May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ. 2 Thessalonians 3:5 (NLT)
I like postcards. For Christmas this year I received a total of 230 postcards as gifts. There’s the set of 100 classic covers from Vanity Fair. Then the set of 100 covers from Star Wars comic books. Finally, I received the set of 30 postcards featuring travel related photographs. I love it. I’m a postcard guy.
Sending a personal card is always and will forever be more personal, intimate and meaningful than electronic communication.
A postcard is the snail-mail version of Twitter. It forces you to refine what you have to say to a zen like essence, but without being so black and white about it. With a postcard, you can write really small and fit more in when you need to do so.
It’s a simple gift. Everyone loves getting something personal in the mail.
Perhaps that’s part of the value for me in postcards. The further I get in the journey the more I appreciate the power of being able to package enormous truths in small packages. I like people who can powerfully get their message across in a well crafted, postcard-like, summary. I find myself having less and less patience for those who talk or write incessantly without really saying anything.
Which, is why the verse above jumped off the page at me this morning. It is such a great example of packing a lot of life lesson in postcard-like fashion: Love and endurance. Say what you will, this journey boils down to love and endurance.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a postcard to write.
Don’t be so easily shaken or alarmed by those who say that the day of the Lord has already begun. Don’t believe them, even if they claim to have had a spiritual vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us. 2 Thessalonians 2:2 (NLT)
Throughout the journey I’ve had some very interesting experiences in which I know God has impressed something upon me. There are times when God has clearly spoken to my spirit regarding something I should know or do. When I was younger I admit that I was quick to hear my own will and slap a “God told me” sticker on it. Over time I learned to be much more careful with what I say. When I believe God has spoken something clearly to me I treat it like a priceless treasure. I keep it, I test it, I guard it, and I share it with relatively few people whom I trust with something so valuable.
Along the way I’ve met several people who play fast and loose with the phrase “God told me….” I generally don’t have a problem when a person says that God told them this or that if it only affects the person speaking. Fine. Who am I to judge? If what they say is true and I see the eventual evidence of it then I think that’s pretty cool. I always wonder about times when people tell me that God told them that this or that was His will for them, and then it clearly does not come to pass. I can remember only one occasion in my entire life in which someone told me, “I thought for sure God was telling me that, but man was I ever wrong. I was completely mistaken!” More often than not, when someone was clearly wrong they will not say a word. I’m generally left wondering if the person thinks God changed His mind or if they realize how foolish they look to have so boldly spoken something that was false.
For me, the larger problem occurs when people claim that God has given them a special word, a vision, or a discernment concerning me. It’s not that I don’t believe it can happen, but once again – what happens if they are wrong? When we journeyed through the books of the Old Testament law I remember the law prescribing death by stoning for those who claimed to have received a word of prophecy that proved false. I’m not advocating the resurrection of such a draconian rule. Nevertheless, I observe no real accountability for those who regularly use “God told me” or “I have a word of discernment from the Lord” to justify their own will and/or get what they want from others.
Of course, the more things change the more they stay the same. It is clear from today’s chapter that Paul was dealing with similar frustrations in the early church. People were playing fast and loose, telling those in the church that Jesus had already come back and they’d missed it. Some were even telling outright lies, writing letters about it and claiming it was from Paul.
I have learned along the way to heed the advice of the verse above. I don’t allow myself to be easily shaken when someone tells me “God told me…” or “God gave me a vision.” I quietly pray for God to reveal Truth in my heart and in the matter at hand. I wait. I watch. I let time and events test the truth of what they say. I press on, trying to obediently live out what I know God’s will to be. There’s not a lot of sense in getting bent out of shape about it. If that person is right, then what they say will come to pass. If they are wrong, then it will simple pass away.
I confess that I’d still like to stone a few people, though.
For most people, the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays represent a flurry of activity and celebration that taxes energy levels, bank accounts, and both the relational and emotional reserves. For Wendy and me, Thanksgiving and Christmas are just the beginning. Along with Christmas we also get to celebrate Wendy’s birthday and our wedding anniversary in a ten day celebratory gauntlet.
Wendy’s birthday was celebrated with a date day in Des Moines. We went to the mall, did a little shopping, stopped into J. Crew to see Taylor, and went to see Sherlock Holmes in the theater. We then enjoyed a leisurely meal at The Club Car with our friends Kevin and Becky. I took my life into my own hands this year by buying Wendy clothes for her birthday. With the help of Taylor, who has become quite adept at helping people pick out clothes, we picked out a nice sweater and a dress for Wendy. I must admit that I didn’t do too bad with either one. One huge sigh of relief.
After our Christmas in Denver, the rest of the Christmas holiday seemed fairly low key. Christmas Eve day was spent at home. Wendy’s folks and her sister came to town for lunch. I played bass in worship for all three afternoon/evening services at church. Wendy and the family came to the 6:00 p.m. service. Wendy and I then went back to church at 11:00 p.m. to meet Taylor for the candlelight service.
Christmas Day dawned and the morning was quiet. Madison stayed in Colorado Springs to work over the holiday break. Taylor and Clayton were celebrating with Clayton’s family. So, Wendy and I enjoyed a quiet morning to ourselves. At noon the kids came over and jumped in our car and we headed to Des Moines to have lunch with Grandpa & Grandma Vander Well, Jody’s entire crew, and my brother Tim and his girlfriend Kumi. Grandma’s roast had inadvertently been left out of the oven, so it wasn’t done in time for lunch, but there was plenty of her homemade chicken and noodles over biscuits (and her homemade cinnamon rolls!) so no one complained. We opened gifts in the afternoon and Skyped Madison in to say hello to everyone.
