1 Thessalonians 4–What Stands Out

As part of my morning devotion, I read a chapter of Scripture, noting what pops out and catches my attention. This is a technique known as lectio divina. Recently, in reading through 1 Thessalonians, this phrase caught my attention:

“… we will always be with the Lord.”1 Thessalonians 4:17b

Here, Paul is referring to the second coming of Christ, and how all the believers still living will be caught up into the heavens to be with Jesus forever– but what occurs to me is we don’t have to wait for that privilege–we are with the Lord right now! We, the chosen people of God, the church, are part of Christ’s body, and in that spiritual sense, we are always with Him.

When Jesus was about to be crucified, He promised His disciples that He would not leave them alone. He would send them:

“… another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth…”John 14:16b-17a

This is the Holy Spirit, Who indwells us and guides us. This should be a continuing comfort and consolation during difficult times.

Our union with Christ is complete here and now. We are part of His body, and He is part of us. If we live in that reality, we are never alone; and we don’t have to wait!

For more lectio divina studies see:

What Stands Out–Nehemiah

Exodus Chapter 3–What Stands Out

1 Peter Chapter 3–What Stands Out?

Union With Christ — Four Principles

This is off of our monthly topic, but our class is still studying union with Christ and this past week’s lesson seemed important to share. It’s based on this reading from John 15:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful.  You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.  Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” John 15:1-9

Jesus is speaking here to his disciples, explaining that when He is no longer with them, they will still be able to experience His presence through the Spirit. Read closely, and you will find these four principles:

  1. Our union with Christ is the source of all fruitfulness. My Christian life is not so much about how I can bear fruit, but how I can be closer to Jesus. (wow!, how often I get this one wrong!)
  2. Our union with Christ requires pruning in order to be more fruitful. (ouch!! This one I don’t always like because it’s painful!)
  3. This union is nurtured and nourished by the word of God. (Note to self–find time for daily Bible reading)
  4. The most obvious fruit of this union is love.

So, ask yourselves readers, (as I am asking myself).

  1. Am I relying on God or on myself?
  2. Do I see times of pain and difficulty as opportunities to grow closer to Jesus?
  3. Am I diligent in Bible study and worship, so that I continue to hear His word?
  4. Are my actions loving?

These are good ways to examine yourself and seek a closer walk with the Savior. He loves you and so do I!

For more about being fruitful see these posts:

Fruitful Gifts

Producing Fruit

Pruning

You Don’t Have to Wait for This

If you follow this blog regularly, you will remember that my Bible study group has been discussing our union with Christ. Because we are united with Him, there are certain things we do not have to wait for. For example:

*We have already been reconciled with God and can live in the knowledge that we are His beloved children

*Our sins — past, present and future– are already forgiven

*We are no longer slaves to sin — although we may still sin, it cannot dominate our lives

*We have been indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who intercedes for us in prayer and empowers us to serve God

*We are assured of an eternal life with God

Sometimes, it’s hard to believe these blessings are already ours. We do not naturally think this way. We need to develop a different mindset, truly accepting that we are new creations. We have a new family; we live in a new kingdom; we have a new destiny. As Luther said, “this is most certainly true.”

” So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” Colossians 2:6-7

For more about our blessings see:

Mountaintop Blessings

Blessings in Disguise

Problems or Blessings #2

Heart Health

I’ve been thinking lately about our union with Christ (we’ve been doing a study on this topic at our church). How is it possible to be one with Christ, and still have so much sin in our lives? How can we be a new person, and still have so many characteristics of the old one? As I pondered this paradox, here’s the analogy that came to me: it’s like a heart transplant. Although this is a modern medical advance, the Bible actually talks about it way back in the Old Testament book of Ezekial:

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekial 36:26

In this section, the prophet was telling the people of Israel that despite their sin, God has plans to cleanse and restore them. The ultimate plan, of course, was the coming of the Messiah, Jesus who died for our sins and reconciled us with God. And yes, we are now united with Him. Why aren’t we perfect?

Well, here’s what I think. If you have a heart transplant, I’m sure you wake up feeling very different. Once you’ve recovered from the surgery, you have more energy and strength. You probably feel like a new person! However, this new heart requires some changes in your routines. You probably need to take anti-rejection medications; you need to exercise and eat healthy foods. You may have some bad habits to eliminate. You’re willing to do these things because you never, ever, want to go back to feeling the way you felt before–weak and sick. You will probably find it easier to stick to these new routines if you join a support group — some others with heart issues, who are also learning to live differently.

God gives us a new heart through our union with His Son. We are immediately different, but we still need to do some work. We need the Sacraments (good medicine). We need worship, prayer and Bible study (exercise). We need to refrain from sinful behavior. We need the rest of the body (our support group), the church, to keep us going in the right direction.

Remember friends, you’ve had major surgery. It’s changed you. Someone died and that gave you a chance to live. So stick with the program (God’s program) in order to enjoy the new life you’ve received!

For more about the process of sanctification see these posts:

Is Union with Christ a Process?

