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BECOMING MATURE – ESSENTIAL!

WEEK FIVE, DAY THREE, COMMON ENGLISH BIBLE COMPANION

WEEK FIVE THEME:  STEWARDSHIP

DAY THREE THEME:  TAKE ADVANTAGE

SCRIPTURE:  EPHESIANS 4:11-5:21 (CEB)

“He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.  His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son.  God’s goal is for us to become mature adults — to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ.  As a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. 

Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ, who is the head.  The whole body grows from him, as it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments.  The body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does their part.  So I’m telling you this, and I insist on it in the Lord:  you shouldn’t live your life like the Gentiles anymore. 

They base their lives on pointless thinking, and they are in the dark in their reasoning.  They are disconnected from God’s life because of their ignorance and their closed hearts.  They are people who lack all sense of right and wrong, and who have turned themselves over to doing whatever feels good and to practicing every sort of corruption along with greed. 

But you didn’t learn that sort of thing from Christ.  Since you really lisened to him and you were taught how the truth is in Jesus, change the former way of life that was part of the person you once were, corrupted by deceitful desires.  Instead renew the thinking in your mind by the Spirit and clothe yourself with the new person created according to God’s image in justice and true holiness. 

Therefore, after you have gotten rid of lying, each of you must tell the truth to your neighbor because we are parts of each other in the same body.  Be angry without sinning.  Don’t let the sun set on your anger.  Don’t provide an opportunity for the devil.  Theives should no longer steal.  Instead they should go to work, using their hands to do good so that they will have something to share with whoever is in need.  Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth.  Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say.  Don’t make the Holy Spirit of God unhappy — you were sealed by him for the day of redemption.  Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil.  Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.  Therefore, imitate God like dearly loved children.  Live your life with love, following the example of Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us.  He was a sacrifical offering that smelled sweet to God. 

Sexual immorality, and any kind of impurity or greed, shouldn’t even be mentioned among you, which is right for holy persons.  Obscene language, silly talk, or vulgar jokes aren’t acceptable for believers.  Instead, there should be thanksgiving.  Because you know for sure that persons who are sexually immoral, impure, or greedy — which happens when things become gods — those persons won’t inherit the kingdom of Christ and God. 

Nobody should deceive you with stupid ideas.  God’s anger comes down on those who are disobedient because of this kind of thing.  So you shouldn’t have anything to do with them.  You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light.  Light produces fruit that consists of every sort of goodness, justice, and truth. 

Therefore test everything to see what’s pleasing to the Lord, and don’t participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness.  Instead you should reveal the truth about them.  It’s embarrassing to even talk about what certain persons do in secret.  But everything exposed to the light is revealed by the light.  Everything that is revealed by the light is light.  Therefore it says, ‘Wake up, sleeper!  Get up from the dead, and Chist will shine on you.’ 

So be careful to live your life wisely, not foolishly.  Take advantage of every opportunity because these are evil times.  Because of this, don’t be ignorant, but understand the Lord’s will. Don’t get drunk on wine, which produces depravity.  Instead be filled with the Spirit in the following ways:  speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; sing and make music to the Lord in your hearts; always give thatnks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; submit to each other out of respect for Christ.”

THE WORD OF GOD FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD – THANKS BE TO GOD!

SOAKING IT UP:  God’s ways are different than what we are born into. As our grandchildren are beginning a new school year, it is imperitive that we remember that just “yesterday” they were little babies who were dependent on us and enjoyed time with us to just play and be.  But now they are moving on…something we always knew would happen, but how did it happen so quickly!  They are still adorable, just more busy and with more distractions.  Our time for playing and just being is less and less, but we have our memories and we are making new ones, and it is exciting to watch them launch into their own individual selves with likes and dislikes and personalities and dreams.  It is all part of the circle of life! 

Something similiar goes on in our life with Christ.  But maturing in Christ is not as natural for us as growing up is for a baby.  Babies keep growing physically and adding year after year to their life – hopefully maturing all along the way as well – but maturity is not always the norm.  Though we grow in stature and age, sometimes we stay close to that two year old inside of us where everything is “MINE” and our favorite word is “NO”! 

It is easy as Christians to accept Christ into our hearts and then just be content to just be and play and never grow up in our understanding of what having Christ in our lives means for the world and taking on our role in Christ’s Kingdom.  There are jobs for us to take on so that eventually everyone will share the one faith in Christ Jesus.  But those roles remain vacant as long as we sit back and enjoy gooey Christianity without digging into the difference Christ makes in who we are. 

Peace and love and charity are all grand ideas, but what does it require to become real.  Baby Christians must cut their teeth and learn to walk in the example of Christ.  Our maturing comes as we learn of Christ and work hard to imitate him in all of life’s ebbs and flows.  What happened when Christ felt anxious – what did Christ do when he saw people hungry or mistreated.  How did he stay peaceful and without sin.  This scripture is clear that we have work to do to transition from Gentile into Christian. 

Gentiles do whatever feels right or good in a given moment without care or concern for the consequence or thoughts about their witness.  They allow material things and ideals to become their God (idols) rather than seeking God’s guidance in all things.  Submitting to the mind and heart of God in all things is adult business and not possible for those who remain immature and prefer darkness and false security.  God’s people get busy and submit their every thought, every action and every reaction under God’s hand. 

How do we handle life without getting angry?  How do we move forward when we feel conflicted inside?  God would have us expose all of who we are to His light and find the truths that can launch us forward.  Truth can set us free.  Admitting our fears and failures and leaving them at the cross sets us free.  Allowing ourselves to move into the roles that God has in place for us in His Kingdom is both liberating and joyous…Heaven on earth!  

