98 episodes

A daily Christian devotional for the wandering journey of the Christian life. New devotionals every weekday, created by the pastors of Immanuel Christian Reformed Church of Hamilton: Anthony Elenbaas and Michael Bootsma.

Wilderness Wanderings Anthony Elenbaas and Michael Bootsma

    • Religion & Spirituality

A daily Christian devotional for the wandering journey of the Christian life. New devotionals every weekday, created by the pastors of Immanuel Christian Reformed Church of Hamilton: Anthony Elenbaas and Michael Bootsma.

    Your Being Watched

    Your Being Watched

    And do everything you can to live a quiet life. You should mind your own business. And work with your hands, just as we told you to. Then unbelievers will have respect for your everyday life. And you won’t have to depend on anyone (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).
    Yesterday’s text encouraged the church to grow in the discipline of love. Christian charity always includes practical stuff like providing meals and offering transportation. Paul recognizes that this practice could be taken advantage of—some deciding to live off of the largess of others. Folks among the lower social classes might take up residence on the estate of a wealthy Christian, expecting the well healed to provide for their wellbeing. That is one issue Paul addresses here.
    There is also another. Since Christians expected Jesus to return real soon, some had decided to abandon the normal pursuits of life, such as paid employment, and were camped on a hillside. With their noses turned up to the sky they spent the day singing Kumbaya and Swing Low Sweet Chariot.
    They were creating a bit of a disturbance in the neighbourhood, expecting to be supplied with provisions and suggesting other Christians didn’t have enough faith. As we might imagine, those who followed other gods, thought these Jesus followers had lost touch with reality. As a result, Christ’s name was being discredited.
    Whether one was camped on the hillside or illegally on some estate, without the normal pursuits of life these folks had too much time on their hands. As a result, they had begun to gossip and contribute their opinions into situations to which they had not been invited.
    Paul recognizes that if the rule of love is to be effective, the rule of work must also be practiced. Christians must learn to live peaceably, not creating social disturbances. They must mind their own business not always prying into what other people are doing under the guise of ‘family’ interest. And they must do their best to find paid employment or something else that will benefit society.
    Outsiders, looking at a movement that claims Jesus is Lord of the world, will be interested to see what effect this claim has on behaviour. Healthy financial behaviour, like sexual behaviour, is one telling indicator of the fitness and integrity of a community. Of course, within the fellowship, those in need should be provided for. This was why the place of widows, women left without a breadwinner, so quickly became important in the early church (Acts 6.1; 1 Timothy 5.3-16). However, these recipients should make themselves useful in other ways.
    These are not side issues, away from the real theological heart of the Christian gospel. If God has created a family in Christ, and if that family is based on and characterized by nothing less than self-giving love, these things are vital. Happy the church that discovers what love in practice looks and feels like. Equally blessed in the Christian community that contributes to the wellbeing of the society in which they live. So that our daily living may win the respect of outsiders and that we will not be unnecessarily dependent on anybody (4:12).
    As you journey on, go with the blessing of God:
    May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it! The amazing grace of Jesus Christ be with you! (1 Thessalonians 5:23,24,28 The Message).

    • 4 min
    More and More

    More and More

    Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more… (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10)

    There is a similar pattern here to what Paul said about sexuality in yesterday’s devotion.  It goes something like this: “you already do this in response to the teaching you have received—now do so more and more.”  What’s different here is that the Thessalonians have not been taught by the apostles to love one another, but by God himself.  This promise of God himself teaching his people echoes with a few Old Testament texts, and in the Thessalonians it is fulfilled.  The Holy Spirit is at work among them.  Praise God!  
    Indeed, Paul has already given thanks to God for just these things in chapter 1.  This is quite likely their “Labor prompted by Love” and the way they have become “a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.”  Paul thanks God for it.  
    God’s work of love through Jesus for and within these believers has very naturally led to their love for one another.  This love is so overflowing that it has been a mark of their presence and ministry—not just within the city of Thessalonica—but throughout the province of Macedonia.  We sing “they’ll know we are Christians by our love” and it really is true.  An overflowing, abundant, ready love for neighbours, strangers, enemies, and friends is a mark of God’s own love having so filled someone that it flows over and splashes out everywhere in a ready smile, dedicated care, and a conciliatory, peace-making posture.  
    One of the signs of the health of our own congregation is exactly this.  Members and visitors alike will often mention how this church’s people care for one another.  There are deep relationships here, without members being cliquey.  There’s always room enough to invite another to the table.  And when someone is in need: prayers, cards, visits, and meals arrive!  This is a gift of God’s own love spilling over in our congregation!  Praise God!
    Paul’s encouragement points to the fact that this is a gift that must be tended, though.  Stewarded.  Love can grow cold.  People can get busy and distracted, weary and grieved.  In order for our love muscles not to atrophy, they must continually be used.  So the invitation for the Thessalonians to love like they already are loving—and to do so “more and more.”   
    The same invitation comes to us—firstly to recognize and give thanks for the good work of multiplying his love among us that God is already doing, and then to lean into this good work of love more and more.
    As you journey on, go with the blessing of God:
    May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it! The amazing grace of Jesus Christ be with you! (1 Thessalonians 5:23,24,28 The Message).
     

