Saturday, October 31, 2015

#NT75 Day 55: Titus - All-encompassing Grace

When some people think of grace they think of forgiveness.  Believe me, I am in need of the kind of grace that forgives but I also want the kind of grace that makes me need forgiveness less.

One of my favorite authors describes grace as Help.  When we need forgiveness, grace helps us with that.  When we need to parent our kids, grace helps with that.

The key passage for me for this teaching is in today's reading:  Titus 2.11-14.

God's grace appears and save us through Christ.  But it also trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions.  It helps us to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives today.

Get that?  God's grace helps us be holy.

Grace is the power that makes us ready for Him to return, to be a pure people ready to receive Him.

How do I get in on that grace?  By living in faith that God will help me with the things He says are important to do.  When I need parenting grace, I can call to Him and He'll help me.  When I need physical grace because my body isn't doing what it should, I can call to Him and He'll help me.  When I need patience and wisdom, I can call on Him and He'll help me.

It's grace.  We live by faith and get grace.  Amen.

Friday, October 30, 2015

#NT75 Day 54: 2 Timothy - The Bible and its Importance

The second letter to Timothy is the middle book of what is often called the pastoral letters.  Paul is writing to his protege Timothy (and Titus, in the book bearing his name) about pastoral ministry in the places where they serve.

And I love what he drops into the end of 2 Timothy 3.

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 complete, equipped for every good work. (3.16-17)

Paul has reminded Timothy before to keep at the business of being in and teaching the Word of God (1 Timothy 2, 4, etc.).  And here he reminds him of the why.

All Scripture is breathed out (inspired) by God.  The words that I have on the page in front of me are the words of God to me.  God spoke them through His people so that I could understand.  Wow.

And they're good for me.  They teach me.  They reprove me.  They correct me.  They train me.

To what end?  That I may be ready to do what God says is good to do.

WOW!  Wowowowowow!

This is why we must spend time in the Word.  We must read it and study it and memorize it and hear it and live it.  It's so good and so good for us.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

#NT75 Day 53: 1 Timothy 4-6 and the power of generosity

Paul finishes his first letter to Timothy with some practical advice on how to deal with those inside the congregation who have some amount of wealth.  Pastoring in the wealthy Houston suburbs, this is always a doozy of a passage for me.

Here's the instruction:  tell those who are rich in this world to get ready for the next.

That's it.

Question:  shouldn't we tell everyone in this world to get ready for the next world?  Yes.  But the rich deserve special recognition here because they have the proclivity and temptation to trust in their riches instead of Christ (see the Rich Young Ruler in Luke 18).

So Paul lays it out there.  He says the following...

1.  People with wealth should focus on God and not their wealth.  Easier said than done since the latter provides comfort and is easily seen while the former consistently challenges us and is not so easily seen.  The latter promotes pride and haughtiness while the former opposes pride and haughtiness.

2.  People with wealth should remember that wealth is uncertain and God is generous to us.  He provides us with all things to enjoy.

3.  People with wealth are charged with doing good and being rich in more than just a bank account.  Be rich, Paul says, in good works!  Fix a widow's fence.  That's something worth doing (and an example from our church from this month).

4.  People with wealth have the opportunity and the command to be generous and ready to share.  To do so lays up treasure in heaven.

So, in light of the fact that if you're reading this you probably qualify as a person with wealth - at least compared to the rest of the world - then which of those do you need to apply immediately?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

#NT75 Day 52: 1 Timothy 1-3 and THE issue in leadership

Paul is very clear about THE big issue in leadership.

And it's one talked about so little in leadership circles today - at least the ones in which I have been exposed.  What is THE issue?


In both offices of the NT church (elder/overseer and deacon), THE issue for Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was the character of the person fulfilling that role.  Even the "practical" side of the question of his household management is really a question about leadership in his home.  Does he have the character to fulfill his calling?

The world talks about talent and skills and persona and charisma and so forth.  Paul talks about character.

