Have (1 Timothy 6:7)

For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either.

1 Timothy 6:7

I came into this world with nothing. I had no clothing, no wealth, no house, no car. When, one day, I am laid to rest, I will exit as I entered. No clothing will follow me into eternity. No wealth will be in the pockets I will not have to pay for anything. My house (if I am ever able to purchase one) will remain where it was built. Everything I have had or will have during my time on this world will remain here, on this world. Eternity does not accept ephemeral things.

Job put it thus: Naked I came from my mother’s womb, / And naked I shall return there (Job 1:21). Not one bit of wealth amassed will make one bit of difference when I reach the end of my time here.

What this should do is refocus me; get my eyes where they need to be.

I live and move in the midst of affluence. I am, quite literally, surrounded by it. Small mansions with park-like grounds are nearby and expensive vehicles are visible just walking down the street. I am beset by the trappings of wealth and it is an easy thing to lose focus on what is important: God and the blessings He has given.

I have no expensive vehicle with all the bells and whistles, but my car is filled to bursting with memories of road trips and songs sung with my daughter and the laughter of my son. In this, I am blessed.

I have no palatial home with park-like grounds around it, but my little apartment is filled with all the things that make family: love and joy and laughter and all the frustrations, too. Because of the people in it, my apartment is a home. In this, I am blessed.

I do not have designer clothes, but what I wear is comfortable and affordable and I have enough. In this, I am blessed.

I am not a wealthy man; cannot throw good money after bad and not notice the loss. What I have is enough to pay the bills and have some left over for little luxuries. In this, I am blessed.

In all these things, I am blessed. If I focus on the blessings, then I find myself warmed and filled and grateful to God for His generosity toward me. If I focus on the things I do not have, then I become an ingrate. Let me focus on what God has given me and be grateful to God, from Whom all blessings flow and to Whom I shall one day return.

Goals (1 Timothy 1:5)

But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

1 Timothy 1:5

I often see things on social media about the various types of goal people have set for themselves. I see Mom Goals and Dad Goals and (the one I understand least) Squad Goals. In the midst of all of these goals, I encountered the goal of Paul’s teachings summarized in this verse. Not just Paul, this is a summary of God’s goals for me.

First, God is looking to teach me to love. To love as God loves is no easy task and that goal alone would be worthy, but God continues.

Second, God wants His love to proceed from a pure heart. This means that He must purify my heart and teach me to maintain that purity of heart.

Not only this, but God wants me to have a good conscience. I think this can be understood two ways. I understand this as it is probably commonly understood, as my conscience having nothing against me and therefore not bothering me. We might call this a clean conscience. But I also understand this as a conscience that is good in quality. Modern America does much to damage a person’s conscience. This nation once had good, solid morals. Now? Not so much. God wants to make sure that my conscience is good, not damaged by the world.

Lastly, God wants me to have a sincere faith. The word that is here rendered sincere could actually be rendered without hypocrisy. God wants an unfeigned faith; a genuine faith. This is important, because anything less than an unfeigned faith is going to fall to pieces when life is challenging.

Love from a pure heart and a good conscience and an unfeigned faith. Those are God’s goals for me.

Restraint (2 Thessalonians 2:7)

For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains [will do so] until he is taken out of the way.

2 Thessalonians 2:7

There is a Rolling Stones song called “Sympathy for the Devil” that includes the words”As heads is tails / Just call me Lucifer / ‘Cause I’m in need of some restraint.” This verse is a reminder that he has exactly that: restraint. That restraint is the Holy Spirit.

The American news media has this morbid obsession with all things negative. And why should they do otherwise when the American populace is morbidly curious about these things? The trouble, for me, with all that negativity is that I can lose sight of the important thing: It would be much worse if not for the Holy Spirit. I know this to be true in my own life. I have seen some of the desires that live in my flesh and I am quite glad that the Holy Spirit restrains those desires and is even willing to kill them out in me if I will let Him.

As with the lesser — my own life — so with the greater — the course of society. One life is not emblematic of history’s arc, except insofar as the general principles hold true in both. In an individual’s life, it is the Holy Spirit Who restrains and quashes the evil desires unless He is pushed aside. He does not force His work on anyone, but politely steps out of our way if we insist on things. Likewise, He will not — as it was put in the story of Noah — strive with mankind forever. At some point, He will step aside and let humanity have what it wants. As with the individual, who finds that what he thought he wanted was not at all what he really wanted, so, too, will mankind learn that what they think they want is not what they have been led to believe it is. The principles hold true at both the individual and societal level.

