Tag Archives: training

Colossians 1:3-4; Brief Thoughts

3We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,

There is little that can bring greater joy than the comfort and affection of brothers and sisters who have joined in the gospel ministry of love. The gratitude that springs from the soul when someone shares in the labor is tremendous. Paul is grateful for the Colossian believers. He is thankful for their faith and he is grateful for their expressed love to all the saints. Yet, Paul’s gratitude is not directed at the Colossians. Rather, his thanks-giving is directed to God. He is grateful to God for what God had done in the Colossians. The object of gratitude is “God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Indeed, God is the only appropriate recipient of gratitude for faith and love, for they only exist within the context of His mercy and grace. Christians are capable of faith because God has changed their nature in redemption (Col. 3:9-10). Christians are capable of love because God has first loved them (1 John 4:19). It is fitting to lavish gratitude upon the source of faith and love.

Further, Paul understands that the faith and love that has manifested itself in the Colossians is the work of God alone. In Philippians 1:6 Paul credits God with the work of salvation in the lives of the Philippians. In Ephesians 2 he explains that God has redeemed them from death and brought them to life. In Galatians 2:20 Paul states that he has been “crucified with Christ” and he no longer lives, but Christ lives in him. It is the Lord who changes the souls of men and it is He who works out faith and love in Christians.

Is there a greater motivation for gratitude than the actions of a God who births faith and love in the hearts of obstinate people? The actions of a King who calls friends from out of the midst of enemies and rescues those who hate Him (C.f. Romans 5:1-11). Could there be a more perfect target for thankfulness? Not only has God born faith in Paul, He has also done the same mighty work across the world! Two deep truths are present in this reality. First, God moves apart from any one individual. God moved in the hearts of the Colossians with such great power that Paul “heard of” their faith and love. He did not see it first-hand. The transforming power of Christ’s spirit in their hearts was so profound that Paul “heard of” it and was drawn to gratitude towards God for the work God accomplished. Paul did not have to be there for the gospel to transform the Colossians. Second, God is faithful to redeem even when we are not present to see it. Just because you do not see the movement of God does not mean He is absent or still. He is moving to redeem His people and one day you may be fortunate to hear of it.

The faith and love of the Colossians have been “heard of.” Consider that for a moment. What a great accolade for the Colossians. Their faith and love have reached the ears of other believers in far off lands! So great is their witness that they have garnered a reputation as faithful and loving. How tremendous! O that every Christian would have such a reputation among the masses. Imagine what it would be like if Christians were actually known for their love as Christ said they would be (c.f. John 13:31-35). To be as the Colossians were would be a beautiful sight to behold.

Romans a Study-Guide for you

product_thumbnailI wrote this study guide for you.  I may or may not know you, but it is for you. I can say that with confidence because this study guide is literally just a guide through Scripture passages, and Scripture is for you. It contains no brilliant commentary or insights that I can add. It does not have thoughts about passages or quaint stories to bring texts to life. It is simply Scripture. Each day there are two Scripture passages to read (one in the morning and one in the evening.) The evening reading is repeated the following morning. Each day has five simple questions to ponder and room to write in the book. There are fifty weeks of Scripture (424 pages) through the book of Romans. I endeavored to break Romans down into easy portions for the reader. The cross-references are intended to aid in the study of Romans.

I felt compelled to write this study guide for three reasons: Scripture interprets Scripture, people don’t read their Bibles, and just for fun.

  1. Scripture interprets Scripture.

One of the basic rules of Biblical interpretation is that the Bible is the best tool for interpreting the Bible. It sounds simple enough, but it is rarely practiced. Often, people will read a passage of Scripture, pray, and then interpret what that passage means. While this is well intentioned, that passage has a context within the book and that book has a context within the entire canon of Scripture. So, in order to glean a deeper understanding of a text, the context must be consulted.

