Every Good Gift

If you had all the money and the power in the world and could bestow a gift on everyone you know, what would it be? Would you give them wealth? Prosperity? Fame? Good health? What do your friends need that you would grant if you could? What would you ask for yourself if your friend could give you anything?

Today’s reading from 1 Thessalonians reveals things that were on Paul’s mind as he writes to his young church. The content of this letter includes an explanation of the fundamentals of Christian life, an assurance that their suffering would increase their faith, and a word of encouragement about the example they are setting as those who are sounding forth the word of God.

He asks them to pray for him.

1 Thessalonians 5:25-28

25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us. 26 Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss. 27 By the Lord’s authority, I order all of you to have this letter read aloud to all the brothers and sisters. 

28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you.

He ends his letter with a very strong instruction that the epistle be read to everyone. This is the first of his letters to this community and so public readings weren’t the norm yet. The letter is acting as a substitute for a personal visit from Paul, so he wants to be sure everyone hears from him through the letter. He also may have been concerned about the letter being abridged or mis-stated, so he wanted the people to hear it for themselves. And then he finishes by offering them a word of grace.

A study of Paul’s letters reveals a pattern of his greetings and endings. The phrase “grace and peace” appears in five of his letters. We might assume then, that these things are important to him. It follows that of all the things Paul wanted to give his followers, grace is the most important thing.

Grace is the bestowal of God’s love and acceptance of us as we are invited to come just as we are. Grace is the magnanimous gift of unmerited favor that allows us into the kingdom of God. Grace is gift that can’t be earned but must be received. Grace is the best gift a friend could wish upon another.

Every good gift from heaven came in the form of Christ’s grace on the cross; his gentleness, his tenderness, his patience, and his sacrificial love are poured out from the pitcher of grace onto a hurting world. Can anything beat that? What grace doesn’t have is judgement, arrogance, privilege, bias, oppression, or favoritism. Grace is offered to all through the blood on the cross, and we as the church must do all in our power to ensure that everybody has an opportunity to receive it.

This is why Paul begins and ends his epistles with a wish for peace and grace to be experienced in his churches. He loved them like a parent loves a child and only ever wanted the best for them.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you today!

Fountain of Grace by Kathy Schumacher

Always

What are the things that should remain always? Love. Patience. Generosity. Kindness. Chocolate.

The Scriptures are full of things that should remain and rule the day. When Jesus left, he gave us marching orders to go and share the gospel and baptize in his name. Then he reminded us that he would be with us always.

Life can be devoid of “always.” Relationships, jobs, good health, promises, and your home zip code will all change and fall away in an average lifetime, but thankfully, the spiritual things remain even in the vacuum of our expectations and experiences.

Paul had some things to say about the ‘alwaysness’ of things. He gave the church at Thessolonica marching orders that announced a benediction of instructions for the rest of time.

Show respect.

Live in peace.

Warn the disorderly.

Comfort the discouraged.

You can read Paul’s manifesto in the verses of this passage. These were the things that were important to him:

1 Thessalonians 5 (Common English Bible)

12 Brothers and sisters, we ask you to respect those who are working with you, leading you, and instructing you. 13 Think of them highly with love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are disorderly. Comfort the discouraged. Help the weak. Be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure no one repays a wrong with a wrong, but always pursue the good for each other and everyone else.

These are timeless words for the way we live today. If politicians, administrations, senators, governors, media moguls, CEOs etc. were to live by these rules, the ridiculous click-bait-driven vitriol that consumes us would cease and we would actually have a chance to live in peace with one another.

Paul calls us to help the weak and be patient with one another. What does that say to you today? Where can you deliver a word of comfort to someone who needs it? Are you becoming frustrated with a situation that requires an additional measure of patience? I lost a fight with a coffee maker way too early this morning while a two-year-old was loudly calling my name. Lord, give me patience and give it to me RIGHT NOW!

16 Rejoice always. 

Of all the things Paul says, this may be the most challenging, especially if you find yourself suddenly submerged in betrayal, abuse, or illness.

I have a friend who took a hard fall that rendered him hospitalized for sixty days. For sixty days his amazing wife posted updates while we all responded with encouraging words and prayers. For sixty days, even in the darkest times, even on the day when their daughter had to be walked down the aisle by her brothers because he was in a coma, this faithful wife posted pictures of the celebration with a sense of rejoicing that surpassed all reason. When he finally was well enough to communicate with the world again, we all rejoiced.

I know she was scared. I know she was exhausted. I know she was frustrated. But through her faithful and positive countenance, rejoicing had already carried the day.

17 Pray continually. 18 Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Don’t suppress the Spirit. 20 Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages,21 but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good.22 Avoid every kind of evil. 23 Now, may the God of peace himself cause you to be completely dedicated to him; and may your spirit, soul, and body be kept intact and blameless at our Lord Jesus Christ’s coming. 24 The one who is calling you is faithful and will do this.

This last bit is perhaps the key to it all. PRAY CONTINUALLY. I believe it is all connected: praying continually>respect>giving and receiving comfort>finding patience>rejoicing in all things>giving thanks. Prayer is the key.

