Paul’s First Letter to Thessalonica

I just read through Barclay’s commentary of 1Thessalonians. I also read through the letter in the NASB and HCSB. The letter inspires me so much that I want to write my own brief commentary on here.

By way of introduction, we reference Paul’s journey into Thessalonica, as recorded by his traveling companion Luke in Acts 16:6-10. It’s one of the more interesting missions because of how the Holy Spirit guided Paul to that area. It truly is an example of a “person’s heart plans his way, but the LORD determines his steps” (Pro 16:9 CSB). Paul had his ideas, yet he was yielding to the will of God. Their coming to Thessalonica “was not in vain” (1Thess. 2:1). Their missionary team suffered tremendously along the way, yet persevered to get the gospel where God wanted it to go (2:2 and Acts 16). The Holy Spirit is the Lead Evangelist of His Mission to save as many as are called, and their landing upon the continent of Europe happened with a bang.

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Limitless Character of Christ

Jesus Christ is perfect in character and holiness. There is no limit to his depth.

We can talk about his love, patience, kindness, compassion, boldness, courage, etc. We can highlight how Jesus is perfectly masculine and appropriately feminine. As one author put it, coming full of steal and velvet.

As we begin to see the character of Christ, we are in awe. We grow more in awe with every turn of the diamond, with every realization of his perfection in an area we fall short. Maybe we’re good at something and we want to become better. We also realize deeper things about Jesus as we striving for perfection. Jesus’ perfection never becomes dull, especially when we’re conquering in Jesus’ name.

In this journey, we reach a summit, and we see something truly awesome, if not breathtaking and overwhelming. We see an unending series of Mount Everests before us, and their peaks are unending. We can do one of two things. We can either get overwhelmed and quite because we can never reach perfection or we can stand in awe while we continue to march forward with Christ and his followers.

There is a discouraged soul that is tempted to give up. I believe that unless we’re tempted to give up, then we don’t really know if we’re going to be around forever. We all come to grips with our discouragements and unwillingness. Perseverance is formed in the bowls of despair. But we know that we can’t give up because we’re giving up on ourselves, others, and most importantly on knowing Christ!

It is important to realize how our discouragement may be rooted in pride and perfectionism. Did we seriously think we were going to become sinless and perfect? What are we trying to prove and to whom? Are we trying to prove that we’re good enough, that we somehow deserve favor? We will never achieve perfection and we will never earn anything with God. He loves us and forgives us out of His great love. While he requires faith that involves repentance and obedience, his favor has absolutely nothing to do with us deserving anything. Why is that not clear? It shouldn’t be so discouraging to us that we constantly need to humble ourselves and rely on the blood of Jesus to cleanse us from our ongoing sin. We need to learn to deal with defeats, get back up, and continue to pursue Christ, as Paul said, “press on to take hold of that which has taken hold of me” (Philippians 3:12 with a wonderful context).

On that summit we realize there is no limit to Christ’s character, just as there is no limit to God. That is, you can’t fully comprehend his love, let alone define it, nor perfect it. The best we can do, and it is truly glorious, is to continue reflecting his glory.

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Gospel of Renewal

Several things happened as I started praying about what to share in my sermon today. First, I knew I should share something personal. I’ve been reading a devotional book on prayer that has excepts from Andrew Murray. He said we don’t just improve our prayer life to experience the power of God. Instead, we must have a complete renewal of heart and mind. This made me think of Colossians 3.

Additionally, I’ve been reviewing my notes since we moved to Flagstaff. We’ve been emphasizing the gospel a lot! It made me think of a helpful illustration. The gospel is like a rare gem and we’re like a gemologist, marveling at endless sides. Ephesians 3 talks about the gospel as God’s multi-faceted wisdom. The gospel is the most awesome gem, kept hidden but now revealed for us to marvel at all its wonderful angles. We’ve been looking at different aspects of the gospel.

