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2 Thessalonians 1.1-4
Harvest is special. There is nothing else like it. After a season of hard work and caring for crops, this is time when the fruit gets picked or the plants get collected. It is a grower’s delight.
There is a river of sweat and toil to get to this point. When the Good LORD then gives great weather to bring in the harvest, farmers can celebrate with this special work. Plants have grown tall, strong and healthy for months since planting. Now, it is autumn and the crops can be brought in to market.
The first fruits are part of the evening meal. Freshness is central on everyone’s palate. Smiles and humor mark the meal. Conversation, memories, retelling of key moments for this particular season meld everyone’s minds on the greatest part of this first meal of the harvest. Everyone is grateful, thankful and satisfied with God’s bountiful harvest.
Three godly men penned the second letter to the Thessalonians. They had every intention of encouraging the believers there in light of the coming prophetic hope centering on Christ’s return. Authority for this anticipation was based upon uncompromised certainty in God’s relationship with all those who are His. The Godhead here is acknowledged as the Father and the Son equally each divine.
Grace is worth a long and deep pause. It is God’s incredibly generous favor given to all in the church and the resulting peace from the reception of that grace. While the terms share so much in common, grace describes God’s favor and mercy is His application of grace into our lives
Once God gives us His amazing gift, we spend the rest of our lives not trying to re-experience that historic moment. Rather, we enjoy the satisfaction that comes from the result of grace applied into our lives. That is the peace that these emissaries of God have delivered.
The spiritual growth of Christians elicits a very similar reaction. Maturity is something to celebrate. It is not only good for those who are growing but also fantastic for those who helped others nurture their spiritual development.
Thanksgiving is an integral part of being a follower of Christ. This spiritual journey with Christ begins with celebration and continues with many other landmark moments of elation as well. Gratitude is constant as God nurtures, protects and provides the energy and circumstances to advance our faith.
Testifying over the spiritual advancement of others is a part of our own Christian journey. Selflessness is what spirituality is. We serve others, help others and rejoice in the growth and advancement of others.
Faith and love are both dynamic realities. Neither stays static. They are not real if they do not change. Both fuel our interest in others. When they each continue to increase and grow, then there is good reason for gratitude to be energetically expressed.
There is a special feature among gathered Christians. It is all about story. Together we share what God is doing in the lives of other believers. We detail the story of the growth and expression of their faith. When God blesses their acts of trust and belief and favors their lives we find massive encouragement from testifying to His goodness to others in the body of Christ. Functionally, when God blesses one part of the gathering of believers, we all are benefitting.
The local church is the central gathering of these followers of Jesus. It is not exclusive, but it certainly central. The heartbeat of the Lord Jesus Christ is personified in the local church.
Here is where Christians can experience a righteous pride. It is not selfish. There is nothing in it for personal gain. Instead, it is totally directed toward God and for the benefit of others. There is a special beauty in this feature of humanity, redeemed humanity.
Remarkably, this celebration is not playing out just in good times. Rather, it is especially highlighted during difficult times. The Thessalonian believers were suffering during times of persecution. Trials were replete and painful. Nevertheless, they endured not just with gritted teeth but with a faith that was growing and a love for each other that was increasing.
Essential to Christian living is our vested involvement in the lives of others. This is far more than being friends with those whom we find are just like us. Rather, it is all about helping others grow in their faith.
This relationship of discipleship is not difficult at least it does not have to be. When we help another Christian grow in their faith and love during difficult times, we are immersed into the heart of discipleship. Then, when we are intentional about it, we obeying the Lord’s Great Commission.
Church should be a place where this kind of thanksgiving celebration is common. Believers gather for mutual encouragement. This fellowship breeds perseverance. Christians with a strong connection to other believers who encourage them this way can look back and see that they have endured well
LAPP (Life Application): Choose three lives and build a discipleship relationship with them. Commit to them and invest into their spiritual growth in love, faith and perseverance. When the tough times come and they will, stick with them and cheer on their spiritual vitality and you will both grow stronger.
Thanks for joining me on this journey through the Scriptures.
My computer whirred to life. I was watching my time for a long commute but before I launched I wanted to check the traffic report. My destination would require some creative routes to avoid traffic tie-ups.
