Brick #105 – 2 John

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2 John is the shortest book in the Bible – a mere 13 verses. John has two things he is trying to communicate in this succinct communique’.

Walk in Truth – John continues to be concerned, as he was in his first epistle, about deceivers who have infiltrated the ranks of the church. These are people who are teaching a false gospel and spreading untruth. This is still a concern in our world today. As a believer in the one true God and the one true gospel, make sure that you measure everything that you hear being taught against the truth of the Word of God. Not everyone who preaches or teaches in the name of God does so with a conviction that the Bible is the inspired Word of God.

Walk in Love – Warren W. Wiersbe said: “Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy.”

Scott Mehl said, “Too many people have been convinced that biblical truth “doesn’t work,” not because there was a problem with the truth, but because the truth wasn’t communicated with love.”

We must speak the truth. But we must absolutely do it in a way that is accompanied by love.

May this brick help you to experience what John says in verse 3 at the beginning of this letter:

“Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.”

Brick #104 – 1 John 5

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The focus for this brick will be on the word “overcome”. Note what 1 John 5:4-5 says…

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

The words overcome, conquer, and victory all stem from the Greek word “nike”. Yes, like the shoe company. Got Questions says this:

The verb implies a battle. The Bible teaches Christians to recognize that the world is a battleground, not a playground. God does not leave us defenseless. Ephesians 6:11–17 describes the armor of the Lord available to all believers. Scattered throughout this narrative is the admonition to “stand firm.” Sometimes all it takes to overcome temptation is to stand firm and refuse be dragged into it. James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” An overcomer is one who resists sin no matter what lures Satan uses.

Believers in the truest sense are overcomers. So what are some of the other marks of an overcomer.

  • Overcomers can have peace in the midst of trouble because Jesus our King has overcomes the world. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
  • Overcomers can stand firm against the enemy and his minions because Jesus our King dwells within us. “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)
  • Overcomers can anticipate a great reward because Jesus our King says “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (Revelation 3:21)
  • Overcomers are undergirded through the troubles of this world because of the great great love of Jesus our King. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:35-37)

1 Corinthians 15:57 succinctly says it this way: “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

May this brick encourage you today to overcome whatever is keeping you from walking in the victory that belongs to those who call Jesus King.

Brick #103 – 1 John 4

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One of the enemy’s tactics to confuse believers and to negate the effectiveness of our faith is to distort the truth. This has been true since the very first encounter with Adam and Eve. It was true in John’s day. It is true today. Specifically if the enemy can distort the truth about Jesus then he gains a win.

In the first 6 verses of 1 John 4 we see the apostle encouraging believers to know and to stand on the truths of Scripture regarding Jesus. There are “preachers” who are very skillful communicators who have used their golden tongues to turn people away from the historical Biblical truths of the gospel and of Jesus. So just what should we believe about Jesus? Here is a short list of  truths – if you ever hear a preacher or anyone else call any one of these into question then you can be sure they are “not from God” (4:6) no matter how convincingly they may speak.

  • Jesus is the eternal Son of God
  • Jesus was NOT created. He was “in the beginning with God”
  • Jesus is the incarnate Son of God – He willingly took on flesh
  • Jesus was born of a virgin
  • Jesus lived a sinless life
  • Jesus is the propitiation for our sins – He appeased the wrath of God by dying on the cross as a sinless substitute for sinful man
  • Jesus rose triumphantly fro the dead
  • Jesus ascended into heaven
  • Jesus will return again in power and glory to judge the world

May this brick help you stand firm in the faith as you encounter those who will try to distort the truth of Jesus.

 

 

Brick #102 – 1 John 3

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It’s hard to get past the very first sentence of chapter 3.

The ESV puts it this way: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

The KJV puts it this way: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.”

And the NIV puts it this way: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”

John is inviting us to do something that I love to do – PONDER!. He is inviting us to ponder just how awesome, just how marvelous, just how how incredible the love of God is.

Some time ago I spent some time doing just that and put my pondering in the form of a poem.

HOW MUCH MORE

 

How much more could Christ have done than what He did so long ago?
And yet today He fills my heart with a joy that overflows.

How much more could He have done than when He set this captive free?
And yet today I taste the fruit of His awesome victory.

