Pop Pop Epistle # 161 – HB Audrey and About Advent

 

Dear Audrey,

Happy birthday number 4. It’s been about a year since you moved from our house and I must say that I miss Audrey snuggles. Over the past year it has been fun to watch your independent spirit develop as well as your impish sense of humor. We are, however, going to have to work on getting over your “fear” of Mr. Hippopotamus.

Did you know that you are the only one of the 9 cousins that has your birthday at this most awesome time of year – what is often called Advent? Here are a few “Advent” facts for you…

The word advent itself means “arrival” or “an appearing.” Christians often speak of Christ’s “first advent” and “second advent”; that is, His first and second comings to earth. His first advent would be the incarnation.

The Advent season lasts for four Sundays. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. It can last from anywhere between 22 and 29 days depending on the calendar.

Advent is seen as a time to prepare one’s heart for Christmas and for the eventual return of Christ. This is what we sing each Christmas when we sing the first verse of Joy To The World:

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let Earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

We often sing this Christmas carol without really giving thought to what we are singing. We should be asking ourselves this question: What am I doing to prepare my heart to worship the incarnate King? Here are a few Pop Pop thoughts about this…

  • Read and ponder some of the great Advent Scripture passages such as Luke 1:26-2:38, John 1:1-18, Matthew 2.
  • Take inventory of what occupies your heart. Spend some time before the Lord confessing that the desire for worldly things have been given priority over your desire for Christ.
  • Sing with joyful abandon some of the great Christmas hymns – and think about what you are singing.

Here is Joy To The World being performed by one of my current favorite groups – Pentatonix. Feel free to sing along and to sing out loud.

Never forget that you are very loved,

Pop Pop

 

Brick #115 – Titus 2

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Focusing on verses 11-14. Here is how the New International Version reads…

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “NO” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

The words that immediately stand out to me from this passage are the first 5: “For the grace of God”.  Here are the things that came to mind about the grace of God as I pondered.

The grace of God – a stark contrast to the Law: God’s people had for many years lived under a harsh taskmaster – the Law. It was impossible for them to measure up to the Law’s standards. The whole idea of grace that was ushered in by Jesus must have been a welcome relief. And it must have felt to the average Jew like an emancipation from the dungeon of legalism. Amazing grace must have seemed like a sweet sound to those who felt condemned by their inability to meet the holy requirements of the Law.

The grace of God appeared in the flesh: Jesus was grace incarnate. He was God’s gift to a hurting, hopeless, and helpless world. Jesus was God’s way of showing us what He really thought about us. He came to heal our sickness, to forgive our sin, to restore hope to a world filled with despair. He came with compassion and laughter and joy and selflessness. He made people feel like they mattered. He touched the untouchable. He gave life to those who had had life drained out of them. He demonstrated what it meant to have a relationship with God that gave purpose and peace and passion to our day to day living.

The grace of God teaches us to say “No” and then teaches us to say “Yes”: When we fully comprehend what grace is, when we finally understand the incredible gift that has been offered to us in Jesus, then it makes saying “NO” to ungodliness and worldly passions very easy to do. Unfortunately, not many people grasp grace. We really don’t get it at all. It is the most taken for granted gift that has ever been given. That is why our churches are so anemic these days – because we sing about God’s amazing grace and then turn around and spit in God’s face as we live lives that don’t look a whole lot different from those who are outside the church. When you grasp grace, you run daily into the arms of God,  flee the evil desires of this world, and live “self-controlled upright and godly lives.”

Verse 14 is a great encapsulation of the gospel and the effects of the gospel and what grace is all about.  Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

May this brick challenge you to ponder the awesome, amazing, abundant grace of God that has been freely given to those who believe.