Today, we are going to continue marveling at aspects of the gospel of Christ by talking about the Gospel of Renewal. We’re going to look at Colossians, mainly chapter 3, which has two main points of contrast.

Warning: Colossians 3 offers a double-edged sword. If you don’t see the gospel, it hits you like a blunt instrument. If you do, you get the best kind of renewal—renewal with conviction!

Read: Colossians 3:1-4

(1) Much Greater, not lesser thoughts

As we’ve already been talking, particularly in Romans 12 studies, we’re called to think better, higher, more noble, more inspiring, more uplifting, even more satisfying thoughts!

Another brother I have great respect for always analyzed Scripture and issues by getting to the main why. I love the why in this passage.

Why are we called to much greater thoughts? Because…

(a) you have been raised with Christ — you get to be with Him where He is!

(b) God sees Christ when He sees you! That is the hope of glory talked about in chapter 1.

(c) Christ is your life—your rhyme, reason, purpose, force, strength, etc.!

(d) You will appear with Christ in glory! Luke 21:27 (NIV)”At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”

These reasons should fuel us to think higher, noble thoughts! To realize our destiny is in greater thoughts.

Although this passage doesn’t totally answer it, it’s a good question to ask whether our hobbies are too distracting from having nobler thoughts. When is it too much? This passage just calls us to higher thoughts, it doesn’t leave room for lesser thoughts. It actually says not to think about worldly things. We don’t want to create a false understanding here by leaving room for other thoughts. But obviously we have jobs and hobbies. The issue with the Colossians was that their philosophies brought Christ down or made Him less in their minds. That was the danger of their false doctrine.

We’ve been talking about “taking every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ.” We’ve been talking about how we need to rely on God in prayer and study of His word to change our hearts, so that sin doesn’t entice us as much (James 1). If we’re passive, not proactive, then our thoughts remain and our hearts vulnerable. 

For these reasons, we are called to a proactive march to seek after and to set our mind on what is above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

Set your mind, or as a commentator translates it, “set your affections” on what is above, not on earthly things.

Proverbs 25:2 — it’s the glory of God to conceal a matter, but to search out a matter is the glory of kings.

What are the things? We don’t need to get into all the worldly thoughts. We spend enough time thinking about those. Colossians talks a lot about the higher things of Christ (esp. 1:15-23). 

How you seek after Christ shows how you view Him. Glory of kings to seek out the gems! Do you seek after Jesus like He is a boring Ned Flanders, or do you seek Jesus as the greatest man, greatest leader, friend, brother, and King to ever walk this earth?

Proverbs 25:2 has been a motivating idea for me for as long as I can remember studying the Scriptures. Why would God keep something hidden? That sounds like He’s messing with us. You will find the wisdom is in the spiritual character you develop in asking your questions and relying on God for answers. Do you search out a matter? Are you like Jacob, who wrestled with God? Are you like Elijah who waited patiently and attentively to see God’s glory? Do you even ask questions (personal, objective, cultural, historical, philosophical, etc) when you study Scripture? Do you have questions that you withhold from God? Do you memorize Scripture?

We are talking about the Gospel of Renewal. C.S. Lewis talks about constantly having a renewed view of Jesus because He is so high and holy. Jesus is that gem of the gospel with endless sides to marvel at.

As one of my mentors, Bill Moulden, often said, “Where the mind goes, the man follows.” That gets us into where our thoughts lead us, which we will talk about here in our second point.

Read Colossians 1:5-14.

(2) It’s Renew, not Re-Old

This passages alludes to an illustration of changing clothes. Although it says putting off, and we need to constantly deal with sin, the first part says we put to death. We’re not leaving ourselves open to putting the sin on again. We don’t leave the old clothes around. We through them into the fire.

Verses 10-11 talk about renewal, where we go from the old man to the new man. This renewal is an experience of having a passionate relationship with God. We love God and put on these things, putting on love and letting the peace of Christ guard our hearts and minds. It’s a very secure relationship with God.

