Are we headed in the right direction?

I took these photos the other day when we had to stop at a railroad crossing… I’ve always been fascinated by trains!  I jumped out of the car and started snapping pictures and here are four of them.

When you think about it, a train can be a metaphor for life as a Christian.  We must always be growing in our faith so that we can walk through our life with Jesus Christ.  He leads us toward the goal of heaven and eternal life, and just like a train, we must keep on moving toward our destination…

Sometimes people become distracted and their faith falters; sometimes we seem to be off track.

A train shows us how to keep plugging along, and so we must…  You know, when you think about it, we can keep plugging along our way through life with Christ, we can become distracted and falter… and we can even do an about-face and start travelling in the wrong direction.  If we were all honest with ourselves, we might have to admit that at various times in our lives we’ve all done the about-face  at some point.  Maybe we’ve even done an about-face when other people thought we had it all together and were moving forward…

Yes, it’s true; we can actually be going the wrong direction in our lives for a while and people will think we are going in the right direction.  Sometimes we may even be able to fool ourselves!  That’s why it is so important to keep up our prayer life, to be at our Master’s feet in prayer every single day.

Yes indeed, we can learn a lot from a train.  This train is going in the right direction, right?

Hint: I posted these photos in reverse order here… The train is moving backwards!  Fooled ya!

Oh, how important it is to spend time every day with our Lord and in His Word! It is so easy to drift off into confusion and not realize how far off track we’ve roamed when we try to navigate on our own.

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Simplicity, Naïveté and the Ways of God

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Recently a friend of mine was speaking with a small group of people; they were asking him questions about various things. One of them asked him what kind of programs and outreach activities he thought would best help a church to reach their community, and he told them that he doubted programs or activities would help them reach their community at all; they seemed surprised.

That was not the “right” answer.

Instead, he suggested they make an effort to disciple their congregation.

That wasn’t the “right” answer either.

They told him that their congregation wasn’t reaching the community because the pastor wasn’t very good at “evangelism”.

He suggested they make an effort to make disciples of their congregation: Wrong again! Nope, churches can only reach the community for Christ when the pastor is really dedicated to “personal evangelism” and gets out there and “brings the people in”.

My friend suggested that if their congregation grew into disciples, they would have a hundred people sharing their faith in deed and action as well as in word, but yes, you guessed it, that was the wrong idea.

His suggestion is too simple, too simplistic, too naïve; nobody will ever do that… Why, his suggestion as it turns out, is pretty much childish. This was a sophisticated bunch; my friend is not sophisticated, he is naïve and childish in his thought about their problem, for becoming a disciple who shows their faith by the way we live, who shares, loves and cares about other people is unrealistic in this modern age, and way too hard. Only a simplistic child would suggest that!

Maybe so…

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18:3

…or maybe we just prefer things to be way too complicated.

Kids!

The other day I had occasion to recall a conversation I had with my daughter years ago; she might not appreciate me disclosing it to the world, but then she doesn’t read my blog!

Life is good…

We were talking about practicing her instrument when she was in her high school band.  It was her considered opinion that practice was not necessary to improve one’s playing of the sax, after all the kid who was first chair and obviously the best sax player (he was really good) said that he never bothered to practice!

My thought then, and now for that matter, was that he didn’t want any competition; and that strategy worked for him in high school because as far as I could tell he never had any.  Of course my daughter, realizing that old people like me don’t actually know anything useful stuck to her guns and proved some kind of point.  In the process, she was never first chair…

I recall that in that long-ago discussion I quoted a verse from the Bible that I think we can all take a lesson from; certainly I need to read it every so often myself…

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
    but he who hates correction is stupid.

Proverbs 12:1

You just have to love Proverbs; it’s so pithy!  It’s also so practical and correct, and this one in particular is one I try to stay mindful of, especially when someone is helping me to see better ways of doing things!

Final Greetings… and Questions

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.

I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

2Thessalonians 3:16-18

As was customary, Paul wraps up the second letter to the Thessalonian church with final greetings. In this case, there is a final hope/prayer in verse 16, and authentication in verse 17, and a closing in verse 18.

First, Paul expresses his wish that God will grant to his recipients peace in the midst of their persecution. If you think about it, peace is almost the opposite of what they are going through at this time, and this wish expressed by Paul reminds us that even in the most difficult of times, we can be at peace in Christ, for we may realize that in Him we not only have all that we need, but the hope of a greater and more wonderful future that will set us at peace even now as we live through the strife and trials of this world.

