“Quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”

James 119, 20 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

“Bad listeners do not make good disciples,” wrote British author John Stott. Like Grandma said, “God gave us two ears and one mouth so we should listen twice as much as we speak!”

The author then proceeds to give a threefold admonition or warning, using three key words whose themes are further developed: to hear in verses 22–25, to speak in 26–27, and to anger in 20–21. [1]

Quick to Hear

To hear what? James answers that question in v. 18: “the word of truth,” and v. 21, “humbly accept the word planted in you.”

James tells us we should be quick to listen to God, but how is God speaking to us today? Do you remember the story of the little boy Samuel in 1 Samuel chapter 3?

8 The Lord called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

In the past, God spoke directly to men like Abraham, Samuel and Saul of Tarsus. Today God speaks directly through his Holy Bible and He also speaks to us through his creation. For the Christian, God also speaks through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

In addition to listening to God, we need to learn to listen to each other. That means listening to our spouses at home where communication is critical to our happiness. It means to be keen observers in the workplace and the community where listening leads to action. It especially means listening to one another in our fellowship.

When we choose not to listen, we are saying, “You are not important.” When we listen intently, we have the opportunity to say, “You are important to me. I love you.”

“Slow to Speak”

This is a fascinating admonition. James might be encouraging people to not quickly become a preacher (See 3:1 – 12), but it is also good advice for dealing with anger, his third admonition.

Slow to Become Angry

See Ephesians 4:26, 31.

Why is anger mentioned in this context? “Or, if we understand the previous admonition as against preachers who are too eager to preach the word of God, the anger mentioned here could conceivably be understood as a sort of contempt against or hostility to others, arising out of a person’s arrogance and zeal for the word of God.”[2]

On the other hand, this is simply good advice for everyone. Batsell Barett Baxter observed, “Of the four major destructive emotions: fear, guilt, hostility, and failure, hostility is the worst.”

What causes so much anger in our world? It could be a reaction against depersonalization. Do you ever feel like you are just a number? When you are forced to “Press 1 if you …. Press 2 to talk with …. Press 3 to …,” do you feel like you don’t really matter? Often, we are reduced to just a number and it fills us with frustration and that leads to anger.

Selfishness is another source of anger. I want things done my way and I want them done now. I don’t want to wait in line. I don’t want to take a number. I don’t want to eat __________. I, I, I and I become angry!

What does the Bible teach about anger? First, anger is a God-given emotion and anger is not necessarily sinful. The phrase “the anger of the Lord” appears 18 times in the Old Testament and Jesus himself became angry (Mark 3:5). However, there are times when anger is wrong. It can disqualify a man from serving as an elder. Fathers are not to cause their children to become bitter – the fruit of an angry childhood (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21). Jesus taught anger prepares a person for the fires of hell! (Matthew 5:21-24) Yet, there are times when anger is the proper response (2 Corinthians 7:10, 11).

Questions

  1. What safeguards should my anger have?
  2. What should I become angry about?
  3. How can I safely express my anger?

[1] Loh, I., & Hatton, H. (1997). A handbook on the Letter from James. UBS Handbook Series (41). New York: United Bible Societies.

[2] Loh, I., & Hatton, H. (1997). A handbook on the Letter from James. UBS Handbook Series (42–43). New York: United Bible Societies.

Metamorphosis

Sunday Morning Sermon
July 16, 2017
Romans 12:1, 2
John McKeel

 This is the third and final part of a three part series on Romans 12:1, 2 entitled, “The Pilgrimage to Beauty.”

 

12 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (ESV)

Don’t Let the World Squeeze You In!

Anyone who has walked through a casino in Vegas understands peer pressure. In a thousand subtle (and not so subtle) ways they are pressuring you to gamble.

The world around us, Paul says, is also trying to squeeze us – and our families – into its mold.

