Particularly since becoming a pastor, 2 Timothy has become a precious book to me as Paul’s words to his “Spiritual Son” serve as an encouragement and challenge as we go through life in a world that has become increasingly hostile to the Gospel.
In the first century, believers underwent incredible persecution in Rome. Ancient historians describe brutal and horrific acts under the rule of Emperor Nero. It is with these events surely in mind that Paul reminds Timothy to “Hold Fast” to what he had been taught, not only by Paul but by his Mother and Grandmother. He is further encouraged to not be ashamed to share the Gospel, for as believers we do not have a “spirit of fear and timidity.” That encouragement to Timothy is as valid today as it was then.
The persecution that the American believer faces is not physically equivalent to the terror of the first century, but I can’t help but wonder if many believers are questioning their faith in the face of cultural and societal persecution. In the “land of opportunity,” many who identify as Christians are questioning whether holding to the faith – with its practices and beliefs – is worth the potential missed opportunities and exclusion from “normal” society. And to be sure, if the believer holds to the traditional doctrines of the faith that is a very real possibility. Many of the cultural shifts that have occurred with violent and intense rapidity stand in direct opposition to the Gospel, and there is an active intentionality behind many of these cultural and societal influencers to remove the Christian from any kind of influence and to call what we believe outdated and irrelevant.
A few weeks ago on Worship Matters, we looked at Romans 12:1-2 as it pertained to our imitation of what we worship. Even as Paul wrote, he understood that being imitators of Christ meant we would look different than the world. How we worship, how we speak, how we believe reflects the nature of the God we follow. I encourage you, brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, to hold fast to what you know to be true. The world is doing everything it can to dissuade you from the truth… seek GOD’s truth in His word. Do not have fear, for God has given us a spirit of power, love, and sound judgment. (2 Timothy 1:7, CSB)
For His Glory,
Tomorrow is Valentines day. If they haven’t already, untold numbers are thumbing through cards that they hope will express love for their significant other in a way that is authentic and not trite. Aboutflowers.com predicts somewhere around 250 million Roses will be bought and given tomorrow. The National Retail Federation estimates that in 2020, people will spend an average of $196, with total spending for the holiday to exceed $27 billion. Restaurants will be bustling, soft lighting will abound, and Americans from coast to coast will want to communicate on this day they LOVE one another.
When we as believers look at how to express love, however, we should notice something very different than those statistics imply. Though God’s love is evident in nearly every page of the Bible, we don’t see chocolates or jewelry or flowers as the way God displayed His love. No, brothers and sisters, God displayed His love in a far more demonstrative way!
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” (1 John 3:16a, NIV)
Jesus didn’t display His love for us in mere gifts or words, He displayed it by sacrificing His life in our place... restoring our relationship to God. Paying the price for our Sin. Buying us back as His own. This is the picture we are to have for one another! John continues in that verse:
“And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”
This Valentine’s Day, let us go beyond heart-shaped chocolate boxes and Roses (though don’t forget them!) and look for ways we can love our significant others, our spouses, our Children, our brothers and sisters in Christ, in a way that not only shows them we love them… JESUS loves them!
For His Glory,
I recently read this quote from Tony Reinke, author of 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You:
“The object of our worship is the object of our imitation.” (p.111)
I was struck by how closely that quote follows the scripture that you now find on the banner at the top of “Worship Notes.” Romans 12:1-2 reminds us that we are to be conformed to the image of Christ, not transformed by the world around us. So often, however, we allow the culture, entertainment, and general media around us to subtly shift the way we think, dress, behave, talk, and even believe. It occurs in some of the most simplest of ways… and is often so gradual that we barely recognize the changes that are occurring. The psalmist wrote this in Psalm 19:14
“May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (NIV)
Many in Christian circles tend to gloss over the word “Meditation” given how secular culture has used it, but here we are reminded that our intentional mental foci should be things that are pleasing (or acceptable) to God. While it may not be readily visible, what we spend our physical and mental energy on is what we tend to imitate. Which brings us back to our opening quote:
“The object of our worship is the object of our imitation.”
It is easy for us as followers of Christ to think of “Worship” as limited to the realm of music or specific actions we take as we gather as a Church. What Paul wrote, what the Psalmist wrote, what Reinke wrote reminds us that our worship is defined by what we dwell on, by what we imitate. Reinke could have easily switched the sentence around: what we imitate is what we are worshipping.
What are you worshipping? What parts of your life have, on close examination, become more like the world than like Christ? What have you been meditating on that brings Glory to God, or what have you been dwelling on that does not bring your heart closer to Jesus?
Take a moment today as we near the end of the week to think on how we can be transformed into imitators of Christ as our true worship!
