Daniel 3

The Garden of Eden. Mount Horeb. Babylon.

All of these are places we’ve visited so far in our Summer Vacation sermon series. But there’s another thing that holds each of these locations together: they are places where deliverance is promised.

In the Garden of Eden, just a few verses after Adam and Eve commit the first sin, God shows up and promises that one day an offspring of the woman would be born to crush the head of the enemy (Genesis 3:15), delivering his people from the penalty of sin.

At Mount Horeb God announced to Moses that, through his leadership, God would deliver his people from oppression and slavery in Egypt (Exodus 3:7-8).

At the height of their sin, rebellion, and hardness of heart, God’s people find themselves in Babylonian captivity, where God promises that he will ultimately deliver them once again (Jeremiah 29:10-14).

It should come as no surprise that the theme of deliverance is once again on full display in Daniel 3. Confronted with a fiery furnace as a result of their defiance of Nebuchadnezzar’s orders, the three Jewish friends find themselves taunted by the king: “And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (Daniel 3:15)

Well, the same God that delivered his people from Egyptian oppression. The same God that has delivered his people time and time again from the hands of their enemies. The same God that promises to deliver his people from exile. The same God that delivers us from sin and death and hell and the grave.

Their response: “We have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.” (Daniel 3:16-17)

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago opted to put their trust in the God who delivers. After all, deliverance is kind of his thing.

And so he does it—once again, God flexes and delivers his people, this time from a fiery furnace. Not a hair was singed. Not a garment was damaged. They don’t even smell like smoke.

So where do you need to trust God for deliverance today? From the regret of former foolishness? From the pain of past mistakes? From the penalty of your sin? Place your trust in the God who delivers, “for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way” (Daniel 3:29).

Deuteronomy 5

If you’ve ever taken it upon yourself to read through your Bible and made it to the book of Deuteronomy,

  1. Congratulations on making it through Leviticus, and
  2. The words of Deuteronomy should have sounded familiar to you, like you’d already read them earlier in the Bible.

That’s because Deuteronomy is essentially Moses’ re-telling of God’s Law to the people of Israel. After 40 years of herding sheep in the wilderness of Midian, God used Moses to deliver Israel from Egyptian slavery and oppression. Then Moses returned to the wilderness for another 40 years, this time leading the people of Israel toward the Promised Land. Moses, however, would not be permitted to enter the new land as a result of his sin (Numbers 20:1-13)—because Moses failed to trust and obey God’s word, he did not experience the life that awaited God’s people in the Promised Land.

So when we arrive at Deuteronomy 5, we find Moses making his final plea with the people of Israel before turning the reigns over to Joshua. His parting words remind the people of the importance of walking in obedience to God’s word. Speaking as man who knows well the consequences of disobedience, Moses implores God’s people to “walk in all the way that the Lord [their] God has commanded [them], that [they] may live, and that it may go well with [them], and that [they] may live long in the land that [they] shall possess” (v. 33). In other words, Moses wanted the people to know that God’s words lead to life.

Moses knew what we need to know—that God’s commands are for our good. His commands are not restrictive, as though God were withholding something good from his children. No, God’s commands are for our protection, our joy, and our flourishing. Reflecting on God speaking to Moses, the Israelites were astonished that they had seen God speak with man and man still live (v. 24)—and yet what Moses (and Jesus) knew was that it’s actually only when God speaks to man that man lives (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4).

Psalm 84

According to a quote attributed to Daniel Boone, “Heaven must be a Kentucky kind of place.” I don’t know about all that, but I do love Kentucky. I just didn’t realize how much I loved Kentucky until I didn’t live here. It wasn’t until I spent two and half years living in the inferior Commonwealth of Virginia that I realized, as Kentuckian Jesse Stuart writes,

I take with me Kentucky embedded in my brain and heart
in my flesh and bone and blood
Since I am Kentucky
And Kentucky is part of me

As much as my heart longed for my old Kentucky home, it pales in comparison to how the redeemed heart desires to be at home with the Lord. This is exactly what we find in Psalm 84—the author “long[ing], yes, faint[ing] for the courts of the Lord” (v. 2). The Psalm reads like the pages of a journal from someone who’s missing home, someone longing to get back to the Garden of Eden where, prior to their sin-provoked eviction, man and woman enjoyed unbroken fellowship with God. Pining for God’s presence, the Psalmist lifts our gaze away from our earthly dwelling places and up to the house of the Lord, where just one day spent is better than a thousand days spent anywhere else (v. 10)—yes, even Kentucky.

The good news is that, for those that have placed their trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sin and the hope of eternal life, we get more than just a one-day pass. As the well-worn hymn reminds us,

When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun

Wherever you are, wherever you’ve been, you know where you belong—home. The Father is waiting and watching for your return (Luke 15:20). The house is being prepared, and you’ve been invited (John 14:1-3).

