1 Thessalonians 2 – What It Actually Is

Read 1 Thessalonians 2

As he reminds the church in Thessalonica about the ministry they shared together when he was with them, Paul grounds all of what happened, both pleasant and difficult, in the Word of God.  He may be referring here to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to the Old Testament, and/or to the preaching and teaching that he and others had done among them.  In any case, Paul’s feeling about what was happening there finds its foundation in the belief and reality that God speaks and that Word never returns empty.

This theological understanding about the Word of God has long been a part of the Church’s background.  We have long echoed the word of God in Isaiah, the God’s Word always accomplishes what God intends for it to do when it goes out.

Recently, though, it seems that the currents of relative truth and political correctness have challenged some of those notions.  People no longer believe that the Bible is the Word of God, a notion that has implications far beyond the scope of what simply happens on a given Sunday morning.

We believe, and Scripture tells us that it is authoritative, useful for teaching, rebuking, and training up in righteousness.  The power of those words come from them being the Word of God.  Take that away and it is simply another book, motivational and empowering at times, but just a book.

The other side of the coin is those who have militantly taken the Bible and beaten others over the head with it.  Scripture points out sin in its many forms, but always with an understanding of God’s love and grace for the sinner.  Failing to acknowledge this tension has led to profound injury and barriers to the Gospel message.

Thanks be to God that His promise of the Holy Spirit’s work through the opening of His Word is not solely dependent on us.  Since the very beginning, God has spoken and things have been transformed!  We are called to join God in His mission of bringing all people to Himself, to spread His message of love and grace.  Let us make sure, then, that our words and actions reflect truly what God’s Word says.



2 Corinthians 10 – Defend Yourself

Read 2 Corinthians 10

The tone of Paul’s letter takes a decidedly negative turn in chapter 10.  It seems that he has heard that some in the church in Corinth have challenged His authority as an Apostle.  What’s worse is that these accusations seem to have been taking place while Paul was away, citing the experience of while he was there, but not giving him the ability to defend himself.    Paul faced criticism because of his ability to speak “boldly” in letters but not in person.

It is likely that this is, on some level, a continue of what Paul addresses in the opening chapters of 1 Corinthians.  Those in the church were judging Paul by earthly standards, looking for charisma and eloquent speech rather than the Word of God for the people of God.

When people boast in their own abilities, they set themselves up to be measured by them.  It doesn’t matter how many gold medals any athlete will ever win, the moment that they fail will be the moment shock and disbelief where many will question “how this could happen.”  Eventually, they too will retire, and someone else will take their place, beat their records, and they will fade into memory.  In fact, they often become the commentators that were so quick to question them.

However, when Paul boasts in the Lord and the ministry that God has given him, the metric for judgment changes.  Ministries and churches shouldn’t be judged by numbers or the charisma of their leaders but by the fruit that is being produced through the work of the Holy Spirit.  Certainly, God uses human gifts and abilities to further ministry, but those things are not the metric by which they are judged.

When we judge ministries and their leaders by human abilities rather than the work of God through them, we are actually placing our trust in those things rather than in God’s work.



Mark 4 – Parables

Read Mark 4

I know a good number of people who like to tell stories.  Whenever I get together with them I expect to hear at least one story about something, whether hunting or fishing, building or other life experiences, these stories are reminders of lessons learned and wisdom gained.  Jesus often spoke in parables which were something like mini stories.  In talking to my friends, they could tell me of wisdom gained from their experiences, but without a context, I have no way of recognizing how they arrived at their conclusion.

Jesus used metaphors that the people following Him would understand.  In an agriculturally dominated society, people could relate to sowing seed and harvesting a crop.  Yet there is a much deeper meaning contained within these seemingly simple stories, truths that we repeatedly turn to and learn from.

For seed to be sown, there must be a sower; for seeds to grow, they must be tended.  However these are not explicitly mentioned in all of these parables.  The size of the seed doesn’t seem to matter either, but rather the soil is important for growing.  That has often been a comfort for me as a pastor, especially when I am feeling uneasy about how I shared God’s Word on a particular day.

