Coincidences or divine intervention

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Philemon

This is a letter Paul wrote to his friend, Philemon. He was asking for a favor. Philemon had a slave whose name was Onesimus. It seems that Onesimus had run away and done his master wrong and somehow ended up in Rome, met Paul and became a Christian. This was not a coincidence since it just so happened that Paul knew Philemon as a close friend. Paul writes this letter to encourage Philemon to forgive his slave and receive him back as a brother. How did this happen that a slave runs away and goes to another country and just so happens to run into a friend of his master? This is no coincidence. This was divine intervention. There are no coincidences in life. God is active in each of our lives, whether we recognize it or not. He is always working on our behalf trying to help us and bring us into a place of recognizing His love for us.

The Bible is full of stories that seem like coincidences but are really the guiding hand of God. When the Pharaoh’s daughter just happened to find baby Moses in the river. When Ruth just happened to go into Boaz field to glean the crops and Boaz just happened to see her that day. When Philip ran to meet the caravan and just as he got there the Ethiopian eunuch just happened to be reading the Scriptures about the Messiah. My life is full of instances that were way more than coincidences! As I look back on these events my faith in God is always strengthened. Someone recently gave me a book, “When God winks at you.” It is a great read, all about how God can speak to us through the power of coincidences. These extraordinary events happen to us for a reason. They can change the course of our life or just reinforce the reality that God is working in our lives. They can strengthen our faith, be an opportunity to bless someone else, reassure us of His love and even be the answer to something we have been praying about. May God open our eyes to these ever frequent experiences when God is reaching out to us. They are not coincidences, they are divine intervention.

Good works, good works, good works.

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Titus Chapters 1 through 3

I became a born again Christian August 5, 1973. I joined a Jesus people commune. I went out witnessing the very next day, telling people that God had saved me! We lived together, worked together and studied the Bible together every night. By September I was told that I was ready to give my first Bible study. That’s how we did it back then! I chose Titus Chapter 3. It was a personal revelation that I had received about the importance of doing good works. There seems to be a lot of confusion about good works among Christians. This is not new. It has been around since the writing of the New Testament. There are some who think they will be saved by their good works. There are others who know they are not saved by their good works, yet they do nothing to help others. There are those who think that their good works make God love them more. Paul in this letter to Titus, chapter 3, mentions good works three times. In verse 1 he says, “Be ready for every good work.” Christians should be living a life that keeps them available to help others when there is a need. We should not be living a life that is so busy that there is no room to give our time or money to help others in need. Then in verse 5, Paul says, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.” Here Paul is making it clear that even though good works are important, no matter how many good deeds we do, we can never save ourselves by our good works. Anyone who thinks that when they get to heaven God is going to let them in because they have done a lot of good deeds is in for a big surprise! No one is good enough to undo the death sentence that is in each of us because of our sins. It is only, “By the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit,” (vs 5) that anyone will ever be saved. Then in verse 14, Paul mentions good works again, “Learn to maintain good works to meet urgent needs that they may not be unfruitful.” Here Paul is making sure that we understand even though we are not saved by our good works we should be doing good works. Paul is teaching that good works should be a regular part of every Christian not because we are trying to earn our salvation but as a fruit, as a by-product, as evidence of having God’s Holy Spirit living inside us. May good works, especially those that meet urgent needs, be the testimony of each of our lives.

All Scripture is inspired!

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II Timothy Chapters 1 through 3

This week’s reading is found in 2 Timothy 3:16. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” This is an all-inclusive statement. It means there is no exception. When Paul said “all” he meant all of the Bible. Every passage, every chapter, every book is inspired by God. There are no mistakes, there are no exaggerations. From Genesis chapter 1 verse 1 to the very end of the Book of Revelations we can trust the Bible to be God’s Word. It is inspired or God breathed. Reading it, becoming familiar with it, trusting it to guide us is the best way that I know to be complete and equipped for every good work. Too many Christians today are Bible illiterate. They don’t know what God’s Word has to say about the issues of the day and as a result, we have much confusion and ill-equipped churches. To deny any portion of God’s Word opens the door to a total breakdown of your faith. If you can’t believe one section of the Bible, or if one section is ‘outdated’ today, what is to stop you from declaring that about other sections of the Bible? This is what is at the root of much of the debate in churches today when it comes to the teaching of evolution, the leadership roles of women, spanking children, homosexuality, divorce, poverty, criminal justice, transgenders, and many other politically hot issues. Even though God’s Word speaks directly to these situations, many people feel that God’s Word is outdated, not culturally relevant anymore, full of mistakes, and as a result, Christians begin to make up their own rules. Maybe we should revise this passage to read, “Most of Scripture is inspired and some of it is profitable for teaching, except where it might be considered offensive. It really should never be used to rebuke someone, or correcting anyone, since everyone has a right to their own opinion. Some of it could be used for training in righteousness unless it concerns ethics which are now considered culturally prejudiced so that the man of God might be equipped to be a nice person who gets along with everyone.” Bible inerrancy is not an option if you intend to live a full and abundant Christian life. But you must be prepared to be mocked, looked at as uneducated, ignorant, and just foolish. But if that is all the persecution I have to endure for following Christ, bring it on!

