A Particular kind of Confidence

Confidence in its various forms can be defined either as a feeling or belief that one can rely on something or someone. It can also be used to describe the feeling of certainty about the truth of something. Confidence in oneself can be described as a feeling of self-assurance coming from one’s appreciation of our own abilities or qualities. 

Today I began reading Paul’s letter to Titus and was reminded once again that God reveals himself and his truths to us in incredible ways. As I was reading the opening words, I was struck by the remarkable confidence Paul had in knowing who he was and his role (purpose) in advancing the message of the Gospel. Read his words as he opens the letter and “introduces” himself,  

“…a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness—in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior…”

Considering the depth of meaning attached to the word “servant” or “slave” as some translations write, Paul makes a very powerful statement. While our minds tend to think of this position through a negative lens, Paul helps us understand it differently. He is declaring in this letter that he belongs to the Lord, that his life and purpose are to serve the God who created him. Understanding who Jesus is and what he has done for him, Paul put all his trust in him. 

Paul’s words of introduction have made me stop and think about the confidence he had in his faith. Normally I equate Paul with his title of Apostle, one that gives him authority and responsibility in the mission that was entrusted to him. The roots of Paul’s work to advance the message of the gospel go so much deeper than any prescribed role. His life, his work, his passion for God reflects the incredible power of the Holy Spirit through the work of Christ in his life. 

Paul’s confidence, his knowledge and understanding in living for Jesus underscore the hope that he has in the promise of eternal life with his Father in heaven. The same promise given to you and me as we live our lives here and now. Paul’s life should be an inspiration for our lives. 

Can you or I claim to be a servant of God like Paul? Absolutely! We serve the same God as Paul and are afforded the same power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives when we place our hope in trust in the message of the Gospel, in our relationship with Jesus. 

For me, Paul’s actions speak louder than the words that he wrote. He lived a hard life as a follower of Jesus. Paul was entrusted with a mission, one that he took with him to the grave. The heart and soul of Paul’s life and writing continue to live on. The confidence he had in the message and reality of the Gospel will carry on for generations to come. 

Today, as I read the opening words of Paul’s letter to Titus, I am thankful for the reminder that we can have confidence in the promises of God. I am thankful for the power of the Gospel message. I pray that through the power of the Holy Spirit I can have the same confidence as Paul to be on mission for Jesus Christ. This is my prayer for you as well.

Refresh

In the furniture refinishing business, the term “refresh” is used to describe the type of work to be done any one piece of furniture. To refresh something, you lightly sand the existing finish before you give it a nice fresh topcoat. To refinish something, you would strip the old finish right off, get down to bare wood and start from scratch. 

In life and in faith when we come to know Jesus as our personal Lord and Saviour, we in a sense “refinish” our lives. We give over to God our old lives and begin a new one, living for Jesus. As we grow in our faith, as we live in a world full of evil and temptation, we need to be refreshed from time to time. 

When the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to Philemon he wrote these words, “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people”. Philemon was a fellow disciple of Jesus and as we read in the opening verses, hosted a gathering of believers (the church) in his home. Paul’s letter describes the incredible love that Philemon had for these people and personally thanks him and encourages him through his words. 

There are three other instances where Paul uses the word “refreshed” in the NT, once again in verse 20 of this letter and in Romans 15:32 and 1 Corinthians 16:18. Paul uses this word to describe the taking of time to break away from our busy lives so that our hearts, minds, and spirit can be refreshed. Refreshed in the sense that we take time to reflect, learn and grow in our relationship with Christ. 

Philemon was a partner with Paul in sharing the good news of the Gospel, to share everything that is good so that his understanding of who Christ is would reflect in his life and love for others. I do believe that as Philemon took the time to read these words from Paul his own heart would have been refreshed.

As believers, many of us set aside an hour or two each week, typically on a Sunday morning to go to church. This time is a break away from the normal routine and busyness of life. We come together to hear God’s word, learning, and growing in our understanding of who he is so that like the people of the church before us our hearts, our minds and our spirit can be refreshed. 

