Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Mark 8

 Key verse: Mark 8:34

Big idea: The Son of God demands our all.

Have you ever halfway done something? Sometimes you can get by with it and perhaps sometimes you even should. If every time you clean your house you run a Q-tip over every corner, you will probably find that the place you began is already dirty again. If you are reading a mediocre book or a poorly researched new article, it might not need or deserve your full focus. Yet there are some things that should not be done halfway. You would not find a groom texting as his bride walks down the aisle! If you did, he would not be a groom for long. 

Jesus spoke in the most extreme terms about the cost of being His disciple: "Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." All three parts of His call are tough pills to swallow. First, self-denial is probably the only sin that our culture still recognizes. The sermons we hear during commercial breaks and read on our Twitter feeds all say to indulge ourselves because we're worth it. The idea of wanting something, being able to take it, and choosing not to is anathema to the modern mind. Why would you even consider such a thing? But Jesus knows that our lives are finite. Every time we say "yes" to one thing, we are necessarily saying "no" to something else. If we are going to make room for Christ and His work, we will have to clear some space by denying ourselves. 

But if self-denial in the abstract was not bad enough, Jesus tells us that we must take up our cross! The cross was designed by the Romans because the old methods of execution were not painful enough. They wanted something which would frighten people into submission and by all accounts, they found a very successful tool. The criminal was stripped naked and nailed to the cross where their feet were just above the ground, so people could read the charges above their head, and mock them as they passed. Two millennia of thinking of a cross as a decoration or piece of jewelry have desensitized us to what Jesus is saying here. If we are going to follow Him, we must walk the same path He walks. It is a path of pain, shame, and ultimately death. If we are going to be Jesus' disciple, that is where He is leading us. 

The final one may be the most painful of all: "follow me." If we are a disciple of Christ, our life is no longer our own to go where we want when we want. We go where He goes. As obvious as it seems, the cost of being a disciple is that we have to be disciples. But the joy is that if we go where He has been we will join Him at the destination and "so shall we ever be with the Lord."

Discussion idea: Throughout much of history, self-denial was considered an important part of maturity. Do you think that is still true in most people's minds today? Why or why not?

Prayer focus: Ask God to help you to keep your eyes on Him, despite the distractions that try to keep us from following Him.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Mark 7

 Key verse: Mark 7:20

Big idea: The Son of God cleanses within. 

We have talked about this illustration that Jesus used before, back when we studied Matthew in January. But I think it is worth returning to, even in a speedy study like this one. The Pharisees challenged Jesus because His disciples were not performing the ritual handwashing that was expected of them. In the minds of these teachers, eating without first purifying would defile the disciples as they ate. Jesus had a different view. He explained that whatever you ate went into your stomach and then into the sewer. It never went to the place that really matters: your heart. Whatever we eat or drink does not change who we are. Nothing we do to our bodies can either contmainate or cleanse our spirits and trying to is the equivalent of washing the outside of a cup while leaving the inside dirty. Maybe someone looking at you from across the table thinks that you are alright but with every drink you know that you are not. 

When Colleen and I got married, one of the gifts we got were some small glass milk bottles. They came with a brush that was the right shape to slide in through the mouth of the bottle and scrub the inside. Without that brush, it would be all but impossible to ever get the interior of the bottle really clean because you could not get at the nooks and crannies within. Similarly, the problem with our lives is that we could never really clean where we need to clean! We do not have the right tools. 

But Jesus does. His blood cleanses every crevice within us and makes us white as snow from the inside out. He changes our hearts and removes our hidden filth. The Pharisees were concerned with rituals that could never get to the heart of the problem one way or the other but had the distinct advantage of being under their control. Salvation requires surrender and recognition that we cannot handle our problem. But we know who can.

Discussion idea: Why do we seem to prefer an inadequate solution that we can control to a complete one that we cannot?

Prayer focus: Ask God to help you not to judge others by their outward appearance and not to let that same outward illusion make you overly impressed with yourself. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

Mark 6

Key verse: Mark 6:34

Big idea: The Son of God lived with compassion. 

