Creation: A Creative Retelling

31 01 2017

You have molded the heavens with your hands, you ran your fingers to form mountain ridges.  You uplifted the waters to move the waves.  You punched the soil and made valleys.  You scooped up dirt and made hills.  You ran through the land, dragging a stick through the earth and made the rivers.  You moved the ocean into the land and made lakes.  Made mudpies, and they became swamps.  Dried otu the dirt, and deserts were born.  I have this image of God, you, playing all over your creation, to make all of these things happen.  Joyful in your creation, you bounced around like a child.  You transformed your drawings into fish and birds, monkeys and elephants.  Breathed life into those masterpieces, as all sorts of animals began to walk the earth that you created.  They explored and ate off of the trees and plants, drank of your water, and moved with joy.

Then, you made man.  You crafted every vein in his body with purpose.  You sculpted every muscle from the dirt.  You covered it all in skin to protect him.  And you took your breath and kissed man alive.  In wonder, he looked around, not understanding what had just happened, and saw all of the creation moving and growing.  And you proclaimed all of its goodness!

And then you rested.  You watched your created ones get familiar with your creation.  It was your playground and entertainment all in one.  You delighted as man ate your fruit you provided and you were pleased as he named them.  You laughed at his reaction when he saw a platypus for the first time.  You were warmed in your heart as he freed a baby lion from thorns.  Your curiosity was piqued when he saw his helper for the first time.  You had surprised him, not told him that she was going to be made.  He surveyed her beauty and she looked around the same way that he had, when you first breathed life into him.  At night, you sang them to sleep with the birds and grasshoppers singing their song of praise to you.  Your creation was all good, and it was peaceful.  Days went by, and your joy was increased as you got to spend more and more time with them, they led you on tours of your creation, and they told you all about the things that they had learned about what you had made.  You fell in love with them.  You fell in love with this, all of your creation.

Then, came an intruder.  It wasn’t a battle army from foreign land.  It was an old rival that you had banished.  He was once a part of your inner circle, but then he fell from your grace.  He was conniving and jealous of you, wanted to be more than a worshipper of God, he wanted people to worship him because he knew you.  So you banished him from your kingdom, and he took his own kingdom.  He penetrated your garden.  Slithered into the body of something you created.  He slid across the dirt that you made and wrapped himself into your creation.  He thought that he could talk to your beloveds, even though they were yours.  He whispered words of adultery, and they tried to resist at first.  Then they succombed to the pressure.  The enemy said that they would have power unlike that which they had never had before.  But you watched as the connection that you had with them was destroyed.  You couldn’t believe it.

They were frozen, felt it immediately.  The fruit had given them knowledge which they had never had before, but at the price of intimacy with you.  He slithered away before the true effects of his victory were realized by them.  The fruit, they abandoned as they responded in shame.  Your heart was broken as they exprienced blame and anger at each other over what had happened.  They realized they were naked, and needed clothing.  YOu called out their name as you pushed the bushes aside, hoping against hope that they hadn’t really done this thing that you feared they had.  You looked in their eyes, and it had.  Your heart broke.  The one limit that you had given them, they had broken.  Your paradise was infected and the infection lay within them.  There was no way that you could rescue them from this now.  Later, perhaps, but not now.  Not while your heart was breaking and bruised.  Not while they began the journey out of your paradise.

It was all over.  All for nothing.  All of your dreams and all of your efforts were just wastes of time and effort.  It was all for nothing.  You tried something, gave of your heart to create something that would bring your joy, and it was all for nothing.  Wasted.  Futile.  Anger swelled in your heart, they had done wrong.  They must be punished.  Food would no longer grow freely, man had to work at it now.  Her body would no longer live in harmony, as you gave monthly pains to her.  You sealed the garden when they left, now it was plagued in sin, it had been smudged and you had to clean it up.  You would never let someone into your paradise again.  Your anger covered up the fact that you were heartbroken, and they could not see that.  All that they saw was your anger.  Your heart was broken, your creation betrayed you.  In your mercy, you could not destroy them because you loved them.  So you let them live.  But it would never be the same.  Ever again.

You did not give up on them.  One day, they’ll see that.  One day, they’ll see your plan of restoration.  But today is not that day.  Today, you’ll nurse your broken heart.  Today, you’ll cry and ache.  Today, you’ll experience pain.  So that you can give forgiveness.





Sunday School Series: Taking a Note from Paul in our Everyday Life

29 01 2017

Today’s scriptures come from Philippians 1:12-21, and are below:

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.  I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body,whether by life or by death.  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

We have all heard the dramatic conversions stories where people have been on drugs, or have been alcoholics, or what have you, and then they meet Jesus.  Suddenly, their life is changed and their old devils are gone.  They tell their story, to anyone who hear.  Me?  I used to think that my own conversion story was nothing special to share.  I was and still attending the same church I’d attended all of my life.  I went to Sunday school and Wednesday night services.  I loved to be in the church from a young age, because I had fun, I loved hearing the stories of people being used by God to do great things.  My conversion story was just the natural result of people’s influence in my lives.  It was no surprise when I found Jesus, and got saved and got baptized.  I was just following the normal process of things.  And then I hear a story of this preacher, who was in jail.  He used to tear out pieces of paper and use it as rolling paper to get high.  Now he preaches about those papers.  And I heard that God’s mercy is big enough for all of us.

