Titus and Philemon

This is the lightest reading day of our series. It only takes a few minutes to read all of the books of Titus and Philemon. Yesterday’s reading also make today’s reading easier, as Paul deals with similar issues in Titus as he did in Timothy.

The letter to Titus is a letter to a man who was responsible to lead the churches on the island of Crete. Titus was to appoint local leaders and to “straighten out what was left unfinished”. This probably was a fairly difficult and frustrating job. It is usually easier to establish something the right way over correcting things that have gone wrong. This may be similar to a person starting a new church as compared to assuming leadership of an already-established church.

Specifically, Paul instructs Titus about qualifications for Elders and leaders in the churches. Elders, take another look at 1:6-9. The ways these letters teach us about our relationships in the church is remarkable. There is no getting away from our responsibilities toward one another, no matter our status. The end of chapter 2 is an encouragement to godly living, in light of the soon-to-be-revealed “blessed hope” of the church – the appearing of Jesus Christ. I noticed another mention by Paul about avoiding foolish controversies. Obviously, he thought debating about endless topics was a huge waste of time for church leaders.

Philemon is a letter from a friend, to a friend. This book has a few characteristics not seen in any of Paul other letters. This is strictly personal, although principles learned certainly apply to everyone who reads it. Paul is a reconciler, trying to patch up a relationship between Philemon and Onesimus. The latter previously worked for the former and it did not end well. Since that time, Onesimus had spent time with Paul and had gotten his life together. Paul was representing him to Philemon and asking for grace and another chance. Since Onesimus was now a believer and brother in Christ, Paul was of the opinion that the relationship could and should be different. There is a lot to be learned about forgiveness, new beginnings and reconciliation. Paul is pretty quick to point out that he has spiritual authority over both of them but does not wish to force the issue. He also reminds Philemon of their relationship and how we hopes for compliance. We do not know how the story turned out but are sure of Paul’s wishes in the situation. The lessons for us are obvious. Forgive, accept, get over it.

On Wednesday, we will read Hebrews Chapter 1-7. I want to commend you for your reading on whatever level. If you are reading one verse per week, you are taking in life-giving Good News. If you are reading every word every day, you are loading up on blessing and benefits.

it’s monday, let’s read the letters from Paul to Timothy

These letters are written from a friend to a friend. But this relationship could better be characterized as a teacher/student relationship. Paul was Timothy’s mentor and coach. He writes respectfully but in no uncertain terms. He is a spiritual father to the younger, less experienced pastor. You can sense that relationship throughout the books.

Because of my particular calling, I have always been especially fond of the “pastoral epistles”, (the letters to Timothy and Titus).

In the early parts of the first letter, Paul instructs Timothy to stay in Ephesus for the purposes of structuring the church there on biblical principles. In the end of that chapter, he reminds the young leader about the words of prophecy that had been spoken over him at an earlier time. Chapter two is pretty controversial for our purposes. Most people aren’t really sure what to do with Paul’s teaching about women in the church. My suggestion would be, don’t ask me! Chapter three specifically lays out the qualifications of Elders and Deacons in the church. If there are any church leaders reading this post, review the qualifications and be reminded that our requirements are higher than those of others. Warnings of false teachers fills the first part of the next chapter and the section ends with a great encouragement for young people who find themselves in positions of leadership: 1 Timothy 4:12 Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. (NIV) Chapter 5 has much to say about relationships, communications and how we should reach out to widows. The final chapter is a killer for those of us who love money. Read it and weep.

II Timothy is a little more personal. Paul opens his heart to some issues he had faced. He reminds Timothy to follow his example: 2 Timothy 1:13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. For many years, I have utilized the following verse as a theme for my ministry: 2 Timothy 2:2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. Don’t you see the link of chains? – we continue to pass on what has been passed on to us. Over and over, we see Paul tell Timothy not to waste valuable ministry time arguing with people who just want to argue. I find these verses very helpful – I don’t like to spend time debating endless and meaningless topics. II Timothy 3 gives a stark picture of how people will behave in times like these. Timothy knows better than to fall prey to the traps of these times, Paul is simply reminding him. Now Paul concludes with more personal teaching: He charges Timothy with significant responsibilities. He also reminds the younger of his life and ministry and, in essence, says goodbye.

