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Part of the FBCS 2010 Read Through the Bible Project: Enter the Story. Join the Song.

Archive for October, 2010

God’s Desire, Our Desire . . .

1 Timothy 2   Isaiah 34-35   Psalm 119:65-96

“First I tell you to pray for all people” (1 Timothy 2:1, NCV). In today’s readings, we hear the psalmist praying for himself, pleading, “I am yours; save me” (Psalm 119:94), while the prophet paints vivid pictures of both the day of “vengeance” against God’s enemies (Isaiah 34) and the day of restoration for the redeemed (Isaiah 35). At the same time we hear, in the first letter to Timothy, the instruction to pray every way we know how for everyone. As a whole, these sacred texts lead us to questions of deep spiritual significance: What does my prayer life reveal about my heart? For whom do I pray, and for what purpose? And what do my prayers speak concerning my commitment to desiring what God desires?

“God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:3,4).  God desires that everyone be saved and “come to the knowledge of the truth” revealed in Christ Jesus. Not only us. Everyone. Yet the urge is strong within us, is it not, to desire salvation for “me and mine,” and vengeance for “them and theirs”? So when the psalmist prays “Let your mercy come to me” (Psalm 119:77) and “Let the arrogant be put to shame” (v.78), we nod our heads in agreement . . . And, perhaps, must admit that, somehow, the vision of “streams in the desert” (Isaiah 35:6) is made all the sweeter against the backdrop of the enemy’s streams “turned into pitch” (Isaiah 34:9) . . .  Yet the deepest desire of God’s heart is that everyone be saved. And that you and I pray for, rather than simply about, everyone.

“For kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:2). Every one of them. No exceptions provided. Having and sharing opinions about leaders is one thing, but those who desire what God desires will pray for them. This, we are told, “is right and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior” (v.3). In truth, God’s deep desire is that we, and every person created in God’s image, would walk in “the Holy Way” (Isaiah 35:8), leading “a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:2). Do I desire this, too? Do you? May God’s desire be ours. And may we pray in every way we know for everyone. Whether we agree with them, or not. Amen.

“For there is one God;
there is also one mediator
between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
who gave himself a ransom for all.”
— 1 Timothy 2:5,6

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Abundance of Salvation

1 Timothy 1    Isaiah 31-33    Psalm 119:33-64

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). Once we have entered the great story of God, it can be easy to find ourselves lost in, or even distracted by, the details of that story (The proverbial “can’t see the forest for the trees” comes to mind) . . . Today’s texts join together to make clear to us the purpose of God and the goal of the story: Salvation. From beginning to end, the message is the same, “the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our ruler, the Lord is our king; he will save us” (Isaiah 33:22). And this grace is offered and extended to even the worst and least deserving offender (Isaiah 33:24; 1 Timothy 1:15); for this Jesus lived and died and was raised.

“Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise” (Psalm 119:41). And it does. To those who ask for it, and even to those who fight against it (1 Timothy 1:13). To those who know they don’t deserve it (Paul) and, incredibly — mercifully — to those who believe they do (see Psalm 119). It is for this reason that, time and time again, we hear the word extended in every form possible, “Turn back to him whom you have deeply betrayed” (Isaiah 31:6). Turn. Return. Receive mercy. For this purpose Christ Jesus came into the world, “to save sinners — of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15).

“Abundance of salvation” (Isaiah 33:6). This is God’s story. And, in God’s abundant wisdom, steadfast love, overflowing mercy, and utmost patience (1 Timothy 1:16), you and I are invited to enter and live it as our own story. Whether we don’t think we deserve to do so, or do. May you always know that Jesus came into the world to save you. May you receive and live in God’s overflowing grace, faith, and love. And may you forever praise and honor the God of your salvation. Amen

“The Lord is exalted, he dwells on high;
he filled Zion with justice and righteousness;
he will be the stability of your times,
abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge;
the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.”
— Isaiah 33:5,6

Walking Right Side Up!

2 Thessalonians 3   Isaiah 29-30   Psalm 119:1-32

“I treasure your word in my heart” (Psalm 119:11). So prays the psalmist as he reflects upon the blessings experienced by those who “walk in the law of the Lord” (v.1). Meanwhile, we hear Paul write confidently to the Thessalonians, “you are doing and will go on doing the things that we command” (2 Thessalonians 3:4).  And in the middle stands the prophet Isaiah, confronting the people of Judah with the word of the Lord, “their hearts are far from me, and their worship is a human commandment learned by rote” (Isaiah 29:13) . . . In these ways today’s scriptures invite us to see that there is both a right way to order life, and a way that is at once upside down and backwards.

