Day 64: 1 Thessalonians 1-3 (NEW TESTAMENT 90)

Today’s reading comes from 1 Thessalonians 1-3 follow the link provided here to read the ESV online.

We find Paul caring for, and praying for, this church often (1:2-3, 2:13).  They had ministered to him after he had been run out of Phillipi ( 2:2) and they received the Word of God with zeal (2:13). Paul and his traveling companions weren’t able to stay there long and had wanted to come back and see the progress of the Thessalonian church (2:17-18). They had later encountered persecution and Paul was anxious to see how the young church was doing. He sent Timothy to check on the Thessalonian saints and encourage them. When Timothy returned back to Paul he had a great report to share about the progress of their faith (3:1-10).  

In 1 Thessalonians 2:8, the Apostle Paul writes, “We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become dear to us.”

I am reminded of the love and warmth that is shared between pastor and the flock. I have been blessed to serve three different congregations over the past 22 years. There comes a point as a pastor that the line between obligation and love is blurred.  There are moments, especially early on in ministry where I have labored to visit the sick, counsel the hurting, and minister among the broken, because it was an obligation (first to God and second to the people who had confirmed God’s call).  Then there came the moment when I showed up to the hospital for someone, not because it was an obligation (part of the job), but because of the genuine love and care for them. The sense of obligation has been replaced with a genuine love.

You can tell as you read though 1 Thessalonians that the Apostle Paul has a genuine affection for the people of this church.  He longs for their good. He wants to observe their faith firsthand and he writes to answer their questions and encourage them. A genuine love for God will always overflow into a love for his people.

FATHER, Thank you for the church. We are grateful for our brothers and sisters in Christ and how their walk with you encourages us. We are thankful that we get the benefit of ministering to one another, not just out of an obligation, but out of a sense of love. We rejoice to hear when others are doing well in the faith. Thank you for the grace of minister with a church that loves you and loves others well. Thank you for the grace of shepherding your flock. IN JESUS NAME, AMEN.

What did you take away from today’s reading? What are your thoughts or questions? Feel free to comment below and enter the discussion.

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Day 27: Luke 10-12 (NEW TESTAMENT 90)

Today’s reading comes from Luke 10-12 follow the link provided here to read the ESV online.

In Luke 12, Jesus preaches hard against hypocrisy! What a gift it is for Him to expose our hearts. There are days where we might be prone to just go through the motions, put on a good exterior and sail through, but not today. Today, we come to the hard task of examining our lives. There is nothing that is truly hidden that God doesn’t know (12:2). We might fool each other for a while, or even fool ourselves into thinking it doesn’t matter, but it does.

Sometimes we are more afraid of what others will think of us than we are of offending the Lord. Jesus teaches us to fear God more than people. We fear on the one hand because He has the power and authority not only to demand our lives, but to cast us into Hell. On the other hand though, we should tremble, because He cares so much for us (12: 4-7). Anything that He beckons us to do, even to the point of giving up our lives, isn’t to hurt us, but to help us. So while trusting him may seem difficult, it is the best thing. He knows our worst and still offers grace and forgiveness in Christ.

Sometimes we are hesitant to confess or confront secret sins because we are afraid of how we will be perceived by other people. We let the fear of others rob us from the freedom of confession and repentance. A secret sin can fester in our hearts and cause us to by hypocrites in every area of our lives. We can place on a holy hat and try to side step the real sin issue that is eating us alive and in doing so we side step every issue down the line.

The best thing is for us is to be honest about the condition of our souls.  If we are to be made more and more into the image of Christ, we can’t play at being holy.  We must commit every area of our life to Him.  We must deal with reality. What a grace it is for Jesus to expose our hypocrisy now, because he gives us an opportunity to repent.

FATHER, thank you for the grace of hard words that cut right to our hearts. Thank you for caring for us enough to point out our secret sins. Thank you for the grace of repentance. Thank you that we don’t have to fear others and what they might do to us for following you, but that we get to follow you unashamedly. I pray that we would be bold in our witness today. Thank you for the grace to lead others. IN JESUS NAME, AMEN.

