Christianity 201

September 29, 2014

Traveling Home

Eternity

 

Today we are honored to have a guest post from Rick Apperson who blogs at Just a Thought. Rick and his wife are missionaries living in Smithers, British Columbia, Canada where he is the pastor of Main Street Christian Fellowship.

Traveling Home

Occasionally I will hear snippets of words or phrases when my kids are playing or chatting and they just resonate with me.  This past summer, the words spoken by my children had me thinking about eternity!

Not too long ago, my son was learning time and measurement. Holding his hands wide, he asked his sister if that was how long forever was.  My daughter’s response was, “You can’t measure forever!” Truer words were never spoken.

When you think about eternity, it is hard to measure with our finite minds. As a pastor, I speak of heaven and hell…but I do not know if I convey eternity in the way that my daughter did that day.  We live in a world of time and measure.  When we think of spending eternity with God in heaven, I do not think our minds can conceive the true reality of it all.  How do you measure the immeasurable?  How do you quantify the unquantifiable?  Eternity is a mystery we won’t completely understand until we stand before the Father!

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

In fact, the Lord has set eternity in our hearts!

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

I think the joy is in the journey.  Which can be a problem for me!  I’m not a patient traveler.  I enjoy the destination but not the journey there.  I don’t know why that is.  I get in the car and I want to get to my destination. As we traveled on vacation this summer, my son kept asking how long it was to various destinations. As we talked about how long it would take to our next stop, he said, “No matter how long it takes, we will be there soon.”

Life on this earth is fraught with problems.  Some days it seems like you take 1 step forward and 3 steps back before getting hit by a bus. Perseverance is not a sexy word.  It sounds hard and–well,–hard!  My son’s words reminded me that life is short. The older I get, the faster time seems to fly. My journey will be coming to an end. I will be there sooner rather than later. I am traveling home!

As I said, the joy is in the journey.  I have become more eternally focused.  Not in a maudlin, depressed sort of way but in an excited-to-sit-at-the-feet-of-Jesus kind of way.  I also want to see those around me take the same journey and travel home to the Father as well.

Traveling home…a road trip I can get excited about.

~ Rick Apperson

September 28, 2014

Apostle Peter Was One-of-a-Kind

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But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'”
 ~Mark 16:7

Tell the disciples and Peter? Why is Peter given separate treatment? Isn’t he a disciple? Did his denial make him an un-disciple?

…In a way, Peter always has special treatment in scripture. Even among The Twelve, he is unique…

…California pastor Greg Laurie contributes regularly to the WND (World Net Daily) website’s Faith section. Click the title below to read this at source, and find links to other columns and Greg’s books. (Yes, that’s the original title!)

How you’re like a Fender Stratocaster

Awhile ago I read about a Fender Stratocaster guitar that sold for nearly $1 million at a New York City auction. I don’t know how much this type of guitar would cost if you were to buy it at a guitar store, but I guarantee that you wouldn’t pay almost seven figures for it. The reason this particular guitar sold for nearly $1 million was because Bob Dylan played it at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island.

You Are UniqueAt the time, the folk music movement was all about acoustic guitar, and originally Dylan had started out playing an acoustic guitar. But at that festival he pulled out an electric Stratocaster and started playing, which was perceived by some as an act of treachery. Dylan’s guitar sold for such a high price because of its historical value.

Then I read another article about someone who paid $380,000 at a London auction for another Fender Stratocaster, but this one had been burned. Why would anyone pay $380,000 for a burned-out guitar? Because Jimi Hendrix had reportedly played it at the Monterey International Pop Festival and set fire to it during his performance.

You see, the value of a guitar depends on who plays it. If I played a Fender Stratocaster guitar, it would go down in value. But if Bob Dylan were to play one song on the same guitar, someone would pay a lot for the privilege of hanging it on his or her wall.

The same is true when God gets hold of a human life. When God works through a life, something wonderful happens. There probably was never a person with less potential to do anything for God than me. At the age of 17, I came to him with very little. Anything good that has come from my life has been something God has given and something God has done through me. It has been his blessing on my life.

Think about how different Jesus’ 12 disciples were from each other. There was Simon, a former zealot, who was dedicated to the violent overthrow of Rome. Then there was Matthew the tax collector, who was a Jew that worked for the Roman government and was perceived by his fellow Jews as a traitor. So Simon the zealot wanted to destroy Rome, and Matthew the tax collector was perceived as one who caved in to the power of Rome. They could not have been more opposite ideologically, philosophically and politically.

Then there was Simon Peter. Apart from Jesus himself, no name is mentioned more in the New Testament than Simon Peter. He was a central figure in Jesus’ three years of ministry and in the first three years of the early church. Jesus spent more time with Simon Peter than with anyone else. No other person speaks as often or is spoken to as often as Simon Peter, and no other disciple was as reproved and corrected as often as Simon Peter.

The thing with Simon Peter was that he said what he thought. You probably know people like that. They don’t know the difference between inside thoughts and outside thoughts. They verbalize everything. That was Simon Peter. If he was thinking it, it only would be a few moments until he was saying it. Of course, this got him into trouble on more than one occasion. For instance, when he was concerned about the reward he and his fellow disciples would get because they left all and followed Jesus, he did not hesitate to ask about it. We read of him saying to Christ, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (Matthew 19:27 NIV) That is a bold thing to say to Jesus: “We’ve given up everything. What’s in it for us?”

Then there was that famous occasion when Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration. Peter, James and John were there, and they all fell asleep. When they woke up, there was Jesus, shining like the sun. Two of the greatest prophets of the Bible stood on each side of him. Talk about a holy moment. But Peter decided it would be a good time to say a few words, so he actually spoke up and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Mark 9:5). There was Peter, speaking his mind. And I love how Mark’s Gospel adds this little commentary: “He said this because he didn’t really know what else to say” (verse 6 NLT).