I hope you enjoyed reading through the “Timothys”. Tomorrow, we will read two brief books, Titus and Philemon.

Have a great day, or night, whatever the case may be!

Sunday: 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians

In worship services today, Quest part 4 will take us from Hebrews all the way through Jude – a large section of scripture, to say the least. In our reading for today, we will go through the letters to the church at Thessalonica. Rather brief, but powerful books. By the way, my others reading has really taken a hit. I don’t think I have cracked another book so far this month!

These truly are books written by a friend to his friends. You can sense his compassion for and interest in their spiritual progress and development.

What could be considered a theme for the book of I Thessalonians is found in 5:11“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” Paul is encouraged by them and them by him – the concept of mutual encouragement is still valid today!.

Take a look at how Paul feels about them: 2:19-20 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy.

You can see the heart of Paul for these guys, how we wished some many great blessings for them: 3:12-13 “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”

A nice goodbye blessing: 5:23-24 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it”.

I will never forget, at a critical juncture in my ministry, when struggling as to whether or not I could fulfill God’s call on my life, an older brother in Christ looked me in the eye and quoted verse 24 – what a crossroads for me!

Use these words to build up others. Speak these words to the people about whom you care. Allow the Word of God to bring life to those we love.

II Thessalonians is certainly a sequel to the former book.

Paul further clarifies some of his teaching from earlier.
Chapter 2 is important teaching about the coming of Jesus Christ and the things that must happen prior to His revelation. Please notice how much of Paul’s writing covers this topic – appears as though this issue is close to the heart of God for His people.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:15, we see a valuable reminder. I think the reminder is based on his instruction about the coming of Christ: “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” We must see the value and necessity of holding on to the integrity of God’s Word and fighting for what is right and true.

The final chapter is a reminder to his friends as to how important it is for us to continue to work hard, be diligent, earn our way and remain productive. This is no time for laziness!

One more nice “goodbye blessing”: 2:16-17 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

We start the new week off on Monday with Paul’s two letters to his protégé, Timothy. We are on the home stretch now!!!

Saturday’s reading: Philippians and Colossians

Today, our reading is Philippians and Colossians

Philippians was written from a prison cell. Paul believed that his chains would result in the encouragement of his fellow believers. So he willingly endured the punishment given him so that the Gospel could be preached everywhere. He teaches us in chapter 2 to think like Jesus thinks. Specifically, he mentions: making Himself nothing on our behalf, taking on the nature of a servant, and humbling Himself. This is how we are supposed to think and behave. In 3:10-11, he says, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Pretty mature approach to living, I’d say. He tells us a little later that he forgets what is behind and just looks ahead. Actually, he says, “straining for what is ahead”. That mean is “stretching”. Are you willing for God to stretch you so that you can be ready for the future that He has for you? And like the quintessential leader that he is, he says, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice.” (4:9)

Colossians is all about Jesus: He is supreme, He is preeminent, He is first in everything!
Chapter 1, verses 15-19 is poetic, speaking of Christ’s Divinity. He follows with 2:9stating, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form”. Chapter 3 is great instruction about godly living, many “don’ts” (things that are not permissible for Jesus followers). Rules for a good family life follow. I have always noted the special relationship between Paul and Epaphras. If you are not familiar with this guy, just read 4:12 – I’ll bet you’ll wish you had someone like this in your life!

Join me tomorrow for the letters to the Thessalonians

Galatians and Ephesians

Friday, March 20: Happy Birthday Letha!

Two books in one day! (Warning: the next four days are two-bookers – but they are short books!)