How much less scandal would there be in our world if all leadership had character like Paul describes?  I'm not saying we'd never hear of a failure, but I wonder if we'd hear of a lot less.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

#NT75 Day 51: 2-3 John, Jude, Philemon and having mercy on those who doubt

The reading for today is a hodgepodge of the smaller books of the NT.  But just because they're small doesn't meant they're not worth reading and understanding - most of all following.

Consider this gem from Jude:  have mercy on those who doubt (v.22).

Those who are around the church a lot can have a little bit of Pharisee in them toward those who doubt.  I know pastors like this (I've been a pastor like this).  I know members like this.  There is just not much room in their lives for the people who are struggling with a particular doctrine, text of Scripture, or practice.  They doubt.

And Jude says to have mercy.

Not apply a warm-compress of another Bible verse and call in the morning.  Not dismiss them as "just like the disciples" to whom Jesus spoke but they still didn't understand.  Not to warn them that they're sinning by struggling.  (Yes...I've done all of my shame)

Have mercy.  Take pity.  Show compassion.

The struggler may be struggling because of something unknown to me - or even them!  The weary one may be weary because there's a home-life that sucks energy like a blackhole.  The slow one may be slow because of all the baggage being carried on the way to obedience.

Have mercy.  Take pity.  Show compassion.

Does that apply to you anywhere today?

Monday, October 26, 2015

#NT75 Day 50: 1 John and the need for a really good defense attorney

The passage we read in our church's worship gathering yesterday is the passage that sticks with me today.  In 1 John 2.1-2, John speaks of us having an advocate with God.  That advocate, he identifies, is Jesus Christ the Righteous One.

Advocate is an appropriate translation for the word.  But think advocate like attorney, not advocate like spokesman.

Jesus is our defense lawyer.  He defends us against the charge (and the reality) of our sin.  But He doesn't depend on some technicality to get us off.  He's not slick-handed and wink-wink-nod-nod at the Judge.  There's no witness tampering or malfeasance.

We're guilty.  We're caught.  We're in trouble.

Jesus advocates as our attorney by taking our punishment and, in so doing, relieving our guilt.  If someone has to pay, Jesus has volunteered to be our propitiation.

Propitiation means that He paid our debt that we owed God for our sin AND purchased for us favor with God by His death being pleasing to Him.  We, then, are forgiven and made right before God because of Jesus.  He stood in our place.  He took our punishment.  We are counted righteous because He is the Righteous One.  Our responsibility is to confess our sin (1.9) and commit to follow Christ (2.3-6).

That's Gospel, folks.  That's the best news you've ever heard.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

#NT75 Day 46: Mark 14-16 - Substitute

When I was (much) younger, I had something resembling an athletic lifestyle.  While I won't say I was the greatest thing on any court or field, I did love being in the game and taking part in the competition.  

And I hated someone coming in as my substitute.

Why?  That meant I was too tired, needed rest, had messed up, wasn't good enough for any particular situation, or didn't have the particular skills needed at the moment.

It meant I wasn't.  

In the reading there is another substitution.  The Pharisees saw it as trading Barabbas for Jesus.  They were getting rid of the guy they wanted to get rid of and gaining some power with the people, with Pilate, and surely with their posterity by protecting them from yet another false Messiah.

But that's not how God saw it.

God saw it as trading Jesus for Barabbas.

I have no idea if Barabbas became a follower of Jesus or not, but I do know this:  I am Barabbas.  So are you.  We're traitors.  We're infidels.  We're rebels.  We're thieves and liars and adulterers and idolaters and law-breakers.

Jesus died as a substitute in the place of the one who deserved to die.  Barabbas.  Trent.  You.

That substitute still means I'm not good enough.  I'm not up to the task.  But in this case, the substitute is a life-saver and a life-giver and I'm more than willing for Him to take my place.

How about you?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

#NT75 Day 45: Mark 9-13 - The Two Ways to Ask Questions

This section of Mark has two distinct ways to ask questions.  That's what struck me this morning.

