Saturday, October 31, 2009


Two things stand 0ut:
  • Philemon refreshed the hearts of the saints (Philemon 1:7, 20). The word is not the normal word for "heart", it is the word for "emotions". Apparently, he had a refreshing, rest-giving effect on the emotions of the saints. I need people like that in my life. I need to be like that.
  • Paul was confident Philemon would do the right thing. I think that confidence is itself refreshing. The confidence that someone else will do the right thing is golden and comes only when the relationship is deep.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Titus 3

This chapter beautifully illustrates the differences between those who have received the kindnes and love of God and those who haven't. The love of God comes with transforming power. The moral lives of those who believe the gospel has dramatically changed from what they used to be and from what people live like outside the community of faith.

The constant siren song of arguments, empty talk and religious speculation has shipwrecked many a christian and ruined many a church. He comes back to this sooooo many times!

The emphasis on good works again is unmistakable. Christians must be leaders in good works. The outcome of a life of faith matter, not merely what people claim to believe. Christianity is not privately held belief. It is a changed life that produces a good life. The Cretans are lazy gluttons (Titus 1:12). The hard work advocated here would make a Christian very obvious in that context.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Titus 2

Relationships matter. Titus, as a church leader, relates to certain people in certain ways and their relationships with one another need to be constructive, too.

The word for "teaching" that older women are to do for younger women is not the normal word for teaching, but derives from the word for "self-control." What older women are to help younger women with is largely willful.

These relationships inside the church must be squared away for the sake of those outside the church (Titus 2:5, 8, 10). Not only is it clearly stated those three times, as he writes about relationships he breaks into rejoicing at the glory of the gospel.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Titus 1

The best assurance for the future of a church is to have qualified elders who know the truth. Their ability to articulate truth and discern and rebuke errors will keep the church from being capsized. Doctrine, here, is described as healthy (the word from which we get "hygiene.").

The lead characteristic of these leaders is their family. This reinforces for me that each home is a miniature church. Leading at home precedes leading at church. It seems, too, that there are a few things that qualify a leader, but many ways to be disqualified.

We are introduced, too, the theme of Titus -- good works. The problem with bad teaching is not only the teaching itself, but that it produces people unfit for good works. Titus has a results-based view of doctrine.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

2 Timothy 4

This chapter makes pastoral ministry look simple. The exhortations are short, obvious and noble (2 Tim. 4:1-5).

He tells us what it looks like to finish well. He clearly has in view a reward, that in his mind may be only days away.

In stark contrast to the reward is the loneliness and disappointment of ministerial life. Demas left him for the present world. He made an insane exchange. Paul describes Alexander who did him much harm and how he was left all alone at his first trial.

The hope of reward and the reality of life make the simple requests even more personal. Bring my coat, books, and friends before winter.

Monday, October 26, 2009

2 Timothy 3

The description of the last days is a diagnosis of the context in which a church exists and in which Christians live. The negativity of this list is more obvious in Greek than in English. The same negative prefix is used 8 different times in this list of bad characteristics. "Having the form of godliness, but denying it's power," is a stinging indictment of formal, empty religion. "Always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth," has the same force against an education system that ignores God.

The darkness of the context makes all the more glorious the light of God's word at the end of the chapter which is able to change the most corrupt person into a man or woman of God. That word of God is breathed by God is profitable.

The contrast between a life of godliness in submission to God's word and the context that is so dark means that all who would live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer.

Paul's mentoring strategy is first, example (2 Tim. 3:10-11), then suffering (2 Tim. 3:12-14), then Bible (2 Tim. 3:15-17). So simple and so elegant and so practical.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

2 Timothy 2

There is a sobriety and firm resolve about life and ministry throughout this chapter. It starts with a soldier illustration and ends with a gentle servant. Standing strong doesn't happen by accident. Like a soldier chooses which things will please his commanding officer, like an athlete learns the rules, like a farmer works hard, that's what it takes to stand firm.

In two or three paragraphs he warns against getting sidetracked by useless arguments, controversies and quarrels. Apparently they have derailed churches for thousands of years!

In two separate instances the character of God is brought in as support, a foundation upon which to stand firm. "If we are faithless, he is faithful; for he cannot deny himself. . . The Lord knows those that are his."

