On the Way to Emmaus

When Jesus was at the table with the two disciples he walked with on the road to Emmaus, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24.30-32)

How many times during worship or during fellowship with friends and family have we not recognized Jesus in our midst?

Giving You an Update

My goal is to transition from a writer to an author.  I have two works in progress.  First, I am writing a commentary on the Epistle of James, titled A Guidebook on Christian Living.  Further, I am researching 17th century Europe so I can write a series of novels set during events such as the Thirty Years’ War and English Civil War.  In the aftermath of the Reformation, several regions in Europe came to be self-governing, offering freedoms of religion and conscience.  But the eventual ascension of the new Holy Roman Emperor removed the right of self-government and any freedoms of religion and conscience.  This crisis ignited the Thirty Years’ War.  The European map at the start of the century looked much different by the time the 18th century began.  Such redrawing of national boundaries did not occur again until the aftermath of World War I.  Finally, I am considering whether I should produce books on the Kingdom of God/Heaven, faith, hope, love, etc.  This allows me to publish something and learn more through personal experience.

Compromising Our Faith

In response to Timothy’s report on the Thessalonians, Paul complimented them for their steadfastness under trial and offered encouragement to them for whatever future conflicts they might experience.

The Thessalonians had become “imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own people as they did from theJews” [I Thessalonians 2.14].  Like the churches in Judea, the Thessalonian believers faced fierce persecution from their neighbors [Acts 17.5–9].  Their enduring this persecution with faith and joy proved that the power of God’s word was in them.  God’s working in their hearts caused the Thessalonians to respond like all who follow Christ.  Despite the suffering, the Thessalonians readily accepted the Gospel as the Word of God, a fact confirmed by their faithfulness to the gospel.

Do our congregations today imitate “the churches of God in Christ Jesus” that were in Judea and Thessalonica during Paul’s days?  Do we compromise our beliefs in order to not look different from our neighbors?

Each day we hear of Christians around the world under severe persecution dying for their beliefs.  Yet, due to peer pressure, which is not truly life threatening, many of us are tempted to shift Christ from having top priority in our lives.  Therefore, I ask, why are our Christian brothers and sisters around the world willing to die for Christ when the ‘Christians’ around us are not even willing to live for Him?

In I Thessalonians 3.1-4, Paul sent Timothy, “our brother and co-worker for God in proclaiming the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage [the Thessalonians] for the sake of [their] faith, so that no one would be shaken by these persecutions.”  Having experienced tribulation and affliction, Paul sent Timothy to them to encourage them, instruct them, and let them know that such trials are normal for the Christian church.  Paul was concerned that unbelievers may tempt them to compromise or abandon their faith because of their tribulations.

Paul reminds the Thessalonians, “In fact when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we were to suffer persecution.”  Paul was honest with the new believers.  He did not promise the followers of Jesus a life of ease or public approval—and neither did Jesus.

True, the Psalms are filled with wonderful reminders that God protects us, comforts us, and shields us like a shepherd watching over his flock.  Even our Good Shepherd promised to be with us always, even to the end of the ages.  Yet, even being wrapped in the arms of Christ, we still are filled with fears and questions.  Jesus is the answer to those questions, though He is not the answer to all questions (e.g., “Who is buried in Grant’s tomb?”).

Scripture is filled with encouraging words from God and examples of people who remained faithful.  Like Paul, we should encourage and remind one another that when we face persecution, affliction, and even peer pressure to remain faithful as God has been faithful to us since the beginning and throughout eternity.

Grace and Peace

Was First Thessalonians the “First”?

Disclaimer: I enjoy studying the potential timeline of when the New Testament books were written so that I may gain an understanding of the possible thought development of fellow believers during this time period.  I believe that each text was written for a particular audience at a particular time for a particular purpose, but also has universal application for the Body of Christ throughout the ages as each was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Thank you.

In honor of his wife Thessalonike (the half-sister of Alexander the Great), Cassander, King of Macedon, established the city of Thessalonica around 315 BC.  As the largest and most important city in Macedonia, it became the capital of the Roman province.  Located at the crossroads of two major Roman roads—the Ignatia Way (a military road connecting it to both Rome and the Adriatic Sea) and the other from the Danube River to the Aegean Sea—Thessalonica was a critical trading center and seaport for the Roman Empire.

During his second missionary journey, Paul and his companions came from Philippi to Thessalonica and founded the Christian church there [Acts 17.1-10].  Consisting of some Jews, the largely Gentile church grew quickly—numerically and spiritually.  Paul was so appreciative of their progress that he describes them as examples to the believers in Macedonia and Achaia [I Thessalonians 1.7].  However, the ministry of Paul and his companions had become difficult as other Jews stirred up a mob against Paul and his group, so that they had to flee during the night to Berea [Acts 17.5-10].

