2 Thessalonians 2-3 B

“May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.” (3:5)

Chapter two was doomsday and chapter three seemed a bit harsh. I grabbed on to this lovely verse near the middle.

I don’t always know what to do with Paul’s specific and rigid instructions . If I take it all literally, I conveniently know a church in Thessaloniki and I could barge in there and say, “if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either!” (3:10) but that would come across grossly insensitive because Greece has a 60% unemployment rate, with the unemployment for people 35 years and younger being 85%. Everyone is just out to coffee with their man bun in that city! It’s hard to know who is unwilling and who is unable.

That’s why I think 3:5 is a great supervising verse. Praying that the Lord direct us, is an excellent habit and place to start. Being directed into the love of God adds compassion and peels away pride. Being directed into the steadfastness of Christ produces patience and removes entitlement.

Ask to the Lord to direct you into these, so you can be a good example of hard work and encouragement. Don’t push people away, like they’re enemies (3:15), and don’t grow weary of doing good (3:13).

“Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all… The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.” (3:16,18)

Yes, please!

-Bethany

1 Thessalonians 5 – 2 Thessalonians 1 B

“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil.” 5:16-22

Why is it so difficult to hold on to what is good? We tend to keep a death grip on bad attitudes, diets, advice, moments, relationships, thoughts or memories. I can rattle off half a dozen examples of something bad I’ve done, or that’s been done to me, and I bet you could too.

This is not the first time Paul advises this to the early Christians. In Romans 12:9, he instructs them “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.” He understands the human tendency and he’s urging us to shake off the negative stuff and cling to what is good, true and holy.

So, what is good?

Jesus is good. The things he says about our life together with him is good.

Healthy friendships. People that bring out the best in you, encourage you and coax you out of self-destruction are good.

Laughter and joy are good! It’s a mindless, lazy habit to complain and gripe. Crumble up that tendency and toss it into the fire.

Positive thinking is good. Overthinking is, ugh.

Today, filter your thoughts through this. Is something that you’re about to do, say or think beneficial to someone or something? Sink into it.

Is it discouraging or harmful to you? Stay away!

 

-Carly

1 Thessalonians 3-4 B

Upon the verified faithfulness of the Thessalonians, and the apparent fruit from serving God instead of idols, Paul reminds them of what a sanctified life looks like. Not because he was hearing a bad report, but most likely because he understands the temptation to default back to old habits.

The habits he addresses are as old as humanity’s struggle itself. The exile from Eden (Genesis 3) came with a new reality that work would be hard and so would childbearing. This evolved into most every pagan culture serving deities that promised success in business (Ba’al, Demeter) and fertility (Ashura, Artemis, Aphrodite). These worship practices were perverted and included a lot of shady practices and sexual corruption.

I think this helps frame the pairing of these two exhortations time and time again.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God… and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” (4:3-5; 11-12)

This is an evidence of freedom; not sexually caught up, or financially bound. Jesus is making all things new and He started with us, giving us a New Life as New Creation. This was pivotal for the Greek Christians to understand, as it was 100% contrary to their culture.

How does this translate to your culture context? What measures do the people around you take to address the struggle with business and fertility? I think it’s important we think critically about this, so we can seek to find the way which Jesus leads us in freedom. What difference does this freedom make in your context?

-Bethany

1 Thessalonians 1-2 B

“And now the word of the Lord is ringing out from you to people everywhere, even beyond Macedonia and Achaia, for wherever we go we find people telling us about your faith in God. We don’t need to tell them about it, for they keep talking about the wonderful welcome you gave us and how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God.” 1:8-9

Isn’t that beautiful? The new believers of the Thessalonian church were rapidly spreading the gospel by deeply living it out themselves. I can’t think of a better way.