Compassion is a big word. The Greek word is even bigger: σπλαγχνίζομαι (splanchnizomai). If we look at its parts com/con (with) and passion (feeling) it becomes apparent that compassion is when my heart is moved by your situation. This is not our normal mode of operation. Generally, we are not moved by things at a distance, but that only those things which affect us directly. In fact, the more pressure we experience personally, the less we even notice the suffering of other people. But this is not the world of Mark 6. Here, Jesus had been serving for an extended period of time, His cousin John the Baptist had just been killed, and He was just looking for a brief reprieve. The Scripture tells us they had not even had a moment to eat, so they got onto the boat to get away from the crowds.

But they followed Him to the other side. When He saw the people, scattered like sheep without a shepherd, and His heart moved for them. What did He give them? He did not crush the Roman forces. He did not heal all of their sick. He taught them. What they needed for their chaos and confusion was a Word from God and that is what He gave them first. 

We ought to be people of compassion but we cannot fall into the world's definition of the term. Compassion is not saying, "I'm okay and you're okay." Compassion is not loving a person's actions because you love them. It is loving them enough to apply the Word of God to their sorest places and deepest wounds. It is love enough to tell them the truth, that sin kills and Jesus saves. When our heart breaks with them, because Jesus' does, then we can give them Jesus to mend it.

Discussion idea: Some Christians take black and white issues and make them gray, while others take gray areas and make them black and white. How does the model of Jesus' Word-centered compassion repudiate both of these errors?

Prayer focus: Lord, make my heart like Yours. Like King David, may I weep over the things that make you weep and shout over the things that bring you joy. May the suffering of people cut me to the core and may Your perfect answers be always on my lips. 

Friday, September 25, 2020

Mark 5

 Key verse: Mark 5:35

Big idea: The Son of God's timing is perfect.

Mark 5 looks like a disaster in timing. Jesus is called by the father of a young girl who is dying. On His way to her, a woman who has been suffering for twelve years with a bleeding disorder that made her suffer physically and be isolated socially. It seems like Jesus' timing is bad for her since she had been suffering so long but it is nothing compared to the timing for the man's daughter. While Jesus is healing the woman, the girl died. Although this probably took place around AD 30, it sure seems like a 2020 series of events. We often talk about divine appointments, where God works the timing out perfectly for a synergistic opportunity. But this seems like a divine delay, where God keeps a woman sick for twelve years so she can be healed at the same moment that a twelve-year-old girl dies. What a meaningless mess that must have seemed like to the people who were living through in real time what we read in seconds. 

But God's timing is always perfect and His priorities are not our priorities. It is clearly no coincidence that the sickness had taken place for as long as the girl had been alive; it was a divine wink to the carefully orchestrated harmony of events. How were God's delays really a blessing? This woman's suffering drug on for a long time, but it put her in a position, both literally and emotionally, where she was ready to turn to Jesus when He came. The family of the little girl experienced heart wrenching fear and grief, but got to experience the unspeakable joy of resurrection. 

In the moment, we may feel like God has delayed things beyond all sense. It may seem like everything is falling in pieces when everything is actually falling into place. God's timing is perfect, although we cannot see all of the components that are involved and so we cannot understand. 

Discussion idea: What is an example in your life where a divine delay has worked out to be perfect timing?

Prayer focus: Ask God to give you the kind of faith that provides patience.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Mark 4

 Key verse: Mark 4:12

Big idea: The Son of God opens our eyes.

Throughout the gospels, Jesus often spoke in parables: small stories that were simple enough for anyone to hear and remember but so profound that their true import often went unnoticed. Like a seed thrown on the ground, it might sit dormant for a period, but under the right conditions it could explode with life. In the case of a seed, the seed waits for the right soil moisture and temperature. In the case of the gospel message, the Word may stay in our hearts until the Son of God sends the Holy Spirit to convict us. When the Spirit convicts us, we are faced with the decision to respond and bear fruit or not, but we cannot get ahead of God's work in our spirits. 

