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Philemon-I Timothy 1: Go the Extra Mile

No doubt we could touch on numerous things in Philemon or I Timothy 1. However, one sentence stands out to me today. I don’t have much to say about it. Only that I hope others will be able to say this about me as they look at how I work and serve.

“Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say” (Philemon 21, ESV).

Philemon obviously had a reputation of walking on the extra mile. He did so to such an extent, Paul knew Philemon would do more than what was asked. I hope we can all develop this reputation.

Keep the faith and keep reading,

ELC

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November 13, 2008 Posted by | Christian Living, Philemon | , , | Leave a comment

James 4-5: Don’t Let Tomorrow Mess Up Today

James 4:13-17 is a reminder I need today.

Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’–yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (ESV).

I recognize the point of this passage is about relying on God and understanding that I cannot boast as if to say I am somehow by my own power going to ensure that I survive another year and by my own power will make sure the business I conduct is profitable. However, where this struck me today was the reminder that the reason such mental games are foolish is because I don’t even know if I’m going to be here tomorrow.

My problem is often the very opposite. Instead of thinking about how successful I’m going to be over the next year, I can get bogged down in worries. “Oh no, the economy is failing. What will that do to my income or my retirement or…” “Oh no, my kids are growing up and I know they are going to be faced with all kinds of temptations. What am I going to do about that?” 

One of the crazy “Oh nos” I have happened last night. My wife took the car to go to the store. It was raining like crazy and she lingered. Suddenly my mind was filled with fear that something bad had happened, at any moment the police were going to show up and now I was going to be a single father of four children. Actually, nothing happened to her. She showed up at home just as usual. However, this morning as I was stuck in traffic I started thinking about that scary possibility and I actually began to be filled with fear as if it were already true. How crazy is that?

The fact is, someday my wife will die. It may be before me or after me. It may be while the kids are at home; it may be after they are on their own. The thing is, it has happened today. She is at home right now doing her part of our family work. Why let all the possibilities of tomorrow over which I have no control mess up today.

You see it works both ways. I shouldn’t let my arrogance think I am going to ensure some success is going to happen apart from God’s will. At the same time, I shouldn’t let my fears about what might happen tomorrow send my today in a panic. Rather, I should just rely on God and pray “As the Lord wills.” Then, each day, I can rely on the strength He gives me to make it through whatever happens today.

Keep the faith and keep reading,

ELC

November 12, 2008 Posted by | Christian Living, Faith, James, relying on God, Surrender | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hebrews 9-10: 4 Keys about Stirring Up One Another

Many churches hear a lot about Hebrews 10:25. They are told repeatedly how important it is to attend the assemblies of the congregation. Sadly, in our haste to convince Christians they should attend assemblies (which they should) we often miss Hebrews 10:24

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (ESV).

Notice four aspects of this verse.

1. Our goal is love and good works.

I Timothy 1:5 says the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith. That is what we are striving for in everything we do. We want to produce love in ourselves and in others. But this love is not some mystical, ethereal vapor of emotion. It is an active love that is meted out on a practical level by the good deeds we do every day. Ephesians 2:10 says God created us to walk in good deeds. Titus 2:14 says Jesus redeemed us so we could be a people zealous for good deeds. Christ’s goal for us was not merely our forgiveness. That was not the end of His work. Rather, forgiveness is the means to the end. We are forgiven of our bad deeds so we may be set free to perform good ones.

2. We must stir up one another to love and good deeds.

This word picture blows my mind. In the NASB, the word stimulate is used. That one doesn’t seem quite as harsh. But I always get a picture of an electric prod stimulating a muscle. The ESV and NKJV say stir up. Usually, when we hear that phrase, we mean someone is causing trouble. The KJV says provoke. That word usually means to make someone angry. The NIV says to spur on. That provides a picture of someone taking a sharp object and jabbing into the flank of a horse so it will move faster.

These word pictures usually represent something we would say is negative. Here, they are used as a positive. We are supposed to stimulate, provoke, stir up, spur on each other so we can all love and do good deeds. It is the image of one Christian telling another, “I am not going to sit idly by and just let you be a loser, half-hearted Christian.” 

3. We must consider how to stimulate one another.

Before we just jump on someone and start prodding them, we need to consider how to stimulate each other. Take a step back and consider the person, their place in their spiritual walk, their personality, their gifts. Then based on that figure out the best way to stimulate them. Don’t just jump up in their face; stop and think it through first. Titus 2:14 provides three options for stimulus (though you can certainly turn to other passages and find more).