Maybe I am taking the metaphor too far, but I realize today that, though we often talk about being good soil, in agriculture the farmer is responsible for both the soil and the seed, another wonderful truth that is not explicitly mentioned here.

The Holy Spirit is always at work within us, working on our hearts to prepare them to receive the seed of the Word of God and then tending those seeds to carefully cultivate them within us, producing faith and fruit many times what was sown.



Matthew 25 – Kingdom Investment

Read Matthew 25

Wise investing is one of the smartest things we can do with the money God has blessed us with.  While Jesus warns about allowing money to master us, we also must recognize the wisdom in future planning.  This could be illustrated in the Parable of the Talents.  However, I don’t think that money was on our Lord’s mind when He spoke this parable.

A talent was something very valuable.  It regulated the exchange of currency in those days.  But what is important in this teaching is not the “amount” or the “type” but rather what was done with it.  When the Master returns, it isn’t the amount of talent returned that mattered, otherwise the man with 5 would have received more praise than the one with 2, but the fact that they had put those talents to work and returned more than what was originally given them.

I have heard it preached before that these “talents” are related to our own gifts and abilities, that we should put them to work so that God receives a return on His investment in us; an apt metaphor to be sure.  However, keeping with the rest of this passage, I wonder if the meaning we are to gain from this comes from its relation to the parable of the sheep and the goats.

James 1 says that we are not to merely be “hearers” of God’s Word, but “doers.”  Those who were welcomed into the Kingdom were those that did something with the Word, “invested the talent” if you will.  Jesus said earlier that a tree will be known by its fruit.  Perhaps that is the fruit that comes from the sowing of the seed that is God’s Word in us which, in good soil, yields a crop far greater than what was sown.



Psalm 119:105-112 "Light for the Path"

1/17/2016 – Engage the WORD – There are times when our path seems clear and times when it seems cloudy and dark. In those times, we need to turn to God’s Word to give us light, maybe not to illuminate the whole path, but at least enough for the next step.



Matthew 4 – It is Written…

Read Matthew 4

Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit where He would face temptation from satan himself.  40 days later, the temptations begin, a point when Jesus would have been at His weakest point physically.  When temptations come, so often they come when we are at our lowest, weakest points.  Have you ever had that?  Life seems to just pile things on and then we start to slip:

Old temptations that you haven’t struggled with in years begin to resurface…

New temptations present themselves for the first time…

The words we don’t want to use become much more palatable…

Our tone of voice with family, friends, and coworkers becomes a bit more harsh…

This is likely how Jesus felt as satan approached.  All of what He had experienced and now this… reading this we think that He couldn’t possibly take any more.

However, physical weakness doesn’t necessarily imply spiritual weakness; Jesus demonstrates that.  As satan brings the temptation, touching on several points that would have been close to Jesus.  Yet our Lord responds in kind, not with human logic or philosophical defense, but rather with the enduring Word of God.

Reading this reminds me of other Scripture passages like Psalm 119:11 and 119:105.  David, in many other places in the Psalms as well as many of the prophets talk at length about the need to have the Word of God inside of us, on our hearts.

So often, when we start out a Bible reading plan with the mindset that it is “something to get through” or “something to conquer,” as if it was like a weight loss plan.  Maybe that is the wrong approach.  John Ortberg once said, “Our goal should not be to get through the Scriptures.  Our goal should be to let the Scriptures get through us!”



Day 349: 2 Timothy 1-4; Pastoral Advice and Admonition

The second letter to Timothy, if written by Paul, was probably one of the last letters that Paul wrote before he died in Rome.  This letter is also probably one of the most personal letters that Paul writes, displaying his passion for desire for the continued spread of the Gospel and the success of the Church after he dies.  Paul, or the Pauline Writer, is encouraging his readers to continue to be faithful to the Word of God and to spread the Gospel of Christ Jesus, guarding against the myriad of other teachings that were emerging and seeking to corrupt the church.

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.  Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.

