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.

 

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.

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.

Brick #108 – Psalm 34

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Before looking at Psalm 34 specifically here are a few tips I came across about reading and pondering The Psalms in general.
 
1) Read Contextually – For most of the Psalms we do not really know what the context is. But for some of the Psalms we do. In these cases read about the surrounding context and what prompted the psalmist to write what he did.
 
2) Read Theologically – In other words, as you  read the Psalm try to understand what it teaches you about the character of God – how can the Psalm help us to know God better.
 
3) Read Devotionally – This is the way most of us approach The Psalms. We need nourishment for our soul. We need to know that someone else can identify with what we are dealing with, We need a way to appropriately express our sadness and fear and discouragement and depression and waywardness. The Psalms help us do this perhaps better than any other book in Scripture.
 
4) Read Christocentrically  – How does the Psalm point us to Jesus? What does the Psalm say that looks forward to the coming of Messiah and how does it help us keep our eyes on Jesus?
 
Now about Psalm 34 specifically….
 
Psalm 34 is what is known as an acrostic Psalm. Each verse starts with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet… almost. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. There are 22 verses in Psalm 34. Successive Hebrew letters are used to begin most of the 22 verses. Why did David use this writing technique? Perhaps it was for pneumonic purposes (a memory aid) which is why most acrostics are used.
 
Reading it Contextually – This is what we are told: “Of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.” To get the full context  you can read 1 Samuel 21- 22:2. The short story is this – David was running for his life from Saul who was trying to kill him. After his encounter with Abimelech (aka Achish), he took refuge in a cave along with his family and a bunch of other social misfits. It is probably while David is hiding out in the cave that he writes this Psalm. Knowing this is very helpful to understand the emotions and difficulties that he was dealing with and helps us identify with what he was going through.
 
Reading it Theologically – Some of things that see this Psalm teaching me  and reminding me about God include…
  • He is my deliverer (vs. 4, 7, 17, 19)
  • He hears me (vs. 6, 17)
  • He is good (vs. 8, 10, 12)
  • He is my refuge (vs. 8, 22)
  • He is my redeemer (v. 22)

Reading it Devotionally – Verse 1 is my biggest devotional takeaway: “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” No doubt David was confused and afraid and crushed in spirit (v. 18) and yet he determined to praise the Lord no matter what his circumstances were and what his emotions suggested he do. What a lesson – praise helps us focus on God when we are prone to want to focus on ourselves. It is a biblical remedy for whatever ails us.

Reading if Christocentrically

Some verses of Psalm 34 are referenced in the New Testament:

  • Verse 8 is quoted by Peter in 1 Peter 2:3 and verses 12-16 are cited in 1 Peter 3:10–12. No doubt this was a favorite Psalm of Peter.
  • Verse 20 is alluded to in John 19:36 where it is noted that not one of Jesus’ bones were broken during the crucifixion.

For bonus reading you might check out Psalm 57 which also was written during the same time frame as Psalm 34. Evidently when David was feeling like life was crazy, he was greatly inspired as a songwriter.

May this brick help you to better understand how to read the Psalms and to nourishment for your soul from Psalm 34. 

Brick #107 – Jude

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I’m going about this pondering post a bit different than I usually do. Instead of giving some of my ponderings, I am going to give some questions that came to mind as I read the book – as well as a few internet resources that I found helpful.

 
Who was Jude? (see #3 in this link)
 
Verse 1: What does the word Beloved mean? Jude uses it several times in the first few verses.
 
Verse 3: What does it mean to contend for the faith? How do we do it?
 
Verse 4: What are some ways in our day that we see the grace of God being perverted? (Check out this article)
 
Verse 5: What reminders do we need to hear often today as the people of God?

Verse 11: “The way of Cain” – The way of Cain refers to any individual who attempts to approach God on his or her own terms rather than on God’s terms.

Verse 14: What do you know about Enoch? See Genesis 5:18 and THIS
 
 
Verse 20: How do you build yourself up in the faith? How do you “keep yourself in the love of God?”
 
Verse 23: How do you demonstrate mercy to those who doubt? How do you “snatch” them out of the fire?
 
Verse 24: What is a doxology?
 
May this brick help you get to know this little book better and to think about some of the issues that he addresses.

Brick #106 – 3 John

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This is a great little letter from the Apostle John to a dear friend named Gaius. I love the first five verses:

The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. 2 Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. 3 For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. 4 I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. 5 Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are…

Got Questions says this about the word beloved, which John uses 3 times in these verses to refer to Gaius: “In the inspired letters, beloved means “friends dearly loved by God.” In the New Testament, the use of the word beloved implies more than human affection. It suggests an esteem for others that comes from recognizing their worth as children of God. Those addressed were more than friends; they were brothers and sisters in Christ and therefore highly valued.”

 

Three other things strike me about these verses…

1) John prays for Gaius about mundane things – that things will go well; that his health will be good; that his soul will be refreshed. His prayer does not use flowery language or sound super spiritual. It is just a simple prayer for a dear friend.

 

2) John encourages Gaius because of his “walking in the truth.” I need to do more of what John does here – write an encourage note to those who are steadfast in their pursuit of God and let them know that it gives us joy to see how they are living out their faith.

 

3) John affirms Gaius’ faithful ministry even to those who are strangers to him. It is much easier to minister to those that we like and who are friends. But strangers are a different story. John wants Gaius to know how much he appreciates his ministry to people who will most likely not be able to reciprocate his kindness and generosity.

 

May this brick give you some ideas about how you can encourage those in your “beloved” circle of friends.

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