Those Who Mourn

I normally don’t think of a person in mourning as all that blessed- at least not in their time of grief. Yet, if you think about it, someone who cannot grieve is really to be pitied, after all, in order to grieve, you must have loved someone or something. If you’ve never mourned the loss of someone, then, unless you are very young, wouldn’t that mean that you’ve probably never cared enough for anyone to mourn them?

Those who mourn are blessed because they are also those who have loved, who have a capacity to care, who bother to be involved, and now that I think about it, I would say that they are very blessed indeed, whole the one who does not mourn has missed out on something wonderful.

Those who mourn will find comfort if they seek it. They will find it in those who care about them, for after all, they have relationships. They will find great comfort from their relationship with God as well, for He is the God of all comfort.

Yes, they are very much blessed.

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Photo of the Week: May 6, 2021

Monticello, VA
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Finding God’s Presence

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

What is God’s will for us? Where can we find joy? Is it God’s will that we find joy? What should we pray about?

All these questions are answered in the three short verses above: God’s will for us is that we be joyful, that we pray continually, and that we give thanks in all circumstances.

I don’t know about you, but this seems rather simple to me. Why do so many people say that it is so hard?

When we pray, whose presence are we in?  God’s, of course.

How easy is it to slip back into the old ways when we are in His presence?  Not very, for we are centering on our relationship with Him.  We fall backwards when we are looking away from Him, isn’t that right? So, maybe the key is to do what Paul said, and pray continually.

But how− we have families, chores, jobs, school… The answer is so easy and so obvious that most of us miss it; just talk to Him.

Yes, that’s right, just talk to Him!!!

Talk to the Lord all the time.  Start when you wake up, “Good morning, Lord, thanks for a new day.”  Was that difficult?  Then, as you get ready, keep talking to Him about your day, about the things on your mind, about how much you love Him, and how thankful you are for all that He has done in your life, and the lives of those around you.  Talk to Him about how much you want to serve Him today, and that you want to serve Him today because you love Him.  Talk to Him on your way out the door, on the bus, in traffic, at your work station.  Talk to Him about your work and how you want to do the very best you can so that that He can be glorified… because of how much you love Him.  Talk to Him at lunch, on your way home, in the kitchen, at the dinner table…

Develop the habit of talking to God!  Approach this not in fear and trembling, but as though you are with your very best friend in all the world… because you are.  He is the friend that you can say everything to, your fears, your sins, your mistakes… He knows about them anyway, so why not get these things off your chest? You see, we don’t need any formal written prayers, that are of dubious value anyway, for this isn’t a corporate or ceremonial thing.  It’s just you and the Lord.  Nobody needs to know, except for the Lord… but soon, everybody will see the difference it makes in who you are and how you behave.  They will see your joy, your inner peace and your new inner strength.  Your whole outlook on life will change as you make this practice a part of who you are in Christ, for this is where spiritual growth will take place.

None of this means that you should not have a more formal time set aside for prayer and reflection− this will enhance it.  This does not mean that you don’t study the Word− it will enhance your study. This does not mean that you skip church− it will enhance your church experience.

Some of you will note that I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said before by others, and that is true.  This practice of continual prayer is as old as the Scriptures, and over the centuries many have written about it, including Brother Lawrence in the classic “The Practice of the Presence of God.”  You need not take my word for it; you can get that on the internet for free.

Or, you can just start talking to God right now.  Tell Him how much you love Him in your own simple words, in your own heartfelt way, and be ready to be amazed at where He will lead you.

