Trapped, or Taken Hold Of

The worst kind of trap is the one you never saw coming. The pain of being caught in the trap is compounded by the huge element of surprise and the question, “How did I get here?”

When I was 13, I was riding my bike over to a friend’s house and came out into a road from behind a fence. I had pulled this maneuver a thousand times. But on this particular day, there was a car coming on the road. At first, I thought I could beat it by passing in front of it. But the bumper caught the rear tire of my bike, spinning me off and mangling the back wheel pretty good. I had some pretty good scrapes and bruises that I got out of it as well.

I got caught. And I got caught by surprise. It was not fun telling my Mom what had happened.

That’s what Paul is instructing Timothy to warn his people about. Only the subject is not bicycle riding. It’s the love of money.

Paul points out that so many people pursue financial gain, thinking that it will give them peace of mind and fill up the hole in their heart. Others pursue wealth because it’s the “measuring stick” they use for determining their identity and self-worth.

There’s another way. Faith in Jesus can give us true peace and contentment. Faith in Jesus establishes our identity and self-worth as a blood-bought child of God, redeemed and adopted through the power of the cross and the empty tomb.

Pursue wealth as the source of our peace, the missing piece in our lives, the foundation of our identity and self-worth and we will find ourselves in the trap. We’ll discover we’re in the path of oncoming ruin and destruction. We’ll realize that our love of money just spun our heads around. We didn’t see what was around the fence, so only too late did we realize we were being foolish and our desires were harmful.

Love and seek money as our ultimate thing, and in place of peace, we’ll find ourselves pierced.

Instead, Paul says, pursue what God holds out to us. Seek the thing that Jesus is already placing into our hands. His righteousness, won via a lifetime of perfect obedience — and now his gift to us. Jesus sends us the gift of the Holy Spirit, who grants us faith, inspires us to love, spurs us on to endurance, and helps us to deal with situations in life with gentle restraint.

In other words, instead of seeking what you don’t have, pursue and battle for what Jesus has already given you. Take hold of that which has taken hold of you.

Ironic, isn’t it? The very best, most valuable things that you could ever fight to get are really already yours in Christ — and by faith they will be yours for eternity!

“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (‭‭1 Timothy‬ ‭6:6-12‬, ‭NIV‬‬).

Lord Jesus, take hold of me, of my entire heart and mind. And lead me by the power of your Spirit to take hold of you, and all the blessings of godliness you have in store for me. Help me to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Strengthen me to fight the good fight of faith and to find peace, joy and contentment in all that you have given me.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, October 21, is Jeremiah 46:1 – 47:7, 1 Timothy 6:3-21 and Psalm 119:73-80.

Header image based on "trap" by royalty free, CC By 2.0

A Foundation of Humility

Saint Augustine, one of early Christianity’s greatest leaders, once said this: “Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.”

What do you think? Which verse or story in the Bible hit home with Augustine on the topic of humility?

It’s not an easy question. Because the topic of humility is a frequent topic in the Bible. In today’s reading, we’re encouraged by Isaiah to tremble at the word of God, and be humble and contrite. He tells us that God wants us to be remorseful and regretful over the sinful things we have done.

We are to remember that God is the One who made us. Without him, we don’t even exist. So he certainly has the right to set the rules for his creation. We should listen to what he says, and try to do it, Isaiah asserts.

That was just the Old Testament portion of today’s reading. Moving on to the New Testament letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul encourages the same quality of humility. He reminds us that God not only created us, he also recreated us. He didn’t simply form us. He transformed us. He took us from the dark side to the side of the light.

On that side, we are not to keep on trying to figure out what please us, but start finding out what pleases God.

And that takes great humility. It takes a sense of modesty and meekness to say, “God is smarter than I am. If there’s any debate whatsoever about what I should be thinking, feeling, or doing, then I’m going to go with God’s way, not my way.”

In other words, faith, not pride, will show us the way to what is good, right and true. What Augustine said is really true. Humility, not arrogance, will build the tower that pierces the clouds.

