1 Thessalonians 5

Read 1 Thessalonians 5.

I have always loved the this chapter of Paul’s letters to the church of the Thessalonians. It is packed with practical wisdom for everyone at any point in their lives. No matter how many times we have read it before, it always points us deeper, even into those things we have worked hard to make a priority of in our lives. And the core message is so simple and foundational.

Our lives as believers are to be pointed towards and lived in response to the person and work of Jesus. In light of who Jesus is, we ought to be building each other up in the gospel and encouraging each other. Because Jesus has made a way to salvation, we ought to work hard in faith and respect those who do the same. Knowing that Jesus promises to return for us one day, even if we don’t know when that will be, we ought to live grateful lives, pray always, rejoice in any circumstance, and hold fast to the deep truths of scripture.

Put simply, Jesus changes everything. And he continues to change everything about us. “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely…” This becomes not only a promise but also our prayer. Father, sanctify us in your love and grace.

1 Thessalonians 4

Read 1 Thessalonians 4

There are times when I deeply wish I could speak like Paul wrote his letters. How can someone say something that cuts so deep but at the same time is so full of love and grace that you want to hear and accept everything they say? Of course, maybe because I am not in the church of Thessalonica, I just try to play the bystander to keep myself feeling good. I certainly can’t say that nothing Paul said applies to me, it all does.

The whole point of this chapter is to remind the church of their deep call to growing sanctification and holiness. I know I can only speak for myself, but there are days that feel like I have taken two steps back instead of one step forward. Maybe I responded in anger to something someone did or maybe I did something to cause someone anger. Maybe I shared unfair harsh criticism of someone else or maybe I responded to criticism poorly. Maybe I chose my own feelings or thoughts over someone else’s. I chose to love myself over loving others.

Whatever it may have been, I know my own deep need for ongoing personal sanctification. I am thankful for the (sometimes deeply cutting) words of scripture that remind me of this great call. Friend, don’t bypass all rebuke because it is rebuke. Sometimes God uses his word to cut deeply and remove the sin that separates us from him. Let God’s Word do the work. I am praying God’s holiness for you today.

Galatians 3

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It is not always what we want to hear, but sometimes a harsh word of truth has the greatest impact. Please don’t hear that as permission to go be mean to the people around you. I am not talking about the word you give, but rather, the one you receive. You may be like me, and sometimes you get so deep into your own thoughts and own ways that you become hard-hearted to any word of counsel.

I remember many times growing up on the football field where an outsider might have observed an interaction between a coach and a player and assumed the coach was just a mean spirited man who enjoyed making life miserable for teenagers. But this couldn’t have been further from the truth. Some of the most meaningful lessons I learned in football came through sharply spoken words.

Paul has some sharp words for the Galatian church. “O Foolish Galatians!” Ouch. Why is Paul being so critical? Because the the Galatians have forgotten something so foundational to deep growing faith…the primacy of Jesus Christ. They have taken their eyes off the most important thing and because of this have allowed competing false ideas to invade their thoughts and actions. They have allowed the thought that our works have an important role in our own salvation to erode their deep faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Believer, remember the words from chapter two, it is no longer us who live but Christ who lives in us. IF we forget this, or if we add something to this faith, like our own works, Paul has nothing but harsh words for us. Remember Christ today. Think on the sufficiency of his death, burial, and resurrection for you salvation and sanctification today. It’s all about Christ. Let’s know him and make him known.

Acts 14

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What is your foundation? When we think about building a home, we might take for granted that the shape, size and make up of the foundation determines what the house about can look like. We know that the strength and durability of the foundation will determine how long the home will stand and the storms it can endure. While it isn’t always visible, it determines nearly everything about the building above. So, what is your foundation?

When we read the book of Acts, it is clear what the foundation of the apostles was; Jesus. Just follow Paul and Barnabas through one chapter and there is a boldness and tenacity that speaks to the strongest of foundations. When they are threatened in Iconium, they moved on still speaking the name of Jesus. When they were worshipped in Lystra, they wept and tore their clothes and pointed to Jesus and not themselves. When they returned to Antioch, they took none of the credit for work done, but instead pointed to Christ and his goodness and faithfulness.