We can laugh at what Peter did and be critical of what Peter said, but no other apostle tried to walk on water. He was a commendable man. He was a courageous man. And church tradition tells us that when it was all said and done, he died a cruel death. Before he was crucified, he is said to have been forced to watch the crucifixion of his wife. Peter stood at the foot of her cross and repeated the words, “Remember the Lord.” After she died, he pleaded to be crucified upside down because he felt that he was unworthy to die in the same way his Lord did. This was a hero of the faith.

And although his given name was Simon, Jesus gave him a new name: Cephas, or Peter, which means “rock.” I wonder if the other disciples chuckled a little at that. A rock speaks of stability and dependability, but Peter was a little on the impulsive side. Yet Jesus gave him a new name because he knew what Peter would become.

When God looks at you, he doesn’t see you for what you are; he sees you for what you will be. You might see a blank canvas, but God sees a finished painting. He sees what you can be.

We all have different personalities, but God can use each of us. He can change each of us and make us into the people he wants us to be. And God can do a lot with a little.

September 27, 2014

Dealing with Religious Spirits

Some days we post articles by mainstream Evangelicals, some from people from liturgical churches, on other days we’re Reformed, and today we’re decidedly Pentecostal/Charismatic. This is actually part two of an article which in turn is an excerpt from the author’s book. To read the entire piece you need to click this link in which the author explains how she was familiar with the practice of deliverance, but never had considered that religion might be something for someone to be delivered from.

Spiritual Housekeeping = Kimberly Danielsby Kimberly Daniels

What Does the Bible Say?

The Word of God has something to say about religion. In Acts 25-26, we see that Jewish religious leaders wanted Paul put to death and had petitioned the Roman authorities to have him executed. In Acts 26:4-11, as Paul defends himself before the Roman ruler Agrippa, he confirms that since the beginning of the church the enemy has been using believers to persecute one another.

He states:

“My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know. They knew me from the first … that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. 

“And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers. For this hope’s sake … I am accused by the Jews.

“Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.”

One of the main ways to recognize the work of religious spirits is this: Under the disguise of religion, they persecute the righteous and faithful.

Paul makes a clear distinction between his time growing up as a leader under the religious law and his born-again experience after he met Christ on the road to Damascus. The road to Damascus represents more than the dramatic conversion of Paul’s life. It also reveals the plot of the enemy to persecute and trouble God’s elect from within the church. Paul told the Galatians:

“For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Gal. 1:13-14).

Through his own testimony, Paul reveals that the traditions of men are the strongholds of religion. Jesus highlighted this as “vain” worship in Mark 7:7-8:

“In vain (fruitlessly and without profit) do they worship Me, ordering and teaching [to be obeyed] as doctrines the commandments and precepts of men. You disregard and give up and ask to depart from you the commandment of God and cling to the tradition of men [keeping it carefully and faithfully]” (AMP).

Vain worship is like a person going to the gym seven days a week and working out with no results. God says vain worship produces no results. This is why many people accept defeat in God and backslide. But the Word tells us there is no failure in Christ! This victory can be manifested in our lives if we give high regard to the commandments of the Lord and take our attention off the traditions of men.

The traditions of men flow through generational religious spirits. People literally pick up religious habits that have nothing to do with the commandments of the Lord and are more faithful to them than to the Word of God.

Colossians 2:6-23 teaches on freedom from human regulations through a new birth in Christ. It warns us of man-made traditions and speaks of the cancellation of “the written code” and its regulations.

This code worked against the believer in Christ, not for him. It made people set unattainable goals that gave birth to the fruits of failure, defeat and misery. It literally opposed the abundant freedom in Christ that was meant to be.

Galatians 5:1 commands that we stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made us free. It adds we should not be entangled again with the yoke of bondage. The Greek meanings of words Paul used are important to understanding the verse:

» “Stand fast” (steko): To stand firm in faith and duty; to have a constant flow that causes one to persevere.

» “Liberty” (eleutheria): To be blessed with generosity and independence that is bestowed upon a person as a result of the economy of God’s grace, which was not made available under the law of the Old Testament. To also have independence from religious regulation that is rooted in the legal restrictions of man. James 2:10-14 teaches on “the perfect” law of liberty in Christ:

“For whosoever keeps the Law [as a] whole but stumbles and offends in one [single instance] has become guilty of [breaking] all of it. For He Who said, You shall not commit adultery, also said, You shall not kill. If you do not commit adultery but do kill, you have become guilty of transgressing the [whole] Law.

“So speak and so act as [people should] who are to be judged under the law of liberty [the moral instruction given by Christ, especially about love]. For to him who has shown no mercy the judgment [will be] merciless, but mercy [full of glad confidence] exults victoriously over judgment. What is the use (profit), my brethren, for anyone to profess to have faith if he has no [good] works [to show for it]? Can [such] faith save [his soul]? (AMP).

» “Entangled” (enecho): To be held subject to or be under the control of. To struggle over or to quarrel with.

» “Yoke” (zygos):  Something that attaches two things together. It couples things and causes them to be connected by a burden that’s hard to bear.

» “Bondage” (douleia): Servitude that promotes dependence upon a person, place or thing; the state of a man that prevents him from freely possessing abundant life and enjoying it.

Based on the Greek definitions, anything that causes a believer to struggle or be double-minded about something to the point that he becomes attached to a burdensome load and cannot enjoy abundant life in Christ is devilish. It is not of God. To sum it up: The spirit of religious bondage is demonic.

