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.