Whereas the opposite is lukewarmness. Revelation 3, God expresses His dislike for lukewarmness. Why does God dislike lukewarmness, besides the fact that it is so boring? Because we can trick ourselves into thinking we’re okay when BAM, it becomes obvious we’re not. In relationship, so many married couples trick themselves and everyone else for years of lukewarmness. One thing I love about my marriage is that we have kept the heat. It hasn’t always been great, but we make an effort to keep the passion by getting help when we need to and resolving and asking one another’s forgiveness. We continue to need help and we got the help we needed over the years, and it has made a significant difference.

This renewed man, which gives us a relationship of renewal is also characterized by the word dwelling richly within us. In order to let the word dwell richly, we need the word in all forms. Profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2Timothy 3:16

In Conclusion,

“The Giant in front of you is never bigger than the God inside of you.”

Hopefully this encourages you—puts courage and spiritual fuel into you—where you can leave here more fired up to think higher and always be renewed!

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Remaining in Truth

It almost seems out of place when John ends his letter with, “Little Children, guard yourselves from idols” (1John 5:21). Read the whole letter and you’ll see it seems to smack you in the face, where John doesn’t mention idols directly until the very last word. The closest expression is eluding to idols in 1John 2:15-17, as a very convicting passage–an either/or proposition–either God or the world–either God or idols!

On the other hand, the last sentence of John’s letter fits perfectly after seeing idolatry in its biblical context–mainly how it is trusting in that which is false and cannot deliver (Psalm 24:4). Exposing idolatry is a very important biblical theme, part of understanding the greatest commandment, and sums up the 10 commandments because loving God and believing in God often means more than we think. Perhaps we have idols clouding our heads about what it means to believe in and love God?

Let me summarize the build up to the last sentence with some “If, then” statements we pull out of John 5.

If you love God, you will keep His commands. If you love God, you will believe that Jesus is the Christ/Messiah. If you love God, you will carry the testimony of God within yourself. If you love God, you will have the Son, you will have life, and you will know eternal life. If you love God, you will know the will of God. If you love God, you will have a dynamic prayer life, praying according to God’s will and watching God answer prayer. If you love God, you will restore your brothers and sisters. If you love God, you will escape sin, and the devil is powerless against you. If you love God, you belong to the truth and the truth of God lives in you.

A relationship with God is about authenticity, while idols wedge between us and God.

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Living Free

The following series, starting with this post, are my thoughts from studying Galatians more in depth. I recently read through Galatians and now I am going back through it with some resources, starting with Merrill C. Tenney’s commentary.  Instead of giving my own in-depth verse by verse study, I want to post meaningful thoughts, reflecting my prayers from this study.

The following saying recently came to mind: “if you love what you do, you will never work another day in your life.”  I am thinking about this as I begin my legal career.  I recently took the Multi-state Bar, hoping for an Arizona license.  It’s a stressful time as I await my score.  It is probably more stressful than Law School because my debtors are lined up.  That is why I recall the above statement.  I want to love what I do.  But what I really want is to live free, being called to freedom (Galatians 5:13).

What does “Living Free” mean?

Right now I want my relationship with God to flow from within and make His way out into all that I am and all that I do.  Life if filled with burdens (Galatians 6:2), but we don’t have to carry them ourselves.  We have one another.  Better put, we have God working through one another.  More importantly, we have the Holy Spirit to help us overcome and experience God’s glory through it all (Galatians 4:6-7).

Galatians also teaches that the Christian life is not meant to be something externally imposed on us.  It is a life of truly living, where God resides in us and flows out through us in a powerful display of His glory.  That thought is as inspiring as anything can be!

Therefore, regardless of what I do, my mantra is:

“I have been crucified with Christ; and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loves me and gave Himself for me” — (Galatians 2:19b-20 changing “loved” to “loves” because Christ is alive and active today).