Many believers are stuck in ruts whereby they are not experiencing new growth in Christ. When there is new birth, it must be confirmed with new growth. With the genuine new birth, old things are cut off and pass away. Once the old is pruned, the new can grow.

If a believer continues to return to the old yoke of bondage, he will be bound by spiritually arrested development. He will not experience the level-to-level, glory-to-glory promised him in the Word.

He will be condemned to a form of godliness, which makes a person appear to be victorious in Jesus on the outside. But actually they shut down the power on the inside of them that is greater than what is coming against them in life. There is no victory in the life of the believer who succumbs to the regimens, rudiments and habits of religious forms.

September 26, 2014

Justice, Equality, Fairness and Jesus

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NRSV Matthew 20:8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 

In first introducing today’s writer last year, I explained that some blogs consist of pastors’ sermon notes written for churches that use the Lectionary as a guide to preaching. In these churches, the Evangelical concept of a sermon series in completely foreign; instead there are three or four prescribed readings for each Sunday, usually consisting an Old Testament reading, a Psalm , a selection from the gospels, and an excerpt from an Epistle.  (These vary somewhat by tradition and some denominations send out an amended version to their ministers.)  The pastor then chooses one of the texts to form the basis of the weekend sermon.

That’s the case with the blog ForeWords written by Rich Brown.  Click the title below to read at source and discover more Lectionary based sermons.

Live the Gospel

Parable of the LaborersHeritage Day (Community of Christ)
Ordinary Time (Proper 20)
Exodus 16:2–15; Psalm 105:1–6, 37–45; Philippians 1:21–30; Matthew 20:1–16

Those of us who’ve lived our entire lives in countries where justice, equality under the law, and fairness are considered the bedrock of society tend to forget that the kingdom of God preached by Jesus is not a reflection of the world we’ve created. But then, neither are our democratically oriented cultures necessarily an imitation of the heavenly kingdom. And that’s one of the reasons why so many of us may have a tough time with Jesus’ parable at the beginning of Matthew chapter 20.

If we were to hear about a comparable tale here in the 21st century our first response might well be that those vineyard workers sure needed a strong union seeking a comprehensive collective bargaining agreement. It is, after all, patently unfair that those workers toiling all day in the field–no doubt under a hot Judean sun–got the same amount of pay as the ones brought to the fields in late afternoon who had worked only an hour or two. Matthew recounts that this is not just a 21st-century concern:

“Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’” –Matt. 20:10-12 NRSV

Parables, it must always be remembered, are not literal storytelling; they are stories told to get across greater, deeper truths. And so this isn’t a story about unfair working conditions. Certainly in our own day–as in Jesus’ time–workers are exploited. We Christians should be in the forefront of those seeking an end to such abuse. This story/parable is about something quite different. It’s about the kingdom of God, which is based on grace not fairness.

The landowner in the parable (presumably a stand-in for God) made it clear that he set the rules and established the relationship with the workers. In kingdom-of-God terms, this is not a contractual arrangement; it is instead a covenant:

“Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” –vs. 13-16

Many of us Christians have an unfortunate tendency to think that God loves us more than all the rest of humanity–or at least that God places us at the front of the line for eternal blessings because we’re followers of Jesus. But we must remember that we’re not the first to be “chosen” by God. That belongs to the literal descendants of Abraham and Sarah: the Jews. Yes, that covenant is still in force. Check out what the apostle Paul has to say about that topic in Romans chapter 11.

With that in mind, then, who might those late-afternoon workers in God’s vineyard be: why, that would be us Christians. An uncomfortable thought perhaps for many of us. And it might be even more squirm-inducing if we Christians are actually the mid-day workers who were added. If that’s the case, then God may well be planning to add even more to the divine fold. But, but, but…we might protest. How unfair of God to invite those we casually term “unbelievers” (or heathens or any number of other less complimentary terms) into God’s presence. Once more: it’s not about fairness, it’s all about grace.

God, being the generous Creator God is, was, and always will be, can expand the boundaries of the so-called “chosen” for whatever reason God so desires. Among other things, that puts to shame our “Christian” tendency to point judgmental fingers at others, deciding on our own who’s in and who’s out, who’s saved and who’s damned. In fact, this could just change everything.


I really loved the idea in the 2nd last paragraph that perhaps many of us are the mid-day workers — or even late day workers — in the story. Think for a moment; how might that fit individually or corporately?

 

September 25, 2014

The Connection Between Miracles and Humility

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Naaman in the Jordan River

We didn’t intend to run two back-to-back devotionals on pride, but maybe God orchestrated that for a reason. We wanted to share with you the ministry of Andy Elmes who is better known in the UK, Australia and New Zealand than in North America. His organization is called Great Big Life and he hosts a weekday radio feature called Breakfast of Champions (hence the reference to ‘this morning’ in what follows). You can also get the Breakfast devos by subscription (click the above link) which is where we borrowed this one, which originally ran over two days.

Pride ain’t no friend of yours

Proverbs 16:18 (The Message)

First pride, then the crash – the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.

A real sobering thought this morning is that pride can actually keep you from the miracles that God has for you!

 2 Kings 5:11-12 (NKJV)

But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’ Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage.

 We read here of the pride-filled response of the Commander of the Syrian armies, a man by the name of Naaman. Yes, a very important man but one with a big problem: he had leprosy!

 He may have been a high-ranking army commander but he was also a man dying on his feet with an incurable, body-eating disease which meant, just like anyone else with leprosy, he needed a miracle from God.

 This much-needed miracle was not a problem. He sent for Elisha to come help and Elisha sent a note (prescription) for him from God concerning what to do to get healed. When he read the prescription he got offended instead of excited! Why? Simple: because of his pride.

