Day 304: The gift of God’s presence

Psalms 23-242 Timothy 2

The Presence of God…think about what a profound gift this is. Both of today’s Psalms celebrate his Presence… Psalm 23 is the familiar Psalm of comfort – promising God’s presence to the individual. While Psalm 24 celebrates God’s presence among the people. It was probably sung as David led the people in worship when he brought the ark (the symbol of God’s presence) back to Jerusalem.

Experiencing God’s presence both individually and corporately is one of the greatest gifts given to the Christian on this earth. Paul must have rested in the sure presence of his God as he waited to be executed…chained as a prisoner in Rome.

Paul’s circumstances elevate the urgency of his words to his beloved Timothy. We are given the privilege of listening to this intimate exchange, and Paul’s final instructions to TImothy are powerful.

Paul gives Timothy the strategy for world evangelization:

what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2).

This was Jesus’ strategy…focused discipleship resulting in spiritual multiplication. This is how Christianity spread over the whole earth – by entrusting the truth to faithful men (and women :)!

Paul had more to say to Timothy… He called Timothy to “share in the suffering of Christ” (2:3), to “Remember Jesus Christ” (2:8), and finally to handle the word of truth cautiously, increasing in kindness and not inciting quarrels (2:14-26).

These are profound instructions! …but impossible to accomplish without the constant presence of God in our lives.

It is the experience of His presence that affirms our salvation – that we are His. And encouraged by His preserving presence, we are given the strength to persevere… as good soldiers of Christ Jesus” (2 TImothy 2:3).

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me (Psalm 23:4).

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Day 303: The final chapters

Psalms 20-222 Timothy 1

All of today’s passages are so full and rich with God’s truths. Today is a day that I wish I had more time to explore these beautiful texts – but our goal is to read through the bible in a year – so we must soar through them. But as we soar, we can gain a bird’s-eye view – and amazingly, the entire scope of God’s redemptive history is revealed…

Psalms 20-21 are a pair of Psalms that celebrate the kingdom of Israel. The people offer prayers and praise in Psalm 20 for their king. And in Psalm 21, king David responds with thanksgiving to God for answering the prayers of the people.

Israel…she was the initial fulfillment of God’s Covenant promises to Abraham – that he would establish a nation through which all the nations of the earth would be blessed. David was God’s chosen king, a man after His own heart – that pointed forward to the Forever King, the promised descendent of David – who would usher in God’s eternal Kingdom on earth.

The lives of David and Jesus overlap in a most poignant way in Psalm 22. David’s Psalm describes an “innocent sufferer” and somehow, Jesus fulfills every detail of this Psalm in His crucifixion. Matthew’s crucifixion account, especially, makes special reference to this Psalm…

For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots (Psalm 22:16-18).

Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, our salvation has been secured. Jesus is the promised seed of Abraham through which all the nations will be blessed. And Jesus is the prophesied “Branch of Jesse” that will restore God’s Kingdom on the earth.

Which leads us to 2 Timothy. The setting for 2 Timothy is a prison where Paul is awaiting execution. Commentators believe that Paul was imprisoned in Rome after a 4th missionary journey not recorded in Acts. 2 Timothy is Paul’s last known letter before he was martyred.

The tone of 2 Timothy is warm and fatherly as he gives Timothy final instructions and encouragement before he dies. What a treasure! Paul writes…

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace (2 Timothy 1:8-9).

This is our calling as well. As we wait for the return of our Lord to usher in the final fulfillment of all God’s Covenant promises, we are to share in the suffering of Christ for the gospel! Our lives are part of God’s redemptive history. We are living in the final chapters before the return of Christ!

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
with the saving might of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God (Psalm 20:6-7).

Day 302: A Content life

Psalms 16-17; 191 Timothy 5-6
(Psalm 118 was read on Day 122)

Psalm 16 happens to be one of my favorite Psalms. To me, it’s a picture of a content life…not necessarily a prosperous life or a luxurious life – but a life that is able to rest amidst the swirling chaos in this world. This kind of contentment comes from a steady and deep faith – a long leaning into the Lord. This life is born from the sanctifying work of the Spirit.

In order to find contentment, you must know God. And in order to know God, you must know His Word…

The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold (Psalm 19:7-10).

Are you content? Are you content in the mundane of your everyday life? Do you have peace in the midst of tragic, life-altering circumstances? Or how do you respond when your plans get interrupted by an inconvenient flat tire or trip to the ER?

In good times and bad, can you say with David…

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance (Psalm 16:5-6).

Marinate your soul in the deep waters of His Word. Let his truth seep into your bones and transform your life into one that rests in the midst of chaos and finds contentment in the sharp turns of life. God is our refuge. Find contentment in His care.

Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you (Psalm 16:1-2).

Day 301: God’s crazy global strategy

Psalms 13-151 Timothy 3-4

The church…

…the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15).

