Bible Reading Blog

Bible Reading Blog

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Identity

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

BIBLE READING: Philippians 3

“…I have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more… but whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” (Philippians 3.4-7)

A friend of mine joined a support group for people dealing with addictions. At each meeting they always started with an introduction: “My name is ___ and I’m dealing with ___” He talked about how, at first, it was good for him to admit his struggle. But over time it felt like he was just identifying with his problem rather than getting rid of it. If he wanted to move on, he needed to let go of his past failures and adopt a new identity.

The same is true in our walk of faith. In Christ we are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5.17), but things from our past sometimes linger. Following Christ requires a radical change of thinking that can be incredibly difficult to adopt (Philippians 2.3-5). For some, failure can feel like an inevitable identity. But one of the great promises of God is that when we turn away from sin, he forgives our past and empowers our future (Hebrews 8.12; 1 John 1.9).

However, even as we mature, there are habits and attitudes that can remain because they are justified by our identity. For instance, our lack of love can be justified by a commitment to truth. We’re not all bad, we’re just not doing everything perfectly. We cannot be satisfied with this “lesser of two evils” attitude. We need to be resolute in changing any area of life inconsistent with the nature of God.

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2.20). We must appreciate Paul’s word choice here: he describes his actions in the strongest possible terms. He had brutally executed his former self and left it behind for something of surpassing worth (Philippians 3.13-14). Notice that Paul doesn’t enumerate his past to wallow or boast. Instead, he does it to identify what he is getting rid of.

We are not always mindful of who – or rather whose— we are choosing to be. We need to understand our identity is important to God. On the day of judgment, He will say to many “I never knew you” (Matthew 7.23). But to those who choose to know him, He will welcome them home (Matthew 25.34). If you were to die today what would God say about you?

In Christ, we are given a new and wonderful identity. By the grace of God, we are children of the king, heirs of the promise, and conquerors over whatever comes our way. That is our identity if we choose it. But we must get rid of excuses and be who we need to be today.

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3.8)

I Will Quietly Wait

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

BIBLE READING: Habakkuk 3

“I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us.” (Habakkuk 3.16)

We all get frustrated with the events we experience: injustice in government, lukewarmness in the church, the wicked prospering. Asking God “How long?” and to act for the sake of righteousness and justice, especially among his people, is a very right thing to pray for. We ought to have a deep-seated trust that God is good and will make things right.

But, as with Habakkuk, we need to be warned what happens next. We might ask for God to bring justice or revival or make things right; but that might mean we have to suffer too. How God accomplishes his purposes often refines everyone involved.

This can be uncomfortable and even unsettling for us; but we should take comfort that God is firmly in control of the future, even planning it long before it happens. The Chaldeans didn’t just happen randomly in history—God raised them up (Habakkuk 1.6). He knew this humbling would cause many to turn their attention towards him. He knew how this terrible season for Judah would lead to revival among those who were truly his. In the same way, God knows the things going on with our government and in our world. He sees the challenges we face in our churches. He knows, personally, what each of us is going through in our hearts and minds. But we must recognize that He has seen every moment that we exist in because he created it (Psalm 139.16). When the bible tells us for everything there is a season, it is because God knows exactly what we need.

He is firmly in control of the future, even telling us what to expect. There will be sorrow, death and war (Ecclesiastes 3.1-8). There will be suffering for our faith (2 Timothy 3.12). We experience the discipline of the Lord (Hebrews 12.5-11). We should expect that God is molding and refining us but is always working towards an end that is best for us (Romans 8.28). When we can get on board with that reality then we will understand Habakkuk’s resolution:

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” (Habakkuk 3.17-19)

Habakkuk knew things were not going to get better, but he committed to quietly wait for what came next. Why? Things always go as God says. Circumstances will change, but God will not. His promises are sure. His nature is consistent. What he has done in the past points to what he will do in the future, and we can order our lives around him with utter confidence. And with that comes peace.

Trust Fall

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

BIBLE READING: James 1

Four people stand with their hands clasped, carefully bracing themselves. A woman stands in front of them with her back turned, slowly leaning backwards. It is a trust fall exercise where she is supposed to fall backwards into their arms… but she is anxious about letting herself fall.

The trust fall is a common activity used in team building intended to build trust in others. But many people falter or are afraid to do it because there are factors outside of their control. That tends to be human nature—we fear the unknown. But what if you knew with certainty that everything would be fine? Those people would catch you and no factor could alter your choice to trust them. That would not only affect your attitude but your willingness and ultimately your choices.

The wise man tells us to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3.5). In many ways our faith is a trust fall as we lean into God. But sometimes falter and are afraid to do that. Why? The truth is, it has nothing to do with his inability and everything to do with our lack of trust. We allow external factors to loom large in our minds: the actions of others; our weaknesses and failures; our past choices and present circumstances; our fear. Like the spies who saw the giants in Canaan (Number 13), we see the challenges as not only relevant, but insurmountable. If we allow these things to dominate our thinking, what does it say about how we see God?

For this reason, James calls this way of thinking “double-minded” and “unstable” (James 1.8). For someone to profess God but continue in fear is negligent and insulting to the One who has proven sufficient in all circumstances. James compares it to waves of the sea, painting a chaotic existence that is irrational and dangerous. This is not God’s desire for us but occurs when we fail to trust him.