 • He was offended that Elisha did not come but sent a note.

 • He was offended at what God expected him to do.

 • He was offended at where he was expected to do it, and felt he knew better.

 Read it again and listen to the tone of pride that may have made him feel important but sadly left him separated from the God-intended miracle for his life. Pride always has a distinctive sound and a tone to it, always be careful when you hear it and be sure to deal quickly with it when you do.

  He turned away in a rage – why? Because he felt what God had asked him to do violated him in some way. Can you see how pride can keep you from things that God has for you? God did not want to violate him but make him better. But God also had a plan to heal him of his unhealthy pride at the same time which, like leprosy, was not doing him any good.

2 Kings 5:13-14 (NKJV)

And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

Humility always wins!

 After storming off in a huff a servant helped him to reason what his pride would equal in his life, which was basically a very painful and embarrassing death. Naaman responds this time with a humble heart and does what was prescribed, and the result was exactly what had been originally promised.

 Notice that God did not play or barter with Naaman’s pride, but simply waited for his response to change. As soon as it did, the promised miracle was released.

 What was the problem with the Jordan? The problem was that it was a public place, which meant this great commander had to de-robe himself to get what God had promised. When he took his robes and armour off a couple of things would happen:

1. He would be the same as everybody else. There would be no uniform to separate him. But that is how we are isn’t it? We all stand before God the same, needing Him to do something for us?

2. He had leprosy which meant people would have seen he had a need, but maybe he did not want people to know he was needy?

 We need to understand that we are all the same and God does not regard the uniforms or titles of men. Secondly, we all have needs and everyone of us are depending on God for something.

 I am so glad he dealt with his pride and did not leave and die, but rather humbled himself and lived. He learned that day that his pride may have made him feel important but it could not get him what he needed from God.

September 24, 2014

The Connection Between Generosity and Humility

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He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

 

In last week’s study, regular contributor Pastor Clarke Dixon looked at the church in Acts 2 and their generosity.  Today he looks at a character flaw which impacts all of us at some time or in some degree that can destroy a generous spirit.  Click the title below to read this at source.

So That’s What It Looks Like! Generosity and Getting Past Ourselves.

Last week we considered the work of God on our hearts, causing us to be a people who are marked by generous hearts. Generosity is to be a character trait of the Christian person and it should end up being reflected in all of life. However, just because such heart-work is Holy-Spirit-work does not mean that it will happen automatically and without some difficulty. The Bible teaches us to “not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19 NRSV), which means of course that we can quench or stifle the work of the Holy Spirit.

One of the quickest ways of quenching the Spirit’s work in our lives is through pride. Pride kills the generosity in our hearts before we even get started. We think to ourselves “I do generous things. I am generous. I have a generous heart. I am generous enough!” See what such thinking does? It cuts us off from growing further. We may well be generous, and may seem especially so when compared with others, but when pride hits, growth stops. Even the best givers among us have room for heart-growth in generosity.

So how do we keep ourselves from aiming a fire hose at the generosity-fire the Holy Spirit has lit in our hearts?

learning from the masterLet me begin with an example. One area in which pride can quickly grow in me is in my ability to play bass guitar. Having participated in numerous bands with a diversity of styles I have progressed in my abilities. Though signing far less autographs than the frontman or guitarist, I have received much affirmation as a bass player. However, when I see, hear, or am with a really good bass player, I want to never play bass again! Instead I want to leave it to the masters and go back to jamming alone in my basement. This is an experience of humility, a recognition that I have so much more to learn. So the trick to dealing with pride is to spend time with a master. And when it comes to generosity there is no master greater than the Master Himself. Consider that God the Father is:

  • generous in setting up a universe fit for human flourishing
  • generous in provision
  • generous in giving freedom
  • generous in giving us the Scriptures
  • generous in sending prophets
  • generous in establishing covenants
  • generous in making promises
  • generous in loyal love
  • generous in grace
  • generous in giving His Son
  • generous in giving His Holy Spirit

And now consider God the Son who is:

  • generous in his teaching
  • generous in his calling of disciples
  • generous in his healing
  • generous in his feeding
  • generous in his serving
  • generous in his death
  • generous in his resurrection
  • generous in His return
  • generous in His shepherding

And consider God the Holy Spirit who is:

  • generous in His presence
  • generous in His comfort
  • generous in His conviction
  • generous in His challenge

And we could think of so much more. Now that is what generosity looks like! You do not need to walk with our Lord too far before you realize the extent of His generosity and the humble generosity that is yours. The prophet Micah encourages us to “walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8 NRSV).” Is there any other way to walk with God? When you spend time with God you get over yourself. Pride is replaced with humility.

But humility is not the only thing that we experience. Upon hearing a master bass player I want to give up, yes, but I do pick up the bass again and aspire to do better. Pride gives way to humility plus aspiration. Spending time with our Lord will make us aspire to greater generosity as we seek to emulate the Master.

Do you have a generous heart?

If you immediately answer “yes” then the challenge is to walk with Jesus. You may well be generous and you may be an example to others. But be careful you are not stifling the Spirit’s work in your life, getting stuck where you are and no longer growing toward where Jesus is. Walk with the Master and let Him deal with your pride as you learn what a generous heart really looks like. Let pride turn to humility and aspiration and let your already generous heart grow under the Spirit’s guidance.

If you answered “no” then you have the opportunity for great growth. Walk with the Master and let Him show you what a generous heart looks like. Then aspire to have generosity fill your heart, emulating the Master.


Go deeper: If you want to engage with a study on the generous heart of The Father, check out The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller.

September 23, 2014

Bringing Your True Self Before God

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After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ Acts 13:22

 

Today’s reading is from Stanley J. Groothof who blogs at The 4th Point.  Why is his blog called that? Here’s the reason. To read this at source, click the title below.