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Psalm 125:4

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Weekly Bible Study Notes: May 5, 2021

John 11:1-44

This is a famous story about the miracle that Jesus performs in raising Lazarus from the tomb, but it is much more than that.  Jesus will reveal much about His own death and the hope that we will have as a result.  It probably begins in Perea where Jesus went after the last attempt to stone him, and opens with the news that His dear friend Lazarus was near death.  Jesus’ reaction seems surprising, since one might expect Him to rush off to help, but He delays instead…

Jesus announces to His disciples that it’s time to get on to Judea.  Assuming that He means to return to the temple to resume His teaching, the disciples voice the concern that His safety would be in question.  Jesus uses the metaphor of day and night to tell them that it is still safe for Him to go, but the implication is that the time is short.  Then He tells them that they will be going to see about their friend Lazarus and corrects the misunderstanding about him being “asleep” for Lazarus is dead.  Good old Thomas is optimistic as always…

Verses 17-22 set the stage for the miracle:  Lazarus has been in the tomb four days, Martha comes out to meet Jesus on His way, and there were many people in town who had come because of the death and funeral who would be witnesses for what would happen.  Martha, upon meeting Jesus both scolds and demonstrates great faith.  Whether or not her faith extended to raising her brother from the grave is a matter of interpretation, but she was certainly disappointed that He hadn’t intervened in the illness, which is a thought many of us have had at one time or another…

Clearly Martha’s understanding of Jesus’ assurance in v. 23 was along the lines of “funeral words” that are often spoken to give comfort to the grieving, but Jesus was talking about something else.  He delivers a stunner, an “I Am” statement, double-barreled at that: “I am the resurrection and the life” (v. 25) meaning that Jesus is a living resurrection.  Martha’s reaction is just what Jesus was looking for; she shows that she has believed His promise of eternal life; little does she know that she was about to see it demonstrated with power.

Martha runs back to town to get Mary, who had departed so suddenly that the visitors follow to see what’s up.  When she reaches Jesus, her greeting is the same that Martha’s had been.  This time Jesus simply asks her where Lazarus was buried, and then He wept.  The reaction of the onlookers is interesting, with some noting how much He loved Lazarus and others grumbling as usual.

Arriving at the tomb, Jesus orders the stone removed.  There is an objection: Lazarus has been in the tomb four days and will stink; Jesus reminds all of them that He had made promises about eternal life.  The stone is removed and Jesus thanks the Father in a way that demonstrates where the glory for the miracle belongs and also shows why this was all being done: So that they might believe. Lazarus is summoned, comes out and Jesus directs the burial wrappings be removed so the man can go free; free from the grave just as all who believe will be set free from the grave.

The fact that Lazarus had been dead four days is a demonstration of God’s power and a way of authenticating the miracle.  He was not sleeping, nor was he in a coma; he was dead.  There is no earthly way to rejuvenate someone who has been dead four days; not then, not now: Lazarus was a dead man and Jesus called him forth from his grave… and he came forth… and so shall we!

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Prayer and Grace

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Colossians 4:2-6

This is a really neat little passage; there’s so much to see.  As Paul closes out his letter, he reminds the people to be devoted to prayer, and while this may seem routine, after all, Apostles talk about prayer a lot, Paul here seems to bring it to life.  I’m always struck by the idea of prayer being “watchful and thankful.”  Maybe thankful, as in giving thanks isn’t so surprising, but watchful?  How often do you hear someone say that we should be watchful in our prayers?

Watchful for what?  Things you want God to give you, like little favors?  “Oh yes, and Father please send me that new Lexus…” something like that?  Somehow I doubt it. Maybe watchful for someone who needs intercession, maybe an opening for the Gospel, maybe something that is within God’s priority system− yes that seems more like the kind of “watchful” that Paul has in mind.  He continues by asking for the people to pray for him, but again, not in the way we might expect.  Notice, that even though he is in prison, he didn’t ask them to pray for his release, he asked them to pray that he might preach the Gospel effectively.

I don’t know about you, but that gets my attention every time!  When Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6:5 ff. He taught us to pray for God’s priorities. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”  Do we remember to do that? Are we watchful for specifics that fit into this category?  Well, I can only speak for myself, but truth be told, I forget or overlook this more often than I’d care to admit. Paul seems to continue in this line of thinking when he advises us to be wise when speaking to “outsiders,” non-Christians.  We are to be ready to make the most of every opportunity, to show them the love of Jesus Christ: Maybe we should pray for those opportunities.  We are to speak to them “with grace, seasoned with salt…” Grace is often defined as “unmerited favor” meaning that we are to deal with them in love; more love than they might deserve.