In the parable of the sower, there were three hearts where the seed did not take root. One was the hard heart, where Satan plucked the seed away without any semblance of life. Another was the shallow heart, which seemed to be alive for a moment but died away when the heat came. The third was the crowded heart, where the weeds and thorns of life choked out the seed of the good news. These three enemies of the Christian (the Devil, the flesh, and the world) can keep a believer from bearing the fruit which God calls us to. They are those who see without perceiving, and hear without understanding: their interaction with God's Word is superficial and fleeting. But even a seed in good soil will not bear fruit until the right time. The seeds are planted and watered but only God can make them grow.

Discussion idea: Who is someone you have been waiting on to respond to the gospel? What does it mean that their response is in God's timing? How does that affect our style of evangelism?

Prayer focus: Ask God to draw the specific person from the discussion to Himself. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Mark 3

 Key verse: Mark 3:29

Big idea: The Son of God operates by the Spirit of God. 

Jesus lived a perfect life, free of sin and complete in obedience. How? He was tempted in every way that we are, yet never faltered. Did He, as fully God, access some resources which are beyond our capacity? Amazingly, the biblical picture seems to be that Jesus lived His life in the same power that we have as believers. He resisted sin and walked in righteousness by the power of the Holy Spirit. He had the ability to perform miracles as God Himself but in His humility as a man, He prayed to the Father and was empowered by the Spirit to act. 

So when the enemies of Christ claimed that He was casting out demons by the power of demons, they were challenging the role of the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy against the Father and the Son could be forgiven, Jesus explained, but not the Spirit. Why was this? Because the same Holy Spirit that empowered Jesus to perform His miracles is the Holy Spirit that convicts us of our sin. If we reject the Holy Spirit, there is no plan B for other forgiveness. This is how the Son of God acts in our lives, via His Spirit. If we do not have the Spirit, we do not have the Son. 

Discussion idea; How does the Holy Spirit's role in the life of Jesus motivate us to live like Him?

Prayer focus: Ask God to help you live in the power of His Spirit?

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Mark 2

 Key verse: Mark 2:1

Big idea: The Son of God is in the house. 

The beginning of Mark 2 includes one of the most exciting stories in the entire Bible. A man is paralyzed and four of his friends found out that Jesus was in town. How did they know? Everyone was talking about it! "It was noised that he was in the house." They try to bring their friend to Jesus on a stretcher but the crowd is just too heavy to get through. But they knew who was in the house and they were determined to get him there. So they went to the roof and started digging. When the Son of God is in the house, you have to tell! 

The religious leaders were seated inside (they had been on time in their bodies and missed the boat in their hearts) and could not believe what they were hearing when Jesus said that the paralyzed man's sins were forgiven. Who was this Man, who claimed to forgive sins? Only God can do that! They were right of course. So Jesus, reading their thoughts (something else only God can do), gave them a demonstration. He healed the paralyzed man with a word, so that everyone who was willing to see could know that the Son of God was in the house. 

If we really believed that when our church assembles, the Son of God is in the house, how passionately would we work to bring people in? What "holes in the ceiling" would we ignore as irrelevant compared to the prize? Even in our own lives, if God has told us that we are His house when we are saved, do people look at us and say "The Son of God is in that house"? He has shown who He is, the one who forgives sin and changes lives. If we know Him, we should show Him.

Discussion idea: Why do you think we are less faithful to spread the news that the Son of God has come than they were when He was in Capernaum?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to show the world that you are here. Help me to accept any inconvenience or discomfort, as long as I can bring people to You. 

Monday, September 21, 2020

Mark 1

 Key verse: Mark 1:38

Big idea: The Son of God came to preach the good news.

In November of 1913, it took about twelve hours to assemble a car. Switching between tasks, finding the right tools, and working on things that you were less effective at all piled on the time it took to finish the vehicle (and therefore the cost). But in December, Henry Ford launched a brilliant new innovation: the assembly line. The process of building a car was broken into 84 different steps and the worker did the same one all day. They became experts at that one task by focus and dedication and the time to produce a car dropped to two and a half hours.[1] Modern cars take much longer because of their complexity and would be basically impossible without modern assembly line methods.[2]

We could say a lot about the pros and cons of workers doing the same repetitive task day in and day out, but there is no denying that it allows them to become skilled and efficient at their work. Focus matters. Jesus knew why He had come and He focused on that goal. When the people were pressing for Him, He said that it was time to go on to the next towns to preach the gospel there too because that is why He had come. He did not stick around where the Kingdom has already been announced, even though it might have been more comfortable. He kept pushing on - He had a mission and He was going to accomplish it. 

