Tag Archives: happy

Philemon 1-2; Brief Thoughts

Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our beloved fellow worker 2 and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:

Paul and Timothy write to Philemon to encourage him to welcome Onesimus, the runaway slave, as a brother in Christ and to free him from slavery to sin and death. As they have been freed in Christ, so the gospel is one that should set every man free from slavery both spiritual and physical. In this simple letter, Paul endeavors to engage Philemon as a brother and encourage him to voluntarily forgive Onesimus and make him a brother, no longer a slave. Whatever offense Onesimus has caused, Philemon needs to be able to forgive it and do what is right. That is to say, Philemon needs to be able to forgive the past and free the slave – because that’s what the gospel does.

This greeting identifies Paul as a victim of circumstantial wickedness (imprisonment for Christ) like Onesimus (a victim of slavery). It also sets Paul apart from Philemon. Paul was alone with only Timothy to support him. Indeed, he had been abandoned by many! Contrary to Paul, Philemon is surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul even lists, specifically, a “sister and a “soldier.” A family member and a protector. Whereas Paul is condemned by soldiers of a wicked government, Philemon has a soldier of Christ in his home! Whereas Paul has only Timothy to console him, Philemon has an entire church! The stark contrast between luxury and prison cannot be lost. Paul is clearly making a point by asserting the blessings of Philemon. It is as if Paul is saying, “you have no reason for complaint about property, condition, or company.” It is no great thing for Philemon to release a slave in order to gain a brother.

Further, Paul knows that others are watching Philemon and he is reminding Philemon that he has the eyes of others upon him. The church that he labors to serve as a “fellow worker” is the very audience to which he is attempting to model Christ. So it stands to reason: if Philemon wishes to display the freedom of Christ and the love of Christ in his own actions, then it follows that he should forgive Onesimus and set him free. Paul’s greeting serves as both a loving salutation and a gentle reminder of the responsibility of one who leads the church.

Finally, Paul’s greeting to Philemon passively asserts the truth that no one in the church should compartmentalize their lives to allow un-forgiveness. Philemon is a part of a community. That community meets in his home and is intimately acquainted with him. Philemon cannot avoid them or live hypocritically before them. This is the nature of a healthy church community. A healthy church is one in which members of the body cannot hide from each other. They cannot simply pretend that they are holy and pursuing Christ in all areas of life and then simply go home and do as they please. Healthy communities engage each other on a level that does not allow for isolation and compartmentalization.

Unfortunately, compartmentalized faith is all too common in the modern western church. Men will serve as bastions of holiness in their church community while living a debauched life away from that community. Women will put themselves pillars of godly womanhood when present in their church, then they will gossip and slander others when away from the community. In a healthy church, this should not happen. A healthy church is in contact with each other in all spheres of life. The eyes of the church community are all looking out for one another and are helping to urge one another on towards unity. There is no hiding when you have surrendered your life to the exposing light of Jesus Christ. Love exposes our failures and redirects us to love one another through a personal connection.

Do you have a community like this? Philemon was held accountable by loving brothers and sisters. Such accountability would, no doubt, give him the support and love to forgive Onesimus and bring him into the community. Do you compartmentalize your faith from your everyday life? Strive to serve and love others in a transparent community of faith! Surrender your privacy so that you might delight in the community of Christ.

The I pastor strives to live in this sort of authentic community. If you live anywhere near Brazoria, TX, come join us as we struggle to live transparent lives worshiping the King of Glory together! We don’t always get it right, and we are far from perfect. Come walk this life in community. More info available here: www.sgfbrazoria.org

Advertisements

Thinking Through Ephesians! A free pdf sample

About 16 years ago I was asked to teach the college class at Highland Baptist Church in Waco, TX on a Sunday morning. It was a large crowd of roughly 1,000 students. My brother was the college pastor associate and had recommended me to teach. I had preached and led small group Bible studies before. I had spoken to moderately large churches, but never a crowd of such significant size and never without a strategic outline or material to follow. I called my brother and asked his advice. He said, “pick a passage of Scripture and teach what it says. No more, no less. Just study what it says and teach it.”

b7a26-bible-on-a-pulpitI taught on Ephesians 5:15-20. Teaching that passage began a mountain-top journey through Ephesians for me. It fast became my favorite book of the Bible. I began to trudge through the text verse by verse, line by line, phrase by phrase until I grasped everything I could. Sometimes I’d get stuck on one verse and write page after page. Sometimes I’d sit on the concepts of the book for a month before I penned a word. All the time, I sought to know Jesus deeply and engage His word and work in my heart and life.

