The Christian Life In a Nutshell: Past, Present, Future

Ever heard the phrase “the Christian life”? Everyone lives physically, but those choose to follow Jesus come alive spiritually. And we live for him and his purposes, answering to him as Savior, friend, and King.

If you want a synopsis of what the Christian life looks like, Paul lays it out as he writes to the ancient church in Thessalonica

And now the word of the Lord is ringing out from you to people everywhere, even beyond Macedonia and Achaia, for wherever we go we find people telling us about your faith in God. We don’t need to tell them about it, for they keep talking about the wonderful welcome you gave us and how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God. And they speak of how you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. He is the one who has rescued us from the terrors of the coming judgment.

– 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10 NLT

To be a Christian means that you’ve turned in repentance and faith, from idolatry to Jesus. From all of the Jesus-substitutes that can never heal us, forgive us, or satisfy us – and that can only doom us. From self-worship, self-interest, and self-reliance to dependence upon the One who can alone forgive our sin, heal our souls, and change our eternal trajectory.

To be a Christian means that you serve the living and true God. You’re bound by immense gratitude to Him because of the awesome work of grace He has done in your life. What or whom else is there to live for, really? You’re His, bought with a price, and He is yours, pledged to you and guaranteed by the downpayment of the Holy Spirit in your life.

To be a Christians means you wait for His Son from heaven. Death is momentary and God’s wrath toward you has been extinguished by the very blood of Christ. So now you wait, not passively as though life is a bus stop, but actively living for his coming. You may feel that you’ve waited so long that he will never arrive, but his timing is not yours. He is indeed coming. He has an appointment he is absolutely bound to keep. So hope never dies. Your waiting will not be in vain. He’s on his way.

That’s the Christian life… you’ve turned from idols… you serve the living God… you wait for Jesus’ return. Everything else you experience and struggle with fits under one of these headings. There are still some things to leave behind in that pile of old idols. There is more adventure awaiting you as your life serves his purposes. And there is more to look forward to in eternity than you could ever imagine!

5 Questions to Ask When You Think You’ve Heard from God

Discernment. I have a love-hate relationship with that word. On the one hand, some Christians use discernment as an excuse to go on a witch hunt, disqualifying as many leading voices as possible and labeling people “false teachers” at the drop of a hat. Entire ministries are built on this kind of paranoia, and it’s a little sad.

On the other hand, discernment can also be an overlooked and under-valued virtue. In our desire to remain positive, sometimes we accept non-truths and half-truths without thinking through them deeply. When we’re not careful and discerning, we’ll say a hearty “Amen” to any pithy saying that gives us the warm fuzzies.

This is nothing new. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about our imbalance with discernment two millennia ago. In the closing remarks of his first letter to them, he gave them five big pieces of advice about discernment (I’m inserting #’s for emphasis):

(#1) Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. (#2) Do not scoff at prophecies, but (#3) test everything that is said. (#4) Hold onto what is good. (#5) Stay away from evil of every kind.

– 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 NLT

Paul’s advice sounds a lot like the tip W. A. Criswell used to give about reading, “Read a book the way you eat fish – swallow the meat and spit out the bones.”

An over-active discernment muscle will cause us to be critical of anything that might disturb our spiritual comfort, including the Holy Spirit himself. But failing to test what we think we’re hearing from God is equally dangerous. Let me zero in on Paul’s phrase “test everything.” I live by five tests. When I think I’m hearing from God, here are five tests I apply that I believe will help you be appropriately discerning too:

Continue reading 5 Questions to Ask When You Think You’ve Heard from God

Everybody Needs Encouragement

We live in rather uncivil times. We’re a divided nation in a divided world. In times like these, the world needs a volunteer army of encouragers. It’s one of the best ways to show love. Paul said, So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11 NLT)

Encouragement isn’t empty flattery. Being fake helps no one. Speaking words of affirmation isn’t about the needs of the encourager but about the encouraged. Encouragement is about acknowledging the truth about someone, ultimately to remind them of God’s goodness toward them. And encouragement needs to happen at multiple levels. Some need a simple greeting of encouragement while others need the healing of encouraging counsel.

You will never lack a target when you’re looking for someone to encourage in the world in which we live. So take up the challenge today, turn your attention outward, and find someone to encourage.

Three Functions of the Word of God

Every time I stand up to preach, I have the privilege of watching God’s living word accomplish dynamic things in the lives of people. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul spells out three distinct functions that the Word of God performs in our lives…

As you know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father does his children.
~ 1 Thessalonians 2:11

Now watch this…

To “exhort” is to BUILD UP people.

To “comfort” is to HOLD UP people.

To “charge” is to FIRE UP people.

I don’t know about you, but I need all three of those in my life every single day I need to be built up because I crumble on my own. So Word of God… exhort me. I need to be held up because I falter on my own, so Word of God… comfort me. I need to be fired up because I flicker out on my own. So Word of God… charge me.

And every time I preach, counsel, advise, or encourage, let me do these three things in the lives of others.