What did you take away from today’s reading? What are your thoughts or questions? Feel free to comment below and enter the discussion.

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Day 11: Matthew 11-12 (NEW TESTAMENT 90)

Today’s reading comes from Matthew 11 – 12 follow the link provided here to read the ESV online.

The passage we read today has many implications.  What jumps out at me the most is the persistence of the “religious” crowd to reject Jesus. He does miracles and they complain because it is the Sabbath. They have envisioned a particular way to celebrate the Sabbath day and have added rules to clarify (that really just obscure) how the Sabbath was to be observed. They had listed out extra rules that defined what exactly was “work” that should not be done on the Sabbath. The Sabbath was a gift to mankind. It was given to a nation that had been slaves and didn’t know what it was like to rest. It provided clarity for women to take off (by not having to prepare a meal) and even foreigners who were traveling through. When Jesus heals, they imagine that Jesus is then breaking the Sabbath day by “working.”  Jesus points out their hypocrisy by demonstrating that they would do more work on the Sabbath to save an injured animal than they would for a man who has spent his life kept from working by a physical deformity. (If you attend Little Escambia we will have a message in a few weeks on the Sabbath day)

Later the religious crowd accuses Jesus of casting out Demons by the power of the Devil. Jesus warns them that they are treading on dangerous ground. To see the work of the Holy Spirit and to claim it comes from Satan is the worst kind of perversion possible. Indeed it is the unpardonable sin.  When a man looks at the brightest light in the room and protests that it is only making the darkness more rampant, he has lost more than the way, he has lost hope of ever finding the way.

I know that many people fret over if they have committed the unpardonable sin. Generally speaking if you are fretting about committing the unpardonable sin… you haven’t committed it. Jesus is speaking here of hearts so hardened against God that they attribute the work of God, to the devil, rather than repent. If your heart is that hardened against God, you wouldn’t be worried about the unpardonable sin.

This is also a sobering reminder of the necessity to pray and share the gospel no matter the outcome. We should know with certainty that the gospel never changes. It leads to life, but there will always be some who will reject it, no matter how bright the light shines.

Here is how I am praying through this passage today:

LORD, Thank you that you have given us the gift of work and the gift of rest. I pray that our true rest would be in you. Thank you that we can know you. Thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers. I pray that He guides our lives. Today I lift up those who I am sharing my faith with, I pray for eyes to see and ears to hear the truth of your gospel. I am lifting up those who are sick and would long to work if only their health were restored. I pray for their healing.  I pray for those who have overcrowded their lives and need to find real rest in you. I thank you for the joy of pastoring your people. IN JESUS NAME, AMEN.

What did you take away from today’s reading? What are your thoughts or questions? Feel free to comment below and enter the discussion.

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Day 5: John 13-15 (NEW TESTAMENT 90)

Today’s reading comes from John 13-15 follow the link provided here to read the ESV online.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. “(John 14:15-17)

Judas couldn’t have had a better pastor and he betrayed Jesus. The reality of a Judas in the ranks of the disciples should challenge us to examine our own hearts. If He could “follow” Jesus and still not fully believe it is possible for us to be near church but not fully committed to Christ. The realness of Judas should cause us to make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10).

Jesus offers another glimpse of the coming Holy Spirit!  As we draw closer and closer to the cross, the message turns more and more towards the Trinity and especially now in these chapters towards the role of the Holy Spirit who has come to us as a “Helper.”

The only power we have to keep Christ’s commandments comes from the Holy Spirit alive in us! How arrogant we are to assume that we are fully capable of fulfilling the commands of Christ on our own. We are like Peter making bold claims about our allegiances when we walk in peace, but running away like a coward when the pressure is on.  The power to obey and follow comes from abiding and walking with Christ on a consistent and daily basis. Continually submitting areas of our life to Christ, not in our strength, but in the power that comes from the Holy Spirit of God.

