How Can the Bible “Speed” and be “Honored”?

Today’s Reading: 2 Kings 3, Daniel 7, Psalm 114-115, 2 Thessalonians 3.

“Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you.” 2 Thessalonians 3:1

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How does something like the word of the Lord actually “speed ahead”?

What does it mean for God’s Word to be “honored”?

Can the Bible actually “run”? Isn’t the Word an “honorable” book already? Does it really need to “be honored”?

What does Paul mean when he asks the Thessalonians to pray that as he goes, the word of the Lord “speed ahead” and “be honored”? What does that look like? How can one know if it has actually happened?

We get a strong hint at the very end of the verse. Paul says, “as happened among you.” In other words, he asks that what happened among them when they heard the Word would happen among other people.

So, what happened to them?

Paul sheds some light on this for us in 1 Thessalonians 1: “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, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” 1 Thessalonians 1:4-10

Notice how Paul describes what happened when they heard the Word/Gospel. This is how, I believe, God’s Word “speeds ahead” and is “honored”:

a. The Gospel came in power and in the Holy Spirit.

b. The Thessalonians were convicted of sin when they heard it.

c. They immediately imitated Paul and his other Christian companions.

d. The Word was received in the midst of affliction.

e. The Word was received with joy – in the midst of this affliction.

f. The Thessalonians turned from idols to serve the living and true God.

g. They eagerly awaited Jesus’ return from heaven.

Let me sum it up in these words: The Word of the Lord caused radical transformation among the Thessalonians.

I believe when Paul asks for prayer that the Gospel “speed ahead” and “be honored” when he proclaims it he means that when the Word is presented, it would cause radical transformation in the lives of those who hear it. It “speeds ahead” when hearers respond to it and immediately make it known in word and deed. It is “honored” when it is heard as it really is – the Word of the Lord – and treated as such.

What happens to you when you hear the Word of the Lord? Does it “speed ahead” because of you? Is it “honored”?

What happens on Sunday morning at your church when the Word of the Lord is preached?

When was the last time you asked for prayer that the Word of the Lord “speed ahead” and “be honored” as you proclaim the Gospel to the lost?

When was the last time you prayed it for your pastor on Sunday morning?

The Word of the Lord is living and active. It has capacity to “speed ahead” and “be honored” in hearts and lives.

Let’s live expectantly, longing for the Spirit of God to do – through the proclamation of His Word – what He did in the hearts and lives of the Thessalonians.

Sneeze-less with Felines

Today’s Reading: 2 Kings 2, Daniel 6, Psalm 112-113, 2 Thessalonians 2.

“When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.” Daniel 6:10

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Last week, the mayor of Houston, Texas decided she and her people could subpoena Protestant Christian sermons. Though much debate is still going on and will – more than likely – continue to go on, the gist of the controversy is this: religious liberty is being threatened like never before. . . in particular, Christian religious liberty.

[Al Mohler has written a superb article from a Christian perspective here.]

I hope and pray this eventually “comes to nothing” and we Christ followers demand that this sort of thing never be in our country. We should, indeed, fight with all of our might to prevent this from gaining any more ground.

But if it does, it’s okay.

I love what action Daniel takes when he gets word he can’t pray.

I get comfort in reading what Daniel decided he would do when the authorities told him he couldn’t continue in his normal religious practice.

Know what he did? Nothing.

That’s right. Nothing about his routine changed. Nothing about his normal, daily habits shifted. He didn’t go into panic mode. He did exactly as he had done day after day after day after day prior to this new “law.” He went to his room, opened up the window, and prayed. Morning. Noon. Night.

Nothing was going to stop Daniel from serving his God.

In short, he kept calm and let God show off.

We all know what happened next, don’t we? God shuts the mouths of lions and gets praise from a pagan king. Being deprived of religious liberty opened a door for God to show of His power.

Please hear me: I am NOT suggesting we believers sit idly by and let this thing “take its course.” Not at all (please see articles linked above).

