Often life is hard, but God is always good

Posts tagged ‘Paul’

Getting Free and Clear

Photo Credit: M.G. Kafkas

Photo Credit: M.G. Kafkas

“Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice, and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” I Peter 2:1-3 (NIV)

Peter wrote us a list comprised of mostly “inside out” problems. Clearly, he took to heart Jesus’ teaching on cleaning the inside of the cup.   I imagine Peter listening intently as Jesus confronted the Pharisees:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” Matthew 23:25-26 (NIV)

This truth in Peter’s first epistle has come to us English speakers as a call to “get rid of” these inner sins. (“to rid oneself” is to relieve or free oneself of something unpleasant or undesirable). In ancient times, Norsemen and Germans used the word “to rid” to describe clearing land.

So what do I need to clear out of my personal territory?

I am most struck by envy because I struggle mightily with that invisible ugliness in my heart. Each week, I avert my eyes from the magazines displayed along the grocery check out line- not because they horrify me. On the contrary, I am irresistibly drawn into the world of the beautiful, the famous, and the rich. I wish my life were more like theirs.

“Envy is nothing more than a hostile form of self-pity.” Courage to Change, Al-Anon Family Groups, Inc.

Other cannot see my envy – unless they look closely and notice its secondary effects. According to Proverbs, its cancerous corrosion actually makes us less healthy: “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” Proverbs 14:30 (NIV)

The antidote is “a heart at peace” or, put another way, “godliness with contentment”, as Paul wrote in his first letter to Timothy.

“Actually, godliness is a great source of profit when it is combined with being happy with what you already have.” I Timothy 6:6 (CEB)

To sum up, it is not enough to do good works, look great on the outside, and paste on a smile to mask our malicious, envious thoughts. Keeping silence and hiding our insides makes us very effective hypocrites, not true disciples.

Let’s obey Peter and get rid of it all, clearing our lives to make room for all the lovely stuff that God has ready to grow in us.

 

Competition vs. Intrinsic Value

Photo Credit: H. Kopp Delaney

Photo Credit: H. Kopp Delaney

“Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.” (Ephesians 2:10 CEB)

In this culture of competition we Americans receive messages from all sides that we must be the best, the smartest, or the most good-looking to earn our place on sports teams, college campuses, job sites, and media platforms.

The bar is always set high and we must strive to achieve excellence.

“Work hard.” “Always do your best.” “Go for the gold.” I personally endorse these messages and have passed them on my kids. My second child is now prepping for college admission and competing for scholarships. I want her to contest for these awards.

But we all need something else – something more – to truly live successfully; we need a foundation within our very souls of our great value in the Creator’s eyes.

If we build that truth solidly, then we operate out of a sense of being cherished and indispensable to the world, no matter the outcomes of our cultural competitions.

We can even give that appreciation to one another.

“Love is to reveal the beauty of another person to themselves.” Jean Vanier

If we don’t lay down these truths in our inner man, our cultural competition will demoralize and, eventually, crush our spirits.   Our Heavenly Father looks at our value and purpose and never relegates anyone to “the bench” to just watch the first string players make history.

Paul the apostle, the great orator, church planter, and author of much of the New Testament, in all his letters to the churches, gives us a glimpse into the existence of many others who also worked to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. One of the longest lists he made acknowledges 27 people by name and mentions numerous others described as “sister”, “brothers” or “church members”. (see Romans 16: 1-16)

These are not “little people” with “little lives” because they are only mentioned once in the Bible. Their stories may not have been told in that format, but they had rich lives. I would love to hear more about Urbanus, Rufus, Trphena, Pryphosa, Persis, Phlegon, Apelles, Ampliatus, Julia, and Olympas.

We Westerners, in this current day and age, may not receive media coverage of our sports prowess, best-selling publication of what we have written, or other acknowledgements from public platforms, but we each matter to God…

…and to many, many others.

More to Come – Looking at a Bright Future

Photo Credit: Howard Ignatius

Photo Credit: Howard Ignatius

“We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 1: 2,3 NIV

The apostle Paul visited the city of Thessalonica and spent a brief but fruitful time preaching in the Jewish synagogue and encouraging new converts, Jewish and Gentile, “and some prominent women” to continue in their faith.   Heckling, threats, and a riot conspired to drive him on to Berea as the next missionary stop, but the Thessalonian believers remained rooted in their Christian faith and in Paul’s heart as evidenced by the two letters he wrote them which are now part of the New Testament canon.

“Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brother, to do so more and more.” 1 Thessalonians 4:9 NIV

I was struck by the sincere admiration Paul expressed for the Thessalonian Christians and his heartfelt commendation for their love, their work and their faith. This is not flattery or cloaked criticism – not the “sandwich” method of saying something positive before and after a hard, negative truth.

So let me be your “Paul” – reminding you of the work, labor, endurance, and love of your present life. God sees all of it and smiles. Our heavenly Father is a good supportive parent, so allow me to direct your attention to all the good stuff and applaud you.

But you have more purpose and more acts and more love in your future. Like my little grandbaby who at five months is just learning to roll over and has so much more to do (like crawling), we are urged to keep on growing and doing.

“Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are now living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.” 1 Thessalonians 4:1 NIV

This applies to us no matter our stage in life.

Although Paul urges the Thessalonians (and us) to do more and more, he clearly points to the power source – God – who fulfills his purposes through our lives:

“With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.” 2 Thessalonians 1:11 NIV

Our future prospects glow with promise.  There is more to come.

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