Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Hebrews 11:17-40 - Faith Demonstrated, Part 2

by Katrina

LINK: Hebrews 11:17-40


BACKGROUND
Continuing with the great "Hall of Faith," the author of Hebrews recounting examples of those who lived by faith - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua (walls of Jericho), Rahab, and many more.

Abraham's faith was severely tested when God told him to offer up Isaac. But Abraham was confident that God would somehow fulfill His promise to make Isaac the heir, and he obeyed God. He passed the test! (Gen 22)

When Joseph died in Egypt, he was confident that God would fulfill His promise to take His people out of Egypt. So Joseph gave instructions to his relatives to carry his bones with them whenever God led them out and bury them in the Promised Land. (Gen 50:25, Ex 13:19)

Moses obeyed God through many difficult situations, as did many others listed here. Some were tortured and killed for their faith. Some of these events probably occurred during the time between the Old Testament and the New Testament.

The author concludes with this thought - All of these people demonstrated faith in God, but none of them received the ultimate promise. They did not see the promised Messiah. Nor did they experience the resurrection. One day, the "men of old" will join together with the currently living believers in the resurrection, and all the redeemed will receive the inheritance together. God will complete our salvation!

REFLECTION/APPLICATION
Our faith, or lack of faith, does not determine whether we suffer or prosper in this life. Many with faith have suffered greatly, while many others of faith have not suffered so much. Also, there is no direct correlation between our faith and our prosperity. There is, however, a direct correlation between our faith and our obedience to God. And there is also a promise that our faith will be rewarded. We will join in that resurrection and receive the inheritance! Our salvation will be complete!

So, let's not focus on what we can gain in this life. Rather, let's focus on living a life of faith now so we can be richly rewarded at the resurrection. "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."

PRAYER
Thank You, Lord, for so  many examples of those who lived by faith. May our faith in You continue to grow as we look forward to the day when Jesus returns. Thank You for the promised resurrection and eternity with You! May we live our lives focused on You and this great salvation You give us! Amen.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Hebrews 11:1-16 - Faith Demonstrated, Part 1

by Katrina

LINK: Hebrews 11:1-16

BACKGROUND
Hebrews chapter 11 is often referred to as the "Faith Chapter" of the Bible. It's also called the "Hall of Faith." This chapter is a powerful illustration of what faith is like and what it means to live by faith.

The author begins with a description of faith. It is being assured of things that have not happened yet and cannot be seen -- sure that they will happen and do exist. It is by faith that we are approved by God, and without faith we can not please Him (vs 1, 2, 6, 39).

The creation of the world is described in the first two chapters of Genesis. Nobody saw God create everything by speaking it into existence. It is by faith that we understand that God made it all out of nothing.

Abel's faith was demonstrated by his obedience to God. As far as we know, he was the first one to die because he did what was right in God's eyes (Genesis 4).

Then there's Enoch, the first man not to die because of his righteousness (Gen 5:21-24).

Noah acted on faith when he listened to God and built an ark on dry land where there had probably never been any rain (Gen 6). He followed the directions God gave him and saved his family and many animals because of his faith.

Abraham left his homeland, not knowing where he was going, when God called him (Gen 12). Out of faith in God, he obeyed God and lived as a foreigner in a strange land. Sarah is credited with faith for her conception of a son long after her child-bearing years had ended (Gen 21).

REFLECTION
All of these people knew God's promise to send a redeemer and that they would one day live in a heavenly place. But they all died before the promised redeemer arrived. They lived as aliens on this earth, waiting for the city prepared by God for them. They weren't always patient while waiting on God (Abraham's son Ishmael is a result of that), but they did believe He would come through on His promise. As a result, God is not ashamed to be called their God!

APPLICATION
I want God not to be ashamed that I call Him my God!

PRAYER
Lord, thank You for these great examples of faith in You. May we grow in our faith until we never doubt Your word and fully trust You to do all that You say You will do! May we not bring shame to You by living lives that don't line up with our profession of our faith. Rather, let us bring honor and glory to Your Holy Name! In the name of Jesus, amen.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hebrews 10: 19-39 - Faith and Endurance

by Becky

LINK:
Hebrews 10 (scroll down for our passage)

BACKGROUND

Our passage for today begins with "therefore." "Therefore" links what is to come with what has gone before. It means "because of what has just been said... "

What has just been said? We have been learning just how Jesus is better. Jesus is a better high priest. Jesus is a better sacrifice. He exceeds the requirements for a sacrifice; His sacrifice was once for all. There is no need for any more sacrifice for sin. And He lives now and is our Advocate. He is on our side! He has removed the power of sin forever through His death! If we trust in His death our sin is forgiven once for all! He perfected us through His death, and He now works in us to make us holy (10: 14). If we don't firmly grasp that, we will have difficulty with what we are about to be told. It is human nature to want to return to what is familiar.