Challenging the truth of God’s word is not a new thing. It started back in the garden with Eve and the serpent. Wrestling in doubt over what the Bible teaches is an unnecessary anguish and, in all likelihood, the voice of the enemy of God who inspired the first doubt in God’s Word with, “Did God really say…?” in Genesis 3:1. Make it a high priority to read the Bible regularly. Read it from cover to cover, then read it again. Meditate on it, memorize passages, and pray over what you read. If you want to hear God’s voice, reading His Word is the best way to recognize it. The Bible is still God’s voice to us today.

Did you say grace?

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II Timothy Chapters 1 through 3

Today’s reading in 2 Timothy 2:1 says, “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” I was challenged, “How can I ‘be strong’ in grace?” I think the reality for most Christians is that we don’t even know what grace actually is. Often we get it confused with mercy. Here is a simple way to remember the difference between justice, mercy and grace. If I do something wrong, God will send me to my room. That is justice. He may come to my room and say, “Well I am going to let you off the hook this time. You don’t have to stay in your room.” That is mercy. Or, He may come to my room and say, “Hey, let’s go get some ice cream and talk about what you did wrong.” Now that is grace! If I am going to be ‘strong in grace’ that is going to require at least knowing what it is and then when God shows me grace, to accept it and rejoice in it. For some that may be difficult, because they may feel like they don’t deserve it. We don’t, that is the point! Here is another way to distinguish between mercy and grace. Mercy is not getting what I deserve and grace is getting what I don’t deserve. Grace, grace, grace, oh thank you for grace. It makes life so rich and exciting!

I am looking for a fight!

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I Timothy Chapters 4 through 6

This week’s reading is found in 1 Timothy 6:12 “Fight the good fight of faith.” For some reason this stirs me up! Paul is telling Timothy to get ready to fight for his faith. It seems today that too many people who call themselves Christians are doing everything they can to avoid this fight. Rather than uphold what is true we are being encouraged to make peace with all the other false religions, like Islam or Hinduism or Judaism. Tolerance, compromise, acceptance is the call from too many pulpits. But Paul told Timothy to FIGHT the good fight of faith. There is only one true faith and that is belief in Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of all mankind. There is no other way to eternal life. I ready to fight for this, are you?

Contentment

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I Timothy Chapters 4 through 6

This week’s reading is found in I Timothy 6:6, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” It happens every year around November. I find myself asking my children and my wife and even myself, ‘What do you want for Christmas?’ Now, while I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with wanting to buy things for people you love, sometimes that question seems to awaken an incredible desire for ‘things.’ I want some new clothes, I want a new BBQ smoker grill, I want a new large screen TV, or I want a cooler faster more powerful computer and so on. I do know that God is a father and He likes to give His children things and He is happy when we are enjoying the things He provides for us. My challenge, though, is how to keep that balance between being happy with everything that God has given to me and yet still wanting to get some new things. I believe this verse holds the key. Contentment means to be emotionally satisfied with the things we have. Yet the word comes from the Latin word ‘continere’ which means restrained. A content person still has desires but those desires are kept in restraint. They don’t consume our thoughts, nor can those desires steal our current state of being emotionally satisfied. Being truly content, I believe, can only happen when a person has experienced the powerful presence of God’s Holy Spirit in their lives. Until that happens, a person will be driven to find that something that is missing in their lives and will never know contentment. But once a person has opened their hearts to God, we need to learn how to keep our desires in check. May God give us the strength, wisdom, and ability to be content with what we have and to be able to keep our desires for new things in check.

God does not always get His way

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I Timothy Chapters 1 through 3 

This week’s reading is from 1 Timothy 2:4 “God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” God’s will is that every man is saved and spend eternity in heaven, but because God has given man a free will He has forfeited His own right to always have His way! Now that is a bit shocking but that is the truth. Not every man is going to be saved. Some are going to resist His Holy Spirit and spend their entire lives in rebellion against Him and His ways. As a result, many will NOT be saved and will end up in Hell.

As a parent, we can kind of understand this truth. We want our children to be blessed and to prosper. We do everything we can to instruct them and encourage them to make good choices but at some point, we have to let them go and make their own choices for which they will be accountable. As parents, we don’t always get our way either! So what about this whole idea of free will? Would we be better off not having any free will? Would our children be better off if we always made all their decisions for them? Would God be happier if we did not have any choice and we were forced to do His will? I don’t think so. I think the beauty of free will is that it truly allows a person to experience real love. We get to choose. I am thankful to God for giving me the ability to choose and I choose to love and serve Him. How about you, is God going to have His way with your life?

God Had Bad Breath!