“Church” is a mind-blowing idea! First, God calls us his “household.” He’s calling us his family!!! Then he promises that he will live among us. The church is where God’s presence dwells. And finally, the church’s role is to support and hold up the gospel to the world…to be the “pillar and buttress of truth.”

What an amazing calling!!! He doesn’t call us as individuals to reach the world with the gospel…No!! He calls us as members of his church! We are not supposed to do it alone.

This idea of living covenantally is not unique to the New Testament but originates in God’s Covenant Promises given in the Old Testament. God’s promise to establish a people for himself, “that He shall be their God, and they shall be His people” is a promise that weaves its way throughout all of Scripture. This promise manifests itself in God’s holy nation of Israel and then expands to the nations in the New Testament and includes all the members of His Kingdom, namely, His church.

In Psalm 14, David prays – not for individuals to be saved – but for community salvation!!

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad (Psalm 14:7).

Our culture is so individualistic that it’s hard to comprehend the importance of our role in the church body – but the church is extremely important to God…so important that Paul takes great care to instruct Timothy how to both lead and organize it…how to choose men for elders and deacons, how to fight false teaching, and finally, Paul affirms Timothy’s calling to lead God’s church – despite his youth.

God’s church is the vehicle through which he spreads his gospel to the world! It’s a mind-bending strategy…completely foreign to this world, yet you are called to be a part of it…

God is calling you to forsake your individual rights and throw your lot in with other redeemed sinners. He promises to dwell among you and change the world through you collectively. It’s not a popular way-of-life and will certainly be difficult. But it’s God’s idea and God’s calling… Are you in?

Day 300: Uncomfortable teachings

Psalms 10-121 Timothy 2

This is my 300th post and I’m dealt 1 Timothy 2?? Ugh. It is offensive to so many !

It is problematic for the Calvinists who believe that God chose some “before the creation of the world” to be saved. If God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 TIm. 2:4), then why didn’t he choose everyone?

The last half of this chapter presents major problems for Egalitarians (and most of our modern culture) in its teaching about the roles of men and women in the church – specifically that women should not be preachers or elders in the church (1 Tim. 2:12).

Great. Just great. Who do I want to offend first?!!

Well. This is what I have to say. It is Scripture. I didn’t write it, so I don’t have to apologize for it.

Calvinists will just have to deal with the fact that God desires ALL people to be saved and all of the implications of this wonderful statement. But Calvin is with the Lord, so I’m sure he understands :)

And Egalitarians can’t discount Paul’s words about gender roles in the church by calling them “cultural” because Paul makes a point that man’s authority over a woman was instituted in creation…. before the fall (1 Tim. 2:13). That’s significant, and can not be ignored.

So what do we do with these uncomfortable texts? We look inside our hearts and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal why they make us uncomfortable!

Do you bristle when Paul writes that women are not to have authority over a man in the church? Well, ask God to reveal how the culture has distorted your thinking.

Do you stumble over Paul’s teaching (that God wants everyone to be saved) because it seems to contradict Paul’s previous teaching of predestination? Well, maybe God is bigger than human logic!

There, I said it. You can throw virtual tomatoes at me through your computer screens… I think I’ll just stand behind the words of Psalm 12 ;)

The words of the Lord are pure words,
like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
purified seven times.
You, O Lord, will keep them;
you will guard us from this generation forever (Psalm 12:6-7).

Day 299: God’s far reaching Grace

Psalms 7-91 Timothy 1

1 Timothy is the first of Paul’s three pastoral letters (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus). In it he encourages Timothy to stand strong against false doctrine and to rely on Christ to lead the church in Ephesus effectively.

The best defense against false doctrine is truth! But Paul doesn’t deliver a dry sermon outlining systematic theology…No! He writes to Timothy of the grace he experienced through his own conversion…

…formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 1:13-14).

Who is this God that saves the worst of sinners? He has stooped so low to have a relationship with us!

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:3-4)

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High. (Psalm 9:1-2)

Day 298: Striving for simplicity

Psalms 4-62 Thessalonians 3
(Psalm 3 was read on Day 119)

Even though we live in a fallen world, we are still created to enjoy God – and often, we do this through simple pleasures…working our hands in the tilled ground, washing away our thirst with cold water, rising early to watch the sun rise or sleeping after a hard and satisfying work day.

There’s a simplicity to following God that is hard to find in the busy-ness of our western culture. If we can break through all the many demands on our time and attention – and just be in the presence of God, we will find rest.

There is no striving at the foot of the cross. Only trust. A very still sense that God is faithful and he will accomplish it – whatever the it is that we are anxious about…he will accomplish it.

The truths of Scripture can lead us into rest. Paul’s words in 2 Thessalonians 3 remind me of the elegant simplicity of following God… trusting in his faithfulness (3:3), working quietly to earn a living (3:12), and praying for God’s peace and presence (3:16).

Even the Psalms echo these sentiments. They speak of pondering in our hearts (Psalm 4:4), sleeping in peace (4:8), seeking God in the morning (5:3), and the comforting truths that God hears our weeping and accepts our prayers (6:8-9).

