The Bible has a lot to say about increasing the quality of your personal life. And believe it or not, we can begin to see that topic unfold in the third chapter of Genesis, which we took a deeper look at Sunday.

Genesis 3 isn’t a pleasant chapter. It’s all about how sin entered the world and how death in its many forms was the consequence. But we also discovered that understanding how to live our best lives also means knowing what the opposite looks like.

Spiritual death. In verse 7 and 8, after the man and woman eat the fruit, “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the coolof the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”

Something good and pure was changed in an instant to something inappropriate. The man and woman saw something they hadn’t seen before, and it can’t be undone. All of us can relate to that. Neither can we undo things we’ve seen that we shouldn’t have seen, nor can we undo things we’ve done that we shouldn’t have done. Like us, the woman and man gave into the temptation to “be like God” and do things their own way, and sin entered the picture and suddenly created a death experience where there had been none — and created a sin nature inside each one of us where there had been none. And what did they do next? They sewed fig leaves together to create loincloths to cover themselves — and they hid from God. Which says a lot about how sin causes us to hide not only from God but from each other. So that no one will know who we really are. Sin is the death of intimacy.

Spiritual life. But there is a solution! Romans 5:17 talks about what happened in the garden — and who came to wipe sin away: “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”

When we come to Christ, we have spiritual life. Despite our sin natures, despite our tendency to be like God, despite our selfishness that we live with all the time, Jesus gives us a new life — and the road toward a better quality of life, starting right now.

Emotional death. Verses 9 and 10 tell us “the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’”

The man and woman began life as naked and not ashamed. But when they sinned, they were ashamed of their nakedness. Shame is different than guilt. Guilt is the result of doing something wrong and knowing you need to apologize and ask forgiveness. But shame is much worse. It says, “You’re a bad person, you don’t deserve any love.” It’s damaging to us. The man and woman also hid because they were afraid — and many people live their lives driven by fear. It’s all a terrible case of emotional death.

Emotional life. But there is a solution! 1 John 4:16-19 says “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.”

By abiding in God through faith in Christ, emotional healing can take place in our lives. Fear is cast away. And our new lives in Jesus means shame has no place within us.

Still, verses 11 through 13 show that the man and woman — and indeed all of us — have a long way to go! Notice how they respond to God when he questions them: “He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’”

Does that sound familiar? The man and woman blame each other and other forces for their downfall. The man blames the woman, and the woman blames the serpent. But sin didn’t have to occur. They both made their own choices. And they responded the way we all do at times: Instead of owning up and examining our part in sin, we tend to blame other people and other things.

Relational death. Next God tells the serpent and the woman the bad news. To the serpent God says he “will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This points to a future event — the crucifixion — but signals also that while sin is still present, the penalty for sin is paid for through Christ.

To the woman God said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” This describes what we all know too well: Interpersonal conflict. Control issues. Domination. Specifically, in marriage. We all know the tendency is for relationships to go bad — and that’s part of the curse that sin created.

Relational life. But there is a solution! 1 Peter 4:7-11 commands us to “be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms: if anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God; if anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.”

God wants to empower us through Christ to increase our quality of our lives with respect to relationships! And we do so by living sacrificially, giving to each other, speaking words of life to each other. All of us must understand the grace God provides and apply it to our lives so that we may experience what God wants us to have.

Economic death. Next God tells the man the bad news: He will experience pain and sweat as he toils through “thorns and thistles” just to be able to eat — and will do so for the rest of his life. That’s also something we all can relate to. We all have to work, and work can be very challenging, whether it’s the task at hand or the people we encounter as we struggle to get through our days.

Economic life. But there is a solution! Ephesians 6:5-8 says, “Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.”

When Christ lives within us, we have a new purpose as we work. Jesus is our boss. And his burden is light. And we’re freed up to have a new vision in our jobs — an eternal vision that’s part of our sanctification as we work for the Lord and not merely for others, not merely for a paycheck.

Physical death. Verse 19 says that God told Adam one day he will “return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” No sugarcoating needed. The presence of sin means physical death is now an inevitability. And it awaits all of us.

Physical life. But there is a solution! 1 Corinthians 15 tells us that since Christ has been raised from the dead, so we will be. Because of Jesus, physical death is merely a passageway to eternal life. Rather than a massive full stop, it’s now a blip on the screen. No more need to fear death for those who believe in Christ!

Eternal death. Verses 20 through 23 tell us that God blocked Adam and Eve from eating from the tree of life which would allow them to live forever in their sinful state and drove them out of the garden of Eden. No more opportunity for eternal life.

Eternal life. But there is a solution! 2 Timothy 1:10 says “but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Believers in Jesus have eternal life!

Genesis 3 is full of negative stuff. It’s about death. The dire, eternal consequences of sin. But while that is all very bad news, we can praise God that he offers us good news in its wake — the ultimate solution through his son Jesus, who came to wipe sin away, adopt us into the family of God, and grant us not only eternal life but also a much better quality of life we can start to experience right now.

Listen to the sermon here:

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”—1 Peter 5:8

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”—John 10:10 

Satan wants to take away our joy, kill our relationships, and annihilate our hearts. That’s why he’s called “the enemy” in the Bible.