After God’s own heart

David of the Hebrew Scriptures is famously known as “a man after God’s own heart.” A great example of David living up to this description is when he oversees welcoming the ark of God to his capital city, Jerusalem.

That David is a man after God’s own heart is obvious in his excitement over bringing the ark of God to his home. For the Hebrew people of David’s day, the ark represents the character and very presence of God Himself. That it is coming to Jerusalem has David and all of Israel “celebrating with all their might before the Lord” (2Sam 6:5). Further, we see David “dancing” (6:14 & 16), “shout[ing]” (6:15), and “leaping” (6:16). David loves to worship in God’s presence; David loves God’s presence; David loves God. No wonder he’s called a man after God’s own heart.

However, it takes David two shots to get the job done: The first attempt to bring the ark to Jerusalem was tragically interrupted when Uzzah “put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God” (6:6-7, KJV). It sounds to us like such a harsh punishment for someone who was just trying to help. David, it seems, feels the same way: He becomes “angry because the Lord’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah” and he is “afraid of the Lord that day” (6:8-9).

Reading about David’s anger and fear also reveals how he is a man after God’s own heart: David is real with God – both in celebration and in lament. I learned from Mark Buchanan earlier this summer in a course on David he taught at Regent College how this was unheard of in the pagan religions of his day where people brought only their “best self” into the presence of their fickle gods lest they not get what they ask for. David, in contrast, brings his true self. And our gracious God welcomes David into His presence, even when David is angry and afraid.

God does not want us to think we have to edit ourselves or our emotions before we are welcomed into His presence. On the contrary, God invites us to bring all our messiness (to use Michael Yaconelli’s wording) into His presence rather than leaving it at the door, pretending it doesn’t exist or interest Him. Jesus confirms this truth in His conversation with the woman at the well where He refers to how “true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” The truth to which Jesus refers involves facts – things that are objectively verifiable; but it also involves honesty, including honesty about oneself and one’s circumstances and emotions. David brings it all into God’s presence, presents it all in his sacrifice of worship. This kind of real worship of and love for God is what also makes us men and women and children after God’s own heart.


Go Deeper: This link takes you to a detailed sermon outline with many, many scripture links on various aspects of David’s character.

September 22, 2014

Peter’s Sensory Overload at the Transfiguration

(Mark 9, HCSB) 

The Transfiguration

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up on a high mountain by themselves to be alone. He was transformed in front of them, and His clothes became dazzling—extremely white as no launderer on earth could whiten them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.

Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good for us to be here! Let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”— because he did not know what he should say, since they were terrified.

A cloud appeared, overshadowing them, and a voice came from the cloud:

This is My beloved Son;
listen to Him!

Then suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus alone.

As they were coming down from the mountain, He ordered them to tell no one what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept this word to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.

11 Then they began to question Him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”

12 “Elijah does come first and restores everything,” He replied. “How then is it written about the Son of Man that He must suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 But I tell you that Elijah really has come, and they did whatever they pleased to him, just as it is written about him.”

I’m currently most of the way through Michael Card’s 2012 book on the gospel of Mark titled Mark: The Gospel of Passion (InterVarsity Press). The series of four books on each gospel is called Biblical Imagination, and he certainly brings that gift to this look at the transfiguration of Jesus in Mark chapter 9.


 

Of all Peter experienced with Jesus, the transfiguration is the only event he refers to in his writings.  He understood that he had witnessed a picture of the coming kingdom:

For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, a voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory:

This is My beloved Son.
I take delight in Him!

And we heard this voice when it came from heaven while we were with Him on the holy mountain.  (2 Pet 1:17-18)

It is absolutely vital to understand that the transfiguration took place after Peter’s confession.  It was not proof of Jesus identity.  Petr and the others had begun to grasp the truth the only way it can be grasped:  by faith.

After the four have made their way up the unidentified mountain, we are told with typical Markan abruptness that Jesus was “transfigured” (metamorphoo).  Paul uses the same word twice in his writings to describe the process by which the Holy Spirit works in us to transform and renew our minds (Rom 12:2; 2 Cor 3:18).  Strictly speaking, Jesus is not transformed but transfigured.  A veil is momentarily lifted and the three disciples see who Jesus has been all along.  It is a continuation of the progressive opening of their eyes.

Michael Card - Biblical Imagination Series - IVPPeter’s somewhat homespun description, that Jesus’ clothes appeared whiter than any launderer could wash them, appears only in Mark’s account.  With Jesus in the brilliant light appear Moses and Elijah, the only two prophets who ascended Sinai and met with God (Ex 19:1-3; 1 Kings 19:8-18 – Sinai is referred to as “Horeb” in the 1 Kings passage).  The two patriarchs represent the Law and the Prophets.  They represent all those who have suffered because of their obedience to the Father.  They represent the two categories of citizens of the kingdom of God:  those who die and those who will be taken up before they die.  Moses and Elijah are talking with Jesus.  Only Luke hints at the content of their conversation.  He says they are talking about Jesus’ death (Lk 9:31).

Only Peter speaks.  This account is his remembrance.  In order to best understand this moment, we must remember the context.  Mark says the disciples are terrified.  Panic is behind each of Peter’s confused words.  His statement is better understood as a question:  “Rabbi, is it good for us to be here?”  As far as Peter is concerned, it is not a good thing for him to be there.  If this radiance is the light of God’s glory, he thinks he is about to taste the death Jesus has spoken of in Mark 9:1 (see Ex 33:20).  Perhaps he thinks this is the final coming itself.