  1. People don’t read their Bibles.

I worked through this study guide because people don’t read their Bibles. Sure, they may have a devotional or a quiet time, but seldom do I find someone who has a deep love for actually studying and reading the Bible. It is a desperate state that western Christianity finds itself in when its adherents spend so little time reading their holy book. The western church has more information about the Bible than any other group in history. There are countless teachers, books, websites, and apps to help understand the Bible. Yet, the average Christian seldom reads the Scripture. As a result, when faced with theological quandaries and challenging life circumstances, western Christians have little to grasp hold of. I intend this work to offer some solution to that difficulty. It is intended to walk the reader through texts that help them understand the book of Romans.

  1. Just for fun.

The final reason I wrote this work is because studying Scripture is fun. While it takes work and one must put in the effort, Romans is one of the most enlightening books in the Bible. It is filled with truths about God and humanity. It walks us through a systematic understanding of salvation. It challenges the very nature of our devotion to God and our love for Christ. It shows us who God is and who we are. It is challenging, engaging, troubling at times, and it is fun! Personally, I loved going through these cross references to study Romans. The complementary texts brought clarity to Romans and helped me to understand some of the deep truths presented in Romans. To engage God in the safety of what He has said about Himself is awesome! So, go get this study guide and enjoy.

(pdf sample: Romans Study Guide sample)

Here is the link to purchase online: Buy

If you would like to purchase in bulk (the printer offers me discounts) please contact me through e-mail with the subject heading “Romans Study-Guide Bulk” at novis_elkins@hotmail.com.

If you do not have the funds and would like a copy, please send an email with the subject line “Romans- funds”

If you’d like to donate to Sovereign Grace Fellowship so we can give these away, you can do so here:  Donate

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!

Colossians 1:1-2; Brief Thoughts

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father

It is a tremendous relationship that Christians share. The unity expressed through faith is encapsulated by Paul in one simple word: “brother.” Paul’s address displays a familial relationship with those who share the faith. Indeed, so great is the tie that binds Christians that it is deeper blood connection. When Jesus is called upon by His own brothers and mother in Mark 3:31-35, He responds, “Who are my mother and my brothers?… Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34, 35). Jesus’ response elevates the position of faith above biological attachment. Further, His repudiation of His family’s request establishes a priority of fidelity within the faithful. Those who follow Christ share a spiritual connection that supersedes any other relationship.

Consider the power of this deep truth. Believers share a common connection that can and does supersede even their own family. Perhaps there is no greater example of this than in countries that persecute Christians. When a believer in Christ is forced to flee their home because of their faith, they choose the family of faith over their biological and environmental family. IN this way, the persecuted serve as the greatest examples of testimony for the “brothers” in the faith. They’ve rejected this life in favor of the next. They’ve surrendered this world in favor for Heaven. They’ve given their own familial titles up in their adoption into Christ’s. They have exchanged the life and attachments of this world, for the true life of Christ and attachment to Him.

How powerful to ponder that Paul calls Timothy and the Colossians, “brothers!” As members of the family of faith, Paul and Timothy can write to their family at Colossae and know that they are brothers. The use of the term “brother” is also profound. He does not refer to them as family or as his children (as is done elsewhere in Scripture. E.G. Gal. 4:19, 1 Thess 2:2, 7, and 5:5). He refers to them as brothers. It may seem semantics, but Paul is intentionally using the connection of brothers. Brothers share a unique bond. There is an equality among siblings that does not exist in the parental relationship or in the more general familial sense. Brothers labor together and utilize their gifts alongside each other. There is no actual hierarchy in brotherhood, only earned respect by diligent work. Paul considers Timothy and the Colossians to be brothers. What a phenomenal encouragement! Timothy and the Colossian believers are placed on equal footing with their missionary patriarch! How empowering to hear a man of Paul’s stature grant such a title as “brother” to other believers.

Such is the nature of the Christian faith. There is no hierarchy. Not really. Churches sometimes impose one out of a minor necessity of leadership, but there is truly no hierarchy. Christ is the head of the church. Not the bishop, not the pastor, not the elders, not the presbyters, not the pope. Christ! Christ is the head of the church. Everyone else is brother.