But you’ve probably noticed that he rarely accomplishes any of his evil in overt, obvious ways. Instead Satan is subtle and tricky and deceptive. And that’s why we need a plan to combat the devil’s sneak attacks.

On Sunday we looked at one of the most famous passages of Scripture: Genesis 3 — the fall of humanity. The moment sin entered the world. And the very first verse of the chapter gets right to heart of Satan’s methods, noting that “the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.”

First off, God created the serpent. Not only that, the serpent was part of the Lord’s creative process that he deemed “very good” in Genesis 1. Which goes to show that Satan uses good things to get us into trouble. Even “very good” things. Indeed, 2 Corinthians 11 points out that Satan “masquerades as an angel of light.” And what looks better or more inviting than such an entity?

That is, until he starts speaking — and getting us to ask if God really knows what he’s doing.

In next verse of Genesis 3, the serpent strikes up a conversation with the woman — while the man was right there with her, as a matter of fact — and started to throw doubt into her head: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” The woman’s first mistake was entering the conversation in the first place: she answers the serpent’s question — and then it all goes downhill from there. The serpent convinces the woman that God is wrong — or perhaps that the Lord didn’t mean what he said or in the way she thought. Doubt creeps in. Conflicting voices. And maybe, just maybe, there’s more fun and interesting stuff to be had by eating of the fruit of this tree — and we’ll “be like God” and know good and evil.

That’s the kicker, isn’t it? When it comes right down to it, that’s where all sin begins and ends, right? We don’t just want to be like God; we want to be God. To be in ultimate control. To do what we want when we want and with whom we want. We’re hopelessly addicted to living as if we have the power. That we’re the captains of our ships. The drivers behind the wheels of life. But every time it’s the same outcome: A shipwreck — and a crash and burn.

And that’s exactly what happened when the man and woman ate of that tree: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”

Boom. Just like that. Paradise and perfection in a garden with not a care in the world — and then we somehow manage to mess it up in an instant. And impact of the man and woman’s sin is felt to this very day while we, too, toil and struggle and sweat — still looking for a way of our own making. To go it alone without God’s help. To taste fruit that’s no good for us in the end.

Again, it’s key to realize that the fruit looked good! Outwardly there wasn’t anything wrong with it that the man and woman could detect. The only thing is that God knew the facts and told them so. But just like with us today, often what God says — what we know to be true — falls on deaf ears. We don’t trust God to meet our needs. We think he’s holding out on us. And before we know it, Satan has enticed us into sin using something that looks good, seems to offer pleasure, fun, good times. Therefore, it’s a wise idea to ask yourself, “What does Satan use in my life to start the conversation?” (Then don’t have it!)

And did you notice that the first question Satan has for the woman is about God? Satan loves to talk to us about God, about religion. Problem is, the devil doesn’t want us to pursue a relationship with God. No way. That doesn’t work for Satan. Because once we’re intimate with the Lord, it becomes much harder for Satan to entice us away from God’s embrace. Instead the devil will try to start one of those familiar chats: “Did God really mean that?”

The answer, of course, is yes. And it gets back to that age-old falsehood that the Lord is some cosmic killjoy who’s only interested in us following a bunch of rules and then bashing us over our heads when we break them. Seriously — does it make any sense for God to go through the effort of creating an entire universe for us and for our enjoyment just so he can be crabby and mean and petty? There would’ve been much simpler ways for God to scratch that itch if that were indeed his nature — and we know it isn’t.

God sets limits for amazingly loving reasons — and gives us the power to stay within those limits — so we can live our best lives possible and be in the best positions to have an incredible, exciting, adventurous relationship with him.

That’s why it’s so important to teach limits to young people — it helps them learn to handle disappointment and to find contentment within them. If, on the other hand, we give children no limits, they will find their pleasures and identities outside of them.

Proverbs 14:12 reads, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” Such was the fate of the man and the woman in the garden when they decided their way was better than God’s way.

May we daily live in the awareness that Satan is right around the corner and ready to lay his lies and distortions on us. May we daily live with humility knowing that not only is God’s way infinitely better, but it’s also anything but life sapping. In fact, the Lord’s way is life giving — and if we’re willing to listen to his “no,” he has an eternity full of “yes” just waiting for us. And we can embark on that abundant life right now.

Just be careful who you’re talking to.

Listen to the sermon here:

As we continue our journey through 1 Thessalonians 5, verses 12 through 22, and discover what characterizes us as believers in Jesus, this past Sunday we looked at verse 19 — and as with the last several verses we’ve examined over the past few weeks, it’s yet another short one. Just four words: “Do not quench the Spirit.”

But also, as usual, there’s a whole lot behind those words. So, let’s break it down, as we’ve been doing, by looking at what Scripture has to say about the key words in this verse.

First, what is “the Spirit”? For an answer to that question, let’s go back to very beginning of the Bible in the very first chapter of the Book of Genesis, verse 26: “Let us make man in our image.” Our image. While the Scriptures indeed say the Lord our God is one God, within that oneness are three distinct persons or personalities: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Indeed, the mysteries of the Trinity are beyond our finite human understanding, but we are given glimpses to work with. For instance, the Father gives prophecies that his son Jesus fulfilled. Christ implemented what his Father established. But what about the Holy Spirit? Where does he show up and what does he do?