Speak–Sometimes we stimulate others by merely talking to them and sharing with them the truths of God.

Reprove–Sometimes we need to expose error in someone’s life in order to spur them on to the narrow path of God’s kingdom and righteousness.

Exhort–Sometimes we need to catch people doing things right and encourage them to keep it up.

No doubt there is also a great example of stimulus in Titus 2:7. We should be models of good behavior, exemplifying what it means to love and do good things.

4. We must stir up one another.

This doesn’t say preachers must stir others up. It doesn’t say pastors must stir others up. It doesn’t say deacons must stir others up. It doesn’t say teachers must stir others up. It says we must stir one another up. This is our job because we are Christians. 

This means two things. First, I must be stirring others up. Second, I must be willing to let others stir me up. That is contrary to our nature. Usually, we want others to leave well enough alone. If they start trying to hold us accountable, we get angry. We need to be humble enough to let others speak to us, reprove us and exhort us. Otherwise we will grow weary in doing good.

Let’s remember to stir up someone today and let’s find someone who can stir us up to love and good deeds.

Keep the faith and keep reading,

ELC

November 6, 2008 Posted by | Christian Living, Encouragement, Friends, Hebrews, Love, Relationships, Responsibility | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Matthew 25-26: Why People Go to Hell

I clearly recognize that following a different gospel leaves someone accursed (Galatians 1:9-10). I also recognize that not abiding in the doctrine of Christ means we will have neither the Father or the Son (II John 9). Thus, getting the gospel and doctrine of Christ right is important and necessary to our salvation. 

However, I can’t help but notice when Jesus very specifically talked about the sheep and the goats and who will be allowed into heaven and who will be cast into hell in Matthew 25:31-46, He didn’t talk about those who got the gospel and doctrine of Christ right. He talked about those who did good deeds for others. He talked about those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, visited those sick and in prison. Now, I recognize this is not talking about just general welfare. This is talking about love among brethren. 

We need to recognize however that it is not enough to know and teach the right gospel and doctrine. The gospel and doctrine of Christ must impact our lives such that we humbly submit to others around us and do good for them. If we close our benevolent hand to others around us, we are closing it to Jesus. In that case, we may be the soundest teachers in the whole world. We may debate with excellence and shut the mouths of all false teachers and yet we will still be cast into hell. 

If you want to go to heaven, take some time to get out of your study and off the debate podium and do some good works for those around you.

October 29, 2008 Posted by | Christian Living, Matthew, salvation, Serving | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Matthew 19-20: Length of Discipleship vs. Depth of Discipleship

The parable of Matthew 20:1-16 is powerful for me today. 

I have a tendency to get wrapped up in how long I’ve been a Christian or how long I’ve been preaching or how long I’ve avoided a particular sin. When I start thinking like that, I get arrogant and the warning “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” really applies to me. 

This parable, however, reminds me that God is not necessarily interested in how long I’ve been serving or conquering. Those who have started serving today receive the same reward I will. Certainly, having served for a long time is good for me. It removes a great number of regrets. I don’t want to use this parable to say I can wait to start serving until the last minute.

However, what I need to remember is that today the length of my discipleship is not nearly as important as the depth of my discipleship. The fact is, if I let my discipleship get shallow, it won’t be long before I leave the vineyard and it won’t matter how long I had been working there. If I want to stay in the vineyard, I have to dig deep in my discipleship. 

If you’re just starting or if you left the vineyard and have just come back, I know there are numerous regrets, lots of guilt and shame. Don’t let that overwhelm you. The folks who have a longer time in the vineyard aren’t any better than you. Just focus on how deep your discipleship is today. When you get to tomorrow, focus on the same thing.

Keep the faith and keep reading,

ELC

October 24, 2008 Posted by | Christian Living, Matthew | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Thessalonians 2-3: Be Busy at Work, not a Busybody

Well, this morning I’m being convicted. Perhaps it’s just because I’ve been reviewing my work this week that this passage slapped me down. Or maybe it did so simply because it applies. Paul wrote in II Thessalonians 3:11-12:

“For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (ESV).

