Brick #65 – 1 Corinthians 15:50-58

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The last verse of this passage says…

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

It is an interesting way to conclude a passage that largely talks about what happens to our bodies after we die. Paul seems to be saying that if you want to be the most effective in this world on the Lord’s behalf then you need to think eschatologically!

Say what?

Think eschatologically! It means to think about the end times. C.S. Lewis put in this way in his book Mere Christianity:

If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next…. (Those who left their mark on earth did so) precisely because their minds were occupied with heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven and you will earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.

He also said…

Most of us find it very difficult to want Heaven at all – except in so far as Heaven means meeting again our friends who have died. One reason for this difficulty is that we have not been trained: our whole education tends to fix our minds on this world.

Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthian believers, and to us, is to “set your minds on the things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2) Rather than this making us “so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good”, instead it reminds us that when life is hard and ministry is hard that we have much to anticipate in the life to come – therefore we can “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord”  while we deal with life on earth.

Think eschatologically!

May this brick encourage you to spend time thinking about heavenly things – and may your imagination soar and your heart rejoice as you anticipate the life to come.

Brick #64 – Hebrews 12:1-3

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Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

It has rightfully been said that the Christian life is more like a marathon that a 100 yard dash. A marathon requires endurance. This passage is giving us some tips on what it takes to endure – what it takes to still be standing and to finish strong even when the race we are running becomes really really hard.

Tip #1 – We can be encouraged knowing that those saints who have already run their race and endured to the end are cheering us on and rooting for us to persevere courageously. When life is hard, stop and listen to this cloud of witnesses and take heart knowing that they have gone through incredible hardship to get to the finish line.

Tip #2 – Like a runner who would not ever think about running his race while carrying 10 pound weights, we must ruthlessly rid ourselves of anything that weighs us down and keeps us from running efficiently. These weights may not even be sinful but nonetheless they are hindering us from faithfully following Jesus. Identify them and do whatever it takes to rid yourself of worthless weight. This will involve hard choices.

Tip #3 – You can no doubt easily identify the sin in your life that “clings so closely.” You have tried to get rid of it but it keeps finding a way back into your life and just won’t let go. You try to shake it off but it just clings even more fiercely. How do you get rid of it? Here are a few thoughts: 1) Confess it as sin before God – agree with God that it is sin and that you want to be rid of it once and for all. 2) Find and memorize an appropriate Scripture verse and say it out loud to the evil one at least 10x each day. 3) Whenever you are facing the temptation to give in to this sin shout “NO” as loud as you can wherever you are and whoever might be around. 4) Find someone you trust to confide in who can both hold you accountable and can help untangle the sin that clings so closely.

Tip #4 – Keep looking ahead to Jesus  and keep your eyes on the cross. Don’t look back and wallow in shame or guilt. Don’t look around at other people who are content to live with their sin. Focus on the One who loves you, who forgives you, and who endured the hardship of the cross to gain victory over sin for you.

Tip #5 – By faith, allow the “joy of the Lord to be your strength.” There WILL be difficult days and difficult years. But find joy in the journey as you anticipate crossing the finish line and hearing the thunderous ovation from the cloud of witnesses and hearing the voice of your Heavenly Father say, “Well done! Enter now into the joy of your reward.”

May this brick help you to endure the hardships that this life brings and to run your race with ruthless tenacity as you look forward to the glorious finish line.

Brick #63 – John 15:1-11

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Abide!

The word is mentioned 10x in these 11 verses. Evidently it is a key word in this passage. It is an awesome Biblical word and a great concept to understand and practice.

Why wouldn’t any believer want to know how to abide in Christ when they understand the results of abiding?

  • Verse 5 – Abiders bear much fruit!
  • Verse 7 – Abiders have their prayers answered
  • Verse 8 – Abiders bring glory to the Father!
  • Verse 11 – Abiders are joy-filled!

Shouldn’t all believers aspire to those 4 things? So let’s ask two questions as we ponder this passage:

1) What does it mean to abide? Jesus uses the illustration of a vine and a branch. As long as a branch is connected to the vine and drawing it’s nourishment from the vine then it will produce fruit. So abiding has to do with commitment, connection, and clinging fiercely to the vine. Jesus identifies Himself as the True Vine so when we are committed, connected, and clinging to Him we are abiding. But when he says He is the True Vine He implies that there are a lot of false vines that often capture our attention and allegiance. When this happens our souls are nourished not by Jesus but by other things – which prevents an abiding relationship with Jesus.