Well, we know from the Gospels that when the angel tells Mary she’s with child, she asks how could that be since she’s a virgin — and the angel replies that it’s through the Holy Spirit’s power that she will bear a son. The Holy Spirit makes things personal. When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit came down from heaven in the form of a dove. The Holy Spirit makes things personal.

While we look to God as Father and to Jesus as head of the church, the Holy Spirit makes things personal as he guides and leads us in everyday life — and empowers us to make good choices.

In John 16, Jesus tells his disciples that he must leave them, and despite their sorrow, he adds, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment … I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (vv.7-15)

You see, the Holy Spirit isn’t just working in your life and in the lives of other Christians: He’s reaching out to everyone. So be mindful of what you say and do around others, because you don’t want to inhibit what the Spirit is doing in their lives.

And that brings us to the other word from verse 19 we will examine: “Quench.”

In the context of the Scriptures, “do not quench the Spirit” literally means “don’t put out the fire of the Holy Spirit.” OK … but how do we keep that fire burning strong? Well, a fire needs three things to keep it burning: fuel, heat, and oxygen. In many ways it’s the same with the fire of the Holy Spirit. The fuel is the word of God, which the Holy Spirit illuminates for us and makes come alive within us; the heat is prayer, especially the “listening to God” kind of prayer; and the oxygen is a willing heart.

That third element needed to keep the Holy Spirit’s fire burning is important: Because believe it or not, you have the power to restrict or unleash the spirit of God in your life! Your willing heart will help do it.

And here’s another especially exciting thing the Holy Spirit can do in each of our lives. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 2, verses 9-12, he reminds his fellow believers that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” and that “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.”

That means, literally, that the Lord has something incredibly special in mind just for you. A unique freshness he wants to bring to you through the Holy Spirit — a work in your life that fits your specific situation, your special characteristics, your unique history, and all the factors around you! The Holy Spirit makes things personal.

So, we must put into practice listening to the Spirit. Because after all, there are a lot of other voices shouting at you and whispering for your attention — and heeding their call, if not in step with God’s calling, will lead to places you don’t want to be. The Enemy is constantly trying to drown out the Spirit’s calling in your life.

Who are you listening to?

As we consider the Holy Spirit’s presence and work in our lives, remember finally that it’s never wise to take the self-guided tour through life — especially when the Holy Spirit is right there and ready to guide us into all truth. We all have unlimited access to the Spirit’s guiding hand which personalizes what we need and empowers us to take the steps we need to take.

So, do you have big mountains to climb? Struggles in front of you that seem too daunting to deal with? Then you need the power of the Holy Spirit in your life — and you need more of it, all the time, every day.

Just reach out and ask him. The Holy Spirit has been waiting…

As we continue our journey through 1 Thessalonians 5 and discover what characterizes us as believers in Jesus, this past Sunday we looked at verse 18, which is yet another short, simple phrase: “Give thanks in all circumstances.”

But as we’ve been discovering, short verses can carry a great deal of depth and meaning.

Now as we look at the idea of gratitude, of course we realize that the way God looks at gratitude is different than the way the world looks at it. But that’s not to say the world doesn’t value gratitude. In fact, a secular journal once deemed gratitude the most important mental exercise you can do for psychological and emotional health!

But how are we as believers to look at gratitude — the act of giving thanks? First, let’s consider a definition: Gratitude is the outward expression of something going on deep inside you. Gratitude is what’s inside our hearts — thankfulness and appreciation and gratefulness are what comes out.

On that note, as we dig into this very short verse, we immediately see the importance of a single, small word: “in.” The verse reads “give thanks in all circumstances” — not “give thanks for all circumstances.” You see the difference? God would seem to understand that it’s difficult to give thanks for a trial or challenge or deep pain in our lives. However, as we continue to mature in our faith, we come to a place of depth where we can see God doing complex work in our souls and realize that IN a particular trial or hardship, we can experience amazing growth. And that is something to give thanks about!

As we grow from childhood to adolescence and into adulthood, if we’ve experienced the challenge of dealing with limits, we get to learn how to see the good amid hard circumstances. Now, here’s another definition: Gratitude is a condition of the heart that fosters the tendency to focus on good. It’s actually something we can learn, improve upon, and even excel at!

So how do we get better at being grateful and giving thanks? Well, let’s look at three things that pull us away from and rob us of a state of gratitude — and three things that will bring us back.

The first distraction is complaining. We all are guilty of complaining to various degrees when things we lack loom large in our lives. As the Israelites found a way to complain about their desert circumstances despite all the necessities God was giving to them every day, we also find a way to complain. But how do we get rid of complaining? The key, according to Deuteronomy 8, is to remember the Lord and all the good he’s done in our lives. We must make it a habit and a practice to remember God’s goodness. And when we’ve gotten the hang of such a heart focus it becomes our “gratitude therapy.”