Most of the time I consider myself a very busy person. I pride myself on working a lot. But reading this passage has struck me how much of my time is not really being busy at work but being a busybody. No, its not the normal busybody like the young widow of I Timothy 5:13, who is an idler and a talebearer going from house to house getting in everyone’s business. No, my busybodying often seems noble. Instead of going from house to house to butt my nose into everyone’s business, I scour website after website and blog after blog to snoop out any inkling of error to stick my nose in. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe the man of God has to be able to defend the Word of God. I believe the man of God must be able to expose error where he finds it. This passage, however, has reminded me that when I spend several hours in a day arguing with people I don’t even know about some point of doctrinal disagreement but didn’t spend any time talking with the people I actually met face to face about Jesus or didn’t spend any time encouraging the brethren in the congregation with which I work, then I’m not really being a busyworker. I’m just being a busybody.

Gratefully, I have been doing better at this over the past few weeks. But, the passage still smacked me and reminded me of where my busyness needs to be.

What should your busyness be?

Keep the faith and keep reading,

ELC

October 10, 2008 Posted by | Christian Living, II Thessalonians, Working for God | , , , , , | Leave a comment

1 Thessalonians 1-2: Looking for Signs

I know this may seem odd, but the thing that stood out most to me in today’s reading was the little statement in I Thessalonians 2:18: “Because we wanted to come to you–I, Paul, again and again–but Satan hindered us” (ESV)

No doubt, it is nigh impossible in this earthly and finite realm to know when God is acting and when Satan is acting. However, this passage demonstrates that not every circumstance in our lives should be laid solely at God’s feet. Yes, I understand God could change things and everything that happens God allowed. I also understand that God can use everything that happened. 

However, Paul said he had wanted to come to Thessalonica again and again, but Satan hindered him. In our attempts to give God the glory, we often lay at His feet things that aren’t necessarily His direct doing. When something doesn’t go the way we plan, we often try to comfort ourselves by saying things like, “I don’t know why God did that, but He knows best.” I appreciate that attitude, but at the same time, it may well have been Satan trying to keep something from happening. 

Why does this matter at all? I think this demonstrates a flaw in the modern thinking that seems to suggest every day occurrences are close to a matter of revelation. We are looking for signs from God in what happens every day. When Paul was unable to go to Thessalonica, he knew it was not a sign from God, it was a hindrance from Satan.

Now, apart from miraculous revelation, there is no way of knowing which is which. We can’t hardly know when God was at work or Satan. Let us simply proceed with caution. Give thanks to God for the good things that happen. Rely on God through the bad things. Look at all things and strive to grow no matter what happens. But be careful trying to interpret what happens in your life as signs from God to direct you. It may well be a hindrance of Satan. Who knows, it may be a hindrance of Satan that God uses for good (cf. II Corinthians 12:7). 

The conclusion of the matter is that God is has revealed His will for us in His word. He is not expecting us to interpret the circumstances of life to figure out His will for us. Whether His providence leads us in a certain way or Satan’s hindrance, God wants us to obey His will from His word no matter what is happening to us. Let’s quit looking for signs hidden in life and start relying on His message revealed in the Word.

Keep the faith and keep reading,

ELC

P.S. What caught your eye, stood out to you or moved you in today’s reading?

October 7, 2008 Posted by | Christian Living, I Thessalonians, signs | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 12-13: God’s Grace is Sufficient for Us

 

31, ESV)

"They shall mount up with wings like eagles..." (Isaiah 40:31, ESV)

One of the great things about the world wide web is that it is world wide. I don’t want to make the mistake of acting like everyone who reads this is American like me. However, American is the framework from which I come. I hope that folks from other countries don’t have the problem I’m about to describe. I think we American Christians sometimes allow our American citizenship to dictate our approach to life more than we do God’s word.

 

In the good ol’ U S of A, we are taught to be independent. We are taught to pull ourselves up by our boot straps and make it through the tough times. If we are going to rely on God it is only for the really tough times when we just need Him to give us a little push to get us over the hump we just can’t seem to climb. I recall being in the family conference area in the emergency room of a local hospital where one of my dear sisters was grieving the loss of her husband. This was on top of several other life tragedies she and her family had faced in the past year. A friend and co-worker, who was also a Christian thought he was helping this sister by telling her, “Sister, you can do this. You’re strong enough. You can make it.” Then he prayed, “God, our sister is going through a tough time. She just needs a little help. Help her see she is strong enough to make it through this.”