When we pray continually in all things, we open ourselves to the unlimited power of God and the unfathomable Spirit-inspired messages that we receive when we sit in God’s presence. There, we find strength to resist evil and grasp peace.

Do you lack peace? Do you need guidance? Are you frustrated as all get-out? There is something you can do … pray continually. And when you are finished, pray some more.

Always by Ginger Endreson

Hold Fast

Do you have a personal mantra? Is there a phrase or saying that embodies your philosophy, attitude, or belief in a succinct way? The champion boxer Muhammad Ali was famous for “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” You can’t walk past a Penn Stater without someone yelling, “WE ARE!” Yoda teaches us “Do or do not….there is no try.” When my daughter was battling cancer, her mantra was “Go big or go home.” She went big.

The Apostle Paul was a mantra-maker. Almost everything he wrote could be captured on a bumper sticker or emblazoned on a t-shirt. A mantra is something that provides you with words you can live by, so if you’re looking for a new one, choose something from Paul.

Rejoice always!

Pray without ceasing.

Give thanks in all circumstances!

Hold fast to what is good.

Take a look at his letter to the Thessalonians and see what I mean:

1 Thessalonians 5 (English Standard Version)

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies,21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.

As we say on my side of the pew, that will preach! Of these few examples (and his letters are full of them), which would you choose for a personal mantra?

I have always loved Romans 8:28, which says that God can use ALL things for the good of those who love him and are called to his purpose. But for now, I am choosing verse 21b: Hold fast to what is good.

In this period of isolation, in this unsettled Christmas season that finds us grappling with the fear and grief that the virus has brought to all of us, I am choosing to hold fast to what is good.

Because in the end, it’s all good.

23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

I pray you will hold fast, too.

Hold Fast by Wende Pritchard

Sleepwalking

These are trying times. That may be the understatement of the year. I don’t need to list all the reasons that I write that because you are living it. In my lifetime, nothing has been this hard, divisive, confusing, and in many ways, dangerous. The list of don’t do this, don’t go here, don’t engage in this behavior is endless. In my state, the governor just reduced indoor gatherings from 25 to 10. We are hunkering down for the next tidal wave of infections, which have already started…just in time for winter.

I know of two families who will not be able to share a Thanksgiving dinner together because younger members are not willing to isolate prior to that day. They have decided that going to the bars, gyms, and other social events is something they aren’t willing to give up for two weeks in order to be together safely. Another friend reports that she hasn’t seen her parents in months because they won’t wear masks when they go out and they continue to attend a monthly club dinner where nobody is wearing masks as they sit side by side at large tables.

Like I said, these are trying times. And trying times can bring out the most selfish tendencies that people have. It makes me think that I have been sleepwalking all of my life until 2020 reared its challenging head. Well, I’m woke now.

The lectionary assignment for today is (once again) startling in its accuracy. I had a wonderful chat with a colleague about the power and the relevance of the lectionary selections for this cycle. God is always ON POINT in scripture, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, the lectionary assignments written decades ago keep bringing the living word right into our current situation.

Take a look at Paul’s letter to his church at Thessalonica. If we didn’t know better, we might think he wrote it last night.

1 Thessalonians 5 (The Message)

1-3 I don’t think, friends, that I need to deal with the question of when all this is going to happen. You know as well as I that the day of the Master’s coming can’t be posted on our calendars. He won’t call ahead and make an appointment any more than a burglar would.

About the time everybody’s walking around complacently, congratulating each other—“We’ve sure got it made! Now we can take it easy!”—suddenly everything will fall apart. It’s going to come as suddenly and inescapably as birth pangs to a pregnant woman.

Although Paul is referring to the end times, the image of people walking around complacently declaring that “we can take it easy” is an accurate portrait of what’s happening in pandemic ridden post-election America. We’re just tired. We want it all to be over. Our vigilance in many areas of society has slipped, and the numbers are surging.

4-8 But friends, you’re not in the dark, so how could you be taken off guard by any of this? You’re sons of Light, daughters of Day. We live under wide open skies and know where we stand. So let’s not sleepwalk through life like those others.

Let’s keep our eyes open and be smart. People sleep at night and get drunk at night. But not us! Since we’re creatures of Day, let’s act like it. Walk out into the daylight sober, dressed up in faith, love, and the hope of salvation.

I love how Paul encourages us to keep our eyes open and be SMART. We can’t be taken off guard by this. Families are making hard decisions about gathering together. We may have to face the reality that our holiday meals will look much different than the festive tables we took for granted in the past.

But it won’t always be this way, so maybe it’s better to look beyond the immediate. Even in this struggle, we are alive in Christ…and that’s the good news.

9-11 God didn’t set us up for an angry rejection but for salvation by our Master, Jesus Christ. He died for us, a death that triggered life. Whether we’re awake with the living or asleep with the dead, we’re alive with him!

So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing .

Paul gives the best advice. Speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope! Make the sacrifice to quarantine so that you can be with your family members. We are all in this together, and together we can ensure that no one is left out. Let’s not sleepwalk through this. As Paul says, be smart!

We’re All in This Together by Michelle Robertson