The Houston traffic report popped up on a map. Every route to my destination was either color-coded in yellow, orange or red. Everyone seemed to headed in the same direction as me.
A major traffic jam blocked the secondary route. Yet, that computer marked that plan as the quickest among the three that were available. At least I had allowed twice the amount of time that I needed to make the journey.
Once on the freeway I took the toll road. It was clear for now. However, the DJ on the local Christian radio station warned us all to avoid that thoroughfare. She was right.
Up ahead, the tollway looked like a modern Christmas tree with a string of red lights lit up as far as the eye could see. Slowly I crept up and took my place in line. Like hundreds of others I was waiting in line and paying for the privilege to do it. That was weird thought.
Massive puddles formed on the road way. People drove around these water hazards. Most people drove around them. A few splashed right through these temporary lakes and sent a spray of rooster tail proportions over their neighboring car. At least it was entertaining while we crept along at single digit speeds.
Often I would glance at my clock. I smiled. There was plenty of time. My obligations were still over an hour away. Even a walking pace I would arrive on time.
There is something pleasant about Southern culture that makes these difficult moments manageable. There were no horns blaring. Most drivers were keeping a courteous distance in these tight quarters.
A few were aggressively trying to cheat. One used the shoulder to move ahead of others. But, by far that majority of drivers were patient and deferring the right of way to the minority exceptions who took advantage of the polite majority.
I like living in Texas for moments like these. Traffic jams are in every part of the country. Road hogs and road rage drivers are in every state. Here, however, there is a greater calm. I have stop writing, now. Traffic is loosening up. It is time to go.
photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography
My smile erupted on my countenance when we were escorted into the dining hall. We had served with gusto through a week of speaking, ministry, fellowship and worship. Our team was joyful and in a mood of celebration.
Our hosts had their culinary staff create a feast for us. It was part of their expression of love and gratitude. We were blown away.
An Asianesque theme was mixed in with a Polynesian flair. I had to read the menu to figure out what the courses were. All I know was that it was delicious!
Tasting good is only part of it. The presentation was spectacular. Even seashells decorated the table. Special decanters were used to serve the beverages.
There was a wonderful variety of food. A crispy outer shell surrounded sticky rice. I had seconds.
The main dish was a medley of tofu, seaweed, pork and vegetables. Freshly brewed tea was perfectly blended with tropical fruit and chilled for the sensation of marquee ice tea. Others had personalized French coffee presses for the Java option.
Our host thanked all of us for our part in the program. His gratitude made us all feel honored to be there. We debriefed on the wonderful week of ministry and we lauded their team, their staff and volunteers for a refreshing week for all of us.
My bride and I finished our speaking events. We were tired but deeply fulfilled that we could be there to serve. Then, we returned to our room.
I grabbed my camera and photographed the creation of the housekeeping staff. There on our freshly made bed was a towel art. They had taken the ordinary towels and like origami they shaped these run-of-the-mill towels into a lamb.
That is a touch of class. These staff members do not have to do the extras. Yet, they smile, greet us cheerfully, went out their way to wait on us. This creative artwork was the climax of a wonderful week.
Whether it was splendid meal, a special towel art, a cheerful greeting or extra attention in their service to us, we were delighted to smile back, thank them profusely and do our part on the speaking side and deliver the Word with passion and precision.
photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography
When the morning is calm, no breeze is blowing and the waters of a lake are as smooth as glass, there is a common phenomenon that we too often overlook. If we are in a hurry or distracted we miss it. Yet, if we pause and observe our minds process the vision and we smile.
It is like seeing double. The sun plays an important part. It lights up the sky, casts shadows among the trees and contrasts the spectacle that reflects a dual image that is incomparable.
I stood beside the lake. The reflection in the still waters was perfect. Details of jagged lines of a tree’s foliage lay perfectly still on the surface of the glassy mirror.
Even the fish seemed to allow a moment for the surface to remain undisturbed. No birds swooped down for a morning catch. Humans were still in bed.
The splendid cloudless day set the blue backdrop that highlighted the greenery with deep colors. What was around the lake was also on the lake. It was divine canvas where the creator easily called into existence the plants of the earth and now repeated that act with a momentary portrait for the early risers to enjoy.
I could turn my attention toward the east. As the sun slowly climbed into the sky and shone brightly in my direction, all color faded into a silhouette contrast. It is a different kind of beauty.