 

IMG_7029

For roughly 14 years I would return to Ephesians every few months and write a little more. Then, a little more than two years ago I was challenged to blog more often. I decided that I would blog every day of the week save Sunday. I started to blog each day through the book of Ephesians, taking the notes I had collected and put them into bite-sized chunks for anyone interested. Somewhere within chapter two, my brother Jeff (who happens to be a great author! you can check out his stuff here: Jeff’s stuff), told me I should consider compiling them into a book.

Cover smallSo, for the last year and a half, my wife and I have edited this work for your joy. This book is the result of a 16-year devotional walk through Ephesians. It has been a delight and joy to write. I hope it is a joy to read as well.

For a free sample of a few chapters and the intro, click here.

To purchase through Amazon: https://goo.gl/fwKDxN

To purchase through Lulu.com:  https://goo.gl/yCoQJk

Colossians 3:17; Brief thoughts

17 And whatever you do, in word or deed do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

“whatever you do” has served in some cases as a justification for claiming Gospel-centric efforts in every sphere of life. In general, the Christian culture of the western church has used this phrase to point the church to consider everything they do as an opportunity for the gospel. Indeed, “whatever” describes any activity in which one engages. This word can be interpreted very loosely as a simple phrase meaning that any and all activity can be made to be holy. However, considering the context of this particular chapter, “whatever” seems to be a reference to that which was stated in verses 12-16.

As noted in earlier entries on Colossians, verse 12-17 provide an explanation of the marks of a Christian. Paul establishes that the new nature has come and is being conformed to the image of its creator in verse 10 and then explains what Christians do that evidence this reality. In other words, a Christian pursues holiness. Taken in this context, the “whatever” that Paul is speaking of is closely linked to a pursuit of holiness. So it is here that we should take a moment and ponder the divine truth that God begins and completes the work in His people and that the people of God actively pursue a holy life in obedience to His word.

Philippians 1:6 asserts that God began the work of sanctification and that God will complete the work. In Romans 6:16 Paul praises God that the Roman Christians have become obedient from the heart (the obvious implication being that God has wrought that obedience). Yet, the exhortation to pursue holiness remains in Philippians 2 and 3 as well as Romans 6:19-23. The work of sanctification is decisively a divine work that results in human effort. True Christians have been made holy and true Christians pursue becoming holy.

So, whatever actions a believer may undertake in pursuit of that holiness, as they strive to be more Christ-like, it ought to be done in the name of Jesus.

Names matter. When someone knows your name, they know something about you that is a unique identifier. Unlike simple descriptors of appearance, a name offers some modicum of identity and personhood. When we identify someone by another moniker, we de-humanize them. When someone is referred to as “that man” or “the one with brown eyes,” we strip them of their persona and individual uniqueness. Likewise, when we give someone a new name like “Little-John” or “Scrappy,” we are adding to their identity by granting them a new name that is perhaps more fitting. So Paul calls for Christians to find their personal identification in Jesus Christ our Lord.

A believer’s identity is wrapped up in the name and nature of Jesus. When people encounter a Christian, that believer should be so immersed in the pursuit of holiness that people cannot help but associate them with Jesus. In every activity and every discipline that a Christian pursues, a pursuit of living like Jesus must be apparent. Christian, you have been changed! Now live like it.

Some preachers enjoy waxing eloquently that you should be doing all your tasks “as unto the Lord!” Implying that somehow you could drink coffee in your half-awake stupor to the glory of God! While it may be true that you can pursue all activities with holiness as a motivating factor, it is a bit hyperbolic to apply every menial task to the glory of the Almighty. Though in some sense it may be true that believers bring honor to God by living a peaceful and quiet life, it is also true that one could over-think what it means to do everything in the name of the Lord. In short, God is less concerned with whether or not you decide to drink a Dr. Pepper over a Coke than He is that you actually engage your neighbors with the Gospel. So consider what you are actually doing to pursue holiness as you consider this verse. Remember that you have been made holy and are empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit to accomplish the work.

Finally, all is to be done with gratitude. The heart of Christian obedience is gratitude. Thankfulness is so critical to the sanctification process that Paul mentions it three verses in a row. In 15-17 Paul inserts the necessity of gratitude in a Christian’s life at the end of each exhortation. True believers do not pursue holiness out of obligation or requisite demand, but out of gratitude for what has already been accomplished. Indeed, this gratitude is precisely what drives a believer to live a holy, gospel-centered life.