Engage with your imagination for a moment.  Here is an observant Jewish man facing Moses and Elijah, bathed in a radiant light that all his life he has been told will kill him.  Perhaps he is dying.  Perhaps the kingdom is breaking in at that very moment!  The parenthetical statement in Mark 9:6, that Peter did not know what to say, is a sure indication that what he does eventually say will be the wrong thing.

Peter asks if they might erect three “tabernacles” (Mk 9:5).  The Greek word, which appears in all three accounts of the transfiguration, is skene.  It simply means “tent” and is sometimes translated as “shelter.”  Might Peter in his moment of terror have been asking to build tents for the three luminous characters in order that he and his companions be “sheltered” from their potentially lethal light?  It does not make perfect sense, but Peter confesses that he might not have been making perfect sense at the moment.  The context is Sinai, terror, impending doom and radiant splendor.

Peter needn’t have worried about shelter.  At that moment God shelters them all with a cloud, and the same voice that echoed at Sinai speaks the words both Peter and Jesus need to hear.  The progressive opening of Peter’s eyes and ears leaps ahead light years as God’s voice identifies Jesus as his “beloved Son.”  Then God, perhaps as frustrated with the disciples as Jesus has been, urges, “Listen to him!” (Mk 9:7).

~Michael Card; Mark: The Gospel of Passion; pp 115-117; IVP Books

September 21, 2014

One Single Rule, One Solitary Commandment

1Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden ‘?” 2The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'” 4The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5“For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.…   Genesis 3 (NIV)

This article by Jered Totten appeared earlier this month at the blog Christians in Context. As usual, you’re encouraged to read this at source by clicking the title below.

“All the Law and the Prophets…” in a piece of fruit

A million yeses, one no

We’re all familiar with the story. In fact, if you grew up in the church, you’re probably so familiar with the story that there’s no surprise, no suspense left in it. But Genesis 3 is an epic drama. The fate of the entire human race hanging in the balance as good and evil are paraded across this cosmic stage. It was Shakespearean before Shakespearean was cool.

And at the center of it all: fruit. Yep, skin and pulp and juice. A plum, a pear, maybe a pomegranate. We don’t know. There are some (quite serious) people out there who are certain it was a grape because wine comes from grapes and wine is the devil’s drink. I’ll leave that discussion for another time (perhaps after we share in the Communion table?).

But almost every person who has read that fateful chapter has at one time or another expressed the same frustration and confusion at the account of the fall:

“What’s the big deal with the fruit?!!”

I mean, it seems so arbitrary. So piddling. So banal. My pastor once described the pre-fall state of Adam and Eve as “a million yeses and one no”. But that one “no” seems so maddeningly trivial that some people are inclined to allegorize the entire story. “Surely the fruit represents sex” they say. (Right. ‘Cause that makes sense after God puts two nekked people in Eden and tells them to “be fruitful and multiply”. Sorry, try again. Better luck next time. Don’t quit your day job.)

But if this world of typhoid and typhoons, racism and rape, gender wars and genocide, tyranny and tragedy, is all due to a literal little nibble on the no-no nectarine (say that five times fast)…well, then we’ve got a bigger problem on our hands: namely, a God who looks a whole lot like Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts tearing through the universe crying “off with their heads!” when someone sneezes on his backswing.

Is there any way to understand the fruit, the forbidden, the fall, that doesn’t turn the entire story into a metaphor or turn God into a whimsical deity guilty of a cosmos-swallowing overreaction?

A long time ago in a Galilee (not so) far, far away…

I am reminded of another story in Scripture where there was a discussion about another singular rule, another solitary commandment.

And one of the scribes came up and … asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
(Mark 12:28-30 ESV)

From Jesus himself we are given the big E on the eye chart, the bullseye on the moral dartboard of life. Every other command, rule, prohibition, and exhortation uttered by God flows out of this one, including the one Jesus mentions immediately after (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”).

Or to say it another way, if you keep this one rule (love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength) then by default you will have kept all the other rules as well…including that one way back in the garden. Yes, the one about the fruit. Yup, the weird one. We’ll get there, but first, Jesus’ one commandment:

Love the Lord with all your heart:
Do you desire God more than anything else? Or are there other things that capture your heart and steal your affections?

Love the Lord with all your soul: Do you find your deepest identity in who God says you are? Or are you tempted to find your identity in who others say you are and the identity you can create for yourself?

Love the Lord with all your mind: Do you trust an infinitely wise and good God? Or do you trust your own reasoning first and only turn your thoughts in God’s direction when it makes sense to you?

Love the Lord with all your strength: Will the labor of your hands be used to show God as great, God as glorious, God as worthy of worship, praise, and honor? Or will you work and strive for that which will bring yourself glory and applause?

And now we are ready to return to the garden. Perhaps, by now, you see where I am going. Because the fruit didn’t just represent some arbitrary no-no. No, no, not at all. It represented a God-alternative that asked for their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Heart - At Satan’s flowery promises of an eye-opening meal, Adam and Eve desired what the fruit offered more than what God offered.

Soul - At Satan’s charge that God was holding out on them and that they could be so much more (i.e. “like God”), Adam and Eve reached for self-created identities rather than the identities given them by God.

Mind - At Satan’s alternative story (which included painting God as a liar), Adam and Eve trusted their own reasoning and wisdom more than they trusted God’s.

Strength - At Satan’s prompting, Adam and Eve lifted their hands to work for their own glory instead of God’s.

Epilogue

So yeah. The fruit was a big deal. If I may be so bold as to say it again, it represented a God-alternative that asked for their heart, soul, mind, and strength. But fortunately for us, God didn’t let the story end there. In the very same chapter of Genesis 3, God promises to send another, a singular offspring of woman, a snake-crusher.

