1 Thessalonians 1:2-10 (ESV)

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers,remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.


An experience of god’s grace has an exponential impact.  As people see the effects of God’s grace in our lives, they are drawn to the supernatural work that God does in the hearts of those who have placed their faith in His Son.  At the outset of the book Paul is celebrating the faith of the Thessalonians that was born during difficult circumstances and has now inspired people throughout the region.

This passages reminds us that when we surrender to God’s grace and accept our need for his work in our lives, people see that they too may find something beyond what they have placed their trust in.  As we exercise our faith and demonstrate our convictions of faith, we impact the world around us.

Our response to the Gospel in both word and deed has more than just an effect on our own faith journey.  Our lives, when lived with conviction and led by the Holy Spirit, serve as examples for other believers to emulate.

Reflection
Take a minute to take stock of your faith.  Would people around you see the convictions of your faith in your words and actions?  Would they identify you as a Christian?  How comfortable would you be telling people to imitate you so that they might also be imitators of Christ?

Response
Consider asking someone that you are around each day if they identify you as a Christian.  Ask why they answer the way that they do.  Is it your actions or just what you are involved in on Sundays?

Take a minute to read Mark 1:9-15.

One of the joys of ministry is watching someone be baptized.  It is amazing to consider the symbolism of the event and to watch as the person acknowledges that they were dead in their sins but are now alive in Christ.  Watching a baptism often reminds me of the whole point of all that we do as a church — making disciples of Christ.

Baptism is a powerful event, but it is important that it is correctly understood.  So many people think that being baptized is the end-all of the Christian faith.  What we need to understand is that baptism is not the completion of discipleship; it is the inauguration of discipleship.  Our baptism is the first step in a multitude of steps on the journey of faith in God.  Baptism does not seal our salvation or finish our justification.  Rather, baptism is a first act of obedience and sanctification

Just as baptism symbolizes the beginning of our obedience to Christ, Jesus’s baptism symbolized the inauguration of his ministry.  Right after his baptism, he entered into the wilderness and experienced temptation.  In the same way, when we experience salvation, we then become more aware of the spiritual battle that is all around us.  Following the time of temptation, Jesus began to proclaim the Good News.

Reflection
Our baptism is a symbol, but it is also an event that we can go back to and remember.  Take a few minutes to remember your baptism and what it meant to you then and what it means to you now.  Ask yourself how the journey has gone since that day.  Are you growing?  Are you closer to God or has your faith plateaued?  Ask God to build in you a desire to grow in your faith and in your relationship to Him.

Take a minute to read Mark 1:1-8

Sometimes it’s easy for us to think that we are bigger deal than we really are.  It is human nature for us to want to be praised.  We want people to think we are important.  We want to be a big deal.  Humility is not one of our best traits as human beings.

As we read the beginning of the book of Mark we see someone who could have easily decided that he was a big deal.  John the Baptist was not just a guy who was preaching in the desert.  He was a guy who had been prophesied to come and introduce the Messiah.  As big a deal as I would like to be, I know that nobody was writing about me in the Old Testament hoping I would come and change the world forever.

John the Baptist could have easily believed himself to be more important than anyone else in history.  He could have taken advantage of his position of forerunner to the Messiah.  Instead, he stayed true to his message and his convictions.  John’s message was not even one that would make someone popular, but for a people who were striving to come to peace with God, his message of confession and repentance struck a chord. Not only was his message on point, but he also lived a life that reflected just how committed he was to this message that God had given him.

Just like John the Baptist, we too have been given a calling that has nothing to do with elevating ourselves.  As Christians we proclaim the Gospel and glorify God with our lives.  When the temptation comes for us to think too highly of ourselves we can remember that our mission has no room for pride or selfish accolades.

Reflection
Take a few minutes to do some soul-searching.  Is it more important for people to respect you than it is for people to see Christ in you? Are you seeking to be known or to make Christ known?  Do people see the real you or the you that creates your own followers?  Ask God to help you resist the temptation of pride.

Titus 3

I’m not so great at remembering.  My family gives me a hard time because I have forgotten about entire vacations or even places we lived growing up.  We all have things that we have a hard time remembering.  At times we also have a hard time remembering what our faith says about us and about other people.  In our passage today Paul tells Titus to help his people remember a few key things about their faith and how it plays out in their lives.

Remember to live in light of the Gospel.  Paul calls us to live a holy life that reflects the relationship that we have with God.  We are to live in such a way that honors other people, even when it is difficult.  We are to treat people with respect with our actions and our words.  Few of us would physically attack someone who was difficult to be around, but it is so easy to harm them with evil words or to slander them behind their back.