I couldn’t contain myself. As soon as this well-intentioned brother left, I knelt beside my grieving sister and said, “I know this brother meant well. But he is wrong. You aren’t strong enough for this. We’re not strong enough for this. We can’t make it through this stuff. But we have a God that is strong enough to get you through.” And then I grabbed the little Bible they had on the side table and read II Corinthians 12:8-10.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 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. 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 (ESV).

The reason so many American Christians struggle is because we have this idea that we are really strong enough for most things and that we only need to rely on God for a little nudge on the really tough stuff. The fact is, we need to recognize apart from God we can do nothing. I remember in a series I presented on prayer another well-meaning brother commenting that one of the problems we have in prayer is asking God to do things for us that we can do for ourselves. My question is which things are those? After all, it is through God that we live and move and have our very being (Acts 17:28). If our very life and ability to move comes from God, which thing is it that we can accomplish all on our very own? 

We need to get over this idea that we are strong enough for anything. We need to recognize that we are weak and powerless. The only way we can have any victory at all is to simply surrender ourselves to God and His will. We need to just throw ourselves on His grace because it is sufficient. 

Consider one great contrast–Moses. When Moses simply supposed that everyone would understand he was God’s chosen vessel to deliver the Israelites, he ran from Egypt in fear with his tail tucked between his legs. However, when he believed he was too weak and couldn’t possibly be the man to lead Israel, God brought great victory through Him. We have to realize we are only able to stand because of the legs God has given us and simply surrender to Him. His grace is sufficient, our strength isn’t.

Keep the faith and keep reading,

ELC

October 6, 2008 Posted by | Christian Living, II Corinthians, Powerlessness, relying on God, Surrender | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Corinthians 8-9: Blessed to be a Blessing

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times you may abound in every good work. As it is written, ‘He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’ He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”

II Corinthians 9:8-12 (ESV)

God has not blessed me so I can hoard what I have been given. Certainly, as Ecclesiastes taught, I am allowed to enjoy my blessings. But, I must remember that the main reason for which God has blessed me is so I may be a blessing to others. 

This is not the health and wealth gospel that performs good deeds selfishly only to receive more. No. This is the true gospel that points out God entrusts more to those with whom He can actually trust more. So often, we want and want and do not have because we only want for ourselves. We will be amazed how much God will bless us if we simply become channels for blessings to others. 

Of course, when I am not selfishly concerned about what I have and only about how I can help others, if God is not blessing me with something, I’m still content. The question is not how much I have, but how am I helping others.

I know this is tough to remember when every newspaper and television show is warning us that the sky is about to fall in financially. But this is God’s will for us no matter what our nation’s economy.

Keep the faith and keep reading,

ELC

October 2, 2008 Posted by | Blessing, Christian Living, Daily Bible Reading, II Corinthians, money, Sacrifice | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

1 Corinthians 16-2 Corinthians 1:Relying on the Lord who Raises the Dead

II Corinthians 1:9-10 jumped out at me today.

“Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” (ESV)

Paul and his companions were close to death. No doubt it was because of persecution. Yet, he saw a different purpose. Being pushed to that point forced him to rely on God. He knew he could not deliver himself from death, he could only rely on God. 

How often does that happen to us and yet we can’t see the lessons God has for us. We get sick to remind us our health is not in our hands, but God’s. We lose jobs to remind us our security is not in our hands, but God’s. We lose loved ones to remind us that life is not in our hands, but Gods.

All this goes on around us reminding us to quit relying on ourselves but to rely on God instead. No matter where we are, He is there. No matter what we face, He can deliver. The longer we try to work harder to preserve ourselves, the longer we wait to truly have God’s blessings.

I’m not saying we sit on our backsides and wait for God to hand us our free lunch. It doesn’t work like that. Rather, we must seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33) and then He will add to us. Of course, God’s blessings are not merely the material and financial. Rather, He blesses us with contentment, peace and joy no matter what we face and He blesses us with a home in heaven.

Perhaps this struck me because I’m sick this week–strep throat. It has thrown major wrinkles in my plans. But maybe what I need to do is remember that God is in charge, not me.

Keep the faith and keep reading,

ELC

September 26, 2008 Posted by | Christian Living, God, I Corinthians, II Corinthians, perseverance | , , , , , | Leave a comment