Always Choose Joy

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

No doubt these are favorite Bible verses of many. In fact they are often popular go tos on Christian t-shirts and coffee mugs. That is all well and good but it is important that we  simply not stop thinking of these verses as a quick “feel good” message. Paul, through the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, penned these words to the Thessalonian church to convey a specific message. Paul visited Thessalonica for a short time on one of his missionary journeys but, due to persecution, was forced to leave the city earlier than planned. Later, he wrote a letter to the church to help fix a few theological misunderstandings about Jesus’ second coming. He wrote to encourage the Christians to continue in the good work they were doing as well. Toward the end of his letter, Paul encourages the people of the church to continue in their godly behavior in three areas: loving one another, building each other up and seeking to do good to everyone. Then, Paul writes “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Let’s take a look at what this means for us today.

Rejoice always. First, this reminds us that our joy is not circumstantial. At the root, our joy comes from God. No matter what we face or what circumstances we experience, we can have joy in God. We can rejoice in who He is. We can rejoice in the blessing of salvation. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. To paraphrase Dr. John Greever, grumpiness is not a spiritual virtue. However, sometimes things can make us sad; sometimes joy is a process. As Psalm 30 reminds us, “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Sadness is a real emotion and we should not feel like failures when we experience that emotion. As Christians we can feel sadness over our ongoing sin. Also, anxiety, fear of the future, and health scares can all trouble our souls. So, we may experience a nighttime of sadness but gradually God can move in our hearts and bring us to a place of joy. Our joy in the present is rooted in knowing that God works all things for good for those who love Him. Our joy in the present grows as we commune more and more with God, and focus on who He is. Also, our joy can come as we look forward to our eternal joy with God in Heaven. So, even in this life, our eternal, constant, true joy is rooted in God.Our circumstances will always change, but God is unchangeable and God is always good, whether we see or understand His ways or not. 

Pray without ceasing. Spending time with God in prayer is a continual activity. Prayer implies that our hearts and minds are occupied and satisfied with God. In prayer, we engage in loving fellowship with our heavenly Father. Prayer is not something we should do exclusively before we eat or before we go to sleep. We should be communicating with God throughout our day. We should have a prayer-ward bent in our hearts. Before we undertake any activity, before we think, before we speak etc. we should say Lord help me, Lord empower me, Lord be with me in this. All of our daily tasks, no matter how small or time consuming or repetitive or frustrating, we can bring God into the moment. Prayer acknowledges our dependence on God. Honestly, can we think of one area of life where we don’t need Him? 

Give thanks in all circumstances. Notice what this verse does not say. It does not say give thanks FOR all circumstances, it says give thanks IN all circumstances. That’s a big difference. We may not be thankful for all circumstances. Some circumstances are not good. But we can be thankful in all circumstances. Like we have seen earlier in this passage, we can thank God for the blessings He gives us everyday. He gives us countless spiritual blessings. He gives us many temporal earthly blessings as well. We can thank Him for the situations He prevents. We can thank Him for His beautiful creation. We can thank Him for the people we love. We can thank Him for every breath and heartbeat. We can thank Him for things in the past, as we look back and see God’s sovereign hand graciously guiding us. We can see past challenges as ways God used to get us to joyful places. We can look to the future and thank God knowing that He is working out a perfect plan for us.We can also look to the future and think about the joys of Heaven. So, IN all things, we can give thanks to our loving Heavenly Father.

It would take a pretty big coffee mug to truly capture Paul”s message in this passage. However, Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians how prayer and rejoicing and thanksgiving are connected. The more we pray and focus on God, the more we can rejoice in how amazing God is. And the more we pray and rejoice, the more thankful we become. Maybe we face persecution or trials or maybe life is carefree; but no matter what, we always have a reason to rejoice, pray and be thankful. 


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Living Hope

 

   Jesus is not dead. The grave does not hold Him. He is alive, seated victoriously in Heaven. What great news! Though it is always important to  reflect upon this gospel truth, around Easter, we need to remember and celebrate the resurrection and the hope we have through Jesus. When we turn to Scripture, we see that 1 Peter 1:3-5 sums up our resurrection hope well by saying:

   Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

   What an amazing truth! What an amazing hope! In Jesus, we have a living hope. We can see what this living hope implies by walking through the passage. Peter begins by describing God’s blessedness. Out of His eternal blessed happiness, God willingly gives the gift of salvation. We cannot save ourselves. There is a great chasm between us and God: He is perfectly holy and we are saturated in our falleness. God would be completely just to condemn us for our sins. But, out of His abundant mercy, He sent Jesus into the world to live and die and rise again to bring salvation.So,God in His mercy, provides the way of salvation.But, God’s mercy does not just stop there; God also gives us eyes to see the sweetness of the Gospel. He shines the light of His loving kindness in our hearts. Our regeneration, aka new birth, is the greatest gift. Through new birth, we are no longer dead in sin. We are alive in Christ. We have a living hope; this is our hope: Jesus died and rose again.