Later in Athens, Paul became concerned about the condition of the new community of believers in Thessalonica.  As his anxiety grew, he decided to send Timothy to strengthen and encourage the faithful at Thessalonica [I Thessalonians 3.1-3].  Timothy returned with a positive report about the Thessalonians.  Paul was so overjoyed with the news that he wrote an epistle to them.  The epistle that Paul wrote is what we refer to as Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians.

Greatly accepted by scholars and theologians, either Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (written between AD 48-52, depending upon the northern or southern Galatian theories) or his First Epistle to the Thessalonians (around AD 50-51) is the first epistle written by Paul contained in the New Testament.  [I find myself standing in the camp with those who believe Paul wrote Galatians before the Jerusalem Conference in Acts 15 while others argue that Paul wrote it after the Conference, but again, one’s viewpoint is dependent upon the northern or southern Galatian theories.]  Furthermore, some argue that Galatians or I Thessalonians is the first “book” written in the New Testament, as another five or more years would pass before Mark would pen his Gospel.  Unfortunately, the Epistle of James contains nothing definitive as to when James wrote it.  The date of his composition ranges from around AD 45 to 70, before the Jewish rebellion.

Furthermore, some argue that Galatians or I Thessalonians is the first “book” written in the New Testament, as another five or more years would pass before Mark would pen his Gospel.  Unfortunately, the Epistle of James contains nothing definitive as to when James wrote it.  The date of his composition ranges from around AD 45 to 70, before the Jewish rebellion.  [I agree with the arguments for an earlier composition date (in the late 40s), which are more compelling, as the “Audience” for James’ epistle (“To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” or “scattered abroad”) aligns with the believers who are “scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria,” resulting from the “severe persecution … against the church in Jerusalem” (Acts 8.1) following the martyrdom of Stephen.]

Interesting, eh?

What Does a Life Filled with Worship Look Like?

Both Psalm 100 and references from two of Paul’s epistles shall reveal our answer.  First, Psalm 100 has the structure of Joyfulness, Obedience, and Thanksgiving, which are the elements of a worship-filled life.  I have expanded upon Psalm 100 by including parallel verses from other Psalms.

Joyfulness

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth.  With trumpets and the sound of the ram’s horn, make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.  Shout with joy!  Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God, and keep the vows you made to the Most High.

Worship the Lord with gladness.  Serve the Lord with reverence.  Serve the Lord with gladness.  Loving service is a grateful response to the grace of God.  Come into his presence with singing.  Let us come before him with thanksgiving.  Come before him with joyful song.  Make a joyful noise unto him with psalms and songs of praise!

Obedience

Know that the Lord is God.  Acknowledge that the Lord is God.  It is he that made us, and not we ourselves.  O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker, for we are his!  We are his people and the sheep of his pasture.  As your people, O Lord, the sheep of your pasture, we will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation, we will recount your praise.  The Lord is good, a stronghold in times of trouble; he protects those who trust in him.

Thanksgiving

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise.  Be thankful unto him.  Give thanks to him.  Bless his name.  Praise his name.  Sing unto the Lord; tell of his salvation every day.  Give to the Lord the glory he deserves!  Bring an offering and come into his courts.  Offer unto God a thanksgiving sacrifice and call upon the name of the Lord.  Come into his Temple with offerings to fulfill the vows we made unto the Lord.

Praise the Lord!  O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.  The Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting.  Your merciful love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.  Your steadfast love is higher than the heavens, and your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.  His steadfast love endures forever; his unfailing love continues eternally; and his truth and faithfulness to all generations.  Good and upright is the Lord; he shows the proper path to those who go astray.  Teach me your statutes, O Lord.  Your faithfulness endures unto all generations; you have established the earth, and it abides.


Furthermore, these same elements (joyfulness, obedience, and thanksgiving) are reflected in Paul’s epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians.

Ephesians 5.18-20: Be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts [joyfulness], always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ [thanksgiving].  [In the verses following, Paul expounds upon examples of obedience.]

Colossians 3.16-17: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly [joyfulness]; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom [obedience]; and with thanksgiving in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God [thanksgiving].  In addition, whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus [obedience], giving thanks to God the Father through him [thanksgiving].

The Worship-filled Life

From the expansion on Psalm 100 and the references from Paul’s epistles, we notice that true worship leads to service or action, and true service is worship.  If we cling to both the Spirit and understanding through the Word, our songs of joy and acts of obedience and thanksgiving are received in heaven as sacrifices to the Lord: “Through [Jesus], then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name” [Hebrews 13.15].

If we live under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, we reveal this by the way we worship God every second of each day.  Instead of imitating the world, we will be led by the Word and the Spirit to be joyful in the Lord, obedient to the Lord, and thankful to the Lord.  Then the world will see what a life filled with worship looks like.

