1 Thessalonians 4

Read 1 Thessalonians 4.

Death is always an unpleasant topic. It is unpleasant to think about your own death and it is sad and difficult when others we know and love die. Because I am a pastor, I have attended more funerals than the average person. Funerals for godly believers can be worshipful and even uplifting in some ways, but they are never joyful. God did not create us to die, so the irreparable separation that death brings is always difficult, even when your loved one is in heaven.

Here in 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul offers words of comfort to the Thessalonians and to us about the dead. Paul’s reason for writing these words was to give them hope even in their grief: “…so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (v. 13).

Yes, even Christians grieve but our grief is not the grief of complete loss. Christ gives us hope even in the most tragic and unexpected death of a believer because of His resurrection from the dead: “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (v. 14). That verse reminds us that, although Christ did not immediately end death with his resurrection, he did break its power over humanity.

The phrase “God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (v. 14) reminds us that the spirits of those who die continue to exist. Christ will “bring” them with him when he returns because they are with him now.

In verses 15-17, Paul described how the process of the resurrection will happen. There will be believers “who are still alive, who are left” on earth when Jesus returns, but their gathering to Christ will not precede the resurrection of those who are dead in Christ. Instead, “the dead in Christ will rise first” (v. 16). Christ will bring their spirits with him to earth and after his trumpet and loud command, their living spirits will be reunited with their dead bodies in resurrection.

Once that resurrection has occurred, those in Christ who are still alive will be “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (v. 17). The result of this rapture is “so we will be with the Lord forever.”

That is the endgame of discipleship, the harvest of new life in Jesus Christ. After living by faith on this earth, we will be rewarded with an eternity with Jesus.

Christians have debated when this event will occur in relationship to other events prophesied in scripture. The point of this passage is not to lay out a prophetic timeline of all that the Lord has promised to do in the future. It is, instead, to “encourage one another with these words.”

Death is always unpleasant, always sad, always accompanied with grief; yet in Christ we have the hope of a perfect resurrection followed by eternity with Jesus.

Here is something to hold on to in faith despite whatever fears you have about death or whatever trials and struggles you face today. If you die before Jesus returns, you’ll be with him and return with him when he comes. If you live until his return, you will be gathered in the air with him and all those who have died in him. Hold this hope in your hearts and live today like eternity is the only thing that matters. It is!

1 Samuel 29-30, Ezekiel 39, Mark 5

Read 1 Samuel 29-30, Ezekiel 39, and Mark 5. This devotional is about 1 Samuel 29-30.

After over a year of stability and prosperity living in the Philistine town of Ziklag, problems came to David and his army. Despite his confidence in David (29:3, 6-7), Achish king of the Philistines refused to let David and his army fight against Israel. This was a wise decision for him; his commanders were certainly correct that David would fight the Philistines from behind (29:4-5). If he refused to harm Saul, God’s anointed king, there is no way he would have fought against his king or the army of his own people.

However, while he and his men were away trying to join the battle, their temporary home city of Ziklag was being attacked and destroyed by the Amalekites (30:1-2). Then some of his own men turned on him; verse 6 says, “David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters.” Their thought process seems to have been, “I know we’ve won many victories together, David, but what have you done for me lately? It’s your fault, somehow, that we lost everything. 

This was a situation that would put anyone in stress. Most of us would lash out in self-protective attacks but not David. Instead, according to 30:6c: “But David found strength in the Lord his God.”

We live in an era that talks a lot about self-care. Have a hobby. Get a massage. Go for a hike. Play golf. Veg out in front of the TV. Find a way to deal with your stress by doing something that you enjoy. It isn’t bad advice, exactly, but it isn’t the best advice for us as believers in God. The best way for us to deal with discouragement and defeat is to turn to the Lord. How did David do this, exactly?

Given all the Psalms that he wrote, I have to think that prayer was at the top of that list. David’s psalms are prayers to God set to music. Maybe he grabbed his harp and poured out his heart to the Lord musically but he probably sank to his knees first and asked God for strength and help. 

Music may have come next. After praying to the Lord, David may have pulled out one of his favorite songs. He might have played and sang until he felt better.

Finally, verse 7 tells us that he sought God’s truth. The high priest was living in exile with him so he consulted the Urim and Thummim from the priest’s ephod and waited for God to speak.