God would have us examine our every part and release all of ourselves him.  As we realize those places where we are still babies/Gentiles and release them to our Father, He gently and miraculously matures us into something beautiful and useful – a vessel of light and love.  Taking time to reflect and evaluate and let go is imperative in our maturing into the people of God.  It takes courage and desire to make Godward changes.  Through the Holy Spirit it becomes easier and easier with each step we take. 

Vessels of the Kingdom – let it be so!

 

 

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My First Blog Post

GETTING STARTED IS ALWAYS THE HARDEST PART

Why is getting started so scary?

Terry and I moved to Kennesaw in 2016 when he became the District Superintendent of the Atlanta-Marietta District of the United Methodist Church. We had been at our previous appointment at Gainesville First for 12 years, and most of those years I had been attending a Bible Study on Tuesday mornings with several women, some who came for a period and then several that I saw every week for 10 or more of those 12 years. Those who were together prior to our move had become very near and dear over all that time, and it was difficult to imagine Bible Study without them in the future.

In our new appointment, we didn’t have one church to drop into and begin to bloom, we had 40 plus, and we haven’t settled in with just one, we hop around each week, so I have never really put down roots in any one congregation to find my place. Additionally, during the first 3 1/2 years of that time, my parents were at a place where they needed a lot more hands on care which took a good deal more time than it had before, and I enjoyed at least one day a week with my grandchildren. There was less available time to commit to Bible Study. But I was lonely on those days I was at home, and I did miss my “group”.

It occurred to me that there are a lot of seasons we have in our lives, and mine was more of an “on-the-go” season now, and I needed to learn a new way to do Bible Study. Once the Kennesaw house was settled and there was balance with my parents and my grandchildren, I found (and permanently borrowed) an extra Bible that Terry had on hand. The cover read, DAILY COMPANION BIBLE and it is the Common English Translation… “a fresh translation to touch the heart and mind”. Per the title, Daily Companion Bible, it contained ahead of the scriptures a 52-week Bible Study to follow. I decided to dive in and see if the “Explore the Bible in A Year” method would work for me. But I also decided to do it my way… If I couldn’t do it every day, just do it when I can. I’m a rule keeper, and if the rules are too hard, then I might become defeated before I began. So I gave myself as much flexibility as possible and simply began. Some weeks I might have gotten to it two or three times and then it might be three weeks before I got going again. Another rule I formed for myself was to not read their commentary. The presentation was five days per week – each week has a specific theme – each day has scriptures to read then a short commentary with Reflection Prompts. I didn’t want to launch from that format, I basically wanted to read the scriptures and then listen to them and hear from them myself without any other input… “What does this scripture say to me, and why is this particular scripture important to me in this time of my life?” I really didn’t focus too hard on the theme for the week, and many a day my thoughts began to go down a whole new pathway.

At first, it was a slow go and a bit of work to get myself to focus…but over time it became something that I truly enjoyed and I decided to write my thoughts down every time. Eventually, this time became very special to me and most days I felt a strong and real connection to what I was reading – pure texts from God’s Word that would live with me throughout the day – even for many days. And my mind was more and more open to the things I was learning through these scriptures. It was a very multi-dimential experience for me. Many of the passages I had heard over and over but never the way I read them that day. It became fascinating and encouraging and gave me a new pep in my step as I related one on one with God’s Word. It gave my life a new focus and it began to sustain me in a way that I very much needed. My prayer life enlarged and my understanding became broader. And it continues today. Jesus often uses parables and encounters to help his listeners better understand God’s Kingdom, and that is what my time in scripture began to do regularly – pointing me in a way differently than this world often thinks. It was like with each encounter I was dipping a bit more into the Kingdom of God. His ways are above our ways and we can only learn more about Him through His Word.

It took me way more than a year to do the first 52 weeks – I was not rigid to the schedule but to making the time spent intentional and productive. No more going through the motions. Reading, journaling, praying – time for all elements intentionally or wait til there is the right time – no squeezing it in and just getting it done. My journaling began to get more and more detailed. I’m really not a journaling type person, but this was valuable and important and I became more and more passionate about it.

When the first 52 week reading was completed, I wanted to begin again, so I have. Rather than keeping a journal, I’m keeping a spreadsheet and typing out the scriptures to better sink them into my being. After I type in the scripture, I am highlighting it in my Bible (reading it again in the process) and can see if I have read a particular scripture before and am anxious to see at the end of this re-reading how much of the Bible I actually encountered. Maybe my next “adventure” would be to read everything that has not been highlighted to see what it offers…

So I’m beginning a blog to share my “gleanings” from daily scripture with whoever might want to go along with me. What I write is in the moment and not to be taken as the only way to interpret that day’s scripture… it is simply what that scripture said to me in that moment. I am open to and very interested in what it says to any one else in their moment too. I believe the Holy Spirit has been very much my leader as I write and has so beautifully broadened my horizons and I have had constant nudges to share…it has just been overwhelming to get started. You are welcomed to join in as you would like, and I would love to hear back from you too…. kind of a Blogging Bible Study. My prayer is that God will use it for good! Let’s do some Kingdom-Dipping together!

FINALIZATION

It has become time for me to end my Kingdom Dipping Blog and move onto my next chapter – hopefully in an “in person” Bible Study group. To complete the whole 52 weeks scripture by scripture with Kingdom Dipping would go on for quite a while and it just feels time to do it all differently now.

Thanks to any and all who have read any of the blogs. It was very good for my spiritual journey and I pray it was loyal to God’s heart through His Word.

May God bless us as we represent Him well in all our coming and goings!