One other thought I've had as I've thought about this passage and what we've read in Hebrews: We don't talk much about sin these days. In fact, I've met quite a few people who really don't think they're sinners at all. If we don't think we sin, then how can we understand grace? Sin is anytime we don't measure up to God's standard. If we know something good to do and don't do it, that's sin, just as much as if we do something that violates one of God's standards. And sin is much more, too, than what we "do." Sin is at the heart of who we are. We want what we want. We want to be the at the center. Self is all important. Well, that's sin. That is self worship. The Hebrews had ongoing rituals and sacrifices to remind them of their sin, but those sacrifices couldn't finally take care of the sin problem. They had to be repeated over and over again. That's why Jesus came. He is the reality that those shadows pointed to.

So we have the "therefore." Therefore what? The rest of the chapter tells us how we are to respond to this truth, this reality. And just in case we've forgotten what has been said, it is summed up for us here.

"Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God,..."(Hebrews 10:19-21 ESV)

REFLECTION

"... Let us..." What? What is our response in the light of Jesus' death and the confidence we have that He is working now in us and for us?

  • Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:22 ESV) We are to draw near in truthfulness - not pretense. If we are in Christ we are clean!
  • Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23 ESV) I love this one! God, the one who promises us so much, is trustworthy. Because of Him we can hold fast to what we believe; we are able to continue to have unwavering faith.
  • Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV) We help each endure in our faith. We are to encourage each other!
Then the writer of Hebrews uses both a negative example and a positive example to encourage us to continue in faith. The negative example compares breaking of the law of Moses to trampling what Jesus has done for us on the cross. Deliberate sin is dangerous. It can lead to rejection of Jesus' sacrifice. God is not tame! He should be feared. Apart from Christ "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." We don't want to play around and see how close we can get to the edge of faith. At some point we might fall off.

The positive example reminds the Hebrews of their early days, when they first heard of Jesus. They remained faithful, then, in spite of terrible suffering. They continued to have faith in the Lord even when they were ridiculed, when their goods were taken from them, when they were put in jail. It says that they accepted all that with JOY! They looked forward to God's promise. They (and we) are encouraged to continue to confidently trust in the Lord,

When I titled this post, I wrote at first "Faith Requires Endurance." But then I thought that, really, to have spiritual endurance we need faith. Faith and endurance go hand in hand. That's the point of these verses in a sentence. So I've simply put that little conjunction "and" up there!

APPLICATION

Evaluate yourself by the three "let us" exhortations above. Are you drawing near to the Lord with full assurance of faith? Are you holding fast your confession because you trust that God is faithful to keep His word? Are you helping others - encouraging them to love and do good. Are you where you can be encouraged (with other believers)?

Consider ways to encourage other believers to love and do good. That is one that I need to work on.

Don't be surprised at suffering. Keep on trusting - looking at the Lord Jesus. (More on that in the next two chapters...)

Through him [Jesus Christ] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5 ESV)

Stay tuned for Chapter 11! We are going to see some snapshots of people who had faith. For more of their stories, turn to the Old Testament.

PRAYER

Thank you, Lord, for coming in the flesh to take care of our sin problem once for all. Give us truthful hearts as we come to you. Help us to continue to trust in you no matter what. Help us to encourage each other.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hebrews 5:11-6:20 - Let's Get Growing!

by Katrina

LINK: Hebrews 5:11 - 6:20

BACKGROUND
The author recognizes that the Hebrews have gotten off to a good start by showing great love and ministering to the saints. However, they seem to have stalled in their growth and are not reaching their full potential.

Their first problem is that they have become "dull of hearing." They are rehearsing the basics of salvation but not going beyond those basics. They are still relying on milk for their sustenance and need to start eating solid foods. They need to move on in order to mature.

Their second problem is that they are "sluggish." They are not exercising their faith. Faith is like a muscle; it needs to be used in order to grow. Abraham is given as an example of one whose faith did grow. God made a covenant with Abraham, but it didn't all come to fruition in a short amount of time. Abraham had to wait and hope in God to come through on His promises. In this, Abraham's faith grew.


REFLECTION
As for you, reader of this Bible Book Club, if you are following along here, you are well beyond drinking milk for babies. Most of these posts would certainly qualify as spiritual "meat" rather than "milk." And we will soon complete the entire Bible!!

We must not be lazy or sluggish in our faith. Like Abraham, we have promises from God. We should exercise faith by claiming those promises and putting our hope in God to fulfill what He has promised.


APPLICATION
Let's take stock today. How are you growing? In what areas of life is God teaching you? What is He teaching you? How can you exercise your faith muscles? In what things are you stepping out in faith, trusting God to do as He has promised?

I find it very encouraging to write these things down. It's encouraging to see what God is doing now, and it's encouraging to look back on it later (like when I'm getting discouraged).

If you are strong in your faith and growing well, is there someone you could encourage to grow in their faith?