Paul goes on to talk about not only being unashamed of the Gospel, but to also remember the one who called you.  I am reminded here of a song by Big Daddy Weave called “Audience of One.”  This song talks about worshiping as if there is only one person there, God.  Paul talks about this same idea when it comes to the work that Timothy is doing in the Church.  He says things like “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.  An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.  It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.”  He also says later in chapter two, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Finally, Paul talks a great deal about the nature of the Scriptures.  He talks about how important it is in leading a godly life.  What I find interesting is that he links the importance of Scripture and the persecution that he endured.  Paul says right after this that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  I think this is a very important link for us as we look at our own lives and the struggles and ‘persecutions’ we face day in and day out.  Paul continues, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

When we face down evil in this world, whether it be struggles in our own lives or the many issues going on in the greater world around us, we cannot disconnect the importance of the Scriptures in our lives as a a guide and as that which builds us up, prepares us, and equips us.  The Word of God is not just some self-help book, nor does it fall under the category of “sacred writings” as Paul says, but it is a companion, something that goes with us… something that should in inside of us.  There have been many instances in Scripture where the reference of the Word of God has been that of “digestion” or “eating,” and this is the type of thing that Paul is referring to.  He isn’t simply encouraging Timothy to just read it, but to get it inside of himself that it may become part of him.  In that way, no matter what is faced in life, God’s Word will be an intimate part of how he deals with it.

As addendum to this, Paul encourages Timothy to preach the Word of God always.  He says, “be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”  There is no time when the Word of God should not be spoken, not be preached, and is not useful for learning, teaching, and the building up of the Church.  This is why we preach the Word on Sunday, because it is part of who we are as the Body of Christ.  Our lives revolve around the Word of God as we live in response to the grace that He has shown us.  Americans tend to segment their lives in this respect, keeping church at church and work at work and home at home.  But for the follower of Jesus Christ, it is the Word of God that pervades all of these areas of life, encouraging and admonishing us in whatever places we find ourselves.



Day 334: 1 Corinthians 14-16; The Resurrection

After talking a great deal about the content and happenings of corporate worship, Paul then turns to the many different people that are present within those worship service.  Much of what he has to say in chapter 15 of today’s reading is very applicable for today’s church goers.  There will always be people that come to church that don’t believe; those who come because its what they did as kids, because their parents are making them, or people that go because it is the thing to do in particular social circles.  Here Paul speaks both to believers and non-believers alike, a sort of “Gospel reprise” as it were.

The first thing that I noticed when I read this was that Paul was indeed talking about believing the Word of God and also what it means to “believe in vain.”  These are folks that are not holding to the Word of God, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ that Paul had originally presented to them.  I’m sure that every church in the history of the Church has had people like this in their midst.  What Paul is saying here is that there are people like this in our midst.  What Paul isn’t saying here it is our job to seek them out, hunt them down, and expel them from our churches.  In fact, he doesn’t say anything about that right here, not like he did earlier when we was addressing the issues of the church in the first half of this letter.  Remember, as he is challenging the church in Corinth about some of the things that they are allowing to happen within their midst, he clearly points out the need for church discipline and even the removal of certain people.  This is not the case here.

It happens often in churches that we conduct our own type of “witch hunt” for those that aren’t believing quite the way we are, or “worse yet” aren’t getting involved in different things within the community of faith.  But this isn’t what Paul is calling the church towards in his addressing the church in Corinth.  In fact he doesn’t say anything about it here.  We cannot take on the Spirit’s role of working in the hearts those that God has called to that particular place of worship.  Like when we talk about election and not truly knowing who is elect and who is not, so too should we not question the hearts of those who are gathered to worship but rather continue constantly to preach and teach the Gospel in order to encourage all those into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

Paul then goes on to talk about the Resurrection, both Jesus’ resurrection and the resurrection of our bodies when Jesus comes again.  There is really little that we know about the nature of the second coming except that it is going to happen and that it will be when Jesus physically returns to this earth.  We also know here what Paul teaches about the resurrection of our bodies.  He talks about the resurrection in terms of planting and gardening metaphor.  One cannot truly imagine what a plant will look like until the seed is planting.  We cannot look at a seed and know the exact shape and size of it, but we know that it is going to grow up into something that is greater than the seed it came from.  So too will we be transformed.  Our physical bodies in this life are like a seed and what we will be in the resurrection will be so much greater.  I think that we like to spend a great deal of time talking about what we think this will actually be like, which is not bad.  We may even disagree with friends or brothers and sisters from other denominational backgrounds.  However, what is important here and what Paul makes clear without actually saying it, is that the fact that it is going to happen is certain, and really that is the hope that we hold to.  In Christ Jesus we have received grace, salvation from our sins and the promise of eternal life.  This is the hope of all humanity, and the hope to which we attest in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.