How does that happen?  God’s forgiveness to me, seems so obvious, so commonplace, how can it be so radical to others?  The message and the answer is simple:  It has nothing to do with you or I, and it has everything to do with the fact that what Jesus has done, it has the power to change lives.  At first, I got mad, because those “sinners” shouldn’t be covered by the same grace as I am.  But now I realize, that my focus was not on what I deserve, but what God is willing to give me.

Before we talk about how Jesus changes lives, we must examine how he changed the life of the writer of this text, Paul.  So Paul was a Jew, and in many ways, I can relate to Paul.  Like me, he was raised in the church.  He was there every time the church opened its doors.  His sect was extremely devout to keeping the letter of the scripture.  All of the laws and all of the commands, he was concerned about it.  At one point in time, he felt as if obeying the laws, he was justified in going out and ensuring that the new emerging Christian religion would be contained.  And then he met Jesus.  Instead of moving on, his life immediately changed, and he started preaching the Gospel wherever he was.  He eventually came to a place where he was put in prison for his preachings, and so he wrote the joyful letter of the Philippian church to tell them what was going on.

Paul is Focused on Sharing the Gospel Message, regardless of where he was.

I walked inside of a prison once.  The sterile bars and cold, bland rooms.  The isolation.  I heard the doors slam shut, smelled the concrete and despair.  It’s all so bigger than life.  I imagine that if you went to prison, your demons and all of your struggles would be amplified.  I imagine that’s why so many prisoners deal with depression.  I read studies such as this about the mental health of the incarcerated, and I understand why they do.  If I were in prison, it would be honestly very easy to fall prey to things that would weigh me down.  It would be easy for me to abandon hope, even my religion, while I’m in a place that other people abandon me.  Paul didn’t.  Now, it’s easy for me to see Paul as a braggart, or boastful in these types of situations.  Sometimes, I feel like he is doing so a little bit.  But I hope that we can see past these kinds of statements so that we can get to the heart of the passage.  The heart of the passage is this: No matter what situations or circumstances Paul faced, he had one goal in mind, to advance the gospel.   He told his church in Philippi that this imprisonment does not imprison the message of God.  Our mess in our lives does not contain the message of God.  In fact, Paul says that people get inspired when we proclaim the message of God, despite where we are and the circumstances that we face.

Everyone knew that Paul was in prison for preaching the Gospel.  But instead of shutting up, Paul prayed, preached and praised.  Even the ones who were enforcing his imprisonment knew why Paul was there.  Word of what he was doing was spreading everywhere.  It was going up through the chain of command into the king’s imperial guard.  To the government.  No matter what, Paul focused on the purpose of his life, and that was to share the Gospel.

Application for Today:  We may not face prison.  You and I may not be behind bars.  We may not be as free as a lark, but we still face adversity.  Imprisonment is a pretty severe adversity, but if we take a note from Paul, it’s all about how we respond.  If we allow these adversities to distract us from the purpose of our lives, the reason that we have hope, then we will never make an impact.  If when faced with one adversity, we revolt and protest, we are missing out on the purpose of our lives.  Quite frankly, when we do experience adversity, we honestly respond like children, and consistently lash out in response.  Sometimes in protest, sometimes in marching, and sometimes in harsh words.  The purpose of our lives is not to protest when things happen that we don’t agree with or approve of, it’s to advance the gospel.  That’s it.  When we substitute political activism for sharing the gospel, we are neglecting our true purpose, and we are robbing our stances from truly impacting people.  Instead, while we march on the frontlines, we must use this opportunity to advance Christ and what he’s done for us, and the message that salvation is available for and to all.  We cannot allow the current political climate to distract us from the preciousness of lost souls.  The only way to change lives and hearts is through personal conversations with people, unconditional love shown towards them and trust in God that he will do the rest.

Unity in the Body, despite different perspectives.

When Paul was criticised, he continued to preach Jesus.  He didn’t lash back, he didn’t try to break people down, he didn’t name call, he just continued to preach Jesus.  When people disagreed, he continued to preach Jesus.  Through all of that, he didn’t allow his focus to get him off track in preaching Jesus.  Whenever we speak Biblically, we will encounter some contrary position or some sort of backlash.  That’s okay.  We will have some people trying to undermine our efforts.  That’s okay.  People will try to tell us we are wrong.  That’s okay.  Do not allow those things to distract you from preaching Jesus and being caught up in the politics or controversy of it all.

There are many motivations for sharing the gospel and for advancing causes.  Some people do it because they truly believe in the movements.  Some people do so out of great love for God.  But a lot more people tend to use it as a method of advancing themselves or what they believe is right.  What can possibly be more important than the Gospel?  What could possibly be more important than sharing salvation?

Marching against abortion and campaigning against it is great, but you must champion Jesus as you do so.  Jesus tells us to value all lives and tells us that once the child is born, we have to provide a life for them, take care of them in health.  Love it, even if it isn’t what we wanted.  You cannot march against abortion and then refuse to provide opportunities for that child.  Quit pretending that your interest is in preventing abortion like a good Christian, if that baby won’t be taken care of.