Living Inside Out

So how can we resist? By being transformed – changed from the inside out. The word Paul used to describe this process is the same one we use to describe the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly: metamorphosis. It’s not a matter of looking the part. It means staring with our hearts and being transformed from the inside out.

Paul reminded Titus, the Holy Spirit renews our minds (Titus 3:5) and he told the Corinthians our vision of God transforms us (2 Corinthians 3:18).

A New Mind

A renewed mind requires the special work of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5) and it requires a vision of God (2 Corinthians 3:18) to put things into perspective.

You see the problem is, sin – especially repetitious sin – corrupts our vision (Romans 1:18 – 32). Here is an important principle: you are no greater than the god you worship, because our vision of God gives us a perspective on life. For example, if you worship money, or “success,” or power, or beauty – all of these “little g gods” – you will be ultimately disappointed.

Think about it with me for a moment. Your so-called god makes great promises and will require certain sacrifices for their worship. For example, what sacrifices are you required to offer on the altar of beauty? And even if you make those sacrifices, in the end you will only be left with a beautiful corpse.

What we need is a new mind, a new way of thinking, a new vision of God.

The Goal of Transformation

When we can see the world through God’s eyes, we become “discerning” (dokimazo). That is, we learn to make judgements based on our understanding of God’s standards.

A transformed Christian will be able to make judgements about:

  • What is truly Good
  • That which is Pleasing to God
  • The Perfect, what meets the highest standard

Some Things to Think About

Knowledge

  1. What are some of the ways our culture tries to make us conform?
  2. How can we fight back?
  3. The Holy Spirit renews our mind (Titus 3:5), but we have a role to play too. How can we cultivate a new way of thinking?
  4. At the conclusion of Romans 12: 2, Paul says the result of renewing our mind is we will understand God’s will for us, then he describes God’s will for us with three attributes. What are they?

Attitude

  1. What are some ways you can tell that a person is a conformist?
  2. What are some ways you can tell that a person is living from the inside out (transformational living)?

Action

  • Here are some frightening statistics concerning our children:
    • The Adolescent Substance Abuse Knowledge Base reports that right around 30% if teens are offered drugs in middle school and high school.
    • According to the National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 74.3% of high school students have tried alcohol.
    • 3.1 million teenagers smoke, according to the American Lung Association.
    • The Kaiser Foundation reports that about 50% of teenagers feel pressured with regard to sex in relationships.

What suggestions would you give to a teenager on how to resist peer pressure?

25 Ways to Resist Negative Peer Pressure

  1. Walk away.
  2. Ignore the person.
  3. Pretend that the person must be joking. (“What a riot! You are so funny.”)
  4. Say no-calmly but firmly.
  5. Say no and give a reason. (“No. Cigarette smoke makes me sick.”)
  6. Say no and state a value or belief that’s important to you. (“No. I’ve decided not to have sex until I get married.”)
  7. Say no and warn about the possible consequences. (“No way! We could all get expelled.”)
  8. Say no and change the subject. (“No, I’m not interested. Say, what did you think of that stunt Clarisse pulled in math class today?”)
  9. Say no and offer a positive alternative. (“No thanks, I’ll pass. I’m going for a bike ride. Want to come?”)
  10. Say no and ask a question. (“No! Why would I want to do that?”)
  11. Say no and use humor. (“Forget it. I’d rather go play on the freeway; it’s safer.”)
  12. Say no and apply some pressure of your own. (“No. Say, I always thought you were smarter than that.”)
  13. Share your feelings. (“I don’t like being around people who are drinking.”)
  14. Use your parents as an excuse. (“My dad would kill me if I ever did that.”)
  15. Stick up for yourself. (“I’m not going to do that. It wouldn’t be good for me.”)
  16. Confront the person. (“I can’t believe you’d ask me to do that. I thought you were my friend.”)
  17. Call another friend to help you.
  18. Always have an out — a Plan B. (“Sorry I can’t come to the party. I promised my sister I’d take her to a movie.”)
  19. (“Gotta run. I told my mom I’d clean out the garage.’)
  20. Hang out with people who don’t pressure you to do risky things.
  21. Ask a peer mediator to help.
  22. Tell an adult.
  23. Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right.
  24. Avoid the person from then on.