The three-dimensional scene reduces into a two-dimensional view. Depth is gone. All that is left is height and width.
Contrast is a big part of a black and white scene. Nevertheless, the scene is still duplicated. Identical blacked out treeline is lying in perfect proportion on the surface of the water.
Photography is always about the light. Too much is rarely produces a good photo. However, just the right amount or too little can result a shot that makes busy eyes pause, rest and drink in the image.
The silhouette could almost be mistaken for a psychiatrists ink blot diagnostic. What is the first thing that pops into your mind when you see this photo? Me? I see a treeline silhouetted on the surface of a Texas lake. What about you?
photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography
Before my alarm clock had a chance to chime, I reached over with plenty of time leftover and shut it off. I was well rested. My obligations and responsibilities were hours away. It was time to take in a morning walk through the woods.
Dressed and washed up I stepped into the warmth of a new day. The birds filled the dawn with active chirping. They flitted about from bush to tree to sky.
Gravel crunched under my feet. A welcome breeze mussed my hair and made the boughs of tall evergreens been, shift and rustle in the air. A colorful pink bloom decorated the path.
The trail wound down the imaginary topographic lines. A body of water lay ahead. Trees made up a forest that I had to walk through to get to the lake. Everything about the great out-of-doors was surrounding my morning stroll.
The woods began to thin. Between tree trunks I could see the reflection on the water. The sun was putting on a morning show.
As the sole star of our solar system made its new appearance for this day, it sparkled on the water. Powerful rays shot through spaces in the trees. It cast shadows on the ground. Great black lines all pointed to the blaze in the sky.
I paused on my stroll. The sun gave me good warmth. It rose in the Texas sky and promised to scorch our day with temperatures in the high 90’s. But, for now, it was very pleasant, strikingly showy and blinding off of the water with brightness.
Our sun rose higher into the morning sky. It began to feel warm. This was going to be a day that the best time to outside was now and coming to a close. The summer heat was ratcheting up and promised to make this day like every other August day in the South, hot.
For now I would enjoy the relief that came from the shadows that covered me from the touch of the sun. Cooler temperatures made the woods a very pleasant place to be. A gentle breeze came off the lake. It too brought minor relief from the building heat.
Our sun is a blessing. At times it can also be a challenge. Nevertheless, it is what God has assigned to keep track of our days, give us light to see the tasks that assigned to us to do and cast shadows so we can find even in its presence a respite in the shadows of the trees.
photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography
So many of the hours of my life are surrounded by man-made stuff. Asphalt, concrete, sheetrock, polyester carpet, synthetic curtains, sheet metal cars and fluorescent lighting. Life finds balance when I can break away an immerse self in the splendor of creation.
How busy has my schedule become? For the first time in ages I missed a self-imposed deadline on my blog page. It felt very weird.
1 Thessalonians 5.23-28
The “For Sale” sign was on the lawn. That was my first experience on this end of the real estate experience. I gazed from my living room window as if hordes of people would stop by and make an offer on our home.
Reality set in soon after. It was a buyer’s market. Those few who were looking to purchase a home had plenty to choose. They could take their time and select from all the for sale signs in our city.
Our realtor was clear. During the listing of our home, we had to de-clutter our home and keep it in show-ready condition. They would have their office call when a prospective buyer was interested in a showing. Then, we would have about a 30 minute window to spiff up the home and vacate for Realtors to show.
Those were tough months. It was incredibly inconvenient to our busy family to keep the house de-cluttered when we were busy living active lives. At first we made a game of it. Then, we just got annoyed.
The idea that the next people might buy the house kept us motivated. Just when we were about to give up, we received the phone call that buyers had made an offer. It was a great relief.
Christian living is all about living out the redeemed life made possible by Jesus Christ. It is not a life that is now “safe” therefore lived the way we would want to now that we are in control. Rather, it is a life lived consistently with the holiness of the God who saved us in the first place.
God is now personally involved with the routine of our days. He wants to be at the center of our lives. Furthermore, He makes it attractive with the resulting peace that we experience in our new life in Christ.
He gives us purpose for our lives. It is a deeply meaningful satisfaction for our hunger for significance. This is constructed for the ultimate end that when our Lord Jesus Christ comes, we will be blameless when we meet Him.