Is once a week for an hour or two in the morning enough to keep you refreshed? NO, we need these moments in our lives every day. So, how might we be refreshed in our hearts, our spirit, and our minds each day? To begin, we all (myself included) need to spend more time in God’s Word and in prayer. These are two of the foundations of our faith, on these things all other things are built. 

Consider how each of the following things can help you refresh your heart, mind, and spirit. Rest in the Lord, simply trust in him. Expect that God will work in and through you. Fear the Lord in reverent awe. Read his Word, a gift given to you. Embrace all that he has given to you, count your blessings. Share his love with others. Help those who need help; serve, and allow yourself to be served. 

When was the last time you took some time to be refreshed? What did that look like for you? How did it feel?” Pray and ask God to lead you into a time of refreshment today.

Let’s Get Personal.

Raise your hand if you have ever been in in church and felt like the pastor was speaking directly to you. Have you ever felt like you are sitting in the “hot seat”? Ever felt like the pastor keeps making eye contact with you, and only you, as he speaks? It’s happened to me, both as a recipient and after giving a message. I have had people come to me and say, “I think that message was written for me.” For whatever reason, the message that day for that person was very personal. 

The apostle Paul wrote several letters to the church in his time, many of course that we have preserved in our Bibles today. The letter that we have to Philemon stands apart from the others because it is a much more personal letter, it is very short and, on the surface, does not seem to contain any big theological teachings. 

This letter has a lot to do with relationships, close personal relationships, and the incredible bond of love (inspired by Christ) that binds them together. Consider for a moment the words that Paul uses to describe Onesimus, He is his child (v.10), his heart (v.12) and his beloved brother (v.16). When he speaks of Philemon, he uses similar words plus regards him as a co-worker (v.1), a partner (v.17) and one who owes him his very life (v.19). 

Much of Paul’s letter to Philemon is written on the foundations and command found in 1 John chapter 4. “We love because he first loved us… Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister”. (v.19,21b)

It seems that Philemon was in the “hot seat” as the intended recipient of the letter, but, the introductory verses also read, “the church that meets in your home”. The church as a whole body is included in this plea that Paul writes. While this letter is personal there is a bigger message for us all. 

I like to think that we can all put ourselves in the shoes of the original characters of this letter. Maybe you or I take on the role of Paul as the writer and mentor, maybe as Philemon, the recipient and leader, or as Onesimus as the one seeking to be forgiven and accepted. Maybe you or I are observing from the “sidelines” as someone who is a part of the church. 

No matter who we might be in the letter there is a message here for each of us. A message that bridges the span of time from its first delivery to the minute you and I read these words in your bible today. 

As followers of Christ, we are not alone. In Christ, we become brothers and sisters, we are adopted as sons and daughters into the family of God. Paul outlines some very practical ways for us to act as a family through this letter, putting us all in the “hot seat” as we think about how we personally and corporately live out each of his prescribed actions in our lives. 

How are we loving one another? (vs. 5, 7, 9,16); How are we praying for one another? (vs. 4, 22); How are we partnering or sharing with one another? (vs. 6); How are we being good or showing favor to one another (vs. 6,14); How have we been refreshing (inspiring) each other’s hearts to act and serve in a way that honors God? (vs. 7,12,20)

What question or action will you choose to act on today? Was this message written for you personally? Pray and ask God to lead and guide you out of the “hot seat” and into action. 

What is in your Junk Drawer

I don’t think there is a home in which the “junk drawer” does not exist. Almost everyone I have asked in the past couple of weeks fully admits to having one. This is the one drawer in the house that collects all the seemingly useless items that we don’t really know what to do with. Somewhere in the depths of our minds (and the drawer) we know that the items we place in them will once again find the light of day and be useful again.

Tucked away in the New Testament we have the privilege of reading a short letter to Philemon. It is written by Paul and although it is short in word count, the words that Paul uses are filled with some incredible instruction and truths. Through generations of change (both culturally and in language) I do believe that we miss some of the original craftsmanship that Paul uses to send a message to Philemon (and the church) as instruction for living for Jesus. 