Marching for the end of police brutality is good.  Marching to end racism is good.  But we cannot speak a word except the gospel, until we have also looked at ourselves and seen how we have taken advantage of brutality and how we have ingrained prejudices within us.  We must support fair trade coffee and chocolate and other industries that do not exploit human beings.  We must eradicate the personal beliefs we have of those that are not the same race as us.  And we must advance the gospel, we must champion the gospel.  Only when we can erase those things in our lives, can we comment on the things of others’ lives.

We cannot march against gay marriage until we address the issues that divorce and an incorrect understanding of love plagues our community.  We must have a proper perspective on marriage and self-control in human relationships if we ever want to have the right to comment on someone else’s love life.  When divorce is accepted within the church, and fidelity is not preached, then we cannot make a stand for the family, because we are guilty of destruction of the family.  And when we do make a comment, may it be on the everlasting love and fidelity of God, despite our shortcomings and not distracting from the message of the gospel.

Protesting immigrants coming into our shores, we can protest those.  But we cannot do so unless we realize that our motivations are to keep ourselves safe and being selfish and not welcoming in people in love, without conditions or regard.  Sure, it is kinda radical and naive to think that those people won’t hurt us, but if we ignore the call of Christ to be unconditional towards all, then we might was well ignore grace too.  We must realize that our opposition is because people are different from us and afraid that they might hurt them.  Then we need to examine the ways that our sin hurts God and then we will realize that we have no room to talk.  We also must weigh if this is an opportunity to show love, and by refusing them entry, we are neglecting them the chance to be loved by us.  And that’s not loving.  Particularly if they are fleeing a bad situation.

Application for Today

If we do not spread the gospel and we spread causes, then we need to quit pretending that we are Christians.  Go ahead and take Jesus out of your causes, not much changes.  We have to deal with ourselves and what our causes say about ourselves, before we can ever comment on others’ lives.  When we are approached with an adversity, it is right and well that we must make a comment about it, as long as it is motivated by sharing the gospel.  It sounds unconventional, doesn’t it?  If we emphasize Jesus, then God can change hearts and when he does, the marching goes away, because all will realize what the true purpose of our lives is, and the appropriate response to these adversities.  If we allow adversities to distract us from our purpose, then we aren’t really believers in the power of God to change lives, because we’re demonstrating that he hasn’t changed our own.

Nothing but the Gospel matters.

When we live our lives radically, where the gospel is the forefront of everything we do, then we are fulfilling the call of Christ.  We are called to give up the worldly pleasures for the spread of the gospel.  If we want to have an impact for our society, it must start with us.  It must start with the gospel.  It starts with God changing our hearts and then the Gospel is shared with others through us, and God changes them too.  Here, the desire of Paul’s life is that God is glorified in him and honored in all we do.

We can have hope of God changing our society in the lives of others being impacted by God changing us, and us sharing that message.  If the gospel changed our hearts, then it can change our approaches to adversity, and that will change our society.  That’s where we have hope.  That’s where we have something to look forward to.  Many Christians today live defeated lives that are always in defense of some issue or another, but never share the difference that God has made in their lives.  We have an obligation to share the gospel and that takes precedence over anything else in this world.  Christ didn’t stutter or stumble when he made the challenge to go all over the world, right where we are, and share the gospel.  The message of God will not be hindered in our present political circumstances, it breaks chains and frees people.  A proper perspective and focus will allow the gospel to do that.  But it cannot change the world without our unconditional, unwavering commitment to sharing the gospel and our taking advantage of the opportunities we have to share.

Application

I don’t know about you, but I have some heart stuff to deal with.  Some perspective that I need to take, forgiveness to ask for and some changes to make.  The way to do that is through prayer and revisiting the gospel.  If we want to make an impact on society, we must do so with a proper perspective and advance the gospel as we encounter adversity.  Only then, will we respond in love.  Only then can we eradicate anger and change hearts.  It’s time to try the gospel.


Author’s note:  I debated posting this, but as I was writing, it was like the words flowed from the heart of God through my pen and unto my journal page.  These words are God’s and not mine.  But I pray that I would have the boldness to post these and not worry about the response or backlash, but be obedient to what God spoke through me.  

 

Peace and love,

MB





Sunday School Series: Happiness, Joy and Partners in Ministry, Philippians 1:3-11

22 01 2017

Author’s Note:  Please see the previous post to give you some of the context of this church’s founding and Paul’s relationship with it.  I made a post earlier about this, and I’m so very glad that I did so!  Thanks!

Everyone is trying to find joy and happiness.  We buy things, thinking that they will make us happy and they will fulfill us.  Our government is built upon the premise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  We read that it is an “unalienable right.”  We expect happiness to be lasting, and then, like a whisper, it fades away.  In my life, I can remember times when I have thought “If ________ happens, then I will be really happy.”  The happening happens and then I’m the same person, there’s no great upheaval of personal change or growth.  Eventually that happenning only becomes another page in my book of life.  For example, my college graduation.  When I was in high school, I was so focused on getting into college.  I filled out scholarship applications left and right.  I got into college, and I started focusing on that graduation date.  This dream never seemed more happiness-inducing than the nights where I was holed up in the library for another late night working on a paper.  I would get lost in my dreams of walking across the stage and shaking Chancellor Peacock’s hand.  When the day finally, arrived, my work was done, and I remember that I sat there as a friend made a speech about something, and I remember thinking “this is it.”  And it wasn’t like this great event.  It was just me, sitting in a polyester gown, shaking a hand and walking across a stage.  I was so proud that I did this, but then the next day, I woke up, and I was myself again.  Now, five years later, my graduation day is just another memory.