In the western church, there is an epidemic of poor leadership. Men take the position of pastor assured and self-confident that they are the head of their congregation. Now, don’t misunderstand. Many of these men are godly men who love and obey the Lord. But they believe themselves to carry some weight of authority because of their title. In truth, their title grants them responsibility… not authority. Simply because a man dons the name of Pastor does not grant him a position higher than the rest of the congregation. No. He must submit to the Scripture, the same way everyone else in the body does. The Scripture is the authority in the church and it is what directs the people.

To be fair, governance is a necessary component of church life, and there is much to be said about it. There are responsibilities that must be assigned within the church and there are structures by which the local bodies of Christ organize themselves. (There are different models of structure within the New Testament church, and that is a large topic that I will endeavor to answer only if people comment on this post asking me to do so.) The critical truth to grasp is the power of recognizing a lack of hierarchy within the people of God.

When the leaders of the church will recognize that they are leading from a position of equality with those they lead, they will empower and strengthen their brothers in the faith. When they insist that they have a position of authority beyond the Scripture, they will domineer their congregations and cause harm. When leaders recognize that Scripture places them on the same level as everyone else in the congregation, vision will rise from the community and churches will begin to see changed lives. It is no small matter to be called brother. Indeed, it is a deep and profound truth that could potentially save the western church. We are brothers laboring together.

Dealing with Anxiety

It happened again yesterday. It was the first time in a long while that I had again felt the wave of irrational panic sweep through my body. My hands began to shake, my pulse quickened, noises seemed deafening. The room began to spin, it was difficult to get a deep breath, and my arms began to feel week. I know this foe that occasionally appears to steal my calm though I cannot tell you why it comes. About 8 years ago I had my first real anxiety attack. I was in my office and everything in the room started to go sideways. My hands began to shake and I felt weak. I thought I just needed some hot tea (a minor obsession of mine, I drink four cups a day). I shuffled into the copy room and made myself some tea and quietly hurried back to my office where I tried to relax. After some time of prayer and considerable effort to simply relax, I finally forced myself to go into the youth building and pick things up. Eventually, I was able to calm my nerves.

After that first attack, I began to wrestle more often with anxiety. Sometimes it felt like a weekly issue. Now, to be clear, I don’t have a medical anxiety issue. I’m naturally a pretty easy-going and calm person. Though in Brazoria Texas, I’m told I am high-strung (so I guess that’s a matter of perspective). I like things to be in order and I live a relatively ordered and easy life. I do not claim that my struggles with anxiety are anywhere near the difficulty of some people who feel the walls close in and have to completely shut down the outside world. I do not have “crippling anxiety.” I do struggle with minor anxiety attacks. About 4 years ago they were frequent and I had not experienced an attack for about a year and a half… until yesterday. I shared what I did to address the issue in a tweet and was told that it was helpful. So… I thought I’d explain a bit more. Maybe you’ll find some help. Maybe you know this already. Maybe…

4 observations about anxiety.

  1. Usually, anxiety attacks have a trigger. Often anxiety attacks are a result of some sort of encounter, suppressed or remembered. People who struggle with anxiety typically have a looming pressure that they can feel coming closer. My anxiety has almost always been associated with meetings or people. Both meetings and people bother me. I feel nervous at the very thought of sitting down and having a “talk” with someone in a meeting in which I do not control the agenda. For me, I recognize this as a trigger. I’ve been around other people who have anxiety as a response to chaotic noise or crowded rooms. I even knew one person who had an anxiety attack whenever they saw a particular flower. Identifying these triggers can help. It is important not to avoid these triggers… It is best to address them.
  2. Anxiety is a real issue. This is not a pretend psychological gloss of fear or an excuse to avoid confrontation. It’s a real problem people struggle with. Further, when Paul says “be anxious for nothing, but in all things, by prayer and petition make your request known to God” (Phil 4:6) he is not talking about dealing with anxiety attacks. (For thoughts on that particular passage, click here.) That said, anxiety affects people differently. The common symptoms are shaking, shortness of breath, inability to focus, and a light-headed feeling. However, they are not limited to these.
  3. Honesty and transparency in community can help to alleviate anxiety. There are few things more powerful than living in authentic community. A community based on trust and openness is a powerful aid in dealing with anxiety. When transparency is held in high value, many triggers will be arrested and dispelled in the comfort of open community.
  4. You cannot simply “fix” anxiety. It is a complex problem. Most people who struggle with anxiety cannot tell you why they struggle with anxiety. They simply do. It is difficult to identify triggers much less the source of anxiety. I’m a pastor and I’d love to tell you that there is a verse that will solve every anxiety you will ever face. And while it is true that strengthening your faith and knowledge of God can help, anxiety is not simply answered with a verse. It takes more to war against this opponent.