When I was in college, a church plant popped up in the city and exploded. I showed up to a service and was surprised how stripped down it was. Lines of metal folding chairs in a community center gym, a pull-down screen and a projector shaped the “stage”. The pastor held his open Bible in one hand and never closed it, teaching verse by verse the entire message. I went back, week after week, and watched more and more chairs fill up. I overheard more and more conversation throughout town about this new growing community. For the first few years, the people that filled up the chairs were mostly college students. How do you get hundreds of 21 year olds to completely turn their life towards God, leaving behind the parties and self-indulgent lifestyles? Rely on the gospel. There weren’t programs or church events disguised as parties. Just an open Bible and a sermon anchored by the Good News.

I looked up Acts 17:1-9 on Beth’s suggestion and was shocked that Paul was only with these people a few weeks. His affection for them is so deep, and the impact the gospel made on them was so huge!

“After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown as we stand before our Lord Jesus when he returns? It is you! Yes, you are our pride and joy.” 2:19

Just from reading these chapters, I would’ve assumed he had hunkered down and been mentoring them for years, constantly available to field their questions and looming over them, offering constant accountability to point them back to truth.

How do you respond to the gospel?  

 

-Carly

Colossians 3-4 B

Carly’s application of 3:13 last time was excellent. Love can be work, but it can also be incredibly fruitful!

“Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.” (3:22-25)

In everything, we’ve gotta keep the opinion of the LORD at the forefront of our minds.

I love that last line. “There is no partiality”. Our lives are full of partiality. Everything can be boiled down to a comparison, it seems. However, in light of the Word of the LORD, its good for me to remember to take responsibility for myself. In my frustration with someone lording something over me, do I turn around and do it to someone else?

That reminds me of the parable in Matthew 18:23-35 where a guy is forgiven an enormous debt to the king and then he goes and chokes out a guy who owes him money. So much of following Jesus circles back to “doing for others what you’d like done for you.” We will all be held accountable for our own actions and it’s not graded on a curve.

I know I’m someone who needs a lot of grace, so that should push me to be gracious. When I work for someone, I do it the way I think would glorify God and guess what? I get promoted a lot. Now, the world isn’t fair, so that’s not always going to be the case, but I think the point is to not get short sighted when it comes to circumstances, and always be short sighted when it comes to watching someone’s work.

The next verse in 4:1 is a warning for masters to remember they have a powerful boss too; and He’s been known to hear the cries of oppressed people. For those of us responsible for other people, this is a great “Fear of the LORD” moment.

What does this look like for you?

-Bethany

Colossians 1-2 B

“Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” 2:7

What does it mean to set roots down into Jesus and built your life secured in him? This is what it’s looked like for me:

-A dedication to reading his word. Regularly reading the Bible changes the direction of my life towards Christ every time I open it.

-Surrounding myself with godly people. Since developing a deep relationship with the Lord, I’ve always invited an older, wiser woman into my life and allowed them to direct it. This dramatically protected my life when I was in college, and I highly recommend it for all seasons of life.

-A regular habit of repentance. It’s so much easier to just ignore your mistakes and slowly, over time, create distance between you and God. I’m not always “done” with whatever I’m repenting of, and sometimes I admit to the same sin every day. But I try to remember that God knows about my sin whether I admit it or not. And leaving it unacknowledged leaves room in my heart for shame to grow.

-Regularly worshiping Jesus. My preference is through music, but this can look different for everyone. Making a habit of thanking and praising God for who he is and what he’s done develops a muscle for gratefulness my soul regularly needs to flex.

Take a minute and ask yourself, what is your life built on?

-Carly

Philippians 3-4 B

“For we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” (4:2)

Always remember the power of our Salvation is the victory of Christ, who removed the sting/curse of death/sin; teaching us the way to live (2:5-7) and giving us newness by His Spirit. That is what differentiates His people from others: His transformation power.

This looks like the applications in chapter four: rejoicing always, being gentle, choosing prayer over anxiety, having peace and the perspective to be content in every circumstance.