The last paragraph understands opposition to the gospel to be a trap of the devil.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

2 Timothy 1

This letter feels like a letter from a father to a son. In the greeting Paul says he longs to see Timothy so his joy might be full. . . and at the same time remembers him with weeping. The juxtaposition of joy and sadness in the life of God's servant is stunning, yet standard. They always go together.

Timothy had the privilege of being a 3rd generation Christian. His mother and grandmother passed on to him an unhypocritical faith. Because of their influence he had to fire up the gift of God in him. Were they to soft with him? Clearly he struggled with timidity and deeded to be reminded God gave him a spirit of power and love and a sound mind. Three times it says, "Don't be ashamed."

The confidence Paul is encouraging is found in his salvation which is, in turn, rooted in the eternal purpose of God. The strong language about God's purpose and determination in both his salvation and selection for service takes away an option to cave in or give up. We need to not be so afraid of strong language about the initiative of God in the lives of his people.

Friday, October 23, 2009

1 Timothy 6

The language in this chapter is so significant that phrases here have made it into secular English vocabulary -- "Fight the good fight" and "Money is the root of all evil."

My chief takeaways from this chapter come near the end. After reminding us of the love of money being a root of all evil (a more accurate translation than the one above), we are told to pursue virtue not wealth and to fight the good fight of faith. It occurred to me that the fitght of faith may be a fight to believe that money is not the greatest and highest good in this life.

This same conflict is made clear in 1 Timothy 6:17. Put your hope, not in deceitful riches, but in God. Your hope is going to be in one or the other. Money is a direct rival for God! That explains why those who desire to be rich, have many trials and fall into a snare and get plunged into destruction. They have worshiped another God!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

1 Timothy 5

Here is another chapter describing the specific relationships within a congregation. Here is some of the practical advice:
  • Treat church people like family.
  • Take care of vulnerable widows, making sure they meet certain criteria so you don't do harm to them, the church and the reputation of Christ. Don't give Satan opportunity. Make sure the family fulfills their obligations first.
  • Honor elders. Don't let anyone say anything they want about them. (Once some things are out, they can't be retrieved).
  • Be careful not to show favoritism.
Now, some people's sin goes before them. That is, their sin is obvious. Others' sin follows after. Either way sin haunts people. Sometimes people's good works are obvious, too. In other words, what people really are may not be clear now, but it will become evident.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

1 Timothy 4

The reality of a liberal, generous God is one defense against false teaching. God gives good things to be enjoyed with thanksgiving. It is not gospel to recommend earning points with God by giving stuff up. Things, stuff, are made holy as I submit those things to God's word and prayer. This is the opposite of stoics and ascetics.

In almost the next breath (1 Tim. 4:7-8) he says, "exercise yourself to godliness. The generosity of God is not an excuse for laziness or lack of rigor in personal discipline. Such exercise will be eternally profitable.

1 Timothy 4:12 used to be one of my favorite verses and more important to me than it is now. I hardly qualify anymore as a young man. I still hope, though, to be an example worth following.

The priorities in 1 Timothy 4:13 -- Reading, encouragement, teaching and giving close attention to doctrine are the means of saving those who listen. The instruction about reading is generally regarded as liturgical instruction, but seems to me that it is more of a personal development program. I love the idea that your profiting can bee evident to all! That's what I want.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

1 Timothy 3

The desire for church leadership is a good thing. The text uses two strong words for that desire. Who in their right mind would want it if God wasn't prompting them?

The devil is mentioned twice, personally, and once the word is used as an adjective ("slander", same word). Apparently, the devil has an interest in church leadership!

I admit, I generally read this for the qualifications of leaders and quit paying attention after that. Paul said, I wrote so you would know how to conduct yourself in the household of God. This is about how to organize and live in a church family.

The church itself is a type of household community. The church, too, is the pillar and foundation of the truth. How you conduct yourself has important ramifications.

Monday, October 19, 2009

1 Timothy 2

Again, we read another unmistakable plea to be people of prayer. He piles three synonyms for prayer on top of one another as though he cannot urge us strongly enough. The subjects for the prayer are "all people" and "kings." The reason for the prayer is so that we can live quiet and peaceful lives before God.

Apparently, this quiet, peaceful life is the means for other people coming to faith. God wants all to be saved and has provided one mediator -- Jesus. Jesus brings men and God together. That's why he was sent.

He urges men everywhere to pray, with holy hands lifted and with a good attitude. Do I pray as often as I should? That seems really, really important.