Some things I do to address anxiety attacks.

  1. Silence is counter-intuitive in our culture. We desire to drown out noise with louder sounds. However, when anxiety strikes me, I need silence. Soft music doesn’t help, in fact, it often increases the strength of the attack. Years ago I invested in some noise canceling headphones. When I feel an attack coming, I grab my headphones first.
  2. A calming hot drink. Personally, I prefer hot tea. I put a small scoop of cinnamon in it. I was told that cinnamon in hot tea can help with unsteady nerves. I’m not a doctor, I have no medical evidence for this. But, I can attest that it does work.
  3. Focus on one task. When I struggle with an anxiety attack, I need to feel successful. I need to be reminded that I can complete something. Assurance that I’m useful. The task does not have to be a big one. It can be something as simple stacking papers or making lunch. I find it is helpful when the task takes some effort but is mostly rote.
  4. Practicing the presence of God. Christians have a great advantage over others who struggle with anxiety. A disciplined practice of faith and consistent routine will help to stabilize your life and offer strength when the attacks hit. Anxiety can be heightened by unfamiliar activity. Because I occasionally struggle to control my anxiety, it is helpful to maintain a consistent and disciplined routine.
  5. It’s hard to breathe when the room closes in. But you need to breathe. It helps to control heart rate and settle the racing mind. So take slow steady breaths and bring some control to your heart rate.
  6. Ask for help. I live in authentic community with people who know me well. When anxiety closes in, one phone call and I’ve got a community around me, praying, coming to help, and offering presence. This is probably the greatest asset to overcoming anxiety. If you don’t have a community, join one. If you’re in my area, Sovereign Grace Fellowship is a community that will offer you that kind of fellowship.

Philippians 4:14-20; brief thoughts pt. 1

14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs once and again.17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

One of the most prominent marks of the authenticity of a Christian community is a concern for the expansion of the gospel. When a pastor or missionary begins a new work, other Christian groups prove the veracity of their faith by their own support of the work of the gospel. This is the reason that modern division and dissension over new church starts and gospel ministries is so disheartening. When a church plant begins, often the new work has met a sort of passive rejection. Churches will express sentiments such as, “We’re not going to help and if this is the Lord’s work, it will survive.” Behind closed doors, the same churches will exclaim that their town does not need new churches. This sort of rejection is the same sort of rejection of the gospel ministry that the early church dealt with (Acts 5). Of particular interest is the statement of Gamaliel in which he advises the other Pharisees that they should leave the Christians alone because their work will fail if it is not of God (v.38-39). It is a tragic reality that many modern churches would assert the same instruction given by the opponents of the gospel in the first century.

The heart of the Christian church ought to be the increase of the mission of the gospel. When one body of believers hears of another work that is proclaiming the gospel, their response ought to be an immediate and powerful desire to join in the work. The Philippians joined in the work of the gospel from the beginning of Paul’s ministry. So great was their partnership with him that no one else joined in the work. Consider what they are being commended for: “giving and receiving.” The Philippian church joined with the work in both giving and receiving. It is easy to receive. It is easy to take the benefits that ministers and churches provide. It is quite a different when the support of another ministry requires sacrifice. The easiest way to test the authenticity of a church and its dedication to the mission of the gospel is to examine their budget and finances. Churches will allocate their money to what they deem most important.