   What an amazing truth! What an amazing hope! In Jesus we have a living hope. We can see another aspect of this living hope when Peter talks about our heavenly inheritance.We know that as believers we will be with God forever in Heaven. Since Jesus rose from the grave victoriously,  His resurrection seals our inheritance. What is our inheritance as believers? It is eternal joy with God in Heaven forever. Nothing and no one can take that away. It is incorruptible…totally free from corruption, evil, and sin. It is eternal…it never fades away. As time bound creatures, it’s hard to imagine eternity; but we will enjoy a never ending succession of moments in Heaven delighting in our God. And this inheritance is kept, reserved, secured, and guarded for every believer; every child of God receives this precious inheritance. Through God’s power, He will sustain us through the end; we can never lose this precious gift of salvation or our heavenly inheritance.We can never lose our living hope.

   What an amazing truth! What an amazing hope! In Jesus Christ, our living, glorious Savior, we have a living hope.Jesus gives us the living hope of salvation: He is the one who sets us free from sin and death and the grave. He also is the one who guarantees the hope of our heavenly inheritance.  I pray this Easter season that we remember this truth and give thanks to God. I pray we will always lift our voices to sing of our living hope.


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Thoughtful Words

   From a mere 7,000 to a whopping 20,000: that’s how many words the average person says in a single day! Words are powerful tools that we can use for good or bad. Oftentimes, however, it seems that our words become mindless and routine. Though no harm is intended, by neglecting to put thought into our daily speech, it becomes easy to unintentionally downplay God’s sovereignty and providence. For example, how many of us find ourselves saying things like…

Chance meeting you here…

Knock on wood…

That’s lousy luck… 

What a coincidence… 

What good fortune… 

That’s fate for you…

   Certainly, God’s providence cannot be contained to one blog alone. However, in his book, Everyone’s a Theologian, R.C. Sproul sheds great insight on God’s providence in our everyday life by saying the following:

Chance is simply a word that describes mathematical possibilities. Chance is not a thing. It has no power. It cannot do anything, and therefore it cannot influence anything, yet some have taken the word chance, which has no power, and diabolically used it as a replacement for the concept of God. But the truth, the Bible makes clear, is that nothing happens by chance and that all things are under the sovereign government of God, which is exceedingly comforting to the Christian who understands it.  Knowledge of divine providence brings comfort in our suffering. God is in control not only of the universe and its operations but also all of history. The Bible tells us that God raises up kingdoms and brings them down, and our individual station in life has to do, in the final analysis, with what God in His providence has ordained for us. Our lives are in His hands, our vocations are in His hands, as are our prosperity or our poverty; He governs all these things in His wisdom and goodness.

    Hmmm. He intentionally governs all things in our lives by His perfect wisdom and knowledge. That said, should we not also be intentional and use wisdom in our thinking and speech? So, words like luck, chance, or fortune should never escape from our mouths. Our thoughts and our words need to reflect God’s sovereignty, that God holds all things. In perfect wisdom and knowledge, He executes the best possible outcome for every situation. We need to spend time reflecting on the Biblical truth of God’s sovereignty. Think about the following verses:

James 4:13-15

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

Proverbs 19:21

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

   So take a moment and reflect…When this truth saturates our thinking, it will overflow into our speech. We want to communicate accurate Biblical truth about God in what we say. So, let’s have our words proclaim God’s sovereignty and perfect plan. I pray that our hearts absorb and understand this amazing truth and that we use our words to communicate things like…

Praise God…

God allowed this..

God will work..

God prevented..

Lord willing…

Let’s try to make our words count!


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God Is

   Isn’t God wonderful! Words seem to fail to describe how truly incredible He is. Reflecting on His character is a joyful activity. Sadly, we don’t do that often enough. In a theology class, one of my favorite professors challenged us to pray through the attributes of God and praise God for His amazing essence. So, below I have a list, a sample, and a challenge. I have listed what theologians have put together as a standard list of God’s attributes. Also, I have included a sample prayer. I want to challenge you to pray prayers of awe and thankfulness over God’s character for the next 7 days. Pray through these attributes every day and let your heart take that time to delight in God and his perfections; then your heart can overflow with gratitude to our astounding triune God. 

