Context. It’s everything.

One hot summer day, many years ago, I went swimming in the river behind my childhood home with a couple of my sisters, a couple of nephews and my sister-in-law. If you were watching from afar, you would have seen me go underwater, come back out of the water and slap my sister-in-law across the face. I am sure it looked like a violent attack. In reality, I was saving her from a horse fly bite. Perhaps I slapped more savagely than necessary, but my first image coming out of the water was the very large horse fly on her face. I thought I was saving her. She didn’t agree. But, in my defense, she couldn’t see the very large biting aforementioned insect on her face.

Context. It matters.

On Apostle Paul’s second missionary journey, he and Silas stopped in Thessalonica. There was a Jewish synagogue there and, as was his custom, he preached there on the Sabbath. For three weeks in a row, he preached Jesus in the synagogue. A few Jews, quite a few prominent Greek men and women believed the gospel and became followers of Jesus.

Some of the other Jews were jealous of Paul’s success in turning people to Jesus so they gathered together some troublemakers from the market place and started a riot against Paul and Silas. These rabble rousers went to Jason’s house to look for Paul and Silas, but couldn’t find them. So they arrested Jason and some other believers and took them before the authorities. Accusations of treason were levied against the new Christians, throwing the whole city into chaos. They were forced to post bond and then released. That very night Paul and Silas were sent away to Berea.

Three weeks. That is all the discipleship training the new believers received. Turmoil and chaos swirled about these people as they began a life of obedience to Jesus and the gospel. Except they didn’t have the Bible. Maybe they had limited access to Old Testament scriptures, but there was nothing else. No guidebooks, no group studies, no Google search tools, nothing. So they asked Paul questions from afar. The letters to the church in Thessalonica are preserved for us as 1 and 2 Thessalonians in the New Testament. They record Paul’s encouragement and advice to the new believers in Thessalonica.

Imagine for a moment that you just heard the gospel message of Jesus. Receiving it with joy, you soak up everything Paul teaches in the three weeks he teaches in the synagogue. Maybe you even attend other meetings during the week. Life has fresh meaning, purpose and perspective. And then opposition comes and the teacher leaves abruptly. There is a lot you don’t know. What do you do? What questions do you have? Who do you ask?

That is exactly what the new believers in Thessalonica experienced. The teaching Paul provided ended abruptly. He left so many unanswered questions. Not only that, but others came who contradicted what Paul taught. Here are some of the questions the new believers asked:

  • What about people who die before Jesus comes back?
  • How do we know your message is true?
  • What about opposition to the message?
  • What is God’s will for us?
  • How do we live a life worthy of Jesus?
  • When will Christ come back?
  • How do we know it hasn’t already happened?
  • What do we do as we wait for Jesus’ return?
  • What does it mean to be holy?

I invite you to join me as we look at a few of these questions this week. Perhaps they are the same questions you have on your journey with Jesus. So grab your Bible, a cup of coffee and curl up in your favorite chair. Let’s see what we can learn from this letter!

Paul and Silas then traveled through the towns of Amphipolis and Apollonia and came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people. He explained the prophecies and proved that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead. He said, “This Jesus I’m telling you about is the Messiah.” Some of the Jews who listened were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with many God-fearing Greek men and quite a few prominent women. But some of the Jews were jealous, so they gathered some troublemakers from the marketplace to form a mob and start a riot. They attacked the home of Jason, searching for Paul and Silas so they could drag them out to the crowd. Not finding them there, they dragged out Jason and some of the other believers instead and took them before the city council. “Paul and Silas have caused trouble all over the world,” they shouted, “and now they are here disturbing our city, too. And Jason has welcomed them into his home. They are all guilty of treason against Caesar, for they profess allegiance to another king, named Jesus.” The people of the city, as well as the city council, were thrown into turmoil by these reports. So the officials forced Jason and the other believers to post bond, and then they released them.

Acts 17:1-8

Wow! How did it get to be August 1 already?

For the last number of months, I have been praying about posting a daily devotional Monday through Friday and taking Saturday and Sunday off. I have no reason except my normal rhythym for devotional reading has been Monday through Friday for so many years I can’t even count it.

Beginning tomorrow, August 2, I will no longer post daily readings on Saturday and Sunday. I encourage you to be creative in how you connect with God and prioritize connecting with your families, friends and neighbors on the weekends.

My heart is still with you, my readers, and I appreciate your faithfulness in reading, commenting and connecting with me through this medium. See you Monday morning bright and early!

The other day, as sometimes happens, my spirit was agitated within me. I could feel myself becoming unsettled over current events even as I carefully monitored what I allowed into my mind. Returning to my sewing, I considered the unrest I experienced and talked to God about it while I stitched.