It doesn’t last, does it?  Happiness?  That’s the difference between happiness and joy.  Happiness is an emotion, and emotions honestly, they’re fleeting.  They change and disappear after awhile.  But joy, I think truly is more permanent, despite the present circumstances.  It’s sort of like the difference between liking someone and loving them.  You can like them all you want to, but that “like” fades at the first sign of annoyance.  Love exists regardless of how annoying the person is, or when they scream “I don’t speak chinese” in your ear as they sleep.  (True story)

Paul’s Partners in Ministry:  Philippians 1:3-6

 I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy  because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

If we use happiness to describe Paul’s emotions towards the church in Philippi, then (because we know of his previous experience in prison because of his preaching of the word) it would be odd that Paul would be thanking God for the memory of this church.  If it were me, and I had been arrested, then I would want to do anything possible to push the memory of that horrible experience out of my mind.  But Paul here was “praying with joy” each time he thought of them and was full of thanksgiving about them.  Each time he gave thanks, he remembered them in love.  It’s a wonderful thing to have such a good relationship with those that you serve in ministry with that they give thanks for you, each time that they remember you.  In that way, I identify with Paul.  In my college years, I served at the Appalachian Wesley Foundation, and as I served, I never remembered to take a moment and recognize just how blessed I was to not only be friends with those that I was serving God with, but also, to enjoy the moment with them.  Now, all of us are spread across this great state, and some are across the continent, and I miss them, and pray for them every so often.

Why am Paul and I filled with joy?  It says so here, “because of their partnership in the gospel”, a partnership that has been solid from the founding until now.  A partnership that has led to blessings and growth that has lasted, both in each other and in Christ.  Obviously, Paul and this church have had contact since Paul left, and they possibly exchanged many letters until this letter was penned.  I think that there was a certain amount of peace knowing that he had a group of people that were united, supporting him.  I think that encouraged him greatly, and I think it helped him to endure, even when he was facing a lot of difficulties ahead of him.  I think it helped him feel his load lightened because he knew that there was a group of people praying for him, and they were peacefully there, waiting his return.  The relationships that he had created while there, they were very important to Paul.  Paul’s encouragement from his relationships with Lydia and others in the church sustained him in ministry, and Paul was confident that this growth and maturity would continue until the day that Jesus came back.  I am confident that Paul knew this fact, because Christ began it!  I think it’s important for us to note that our confidence in God and what God is doing is ultimately the source of our joy!  Apart from that movement of God, relationships cannot growth or initiate, our relationships cannot encourage use.  Our interactions cannot produce fruit, without his touch.  And if he begins the partnership, he will build that partnership until the end.  He will continue to give it all blessings and growth.

Paul’s Affections towards Them:  Philippians 1:7-8

 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

I truly think that Paul and the believers of this church felt a special bond between them, and this special bond was strengthened especially when they experienced great hardship at the beginning.  I truly think that they thought it was worth it because it brought them closer together.  The evidence that I draw this from is because Paul is never as personal as he is in these letters.  He never spent much more than a sentence proclaiming his affections towards a church other than this one.  It’s for that reason that Paul is so affectionate towards them.  From verse 7, I don’t really understand why he said “it is right”, but I imagine that he was facing some criticism because of his obvious affection towards this church.  This often happens when you find yourself in a new friendship or relationship.  I’ve experienced it, sometimes, people get jealous because of the companionship that you’ve found.  They’ll sometimes make passive aggressive statements and remarks or something to say that hints towards their disapproval.  I think this is the perspective that Paul is coming from in this particular passage.  I can imagine that he was hearing some remarks from some of his churches about his perceived favoritism.

But Paul isn’t saying that they should stop being so affectionate with each others, in fact, he’s doing the opposite, he’s affirming the value of this church in his heart.  He’s mentioning that their joy towards each other is holy and right because it is rooted in the fact that they are partners in ministry, mutually supporting each other.  More than that, they have supported him regardless of where he is or what is going on.  Whether he is in prison or enjoying ministry, he continually feels their support and their love of him.  I think this is really valuable for Paul because he probably had a few lonely evenings where he wondered if any of this was making a difference, if it was worth it.  I’m sure he felt especially isolated when he was travelling, and their encouragement helped him to continue on further.

Often, when people are partners in ministry together, they don’t get to be in the same place of service together, and they’re not able to see each other as often as they want.  But they have a sense of calling to each other, that no matter the space, we’re serving God together, and we are mutually growing each other.

Paul’s Desire for Maturity:  Philippians 1:9-11

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,  so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Here, we get to the desires of Paul’s heart for this group.