MAINTAINING OUR CALL

WEEK EIGHT, DAY ONE, COMMON ENGLISH BIBLE COMPANION

WEEK EIGHT THEME: SELF DISCIPLINE

DAY ONE THEME: TRAINING FOR A LIFE OF FAITH

SCRIPTURE: I CORINTHIANS 9:24-27 (CEB)

“Don’t you know that all the runners in the stadium run, but only one gets the prize?  So run to win.  Everyone who competes practices self-discipline in everything.  The runners do this to get a crown of leaves that shrivel up and die, but we do it to receive a crown that never dies. 

So now this is how I run — not without a clear goal in sight.  I fight like a boxer in the ring, not like someone who is shadowboxing.  Rather I’m landing punches on my own body and subduing it like a slave.  I do this to be sure that I myself wont’ be disqualified after preaching to others.”

THE WORD OF GOD FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD ~ THANKS BE TO GOD!

SOAKING IT IN: Paul was a big believer in goals.  He understood that, for him, without goals, there was no motivation to move forward.  After Paul encountered Jesus, his main goal was and remained foremost to preach the gospel of Jesus and do it in as many places and with as many people as possible.  In order to accomplish this goal, Paul could not sit still and take time to enjoy or reflect or rest. 

He compared this work of his to that of an athlete preparing for “the Olympics” — running a race.  They didn’t run because they liked to run, they ran to win the prize…to have done the best job.  The reward they received was short lived – a crown of leaves that will shrivel up, and in the next competition, someone might be faster and the glory is over and done with. 

Paul compared himself to these athletes, but with a higher understanding of the prize he was working towards.  He was working towards enabling and enhancing the Kingdom of God.  This is an everlasting prize that will never shrivel and that is individual.  Paul welcomed and encouraged other contestants to join him in this race.  He further indicated that the self-discipline required here is imperitive to finishing a winner.  It would be a sad thing to do all the right things but forget the most important reason for doing them.  Paul, therefore, struggles with himself – boxing himself – to keep the main thing the main thing. 

When you are a public figure as Paul was, it can become all to easy to start drinking your own koolaid.  It can be easy to buy in to the fact that you are doing a good job and being noticed and celebrated and even loved, adored by many.  It could be easy to let yourself become the worshipped for doing such a great job rather than keep pointing others to the true One to be worshipped. 

Paul wanted none of this!  He wanted to stay his course with the goal in front of him so that in the end he was not disqualified for himself getting off track.  This takes self-discipline.  In our human condition, those who do a good job often receive lots of attention and accolades for their work.  In the midst of such hoopla, we must stay focused or else we will become self absorbed, unfocused and ineffective.  To be appreciated for one’s work is a good thing, but not the goal.  The goal must continue to be of excellence in doing the thing you are called to do.  Too much patting on the back might distract and pause what started out so well. 

Self-Discipline is defined as “the ability to control one’s feelings and overcome one’s weaknesses; the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to aboandon it.”  Self control is defined as “the ability to contol oneself, in particular one’s emotions and desires or the expression of them in one’s behavior, especially in difficult situations.”  It occurs to me that self discipline would be most difficult without the gift from the Holy Spirit of self control.  This work of the Holy Spirit in our lives through God our Father and the source of all our goals helps us with our human condition that could easily be overtaken in grandiose and selfish behaviors in the midst of success. 

Sharing God’s word is a very public opportunity, but without self control driving our self discipline, we are suceptible to egotistical demise and our goals become cloudy.  We must find and maintain balance moving on with the goal.  In those moments, we look to Jesus, our example who kept moving even when the crowds pressed in and wanted to elevate him.  He took his time away for prayer and focus and then made the next portion of the journey toward his goal.   

Lord, help us keep our focus and move on in the goals that you lay before us – achieving the eternal prize.  Let us run with Your wind beneath our wings and Your joy in our hearts and Your glory in our minds!

BUT GOD!!!

WEEK EIGHT, DAY ONE, COMMON ENGLISH BIBLE COMPANION

WEEK EIGHT THEME: SELF DISCIPLINE

DAY ONE THEME: TRAINING FOR A LIFE OF FAITH

SCRIPTURE: I THESSALONIANS 5:4-11 (CEB)

“But you aren’t in darkness, brothers and sisters, so the day won’t catch you by surprise like a thief. All of you are children of light and children of the day.  We don’t belong to night or darkness.  So then, let’s not sleep like the others, but let’s stay awake and stay sober.  People who sleep sleep at night, and people who get drunk get drunk at night.  Since we belong to the day, let’s stay sober, wearing faithfulness and love as a piece of armor that protects our body and the hope of salvation as a helmet

God didn’t intend for us to suffer his wrath, but rather to possess salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with him.  So continue encouraging each other and bulding each other up, just like you are doing already.”

THE WORD OF GOD FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD ~ THANKS BE TO GOD!

SOAKING IT IN: When God created thngs “in the beginning”, he created the sun to rule by day and the moon to rule by night. Nighttime is a creation of God.  This scripture speaks however, of a different type of darkness / night.  It speaks of the darkness that moves in on us when the things of life overwhelm us and we feel we just might drown…  when life doesn’t seem fair or depression comes in and seeks to take our life away completely.  That is a different kind of darkness than the natural darkness of natural nighttime created by God. 