Independence–unchangeable–eternity–omnipresence–unity–spirit–invisibility–wisdom–omniscience–providence–sovereignty–truthfulness–faithfulness–goodness–grace–mercy–love–patience–holiness–righteousness–justice–wrath–jealousy–peace–free–willful omnipotence–perfection–blessedness–beauty–glory

   Thank you Lord for being totally sufficient and independent. You rely on no one. Nothing upholds your existence. You need nothing, but rather You are the one who gives all things life and breath. You sustain all reality by your power. Thank You Lord for never changing. Nothing else in the world remains the same. Your being, your perfections, your promises never change. Who you have been, you will always be. You stay the same eternally. Thank You for being eternal. You are not bound by time because you created it. You are outside of time. You have no beginning or end. Thank You for knowing the past and future and present with vivid clarity. Nothing in our lives is unknown to You. You see it all. You see every sin we would ever commit and yet You freely and lovingly chose us before time began. Thank You that You are omnipresent, not bound by space. You are present with us here and everywhere we could possibly go. You are present in every moment. Thank You for your amazing being. You are united. You are one. You are wholly loving, completely merciful, and always just. You are spirit; nothing in the entire universe can enclose You.  Your essential realm of existence is starkly different from all of creation; You are invisible. It is mind boggling to comprehend. Thank You for allowing us to worship you in spirit and in truth. Thank You for your omniscience, knowing all things actual and possible. You have always known everything. You cannot learn anything. Thank that in perfect wisdom You know the best course of action that leads to the best result. Thank You for Your sovereignty. Thank You for Your providential care over all of creation. Thank You for your providence in our lives. Every moment of our lives is held in Your hands perfectly, and known perfectly. Thank You for your providence in salvation. We would never come to You if not for your sovereign divine intervention. Thank You for always being faithful and true. Thank You that your words can be trusted. When You promise something it will come to pass. You set parameters for what is true and good. Thank You for being good and showing us what goodness truly entails. Our lives are saturated with Your compassionate goodness. From morning to evening, everywhere we look, everywhere we go, we can see the evidence of Your goodness to us. Thank You for being loving. Thank You for Your saving love that draws us to You. You loved us before anything was created. And nothing in this entire world can separate us from Your great never ending love. Thank You for Your saving mercy and grace. You show us grace and mercy that we could never deserve. Out of Your mercy and grace You bring salvation. You are so patient with us. We fail many times, yet You patiently seek our hearts, and draw us  to You. Thank You for Your holiness. You are completely separate from sin. Nothing evil comes from You. Thank You that through Jesus, we as sinful human beings are allowed into the presence of the holy God. You are holy holy holy…You are holy to the highest degree. Thank You for Your righteousness and justice. You always do what is right and just. You are the just judge. Left to ourselves, our righteousness is like dirty rags. Thank You that Jesus’ righteousness is counted on our behalf because we could never match the standard of Your righteousness. Thank You for being wrathful. You would not be good if you did not punish evil. Thank You that through Jesus we never have to face Your never ending wrath in hell.  Thank You for being jealous. You are jealous for your people. You are jealous for Your holy name. You are jealous for your people’s wholehearted worship. Thank You for being the God of peace. You are a God of order. You never act carelessly or recklessly. You are separate from disorder and confusion. Thank You for being the God who fills our hearts with perfect peace.  Thank you God for being free. You are not constrained by anything or anyone. No one can thwart You as You accomplish your will and purposes. You are free to carry out Your perfect plans. Thank you for Your omnipotence. You have all power. Nothing is easy or hard for you. Often we are tempted to only bring You “easy” prayers. Or we feel as though we should only bother you with “hard prayers”. What a false dilemma! You are able to handle it all. You are able to perfectly execute Your will and do whatever is good in your sight. Thank You for being perfect. You need no changes. Nothing needs to be added to your nature. Nothing needs to be removed from Your nature. Who You are is perfect and everything You do is perfect. Thank You for being blessed. You are eternally happy within the Trinity. You take delight in us. You delight in all that reflects Your character. Thank You that out of Your blessedness You freely bless others. Thank You for being beautiful. Thank You that we see glimpses of Your beauty in creation. Every part of Your being is beautiful. Your beauty shapes what we should see as beautiful. Thank You for Your radiant glory.  Your glory displays the excellence of Your character. Your glory is what we live for. Your glory is why we want others to know You. Nothing and no one else is worthy of worship and honor and glory.

  God thank You for who You are. Help us remember to take time to think deeply about You and honor You for who You are. Thank You for revealing your character to us in Scripture; help us be more like You, reflecting Your character in our daily lives and interactions. God, let us always be shaped by who You are. Amen.