How much more could He have done that when He rescued me from sin?
And yet today He gives me hope and helps me find my strength in Him.

How much more could He have done than save my soul eternally?
And yet I find that in this world I live with joy and power and peace.

 

How much more, O how much more could He do in you and I 
If Christ alone became the greatest treasure in our lives.
How much more, O how much more could He really do in us
If our hearts could fully grasp the mighty power of His love. (Refrain)

 

How much more could He have done than break the chains of doubt and fear?
And yet today when I despair I find that He is always near.

How much more could He have done than to create new life in me?
And yet He fills my soul with songs that I cannot help but sing.

How much more could He have done than make things right with God again?
And yet today He walks with me as if I am His greatest friend.

How much more could He have done than prove His love at Calvary?
And yet today I am reminded of His faithful love for me.

 

How much more, O how much more could He do in you and I 
If Christ alone became the greatest treasure in our lives.
How much more, O how much more could He really do in us
If our hearts could fully grasp the mighty power of His love.

 

As you have time I invite you to spend some time pondering the incomparable love of God in a way that you can come back to again and again. Perhaps it too is a poem. Or a song. Or a journal entry. Whatever way you choose, the love of God is worth pondering again and again.

May this brick encourage you to ponder just how remarkable the love of God that has been expressed to you by Jesus on the cross truly is.

 

Brick #101 – 1 John 2

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Lots and lots to ponder in chapter 2. Much more than could be covered in this post so I am just going to focus on one verse – verse 6:

“Whoever says he abides in Jesus ought to walk in the same way in which Jesus walked.”

The word “abide” is one of my favorite words in the Newer Testament. Maybe because it was one of the  Apostle John’s favorite words. He uses it 9x in chapter 2 alone. And perhaps it was one of the Apostle John’s favorite words because Jesus liked it so much. John famously quoted Jesus in John 15 where He said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” 

So how do you abide. There are NOT 3 easy steps that you can take to start abiding. Abiding has to do with relationship. J. C. Ryle put it like this:

To abide in Christ means to keep up a habit of constant close communion with Him – to be always leaning on Him, resting on Him, pouring out our hearts to Him, and using Him as our Fountain of life and strength, as our chief Companion and best Friend. To have His words abiding in us, is to keep His sayings and precepts continually before our memories and minds, and to make them the guide of our actions and the rule of our daily conduct and behavior.

And Andrew Murray put it like this:

It is only into the thirst of an empty soul that the streams of living waters flow. Ever thirsting is the secret of never thirsting. A soul filled with large thoughts of the Vine will be a strong branch, and will abide confidently in Him. Be much occupied with Jesus, and believe much in Him, as the True Vine.

 

“Walk in the same way in which Jesus walked” – As I pondered this part of the verse I was reminded of 1 Peter 2:21 which says, “Christ suffered for you as an example that you might follow in His steps.” Back in 1896, Charles Sheldon wrote a book called In His Steps. It is the story of a pastor who, while preaching on 1 Peter 2:21, challenged his congregation to ask the question “What would Jesus do?” before they did anything. It is a great book. A classic book.

Back in 1989, a youth group up in Holland Michigan, after reading the book together, decided to embrace the challenge. To remind themselves to ask the question they created bracelets that said “What would Jesus do?” And thus was born the WWJD movement that swept the American Christian world in the 1990’s.

“What would Jesus do” is still a great question to ask. But another great question to ask to help discern the answer to “what would Jesus do” is to ask the question “what DID Jesus do”? So here is a short list of some of the things we see Jesus regularly doing as He walks through the gospels…

  • He spent time with the Father
  • He embraced the outcasts
  • He gave hope to the hopeless
  • He confronted hypocrisy
  • He taught the Word of God
  • He served others
  • He genuinely cared for people
  • He developed leaders

Whoever says he abides in Jesus ought to walk in the same way in which Jesus walked.” The natural result of abiding is to walk in the same way that Jesus walked. Think about those quotes by Ryle and Murray and practice abiding until you get great at it.

May this brick encourage you to abide diligently so that you can walk in the same way that Jesus walked!

