Chapter 7 EXHORTATION: Letters to Encourage and Inspire Part 1:The Early Church and Paul

October 18 Those Who Have Faith Are Blessed

Paul traveled to many areas to share the good news, and as he taught and preached he lived life in community. He could not be everywhere at once, so he wrote letters of encouragement and correction to various churches he had started or in other ways had had an impact. Now each of us can learn from these letters written many generations ago. The people living in Galatia needed a reminder that it is by God’s grace that anyone can be rescued.  Everyone is made right by believing, placing faith in Jesus who is the One who does the rescuing. Paul reminded them: “Now the Scripture saw in advance that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and told the good news ahead of time to Abraham, saying, All the nations will be blessed through you. So those who have faith are blessed with Abraham, who had faith.”

Praise be to God who has made a way for us! This is good news and it is so exciting to think that the blessings back in the days of Abraham are passed on to all who have faith, in Paul’s day and in ours, and for the generations yet to come. All nations will be blessed. That is a big promise. But that is okay, our God is big. As we live out the blessings in the community we find ourselves in, may we live faithfully and expectantly with a desire to both learn and teach. God, help us in our days to not let the light go dim or the truth lose its saltiness. Amen.

Galatians 3:8-9 HCSB

October 24 Glorious Blessedness yet to Come

Paul’s goal was to establish new churches and train people to grow up in the character of Christ. He was on the go, traveling here and there, increasing the awareness of Jesus to all who would hear. But as busy as his days got, he still took the time to further counsel and encourage those at the newly established churches through his letters. Paul was thankful for the faith of the Thessalonians and he recognized that faith, hope and love were a part of their lives. Paul then continued to build up the believers at Thessalonica: “…live lives worthy of God, Who calls you into His own kingdom and the glorious blessedness [into which true believers will enter after Christ’s return].” Paul does not want them, or us, to forget the eternal perspective even when suffering and hard times come.

Ruth, a believer among a people group that is beginning to hearing the gospel, is a wonderful example to me of someone who chooses to live worthy in spite of real hardships. Her persecution as a follower of Jesus Christ has been from the government, from village neighbors and even from her own family. Ruth is an integral part of a team that works diligently to translate the Bible into her language. In her joyful expression of living for God, she has turned many truths of God’s Story into songs. As she faithfully teaches and sings from village to village, God’s Kingdom is made bigger. We were blessed to hear her sing Paul’s Thessalonian letters as she strummed her guitar in her humble home during Christmas of 2007. This sister understands what Paul wrote concerning the return of Jesus. Right now she experiences joy mixed with pain, but she knows there is a blessedness that is yet to come that will be glorious.

1 Thessalonians 2:12 AMP

October 31 Cup of Blessing

There were divisions when Paul was writing to the Corinthians and the challenge of loyalty still has an effect on people today. “The cup of blessing that we give thanks for, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for all of us share that one bread.” Paul focused on the Lord’s Supper when Jesus used the bread and wine at the meal to make reference to Himself and the new covenant that He was making. Jesus was offering unity with the Father through Him. Actions speak very loudly and show just where our allegiances are. May we be unified in Jesus and remember that His death bought for us life—new life, blessed life, a life that is connected to Him and the Father.

This was the kind of new life Russell was teaching about at La Palabra de Dios, our first church for Hispanics. He emphasized the importance of loyalty to Jesus and Ricky had a hard choice to make. He loved God yet he loved the girl he was living with too. Long story short, with proper use of church discipline and faithful teaching that the Lord’s Supper was for those who were following Christ in obedience, Ricky and the whole young church were built up. Repentance led to restoration and great joy. We at The Word saw how trusting God changed lives. Restored hearts celebrated the cup of blessing with thankfulness as we joined to share the Lord’s Supper and remember all that Jesus has done for us.

1 Corinthians 10:16-17 HCSB

November 13 God Blesses All Who Call on Him 

One of my favorite T-shirts from Thailand says “same-same” on the front and “but different” on the back, a phrase that can often be heard by Thais as they describe something that is similar but not really the same. Paul could have used “different-different, but same” when he wanted to get his point across about people. There are differences between languages, cultures, customs, preferences, social status and physical appearance. But when it comes down to who we are as people created in the image of God, we are very much the same. For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Paul quoted what prophets of old had written.