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Stay Wholehearted

 

   Stay Biblical. Stay God-centered. Stay wholehearted. While we don’t often think of it, there is a right and a wrong way to worship God. True worship involves worshipping God wholeheartedly in Spirit and in truth as He directed in Scripture. False worship occurs when we don’t worship God: we worship idols and the things of this world. We worship God in vain when we worship the God of the Bible in the wrong way, contrary to His Word. Clearly, Judges 17 shows a combination. Judges 17:1-6 says:

  “There was a man of the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Micah.  And he said to his mother, “The 1,100 pieces of silver that were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse, and also spoke it in my ears, behold, the silver is with me; I took it.” And his mother said, “Blessed be my son by the Lord.”  And he restored the 1,100 pieces of silver to his mother. And his mother said, “I dedicate the silver to the Lord from my hand for my son, to make a carved image and a metal image. Now therefore I will restore it to you.”  So when he restored the money to his mother, his mother took 200 pieces of silver and gave it to the silversmith, who made it into a carved image and a metal image. And it was in the house of Micah.  And the man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and household gods, and ordained one of his sons, who became his priest.  In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

   So, right away we see that Micah is a thief and a liar. And after returning the funds to his mother, they both commit apostasy, meaning they turn away from following God. They take a portion of the money and create an idol. It is ironic how they “dedicate the silver to the Lord” and yet violate the first and second commandment. They showed great spiritual ignorance, mixing elements of true worship with ahobrent practices. They seemingly worship God, yet they serve a mere metal statue. They thought God could be improved upon, that worship needed some changes. 

   The situation only goes downhill from there. Micah basically builds his own house of worship, which was a perversion of God’s true sanctuary. He thought he could create a place of worship as good as the one in Shiloh. He wanted to invent his own way to worship God, a way that pleased him. Micah starts to replicate items from the true sanctuary. He made his own ehpod, a garment supposed to be worn by Levitical priests. After that, he further violates Mosaic law and makes his son a priest.  Micah is not even a Levite, neither is his son. People could not randomly appoint whoever they want to be priests, God appointed the Levitical priesthood. Verse 6 sums up the situation well: In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.. Everyone did what they wanted. They did what seemed right to them. They did not seek to do what is right in God’s eyes. 

   What does this mean for us? While we do not live in Old Testament times of the Sanctuary and Levitical Priesthood, we still need to worship God rightly, with reverence and awe, surrounded by the truth of Scripture. We need to stick to the Biblical definition of worship; we need to worship the God of the Bible, not the God we want or have created in our heads or the idols of the world. We cannot be casual in God’s presence. It’s important to properly focus on Him during worship instead of thinking…hmm where should we eat lunch…I really need such and such at the store…I hope we get home in time to see the big game…etc. We cannot do what is right in our eyes or try to rewrite the definition of Biblical worship to suit our needs. The truth is, we are creatures of worship: we are always worshipping something. So, let’s commit to rightly worshipping our King, not the things of this world.


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Spelling Out the Gospel

 

   G-O-S-P-E-L.  Though alone there are only 6 letters, when you put them together they create a word of utmost importance. Gospel is the Good News. We have a Savior, who died on the cross and rose again defeating sin. He gives eternal life to those, who by God’s Spirit, respond in true regenerate faith. But, the Gospel is so much more. The Gospel is God’s story of redemption throughout the entire Bible. So, this multifaceted truth should shape every part of our lives and worship. 

   Firstly, we know the Gospel changes our nature. God exists in holiness, goodness, perfection, righteousness: everything we are not. Since Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden, we have a fallen nature prone to sin where every part of our being and life is infected with sin, set against God and His righteousness. We are spiritually dead wanting to run away from God and His holiness. That’s why we need God to save us; we will never run to Him, left to our own devices. Even if you are “good”, one sin, one tainted good deed, one evil thought is an infinite offense to the infinite glory of God. This one sin is worthy of suffering under the eternal wrath of God in hell. So it does not matter how “good” you are, you need God’s grace.

   Salvation is a gracious gift of God that we do not deserve at all. “Good” deeds do not save us. God changes hearts and causes people to see the sweetness of the Gospel. Through the love of God, the Holy Spirit gives us new life in Christ; He regenerates human hearts. He completely transforms the human soul, which causes us to respond in saving faith to Jesus. We are forever forgiven, eternally secure in Him. 

   The Gospel reveals God’s plan of forgiveness through Jesus. He lived a perfect sinless life obeying God’s commandments perfectly and died in our place as our substitute, bearing the wrath of God for our sins. His sacrifice is eternally sufficient to cover every sin we’ve done or will do. He died on the cross and victoriously rose again on the third day, conquering death and the grave forever. 