And Jesus came. At every point where Adam and Eve failed (and we all continually fail), he did not. At every temptation for his heart, soul, mind, and strength, Jesus resisted and the full testimony of his life cried out:

“My heart is the Lord’s, and he is my greatest desire. My soul is the Lord’s, and he gives me my deepest identity. My mind is the Lord’s, and he is the most trustworthy source of wisdom and knowledge. My strength is the Lord’s, and my work is for his glory.”

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:15-17 ESV)


Jared is the worship pastor at Redeemer Church in Omaha, NE. He tweets for Christians in Context at @cicblog

September 20, 2014

New Earth, New Bodies

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Heavenly PlacesIf you haven’t already, you really should read Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven. He introduces the idea that despite hundreds of references in scripture to the hereafter, only a couple of them seem to point to some place up there. Most talk about a new earth. This idea somewhat conflicts with some of the things we were taught in Sunday School, and like other doctrines, we often find ourselves having to re-learn things as we get older.

If the book’s 530 pages is intimidating, allow me to recommend Randy’s shorter version of it, 50 Days of Heaven: Reflections Which Bring Eternity to Light, which breaks down the larger book into 50 6-page devotionals. (That’s still 304 pages, but more bite-size for some of us!)

Whenever Randy posts things on his blog at Eternal Perspective Ministries, I always want to learn from him more about how this view reshapes some of the earlier perspectives I held. One thing remains consistent however, whether (as comedy group Isaac Air Freight put it so well) it’s ‘here, there, or in the air;’ we will have glorified bodies.  Randy dealt with this briefly on the blog yesterday, click the link to read this at source and then take some time to look at other subjects he covers.

Will our new resurrection bodies have new abilities?

The disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! —John 20:19

Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared! —Luke 24:31

He was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. —Acts 1:9

He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. —Philippians 3:21

Christ’s resurrection body had an ability to appear suddenly, apparently coming through a locked door to the apostles. And “He disappeared” from the sight of the two disciples at Emmaus. When Christ left the earth, He defied gravity and ascended into the air. It’s possible that the risen Christ, who is man yet God, has certain physical abilities we won’t have. Appearing and disappearing could be a limited expression of His omnipresence, and His ascension might be something our bodies couldn’t imitate.

On the one hand, because we’re told in multiple passages that our resurrection bodies will be like Christ’s, it may be possible at times for us to transcend the present laws of physics and/or travel in some way we’re not now capable of. On the other hand, it’s our God-given human nature to be embodied creatures existing in space and time. So it’s likely that the same laws of physics that governed Adam and Eve will govern us. We can’t be sure, but either way it will be wonderful.

Our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. —1 Corinthians 15:53

Our resurrection bodies will never fail us. They’ll work in perfect concert with our resurrected minds. We won’t get sick, grow old, or die from either an accident or natural causes.

September 19, 2014

The Devil is in the Details

Earlier today, Kevin Rogers had an interesting article at his blog, The Orphan Age, which gives us a few things to think about. When do we place the blame on the Devil? Aren’t some things just the consequences of living in a fallen world?  To read this at source, click the title below. (We’ve used a lot of Kevin’s writing here over the years, so please send him some link love by clicking through.)

DIAGNOSING BEDEVILMENT
When it comes to understanding strange behavior there is plenty of controversial speculation about how the Devil is involved.

There may be two extremes in this regard—one that does not accept the reality of evil and the other that ascribes too much blame to dark forces.

I remember a man who worked with people with exceptional needs telling me that he thought a particular individual must be possessed to make such strange gestures. Out of his need to explain the unexplainable, he gave the Devil credit.

We see the word lunatic used in the King James Version of the bible to describe some people that Jesus encountered.

Matthew 4:24 And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them.

Matthew 17:14 And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying,
15 Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatic, and sore vexed: for oft-times he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.
16 And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.

If we accept the reality of evil forces at work in the universe, we must ask how they affect humanity. The Scriptures do tell us about the Devil’s strategies. Jesus described himself as a shepherd who stayed at the gate of fold to protect his people from the Enemy.

John 10:
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Peter, who was once warned by Jesus that Satan wanted to sift him like wheat, later was known to say,

1 Peter 5:
8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

Peter knew first hand how the enemy could affect the mind with crippling fear. Peter knew how the mind could play tricks on you and how the devil could convince you of great falsehood.

It is not fair to say that a mentally ill person is possessed by the Devil. But, it is very possible that in the vulnerability of their condition, the Soul Enemy goes to work to bring a crushing load of accusation, shame and destruction. The debilitated mind is not in a state of sobriety where it can process thoughts in a healthy manner.


Today’s picture is completely unrelated, but when pastor and author Pete Wilson posted this picture this morning of the eggs his hens have been laying, I was reminded of the beauty and detail and variety that exists in creation that we often miss.

Beauty of Creation

 

September 18, 2014

A Great Giving Church

Offering Plate

Regular columnist Clarke Dixon returns this week with a look at Acts 2.  To read this at his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, click the title below.

Generosity and the Acts 2 Church

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47 NRSV emphasis mine)

If you did not know that the above quotation was from the Bible, would you have assumed instead that it is a description of the typical church in North America? I am guessing not. It is a picture of incredible devotion, togetherness, and generosity which we might lament we do not live up to. On the other hand we might be glad that this does not describe Christian churches in Canada; do we really want such crazy giving away of our stuff? We might be concerned that this passage is setting up an ideal for the Christian community that we neither want nor think we can attain. Is it, and are we falling short?

Whether the passage is reflecting an ideal or not, it is describing what was real. This is how the first Christians acted immediately following the calling and establishment of the Church at Pentecost. Let us note three things.