Our mission is the same. Whether it is at school, work, home, or church, we need to be laser-focused on why God has deployed us: to preach the gospel. Sometimes it is telling your friend about Jesus. Soemtimes it is listening to your parents read the Bible to you so you can learn the things you can share. Sometimes it is holding your tongue when a comment will be a barrier to a relationship. But remember why we are here.

Discussion idea: What are some ways you can preach the gospel? What are some distractions?

Prayer focus: Ask God for divine tunnel vision, so you only see the things that really matter!



Thursday, September 17, 2020


 Key verse: Philemon 9

Big idea: Love changes everything. 

Philemon is one of the most unique letters in the New Testament. Paul wrote to a slave owner about his runaway slave who had been converted under Paul's ministry and was now returning. The apostle explained that, as an apostle, he had the authority to simply command him to release Onesimus and free him to aid Paul but he preferred to let Philemon choose to do the right thing out of love instead. This is a radical approach and emblematic of the way the New Testament completely undermines the institution of slavery, although it did not call for its immediate total abolition. Rather, it pushed on a basic contradiction between the biblical worldview and the idea of one human being owning another: is he worth more to you as a slave for a lifetime or as a brother for eternity? Paul put his money where his mouth was, offering to pay whatever was necessary to reconcile their relationship. 

Maturity often means that we are not given specific answers to every dilemma we face. While a toddler might have very specific rules for every scenario, an adult is going to operate on broad principles which apply in complex ways in the moment. Voting in an election when neither party is perfectly biblical, choosing a spouse or a college, changing jobs or moving are all complex decisions for which there can be no simple proof-text. But when we combine the boundaries the Bible does place on us with the overarching theme of love, we can find the path God wants us to take. When we love, massive social institutions are transformed, not by rallies or gunfire (although those things have been used in history for good), but by the subtle influence of one relationship at a time. When we love, we no longer steal, kill or cheat. When we love, we do not look to be served. When we love, the thought of owning another person, whether through literal slavery or softer forms of power, is repugnant. There is only the desire to give others a small portion of what Jesus has already done for us. Love changes everything.

Discussion idea: Why did Paul not simply call for the immediate abolition of slavery? It is worth noting that slavery in biblical times was usually for a set time as a debt was paid off (like what we would call indentured servitude) rather than the race based chattel slavery which was not invented until the modern era.

Prayer focus: God, transform my heart to live in love. Remove the barriers that divide me from others and help me to see that if I have genuinely been loved and transformed by a holy God, that nothing between me and another human being could ever compare. 

NOTE: Tomorrow is our second (and final) catch-up day this year. so there will be no devotion Have a great weekend! Next week, we will pick up Mark, then 1-2 PEter, then John, 1-3 John and Revelation to close out the year. We are almost there!

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Titus 3

 Key verse: Titus 3:10

Big idea: Division is the church killer. 

There are a lot of challenges churches have faced through history. Hostile governments, financial crises, plagues and social pressure have all opposed the churches of the Lord. Yet they have never been ale to effectively stop what God was doing. In fact, it seems that greater opposition often motivated Christians to accomplish more so that what was intended for evil was used by god for good. So what really puts a church in danger? As we have seen over and over again, it is the internal problems which threaten the survival of a church. Division, bickering, and factions will do from the inside what no emperor could ever do from the outside. When God has broken the barriers between us and made us into a family, it is profound blasphemy to reform the divisions that the blood of Jesus dissolved. 

Paul warns Timothy about the kinds of factitious people that would enter the church. The King James Version uses the work "heretick" here, but the meaning of heresy has changed since 1611. At the time, the word meant those who caused schism within a body, although now we only use it to refer to those who cause division by false teaching. That idea is certainly included here, but there are many other ways to divide a church and all of them are deadly. Foolish questions for the sake of stirring up conflict and endless studies into genealogies that miss the essence of the faith threaten the effectiveness of the church by robbing her of her focus and fellowship. Those who cause this division show their own wicked hearts and should be removed from the fellowship of the church after two warnings like cancer. 

