin and Satan. Through God's sovereign grace, if you are a follower of Jesus, you are now truly free.
I personally don't have a problem with theological issues like sovereignty, election and predestination because they are biblical. I have not found in the Bible the doctrine of us choosing God, everywhere I look it talks about God choosing humanity. You may not understand why but take comfort in knowing this. God chose you! I love what Warren Weirsbe wrote, "A seminary professor once told me, 'Try to explain election, and you may lose your mind. But explain it away—and you may lose your soul!”
Random though of the day... God chose me by His grace. This does, in many ways, make me special.
"We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers." Thessalonians 1:2
Aren't you glad people are praying for you? I know I am. I believe the reason I am a Christian today is because someone has been praying diligently for me. Nothing makes me happier than knowing someone cares enough about me that he/she would take time out of his/her busy life to lift me up in prayer. Isn't that mind boggling? Maybe it's not to you but it certainly is for me.
Do you desire to have someone like Paul in our life? Do you hope for a man or a woman who constantly lifts you up in prayer; to have a person who says, "God, I don't know what Jeff (or insert your name) is up to this day or what needs he has, but I want to mention him to you today and ask you bless the heck out of him and his ministry" is so much more valuable than any riches in life?
Prayer is such a powerful tool and I think sometimes Christians don't utilize it nearly as often as we should. I am just as guilty as the next person when it comes to neglecting prayer. Prayer is one avenue God has given people to communicate with him and I know I must be disciplined to maintain that line of communication. I think God must be in heaven scratching his head in wonder as to how we have to find the discipline to make time for him. I can get so consumed in life that I forget to talk to the Creator and the one who matters most in life. How often I neglect my primary source of power simply because I either forget, don't want to or think I don't have the time.
The reality is I don't feel like praying everyday. I don't always make time to pray. I sometimes think prayer boring. God constantly reminds me of the words and actions of Paul and the Apostles in the Scripture. I'm sure when they were in prison for a crime they never committed the last thing they "felt" like doing was praying... But that's what they did. I'm sure when the mobs were surrounding them and beating them they didn't have the time to pray... But that's what they did. I am also sure that there were times when they would have rather been out doing something other than praying... But praying is what they did. WHY? Because it was their lifeline and they saw the value of prayer. This is where I want to be in my walk with the Lord.
Random thought for the day... It's time to MAKE TIME and PRAY.
Today's devotion is dedicated to someone I knew a long time ago who recently passed away. It was sad news to hear that he died and I wish I could have told him that I wrote a sermon about him. In honor of Harold's life I am posting this message that I wrote and gave about seven years ago.
Read Acts 4:1 - 12
People will always try to intimidate and discredit our faith. Since we are in Jesus Christ we cannot let the world intimidate us or make us keep quiet. Jesus Christ can and will bring true peace, joy and happiness to your life. The Gospel message of Jesus is a wonderful message to proclaim!
This passage reminds me of an event in my life that I would like to share with you. Before I became a Christian you could say I was a little “rough around the edges”. As a young man I used to play bass guitar in a local heavy metal rock band and one of our favorite places to play and hang out was called Aardvarks. To say this place was classy would be deceiving. It was a second home to a number of other people who were a “little rough around the edges.” During this season of my life I became friends with many people in the bar and with other musicians in bands that played at the club as well. When I became a Christian in the early nineties needless to say I lost touch with many of my “so called” friends at the time.
When I became a Christian in the early 90s God got a hold of me completely. I was a sold out young man of God. I turned my life on my old ways and began a new life. I joined a Christian fellowship at the college I attended called Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. I quickly made many new Christian friends (one of whom is now my wife) and I enjoyed the new life I had in Christ. One day a friend from Intervarsity asked if I would like to go see his band perform in town and I said that I would love to. He then informed me that they would be playing at Aardvarks; my old stomping grounds. I was a bit apprehensive about going back but I felt the Lord giving me the green light to go.