For His Glory,
My kids used to listen to a CD from Steve Greene that was full of songs that, while not quoting exactly, reinforced some of the memory verses they were working on. On road trips to the various activities that a young family might have, we were constantly hearing the sounds of scripture coming from the radio and from the voices of my children. There are times we need to be reminded, even by a child, of truths that sometimes fall back into our own foggy memories. One of these songs was “When I am Afraid,” which you can listen to with the YouTube link below.
The song is based on a couple verses from Psalm 56 –
“But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. I praise God for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?” (Ps 56:3-4 NLT)
There is something remarkable in hearing the child’s voice sweetly singing this truth… and we need to be reminded! There are many things that can instill fear in us: a rapidly changing culture, death of a loved one, children who are walking away from the faith, financial situations that seem out of our control, surprise health crises, any and every effect experienced from our fallen world… yet we need to be reminded daily that God is on His throne, He is not surprised at our situations, and He loves us.
My prayer for you today is that no matter what the challenge you face today, face it in confidence that you are loved by God who is infinitely bigger!
Lord, I pray for Your people today… that they remember that when they fear they can trust in You. Give them confidence that what You have said about yourself is true, that you are sovereign, that You love them, and that you are in Control! -AMEN
For His Glory,
Psalm 72 is labeled in many of your bibles as a “Prayer for the King.” Though in its original context the Psalmist was writing for an earthly king, verse 18 connects all of the prayers for originator of any success or victory – God Himself.
“Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does wonders. Blessed be His glorious name forever, the whole earth is filled with His Glory.” (Psalm 72:18-19 CSB)
Nearly 2000 years later, Isaac Watts transformed the Psalm into the hymn we know today as “Jesus Shall Reign.” Though it isn’t often sung in many contemporary services today, it is good to listen to and sing this great hymn of the faith as a reminder that it is JESUS who reigns.
This coming week at First Evangelical Free Church, we’ll hear a sermon that reminds us that we are commanded to bring the Gospel to all nations… starting first with those we are surrounded by. So often it is easy for us to forget as we are faced with the problems of immediacy (food, rent/mortgage, work stresses, etc.) that through it all we have a sovereign Lord who alone does wonders.
This week, read through Psalm 72 and listen to this take on the Hymn from the group Enfield and remind yourself that we must not only acknowledge but declare that JESUS REIGNS!
For His Glory,
If you’ve been following the bible reading plan from last week, on Monday you would have read the creation account in Genesis 1-2. This year as I read Genesis 2:2-3, I took a moment to ponder the rest God modeled (and later commanded in Genesis 20:8-11) as part of our worship. We know from Romans 12:1-2 that a significant part of our worship is tied up in becoming more like Christ. Though we have examples and commands from both the Old and New Testaments, we often ignore any idea of rest.
That’s not to say we aren’t well accomplished at the act of leisure. We often find plenty of time to do “relaxing” and fun activities as a break from our routine, but when we Sabbath we are to find time to not merely cease from activity but also reflect on who God is and what He has done and is doing. We have all had periods in our lives where the pace of our days seem to leave no quiet moments…no moments to remember what blessings we have that God has given us!
This week, try to find a moment to Sabbath… even if it isn’t a full day. Find even 30 minutes to an hour so that you can reflect on all that God has done, all that He is, and all He has promised to do! You’ll find that despite the frantic pace, you can find peace and rest when you remember to Sabbath.
For His Glory,
How many of you have made a “Resolution” for this year? It always fascinates me to see the things people resolve to do as the calendars change over: weight loss, education, personal habits improved… all of these things are wonderful goals, but have you considered a SPIRITUAL resolution?
Paul writes his prayer for the church in Colossians 1:
“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
I’m sure that all of us can look at this passage and see areas in our own lives that could use some improvement. As we begin this coming calendar year, this is my prayer for all of you… that your habits and preferences increasingly align with a lifestyle and thinking that reflects the Gospel. In effect, that you walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. If you are looking for some resolutions to help you in that, here are some suggestions!
1. Read through the Bible in a Year. There is no better way to align our thinking and behavior to God’s will than to read His word! You can find a great One-Year reading plan here that is chronological and at a very reasonable pace. You can find the plan here
2. Commit to Praying every day. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us that we should pray without ceasing, but if we are honest it can be hard to have meaningful prayers each day. Commit to pray once a day in a focused, intentional way for five minutes. If you need help guiding your prayers so they don’t feel forced, I highly recommend Donald Whitney’s book Praying the Bible. You can find it as low as $7, and it an excellent resource for any library! You can buy
3. Make fellowship a priority. Hebrews 10:25 gives us a strong command to treasure, and not forsake, the regular gathering of believers. With today’s culture, I’m fully aware that Sundays are no longer left alone by employers, schools, sports teams, and community events. Even so, do not let those things become more important than gathering with other believers. You may be able to get excellent teaching from your favorite YouTube preaching channel, but you are missing out on one of God’s great gifts to you… the church
I hope you all have a great year in 2020, but even more I hope that you grow in wisdom, knowledge, and discernment as you become more like Christ!