This is a great pattern for us to follow when we are down, discouraged, disappointed, distraught, or defeated. (1) Pray (2) Listen to and sing along with Christian music (3) Read God’s word and look for direction. 

Maybe you came to this devotional feeling down. You’ve got #3 covered; Do #1 and #2 next.

1 Samuel 21-22, Ezekiel 32, Philippians 4

Read 1 Samuel 21-22, Ezekiel 32, and Philippians 4 today. This devotional is about Philippians 4.

Paul experienced many difficulties and stressors during his ministry. So, it must have been incredibly encouraging to have the Philippians as his friends. While they had some interpersonal problems (cf. 2:3-4 with 4:2-3), they were loved deeply by the apostle and they returned that love, even sending Epaphroditus to help personally (2:25) as well as financial aid (4:10-18).

There is so much joy in this letter that it is easy to forget that Paul was in prison when he wrote it (cf. 1:12, 17). The Philippians’ friendship and Paul’s imprisonment form the background out of which he wrote the chapter we read today. His imprisonment, particularly, was the circumstance he lived in when he wrote verses 6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Undoubtedly Paul was a man who had practiced these commands in his own life repeatedly; his command to the Philippians to deal with their fears that way rose out of his own experience as well as from the inspiration of the Spirit.

In verses 8-9 he commanded them to discipline their thoughts toward good and godly things instead of focusing on their problems, complaints or fears.

Many of our negative emotions rise out of undisciplined thinking. We attach meaning to things that happen, then tell ourselves negative stories about the meaning we’ve made up.

It is easy to do and we’ve all done it, at least at certain times in our lives or with certain events of our lives. God’s word, however, gives us a different story–a truthful one–to tell ourselves about anything and everything that happens in life. A sovereign God has ordered the events of your life for his glory and your good. There will be problems, pains, stresses, heartbreak, sorrow, and grief in this life. That’s because this life and this world have been broken by sin, not because God doesn’t love you.

The solution to the problems of life is to trust God’s promise and put your hope in his future kingdom. When it comes, the pains of this life will be forgotten and the perfect life that you and I want will be real; it can never be real until then.

When life tempts you to think thoughts of despair, replace those thoughts with truth: God loves you and redeemed you from the guilt of your sin and the punishment you deserve for it. He is preparing a perfect, eternal kingdom for you and is re-making you into a perfect person by his grace.

While we have much less to fear than the martyrdom that ultimately took Paul’s life, his teaching reminds us that, no matter how little or much we fear, the Lord is waiting to hear our prayers and give us peace as we look to him.

Numbers 10, Isaiah 35, Galatians 4

Read Numbers 10, Isaiah 35, and Galatians 4 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 35.

In this chapter Isaiah continued foretelling what life in the eternal kingdom of God will be like. Verses 1 and 2 and 5-10 describe a bright future in which God’s glory will be revealed (v. 2e-f) through the prosperity of the land (vv. 1-2), through the physical restoration to perfection of all creation (vv. 5-7), and through the people of God (vv. 8-10).

Amidst all this prophecy about the future, verses 3-4 in this chapter provide an island of present-tense reality. Isaiah told his readers to encourage others who belonged to God but were weak and tired. He wanted to see them strengthened (v. 3) so he reminded them of God’s promise to return in order to punish the wicked (v. 4 c-f). These two truths–that God would punish his sinful enemies (v. 4c-f) and that he would provide a kingdom of love and joy for eternity (vv. 5-10)–were given to encourage and strengthen the faithful but aging believers among them.

In Hebrews 12:12 the author of Hebrews referred here to Isaiah 35:3 as a concluding thought to his teaching on God’s discipline. Discipline is always painful but it is productive for spiritual growth so we should not be discouraged but rather should encourage each other.

When you find yourself feeling down or lacking faith in God or in any way needing strength, remember that “your God will come” (v. 4 c-d). When he does, he will impose justice on the unbelieving and prosperity on his people.

Remind yourself often that this world is not the end and that a just and loving God is waiting to bless you for eternity if you belong to him. In other words, let God’s promises encourage you when you feel like quitting, slowing down, or slacking off in following Jesus. Trust in the Lord and keep serving him and you will see him do amazing things when we reach his kingdom. The discouragements and problems we endure in this life will be worth it when we are with the Lord.