 

Brick #114 – Titus 1

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Paul’s introduction in this letter to Titus is the most protracted introduction he gives other than his intro to Romans. In these verses he conveys to his young protege a confidence that it would do us well to emulate. The confidence was threefold:

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began 3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior…

He was confident in God’s purpose for his life – Is it even possible to know the purpose that God created us for? Paul certainly seems to think so. Servant of God. Apostle. Preacher. How do you discern God’s purpose? Do you have to have a Damascus Road experience like Paul did? I certainly hope not. And I certainly don’t think so. The answer to the question is a subject for another blog post – but suffice it to say that it starts with having an undeniable saving encounter with God that results in undeniable life transformation. Have you experienced both?

He was confident in God’s character – God does not lie! God keeps His promises! God manifests! Paul had certainly experienced his share of difficulties in life and yet through everything his faith in God never wavered because he was confident in God’s love, confident in God’s sovereignty, and confident that God would never ever leave him or forsake him. No matter what. When you have that kind of confidence you can endure whatever this world might throw at you. Do you have that kind of confidence?

He was confident in God’s Word – Truth matters! We live in a world where truth doesn’t really matter. Everybody has there own version of what truth is.  The reason the world is in such a mess is because of a disregard for truth. If your truth is different than my truth then battle lines are drawn. But there is no such thing as your truth and my truth there is only God’s Truth. And this is what Paul based his life on. What about you? Is your life based on the inerrant truth of God’s unchanging Word?

May this brick help you to think about where your confidence is based.

 

Pop Pop Epistle # 160 – HB Grayson and About Running the Race

 

Dear Grayson,

I’m only two days late with this but…. Never mind. No buts. I just forgot. This happens more often than I would like in my senior saint years.

Happy birthday number nine. A pretty significant year since it is your last year of single digits. Nona and I enjoyed celebrating with you last week ahead of your birthday. You are an outstanding young man and we love watching you grow up.

It was really fun competing with you in your first ever 5K road race. I use that term loosely because you were very gracious to let me stay up with you.

There are a lot of parallels to running a race and our journey through the Christian life. The Apostle Paul points this out in several places:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-26)

…the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

Here are just a few parallels that you might ponder as you pursue following Jesus…

  • The Christian race is a marathon not a sprint – it is a lifelong pursuit that requires “a long obedience in the same direction.”
  • A diligent pursuit  of Christ requires discipline and rigorous training – Just as a championship runner trains daily so following Christ demands the daily disciplines of time in the Word and prayer to build spiritual muscle.
  • Following Jesus wholeheartedly means we often have to say “No” – Titus 2:11-13 puts it this way, For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ…”
  • The Christian race is difficult – It is definitely not for wimps. Those who choose to follow Jesus are promised that they will encounter hardship and persecution and suffering.
  • The Christian race is worth pursuing – Yes the race is difficult, but the reward is great for those who faithfully finish.

Thanks for pushing me this past weekend to run when I did not feel like running. There will be many times in your pursuit of Christ when you will not feel like running. Perhaps I will be be able to encourage you to keep going when you don’t feel like it.

 

Never forget that you are very loved,

Pop Pop

 

Brick #113 – 2 Timothy 4

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In verses 1-8, Paul is thinking “eschatologically.” He is thinking with the end times in mind. Many years ago Stephen Covey wrote a book called The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the habits he talked about was this: Begin with the end in mind!

This seems to be something that Paul intentionally put into practice. And here at the end of his 2nd letter to Timothy he is trying to pass on this practice to his young protege. Now Paul is not a head in the clouds kind of guy. He does not think about heaven so much that he is no earthly good. He is intensely practical. It is his eschatological thinking in fact that makes him so practical. Primarily because he believes what he says he believes.

He believes that Jesus will indeed judge the living and the dead. He believes that Jesus will indeed appear again (v.1). He believes that Jesus will indeed reward those who long for His appearing (v.8). And because he wholeheartedly believes these things they motivate him to live his life in a certain way.

And they should us as well. Our beliefs should determine our behavior.