2) How do we abide? Jesus gives us two specific ways in this passage that answer this question. Verse 7 says, “If you abide in me and my words abide in you…” So a key to abiding is to make God’s Word a priority in our lives. Read the Word. Ponder the Word. Memorize the Word. Study the Word. Listen to the preaching of the Word. Sing the Word. Talk about the Word with others. Pray the Word. Obey the Word. Being a man or a woman of the Word will go a long way toward fostering an abiding relationship with Jesus. Secondly, verse 9 says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” Never forget that it was Jesus’ love that compelled Him to go to the cross. Think often about the cross. Think often about how our Savior suffered so that we would not have to suffer the consequences of our own sin. Think often about how you were once far from God but have now been brought near… because of the incredulous love of Jesus. Let it daily wash over you and refresh you. Abide in His love.

May this brick encourage you to do whatever it takes to become an abider so that you can indeed bear much fruit, have your prayers answered, glorify the father, and experience His unspeakable joy.

 

Brick #62 – Ephesians 5:15-20

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I want to zero in on verses 15-17 from this passage.

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Living with intentionality!  This is the point Paul is making. He uses the word “walk” in verse 15 as a metaphor for “live”. This has been a favorite theme of his in Ephesians…

  • “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world…” (2:1-2)
  • “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” (4:1)
  • “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.” (4:17)
  • “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (5:1-2)
  • “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” (5:8)

Paul’s encouragement to the believers is to live intentionally and to do so wisely – not foolishly. Practically, how do we do this – how do we become more wise in the way that we live? Scripture gives us some tips: 1) Hang around people that are already wise in the way that they live (Proverbs 13:20). 2) Ask God to fuel us and fill us with His wisdom (James 1:5). 3) Pay attention to what God’s Word says and obey it (Matthew 7:24-27). 4) Get to know Jesus better and better (Colossians 2:2-3).

The other side of the same coin would be to answer the question “how do we not live like fools?” Again, Scripture gives us some tips: 1) Learn to hold your tongue and watch what you say (Proverbs 18:7). 2) Learn from your mistakes and failures (Proverbs 26:11). 3) Never stop learning (Proverbs 1:22). 4) Listen to people when they give you advice (Proverbs 12:15). 5) Receive instruction with humility (Proverbs 1:7).

Why does Paul say we need to take this to heart – why do we need to be very intentional in the way that we live? Because the days are evil. Because life is short. Because people need Jesus. Because we don’t want to waste our lives. Because the Lord is honored when we use our lives for His purposes. 

May this brick encourage your hearts and motivate you to take one more step toward living each of your days with intentionality.

Brick #61 – 2 Timothy 4:6-8

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“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.” 

Once saved, always saved. This is what Scripture indicates. The reason we have a problem with this is because we see people who claim that they are saved but who in no way act like they are saved. The doctrine is known as “perseverance of the saints.” And the best way to define this doctrine is to say that those who persevere ARE the true saints of God. Those who do not persevere, who do not continue to walk in the ways of the Lord, who are not offended by their own sinfulness – are NOT saints (sinners saved by grace).
 
This is what Paul is saying here in this passage. Despite the difficulties, the beatings, the slander, Paul has stayed true to the faith and maintained a rigorous love for God and His Word and His mission. Now, as he approaches the end of his life he is looking forward to That Day.

  • That Day when He will see his Lord and Savior.
  • That Day when He will be done with earthly travails.
  • That Day when he will enjoy the fruit of all his laboring for the gospel.
  • That Day when hope becomes reality.
  • That Day when eternal life takes on a whole new dimension.
  • That Day when heaven becomes his home.
  • That Day when victory over sin is celebrated.
  • That Day when God’s glory is revered.
  • That Day when grace and peace can be enjoyed.
  • That Day when he will receive his reward for faithfulness. 
Paul was able to live a faithful life despite all the hardships he endured because he kept the end in mind. And now with the end in sight he approaches it not with reluctance or with regret but with eager anticipation and joy.
 
May the Lord use this brick to fuel your anticipation of THAT DAY – and in the meantime to make the necessary changes so that you can say with Paul when that day comes that you have “fought the good fight, finished the race, kept the faith.”
 
(If you want an extra special “blessing” you can click HERE to listen to a song I wrote called “That Day.”
 

Brick #60 – Romans 8:35-39

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35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This passage wraps up perhaps the greatest chapter in the New Testament. And Romans 8 is the high point of a book that has been called the pièce de résistance of Paul’s writings. 