Galatians is all about freedom in Christ. The book is written to believers in Jesus who had gone back to their old religious customs – specifically circumcision. Paul was writing to tell them that this ritual had no positive effect spiritually. He asks them in 3:3, “After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” While not many of us will be tempted in the area of circumcision, there are lots of traps from our past that can pull us away from faith in Christ. He tells us all, “The righteous will live by faith (not our own efforts).” (3:11)

I think the summary verse in Galatians is 5:1 “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

One of the most poignant verse in all of the Bible is found in Galatians. Here it is, just digest it:
Galatians 6:17 “I bear on my body the marks (scars) of Jesus.”

Ephesians takes us a different direction.
In 2002, I had the incredible opportunity to be involved in an in-depth, small group study of Ephesians with Dr. Jack Hayford, from Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California. Many of the notes in my study Bible came from that teaching.

Let me just hit some chapter highlights:
1) The gathering of Christ-worshippers is a body. Jesus represents the head and we are under Him. This is a huge blessing that is difficult for us to comprehend, but if we do, we will realize our prized position in Him.
2) The gathering of Christ-worshippers is a building, Jesus is the Chief Cornerstone, the foundation is the apostles and prophets. As we get into this building, we become the Temple of God, the living place of the Holy Spirit.
3) The gathering of Christ-worshippers is a mystery. The idea of mystery is this: God has, by His grace brought al people together to be His family. God has revealed this mystery through His church.
4) The gathering of Christ-worshippers is mature spiritual adult. God has given us the Spirit and church leaders to unify us and grow us up in our relationship with Jesus. When this happens, we will not be petty, we will stop doing things that destroy one another and we will stop acting like spiritual babies.
5) The gathering of Christ-followers is a bride. Jesus is the groom and we are to love Him and submit to him in every way. This metaphor speaks beautifully to how we are supposed to feel toward Christ as well as offering us great teaching on how to make our marriages work.
6) The gathering of Christ-worshippers is warrior. The enemy is the devil, we are the soldiers and there is all-out war! If we arm ourselves with the weapons that God provides, we are sure to win the battle.

I love the benediction in Ephesians:
Ephesians 6:23-24 Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.”

Are you counting down to the end? Try to avoid the temptation of just “getting through”. (by the way – only 22 days to go on the Quest!)

March 19

Thursday’s reading is heavy duty. Not only is there a lot of it (I think the largest one-day read we have left) but the material may also be difficult o process. Overall, I think this reading project is very good for those of us who need a little discipline in our lives. It seems like God is reordering our priorities.

II Corinthians, the sequel to I Corinthians, is tough to summarize but here are some of the major thoughts covered in the book:

God has comforted us and had compassion on us, we are supposed to share that comfort and compassion with others (ch.1).

The stuff we go through today will not be worth remembering when we receive our eternal reward. (ch. 4)

God has given us the job of bringing people back to him. This is referred to as a “ministry of reconciliation” (ch. 5).

We are representative of Jesus, in our current culture. (ch.5). We are His “Ambassadors”, sent by Him to speak and work on His behalf. Kind of puts a little pressure on us, don’t you think? Not pressure in a bad way, but pressure to be sure that we are living up to the standard that He set.

We are required to be generous. (ch. 8 and 9) If we are generous, we will receive generously. If we are stingy, what we receive will reflect that attitude.

Paul (the author) had a very difficult life, because he was a Christ-follower (chs. 11-12)

Thanks for reading II Corinthians.

Friday’s reading will be two short letters – Galatians and Ephesians. Stick with it, hang in there. But if you get really overloaded, there is grace!

(Wednesday)

I Corinthians 9-16

For today’s blog, I just want to lift out a few of the more recognized verses (at least by me) from the chapters. You may consider this a “snapshot” of the next few chapters.

I Corinthians (all scriptures NIV)
9:22-23 I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

10:12-13 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

11:1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

12:1 Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.
12:12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.
12:28 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

13:1-8 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails
13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

14:33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.
14:40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

15:19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
15:42-44 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
15:57-58 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Tomorrow, we will read all of II Corinthians.