Women should be modest, matching their profession of godliness. They should learn. They should learn and not be disruptive. And, they should not run the church.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

1 Timothy 1

Paul, early and often, contrasts empty thinking and lawless behavior with genuine Christian concern. The goal of the command is a clear conscience, an unhypocritical faith, and a sincere love. Anything less and you are sidetracked. The vices listed in this chapter are the polar opposites of the goal of God's commands. The law of God was being misused and as a result it had no power to control all kinds of bad behavior.

It is a faithful saying that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners -- of whom I am first. As he contemplates the mercy and patience of God, he breaks into praise! If we realize we are sinners in desperate need of saving, and understand God has sent Jesus to be that savior, and that He'd do it for me. . . I can't help but breakout in thanksgiving!

He talks about fighting the good fight. How are we supposed to do that? By having faith and a good conscience in the commands. In other words, we fight the good fight with God's word.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

2 Thessalonians 3

Finally brothers, Pray! How simple, yet how important! Pray especially that the word of God may run and be glorified.

The Lord is faithful. Faithfulness looks like establishing you and keeping you from the evil one. It is directing your heart in the love of God and patience of Christ. I need that directing and that is what a faithful God does.

The protestant work ethic springs from the chapter. It is in other places in the Bible, no doubt, but you can't miss it here. If you don't work, you shouldn't eat. Period. The community of faith needs to reinforce this standard.

There are nuances in church discipline, in remedial action a church takes toward those who will not live according to Christ's teaching. This example is to disassociate as brothers, not enemies. The goal is to make them ashamed of their idleness.

Friday, October 16, 2009

2 Thessalonians 2

The revelation of the lawless one looks a lot like it was happening, had begun, and was describing a current event. It does not look like the end of the age. It also appears they were to endure it.

Four observations:
  • The man of lawlessness will be the personification of Satan's deception and anti-God activity, and will call himself God. (9)
  • The failure to obtain salvation was because of a failure to love the truth. I'm sure he could have said, "believe," but he said love. (10)
  • To those who refuse to love the truth as presented in God's word and preaching, God sent a strong delusion. (11) Without promoting evil, God made it easier to believe falsehood.
  • The bedrock confidence in deceitful times is the election or choice of God that leads to belief in truth. (13-14).
The combination, in the last paragraph, of standing firm, being strong and being comforted at the same time seems unique to me. This does not advocate for a stoic toughness or a sissy comfort, but toughness and tenderness.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

2 Thessalonians 1

I love this church. In the midst of hard times their faith is growing and their love is increasing. In order to encourage this church, Paul reminds them that justice will be exercised on those who are persecuting them on the final day. Faith that God will make things right is one key to enduring in the face of abuse.

The description of unbelief is especially telling -- They do not know God and they do not OBEY the gospel. This is more true and helpful than they way the gospel is commonly thought of, as an optional add-on to an already full life. It demands to be obeyed. To disobey it is to encounter the terrifying and eternal wrath of God.

The return of Christ will be terrifying and marvelous at the same time, depending on your perspective. The perspective to have, of course, is the perspective of faith. Then, Christ's return will be marvelous and glorious!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

1 Thessalonians 5

They did not need to hear about the day or the hour. Why? Because it was going to come like a thief. What thief sends an RSVP before he shows up? Paul does expect God to be the one who keeps believers in one piece until he comes. . . He, nonetheless, exhorts them with simple and direct instruction about how to live. Our obedience is the means by which he keeps us.

I'd never noticed that, as we are challenged to watchfulness, Paul revisits some of the spiritual armor described in Ephesians 6:11ff. Put on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of the hope of salvation.

The staccato nature of the next commands adds to the force like a driving drumbeat intensifies music. Most of them are positive and encouraging, especially 1 Thess. 5: 16-22. God's will for me is to rejoice, to pray and to be thankful. Negative people don't do that.

There is a great greek word here: "oligopsychos" or small-souled. What a descriptive word for discouragement. When I am discouraged my soul shrinks. Encourage the small-souled person!

Monday, October 12, 2009

1 Thessalonians 4

The clarity and simplicity of this chapter is reason enough to listen to its message. This is the clearest statement of God's will for my life in all the Bible. His will is my holiness -- plain and simple. That is defined here as abstaining from sexual immorality, exercising self-control over my body with honor, not giving in to passionate desires and not being greedy.