PRAYER
Thank you so much for giving us your word! Lord, you teach us so much through it. May we be diligent to learn and grow, not becoming lazy or sluggish in our faith. Amen.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Hebrews 5:1-10 - Christ, the Source of Eternal Salvation

by Katrina

LINK: Hebrews 5:1-10

I decided to split this chapter up and include verses 11-14 with chapter 6 tomorrow.

BACKGROUND
The author of Hebrews starts this chapter off with some important points about a good high priest.
  • He was human. God determined that a man (not another being, such as an angel) would be the liaison between God and man.
  • He was appointed by God, not taking it upon himself to take that position. This was not a position to be taken lightly!
  • His responsibility was to offer both the offerings (gifts) and the sacrifices for sin to God on behalf of men. Thus, he provided a way for man to access God. Through offerings, man could express thanks and praise to God. Through sacrifices, he could have his sin covered over in God's sight. The priest was the liaison who brought a man before his God.
  • He could relate to the issues of the human condition since he himself was weak. He was to be gentle with those who were struggling, not condemning them for their struggles. As priest, he would be very aware of his own sin and need for forgiveness and could direct people toward repentance and a right heart before God without beating them over the head.
  • He had to offer sacrifices to take care of his own sins, not just the sins of other people. This would keep him aware of his own sin, keeping him humble rather than becoming arrogant in his position.
Then, the author of Hebrews continues by identifying Christ as high priest. He was a priest appointed by God and subject to God's commands. But he was not a temporary priest for the span of a human lifetime. He was an eternal priest, one whose priesthood would never end. As high priest, He would offer the ultimate sacrifice for sins - Himself! And because He is an eternal high priest, offering the perfect sacrifice, He is the source of eternal salvation for mankind!!

So, who can receive this eternal salvation? All those who obey Him. Obedience is pretty much synonymous with belief in this context. (See Heb 4:2-6.) One who truly believes who God is, will obey Him. In John 3, Jesus said, "the Son of Man must be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, the He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him" (John 3:14-17).

Wow!! What a great salvation we have!! It will never, ever end!


(We will learn more about Mechizedek when we get to chapter 7.)

REFLECTION
There's another thing I noticed in today's passage that I would like to touch on here. Read verses 7-8 very carefully: "In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered."

What does this teach us about prayer and how God answers it? Jesus prayed that He would not have to suffer physical death on the cross. He didn't just quietly ask, either. He cried out with tears, begging God to remove this requirement or to give Him the strength to carry it out. The Father was perfectly capable of sparing Him that death if He so chose. This passage tells us that the Father heard Jesus's prayers. Yet, God did still required Jesus to die on the cross.

Even the prayers of Jesus, the pleading and supplication of Jesus before God, was subject to the higher will of God. How much more are our prayers and pleadings subject to God's will? Never make the mistake of thinking that God has to answer  your prayers a certain way! But even more than that, just because God doesn't do what you want, doesn't mean He isn't listening.

Jesus knew that He came to earth to die on that cross. He knew God wasn't going to remove that suffering. But He also knew that He Himself had the power to stop it, as did the Father. Satan would tempt Him to stop the whole thing. His human side needed strength from God to go through with it. By doing God's will and dying on the cross, Jesus suffered greatly! And through that suffering, He learned obedience. The only way to learn obedience is by obeying! And obedience is what God expects of us. And helping us obey is one thing God is ready to do at a moment's notice!

Sometimes the way we learn to obey and the way to perfection is through suffering. Don't underestimate the power of God through your suffering!

APPLICATION
Spend some time today reflecting on the sacrifice of Jesus and the eternal salvation He provided for you.

Think about your prayer life. Do you recognize that your requests are subject to the will of God? We cannot demand things of God but must be willing to fully submit to His will.

If you are suffering today, it's not wrong to plead before God. Just remember that it's His will, not your own, that must be done. Carol talked in this post about developing a "theology of suffering." If you haven't done it yet, it's an excellent exercise! And you may find it very helpful.

PRAYER
Father, thank You for providing eternal salvation through Jesus, the perfect high priest. It's His sacrifice, His suffering, His obedience that has provided a way for my forgiveness. May I learn to obey You, my source of eternal life, always, in times of ease as well as in times of suffering. In the name of Jesus, amen.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Hebrews 4 - The Struggle to Rest

by Becky

LINK: Hebrews 4

BACKGROUND

Hebrews is one of my very favorite books of the Bible! It links the Old and New Testament together and opened my eyes to their unity. People have sometimes told me that they don't think God is like the God of the Old Testament. This is a common view today - that somehow the God Christians worship is more loving and kind than the God we read of in the Old Testament. Well, the God of the New Testament is the God of the Old Testament. Hebrews has helped me understand that, as well as the importance of the Old Testament as the foundational layer of our faith in Jesus Christ. I will say this, too: as we get better acquainted with the Old Testament, the book of Hebrews becomes more meaningful.

I went to a Christian high school and we picked verses to put with our photo in the yearbook. I put two verses together, one from this chapter and one from 1 Thessalonians 5. " There remains, therefore, a Sabbath rest for the people of God. ... Rejoice always!"