 

 

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Live by and keep in step with the Spirit – Galatians 5:25

What does it mean to “live by the Spirit” and “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25)?

Paul writes, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”  The first illicit the second.  We should keep in step with the Spirit, since we live by the Spirit.  We can ask, “what does it mean to keep in step with the Spirit?” but it seems proper to start with the first question: what does it mean to live by the Spirit?

If it was obvious, everyone would be doing it.  Similarly, if it was obvious, we wouldn’t see so many bad examples of what people think it means.

The Holy Spirit helps us understand.

John 14 is an important record of Jesus’ words along these lines.  In the chapter, John records Jesus starting with wedding language (John 14:1-4).  I will build a house and then come and get you.  That was the Jewish custom for a reason, specifically how the Messiah is preparing a spacious and beautiful place for all His loyal followers.  It’s a real place, a home where we belong, and most importantly: it is a home built into God’s house.

Jesus isn’t asking whether they want to go there.  He is promising that He will come and take them there.

The disciples’ response is typical. We all might ask, “How do we get there?” We all feel that uncertainty. It seems confusing. Our confusion makes sense because of our weakness and the fact that the prince of this world is a great deceiver, even a great distractor. However, Jesus says it should be simple and clear. It’s as simple as loving Jesus enough to follow him because Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

I recently had a powerful talk with a spiritual leader I admire, where he described what he’s learning about spiritual formation. He gave a helpful analogy. A kid wanting to be like Mike Trout sees all the great things Mike Trout can do, but often doesn’t realize all the training involved to be that great. He tries to be like Trout and realizes the game is more difficult than Trout makes it seem, and it takes awhile to realize that Trout is Trout because of years and thousands of repetitions, and no doubt a lot of God given ability. Similarly, we can’t expect to just immediately do everything like Jesus. We need to train to be like Jesus. That’s an even bigger understatement than the Trout analogy.

Along these lines, we won’t train like we need to if we don’t enjoy the training. We lose our first love and the training becomes burdensome. We need to keep the heart that sees joy in the training. Mike Trout enjoys his training. Maybe he doesn’t enjoy every second of it, but he learns to get past the difficult parts because he knows what it’s producing. It’s not all a grind to get to the success. He puts on his headphones, laughs with his batting cage buddies, and finds joy in the process. Great players love to train. They love the process of getting better. Similarly, there is joy in the process of becoming like Jesus.

Another analogy about the spiritual training is sailing versus rowing. We can feel like we’re rowing, whereas God calls us to sail. Both take lots of work but the person sailing experiences the wind catching the sails, whereas the rower is always fighting the elements. God wants to fill our sails and let the wind take us to an invigorating experience of God’s power.

Living by the Spirit and keeping in step with the Spirit is loving God and obeying His commands (John 14:15ff), and His commands are not burdensome (1John 5:3). This convinces me it’s also loving the process of spiritual growth because we love being close to God and the intimacy of relying on Him through all the challenges that come our way.

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Hard Teaching

John 6:26-71 has an interesting context.  Part takes place along the sea (vs. 25), while the discussion develops into a synagogue setting (vs. 59), with no explanation how it ended up there.  The occasion for this teaching moment comes after Jesus miraculously fed over 5000 from only a few loaves and fish.  The people, mostly Jews, sought more miraculous food (vs. 31).  It must have been good stuff!

But Jesus doesn’t give into their demands.  He uses it as an opportunity to teach them about greater food.  Similar to His explanation for why He spoke in parables (Luke 8:10), Jesus is speaking in a way that tests whether they’re really willing to be His disciples.  It’s so difficult that “many of His disciples, when they heard this said, ‘This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?'”  It was not only a hard teaching, it was difficult to even hear!

We can break down His teaching into several aspects: discipleship, pride, idolatry.  This probably hits other topics, like salvation, faith, relationship with God, communion, etc., but, as we’ll see, those tie into these topics.