The things written in scripture give us ample reason to trust God’s power and promises (Romans 15.4). He is faithful and sovereign over history, even down into our very lives. But even more, his power is not only greater than our weakness but is even shown through them (2 Corinthians 12.9-10). He has told us not to worry (Matthew 6.34), and to ask him for wisdom and he will give it (James 1.5).

God's revealed nature informs our trust. We may feel like we are falling, but he assures us he is with us in every season. He does not promise to change our circumstances but for us to embrace the peace of knowing he is in control. And so instead of fretful fear, let us learn to lean into the promises of God and ask (James 1.5). Let us rest in the knowledge that he gives generously, regardless of past choices or present circumstances. Let us ask in faith with no doubting. It can be scary and uncomfortable, but he will not fail us.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4.6-7)

Difficult Days Will Come

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

BIBLE READING: 2 Timothy 3

2 Timothy 3.1 “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.”

As Paul instructs the young Timothy, he doesn’t paint a make-believe, everyone lives happily ever after picture. That wouldn’t be helpful for Timothy. Had Paul said that Timothy might become frustrated wondering when the “happily ever after” part starts. Instead, Paul tells Timothy the truth. It won’t be easy.

What follows is a careful, descriptive image of what makes those final days troublesome. It’s not aliens invading the planet. It’s not a pandemic wiping out the population. It’s people. It’s godlessness that becomes widespread. Paul goes on to list a series of sinful attitudes and behaviors to expect from people: Ungrateful, unholy and unloving. lovers of self, lovers of money and lovers of pleasure. People will be arrogant and abusive; heartless, reckless, and swollen with conceit. Even people who claim to be godly will be wicked.

The picture isn’t pretty. And what’s scary is these are the times we live in. It’s the cycle of humanity that always comes around. Empty lives trying to find happiness in fad after fad. The selfishness of our times even creeps into our fellowship and our worship. If I can’t have it my way, then I’m out of here.

However, in these verses we find a way to address this problem. Timothy was different. He was not consumed by this selfish spirit. Paul says, “But you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions and sufferings.” (2 Timothy 3.10)

Timothy was not caught up in the godless, selfish moment. The “but you,” shows that Timothy had a heart that remained true to the Lord. For us, that’s encouragement and hope. Not everyone is going down the drain. Not everyone has lost their senses. There are righteous people in Sodom. There are righteous people in the final days. There are righteous people who are making godly choices and are leaving footprints of compassion, fairness, and hope for others to see. That’s where you and I come in. We are lights of the world. We illustrate Jesus for others to see. We show others that there is a better way. Loving God is a great choice. It is the best choice.

It will be challenging to connect with selfish hearts, but that’s the task before us today. Selfish people want a church that serves them and makes them feel happy. Starting conversations will be hard. Getting people to the Bible will be hard. But an empty and vain world offers nothing to fill the hole that is in the hearts of every person. The crashing reality of death is one area that a selfish society cannot deal with. They need to know there are better things than this world. They need to know the power of Jesus to offer life and hope. They need to know God loves them. 

Difficult times will require great faith and patience. But you and I can do this because we have the Lord to help us.

“…I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me…” (2 Timothy 1.12)

 

Note: These thoughts were adapted from a blog written in “Jump Starts” by Roger Shouse.

Sincerity & Transparency

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

BIBLE READING: 1 Timothy 1-3

The pervading message of 1 Timothy is the need to act with sincerity and transparency. As was the case in Titus’ situation, some in Ephesus had impure motives that were disturbing the church’s unity (1 Timothy 1.6-7, 19-20). The church needed men not just to lead but to behave with integrity.

To do this, Paul encouraged Timothy’s to step up and teach sound doctrine (1 Timothy 1.3-4). This meant standing against those who taught the law according to their own interpretation. The bible often warns of our tendency to read God’s word through a subjective lens. We are more prone to ask, “what does this mean to me?” rather than listen to the objective truth of scripture. There is a right way to handle God’s word (2 Timothy 2.15), and it requires humility and stewardship. The preacher’s role should be to center God’s people on what is sure and true from God’s word. We can know what God wants and we should not invest ourselves in the business of speculating.

In this context, Paul also introduced the role of the overseers. The term “overseer” is often used in scripture to describe someone who inspects or goes looking for someone in need (as in Matthew 25.36). Paul depicts this service as caring for the church (1 Timothy 3.5) and his immediate concern is with the integrity of these men. Each of the qualities listed emphasized the need to be men of proven character, both in the home and the community. Nothing could be worse for a local church than to have leadership with questionable character. His actions must be consistent in all venues so that others, both in the body and in the world, know what sort of person he is.

The office of overseer (aka elder, shepherd) is not a role for just anyone. They must have an attitude that both aspires to this role and desires it (1 Timothy 3.1). This implies pursuit and forethought with an eye on something not yet attained (as in Hebrews 11.16). But there also must be gumption and want to seek out the well-being of other people. This means it is not simply a title but an active role in the body that serves to maintain the spiritual health of every person.

Both of these roles are desperately needed within every church body, and we must be diligent in our selection process. Preachers and elders have significant influence over our spiritual well-being. Their teaching and their lives will impact the course of our faith, and even that of future generations. We need men who not only lead us to do what is right, but who lead us to live honestly before God and before others.

“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1.5)

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