As the disciples are coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration in chapter 9, they are afraid to ask Jesus any questions about what it meant that He would rise from the dead.

Compare that to the peppering of questions Jesus got from the Sadducees, Pharisees, Lawyers, Scribes, Herodians, and general religious people who thought they could pick a fight with the Son of God.

The first group wouldn't ask Jesus because they were afraid and uncomfortable because they didn't understand something He said.  The second was unafraid and comfortable trying to trap Him in a quandary or get Him to say something that the Romans wouldn't like so they could kill Him.

The first group had a revelation from God but were too scared to ask.  The second had opinions about God and weren't afraid to express them.

For whom did it end up a better deal?

Anytime we don't understand something God has said, we should ask.  Even if He doesn't answer immediately or show us or we have to study for years to get it, that's not dishonoring.

Anytime we express to God that He's not living up to our expectations, that's honest...but not honoring.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

#NT75 Day 44: Mark 5-8 - When religion gets in the way

A friend of mine defines religion as the place people go to be respected when they've lost the courage to be real.

It has lots and lots of rules.  That's how you gain respect - by following those lots and lots of rules.

Enter Jesus.

When the religious leaders of the day gave Him grief about not washing hands before dinner, He turned the tables and quoted Isaiah's prophetic beatdown:  you honor God with lips but hearts remain in a whole different zip code, you teach like you know something but you're really dishonoring God completely.

The scary part about that for me is how tempting it is to run to religion because it looks so clean.  Relationships (certainly the one with God) are not clean.  They're messy.  There is some ambiguity in places you want certainty and some certainty in places you're tempted to place ambiguity.

Religion offers a one-stop panacea to a problem it can't really cure.

So be careful.  Don't trade respect among others for a real relationship with God.  Only the latter satisfies.

Monday, October 19, 2015

#NT75 Day 43: Mark 1-4 - Jesus is God

Twice in the reading today Jesus does something that only God does.

In chapter 2, He forgives a man's sin.  Those around Him state the obvious:  "Who does this guy think he is?  Only God can forgive a man's sin."  I have to think that Jesus kind of raised an eyebrow and smirked a bit, thinking something like:  "You're closer to the Kingdom than you thought."  He then heals the guy to prove that He has the authority to forgive sin.

In chapter 4, Jesus takes a nap on a boat in the storm.  He must have been some sort of tired.  When the disciples freak out, He wakes up, speaks to the storm, and the winds and waves cease.  The disciples, standing there slack-jawed and gaga-eyed, ask, "Who is this that even the winds and waves obey Him?"  Well, the rule is that if you're the Creator, then you are the Commander.  Only God can command the winds and waves.

And for all who follow Jesus, that's the biggest deal.  We're not saying Jesus is a good teacher (though He is).  We're not saying that Jesus is an example to emulate (though He is). We're not saying Jesus does a great job in the area of ethics (though He does).

We're saying Jesus is God.  Fully divine.  Fully human.  And fully our Savior.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

#NT75 Day 41: James - What an Invitation

James 4.8.

What a promise.  Seriously.

Draw near to God.  He will draw near to you.

I'm thinking about that in light of tomorrow.  In light of the people who will gather with our church family, those who are members and those brought by our members and those who just show up.  In light of those who are on top of their world and fight the temptation is to forget God in the midst of the prosperity and goodness.  In light of those who are in the bottom of the valley and can't see because of the darkness and fight the temptation to give up on God, on themselves, on those around them.

Draw near to God.  He will draw near to you.

Better than even that:  it doesn't have to be a Sunday-only promise.  And that's what makes it even more incredible.

Draw near to God.  He will draw near to you.


Friday, October 16, 2015

#NT75 Day 40: Colossians The Danger of Half-Truths

Paul speaks of "plausible arguments" in Colossians 2.4, stating that he doesn't want the Colossians church to be led away or deluded by them.

Plausible Arguments, in this case, are those that have enough Truth in them to be dangerous but not enough to actually be True.