Reading, hearing, and understanding this letter in its original context and language would help us appreciate the bigger picture of Paul’s intent for having Philemon accept Onesimus back into his life and ministry. Consider verse eleven for a moment regarding Onesimus, Paul writes, “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.” When you dig a little deeper into what Paul says, you begin to see some interesting connections between the words.

For example, the Greek word for “useless” (achrēstos) sounds like the Greek word achristos which means “without Christ”. The Greek word for “useful” (euchrēstos) sounds like the Greek word for Christ (christos)

Paul skillfully draws for us a connection that speaks directly to the relationship that we have together in Christ. First and foremost, that a relationship with Christ is life changing (useless – without Christ vs. useful – with Christ) and foundational to being on mission for him. Secondly, that relationship is what binds us together as disciples of Christ. 

When Paul says Onesimus in now “useful both to you and to me”, he is referring to the fact that he is now a part of God’s family, a brother in Christ and is a part of the same mission. The message of the gospel, the incredible news of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus had become a reality for Onesimus, his life had been transformed, he was adopted into a new family. 

When I read this letter, I can almost feel the excitement behind the words that Paul writes. Paul has gained a new brother in Christ who is ready and willing to do his part to bring the gospel message to others. 

There are times in life when we may feel “useless”, stored away in a “drawer” feeling like we are not being very effective in the work of the Lord. But, when the power of the resurrection is a reality in our lives, we are far from useless. God has a time and place for each of his children to shine, to be used by him for his glory. 

If you are sitting in the “drawer” waiting for the opportunity to be “useful” again, do this: Pray. Pray and ask God to use you for his will and purpose. Be ready, the opportunity will come.

Been There, Done That.

The phrase “been there, done that” is often used to express a person’s complete familiarity with a situation or event. Typically, when this statement is used, it is spoken with a suggestion of sarcasm or a sense of tiredness. For example, if you live on an island as I do, you might think or say “been there, done that” when you consider setting sail on the ferry for the umpteenth time.

A I continue to read Paul’s letter to Titus I came across a couple of verses in chapter three where Paul uses a variation of the statement “been there, done that”. After Paul instructs Titus to remind the people (the church) to be mindful of their attitudes and actions towards leaders in government, to be obedient to ready to serve and do what is good and gentle to everyone around them he says, “At one time”. 

“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated, and hating one another.” (Titus 3:3) In other words, we have all “been there, done that”. 

There are a couple of important reminders for us in this verse and the verses that follow. First, Paul reminds us that we too once walked in the shoes and followed the pathway of worldly practices that kept us separated from God. This first reminder sets us up to recognize the sometimes-negative attitude of “better than” or “holier than thou” way we may act towards those who have not yet experienced the incredible love and grace Jesus has for them. The gentleness we are called to have for everyone in chapter 3:2 can become a little rough around the edges. 

The second reminder we have through these words is what follows in verse 4 of chapter 3. “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” 

If there is anything we need to be reminded of daily it is the fact that as believers, we must never forget the means by which we are saved. When Paul speaks of the incredible mercy that came to us through the appearance of our Saviour, he is talking about the birth, the life, the death (sacrifice) and the resurrection of Jesus. 

The kindness and love that is Jesus Christ is available to everyone. His grace and mercy are poured out on each one of us as his followers every single day as we continue to live in a world that temps us and pulls us away from living in obedience and service in Christs name. 

As believers we have answered the call of Jesus to come and follow him. In a sense we have “been there, done that.” Think of this in a more positive light rather than the opening suggestion of sarcasm or tiredness. We have received the greatest gift ever and with that comes purpose, that is what Paul reminds us of here in these verses.

Jesus is kindness and love. Each one of us is created in his image, to reflect who he is so that others may know him. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we have been empowered to move beyond “been there, done that”, we were created to do more. Do you remember the moment you made the choice to follow Jesus? Think back to your “been there, done that” moment and use that experience to inspire others, share your story so that kindness and love (Christ) shines through you.