from What Teens Need to Succeed by Peter Benson

Living with Temptation

The Source of Temptation

James 112 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (ESV)

Temptations & Trials

There are two reefs that threaten the faith of a Christian. The first is “trial” and the second is “temptation.” Trials come at us from without and are a part of life. On the other hand, temptations come at us from within.

Who should we blame for our temptations? God? No, James reminds us God can’t be tempted and doesn’t tempt anyone (v.13). Should we blame Satan? The comedian, Flip Wilson, popularized the saying, “The devil made me do it!” But James tells us, we are tempted by our own desires. Like a fish looking at a lure, we are “lured and enticed.”

That’s an interesting concept because the word translated “desire” is actually neutral. The NIV adds the adjective “evil” and the KJV uses the word “lust” in place of desire, but the word desire is actually neutral. The problem is balance. James says we are “drawn away.” In other words, we are moved to an extreme. Hunger is natural. Gluttony is not. When our appetites get the best of us, it is a temptation that lures us into sin.

The Apostle John wrote:

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Jn 2:15–17)

Damning Desires

Let’s break John’s observations down further so we can understand our temptations. The first pathway to sin is giving in to “what the body desires” (The ancient Peshito-Syriac Bible translates it this way) — in other words, our appetites. Even the Apostle Paul wrestled with this kind of temptation (Romans 7:18 ff.) Do you remember the first temptation of Jesus? “Turn these stones into bread.” That is another example of “what the body desires.”

Beyond our appetites are what the old King James Version called the “lust of the eyes,” what the more modern International Standard Version calls “the desire for possessions.” I’d call it good, old-fashioned “greed,” (God’s Word Translation). This was the second temptation of Jesus, where, according to Luke, Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and offered them to him.

The third tool of temptation is particularly modern: “the pride of life.” In the latest version of the NIV, this pathway to temptation reads like a description of social media: “their boasting about what they have and do,” (TNIV). Young’s Translation calls it, “the ostentation of the life.”

There is another way to view this temptation. The Lexham English Bible translates this third tool of temptation as “the arrogance of material possessions.” Christians should believe we don’t possess anything. We are only managers of what God has given us. Sometimes we forget we’ll give an accounting for how we used God’s gifts to help others.

Likewise, if you think about the third temptation of Christ, to leap off the pinnacle of the Temple and prove He was the son of God, you’ll see this as another aspect of the temptation we are discussing: pride.

Learning to Control Our Desires

So how can we learn to control our desires and deal with our temptations? First, it is important to realize, sin and temptation are not the same! James would tell us temptation is a part of growth. Remember, to triumph later, we must prepare now and that means learning to recognize sin and to unmask the Tempter.

This means our lives must have a purpose and we must never take our eyes off the prize.

Finally, perhaps the most important solution is to find contentment. Here are four verses to write on our hearts:

  1. “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. “ (2 Corinthians 12:10)
  2. “… for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)
  3. “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (1 Timothy 6:6-8).
  4. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5, 6)

A Living Sacrifice

Sunday Morning Sermon
July 9, 2017
Romans 12:1, 2
John McKeel

 This is the second of a three part series on Romans 12:1, 2 entitled, “The Pilgrimage to Beauty.”

12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (ESV)

Old and New

The rule of the Old Testament was law. It was about keeping commandments – “Thou shalt not …” – and we all know the New Testament is about salvation by grace, but there are many other differences as well. The Old had a system of priests and temples and sacrifices. The New changes that. Now we are all priests and Jesus was the one perfect sacrifice that takes away the sins of the world.

However, in our text this morning, Paul urges us “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” Let’s think about that for a moment together.