The theme of these verses is the love of Christ. And his point is that NOTHING can separate those who are “in Christ” from enjoying and experiencing the love of Christ. Here are a few things that he points out…

1) Verses 35-36 – He reminds his readers that hardship has always been the experience of God’s faithful followers and not to be surprised when difficult times arise. As believers we are not promised that life will be easy – rather we are promised that “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Count on it. Hard times are not an indication that God has withdrawn His love. He promises to hold us close when the hard times come and to walk with us through “the valley of the shadow of death.”

2) Verse 37 – He calls us “more than conquerors.” The love of Christ will not only enable us to gain victory over and through the tough times that life brings but will also enable us to point people to Jesus through the tough times. In other words, the Lord will use even the bad stuff that happens in our lives to bring glory and victory to the cause of Christ.

3) Verses 38-39 – Paul’s confidence in the unfailing love of Christ is rooted much deeper than “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.” It is a confidence that has been tested in and triumphed through harder things than most of us will ever deal with. As he writes in Ephesians 3:19, he has come to know the love of Christ in a way “that surpasses knowledge.” It is a confidence that is grounded in the gospel and what Jesus did for him at the cross. This is where we will find the same kind of confidence and come to experience the deep deep love of Christ in a similar way. This in essence is what the book of Romans is all about.

May this brick fill you with a confidence in the love of Christ that will enable you to be a “more than conqueror” whenever the hard times of life come your way – which they will.

Brick #59 – Colossians 3:1-4

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Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (NIV)

So here’s the questions I’ve been thinking about: What’s the difference between “setting your heart on things above” and “setting your mind on things above”? And then, how do you set your heart and mind on things above in practice?

Setting your heart, I believe, has to do with desire. But how do you fuel desire for something? How do you develop desire? How can I increase my desire for God and the things of God. I think the answer, at least in part, has to do with “setting your mind on things above.” In other words I set my heart on things above BY setting my mind on things above. Why do I think this?

I love my wife. I have desire for my wife. But if I were to intentionally set my mind on other women, and think about them then I have no doubt that desire  for my wife would decrease and desire for women not my wife would increase. This is why porn is so destructive to a marriage. If I want to fuel desire for God then I need to think often about God. If I think often about ungodly things then my desire for them will increase and my desire for God will decrease.

Additionally, if I want to fuel desire for God then I need to participate in God experiences. Worship! Service! Missions! The more I experience God the more I will desire Him. Just as the more experiences Linda and I share together the more our desire for one another grows. If I were to neglect her and live my life without any regard for her – then any desire we share would soon fade away.

Now why would I even want to be so intentional about making sure that my heart and my mind are set on things above. Because…

1) according to verse 3, I belong to God. I have died to my old way of life. If I find that I am not interested in doing this then maybe I need to seriously consider whether I really do belong to God and really have died to sin and my old way of life.

2) According to verse 4, one day I will appear before God and I want to be able to do that without feeling ashamed or full of regret for the way that I defiled my heart and mind.

So all this to say that this is why this pondering of Scripture thing is so necessary and so beneficial  and why Scripture memory is such a great discipline to be in the habit of doing. This is why thinking intentionally about the beauty of Christ and the cross is so necessary. These help me to set my heart on things above and to set my mind on things above – thus fueling my desire for God and drawing me into closer relationship with Him.

May this brick help you to better understand how to set your heart on things above and draw you into a deeper, richer, more intimate relationship with our Father.

Brick #58 – Matthew 14:22-36

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This passage is not an unfamiliar passage to most people as it details a well known incident in the life of Jesus: when He walked on the water and subsequently when Peter famously attempted to walk on the water as well.

But most people overlook the emotional context of these verses. Jesus had been trying to find some quiet space all day. This is why Jesus had sent his disciples to the other side of the lake without Him. He had just finished an exhausting day of taking care of other people’s needs – feeding 5000+ people and healing lots of folks in the crowd – crowds that would not leave Him alone.

But even before all that happened He was looking for “a desolate place” where He could be alone. He greatly desired some time to Himself. Why? Because that morning He had gotten the devastating news that His cousin and good friend and fellow preacher John the Baptist had been put to death at the hand of Herod the tetrarch. He wanted some alone time so that He could grieve and spend time in prayer with His Father.

Sometimes the demands of life do not allow us to do what we would like to do. Jesus could easily have begged off for the day – and given the circumstances people would have probably understood. But He knew that He was needed so He plodded along even though He was physically and emotionally weary.

And I am grateful that He did. Two of the greatest miracles recorded in the New Testament happened because He plodded along, doing what needed to be done even when He would have preferred to just be alone.