Sound Advice

How many of these familiar sayings have you heard before? “They returned safe and sound”, or “their business has been built on a sound foundation” or “he/she is sound asleep”. Maybe you have heard something like, “that person likes to sound off their opinions” or “you have a sound understanding on the subject”.  In life, we all benefit from getting sound advice on buying the right investments, vehicles, homes, and making other significant decisions. 

When life and faith come together there is much sound advice that we find in scripture. In his letter to Titus, the apostle Paul talks about sound doctrine, and being sound in our faith.

The word translated as “sound” in verses one and two of chapter 2 in this letter define a sense of “healthiness”, to be healthy or to be correct. Paul’s instruction or command to Titus was this, “You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine.” In other words, teach what is healthy and beneficial for those who hear your words. Paul, in an earlier letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:11) connects sound doctrine to the incredible truths laid out in the message of the gospel. 

The truth of the Gospel message is the foundation on which every Christ follower must find their feet firmly planted. Paul’s letter to Titus was written to encourage and instruct not just himself but the church of believers. This was a reminder for everyone to live by example, to live differently from the false teachers and the un-believing community they were a part of.  The sound advice given to Titus and the Christian churches in Crete was so much more than just knowledge and understanding of sound doctrine but living it out in their daily lives. 

To be sound in our faith implies that we as Christians understand and live according to the will of God. The promise of the gospel message for all of us is that we will one day be in the presence of our heavenly Father. By the grace of God our salvation is secured for us through the death and resurrection of his son Jesus Christ. 

Skillfully written into this letter given to Titus are references to more than a dozen teachings (doctrines) that help guide us in navigating life and faith in a culture that is seemingly counter-Christian. In many ways when we read the words of these letters to Titus and Timothy, we find ourselves facing much the same cultural influences that continue to distract people from the truths found in God’s word. 

The worldly distractions around us have the potential to deafen our hearts and minds from following this sound advice of living a healthy and productive life for Christ. So, what can we do to protect ourselves? 

First, embrace the truth of the gospel; through Christ’s death and resurrection and by the grace of God we have been brought into his family. 

Second, Pray & read. You and I do not have the power or the strength alone to live as fully devoted followers of Jesus on our own. Through prayer and scripture, we will grow into knowing the Lords will for our lives. 

Third, Live boldly for Jesus. Every day, live a life that sets you apart from the world. Be sound in your faith. 

Drawing Conclusions

Experience has taught me that during most of our lives we will automatically draw conclusions about what is happening around us. Our natural tendency is to decide if a certain fact or principle is true (or false) according to the information that we have been given. We often hear or read “facts” from a blender of outlets today. Whether it is social media feeds, radio, television, internet news sites or printed media, they all contribute to the mixed blend of facts that guide our own personal response or conclusion of them.  

We all have a responsibility as followers of Jesus to discern these facts through the lens of our Christian worldview. As one of Christ’s followers I believe that the Bible was inspired by the Spirit of God and is completely free from error. My faith is built on its authority and truth found in it pages from beginning to end. 

So, when I read from books like Judges (which I have been doing now for several months) it challenged me to consider the facts (the truths) found within its words. As I read through these inspired words, I often found myself wondering “why?” Why were these various accounts of “the good, the bad and the ugly” included for us to read today? 

Well, based on what I have read and with some careful examination I have drawn (as we all do) some conclusions. 

First, it is as evident today as it was then that sin has an incredible hold over the lives of all mankind. One of the common threads we see in the lives of the people during the time of the judges was the continuous cycle of sin, punishment, repentance, and rescue. Unfortunately, this is a trend that continues to play out in our lives today. 

Secondly, and in my humble opinion, the book of Judges reminds us of the incredible grace, mercy, and forgiveness that God has for all his people. The book of Judges points forward to the coming of the one true Judge and king that will overcome the hold of sin and death over us. 

Jesus is that one true king. John 18:37 records Jesus’ interactions with Pilate, “Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king? Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6) given to us by God. Through his death and resurrection Christ overcame sin and death on our behalf because of his incredible love for us. 

Judges lays out for us the truth of failure that comes by living without the rule of God in our lives. All throughout scripture and plainly written for us in The New Testament we read how a life “in the world”, that is, “not in Christ” continues to bring disorder, immorality, corruption, and destruction into our daily lives. 

Just because I follow Jesus doesn’t automatically make me a perfect person. I, like every other follower of Jesus fail at living according to his perfect will. The incredible part of the truth (who Jesus is) written in scripture is that no matter who we are or what we have done he can and will forgive us. 

Some will disagree with my conclusions and that is ok. It is my hope and prayer that this truth becomes real in their lives one day. What truth are you holding onto today? 

One Little Part

The other day a good friend of mine was having some troubles with his vehicle. After some investigation, he found it was one small electronic component that was causing the problem. Now, he could have lived with the inconvenience of connecting and dis-connecting the battery every time he used his vehicle, but he chose to order the part and fix the problem. It is amazing how just one little part affected the whole operation of his vehicle. 

As I continue to read through the book of Judges, I realized just how many parts made up its whole. The “judges” chosen by God were all picked for a specific reason. While some only receive a quick mention in a verse or two, others have a couple of chapters dedicated to telling their story. Gideon was one part (one judge) out of many who God chose to lead his people back to him.

As we are introduced to Gideon (chapters 6-8), we learn a few things about him that help us understand who was as a person, a person most of us can relate to. While I cannot imagine what a face-to-face encounter with an angel of the Lord might be like, I can connect with his response to his greeting. Here is how it played out: “he said, “The LORD is with you mighty warrior.” “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?”

For the past seven years the people of Israel had fallen into a pattern of sin and had been living under the oppression of the Midian nation. Life was hard, they lived in the mountains to hide as best they could from the power of the Midianites. Gideon lived through seven years of oppression along with the other people and, as most normal person would, he had doubts about where God was. Can you relate to the place Gideon was in his heart and mind? Do you sometimes have doubts that God is near to you?

Today we have the privilege of seeing the larger picture of God’s incredible provision of grace, mercy, and love as we read through the book of Judges. Each time the people fall into the pattern of “doing evil in the eyes of the Lord”, God is always near and provides a way back to him. God used Gideon (one small part) in incredible ways (more details in chapters 6-8) and led the people through 40 years of peace. 

Like Gideon, our faith in God can ride through valleys and hills. We all want to live on the “mountain tops” in our faith and life but inevitably there are times when we fall into the valley. The same God that heard the cries of the Israelites so many times is the same God today that hears our cries and gives us strength and power to climb out of the valley back to the top of the mountain.

God provided the judges in Gideons day to help bring them back to himself but today we have an even more powerful way back to him and that is through his son Jesus Christ. He died for our sins and is the one who presents us are pure and holy before our father in heaven. 

Gideon played his part in helping the people find their way back to God; we too are called to be a witness (one little part) in leading others to Christ. Where are you today? Are you walking through a valley or are you standing on the top of a mountain? No matter where you are, you are not alone, God is with you. Pray about how you can be a “part” used by him?

Tending to the Fire

One of my favourite things to do while camping is watching the burning fire. The sight of the flames dancing around, the smell and sound of the wood burning, and the comforting warmth all work together to help me slip into a mysteriously hypnotic state. Fires need tending, a constant supply of fuel to keep burning; without it, the fire slowly burns out leaving small burning embers or nothing more than a pile of ash in its place.

From the moment when Nehemiah first inspected the damage to the walls surrounding Jerusalem, to the time he returned to his position as cup bearer for the king (a span of 12 years) he had been tending “fires” of a different kind. Not only did Nehemiah light the fire of inspiration and drive of the people to commit to rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, but he also re-kindled the fire and passion in the hearts of the people to fall back into a life that honored and glorified their Heavenly Father.  