The Right Sacrifice

In this verse, Paul uses the language of the temple: “present … sacrifice … worship.” That sacrifice is our bodies as a whole and it is to have three attributes:

  1. Living – Are you fully alive?
  2. Holy – I like Young’s translation: “sanctified.”
  3. Pleasing to God, See Hebrews 13:15, 16. “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

“Present Your Bodies”

In the western world, under the influence of Greek civilization, we tend to think about our souls apart from our bodies. That’s why the Athenians laughed at Paul in Acts 17 when he preached a bodily resurrection.

Yes, Jesus talked about ““heart, soul, mind and strength” in Mark 12:28-34, and Paul asked God to bless the Thessalonians completely: soul and body, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, but they were referring to different facets of our humanity and not different parts.

How many people are tormented by body image issues? In a world without God, perfection is a cruel standard, but God is alive and He makes us perfect!

Consider the case of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate (Acts 4:1 – 10). The Old Testament called for perfection and he was not allowed to go into the Temple.

By the power of Jesus, Peter and John healed him and by the power of Jesus, we need to put to death these ridiculous standards of “beauty” too. Praise God for gray hair because it isn’t gray – it’s silver! Praise God for those stretch marks because they represent new life. It’s time to see the inner beauty that God sees!

1 Peter 3:3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.

 

If you have any questions about today’s lesson, or if you would just like to talk, please contact John McKeel, John@GrotonChurch.org.

Some Things to Think About

Which First Lady would you rather invite to dinner? Eleanor Roosevelt or Melania Trump? Why?

Knowledge

  1. Can you separate your soul from your body and still be human?
  2. Why did the Greeks on Mars Hill find Paul’s message so funny? (Acts 17:16 ff.)
  3. We are to offer our bodies as a “living sacrifice.” What is the difference between a living sacrifice and a dead sacrifice? Does it seem like most Christians are living or dead?

Attitude

  1. Why do people spend so much money and time on cosmetics, exercise, fashion and plastic surgery?
  2. Should Christians be concerned about these things? 1 Peter 3:3, 4; 1 Timothy 2:9.
  3. How can Christians become a living sacrifice? The ancient preacher, John Chrysostom, said:

“How can the body become a sacrifice? Let the eye look on no evil, and it is a sacrifice. Let the tongue utter nothing base, and it is an offering. Let the hand work no sin, and it is a holocaust. * But more, this suffices not, but besides we must actively exert ourselves for good; the hand giving alms, the mouth blessing them that curse us, the ear ever at leisure for listening to God”

*Holocaust here means “a sacrifice wholly consumed by fire.”

Action

  • Is Paul asking us to give something up, or to live our lives differently, if we are to be “a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God?”

 

A Thousand Words

QuillSomeone said, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” however, Don Chaney, a radio-advertising salesman once observed:

“You give me a thousand words and I’ll take the Lord’s Prayer, the Twenty-Third Psalm, the Hippocratic Oath, a sonnet by Shakespeare, the Preamble to the Constitution, Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, and I’ll still have enough words left over for just about all of the Boy Scout Oath. Now would you trade these one thousand words for any picture?”[1]

Then there was the Creation: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” God spoke the world into existence. He created light, heaven, land, vegetation, seasons, fish, birds, animals and people all with a word (Genesis chapter 1). The Apostle John wrote: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God,” (John 1:1). Don’t ever doubt the power of speech!

But our speech can be good or bad. James, the brother of Jesus, said, “The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell,” (James 3:6). It’s been said that a person’s worth depends upon their two smallest organs: their heart and their tongue.

How can I learn to control my mouth? First let me say, “It ain’t easy!” (Bad grammar, but right on target.) So how do we go about “tongue taming”? Here are some hints:

  • Granny’s observation was correct: “God gave us two ears and one tongue so we should listen twice as much as we talk.”
  • Before you open your mouth, ask yourself, “Is it necessary for me to say anything?”
  • Ask yourself, “Is it true?”
  • Ask yourself, “Is it kind?”