Discipleship

Unlike religious leaders today, Jesus is unafraid to offend when necessary.  Jesus is not so concerned about having followers as to compromise the relationship with God.  It’s not about popularity or emotional appeal.  Jesus isn’t worried what people will think of Him, nor is He so concerned about their membership that He compromises.  He shows us that they wouldn’t be saved otherwise, while we’re so often pulled by our sentimentality as to compromise the gospel.

Furthermore, it’s not about gathering resources for the movement.  Religious leaders have a problem with politics and keeping their doors open.  Jesus is only concerned about His Father’s will.  Obviously, Jesus had special insight, “knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe,” but we can say He was also willing to divide (thin out the group) when necessary.  Jesus didn’t just want more followers.  He wanted true commitment.  That is what the Father seeks.

In addition, Jesus is Lord and Christ, yet He exudes a submissive spirit and role by emphasizing the Father is in charge.  The Father set His seal upon Jesus to give food for eternal life (vs. 27).  One can see the Kingdom language of designated authority.  Jesus was confident in His authority and the Jews had a very difficult time accepting it.  I find that especially strange since they witnessed His miracles and they wanted to make Him king!

That leads us to our next point: pride.

Pride

You can see the pride of the Jews and the pride of the disciples who left.  They were unwilling to let down their pride and ask for clarity.  They knew Jesus was calling them to a deeper relationship and it was more than they were willing to bear.

It’s obvious to us that Jesus isn’t talking literal, as though we must eat His flesh and drink His blood perpetually.  The catholic church teaches that the priest turns the communion into the literal body and blood of Jesus.  That’s quite absurd.  We take communion and it is symbolic of Jesus’ flesh and blood.  Just like we participate in the death, burial, and resurrection at baptism when we put our faith into Christ, we are participating in an ongoing feast.  We acknowledge our reliance and the greater food.

This brings us to our last point: idolatry.

Idolatry

Jesus exposes their idol worship.  The people wanted a physical king to rule them.  They wanted food, resources, military victory, but they didn’t really want to rely on Jesus for eternal salvation.  They were focused too much on this life, possibly even preserving their religious identity and institutions, but this time in a more glorious fashion with a Messiah King that could rule the world and put all their enemies in check.  They were pushed around and forced to pay taxes.  They craved freedom, but not the kind of freedom God intends.

The apostle’s response is telling of what God revealed to them and the contrasting point to what the Jews lacked.  When Jesus asked if they wanted to leave too, their resounding response was, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”  Isn’t that saying the same thing Jesus is trying to get the Jews to see?  They craved miraculous bread and Jesus is that bread.  We can draw the connection between Jesus as the living Logos (word) for eternal life.  We must eat and drink of Jesus in order to have eternal life!

Jesus’ response to the apostles is interesting because it screams for our humility.  Of course, because Jesus Himself choose you!  You did not come to this understanding without it being revealed to you.  As much as the apostles were waiting for the Messiah, they had a lot of perceptions that needed to be corrected.  So often we want salvation on our terms.  God calls those who seek Him on His terms, emptying ourselves of all the idols we carry with us.  That’s why it was a tough teaching for them and it remains a tough teaching for us.

But we can be assured that all that the Father gives Jesus will come to Him, and Jesus will not cast anyone out (vs. 37).

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“Rejoice, Rejoice,” I say again, “Rejoice.”

This article reflects my recent study of Romans 5:1-11.

It’s interesting the word “rejoice” is used here three times (vs.2, 3, and 11).  The Greek word here is kauchaomai (pronounced kau-khä’-o-mī).  The NIV translates it “boast,” NASB “exult,” while other versions translate it “rejoice.”  The three uses in Romans 5 makes for a nice 3-point sermon.