I Am Bound to Give Thanks

In his second letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul begins by saying “I am bound to thank God always for you all…” I’ve always loved that little snippet of Scripture because of its plain message – I am bound, obligated, indebted to give thanks. It’s the least I can do in light of all that our wonderful God has done for me. I wanted to take a few moments and list out some of those things for all who will read.

Continue reading I Am Bound to Give Thanks

Comfort One Another

We’re down to the final study in our Wendesday night journey through the one another’s of the New Testament. This one is pretty awesome – we’re to comfort one another. It’s based on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, a familiar passage to many. It concerns itself with Jesus’ second coming, which forms the basis of our comfort of one another. Continue reading Comfort One Another

Life… In All Its Complexity

The blog has been put on hold for a couple of weeks now, primarily because of all that my wife and I have been experiencing in our personal lives. Here’s a recounting of it…

On Monday evening, October 30, Angie left her ladies’ Connection Cafe meeting feeling well, but by the time we drove from the church to our house (just a couple of minutes) she was in terrible pain. We decided to go to the emergency room. Our beloved friends, Cory and Lachelle McCaig, came to sit from about 10:00 pm until 4:30 Tuesday morning while Angie was subjected to numerous tests, which found essentially nothing wrong.

On Tuesday morning, October 31, we went for a follow-up visit at her physician’s office and he became concerned about some possible internal bleeding. He decided to admit her to St. Mary’s hospital where he would perform a laproscopic procedure simply to explore any potential problems. He, like the emergency room physician, sought to rule out the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy. One he began the procedure, he discovered the worst scenario, an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, which can be deadly.

The short, one-hour procedure turned into a two and one half hour operation with a large incision. I was so moved as I waited in the surgery waiting room as about two dozen members of our church surrounded me, waiting to hear that Angie had come through the surgery okay. We were delighted to hear that she would be just fine. The physician explained that she had sustained heavy internal bleeding and that her risk of possible death had been higher than he had anticipated.

Angie’s Dad brought her Mom down from St. Louis to help take care of her for a few days but her stay was interrupted by yet another family emergency. On Thursday, Angie’s grandmother suffered a heart attack and was in intensive care in Washington, Missouri. The family had hoped that she was improving, but in the middle of Thursday night, a call came alerting us that she had taken a turn for the worse. Angie’s Mom borrowed my car and drove through the night to be at her mother’s side. Ella Briggs (our daughter’s namesake) went home to heaven on Friday, November 3.

Later that afternoon, Angie and I loaded up our van and began the trip to St. Clair to attend the funeral, but wisdom along with some forceful but loving input from our family, prompted us to turn back and stay at home. Angie was recovering a little each day, but it may be a total of six weeks recovery time before she is completely healthy again. We’ve taken a much needed one night sabbatical to a nearby vacation spot and have attempted to settle back into a routine, with Angie returning to work on this past Monday, November 13.

The Sunday before all of this began, my text included Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to His purpose.” That Monday night, Angie testified at Connection Cafe that she had (at least we thought at the time) a miscarriage, but that God was faithfully teaching us to trust Him. It isn’t merely a cliche that “everything happens for a reason.” When you’re a believer, nothing is left to chance anymore. You realize that God has a sovereign plan that allows His children to endure some very difficult crises in life in order that we might enjoy “the fellowship of (Christ’s) sufferings.”

Since we learn how to be disciples through the tough stuff, what have I learned from all of this?

First, I’ve learned the importance of God’s timing. Had Angie not been persisent with her physician in his office, he would have sent her home where she may have bled to death. We’ve heard numerous testimonies from others who experienced the same trauma and were in grave danger. God rescued Angie just in time. On a similar note, I’ve learned the mysterious nature of God’s timing. Why would Angie’s grandmother pass away just after Angie’s surgery when her mother would have to make a midnight dash for Missouri and when Angie could not attend the funeral? All I can conlcude us that God is ultimately wise.

Second, I’ve learned the value of a loving church family, a fellowship of believers. I was surrounded in a waiting room by numerous friends and members of our spiritual family. Once home, people provided meals as well as company with their visits. We’ve experienced an outpouring of love and compassion for which we will be forever grateful. I’ve often heard others say, “I don’t see how people make it through things without a church family.” That statement was exemplified in our tragedy.

Third, I’ve learned what a beautiful and courageous woman I married! I sat in the surgery waiting room virtually helpless. I could do nothing to ensure her safety except to pray. I could do nothing to help her recover except play nurse and fetch water. Yet I watched as Angie handled the situation like a champ. Note that champions have weak moments, moments of curiosity about the activity of God and moments of emotional break-down. Tears rarely come from cowards. I’ve learned a new respect for her. While it was our baby that died so prematurely in a pregancy complication, it was her body that experienced such drastic trauma. I wish I could be half as strong as her!

More than anything, we’ve learned “in all things (to) give thanks unto God, for this is the will of God for (us) in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) At our former church, we used to have a responsive chant: “God is good… all the time… and all the time… God is good.” God really is good. We don’t always get what we expect or want, but God never ceases to be holy or loving. God has been glorified in our lives in so many ways in the last few weeks, all we can do is humbly give Him praise, cry our tears, and go on in faith that God will always be good!