The second distraction is anxiety. Now whether anxiety is the result of a chemical imbalance in our brains or simply circumstances that have become overwhelming and continually cycle over and over, becoming scarier with each turn, the Lord has an answer when anxiety is threatening to undo us. It’s found in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 6 through 9:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learnedand received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

And do you know what’s interesting about the phrase “in everything” found in verse 6 of Philippians 4? It’s the same Greek phrase — “in all circumstances” — found in 1 Thessalonians 6:18! We’re looking at the same goals here

Now the key, according to Scripture, for moving from anxiety to gratitude is prayer. Because when we lift up our anxieties to the Lord, then the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” And again, this is a spiritual practice that we can all improve upon and get better at in our own lives.

The third distraction is anger. When we allow anger to rule our hearts, we’re focusing on the bad and the pain in our lives. And like the other two distractions we’ve looked at, we’re all guilty of letting anger take hold of us to different degrees — but above all we can’t stay there. Otherwise we become people who don’t reflect God’s goodness at all.

So how do we move from anger to gratitude and giving thanks? The key, according to the Bible, is to become a giver! This is illustrated quite profoundly in chapter 12 of John’s Gospel when Mary, Martha, and Lazarus threw a dinner in Jesus’ honor — and each of them gave something to the Lord. Martha gave to Jesus through her service; Lazarus gave to Jesus through his presence and intimacy as they conversed; and Mary gave to Jesus through her incredible generosity — perfume worth an entire year’s wages! And we also see in that passage that Judas’ attitude was diametrically opposed to Mary’s, as Judas wasn’t happy about the gift of perfume, saying the money could have been used as alms for the poor. But as he so often does, Judas completely misses the point, and we’re told that Judas said what he did “not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.’”

So, as you strive to live a Christian life that’s filled more and more with gratitude, don’t get discouraged when you fall short or if you have a bad day. Because it’s also true that even a little bit of gratefulness goes a long way. Therefore, put expressions of gratitude into practice — even if it’s only a little bit sometimes — and harness the truths of Scripture that will help you dispense with the distractions of complaining, anxiety, and anger and lead you to remember the Lord in all things, pray, and become a giver.

Listen to the sermon here:

When we attend a professional sporting event, before the game begins everyone rises to their feet as the national anthem plays over the stadium speakers. Some of us put our hands over our hearts, hats are taken off, and respect for the anthem is observed. Then after we sing out “and the home of the brave!” and fireworks light up the sky, we sit back down, continue eating our hot dogs, and the game commences — and we won’t usually think about the national anthem until the next time we’re at a sporting event.

Too often Christians view prayer the same way. Perhaps there are weeks that go by during which the only time we pray is at church. Just as we do with the national anthem, we stand with the rest of the congregation and “pay our respects” to God in prayer — and then we go home, and maybe we don’t think too much about God until the next time we gather with our brothers and sisters.

As we continue our journey through 1 Thessalonians 5 and discover what characterizes us as believers in Jesus, this past Sunday we looked at verse 17, which says something very different about prayer. It’s reads, “pray continually.”

Now before we get to the notion of praying without ceasing, it’s a good idea to look at what prayer is. As usual, there’s no better example than the way Jesus prayed — and the Gospels tell us he gave specific instructions for how we are to pray. In Matthew 6, Jesus prefaces what’s commonly known as “The Lord’s Prayer” with the following instructions: “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

The time you spend in prayer is not an informational meeting for God. He knows what’s going on with you already. And more than that, the Lord already has the answers to our prayers as well. Isaiah 65:24 reads, “Before they call, I will answer; while they are still speaking, I will hear.” So why pray in the first place? Well, James in the fourth chapter of his epistle has something to say about that: “You do not have because you do not ask.” In other words, some of the answers to prayer you seek won’t come unless you ask God for them — which should motivate all of us to pray a lot more than we do at present.

Now let’s look at the first part of the Lord’s prayer, which Jesus prefaces by saying “pray then like this.” Indeed, Jesus is giving his disciples a model for prayer.

Then Jesus begins his prayer with “our Father in heaven.” Why does he use the word “our” instead of “my”? The answer is packed with meaning for all of us: No Christian is an only child. We’re surrounded by other children of God, other brothers and sisters in Christ. And that fact also reflects God’s design for us to live in community. And while living in community is hard at times, the beauty of it is underscored by the truth that there are things God wants to give us and have us experience that will only happen when we’re part of a community of believers.

Then Jesus uses the word “Father” to describe his relationship with him as the. Jesus uses the personal, intimate word “Father” all the time in the Gospels — except when he was suffering on the cross and quoting the Psalms in his cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” During that one moment in history, Jesus referred to his Father as “God” to describe the position he was in as a sacrifice for our sins.

Jesus then notes in his prayer that the Father is “in heaven.” That’s a great way of showing that God lives above the limitations we experience on earth — and that we need his power and love and presence down on earth with us.