Day 304: Luke 19-20; Questions… Questions…

We talked a while back about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and about His ministry in Jerusalem throughout the last days of His life on earth.  So today, I would like to focus on the questions that Jesus fields from the religious leaders.  While today I am referring to a very particular section of of Luke 20 in which the religious leaders are challenging the authority of Jesus, I think that most of the questions from the religious leaders towards Jesus would fit into this category save those from Nicodemus in the book of John.

So Jesus has entered the city of Jerusalem in a rather humbly triumphant manner and has gone into the Temple and cleansed it, driving out all of the people that were in there buying and selling, cheating many for the sake of religion.  The religious leaders did not like this so they devised a way to trap Jesus by “asking” Him a question.  Their motive?  To try and trap Jesus publicly so that they could “de-frock” Him and thus remove Him from prominence.  There is an even deeper goal here I think, and its one that we often share with these religious leaders.  This goal is also one that is shared by those that are not believers, in order to trick Christians into saying specific things.  What is this goal?  They want to be right… or at the very least for Jesus to be wrong.  They want to catch Jesus to prove that the way they believe is correct.

You may be thinking to yourself, “I don’t do that at all.”  But I think that if we are honest with ourselves, we do this with God all the time.  Whether we read our Bibles or just go to worship on Sunday mornings, we want to know that what we are doing is good (or at the very least okay).  If we read in the Bible or hear the pastor say that we should not hate our brother because it is just like murdering our brother, do we not often say, “well its not exactly like murder” or “I don’t really hate them, I just strongly dislike them.”  We justify our actions as a way of making ourselves feel okay about the way we are living.  We don’t want to feel guilty and we certainly don’t want to change, so we justify ourselves in our own minds.

We often do this with pastors as well.  In come classes that I have taken at seminary, I have witnessed some of my peers try to justify their own beliefs in front of pastors and professors by twisting their words or tweaking their statements so that they will be okay with what is being said.  In the same way, I have seen people go to their pastor and even had people come to be that try to justify their sinful actions by talking about how the context of a particular passage clearly means that what they did in the present is not what the Bible meant.  What they want to hear is that their sinful actions, their way of believing is good enough… what they want is cheap discipleship… cheap faith.

I think the greater world does this a lot too, posing questions like the ones Jesus is asked to the Church in an effort to somehow get a religious pass for immoral or unjust action.  To be honest, I think that the Church has long been silent about a lot of things, refusing to answer and thus affirming the direction that culture is going.  Sure we speak up every now and then on hot-button issues, but do we really care about the deep day-to-day living of those around us?  Do we really want to stand idly by while our friends and neighbors plunge deeper into darkness?  We need to have an answer for these questions… we need to have an answer for the culture.

What is Jesus’ answer here?  Well, He turns the question on its head and throws it back at the religious leaders.  He is well aware of their intent and traps them in their trap.  However, earlier and later in His ministry, even in our reading today, Jesus references time and again the words of Scripture in His answers.  Jesus doesn’t need to come up with a new and creative answer for the time because He has the Word of God inside of Him.  It is close to His heart and deep in His mind and at any time He can pull it out at any time.  Not just His favorite verses that have little meaning, but all of Scripture at all times.  Are we familiar with the Word of God in this way?  Do we have answers for the questions that the world poses to us?  Do we have answers to the simple questions?  Can we back them up with Scripture?  Are these words truly our life, as Moses says to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy, or are they just idle words that pass in and out of our ears.  We need to recover the Word of God in our hearts and on our minds that we may answer the questions for ourselves and for others!