Finally, share this prayer, “Lord, may my words be tender and kind for I may have to eat them.”

 

[1] Quoted by Ronald L. Willingham, How to Speak So People Will Listen, Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1968.

Freedom to Love

QuillNext weekend is the Fourth of July. It’s a time for picnics and parades and fireworks. For Americans, it’s a time for us to celebrate freedom. One of my favorite Christian authors is John R. W. Stott. He pointed out “One of the best ways of sharing the gospel with modern men and women is to present it in terms of freedom.”

“Freedom” is a great Christian word (Luke 4:18, 19; John 8:36; Galatians 5:1). It is an extremely appealing topic but freedom is also much misunderstood. I once read a quote from a Marxist, “When we get freedom, you’ll do what you’re told!”

What does it mean to be free? True freedom has limitations. If two people jump out of an airplane and only one of them has a parachute, which one do you think will enjoy the experience of sky-diving more?

As Christians we are freed from guilt, freed from sin and freed from fear. But in addition to being freed from we are also freed to. Again Stott points out “True freedom is freedom to be ourselves, as God made us and meant us to be.” That’s an important limitation!

Think about it. God is not free. He cannot be tempted or lie or tolerate evil. His freedom is freedom to be himself! What is true for the Creator is true for us. This past week our granddaughters have been visiting us so naturally we had to spend time at the beach. Rachel loved chasing the little fish swimming in the shallows along the shore. Now it’s an important truth that fish were created for the water. We learned that they are not very happy on the shore or in your pocket. Fish were created for the water and that’s where they are happiest.

People were created for love. Robert Southwell wrote, “Not when I breathe, but when I love, I live.” True love is self-giving. True freedom is freedom from my silly little self in order to live for God and others (See Mark 8:35). As the fish are created for the sea, so we were created to love. The Apostle John wrote “This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another…. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers…. Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth,” (1 John 3:11, 16, 18).

The Mercies of God

Sunday Morning Sermon
July 2, 2017
Romans 12:1, 2
John McKeel

 This is the first of a three part series on Romans 12:1, 2 entitled, “The Pilgrimage to Beauty.”

New Birth/New Beginning

What do princesses kissing frogs and ugly ducklings have in common? Yes, they are fairy tales, but they both describe the “Pilgrimage to Beauty.”

In the New Testament, Paul describes a pilgrimage to beauty as we are transformed into the image of Jesus in Romans 12:1, 2. This is the first of a three-part series.

The Basis of Paul’s Encouragement

The pilgrimage to beauty is only possible because through the “mercies of God.”

  1. Mercy: This word is rare outside of the Bible. We might see other’s pain, but most of us have learned to ignore it. “Mercy” means “sympathy that is ready to help.” (See Luke 6:27-36.)
  2. The story of Jesus and Blind Bartimaeus illustrates mercy. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite might have had compassion, but they didn’t have mercy. Let’s study the story: Mark 10:46 – 52

How do we learn to be merciful?

  1. As the Children of God, we need to learn how to be merciful too.
  2. Paul gave very clear instructions to the Colossians:

Colossians 3:12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

Note Our Standing with God:
  1. Elect – chosen
  2. Holy
  3. Beloved
Now Follow the Five Steps:
  1. First, we need to soften our hearts.
  2. Kindness
  3. Humility
  4. Meekness
  5. Patience

Some Things to Think About

Knowledge
  1. Define each of the following words:
    1. Pity
    2. Compassion
    3. Sympathy
    4. Mercy
  2. Mercy in the Bible is defined as “sympathy that is ready to help.” How is mercy like sympathy and how is it different?
  3. What does “God is merciful” mean?
  4. In Romans 12:1, Paul is encouraging the Romans on the basis of God’s mercy. Can you explain?
  5. What would God be like if He wasn’t merciful?
Attitude
  1. Can you help someone who doesn’t want your help?
  2. Why should we be merciful?
  3. Give an example of mercy in action.
Action
  • Read Colossians 3:12, 13 and outline a plan for becoming merciful.