But if it does, and our religious liberty vanishes – it’s not the end of the world. God is not panicked nor freaking out. Nor should we. Like Daniel, we should probably “dance with the one that brung us” and keep doing what we do. Our God is not limited, nor is His hand too short to save.

Who knows? Perhaps he will shut the mouth of the mayor. Or maybe lock me in room full of large felines, seeing to it that I don’t sneeze. Hey, He can work miracles. Whatever the case, He’s got this. Let’s be tools in His hands, giving Him opportunity after opportunity to display His glory and might.

 

 

Nachos and Flannel Boards

Today’s Reading: 2 Kings 1, Daniel 5, Psalm 110-111, 2 Thessalonians 1.

“3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.” 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4

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When I think about what I want most for my children I think, “Love for the Lord and love for people.”

When I think about what I want most for my wife I think, “Love for the Lord and love for people.”

When I think about what I want most for the people God has entrusted to me to pastor I think, “Love for the Lord, and love for people.”

At the end of the day, what I want to see happen in the lives of those I know and love most deeply is what Jesus said was ultimately important: Love for God and love for people. In fact, I don’t know of many Christians who don’t want that.

The question is, “How?”

If I want my kids to have this, “How?”

If I want church members to have this, “How?”

If I want this for my own life, “How?”

There are a lot of different answers to this question for sure.

But isn’t it interesting what Paul points out to his Thessalonian readers? In verse 3 he says he thanks God for them for their love for God and love for people: “your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.” In verse 4 he tells us how it’s happening: “your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions you are enduring.”

Whoah.

When I read that their faith is growing and their love is increasing I would expect Paul to say, “Because y’all have been having some great Bible studies!” Or, “Because your Sunday School discussions have been off the chart!” Or, “You all are having neat and orderly family devotions at night before bedtime.”

These things may have been happening. There’s nothing wrong with ‘em.

But that’s not what Paul points out.

Their faith in God grew abundantly and their love for each other increased because they were being persecuted and afflicted for their faith. They grew as Christians because they were being challenged and stretched “in the real world.” They were loving God more and loving people more precisely because they were constantly being challenged and pushed and put on the spot that was counter-cultural.

I wonder if we have it reversed?

I wonder if we organize our Bible studies and Sunday School classes and small groups and family devotions in order to stay away from society? I wonder if the Thessalonians had Bible studies and small groups and family devotions precisely because they were in society?

I wonder if we (me!?!?!) are expecting our children to grow in love for God and love for people by keeping them in a nice little “holy huddle”? I wonder if the Thessalonians grew in love for God and love for people because they were forced out of their comfort zone, having to immediately put their faith in God to the test?

I wonder if we made it a requirement for our children (all of us!?!?!?!) to intentionally and diligently and lovingly share our faith in the world if we wouldn’t see their/our love for God increase and their/our love for each other abound?

To become a Christian in Thessalonica meant being marked by the world. To be a follower of Jesus meant being afflicted. They were forced to know what and Who they believed. They were forced to see if this Jesus would come through for them.

The result? Love for God and love for people.

Maybe we have it backwards. The greenhouse for discipleship in Thessalonica was persecution and affliction. The greenhouse we have made for our children and new believers is nachos and flannel boards. Thessalonica saw lovers of God and people. We are seeing people leave the church in droves.

I wonder what would happen if every follower of Christ was expected and required to intentionally share the Gospel on an ongoing, regular basis?

God, help us.

 

 

King Neb’s Dream

Today’s Reading: 1 Kings 20, Daniel 2, Psalm 106, 1 Thessalonians 3.

“17 Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, 18 and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions might not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19 Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven.” Daniel 2:17-19

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Three thoughts come to mind when I ponder Daniel 2:

#1. Pray for Muslims to Dream about Jesus and an “Interpreter” to be Nearby.

Muslims all over the world place a high value on dreams. When I dream, it is usually due to eating too many snacks right before bedtime! When a Muslim dreams, he or she takes it very seriously. A lot like King Nebuchadnezzar. They view dreams as signs from God. This chapter reminded me of the importance of praying that Muslims dream about the biblical Jesus and, like Daniel, pray for an “interpreter” to be nearby who can point them to the reality of who this Jesus is.

