Diligence and Vigilance. Doctrine and Life.

God loves to see us progress in our faith. And that’s what Paul tells his young protege Timothy. As you grow, he says to Timothy, let everyone notice your progress.

Diligence and vigilance are the key ideals Paul employs when he urges Timothy to make progress in his faith. Once we become believers, it can be easy to coast. We can be lulled into being satisfied with the minimum. And we can drop our guard — forgetting that the devil is out there prowling around like a roaring lion.

For Timothy, as a leader in the church, diligence and vigilance were doubly important. Because he was setting an example for others. As he “gave himself wholly” to his ministry and to his own faith, his followers would take note. As he kept a close eye on his way of life and his doctrine, he would help not just himself, but also his hearers.

Notice here, that Paul mentions both doctrine and life. Not doctrine or life. Doctrine and life. Both are critical for Timothy to have a healthy life of faith that sets the tone for those whom he is teaching.

This is good for us to remember too. When we are diligent about our faith, when we watch to see that our teaching conforms to the Bible, when we live according to God’s commandments, we show our progress and we help others make progress as well. And when we persevere and keep on doing this, people notice our habits.

Lots of “ands” here. Diligence and vigilance. Doctrine and life. Perseverance in these helps us make progress in our faith. And it helps others make progress in their faith, too.

“Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:15-16, NIV).

Lord, help me to stay diligent and vigilant. I know that it is impossible for me to do this on my own. So strengthen me to keep close watch on both my doctrine and my life, so that I may progress in my faith, and help others progress in their faith as well.

Our Bible reading for Monday, October 19, is Jeremiah 40:7 – 42:22, 1 Timothy 4:1-16 and Proverbs 25:11-20.

Header image based on "KEEP ON THE WATCH" by whologwhy, CC By 2.0

Vital Signs

When we are concerned about a person’s physical life, we check their vitals. Do they have a pulse? Can we detect breathing? Do their pupils contract when a light is shined in their eyes?

When we are wondering about a person’s spiritual life, we can look for vital signs, too. Do their eyes light up with the joy of their Savior? Does their prayer life have a pulse? Do they constantly breathe out complaints and curses, or gratitude and hope?

When the Holy Spirit lives inside of us, he lights a fire in our hearts. Fire will always produce heat and light. Faith, like fire, will always produce its effects, too.

Just like you can’t have fire without heat and light, so you can’t have faith without producing the effects of faith — effects like joy, prayer, and gratitude.

That’s why Paul encourages the Thessalonians not to put out the Spirit’s fire. Without the fire, you don’t get the effects of the fire. And without faith, you also don’t get the effects of the faith.

Life. Fire. Faith.

They all work the same way. Snuff them out, and you also snuff out the effects they produce. But keep them going strong and healthy, and you will always get vital signs that reflect that strength and health.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ’s Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19, NIV).

Lord, I know that when I sin and fail to repent, or when I lose touch with your word and sacraments, I move closer to quenching your Spirit. Help me to live a life of devotion to word and sacrament, and to repent of my sins daily. These will keep my faith strong and healthy, and bring me joy, gratitude, and an active prayer life.

Our Bible reading for Monday, October 12, is Jeremiah 25:15 – 26:24, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-28 and Psalm 119:17-24.

Header image based on "Lubbock Heart Hospital, Dec 16-17, 2005" by Mark, CC By-SA 2.0

Keep in Step

Everything we are as Christ-followers is the work of the Holy Spirit. That statement is one of the distinctives of the Christian faith. Christianity holds that all that we are (and all that we can become) is a gift from God.

Think of fruit. Fruit is produced by a tree not by force of willpower. It’s produced because that’s the nature of the tree itself. An apple tree produces apples. A peach tree produces peaches.

What it is is what it produces.

This idea is so different from what every other philosophy or religion teaches: Focus. Self-reliance. Hard work. Responsibility. Willpower. Those are the things that lead to strong character and success, according to the dominant theories of culture and religion.

Paul teaches us that if we want to be people of strong character, the way to do that is not to build it through focus, self-reliance, hard work, responsibility and willpower, but rather through walking with the Spirit and keeping in step with him.

When we do that, the Spirit changes who we are. He strengthens us to become what we have already been declared to be in Christ: A dearly loved child of God, bought with the blood of Jesus Christ. And what we are is what we will produce.

The secret of success? Belong to Jesus Christ. Not to self. Keep in step. Not, “Step it up!”

The signs of success will be obvious. The kinds of character qualities most of us are seeking in life will come. Keep in step with the Spirit, and you’ll keep the fruit of the Spirit growing!

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-25, NIV).

Lord, help me to keep in step with your Spirit by reading my Bible daily. Remind me of the importance of regular attendance at church, at my growth group, and making use of the Lord’s Supper. In these ways, you will fill me with your Spirit and help me stay in step with him. I want you to produce the fruits of the Spirit in me — all for your glory, Lord.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, September 20, is Isaiah 47:1 – 49:7, Galatians 5:7-26 and Psalm 109:1-20.

Header image based on "Apple orchard in Tasmania with fruit on trees DSC_5957" by Apple and Pear Australia, Ltd., CC By 2.0

Are You Powered Up?

I bought a sweet new Kobalt hedge trimmer this week. It was on sale at Lowe’s so I “saved” big money buying it now. I love it! It has 24-inch dual action blades that move at a speed of up to 2,800 strokes a minute. Can you imagine?

With 40 volts of power this amazing tool can cut branches up to 3/4 of an inch thick. How cool is that? And with a 5-year hassle free warranty, I’m sure I’m going to enjoy using this trimmer for many years to come, literally slashing through the bushes in my yard and keeping them trim and tidy.