We headed back to Pella late in the afternoon and opened gifts with the kids in the early evening. We had delivered gifts to Madison in Denver, but she waited to open them and we Skyped her into the festivities so we could all open gifts together.
The last Christmas celebration came on the 26th. The Halls came back to Pella for potluck at Grandma Vander Harts.
Wendy and I still have our sixth wedding anniversary to celebrate this weekend, but that’s another post 🙂
Dear brothers and sisters,we can’t help but thank God for you, because your faith is flourishing and your love for one another is growing. 2 Thessalonians 1:3 (NLT)
“How am I doing?”
As a child growing up, I wanted to know the answer to that question. School gave me regular feedback in the form of grades to help gauge where I was doing well and where I needed to put in extra work. When I entered the work force I soon learned that employers often built in regular feedback loops to help employees know how they were doing in their jobs. Much of the work I do today is part of my clients process of giving employees regular feedback regarding the quality of the service they are delivering to customers.
When it comes to our spiritual lives, there are precious few feedback loops. If I want feedback on how I’m doing in my spiritual journey I need to actively seek it out. It is usually going to come out of some kind of friendship that grows deep enough to bear the fruit of loving transparency, honesty, and accountability.
I thought about that as I read the verse above from today’s chapter. Paul’s gratitude for the Jesus followers in Thessalonica was spurred by two visible traits. First, their faith was flourishing. Second, their love for one another was growing. What a good litmus test for spiritual growth.
Is my faith flourishing? How so? In what ways? What’s the evidence?
Is my love for others growing? How so? In what ways? What’s the evidence?
Today, I’m asking God to help me determine where I’m at, how I’m doing, and where I need to grow.
Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 1Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NLT)
There is something about things that come in threes. When something bad happens, you’ll often hear people say that “they come in threes.” If you notice, gags in movies and sitcoms will almost always happen three times. In writing it’s called the “Rule of Three” which states that things that come in three are funnier, more satisfying or more effective.
But it’s not just writing. The Rule of Three may refer to:
There is something about things that come in threes. Even Schoolhouse Rock recognized it as a “magic number.” I like to think that our triune God liked to express His triune nature in all that He created. Artists are like that.
And so, we come upon a simple rule of three in today’s chapter. A simple rule of three commands which encompass God’s will. I hear people constantly wondering about God’s will for them. I even find myself asking “God, what do you want from me?”
We should remember, whenever we catch that question rumbling in our soul or escaping from our lips that God gave us a rule of three in answer:
Always be joyful.
Never stop praying.
Be thankful in all circumstances…
…for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (NLT)
When I was young and a new believer, a string of events led me to an after school job working for a gentleman named Chuck. It was not long before Chuck realized that I was a new follower of Jesus. He invited me to meet with him on Tuesday mornings at 6:00 a.m. in his office. We went through a series of Bible studies together, and Chuck taught me the importance of memorizing verses from God’s Message.
“What’s your verse for the day?” was one of Chuck’s favorite questions. There was a period of time when he asked everyone this question everyday. He annoyed people with it. In fact, one could argue that in picking out of the verse(s) each day for these blog posts are me continuing to answer his incessant question some thirty years ago.
Some verses are more than verses for a day, however. They grow roots into your heart and soul and bear luscious fruit in your life. So it is with this verse from today’s chapter. It began digging into the core of my spirit about 20 years ago and has become one of a handful of “Life verses” onto which I cling and on which I’ve sculpted my life.
These verses from today’s chapter have inspired and convicted me to talk less and listen more. They have constantly reminded me that I am called to “mind my business,” which doesn’t just mean to keep my nose out of others business, but to mind my own affairs consciously and deliberately. As a young man and to this day, these verses have inspired me to increasingly live in a way that I am God’s man, but also my own man – cutting apron strings, living independently, making difficult decisions, following the path laid out for me while weaning myself from needing the provision or approval of others.
One of the many ancillary benefits from this journey through God’s message is that we stumble upon nuggets from God’s Message that become important to our day, our week, our month, our year, our life.
And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. 1 Thessalonians 3:12 (NLT)
In my work, I’m constantly encouraging people to improve their service to customers. As I coach individuals, it is not uncommon for some of them to get frustrated. They want to be deemed as “good enough” in the quest for service excellence. But, like all who pursue excellence in their endeavors, the term “continuous improvement” is more than a catch phrase. It does not diminish a persons achievements or belittle the good job they are doing. It merely points out the fact that there is always room to hone our skills, improve our consistency and reach for new heights.
In our spiritual lives, I find the same struggle. There are those I meet along the path who simply want to be bestowed with the mantle of “good enough.” No introspection. No thought. No sanding down rough edges. No struggle to put away foolish, childish ways and reach for new levels of wisdom and maturity. “Give me an easy path,” I hear them saying. “How about a straight path and a level road that won’t take too much work. In fact, can you put me on one of those moving walkways like they have at the airport so I can just stand there and let it propel me through life?”
But the faith journey is not like that. It is the path of continuous improvement. It requires attention, vigilance, introspection, and constant diligence. Just when you feel good about how far you’ve come, you realize that the path had not come to and end. You’ve not reached the finish line. It’s only a waypoint. The path leads on towards the horizon; further up and further in.
Jesus said that there are two great commands that are the pinnacle. They are the sum of all of life’s rules:
Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength
Love others as you love yourself
Love overflowing. Love emanating from the deepest wellspring of our being. Purely intentioned, sacrificial love pouring out in torrents like water through reservoir floodgates thrown open wide as if to empty the lake and permanently change everything downstream that lies in its earth-changing wake. Love in every thought. Love in every word. Love in every act.
Let me know when you reach thatpoint. Otherwise, let’s strain to open the floodgates a little wider, and let’s keep pressing on.