Titus

Early in Paul’s instructions for Titus is the exhortation to “appoint elders in every town” (1:5).

Why is Paul so insistent that elders—men of character and integrity that are competent to teach—be appointed? “So that [they] may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke those who contradict it” (1:9).

Paul’s letter to Titus came at a point in time in which the first-century church was falling victim to a variety of false teachers and deceptive doctrines. Perhaps some of them were simply misinformed. Perhaps some of them were malicious. Whatever the case, if they were preaching a gospel of salvation that was rooted in anything other than Christ alone, they were wrong and, as far as Paul was concerned, they needed to “be silenced” (1:11).

Fast-forward to the 21st century church and we still find ourselves in a similar predicament. Whether it’s the televangelist or, more recently, the spiritual “influencer” pumping up his or her platform on social media, there’s no shortage of those “teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach” (1:11). In the spirit of charity, maybe they’ve simply misspoken or have been misinformed. Sadly, I’m afraid it oftentimes is malicious—the enemy using the deception of pseudo-spiritual half-truths to tickle the ears of an audience, drawing them away from the gospel of Jesus Christ, away from the good news that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Now you can see why it’s so crucial to be taught and trained in sound doctrine. This is the reoccurring theme in Paul’s letter to Titus—the importance of teaching, receiving, and living in response to “what is good” (2:3) rather than “the commands of people who turn away from the truth” (1:14). May we tune our minds, hearts, and ears to filter everything through the truth of God’s Word so that we may “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (2:10).

1 Timothy 6

“But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” 1 Timothy 6:6-8

Paul wraps up his first letter to Timothy with some explicit teaching about the dangers of money. In context, Paul was confronting those for whom “godliness” was just another way to bolster their bank accounts—but Paul’s words serve as a flashing warning sign for all of us tempted to worship the fleeting promises of riches and wealth.

According to Paul, the desire for accumulating riches first entangles but eventually destroys. “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (v. 10) that, left unchecked, can even lead a person to leave the faith altogether. This isn’t to say money is a bad thing. It’s often a necessary tool for living on this side of eternity. Even Jesus and his disciples kept a moneybag. The problem isn’t that we have money—the problem is when our money has us.

So what about those that have been entrusted with considerable wealth in this age? Paul encourages Timothy to remind them that, while their riches are temporary and uncertain, God is neither, and it is he “who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (v. 17). Therefore, those who have generously received from God are charged to be conduits of God’s generosity.

In the end, the goal isn’t to have more money. For that matter, the goal isn’t even to have less money. According to Paul, the end goal is contentment—being satisfied with what the Lord has entrusted to you and leveraging that for God’s glory and the good of others.

1 Timothy 1

I like coffee. And I like books. So when another local pastor asked me if I wanted to join a reading group that met one morning each week at the local coffee shop, I jumped at the opportunity. The first meeting was just him and me—as was almost every Tuesday morning meeting for the next 6-7 years thereafter. What was originally intended to be a small group of ministry leaders reading books together actually ended up being two guys talking about life and ministry and everything in between. In retrospect, I was actually being mentored by an older, wiser pastor friend that had decided to invest in me.

A similar relationship is found in the book of 1 Timothy. Paul, an older, wiser, more seasoned and experienced ministry leader is writing a letter of encouragement and exhortation to a younger Timothy, his “child in the faith” (v. 2). Paul had been entrusted with an important message for the world, “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (v. 15). It was this message that Paul both experienced and preached, and it’s this message that he charged his ministry predecessor to continue preaching. Imagine how encouraging it must have been for Timothy, a young “up and coming” pastor to receive encouragement from the apostle Paul—the Paul who encountered Jesus on the Damascus road…the Paul whose letters ended up making up the majority of the New Testament. It’s conjecture at this point, but I like to think that Paul’s words rang in Timothy’s ears as a constant reminder to keep going, even on the difficult days.

What about you? Who is investing in your life right now? Do you have anyone in your life—perhaps someone older and wiser—that keeps you going? Someone you can take your cares and concerns and questions to? Or on the other side, who are you investing in? Who might benefit from your encouragement? What experiences do you have that you might be able to share with someone a few steps behind you?

1 Thessalonians 4

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, chances are you’ve spent some time pondering the answer to this question: “What is God’s will for my life?” The question is a good one—after all, we want to be in the center of God’s will, living in obedience to to his good and perfect plan for our lives. But when we dwell too long on that question, it can become paralyzing; we get so fixed on making sure we find God’s will for our lives that we don’t do anything else until we feel we’ve got a good grasp on what his will might be.

In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul frees us from the “paralysis by analysis” that comes from fixating on finding God’s will for our lives. Paul actually states it plainly: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (v. 3). Put another way, God’s will for your life is that you would look more and more like Jesus with each passing day.