   Salvation is not just a one time moment. Salvation also means that we are justified in God’s sight. Jesus bore our sin and we are clothed in His righteousness. Because of Him and His sacrifice, we have a right standing before God. We are adopted into God’s family as children of God; He is our heavenly Father, lovingly and sovereignly caring for us. And for the rest of our lives we should respond in gratitude and seek to live in a way that pleases Him. 

   But, the Gospel is more than being saved from something: it’s being saved to something. We would be subject to the eternal wrath of God, which is poured out on unrepentant sinners. However, through Jesus, we are saved to eternal joy in God forever. We will have rest, perfect peace, and enjoy the sweetness of God’s love. In heaven as believers, we will delight in God free from sin. We will worship our Triune God, the true joy of our souls, perfectly for the rest of eternity. 

   All of these truths should shape our worship and our entire lives. We should be thankful everyday that we have a Savior who intercedes for us, who died specifically for each and one of our sins. All glory goes to God; if someone is saved, it is through Him. This truth gives us humility; we cannot save ourselves. We cannot make ourselves right with the perfect, holy God. We cannot redefine reality. All reality depends upon and all our hope on the resurrection.

   Further, these truths should prompt us to worship through theology. We need to continually learn, read, and grow in the truths of Scripture. We need to daily enrich our souls in the joyous truths of the Gospel. In studying the truth, we must realize that we cannot reduce the Gospel or over emphasize one part of the Gospel. We must be faithful to present the whole truth. The Gospel is God’s teaching; so we cannot insert our ideas into it.

   The Gospel must shape us. All life, worship, and ministry must relate to and revolve around the Gospel. We must worship in light of the cross, serve in light of the cross, fellowship in light of the cross. Everything we do must be for God’s glory; everything we do in this life should point to the Gospel.

   G-O-S-P-E-L. Six simple letters, Yet what we discussed here does not even begin to delve into the depths of this topic. Hopefully it gets us thinking about our incredible Savior and His wonderful story of redemption… what an amazing God…what an amazing truth…what an amazing gift…what an amazing word.


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God is Good

Hello RiverTree family, Lauren here.

We often cheapen the word goodness. We call many things good…that pizza was good…that movie was good…that job was good… and so on. Society often wants to define what is good, telling us in various ways through the use of advertisements, celebrities, social media, and even passing certain laws. The culture seems to always be trying to dictate what is acceptable as good.

However, God Himself is the ultimate standard of good, so only He can define goodness. Since there are many aspects of God’s goodness, the definition is multi-faceted. God’s goodness “means that God is the final standard of good, and that all that God is and does is worthy of approval (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology). So, we are not at liberty to define goodness. Everything worthy of God’s approval is good. Anything that mirrors his excellence and attributes is good.

So, how is God’s goodness rightly understood and displayed? God is infinitely good. His gloriously perfect goodness characterizes His nature. God’s goodness directly relates to His moral qualities and often theologians consider love, mercy, grace, and patience as facets of God’s goodness. God’s goodness means that He is kind, showing His goodness toward people. He willingly and freely gives to people with no ulterior motive; His generosity goes far beyond what the recipient deserves because we as sinful human beings do not deserve His loving kindness.

Also, since God is good, He is benevolent. Every good and perfect gift and blessing, both spiritual and physical, come from God. He is the source of everything good in the world. Through His generosity, He takes care of all His creatures and meets our everyday needs. Also, His goodness spreads beyond meeting our material needs; in His goodness, He cares about our spiritual needs.

Spiritual blessings are another way we experience the goodness of God. God brings people to Himself and saves them, which further shows that He is good. The most important blessing of His goodness is spiritual redemption. Truly, from the incarnate son of God being born in a manger to His death on the cross for His people’s sin, Jesus showed others God’s true nature and how God acts in goodness toward people.

So, what does all of this mean for us? First, we should respond in thanksgiving. Since God’s goodness coats every aspect of our lives, we should be thankful for every breath and heartbeat and step we take. We should be grateful for the people we love, our food, job, our life. Further, we can see the beauty and goodness in God’s creation and respond in awe and worship. Even in bad days or bad seasons of life, we know God is still good. He is making the situation better than it could be. He knows all things actual and possible and in perfect wisdom, He guides and directs our lives in the best possible way.

Also, we need to make sure our definition of goodness lines up with Scripture. We should not call something good if the Bible clearly explains that it is not or if it contradicts God’s nature. Additionally, we need to show God’s goodness to others; we need to ensure that our behavior and choices relate to the true definition of goodness. Let’s try to restore the true value to the meaning of the word good by letting God’s goodness set the standard.


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