Because humility starts with Jesus, not with me. Humility knows to think much less about self, and think much more about clinging to our Savior so that we can receive his goodness, righteousness and truth — all given to us as a free gift. Humility leads us to the cross for forgiveness, and to the empty tomb for power and life.

As you ponder your own humility (or need thereof), think of it this way. No humility, no foundation. No foundation, nothing else lasting gets built. Humility is the essential first step to a life of noble purpose.

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?’ declares the Lord. ‘These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word'” (Isaiah 66:1-2, NIV).

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8-10, NIV).

Lord, grant me a humble heart. Give me repentance that leads my heart to the cross and the empty tomb — a heart that looks to Jesus for all that is good, right and true in life.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, September 27, is Isaiah 65:17 – 66:24, Ephesians 5:8-33 and Psalm 113:1-9.

Header image based on "Foundation" by ArmchairBuilder.com, CC By 2.0

A King’s Courageous Faith

King Hezekiah was a rare breed. The thing that made him one of a kind was that he so implicitly trusted God. He trusted God so much that he was willing to demolish all the places where any idols were worshipped.

This kind of focus on one God alone — this readiness to obey the first commandment — had not occurred since the time of David. Hezekiah even destroyed the bronze serpent that Moses had made in the wilderness to save the Israelites from venemous snakes. It too had become an idol, so in Hezekiah’s mind it had to go — no matter that Moses himself had made it.

Whatever came, Hezekiah put God first. Sennacherib, the powerful emperor of the Assyrian empire, threatened the Israelites with utter destruction of their homeland and then deportation. Hezekiah took these threats and put them before the Lord. God would know how to handle Sennacherib, he was confident of that.

I love it when we get to watch a man like Hezekiah in action. He is such an example of a courageous faith. His dedication to the Lord makes me want to be just as dedicated. His willingness to obey God makes me want to be obedient. And his trust that the Lord was with him makes me want to put my entire trust in Jesus that he is with me.

I want to have the courageous faith of a king like Hezekiah.

Hezekiah is a great reminder too that when I fall short (as I often do!), Jesus is the ultimate king. There’s truly no one who is a king like Jesus. He held fast to his Heavenly Father, and he kept all his commands. And he did this for us!

The Heavenly Father was with him. Christ’s crucifixion and sacrifice wins forgiveness for me when my faith wavers. His resurrection and ascension to God’s right hand show me that my faith in Jesus will ultimately be rewarded with my own resurrection and victory.

“Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook” (2 Kings 18:5-7a, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, July 9, is 2 Kings 18:1 – 19:13, Acts 27:13-44, and Psalm 82:1-8.

Lord, send me your Holy Spirit through my study of your word and my reception of the sacraments, so that he may build up my faith to be like the faith of Hezekiah. And where I have failed to trust as simply and singularly as Hezekiah, forgive me through the merits of your Son, my one and only King, Jesus.

Header image based on "Jesus crown of thorns - West Pier Brighton" by Leonski Oh Leonski, CC By 2.0

One God, One Undivided Heart

It sounds so simple, but it’s really an impossible demand: Put God first. Place him above all other things, all other people, and all other powers.

Don’t be afraid of anything else as much as you are afraid of God. Don’t respect anything more than you respect God. Don’t love anything, and don’t trust anything more than you love and trust God.

The Israelites never got the hang of it. Even under the best of leadership — Moses, Joshua, the Judges, David, Solomon — they just couldn’t make it happen.

What about when the leaders — the not-so-great kings — worshiped other gods? Well, the people followed their example very well. By the time we get to the disintegration of the kingdom of Israel, neither the kings nor the people are anywhere close to keeping God first in their lives.

And that “have no other gods” thing? They wouldn’t be able to reduce their gods to a dozen. They had become typical of their day. They were polytheists.

It’s maybe not so visible nowadays, but many of us are polytheists as well. We might fear, respect, love and trust Jesus. But it’s nice to have a healthy bank account too. It’s good to have a solid position at work, one that makes us feel safe and secure. It’s a confidence boost to have a solid family around us, and friends who will have our backs when we need them.