The only remedy for  this type of darkness is our faith in Christ.  Through Christ, whether we are asleep or awake, we are with him…eternally.  There are things in daily living that can literally take our breath away.  Having young grandchildren and hearing about sex trafficking snatching up innocence, for instance, can take my breath away.  I get angry that the thought of my 12 and 10 year olds and even the younger ones being out of my sight might allow for that kind of darkness to come in seeking to destroy our lives – especially theirs.  Additionally, it inhibits their freedom to come and go or take a walk as they naturally come into their own.  This darkness is evil and if I allow it to, can already paralyze me and stop all joy in being with my grandchildren for fear of something horrible happening to them.  I have to keep my faith, make sound decisions, and look forward.

As this evil darkness pokes and prodes, there could be the need to protect myself through self-medicating with substances that are not good or helpful or just sleeping my life away avoiding all manner of dealing with the situations or concerns that are at hand.  God’s will for our living is that we turn to Him – our pure bright light that will help us in all circumstances to keep moving and dealing with or coping with the things that we just simply are unable to control.  When it is time for rest – for me, the nighttime – I find if I cannot do so, I have not let go of all my concerns…the best remedy for me at those times is prayer. As I let go through prayer – turning to the pure precious light of my Heavenly Father – I can let go, relax and find myself waking the next day rested and ready. Some nights require more prayer time than others as I seek to be the one in control rather than letting go… those days I might have to find a time to nap!

In living with a cancer diagnosis, it is tempting to just curl up in a knot and give in.  I heard it long before I was diagnosed with cancer, “it’s not the cancer that kills you, its the side effects of chemo”. That is horrifying! The “What-Ifs” and the “Yeah, Buts” will run me right slap into the ground if I would let it. But God has given me over six years of moving forward through it all and finding each day joyful and full of life and living – not without bumps and bruises, but moving onward in promise and possiblity. 

My gratitude abounds to have had parents that taught me from DAY ONE to pray – in all things – pray. When my sister, Jeanne, their third child was born, they learned immediately that she was Downes. One of my Mom’s nurses as she recovered from her hysterectomy in the hospital told Mom that it would be her wisest decision to have Jeanne institutionalized and forget all about her altogether. Some people just don’t think. I was six when Jeanne was born, and had no idea that she was anything other than a beautiful baby sister. I am sure my parents were terrified – but their faith kept them keeping on and Jeanne – with help of family and much prayer for her benefit – lived very happily and with everything she needed to keep on keeping on too for 54 years! Thanks be to God for His perfect presence in all our “storms”. What that nurse saw as our storm was not a storm at all, but a life of pure sweet love that exuded from Jeanne!

That is what these scriptures say to me.  I can’t stop bad things from happening – like Downes, like Covid, like Cancer, like demented souls robbing innocence – and I will feel paralyzed from time to time with circumstances and issues that I have little ability to endure. BUT GOD… but God is ever ready to fill me with His Spirit, resurrecting me day by day above and beyond what I cannot control and giving abundant life and hope in the midst of any storm. 

I Thessalonians 5:4-11 commands us to stand strong in our Lord Jesus Christ and live fully in His understanding and His sacrifice never giving into the evil darknesses of the soul, the darknesses of this world.  What a victory we have if we will only take hold and stand strong and pray without ceasing!

LOVING FORWARD

WEEK SEVEN, DAY FIVE, COMMON ENGLISH BIBLE COMPANION

WEEK SEVEN THEME: HOSPITALITY

DAY FIVE THEME: RADICAL HOSPITALITY

SCRIPTURE: I JOHN 3:16-24 (CEB)

“This is how we know love:  Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 

But if a person has material possessions and sees a brother or sisiter in need and that person doesn’t care — how can the love of God remain in him? Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth. This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts in God’s presence.  Even if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts and knows all things. 

Dear friends, if our hearts don’t condemn us, we have confidence in relationship to God. We receive whatever we ask from him because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.  This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love each other as he commanded us. 

The person who keeps his commandments remains in God and God remains in him; and this is how we know that he remains in us, because of the Spirit that he has given to us.”

THE WORD OF GOD FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD – THANKS BE TO GOD!

SOAKING IT IN: Our complete peace comes from our relationship with God our Father.  As we lean into that relationship with Him and trust Him more and more with our very being and everything in our lives, then we are less and less consumed with materialism and insecurities that seek to rob us of our joy. 

Our daily reliance on God the Father allows Him the joy of providing for our every need and thus experiencing joy as we understand from Whom all blessings flow.  When we take charge and make things happen in our own ways and understandings, not only do we rob God of such great joy, we have so much less to show for our efforts. 

God thinks and does bigger and better than we think and do.  When we think that we need all manner of understanding and for all things to be as those understandings allow, we rob God of being His vessel in all things and we rob ourselves of precious relationships and greater understanding by reaching out to all as God’s equal children and enjoying life together in a way that only God could provide. In this type of Kingdom Living we never see someone who does not deserve our love and care for any reason, and we receive back in ways we would be deprivied of had we let judgment and religiosity color our living. 

Our whole life rests in the understanding that Jesus Christ came and lived and died, teaching us higher roads and deeper understanding and perfect peace in the midst of every storm.  Then, He rose to a deeper and richer life that is eternal.  He gives us hope in every situation and circumstance and He gives us victory over all manner of petty self holiness that we are totally unable to maintain. 

Christ surrounds us in every way and uses us beyond our wildest imagination as we accept and go and grow in the way that he exemplified and died for.  Let His love persuade us over and over to continue it forward for all others, therefore keeping ourselves filled and overjoyed as we spill over.  Thanks be to God for such great love!

Let Christ’s example lead me/us and the Holy Spirit guide me/us in Kingdom Living! May we be His people who look up and move forward rather than always looking back and looking down!

BE THE VESSEL!