Maybe you do need to wait for clearer discernment of God’s will for a specific decision or direction in your life—fair enough. Just remember that, even in your waiting, God has already revealed his “good and acceptable and perfect” will (Romans 12:2) at least in part: that you would grow in holiness, “without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

Colossians 3

For the most part, the bedroom in my childhood home is similar to what it was when I left approximately 15 or so years ago. I don’t set foot in it often, but when I do, it’s like stepping back in time—particularly when I pull the closet doors open. Behind those bifold doors hangs a variety of clothing and outfits that didn’t make the transition from my former life to the one I live now. Soccer jerseys, old work uniforms, my high school graduation robe, and so on. Blessed with a high metabolism, I’m sure I could still fit in them, yet I no longer wear them. Why?

Because those articles of clothing no longer reflect who I am.

So it is in Christ.

In Colossians 3, Paul writes to the church in Colossae, charging them to “put off the old self,” referring to the sinful attitudes and actions that marked their former lives. But when you take something off, you have to put something back on. Paul knows this, and that’s why he challenges the Colossians to “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (v. 10).

In Christ, God has provided us with new clothing, some “fresh drip” as the kids say these days (that was really uncomfortable, wasn’t it?). Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, love (v. 12-14)—all these outfits and more are made available to those that are “hidden with Christ” (v. 3). We don’t have to go shopping for them—they are already ours through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

Nevertheless, every morning we’re tempted to go back to our former wardrobes and put on those musty but familiar old outfits—sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness, idolatry, etc. (v. 5). Let us remember that we are “being renewed”—while there are days that it seems like the old self might still fit, let’s leave the old self to hang in the back corner of the closet. It’s not who we are anymore.

Philippians 2

I once had a brief conversation with an “up and coming” musician (“up and coming” is probably an overstatement) who went by an obvious pseudonym. When I asked him what his name was, he insisted that I continue to refer to him by his pseudonym. An important detail to note is that the pseudonym he was apparently very proud of actually contained a version of the word “humble” in it.

Oh, the irony.

My musical friend may not quite have known what humility looks like at ground level, but the apostle Paul certainly did and he writes about it in Philippians 2. According to Paul, humility looks like:

  • Doing nothing from selfish ambition or conceit (v. 3)
  • Counting others more significant than yourself (v. 3)
  • Looking to the interests of others (v. 4)
  • Working out your salvation with fear and trembling (v. 12)
  • Doing all things without grumbling or complaining (v. 14)
  • Being “poured out” for the sake of others (v. 17)
  • Being concerned for the welfare of others (v. 20)
  • Facing death for the work of Christ (v. 29)

Even more to the point, Paul didn’t write these words in a vacuum—he actually wrote them from a prison cell, which he inhabited because of his incessant preaching of the gospel. Paul genuinely considered others more significant than himself. Paul looked to their eternal interests over his own temporary comforts and conveniences. Paul was glad to pour himself empty in order to see others filled with the power and presence of Christ.

Paul didn’t just preach humility—he lived it. How? He was empowered by the Holy Spirit which enabled him to follow Christ’s example of laying down his life for others.

If you are a Christian, the same Holy Spirit resides in you right now, enabling you to lay aside your own comforts, conveniences, and interests for the benefit of others. Jesus did. Paul did. Will you?

Ephesians 3

I don’t know if one is necessarily allowed to claim a “favorite first century church,” but if so, I’ll take the church at Ephesus. There is no shortage of interesting accounts from Ephesus—Paul plants the church, God gives the growth, itinerant exorcists getting their pants beaten off of them (not kidding), magical art book burnings, and even rioting over a downturn in the pagan economy that resulted from the spread of the gospel, just to name a few. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s the tear-jerking account of Paul’s departure, where “there was much weeping” because they knew “they would not see his face again” (Acts 20:37-38).

But wait, there’s more!

As wonderful as the narrative accounts of the Ephesian church are, Paul’s letter to the church is equally packed! Chapters 1-3 contain rich theology and doctrine about who God is and what he has done for us in Christ. The first half of the letter then serves to inform and motivate some of the more practical matters of the Christian faith found in chapters 4-6.

And stuck right in the middle is Ephesians 3.

To steal a quote from a source that I can’t remember in this moment, “theology should lead to doxology.” Or, put more simply, knowledge of God should lead to the worship of God. This is exactly what is happening in Ephesians 3—as you read through it you can almost feel Paul getting increasingly animated and excited, to the point of erupting in worship of the God “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (v. 20). Paul’s recounting of God’s truth and recognition of God’s unlimited power then turns to praise: “To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (v. 21).

So what does this look like for you? Are you growing in your knowledge of God? If not, your worship of God (doxology) will be lacking—essentially, you’re trying to worship a God you don’t know. On the other side, maybe you are growing in your knowledge of God—has that increased your desire to respond in worship? If not, your theology (knowledge of God) is incomplete. As John Piper writes, “Strong affections for God rooted in the truth are the bone and marrow of biblical worship.”