Genesis 50, Job 16-17, Psalms 20-23

Read Genesis 50, Job 16-17, and Psalms 20-23 today. This devotional is about Job 16-17.

There are times when we need to speak hard but truthful words to each other. Jesus commanded us to go a fellow believer who sins and point out their fault (Matt 18:15).

But that command is for a situation where you have direct knowledge of the sin, either because you were sinned against, or saw the person sin, or the believer is not hiding the sin.

We are not commanded to make assumptions about one another or accuse others of sin when we have no evidence. It is never wrong to ask if someone is in sin but it is never right to accuse without a clear basis.

Job’s friends had no evidence that he had sinned. Not one of them pointed out a specific instance of sin or even suggested specific ways in which he might have caused himself this trouble by sinning. They worked backward from his calamity to accusations of sin because, in their theology, God punishes sinners and rewards the righteous. Job’s tragedies were all the evidence they thought they needed to accuse him.

Nobody likes to be accused so it is insulting to accuse someone without evidence, especially if the person being accused is actually innocent. Job was dealing with incredible trauma and, instead of being comforted, his “friends” railed on him to ‘fess up. It is a cliché to talk about “adding insult to injury” but that’s exactly what Job’s friends did. His statement in 16:2b, “you are miserable comforters, all of you!” expressed the frustration he felt based on how he was being treated.

What Job needed was not accusers who would help him come clean but loving friends who would help him.

And what would have been helpful to him? Two things:

  1. Encouragement: In 16:4b-5 he said, “…if you were in my place…. my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief.” A godly friend would have comforted Job with affirming words that God’s ways were always right, so this would turn out someday for good.
  2. Prayer. In 16:20-21 we read these words, “My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as one pleads for a friend.”

How can you help a fellow believer who is hurting? Encouragement and prayer.

Is someone coming to mind who needs this? Pray for them now, then contact them to encourage and pray with them.

Psalms 75-77

Today we’re reading Psalms 75-77.

What gives us comfort and hope when we are in distress? According to Psalm 77, it is the past (vv. 5, 11-12). As he remembered God’s ways in the past, his acts recorded in the books of Moses (vv. 13-20), his faith was strengthened and he appealed to the Lord for help while he was in distress (vv. 1-2, 10).

Are you struggling with a need in your life? Reading the scriptures and considering how God has worked in the past may be the very thing you need to strengthen your faith and bring boldness to your prayer life.

1 Thessalonians 4

Today we’re reading 1 Thessalonians 4.

In this chapter Paul moved from discussing his history with the Thessalonians to addressing how they should live as Christians (vv. 1-2). Sexual purity was first on his list, an evergreen topic in every age (vv. 3-8). Next was the issue of loving others and general living in light of our life in Christ (vv. 9-12). The Thessalonians had a God-given gift for Christian love, so much so that Paul said he didn’t really even need to write to them about it (vv. 9-10). When Paul wrote, “you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia” (v. 10a), he is referring to the generosity of the Thessalonian believers toward other believers and church in the wider region around them. This suggests that the Thessalonians had instinctively reached out to other churches and had been generous toward whatever needs they had.

Even though the Thessalonians had already demonstrated their love, Paul “urge[d] you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more.” We all, from time to time, quit doing things that are good and productive just because they can be costly. Paul wasn’t chiding them for losing some of the loving ways they had developed; he was encouraging them not to stop doing the God-honoring things they had done by instinct.

As a parent and as a pastor, it is easy to take for granted the good things that our children and our church family members do. I might congratulate my kids when they get good grades–or improving grades–on their report cards, but I don’t usually pat them on the back when I see them he daily work of studying and doing homework. Similarly, in our church, many people show up and serve faithfully each week. I do try to thank people from time to time, but it’s easy just to expect it. Positive reinforcement, though, can mean a lot. It matters more to some people than others based on their personalities, but it means something to just about everyone. Like Paul, then, it would be helpful for us to notice the good things our spouse, our kids and our friends do–the areas where they are growing in their Christian lives, when they serve faithfully, when they make good choices–and encourage them to keep it up. That bit of encouragement might help others keep doing good and it might stimulate them to do more in that area.

By the way, thank you for reading these devotionals. I hear from some of you about how they have helped you build a Bible reading habit. I’m really grateful for that. Now, keep it up!