Boring Religion

1 Timothy 5:3,4, & 8

Take care of any widow who has no one else to care for her.

But if she has children or grandchildren, their first responsibility is to show godliness at home and repay their parents by taking care of them. This is something that pleases God.

If anyone doesn’t take care of their own relatives, especially their own household, thy have denied the faith; they are worse than unbelievers.

This is simply what we do.

We take care of widows. We care for those who cannot care for themselves or have no family to do so.

In following Jesus, this is nothing special, in a sense.

I remember when I was working at Outreach, Inc. with homeless youth, and a pastor of mine made the observation, “It’s kind of sad that we call this ‘cutting edge’ ministry. Shouldn’t this just be normal, run-of-the-mill Christian ministry?”


He got it.

Taking care of those in various states of difficulty, our immediate family first, is plain-jane, vanilla Christian ministry. It’s not going above and beyond our call to duty. It’s more like doing the bare minimum.

And it pleases God.

So let’s not break our arms patting ourselves on the back.

Let’s just make sure we’re doing what we’re called to do, and not for thanks, not to feel good inside, but because it is right.

Hearing Richard Foster

1 Timothy 4:7

Go into training in godliness!

Last night, Ana and I, along with a friend, were able to see one of my favorite authors, Richard Foster, speak at a church up in Marion, Indiana. Foster has been deeply formative for me, a spiritual mentor from far away. He is retiring from public work, and visiting ten cities this year on his way out. The title for the small event was “Discovering a With-God Kind of Life”  and also marked the 40th anniversary of his awesome book Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth.

I held off writing today’s Ripple earlier, thinking I may want to write a reflection on the evening, and serendipitously, Foster referred to 1 Timothy 4:7 for a significant portion of the evening.

So on with my reflection on his reflections!

Richard said he wrote Celebration of Discipline out of his observation in the 70s that so many Christians had no idea of how to “grow in grace” (2 Peter 3:18). If grace is defined as “unmerited favor”, how do we grow in unmerited favor?

We first must notice that the opposite of grace is earning, not effort.

We grow in grace, in godliness, through training.

Train yourselves in godliness.

Grace is God’s part, training is our part.

The means of grace are the spiritual exercises, the disciplines. The disciplines simply place us before God as a living sacrifice. Once we are before God, we let them go, for the exercises have no merit in and of themselves. Again, they are only a means.

This takes a lifetime–to be formed into the image of Christ–because the trouble with living sacrifices is that they are always trying to crawl off the altar!

Training vs. Trying.

We must train the deep habit structures within us so that, over time, we start responding naturally with patience, gentleness, joy, peace.

We don’t just try real hard to be patient or peaceful or humble.

We train through exercise—the spiritual disciplines such as solitude, silence, meditation, study, worship, service, fasting…

If you want to run a marathon, you don’t go outside and try to run 26 miles. Yikes.

If you want to bench press 300 lbs., you don’t load it on the bar and try to press it. Ouch!

You train.

Over time.

And if you’re diligent in your training, over time, you will grow in grace. You will actually grow in godliness, and the deep habits and natural responses within you will be transformed into the habits, responses, and mind of Christ.

Some pastors who shared last nite said that the disciplines are a pathway to freedom, opening us up for new life, renewal, and renovation of our heart.

Christ Hymn

1 Timothy 3:16

Indeed, the mystery of godliness is great:

He was revealed in the flesh, 

And vindicated by the Spirit;

He appeared to angels,

And was announced to Gentiles;

He was believed in the world,

And taken up in glory.

What a wonderful little six-line credal confession we have here. With its poetic nature, this is likely a very early Christian hymn Paul is quoting—which is kinda cool ponder.

The “mystery of godliness” he is talking about is God’s salvation plan which was in mind all along and revealed at just the right time. In a word, Jesus. Jesus is God’s plan to unite humanity and divinity.

We have the Gospel in this compact confession. So it would be good, and not terribly difficult, to memorize this song for frequent rumination.

Let’s go through the hymn line by line, hopefully giving you a little different wording or angle on the Gospel, and, therefore, perhaps a deeper appreciation of it.

Line 1

Jesus’s human life was a divine manifestation. We call this the “incarnation”. The crucifixion is to be understood as the ultimate purpose and climax of Jesus’s pre-resurrection stage of existence. “Authentic Christian existence (“godliness”) is linked to the divine unveiling of Christ ‘in flesh.’ ”

Line 2

God’s response to the crucifixion is Jesus’s vindication—God’s demonstration of his innocence. Jesus entered his second stage of human existence by means of the resurrection. This is the final stage of existence for which all believers are destined. “The humanity of Christ in its two stages is the means by which God’s salvation mystery is revealed.”

Line 3

Likely refers to Christ’s resurrection appearances before angelic powers, both holy and fallen, displaying his victory and the meaning of the resurrection to the heavenly powers.