When Christ is our foundation, the core of our identity, then nothing can deter us from living on mission for him. When he is the highest priority in our lives, not hardship or trail can derail us from living for him. Our lives are lived to him, for him and through him and that life is good. So, what is your foundation right now?

Acts 4

Read Acts 4.

The study of history can be thought of as a study of boldness. Moments when history was/is made are always precipitated by an act of individual bravery. We could point towards stories of great political or military leaders who had to make difficult decisions in harsh times, inspiring stories of everyday people standing up for what was right when everyone around them said not to, or just everyday heroes that risk life or comfort to help other people on a daily basis. They all would rightly deserve the acclaim they receive.

We see that great things happen when normal people decide to act boldly. God has designed and called us to be bold. The disciples walked with Jesus, saw his constant boldness, and then went and lived the same. In Acts 4 we see them thrown in prison and put on trial for speaking the name of Jesus. They were released under threat, one we know was credible because they would continue to be arrested, beaten, and even murdered for sharing Jesus with people. Yet we are told they prayed not for safety, not for comfort, not for protection. Instead, in the face of certain pain and death, they prayed for boldness.

Do we pray the same way? Are we praying that God would grant us bold obedience regardless of or even in the face of difficult consequences for that same bold faith? I think we probably pray more that God would give us comfort and get on our plan (I know I am guilty of that). But if we are going to be a people, a church, a mom or dad, a student, a co-worker that changes the community, family, classroom, sports team, or workplace around us, we need to start looking and praying for more boldness. I pray you will be bold today.

Luke 18

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So there is one thing I have noticed about people (specifically myself) as I have gotten older: our attention span is not nearly as long as we have a tendency to think it is. I am not talking about our ability to sit still for a tv show or movie or a lecture or whatever else we might be doing. Rather, I am talking about our ability to keep ourselves focused on a goal or some type of life change we want to make. We get distracted. We join the gym in January and realize in March that it has been 6 weeks since we last went. We set out to read one book a week and get two done in a year.

We do this spiritually as well, but if we aren’t careful, it becomes more insidious. We want to focus our lives on the things that matter. We start reading our Bible more regularly, praying on a daily basis, we might even join a D-group for accountability and growth. All of these are great things and live-giving habits to develop. But then they become routine and our heart starts to become proud. We lose focus and forget that God is less concerned with the habits we develop than he his about the heart that sought them in the first place. We begin to think highly of ourselves, “Look how good I have done!

We forget the our heart had been focused on growing closer to God, seeking to hear his voice and longing to be more like Christ. We forget the humility that drove us to his word and to our knees in prayer. We forget it was Christ that made a way and God who worked on our heart. You see, if we aren’t careful, we all have a tendency to become the Pharisee in Verse 11 while thinking we are the tax collector in verse 13. My prayer for you today is that you remember who you are in Christ and that in humility you continue to chase after him.

Luke 8

Read Luke 8.

The Christian world is full of so many platitudes that the truth behind them often becomes obscured or even forgotten. These things get repeated so often out of context that they lose their usefulness to us. While I am sad that there are no more brick and mortar Lifeway stores, I am not upset that there are fewer Philippians 4:13 coffee mugs out there. We see them so often that we forget that it’s not about you needing that cup of coffee because you stayed up to late watching a movie, but you can do all things so you are gonna make it.

There is a passage in Luke 8 that can, if we are not careful, become the same to us. It can become just another story that we take out of context and then use it to think God is a genie that will get us out of every bad situation. But that’s not the point of verses 22-25 in Luke 8. Let’s remember the context. Luke has spent the past few chapters showing that Jesus called those who followed him to a deep life of faith and not just any faith, but faith that showed itself in a changed life. We, as followers of Jesus, should look and act and talk and think differently. And one place that is seen powerfully in the life of a Christian is who we deal with difficulty and hardship.

So here are the disciples, crossing the lake, when a terrible storm pops up. And we know its bad because the disciples, with all their experience on the water, were terrified. So they wake up Jesus in the most dramatic way possible… “Jesus! We are dying!!” And after the storm is calmed Jesus asks them one question, “Where was your faith?”

