Brick #69 – 1 Thessalonians 5:17

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“Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

This succinct verse is one of many such admonitions that Paul gives at the end of his letter to the Thessalonians. It’s as if he has lots more to say but little time to say it so he just records any last minute thoughts that pop into his head.

This verse raises one very practical question: How do you pray without ceasing? Is it even possible to do what Paul is asking?

Me thinks the answer is yes, of course.  But it means that we need to get rid of our traditional way of thinking about prayer. Praying without ceasing has nothing to do with the posture of our body and everything to do with the posture of our heart. Traditionally we bow our heads and close our eyes as we pray. This is what we are taught to do when we are kids. This is what is modeled for us by our parents and pastors and Sunday School teachers. What we really need to learn how to do is not so much to bow our heads but to bow our hearts as we come before God’s throne of grace. Here are a  few postures of the heart that need to become ingrained in us if we are going to learn how to pray without ceasing.

1) A Heart Posture of Dependence – This may be the hardest posture for us to learn because as Americans we value independence so much. The American way is to do it ourselves and not depend on anyone else. So when it comes to complete surrender and dependence on God there is much that needs to be unlearned. Perhaps a good way to start a conversation with God is by saying at the very beginning, “Lord, I need you,” as a reminder to ourselves as much as anything. 

2) A Heart Posture of Obedience – There is a tendency for us to pick and choose what we want to obey or not obey. A posture of obedience says that we will obey what God’s Word says EVEN IF it doesn’t suit our fancy and EVEN IF it cramps our preferred lifestyle.

3) A Heart Posture of Gratefulness – We are looking at 1 Thessalonians 5:17. The very next verse which is a part of the same sentence says this, “…give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” ALL circumstances! A heart that is able to say “thank you” to God even when circumstances would suggest doing the opposite is especially pleasing to the Lord and is an audacious expression of faith in the goodness of God.

4) A Heart Posture of Expectancy – It was William Carey who said, “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.” A posture of expectancy gets the order right. Pray FIRST, then act boldly anticipating that God is already at work. It is not uncommon for us to act first and then pray that God will boldly bless OUR actions. This is a posture of presumption and often results in unfounded disappointment with God.

May this brick motivate you to practice these four postures of the heart as you seek to “pray without ceasing.”

 

Brick #68 – Philippians 4:4

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“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice.”

So just how do we do what Paul is telling us to do? How do we “rejoice in the Lord always”? Does this mean that we can never be sad or depressed or grieve? I don’t think it means this at all. After all, we are human and we are emotional beings. But I think we can agree that finding our joy always in the Lord is a good thing. So again, how do we do that when so much of what we experience everyday is set up to rob us of whatever joy we do have?

Here are a few Scripture verses and a few comments that might help as you seek to “rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice.”

Reset your mindset. James 1:2 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…” We need to train our minds to consider the trials and difficulties that come our way as growth opportunities and not roadblocks to our success.

Think eschatologically. Hebrews 12:2  says, “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.” If we can keep the end of our pilgrimage in mind then the journey becomes much less arduous and much more adventurous.

Listen for the singing voice of God. Zephaniah 3:17 says, “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.” Have you ever heard God singing over you? Find a quiet place and attune your heart to the heavens.

Sing when you don’t feel like singing. Psalm 5 which is a song starts off “Give ear to my words, O Lord; consider my groaning.” And it ends like this, “But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy.”  Oft times a good song is what is needed to rejuvenate and nourish the soul. Do you have a song like that?

Confess and repent. Psalm 51:12  says, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”  Sin had cost David his joy. Heartfelt confession and genuine repentance was the way to get it back. The question we have to ask ourselves is this: Do we enjoy sin more that we enjoy God?

Remind yourself of who God is. Psalm 33:21 says, “For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name.” The names of God are in effect reminders to us of the promises of God. Jehovah Shalom – God is our Peace. Jehovah Jireh – God is our Provider. Jehovah Rapha – God is our Healer. We often forget who our God is and it saddens our heart rather than gladdening our heart.

Delight yourself in God’s Word. Psalm 19:8 says, “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.” And Jeremiah 15:16 says, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.”  Do we hunger for the Word of God in the same way that we look forward to our next meal? And have you asked yourself the question, “why not?”

May this brick help you to diagnose why you might not find your joy in the Lord and then give you some help in restoring the joy of your salvation.

 

Brick #67 – Matthew 16:24-28

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Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

This week my pondering will be a little different. I want to share one quote and one story that I came across this week that I think are helpful in thinking about these verses.