Remember who you once were.  It think that it is incredibly helpful for us as Christians to be reminded of who we were before Christ.  It not only helps us with our relationship with God, making us more gracious and thankful for his grace and mercy, but it also helps us as we relate to other people who have not experienced the transformation that God brings in our lives.  Understanding that we were once “foolish, disobedient, and slaves to our passions” helps us to have much more patience with those who have not yet met Christ.

Remember that our faith is expressed in actions.  As people who have been renewed by the Holy Spirit and justified by grace the expectation is that we would live in light of that renewal.  We are to embrace the work that God is doing in our lives and focus on being devoted to good works, not to gain righteousness, but to participate in the sanctification that the Spirit has begun in us.  As we devote ourselves to good works for God’s sake, he is glorified and made known to those who need to meet God.

Reflection
Are you participating in the work of the Holy Spirit in your life or are you working against it?  Have you devoted yourself to good works for God’s glory or to earn favor with others and God?  Does your life call people to Christ?  Ask God to show you areas in your life where he is at work.  Take time to remember who you were before Christ and allow those memories to grow your appreciation for the work that God has done in your life.

Titus 2

In an information rich world, it is easy to think that knowing things is an end in itself.  However, only when knowledge is applied and put to use does it make a difference.  We can know all about nutrition, but if we still insist on eating chocolate cake for every meal, we will not experience health.  We can know all about traveling to another country, but until we take the trip and turn that knowledge into an experience then all we have are daydreams.  We can know sound doctrine and be experts in the gospel, but until we seek to live out the implications, we are basically just religious study majors, not true disciples.

In our passage today Paul reminds Titus that there is a responsibility that comes with knowing sound doctrine.  After the knowledge comes the lifestyle informed by the information.  The gospel has implications for all of us at every age and social position.  Titus 2:1-10 explain the way that we would live when we have encountered the truths of the gospel.  These truths when expressed in our lifestyles produce godliness and good fruit.  They lead to peaceful living with God and peaceful living with one another.  The gospel is meant to transform the way that we live our lives, not just the way that we think about God and ourselves.

In Titus 2:11-15 we see why we do these things.  It is because of God’s work in the world and in us.  We live godly lives because we have experienced the grace of God and his salvation.  We do these things because that grace is transforming even our most evil characteristics and tendencies.  We do these things because we have a hope and a future through Christ that motivates us to think beyond our experiences on this earth.  We do these things because we have experienced redemption and have been given a new life and a new purpose.

Reflection
It is a real challenge for us today to be focused on applying what we learn about our faith.  It is much easier to learn about God rather than live for God.  It is also easier to think that having knowledge about God is sufficient when it comes to being a disciple.  Fortunately, we are called to a much more exciting and fruitful life.  Take some time to think about how your faith is put into action.  Does your lifestyle match up with what Paul describes in the first part of the passage?  What is the fruit that your life is producing?  Have you become satisfied with knowledge of the Bible and the gospel or are you seeking a lifestyle that reflects what you believe?  Ask God to help you grow into a disciple who lives according to the doctrine that you profess.

Titus 1:5-16

In our passage today we are told what qualifications someone must meet to become an elder or overseer of the church.  Paul is instructing Titus to be selective when it comes to who might lead the churches in Crete.  The list of qualifications is fairly detailed and specific regarding the required lifestyle of the elder.  From family to economic honesty, we see from this list how important it is for a leader to be able to lead from example.

As we look at this list, even those who do not plan on becoming elders or overseers can glean a picture of what it looks like to have the lifestyle of a true disciple.  As we pursue godliness, we see that these are the traits that our lives should also reflect.

However, it is not just the lifestyle of an elder that qualifies him to become an elder.  Paul also pays strict attention to the candidate’s ability to teach sound doctrine.  This was particularly true in Paul and Titus’s day as nearly everyone was a new believer or at least a first or second generation believer.  Teaching played a key role in the church just as it does today.  While doctrine and Biblical soundness often give way to more “interesting” teachings, they still remain the foundation of the elder’s responsibility according to Paul.

Again, we see that we as disciples must also embrace the responsibility of knowing and teaching the gospel.  We must be competent in our doctrine so that we might train our children up in this knowledge.  We must be competent in our doctrine so that we can have discernment when it comes to things that challenge our faith or our beliefs.  As Paul notes later in our selection, there are many people who would twist and distort the gospel of grace by adding to it or taking away.  If we are to be able to recognize distortions to our beliefs, we must have an understanding of them to begin with.