I have a little secret for you to consider:  Speaking to someone with grace is not telling them that they are wrong, even if they are.  It doesn’t mean calling them names, or being critical of the way they live.  Yes, there is a fair chance that they live as unbelievers, but guess what? They are unbelievers, and that may be just how they are supposed to live.  Our job isn’t to correct the world, it is to save the world for Christ.  This requires grace, not criticism.  Salt is an interesting metaphor; I’ve heard many different explanations for this, so I’ll throw out my thoughts.  When we season food with salt, we add it to bring out the full flavor of the ingredients, and when we speak with grace, seasoned with salt, we are sharing the full love of God who so loved the world that He sent His Son to die to save it.  We need our speech to be so full of His grace, that nobody hears the slightest little bit of condemnation come from our lips.

So, when you put this all together, maybe I should remember to pray that God will bring me opportunities, and give me the words to share, so that some may be saved.  What do you think; do you need to join me in praying this way? If not, I’d love to hear why that is.

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Christian Relationships

Colossians 3:18-4:1

In this section, Paul gives insight to how Christians should behave in the major personal relationships of daily life.  In 3:18-19, he speaks of husbands and wives, in 3:20-21 he speaks of parents and children, and from 3:22-4:1, masters and slaves, or today we would say employers and employees.  If you think about it, we spend most of our waking lives in one of these relationships, at least most of us do.

We can easily sum up all of these relationships by saying that in each, we are to put others ahead of ourselves. This is certainly true in Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives, even though he uses language in verse 18 that isn’t modern.  That wives should put their husbands first may not sound contemporary, but husbands are also to put their wives first.  This might be a little clearer in the parallel passage in Ephesians 5:22-33.

The same thing is true of the relationship between parents and children.  Both are to put the other first, giving honor where honor is due and giving love and nurture where they are due.  In the case of master and slave, or employer and employees, we have again the idea that both are to consider the other, with workers doing their very best always “as working for the Lord” and the boss is told to always do what is fair and right “because you know that you have a Master in heaven.”

I think that what is really important in this passage is the principle of putting others first.  This principle is at the very heart of “love your neighbor as yourself.”  All too often, people approach the concept of love looking at what they will get out of it, but this is surely not what Jesus had in mind when He taught us that the first will be last and the last will be first.  We love and serve others because we love Jesus Christ, not because we want something. In short, we serve others because we have been called to serve, and in doing so we are serving our God, because we love Him.

Yes, there are always some who will want to take advantage, but we know that we are serving the Lord, and that “Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism” (v. 25).

One final thought, for some this is a hard concept to embrace, but it lies at the heart of Christian discipleship.  It is all so normal to expect that we receive something from our efforts, be it money or appreciation or loyalty, and people often disappoint us.  The key is that we are not merely serving the other person, we are serving our Lord, and He never disappoints.  Seek His presence, seek His love, focus your thought process on your relationship with Him… and follow where He leads.  He will lead you to serve where you should serve, and to avoid what should be avoided.

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Living Christ

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:15-17

God has called us to peace, in community as the community of believers, and in that community is where peace and love and healing should be found in Christ. So, as we enter His presence today, let His peace rule in your heart… and give thanks.  Next, let’s let His word dwell within us, as we teach, admonish and sing spiritual songs to our Lord.  Note the teaching and admonishing are for us to do with one another… as His Body so that all will benefit by it. This isn’t really for the lost; they need the Gospel of the love of God through Jesus Christ.

Finally, whatever we do this day, let’s do it in the name of Jesus our Lord, filled to the brim with thanksgiving and gratitude to God for all that He has done for us, and in our lives.  What a great recipe for living, what wisdom and simplicity for a life that is not only godly, but that is a testimony to the world of what it is to dwell in his love.

You know what?  Whatever this day may bring, I think it’s going to be a good one!