All of us are too well aware of our human shortcomings. We like the idea of God being personally involved with our daily sanctification. It has many features about it that are very attractive. But, quite frankly, we do not believe it is true.
Maybe we know the frequent disappointments of other people. So we are dubious, we are suspicious, we are jaded. Yet, without hesitation the Scriptures assure us that God puts the character of His own faithfulness behind this promise. In no uncertain terms the
Scripture aligns God’s calling of our salvation with the certainty of His fulfillment to do what He has said He will do for us.
My success as a Christian is no longer dependent on my ability. Nor is it based upon the circumstances in which I might find myself. Instead, it is the character of God and His consistent faithfulness that each of us believers will receive all that is necessary for successfully living a spiritual life.
Christianity is not about only receiving. It is about giving. It is also about serving.
As the Thessalonian believers are recipients of the Apostles’ teaching and encouragement, they too should join in the community and serve others. They can begin by reciprocating for the Apostles from whom they have received so much. To start they can pray for the Paul and his colleagues. Bringing up the Apostles to the Lord for petition and requests are greatly appreciated. It is the least that the Thessalonian believers can do.
To show that their sanctification is in full swing, these believers can also greet one another with affection. More than a courtesy or words, this embrace can express love and acceptance. It can demonstrate fellowship, commitment and devotion. The kiss is custom-culturalized. Above all it is not lustful nor romantic but holy, that is, sanctified.
This Scripture and its instruction are important. The public reading of Scripture is the practice of the day. Reading it to one another in the Body of Christ is part of spiritual fellowship.
Grace marks the Apostle’s final words. The theme of unmerited favor is foundational to Christian living and community. Jesus Christ to be central in all matters of faith and worship. As He began a good work in us so He will continue to do so by being personally involved with each of our lives.
Staying clean is never easy. After every meal we clean of the dishes and put everything away. It happens each and every time we eat. Sometimes it seems like a nuisance but consider the alternative. Our neighbors or our family would have us committed!
In the same way our spiritual lives need to be cleansed just because living on this earth calls for us getting dirty. We still have a sin nature. It is active. Enemies tempt us for the sheer purpose of tripping us up. Consciences are seared. Yet, if we know that His love is greater and His grace is always sufficient, then, we will keep on going. We confess our sin and He cleans us up.
We set it as our goal to be blameless. If it does not go perfectly, He makes it possible to correct matters. Do not fret. This will not go on forever. Someday Jesus will come and we will be with Him in eternity. That is when we can rest because sin will finally be done. How cool is that?
Thanks for joining me on this journey to live the Scriptures.
If a Country & Western singer books a stadium for a concert it is great to sell out the seats. When the tickets are completely sold out early, that is even better. Sometimes SRO is the cream on the top. In any of these scenarios the numbers are important. An artist likes to have people in the audience if they are to perform.
When we open a business for the first time, it is always great to have customers. The object of the business is to sell product. That happens when customers come in, feel at home and then make their purchases.
Returning customers is the best sign of success. Those who come back, purchase more product, listen to more songs, take in more experiences for their learning are all good results. When the returning clients bring others with them and there is steady growth over time then that is the best result of all.
Church is like that too. We like it when people come to Sunday services and bring their friends. It is heartening to see them enthused with what they experience and learn.
The Global Leadership Summit has been around for many years. It is unlike any other conference that I have registered. Each time that I attend, I learn tons about leadership.
My mind is saturated with what I want to do. It is also jammed with what I do not want to do. Creativity, tenacity, simplicity, common sense, novel approaches, grids, matrixes and patterns.
Some have chosen not to participate in this conference. I do not remember the specifics of their reasoning. Actually, I chose to forget the excuses that they gave.
I gazed at the thousands that were in attendance at Willow Creek, Illinois. Their thunderous roar when they had a chance to worship, cheer or affirm and it was stunning. Sure, there are differences. Who does not have some differences with other leaders? But, we can learn so much from each other without compromising our own convictions.
Humble people learn from others. When we respect others and earn respect in return, there is a good result. After all, discernment is the greatest skill of redeemed leader. He is not afraid of learning nor overly nervous about association. Good leaders gather to learn how to be better at leading from any source that they can. Great leaders lead the way to learn.
photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography