Brick #53 – Philippians 3:12-14

BBBNew12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

What does  “this” in verse 12 and “it” in verse 13 refer to?  A key principle for interpreting Scripture is to always look at the context of a verse or passage. In this case, Paul is referring back to verses 7-11. The thing that means more to him than anything else to knowing Christ, gaining Christ, treasuring Christ above all.

The reason this is true for Paul, and should be for us, is because of what he says at the end of verse 12: “Christ Jesus has made me His own.” Paul has never gotten over the beauty of the cross. Even after 30 years he is still overwhelmed by the wonder of the gospel and what Jesus did for him. And we should be as well.

And Paul is not content to just maintain his relationship with Jesus. He wants to keep growing and keep knowing Christ better and better. In verse 13 he talks about “one thing” that he is doing to make sure this happens. My challenge to you (and me) is to identify one thing that could help you to know Jesus better and treasure Him more. Just one thing! Never underestimate the power of making one simple change.

Here are three things that I have been pondering regarding treasuring Jesus above all else. I won’t make any further comments about them. I will just leave them here for you to mull over:

  • What we treasure most we think about constantly! (Philippians 4:8)
  • What we treasure most we pursue relentlessly! (Matthew 13:44)
  • What we treasure most we guard jealously! (Exodus 20:4-5)

Is Jesus your greatest treasure?

May the Lord use this “brick” to spur you on to know Christ even better than you already do and to consider doing whatever it takes to make Christ your greatest treasure.

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Brick #52 – Matthew 7:24-27

BBBNewThese 4 verses are the closing verses of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Like every good preacher He left His hearers with a lot to think about. Part of his closing remarks say “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Here are a few questions that I think His listeners left pondering… and scratching their heads about:

  • How in the world is my righteousness ever going to exceed that of the scribes Pharisees? (5:20)
  • Does Jesus really expect me to cut off my right hand when (not if) it causes me to sin? (5:30)
  • Am I really supposed to let somebody slap my other cheek after they have already slapped me once? (5:39)
  • What did Jesus mean by “do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth?” Am I not supposed to save and prepare for retirement? (6:19)
  • Did He really mean that very few are going to find their way into heaven? What do I have to do? (7:14)

Jesus talks in these verses about making sure that our lives are built on a strong, solid foundation and warns His hearers that if this is not true then they are setting themselves up for collapse. Unfortunately many people, even spiritual people, have a foundation that is faulty. Their lives are centered around being good enough to get into heaven. Or their lives are focused around the other people in their lives – and one thing we know is that people often disappoint and let us down. Or their lives center on how they are feeling at any given time – which can make for quite a roller-coaster kind of existence.

And then there are many people who have built their lives initially on Jesus but either because of compromise or neglect have allowed cracks to form in their foundation. These folks are always surprised when their lives start to collapse around them only to realize that they refused to do anything to keep the little cracks from becoming big cracks.

So how do you maintain a foundation that will support your life when the storms of life threaten to destroy you. Three things that you hear often because they are so crucial: 

1) Stay in church and connected to other believers. Hebrews 10:24-25 says this, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
2) Stay in the Word. It has been said that sin will keep you from the Word or the Word will keep you from sin. Jesus said it this way, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them…”
3) Stay before the throne of grace. As the author to the Hebrews said, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

As you ponder this “brick” may the Lord strengthen the foundation you have built and cause you to exult in song proclaiming…

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.

 

Brick #51 – Matthew 6:25-34

BbBBy nature, I do not tend to be an anxious person. But then honestly, I’ve never really had that much to be anxious about. I’ve always had plenty of food on the table and a roof over my head and clothes on my back. My health has been on the side of very good for 62 years. I’ve had a steady job for 35 years. I have an awesome wife and kids and grandkids. In the grand scheme of things, there has been precious little to get anxious about.

But then again, in the past year I guess I have had some things that I could have worried about – if I had chosen to do so. Back in the Fall I had an MRI and CT scan of my gut because of some weird pains I was experiencing. A few months ago one of my sons tested positive for Covid-19 and I was around him… a lot. And then most recently there was a two week period where I potentially was going to be diagnosed with a brain tumor. An MRI of my brain last week proved otherwise but I was one phone call away from a significant life change!

Why am I not anxious about such things. Perhaps it is just my nature. But I’d like to think it is because of what I believe about God. Here are a few things that come out of this passage that are good reminders for all of us:

  1. We are of inestimable value to God and we can cast all our cares on Him because we  know that He cares for us. (Mt 6:26, 1 Peter 5:7). Does this mean that life will always be sweet? No. But even in the bittersweet times we can cling to the promise of God that He will be with us and that His ways are perfect.
  2. Anxiety will do nothing more than rob us of the joy it is possible to experience in the present moment. (Mt. 6:27) Or to say it another way (as I saw on a placard in Alaska last summer) “Worry is a waste of imagination.”
  3. Worry acts as a barometer of our faith. If I find that I am overwhelmed by anxiety then perhaps I am underwhelmed by the greatness and sovereignty of God. (Mt. 6:30) When I ponder these magnificent attributes of God then it becomes difficult to wallow in worry for very long.
  4. Our emotional energy is much better spent dealing with what IS happening rather than obsessing over what might NEVER happen. (Mt. 6:34) Present tense life can be hard enough. No sense borrowing problems from the future. In the financial world there is what is known as good debt and bad debt. Worry is incredibly bad debt.

Verse 33 is a great note to wrap up with as it sums up this whole passage: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” Intentionality is very much needed if we are going to find an antidote for anxiety. SEEK! SEEK God through the study of His Word and prayer. SEEK to pursue His will and not the wayward desires of the flesh. SEEK out people who will encourage you and help to nourish your soul. SEEK to live a life of gratitude for what you do have instead of complaining about what you don’t have. SEEK first the kingdom of God!

 

Brick #50 – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

BbBA little context. Every other year the Isthmian Games were held outside of Corinth – the year before and the year after the ancient Olympian Games. They took place in the year 51 A.D. which coincided with Paul’s visit to Corinth on his 2nd missionary journey. Athletes from throughout Greece would converge and compete in footraces, wrestling, boxing, throwing the discus and javelin, the long jump, chariot racing, poetry reading and singing. (You did not know singing was considered an athletic event, did you?).

Unlike the modern Olympic Games where gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded to the first three places respectively, in the ancient games, only the winner received the crown. There was no second place award – winning was everything!  Paul admonishes the Corinthians to run in such a way that they might obtain the prize. He likens the Christian life to a race and says to give it all you’ve got. If you are going to call yourself a Christian go ALL IN! Don’t live a half-baked kind of Christian life. 

Why is this so important to him? What is the why behind his what? Check out verse 23. It is for the sake of the gospel. Anything less than an ALL IN effort is an affront to the gospel and diminishes its influence. And Paul is thoroughly convinced that people need the gospel more than they need anything else. The question I must ask myself is “do I believe this in the same way that Paul believes this?”

Admittedly, he goes on to say, this takes self-control and discipline (vs. 25-27).  And this only happens (per Galatians 5:23) when we are under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. This kind of Spirit-led self-control looks much different than when we try to live a self-controlled life in the power of the flesh. But, Paul says, it is worth it because we are running to receive an imperishable reward.

If we can keep in mind that we are living for eternal purposes and not mundane purposes then we would no doubt run our race much differently than we do. So how do we do this? I have at least one idea that I’d love to share with you if you will email me at sreyner@Ridgecrest.cc and ask “what’s your idea?” If you have thoughts about this please feel free to email me or comment here.

Brick #49 – Ephesians 3:14-19

BbB 14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

“For this reason” – Which reason is Paul talking about? Why is it that Paul is not only compelled to pray for his Ephesian friends but determined not to miss this opportunity to come to the Father on their behalf? Go back to verse 12: “In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Paul is absolutely confident that God will not only hear his prayers but also answer his prayers. And what’s not to answer…

I mean look at what Paul is praying – he is praying that the Ephesians would be strengthened with POWER so that they would be fueled by faith and grasp how glorious is God’s love for them. What’s not to answer in a prayer like that. He is not praying for their safety or their health or their financial situation or their employment status or that they would be happy. He is praying that these Christians in Ephesus would experience from God something that would transform their lives on the inside not just change their circumstances on the outside. He is praying that the Ephesian believers would be radically changed so that the watching world would stand up and take notice.

I do not meet many believers who are fueled by the power of God and daily live faith-filled lives. I do not meet many believers who who have such a thorough, all-surpassing grasp of the love of God that that they are “filled to the measure of all the fulness of God.” I want to be one of those kinds of believers. What about you?

Brick #48 – Psalm 27:4

Untitled designOne thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek Him in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)

This verse always puts things in perspective for me. It shows me how far I am from God and reveals my sinfulness and selfishness. Why? Because I know that if I could ask for ONE THING, it would not be what David asks for.

I might ask for good health or protection for my kids or wisdom in decision making. I might ask for salvation for a friend or family member or God’s blessing on our church or peace in the midst of turmoil. I might ask for God’s power to fuel me or His presence to refresh me or His grace to overwhelm me. All of these are good things to ask for. But they are very different from what David asks for.

In point of fact, David does ask for some of the things that I might ask for – just read the rest of Psalm 27. Hear me (v.7). Be merciful to me (v.7). Don’t reject me (v.9).Teach me (v.11). Lead me (v.11). Protect me (v.12) But if he could only ask for one thing it would be to be with the Lord and to be able to gaze upon His beauty. Note what David says in v.8, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.” David is seeking God’s face first and foremost. I tend to seek His hand and what He can do for me.

This Psalm indicates David’s complete confidence in the Lord despite what might be going on around him. “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall i fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid”. (v.1) “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (v.13) His confidence flows out of his relationship with God and is a result of the time that he spends in the presence of God.

A lesson I need to learn. What about you?

Brick # 47 – Matthew 9:36-38

BbB“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.””

Jesus has been traveling from town to town preaching and teaching and healing. As a result He had attracted quite a following. But  gathering a large crowd was not what mattered to Jesus. People mattered to Jesus. He was overcome with emotion as He looked over the crowd and recognized their plight.

Webster defines plight as “a difficult or precarious situation.” This is what the people were facing without even knowing it. This is what we are facing as well. This is what sheep face everyday and why Jesus chose this metaphor. Jesus recognized that…

Sheep (we) need protection – Not only do we find ourselves exposed to the dangers of this world which are bad enough, but we are also susceptible to the dangers of the supernatural world. Our enemy, the devil, is always on the prowl “looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8). And it is a danger that we are almost completely unaware of. We need protection – whether we know it or not.

Sheep (we) need leadership – Sheep tend to wander without really paying attention to where they’re going – this is not unlike a large percentage of our population. Many people are just wandering through life without any clear direction or purpose. People crave strong leadership – and yet there is such a void of strong, godly leadership in our culture that people have fallen prey to charismatic leaders who are only looking after their own interests, not the interests of the people.

Sheep (we) need green pastures and quiet waters  – According to Psalm 23 this is what a good shepherd provides for his sheep. We need food that nourishes and water that refreshes. We need a diet that strengthens and satisfies our soul. We don’t need spiritual pablum.  We don’t need a diet that makes us feel good about ourselves we need a diet of Truth that causes us to exult in the greatness of God.

As Jesus perused the crowd and saw their great need He turned to His disciples and challenged them to pray for workers. But inherit in the challenge to pray was also a challenge to go and be one of those workers. Jesus was training His men for a mission. And that mission was incumbent upon recognizing how much people matter to God.

Brick #46 – Romans 8:28-30

Untitled designAnd we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.30 And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)

This passage, probably more than any other as far as I am concerned, epitomizes the free choice/predestination dialogue. I am neither a theologian nor the son of a theologian but here are my thoughts for what they are worth.

Does the Bible say that we have freedom to choose to believe in God or not? Yes! Note verse 28: “…for those who love God…” Love involves choice. I choose every day whether or not I will love God. I choose every day whether or not I will love my wife. I choose every day whether or not I will love my kids. No one is making me love. I love by my own freedom of choice. The Bible absolutely affirms freedom of choice. I choose to love God and place my faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross – therefore, I am saved from condemnation and damnation.

Does the Bible say that we are predestined by God to be saved?  In other words, did He choose me to believe? Yes! Note verse 29: “…those whom He foreknew He also predestined…” I am one of God’s chosen ones. It was His choice that I be saved. He chose me before the beginning of creation to reign with Him in eternity. The Bible absolutely affirms predestination. His choice, not mine!

But are not these two affirmations saying two different things? How can they both be true? I’ll say two things about this:

1) If we were able to explain everything about God and our faith then we would not have a great and awe-inspiring God. We must leave room for mystery and trust that one day God will make that which is unclear to be incredibly clear.

2) The best explanation for this for my puny mind goes like this. From man’s perspective we have complete freedom of choice. From God’s perspective He is the One who does the choosing. Imagine yourself preparing to enter Heaven’s Gate. There is a sign over the gate that says, “Everyone who believes in the Lord shall be saved!”  (Our choice) After you enter you turn around and notice a sign on the other side of the gate that says, “Chosen before the creation of the world.”  (God’s choice) It all depends on your perspective – from this side of heaven or the other side.

You will hear lots of arguments these days about this subject. I choose to say what I believe the Bible says – both are true, even if I can’t completely understand how.

Brick #45 – Galatians 5:16-24

Untitled designThere is a lot more going on in these verses than just a really popular memory verse about the fruit of the Spirit (5:22-23). These verses really hinge off of some very strong language that Paul uses back in verse 12: “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate (castrate) themselves.”

Evidently there are some people who have infiltrated the Galatian church who are encouraging believers to take advantage of their “freedom in Christ.” They are basically saying that because you have been given freedom in Christ you can live any way and do anything that you want to. The most recent version of this heresy  tells people that if they have prayed a prayer and have “fire insurance” then they can sin as much as they want because they have a “get out of hell free card.”

Paul says, NO WAY JOSE’ to this spiritual bunk. He, in no uncertain terms, tells the Galatians that the litmus test to determine if you are genuinely saved is not whether you have prayed a prayer or not but whether you are daily being led by the Spirit of God and demonstrating evidence of this by the way that you live. He lists 15+ “works of the flesh” and juxtaposes these against 9 “fruit of the Spirit.” Essentially he is reiterating what he said to the Corinthians:

5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Cor. 13:5)

Galatians 5:22-23 are indeed  great verses to memorize. But whenever you ponder these verses keep their context in mind and it will make their meaning even more powerful. 

Now go forth and be fruitful!

 

Brick #44 – 1 John 5:4-5

Untitled design“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” 1 John 5:4-5

The word victory and the word overcome both come from the same Greek root – nike. You might recognize this as an apparel brand or the name of a  Greek goddess. So the verses could really be translated like this: “For everyone who has been born of God has victory over the world. And this is the victory that has gained us victory over the world—our faith. Who is it that has victory over the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

The implications of this verse are at least twofold:

We are already victorious – God has already declared that we are overcomers. This is true because of who we are in Christ – who is the ultimate Overcomer. We have already gained victory over death and damnation. We have already gained victory over sin.

And yet, the fight goes on. Therefore…

Day by day we must continue to overcome – Day by day we must exercise our faith, demonstrating our ongoing dependence upon God, to overcome temptation and worry and the difficulties that will come our way. Being an overcomer entails more than believing; it means that our faith is manifest through actions and choices each day.

I love the promises in The Revelation that are given to overcomers. They give me hope and motivate me to continue to overcome each day…

  • To the one who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (2:7)
  • The one who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death. (2:11)
  • To the one who is overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it. (2:17)
  • To the one who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—  that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father.  I will also give that one the morning star. (2:26-28)
  • The one who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. (3:5)
  • The one who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. (3:12)
  •  To the one who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. (3:21)

May God gives us the courage and strength each day to overcome this world as we anticipate the rewards for overcomers that we will gain in the next world.