Division is dangerous. Factions in families or workplaces are almost as harmful as it is in churches, where instead of collaborating together for a common purpose, vanity plays and undermining one another become the priority. God has called us to something better. He has given us a new kind of life through the death of Jesus that makes all of our old divisions and barriers irrelevant. Isn't it high time we acted like it?

Discussion idea: Why are churches so quick to fall into "teams"? 

Prayer focus: Pray that God would help you to be a peacemaker, so you can be called a "son of God."  (Matthew 5:9)

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Titus 2

 Key verse: Titus 2:14

Big idea: God redeemed us to unite us. 

"Hi-Yo Silver, away!"[1] Many Christians seem to want to emulate the Lone Ranger. They find a mission and ride off to face it alone. The problem is that, like the Lone Ranger, an individual Christian rarely sees their situation change from week to week. The status quo is reset and the same basic problems are faced over and over again. God did not intend for our lives to be like that. Although we are saved alone, by our personal faith in Christ, we are not saved to be alone. God intends to purify for Himself a people - a new nation, not defined by ancestry, language, or culture but by zeal for good works. 

We live in a sinful world and are called in that world to live for God, rejecting sin and choosing righteousness. But even as we live in that world, we are not of that world. Our human nation is not our primary allegiance. We are looking forward to the appearance of our Savior, our blessed hope. When He appears, the nation that will matter is the special one (KJV: peculiar) that He purified for His own good works. That new allegiance breaks down all of our old barriers and creates a new humanity, one where we can encourage one another, challenge one another and serve alongside each other.

As lone ranger Christians, we will never make much progress. We will not grow personally without the aid of others and the work God has called us too is far too great for us to accomplish it alone. God has not saved us to be by ourselves, but to be united together as His family and in His churches. 

Discussion idea: Why are we tempted to individualism? How can we do more for God together than alone?
Prayer focus: Pray for a heart that is ready to be joined to others in service. 

[1] I always thought it was "Hi-Ho Silver," but the Smithsonian says it is "Hi-Yo" and they have his mask.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Titus 1

 Key verse: Titus 1:15

Big idea: A divided mind contaminates itself.

If a clean glove touches a contaminated surface, the glove is now contaminated. If that glove now touches your clean phone, now you have a contaminated phone. Touch that dirty phone to your clean face or watch as your toddler kisses the screen? Contamination spreads. In the Old Testament, this was a primary principle. Someone who touched something unclean was then unclean themselves until they could be purified. Lepers and the dead were literally untouchable, and those who did were for a time untouchable themselves. It is an important principle for hygiene and a good model of the pervasiveness of sin. In the New Testament, Christ shows us another angle.

When Jesus touches a leper or a corpse, their filth and death do not spread to Him. Instead, His holiness and His life spread to them. His purity is so intense that it is contagious! That is the principle that comes into play in our salvation. We come into contact with the living Jesus but instead of being contaminated by us we are purified by Him. Yet, the New Testament does not repudiate the old concept entirely. "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump," we are warned. In this letter to Titus, Paul warns about a divided mind. If we do something good, but do it with corrupt, unbelieving motives, then the good works we do are contaminated. All real, lasting contamination comes from the heart. It is not the food that we eat or the things that we touch which are unclean in God's sight, but the things that come from our heart. 

Our text makes it plain. "Unto the pure, all things are pure," so when our hearts are right, our actions will follow God's will and when we do sin, we have forgiveness. He continues, "but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled." No amount of good works can make up for a heart hostile to God. Our good works are contaminated by sinful motivations. But when Jesus in our hearts reigns, everything He touches is transformed.

Discussion idea: James warned that a double-minded person is unstable in all of his ways. How does a divided heart practically undermine our works?

Prayer focus: Pray through Psalm 139:23-24. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

2 Timothy 4

 Key verse: 2 Timothy 4:3

Big idea: False teaching cannot stop Jesus. 