#2. God Can Do Whatever He Chooses to Bring Glory to Himself.

I am often asked if I believe in the “miraculous gifts of the Spirit.” Though much can and needs to be said regarding these things, my answer usually boils down to this: “Ultimately, I believe God can and will do whatever He chooses as a means of pointing others to Jesus and bringing glory to Himself.” What goes down in Daniel 2 is a reason why I say this. King Neb is a pagan king. God’s people are scattered in a pagan land (Babylon). The King has a dream. Daniel has an interpretation. God worked it so that He would get glory. The point? God can and will do the miraculous in order to show Himself strong among all nations.

#3. God – Mercifully and Graciously – Always Provides a Rescuer.

Once again, God provided someone to rescue others. It is a recurring theme throughout the Bible, culminating in Jesus. Here God raised up Daniel to be “at the right place, at the right time” for “such a time as this.” King Neb dreamed. There was no one to interpret. People were gonna die due to the king’s wrath. Enter Daniel.

Over and over, again and again – we see this wonderful theme: God’s people are in trouble due to sin/sinful circumstances. There is no hope unless God intervenes. God – in His love – sends one to save. Everything – beautifully – points to the One who is mighty to save. Enter Jesus.

 

What else comes to mind as you ponder Daniel 2?

 

It’s About People, People

Today’s Reading: 1 Kings 19, Daniel 1, Psalm 105, 1 Thessalonians 2.

“19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.” 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20

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I’ll be honest. My understanding of what I am going to want to “show off” to the Lord when He returns is a bit different than Paul’s.

Okay, a LOT different.

First of all, I don’t really think about it all that much.

Second, there is a catch in my gut that it’s not right to want to “boast before our Lord Jesus.”

But the biggie? When I think of my “hope” or my “joy” or my “crown of boasting” that I will be engaged in at the end, I don’t usually think about people.

I think about works. I think about stuff I did (or gonna do).

“Hey Jesus, look over here at me! I was a pastor!”

“Hey Jesus, did you read my book?”

“Hey Jesus, how did you like my trip to Africa that time?”

That’s not Paul’s understanding of what it’s all about.

His “hope” and “joy” and “crown of boasting”? People. Changed people. Individuals who were transformed into the image of Jesus due to his presence in their lives.

Paul told the Thessalonian believers that his boast before the Lord would be them! He would point to them as the validity of his life and ministry. He would “get Jesus’ attention” (so to speak) by putting before Him a group of men and women who became disciples who made disciples.

Oh how important this is to remember!

It’s about people, people.

Paul didn’t do ministry so that God would like him more.

Paul didn’t do ministry so that God would think he was real.

Paul didn’t go to Thessalonica to plant a church so he could send a letter to his supporters pointing to the numbers of people he had at church on Sunday.

Paul didn’t preach a sermon so he could get likes on Facebook.

Paul didn’t hope LifeWay would call to have him write a book on church growth (though he did get asked by God to write half the New Testament!).

No, no. Paul did ministry in order to effect life change in people. Individuals. Paul knew that the validity of his life and ministry before God would be verified by men and women, boys and girls who were transformed.

Paul loved people and wanted to see them live the way they were created to live.

What about you? What will you point to when Jesus returns? What will you offer Him? Who’s life looks more like Jesus due to your presence and influence? Who are you intentionally and purposefully pouring into in the hopes that God transforms them?

Who, not what, is your “hope” and “joy” and anticipated “crown of boasting”?

Let’s remember: It’s about people, people.

 

 

When You Think It Can’t Get Any Worse

Today’s Reading: 1 Kings 17, Ezekiel 47, Psalm 103, Colossians 4.

“Now Elijah the Tishbite . . .” 1 Kings 17:1a

These four words, if you think about it, are absolutely breathtaking.

Amazing grace.