Endurance!

Quill

Joy in Trials

1Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

What is hypomone?

  1. Notice “that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” or, as many translations read either “patience” or “endurance.”
  2. There are two synonyms for endurance in the New Testament.
    1. Makrothumia – “Long-suffering” KJV
    2. hypomone – “endurance”

Why is endurance so important?

Have you ever used a sponge? Did you notice sponges work best when they are squeezed? Likewise, Jesus tells us, “by your endurance you will be saved,” (Luke 21)

How can we endure?

“And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us,”

Paul, Romans 5:2b-5

12     Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

Questions


 Knowledge

  1. Why is praying for patience “a dangerous prayer”?
  2. Why is patience a key to fruitfulness (Luke 8:15; Galatians 6:9)?
  3. What qualities do the Proverbs say lead to patience? (Proverbs 14:29; 19:11)? How are these characteristics related to patience?
  4. What is the difference between “patience” (macrothumia) and “endurance” (hupomone)? Which one is harder?
  5. Why is patience essential for health relationships?
  6. Why does Paul say patience is the first ingredient in love?

Attitude

  1. Since true patience is “a calm endurance, based on the certain knowledge that God is in control” (James Rye), how could acknowledging God’s power over your circumstances help you to be patient in dealing with:
    1. Career
    2. Ministry
    3. Relationships
    4. Hardships
  2. Why are patient people so attractive?
  3. How would your life be different if you were more patient?

Action

  • In what area of your life is patience most difficult right now? Consider what you need to do to exercise faith in this situation, and write out a prayer to use this week to help you grow.

The Blessing of Words

Quill“Ahhh chooo!” he sneezed and someone piped up, “Bless you!”

That’s an old custom left over from when people believed sneezes were caused by demons and we needed God’s help to overcome the sniffles. Perhaps times have changed. We no longer believe colds are caused by demons, but we also rarely think about blessings either.

The Apostle Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians by declaring, “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,” (Ephesians 1:3, ESV), but what does that mean? The New Century Bible changes the wording a little bit to have Paul say, “Praise be to the God.” (See the Contemporary English Version and others.) This recognizes that there are two Greek words in the New Testament translated “bless.”

We know the first one from Jesus’ Beatitudes (Matthew 5:2 ff.), where each phrase begins, “Blessed are ….” That word, makarios, has the sense “congratulations,” “fortunate,” or “happy.” In other words, if you practice this quality, you will be happy.

The second word translated “blessed” is eulogetos. It is an adjective, a description, which portrays something as “worthy of praise.” This is the interesting part: this word is only used of God the Father or Jesus. They are so fantastic that only they are truly praiseworthy. Everything and everyone else pales in comparison.

Now let’s take our new found knowledge and use it to help us understand what Paul was telling the Ephesians: God is blessed – he is worthy of praise! (Spend some time thinking about why God is worthy of praise.) God is blessed! But that isn’t all Paul tells us. Out of his bounty of blessings, God gives some of that quality to us. His blessings rub off on us through our relationship with Jesus. To the extent Jesus is Lord of our lives, we receive the blessings of God!

Still there is more. We might think about earthly blessings: a new car, a shiny new gadget – my wish list goes on and on – but the problem with earthly blessings is new cars become old, gadgets new to be replaced, and none of the possessions I might desire will ever really satisfy me. That’s why the blessings that come from God are “spiritual blessings.” They make me a better person. God’s blessings just get better and better with time. But that’s not all. These blessings aren’t earthbound. They are “in the heavenly places.” That means unlike anything else in my life, the blessings of God will travel with me into eternity! Now that’s something worth getting excited about.