It’s a paradox, but I challenge you to strive to live a simple life. For in simplicity we find… rest, a quiet trust, and peace. Ultimately, we find Jesus.

“You can have all this world. Just give me Jesus.” -Fernando Ortega

Day 297: The balm of Truth

Psalms 1-22 Thessalonians 1-2

Soon after Paul sent his first letter to the Thessalonians, he must have received a disturbing report back from the church, because he penned 2nd Thessalonians just after 1st Thessalonians.

This letter addressed three specific issues:

  1. God’s purposes for allowing persecution and suffering (Chapter 1),
  2. Detailed teaching regarding Jesus’ second coming (Chapter 2), and
  3. Exhortations against laziness and presuming upon wealthy Christians (Chapter 3).

We learn in the beginning of Chapter 2 that the Thessalonians (wrongly) believed that the day of the Lord had already come…that somehow they had missed Jesus’ second coming!

Paul allotted most of his teaching to this one topic. The Thessalonians were alarmed because they believed false teaching. Paul calmed their hearts and minds with TRUTH!

Note: For a more detailed discussion of the implications of Paul’s teaching on Jesus’ second coming, this sermon by John Piper is an excellent resource!

Paul also addressed the young church’s afflictions in the wake of relentless persecution. Paul writes,

Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels (2 Thessalonians 1:4-7).

Paul teaches that God doesn’t just allow suffering, he ordains it. It is his righteous judgment (1:5) in the context of this fallen world. In other words, because of our struggle with sin, God’s purposes for suffering are loving and good!

Paul lists three good purposes for suffering in these verses… First, suffering helps to refine (not punish) the unholy believer so that he is fit for the holy kingdom of God (1:5). Second, God will repay those who sin against believers. He will execute perfect justice (1:6). And third, we will be comforted when Jesus comes again to defeat Satan and evil and to usher us into His final rest (1:7-8).

Paul wrote these truths to calm and comfort the young Thessalonian church. Likewise, these truths should comfort our souls. They should burrow their way down into our hearts and serve as a spring to water our parched lives. These truths should be our delight!

Blessed is the man […]
[whose] delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither (Psalm 1:1-3).

Day 296: Ending Remarks

Ecclesiastes 10-121 Thessalonians 5

Wow! I think this might be the first time in 296 posts that we come to the end of both an Old and New Testament book on the same day! So yes, we end both Job and 1 Thessalonians today :)

After Paul reassures the young Thessalonian church of their salvation and exhorts them to continue working (as opposed to being idle) until the day of the Lord comes, like a thief in the night…Paul ends his book with a plethora of miscellaneous commands.

Similarly, after Solomon makes his case that wisdom is better than folly, he spends the last few chapters of Ecclesiastes giving a plethora of wisdom sayings.

With so much miscellaneous information, it’s hard to find a common thread! But each man makes a focused summary at the end of his book.

Solomon ends Ecclesiastes with the decisive statement:

Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil (Ecclesiastes 12:14).

And Paul ends his letter to the Thessalonian church with profound encouragement:

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

I can’t think of better ending sentiments… A command to fear God, a prayer for God’s sanctification, and the assurance of God’s faithfulness to complete the work he’s started in us. That sounds like the gospel. That sounds like good news!

Day 295: Life beyond the grave

Ecclesiastes 7-91 Thessalonians 4

Paul continues his letter to the Thessalonians by exhorting them to continue in their faith “more and more,” encouraging them in their sanctification. And then Paul turns to address a great concern of the young converts in Thessalonica.

Some of the new Christians had died, and not knowing what happened to a Christian at death, the people fell into a hopeless depression. They assumed that since they died before Jesus’ 2nd coming, they were lost, and missed the promised salvation.

Can you imagine how grieved these new Christians would have been without the hope of life after death?

The writer of Ecclesiastes (most likely Solomon) gives us insight into the hopelessness of life “under the sun,” as if there were no spiritual realm beyond this life – no eternal hope for which to live…

But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun (Ecclesiastes 9:4-6).

But Solomon also knows that divine revelation is more trustworthy than his limited perspective, so he writes,

Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him. But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God (Ecclesiastes 8:12-13).

Yes, without God’s clear instruction on the eternal nature of life, every possible human conception leads to despair.

Solomon despaired because death was inevitable for both the righteous and the wicked.
The Thessalonians despaired because they believed death prevented the salvation of the righteous.

Paul gives us the truth about life after death… that those who have died before the 2nd coming of the Lord go ahead of those on earth to be with God (1 Thessalonians 4:14-15). And when Jesus comes again, all believers on earth will be “caught up together [with those who have died] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17). So all believers both asleep and on earth will be “with the Lord.”

The details of this passage can be difficult to comprehend or imagine, but the heart of Paul’s words are clear. All believers will be with the Lord! Death has lost its sting. It no longer has any power over the believer. No longer are the days of our lives as “the wind,” meaningless or “vanity.”

Jesus’ life, death and resurrection give us hope beyond the grave!