“Hallowed be your name,” Jesus prays next. And what does “hallowed” mean? It’s another way of saying “holy” or to describe something as separate from us. While Jesus reflected the closeness and intimacy and love that God has for each of us, there is a balance with regard to our relationship with our heavenly Father: He’s a holy God — and we are not. So, acknowledging that important fact is necessary and wise for us all as we come before the Lord in prayer. It’s a way of reminding ourselves how sacred this opportunity is.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” Christ prays next. As we look at the will of God, it’s crucial to understand that there are two types of will: God’s unconditional will, and God’s conditional will. As for his unconditional will, it will be accomplished no matter what we do or don’t do. God will do what God will do, and there isn’t anything that will stand in his way. But then there is his conditional will — and that’s where we come in, particularly when it comes to prayer.

While God is sovereign and will do what he wants to do no matter what we do on earth, there are some things the Lord wants to bring about with his creation based on their behavior or decisions — in other words, it depends on us. So how do we know what God’s conditional will is? We can’t! Which is again more motivation for us to be in prayer continually, as sometimes God uses our prayers to accomplish his conditional will! How amazing is that?

So, don’t treat prayer any longer like singing the national anthem before you witness a baseball game; instead make it part of your daily life. Pour out your heart to God, hour by hour, minute by minute. Ask the Lord continually to work in your life and in the lives of others. Be in constant relationship with God and live out the truth of the Scriptures that Jesus is there with you always. And realize that we have no idea what joys and treasures the Lord is just waiting to bestow upon us and others — until we ask him.

Can you believe our entire study from this past Sunday’s teaching is based on just two words?

It’s true. The verse as we continue our look at various traits that define us as Christians is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:16. It reads, “Rejoice always.”

That’s it! It’s indeed as short a verse as you’ll find in all of Scripture — but it’s also as deep and wide and long in weight and meaning as any truth in the Bible as well.

Let’s start by looking at the Greek word for “joy,” which is “chara.” It’s a noun that denotes the awareness of God’s grace — or “grace recognized.” (Interesting that the primary definition of “joy” immediately flows to “grace,” isn’t it?) There’s a valuable reason for that stands front and center in the life of the Christian — and one that will change your entire disposition in life. Here it is: When you pursue pleasure as the ultimate goal, you will always come up empty. We weren’t designed that way. Life’s miniscule pleasures were never meant to give us ultimate fulfillment. Instead the Lord, our Creator, allowed only himself to be that source of fulfillment.

And that makes sense, doesn’t it? If God desperately wants a deep relationship with each of us, why would he allow us to be fulfilled by anything that takes the focus away from him? Which is why, rather than pursuing pleasure, we must instead pursue grace — and as the Greek word denotes, by recognizing grace, we will find joy.

And indeed, at the end of joy is the Lord himself — exactly the way God designed it!

Since the idea of grace has entered the picture so powerfully, let’s dig a little deeper into it. Here’s another jaw dropper: Turns out the Greek word for “grace” is “charis” — which as you no doubt will notice is very close to “chara,” the Greek word for “joy” we just discussed! (See how this is all fitting together? It’s no accident.)

It’s important to keep in mind that there are two types of grace: Our “salvation” grace and our “daily” grace. Let’s look at salvation grace first — the grace by which Christ saved us. This type of grace is a free gift; it’s nothing we deserve or have the ability to earn. And it follows that “recognizing” this grace — remember that word earlier in our discussion? — leads right to joy. And why wouldn’t it? Being the recipient of God’s saving grace is nothing less than joy that never ends.

Now let’s look at the grace we need every day — that we need each hour, each second, of our lives. This grace might strike a bit closer to home, simply because it relates directly to the things that have happened to you today — to the things that are happening right now as you read these words. If you’ve been in any kind of sustained pain, for example, you know exactly what this means. Let’s say you find yourself struggling to swallow normally or to breathe easily: You’d better believe that, even as a Christian — in our temporary, limited bodies — we require grace from the Lord on a minute-by-minute basis.

But the key here is to not stop — but rather to carry that awareness of needing the grace of God in every moment all the way to the ability to see grace everywhere.

We all know it’s easy to see God’s goodness and grace when things going well. If we see an accident on the road, it’s appropriate to thank the Lord that he spared us from that calamity. And if you received a promotion and a raise at work, of course you should thank God for the grace he bestowed upon you. But if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you probably know from personal experience that it’s much harder to perceive grace in the hard times! When you find yourself a victim of that accident … when you don’t get the promotion or raise. And we naturally ask ourselves, Can I receive grace in those hard moments? The answer is, “Absolutely, yes you can.”

 How? Well, Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthian church, chapter 12, verse 9, that when he wanted the Lord to remove an affliction from him, God replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 

Are you able to see God’s grace right alongside the problems and trials you experience in life? Because your path to growth will likely run right alongside rejoicing always in God’s grace amid challenging times. Remember James’ words in his epistle: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Applying that truth to your life will lead you toward seeing God’s grace everywhere!

Another great way to think about joy to take a look at our physical health. When we go to the doctor, we’re quizzed on different risk factors in our lives — and rightfully so, as counteracting them is good for our health. Well, the spiritual life is much the same: Often there are risk factors that can derail our spiritual lives: Anger, materialism, greed, lust. You name it. All of these things, and more, can creep into our souls and send us in the wrong direction.

But the great thing about joy is that it can counteract the terrible, constant assaults those negative elements wage in our lives. Joy is like our “core strengthening exercise” that can ward off the disease of sin before it sets in and seeks to destroy us.

