Great Church 5

1 Thessalonians 5:19

“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We are all probably familiar with that little chant from our childhood. It is a good sentiment, an encouragement to stand up against criticism. But in fact this saying is false.

Not only will sticks and stones break your bones, but words can be very hurtful. They can leave an invisible scar that lasts a lifetime.

So, we should be cautious about the words we say to one another. We should choose carefully what we say to others. We may find that it is better to keep silent rather than risk criticizing someone and dousing the flame of passion they may have. Today’s passage sums it up very simply. What are we NOT to do?

In my years in ministry I have witnessed all too often good ministries come to a screeching halt because ONE PERSON doesn’t like it. It only takes a single negative comment to put the brakes on something positive.

And isn’t that just what the Devil wants? I believe he delights in the fact that it only takes one comment to derail a powerful ministry, one person to stand in the way of God’s work being done.

As we all progress through our journey of faith, adding goodness and knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, kindness and love, we need to remember that this journey is essential for us. We need to guard against becoming discouraged by the comments and actions of others. If we possess faith and goodness and knowledge and self-control we will be better equipped to ignore those detractors who want to stop us in our growth toward perfection.

But we also must be aware of others and how we treat them. We must guard against being a stumbling block for others who are making that journey of growth. We should offer encouragement rather than criticism, a sense of hope rather than a comment of gloom.

And when we see ministry being done – even if it is not a ministry we value – we should support it and understand that it comes from a God-inspired passion in others. If we can’t support the ministry, then at least we can remain silent and not put out the Spirit’s fire.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Is there a ministry that needs your encouragement? Are there negative comments you need to avoid?

Great Church 4

Matthew 22:36-39

Most people contemplate the purpose of our existence and the reason we have been created. We ponder the deeper meanings of why we exist. Beyond the meaning of life we must also understand the meaning of our faith life.

An expert in the Jewish law asked Jesus a question. The question was likely meant to trip up Jesus, to catch him in a mistake or get him to say something foolish or incorrect. The question seems to be the biggest question there is about faith – in a sense, he was asking what the purpose of faith is all about.

What is the greatest commandment? What is the second greatest commandment? How are these two related?

As we examine our growth in faith, our ability to become better Christians and stronger in our faith, we must understand the basics of our faith. If we will move through the maturing process that Peter addressed we should know the purpose of living out our faith.

According to Jesus, the Son of God, the greatest commandment, the most important aspect of faith, is to love God. And we must love God with our entire being, with all that we are – our heart, soul and mind. It can not be a half-hearted, insincere commitment to the Lord.

Jesus quickly added a second greatest commandment. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are to love all people – those we know and those we do not know, those we like and those we do not like – with the same love that we would have for ourselves. Such love is deep, strong and caring.

This second command is added because it is a part of the first. If we can grow toward being greater Christians and better believers, we will learn to love God with our whole being. And if we can achieve that level of love and compassion, then it will become part of who we are to love all of God’s people as well. To love God means that we love all that God has created too.

It can be a challenge, but it is what we are called to do as we grow and mature in our faith.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What must change in you to love God with all your heart, soul and mind?

Great Church 3

Hebrews 11:1

When I worked as a corporate trainer for a large manufacturer, my job involved going to various buildings in the greater Cincinnati, Ohio area. Other members of the training team were supposed to have gone before me and placed the materials and books I needed for the training. But the first thing I was to do when I arrived at each location was to check to be sure I had what I needed.

Sadly, I learned that I couldn’t have a lot of faith in my co-workers.

Peter has challenged all believers to build on their faith, to move forward, to increase from being good to being great. But before we move forward perhaps we should more fully understand what faith really is. How does today’s passage describe faith?

This passage presents two different concepts – the concrete and the nebulous, the solid and the squishy. Faith is being “sure” and “certain.” That is the concrete. That is the solid. When we are sure and certain we have a firm belief, a strong conviction. I would say we have an unwavering, unyielding confidence and trust.

But that confidence is in uncertain things – “hope” and “what we do not see.” These are the nebulous, squishy aspects. Hope is an insubstantial vision of what we desire. That which we do not see is even less specific.