Further, when a Christian considers the nature of grace and the mercy of God, they cannot help but be grateful. Such gratitude levels the playing field of community. When life is lived with a full understanding of what God has accomplished in the lives of those who love and serve Him, then there is no basis for arrogant self-exaltation. Understanding that grace is a continuous gift of God in the sanctification of the believer further diminishes any and all self-righteousness. When a person understands that their identity is wrapped up in Christ and that they are empowered by His working in their hearts, then there cannot be a “better than” mentality. Morality becomes something that is a delight for the individual, not an imposition on the community. Do you know this grace? Have you grasped the depth of what Christ has done for you? O Christian, grab hold of this great truth: God has made you holy, is making you holy, and will make you holy. You get to delight in the pursuit of holiness!

6 Lessons from Tootie the Poot!

IMG_5925

Sometimes Daddy needs a break, so I told him to “Go out of office!”

I’m Tootie the Poots! You know, like Winnie the Pooh… except I’m not a bear, and I’m not a cartoon, and I am not full of fluff… and I’m a poot, not a pooh. I thought I’d share with you some of my thoughts on life today! So here goes… Let’s take a walk together!

IMG_5950

1. Stop and enjoy the soda Daddy bought for you. On the first day of the week, Daddy often takes us children on a long walk to get a soda (and sometimes a cookie). Often on the return journey, I simply stop walking and enjoy my drink. Everyone else is so busy trying to be in front or climbing some tree that they miss the joy of the soda right in front of them. Daddy got me this drink and it is DELIGHTFUL! So I stop and take in the gift of delight that is in my hands. Take some time and enjoy the soda that you were given. Don’t be so worried about getting back to the house to work or put me down for a nap. Just stop, sip, enjoy.

IMG_5942

2. Cookies are best when shared! I think we were made to share. Jo-Bits and I often share a drink and cookie when Daddy takes us on walks. He’s great! As we enjoy the gifts our Daddy has given us, Jo-Bits makes sure that I have enough. Daddy often asks us, “why do you look at your neighbor’s plate?” The answer is always the same – “to see if they have enough.” As I sit with others and share the cookie my Daddy got me, I get to see the delight on their face. Together we savor the sweetness and joy of the treat, laughing as the mess increases and chocolate covers our fingers and faces. It is as if these gifts we have were given to us so that we may enjoy and delight in each other.IMG_5953

3. Be alert and enjoy the world around you. See this cat!? I named him, but I can’t remember what I named him so I’m going to call him, Cat. On our way home from the beaver’s place, this charming fellow sought to join in our merriment. I’m closer to the ground, so I saw him first. Oh, what a delight it was to see such a funny creature looking back at me! We talked about stuff and I laughed at the jokes he told that no one else could understand. He stretched and rolled around on the ground and I think he told me he wanted me to scratch his ears. Big people, who aren’t as close to the ground, forget to enjoy these moments when we can interact with nature. Every day we are afforded the opportunity to delight in the creation. Daddy calls it the poetry of life, but I think it is just a pretty cool cat. You should take some time and talk to a cat.

IMG_5940

4. When you’re walking on a wet road and it seems slippery, just reach up and hold Daddy’s hand. Sometimes, the road we walk is wet and muddy. Cars disregard the cute procession of children walking along the side of the road. My shoes sometimes get muddy and I need a little reassurance that the ground is not going to swallow me whole. So I reach up and grab daddy’s hand! His hands are strong and I can trust them to keep me steady. I sometimes forget He is walking beside me, but then when I need Him most, I reach up and there is His hand… it’s like He knows my anxious thoughts and how to care for them. So, when the road gets troublesome, grab on to Daddy’s hand.

IMG_59355. Sometimes you have to get close to the dirt to see the wonders! Have you ever stooped down to see the bugs in action? They are amazing! I’m closer to the ground so I see them easier, but even I have to get close sometimes. Bend down low and look close! Daddy says, “God put those there so we would see how much He cares about little things.” I think God put them there so I could be amazed! Sometimes the things low in the dirt are the most worthwhile things to look at. The littlest and most insignificant among us often offer us the most beautiful and best expressions of praise to God. Take time to get close to the dirt, that is where you will see God working the most.