Make no mistake: Living the Christian life is no guarantee of painless living. In fact, anyone who tells you differently isn’t telling you the truth. Take it from the Apostle Paul, who describes in stirring detail in 2 Corinthians 6 what living the Christian life actually looks like when you allow God to have his way. Paul says he endured “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.” Does that sound like fun to you? But hang on — let him finish:

“… by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

Possessing everything. Paul, of course, wasn’t talking about material possessions. He was communicating about true riches, treasures that thieves cannot steal, that moths cannot devour — the joy of eternal life. And that joy can start for all us, right now. Lay hold of it, brothers and sisters.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” — Philippians 4:4

Listen to the Sermon here:

“See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:15

What does it mean to “do good”? That’s the big question we explored this past Sunday as we continued to look at various traits that define us as Christians.

To take a closer look at doing good, we should start in the first chapter of Genesis where the Hebrew word for “good” — transliterated as “TOB” — is used seven times! You know the story: God was creating the Earth, and the Lord saw that it was good. Not just that it looked good on the outside with wonderful things such as fruit-bearing trees — but also because the seeds from the fruit of those trees created more trees and more fruit. The trees worked. They provided food and nourishment and sustenance. The trees weren’t merely a wonder to behold, they also were good — down to their core.

Then God created man — and the Lord said this particular creation of his was very good. Imagine that: You and I are the height of God’s creation! But things took a really bad turn in Genesis 3 when man sinned, which precipitated our fall. Brokenness came into the world, and our “TOB” gave way to problems such as disease and racism and sexism and hurtful relationships. We began to experience pain and suffering. But God had a plan for redemption through his son Jesus who paid the penalty for our sins and opened the door for us to enter God’s kingdom through trusting alone in Christ’s death and resurrection. It is indeed Good News as all things in our lives become new in that salvation moment.

OK — so how do we get to real goodness in our day to day lives?

Well, the process starts with pursuing holiness. A good way to put flesh and blood on that concept is to recall the story of Jesus encountering the rich young ruler in the Gospels. This young man had everything the world had to offer — but he also lacked one thing money couldn’t buy: Eternal life. So, he went right to Jesus, called him “good teacher,” and asked him what he needed to do about that problem. Jesus responded in a very interesting way (as Jesus typically does!) with a question of his own: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”

You see, Jesus didn’t want this rich young ruler to get the idea that he could earn his way to heaven with actions. And in the rest of this story, the rich young ruler went away sad when Jesus replied that he needed to sell all he owned and give the money to the poor — and then to follow him. In that moment he didn’t want to do what he needed to do to inherit eternal life — to put aside the things of this world and trust Jesus by following him. And that’s where holiness starts.

And being in this relationship with Jesus also means that doing good and goodness takes on new meaning. Indeed, Scripture says the Lord long ago prepared good for us to do. Not goodness to earn God’s love (because the Lord loves us freely) but because goodness comes from God! As Christ’s workmanship we are prompted to do good as an outgrowth of our relationship with him (Ephesians 10:2). Again, goodness doesn’t equal actions or behavior to earn God’s love or acceptance, and it’s certainly not about being nice. Instead it’s a state of being deep down in our core.

Have you ever prayed and asked God to point out the ways he wants you to change so he can increase his goodness in your life? To shine his spotlight on sin he wants you to dismiss? If there’s any prayer we can pretty much guarantee God will answer in the affirmative, it’s that one! And responding to God’s nudging in these areas of change means choosing virtue. That’s the next step in figuring out goodness.

And the third step in that process? To champion generosity. That means sharing our lives with others, giving of ourselves, and exceeding what’s expected as we take on such challenges. We all know about the story of the Good Samaritan (again, that word “good”) — and what did the Good Samaritan do? He had compassion on a man who was beaten and robbed on a road, a man who was from a different place, a man who gave his time and his money to help this man. That’s a lot of what goodness looks like — and we can do the same thing.

We’ve also learned during our Sundays together that there are three types of people in the world: Takers (those who are out for themselves), “balance the scale” folks (“I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine”), and givers.

But be forewarned: If you resolve to be a giver, eventually you’ll get hurt (if it hasn’t happened already). At some point you’ll be taken for granted and even mistreated. So, the question is: What will you do with that pain when you experience it? The answer has some theology behind it, but plenty of practicality, too: When you share your goodness with others, you must do it for God and not for others or yourself! Besides being of the correct spiritual mindset, doing good as unto the Lord goes a long way toward reducing the importance of how others react to the good we do for them. That’s because — unlike people who are imperfect — God will never hurt us or mistreat us, ever. Keep that attitude in mind as you “seek to do good to one another and to everyone,” as our latest verse in 1 Thessalonians 5 charges us.

Have you asked the Lord to give you opportunities to do good? With family members, friends, and even strangers? The kind of “TOB” goodness detailed at the dawn of creation is now ours to share freely with others because of Jesus being at work in our lives. And all we need to do is ask God to lead us toward that next moment — and he will provide it. And perhaps the most exciting part is that doing good things for others that the Lord gave us to do in advance, will draw to God those we’re reaching out to. How exciting to be a part of that adventure stretching toward eternity! Let us be about that kind of goodness this week — and for the rest of our days.