This chapter alludes to several Old Testament passages (and events) to make its point about rest. It speaks of God resting on the seventh day - something that is mentioned in Genesis. It speaks of the Israelites who didn't have faith to believe that God would get them into Canaan, and so disobeyed God - something that is recounted in Numbers 13-14. It quotes Psalm 95.

"As C.S. Lewis once observed, 'one of the rewards of reading the Old Testament regularly' is that 'you keep on discovering more and more what a tissue of quotations from it the New Testament is." (from ESV article "How the New Testament Quotes and Interprets the Old Testament")

What is rest? Rest is the freedom from work. It also connotes peace and gladness. God Himself rested on the seventh day when He had finished the work of creation. The first part of this chapter builds argument from Scripture to show us that this rest is more than entering the land of Canaan, though it is similar. The Hebrew people had to trust God - a kind of trust or faith that resulted in obeying Him - in order to have enter the rest of the promised land. Because, though, rest is referred to in Psalm 95 (after the nation of Israel entered Canaan), it is clear that that the rest we are told to enter is something different, something that we can enter "today."

So just what is this rest the passage speaks of? I think that it is two-fold. First, we have rest in the Lord as believers. We have rest from our own work and effort. We are given rest in Christ. "Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Mt. 11:28) Just as God rested because His work of creation was completed, so now, we who are believers can rest in Christ's completed work on the cross. This is really and truly mind boggling! We don't work to earn any part of the rest of salvation. Our salvation isn't about success or failure - about karma or doing it all right - it's about trust, about believing God. Secondly, we look forward to the final fruition of rest - Heaven!

REFLECTION

Three things stand out to me as I read this chapter.

There's a kind of paradox in vv 10-11: "...whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works .... Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience." We strive to rest. In some sense, it takes struggle to rely on God rather than myself. Because we are egocentric, we so want to believe that it depends on us. That is tiring! That egocentricity, that self-sufficiency, is in itself sin. If I trust myself, then I'm not trusting God. Lack of trust in God results in the sin of unbelief - disobeying God - relying on my own perspective and sight.

How do I know if I'm relying on myself and not trusting the LORD? "The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (ESV) God uses His word, this book we are reading together, to show us our hearts and motives. He sees us completely and He pierces us with His word. If we belong to Him we can be comforted with this. He knows us better than we know ourselves and He will reveal our own thoughts and intents to us through Scripture.

Finally, this chapter encourages us to turn to our Lord Jesus when we need help. He offers grace and mercy to His children. Jesus is our great high priest, something that is spoken of more in the next chapter. The Hebrew high priest offered sacrifices for the sins of the people. Jesus, our high priest, understands and sympathizes with just how weak we are. He became human. He was subjected to our temptations - the temptation to serve self, to quit trusting God - only (unlike us) He didn't sin. So he understands the battles that rage in us.

APPLICATION

There is so much in this chapter!

Are you resting in Jesus' finished work on the cross? Or are you somehow living as if you are the one in charge? That is the struggle. Who do you trust in? It takes some work to trust in the Lord - and to continue to believe Him. But basing our actions on our own set of rules - on our own vision - is endlessly tiring - a never ending need to live up to what we define as good. Who do you trust?

If you ever wondered why we need to dwell in God's word, your answer is in this chapter! God's word acts as God in our lives. It is not a dead, ancient book, but something living and active - able to convict and comfort. Spend time meditating on it.

Jesus came and lived and died for us. He offered Himself for us. He lived as one of us, so knows us; He understands what it is to be human and sympathizes. We can run to Him for help, and we know that He is there with open arms full of grace and mercy - not judgment. If you are trying to live life apart from Him, if you are running from Him - turn around! Find rest.

PRAYER

Help us as we struggle to trust you. Give us hearts to believe you so that we can have rest.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Titus 3 - Living with Grace

by Katrina

LINK: Titus 3

BACKGROUND
Here's the gist of what Paul's saying in this chapter.

How are believers to treat others?
  • submit to authority
  • be ready to do good deeds
  • malign no one
  • be uncontentious (don't argue)
  • be gentle
  • show every consideration for all men
Remember where you've come from. You were:
  • foolish
  • disobedient
  • deceived
  • enslaved to various lusts & pleasures
  • spending your life in malice and envy
  • hateful
But Jesus came and saved you. You no longer have to live that way. Remember, you did nothing good to earn your salvation, but purely by the mercy of God, you are saved. He washed you. He renewed you. He gave you the Holy Spirit. He justified you. He gives you eternal life. He has shown you great mercy and grace. Extend the same grace to others.

And one more thing - Don't waste your time and energy on arguments. And don't let argumentative people get a hold in the church.

REFLECTION
Usually the people we show the least grace to are those who live in our household or are close relatives. We tend to be more patient with friends and strangers than with our own families. But that is not how we should live. We should remember the grace God has extended to us -- and what great grace that is! -- and extend that grace to others.