While we were yet sinners. . . images

Think about it with me.

If you have been following along in 1 Kings, by the time you get to the end of chapter 16 you are thinking, “Good Lord! Can it get any worse???” For 6 chapters, it seems all we have read is, “and ‘such and such’ did evil in the sight of the Lord.” Every king and his subsequent heir to the throne sinned against the Lord. And every king seemed to trump his father’s sinfulness with even greater sin.

By the time we get to the end of chapter 16 and think it really could not possibly get any worse, we read: “And Ahab son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him . . . Ahab did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.” (1 Kings 16:30, 33)

Translation: Things were bad. Like, evil bad. Like, wicked-evil bad. Like, the nation of Israel were nothing but a bunch of sinful sick-o’s bad.

And just about the time you think there is zero hope for the people of God. . .

God intervenes.

God sends a rescuer.

God sends one to redirect lives and hearts and minds.

God sends someone to intervene on behalf of His people and do for them what they never could have done for themselves.

Out of nowhere, it seems, when all “sin” has broken loose – God comes to save the day for His people.

Elijah’s name means “the LORD (‘jah’) is God (‘eli’).” That’s fitting, isn’t it? Our great LORD and God is One who – though He has every right to – refuses to leave us in our sinful state. Our great LORD and God – even while we were yet sinners – sends to our rescue One to redeem us.

Elijah was (and is!!! he never actually died!) a great prophet of God. But let’s never forget. God sending Elijah in 1 Kings was a foretaste of glory divine pointing to the Ultimate Rescuer Jesus who would come for the sins of the world.

“Now Elijah the Tishbite . . .” 1 Kings 17:1a

See. I told you. These four words are absolutely breathtaking.

 

 

 

Go Out a Different Way

Today’s Reading: 1 Kings 16, Ezekiel 46, Psalm 102, Colossians 3.

“When the people of the land come before the Lord at the appointed feasts, he who enters by the north gate to worship shall go out by the south gate, and he who enters by the south gate shall go out by the north gate: no one shall return by way of the gate by which he entered, but each shall go out straight ahead. 10 When they enter, the prince shall enter with them, and when they go out, he shall go out.” Ezekiel 46:9-10

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I’ll be the first to admit that I do not fully understand, nor am anywhere close to being any kind of authority on the subject of Old Testament worship. There are some aspects of it I grasp and many I don’t. I am always learning, and needing to learn even more in this regard.

That being said, one – simple, yet potent – implication of these verses is this: leave worship different than when you came.

When you come to worship the Lord, come to worship as He prescribes. Then leave different.

Go out changed.

Being in the presence of the Lord is never intended to be a stagnant deal. In fact, if truly done, I don’t believe that is possible.

For worshippers in the Old Testament, they were to worship during the commanded feasts by entering on one end of the temple, then leaving on the other. After doing what was required, they were to walk out different.

Again, I want to be careful here due to the differences between worship then and now. But I believe it is safe to say that – at the very least – for us this means we too must come to corporate worship expecting to leave differently. We must approach the study of our Bible’s with the anticipation of being changed. We must approach prayer with the eager hope that God will meet with us and change us.

Worship is not something we do as routine. Being in the presence of God means expecting to be dealt with so that when it is over – for that period – you walk away different.

On an even deeper level, in the context of Ezekiel 46, all sorts of sacrifices for sin were required. Bloodshed by spotless animals were commanded. Offerings of grain were prescribed. For the Christian, this has been done – once and for all – by Jesus. When we enter into the “temple” (presence of God) by faith in what He did for us in His life, death, burial, and resurrection – we are changed. We come out “the other side” having “done” all that is required (faith in all Jesus did). In other words, when we come to God through faith in Jesus and He accepts the sacrifice made for our sins – we are changed.

Meeting with God has never been intended to be a “nonchalant,” “passive,” “go-through-the-motions,” deal. It is to be approached with reverent expectation, hope, and assurance that meeting with God will cause us to walk out different than the way we came in.

 

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