Brotherly love is something taught by God. Part of what brotherly love looks like is this, watch over yourself and provide for your own family. It shows love to those outside my family when I provide for my family.

Ignorance about the return of Jesus Christ is not an option. If you are being persecuted or trying to be holy in an unholy context, it is a great comfort to know that you will be instantaneously with the Lord.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

1 Thessalonians 3

This short chapter, though someone else's mail, is about the joy of ministry. It is about longing to see with your own eyes the work of God accomplished in the lives of those in whom you have invested. It is about confidence in God to continue to work, even though I am absent. There is joy and satisfaction in this kind of ministry.

The chapter culminates in a beautiful prayer. The Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another. . . to establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father in the coming of our Lord with his holy angels. The love itself establishes their hearts and prepares them for Jesus return.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

1 Thessalonians 2

The first thing I notice is that the suffering of Philippi (Acts 16:22-24) was used by God to make Paul and his team more confident to preach the gospel in Thessalonica. God did not waste the opposition. It had a distilling effect on his motives and emboldened him for the central task.

The model of ministry set forth in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12 is precious. Like a nursing mother. . . like a father. The reason ministry worked that way is that they were dear to him (v.8). No wonder the church grew from only three weeks worth of initial work (Acts 17:1-2).

The church received God's word as from God, not men and were encouraged to walk worthy of the call of God (1 Thess. 2:12-13). That's the other reason the church thrived after only three weeks.

Friday, October 09, 2009

1 Thessalonians 1

I love the memory of this church -- their work of faith, labor of love and patience of hope. May every church be known for that. Oh, that I would be remembered and prayed for like that.

The gospel came, not only in word, but in power and with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. If the gospel produced faith, hope and love (1 Thess. 1:3), it obviously was not mere words.

They received the gospel with much affliction with joy. Those two don't normally go together. Only really, really great news can produce joy in affliction. They became an example to everyone who heard about them of how to embrace the good news of Jesus.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Colossians 4

Prayer appears to be an ongoing, moment-by-moment part of the life of a Christian (be devoted). It has a sense of urgency (be watchful). And it is a happy exercise (with thanksgiving).

He cannot advocate prayer, talking with God, without connecting it to evangelism, talking with people. This takes two forms. Pray for an open door to speak -- opportunity. And, be wise, redeeming those opportunities, having gracious speech. That is, create the doors you pray for. Paul says, ". . . as it is necessary for me to speak" and tells us to be prepared for, ". . . how it is necessary to answer."

"Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt." What a great description of ideal speech for someone who is a Christian. Especially if you believe Jesus' words, "For from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." The heart is where the grace and seasoning come from!

Again, this rich network of relationships is the church. The long and descriptive list of friends reminds us that people are the church. Paul not only greets his friends, but reminds people of their relationships with other people. Relationships really matter.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Colossians 3

This chapter is a slow motion look at how people are transformed by the gospel. It lists several important facets:
  • We, when we believe, are identified with Christ so that his death (Col. 3:3) and his resurrection (Col. 3:1) are ours.
  • That changes what we pursue with our lives and energy. Seek what is above, what belongs to Jesus. He has become to you as precious as life itself (Col. 3:1-2).
  • The activities and engagements that are in rebellion to God were killed on the cross, so actively reject them (Col. 3:5-9).
  • God is making you new, fashioning you to be like Jesus (Col. 3:10). So, actively engage in new behaviors and characteristics (Col. 3:12-17).
  • Note, the indicative (how things are) precedes the imperative (how things are supposed to be). God works, so you respond.
  • Live in your family and close relationships with Jesus in view. Love each other for His sake (Col. 3:18-25).
Challenge to Fathers (Col. 3:21): "Don't embitter your children, lest they lose their passion." (A literal translation). I need to father in such as way that the fire stays lit in my children!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Colossians 2

Two errors are addressed in this passage, one with more vigor than the other.

First, He warns against being sidetracked by empty discussions and arguing about things that don' matter. The solution is to be rooted and grounded in Christ.

Second, He pleads with the readers not to be intimidated by those who keep a rigorous religion. The rigor takes the form of strict adherence to rules or the application of special techniques. They observe certain days, they appear humble, they do all kinds of things and look really, really pious. This is hard to deal with, but the solution is the same as it is for the other error -- focus on the gospel. Learn Christ, who is the fullness of God -- nothing else needs to be added.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Colossians 1

So much. So much. My heart is full and overflows. More is here in this chapter than I can absorb. It is a blessing of the sweetest order to have Jesus be as central, exalted, supreme and glorious as he is portrayed in this chapter.