After a lot of prayer and a little anxiety I decided I would go. I put on my boldest Christian t-shirt (which was a black t-shirt with the face of Jesus Christ and a crown of thorns on his head printed on it) a pair of Jeans and a leather jacket and headed out to what I felt at that time was the depths of hell. Upon my arrival I saw many old faces which I had seen not seen in almost a year. Some enthusiastically acknowledged my presence others shunned me and went about their normal business.
I walked in my and friend’s band was in the midst of their set. I found a place to stand and watch him perform. Once he finished his he came over to talk to me. He said, “You have to check out the band after us, they are simply amazing.”
I agreed to stay and watch. They were indeed a great band. However during their set the lead singer started talking to the crowd. He started talking about how religion, Christianity in particular, was for the weak minded people who needed a crutch. He started on a speech about how Jesus was just a myth in history and Christianity is nothing but a bunch of people who are trying to oppress people with rules and regulations. He was bashing the Church and organized religion in particular. He talked about corruption and how Christmas is the governments ploy to get consumers out and spend money. I began feeling a little uncomfortable because I didn't agree with the guy on the stage. As he continued his tirade against Christmas, the church and Christianity, he blurted out, “Does anyone actually believe this whole Christianity thing?”
The place literally fell silent and I had one of those moments where I felt the Holy Spirit empowering me to do something I would never have done in my own strength. I nervously raised my hand. I figured I had a big print of Jesus on my shirt so why try to hide it my convictions. It was at this moment the singer points at me with a scowl on his face and he says, “You come up here.”
I did not know what he was going to do so I prayed that God would use this moment to bring Him glory. I reached the stage and the singer got in my face handed me the microphone and mockingly said, “Tell us what you think Christmas and Christianity is all about.” I thought, "Really? You want me to share the Gospel message? Cool!"
I was Shocked at the opportunity I was given. I began to share the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. I shared what he had done for me and how He will do the same for everyone in the bar if they would believe in faith that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. I spoke of Jesus’ love, forgiveness, and His death on the cross.
At the conclusion of my ten minute evangelistic moment you could literally hear a pin drop. I handed the mic back to the singer and he seemed a bit perplexed but he went back to performing as the band started playing their next number.
I walked through the crowd of people some made snide remarks, others just laughed at me, and many just ignored my presence and my message. With my heart pumping and adrenaline flowing I walked to the back of the bar and just tried to blend in to the woodwork. When suddenly a guy who I recognized from a band we used to play with came up to me. His name was Harold. He was pretty tipsy at this moment and he said, “I heard you got all religious. I wondered what actually happened to you.”
I shared again what had happened to me the past year since Jesus Christ came in to my life. He looked at me with glassed over eyes and wobbled back and forth and said, “I know my life isn’t what it’s supposed to be and I don’t think God could ever forgive me for what I have done. But would you do me a favor?”
I responded, “Sure, you name it.”
He said, “When you go to bed tonight, will you pray for me? Pray that I will change my life.”
I said, “Harold, I have been praying for everyone in the bar since Jesus made me knew. But yes, I will pray specifically for you and I believe if you repent of your sins God will forgive you no matter what.” We chatted a little longer and he went back into the bar. I felt it was time to leave so I headed home and said my prayer for Harold.
A couple months later I went to California to go to Bible College. When I came home for Christmas break I ran in to my an old who used to play drums in my band. We talked a bit and I asked about the old gang and what had been going on. As usual nothing had changed. Then I remembered my conversation with Harold the year previous.
I asked, “I talked to Harold last year at Aardvarks and I lost contact with him. Whatever happened to Harold?”
Duane chuckled a bit and said, “He found God and he moved to Florida. I heard he is playing Christian music nowadays.” At that point I silently rejoiced because I had seen the power of God work through His Holy Spirit. Satan and the world tried to intimidate me that evening in the bar. But God in His infinite wisdom empowered me to share the Gospel message with about 200 people and He used me to help lead one lost soul into the Kingdom of God.
This is what happens when we allow God to consume us and empower us by the Holy Spirit. He will give us His strength to do what we never thought we would ever do. We see this happen with Peter here in Acts 4 and throughout the book of Acts. He will open doors for you if you are willing and open to his will.