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This past Sunday we continued our journey through 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 — a special passage of Scripture that offers us 10 principles that characterize us as believers and help us know what it means to serve the Lord.

We’ve already looked at the principle of Christians living well under authority along with the idea of living peaceably. And this past Sunday we encountered our third principle: How to be wise people helpers. That principle is found in verse 14: “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”

Believe it or not, there are other very good reasons for us to come together as a church each Sunday besides singing songs, praying, and listening to a sermon. One is that simply being together enables us to stimulate each other to rise to the next level in our growth in Christ. That’s the idea expressed in Proverbs: “Like iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

In order for us to be wise people helpers — not only in church but also with our families and with those we encounter outside of church — this verse gives us three tools we should be using, along with one “secret weapon.” Let’s check them out.

In verse 14 Paul begins by telling his readers to “admonish to idle.” Being idle in this sense means not working, not doing one’s part, and taking advantage of others — in short, someone who’s out of order or out of step with the Lord. “Admonish” here means to bring the truth through changing someone’s mind. But when you consider the word “admonish,” you may have been conditioned to define it as being harsh with others or hitting them hard, but actually Paul is communicating the idea of gentleness — lovingly coming alongside our brothers and sisters and saying, “Hey, I think you need to consider this.” And again, being in the position of doing this is just one of the reasons we come together in person as a body of believers.

The second tool is “encourage the fainthearted.” And in the Greek, it’s the idea of comforting and consoling someone whose soul is diminished — someone who’s feeling overwhelmed by life. Certainly, we’ve all been there in one way or another. And when we’re hurting or down, isn’t it wonderful when a believer comes alongside us and offers encouragement? Also, remember that giving comfort isn’t necessarily about problem solving. Often it’s simply about being a listening ear. And when we can be that kind of encouragement to others, good things can happen in the body of Christ.

The third tool is “help the weak.” And by “help” Paul doesn’t mean drive-by assistance and then you’re off doing your next task on your list. It’s the idea of being a support in an ongoing basis — which implies commitment. If there are those who can’t walk by themselves easily right now, we must come along and support them for as long as they need so that they can enjoy this life.

And now for the “secret weapon.” And while it’s a very effective weapon, it’s not always easily practiced. The last part of verse 14 says “be patient with them all.” Patience. How many of us struggle with exercising patience? It’s a very common issue. But unless we can develop more patience in our lives, our relationships will suffer — because after all, patience is like a great shock absorber in our interactions with others. And it’s one of the fruits of the spirit.

So how do we come to a place where we’re consistently exercising patience? There are three things we can do: remain calm, extend time, and endure pain. All of three of these efforts will help you build up your ability to exercise patience as you come alongside others. One thing to keep in mind as we use these three tools — admonish, encourage, and help (along with deploying our secret weapon of patience) — is that we’re all made in the image of God…yet we’re all unique people. This means that when you encounter someone with a need, and one of the tools at your disposal isn’t working, you may need to change the tool you’re using! Different people may require that you use different tools at different times. And above all we must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, as He is the ultimate Comforter, and He literally uses all of these tools to build up each of us.

Listen to the sermon here:

This Sunday we continued to look at 10 principles from our passage in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22. We started off our journey the previous week with a discussion about authority — verses 12 and 13 — which is one of the foundations of the Christian life. Because if we don’t understand authority and don’t put it into practice, we will end up in places we don’t want to be. We could develop an integrity problem, which is why God wants us as believers in Jesus to live well under civil, spiritual, and parental authority.

And this past Sunday we talked about a second principle — and it’s literally from a five-word sentence at the end of verse 13. And this is all it says: “Be at peace among yourselves.”

Peace and living peaceably is more than stress management. In fact, the idea of peace from the Greek words in this passage is that it’s a verb! An action. Now, of course, in English the word “peace” is a noun. But when we look at it here through a spiritual lens, it’s a verb — so we then add verbs to it and strive to “live in peace” and “practice peace.” And then we begin to see why having peace and being focused on peace is such an important part of what it means to be connected to God.

Our discussion about peace has three parts to it. The first is the idea of release. Every time we move toward peace, we’re releasing something. For example, releasing anger toward another person or releasing control of certain things. Or maybe we’re releasing guilt. Perhaps we come to a point in our lives when we discover that we can’t try to balance all the scales of right and wrong and that we need a savior — and that’s when we release guilt and receive what Jesus provides.

Again, the peace of God is not stress reduction. This is so important to keep in mind. Because instead God’s peace is, in face, him giving us something. He allows particular challenges in our lives and then gives us peace that floods over us amid those challenges. Like Psalm 23 says, the Lord prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies. He doesn’t make our enemies disappear. They’re still around us. But in the midst of our troubles, God’s peace abounds. He gives us that daily grace and energy despite our problems

Indeed, peace is also something we must put into practice on a daily basis. That’s the second part to peace. In fact, our life’s mission in many respects is to live in peace. Are you having a problem with one of your children? Well, did you know that God allowed this child in your life so that God could do something special in your heart? To do something that actually benefits you? So whether it’s a difficulty in a personal relationship or somebody cut you off on the road or you got a bill you weren’t expecting or you’re experiencing an ache or a pain that brings up anxieties, God is using all those things so that you will seek after his peace — to put into practice living in peace each day.