The next verse is the authentication. Those who claim that the letter was written after Paul’s death would suggest that either (a) this was done to enhance the chances people would accept the fraud, and (b) that it was a grave error because Paul didn’t authenticate his letters in this way. To my mind, both of these are absurd because if Paul didn’t normally do this, it is likely to stand out and bring questions upon the letter, thus defeating the supposed purpose. Yet the fact remains that Paul did authenticate several of his letters by writing in his own hand at the end. (1 Cor. 16:21; Col. 4:18; Gal. 6:11; Phlm. 19) It would be fair to ask why he chose to do it here however, and to answer that question, I would suggest that we consider the fact that one of his reasons for writing was to correct the false teaching, outright lie actually, that Jesus had already returned but had left the Thessalonians on their own in persecution.

He made much in this letter of following his teachings and instructions, and rejecting contrary teaching from others, and thus it makes perfect sense that he would want to add his own hand to the letter to validate that this is his own teaching, much as he did in Galatians where he was contradicting the teachings of those who claimed that a Gentile must first become a Jew.

Finally, Paul concludes with a statement that the grace of our Lord is with his recipients. This is one of those sentences that we often race past, and assume it is a wish that the grace will be (one day) with us because of the word “be” instead of the word “is”. This happens sometimes when Greek is translated into English, but notice that the word “will” does not precede “be” (will be). Bearing in mind that “be” and “is” are conjugations of the same verb with “will be” being future tense and “is” being present tense, we assume therefore that this indicated the future. To be very precise, this sentence actually means that the grace of our Lord is with you, and will continue to be with you, which is a wonderful meaning for all of us.

On that wonderful note, our little adventure through Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians draws to a close. I have no idea what comes next here at The Life Project; if you have any ideas, feel free to drop me a note…

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Hope

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It has been said that the only force that is stronger than fear is hope.

People who have hope will often do amazing things, while people who are without hope will march quietly to slaughter.  One of the great tragedies of life is the fact that so many people are living without hope, just carrying on not really living, but existing.

I heard a story one time about a guy who was near the end of his financial rope. He had a great idea that he knew could save his situation, but he didn’t have the money to get started.  At the urging of friends, he spent the last of his money travelling to New York City to meet with potential investors in a desperate attempt to raise capital.  As he went from prospect to prospect, he felt more and more hopeless; why should they invest in someone who was ruined?

He essentially went through the motions for three days, there was only one day remaining before he would have to return home without a cent to his name.  A friend back home called him at his hotel to cheer him up, and in the process told the guy that an old friend of his had just promised a million dollars to help him get started.  Now, if he could only go out the next day and raise another million from investors, there would be no way that his project could fail, and he would have the means to save his financial life.

They next day, our friend was a different man when he made the rounds of his appointments, and he received firm commitments for several million more…  It was only when he returned home that his friend admitted to him that he had lied!

The thing that mattered for the desperate man was that after his friend had told him the “story” he regained his faith in the future, and that played out in the way in which he had presented himself and his idea to the potential investors; everything was different when he had hope. Of course hope based on a lie is tenuous at best; how much greater is our hope in Christ who is the way, the truth and the life!

When you see a little child, you see hope, joy and unlimited potential.  If only we could be like little children ourselves.  But in truth, we can be like that.  Whatever your circumstances might be, Jesus loves you and considers you to be important.  For those who are in relationship with Him, we always have the hope of eternity with Him as well as the peace that His presence brings to us in this life if we will turn our troubles over to Him.  This may not mean that life will be easy; sometimes it can be very hard in fact.  It does mean that we will have perspective and hope, and with these there is no set of earthly circumstances that cannot be dealt with in Jesus Christ.

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Romans 5:5

Proverbs 17:14

Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam;
so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.

If a dam is breached, can you control the flood or stop the flowing water at will? Usually not, for the water will breach and collapse the dam, and the flood will have unimagined and out of control destructive consequences. A quarrel can be the same way, for once we start, so much is immediately out of our control, no matter how smart we might think we are. Unintended consequences start breaking out; sometimes in places we wouldn’t have suspected… a minor little quarrel becomes a complete disaster. A wise person knows this and avoids starting it; an overconfident person thinks he can control events and goes ahead anyway: A fool starts a quarrel without even thinking.