Here is how I am praying through this Passage today:

LORD, I thank you that you care for me. I ask you to examine my heart and life today. I know that there is nothing that you have called me to do that I can do on my own. I must depend on you. I ask you to prune from my life the things that would distract me from your purpose for my life. Please direct the steps ahead of me. I pray today for those who are wandering, those struggling with acceptance and belonging, those who are seeking you but find the cares of this world difficult to resist, those who know they need to let go of addictions, those who know they are prone to distraction. I lift up the sick, the hurting, those in the process of healing, those who carry sorrow, and worry.  I lift up the people I am charged to lead. I pray today that we would all find ourselves abiding in you. IN JESUS NAME, AMEN.

What did you take away from today’s reading? What are your thoughts or questions? Feel free to comment below and enter the discussion.

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The Modern Day Pharisee

Someone I once respected as a Christian leader told me that he didn’t read his Bible every day. I was amazed. He said that for him it had become something to do, just checking off another box. I heard him speak and ridicule people who just “check the box” on reading their Bibles

I guess it made sense at the time. I was impressionable. So I too started to NOT read my Bible when I didn’t feel like it and I checked another boxthe box of being so spiritual that I would not allow myself to fall into the kind of legalism. I thought I had reached a whole new plain of Christianity, one that had all the buzzwords like “authentic.” I started to revel in my failures so people would know that I wasn’t perfect. I was… authentic. I wore my flaws with pride and flaunted the fact that I didn’t read the Bible every day, or really much at all anymore. I didn’t need to. I was… spiritual.

I became so jaded that I soon could sense the hypocrisy in everyone around me. People would say that they were praying for someone, but I knew in my heart that they were not sincere. I had developed the gift of sensing the hypocrisy of others. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite so I stopped praying for people or I would pray with them once on the spot and completely forget about them later. I was becoming so spiritual.

Then it happened. I read the Bible again one day and then the next. I realized that I wasn’t spiritual at all. My frustration with church and the hypocrisy around me was a projection of my own dry and barren soul on those around me. I had never really seen my brothers and sisters in Christ for who they were because I was so busy judging myself in them.

When I began reading the Bible again it was like a deep and refreshing drink of cold water on parched lips. It hurt, but it felt so good. It was what I needed. I had been without for so long. I had almost forgotten how life transformational the gospel really is. I had been living in a self-imposed dessert for too long.

And so now I check the box on reading the Bible every day, not because I am a legalist or a Pharisee. No, I did that quite well without reading the scripture. I go to the well of God’s word everyday now because I know how thirsty I really am and how much I need to hear from Him (even if I don’t feel like it). I’m convinced once again that “holiness” though it isn’t a buzz word is what God has called me to and I’m not as proud as I used to be of being “authentic” with my flaws.

Oh, I’m still flawed. But now I would rather boast in Christ through my failure than boast in my failure. It’s different now that I’m a recovering from being a Pharisee. I wish I never believed the lie that it was somehow spiritual to not use one of the very tools God has given us to grow. Sometimes the most dangerous lies to believe are the ones that Satan puts in the mouths of Christian leaders.

Letters to Young Men: Treasure the Word

Dear friend,

I hope this letter finds you doing well.  I want to be a source of strength and encouragement as you fight against the flesh and continue to grow in Christ.  I know it sounds cliché to say that when times are tough my greatest source of strength comes from being in God’s Word. I know that there are many leaders in our day and age who make light of the daily discipline of reading and studying God’s word.  Their reasons sound good.  They will say that believers in the early church could not read and only heard the word preached.  This is true, but they miss a vital point.  Because the word was scarce, it was sacred.  The danger in our day is not a lack of accessibility, but too much accessibility. No doubt you have more than one Bible and possibly more than one translations.  Here is my challenge to you… Treasure God’s Word!

Set aside a Bible that you will read from each day.  Set a particular time of day.  Get a journal and take notes.  When beginning the daily discipline of reading God’s word, one of the best things you can do is take a chapter or section at a time and summarise what you have read.  If it will help you, I will read the same scriptures and we can compare notes when we get together. If you want me to see and be able to comment post your thoughts on a blog as my pastor does or as notes on facebook like many of my other friends do.