I need to pray the prayer in this chapter for myself and others more than I do: That you may be filled with the knowledge of his will. . . I want God to answer that prayer in everyone I know.

The prayer breaks out into thanksgiving for salvation which stems from the supremacy of Christ. The design of salvation and creation are both to highlight the greatness of Jesus. He is the actor and the object in both. He does the work and he receives the glory.

Colossians 1:21-23 gives a quick summary of the gospel. You were an enemy of God. Jesus reconciled you to God. Jesus presents you blameless on account of his own virtue. Simple. Amazing.

Because Jesus is so glorious and effective in his work, it follows that I will give my life to see people grow up into mature followers of Jesus (Colossians 1:28-29). This is a great expression of why I am in the ministry.

I love the view of Colossians 1:29. I labor by his energy. That's how good works that count for anything happen.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Philippians 4

So much here to keep my heart happy!

Prayer is God's means to keep me peaceful. Thinking on good things, keeping rein on my thoughts is THE way for me to experience the God of peace. It's not that complicated. Why do I let myself think about any old thing?

There is a lot of power in imitation. Choose carefully whose life you imitate.

Philippians 4:13 is the most misquoted/misapplied verse in the Bible. Paul can do all things. What are they? He can abound or suffer want. He can be content in good or bad circumstances. He can handle the whole range because money is not the important thing to him.

Financial peace or security is a spiritual issue. Paul's circumstances taught him that there is something more important than circumstances.

The promise of Philippians 4:19 is such an encouragement to generosity. The "according to" sets the limits for the withdrawal on God's riches. (Compare Ephesians 3:16). The limit is God's riches in Christ Jesus, that is limitless. God can cover your generosity!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Philippians 3

I need to not cruise through this chapter without marveling at the surpassing greatness of Christ which, by comparison, makes everything else in life look like a loss. Two factors highlight this treasure of Christ. First, the indulgent presence of evil (Phil 3:2) and the proud self-reliance of religion (Phil 3:3-6). Jesus is a treasure compared to which all other virtues and vices fade into worthlessness. The critical question can be framed in a comparison: Do you love Jesus more than these? (John 21:15).

The same two-sided Christianity that we saw in chapter two is present here, too. Christ has laid hold of me. I am seeking to lay hold on him. He does the work. . . and so do I.

There is such power in forgetting what is behind, being confident it is forgiven, and reaching forward to the prize. Too many of us are bound to the past and try to work around it. Jesus laid hold of you so you can move forward. Don't go back there. This is a glorious purpose!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Philippians 2

We are given some of the most significant Christology in the Bible, not as something to study, but as illustration of how we should think of others as more important than ourselves. Jesus was perfectly what we must be.

The exaltation of Jesus is obviously part of Jesus' humility that God doesn't want us to miss. Heavenly knees, earthly knees, and subterranean knees will bow! Jesus is also the perfect example of God exalting the humble (1 Peter 5:6).

The beautiful combo in Philippians 2:15-16 is the secret to the Christian life. "Work out your salvation" and "God works in you to will and to do." Do you need to work? Yes. Does God do the work? Yes. Can you tell if you are doing something or God is doing it? Probably not.

You've got to love Paul's friends. He is literally of "one soul" with Timothy. Paul wanted to be literally of "good soul" or encouraged by him. In Phil 2:2, he wanted them to be literally, "together in soul". Spiritual reality makes a difference in your soul.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Philippians 1

This opening prayer is one that I want to pray when the the pressure is off and there are many good things to choose from -- "that I may approve what is excellent." But this is a prayer for a church in the midst of poverty and suffering. They needed increased love, insight, understanding in all circumstances. I want this whole prayer to be prayed for me, especially the end; I so long to not be barren or unfruitful.

The suffering of Paul has distilled life to its essential ingredients, "for me to live is Christ." He needs nothing else, desires nothing else. This is the one essential aspect of life.

It was given to you not only to believe, but to suffer. Faith is a gift. So is suffering. It is controversial enough to say God bestows faith, but that God grants suffering is even harder to swallow. There is such hope there, though.