He first prays and desires that their love will grow.  He desires not that their love will only grow for each other and for him, but also that they’ll grow in their love of God.  Through growing in their love for God, they will find knowledge and discernment.  Obviously, we know that the love for each other is already there and it is already thriving.  But now, he wants them to grow more in their knowledge of God and who God is.  By growing in the knowledge of who God is and what God wants for their lives, they will be able to better discern what the will of God is.  Discernment is a process by which a believer or a group of believers figures out how they feel and where they stand on issues.  For example, this last election.  I don’t know which way you voted, but I’ll tell you how I figured out how to vote.  I looked at the candidates, and I looked at what they said they believed.  I looked at what they stood for, and I looked at what God values.  I voted accordingly to my mindset on all of the evidence.

In the early days of the church, they were trying to figure out what they thought and believed.  They didn’t have a moral code to abide by, and they had to figure out what christian values were.  Christian lifestyles were so new, and they did not have the clear definitions that we hold so tightly to today.  So these believers had to figure it out.  Now, remember, they didn’t have written gospels, they just had each other and their relationship with God to depend on.  All of the discernment was for the purpose of appearing blameless before God.

Discernment and growing in character and knowledge of God leads to maturity, and that was what Paul wanted for their faith.  He wanted them to grow in Christ and he wanted them to produce the fruits of righteousness.  No doubt, he was having the story of Jesus teaching about the vine and fruit in his mind as he was writing this.  He no doubt remembered that Jesus told us we can recognize him through the fruit produced.  Believers should have the good fruit being produced that brings others to knowing Christ, and not chasing them away from the things of God.  If we live our lives producing fruit that is pleasing to God and enticing to others to seek God, then at the very last day, we will be declared righteous before God.  On that final day, praises will ring out for God’s faithfulness and for the gifts of love we experience through each other!


For that reason, I am glad that we are partners in ministry together!  For that reason I am glad you are a reader, and I am able to share with you the conclusions of my heart from scripture.  It is my prayer in this life/ministry that we live together, we can grow together and we can produce fruit together.  Fruit of joy and peace and love, not discord.  With God’s help, may I be that for you!

Peace and Love,

-mb





Sunday School Series: Context of Philippians

18 01 2017

Author’s Note:  We will be beginning a series in Philippians on Sunday, to prepare for this, I have referenced some scripture in Acts to help give us a context for understanding the church’s history.  I hope this helps in your understanding, because it certainly helped mine!

Paul and Silas are travelling around, preaching and ministering to areas and churches in Acts.  The first time (that I know of) that Paul visited Phillipi, he had a lot of things going on!  I was interested in these events so I started reading.

Meeting Lydia  Acts 16:11-15:

From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

This is the first opportunity that we have to meet Lydia, and it certainly won’t be the last.  Lydia will later be a member of one of the founders of the church here.  She will raise Timothy who will later become a “son-in-ministry” to Paul.  Paul probably had no idea that he would meet someone who would be so influential to his ministry.

  1.  Lydia was successful financially.  She was a seller of cloth, and was actually probably selling in the marketplace when she heard the message of Paul.  She was in a group of women who probably were makers or sellers of cloth like her.  She sold purple cloth, which was the most expensive of the cloths, because the dye was the rarest found.  Reserved for royalty and higher-income families, she had very wealthy clients who probably paid a hefty sum for her cloth.  The fact that they mention her name at all, and what she does, indicates that she is in a prominent position in the society, because everyone would’ve known who Lydia is by her trade.
  2. Paul’s words made a believer of Lydia in Christ Jesus and his resurrection.  It says that Lydia already was a believer in God, so she was probably Jewish in faith already.  But God opened her heart to Paul’s message, it says, and she began to believe.  God used Paul’s words to convict the heart of Lydia.  Just a moment ago, I tried to put myself in Lydia’s shoes.  I tried to imagine that I was a Jewish person, and then Paul was standing there with a message from God.  I was faced with a choice, to continue to believe what I believe, or to change my heart and follow God.  I’ll be honest and readily admit that I wasn’t so sure that it would be an easy choice for me to make.  But I’m glad that she did, because God used her in amazing ways to impact the world for the sake of the Gospel.
  3. Lydia allowed God to use her to minister to other people through hosting them. All because Lydia believed, her household also began to believe.  They all were converted and they all were saved.  Then, she invited Paul into her home.  As wealthy as she was, she was able to use that wealth to give rest and refuge to the ministers of God because she had extra room in her household.  She used her possessions and what she had to not only lead her household but to also, give Paul and Silas a place so that they could be ministered to.  I’ve never been a vagabond minister, a nomadic disciple, but I imagine it would be very draining to give and give of yourself the way that Paul and Silas did, without return.  I imagine she gave them food, a place to sleep, and Christian company that cared about their struggles.  Often, we forget that even though Paul and Silas were moving and grooving great things for God, they also had their own struggles that they dealt with on a daily basis, and they wrestled with.  It must have been very wonderful to ease their personal load by sharing their troubles with another person, by finding a person to pray for them.

Paul and Silas Identified Acts 16:  16-19

 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities.