IMG_59226. Don’t worry about the big bad telephone pole, Jo-Bits – the warrior is walking with us! I have a brother. He is brave and destroys those things that scare me. I saw a spider on the telephone pole and I was a little worried that it might eat my face off. Fortunately for me, Daddy brought along my big brother Jo-Bits! He leaped into action with his plastic tube (he called it a light-saber) and decimated the enemy. My brother and I also fight and argue sometimes. Daddy says that is a good thing, because “if they won’t argue with you when you’re wrong, they won’t stand up for you when you’re right.” You see, when we walk together, we can trust in the ones we walk with to stand up for us in times of trouble. Jo-Bits is sometimes difficult and makes me scream, but when there’s a scary spider or caterpillar, or ant, Jo-Bits is there!

Colossians 2:13-15; Brief thoughts

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

The person who becomes a believer in Jesus Christ has exchanged the death of this world for life. When a person is born, they are born enslaved to the flesh. The flesh is that nature that is compelled to sin and serve its own affections. It is a nature that can do nothing but sin. This is a nature that must be cut away and destroyed. According to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the only way to accomplish such a surgical necessity within the heart is through faith in His atoning work on the cross. Prior to faith, every person is in bondage to sin through their flesh. After faith in Jesus, the believer is given a new nature and the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit. They need no longer live enslaved to their sins. They are free.

It is important for Christians to remember the depth from which God has drawn them. The believer did not start their journey of faith from a sure footing that they established by their own works. The believer was dead. Consider the implications of that for a moment. Dead. The believer was dead. Not sick, not tired, and certainly not simply misguided. The believer was dead in trespasses, enslaved to sin, and incapable of life. Jesus did not merely offer salvation, but He actually brought life to someone who was dead. A dead person cannot resurrect themselves. They cannot make decisions. They cannot do anything, much less that which is right. A dead person is not capable of good. A dead person is dead.

Where is boasting in this? It is excluded. When a believer truly comprehends that he or she was incapable of life apart from Christ, then there is no judgment cast upon the failures of others. When one can recognize that all people are dead and that there is no hope apart from the work Christ accomplishes, then there is true sympathy and understanding towards the struggles of others. The non-believer is dead. I was once dead too. If I truly grasp this, then there is no judgmental anger towards the non-believer, only pity. For such once was I.

God has given life to dead men in Christ’s resurrection. When Christ was resurrected, God redeemed and rescued those who believe. He took the punishment for sin and laid it on Christ, canceling the debt owed to the law. In Romans 3:21-26, Paul illuminates this profound truth by explaining that God is justified in Jesus’ death. That is to say, Christ Jesus is the reason that God is able to pass over your sins. Christ fulfilled the requirements of the law by serving as the atoning sacrifice for your sin. You have only to believe and trust in that righteousness.

The debt that was laid upon man, because of sin, is canceled in Jesus. The law demanded that your soul be forfeit for the sake of righteousness of God. But God, in His mercy, provided a way for His righteousness to be revealed through Jesus Christ! How tremendous! God set the requirements of the law aside by laying them on Jesus.

In the death of Jesus, God disarmed the enemy! Sin has no claim on the Christian. If you have believed in Jesus Christ, you are no longer enslaved to sin. Indeed, the adversary and rulers of darkness have been disarmed. Think about that for a moment. The enemy has no weapons with which to accuse you. The demands of the law have been answered. The only thing the adversary can do is lie and perjure himself before the court. Just as the high priest Joshua stood before the Lord, accused by Satan, so you stand before the Lord with the assurance that Jesus stands beside us and replaces our filthy rags with His own righteousness (Zechariah 3)! “For who can raise a charge against God’s elect!? It is God who justifies!” (Romans 8:33, c.f. Romans 8:31-39). The enemy is disarmed because of Jesus. God has claimed the victory. O Christian, you are on the winning side! He is faithful and He has won the battle. You have only to trust and learn to walk in Him!

Colossians 1:11; Brief Thoughts

11 Being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.

The second refrain describing the worthy life of a Christian is verse 11. This second refrain deals with the power that accompanies the knowledge of God’s will. The Christian is uniquely empowered by God, Himself. The power that accompanies the Christian life is not some sort of physical empowerment granting super-human strength or supernatural health. It is the power to endure. The power that the Christian is afforded is the power to withstand every trial. In truth, it is this power to endure that is the greatest power a persecuted Christian could ask for. The ability to see beyond circumstance and delight in suffering, the power to maintain faith in the face of certain death, the strength to press beyond all trial and revel in the goodness of God. This is the power Paul prays for. This is the power he exemplifies in his ministry and explains in Philippians 4.