So in these verses Paul encourages young Timothy (and us as well) to do three things:

1) Fulfill your Ministry (v.5) – The ministry that Timothy had been called to was to pastor and to preach the Word. Paul was exhorting Timothy – that in view of the fact that Jesus would one day return – to proclaim the Truth so that people would have every opportunity to respond to the gospel and to be prepared for Jesus’ return.

What is the ministry that the Lord has called you to? It may not be vocational ministry but each of us has the call of God upon our lives. We are “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works….” What is the good work that God wants you to pursue. If you cannot define this in a sentence or two then perhaps you need to ask the Lord to give you clarity as to what your purpose here on earth is specifically for. And then… fulfill your ministry!

2) Fight the Good Fight (v.7) – You are no doubt aware that we are involved in a great cosmic battle – a fight for our very lives. The enemy of our souls wants nothing less than to steal, kill, and destroy. Every day is a fight against sin and temptation. Everyday we encounter opposing world views in our culture. Everyday we deal with the hardness and harshness of life. Paul’s encouragement to us echoes ver succinctly what Winston Churchill famously said,

Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy…. Do not let us speak of darker days: let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days–the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.

3) Finish the Race. Keep the Faith. (v.7) – Our race is not a sprint. It is a marathon. It is “a long obedience in the same direction” (Eugene Peterson). We don’t want to merely finish the race, limping across the finish line. We want to finish strong. Like Paul, we want to get to the end of our days – having endured everything that the enemy can throw at us – and be able to stand before the righteous Judge knowing that we have carried the banner of the gospel courageously and valiantly to the very end. We want to stand in His presence and hear Him say, “Well done my good and faithful servant… enter into the joy of your Lord.” (Matthew 25:23)

May this brick help you to think eschatologically, always keeping the end in mind as we pursue Jesus through the good times and the hard times that this life brings.

 

Brick #112 – 2 Timothy 3

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The voices that you listen to will influence the choices that you make!

That is the theme of this chapter. So let me say it again: The voices that you listen to will influence the choices that you make!

As Paul continues to coach his young protege Timothy, he references three kinds of voices that that have potential influence over us…

1) The Voice of Bad Influences – In verses 1-9 Paul gives a pretty detailed list of character qualities to look out for that are descriptive of bad influences. He lists no less than 19 things fit this category. And then he says very concisely: “Avoid such people.” (verse 5)

An interesting tidbit – in verse 8 Paul mentions the names of Jannes and Jambres to Timothy as if he would know exactly who Paul was talking about. These names are not mentioned anywhere in Scripture but Jewish oral tradition identifies them as the magicians in Pharaoh’s court who attempted to replicate the miracles that Moses did in Pharaoh’s presence.

2) The Voice of Good Influences – In verses 10-14 Paul points to himself as an example of someone worth imitating and who’s voice is worth listening to. Most of us would not have the confidence to point to ourselves and say “follow me as I follow Christ.” But Paul’s confidence is rooted in the relationship he has with the Lord through Jesus and he knows that Timothy would do well to pursue Christ with the same determination that Paul does.

3) The Voice of Scripture – In verses 15-17 Paul reminds Timothy to be a man of the Word. It is the Word of God that will make him wise for salvation. It is the Word of God that will profit him as he pays attention to what to do and what not to do. It is the Word of God that will equip him for the ministry that God has called him to. If Timothy wants to be a man who finds his identity in Christ, who’s happiness is not dependent on the circumstances of this world, and who invests his life for eternal purposes – then he will have to be a man of the Word – a man who listens intently to the voice of God.

And the same is true for us.

The voices that we listen to will influence the choices that we make!

Choose wisely!

 

Brick #111 – 2 Timothy 2

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“You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus…”

This verse alone was enough to capture my attention from this chapter. And two questions immediately come to mind:

What are we strengthened by grace for? Verses 2-7 hint at some of the possible reasons.

1) We are strengthened by grace for the task of investing the gospel in the lives of others (v.2).