God’s Plan to Manage Anger

Anger is a valid emotion but one that has a boundary and whose line can too easily be crossed.  We are instructed in Ephesians 4.26-27, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no foothold to the devil.”  This verse is instructional and insightful.  God clearly teaches us that anger in itself is not sin, that it can be carried to the point of sin, and that it can give the devil a foothold.  That literally means, “Giving the devil occupancy—a place to dwell.”

For some people, their anger not only crosses the line of inappropriateness resulting in sin, but they practically invite the devil to sit down at their table and sign a long-term lease to live with them.

Anger unrestrained will lead to all kinds of outbursts that will most likely cause regret.  People that sin in their anger seldom stay on the issue over which they are angry.  They often draw past offenses and hurts to the scene.  This causes anger to swell, which can become the early stage of rage that always leads to irrational thinking.  Unbridled anger or rage leads to irrational thoughts that then lead to thoughts of every kind of evil.

As words begin to erupt from this anger, they begin to flow like lava, and the devil now has a foothold.  The words will be destructive and do damage to anyone in its path.  In many cases, those words do long-term damage that is difficult for people to recover from – and some never do.

God’s wisdom tells us the danger in letting our anger ever cross the boundaries of inappropriateness.

“The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103.8).

God is not expecting people to meet God’s perfection.  Christ was the only one who could.  God is driven by love to help people make progress with great patience.  God sees the best in us, not the worst.  God dwells on what we can become and not simply what we are currently.  God dwells on building us up and not tearing us down.

If anger is a problem for you, here are some steps of wisdom that can help break that in you.

Step 1: When angry, stick with the issue with which you are dealing.  Keep grievances from the past out!  Ask yourself how big of an issue this is in the scope of the big picture of life.

Step 2: Think solution, not problem.  Just keep patiently working with the other person.  Can you be merciful and help instruct them—in a calm way—how to make changes?  Would you rather be known for being merciful, kind, and helpful or angry, tough, and ruthless?  Which do you think is more representive of God?

Step 3: To keep anger from turning to rage, limit yourself to how much you think about or mull it over.  Speak few words about it as words cause anger to grow.

Step 4: Pray to ask God to help you forgive; seek forgiveness for your own personal faults at the time of your anger toward someone else.  Finally, pray for that person from a spirit of love and faith with the sincere desire to help them.

Break this into a plan for yourself, and the next time you feel angry you will have a plan to reduce rage to anger and anger to appropriate anger.

Dear Preacher Abernathy

Yes, you already have informed me that you have had to expand the size of your sanctuary three times over the past decade due to the increase in your attendance.  I am sure that you do have the latest sound system and clearest projection system offered.  True, you could continue to increase the attendance of your church until there is no more room once again.  You could provide everything that people want, love, and value.  Yet, if you are not being guided by the Holy Spirit, you might as well have nothing at all.

You express great joy for your building, great pleasure in everything your congregation offers, and great pride in the number of people sitting in your pews.  Unfortunately, you have a fatal misunderstanding in “church growth.”  Church growth has less to do with the number of warm bodies in your large sanctuary and more to do with the spiritual sustainability of the community of faith.

Though the Apostle Paul desired to boast of nothing but Christ, you boast of nothing but yourself.  As you clearly stated, you started the congregation.  You speak to everyone.  You lead the building projects.  You even lead the singing on Sunday mornings.  You choose the programs offered by your congregation.  Sadly, I must point out that you are the “church.”  You are the only leader, and nothing is done without your say.  The basic definition of a church is what’s left after the building has burned down and the pastor has been moved.  You do not have members sitting in the pews; you have an audience waiting to be entertained by you.

True church growth cannot be measured by numbers.  How would you measure an individual’s spiritual growth?  How do you measure the distance a person has walked with their Lord?

If you continue to remain the center of your “church” and not Christ, then your ministry will fail.  As the Angel of the Lord spoke to Zechariah, it is “‘not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” [Zechariah 4.6].  Therefore, not by eloquent preaching, not by wonderful music, not by great programs, but it is by the Spirit that God completes His mighty work.  You are simply tickling people’s ears and not allowing your congregation the opportunity to open their hearts to all that God can do in their lives.

Confronting the Only Choice We Face Each Day

Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”  [John 8.12]

 

Christ calls us to follow Him numerous times throughout the gospels.  By these words, we are called to imitate His life and actions if we desire to be freed from the darkness within our hearts and truly enlightened.  Therefore, let our chief purpose—our main goal, our primary task—be to comprehend the life of Our Lord Jesus.

Those who are filled with Christ’s Spirit will find valuable sustenance within His teaching.  Currently, many of those who hear the Gospel often care nothing for it because they ignore or even reject the Spirit of Christ.  However, anyone who longs to understand completely the words of Christ must try to pattern their whole life on that of Christ.