    • 5 min
    Pursue Holiness

    Pursue Holiness

    As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8).
    Having prayed that their love and holiness would increase, Paul moves on to a hot topic of his day and of ours. We could travel down various rabbit trails to avoid his main concern. Let’s not do that.
    His primary concern is that we all learn to live “to please God”, even in our sexuality. One of Canada’s late Prime Ministers is famous for declaring, “There is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”. God, however, reserves the right to inspect our conduct there. But this too, misses the purpose. Paul’s concern for our sexuality is the same as his concern with alcohol. It should not control us; we should be controlled by the Spirit of Jesus.
    In Paul’s day, it was assumed that men could not be monogamous. What ever sexual pleasures they could afford was available to them: mistresses, slaves as concubines, prostitutes, etc. They were expected to fulfill whatever sexual desires they had. Its not much different in our day, except this goes for all of us.
    But that is the way unbelievers, who do not know God, behave. They are controlled by these passions. No so the Christian. The Christian is under the sway of the Holy Spirit. The Christian’s chief desire is to be holy, sanctified, to be of service to our Lord and Saviour. For the Christian, sexual fulfillment is not primary. It is not our identity.
    Our identity is in Christ and our sexuality is subject to this reality. To borrow from the Heidelberg Catechism, “My only comfort is that, in life and in death, in body and soul, I belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.” Many try to find comfort in sexual experience. The trouble is that this comfort is momentary. Its fades as mist in the morning sun. The pursuit of holiness motives our living. Well, it should. Does it?
    Elsewhere, Paul’s advocacy for the single life is rooted in this truth. Recognizing it is not for everyone, it is a possibility for the Christian. We can life fulfilled lives without sexual intercourse.
    Paul recognizes that when our sexual passions are not under the sway of the Spirit, we will harm others. Within marriage, our sexuality can be a beautiful thing. But even there it can cause great harm. Lust pushes us towards dishonourable practices rooted in selfishness, unleashing desires to possess others. True love making honours the partner, it loves, cherishes, and respects. Sexuality can be the deepest joy of the married couple, but it can also be the place of deepest destruction.
    The Lord calls us to be holy – to reflect his glory and holiness – for the sake of his name.
    As you journey on, go with the blessing of God:
    May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it! The amazing grace of Jesus Christ be with you! (1 Thessalonians 5:23,24,28 The Message).

    • 5 min
    Sunday Sermon - Law & Reconciliation

    Sunday Sermon - Law & Reconciliation

    An extended Sunday Sermon edition of Wilderness Wanderings!  The texts come from Matthew 5:17-26, from the New International Version of the Bible.  Dive In discussion questions are below for further reflection!  To see this sermon in the context of the worship service it comes from, find it here on YouTube.  Or, head to our website to connect with the worshiping community of Immanuel CRC: immanuelministries.ca
     
    DIVE IN QUESTIONS
    1. What stands out to you from hearing these verses?  Is God offering an invitation or a challenge to you through those words?  Take time to pray about it.
    2. What does Jesus mean by “fulfilling” the Law & Prophets?  What kind of authority does he claim by saying “You have heard that it was said… but I tell you…”?
    3. What is the context of our world and lives that makes this command exceptionally relevant and difficult?  Anything that you would add for your own personal situation?
    4.  What happens when we fail at keeping this command?
    5. What small, ordinary, everyday steps does Jesus give us to begin to move toward obedience? 
    6. Who might you need to be reconciled with today?
     