"I believe that God is a God of love."  But if you use that to justify your sin (as if God isn't just or is apathetic toward sin), then it's a Plausible Argument.

"The Bible is a good guide."  But if you use that thinking to dismiss some of it because it's not an authoritative guide, then it's a Plausible Argument.

On and on we could go.  But the big thing is this:  truth is in Jesus (2.3).  If you find Him, you find what you need to know.  All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Him.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

#NT75 Day 39: Philippians - Any Trade is a Good Trade

You can look at sports transactions and easily come up with some really really really bad trades.  Brett Favre for draft picks?  Kobe Bryant for Vlade Divac?  Babe Ruth for basically anyone?

Here's a really good trade from today's reading:  anything for the sake of knowing Christ.

Paul traded in his identity, his comfort, his heritage, his abilities, his victories, his defeats, his EVERYTHING for the sake of knowing Christ.

I don't know what you might be asked to trade today or this week to know Christ.  But whatever it is, whatever it costs, whatever its value - it's a good trade.

You get what's eternal for what is temporal.  You get what ultimately and fully satisfies for what doesn't sate but save for a moment.

Surrender.  Open hands.  Blank check.  All lead to something that is absolutely worth it.  

They lead to Christ.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

#NT75 Day 38: Ephesians 4-6 Church is for Transformation

What's the point of church?

That's an easy one.  It's the transformation of the individual until he or she looks like Jesus.  That's what Ephesians 4 says.  God gave certain groups of leaders (apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers) to equip the saints for ministry so that the Body of Christ will be built.

Built into what?

Built into the image of Christ.  Built until we all reach a unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, because that's what it looks like to be a mature believer and follower of Jesus.

Church is for transformation.

We, as a church family at Heritage Park, talk about that all the time.  I tell our new members about it. In fact, I tell them that if they're the same people 2 years from now as they are when they came, they need to find a new church family because we have failed them.

Church is for transformation.  Repeat after me:  church is for transformation.

Lord, let it be.  Amen.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

#NT75 Day 37: Ephesians 1-3 What the Church is for

I love the first two chapters of Ephesians.  As in, if I ever get called to preach on zero minutes notice, they are my go-to chapters because I love their content, their flow, and their ability to say important things about God and His work in our lives.

So I want to comment this morning from Ephesians 3.  Outside of the prayer (14-21), that chapter hardly gets press.

3.10 says, "So that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places."

What we do as a church impacts the spiritual realm in a way that is revelatory to the forces of darkness.  When we love well, they see something they didn't see before.  When we are patient, they understand in a way they didn't understand before.  When we forgive, they know something that was not theirs to know before.

And just a reminder:  these are forces of darkness, those rulers and authorities of the Kingdom of wickedness.  That's to whom these things are being revealed.

What exactly is revealed?  The wisdom of God.  We love, are patient, and forgive in ways that display the wisdom of God to the demonic realm.

That pushes me to do church and do church well.  It also prompts this thought:  if God is going to reveal through us the wisdom of God to the demons, what might He show to our neighbors, friends, family members, and other lost people?

So much is at stake.  Be the church.  Reveal the Truth.

Monday, October 12, 2015

#NT75 Day 36: 2 Corinthians 10-13 Apostolic Sarcasm

In the reading today - actually multiple times in the reading today - Paul breaks out his sassy freshman-in-high-school rhetoric to deal with his opponents in Corinth.  He sarcastically refers to how he is certainly less than the "Super-Apostles," and how his suffering surely makes him somehow less a representative of Christ even though...

He's physically seen the risen Christ
He's been caught up to the Third Heaven
He's the reason the Corinthians are Christians
He's been miraculously sustained through his ministry
He's made no moves to get money from the Corinthians

And on and on and on.

In Greek rhetoric, these kinds of sarcastic retorts were one way to shut the mouths of your opponents.  The conversation would go something like this:

Opponents:  "Look.  Paul came to teach but didn't trust himself to you.  He didn't even let you take care of his needs while here.  What kind of teacher do you think he is?"