Joseph Goebbels, Nazi director of propoganda, is credited with the expression, "Believe a lie often enough and it becomes the truth." Psychologists call it the "Illusion of Truth." The more times you hear a lie, the more plausible it seems. That is why there are some ridiculous things that "everyone knows." The issue has been in the forefront of people's minds lately, as social media give people the chance to see the same false headlines dozens of times before they can be corrected. If something makes the people we like look good and those we don't look bad, then we believe it without thinking (and often without reading).  Google Ngram shows the frequency of the phrase "fake news" from 1800 to 2019. 

But what is dangerous for secular new is deadly for faith. Everyone knows that God will not give you more than you can handle, that all religions teach the same thing and that the Lord helps those who help themselves. Maybe your favorite Bible verse is the one about "Footprints in the Sand." Of course, none of those things are in the Bible. When something gets repeated over and over again, people begin to believe it, especially if it tickles their ears. If something is repeated and is what we want to hear, then it grows deep roots in our hearts. Throughout history, the truth of God's Word has been challenged by lies. Repeated over and over again, tuned to our preferences and quoted with enthusiasm, they threaten to lead people astray.

Yet truth is stronger still. A lie can be told a thousand times and the truth is not dimmed one whit. Although false teaching has sometimes been official teaching, God's Word has not been stopped. The message of Jesus has carved its way through the ages unbroken and untainted. No amount of false teaching ever changes the truth. What Jesus started is unstoppable. 

Discussion idea:  How does a Christian today best guard against being bombarded by lies of the world?

Prayer focus: Pray for a heart that yearns for God's truth.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

2 Timothy 3

 Key verse: 2 Timothy 3:12

Big idea: Persecution cannot stop Jesus. 

The third chapter of Second Timothy begins with an ominous warning: "In the last days, perilous times shall come." Paul warned that the world's hostility to the gospel would gradually intensify as people turned ever more inward and rejected God more and more. Yet, Paul makes clear that the basic attitude is ancient. Pharoah's magicians stood against Moses over a millennium before Paul was born, and now more than nineteen centuries have passed since Paul himself lost his life to anti-Christian persecution. The terminology that Paul uses is fascinating: he says that God has delivered him from the persecution which he faced. Yet, Paul had been stoned, shipwrecked while under arrest, and was awaiting his execution. So God did not deliver Paul from persecution, but through it. He was able to remain faithful and continue delivering the message of the cross, despite the opposition he faced. 

There has always been opposition to God's people, from the time that Cain killed Abel. Even worse, this is not the fate of a few exceptional Christians! "All that will," in the sense of will to or desire to, "live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." If you or I even try to live for God in the world that is in rebellion against Him, we will suffer. As Adrian Rogers said: "You are either in collusion with the Devil or in collision with him." But that persecution does not stop the progress of Jesus' work. He brings us through it, even when he does not bring us out of it. Our part is just to continue in what He has started.

Discussion idea: When Paul says that all who desire to live godly will suffer persecution, what forms does that persecution take?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me endure in the face of opposition, continuing what you have begun in my life and in our world.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

2 Timothy 2

 Key verse: 2 Timothy 2:2

Big idea: Generations could not stop Jesus. 

Every three weeks, a group of friends and I spend an hour or so answering people's biblical questions in a live Facebook video. Recently, instead of a question, someone sent us a video clip from an old TV show and asked for our reflections on it. Most of the comments were the kind of claims that all religions basically taught the same thing which was popular at the end of the 20th century (this has fallen out of fashion now and been replaced with the idea that all truth is subjective) but one particular point the video tried to make was very interesting. A young child asked: "If Jesus wanted us all to know about Him, why didn't He wait to come until He could appear on television?" 

This is a novel objection; for most of history, people asked why Jesus appeared so far along in history (that is why we sing in Hark the Herald Angels Sing: "Late in time behold Him come"). But it leads to an even more interesting question, I think. Why only come once? Why not come once early in history, once in the middle and again toward the end? Well, that might not satisfy everyone. So maybe come 6 times? Those in between would still doubt. Maybe come once every generation? A fresh revelation every few decades, so no one has to get it secondhand. God certainly could have done it this way. Although the perfect sacrifice of Jesus needed to be accomplished only once, He could have reissued the Bible every generation with a new slate of miracle wielding prophets or He could have become incarnate, preached and flown up into the heavens again. But He did not. 