So obviously, there has been quite some time between the first few verses of today’s examination and the verses in this section.  Which is fine, but I think we need to acknowledge this.  So what happened in between verse 15 and 16?  A lot, from what I can understand.  See, if these things happened the next day, scripture would say the next day, it’s usually pretty keen on keeping up with that.  So, it had to be some time after Lydia was converted, so to speak, and in the meantime, Paul and Silas probably set up camp there and was ministering to the people in the area.  No doubt that their connections with Lydia created some really influential connections for Paul.  The church probably had started out of Lydia’s home and was growing in the knowledge of God.

  1.  Even demons recognize that God is at work.  Meanwhile, in their day to day life, Paul and Silas were going to the marketplaces each day, and sharing the gospel.  This lady, we don’t know her name, but she was a fortune teller.  We do know her occupation.  Well, she started walking behind Paul and Silas, telling everyone who they were and what they were doing.  I imagine she wasn’t following from afar, I’d like to imagine that she was almost like a parrot, squawking every time that Paul turned the corner.  She was taken by this spirit who told the future, and she was able to identify these people by what they were doing, whose they are, and what their message was.  I’m sure the evil spirit was motivated by wanting to send people running from Paul.  I’m sure it was meant to deter Paul’s work from being effective.  My point is this, even people who aren’t involved in the things of God can recognize when God is at work.  I’m not saying those people are full of demons and all of those things….not at all.  But what I am saying is that it’s easy to recognize when God is at work through his people.  In fact, it’s hard to hide God working in his people!
  2. God will provide a way out or a way through obstacles  Far too often, though, when we are encountered with an obstacle or something/someone who opposes what we are doing, we shut down.  Or we give up.  We think that if God brings obstacles and hardship, he must not be in it, right?  Oh dear believer, nothing could ever be further from the truth!  When we encounter the obstacles and hardships we face in ministry, that’s just the time for us to buckle up and prepare for something great to happen!  In Paul’s case, he dealt with the figurative parrot for days, until he couldn’t take it anymore, and then, he turned around and cast out the demons that were inside this fortune teller.  At that very moment, they were gone.  She was vacant of the spirits that robbed her of herself at that very moment.  I imagine she just sorta stood there, stunned, and walked away.  I wonder what happened to her?  Anyways, back on track, God provided the way for Paul to leave his obstacle of that parrot, and he will provide the same way out for us.
  3. If God works, expect consequences!  Paul’s consequence is found in the owners of this fortune-teller, who no doubt, were angry that their source of income was done away with, she was good for nothing, in their eyes.  So they grabbed him, and honestly, they probably felt like Paul was stealing from them.  “They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”(vs 20-21) He was stealing their livelihood, their person that they could use and abuse.  He liberated her from their bondage, forever.  Can I just take a moment and say that those same words are the very same that the enemy says about those that we minister to?  He says the very same things about those who find encouragement under the wings of our care and concern.  He says the very same things about those that find hope in the way that God uses us.  So we’d better be ready for consequences.  When we submit to God’s call to ministry, then we’d better be ready for consequences.  Regardless of the consequences.  In the case of Paul and Silas, they were humiliated in the marketplaces, stripped of their clothing and flogged.  Then, they were jailed.  (Vs 22-24)

Paul and Silas and their Ministry in Prison Acts 16:25-40

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas.  He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.

When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.” The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”

But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.”

The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city. After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left.

This is a rather intense story.  I’ll try to refrain from summarizing, and insulting your intelligence, but I do want to make some commentary.

  1. Paul’s Response.  I think Paul and Silas’ response to being jailed is very interesting here.  It’s actually very contrary to what our human nature leads us to do.  Paul and Silas went into jail and were given the highest area of security, and not only that, they were chained to the stocks.  I don’t know if you know anything about stocks, but when in a prison in that time period, the stocks were literally bolted/connected to the entire foundation.  So in order to break these locks and chains, it would have to take a super-human hulk person to do it.  So they’re given the tightest of security, and if it were me, I can honestly say that I would truly, truly be woeful and pitching a fit like a four-year old.  Instead, they used the opportunity to minister.  How often am I presented with an opportunity to minister, but because of my own selfishness, I don’t?
  2. Paul’s impact.  Because Paul was faithful to use any opportunity to minister, God opened the chains that bound him, and kept him captive.  Likewise, when we minister, God will open those chains that bind us, because that’s what he does.  When my heart was broken in times past, when I allowed myself to be used, God healed me, in ways that I never thought possible.
  3. God saves!  Well duh!  But look at it!  Look how God used Paul’s situation to bring more people to him!  It is so true, that God can use any and every situation to bring people to knowing him, and God can use any and every situation to change hearts!  There is no heart that is too hopeless that he can’t lift.  Look at that jailer!  After the earthquake, God broke the prison, and the jailer awoke, thinking that all of the prisoners were gone, and he was ready to kill himself.  He was ready to face death instead of hope.  But God pulled him out of that area of despair and he saved him!  How exciting!
  4. The Message spreads.  Prison cannot contain the message of God.  Bad news cannot contain the message of God.  God’s message and his ministers on this earth will not be contained.  They will not be silenced.  Even though Paul’s message, they attempted to silence, it was not.  Knowledge of the works of God spread.