Paul:  "Yep.  I didn't take money from you so I could offer the Gospel freely to you.  Please blame me for that."  *raised eyebrow*

In an honor-shame culture like the NT, this would often close the mouths of the accusers.

I write all of this in hope that it helps make sense of some of the things read today.

Friday, October 9, 2015

#NT75 Day 34: 2 Corinthians 5-7 Two kinds of sorrow

Paul says there is a godly sorry that leads to repentance and then to life.  There's a worldly sorry that leads only to death.  Both can come with tears.  Both can come with grief.  Both can come with regret.

But only one leads to life.

So often the difference is this:  whether you're actually sorry or just sorry that you got caught, got exposed, got told on, got blamed.

Actual sorrow looks like Zaccheus, who made things right and turned from greed to generosity.  John the Baptist told others to bear fruit in keeping with repentance.  Paul says there's a repentance that leads to life.

How does that intersect your life and repentance today?

#NT75 Day 33: 2 Corinthians 1-4 What you behold is what you become

2 Corinthians 3.18 is an important verse in the realm of transformation of lives.  In it, the Apostle Paul makes sure we understand that what we behold is what we become.  As we see God, we are transformed by God to be like God.

When we talk about "seeing" God we're not talking about with the physical eyes but what A.W. Tower calls the "gaze of the soul."  We behold God when we gaze into the Word prayerfully.

But the other side of this is we can hurt ourselves by what our gaze.  What we behold is what we become.  Psalm 115 supports this:  those who worship them [idols] will become like them.

It doesn't take very much mental power to think about what you can look at, what you can behold that will make you become empty, vain, selfish, ruthless, darkened, immoral, impure, or any other trait associate with the Kingdom of Darkness.

So remember what Jesus said:  the eye is the lamp of the body.  If it's good, light goes to the whole body.  If the lamp is dark, just how dark will the darkness be?

You become what you behold.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

#NT75 Day 32: 1 Corinthians 12-16 The Lynchpin

Some people assign too much importance to doctrinal issues.  I have heard people say that if you can't take the first 11 chapters of the Bible literally, you can't trust the Bible at all.  I have heard people speak of the Kingdom of God as doing good in this world and excluding those who talked about heaven as off-the-agenda of Jesus.  I have heard people talk about Calvinism and Arminianism as if they were the only two things that matter.

But Paul is pretty clear on what matters.

The whole project of Christianity stands or falls on one thing.  The lynchpin of the whole thing is the Resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15).

If we believe Jesus was raised from the dead, a lot of other stuff then has a framework to make sense: God's miraculous creation of the world, doing good in this world and preparing for the next, etc.

Don't let people convince you otherwise to sell books or have conferences.  The key issue is, has been, and always will be the resurrection.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

#NT75 Day 31: 1 Corinthians 8-11 Becoming all things to all people

Paul makes an argument in 1 Corinthians 9 that even though we have liberty, it may be more loving not to exercise it.  A quick 2015 for instance:  you can drink, but it's more loving not to drink when it's front of a recovering alcoholic.  But if you're in England and your Bible study meets at a pub, it may be more loving to have a pint with your mates.

People have taken that and run with it.  You can guess which way that typically goes.  "Well, I'll be all things to all people by _________."  The blank gets filled in by any number of things that probably should raise an eyebrow as to conduct.

The question I always ask in situations like that is this:  Paul was very clear about his intent - are you?

Paul's intent was to share the Gospel (9.23).  Often times we hide behind "all things to all people" (9.22) to do what we want to do with the people we want to do it with and leave the sharing the Gospel out of it.

That's not why Jesus died on the cross and rose again.  Our liberty is for others' liberation.  We are free so we can share the Gospel.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

#NT75 Day 30: 1 Corinthians 5-7 God loves us enough to deal with our junk

This is such a depressing passage.

Chapter 5:  a guy is sleeping with his stepmom and the church is rejoicing in how tolerant they are.