Neither did He relegate His love and His care to a single generation. Instead, He came once and for all, but carried the message to all generations. He called on Paul to entrust the Word to Timothy. Then He called on Timothy to entrust the Word to someone else. That person entrusted it to yet another. The baton has been moving from hand to hand ever since. For two thousand years, God has kept His message alive by the steady passage of the truth from generation to generation. No one is saved by the gospel preached by an angel. The ministry of reconciliation is ours and if we neglect it, it is neglected. 

Discussion idea: Why doesn't Jesus appear every few years? What does God teach us by having us pass the same unchanging truth on personally?

Prayer focus: Lord, make me the kind of faithful person that Paul wrote about, who can be trusted with this treasure of the gospel of Christ. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

2 Timothy 1

Key verse: 2 Timothy 1:10

Big idea: Death could not stop Jesus. 

As Paul wrote his second preserved letter to his protege Timothy, he sat in a jail cell, knowing that his life would soon end. His story was nearly over but he is at pains to encourage his friend and fellow-laborer that the gospel story is not. Nothing can overcome the work which Jesus began, not even death. Paul's own death hangs heavy over the whole letter but the death of Jesus Himself takes center stage here. If death was going to stop what God was accomplishing, it would certainly have been when the King Himself died. 

But quite the opposite took place. The death of Jesus brought about the death of death! He "abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." By dying in our place and rising again, Jesus broke the power of death once and for all. Now we can be confident that generations may roll down through the ages and that God's message marches on. We might wonder when some of the great leaders of God's churches die: "Who will fill their shoes?" But God has proven Himself faithful time and time again to raise up a new generation of servants. They may not be carbon copies of those who have come before in temperament or methodology but in every age, faithful men and women continue preaching the same message. God's truth is marching on! 

Older kids: Who is the person you admire the most as a Christian? Will their eventual death stop God's work? 

Discussion idea: How is it humbling that even the apostle Paul could die without hindering God's work? Why are we so quick to fool ourselves into believing we are indispensable?

Prayer focus: Ask God for the perspective to realize that His work has been going long before we were born and that it will continue long after our death, if He tarries. Pray for the humility to rejoice in being a small part of the greater plan. 

Monday, September 7, 2020

1 Timothy 6

 Key verse: 1 Timothy 6:20

Big idea: The ministry carries the treasure of faith through the ages. 

One of our sister churches meets in a remodeled bank building. Early on in their construction process, I got to visit and step inside the vault of the bank. It is an eerie place, with an incredibly thick door and clearly no way to escape. Whatever has been deposited into that vault is very unlikely to leave without the consent of the banker. This is the basic image that Paul's commandment to Timothy should bring to mind. His task was the keep the deposit safe that he has been trusted with, to bring it down through the ages. What an incredible responsibility! 

Paul warns that Timothy could go other ways. Like a sheriff asleep during the jailbreak in an old western, Timothy could become distracted by "profane and vain babblings" or so-called knowledge. But he would not be a very effective guard if he did. His responsibility was to have a singular focus, where his teaching, his lifestyle, and his ministry all dovetailed together to present the precious gospel to a lost and dying world. The good news needed to get from the empty tomb to us and it did so through successive generations guarding it. We know that Jesus promised in Matthew 16 that the gates of Hell will not prevail against His church, but we also know that humanly speaking, the world is never more than a generation from losing the gospel. We must defend it and announce its truth. When we have been given a trust, we dare not fail. 

Discussion idea: Why do you think Paul uses the language of "keep that which is committed to thy trust"? How does responsibility play a part in our service to God?

Prayer focus: Praise God, that He would (in infinite wisdom) trust the greatest treasure to we frail jars of clay. 

Friday, September 4, 2020

1 Timothy 5

 Key verse: 1 Timothy 5:12

Big idea: The faithful minister should be honored.