Each one of us has the same need and that is to call out for Jesus to rescue us. This need was throughout history and this need is throughout our world today. It is beyond understanding to know the depths of just how richly He blesses everyone who relies on Him for redemption. Here’s the deal: if you are saved you are blessed. A drowning man would take that deal, so how much more blessed is it to be rescued from the everlasting penalty of our sins?  Jesus, You are our Rescuer, our Redeemer, and our Savior. We have a great need to be reconciled with God the Father and it is through You that we can have this peace that goes beyond all understanding. Nothing we have done is too bad for Your grace to cover, and nothing we will ever do is good enough to earn our way into a relationship with You. What must we do to be saved? Call on the One God has provided. Thank You Jesus for answering that call. Amen.

Romans 10:12-13 NIV

November 22 Blessing and Peace from God

Well, Paul did make it to Rome, but not in the timeframe or along the route he had planned. While he was in Jerusalem the crowds tried to kill him and then Paul was arrested but was allowed to give his testimony about how Jesus changed his life. This led to a two-year imprisonment in Jerusalem. During his time in prison as he awaited trial, several prominent leaders heard the gospel from Paul. Paul appealed to Caesar and so he was sent to Rome and survived a shipwreck along the way. He lived under house arrest in Rome for another two years. These days, weeks and months were not wasted in self-pity, but lived with purpose. Paul empowered the believers in Rome and also served the Lord by writing letters.

Four of these wisdom-filled letters written during this time are included in the New Testament. Believers who lived in a heavily pagan-influenced area benefitted greatly when they received one of Paul’s letters. To the saints (the consecrated people of God) and believing and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace (spiritual favor and blessing) to you and [heart] peace from God our Father. The best way to share blessings and peace with others is to do so out of a heart that is filled with God’s grace and peace. Paul was able to authentically offer grace and peace for he had contentment in less-than-best living conditions. His life is a good example for us. Let’s not wait until the situation is just right to live the abundant life that Jesus offers.

It was also during his Roman imprisonment that Paul wrote to his friend Philemon and we get to read that letter a little later in God’s Story. Tucked into the letter that Philemon received was a jewel of wise counsel. Paul said that as we share our faith, we will gain a full understanding of every good thing we have in Jesus. Let us share, and not stockpile, the good that we have, because when we do so, our understanding of this good makes more sense to us. May it lead us to be appreciative and to generously offer grace and peace to others.

Colossians 1:2 AMP

November 25 God’s Best; Christ’s Blessings

I, Paul, am a prisoner for the sake of Christ, here with my brother Timothy. I write this letter to you, Philemon, my good friend and companion in this work—also to our sister Apphia, to Archippus, a real trooper, and to the church that meets in your house. God’s best to you! Christ’s blessings on you! With a greeting like that, don’t you want to dive right into the rest of the letter? That’s what Paul hoped since the news he was sharing challenged his friend Philemon to make a choice. At stake was reconciliation and restoration with a person who had wronged Philemon in the past. So why is this letter addressed to so many people in addition to Philemon, and why do we get access to it now so many years after it was written?

I believe that we seldom make a big decision that does not significantly affect others in our community. Paul wanted God’s Kingdom to expand in Philemon’s life and also within everyone who met in his house church so that the whole community would be more like Jesus and be blessed. The strong argument that Paul makes is based on Christ’s love and forgiveness. We as followers of Jesus should also seek to live out the godly principles of reconciliation and restoration. Regardless of the way the world would handle a situation or how our feelings might dictate, it is wise to consider what Jesus would want us to do. Philemon had been blessed not just to be blessed but also to be a blessing. Likewise our blessings should not end with us, they should extend to others.

Philemon 1:1-3 MSG

November 26 Adopted and Blessed

The opening salutation of Paul’s letter to his dear friends who lived in Ephesus is rich in blessings. He wanted them to be refreshed and to stop and think about some very good news. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. God is to be blessed for He has remarkably blessed us. And how has He blessed us? He has given us every spiritual blessing in the Heavenly realm. That is definitely a lot to take in. So Paul clarifies a bit by saying, “Be happy, be blessed.” We are adopted by the Father of it all. This is all possible through Jesus who is treasured by God. We too are treasured; Praise God! We are adopted and loved and have the opportunity to grow up and be like our new Daddy.

Is being holy and blameless our goal? If our desire is to grow in maturity, it should be. If you need a little coaching, get it. Be enthusiastic in your pursuit for Christ-likeness, and do so knowing you are blessed! Years before Paul wrote this letter, Jesus taught His followers on a mountain what it meant to live a blessed life. In the middle of His sermon Jesus said we are to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. This “perfect” in the Greek language is teleios, which means mature or full-grown, having arrived at a set goal. We are blessed and equipped to be whole because this is God’s plan for us. We can hinder that plan, however. The world offers a wide highway to travel on, but those who choose to go through the narrow gate, the way of proactively dying to selfishness in order to grow in godly maturity, are blessed beyond measure.