Unfortunately I do not know what Harold is up to today. A few years ago I spoke with one of his relatives and she said he was playing in the Church band in Florida. I may not know where he is physically today but I do know God has changed him and He has his hand on Harold’s life.
We are God’s people, we will face persecution. Whether it’s physical harm, intimidation, or being shunned; trials and tribulations are inevitable in the Christian life. Jesus said in John 15:18-19 18 "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”
Let us not be intimidated by the threats of the world but let’s go out and boldly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ because you never know the impact it may have on someone's life.
“It’s one thing to dream, but when the moment is right, you’ve got to be willing to leave what’s familiar and go out and find your own sound.”
The above quote is from chairman and CEO of Starbuck’s Howard Shultz and it really hit home when I read it. I think what Schultz is saying is it is important to dream but there is a time when one needs to go from dreaming to doing. We all need to dream about the future. It is important to make plans and have a vision for the future and I realize that in my dreaming, visioning and planning there will be a time when I need to make the jump from dreaming to doing. As the quote says, “You’ve got to be willing to leave what is familiar…” This usually involves change.
What does it mean to find your own sound? Personally I think it means you have to be willing to go out and become who God created YOU to be and not who people think you should be.
For the Church I believe it means that she has to become what God wants her to be and not what we or others think she should be. This may and probably does mean believers need to be willing to seek God’s plan and purpose and not try to fit a human made definition of what is called “the church”. It means we should be more than just a service or program on Sunday morning. The Church needs to be more about being and not just showing up and doing. We don’t attend church we are the Church. We are to be a group of believers who unashamedly loves God, loves people and are disciples of Jesus who go out and make disciples of Jesus.
Are you willing to leave behind the familiar to pursue your own sound? Are we as a body of Christ willing to leave the familiar? I know we like the familiar. We like safe. We enjoy the “norm”. We like to sit in the same pews week after week. But is God calling us to a familiar, safe, normal sit in same pew kind of faith day after day? From what I read in the Bible God/Jesus is continually commanding/asking us to leave what is familiar and safe to follow him and sometimes that journey is unknown, dangerous and wild. We see this is the cases with Moses, Joseph, Abraham, Jonah, all of the disciples, and so on. May we learn from these men of faith. Let’s not be afraid to dream in our lives. May we be willing to leave the familiar and allow God to work in us so that we can find our own sound.
"If you want to make enemies, try to change something."
Read Isaiah 43:18,19
Human beings are naturally resistant to change. I think so many of us like our routines, traditions, and predictable lives. I could tell you story after story about how resistant to change people can be. In my 20 years of being a pastor I have seen people leave churches because they changed the music, the hymnals, versions of the Bible, decorations, facilities, order of worship and so on. Believe me, I am well aware of the enemies one can make by trying to change something... Anything. Why is humanity so resistant to change? That's a good question.
One of my frustrations as a pastor is meeting resistance to godly change and/or even worse apathy to godly change. What do I mean by godly change? Simply, changing something that needs to be changed so God may be glorified (because he is behind or in the necessary change) and not merely changing something for the sake of change. I know and have read about pastors who have been fired from their churches because they pushed for unnecessary change and I am not talking about this kind of change. I also know personally, pastors who have been fired for instituting change that God was in.
The truth is when God moves in a church body or an individual we need to re-adjust our lives and church body to fit God's plan and purpose. I find it maddening when people knowingly resist godly change simply because they refuse to change. In my mind resistance to God is futile; it's a losing battle from the get go. What gets to me even more is when people say, "Do what you need to do pastor; but don't expect me to re-adjust because I am fine where I am right now. Things are going well for me, life is good and I don't want to mess with that. You go ahead but I'm going to stay right here." What these people are saying is, "I really don't care where God is heading or what he has in store I am fine right where I am."
Mostly pastors push for change because we REALLY want to see God come alive in our church bodies and in individuals lives. We promote change because we see God in the change. I encourage you to read Isaiah 43:18,19 to see that God also does new things because he cares for his people and wants to bless us. I know I can come across as the enemy when I promote change, but realize I promote godly change because I desire godly change in my life. I promote it because where God is I want to be... want to come along?