Brick #100 – 1 John 1

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1 John is an awesome little letter near the end of the New Testament. Here are a few factoids about the letter in general:

  • It was written by the Apostle John who also wrote the Gospel of John, 2 and 3 John as well as writing down the Revelation.
  • It was written between 85-90 AD most likely while John was living in Ephesus.
  • It was written to safeguard the saints against several false teachings that were circulating: 1) Docetism – which denied that Jesus was God in the flesh, and 2) the idea that there was no such thing as sin.

As I pondered chapter 1, there was one verse in particular that caught my attention: “This is the message that we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” (verse 5)

My curiosity was piqued as to why John would sum up the message of Jesus in this way. I mean, after all, this guy wrote 21 chapters of stuff that Jesus did and that Jesus said – why did he succinctly describe Jesus’ message with this one sentence and just 12 words?

As John writes, it has been about 60 years since he hung out with Jesus – 60 years since the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. He is an older man and has had a lot of time to reflect on the time they had together. No doubt some of his experiences with Jesus impacted him more than others. Here are three that might have influenced why he said what he said in 1 John 1:5…

1) “I am the Light of the World” – John chronicled 7 “I AM” statements of Jesus in his gospel. One of them was this one: “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will walk not in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). When Jesus said this he was having a conversation with the scribes and Pharisees. It led to a series of outrageous claims by Jesus that ultimately resulted in the Jewish leaders trying to kill Jesus (John 8:59). No doubt this would stick in John’s mind all these years later because it dramatically changed the relationship Jesus and His disciples had with the leaders. From this point forward they had to always watch their back.

2) The Crazy Way Jesus Gave Sight to the Man Born Blind – Talk about something you would never forget… John and his buddies were with Jesus when they passed a man that had been born blind. They were trying to understand this from a theological perspective and asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:3-5) Then Jesus did something John would never have expected and would never forget. He spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. He then placed the spittle facial on the man’s eyes, told the man to go wash the mud off, and when he did, lo and behold the man could see for the first time in his life. I don’t think I’d ever forget anything like that either.

3) The Transfiguration – Matthew 17:1-2 records this… “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” And if that wasn’t unforgettable enough, Moses and Elijah join the party and have a pow wow with Jesus as He prepares to make His way toward the cross.

As John was writing his little epistle, no doubt these incidents and more flooded his memory bank. And as he tried to sum up Jesus’ message in one short sentence the idea of LIGHT kept coming to mind. “This is the message that we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.”  It was the perfect description for an audience that was surrounded by darkness and needed the encouragement for their souls that The Light of the World will always overcome the darkness.

May this brick remind you all over again that Jesus is indeed the Light of the World!

Brick #99 – 2 Peter 3

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Think eschatologically!

That is how I would summarize 2 Peter 3. What does that phrase mean?

Eschatology is the study of the end times. So “think eschatologically” means to think with the end of times in mind.

As Peter writes it has only been about 30 years since the resurrection of Jesus and His accompanying promise that He would return again. For the first century believers it seems like it has been forever. Peter writes to remind them of several things…

1) “That scoffers WILL come in the last days” (verse 3) – There will always be those who will scoff about our faith. Whether it is regarding the timing of Jesus’ return or something else. Scoffers will scoff. Here is a short list of things that scoffers scoff about in our day:

  • How can you possibly believe a book that is as old fashioned and outdated as the Bible?
  • How could a God that is so loving send people to a place like Hell?
  • Don’t you think it is pretty narrow-minded to suggest that there is only one way to Heaven?
  • Christians are so hypocritical!
  • Christianity is just a crutch for weak people.
  • If God is so good why is there so much suffering in the world?
  • In the Old Testament God sure comes across as a moral monster.
  • Science proves evolution and dispels the theory of creation. Why don’t you believe the science?

Scoffers will scoff. But as believers we can prepare ourselves for the scoffing and as Peter said in his first letter, “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15)

2) “The day of the Lord will come like a thief…” (verse 10) – Jesus is coming back! From God’s perspective 2000+ years seems more like 2 days (v.8). And He is patiently waiting because He does not want ANY to perish but for ALL to come to repentance. Is there anything that we can do to “hasten the coming of the day of God.” (v. 12) You betcha! Matthew 24:14 ays this, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

3) We should “be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (verse 14) – We should live with the anticipation that Jesus could return TODAY. And if He did would He find us ready? Would He find us yearning for His return? Would our first thought be when we see Him ” I’m so glad you’re back” or would it be “I’m not ready can you come back later?”