For His Glory,
For many families, the Christmas season officially begins with the Christmas Tree. Whether using a real or artificial tree, there are few symbols today that say "Christmas" more than a beautiful pine tree bedecked in tinsel, lights, and ornaments. There are often many fond memories of Christmases gone by where the entire family works together to turn an ordinary plant into the cornerstone decoration of the season. To a lesser degree, many families look at the bright red and green of the Holly plant is an essential part of Christmas.
Like many of our Christmas traditions, these three symbols can trace their origins before Christians adapted them to the celebration of Christ's birth. Even so, as we celebrate Christmas, we should see how the symbolism today reflects the Good News of Christ's birth.
The Evergreen tree has long symbolized new birth and everlasting life. Even in the midst of a hard winter, their evergreen nature reminds us that in darkness and through death we endure through the blood of Christ. Take a moment this week to talk with your family and loved ones about how John 3:16 and Romans 8:11 are Christmas verses!
The Holly has symbolism both in its colors and in the plant itself. Some countries call the Holly the "Christ Crown" because of the symbolism in the thorns on the leaves - reminding us of the crown of thorns Jesus wore on the cross. The red berries remind us of the blood shed for us, so that we may have life! This Christmas season, read Isaiah 53 and talk with your friends and loved ones how we celebrate not only the babe of Bethlehem, but the suffering servant. Lord of all creation, pierced for our sins.
Christmas is certainly upon us! With this year’s shorter Holiday season, many families have gone into overdrive as the weeks are filled with Christmas parties, concerts, and any assortment of family traditions that fill our time and energy at this time of year.
Few things symbolize Christmas for the world as much as the cheery figure of Santa Clause. His image is printed on wrapping paper, Christmas cards, promotional material, and even the napkins at many Christmas parties. “The Night Before Christmas,” written during the 19th century, has influenced pop culture’s understanding of this holiday in such a way that often has crowded out reason we celebrate this holiday at all – the arrival of the promised messiah in the small town of Bethlehem 2000 years ago. Santa Clause’s origin isn’t in a poem or children’s story, however, but rather is rooted in the history of a real person, St. Nikolas.
Many families still celebrate Saint Nicholas day even today, where they remember the story of a prominent Greek believer who exhibited extreme generosity for those around him – moved by God’s generosity to be generous himself. For the families that celebrate this day, it is a time for them to remind their children that the reason we give gifts to each other this season isn’t because of a marketing scheme by retailers, but rather because we remember the gift given to us – not just in the manger of Bethlehem, but on the cross of Calvary.
This Christmas, as you chuckle at the dancing Santa dolls, get in long lines with your kids or grandkids at the mall, or as we gather around the family television to watch Miracle on 34th Street, take the time to remember why this figure is such a part of our celebrations – it is a reminder of what God has given us.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” -John 3:16
For much of the past decades there has been a renewed interest and effort in addressing our worship on Sundays to God not just about God. Songwriters have blessed the Church with an abundance of songs that can double as our prayers throughout the week… I can recall many tear-filled drives as I sang full-throated worship in the car, singing Restore My Soul, Lord I need You, Jesus Thank You, and many more.
Some time ago I heard Paul Tripp speaking on Colossians 3 as it related to Worship. As I listened to the message that day I was reminded that God has designed our worship together with a two-fold purpose. We direct our worship vertically up to our living, redeemer God but we also sing across the aisle to one another: reminding, encouraging, at times even correcting one another as we have gathered (Hebrews 10:19-25). It is not only in our fellowship, but in our Worship that we are continually moved along in our process of Sanctification – the process of becoming more like Jesus.
“Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” -Colossians 3:16 (CSB)
As we worshipped this past Sunday, many of you commented that one or more of the songs spoke directly to you and your situations. This is a significant part of why we sing the songs we do… we sing both to God and to one another so that we orient our hearts and minds on Him and to encourage one another as go from Day to Day. As we look at the approaching Sunday, I encourage you to remember that we aren’t preparing for the Gospel message by singing together… we preach the Gospel to one another in our songs. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to bless one another as we “spur one another on” to a life that is truly changed by the power of the Gospel!
For His Glory,