“You turn things upside down!” (Isaiah 29:16). And so we do when we make our own plans and follow our own way — behaving as if we are the creator and not the created — rather than seeking God and God’s way. Has God ever looked upon your path or mine and said “they carry out a plan, but not mine” (Isaiah 30:1)? Can you think of a time when you set out “without asking for God’s counsel” (v.2)? And how often might it be said of us that we honor God “with our lips” while our “hearts are far” from God? And how well has that worked so far? Upside down, indeed! Now, hear this:

“This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21). The voice of the Teacher . . . The vision of God with us. Time and time again we are reminded that the way of happiness and the path of true joy is for those who obey God and “seek him with their whole heart” (Psalm 119:2). The prophet declares, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15), thus reminding us that the way of salvation is the way of  loving obedience and wholehearted trust. Honor the Maker with head and heart; hand and voice; love and steadfastness. There is a way that is right and right side up. May you walk in it. And may you never be weary in doing what is right. Amen.

“May the Lord direct your hearts
to the love of God and
to the steadfastness of Christ.”
— 2 Thessalonians 3:5

A Sure Foundation.

2 Thessalonians 2    Isaiah 27-28    Psalm 118

“Thus says the Lord God, See I am laying in Zion a foundation stone” (Isaiah 28:16). In today’s readings, Paul begs the Thessalonians “not to be quickly shaken in mind” (2:2) and both the psalmist and the prophet speak of the Lord God laying a “chief” and “precious” cornerstone (Psalm 118:22; Isaiah 28:16). As we consider these texts, let us reflect upon the important business of laying a sure foundation.

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” (Psalm 118:22). This verse is cited six times in the New Testament (Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:7), where Jesus is repeatedly identified as the chief cornerstone. Now a definition: The cornerstone is the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation. The cornerstone is important because all other stones will be set in reference to this stone. This stone determines the position of the entire structure . . . (Notice: this illustrates why it is important to keep reading the whole story of God, for many of the concepts presented in the Old Testament provide the foundation of those found in the New Testament).

“One who trusts will not panic” (Isaiah 28:16). This is the name of God’s precious cornerstone, the sure foundation. And the name provides the key to being “not quickly shaken” (2 Thessalonians 2:2). Those who trust in Jesus as the foundation of their lives need not panic. Ever. He will never leave us behind (the concern of the Thessalonians) and, as the psalmist declares elsewhere, those who trust him as their rock and salvation “shall never be shaken” (Psalm 62). And this is the point of the oft-repeated word of God, “be not afraid.” Those who set the foundation of their lives in reference and alignment with the chief cornerstone can live in complete assurance for, “with the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can mortals do to me?” (Psalm 118:6). May the work and word of Jesus be your sure foundation. May he always be the chief and precious cornerstone of your life. And may you forever live in trust, and not panic. Amen.

“Now may the Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.”
— 2 Thessalonians 2:16,17

Grace To You and Peace

2 Thessalonians 1    Isaiah 25-26    Psalm 117

“Grace to you and peace” (2 Thessalonians 1:2) “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The greeting is found here and at the beginning of almost every letter in the New Testament. And it represents a combination of the standard Greek salutation, “grace,” and the traditional Hebrew greeting, “peace.” But it is far more than a cross-cultural greeting. Grace and peace are gifts from God in Jesus Christ; gifts upon which everything we are, do, and become depend. Consider it . . .

“Grace to you.” Grace is perhaps best understood and God’s unearned favor freely given in Christ. Rooted in the “steadfast love” and “faithfulness” of God (Psalm 117), grace is God saving us and preparing for us “a feast of rich food” (Isaiah 15:6). Apart from grace, we have nothing, are nothing, and would find ourselves “separated from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). However, by God’s grace, we have available to us all we need to live the kind of life we are called to live “so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified” in us, and we in him (v.11,12). “Grace to you,” therefore, may be best translated, “Our God gives you everything you need” (v.2, “The Message”).

“And peace.” While we might think of peace in terms of the absence of turmoil or trouble, God’s peace encompasses far more than this. Peace is a matter of being in right relationship with God, others, and self. The Hebrew word, “shalom,” fills out our understanding, for it communicates “wholeness.” So, again, “The message” helps us, translating the entire greeting in this way: “Our God gives you everything you need, makes you everything you’re to be.” Gift, indeed. And our part in this? Well.

“Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace” (Isaiah 26:3). Or, as the more familiar translation has it, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee.” Complete peace and wholeness is a gift given by God to those who keep their minds focused on God and “trust in the Lord forever” (Isaiah 26:4). Grace, peace, and trust . . . That God will save us (v.9). Trust. That God is preparing for us a feast of good things (v.6). Trust. That God will give us everything we need and make us everything we were created to be (2 Thessalonians 1). Trust. That God will be faithful in all things (Psalm 117) . . . May you trust God forever. And may God always cover you with grace and fill you with peace. Amen.

“Grace to you and peace
from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
— 2 Thessalonians 1:2

Keep Awake.

1 Thessalonians 5    Isaiah 23-24    Psalm 116

“Now concerning the times and the seasons . . .” (1 Thessalonians 5:1). Inquiring minds want to know, don’t they? How long before God answers our prayers and puts things right? When will Jesus return? And what are the signs, clues, and seasons? And God’s answer is consistent: You do not need a time-table (v.1), for “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (v.2; Matthew 24:43; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 16:15). So “keep awake” (1 Thessalonians 5:6). As the matter is addressed in today’s readings, notice these things:

“Our God is merciful” (Psalm 116:5). Gracious. And righteous (Isaiah 24:16). Protecting the simple (v.6); present with the faithful in life and in death (Psalm 116:15 and 1 Thessalonians 5:10). This, also, is a consistent theme of the story. God hears the cry of the faithful (Psalm 116:1) and saves them (v.6,8), giving them cause to “lift their voices” and “sing for joy” (Isaiah 24:14). Will judgment come? Absolutely. And God is merciful to the faithful. This being so, those who are wise will give themselves not to prognosticating and wondering about times and dates, but to faithfulness . . .

“So then let us not fall asleep” (1 Thessalonians 5:6). Keep awake. And keep faith (Psalm 116:10). Those who do so “do not need” (v.1) times and dates, for God is faithful (v.24) to those whose lives are given to behaviors and attitudes which conform to “the will of God in Christ Jesus” for us (v.18). It is a matter of focus. The mind absorbed in reading signs and times has little room for seeking “to do good to one another and to all” (v.15). In contrast, those whose lives are characterized by “faith and love” (v.8) are covered in salvation and ready at any time. May we, therefore, give ourselves to encouraging one another and building each other up. May we keep awake and focused on faithfulness. And may we trust God, who is merciful and faithful. Amen.

“May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The one who calls you is faithful,
and he will do this.”
— 1 Thessalonians 5:23,24

Trust in the Lord!

1 Thessalonians 4   Isaiah 20-22   Psalm 115

“Trust in the Lord!” (Psalm 115:9-11). The call, repeated three times in the psalm for this day, has set my mind to thinking . . . Do I trust in the Lord? Do you? And how, exactly, does such trust manifest itself in our lives? The day’s readings provide guidance . . .

“But you did not look to him who did it” (Isaiah 22:11). The words of the prophet paint a picture of God’s “beloved people” giving themselves to military preparedness, but disregarding faithfulness to the Lord (v.8-11). It is a description of trust misplaced. And it stands in stark contrast to the psalmist’s refrain, “He is their help and their shield” (Psalm 115:9-11) . . . How “natural” it can be to trust in our own efforts, plans, preparations, and the implements of our own hands! Some might even call it prudent and wise. But the psalmist offers another perspective on those who trust in the work of their own hands . . . He calls it idolatry (v.3-8). Well. Consider, again, the call to trust in the Lord . . .

“The Lord has been mindful of us; he will bless us” (Psalm 115:12). And to this Paul adds, “we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). That is, God is mindful of us and will bless us — and all God’s beloved people — in life and in death. Hear the word again, beloved, “He is their help and their shield.” God is present and active. God is mindful of us and will bless us. God is steadfast love and faithfulness. Always and forever. These are words of hope and encouragement, calling us to respond in trust . . .

“We will bless the Lord” (Psalm 115:18). How? By living lives that please God (1 Thessalonians 4:1). “More and more” (v.3,10). That is, those who trust the Lord give themselves to living lives of holiness, controlling their own bodies (v.4), loving others (v.9,10), behaving properly toward all people (v.6,12), and encouraging one another with words of hope (v.18). More and more. In this way we trust in the Lord. In life and in death. May we bless the Lord this day, living lives of trust and encouraging others to do the same. Amen.

“Not to us, O Lord, not to us,
but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love
and your faithfulness.”
— Psalm 115:1

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