Reflection
Many passages in the Bible can serve as measuring sticks for how we are doing in terms of our discipleship.  As you read the qualifications for an elder, consider how your faith is developing along these lines.  Could these things be said about your faith.  You may not have achieved these things, but are you allowing God to make these things true for you?  Ask yourself if you have the lifestyle that Paul describes.  Take stock of your knowledge of the gospel and of the Bible.  Ask God to continue to do a work in your life that makes these things true of your walk with Him.

Titus Series Pic

Titus 1:1-4

This week we turn to the book of Titus.  The book was written by Paul to a man named Titus who served alongside Paul and worked in the regions of Corinth, Crete, and Dalmatia.  The issues addressed by Paul in this book concern Titus’s work in Crete.  Paul gives instruction to Titus as he plants the seeds of true faith in the churches in Crete.

What do you find your identity in? Do you find your identity in your job?  Is it found in your social status or your address?  Do you find your identity in your skills or your talents?  In the greeting that Paul uses to begin the letter to Titus we see that he finds his identity in his faith and in his calling to serve his God.

While our inclination is to find our identity in our possessions or our circumstances, our identity as Christians should be found in our relationship with God that was made possible through Jesus.  We see this clearly in Paul’s greeting which is much more than a greeting.  In this greeting Paul lays out a concise depiction of the Gospel and how he sees himself as one chosen by God to spread this good news.

Paul is a servant of God and an apostle of Christ.  The purpose of his calling is to spread the knowledge of truth to those who come to faith in Christ.  This knowledge is the truth of the Gospel and the call for godliness that accompanies this truth.  Paul seeks to lead people to faith through sharing the good news.  As people come to faith, Paul then helps them come to a fuller knowledge of the gospel and its theological depth and practical applications which will then lead to godliness.  An effect of this life lived to godliness is that the elect live in a hope that God promised from eternity–the promise of an eternal life with Him.

Paul tells Titus that this is the message that has been entrusted to him to share by the command of Christ.  Perhaps it would be helpful to let you know that this is also the message that has been entrusted to you to share–by the command of Christ.  We too are messengers of this amazing news.  Why do we not always see it that way?  Why don’t we see ourselves as people whose identity is found in being messengers of this good news?  Perhaps we don’t share it because we don’t feel like we have the proper amount of knowledge of truth that Paul refers to.  Then let’s commit to learning about the most important thing in the world.  Perhaps we don’t see ourselves as a people who are called to share because we see it as the work of professionals who are paid to minister and evangelize.  Then perhaps we need to see things differently.

We are disciples and disciple-makers.  We are the evangelized and the evangelists.  It just makes sense this way.  We experience the gospel and then we become a part of it as we live it out and share it with a world who needs this good news.  May we find our identity in being a people who has been sent to be the messengers of hope to a hopeless world.

Reflection and Action
Take inventory for a few minutes of your desire to share the gospel with the world.  Do you truly feel like you need to grow in your knowledge of God and his truth?  Commit to taking steps to learn, but know that sharing your story of faith is a powerful way to share the gospel, even if you have not figured out all of the ins and outs.  Maybe you simply have not felt the urgency or perhaps you have not seen yourself as a messenger.  Take time to ask God to put people in your life even today that you can share the good news with.  We live in a hurting world, and God is calling you to be His messenger.

Matthew 5:48

Few verses have brought about as much spiritual insecurity as Matthew 5:48.  It is a call to something that we all know that we cannot achieve.  It’s a call to perfection.  How is it that we might be able to achieve this perfection that only God has exhibited when we have a nature so inclined to sin?

As we look at the verse we see the all important “therefore.”  As all Bible scholars will tell you, when you see a therefore, you need to know what it is there for.  Here it serves to summarize the antitheses that Jesus has spoken in regards to the law and the spirit of those laws.  This verse is then our challenge now that Jesus has given us a new understanding of the law and God’s will for our lives.

As a challenge, it is certainly not an easy one.  We are called to constantly be pursuing perfection.  Commentator Michael Wilkins describes this as a call to “restful dissatisfaction.”  We are to be dissatisfied with our current moral failings as we strive to live in light of God’s character.  However, we also rest in the fact that Jesus has imparted his righteousness to us and has covered all of our sin.  This means that we don’t pursue perfection because it will save us, but we pursue perfection as a response to God’s work in our lives.  We do it because we know God and trust that God has the best for us.

So how do we pursue perfection?  We try our best to demonstrate the character of God.  We love with God’s love.  We see and treat people as God’s love demands.  We honor the truths found in Scripture through our obedience to them.  In order to do this, we must learn God’s word and learn how to apply it to our lives.  This is the basis of what we call sanctification.