What do we value as a society? The average professional athlete makes roughly a bajillion dollars a year, politicians tend to retire with substantially more money than their official salary would suggest and the interchangeable pretty faces on the movie screen have four houses and little acting talent.  Who does God say is worthy of "double honor"? The term is, in the context of this chapter, clearly a respect that often takes the form of material support (like our word "honorarium"). The recipients of a double dose are the elders (or pastors) who lead well through preaching and teaching. No sports, secular leaders or entertainment peddle anything more precious than the Word of God and our priorities should be reflected in our gratitude. 

There is another side to this coin: what about when someone entrusted with such a position sins? Paul warns us not to respond to every rumor or innuendo, but when witnesses can verify the failure, the same pastor who was to be publicly honored should be publicly rebuked, so others will not follow him into error. It is the great responsibility that comes with the great honor of leading God's people that the elders are held accountable if they lead their charges astray. For these, there is no room for partiality on the basis of personality or friendship. Whether in honor or reprimand, what matters is faithfulness. 

Discussion idea: What do you think the mega salaries of some professionals reveals about our culture's priorities and values?

Prayer focus: Pray for your pastor, that God would help him live up to his duty to lead well through preaching and teaching and not to be distracted by the army of other false priorities. 

Thursday, September 3, 2020

1 Timothy 4

 Key verse: 1 Timothy 4:6

Big idea: The measure of a minister is faithfulness. 

In college, I had a particular class that seemed like a total waste of time. The work was pointless but extremely time-consuming, a recipe for frustration. But there was one saving grace: because of the way the class was set up, everything was graded very strictly on a rubric. That meant that it was possible to tailor an essay to make a high grade, even if it was not any good. Format the title page correctly, include enough footnotes, hit the word count, make sure that your thesis is clear and suddenly you had an A. There are few areas in life where this kind of approach is a good idea, for obvious reasons. In fact, it is rare that our expectations are so specific, so we cannot ordinarily behave like that, even if we want to. But there is a sense in which we should consider what is expected of us and aim for that target. What will make this project a success? If your parents want you to clean your room and you waste a lot of time dusting the ceiling fan and washing the windows but never pick up your toys or make your bed, you may be tired, but you are probably still in trouble.

Paul gave Timothy a rubric: “If you ____, thou shalt be a good minister [servant] of Jesus Christ.” Simple! Check this box and you are on the right track. So what does God say will make us a good servant? Take a minute to seriously consider what you think. Not the answer you think you are supposed to give but what you instinctively think will please God. The answer may be surprising: remind the people of God’s Word. You are not a good servant if they listen or if you bring them to tears. You are not a good minister if you have a full altar call or a busy new member’s class. You are a good servant if you are faithful. The rubric is to do your job and let God handle the rest.

Discussion idea: Why do we overcomplicate success so much, even if we know better?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to keep your Word in my mouth, faithful to share it with your people.


Tuesday, September 1, 2020

1 Timothy 2

 Key verse: 1 Timothy 2:1

Big idea:  The power of a ministry is prayer. 

My parents got our kids a little electric car. Unfortunately, when they wanted to show me how it works, the battery was very nearly dead. So it got slower and slower until it died up the driveway. Of course, they wanted to ride back, which involved Daddy stooped over and pushing. It could not go any farther because it was not connected to a power source. Without me huffing and puffing, it would have been stuck where it was. 

At the end of chapter 1, Paul told Timothy that he expected him to fight a good fight, from which many had been shipwrecked. So how would Timothy endure when others had failed? He needed to stay connected to the power source. How would that happen? Prayer. Prayer for everyone, all the time, because our work is beyond our reach. We need God to change the hearts of leaders. We need God to reach people who are lost and hard-hearted. We need God to strengthen us when we are weary and direct our paths. Without the power of God flowing through us, we are as helpless as the car with a dead battery. But when we are connected to the power source via prayer, we have all the strength of God on our side. 

Discussion idea: Why is the only power source we have often the first thing we neglect? 

Prayer focus: Set aside some time to pray out loud today, experiencing the power of communion with God.