WEEK SEVEN, DAY FIVE, COMMON ENGLISH BIBLE COMPANION

WEEK SEVEN THEME: HOSPITALITY

DAY FIVE THEME: RADICAL HOSPITALITY

SCRIPTURE: JAMES 2:14-26

“My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it?  Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? 

Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat.  What if one of you said, ‘Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal’?  What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? 

In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activitySomeone might claim, ‘you have faith and I have action.’  But how can I see your faith apart from your actions?  Instead, I’ll show you my faith by putting it into practice in faithful action. 

It’s good that you believe that God is one.  Ha! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble with fear.  Are you so slow?  Do you need to be shown that faith without actions has no value at all? 

What about Abraham, our father?  Wasn’t he shown to be righteous through his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  See, his faith was at work along with his actions.  In fact, his faith was made complete by his faithful actions.  So the scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and God regarded him as righteous.  What is more, Abraham was called God’s friend. 

So you see that a person is shown to be righteous through faithful actions and not through faith alone.  In the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute shown to be righteous when she received the messengers as her guests and then sent them on by another road? 

As the lifeless body is dead, so faith without actions is dead.”

THE WORD OF GOD FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD – THANKS BE TO GOD!

SOAKING IT IN: James couldn’t be more clear with his understanding of faith and action.  He has no room for just wishing and hoping that things will be okay for those of concern, he is about seeing the need and doing the deed. 

Certainly it is true that the most powerful tool available to us all is to go straight to God through Jesus in prayer.  To have that direct communication with our heavenly Father is beyond imagination!  Certainly we are to pray, and hold fast to all hope that comes from our heavenly Father, for ourselves and for all people, but we are also to take it a step further and put legs to our prayers.  If my neighbor is in need and I  simply pray for that need when I have the ability to address that need with tangible assistance, then I have missed the opportunity to be a Kingdom Dweller, to be God’s vessel!

To examine in each and every minute of each and every day why a certain person is put in our path in a very moment is realizing that I might have the very thing that other person needs, even if it is not much, I can be of help. I can show God’s love and that I care. I can DO something as God’s vessel to make a difference!  If I am able to pass a bit of cash to the one holding the sign at the intersection, and maybe a pack of crackers or something tangible, that puts my prayers into action.  Not only do I pray that their needs be met, I give of myself a bit toward that prayer.  I’m beginning to keep things in my car that don’t go bad and some cash on hand so that I can be a blessing to that person for whatever their need might be – I can do something!  I have driven past them for years offering a prayer for God’s blessings for them, but am realizing that I am to be part of that blessing.  I am blessed to be a blessing! 

God takes what we offer and multiplies it to be enough just like he did when he fed the thousands….we – as Kingdom People – simply need to bring out our fish and loaves.  For us to hold onto anything that was never ours to begin with, we remove God’s ability to use us and work through us to meet the need of others, We therefore also miss out God blessing us above and beyond imagination.  When we learn to trust God in all things – like Abraham did with the willingness to sacrifice Isaac – we submit to the knowledge that our thinking is limited and finite and God’s is unlimited and infinite.  It takes us releasing our own will in favor of God’s design on our lives. 

In all this, it is impossible to do without constantly reminding ourselves of Who God is and who we are in God’s sight – made in God’s image.  We can trust such immense love and allow that love to flow through us but only as we are willing…those who HAVE faith and who SHOW that faith through actions urged by our Heavenly Father.

Being the Vessel is Kingdom Living! Lord, help us open our eyes and our hearts and keep our minds open to You.

USED FOR GOOD!

WEEK SEVEN, DAY FOUR, COMMON ENGLISH BIBLE COMPANION

WEEK SEVEN THEME: HOSPITALITY

DAY FOUR THEME: HOUSEHOLDS BELIEVED

SCRIPTURE: ACTS 16 (CEB)

“Paul reached Derbe, and then Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy.  He was the son of a believing Jewish woman and a Greek father.  The brothers and sisters in Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him.  Paul wanted to take Timothy with him, so he circumcised him.  This was because of the Jews who lived in those areas, for they all knew Timothy’s father was Greek. 

As Paul and his companions traveled through the cities, they instructed Gentile believers to keep the regulations put into place by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.  So the churches were strengthened in the faith and every day their numbers flourished.  Paul and his companions traveled throughout the regions of Phrygia and Galatia because the Holy Spirit kept them from speaking the word in the province of Asia. 

When they approached the province of Mysia, they tried to enter the province of Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn’t let them.  Passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas instead.  A vision of a man from Macedonia came to Paul during the night.  He stood urging Paul, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us!’  Immediately after he saw the vision, we prepared to leave for the province of Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. 

We sailed from Troas straight for Samonthrace and came to Neapolis the following day.  From there we went to Philippi, a city of Macedonia’s first district and a Roman colony. We stayed in that city several days.  On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the riverbank, where we thought there might be a place for prayer. 

We sat down and began to talk with the women who had gathered.  One of those women was Lydia, a Gentile God-worshipper from the city of Thyatira, a dealer in purple cloth.  As she listened, the Lord eneabled her to embrace Paul’s message.  Once she and her household were baptized, she urged, ‘Now that you have decided that I am a believer in the Lord, come and stay in my house.’  And she persuaded us. 

One day, when we were on the way to the place for prayer, we met a slave woman.  She had a spirit that enabled her to predict the future.  She made a lot of money for her owners through fortune-telling.  She began following Paul and us, shouting, ‘These people are servants of the Most High God!  They are proclaiming a way of salvation to you!’  She did this for many days.  This annoyed Paul so much that he finally turned and said to the spirit, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to leave her!’  It left her at that very moment. 