As I sat there, I became aware of the presence of Jesus next to me. I sensed him putting his arm around my shoulder, calming my spirit. This is the essence of what I sensed him telling me. “Yes, there is a bully on the playground. I am watching him. You don’t need to. He intends evil; I am using it for good. I am taking care of you and will bring you in when it isn’t safe anymore. Be calm and carry on.”

A few days later, I listened to music while I wrote and a song by King and Country played. I cannot explain God or the way he works. I only know that he is good and he is sovereign and he loves me. I choose every day whether to trust him or what I can see with my human eyes.

What choice are you making? Does it line up with Truth or with reason? What does God want to say to you right now?

In 1942, Robert Emmett Winsett wrote a song entitled “Jesus is Coming Soon.” (You can click on the link to hear the Oakridge Boys 2005 version of the song from their album “Common Thread.”) The song won a Dove award at the first GMA Dove Awards in 1969 for Gospel Song of the Year. Since then, it has become a standard for southern gospel musicians.

In an effort to understand the cause for writing the song, I researched it a bit. The results were interesting to say the least but I found nothing to indicate Winsett’s motivation in penning the lyrics to this song.

I first sang this song in church in the early 1990’s. I was terrified. The late 80’s and early 90’s were the stage for much unrest in the Middle East including Desert Storm, the Gulf War, the invasion of Kuwait and conflict between Iran and Iraq. Not knowing the origin of the song, I assumed someone had written it as a reflection of the current times (of 1990’s). I was wrong.

Considering the events of 1942 with the Great Depression ending in 1933 and fading from memory while at the same time being smack in the middle of World War II, the lyrics seem to accurately portray the feeling of the day. To be honest, they were accurate in 1990 and they are accurate today.

As I consider this song, the current cultural milieu, a pandemic, political unrest and social ills, I keep hearing the words “encourage one another…” A simple search revealed these results…

So encourage each other with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4:18

So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. Encourage those who are timid.

1 Thessalonians 5:11,14

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25

First Thessalonians 4 reminds us to encourage one another with words. Words that remind us Jesus is still coming. He hasn’t been here. We didn’t miss it. If the words I say do not move others to courage, if they do not build others up, if they do not motivate to love and good deeds, I need to be silent. There are so many voices shouting, fighting to be heard that discourage and terrify. I don’t want to be one more.

Which voices encourage, build up or motivate you? Which voices discourage, terrify or dismay you? What do you do when doubt, fear, timidity, hopelessness or unrest come crowding in?

Wisdom from the Lord…

This is what the Lord says: Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord. They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land…

Jeremiah 17:5-6

But…

… blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.

Jeremiah 17:7-8

Are you a stunted shrub or a tree along the riverbank?

Happy Hump Day!

Monday morning I sat down to read for a bit and turned to the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament. Looking for a particular passage, I came across a verse I underlined in chapter 7.

Unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm.

Isaiah 7:9

Immediately, I recalled a ballet audition on Got Talent Global by a 73 year old grandmother and her grandson. I watched in amazement as this duo performed an extremely difficult routine. The outstanding quality of the performance is the unbelievable strength of both dancers and the complete trust of one for the other. You can watch it here.

This is a beautiful picture of God’s words to his people through the prophet Isaiah. When we stand firm in our faith, God can do amazing things.

In Isaiah 7, the king of Israel had combined forces with the King of Syria and set out to attack Jerusalem. But they were not successful. Still, news of the alliance reached the king of Judah and scripture says, “the hearts of the king and his people trembled with fear, like trees shaking in a storm.” (Isaiah 7:2) So God sent a message to them through Isaiah. This is what he said:

Tell him to stop worrying. Tell him he doesn’t need to fear the fierce anger of those two burned-out embers, King Rezin of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah.  Yes, the kings of Syria and Israel are plotting against him, saying,  ‘We will attack Judah and capture it for ourselves. Then we will install the son of Tabeel as Judah’s king.’  But this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “This invasion will never happen; it will never take place; for Syria is no stronger than its capital, Damascus, and Damascus is no stronger than its king, Rezin. As for Israel, within sixty-five years it will be crushed and completely destroyed. Israel is no stronger than its capital, Samaria, and Samaria is no stronger than its king, Pekah son of Remaliah. Unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm.

Isaiah 7:4-9

The knowledge of God and the perspective of the people were markedly different. The people of Judah saw two fierce kings. God saw two burned-out embers. The people heard of a plot to overthrow them. God said it will never happen.

If the people watched the enemy, listened to the plots and shook in fear, God could not make them stand firm. Their eyes had to be on God and what he saw and what he told them. They needed to live from his perspective, relying on what they could not see, trusting God to take care of them.

Life with Jesus is a dance. My trust has to be completely in his ability to lead me, my core strength (faith in him) determines whether I stumble along or twirl magically with Him. I ask myself, is my faith firm in Him? Am I willing to let him control the dance? If not, what do I need to change?