Ephesians 1:3-6 ESV

November 29 Rejoice Again with Blessings

The “rejoice again letter” was Paul’s fourth prison correspondence. His joy was not that he would soon be released, but his rejoicing came through knowing, loving and serving the risen Lord. He began his letter with a blessing to the Christians in Philippi. Grace (favor and blessing) to you and [heart] peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah). From there he addressed selfless living, and being an active example of peace and forgiveness. How is peace and forgiveness lived out in the day-to-day of life? The year before Hannah graduated high school, Russell taught our house church practical advice from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He then wrote a booklet, Joy Beyond Anxiety: The Philippians’ Peace, and a copy was given as a gift to each of Hannah’s fellow graduates. On page forty, he challenges us not to grab for control and start being anxious when we sense we need something. Instead, let’s reflect with gratitude on the goodness of God and tell Him what is going on (pray) and ask for the help you feel you need.

May we learn that it is good to slow down and allow the assurance that God cares to fill us. He will provide all that we need to grow into the image of His Son. May this good news calm our racing minds. Then the peace of God will be with us: His favor, His heart-peace, His blessing.

P.S. Years later at The Grove, discipleship training found us again diving into the principles Paul shared with his friends in Philippi. To better understand what we were learning, Russ encouraged us to choose a person as our audience and then write our own commentary based on what God was teaching us. I choose my niece Ali and was so happy to give to her The Philippians’ Joy upon her high school graduation. Pass on what you are learning; it will help you learn it even better!

Philippians 1:2 AMP

December 2 God Is Our Blessed and Only Sovereign

At the close of a very constructive letter about Christ-like living, Paul continued to urge Timothy to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. He motivated him to fight the good fight of the faith, because God gives life. Gushing praise of God breaks forth from Paul, and he writes, “He is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, the only One who has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light; no one has seen or can see Him, to Him be honor and eternal might. Amen.” God is truly worthy of praise and true praise is heard loud and clear in godly living. May we bless God with our lives day after day, choice after choice.

Paul says that both honor and eternal might belong to God who lives in unapproachable light. One day we will see Him. Until it is our turn to approach Him in all His glory, may we be found faithfully growing authentic God-like character. We can be dedicated like an athlete who values building strength and might. Paul tells Timothy that growth in godly character is good not only for this life but for the one yet to come. Picture the situations that God allows to come our way to be like a gym, and when we handle the circumstance wisely our faith muscles mature. Whether we like it or not we are in a fight against God’s enemy. Being trained is critical. God, I pray that although we do not yet see You, we would keep our eyes, our focus, on You. You are our prize. Amen.

1 Timothy 6:15b-16 HCSB

December 3 Blessed Hope; Jesus Returning

Titus was living in Crete and could use some encouragement and a strategic planning seminar so Paul wrote a letter to him. Titus needed reminding (don’t we all from time to time?) of what “blessed hope” is especially when he faced challenging tasks. For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. It takes discipline to say “no” to things that do not bring about lasting goodness, and say “yes” to Jesus who is our strength and our model for upright living. He is our Blessed Hope and He is returning!

As we anticipate Jesus’ glorious appearing, we are encouraged to live redeemed lives with action and purpose, which grow both our joy and our freedom. Disappointment and frustration is a part of life, yet anger, bitterness or other unhealthy coping mechanisms are not a good way forward. Let’s aim to use setbacks as an opportunity to go to God and depend more fully on Him for our needs. We are people who Jesus wants to purify. How eager are we to submit to this purification process?

Before beginning rewrites today I was praying, more like grumbling, to God about my immobility. It has been over fifty days (I’m trying to make the days count rather than just counting days) since the bicycle accident that has left me unable to walk and there’s no projected walking date set. God knows that my desire is to depend fully on Him, and He also knows that a lot of my life has been lived in self-reliant ways. During my recovery He is showing me afresh His good, faithful, fulfilling love through His Presence, His Story and through a whole lot of people He has used to bless me. Will I accept His purifying lessons and fully trust Him? Waiting does not come naturally for me, and I do not think I’m the only one that struggles with this. God says we are to wait upon Him, He is the One who renews, restores, redeems and purifies. What is the next good step we can take today as we embrace our Blessed Hope? His grace is for us.

P.S. Four months went by from my biking accident to the beginning of physical therapy when I began to apply weight to my right ankle. God did restore me and I am again walking, biking, and even somewhat running! And the lessons I learned about God’s grace and waiting for His blessed hope inspire me yet today.

Titus 2:11-14 NIV

 Continued:

Chapter 7 EXHORTATION: Letters to Encourage and Inspire Part 2: Additional New Testament Guidance