Before we get into the passage, it’s worth noting the word “rejoice” has several meanings in the NT.  For instance, Phillippians uses another Greek word (“chairo”) often translated “rejoice,” (Philippians 1:18; 2:17, 18, 28; 3:1; 4:4, 10), which is similar but is more of an expression of excitement.

Here the word kauchaomai is generally defined as “to glory in” something.  We’re going to look at three ways we’re called to Rejoice — glory in God.

First, Rejoice that God has glory in saving you!

Romans 5:1-2

This describes our honorable position rejoicing that God has glory in saving you.

Are we glorying in the fact that God has glory in saving us?  Why not?

Here are reasons I have a hard time rejoicing in the fact that God has glory in saving me:

  • Lacking spiritual perspective (spiritually dull)
  • Struggle with pride (awkward feelings either reluctant to glory in because we think we’re being prideful)
  • Emotions of this life weigh us down (relational or battles with self doubts)
  • Other distractions (worldliness, worries, even good obligations, of course sin)

God wants us to rejoice in where He’s brought us, in our new position in Christ, so we must throw off all that hinders!  If we don’t rejoice in where we stand in Christ, then we’re tempted to forget and take it for granted.

We rejoice in the fact that we’re justified by faith — tying Romans 4:22-25 into Romans 5:1.  God has glory in saving us, and the following comes along with that glory:

  • Justification through His resurrection;
  • Peace with God; AND
  • Access to grace through Jesus!

So many wonderful reasons we are here rejoicing that God has glory in saving us!

Secondly, Rejoice in what God is producing in you!

Read vs. 3-5.

Here, we’re rejoicing in results, God’s results.

We’re not talking about results as we normally think — such as performing in games, at work, even in relationships, or passing a test.  No, the results here are reproducing Christ in us.  That’s what has God rejoicing!  And that’s what God wants us to rejoice in.

God’s Reproducing Christ Formula:

Trials (of many kinds) produce endurance + endurance produces proven character + proven character produces hope = deeper intimacy with God (experiencing and realizing the depth of our relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).

I find that it’s helpful to read similar passages in order to capture the main idea.  The Bible has several similar growth passages.  Here are some:

James 1:2-4 (CSB) 2 Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.

  • The dreadful trials are only a pure joy because we trust God (and what He is producing in us) through it.

2Peter 1:3-9 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

  • Participating in the Devine nature vs. corruption of the world
  • Productive vs. unproductive in Christ
  • Seeing vs. not seeing spiritually 
  • Not to feel guilty as though you’re blind if you lack some measure of these. We can feel that way but that’s a misinterpretation. It’s to be read in the positive.

1 Peter 1:6-7 (CSB) 6 You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials 7 so that the proven character of your faith — more valuable than gold which, though perishable, is refined by fire — may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

  • There’s a refining process with an ultimate destination, an unveiling of Christ.
  • We’re living out what we believe, unveiling Christ in us, leading to an ultimate unveiling party!

Hebrews 12:1-11 (CSB) 1 Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, 2 keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider him who endured such hostility from sinners against himself, so that you won’t grow weary and give up. 4 In struggling against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons: My son, do not take the Lord’s discipline lightly or lose heart when you are reproved by him, 6 for the Lord disciplines the one he loves and punishes every son he receives. 7 Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline — which all receive — then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had human fathers discipline us, and we respected them. Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but he does it for our benefit, so that we can share his holiness. 11 No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

  • All our trials are discipline from our loving Father.
  • Having a daughter now, and having a loving dad who was the best man in my wedding, I look back on his discipline as love. It was difficult at the time and I regret some of it but I also cherish the memory of my dad’s love.
  • God is saying something very natural here.

Additional points:

  • Endurance, Proven Character, Hope — all run together – they’re developed over time (refining process) but God is producing them (maybe in different measures but) all simultaneously as we stay faithful.
  • We are rejoicing that God changes the way we view trials, with a spiritual perspective that God is sovereign—it’s very hard at times—but God is the great comforter and we rejoice because we have a deep fellowship with the Holy Spirit and we know that His love brewing in us is worth more than any other expectation. We’re focusing on the depth gained with God, not the pain or the loss.