Trust God’s Process

Clothed in Christ

United with Christ in our Baptism

In our most recent class on union with Christ, we discussed baptism. In the book of Galatians, we learn:

“for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Galatians 3:27″

Union with Christ begins with our baptism. What does that mean to Lutherans? Well, for us baptism is a sacrament because:

  1. It was commanded by God
  2. It has a physical component (something we can see, touch, etc.) which is used in connection with God’s promise in His Word

We Lutherans baptize infants because we believe it is a work of God, not man. It is God reaching down to touch us, to claim us, and to change us. Although the rite of baptism is not what saves us, it is important. Martin Luther said we should remember our baptism every day.

“No greater jewel, therefore, can adorn our body and soul than baptism, for through it we become completely holy and blessed, which no other kind of life and no work on earth can acquire” (Book of Concord, 462)

For more posts about baptism see:

Martin Luther on Baptism

Spiritually Reborn in Baptism

Baptism, A New Beginning

No Longer Slaves

Recently, my husband and I attended a Via de Cristo event called an ultreya. This is a gathering of those who have previously attended a retreat weekend. The musicians shared a song which had been used as the theme for the most recent retreat. It touched my heart and spoke to me about last month’s theme — union with Christ. Evidently God isn’t done speaking about it yet!

For more about Via de Cristo retreats see these posts:

What is Via de Cristo?

Remembering My Via De Cristo Weekend

Vineyard Via de Cristo — Some History

Living For Jesus

Our organist played this hymn recently and it seemed to fit in well with our recent studies on union with Christ. In the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul says:

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

Are you living for yourself or for Jesus?

For more hymns see these posts:

Let Us Ever Walk With Jesus

A Hymn About Church Unity

A Thousand Tongues

A New Family

Union with Christ not only creates a change within us, it also brings us into a new world, a new atmosphere. By nature we belong to the family of Adam, but by grace we have been adopted into the family of God. We are reconciled with God, no longer His enemy. Beyond that, we are to become His ambassadors, empowered to call others into that same relationship. In the book of 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul tells the believers in Corinth (and us):

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”2 Corinthians 5:20

What a privilege and at the same time a responsibility!

This new family that we have joined through our unity with Jesus, is the community of believers. Not just the local congregation, but all believers everywhere, past and present. Even believers with whom we have some significant doctrinal disagreements. If they accept the basics of the faith, they are our brothers and sisters, regardless of their opinions about baptism, communion, the end times and so on. If you are a Christian, think about what your life as part of God’s family has meant to you– the gifts you have received. Of course, in Christ we have the great gift of eternal life and forgiveness of our sins; but our Christian family also gives us blessings that help us in our daily life–things like:

  1. Stability
  2. Encouragement
  3. Compassion
  4. Prayer
  5. Comfort
  6. Companionship
  7. Mentoring
  8. A shared purpose

Then think about what your life might be like without that caring community. You might be:

  1. Afraid of death
  2. Lonely
  3. Bitter and angry
  4. Struggling with low self esteem
  5. Lacking a sense of purpose in life

Both lists could go on and on. So, if you are part of God’s family, give thanks every day–and invite someone else to share in those blessings and benefits.

For more about the family of God see:

Thankful for my Church Family

The Church Family

Living as a Family with One Another

Producing Fruit

I recently heard a sermon based on the parable of the fig tree from the gospel of Luke. If you don’t remember the details, here it is:

“…A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'” Luke 13:6-9

It’s meant, of course, to show the patience God has with us. He is willing to wait, and to give us the benefit of time and careful cultivation — but the rest of the story is this — if we are not in union with Christ, we will be like that unfruitful fig, just taking up space.

In the gospel of John, we learn:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. “John 15:5

If we are in Christ, we will bear fruit. Once again, we see how this doctrine lays the foundation for everything is else in our faith life. The fruit that we can expect to see in a true believer is described in Galatians 5:

” … the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

We can’t produce this crop on our own. In baptism, we’ve been united to the One who can. The more we lean into that relationship, the more we learn to depend upon Him, the greater our harvest will be. The fields are ripe for harvest today — don’t be an unfruitful fig!

For more about the fruit of the Spirit see:

Fruitful Gifts

Mmm . . . Fruit.

How to Bear Fruit

Sinclair Ferguson and Union with Christ

The material for our Bible study class on union with Christ includes a series of videos. The speaker is Sinclair Feguson (born 21 February 1948), who is a Scottish theologian known in Reformed circles for his teaching, writing, and editorial work. He has been Chancellor’s Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary since 2017. Here is one of his quotes:

The knowledge of our union with Christ…gives us confidence in prayer. It was when Jesus had begun to expound the closeness of this union that he also began to introduce the disciples to the true heart of prayer. If Christ abides in us and we abide in him, as his word dwells in us, and we pray in his name, that God hears us (Jn 15:4-7). But all of these expressions are simply extensions of the one fundamental idea: If I am united to Christ, then all that is his is mine. So long as my heart, will and mind are one with Christ’s in his word, I can approach God with the humble confidence that my prayers will be heard and answered.

If you would like to purchase this teaching series, or for more information about it follow this link:

https://www.ligonier.org/learn/series/union-with-christ

For more posts about prayer see:

The Holy Spirit and Prayer

Prayer and Charity

Prayer Disciplines Part 1