APPLICATION
Do you need to be more patient with someone? Do you need to do good for someone? Let's show the kindness of our Savior to others. Let's show His love for mankind to those around us. Let's not waste our time and energy quarreling about meaningless things. Let's be considerate and gentle instead.

PRAYER
Lord, you have rescued us from a life of malice, envy, hatred, slavery to sinful desires, foolishness, and deception. By your grace, you have washed away all that sin and have enabled us to live different lives. May we extend that same grace to others, showing your love and kindness to the people around us. In the name of Jesus, amen.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Titus 2 - From Generation to Generation

by Katrina

LINK: Titus 2

BACKGROUND
How do we learn to live godly, sensible, righteous lives? How do we stay encouraged while waiting for the return of our Savior? What helps us get through the difficulties of life without losing our faith?  How do we learn to obey the Lord and do good deeds?

Although it's true that we learn much from studying scripture, and we have the help of the Holy Spirit, these are usually not enough. We need older, more experienced believers to teach the younger, less experienced ones. Older men and women should pass along their faith experiences to the younger generation.

REFLECTION/APPLICATION
Do you have any relationships in your Christian walk where you can learn or teach about living the Christian life? Many churches in our culture lack this, because we have such a spirit of independence. If you don't have these relationships, I challenge you to build them. They are extremely valuable!

I have an "older woman" who I know will always give me sound biblical counsel for my life.She doesn't have all the answers -- I don't expect her to, and it's not necessary. But she is of good Christian character and she loves Jesus. We meet regularly to discuss what the Lord is teaching us. We talk about our struggles to be holy. We encourage one another, and we pray together. I wouldn't trade it for anything! It strengthens our faith, and we both  highly value our "growth partner" relationship.

PRAYER
Thank you, Father, for placing us in your church for corporate growth as well as individual growth. Teach us to have enough humility to be open and draw encouragement from one another. May those with more experience be willing to share with the next generation of believers. Keep us growing in you! Amen.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Titus 1 - Belief Affects Behavior

by Becky

LINK: Titus 1

BACKGROUND

On the epistle -

Paul wrote to Titus, a young Greek convert that he'd mentored (Gal. 2:1-10), this letter of pastoral advice. Titus had become a kind of "trouble shooter," sent by Paul to solve difficulties in the churches. Titus was sent to Corinth first and then to Crete.

It isn't clear exactly when Titus was written. Tradition says that it was written at about the same time as 1 Timothy, in the mid-60s A.D., after Paul's release from his first imprisonment in Rome, and before his second imprisonment and death under Nero (not recorded in the Bible, but held traditionally). There are strong similarities in the two letters.

Do our beliefs matter? This book tells us they do. Titus makes clear the link between what we believe and what we do. If we have faith in the gospel of Christ, that faith transforms our practice. Titus uses that truth (the link between belief and behavior) as the foundation for discerning false teaching and for instructions about church leadership and Christian living.

On the chapter -

Paul recognizes in this chapter the difficulties that Titus faces in Crete. Paul quotes from a famous Cretan poet, probably Epimenides, to point out the Cretans' reputation for lying, gluttony, and animal passions. According to my ESV note, "Cicero also stated, 'Moral principles are so divergent that the Cretans … consider highway robbery honorable' (Republic 3.9.15)." Imagine the difficulty of ministering in a culture like that! Not only that, but the fledgling church was being influenced by false teaching, teaching that perverted the gospel with empty talk and deception - requiring ritual. However, Paul didn't give up on the church in Crete! He encouraged Titus to appoint church leaders in each town. The leaders were to be men who believed steadfastly in the truth of the gospel. That trust would be exhibited in their conduct; they would be men of good character.

Each elder was to be:
  • the husband of one wife
  • the father of believing children who were not wild or disobedient
  • hospitable
  • self-controlled or disciplined
  • a lover of good
  • upright - just, fair
  • sensible - exhibiting good judgment
  • holy - exhibiting purity in behavior
  • firm in his grasp of God's message
  • faithful to God's message
Conversely, he was not to be known for:
  • arrogance
  • being quick tempered
  • drunkenness
  • violent behavior
  • greed - a desire for financial gain
These men would, through their character and words, point out the deception of the false teaching - encouraging the believers to continue in the truth of the gospel and opposing those in the church who spoke what was contrary to the truth.

REFLECTION

"The gospel by its nature produces godliness in the lives of believers. There is no legitimate separation between belief and behavior. ... One's deeds will either prove or disprove one's claim to know God." (ESV note on Titus)

This chapter contrasts those who know the gospel and live it (vv 5-9; 15a) with those who claim to know God but deny it in the way they live (vv 10-14; 15b-16).

So I've been thinking, just how does the gospel change the way I live?

I don't underestimate the parasitic power of sin. Sin looks attractive and pleasing until it consumes us. Anytime we think we can approach God on our own terms - when we redefine what He tells us - we sin.