It’s not about mustering the strength to police ourselves and others, it’s walking in the truth of the gospel. That’s why Paul encourages this:

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (4:8)

Fill your life with truth. Seek it out. Study the Word. Don’t let fear or desperation become a motivator for any aspect of life. This is a great reminder for all of us.

-Bethany

Philippians 1-2 B

Today it struck me how often the Bible talks about having enemies. Isn’t that interesting? Sometimes I mistake the Christian life as a passive one. A people-pleasing, conflict-avoiding excuse to just be nice and (my favorite Christian culture phrase) “love on people”. Loving people is a gigantic part of knowing and imitating Christ. But so is taking a stand, when needed.

Paul and the early Christians faced a lot of opposition that I don’t have to in my 2018 American faith. And there is usually specific, cultural context when the Bible talks about enemies. So, I might not have a list of enemies in my lifetime, but I’m reminded not to be afraid of conflict in the name of the gospel.

I don’t think this happens often. I’ve been a Christian almost my entire life and can really only come up with one person who became a holy enemy of mine. Jesus had enemies, why did it devastate me so much when I experienced this? My eagerness to be liked was exposed, and I learned a lot about meekness.

Do you have holy enemies? Not the family member you disagree with politically, or the person you can’t stand (out of your own insecurities).

Do you love them well?

Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News.” 1:27

 

-Carly

Ephesians 5-6 B

The post I wrote last time about 3-4 were a good reminder to me about what the whole of Ephesians is about. Then Carly’s 5-6 was dynamite.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (6:12)

This is way too easy to forget. The natural world feels like it’s closing in on us and we have definitely turned on each other about it. Especially as westerners, we don’t put a lot of stock in the spiritual realm. I feel like that is changing a little, and it’s good.

I’ve been listening to a podcast called “Almost Heretical“, lately, and they address this in a really solid way; taking passages in the Old Testament that fly over our western heads and connecting the dots. I highly recommend it. They’re on iTunes. Start from the beginning!

Maybe it’s too late to hope there could be unity in the Body of Christ, as Jesus prayed in the garden (John 17), but maybe not. We can’t always change people’s minds or actions, but we can take responsibility for our own. We can be like Christ and absorb blows instead of retaliating. We can be patient, hopeful, and unconditionally loving, by the power of His Spirit alive within us. We can “pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.” (6:18)

Meditate on the armor of God.

  1. Belt of Truth – holding everything together
  2. Breastplate of Righteousness – protecting vital organs
  3. Shoes of Readiness – given by the of Gospel of Peace
  4. Shield of Faith – extinguishing flaming enemy arrows
  5. Helmet of Salvation – protecting thoughts
  6. Sword of the Spirit – the Word of God

What difference would it make if we put them on today?

-Bethany

Ephesians 3-4 B

“I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” 3:16-19

Sometimes I just can’t believe how much energy, both physically and mentally, we spend trying to believe that God loves us. Paul’s prayer here should be our prayer, for ourselves and for the church.

The last time I read through Ephesians was a couple years ago (with y’all!) and I find myself with a deeper understanding on the depth of God’s love from me since I read the verses above.

My husband and I got married after just a handful of months of dating and barely a calendar year of knowing each other. I deeply loved him on our wedding day. But now, seven years in, I laugh thinking about that! I thought I loved him then? We’ve lived in three different states since then, lost a handful of loved ones, doubled our family and changed a lot. God-willing, I hope in another seven years I feel even more deeply anchored into my love for him.

Our relationship with Christ is like this. Changing, growing, evolving. I think I have a vague understanding of God’s love for us, but I’m just barely skimming the surface.

“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” 4:2

I struggle to find the balance between setting aside grace for people’s weaknesses and believing the worst in them, bracing myself for them to fail me and developing bitterness. But here Paul tells us that the defining difference is one is self-preserving and the other is rooted in love, drenched in patience. 

How can you anticipate someone’s fault today and come alongside them in it with love?

 

-Carly