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II Thessalonians Chapters 1-3

This week’s reading is from II Thessalonians 2:8 “Whom the Lord will consume the breath of his mouth…” Now I don’t know about you but I have smelled some bad breath in my lifetime but this would be some really, really bad breath! Chapter 1 and 2 are a strong warning about the coming judgment of God when Jesus returns to this earth. For some reason, the church has strayed away from this in much of today’s preaching. I admit I don’t like telling people that “God will repay with tribulation those who trouble His people.” (1:6) Or that “Jesus will return with flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God.” (1:8) Or that people “Will be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord…” (1:9)

Whether I like it or not the teaching about eternal punishment, outer darkness, gnashing of teeth, where the worm does not die, wailing, and everlasting fire was a constant topic of Jesus preaching, sixteen times in the gospel of Matthew. We often think of Jesus as being so kind and gentle and merciful. He was, but He nevertheless spoke often about the terrible place called Hell. It almost seems like He was always talking about it. If He were here today, I think we would take Him aside and tell Him it probably isn’t such a good idea to talk so much about Hell, and that it would probably scare people away! He obviously felt it was very important to teach about the horrors of Hell. Several times in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said it would be better to have your hand cut off or your eye plucked out rather than be sent to Hell. He believed that whatever it took to avoid Hell, it was worth it! Every time Jesus spoke about Hell, He did it as a warning to us, that we would fear God and seek to avoid this dreadful place. To reject the gospel is to place yourself in a precarious position. Paul continues this teaching here in II Thessalonians.

Hell is a real place and people will be sent there for eternity. There are no second chances after death. In Hebrews 9:27 we are told that it is appointed unto men once to die and then comes the judgment. But no one has to go to Hell. In Revelations 20:15 we are told that only those whose names are not found written in the Book of Life will be cast into the lake of fire. Jesus came to deliver mankind from this eternal separation. His death on the cross paid the penalty for our sins. If we repent of our sins and ask God to forgive us, our names will be written in the Book of Life. We won’t ever have to smell that bad breath of God’s divine judgment!

How to be a voice in someone’s head

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I Thessalonians Chapters 1 through 5

This week’s reading is found in 1:1-10. A while back I had the opportunity to talk with several people that I had not seen in many years. It was great seeing them and talking. One of them said something to me that just kept ringing over and over in my head. They said, “Pastor Dave, even though we have not been at the church for many years, I still hear your voice in my head!” What an incredible thing. Whether we realize it or not we are the voice in some people’s head. Thessalonica was a church that was a voice in the head of many churches. Since we are going to be the voice in someone’s head, here a few things that can help that voice be one that encourages people in their faith.

The people in Thessalonica had what is called the ‘holy trinity” of the Christian walk. They had the “work of faith, labor of love and patience of hope” active in their lives. This means that their faith was alive and active. This is talking about doing something with their faith, like what James says in his letter, “Faith without any outward works is dead.” These people understood that their service to God included more than just going to church and believing in Jesus. Their faith produced action in serving people. This is the “work of faith.” They did it because they loved the people they were serving. This is the “Labor of love.” Love needs to be at the core of serving if we want our voice to be heard in someone else’s head. They were patient with people, especially in difficult times. This is the “patience of hope.” When our Christian faith includes this “holy trinity” not only will we be a voice in someone’s head but that voice will be one that encourages them in their faith in God. What voice are people hearing in their head when they think about you?

Are you doing what you are supposed to be doing?

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Colossians Chapters 1 through 4

Every Christian wants to know that they are doing what they should be doing. Every Christian wants to know that they are “walking worthy of the Lord.” In this week’s reading, 1:10-12 Paul prays for the Christians in Colossae that they would be doing what they are supposed to be doing and walking worthy of the Lord. He then mentions a few things that can be looked at as indicators that we are on the right track.

First, he prays that they would “be fruitful in every good work.” One sign that we are doing what we are supposed to be doing is the fruit that it is bearing. This could be referring to fruit in our own lives, like love, joy, peace, longsuffering and so on. Or it could be referring to fruit in other people’s lives. When we are doing what we are supposed to be doing there should always be some good fruit.

Next, Paul prays that they would be “increasing in their knowledge of God.” When we are doing what we are supposed to be doing our relationship with God should be growing. Our understanding and knowledge of God and His character should be always be growing. I believe that is going to be an eternal quest. Forever getting to know God better and in a deeper way. But if we are finding our spiritual life waning, then it might be a good idea to take a look at what we are doing and see what needs to change.

Next, Paul prays that they would be “strengthened with all might … for patience and longsuffering.” Now, this is a great indicator to see if we are doing what we are supposed to be doing. How are we handling opposition and difficulties? How are we dealing with situations that are not working out the way they should? If we are getting all upset, yelling at people or stressing out, something is not right. It is possible that we are not doing what we are supposed to be doing and therefore we are not being strengthened with God’s strength or else we just need to repent!

Lastly, Paul prays that they would be “giving thanks to the Father…” One of the best ways to determine if we are doing what we are supposed to be doing is to check our attitudes. Are we thankful and grateful to God for our jobs? Are we giving thanks to the Father for what He is doing in our lives?

God wants us to live lives that are blessed. The best way to live a blessed life is to make sure we are doing what we are supposed to be doing. Every now and then it is good to stop and make an assessment and see if these four things are present in our lives. They can help keep us on track and “walking worthy of the Lord.”