Chapter 10 of Nehemiah outlines the elements of a binding agreement or covenant the nation and its leaders made and committed to follow together. At that time the priests and Levites were responsible for the continued spiritual leadership of the city. In many ways they were responsible to tend the “spiritual fire” that brought the people back into a right relationship with God. As we continue to read on, Nehemiah outlines for us in chapter 13 several things that, after he left, began to stifle the desire (the fire) of the people to stay on track with a life devoted to following the laws and commands given to them. 

If we fast-forward a few thousand years to today, we can see some similarities to our own walk of faith in the Lord. 

Many of you can remember the time in your life when you first accepted the good news of the gospel and made Jesus a part of your life. There was an excitement, a fire that burned inside of you as a new believer; you devoted your life to following and serving the Lord, loving him, and loving others. God’s word (the bible) became your guide for life, you immersed yourself in it and you surrounded yourself with others who lived with that same fire in their soul. 

I have seen in others and experienced for myself this incredible feeling as the fire burned bright in life. I will be the first to admit that there are times when the fire does not burn as bright as it should. There have been times when the fuel for the fire seems in short supply, and we only see a few burning embers. 

Nehemiah saw a fire in need of tending among the people of Jerusalem and once again did his part to help re-kindle the flames of life with God among them. Like Nehemiah, we must pray and seek God’s mercy and grace in our lives; confess to him our weaknesses and He will begin a work in us to restore that burning fire in life. Keep the fire fueled through the reading of his word. When you do, you will hear his voice, his direction for your life. Surround yourself again with those who share in the warmth and comfort of knowing Christ as their Lord and Savior. Consider these words of an old hymn that continue to inspire new life in Christ, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going”. 

Lending a Hand

Have you ever felt like you needed a third hand? There are times in life when having that third hand would be handy. One of my hobbies requires some soldering from time to time and to make life easier I have what is called a third hand jig (also known as a helping hand). This adjustable device holds wires in place while I work with the soldering iron. Without that third hand the task would be difficult. 

Chapter 3 of Nehemiah is about helping hands. In many ways this chapter reads like one of those extensive genealogies found in other parts of scriptures. If you’re anything like me, I tend to just browse right past these types of passages because let’s be honest, we feel like they don’t have much to offer, plus all those names are hard to pronounce. 

Following his inspection of the wall around Jerusalem Nehemiah began to assign workers to repair areas near where they lived or worked. Chapter three holds the blueprint to the reconstruction process. Starting in verse 2 we see the beginning of two repeating phrases that becomes the mortar between the bricks of such a massive project. “Next to him” or “next to them” is repeated in one form another over 20 times. As I read these words, I noticed a theme that connects to the many aspects of living and working in community both in Nehemiah’s day and here and now. 

Much like the situation Nehemiah and the people of the city found themselves in, we as followers of Jesus are living amid a similar but different re-building process. As the church gathers again after a challenging time of physical separation, many of them are starting to re-build. With what seems like an ever-changing blueprint in the process, there is one constant that remains and that is the message and mission of the Gospel. 

“Next to him” or “next to them” reveals to us a picture of a community committed to a purpose. In context, Nehemiah was writing about rebuilding the wall (phase two of his plan) so that God’s glory would be able to shine. In our context, it is about coming together again and working next to one another so that others will continue to see the glory of God shine through his people. 

Many leaders today are calling on the church (you and I) to come together, next to one another, to serve and love one another. No one person could have accomplished the work of repairing the walls around Jerusalem; the same stands for today as we work to rebuild. We must work together if we are to continue our God given mission. Our work is to glorify God, to love one another, to serve with the gifts we have been given and to share the good news of the gospel with those who don’t yet know the incredible love of God. 

So, how might you be a “third hand” in helping the church grow into a renewed passion and presence in your community? Who will you work “next to”? Not for your glory, but for the glory of our Father in heaven? In the words of Nehemiah, “Let us start rebuilding.”