4) “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (verse 18) – As we wait and as we anticipate we should make it our goal to draw closer to Jesus. So the question I have to ask myself is this: What am I doing to make sure that I keep growing in my relationship with God?

May this brick help you to THINK ESCHATOLOGICALLY! 

Brick #98 – 2 Peter 2

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In chapter 2, Peter goes to great lengths to point out the danger of false prophets who have infiltrated believing communities of faith. What was true then is also true now. In fact, in verse 1 Peter said, “there will always be false teachers among you.” So in pondering this chapter I want to do 3 things: 1) Point out some of the characteristics of false teachers, 2) Mention some of the prevalent false teachings that have infiltrated the church of the 21st century, and 3) Share a few thoughts on how to recognize the red flags that often indicate false teaching.

Characteristics of False Teachers

  • “Secretly bring in destructive heresies”(v. 1) – False teaching is subtly slipped into orthodox teaching so that it sounds like it is true even though it is not.
  • “Follow their sensuality” (v.2, 14) – It is not uncommon for sinful sexual lifestyles to come to light in the lives of false teachers.  Not only does this call their teaching into question but as Peter says the way of truth is blasphemed along the way.
  • “In their greed they will exploit you with false words” (v. 3, 14, 15) – This seems to be a common theme among false teachers. They have learned how to use their silver tongues to accumulate silver for themselves. Often lots of it.
  • “They do not tremble as they blaspheme…” (v. 10) – You generally do not see a posture of humility present in false teachers. They are not intent on bringing glory to God as much as they are in bringing glory to themselves.
  • “They entice unsteady souls.” (v. 14) – False teachers take advantage of people. They tickle itching  ears, make people feel good about themselves, and then use them for their selfish purposes – often by coercing them to send money.
  • “They are waterless springs” (v.17) – They offer refreshment but for people’s souls but instead deliver emptiness and deadly teaching.
  • “They promise freedom but they themselves are slaves of corruption”  (v. 19) – False teachers make promises that they can’t keep because they themselves are enslaved to sin.

Prevalent False Teachings of Our Day

Universalism – Hell is not real and even if it was God is too good to send anyone there. All people go to heaven no matter what you believe.

Legalism – It was around in Jesus’ day and it is still around today. It essentially says that if you do certain things and don’t do certain things then you can be right with God. For example, real Christians don’t have tatoos. Real Christians don’t drink alcohol. Real Christians don’t smoke. Real Christians don’t dance. Real Christians only read the King James Bible.

Prosperity Gospel – The prosperity gospel tries to use God to get a believer what he wants – health and wealth and prosperity. It claims that “health and wealth” are the automatic divine right of all Bible-believing Christians and may be procreated by faith as part of the package of salvation, since the Atonement of Christ includes not just the removal of sin, but also the removal of sickness and poverty.

“Just follow your heart” – We hear this a lot these days – the only problem is that the heart is “desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9) and will lead you places that you do not want to be.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism – Probably the false teaching most prevalent among  our younger people these days. The five core beliefs of MTD are as follows: 1) A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth. 2) God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions. 3) The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself. 4) God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem. 5) Good people go to heaven when they die.

Recognizing False Teaching

1) Get SO familiar with the Truth that when you hear NOT TRUTH you easily recognize it. This means becoming a student of the Word of God. As has been said, to spot a counterfeit, study the real thing. Any believer who makes a careful study of the Bible can identify false doctrine.

2) Ask discerning questions – What does the teacher say about Jesus? Does he preach the gospel? Does he minimize Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross? Does he talk about repentance? Does he focus on the love of God and rarely if ever make mention of the wrath of God and Hell?

3) Does the teacher’s character and lifestyle demonstrate humility and servanthood? Is there a constant asking for money? Does his lifestyle indicate a hunger for money or a hunger for God?

Again, as Peter reminds us, there will always be false teachers among us. But that doesn’t mean we have to be susceptible. Learn to discern!

May this brick help you to know the difference between false teaching and the soul nourishing Word of God.