Line 4

“Christology develops naturally into missiology.” The divine promise from the OT that all the nations would be blessed is fulfilled in the Christ-event, and also through human declaration of it. We have quite a part to play—to reach the whole world with this message of God’s salvation plan.

Line 5

The Christian mission is effective because Christ is the content of the proclamation and the one in whom belief is placed.

Line 6

The exaltation of Christ—his glorification. Jesus was and is confirmed by God and they are one. Jesus is at God’s right hand in the heavenly realm.

These thoughts come from scholar Philip Towner in his beast of a commentary on the letters to Timothy and Titus. I got so much out of it and was blown away, sharing here about one-tenth of what I read about. Wow. Deep waters. Love the boundlessness of the Holy Spirit.

I know this is a bit long, but would like to leave you with Towner’s summary of this hymn:

The hymn establishes a balance that rightly begins with the fundamental Christ-event. But the central place of human response and responsibility in mission is essential to the salvation plan of God. It is actually almost a misnomer to call this piece a “Christ Hymn,” for its solemn purpose is to reiterate in the present context the intimate connection that exists between Creator and creation—a connection that God has reestablished through the incarnation and death of his Son. It is thus a hymn about restoration and wholeness—the reconciliation of the divine and the human into a unified relationship through the human experience of Christ. At present, the church is to identify with the experience of Christ in suffering and witness, its hope made sure and purpose for doing so grounded in the fact of his resurrection, vindication, and glorious exaltation.

Try Prayer

1 Timothy 2:1-4

So, then, this is my very first command: God’s people should make petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings on behalf of all people—on behalf of kings, and all who hold high office so that we may lead a tranquil and peaceful life, in all godliness and holiness.

This is good; it is acceptable with God our savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to know the truth.

Do you pray for Donald Trump?

Or just complain about him?

Some things in Scripture are more super clear than others. One of the more clear directives we find is that we are to pray all the time for all kinds of people—including government leaders– in all kinds of ways. And I don’t think that we would be so directly directed to pray if it didn’t do any good, if there was no point to it. (Another clear directive is to not be a complainer.)

I still wonder what all God wants to do, yet waits on us to pray as a people for.

There’s that old quote, I believe from Chesterton, that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried. This is how I feel about prayer. I’m not sure I’ve ever run into anybody who really prayed and found it to be pointless or completely ineffective.

But I’ve met countless people who don’t make the time to pray.

We start with what we know, praying in accordance with God’s will—what we know God wants. God wants all people to be saved and to come to know the truth.

What if we committed to praying for this for all kinds of people including government leaders? If it was appropriate for the first century church to pray for governing leaders with Nero on the throne, I’m gonna take a wild guess that it is appropriate for 21st century Americans to pray for governing leaders, for the whole world.

Oh what would happen if we really prayed….

What would change?

In us?

In the world?

Let’s find out.

The Law-it ‘s not for me

1 Timothy 1:5

The goal of such instruction is love—the love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith.

This verse shows us a set of three biblical convictions:

  • Love is at the heart of God’s commands
  • Purity of heart is more important than external acts of obedience
  • Heartfelt sincerity is essential for pleasing God

1 Timothy 1:9

We recognize that the law is laid down not for people who are in the right, but for the lawless and disobedient…

As Christians, the law is not for us.

We do not follow a set of guidelines. We follow a person.

That person was unleashed upon the earth about two millennia ago by Jesus himself.

We do not require a list of rules to let us know what not to do. The Holy Spirit takes care of that for us.

Now we can keep ourselves in some check with the law, as the Spirit will not prompt us to do anything against it. Always remember that there are other spirits out there for your following. So you want to be sure you are following the Spirit of Jesus, who will be in line with apostolic teaching.

If you’ve accepted your rightful place before God because of Jesus Christ’s work and, therefore, experienced regeneration and inner transformation, then you do not follow the law because you have the Holy Spirit as your guide—a real, live person.

It is those without this divine conscience that need to be shown what not to do by the law.

It’s interesting that when Paul talks about weaker Christians, he is usually referring to those who are fastidious rule followers. Maybe they’ve not embraced the Spirit, or people are abusing the law and Scripture to persuade them that they better keep to the rules or else, or the evil one might be distracting them with law so that they do not experience the freedom and power of the Spirit.

Take notice of the overall tenor of the New Testament, post resurrection,  and see if it advocates following the law, rules, or even Scripture itself; or does it advocate following the Spirit?

Are we to follow words on a page, or the voice of the living Person Jesus promised would guide us?

In Paul’s mind and in his theology, the other-directed love that characterizes authentic Christian existence is to be found in and through conversion and the indwelling Spirit, not in a superficial reading of the law as a moral code.

~Philip Towner

To be clear, I am in no way advocating antinomianism.