    • 31 min
    May God Do It

    May God Do It

    Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13)

    Paul more often does this: pauses to pray in the middle of a letter marking a pivot between what came before and what comes after—like he does with that famous prayer in the middle of Ephesians. He does so here too—after this prayer, Paul will turn to questions of living out the faith that has been found and kept by the Thessalonians, and now prayed for too.
    Yesterday, Pastor Michael wrote: “Despite Satan’s efforts to derail the work of the gospel, the church continues to grow. Persecution cannot ruin the movement of the Spirit.”  This is indeed Paul’s conviction.  Timothy’s report provided evidence of God at work, and now Paul prays for even more.
    While Satan’s blocking, tempting schemes loomed large at the beginning of this section, it seems the rising dawn of God’s presence and providence has chased these shadows away.  Not that there aren’t still shadows when the sun is shining—there are.  Satan remains at work in the dark and shadowy places, but God’s work is stronger.  Far stronger.  Paul is confident of this and his prayer says so.
    Paul prays in a strong sort of wish.  The grammar says: I pray for this and expect it to happen.  Throughout the rest of the letter, you certainly get that idea.  Paul will, in just a few short verses start encouraging and filling up in the Thessalonian’s faith the exact things he prays for here.  For their love, their holiness, and their hope in Christ’s second coming.  
    But God’s work is first.  So Paul prays.  He prays, though Satan has blocked the way, that God himself and Lord the Lord Jesus will clear the way.  He prays that the love that he has for the Thessalonians and they for one another will not just increase, but will overflow—and not just within the community, but out to everyone else around them including their enemies and persecutors.  Finally, he prays that God will strengthen their hearts so that they will continue to be able to stand firm against the temptations and the persecutions, so that they will be blameless and holy—totally set apart for God—with a hope anchored firmly in the knowledge of Jesus coming again. 
    May that be our prayer as well, and May God accomplish this in each of us today.  May your love increase.  May your way be cleared.  May you stand firm and steady in faith, being blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when the Lord Jesus comes with all his Saints.
    As you journey on, go with the blessing of God:
    May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it! The amazing grace of Jesus Christ be with you! (1 Thessalonians 5:23,24,28 The Message).

    • 5 min
    Praise the Lord!

    Praise the Lord!

    Our text is 1 Thessalonians 3:6-10
    But Timothy has come to us from you just now. He has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have happy memories of us. He has also said that you desire to see us, just as we desire to see you. Brothers and sisters, in all our trouble and suffering your faith encouraged us. Now we really live because you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you? We thank God because of all the joy we have in his presence. We have this joy because of you. Night and day we pray very hard that we will see you again. We want to give you what is missing in your faith.
    Yesterday, Pastor Anthony referred to paragraph 34 of the Contemporary Testimony, Our World Belongs to God. It reads in part, “Satan and his evil forces seek whom they may scatter and isolate; but God, by his gracious choosing in Christ, gathers a new community”.  A few verses further along we read, “Our new life in Christ is celebrated and nourished in the fellowship of congregations” (36).
    It then carries on listing various ways our faith is nourished, “we praise God's name, hear the Word proclaimed, learn God's ways, confess our sins, offer our prayers and gifts, and celebrate the sacraments”. These are all important and many of us are familiar with them. Let us pick up on the first of these, “we praise God’s name” because it relates to our text for today.
    But first, the opening lines of Psalm 111, “Praise the Lord. I will extol the Lord with all my heart in the council of the upright and in the assembly. Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them.” It sometimes appears that we praise God in a vacuum, as if we “just should.” But that does not follow the pattern of the Scriptures. On the one hand, we praise God for who he is, for his character. On the other, we praise God for what he does. That is what is happening in our text. Our worship services begin with a call to worship drawing attention to God’s character and/or to his works.
    As yesterday’s text revealed, Paul was very concerned about the spiritual well being of his friends in Thessalonica. And he had good reason to be. But now Timothy has returned from his visit to them telling how God has been building up and gathering his church. Paul and his companions are full of joy.
    God has nurtured their “faith and love”, raising up godly people. They have not turned against the apostle but have fond memories of his time with them and long to see him as much as he wants to see them.
    Paul has committed his life as an offering to other people: to proclaim the gospel and nurture the fledgeling faith of new believers. Their spiritual flourishing brings him tremendous joy. He is overflowing with thanksgiving to God. Despite Satan’s efforts to derail the work of the gospel, the church continues to grow. Persecution cannot ruin the movement of the Spirit.
    The stories of God’s work need to be told. It is one of the ways that we nurture each other’s faith. It gives us reason to praise God. How can we ponder and delight in the works of God if no one tells them to us? What stories can you tell?
    As you journey on, go with the blessing of God:
    May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it! The amazing grace of Jesus Christ be with you! (1 Thessalonians 5:23,24,28 The Message).

    • 5 min

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