We are willing to listen to the Bible. But we want to listen to our own reason too. And our culture. And our family and friends.

It’s not that any of those things are wrong or spiritually unhealthy in and of themselves. It’s just that our hearts love to take good things and turn them into ultimate things. We build our identity around them. We see our destiny springing from them. We find our purpose in them. We build community around them. And we see our possibilities as arising from them.

God was always ready with the Israelites to have them rid their hearts of their false gods, and simply return to him as the One and Only.

And God is still more than ready today to have us rid our hearts of our secret idols and false gods too. The one and only truly “Ultimate Thing” is the Triune God. And there is nothing better than to worship him alone through Jesus, his Son.

“When the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites, he commanded them: ‘Do not worship any other gods or bow down to them, serve them or sacrifice to them. But the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt with mighty power and outstretched arm, is the one you must worship. To him you shall bow down and to him offer sacrifices. You must always be careful to keep the decrees and regulations, the laws and commands he wrote for you. Do not worship other gods. Do not forget the covenant I have made with you, and do not worship other gods. Rather, worship the Lord your God; it is he who will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies'” (2 Kings 17:35-39, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, July 8, is 2 Kings 16:1 – 17:41, Acts 26:24 – 27:12 and Psalm 81:8-16.

Lord, I repent of being a closet polytheist. Forgive me for my sins of secret idolatry. Send me your Spirit that my heart may be undivided and worship you alone. I want my identity, my destiny, my purpose, my community and my possibilities to come only from Jesus.

Header image based on "Temple of Baal at Palmyra, Syria" by Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, CC By 2.0

The Lord Is One

Ultimately, the answer to peace and joy in life is figuring out the answer to one question: How many gods are there?

Some people’s answer is, “Many.” Other people’s answer is, “Zero.”

God had made sure the Old Testament people of Israel knew his answer to that question. Many, many times over God repeated this to them: “There is only one God. And that is me.”

When Jesus arrived, he wanted the people around him to know this truth, too.

So when the opportunity presented itself through the question of one of the Jewish teachers of the law, Jesus made sure that he — and those around him — knew this truth as well.

“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’

‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one'” (Mark 12:28-29, NIV).

There is only one God. And the greatest commandment is to love him with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, and all my strength.

Anything else, anyone else, is the sin of idolatry.

One God. He loves you with everything he’s got. Even to the point of forgiving you after you have allowed an idol to stand in his place.

Amazing.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, March 5, is Leviticus 13:1-59, Mark 12:28-44 and Proverbs 6:20-29.

Lord God, help me to remember always that there is only one of you. Remove from my heart every temptation toward idolatry. I am truly sorry for the idols that threaten to displace you in my heart. Please forgive me, and fill my heart until you crowd every idol out. You have made me the singular object of your love. May I make you the singular object of my love.

Header image based on "one" by Chinn, CC By 2.0

He Alone Is Great

When someone makes a claim that’s going to affect me, I want to know what I’m going to do about that claim. The claims of the Bible are sometimes counterintuitive. But they are the claims of the Bible. It’s important we understand them clearly.

The Bible, for instance, makes some exclusive claims for God, such as in Psalm 148, where we hear the Psalmist say, “For his name alone is exalted.” Some may find a claim like this hard to swallow. But when you think about it, claims like these go along perfectly with other ideas presented in the Bible.

Just one example. One of the most well known words in the Bible are the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2, NIV). If God truly is one-of-a-kind, unique and stand-alone in our universe, isn’t he someone with whom you would want to be acquainted? Isn’t he someone whose friendship you would want to enjoy? And ultimately, if this claim is true, isn’t God someone we would want to worship and praise?

“Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens” (Psalm 148:13, NIV).

Lord, send me your Spirit, so that I can understand your claims in the Bible, and know what to do about them.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, December 28, is Zechariah 7:1 – 9:17, Psalm 148:7-14, Proverbs 30:29-31 and Revelation 18:1-24.