There is so much controversy swirling around us these days. Everywhere a person turns, someone is posting or postulating on what they do or do not like about current events. I try to stay away from the arguments. For many reasons, but mostly because it steals my joy. At times, I wonder if I will be labeled a Pollyanna or an ostrich. Am I too optimistic? Am I blind to reality? Do I have my head in the sand?

In Genesis 3, there was an encounter between humans and the serpent. This is how it went:

The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” “Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied.  “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’” “You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman.  “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

Genesis 3:1-5

From the beginning, Satan tempted us to be like God knowing good and evil.

Here is the question: was that a one and done event — now we know good and evil OR is it something I need to say “no” to even today? Is there knowledge I seek that God still doesn’t need or want me to know?

Dave and I went to dinner with friends last week and, of course, we talked about all things COVID. In the midst of the conversation, my friend said this: “There is so much information available on the internet. Information I don’t think God ever intended for us to access because he never wanted us to know good and evil.

Suddenly, I am rethinking so many things. Perhaps I haven’t really stepped very far from that first encounter between Adam, Eve and Satan. Am I still try to be like God – wanting to know good and evil. What needs to change? Is it good to access everything that is available? Should I leave some things for only God to know? Am I not making judgments every day, categorizing information I access as good or evil? And with that the person or entity that provided the information?

“The Lord our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us…”

Deuteronomy 29:29

So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know.

Acts 1:6-7

How often am I trying to gather information that the Father does not intend for me to know nor am I responsible for knowing it? Can I be content in the what I know today and trust the rest to my loving Father in heaven who is always good and always full of love?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

Proverbs 3:5-7

How about you? What do these words of wisdom from scripture mean to you? Are we still trying to be like God, knowing good and evil? How can you step away from that into a place of trust?

These are unusual times. This is not the first time there have been unusual times. Remember the wise teacher’s words in Ecclesiastes,

History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.  Sometimes people say, “Here is something new!” But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new.  We don’t remember what happened in the past, and in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now.

Ecclesiastes 1:9-11

Difficult to imagine, right? But I believe it is true. Today as you choose where to focus, what you put in your mind, what you read, listen to, watch — choose those things that will give you life. Choose wisely.

When I am writing, I occasionally pull songs from YouTube. After I copy and embed the link into the post, YouTube continues to play in the open tab. The songs that come, in random order, turn my heart, mind and soul to those things that cannot be taken from me. I have my own little worship service where no one watches, except the One who is unseen. And my spirit lifts, joy fills my heart and soon I am dancing through the house.

What will you do today to turn away from doubt, fear and uncertainty TO hope, joy and peace?

Click here to join my home church, Maple City Chapel, in our Sunday worship service!

For so many years, my dreams were focused on me. Not my dreams at night, but my hopes for a future not yet realized. I wanted to be well-liked, applauded, talked about in glowing words and accolades, revered and honored. So my dream had to be big. It had to put me in the spotlight, my name had to be in lights.

I am so grateful that never happened. My dreams have changed and this song says it so well. Perhaps it will give you the freedom to be YOU in a world that doesn’t always applaud the small things.

March 23, 2016, I had two dreams. The quality of the dreams was different than any other dream I have ever experienced. I awoke confident that God sees me and understands my situation. Comforted by the dreams, I courageously walked into an unknown future.

In Judges 7, Gideon is asked to take a stand against the enemies of Israel. He hesitates, after all, he is the youngest of the family and his family is the smallest of all. In other words, I’m the runt. What could he possibly do against the formidable Midianites?

Gideon agreed to lead an army against Midian and their allies. He sounds the battle cry and thousands of warriors respond. But God said there were too many; he needed to send some home. So he did. There were still too many. He sent more home. Left with only 300 men to fight against “the armies of Midian, Amalek, and the people of the east {who} had settled in the valley like a swarm of locusts. Their camels were like grains of sand on the seashore—too many to count!” the odds were not in Gideon’s favor. Humanly speaking, that is. God advised him to sneak into the enemy camp and listen to what the people were saying. So he did. And this is what he heard:

The man said, “I had this dream, and in my dream a loaf of barley bread came tumbling down into the Midianite camp. It hit a tent, turned it over, and knocked it flat!” His companion answered, “Your dream can mean only one thing—God has given Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite, victory over Midian and all its allies!”

Judges 7:13-14

Gideon returned home, full of courage that he would succeed against the vast army before him.

Sometimes our dreams give us courage to do the next right thing. At just the right time, God sends messages while we sleep to assure us that he sees us and is with us during our awake hours.

Take courage, friends. Be strong and of great courage. He is with you. He goes before you. He has you in his mind. Your future is in HIS hands, no matter what it looks like in the daylight.