2) We are strengthened by grace to endure the suffering that is a by-product of faithfully following Jesus (v.3)

3) We are strengthened by grace to avoid the distractions of this world (v.4).

4) We are strengthened by grace to obey the commands of our Father – even when we might not want to (v.5).

5) We are strengthened by grace for the disciple, determination, and patience it takes to live a fruit-producing life that pleases God, nourishes others, and satisfies us (v.6)

How are we strengthened by grace? 

For me this is the bigger question. It is one thing for Paul to say to Timothy “be strengthened by grace”, it is another thing for it to happen. So how does it happen? I think it happens in much the same way that physical strength training happens.

  • Determine what kind of workout you need
  • Know what motivates you
  • Set reasonable goals
  • Schedule your workout
  • Find a workout partner or someone who you are accountable to
  • Keep the end goal ever in front of you

My grace strengthening workout includes the pondering of God’s Word, prayer, and Scripture memory. What I do changes from time to time to keep the workout fresh but these are the basic exercises I regularly pursue. If you want help designing a spiritual workout routine that will help you to be strengthened by grace just let me know. I would be delighted to help.

May this brick help you to be strengthened by grace so that you are better equipped to faithfully follow Jesus for the rest of your life.

 

Brick #110 – 2 Timothy 1

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There is much in this chapter to ponder. I will focus on verse 7 and try to answer the question “How do we fight fear?”

…for God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.

 

Timothy was the pastor of the church in Ephesus at the time that Paul wrote him this letter. Paul was  most likely imprisoned in the Mamertine Prison in Rome and not many days away from being put to death. If anyone had much to fear it was Paul. And yet he writes with a calm assurance that all is well with his soul. Timothy on the other hand was struggling with fear.

Perhaps his fear was because of antagonism towards the gospel. Perhaps it was fear of disappointing Paul. Perhaps it was because of growing persecution. Perhaps Timothy did not feel that he was good enough to fill Paul’s shoes – a good enough preacher and teacher, a good enough pastor and leader, a good enough model and mentor for others.

We all carry around certain fears. Paul writes to encourage his young protege to fight fear lest it paralyze him and keep him from being used as an instrument of God. In verses 6-14, Paul mentions 6 things that Timothy can use to fight fear…

1) Remember that the Lord has gifted you to do what He has called you to do (v. 6) – To say it another way –  whatever God requires, God supplies. The Lord equips His servants to do whatever He requires of them.

2) Embrace suffering for the sake of the gospel (v. 8) – When we accept the fact that suffering is not only a natural part of our journey but also a supernatural tool that God uses for His purposes then it makes it easier for fear to give way to faith.

3) Never forget what Jesus did for you (vs. 9-10) – We will never have to go through what Jesus went through. As we fix our eyes on Jesus who willingly and for our sake endured the cross, things in this life begin to take on a new perspective and that which we fear loses its grip on us.

4) Watch those who heroically champion the gospel and follow their example (vs. 11-12a, 13) – Boldness will often emerge when we watch others do what we are afraid to do. The thinking goes like this: If they can do it then surely I can do it too.

5) Make sure you really believe what you say you believe (v. 12b) – Sometimes fear will take root in our lives when our convictions are not what they should be. Do we really believe that God’s Word is truth? Do we really believe that people are far from God and need a Savior? Do we really believe that we need God’s abiding presence in our lives to help us navigate this world? If not then the enemy will use fear to immobilize us and keep us from pursuing kingdom purposes.

6) Allow the Holy Spirit to fill you, lead you, and empower you. (v. 14) – Courage is not the absence of fear. It is doing what we fear in the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells mightily within us. Sometimes fear is an indication that we are doing what is right and that we need to trust the Spirit within us to overcome.

May this brick help you to fight against any of the fears that are keeping you from taking your next steps in this great adventure that the Lord has given us.