 

After this, Paul left the area.  The church in Philippi grew and more and more people were adding to the family of God.  No doubt Paul received word of the church’s growth in numbers and no doubt that he was continuously hearing encouraging words from this body of believers.


This is the context of the book of Philippians.  If I have missed anything, understand that I’ve never studied the Bible academically, I’m just sharing what I know.  I hope this helps you understand more of the book of Philippians and their church.





Sunday School Series:Living a Purpose

16 01 2017

Today’s scripture comes from Jeremiah 1:4-10.  This is actually my Sunday school lesson from yesterday, and I wanted to share it with you.  So go ahead, and get comfy.

When we start talking about purpose of life, then we start thinking about the value of life.  The “Sanctity of Life” Sunday in the American Church is the upcoming Sunday.  We cannot look at the value of a human life without seeing what the purpose behind that life.  Yes, every life is valuable.  Absolutely.  I’m not protesting or disagreeing with that fact.  But before we talk about how valuable life is, we must first examine the purpose of life, the why life exists, what that life is for.

Section 1:  Jeremiah 1:4-5:  “The Word of the Lord came to me:  I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born.   I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Now, let’s delve into a little bit of background and context.  Jeremiah was a prophet to the people of God during a 40 year period of great difficulty.  Judah is in peril, and Babylon will eventually overrun them and take the Jews into captivity.  Enter Jeremiah, God spoke to him and he told him several things.

  1.  You have been chosen.  From God to Jeremiah, Jeremiah had been chosen.  He had been chosen before any formation of himself was made in his mother’s womb.  He had been chosen to deliver a message to the people of God, to carry out a purpose of his life.  Thankfully, God is no respecter of persons, and God demonstrates this because he says that he was chosen before the womb.  There was nothing that Jeremiah did or said to earn this, God chose.  In the same way, we are all chosen to live out our purposes.  We have a purpose.  I have a purpose for my life.  You have a purpose for your life.  We all have a purpose.  You were chosen.  If God has moved in you, you have certainly been chosen.  The cool thing is that we all have different purposes in life, different reasons that we are alive and on this earth, but I’m almost certain they all have the same theme:  To serve God.
  2. God has set you apart.  Now to be set apart means to be special or reserved for something specific.  Again, Jeremiah was set apart by of no means of his own, but was set apart only because God chose him and God set him apart.  My grandmother has a special tablecloth that she uses when fancy company is coming, as she calls it.  The other tablecloth is one that we use all the time, but the other one, has a special place and is only used on special occasions.  In that same way, we are all set apart.  We all have been set apart to be different, and to accomplish something in our lives.
  3. God has appointed you.  In Jeremiah’s case, God had appointed Jeremiah to be a prophet to the nations.  Always, there is a reminder that our purpose, like Jeremiah’s is not only to the church and the other believers, but to the world at large.  We have a purpose that not only is about serving God and God’s people but impacting the world through our relationships and how we share the story of Jesus.  Have you ever been appointed to do something before?  I have, and it’s an unique experience.  Whomever has appointed you did so because they knew you were the perfect person for the job/task.  Not because you asked for it, and not because you wanted it, but because they knew you’d be the greatest person for that job.

Section 2:  Jeremiah 1:6-8:  “Oh, no Lord, God!  Look, I don’t know how to speak since I am only a youth.  Then the Lord said to me:  Do not say I am only a youth, for you will go to everyone I send you to and speak whatever I tell you.  Do not be afraid of anyone, for I will be with you to deliver you.  This is the Lord’s declaration.”

A lot of people like to pick on Jeremiah because he started to throw these excuses to God.  Honestly, that’s not fair.  If we are honest, and if I am honest, I give God a lot of excuses as to why I don’t obey commandments or share my faith.  But if we look at this without the excuses and look at his heart, we discover a few things about Jeremiah.

  1.  Jeremiah understood the gravity of his call.  He understood that to communicate God’s words was an awesome responsibility.  Perhaps because he was young, or he hadn’t spent as much time as his elders, in studying the scriptures and getting to know God, he didn’t feel prepared.  I honestly don’t think he was running from the responsibility because he didn’t want to do it, I honestly think he was aware of how great the responsibility is.  To be his hands, his arms, his feet, his voice….it’s a very large responsibility.  Please, don’t discount the gravity of this call, but let us be aware of the responsibility that we are given!
  2. God is no respecter of persons, he uses whom he wants to use.  I think it’s very interesting that God doesn’t fuss at or chastise Jeremiah for his inadequate feelings of preparation.  Instead, he disagrees with him, and says that his excuse is invalid.  God will use Jeremiah anyways, regardless of how prepared Jeremiah feels.  And we’ll get to more of that later.
  3. If God instructs us to do something, we have no need to fear.  By telling Jeremiah that he was going to use him anyways, he reaffirms the facts he has spoken to Jeremiah previously, that he is chosen, he is set apart and he is appointed.  And he tells him that he will be there for him.  When we are told to go do something, then we have no reason to fear, because in his own words, when God calls us he will be with us to deliver us from all that we face.  It doesn’t matter what we face, the promise is that God will be there for us.  That’s good enough, and that’s all we need to know.  Yes, there may be consequences that we would rather avoid when we obey God, but God is there, and we have nothing to fear.  When we are in God’s presence, then we are empowered to go out with boldness!