Finally, God’s peace is something we need to receive. His peace is, in fact, just one of the things we receive when we come to faith in Jesus — and it transforms our lives and our relationships. There is no more self-condemnation. And we don’t need to keep on saying that we can’t forgive this person or that person, but instead we can allow God to work in our lives. The Lord’s peace is so big and powerful that it fills up every nook and cranny in our hearts.

Yet the question remains: Will we allow God to give us his peace? It may sound like a strange question, and we may initially assume the answer is, “Of course! Why wouldn’t I want such peace in my life?”

But look at what Isaiah 26: 3 says: “You keep him in perfect peace   whose mind is stayed on you,  because he trusts in you.”

Is your mind focused on the Lord right now? Are you trusting in him every day, hour by hour, minute by minute? And is God’s peace something we’re prepared to receive and put into practice? And are you viewing Christ’s peace as merely a stress reducer — or are you willing to receive it and let it wash over you in the midst of your problems and challenges?

We’ve come upon an incredible passage of Scripture in our study of 1 Thessalonians. In fact, verses 12 through 22 of the book’s fifth chapter are so rich with meaning and power that we need to look at them over the next several weeks bit by bit. This past Sunday we looked at the first two verses, which talk about authority in the lives of Christians: “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”

Indeed, all of us in the church are under authority in one way or another. That’s how God designed it. But sometimes the idea of being under authority — not just in the church, but in our lives in general — doesn’t sit well with us. Some folks develop a mantra that they don’t respect authority. Of course, when earthly authorities fail in their duties and end up hurting people, it can be very natural to lose respect for them. But the Lord has another way of looking at these issues, and his word will help us know where to draw the lines.

First, let’s look at civil authorities. Paul wrote about them in chapter 13 of his letter to the Roman church:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”

Paul wrote these words when the Roman Empire was ruling over the known world and began persecuting the church. Not a good thing at all. Yet Paul says God instituted earthly authorities to carry out his will. How are we to make sense of that? How do we reconcile that? In short, it’s something we as believers must hold in tension. For example, while the Roman Empire was brutal in countless cases, it also benefitted the early spread of Christianity through its establishment of trade, roads, and shipping.

Now, in our present situation — in the era of the coronavirus — what do we do when our government says we cannot meet as a church? How do we as Christians respect and subject ourselves to such authority? Again, it’s something we must hold in tension. In our country, we have a Democratic form of government that’s ultimately in hands of the people. But still we must support those in leadership, even when we disagree with what they decide. So, for instance, last Sunday night I exercised my First Amendment rights and spoke out with other pastors in calling for reform in our government. But still we must obey the law. It’s a constant tension we must examine and grapple with — and of course ask the Lord’s help when we do so.

Now let’s take a look at spiritual authority.

Christians are different from others because we say, “I am going to place myself under the authority of God’s word.” We do what Scripture instructs. We go to God’s word first when we have questions and then do our best to apply the Bible’s principles to our lives. And we do so even when what we’re commanded to do goes against culture. That’s incredibly challenging, particularly given the times we’re living in, when social and cultural pressure is so pronounced and constant. And then there are those who decide they’re not going to adhere to what God’s word says — and they end up elevating their own wisdom over God’s. That’s called humanism. But we all know that human wisdom in the face of God’s wisdom is flimsy at best.

In addition, spiritual authority doesn’t belong to a person — rather we’re all vehicles through which the Holy Spirit’s authority is able to be carried out. Pastors, for example, are only a Godly authority as they rely on God and his word. If they don’t, their authority doesn’t mean much. Also, submission to earthly authority means we accept the wisdom, power, and peace that comes from God through others. No, it doesn’t mean obedience — but it does mean having the wisdom to listen and be open to hearing from others, particularly those who’ve lived on this planet longer than us.

In fact, that’s one of the benefits having older Godly people among us. They’ve been through experiences we haven’t, and they can offer solutions to problems we may never otherwise have considered. Let me challenge you again to seek out such people — to be open to their counsel and experience. Let them help you grow and develop as a person and as a Christian. We all need others in our lives with more wisdom and experience who will look out for our best interests. Don’t miss that! Because when the world creeps in, and we start to think we can do whatever we want, and we can do it all on our own, God will use others — those with spiritual authority — to speak into our lives and pull us away from the thin ice we’re skating on.

Finally, there’s the issue of authority in family life. Parents and children are often at odds in this realm. But parents can begin to shape their children by modeling being under the authority of the Lord themselves. Watch what happens when you to God, “My answer is yes,” and your children are watching. Now that’s countercultural! And for young people, God will do some amazing things in your lives when you choose to submit to the authority of your parents, just as you submit to the authority of the Lord.

Being under authority isn’t always easy, but God designed those relationships — through our government, through our church, and through our families — to protect us, to help us grow, and ultimately to become closer to him.