Paul’s motivation for the commendation of the Philippians is that they would be inspired to increase and maintain their work for the gospel. He does not need nor want to gain more money from them. His motivation is for the proliferation of the gospel. Paul is glad to receive the gifts that the Philippians send because the resources sent result in the increase of the gospel. Paul has already exhibited a tremendous confidence in the provision of God for him. For Paul, the advance of the gospel message into the world is the chief purpose of the resources he is given. Concern for his own welfare and provision are secondary to the call to obey the gospel ministry.

Oh Christian, if you would submit to the calling of the gospel in the way Paul demonstrates, you would find that you have nothing to lose in obedience to the gospel. You will see that the Lord provides for those who follow Him. Paul surrendered every comfort for the gospel. He allowed himself no luxury and sought no benefit or provision beyond what the Lord would provide. Yet, in obeying the gospel’s call to engage his community with the gospel, he found peace, happiness, security in God’s provision, and a renewed purpose of life and ministry. You have nothing to lose in obedience to the gospel. Obey what the Lord calls you to do, He will meet your needs.

Philippians 4:5b-7; Brief thoughts on thanksgiving

The Lord is at Hand, 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.

How does one find perfect peace? In a world filled with violence, rejection, suffering, and turmoil, how can anyone find peace? First, peace is revealed in a trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This is a general peace that accompanies belief. When a believer confesses faith, they are granted a sense of eternal peace through the assurance that they will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. However, the peace that Paul is proposing in verse 7 is a peace that is transcendent even of current circumstances. A prisoner who could not be overtaken or defeated by any circumstance, Paul gives the reader insight into how a person can achieve perfect peace amidst a life filled with suffering and strife.

Consider the exhortation of verse 6, “…in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God” (ESV). At the root of Paul’s admonition is thanksgiving. The basis of approaching the Holy God of the Universe is to do so with a spirit of gratitude. The word translated as thanksgiving is the same word used to refer to communion in the early church fathers.[1] This word denotes a sort of connection with God that exalts Him as Lord and submits to His design and will. Thanksgiving necessitates surrender. So it is here, in order to find peace, one must be willing to surrender their own control. Prayers and requests must be founded on a motivation of gratitude no matter what the outcome of the prayers may be.[2]

In addition to a spirit of gratitude, the target of effective prayer and supplication is God. He is the one to whom Christians direct their requests in times of anxiety. It is a peculiar reality that Christians often do not pursue prayer as their first course of action. When anxious feelings strike the soul, the often Western Christians will set their minds to solving the problem. They will seek to gather information, speak to others, seek out counsel, identify the solution, and even attempt to escape their own predisposed condition. Paul’s instructions are vastly different. Christians are not supposed to be anxious, but are supposed to combat anxiety with prayer first and foremost. Believers are designed to lean on God for comfort, yet almost every Christian conference in the west deals with being a better leader or developing a better strategy. There is almost never an emphasis on simply obeying this simple exhortation: pray. Is it any wonder that the western church is fraught with anxiety? As a culture, western Christianity has attempted to address moments of trouble and suffering with their intellect, financial means, and talents. Paul says peace will come if we pray with thanksgiving.

Take note of the kind of peace that comes. It is not merely circumstantial or temporary. The type of peace that Paul is proclaiming is one that is transcendent. It surpasses understanding. This is the sort of peace that baffles the world. This is the sort of peace that challenges human concepts of comfort. This is the sort of peace that can lose everything and rejoice in the face of certain death. This is the peace only Christ can give. This peace is so powerful and profound that it will guard those who have it.

Paul cites that this peace will specifically guard the “heart” and “mind.” Take encouragement dear Christian. God is concerned about your heart. He has not left you to struggle. He walks through your pain and suffering with you to guard your heart. Trust Him. Nor has God abandoned you to your own reason. He guides you and leads you on in your search for understanding amidst pain. You have not been left alone. God has come and is here with you, offering you peace in surrender to Him.

[1] Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G. (1990–). Exegetical dictionary of the New Testament (Vol. 2, p. 88). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.

[2] For a more full explaination of the word for thanksgiving and the concept of eucharist, I highly recommend Ann Voskamp’s 1,000 Gifts.