Brick #97 – 2 Peter 1

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“May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”

I love the way that Peter intros his epistle. This little sentence is a great prayer to pray or blessing to speak on behalf of those we care about.

In chapter one, Peter reminds his readers of the importance of God’s Word. He wants to make sure they are paying attention “as to a lamp shining in a dark place…” (v.19) He is not convinced that they are paying attention and he has several reasons for his concern. 

  • He wants to help them to be fruitful and effective in their walk with the Lord and to equip them to live godly lives. (chapter 1)
  • He wants to make sure they can discern truth from the false teaching that is prevalent. (chapter 2)
  • He wants to make sure that they are ready for “the Day of the Lord.” (chapter 3)

All of these concerns are appropriate for 21st century believers. Not so much has changed. We still need help living godly lives. We are still susceptible to the false teaching that tickles our ears. And we are still ill-prepared for the coming of the Lord.

In verse 4 of this chapter Peter references God’s “precious and very great promises” as he seeks to encourage the saints to be men and women of the Word. Here are a few of God’s precious and very great promises that are well worth the time pondering so that when life is hard we have a sure and steady anchor to help us get through the storm. Note that the first promise is that there will indeed be storms to endure.

  • “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
  • The LORD makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him;  though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.  Psalm 37:23-24
  • “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:28-29
  •  But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31
  • And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:28
  • If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.  James 1:5
  • Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:7
  • If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
  • Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;  in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6
  • The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”  Deuteronomy 31:8

John Piper says that “we must day by day go to the Word of God and search for great promises. Fix one or two in your mind and hold them there before you all day. And use them to overcome temptation to sin and to incite you to daring acts of righteousness and love. 

May this brick help you to search God’s Word daily knowing the value that it provides in helping you navigate your way through this life and in preparing you for the life to come.

 

 

Virtue – moral excellence

Brick #96 – 1 Peter 5

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A few thoughts about verses 5-7…

 Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you…

 

First, a few definitions.

Humility is an honest assessment  of ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.

Pride is a conspiring to steal glory from the only One that is rightfully due glory. It is a pursuing of self-glorification and a refusal to acknowledge dependence upon God.

With these definitions in mind you can understand why God so vehemently opposes the proud.

Two questions…

Question #1: What does humility look like in a believer’s life? Numbers 12:3 tells us that “the man Moses was very humble – more than all the people who were on the face of the earth.” So perhaps we can learn a thing or two about humility from him. 

In Psalm 90 we have recorded “A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.” He gives us some clues in verses 12-17 of how humility expresses itself.

Humility is characterized by:

A teachable spirit – In verse 12 Moses prays, “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Do we come to God each day with a willingness to learn from Him; with an understanding that we still need the Lord to instruct us how to navigate our way through this world?

A sense of dependent neediness – In verse 14, Moses prays, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” Do we look to the Lord for our satisfaction and joy and happiness or do we try to find it through sources that the world provides?

A recognition of God’s glory and power – In verse 16, Moses prays, “Let YOUR work be shown to your servants, and YOUR glorious power to their children.” Are we first and foremost concerned that God gets the glory that is His due or are we more concerned about getting the recognition that we crave?

A longing for the favor of God – In verse 17 Moses prays, “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us and establish the work of our hands upon us.” Do we long for God’s favor upon our life or do we seek primarily the favor of people.

A pursuit of God in prayer – This Psalm is an indication that Moses spent time in prayer with the Lord. Prayer in and of itself is an act of humility as we recognize our need for Him.

Question #2: Practically, how do we clothe ourselves with humility? In other words, how do we develop humility in our lives?

Philippians 2:5-8 is instructive here as we learn from Jesus. 

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

We can learn humility:

1) By serving others – By nature we tend towards selfishness and wanting others to serve us. By “taking the form of a servant” we take our eyes off ourselves and focus of meeting the needs of others. A great question to ask the Lord each day is this: Who can I serve today and how can I serve them?

2) By being obedient to the Lord – Jesus was not thrilled with the idea of being crucified on a cross (Matthew 26:39) but obeyed willingly. We don’t always like doing what God’s Word commands but we learn humility every time we obey willingly because God sees our desire to please Him rather than pleasing ourselves.

May this brick help you to “clothe yourselves, all of you,  with humility.”

 

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