In trusting in Jesus' death for me, in running to His grace and mercy, I have become at the same time both free and a slave. I am free from the power of sin and self and I am a willing slave to Him. He was crucified for me, so I am now crucified with Him - saying in essence that I no longer want to live for myself, but for Him. This is utterly different from those around me who don't believe the gospel. As I listen to how they frame their words, I'm seeing more and more that instead of the LORD being the focus, people (either self or others) become the focus. Saying I'm crucified with Him and living that way are two different things. Daily the Lord brings into my life people and circumstances that make me confront my willingness to live for the LORD Jesus - to deny myself and follow Him.

Believing the gospel gives me stability. Because I am certain that I belong to the One who is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe and yet who has chosen to draw near to me through Jesus, through the words of the Bible, and in the person of the Holy Spirit - I am able to live in hope. I know that God doesn't lie. I know that He has a purpose in all things. No matter what I face, He has a purpose in it.

I believe that verse that Katrina focused on last week in 2 Timothy 1: "I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day." Even when I am faithless, He is faithful.

There is a saying that if a father wants his children to know he loves them, he should love their mother. Well, that is true for believers, too. If we want others to know we love them, love the LORD. As we pursue Him in love He will help us to love others. Our love will be founded in truth and will reflect Him, not be manipulative and self-serving.

My whole view of life is changed. I realize that it's all about what God had done for me through the work of Jesus on the cross. It's truly not about me. That doesn't mean that I live life perfectly, but I do live with a different focus and that will affect my actions.

An artist friend of mine recently created a ceramic piece on which she inscribed words written by others about a time they acted in spite of fear. She asked me to write something. I think it applies here... an example of how the the Holy Spirit used the gospel to compel me to act:


She blew into Louisiana in late August. Cantankerous and mean spirited, Hurricane Katrina caused a commotion in the homes of many people. She was a taker and a user. But in her own way she strengthened those of us who met her. She made us face ourselves and our fears.

I was no exception. Until I met Katrina, I thought I was open and kind and hospitable. But when she left a volume of need in her wake and when she reshuffled the lives and locations of the folks of southeast Louisiana and people were left without homes and thrown out of their usual spots, I realized that it’s easy to not be afraid when life continues on, when the game is played by the rules. Like houses built from playing cards, the lives of many came tumbling down.

Our home was fine, but living in Baton Rouge meant we were right on the doorstep of disaster. Life didn’t continue on in its usual pattern. It assumed chaotic designs. Thousands of people were forced to evacuation centers. Thousands more were in hotels or with friends and families, trying to figure out what to do next. I was constantly confronted with change and need. Families with their plastic bags sat bewildered at tables in the food court at the mall. Cars pulled into remote sections of grocery story parking lots while weary, mussed people walked their dogs. Cars sat abandoned on the side of the road. Helicopters buzzed overhead and became as commonplace as the sound of mosquitoes at dusk, and sometimes as annoying. Sirens wailed round the clock.

We were told that people, run out of their own homes by Katrina, needed places to live. When we were contacted to house some international students from New Orleans, strangers set adrift in a strange land, I hesitated. I knew the need, but fear is a noisy emotion. Fear is loud and the more we hesitate, the louder it gets. So I faced my fear in silence and told my husband that we could keep some students. I had to. How could I live with myself before my LORD if I let fear rule me? He took me in when I was a stranger. Five strangers arrived and we took them in and in a day or two they weren’t strangers anymore. We were given a gift. Instead of fear we experienced joy. We grew particularly close to one young couple, from Turkey. They became part of our family – a blessing to us. Fear wanted to keep us from that and I think that giving into it would have made me smaller.


APPLICATION

This has been a long post! C.S. Lewis said this: "The Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; or - if they think there is not - at least they hope to deserve approval from good men. But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us." (Mere Christianity)

Are you trying to be good to win God's or people's approval? Or does your behavior reflect your belief in the gospel that you've experienced? Have you been crucified with Christ so that you live for Him? Spend some time on your knees thanking Him for giving up His glory, for taking our sin, so that we can live free to serve Him.

PRAYER

Help us to go deeper and deeper into your gospel, Father. Help us to understand more and more of it. As you bring circumstances and people into our lives help us to love them with your love - for YOU! As you increase and we decrease make yourself evident in our character and actions.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

2 Timothy 2:1-13 - Focus

by Katrina

LINK: 2 Timothy 2:1-13

BACKGROUND
Paul continues his exhortation to Timothy.

(1) Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. This reminds us that Jesus is our source of strength. We are not our own source of strength, despite what American culture tells us.

(2) As leader of the church, Timothy was to be discipling others to become church leaders as well. He needed to find faithful men to teach, and those faithful men would also become teachers.


(3) Stay focused. Don't let this world distract you from your service to Christ. Be like the soldier who is focused on obeying and pleasing his commander. And, like an athlete, stick to the rules so you don't get disqualified.

(4) Like a farmer is paid with the first of the crops, so a pastor should be paid by his church.