As someone who greatly values alone time I know how hard it is to keep plodding and to keep being available to people when I don’t feel like it. But I also know the value of trusting God to use me and to strengthen me and to fuel me for what He wants to do through me. Sometimes God will do His greatest works in our lives when we don’t feel like doing anything.

So just keep plodding! Easier said than done sometimes. Here are three succinct thoughts that might help you proficiently plod.

  • Keep looking forward. When you look down or look back you will lose sight of the goal and are more likely to give up.
  • Never forget that His grace is sufficient for you and that His power is made perfect in our weakness.
  • There is nothing wrong with being a lifelong plodder. This is how the turtle beat the hare.

So just keep plodding!

May the Lord use this brick in your life to remind you that His greatest miracles might just happen when you least expect it as you just keep plodding.

Brick #57 – 1 John 5:11-15

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There is much that can be pondered from this passage but I will focus on verse 13:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.

Jesus defines eternal life back in John 17:3 like this: “And this is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

So another way to say 1 John 5:13 might be like this: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you know God and His Son Jesus.”

Know that you know. It is important that we know that we know. That we have confidence and assurance that we are children of the King. So let me explore this word “know” a bit.

 The word “know” can be pretty nuanced. I can think of at least three different ways this is true in relation to God…

1) It is possible to know about God and not really know God. It is even possible to express love for God and not really know Him. For example, when I was growing up my first favorite musical artist was Jim Croce. I did not know Jim Croce. But I did know a lot about Jim Croce and even had most of his songs memorized. It would not have been unusual for me to say, “I love Jim Croce.” Now of course what I meant was that I loved his music. In the same way, it is  possible to know a lot about God and even have a lot of His Word memorized but to not really know Him at all.

2) It is possible to know God personally but to not know Him intimately. In other words, it is possible to have a relationship with God and that that relationship is only superficial. And it is superficial because that is the way that we choose it to be not the way that God chooses it to be. The Prodigal Son is an example of this. The father yearned for a close relationship with his son but the son kept him at arm’s length for much of his early life. Much like we do with our Heavenly Father. We know Him and have a relationship with Him but we don’t have the kind of relationship that the Father longs for.

3) It is possible to know God both personally and intimately. The Hebrew word for “know” in the Old Testament is an interesting word. It is transliterated “yada.” ( Some of you will remember the yada yada yada Seinfield episode from the 1990’s.) Genesis 4:1 says “And Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain.” There was an intimacy in that kind knowing that husbands and wives (hopefully) experience when they make love. As believers we are the bride of Christ and designed to know Him not just personally but also intimately. The Lord longs for a closeness with us as a father does with his children. He doesn’t want to be kept at arm’s length.

May the Lord use this brick to help you discern the level of “knowing” that you have with the Father and to take the next step to know Him better.

Brick #56 – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

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7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

The context of this passage is really interesting. 14 years earlier Paul had an out of body experience that left him awed, overwhelmed, and speechless. It was the kind of experience that he could have boasted about; that he could have written a book about; that could have led to a lucrative speaking tour. But the Lord, in His sovereign care, made sure this did not happen. And Paul didn’t really understand why God did it the way that He did it.

Most of us have what we might call a “thorn in the flesh.” It might be a chronic physical ailment. It might be a person. It might be a  “proneness” – some habit or inclination that we just can’t shake. It might be a financial or other life situation that makes life difficult. And no matter how many times we ask God to take the thorn away it seems that we are stuck with it – much to our dismay.

We don’t know what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was but we do know that it was something that weighed heavily on him. I have written elsewhere what I suspect it was but we will never know for sure. So two questions come to mind:

What purpose might our thorn in the flesh serve? Paul is able to recognize God’s larger purpose which is always helpful. He knows that God is using his thorn to refine his character and transform him more and more into the likeness of Christ. And this is what God wants to do with us as well. So if we can get past the whining and grumbling stage and get to the gratitude and worship stage then the Lord will use whatever thorn we might have to do a good work in and through us.

How do we get to the gratitude and worship stage? 1) Remind yourself daily that God is enough! This is what the Lord means when He says “My grace is sufficient for you.” No matter what we find ourselves going through, God is enough to see us through it and to satisfy our soul while we endure.  And make no mistake, sometimes it is a matter of enduring. Taking one day at a time. Putting one foot in front of another. And with each step we say a prayer to God, “Thank you Lord for letting me take another step. Do in my life what You want to do and use me to honor and magnify Your name.”

May the Lord use this brick to help you deal with the thorns in your life and to understand God’s greater purpose when the answer to your oft prayed prayer is “NO.”

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