Pop Pop Epistle # 159 – About The Baseball Hall of Fame

 

Dear Grandkids,

In my last epistle I told you about our Niagara Falls adventure which checked a box on Nona’s bucket list. We traveled from there to the Finger Lakes  – had an awesome hike at Watkins Glen State Park – and then on to Cooperstown to take care of one of my bucket list items. Truth be told, I had been to Cooperstown when I was about 11 years old but I had almost no memory of that visit. And a lot of baseball has been played since then so since we were in Upper State New York it made sense, for a baseball fan such as myself, to pay a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The first thing you do when visiting the hall of Fame is to watch a 15 minute video that reminds you of some of the great moments of the game. I’m not gonna lie, I teared up watching it as I remembered just how much baseball was a part of my growing up years and how much I loved learning about the history of the game.

Then you can spend however much time you want to just walking around the three floors and looking at all the exhibits. It would not be hard to spend 6+ hours doing this – but we spent about two. I included the plague of Willie Mays in the picture above because he was my favorite player growing up… The Say Hey Kid. The two guys on the bottom left are Babe Ruth and Ted Williams (The Sultan of Swat and the Splendid Splinter). The fella on the bottom right is Roberto Clemente (The Great One). You can tell that one of the legacies of the best to ever the play the game is the nicknames that they were given.

You probably know that the people of God have their own Hall of Fame – or rather Hall of Faith – found in Hebrews 11. It would not surprise you to see inductees like Noah, Abraham, and Moses. But the surprising thing to me is to see names like Gideon, Samson, and Jepththah. The Book of Judges seems to go out of its way to point out their flaws and seeming lack of faith. And yet here they are in Hebrews 11. Although it is surprising it is nonetheless encouraging. Evidently these men, as flawed as they were, demonstrated remarkable faith during the course of their lives – perhaps in ways that were not recorded in Scripture but were a part of the oral history passed down through the generations.

So there is hope for me yet. Perhaps my flaws, though recognized, will be far outweighed by my faith. Hebrews 11:6 puts it this way…

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.

 

And perhaps one day too I will be tagged with a really cool nickname like Willie, or Babe, or Ted, or Roberto, or Hank, or Joe, or Ernie, or Ozzie, etc.

But you can always call me Pop Pop! That’s the coolest name that I can think of.

Never forget that you are very loved,

Pop Pop

 

Brick #109 – Psalm 42

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The Psalmist gives us several ideas about what to do when our soul is in turmoil. Two of them you might be familiar with. The third idea perhaps not so much.

1) Sing and Praise God – The Psalmist wrote this song (maskil) as a way of dealing with his despondency. He knew that by writing and then worshiping God through music he would intentionally take his eyes off of his own situation and put them on God. That is always a good thing because our tendency is to focus on everything that is wrong rather than the One who makes all things right.

2) Talk to God – In the first few verses we see the Psalmist pouring his heart out to God. Watchman Nee said, “Our prayers lay the track down upon which God’s power can come. Like a mighty locomotive, His power is irresistible, but it cannot reach us without rails.” Prayer is the first step toward harnessing the power of God. And if ever we need God’s power to be manifest in our lives it is when our soul is downcast.

3) Talk to Ourselves – Always we need to talk to God and often we need to give ourselves a good talking to. That is what we see the Psalmist doing throughout this Psalm. What do you say to yourself when the soundtrack running on replay in your mind is “Woe is me?” 

  • Remind yourself  of a time when you experienced the nearness of God and remember what that was like. This is what we see him doing in verse 4.
  • Remind yourself of all that God has done for you beginning with what He did for you at the cross. (verse 5)
  • Remind yourself of some of the promises of God that are near and dear to your heart. (verse 8) Here is one of my favorites:

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

 

  • Remind yourself of who God is. In verse 9 we see the Psalmist reminding himself that God is, has been, and always will be his Rock.

May this brick give you some ideas of what to do when you find that your soul is in turmoil.

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