Faith is the confidence, the trust and conviction, that what we envision in our minds, and things we can’t even envision, are real. Our faith may be in God – someone we can’t see. Our faith may be in our own goodness – something we hope to achieve or maintain.

What is essential is that we have that conviction, that certainty of feeling in our hearts and souls, that these things are real and genuine. When we have faith that we can be holy and good, that we can serve the Lord, then these insubstantial ideas will become a reality. We can grow in our faith. We can grow as believers. We can live out the love of God.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What is your “hope” that needs to become a reality?

Great Church 2

2 Peter 1:5-7
Our son is the senior conductor of the school’s brass band and has recently finished with the week-long “camp” where the freshmen members learn how to be part of the band. His comment toward the end of the week was that the freshmen were starting to “get it.” They were figuring out the moves and the music.

Things like the marching band take some time to develop. You don’t walk out on the field and simply start playing and marching perfectly. It takes time and effort to grow and develop, to mature.

Peter continues to make comment on the growth of our faith. What do we add to our faith? What do we add to goodness? What other attributes should we strive for?

As believers in God and believers in Jesus Christ we begin with faith. We have a confidence in the existence of God and in His goodness. We have a basic belief in the gift of Christ as our Savior.

This is the starting point. And from that base we add the qualities of goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, kindness and love. As we grow in our faith, as we mature toward perfection, we learn to be good – that is, we learn to value what is not evil and we learn to live as people who embrace the beneficial aspects of life.

Once we are secure in our faith and in attitudes of an honorable and morally pure life, we can work at increasing our knowledge, our awareness and understanding of our faith and in the ways of God. As we continue to grow and become better Christians we learn to control our baser urges and desires. We learn to remain strong in our faith in spite of challenges and adversities, and we develop our abilities to practice a godly, holy life that produces acts of kindness and mercy.

The life of a faithful believer should be a life that is always growing and improving. It should be a journey that makes us better and better people, more able to live out our faith and share God’s love. The maturing Christian should always strive to “get it,” to understand more fully what our faith is all about and how to live it.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Give your faith an honest evaluation. Where are you in the progression Peter lists? How can you move on to the next level?

Great Church 1

2 Peter 1:3-4
As the summer draws to a close we begin to anticipate a return to school and perhaps a new chapter in our work life. We may need to shrug off the laziness of the hotter months and begin to focus once again on our responsibilities. With this in mind we can examine ourselves and our faith life and perhaps see that we need to return to a more faithful dedication to God.

In his second letter to believers, the disciple Peter makes comment on the significance of our faith. What has God given us? What accompanies these gifts? How does it help us?

We can so easily become complacent with our connection to God. We begin to take life for granted with all the ups and downs that everyone experiences. We may get caught up in our own interests, or we may feel that we are “good enough” Christians that we need no more instruction or improvement. We become so comfortable in our faith that we fail to commit to it as we should.

But Peter, the man who was so dear to Christ and who followed him so closely, reminds us that God has given us incredible gifts. He has given us everything we need for life. And not just everything for life, but everything we need to live life to its spiritual fullness.

As Peter points out, God has called us through His goodness and glory, and in that call are the gifts of God to live a life of godliness. Knowing that God has called us, that He has embraced us in His love and glory, that He has called us to be His children, allows us and compels us to take part in the divinity of God.

These are heavy words, but what does all that mean?

God loves us and wants us to be in a deep relationship with Him. A comparison we can understand is that of a parent and children. Because God wants us to be in this familial relationship He gives us what we need – that is, He gives us that heartfelt prompt and desire to be good people. He wants us to be holy.

We may never be as holy as God, but we can participate in the divine nature of God. We can come close to God and we can become holier than we are now. When we embrace our call to faith, when we see that a connection to God is essential, it can save us from the pitfalls and failings of a sinful, human-centered life.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Set a spiritual goal for yourself. What must you do to believe that you are participating in God’s divine nature? Do you need to attend worship more often? Do you need to increase your charitable giving? Do you need to take part in work that benefits others?