The Quote…

John MacArthur writes: This passage sets forth the heart of Christian discipleship and it strikes a death blow to the self-centered false gospels that are so popular in contemporary Christianity. It leaves no room for the gospel of getting, in which God is considered a type of utilitarian genie who jumps to provide a believer’s every whim. It closes the door to the gospel of health and wealth, which asserts that if a believer is not healthy and prosperous he has simply not exercised his divine rights or else does not have enough faith to claim his blessings. It undermines the gospel of self-esteem, self-love, and high self-image, which appeals to man’s natural narcissism and prostitutes the spirit of humble brokenness and repentance that marks the gospel of the cross.

The Story…

Jim Elliot was a promising student at Wheaton College in Illinois. He was a champion wrestler, honor student, amateur poet, and was warmly admired by students at Wheaton. He dated and married the prettiest girl at the school. He was truly the “big man” on campus.

In his studies, he read the words of Matthew 16:24-28 and took them seriously. During his senior year, he wrote in his journal these now famous words: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

God called him to take the gospel to an unreached tribe, the Auca Indians in Ecuador. Elliot wrote, “Glad to get the opportunity to preach the gospel of the matchless grace of our God to stoical, pagan Indians. I only hope that He will let me preach to those who have never heard that name Jesus. What else is better in this life? I have heard of nothing better. ‘Lord, send me!'”

Unfortunately, he and his four associates were killed by the warriors before they could share with them. Jim gave up what he could not keep. He gave up his earthly life to gain what he could not lose: eternal life.

Due to the publicity generated by the martyrdom of the missionaries, thousands of other young men and women committed to missions to take their place. Beyond that, the widows of the martyred missionaries went back to that tribe and led those warriors to Christ.

Years later, a young man traveling in Ecuador flew in a small plane over the country. The pilot knew of Jim Elliot’s ministry.

“When we fly over the place where Jim Elliot and the others died, show me,” the man said to the pilot.

“I can’t take you there,” replied the pilot.

“Why not?”

“Because Jim Elliot did not die in Ecuador.”

Perplexed, the young man remarked, “Yes, I know Jim Elliot died here in Ecuador.”

“Jim Elliot’s body died in South America,” the pilot said, “but Jim Elliot died while a college student at Wheaton College several years before when he yielded his life to God no matter the consequences.”

May this brick help you to think about what it really means to die to self and to live for Christ; to deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Jesus.

Brick #66 – Colossians 3:15-17

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15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

 

The question that comes to my mind as I ponder these verses is this: How do you do it? How do you let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts? It is certainly one of those things that is easier said than done. So here are a few practical things that I gleam from this passage that might help you to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” 

Verse 15

1) Identify what actually IS ruling and reigning in your heart. Is it worry that has usurped the throne? Fear? Anger? Hatred?Unforgiveness? Be honest with yourself. Take a personal inventory of what occupies and calls the shots in your life. What drives you to action or non-action as the case might be?

2) In order to know the peace of Christ you have to know Christ the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). If you do not yet know Him then now is a good time to change that. If you do know Him then perhaps you need to spend time getting to know Him better. This is where the first disciples found themselves in Mark 4:35-41. They thought they knew Him but then real life helped them understand that they really didn’t know Him well at all.

Verse 16

3) Romans 12:2 tells us , “Do not be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The way that our minds are renewed is by the Word of God. We have allowed worldliness to set up shop where the Lord should rightfully reign – so it is no wonder that so many people have so little peace in their lives. When God’s Word RICHLY dwells in us then fear has no claim to the throne because God “has not given us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7). When God’s Word RICHLY dwells in us then worry has no claim to the throne because “the Lord is at hand” and we can make all our requests known to Him. (Philippians 4:5-6). When God’s Word RICHLY dwells in us then unforgiveness has no claim to the throne because we can “forgive one another as God in Christ forgave us.”  (Ephesians 4:32).

Verse 17

4) If you want to experience peace then be reconciled to God. Typically we are not reconciled with God when we have done something that hurts the heart of God – when we have disobeyed His Word. If we will do EVERYTHING in the name of the Lord Jesus then we won’t have keep repairing a fractured relationship with our heavenly Father. If you need to reconcile with God then His Word tells us to confess, repent, and let the Spirit of God lead you to live a God-honoring life.

5) Three times in these three verses Paul exhorts us to be thankful. I’m thinking that might be a clue to experiencing peace in our hearts. If we are grateful for what we do have instead of whining about what we don’t have… peace! If we are grateful for the people God has put in our lives instead finding ways to resent or find fault… peace! If we are grateful for the cards we have been dealt in this life then we don’t have to languish in a life of entitlement and we can courageously take steps to move forward … peace!

May this brick help you to enjoy the peace that God offers all His children as it rules and reigns in your heart.

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.

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