What is challenging me and helping me to treasure God’s Word these days is to memorize portions Scripture.  I’ve set out to memorize Philippians by Easter this year and even in the first week I have been blessed beyond measure.  The amount of scripture memorized isn’t the point, the value that it has in your life is very much the point. Do you treasure God’s Word?

Do not be persuaded to put off (or never even start) the basic disciplines that will help you know and grow in Christ. Do not be fooled by arguments that these disciplines lead to just going through the motions to check off a list.  No doubt some do and will read out of false motives, but knowing the Word is one of the primary ways in which we grow in Christ.

Treasure God’s word.  Grow and develop in the basic disciplines of reading and memorization.  Journal to engage you mind with the scripture and ask God to help you grow in Christ.  I close the letter here by quoting several scripture passages that God has used to speak to me on the subject.

But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world (John 17:13-18, ESV).

while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work (2Timothy 3:13-17, ESV).

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you (Psalm 119:11, ESV).

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish (Psalm 1:1-6, ESV).

Your Friend,

Pastor Jonathan

Letters to Young Men

A Few Tips on How to Read the Bible

When I was little I knew that it was important to read the Bible, but I didn’t know how.  I used to flip open my Bible and what ever passage it opened to I would read.  I heard a preacher tell a story about a man who was looking for God’s will like that.  He flipped open his Bible and placed his finger on a verse and it said, “Judas went out and hung himself.”  He thought, “that can’t be God’s will for my life.  I need to try again.”  He did it again and this time it came up, “Go thou and do likewise.” We know God would never tell us to go hang ourselves, this man’s idea about how to hear from God was a little flawed.

My bible at Whirled Cup Cafe

Needless to say you don’t normally get a lot from reading the Bible like that.  You can’t get a lot from any book by doing that, especially God’s word.  When it comes to God’s word there are a few things that you need to keep in mind.

1.) The Bible is a collection of books. The Bible is collection of books and those books were meant to be read just like any other book, from beginning to end.  That is how we can make the most sense of other books.  That is how we can make the most sense out of God’s word.

2.)  We call the Bible God’s word because it is what God has told us about Himself. It is a record of how God has dealt with mankind through the centuries.  Hebrews 1:1-2 tells us,”God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His son.” The Bible is the recorded word of God and so when we read it, whether we are reading about Noah and the Flood, or Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, we can rest assured that God has given us His word in order to reveal Himself.  So as we study the Bible we need to ask, “What is God saying about Himself ?”  The story of Noah and the ark isn’t about a floating zoo, its about God’s grace in saving Noah, God’s intolerance of sin, and so much more!  We read God’s word to learn about God.

3.)  But we don’t stop there, we also need to apply it to our lives and so we should ask a second question, “What should my response be to what I have just learned to be true about God?”  We want to be a responsive people.  Think about it.  Why did God give you His word?  He shows you who He is through His word and so as our understanding of God changes our response to God changes.  We can not be the same people.

These two questions help me to develop resolutions or what I like to call action steps. Action steps are tangible things that I can do in my life that day to put into practice what I have learned to be true about Jesus.  They can be as simple and general as “I’m going to call out to Jesus every time I am tempted today because he knows what it was like to be tempted and was yet without sin” (Matthew 4).  Or they can be as specific and complex as, “I am going to ask my mother to forgive me because I was a jerk to her last night because Jesus commands his followers to live in a right relationship with others” (Matthew 5:24).

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Just to recap, here are the highlights.

1. Read a book of the bible in the order it was written (don’t randomly flip open the bible and throw your finger down in the middle).

2. Ask two important questions….

  • What does this say about God?
  • How should I respond to God?

3. Use those questions to help you formulate resolutions or action steps

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Looking for a place to start?

If you are new to this bible reading thing or haven’t done it in a while and you are looking for a place to start, I encourage you to check out the blog of my friend (and pastor) Chris Aiken.  Each morning he reads a proverb and a chapter from another book of the Bible.  He then makes a blog post commenting on the chapter of scripture he read.  What is really neat about the blog format is that you can post questions or responses to each daily reading.  You can find his blog at http://www.chrisaiken.wordpress.com