Reflection
We are not perfect.  We probably do not go a day with a clean record when it comes to sin, but we don’t give up.  As we pursue perfection, there are areas in our lives where we need to be transformed by God.  Spend some time today asking yourself if you are satisfied with the sins in your life or if you have a restful dissatisfaction.  Pray that you will find peace in the grace you have received and encouragement as you pursue the perfection that we are called to pursue.

Matthew 5:43-48

Being a follower of Christ can get pretty weird.  As we read through scripture we find that we are made strong in our weaknesses, we must die to ourselves if we are to really live, and we are to be thankful for the suffering that we encounter in our lives.  On top of this we are told to love our enemies and those who persecute us.  If you can’t hate your enemies, then who can you hate?

It turns out the answer is no one.  As followers of Christ we are called to love those who love us and those who hate us.  We are called to pray for those who persecute us even as they seek out our demise.

I don’t know that I really have any enemies personally.  There are people who bother me and people who I do not like to be around.  I suppose that if I am to love my enemies, I must obviously love those who I don’t get along well with.  Perhaps you have some enemies, people who have hurt you or who are seeking to do you harm either physically or emotionally.  Jesus makes it pretty clear that we are supposed to demonstrate love for them if we are to truly be seeking after the will of God.

To illustrate why even our enemies are worthy of our concern Jesus gives two examples of common grace (God’s grace that is extended to all of mankind).  He reminds us that the sun shines and the rain falls on the good and the bad.  Are we to show more favoritism than God?  He also reminds us that we are called to have a higher standard for our love.  Anyone can love the people who love them back or who are like them.  It takes a supernaturally transformed follower of Christ to show love to someone who is different and destructive.

Loving enemies is not easy.  First, we must remember who we are.  We are loved and valued by God.  Our enemies cannot take that away.  We also remember that we are sinners saved by grace who were once enemies with God.  Second, we must remember that genuine love is unconditional and desires the best for the other.  Demonstrating this love means giving concern even when it would ordinarily be unwarranted.  Third, we do the hard things.  We work at the relationships with our enemies.  We refuse to speak ill of them.  We serve them without any promise that the service would be returned.  We strive to see them as God’s creation rather than our dilemma.  Above all, we ask God to work in our heart and in the hearts of our enemies that we might be reconciled to them.

Reflection
Broken relationships can eat away at us.  Our relationship with our enemies can drain us to the point of exhaustion.  But what if we did not see people as our enemies anymore?  What if we saw them as people who need to see God’s love?  Is there someone in your life who is your enemy?  Do you simply ignore them?  Do you return the pain that they cause you?  Today is perhaps the day that you might begin to see them as objects of God’s love and as people worthy of our love.  Ask God to change your heart towards your enemies.  May God work miracles in your relationships.

Matthew 5:31-32

Advice about divorce can be pretty terrible, even in the church.  I know women who stayed in abusive relationships because a pastor told them that leaving their abusive husband would be wrong.  I know couples who were encouraged to get a divorce because their personalities were not compatible and God wants us to be happy.  Both of these are errors when it comes to divorce.

In Jesus’s day, divorce was as easy as giving your wife a certificate.  Some people of that day believed that grounds for divorce could be as simple as the wife ruining a meal.  The grounds for divorce had become so varied and simple that Jesus reminds his hearers that the intent of this law was to protect the sanctity of marriage and not to provide an easy way out.  Jesus is explaining that a divorce on frivolous grounds is perhaps not a divorce at all and this means that the two are still essentially married in God’s eyes.

Divorce is an incredibly complicated topic with so many angles and so many different circumstances, but what Jesus wants us to understand is that marriage is a big deal to God.  The reason is that marriage is one of the ways that we learn about our relationship with God.  Marriage was designed by God to help us see how important it is to be connected to another.  We were created for relationships, and in marriage we get a picture of what it means to give yourself to another.  As we experience marriage, we get a glimpse of what it looks like to give ourselves to God.  When we submit ourselves to our spouse, we learn how we can submit ourselves to God.  When we experience the depth of marriage, we experience the depth of our relationship to God.

Jesus does give one valid reason for divorce.  The term used here is not the same term used earlier for adultery so some commentators believe that what Jesus had in mind is sinful activity that has broken the relationship beyond repair.  This means that Jesus understands that there may come a time in some marriages where the marriage can be terminated for the sake of one of the couples.

Reflection
As we understand how God sees marriage, we can see why it is important to continually work on and grow in our marriage.  For those who are not married, we see how big a commitment that marriage truly is.  Spend some time today thinking about how marriage helps us understand our relationship with God.