Paul was willing to suffer hardship, being treated as a criminal, for the sake of those who would believe the gospel. As far as Paul was concerned, everything centered around salvation in Jesus. Nothing else could distract him from this life purpose of sharing the gospel.

Today's passage ends with a "trustworthy statement." This may have been something that the early church recited together. At the time Paul wrote this book, Nero was the emperor of Rome, and persecution of the church was heating up. Paul knew that many believers were already facing, or would soon face, severe persecution. They would be pressured to deny their faith in Jesus or die for it. He encouraged them to be strong and keep their faith. Men could kill the body, but not the spirit. But he also assured them that Jesus would never deny them.

REFLECTION


What a paradox it is that death brings life! But it's true. If we are in Jesus, then our death ushers us into His presence where there is life eternal. And the second paradox - suffering leads us to reigning with Him  - is also true.

If we deny Jesus, we will lose our rewards in heaven. But even if we are so faithless, Jesus remains faithful. Our security rests in Jesus Himself, not in our faith or in anything we do. What a blessing to know that He holds us securely because of who He is and what He has done!

APPLICATION
Is your life focused on Jesus? Let's remain faithful to the One who has provided our salvation!

PRAYER
Lord, let us be focused on YOU and center our lives on obeying and loving YOU. Thank you that our salvation rests in Jesus and not in ourselves. You are the faithful one, and we praise you for that! Amen.

Monday, August 9, 2010

2 Timothy 1 - I Know whom I have Believed

by Katrina

LINK: 2 Timothy 1

BACKGROUND
Book Introduction
You'll remember that at the end of the book of Acts, Paul was under house arrest in Rome. Most likely he was freed from that imprisonment and traveled some more. He visited Ephesus and left Timothy there, then traveled on to Greece. While in Greece, he probably wrote the first letter to Timothy. He left Titus in Crete, and soon wrote him a letter. He went on to Troas where he was arrested and taken to Rome again. While in prison in Rome, Paul wrote this second letter to Timothy. At this time, Nero was emperor, and according to tradition Paul was executed under Nero west of Rome on the Ostian Way.

Chapter 1
Paul reflected on his very close relationship with Timothy, his "beloved son." He constantly prayed for Timothy and longed to see him again.

Paul encouraged Timothy not to be ashamed of his faith or of the suffering that often comes along with that faith. The worst thing man could do was to kill the body, but Jesus "abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." So the result of death would be life.

Paul also encouraged Timothy to keep to the true teaching of the gospel. I love how he worded the, "Guard through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you." The gospel message is truly a treasure!

REFLECTION
When we face difficulties in this life, we can say, like Paul, "I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day."

There's a great hymn based on this verse. Here are the lyrics:

I know not why God’s wondrous grace
To me He hath made known,
Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love
Redeemed me for His own.

Refrain
But I know Whom I have believ├Ęd,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.

I know not how this saving faith
To me He did impart,
Nor how believing in His Word
Wrought peace within my heart.

Refrain

I know not how the Spirit moves,
Convincing us of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
Creating faith in Him.

Refrain

I know not what of good or ill
May be reserved for me,
Of weary ways or golden days,
Before His face I see.

Refrain

I know not when my Lord may come,
At night or noonday fair,
Nor if I walk the vale with Him,
Or meet Him in the air.

Refrain

APPLICATION
Do you know, really know, the God who gives you salvation?
Do you believe, really believe, that God will guard you and your salvation?

PRAYER
Lord, you reveal so much of yourself to us in your word. May we "soak" in it and really get to know our Savior and come to fully trust you. Amen.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

1 Timothy 6 - What Do You Pursue?

by Becky

LINK: 1 Timothy 6

BACKGROUND

This last chapter of the letter echoes the first: both sections address the issue of false teachers and exhort Timothy on how to live. Each passage also contains a doxology, words of praise to God which recount His nature. The doxology in this chapter is in verses 15-16.

The chapter begins with a brief exhortation to "slaves" or "bondservants," telling them to be respectful and work hard. Of interest is a note in the ESV on "slave" from first verse of the chapter: "The Roman institution of being a “bondservant” (Gk. doulos; see esv footnote) was different from the institution of slavery in North America during the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries. Slaves generally were permitted to work for pay and to save enough to buy their freedom... . The NT assumes that trafficking in human beings is a sin (1 Tim. 1:10...), and Paul urges Christian slaves who can gain … freedom to do so. The released slave was officially designated a “freedman” and frequently continued to work for his former master."

"Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ."
(1 Corinthians 7:21-22 ESV)

The false teachers mentioned here were motivated by love of money - somehow they were perverting the focus of the gospel message in order to profit financially - to get rich. That leads Paul to address the love of money, which he contrasts with godliness.

REFLECTION

The word "godliness" is used at least five times in this chapter. What is "godliness"? Godliness is character and conduct that are molded by love and fear of God. A godly person reflects God's character - His love, kindness, holiness, gentleness, and faithfulness.