(3) Rejoice in God’s love

Read vs. 6-11

I had an insight last time I read Romans 5 because I usually studied the previous section out of context.  It reads differently when you read this whole section (vs.1-11). 

Because we can only endure and develop character and hope because of our redemption through Jesus.

It’s only achieved as we realize that we were once helpless…and the two punchlines here.  

First, that He died for the ungodly.  We’re justified before we did anything.  We were at our worst, separated from God.  We cried out and simply believed in God’s Son.  God saving us at our lowest point is very important as we remain in Christ because it helps our perspective remain grateful, humble, and constantly reliant.

Second, and here’s another punchline, probably the greatest: if God loved you at your worst, how much more now that you’re in the family!  

It’s crazy that sometimes we feel worse about ourselves as those born into God’s family.  Of course it still takes our faith to realize and rejoice in our relationship of reconciliation. We have an ongoing rejoicing in God’s reconciling love.

In sum, we’re called to:

(1) rejoice that God has glory in saving us;

(2) rejoice in what God is producing in us; and

(3) rejoice in God’s reconciling love.

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God breaks the marriage metaphor

Idolatry is a very important concept that we cannot miss or treat lightly and still expect salvation.  We certainly cannot treat it lightly and expect to be a church that holds out salvation!

To appreciate the importance of knowing the threat of idolatry, God gives us a simple metaphor that runs through the whole Bible.  The metaphor is consistent and building to an awesome climax.  That metaphor is a marriage.  The whole Bible is a real life story on the courtship between God and humanity.

First, the metaphor describes God as the faithful husband and the nation of Israel as an unfaithful wife (Hosea 1:2; see also how the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea develop this metaphor in their very important prophetic messages).  This metaphor is not a mystery.  It is very apparent throughout the Old Testament, and it’s impossible for us to understand the significance of idolatry without it.

In this metaphor, God wants us to see our sin corporately and individually.  Exodus 34:14-17 describes the individual and corporate aspects at stake for the Israelites.  Israelite leaders were called to protect the group from idolatrous influence, which is a whole topic unto itself (what is idolatrous influence).  These influences invade directly through agreements and subtly through cooperation, as nations offer interbreeding as terms of peace.  It was a national strategy that God did not want for his people.  God wanted separateness for the Israelites, at least until it took on another meaning in fulfillment with the Messiah’s reign.

Individually, the Israelites were human just like us, feeling gripped by sexual attraction and compromising results in devastating consequences (Numbers 25).  We are no different, but it’s difficult to see looking through our culture because we are meshed together.  It benefits our interpretation to take from our culture the fact that we share a human condition of sexual attraction and all the compromises that come with it.  However, we must not miss the fact that this compromise was a serious offense to God, seeing intermingling of belief systems as prostitution.  Was God petty or was God calling them to respect their birthright more than Esau?  Was it about protecting the faith far and above human and fleshly interests?  It’s an interesting question that deserves more investigation into relevant Scriptures.  For now we’re just pointing out the significance of the metaphor on an individual level.

However, it’s awesome to know how this metaphor reveals we have the same gracious God under the Old Testament!  I will show one powerful way we know that.  Jeremiah 3:1 presents the dilemma of the metaphor:

“If a man divorces his wife and she leaves him to marry another, can he ever return to her? Wouldn’t such a land become totally defiled? But you! You have prostituted yourself with many partners — can you return to me? This is the LORD’s declaration.”

God is in a difficult position.  We must let that sink in before we logically jump to God’s grace.  We don’t understand grace if we’re always looking backwards through grace.  We truly understand when we feel the dilemma and see God’s perspective.  Hosea takes us through that experience when God calls him to marry an adulterous woman, having her children and caring for children born out of adultery.  God calls Hosea to keep taking her back.  As difficult as it was, Hosea goes through the experience of giving his heart to unfaithful Gomer, just as God’s heart is always in love with Israel.