Her owners realized that their hope for making money was gone.  They grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the officials in the city center.  When her owners approached the legal authorities, they said, ‘These people are causing an uproar in our city.  They are Jews who promote customs that we Romans can’t accept or practice.’  The crowd joined in the attacks against Paul and Silas, so the authorities ordered that they be stripped of their clothes and beaten with a rod. 

When Paul and Silas had been severely beaten, the authorities threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to secure them with great care.  When he received these instructions, he threw them into the innermost cell and secured their feet in stocks.  

Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  All at once there was such a violent earthquake that it shook the prison’s foundations.  The doors flew open and everyone’s chains came loose.  When the jailer awoke and saw the open doors of the prison, he thought the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword and was about to kill himself.  But Paul shouted loudly, ‘Don’t harm yourself!  We’re all here!’ 

The jailer called for some lights, rushed in, and fell trembling before Paul and Silas.  He led them outside and asked, ‘Honorable masters, what must I do to be rescued?’ They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved — you and your entire household.’  They spoke the Lord’s word to him and everyone else in his house.  Right then, in the middle of the night, the jailer welcomed them and washed their wounds.  He and everyone in his household were immediately baptized.  He brought them into his home and gave them a meal.  He was overjoyed because he and everyone in his household had come to believe in God. 

The next morning the legal authorities sent the police to the jailer with the order ‘Release those people.’  So the jailer reported this to Paul, informing him, ‘The authorities sent word that you both are to be released.  You can leave now.  Go in peace.’  Paul told the police, ‘Even though we are Roman citizens, they beat us publicly without first finding us guilty of a crime, and they threw us into prison.  And now they want to send us away secretely?  No way!  They themselves will have to come and escort us out.’ 

The police reported this to the legal authorities, who were alarmed to learn that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens.  They came and consoled Paul and Silas, escourting them out of prison and begging them to leave the city.  Paul and Silas left the prison and made their way to Lydia’s house where they encouraged the brothers and sisters.  Then they left Philippi.”

THE WORD OF GOD FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD – THANKS BE TO GOD!

SOAKING IT IN: In Paul’s journeys, he encounters many incidents where he has the opportunity to share God’s word and see whole households and communities come to know Jesus as Lord and change their ways of life Godward.  It is interesting that as they travel around and live fairly routinely in their travels, more and more people come across their path and God uses them over and over for Kingdom building. 

They went down to the river outside of Philippi for prayer on the Sabbath and met Lydia.  She came to believe in Jesus and hosted them in her home.  Traveling around the streets a woman with a spirit of future telling kept following them around and pronouncing that they were servants of the Most High God.  Paul became annoyed with her constant badgering and called the spirit out of her.  Comes out that she has owners who use her to make money with her fortune telling skills.  This sudden lack of ability to continue her fortune telling is a problem for her owners and they have Paul and Silas arrested. 

Not only are they arrested, they are also beaten severly and placed in the inner most cells of the jail and put into chains.  Nonetheless, Paul and Silas continue in their Kingdom living habits, singing hymns and praying.  At that time the great earthquake happened and freed them from prison.  But they didn’t leave – none of them left and therefore prevented the jailer from killing himself. 

Through their actions or lack of actions, the jailer and his whole household become believers of God and are baptized.  The Kingdom continues to grow and flourish even when all does not seem to go well.  The beating was unnecessary and had to be painful, but God used it for good for the benefit of the jailer and his whole household as well as for the other believers. 

With God, we can endure the most horrific of moments in our living knowing that He is right there in the moment with us keeping our heart singing his praises and using our circumstances for His good – the good of His Kingdom.  As we look back, the bad things weren’t so bad once God used them for good. 

Keeping these understandings foremost in our thoughts is not a human trait.  We must rely on God’s Spirit to send us where we need to be going and use us in ways that we would never understand He could!  When we hold on to this Kingdom thinking, we are not afraid and remain in God’s pefect peace no matter what storm is going on around us. 

God blesses us to be a blessing in His time and in His ways. 

Blessed be the Lord our God!

LIVING IN TRUTH

WEEK SEVEN, DAY THREE, COMMON ENGLISH BIBLE COMPANION

WEEK SEVEN THEME: HOSPITALITY

DAY THREE THEME: HOSPITALITY IN THE CHURCH

SCRIPTURE: 3 JOHN (CEB)

“From the elder.  To my dear friend Gaius, whom I truly love.  Dear friend, I’m praying that all is well with you and that you enjoy good health in the same way that you prosper spiritually. 

I was overjoyed when the brothers and sisters arrived and spoke highly of your faithfulness to the truth, shown by how you live according to the truth.  I have no greater joy than this to hear that my children are living according to the truth.  Dear friend, you act faithfully in whatever you do for our brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers.  They spoke highly of your love in front of the church. 

You all would do well to provide for their journey in a way that honors God, because they left on their joyrney for the sake of Jesus Christ without accepting any support from the Gentiles.  Therefore, we ought to help people like this so that we can be coworkers with the truth. 

I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, doesn’t welcome us.  Because of this, if I come, I will bring up what he has done making unjustified and wicked accusations against us.  And as if that were not enough, he not only refuses to welcome the brothers and sisters but stops those who want to do so and even throws them out of the church! 

Dear friends, don’t imitate what is bad but what is good.  Whoever practices what is good belongs to God.  Whoever practices what is bad has not seen God.  Everyone speaks highly of Demetrius even the truth itself.  We also speak highly of him, and you know that what we say is true. 

I have a lot to say to you, but I don’t want to use pen and ink.  I hope to see you soon, and we will speak face-to-face.  Peace be with you.  Your friends here greet you.  Greet our friends there by name.”