The love and pursuit of God (godliness) is contrasted here with the love and pursuit of wealth. In fact, we are told not to long to get rich, but to long for God. The craving for money opens us up to rationalize all kinds of other evils and leads away from the Lord. We are reminded here that material wealth (money) is temporary, while the greatest wealth is to be a godly person who is content. Godliness will last!

In verses 17-19 there is some advice for those who are rich. Most of us who live in the U.S. and Canada are rich! "As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life." (1 Timothy 6:17-19 ESV)

APPLICATION

Look at the active verbs in verses 11 - 12! We are given some commands. "But as for you, ... flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:11-12 ESV)

We are told to flee, pursue, fight, and take hold. Those are commands! We are to flee the evil desires that begin with a love of money. Rather than pursuing money, we are told to pursue what reflects God's character... look at the list above. This life isn't meant to be easy. Being a Christian isn't passive! It requires active faith and obedience and the courage to do what pleases God - what is right.

I'll ask it again... What do you pursue? I hope you're actively pursuing the LORD. He is the only one worth pursuing!

PRAYER

Dear Father God, enable us "to keep the commandment [gospel] unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

1 Timothy 1 - Love, Conscience, and Faith

by Katrina

LINK: 1 Timothy 1

BACKGROUND
Paul wrote 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus to these men who were pastors in the early church, so these three books are called the "Pastoral Epistles."

Timothy had joined Paul during his second missionary journey and had eventually been left in Ephesus to lead the church in that city and the surrounding area of Asia Minor. Paul desired to visit Timothy there, but in the meantime sent him this letter to guide him in his pastoral ministry.

In chapter one, Paul reminded Timothy of his overall responsibility to teach and to oversee what was taught in the church. He exhorted Timothy to personally "fight the good fight" and fulfill God's purpose with his life.

Once again, Paul needed to address the issue of people teaching that Christians must keep the Mosaic Law. The Law is useful for pointing out sin, but not for salvation. Only Jesus, not the Law, can save sinners from their sin.

At the very end of the chapter, Paul mentions Hymenaeus and Alexander, "whom I have delivered over to Satan." This means that these two men were removed from the fellowship of the church as disciplinary action, lest they destroy the church with their false teaching and in hopes that they would repent and be restored.

REFLECTION/APPLICATION
In verse five, Paul said, "But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." Let's make love our goal no matter what our ministry. If we serve with a pure heart and a good conscience, not seeking reward or recognition, then we truly serve. Let's be motivated by sincere faith and nothing else.

And let's fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience (vs 18-19). Once again, Paul emphasized the importance of our faith. We must guard and keep it. And he also reiterated the importance of a clear conscience. We must make sure our motives are pure and we are doing what is right.

PRAYER
Father, thank you for the heart of a shepherd that you give to our spiritual leaders. Lead them to lead us in our faith. Teach us to do everything out of love, without selfishness or pride. We want to serve you with pure hearts and clear consciences. Amen.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

2 Thessalonians 3 - Be Busy, Not Busybodies!

by Becky

LINK: 2 Thessalonians 3

BACKGROUND

In this third chapter we are encouraged to keep doing what is right, to live responsibly, even when in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Evidently some of the Thessalonians, waiting for Jesus' return, quit working and relied on others to provide for them. Paul makes it clear here that Christians should work and not be a burden on others. In fact, if a person won't work, then he shouldn't eat. The church is told to quit providing for those who are idle.

REFLECTION

In verses 2-4 Paul turns from the lack of faith in men to the faithfulness of God. He says to pray "that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one."(2 Thessalonians 3:2-3 ESV) The passage pivots from those who lack faith and are enemies of God to God's faithfulness. Turning to the Lord in prayer nourishes fresh confidence and hope in Him. No matter what evil threatens, the Lord is in charge and with His people.

If I were to sum up verses 6-15 it would be this way: Be busy, not busybodies! An old saying that reflects this passage is "Idleness is the devil's workshop." This passage, and many in Proverbs, make it clear that it is good to work. If we're not busy working, we will probably be busy gossiping. Today, though, there is a danger of confusing "work" with multitasking and an abundance of activities. I think that this passage uses "busy" in the sense of doing what is worthwhile and good, as well as earning our own living. The verses aren't encouraging a whirlwind of commitments or being a workaholic.

"Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good." (2 Thessalonians 3:12-13 ESV)

The fact that Paul tells the Thessalonian believers (and so us) to not grow weary in doing what is right indicates that it's easy to tire of doing good... to tire of keeping on pleasing God. This race is a long one and requires endurance. Jesus will return, and in the meantime we are to continue trying to please Him, which takes perseverance!

APPLICATION

Are you discouraged and tired of doing good? "Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all." (2 Thessalonians 3:16 ESV)

God is with you! Turn to Him in trust and prayer and keep on keeping on.

PRAYER

Dear Father, Help us to turn to you in faith. Thank you for your faithfulness to us. Enable us to serve you and keep doing what is good. Keep us quietly busy with work so that we won't be so tempted to stick our noses where they don't belong.