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Unity in Christ

Colossians 3: 5-14

In the last section, we saw Paul tell us how to live our new lives, by setting our hearts and minds on the things that are above, and not on the things of this world.  In this section, he expands on this theme by listing items which are of the old life, and certain items that are of the new life in Christ.  In verses 5-10a we get a pretty good idea of the kinds of things we are to “put to death” in our lives; these are all from our “old selves” and they include… sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed which is idolatry. He says we must rid ourselves of things like anger, rage, malice, slander, lies and filthy language. I’m quite sure that there is no need for me to elaborate on these things, other than to say that when our attention is drawn to any of them, it’s time to set our minds on higher things.

Verses 10 and 11 move in transition to the next part by pointing out that we are to move away from those old practices into a new way of living where there is no Jew, no Greek, nor circumcised or uncircumcised… and no other social or ethnic distinctions: only Christ. Verse 12 provides a summing up and conclusion in an interesting way:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

I hope that you will take notice of two things.  First, who are “God’s chosen people” in the New Covenant?  They are not old Israel; they are the redeemed in Christ.  Recall that in verse 11 there is no longer Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, and in verse 12 “God’s chosen people”.  Next, note the listing of things that are attributes of our new selves.  These are coupled with his admonition in verse 13 to forgive one another as Christ has forgiven us, and then in verse 14 to put love over all of this.

Again, I doubt that I should need to expand this picture any further, other than to point out that love is over all things in the Christian life.  How we interact with others, is all about love.  How we relate to God, is all about love… and the old way of living is loveless, for it is all about self.

Overriding love amongst Christians is where unity can be found.  We often wonder why it seems that the Church is divided; can you see why after reading this section?  It’s because we are more interested in disputes about doctrine, tradition and being first, than we are on loving our brothers.  May we all come to the day when we can live our lives as new creations, when we finally get that “old self” put into the grave for good.

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Raising our Sights

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:1-4

In the previous several verses, Paul has been writing about things such as the fact that we are dead to sin and alive in Christ, that our old life was buried with Christ and we are a new creation.  Then he went on to challenge us to leave the old things behind and live new lives, free from the old silly rules and traditions.  In these verses, Paul moves from the what to the how.

As these things usually are, the answer is simple: Set your hearts and minds on things that are above, not on earthly things. I’ve been told that this is very difficult, and that only a small number of people can really accomplish this ‘looking above’ kind of life… but I totally, completely and utterly reject that notion.

Does that surprise you?  Does it irritate you?

Have you ever noticed that you usually find what you’re looking for?  Well, OK, yes, sometimes you might look for your keys and not find them, but that isn’t really what I mean.  Have you ever gone somewhere looking for trouble?  How about a fight?  Have you ever gone in search for a bad relationship, bad company… or a good relationship or good company?  OK, if that didn’t grab you, let’s try this one:  Have you ever bought a new car, and then noticed that it seems like everyone has the same kind of car?

See?  You really do find what you’re looking for!

To set your heart and mind on the things that are above, you need to start looking for such things.  Now Paul, in the next sections will get into which things are which, so we’ll be talking more about that as we go, but the quick version is that we can seek His presence by just entering it.  We can focus on the things that are above, by thinking about them and looking for them… as opposed to things of the earth.  Look, if all we think about are our bills, then bills and finances will become our lives.  If we think about the things of God, then what will our lives be about?

This passage ends with the reminder that we died with Christ, rose with Christ, and now our lives are hidden with Christ. Now that we have died with Him, to our old way of living, and arisen with Him as new creations, the focus of our lives, and the very reality of our new lives, are “hidden” with Christ in God. Our new creation status is an entirely new kind of life that isn’t simply physical and biological; it isn’t discerned simply by the physical senses.  It is Spirit and Truth. It is eternal.  It is about much more than bodies, senses and things, it is the life God created humanity to live. As long as we are focused merely on the things of the earth, the world around us and problems and hassles of this world, we are missing out on that which is wonderful in Christ, and… our lives on this earth will be much more difficult as we are pulled in multiple directions at the same time.

For more information about finding God’s presence in your daily life, see the extra section at the end of this document.

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