THE WORD OF GOD FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD ~ THANKS BE TO GOD!

SOAKING IT IN: It is God’s TRUTH that sets God’s children apart from all others.  The truth is not something that can be falsely presented.  You cannot pretend truth.  Truth is in and of itself, and our job is to seek it and to live within it. 

As we live within the truth fear and judgement no longer have any power over us.  What others may say or how others may feel no longer threatens those who are living in God’s truth.  Sometimes we live in a truth that we think is from God but the result is just the opposite of what God would want.  The only way that we can be free from “tradition” and open to truth is in time spent individually and corporately fleshing out what God’s Word really says rather than how it has always been interpreted. 

We need to release ourselves to drop all former “truths” in search of the one and only TRUTH.  As we engage in the new learnings that will be shown us through God’s truth, we will shine like the stars.  Our whole persona will begin to reflect this new SPIRITUAL TRUTH that superceeds all myths and fears. 

How do we keep ourselves from buying into others’ truths in order to stay true to God’s truth….we must continually open our eyes to God’s Word, listening through the Holy Spirit and understanding it in context and traditions of its inception. 

In these verses from 3 John, it is clear that one church has determined their own set of right and wrong and therefore are not open to hearing from another group who are going around and spreading the TRUTH.  This particular church has set their own preferences above the TRUTH of God and therefore picks and chooses who they will welcome and be hospitable to and who they will not….the “cookie cutter” syndrome. Many churches get caught in this trap…as long as you look like me and think like me and like what I like and shun what I shun, you are welcome in my church – we can get along.  Many times those church members don’t even know why they think and believe how they do, they are just following someone else’s opinion rather than searching God’s Word to understand the rightness or wrongness of their understanding.

Where is the diversity in that.  If God’s TRUTH had felt that way, we would all look the same and be the same and act the same, because He would have created us without diversity.  However, that is not how this creation/GOD’S CREATION is.  All birds are called birds, from the bird family, but they are all uniquely and individually their own kind of bird.  There are not just blue birds and red birds, there are thousands of differing kinds of birds, but they have much in common.  God’s creation from animals to plants, to ocean creatures, to humans shows that GOD is limitless in imagination and understanding, and therefore so should we be.  We are all welcome in God’s Kingdom and should follow God’s example of acceptance and love.

Let us let down all our urgently clutched strongholds that divide and separate us, and let us pursue continually and open mindedly the True Word of God, accepting first our own individuality and purposes and likes and dislikes without judgement and then passing that love of self onward to others in accepting and healing ways. 

Praise be to God for such opportunities!

NOT PROBLEMS, OPPORTUNITIES!

WEEK SEVEN, DAY THREE, COMMON ENGLISH BIBLE COMPANION

WEEK SEVEN THEME: HOSPITALITY

DAY THREE THEME: HOSPITALITY IN THE CHURCH

SCRIPTURE: ACTS 28:1-10 (CEB)

“After reaching land safely, we learned that the island was called Malta.  The islanders showed us extraordinary kindness.  Because it was rainy and cold, they built a fire and welcomed all of us. 

Paul gathered a bunch of dry sticks and put them on the fire.  As he did, a poisonous snake, driven out by the heat, latched on to his hand.  When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, ‘This man must be a murderer! He was rescued from the sea, but the goddess Justice hasn’t let him live!’ 

Paul shook the snake into the fire and suffered no harm.  They expected him to swell up with fever or suddenly drop dead.  After waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and began to claim that he was a god.

Publius, the island’s most prominent person, owned a large estate in that area.  He welcomed us warmly into his house as his guests for three days.  Publius’ father was bedridden, sick with a fever and dysentery.  Paul went to see him and prayed.  He placed his hand on him and healed him.  Once this happened, the rest of the sick on the island came to him and were healed. 

They honored us in many ways.  When we were getting ready to sail again, they supplied us with what we needed.”

THE WORD OF GOD FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD – THANKS BE TO GOD!

SOAKING IT IN: When in the aura of Kingdom Living, nothing is a problem.  Shipwrecked just leads to new friends and open arms.  Provisions are handy and abundant.  Disasters become miracles – like a snake bite turning into nothing and a father being healed became a routine occurrence. 

There is no frustration in the circumstances, there is just taking the next step and seeing how God is always at work.  And through these next steps, more and more people are experiencing Kingdom Living and becoming engaged with it daily.  Remembering back to the creation stories, God simply puts things in motion, and then his creations move from one thing to the next in perfect order and harmony. 

In Kingdom Living, there is no agenda, it is in the movement that God’s will unfolds like an opening flower into wornderful experiences and further Kingdom Living.  Adapting a Kingdom Living mentality is the hardest part.  We are so wired for smooth sailing and solid results that we make no plans for the unexpected and often see it only as an intrusion and frustration.  When we determine to take on the Kingdom Living approach, we find all of those things as blessings rather than challenges and see God at work.  

With each breath we take, Lord, let us take in you and your approach to our living rather than setting up expecatations and agendas that cramp you and frustrate us.  Help us to be open to seeing your adventure in the midst of our living and embrace it for what it does for us and how it helps us lean more and more into you. 

Blessed to be a blessing, Lord help us take our next steps in light of your ongoing creation and enjoy the journey.  Amen.

NUDGES

WEEK SEVEN, DAY THREE, COMMON ENGLISH BIBLE

WEEK SEVEN THEME: HOSPITALITY

DAY THREE THEME: HOSPITALITY IN THE CHURCH

SCRIPTURE: ACTS 21:1-6 (CEB)

“After we tore ourselves away from them, we set sail on a straight course to Cos, reaching Rhodes the next day, and then Patara. We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, boarded, and put out to sea. 