There are two bits of application for me this morning. First, I need to apply this to my own life and cooperate with the Holy Spirit when He is restraining things in me. Rather than fight with Him, let me cooperate and allow Him to put to death in me those things which are not pleasing to God. Second, I need to pray that as many as possible will see the Truth. The Holy Spirit will not strive with mankind forever and He will, eventually, be taken away. When He is, things will get exceedingly bad. Bad enough that I would no wish that time on anyone. Let me pray that people will see the Truth and be ready to speak Truth when the opportunity arises.

God’s Will (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

It is often the case that people, myself included, wonder what the will of God is for us in some area. We might wonder about jobs or housing or relationships and it s good for us to want to know the will of God for these specific things. Almost as often, it is the case that pastors and preachers will say that I should start with making sure I am fulfilling the revealed will of God before I go looking for further instruction. While I am not at all certain that God has the same approach, I do know that He expects me to be obedient to His revealed will for my life.

These verses are one place where God’s will is explicitly  revealed.

Paul gives three instructions that constitute God’s will for [me] in Christ Jesus.

Rejoice always. The verb used can mean rejoice, which is not terribly comprehensible to most modern English speakers — we do not do much rejoicing in our daily lives. The verb can also mean be glad. God has given me much about which to be glad. He has paid the debt for my sin, He has made a way for me to talk with Him and walk with Him, He has displayed His love for me, and the list goes on. But, so that I do not leave an instruction unexplored, to rejoice means to show great joy or delight. Am I delighted with God and His benefits, as the psalmist put it?

Pray without ceasing. I know that I have wondered how I can pray without ceasing and still carry on a “normal” life of working and raising kids and whatnot. I would love to say that diving into the Greek in the concordance gave me some reprieve, but it does not. If anything, it actually makes it more emphatic. What then? I think that the thrust of the verse; the intent of the instruction is that I be ready to pray at a moment’s notice; that I keep the lines of communication between myself and God wide open. And this understanding of the verse jives with other instruction to do things like encouraging my brothers and sisters in Christ and sharing the great things that God has done for me with others. A good litmus test is, I think, how I respond when something difficult happens. When I am stuck in traffic or someone cuts me off and nearly causes and accident (as a couple of everyday examples) or when my kids or wife or I am sick, is my first response to pray and take the situation and individual to God? If yes, then I am, I think, praying without ceasing. If no, then I am not.

In everything give thanks. Notice that the instruction is not that I gives thanks for everything, but in everything. I am not commanded to be thankful for the accident that bruised my foot bone and left me hobbling for weeks. I am, however, commanded to find something to be thankful for even as I am hobbling around. I was vacationing in a beautiful place at the time and it was no less beautiful for me being injured. The injury could have been more severe, but it was not. I have medical coverage that allowed me to hobble in to an urgent care and make sure that I was not walking around on a broken foot, which I have tried to do in times past (Hint: It really does not work well.). All of this is circumstantial and does not take into account the blessings of God that abide every day like salvation and peace with God and His love for me. There was much to be thankful for even in a difficult moment. There is much to be thankful for every day. Have I stopped to give thanks recently?

Rejoice. Pray. Give thanks. This is God’s will for me this and every day.

Impure (1 Thessalonians 4:7)

For God has not called us to impurity, but to sanctification.

1 Thessalonians 4:7

I confess that I struggle with this impurity Paul writes about. The concordance gives the meaning of the word as physical impurity or in a moral sense: the impurity of lustful, luxurious, profligate living. There are certainly times when I struggle with various lusts — some more than others. Depending on one’s frame of reference, I might live luxuriously — if we compare with undeveloped countries of the world, it is a certainty. And there are times when I am wasteful (seldom recklessly so). Paul’s reminder is that this is not that to which God has called me.

This reminder is necessary because what was true of the Thessalonian church then is true of me now: we live among people for whom impurity is normal. Modern America is all of the things that are wrapped up in the term impurity. America is a lustful place, trading on people’s lusts to get us to constantly think we need something that we got along just fine without before. Americans, by and large, live quite luxuriously. While there are exceptions, the vast majority are living at a level that people in other places can only dream of. And America is about as profligate; utterly and shamelessly immoral; recklessly wasteful and extravagant as nations come.

I can only chime in with Isaiah, “I am undone. I am an impure man who dwells among an impure people.” The comfort that God offers when I chime in with that prophet is the same comfort He offered to the prophet: He cleanses me and makes me right with Him.