Note the source of the power: “His glorious might.” It is not by one’s own strength or merit that the power to endure is granted. If it were, the Christian would be no better off than any other person. It is, rather, from the infinite power source of The Creator and Sustainer of all things that the believer draws their power. It is His glorious might that bestows the ability to endure with patience. It is because of His power that Christians are able to endure joyfully.

Consider that for a moment: the God of all things exercises His great might for the sake of His people. He makes available to His own, the infinite might that holds the stars in place. He provides power from His infinite resources with which He sustains all of creation. This God who sustains all things, commands the ocean’s movements, and holds the cosmos in place is certainly able to strengthen and hold in place the believer. What a tremendous power dwells inside the believer!

Paul does not pray for a portion of the power, but for all of it for the purpose of all endurance. Christians are not simply given strength for a moment or a portion. No, this is strength is sufficient for all. All power to face troubles and trials, all strength for the pursuit of holiness, all that is needed to overcome sin and press on. All: total, complete, everything necessary. All that is needed to endure is in the hands of the Father who dispenses that power. Not only does the strength empower endurance but also patience and that with joy.

Joy is a defining mark of Christianity. It is what distinguishes the Christian’s struggle from the struggle of the world without Christ. This joy is deep and abiding. It is profound and overcomes all difficulty. This joy is supernatural and amazing, but it is also subtle and often overlooked. The joy of a Christian is manifest in contentment and quiet peace. The joy of a Christian affords the believer the ability to look at every trial and say with confidence, “I need nothing but Christ!”[1]

Take heart brothers and sisters in Christ. You have been given the power to endure and that power is supported by the strength of the prayers of the saints.  Be bold in the gospel, be fearless in adversity, trust Jesus!

[1] For a more extensive discussion on the subject of Christian joy and happiness, I recommend Randy Alcorn’s book Happiness.

Colossians 1:2; Brief Thoughts on Grace and Peace.

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

There is no greater greeting than the common refrain of Paul upon those to whom he writes. Grace and peace are simply the transforming power of Christ in the heart of believers. It is the unifying echo of the soul, overflowing from the heart. Christians pour out grace and peace to one another.

Having received grace in the working of Christ, believers are uniquely equipped to dispense grace to others. Consider the magnitude of this grace that was received in the mercy of Christ. Ephesians 2 states it well when it speaks of the believer as formerly “dead in trespasses and sins.” Further, Romans 5 describes Christians as those who “were enemies of God.” Yet God provided salvation in Jesus Christ. Salvation is freely given to dead people who hated God. This is tremendous grace! If believers rightly understand the grace they have been granted, then their own lives will mirror that grace. Christians, above all others, ought to live a lifestyle that constantly exudes grace to others. No sin is unforgivable, no grievance too great to overlook, and no character defect too insurmountable. Christians must live a life of grace extended.

So it is that the common chorus of Christianity is Amazing Grace, and no greater grace ought to be displayed than that found within the local church body. For one who has received grace from Christ, there is no room for judgmental rejection of others. No despising weakness or rejection of the penitent admitted within the church, only the forgiving fortitude of grace.

Why is such a grace lost in the modern western church? It seems our churches have neither the grace to support the weaker brother nor the grace to confront the impenitent sinner. Yet true grace must exist in both measures. Christians must extend grace efficient to call one another away from death and toward holiness, and they must extend grace in such measure to forgive and overlook failing family. Imagine living in such a community that extends grace upon grace to one another. What a great triumph over human sinfulness! If a community lives in grace with one another, there will be no greater strength of community!

Paul also wishes peace on his readers. Peace that overcomes turmoil and surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7). The peace of one who is no longer at enmity with God. The peace of former rebels now called children. What a lasting and powerful exchange; death exchanged for life, labor for rest, war for peace. This peace is unique to the Christian experience. Peace with God is only available through Christ. Perhaps it is this offer of grace and peace is the purpose of Paul’s letter. The bulk of this epistle is about Christ and His character in the heart of a believer. In understanding Christ’s character and the implications of His life in the heart His redeemed, grace and peace abound.

O Christian, if you will seek to understand Christ’s work in your heart, there will be tremendous grace and peace.

Finally, note the source of this grace and peace: it is the Father. He, the one who rules over all things, is the provider and sustainer of this grace and peace. What greater source to have than the Father of life? There is none! He who called believers from death to life, who resurrected the soul and soon will do the same for the body, the God who called into existence all of creation. This God and King is the source of grace and peace to all who believe.

So rest, dear Christian, in the provision of grace and peace to you from the Most High God! Surely there is no greater peace!