Chapter 6:  church members are suing one another and dismissing the Christian sexual ethic.

Chapter 7:  people are perverting marriage, sexuality, and singleness.

What a depressing passage.

But it's in there.  And I'm grateful that it's in there.  Because what that means is that God loves us so much that He's not going to leave our sin unaddressed.  He will deal with our junk.  How we respond to Him is on us.  But He's so gracious to us, so kind, so loving that He's not going to let us continue on the spiral of suicidal sin without shouting out to us, convincing us of its wrong and His right.

Boy, do we need some more of that today.

And just in case you're wondering what His response is when we turn in repentance to Him:

6.11 - And such WERE some of you.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

That can become a washed, sanctified, justified past.  Amen.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

#NT75 Day 27: Acts 23-28 Paul and the use of governmental rights

The book of Acts wraps up with Paul's defense of himself and journey to Rome.  He had always wanted to get to Rome and we see him there at the end of the book.  For what it's worth, tradition has it that he was beheaded there because of his faith.

Which brings me to my reflection about "rights."

The government has imbued us with certain rights, some of which certainly seem to be eroding, but provide us some legal protection nonetheless.  Paul had something similar.  As a Roman citizen, he made use of these on occasion to spare himself or his companions undue punishment.  And in today's reading, he made use of his right to appeal to Caesar (ch. 25) for his legal hearing.

It made sense.  If he was taken back to Jerusalem, he would be murdered by Jewish assassins.  Staying in Caesarea wasn't an option because Festus wasn't going to let him.  So an appeal to Caesar was made, and it got him to Rome.

Here's my reflection on that today (in light of our own situation, including this week's news):  Rights are good, but they aren't everything.

Religious freedom is good.  We should fight for it.  But it's no guarantee that Christians won't be persecuted or punished.  In fact, the Bible promises we will experience both, at least on some level.

The right to live freely and not die at the hands of a mad gunman is good.  But mad gunmen do target people of faith, in this week's case Christians.  And that's not to be unexpected.  Christians have died at the hands of others for centuries (Paul included) because of their faith.  And this is one of the tests we have to know if we believe that dying is gain, as Paul wrote.

Access to legal systems is good.  Paul appealed to Caesar.  But it also puts us squarely in the middle of that system.  Paul got to Rome, but not on his terms.

To be clear:  I like America.  I love our rights here, especially compared to other parts of the world.  But our rights are not ultimate.  God in His Kingdom is what you can call ultimate.  He is what finally and fully matters.

Friday, October 2, 2015

#NT75 Day 26: Acts 19-23 The power of telling your story

Paul speaks three times (chapters 22, 24, and 26) in the closing scenes of Acts.  All three times we see him telling the story of how he was rescued by Christ from his life of self-righteousness and anger.

In this section, Paul told his story before the elders and crowds of the Jews.  Later, he testifies before Felix (24) and Agrippa (26), both rulers.

Here's my takeaway:  be ready to tell my story whenever the opportunity presents itself.  Sometimes it will be among some pretty rowdy people and you won't expect the circumstance.  Sometimes you'll have more time to think and prepare.  Either way, it's critical to open your mouth and tell your story.

Great things await when we do.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

#NT75 Day 25: Acts 14-18 Paul just might be crazy

I cannot get over this part of the passage.  I thought about writing about something else but I just can't get past this one.

Paul was stoned, drug out of town, and left for dead in Lystra.  He suffered because he preached the Gospel.

Left for dead.

I take that to mean he was in pretty bad shape.  So when the disciples came to check on his body, they found him alive.  So he got back up.

And went back into Lystra.

The very place where they had just stoned him and left him for dead.  He went back there.

And with a living example before them, he reminded the followers of Jesus there that it is with many tribulations that you enter the Kingdom of God.


Bonus thought:  Acts 15 is such a crucial chapter because it answers the question whether one has to become Jewish before becoming a Christian.  We so often worry about who's in and who's out that we forget to care about the people who Jesus has transformed, is transforming, or wants to transform.