"What we are in secret is what we really are."
(Read Matthew 5:21 - 30)
This is probably one of the most convicting quotes that hangs on my wall. It is a short sentence with few words but it packs a punch. I am a pastor and people (whether I like it or not) have expectations of me. I am expected to be moral, pure, genuine, caring, truthful, trustworthy, a lover of God, a man of prayer, a counselor, a comforter, an encourager, a preacher of God's Word, or in other words I am expected to be one step shy of Superman (at least a Spirit-filled one).
These are some expectations people place on me... But what am I when I am alone in my office, at home, or at a place where no one can see what I am up to? If you were to observe me in any of these settings it would speak volumes as to who I really am. Do I read God's Word when nobody's watching? Am I kind to my family when it's just the six of us? Do I pray when I am alone? The list goes on.
I know you know that I know I am not even remotely close to being a hint of perfect. I also assume that you know I don't sit around and pray, read the Bible and preach at people all day long either. I am a man who is human and I have flaws (more than I care to share with you). I don't always pray when I should, nor do I study God's Word as diligently as some and I definitely have moments of doubt and questioning.
So what am I in secret? My prayer is that I am the same person when I am around many people... a flawed individual who is striving by the power of the Holy Spirit to live a life that is pleasing to God and reflects the Jesus who is in me. Some days I do this well and other days I fail miserably. However when I do fail I am constantly reminded by this 8 x 10 black picture frame that hangs on my wall "What we are in secret is what we really are."
May my secret life be the same as my public life.
"Sin disunites the most united hearts: It is the bane of holy fellowship."
I love quotes. I think I may be a quote hog or maybe an addict. When I am reading a book I always keep a pen or highlighter in hand to note the quotes that really speak to me. I am not a person you would probably want to borrow or buy a book from because of all the underlining and notes I make. Quotes make me really happy.
Whenever I come across a quote I really like I will open up my ancient version of Microsoft Publisher and copy the quote into the program, then I give it a fun colorful font (with a shadow or outline for curb appeal) and tape or tack it up on my wall. I have done this for years. For the twenty years I have been in ministry I have acquired about two handfuls of quotes that have made the honorable transition from book to eye catching MS Publisher document that hangs on the wall.
On my 41st birthday my wife bought me six picture frames and put some of these special quotes in the frames so I could hang them on the wall in my old office. This was a very thoughtful gift.
The quote above from George Whitefield is probably one the most (definitely in the top three) favorite quotes simply because of the truth factor and reminder of the horrible consequences of sin. Since the creation of humanity sin has separated fellowship between God and us. It was because of sin man and woman were cast out of the garden and it continues today to put up barriers between God and humanity. Sin not only creates a barrier between God and people; it is also the main factor that ruins true godly fellowship we have with one another. It reminds me of what the presence of unrepentant sin in one's life has done to sever the fellowship I have had with those that I love. Whether it is my own sin or the sins of others it is without a doubt the main thing that has broken holy fellowship between myself and others. This is why I hate sin.
On the contrary the unsettling thing for me is I claim to hate sin and yet I find myself running to it more than I from it. Why is that? I wish I had the answer. I do know that when I allow sin to run unchecked in my life I feel distant from God and separated from other believers. I also acknowledge the destruction and hurt sin can and does produce in a family, church, small group or individual, yet I allow it to be present in my life.
It is only by the grace of God that I can find true forgiveness and pursue the life of holiness He calls me to. I will never reach sinless perfection in my life but through the power of the Holy Spirit I can have God's presence in my life to overshadow the temptations of sin that are ever before me. Words cannot express how much I enjoy fellowship with God and with fellow believers and I am thankful we have the privilege of having both. My hope and prayer for life is for unity with God the Father and unity among fellow believers. Will you pray for and with me as I seek more joy in fellowship with God and with believers than I do in pursuing the "pleasures" of sin?
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I currently live on the Gulf Coast of Florida with my beautiful family. The Lord has blessed me with over 25 years of full time ministry. He is and has been faithful.