What Should We Pray For? ~by Robin Shaw

2 Thessalonians 3:1

Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you…

I asked a stupid question today. Not intentionally…my question just came out wrong and sounded really stupid. I was at Bible Study and we were reading Hebrews 11:6 which reads “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” I struggle with this statement, so I raised my hand and asked if by “reward” Paul meant a reward like a Maserati or a reward like eternal life? I know, I know. Ridiculous, right?  

I felt horrible, of course, because I really didn’t mean it the way it sounded. I knew that Paul didn’t mean a Maserati – they didn’t even have those back then. But there is this gray area between needs and wants which is very muddy. On top of that, we hear so many messages telling us to believe God for more, sometimes it’s hard to know for sure if by accepting our lot in life we’re being content or being complacent. At times I feel myself ignoring wants and needs and not thinking to ask for them because I’m not sure if what I want is even important (especially given the fact that God knows best). Although I talk a good “faith game,” I secretly sometimes feel that God doesn’t care about the trivial aspects of my life (although I know that He is a compassionate high priest who cares). I also know that He’s sovereign and that He knows our hearts and motivations before we ask and that as a “good, good father” He will sometimes say no because what we ask for will hurt us. I know all of that in my head, yet I struggle and privately have had others confide that they struggle with this too. I mean, I would use that Maserati to drive people to church, of course. Thank God, the better half of the “Battering Ram of Racial Reconciliation” had asked me to write this Ripple. My reading as I prepared to write led me to 2 Thessalonians 3:1, “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you…” and I felt like even more of a crunchberry. 

Matthew Henry’s commentary on this verse illuminates it well. “This was the great thing that Paul was most solicitous about,” he writes, “He was more solicitous that God’s name might be sanctified, his kingdom advanced, and his will done, than he was about his own daily bread.” Boom, roasted! In case you haven’t used it in a while, solicitous means “meticulously careful” or “full of desire.” Wow. Because God’s thoughts are so much higher than our thoughts, and His ways are so much higher than our ways, it’s hard to grasp how He could love our sinful, selfish selves and even be so kind as to answer our prayers when His only true goal and purpose is salvation for all mankind. When we hold that lens up to our every desire, most…maybe almost all…will fail to measure up. Paul became the great writer, teacher, and theologian that he was because he understood that, prayed for it, and was full of desire for it. As we grow and become more like Christ through the process of sanctification, His kingdom should always be what is first and foremost in our minds and hearts and the object of our prayers and desires. If we grasp that, we will become ever more content with whatever rewards He provides and not embarrass ourselves in Bible Study. 

In Christ,

H.R. Shaw

Writer & Editor

Certified Joyologist

Pallikan/Shaw 2020 Campaign Chair

Robin is the most excited one in this picture.

Refusal, Delusion, & The Lie

2 Thessalonians 2:10-12

…they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.

For that reason God sends upon them a strong delusion, leading them to believe the lie,

so that judgment may come upon all who did not believe the truth but took pleasure in wickedness.

That verse 11 is one of those mysteries of Scripture.

And makes me  little nervous.

It seems that you may reject Christ to the point of your heart becoming so hard, that a strong delusion (sent by God!) will lead you to believe the lie.

And just what is the lie?

The lie which has led people astray from the beginning—”You shall be as God!” (Genesis 3:5)

The idea that you are your own God, and therefore can do whatever pleases you and better yourself by your own human efforts.

Every refusal of God’s love through Christ hardens your heart one step closer to permanent rejection.

Refusing Christ is not just rejecting a belief system or a religion. You are rejecting a person. You are rejecting love.

You are rejecting the ultimate, greatest, most self-sacrificial, incomprehensible love shown you by the Person responsible for your very existence! The One who gave everything—EVERYTHING–for you.

How horrified and deeply hurt I would be if our daughters grew up to not only be immoral, deceitful people regularly committing acts of injustice and taking pleasure in it; but also if they failed to acknowledge my existence and refused to accept any of my love and rejected me as their father.

So many believe the lie, worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator. So many fear, revere, and meditate upon people more than God. They exchange the truth of God for the lie (Romans 1:25).

May God Deem You Worthy of the Call

2 Thessalonians 1:5 & 11

…to find you thoroughly worthy of the kingdom of God…

To that end we always pray for you, that our God may deem you worthy of his call….

In one commentary, I found that the word translated here as “worthy” means the true balance that comes from congruence.

As in, our lives being congruent with God’s intentions.

That is what we are to become.

To become.

Just because we are chosen by God for the Kingdom, doesn’t mean we are ready for the Kingdom. As the old saying my wife Ana reminded me of goes: “God doesn’t call the qualified, but qualifies the called.”

This is weird for us because what we’re used to—the kingdom of this world—is that you’re typically chosen because you’re ready. You need to possess the necessary skills before you are chosen to be on the basketball team. To make first chair in the symphony, you must’ve already perfected your instrumental skill.