There’s just one problem. Without a battery, the trimmer won’t do a thing. Those 24 inch blades? Nada. If I don’t insert the battery, do you know how many strokes a minute I get? You got it. Zero. And cutting power? It won’t cut a leaf, much less a branch.

When it comes to spiritual matters, Paul the apostle says something very similar about us human beings. Without our “battery” we have no power at all to understand God, grasp God’s love and mercy, be in tune with God’s purpose and plan for our lives, or find the path that God has laid out for us to join him in heaven.

What is the “battery”? The battery is the Holy Spirit. Who “installs” the Holy Spirit so that we have power to grasp spiritual matters and have a faith relationship to Jesus? God does. The Holy Spirit comes from the Father and the Son.

And this process of installation is not nearly as mystical as it is practical. The Holy Spirit is “installed” in our hearts when we read the Bible, and when we make use of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

At the end of the day, when we are “plugged into” the word and sacraments, that’s how we get the power to trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, discover grace and forgiveness, lead a changed life, and inherit eternal life.

It’s vitally important for us to be “powered up.” So open the “box” for the battery (remember, you call it the Bible, or the sacraments). God will install the Holy Spirit from there. And the good news is, when the Holy Spirit is installed in our hearts and minds, all of us become spiritually powerful. Let’s just say I’m talking way more than 40 volts of spiritual power here.

Paul puts it this way: “But we have the mind of Christ.” How’s that for being powered up?

“However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’—the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 

This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:9-16, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, August 6, is 1 Chronicles 22:2 – 23:32, 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 and Psalm 91:9-16.

Lord, thank you for your Holy Spirit. Keep me strong — not in my own power — but in his! I know that I am spiritually dead without your Spirit. I want to be alive in the Spirit, and strong to live out your purpose in my life.

Header image based on "Battery" by Quinn Andy Armstrong, CC By-SA 2.0

Get Ready for What’s Coming

Life is nothing more than a blip, really. So, it’s actually amazing that we have some time to think about what’s coming next after this blip is over. But we do, by the grace of God.

What’s next is eternity. Heaven. Our salvation is near and our destiny is drawing closer. And that means that this blip of a life is going to end sooner than we realize. Before we know it, we’ll have blown right through the blip.

So one thing Paul wants us to remember is this. We have only so much time here on planet earth to fully live in our new identity as children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. The time is short for us to put aside the deeds of darkness, with its key goals being to “party hardy,” stay high, get wasted, sleep around, divide people, devastate relationships, and self-centeredly wish I had more of this or that than anyone around me.

Paul says that the way we get ready for what’s coming is to get rid of all of that and put on the Lord Jesus Christ. And what he means by that is that we need to have a faith-relationship with Jesus. We need to trust that he is our Savior, and our Lord.

God will provide this for us. Through baptism. Through his word. And through the sacrament of holy communion.

Time is short. If we refuse to put ourselves in position for God to reach us through the word and sacraments, God will not come to us in any other way. We need to quickly put down the deeds of darkness and the desires of our selfish, sinful self. We need to give Jesus space to work on our hearts.

We can’t, in other words, put on one set of clothing until we’ve taken off the old set. In this case, “layering” just isn’t going to cut the mustard. There’s no “both-and” to be had here. This is a definite “either-or”.

So which set of “clothing” do you want to put on? Remember, “what’s next” is coming very, very soon. And it’s very clear that we need to have the right set of “clothing” on right now!

So get ready for what’s coming!

“And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (Romans 13:11-14, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, July 30, is 1 Chronicles 7:1 – 9:1a, Romans 13:1-14 and Psalm 89:38-45.

Jesus, thank you for giving me your perfection as my new clothing. Help me to treasure it and to be ready for what is coming.

Header image based on "Stopwatch" by William Warby, 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

Character Outweighs Talent

Every person has their strengths and weaknesses. Thank God for those strengths! And man, how those weaknesses can challenge and threaten everything!

Solomon was a man whose wisdom was an astoundingly big strength. God specially blessed him when Solomon asked him for wisdom at the beginning of his reign as king. As a result of that blessing, he became a “Renaissance Man” 2300 years before the renaissance even began.

He wrote thousands of of proverbs (a few of which are in the book of the Bible called “Proverbs”). He composed over a thousand songs. He was a scholar and a scientist, with expert knowledge in botany and zoology. He skillfully managed thousands of government officials, and served as commander-in-chief of the Israelite military.

Yet, he was also a man who allowed himself to be trapped by greed and lust. He could never seem to get to a point where he could say, “I have enough.” Whether it had to do with the size of his kingdom, the wealth of his household, or the number of wives and kept-women he surrounded himself with — more was always better.

And that led to his ultimate downfall.

This is something for all of us to keep watch for. We may have a lot of talents and abilities. We may be blessed with a quick intellect, ready answers and solid advice for people. But each of us will still struggle with sins that can result in our own downfall.

It’s good to be thankful for the talents God has given us. It’s even better to be watchful and vigilant about character defects that can destroy and demolish our lives and our faith.

Jesus is the answer. He has the forgiveness we need for the times when we fail. He also has the strength we need to heal our hurts, build a godly character, and replace the habits and hang-ups that can blow up the things we cherish most in life.

At the end of the day, character outweighs talent. No matter how talented we might be, our character flaws can demolish everything we’ve invested a lifetime building.

Including, even, our relationship with God.

“God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore” (1 Kings 4:29, NIV).

Lord, thank you for giving me the talents and abilities I have. Please forgive me for the sins I commit and help me build a godly character so that I can honor you. Thank you, Jesus, for your steadfast love, for sacrificing yourself for me and for helping me not to self-destruct through my character flaws.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, June 18, is 1 Kings 3:16 – 5:18, Acts 12:19 -13:12 and Psalm 74:18-23.

Header image based on "House No More" by James McCauley, CC By 2.0