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.”

Brick #55 – Ephesians 4:29-5:2

BBBNewLet no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.  30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Here is the big picture context for these verses: The first three chapters of Ephesians lay a theological foundation for what Paul talks about in the last three chapters of Ephesians.

In chapter four Paul is reminding the Ephesians that they have been given new life in Christ and therefore their lives should look different from those who are not identified with Jesus. As well, he subtly reminds them that they are in a spiritual battle and implores them not to give the devil any kind of a foothold in their lives (verse 27). These verses reflect some ways that this might be happening.

What is “corrupting talk”? The word corrupt is likened to rotten fruit. It refers to anything that is destructive, selfish, and especially grace-less. It might be foul language, gossip, lies, slander, etc. It is language that does not nourish others, that is cancerous, and is harmful – both to the talker and the hearer.

Where does corrupting talk come from? – According to Matthew 12:34-36 it comes from a corrupt heart: “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

How do you fix a corrupting talk problem? – If you are a believer, you need to repent and be reminded of the cross and the fact that you are beloved by the Father and seek to imitate Jesus. A good place to start is by watching how Jesus used language in the gospels to help people rather than to hurt people. If you are not a believer, you need a new heart. This is something that only the Lord can do as you come to Him as the Great Physician asking that He would take your heart of stone and replace it with a heart that beats for Him. (Ezekiel 36:26)

May the Lord use this brick to remind you that the Lord wants to use our words to build others up and that starts by having a heart that is overflowing with God and the gospel.

Brick #54 – John 10:1-10

BBBNewIn order to really understand this passage it is necessary to have the context of John 9. In chapter 9 the Pharisees reveal their true colors when, instead of being excited that a man who was born blind has been miraculously healed, they use the healing (on the Sabbath) as an excuse to frame Jesus as a lawbreaker.

Jesus calls them out – without calling them out. He spins a narrative in chapter 10 about sheep and shepherds that calls to mind, for everyone listening, Ezekiel’s prophetic warning from Ezekiel 34. This would not have been missed by the religious leaders of the day. Jesus is saying that the very men who have been entrusted with caring for and providing for God’s flock have instead burdened them with a weight that was impossible to carry. They had made the Law do what it was never intended to do.

Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd that Ezekiel prophesied about in 34:22-24. He likens the Pharisees to thieves who would steal, kill, and destroy, the flock of God (John 10:10) – which they were indeed doing. They had taken all the joy out of being a child of God and had destroyed any desire to serve Him wholeheartedly because of their weighty demands that sucked all the life out of God’s people. Jesus instead offered them hope: “I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10b)

It is no wonder why people were attracted to Jesus and His teaching – He was a lifeline of hope to a people who were drowning in despair and religious frustration. 

And it is no wonder why people still flock to Jesus. We live in a culture that is also fraught with despair and frustration. Religion is just one more thing to add to an already busy schedule. But when people rightly understand that Jesus did not come to add something else to their life but instead to BE their life and to fill them with hope and to fuel them with strength and courage to face each day then following Jesus becomes a delight rather than a duty.

May this brick help you to find joy in the Good Shepherd who leads us beside still waters; who restores our soul; who leads us in paths of righteousness; and who walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death. (Psalm 23)

Brick #53 – Philippians 3:12-14

BBBNew12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

What does  “this” in verse 12 and “it” in verse 13 refer to?  A key principle for interpreting Scripture is to always look at the context of a verse or passage. In this case, Paul is referring back to verses 7-11. The thing that means more to him than anything else to knowing Christ, gaining Christ, treasuring Christ above all.

The reason this is true for Paul, and should be for us, is because of what he says at the end of verse 12: “Christ Jesus has made me His own.” Paul has never gotten over the beauty of the cross. Even after 30 years he is still overwhelmed by the wonder of the gospel and what Jesus did for him. And we should be as well.

And Paul is not content to just maintain his relationship with Jesus. He wants to keep growing and keep knowing Christ better and better. In verse 13 he talks about “one thing” that he is doing to make sure this happens. My challenge to you (and me) is to identify one thing that could help you to know Jesus better and treasure Him more. Just one thing! Never underestimate the power of making one simple change.

Here are three things that I have been pondering regarding treasuring Jesus above all else. I won’t make any further comments about them. I will just leave them here for you to mull over:

  • What we treasure most we think about constantly! (Philippians 4:8)
  • What we treasure most we pursue relentlessly! (Matthew 13:44)
  • What we treasure most we guard jealously! (Exodus 20:4-5)

Is Jesus your greatest treasure?

May the Lord use this “brick” to spur you on to know Christ even better than you already do and to consider doing whatever it takes to make Christ your greatest treasure.

Brick #52 – Matthew 7:24-27

BBBNewThese 4 verses are the closing verses of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Like every good preacher He left His hearers with a lot to think about. Part of his closing remarks say “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Here are a few questions that I think His listeners left pondering… and scratching their heads about:

  • How in the world is my righteousness ever going to exceed that of the scribes Pharisees? (5:20)
  • Does Jesus really expect me to cut off my right hand when (not if) it causes me to sin? (5:30)
  • Am I really supposed to let somebody slap my other cheek after they have already slapped me once? (5:39)
  • What did Jesus mean by “do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth?” Am I not supposed to save and prepare for retirement? (6:19)
  • Did He really mean that very few are going to find their way into heaven? What do I have to do? (7:14)

Jesus talks in these verses about making sure that our lives are built on a strong, solid foundation and warns His hearers that if this is not true then they are setting themselves up for collapse. Unfortunately many people, even spiritual people, have a foundation that is faulty. Their lives are centered around being good enough to get into heaven. Or their lives are focused around the other people in their lives – and one thing we know is that people often disappoint and let us down. Or their lives center on how they are feeling at any given time – which can make for quite a roller-coaster kind of existence.