But in the Kingdom of God, it seems we’re chosen, given a prestigious place of privilege, and then shaped, pruned, purged, perfected…shown what we’re made of.

We have to go through many trials in order to get into the shape needed for the next phase, task, calling, responsibility. You might think of it as going through doorways that get progressively more narrow. In order to fit through the next doorway, you’ll need to shed some baggage you’re carrying, or maybe even bodyweight.

Perhaps you need to learn how to love a difficult-to-even-like person before moving on. Maybe you must learn patience, either with other drivers, an annoying co-worker, people of a different political persuasion than you, and on and on we could give examples.

No one is so just that he does not need to be tried by affliction to advance or to establish or prove his virtue. ~Augustine

Everything difficult in life, big or small, can serve to mold us into Kingdom shape…if we allow it, if we learn from it, if we trust God through the midst of it.

And in some places in the world, like in Thessalonica in the first century, people endure extreme difficulties of persecutions for their faith. It is in the perseverance of trusting God through it, in the midst of it, that they—we–are perfected.

I don’t claim for one second to understand how all this works, but it gives us something to chew on today….

I understand some of the analogies are not perfect, but hopefully the points are clear or at least thought-provoking.

One Approach Fits All, NOT!

1 Thessalonians 5:14

And, my dear family, we beg you to warn those who step out of line. Console the downcast; help the weak; be warm-hearted and patient toward everybody.

This is an extremely helpful, practical verse.

While journeying with the body of believers—all different types of people in radically different places in life—we must be observant and discerning if we are to move forward appropriately.

Here we have three different conditions:

  • Those who step out of line
  • The downcast
  • The weak

Necessitating three unique and proper responses:

  • Warn
  • Console
  • Help

Those who are out of line need to be warned, or admonished, to get back in line so as not to cause division. There are standards, traditions, and disciplines for a reason. Though we are all individuals, we are also a community, and there are some basics we all need to adhere to if we are going to be unified in spirit.

People who are downcast, or faint of heart, need consoling. They need encouragement. They need someone there beside them to encourage them not to quit even though they feel like it. The Greek word Paul uses is made up of two words: para, near; and muthos, speech. Instead of scolding the faint-hearted from a distance, we must get close to them and speak tenderly.

And the weak need to be held up so that they don’t fall. Paul is referring to those weak in the faith who had not grown strong in the Lord. They may need instructing in the faith, mentoring, and/or a  “success model” as my friend Rex calls it. The weak need support.

The mistake we can make, which I feel is ultimately a form of laziness, is using a one-size-fits-all approach to everybody.

Some treat everybody as out of line, or “lazy” as some translations put it.  Well, when someone is downcast, and you warn and admonish or scold them, it tends to drive them further down into their hole. Warning those who are weak isn’t much better, as they probably won’t even get what you’re saying, still longing for support.

Equally, we can’t treat every person as downcast. Tenderly consoling someone who is being an out of line, rebellious butt-head does nobody any good. And you can encourage a weak person all you want, which may do a little good, but they will still lack the instruction and mentoring that they really need.

And lastly, treating everybody as if they’reweak can also be heartless and damaging. Giving instruction to someone who is really downcast can be downright awful. We must be able to truly see someone who is deeply discouraged, and not just try to “teach” them out of it. And attempting to mentor someone who is simply out of line falls into this apples to oranges approach to peoples as well. Those who are determined to go their own way will not take personal responsibility for their behavior, no matter how good your example, and will most likely succeed in draining your energies.

But there is a common manner in which we are to handle all types—warm-hearted and patient. Whether warning, consoling, or supporting, we need to do so with patience and with a warm heart toward the person we are helping.

I hope this was as helpful for you as it was for me–sorry so long today!


1 Thessalonians 4:11

You should make it your ambition to live peacefully, to mind your own business, to work with your own hands…

I wonder how much more peacefully I could live if I used what energy capacity I have, for minding my own business, and not keeping in mind other people’s business.

What if I did not give any thought to what others should be doing unless specifically asked by them and/or prompted by the Spirit to do so? And when prompted by the Spirit, likely it would be to pray for and serve that person in some manner.

What if I spent most of thought life on cultivating my awareness of God’s presence, Jesus’s sacrificial love, and the Spirit’s promptings?

I bet, over time, I would spend little to no energy judging others, thinking about what they should be doing, and, therefore,  live more peacefully.

Just guessing.

I’m experimenting with taking every judgmental thought that I catch, and turning it back on myself with, “What do I need to work on?” and “What do I suck at?” These two lists are growing rather lengthy, I’m humbled to admit.

Somewhat ironically, minding your own business can free your mind enough to sense the Spirit and mind God’s business, the business of healing the world.

Appropriate focus on self before God allows and empowers proper focus on others, in order to serve and to heal.