We don’t follow Jesus because the life he gives us is free of difficulty. He doesn’t remove every danger. Rather he calls us to have faith that he is with us and he is greater than all of it. You may need to make a difficult decision, you may be facing rejection or hardship because of your faith. Maybe you are passed over for a promotion or your kid loses her spot on the team because you choose church on Sunday over work or practice. You may have a dear friend walk out of your life because you share the gospel. Remember friend, Jesus doesn’t keep our lives free of difficulty but he does promise to walk with us through it.

Revelation 4-5

Read Revelation 4-5.

What a question. “Who is worthy?”

Revelation is a book that entices and intrigues, as well as confuses and confounds. Many people have many different thoughts about much of the book. But as I read it, a couple things stand out as underlying themes for the original audience and for us reading it today. These stand out because they are not just themes of the book of Revelation but themes of the entirety of the Bible: Jesus and Hope.

John sees in his vision a magnificent view of the throne room of God with an angel ushering him in and God declaring that John is about to see the end, the victory that will come. But then tragedy, for the scroll with these things written on it cannot be opened because there is no one worthy to open them. All the angels, all the creatures, all the elders, and none can open the scroll. But then hope rises. I can almost hear the triumphal music crescendoing. The Lion, The Root, The Lamb is here and he is worthy!

So much of what we see today as we absorb the news or social media leaves us feeling like there is no hope in the world. As believers, however, we know that this is not the case. Our hope lies in the only one worthy. The Lion who fights for us, The Root who is our solid foundation, The Lamb who redeems us is our hope. And that is a hope that never fails.

Who is worthy? Jesus. Let’s worship him today.

2 Timothy 1-2

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Most people think that in his book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” author Stephen Covey coined the phrase, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Maybe we could say that he said it much more concisely or perhaps the pithiness of his phrase has allowed it to catch on more, but a quick read through the opening chapters of 2 Timothy show us that Paul was saying the same thing to Timothy a long time ago. Paul, seeking to encourage the younger leader, calls him to “not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord,” and to “guard the good deposit entrusted” to him. Paul wants Timothy to refocus his life and his work back to the gospel.

If social media is good for anything (and we probably all agree that it is debatable if it is), it is to be a distraction in our lives. I remember the opening days of Facebook, of Twitter and of Instagram. Even then very little redeemable gospel qualities could be seen in them. But now they serve only to bring out the worst in most people. If you are brave enough, I know it has taken courage for myself to practice this, look back at your last 10 posts and ask yourself, “Is this what I want to make people think my life is all about? Is this really the main thing in my life?”

In a world that craves the stuff that ought to be second, how can we make our lives clearly about the stuff that should be first? How can you be more intentional about putting the gospel front and center in your life? In your family’s lives? What decisions can you make today that will show people tomorrow that Christ is the main thing in your life? My prayer for you is that as you answer those questions, you will “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” to do those things that need to be done to keep the main thing the gospel.

Hebrews 1-2

Read Hebrews 1-2.

10 And,

“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,

and the heavens are the work of your hands;

 11  they will perish, but you remain;

they will all wear out like a garment,

 12  like a robe you will roll them up,

like a garment they will be changed.

But you are the same,

and your years will have no end.”

Hebrews 1:10-12

You ever take your eye off the ball? Ever forget the big picture? The whole reason you are doing something in the first place? I think all of us have done this at some point with greater or smaller consequences. Last week at Kids Camp I took my eyes off the bigger picture while playing soccer and got so focused on what was right in front of me that when I kicked the ball I didn’t see that I had kicked it right at my own kid. Now the consequences here are small, Ethan was fine, he is a tough kid. But I have conversations all the time with students and parents that show the greater consequences of taking our eyes off the big picture, when we become too focused on the things right in front of us.

The whole point of the book of Hebrews is to remind us that regardless of what is right in front of us, Jesus is better. Here in the first couple chapters, we are reminded of the true nature of Jesus, that he is superior to everything else. And because Jesus is superior, we should always be on high alert to be sure that we aren’t neglecting this truth in our lives. Most of us would never do this intentionally, but we get distracted by the opportunities right in front of us, by the trials afflicting us today, or by the temptations of sin. We must be sure to keep our eyes on Christ, keep him in our eyes as we make decisions and choose how we lead. Jesus is bigger. My prayer is that we all work to remember that.