And then there are many people who have built their lives initially on Jesus but either because of compromise or neglect have allowed cracks to form in their foundation. These folks are always surprised when their lives start to collapse around them only to realize that they refused to do anything to keep the little cracks from becoming big cracks.

So how do you maintain a foundation that will support your life when the storms of life threaten to destroy you. Three things that you hear often because they are so crucial: 

1) Stay in church and connected to other believers. Hebrews 10:24-25 says this, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
2) Stay in the Word. It has been said that sin will keep you from the Word or the Word will keep you from sin. Jesus said it this way, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them…”
3) Stay before the throne of grace. As the author to the Hebrews said, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

As you ponder this “brick” may the Lord strengthen the foundation you have built and cause you to exult in song proclaiming…

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.

 

Brick #51 – Matthew 6:25-34

BbBBy nature, I do not tend to be an anxious person. But then honestly, I’ve never really had that much to be anxious about. I’ve always had plenty of food on the table and a roof over my head and clothes on my back. My health has been on the side of very good for 62 years. I’ve had a steady job for 35 years. I have an awesome wife and kids and grandkids. In the grand scheme of things, there has been precious little to get anxious about.

But then again, in the past year I guess I have had some things that I could have worried about – if I had chosen to do so. Back in the Fall I had an MRI and CT scan of my gut because of some weird pains I was experiencing. A few months ago one of my sons tested positive for Covid-19 and I was around him… a lot. And then most recently there was a two week period where I potentially was going to be diagnosed with a brain tumor. An MRI of my brain last week proved otherwise but I was one phone call away from a significant life change!

Why am I not anxious about such things. Perhaps it is just my nature. But I’d like to think it is because of what I believe about God. Here are a few things that come out of this passage that are good reminders for all of us:

  1. We are of inestimable value to God and we can cast all our cares on Him because we  know that He cares for us. (Mt 6:26, 1 Peter 5:7). Does this mean that life will always be sweet? No. But even in the bittersweet times we can cling to the promise of God that He will be with us and that His ways are perfect.
  2. Anxiety will do nothing more than rob us of the joy it is possible to experience in the present moment. (Mt. 6:27) Or to say it another way (as I saw on a placard in Alaska last summer) “Worry is a waste of imagination.”
  3. Worry acts as a barometer of our faith. If I find that I am overwhelmed by anxiety then perhaps I am underwhelmed by the greatness and sovereignty of God. (Mt. 6:30) When I ponder these magnificent attributes of God then it becomes difficult to wallow in worry for very long.
  4. Our emotional energy is much better spent dealing with what IS happening rather than obsessing over what might NEVER happen. (Mt. 6:34) Present tense life can be hard enough. No sense borrowing problems from the future. In the financial world there is what is known as good debt and bad debt. Worry is incredibly bad debt.

Verse 33 is a great note to wrap up with as it sums up this whole passage: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” Intentionality is very much needed if we are going to find an antidote for anxiety. SEEK! SEEK God through the study of His Word and prayer. SEEK to pursue His will and not the wayward desires of the flesh. SEEK out people who will encourage you and help to nourish your soul. SEEK to live a life of gratitude for what you do have instead of complaining about what you don’t have. SEEK first the kingdom of God!

 

Brick #50 – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

BbBA little context. Every other year the Isthmian Games were held outside of Corinth – the year before and the year after the ancient Olympian Games. They took place in the year 51 A.D. which coincided with Paul’s visit to Corinth on his 2nd missionary journey. Athletes from throughout Greece would converge and compete in footraces, wrestling, boxing, throwing the discus and javelin, the long jump, chariot racing, poetry reading and singing. (You did not know singing was considered an athletic event, did you?).

Unlike the modern Olympic Games where gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded to the first three places respectively, in the ancient games, only the winner received the crown. There was no second place award – winning was everything!  Paul admonishes the Corinthians to run in such a way that they might obtain the prize. He likens the Christian life to a race and says to give it all you’ve got. If you are going to call yourself a Christian go ALL IN! Don’t live a half-baked kind of Christian life. 

Why is this so important to him? What is the why behind his what? Check out verse 23. It is for the sake of the gospel. Anything less than an ALL IN effort is an affront to the gospel and diminishes its influence. And Paul is thoroughly convinced that people need the gospel more than they need anything else. The question I must ask myself is “do I believe this in the same way that Paul believes this?”

Admittedly, he goes on to say, this takes self-control and discipline (vs. 25-27).  And this only happens (per Galatians 5:23) when we are under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. This kind of Spirit-led self-control looks much different than when we try to live a self-controlled life in the power of the flesh. But, Paul says, it is worth it because we are running to receive an imperishable reward.

If we can keep in mind that we are living for eternal purposes and not mundane purposes then we would no doubt run our race much differently than we do. So how do we do this? I have at least one idea that I’d love to share with you if you will email me at sreyner@Ridgecrest.cc and ask “what’s your idea?” If you have thoughts about this please feel free to email me or comment here.

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