Section 3:  Jeremiah 1:9-10:  “Then the Lord reached out his hand, touched my mouth, and told me:  I have now filled your mouth with My words.  See, I have appointed you today over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and demolish, to build and plant.

This passage is a response to Jeremiah’s response to his command.  Not only will God be there for us, but he will do something special for us, something that equips us.  I honestly deeply believe that we will all experience some sort of special moment where we realize that God is there, and he has called us to do something special through his moving and working.  For Jeremiah, it was a touch.

  1.  God will equip us precisely for what he wants to use us for.  Truly, truly, there could be no better way for God to have quieted Jeremiah’s fears, other than the touch of God.  God  reached out of heaven, I believe, and touched Jeremiah’s lips, and doing so, transferred God’s words to Jeremiah.  I truly believe that God does that same reaching for those whom are presented with the task of God.  I believe that every person God is using, just like Jeremiah, God touches in some form or another.  He, in a sense, “anoints” his beloved ones to fulfill his purpose on this earth.  I remember when I was appointed a task by God, and God did give me that touch of inspiration.  And then, I was equipped.  We are merely the vessel for God to move people, mountains, and God is the one providing the words.
  2. God will give us a specific instruction for us to do.  Jeremiah received specific instructions here.  He was to be a prophet to the nations and kingdoms.  Notice it wasn’t just for the ones who already knew God, but it was to all people.  Again, we are not called just to speak to the church and minister to the church, but to all people that God calls us to work with.  The message Jeremiah had for those outside of Judah would sadly be a message of judgement, but it was a message nonetheless.  Remember in the last section, my #2 said we’d get to something later?  Here it is.  We are called, and we have a specific call, and there is no one who can fulfill God’s call for your life than you!  Jeremiah was called at a specific time and given specific instructions, just as you and I are called in the same specific ways.  My call is different from yours.  Right now, I know that my call is to wait on something, and to write these Sunday School lessons for you.  I don’t know why, but your call will also be specific.
  3. When we follow God’s instructions, then our ministry will have an impact. But let me forwarn you, if you’re looking for visible, automatic signs of impact, you’re setting yourself up for failure, because the work of God sometimes takes a very long time to accomplish.  Jeremiah told him that he would uproot and tear down kingdoms, that he would destroy and demolish.  This probably was a prophecy that told us that the temple would be destroyed.  Jeremiah’s words would be a warning.  Jeremiah was also told that his words would also build and plant.  I like to think that he would build up the faith and the presence of God in the community of the people of God, that he would plant seeds of faith in the lives of those that he encountered.  I don’t know if this was reality, or what was meant in this scripture.  But, likewise, our ministry, if effective, will be the way that God sparks life into someone who doesn’t know God.  And sometimes, that’s a long journey.  More often than not, it’s not an immediate change, but a slow-growing process.  But if we do follow those specific instructions, then we can rest assured that it is not for nothing, and it is not fruitless.  Obedience is never fruitless.

Conclusions

First, I hope that you feel encouraged.  I hope that you feel empowered by the words of scripture to have courage and to not be afraid of whatever it is that God has called you to do!  He will not abandon you!  I hope that you feel encouraged to go forth into your ministry that we call life, and seek to fulfill whatever purpose that you have in life.  Are you still searching for your purpose?  That’s okay.  Sometimes that happens.  Instead of being downtrodden about it, here’s what I want you to do, I want you to go to a quiet space, a space where there is no distractions, and I want you to pray a simple prayer, a request, “What is it you would have me to do, Lord?”  The answer may not come immediately, but sit there for a bit.  If it doesn’t work the first day, then repeat it until you do.  Chances, God will tell you what to do.  So do it.  In the meantime, may I encourage you to do a few things?

  1.  Read the word.  Unless we know the scriptures, we have no idea what they’re about.
  2. Pray for understanding of the scriptures and your purpose.
  3. Find a prayer partner about this purpose, and ask them to pray for your purpose.
  4. Live out your purpose.  Don’t ignore your calling!  You were chosen for this purpose.

Peace and Love to you all

MB





2017-Looking Forwardresp

2 01 2017

This won’t be too long.

As you can probably tell from my recent posts, I’ve been busy writing!  I have a few goals to share with you for 2017!

  1. I am going to read 20 books throughout the year!  I’m about a third of the way through my first book!  Let me know if you have any recommendations as to what I should read!
  2. I am going to write on here more.  Often what happens, is that nice thoughts happen to me, but I either cannot write right away, or I do not record them so that I can write about them later.  So my thoughts get lost in it.  So my plan is to write more, and to keep a notebook or scrap piece of paper so that I can record them all.
  3. I want to become more faithful to take out time daily with God.  I used to be so faithful, but then I got busy, which is an excuse.  So I want to re-add that time back into my life.
  4. I want to be brave.  I have a specific way that I need to especially be brave, and so I want to continue to grow in my courage.  I also am being called away from a comfort zone, and I need the bravery to close the door on that, and the courage to open a new door.  The first is a continual process of bravery.  The second will most likely take place late August, early September.

What are your goals for the new year?

Peace and blessings to you all!