Unity (Colossians 3:14)

Beyond all these things love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

Colossians 3:14

I hear much lately about how we need to come together; how we are divided. If we truly want to be united, then we have only to turn to God’s instruction and we will find the remedy: love. Over and over again, the believer is told to love. This time around, Paul writes that love is the perfect bond of unity. I love that the footnotes tell me that the original phrasing is uniting bond of perfectness.

If we want unity, then we must love one another as God loves us. If we want an end to division, then God’s love is the uniting bond. The word used, my concordance tells me, is the same word that would be used for ligaments. This is not merely a uniting that is effected by God’s love, but a uniting such that the parts joined are a functional whole.

Let me love as God loves and unity; functional joining together will follow.

Mind Set (Colossians 3:2)

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.

Colossians 3:2

As I read this verse this morning, I finally caught that setting my mind on something is what produces mt mindset. If I set my mind on pessimistic things, then I will have a pessimistic mindset. If I train my thoughts on the positive, then I will have an optimistic mindset. Better than the best of human mindsets is the Heavenly mindset — the mind that is set on the things of Heaven.

The Bible has a great deal to say about what is in Heaven. The one feature that every description has in common is this: God. The thing that makes Heaven is the immediate, uninhibited, persistent presence of God. This means that the mind set on things above is the mind set on God. Heaven is where God is regularly and freely praised. Heaven is where the prayers of the saints are offered up as incense before the throne of God. Heaven is where service to God is unfettered by the constraints of fatigue and hunger and where obedience to Him is finally complete and easy.

Who would not want to think about that?

Paul exhorts the Colossian believers to set their minds on these things because he knows that the world is full of distractions. As a Californian, I have a great deal of experience with distractions. We have billboards — some of them digital and regularly changing — about every quarter of a mile (maybe less) along some sections of freeway. It is an easy thing to be distracted. Add in the bizarre things people do with their vehicles (some of the things seen painted on vehicles and in stickers affixed to same makes one wonder if the person is not in violation of one law or another), the strange things people can be seen doing in their vehicles (I have seen men shaving with electric shavers, women doing makeup, and all manner of other thing), and the parade of poor decision-making that is the Los Angeles freeway system and the freeways are rife with distraction. The goal is to set my mind on what needs to be done and in that way arrive safely at my destination. Likewise, Paul exhorts me to set my mind on the things above — God Himself, praising God, praying to God, obeying God freely and fully — and make those the goal that leads me through the distractions of this world.

The world is a mental minefield of distractions. My mindset will either send me walking right over those mines and becoming distracted or will guide me safely through.

Let my mind be set on God and the things above that the distraction minefields not waylay me.

Submitted (Colossians 2:8)

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, and not according to Christ.

Colossians 2:8

Reading this, I am tempted to understand it as worldly philosophies coming from outside the church, but the context has Paul warning against those who have their rules of Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch! (v21) and those are, primarily, folks in the church. This is not to say that folks outside the church have no opinion as to what a believer should and should not do — everyone has an opinion — I am just far less likely to be swayed by how non-believers think I should work out my salvation than I am fellow believers.

In essence, this is a warning against legalism and against worldly philosophies that creep into the church; a warning to have sound doctrine. Paul lists four things that might take me captive: philosophy, empty deception, tradition of men, and principles of the world.

There will be folks in the church who find some philosophy that they think has worked wonders for them — and, to be fair, it may very well have been used by God to do good things for them — but these folks will then turn around and tell me that I must submit myself to that philosophy. The only One to Whom I must submit myself is God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  After that, God gives me others He wants me to submit to, but none of these are philosophies or traditions of men. It is a submission to God Who then appoints others to whom I should be in submission and, possibly, who should be in submission to me. The metaphor often used in The Bible is that of a military. God’s “army” consists of every believer and God orders us as He wants us that He might accomplish His purposes on Earth. It is not that I am less than those to whom I am submitted or that I am more than those submitted to me, but rather that God has so ordered us as to make us the most effective body we can be for Him. My electrical knowledge is sparse, but I learned that resistors placed in line offer less total resistance that those placed in parallel. The arrangement of things can make all the difference in the world. And God knows that better than we.

There will be empty deceptions. There have been believers who thought they knew when Christ was coming back. Pro tip: The Bible says that no one knows the hour or the day, so when someone claims they know when Jesus is coming back then we actually know when He is NOT coming back. There have been — and still are, somehow — believer who claimed that Christ had already returned and that this was the thousand year reign. Pretty sad. The deceptions are empty; hollow and easily fail the test if I just take the time to test them.