We spotted Cyprus, but passed by it on our left.  We sailed on to the province of Syria and landed in Tyre, where the ship was to unload its cargo.  We found the disciples there and stayed with them for a week. 

Compelled by the Spirit, they kept telling Paul not to go to Jerusalem.  When our time had come to an end, we departed.  All of them, including women and children, accompanied us out of town where we knelt on the beach and prayed.  We said good-bye to each other, then we boarded the ship and they returned to their homes.”

THE WORD OF GOD FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD – THANKS BE TO GOD!

SOAKING IT IN: As Christians guided by the Holy Spirit – there is nowhere that we can go without finding like hearts and minds and souls and spirit. As we find our “joint heirs with Jesus” here, there and everywhere, our hearts and minds open up and we share whatever may be on our mind and hear the heart and mind of those we are fellowshipping with.

I’ve found my deeper self through such times together. It has been an important part of my life to always attend Sunday School or Bible Study groups or both. In those situations, we go in with one thought and/or idea. We may be confused or perplexed about what is on our mind or just beginning to sort it through. We may even be totally lost and cannot even think about our next steps in an issue. In either or any case, when in a small group and through worship in my church, doors and ideas and opportunities begin to open. I may not have told one person what was on my mind or a concern I was carrying, but through sharing or singing or listening, suddenly I have peace, direction, assurance.

In this portion of Acts, it feels that Paul is going hither and tither. Apparently the travel agent involved did not have the whole trip to Cos well organized, or there were just many stops along the way or bad weather or some type of interference, but when they did land (for whatever reason) in Tyre – they found kindred spirits there and stayed a week. It sounded like they were on a direct path and then got a little side tracked, but found some guidance and hospitality that surely was good for tired travelers. These disciples were concerned for Paul’s thoughts of going on to Jerusalem. This thought concerned those disciples and they shared their concerns and then prayed together before Paul and his crew went on their way.

It does not seem to me that those folks in Tyre were planning on such a visit from Paul – but once they met up – they opened their homes and joined their hearts, minds, souls and spirits together. Whatever Paul decided to do next, he had been heard, loved, consulted and prayed for. God would handle the rest and use it all for good. God’s spirit would direct him and use him in wherever he landed.

Do you ever get those nudges? Do you ever decide to make a stop you had not planned on making? Have you ever then gone on your way feeling a lift of your spirit and a bounce in your step – feeling confident come what may?

I have definitely had momentS when I feel nudges and find that if I ignore them I feel embarrassed or ashamed of myself for not listening or responding. I learned about the time that person or that thing was burning on my heart – there was something going on where another could have used my encouragement – even if it were just to let them know I would be praying could offer comfort and even joy in the midst of hardship. If I physically had no way to “fix” anything, I could pray for God to! Paul left Tyre after a week’s visit, after having an unplanned visit with God’s people feeling loved and support and being prayed for!

Are we keeping our eyes open for folks who could use our touch of some kind – maybe even just saying an inward prayer for their needs to be met. Things and people and circumstances don’t cross our path for no reason whatsoever. We have the opportunity every time to do something that lifts heavy loads or gives hope or assurance….puts a lift in their step and even our own. Whether in the church or out in society – let’s do our part in participating in outreach and love and swinging those Kingdom doors wide open!

BACK TO THE GARDEN

WEEK SEVEN, DAY THREE, COMMON ENGLISH BIBLE COMPANION

WEEK SEVEN THEME: HOSPITALITY

DAY THREE THEME: HOSPITALITY IN THE CHURCH

SCRIPTURE: ACTS 2:42-47 (CEB)

“The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers.  A sense of awe came over everyone.  God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 

All the believers were united and shared everything.  They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 

Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes.  They shared food with gladness and simplicity.  They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. 

The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.”

THE WORD OF GOD FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD – THANKS BE TO GOD!

SOAKING IT IN: This scripture points to a very important spiritual discipline – devotion.  It was as the believers devoted themselves that every need was met and the ability to keep on and keep up was met through their own generosity as inspired from above.  This devotion included teaching, responsibility to the community and prayer. 

Because of this devotion they were overcome by a sense of awe and obviously empowered by the Holy Spirit.  This enabled them to use their possession to the benefit of others in need.  They were basically a tribe of folks who saw a need and who met the need with generosity, foresaking their own materialism. 

Through this devotion, the needs of the community were met and the community flourished and the community grew.  It was a simple time of total dependence on God to meet their every need and see their responsibility to be a vessel to meet the needs of others through their own giftedness and resources.  It was contagious and such a time of blessing.  Utopia. 

And it all began with devotion.  It all began with realizing the relationship to a loving Father and remembering the sacrifice of his only Son and accepting the power of the Holy Spirit to look beyond the immediate and be creative thinkers and doers.  It seems as the scripture reads on that it was relatively short lived before greed and self ambition crept in like the serpent in the Garden and began to break away form such a wonderful existence. 

However, individually and through our Churches we on-goingly have the option every minute of every day to be devoted and to have the eyes and heart of God in all that we do and all that we say – remaining in “the garden”, where all needs are met and people love their ability to be a gifted, giving, loving vessel not consumed with what all they can get and grab but relaxed in God’s presence in all things.  Such devotion and actions are Kingdom building even if in a small way – they do affect the whole of society…maybe one little segment at a time. 

Let all God’s children turn ever more toward a life of devotion that is not without fear and doubt, but that recognizes from Whom all Blessing flow!  Praise God!