As married couples know, love is always a fight.  God’s fight runs deep over Israel–like a lion lurking, robbing a mother bear of her cubs, and devouring them with ferociousness of a lioness (Hosea 13:7-9).  God is fuming because of his heart-break, and it’s great for us that He cares so much.  Ezekiel describes Israel’s fall as a scene of how the law treats an adulterous wife (Ezekiel 16:36-44).  That is Israel’s fate, but God sees beyond her death, even her repentance and a new life together.

“Come, let us return to the LORD. For he has torn us, and he will heal us; he has wounded us, and he will bind up our wounds.
He will revive us after two days, and on the third day he will raise us up so we can live in his presence.
Let us strive to know the LORD. His appearance is as sure as the dawn. He will come to us like the rain, like the spring showers that water the land.” — Hosea 6:1-3

Under the law, how can the husband welcome back his adulterous wife (not about sexism of the law because God was using this system for a greater metaphor)?  How can he be joined with her when she is dead?  How can God welcome back Israel?  Because God is not man (Hosea 11:9).  God will heal her backsliding and turn His wrath away from her (Hosea 14:4).  This is a beautiful foreshadow of the ultimate fulfillment of the metaphor, where Jesus will cleanse us as He prepares us for the wedding day (Hosea 14:8; Ephesians 5:25-32).

Therefore, the second and ultimate fulfillment of the metaphor is Christ as husband and the church as His bride (Revelation 21).  All the principles of idolatry are still in effect.  In fact, they’re more relevant now that the relationship is approaching it’s ultimate destination–a wedding, a marriage, an eternal union!  The Bible is one big courtship!  There’s a significant “already but not yet” meaning here, where we’re joined through baptism but we’re awaiting the consumption in a great ceremony.  We’re getting prepared for a wedding, and the idols are so evil because they make us unfaithful, taking us away from true love.

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Spending Time with God vs. QT

In John 17:20-26, Jesus prayed that we are one as he is one with the Father. He also prayed that we would be in God and have God in us the same way he is in God.  That last part is an awesome thought that we need to focus on and emphasize more for our unity.

Our unity is based upon and strengthened though our connection to God.

It’s pretty easy to get the sense that Jesus wants us to have the same closeness to God that he experienced as a human being. This fact is so clear from what he taught and said, but even more that he would die and go through separation from God to give it to us!  I picture Jesus extremely motivated and excited at the thought that he could bring others to the type of intimate knowing that leads to salvation in God (John 17:1-3).  That was the joy set before him that caused him to endure the cross (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Along these lines, I recently had an epiphany about how I refer to my time with God. I’ve been calling it a “quiet time” for almost 20 years.  I’m not so rigid that I only call it a quiet time. However, I often refer to it that way in my mind and when talking to others. I realize that phrase “quiet time” emphasizes the need for peace in order to focus.  That’s very important, especially for me because I have a hard time focusing. On the other hand, I realize the concept “quiet time” takes away from the main idea of what’s going on–spending time with Almighty God!

I believe deducing it down to a “quiet time” misses the power and privilege of spending time with God.  I am not saying we shouldn’t use the phrase, but I am saying we shouldn’t  let that phrase reduce what’s going on.

Spending time with God is a life-line.  People of faith rely on God more than they rely on other basic needs (water, air, relationship, love, etc.).  If we don’t have this conviction about God, then idols creep in and choke out our faith–because we so easily rely on other things, even important but less important things, for our survival.

What an amazing difference it makes how we view spending time with God!  The “QT” easily becomes a routine thing we take for granted, while spending time with God is not something we want to ever take for granted.

You are spending time with Almighty God just as Jesus spent time with the Father.

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