There are traditions of men all over the church. The Catholic church has a boatload of tradition, as do Episcopals and Anglicans and Lutherans and a host of others. Lent is a tradition of men. It was not mandated by Christ or anywhere in The Bible or any such. It is not to say that traditions are without their use, but I am not to be a captive to them. If traditions are taking me prisoner and weighing me down in my walk with Christ, then they have ceased to be useful and should be abandoned.

Lastly, principles of the world. I see this often in churches that want to see growth. They start using the principles of the world to “drive growth” and forget that Christ compared His church to a grape vine which simply grows, no driving involved. The principles of the world, to which I am sometimes tempted to resort as well, have no place in the church or the life of any believer. What the world has to offer is antithetical to what God wants for me and for His church. The church does not need growth “driven” but for us to abide in the Vine and He will cause the growth. The church does not need “self-help” because Christ teaches that apart from Him we can do nothing that pleases God.

All this boils down to a very simple truth: I must be submitted wholly to Christ and to no one else.

All Circumstances (Philippians 4:11-13)

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:11-13

I saw Philippians 4:13 as I was reading this morning and sighed. I often hear people quoting it as if it were a blanket promise to enable them to do anything at all. Verse 13 is not a promise to make us superhuman, but a promise to make us contented humans. And that might be, in modern America, pretty close to a super power.

So what does verse 13 mean? It must be taken in its context. It is the conclusion of a preceding thought. Paul is writing to the Philippian believers about how blessed he has been by their support of his ministry. Indeed, he begins the thought with a comment in verse 10 that they were concerned for him, but had no way to do anything about it. Paul was known to work to support his own ministry, so financial support was often unnecessary. Sometimes, however, circumstances would be such that he could do with some help. And the Philippian church was ready to help.

In verse 11, he tells the believers that he is not in a position of want; not coming to them asking for anything, but rather commending their concern for him and for the furtherance of the gospel.

He continues in verse 12 to speak of what God has taught him, viz. how to get along in any and every circumstance. He has been poor and rich, barely had enough food and had more food than he needed. God has, according to verse 11, taught him how to be content in all of these circumstances.

That brings me back to verse 13. What Paul is talking about is being able to be poor or be rich and be content with either one; to be hungry or to be filled and to be content with either. Paul has been beloved by the crowd and persecuted to the point of death and he is content with either one. Can I meet with either hardship or ease and be equally content with either? Through Him Who strengthens me I can. And that is the promise of verse 13, that I can be content in all circumstances — rich or poor, filled or hungry, loved or hated.

Let me learn contentment.

Love More (Philippians 1:9-11)

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11

Paul writes to the church at Philippi that his prayer is for their love to abound still more and more. The Bible tells believers that the world will know us by our love for one another — and history often bears this out. Those who tell Christians that we should be more loving may have a point, but there is a catch that may not be readily apparent.

Paul’s prayer for the Philippian believers does not end with their love abounding still more and more, but gives scope to that abundance. That abundance of love is, he prays, to be in real knowledge and all discernment. The love in which Paul prays the believer abound is a love that makes things clear. The love of God is more than some sappy, sentimental hogwash; far more and better than a mere pandering to our self-interest and self-absorption. The love of God only really comes into focus as we realize the truth about ourselves. I only begin to grasp the love of God when I realize who and what I really am apart from Him and His grace, because it was apart from Him and His grace that He began to love me. Comprehension of God’s love must include an understanding of my utter helplessness to get into Heaven and inability to do anything righteous without His intervention. I must understand that I had made myself His enemy by my choices; that I had, by every action, proven myself to be rebellious and unprofitable to His kingdom. And it was in this state that He loved me. The knowledge and discernment that God’s love brings along are much more than this, but this is enough of a starting point.

Paul also gives the purpose of this abundance of love in real knowledge and discernment. The purpose is that the believer may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Love gives me the ability to know and to discern things so that I can approve excellence. Love allows me to discern inconsistencies in my life so that I might correct them and be sincere. Love allows me to know what God would have me do so that I might be blameless in God’s eyes and love also lets me know that I can come back to God and try again whenever I fail.

Love, as The Bible describes it, is not what people often mean when they tell believers that we should be more loving. But those people are correct. I do need to be more loving. I need to grow in love so that I can see things clearly and be able to walk as I should. And, what is more important, to be properly motivated. If I fully understand just how much God loves and at what point He so loved me, it must motivate me to love Him as best I am able.