What benefit is it to understand all mysteries and gain all knowledge but do not have love and mercy as exemplified by Christ?  Indeed, it is not learning that makes a person holy and just, but a virtuous life, pleasing to God; for what does the Lord require of us but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God?  The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart God will not despise.  What advantage would it be for us to memorize the wisdom of every modern-day philosopher or quick-fix guru if we dwell without grace and the love of God?  Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him only.

This is the greatest course of action—to seek the kingdom of God by rejecting the ways of this world.  Therefore, it is vanity to accumulate and trust in wealth, which can be stolen, burned, and rust.  It is pointless to seek honors, becoming conceited and prideful.  It is useless to give into the lusts of the body and to covet things that only lead to emptiness and severe, eternal punishment.  It is meaningless to hope for a long life while leading a spiritually unproductive life.  It is senseless to be focused upon the present only without consideration for eternal matters.  Why long for things that are fleeting and not strive for the place where eternal joy abides?

Recall the words of the Preacher, “Everything is wearisome beyond description.  No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied.  No matter how much we hear, we are not content” [Ecclesiastes 1.8].  Therefore, turn your heart away from the pursuit of things visible and pursue that which is eternal because those who follow their own selfish desires corrupt their morals, disregarding the grace of God.

Blessed with What I Have

In his First Epistle to the Corinthians (or I Clement), Church Father Clement of Rome addresses envy and desire, i.e., desiring something that I do not have and being envious of someone who does.  “I wish I had this or I wish I had that.”  However, the more I wish for what I do not have the more suffering I cause myself.

God told Abraham, “Look at the numerous grains of sand.  Look at the abundance of stars in the sky.  Your descendants will outnumber these.”  But Abraham did not question.  He did not mumble nor mutter, “How is this possible?  I do not have any children, and I am way too old.”  No, Abraham believed, and soon Isaac was born.

I have been upset that a denomination questioned whether I was called.  I have been frustrated with a congregation who said they did not have room on their agenda for anything I might offer.  After speaking with a cherished mentor, I realized that I was not called by a congregation nor a denomination to serve them.  God called me to serve God’s people.  The world is my parish as John Wesley would say.

No person called me to serve.  No group of persons called me to serve.  I have been called by God to serve God’s people … those who hurt … are lonely … need someone to listen … thirst for Water and need for spiritual sustenance.  “For when you have done this to the least of these, then you have done this to me.”  I am called.  Like Abraham, I will not doubt but only serve God, who called me.

Ecclesiastic Ego

The familiar proverb “pride comes before the fall” is sadly realized in our world time and time again.  Within our culture, there is a gross exaggeration of human accomplishments, accompanied by a continual need for recognition of such feats.  Repetitive praise about a job well-done help to elevate the human ego and this does not always result in a balanced life of humility.

This behavior is seen in the business world, the sports arena, the entertainment world … and unfortunately, it has even infiltrated into the church leadership community.  Many leaders who have risen to lead large churches have fallen into the “God complex:” an arrogance of who they are and who they have become, allowing them to see themselves as infallible and their self-worth as above those they lead.  God gave them the role [of leading] the church, and adoration from their followers becomes an addiction.  It can be challenging for those kinds of leaders, and for ourselves, to take the advice or wise counsel from those that can keep us accountable and on the road of humility.

When a leader operates from humility, the Lord gives authority to lead and from that authority comes power.  Part of strong leadership is submitting our weakness; nothing is achievable without the Lord and our confidence comes from the covenant we have [with] Him.  When leaders start to elevate their own self-worth by thinking that church growth or increased offerings are the [results] of personal accomplishments, brokenness could soon follow.

Humility shows up and grows up in serving.  It is rooted in our identity with Christ, not our position within the church.  Put simply, humility is about seeing yourself the way God sees you as a leader and serving others the way God sees them and serves them.  We are nothing without Christ; and unless a leader recognizes Christ’s lordship in their life, it can be easy for him or her to start believing that their leadership position is a result of their own abilities.

Runaway pride has destroyed many a leader, a church, and a family and the road back is painful, hard, and does not always end with a positive outcome.  If a mistake happens, the leader with a prideful attitude may blame everyone but themselves for their conduct.  The saddest part of a fallen leader is not only the personal effect but also the impact on their team and the church.  Damage may be forgiven, but for some, it is difficult to forget.

The greatest example of humility was the life our Lord lived on earth.  He never used a title, or position, or possessions to have power over the people.  We have no earthly entitlement to the position of leadership.  It is a gift, to use wisely from a heart of humility.

Matthew 11.29: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.”

 

This week’s article is written by Charles Stone (www.charlesstone.com), author of the book, People Pleasing Pastors.  Submitted by Russ Olmon, President of Ministry Advantage, and Deb Mertin, certified Ministry Advantage coach.  For more on this and other helpful subjects, go to www.ministryadvantage.org.

From BibleGateway.com