  1. There is great giving. The first Christians are enthusiastic enough to sacrifice their stuff for those in need.
  2. There is ongoing giving. The tense of the verb describing the selling of stuff indicates ongoing activity rather than a one-time thing.
  3. There is spontaneous giving. This is not a response to imposed law. While the Old Testament law makes provisions for the poor we do not get the picture here of the apostles imposing such and making demands on the people. They don’t need to, the generosity is spontaneous.

Why is there such great, ongoing, and spontaneous generous activity? There are a lot of verbs in this passage as there is a lot going on, but tucked in there also is a description of the hearts of the people: They have “glad and generous hearts” (v.46 NRSV). There is spontaneous generous activity because hearts are being changed. It is a heart thing!

Some of you may think of a different translation of that phrase “glad and generous” for the word generous in verse 46 can also be translated as singleness or simplicity of heart. We might want to ponder the fact that simplicity and generosity go together. When we are not feeling particularly generous toward someone we have a tendency of cluttering up our thoughts with rather complex rationalizations. For example, “you have need, I have plenty, but I cannot help you because . . . [enter rationalization here].” Or, “you need my forgiveness, I have the potential for being generous with grace, but I cannot forgive you because . . . [enter rationalization here].” Sometimes generosity is the simplest way forward. And it was the way forward for these first converts to Christianity.

So how did the first Christians come to have such glad and generous hearts? It is Pentecost and the Holy Spirit is changing hearts! As one Bible commentator notes, people are “fundamentally selfish,” but on the Day of Pentecost, with the outpouring and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, hearts are being changed.

The language people often use of people “getting religion” just does not work when people genuinely come to faith in Christ. You will sometimes hear it said that so-and-so “got religion.” The three thousand who came to faith in Jesus that day did not get religion, they already had religion, being Jews devout enough to be in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. What they “got” was Jesus, recognizing Him as Lord and Messiah. And with “getting Jesus” they also “got” the Holy Spirit. Indeed the New Atheists are onto something when they say that religion can be bad for you and for society. Religion will destroy you, the Holy Spirit will restore you. The three thousand on Pentecost got Jesus, they got the Holy Spirit, and their hearts were changed for the better.

So how do we develop glad and generous hearts today? While we do not want to take the application of this passage in a wrong direction and push for a commune-style of Church, we do want to long for our church today to be a people marked by glad and generous hearts. If we find we are falling short on this how do we proceed? Should we  institute a plan to become an Acts 2 kind of church, getting the leadership together with a vision and umpteen step plan of how we will get there? Or do we legislate it, writing into our constitutions that if you want to keep your membership you had better have a glad and generous heart? It seems to me that our typical churches do a lot of those kinds of things. Or is the solution much simpler: we long for it, we ask for it, we pray for it – “Lord, with you Holy Spirit in us, fill, refresh, convict, overwhelm, and remake us: give us glad and generous hearts!”

September 17, 2014

Compassion in Action

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.
 ~James 1:22 NLT

Yesterday I shared this post at Thinking Out Loud, but wanted to also cross-post it here as well.  Diane Lindstrom blogs at Nice One Nana! To read this at source, click the title below.


The Fog of a Broken Heart

Apparently, the two most common lies are “I’m fine” and “It’s OK.”

Casual conversation seems to trap us into a practiced script that alienates us from exposing the truth about who and how we really are.

It’s difficult to be honest with others because to do so, we need to believe that others care and that it will be safe to expose the restlessness in our spirits, without fear of rejection.

image 0916A young woman walked into the store last week and I greeted her with a friendly, “Hi – how ya’ doin’ today?”

She walked up to the counter, took my hand, looked me straight in the eye and asked,“Do you REALLY want to know because if you genuinely care, I’ll tell you about the sh–ty day I’ve had so far.”

It was quiet in the store — no customers around — and because I had engaged in conversations with this woman before, I decided to pursue the dialogue.

“I care, Susan. I care” was my response. I put down the pricing machine and postured myself in a way that said, “Talk to me. I’m listening.”

The young woman began to speak.

“So, here’s the story. My mouth says ‘I”m OK.’ My fingers text, ‘I’m fine’ but my heart says, ‘I’m broken.’ There’s a good chance I’m going to lose custody of my two kids because of my drinkin’ and my mother is giving up on me. I’m not fine. I’m not OK. I feel like I’m gonna’ die.”

With those words, the woman began to weep.

Oh, how humanity is groaning all around us. (Romans 8. 22,23)

The Holy Spirit breathed Jesus’ familiar words into my conscience.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me . . . I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. ~ Matthew 25:35-36,40

I have learned that it’s a costly choice to care.

Consciously allowing our hearts to break goes against not only our natural tendencies, but also against the grain of our culture. Myriad distractions lure us from embracing pain. There are so many places to hide so that we need not heed God’s beckoning to share in the suffering of impoverished people.

But the pain and empathy I felt moved me to action.

A person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. ~ James 2: 24

I walked around the counter and held her in my arms. Thankfully, no other customers came into the store and I was resolved to be “all there” for this hurting woman. She didn’t need advise or exhortation. I couldn’t be the answer to her pain but I certainly could be “Jesus with skin on” for those precious minutes that she needed to be held.

The fog of a broken heart is a dark fog that slyly imprisons the soul.

If we can be a beacon of light that breaks through the fog, even for a short moment, it is good and honoring to God.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. ~ 2 Corinthians 4.7 NLT


Diane Lindstrom is a Canadian author who looks for Almighty God in the ordinariness of life. She has been blogging daily since 2010 and has recently published her first book, Sisters in the Son.

September 16, 2014

Why Not Sin?

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In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. ~Romans 6:11

 

The title of today’s devotional certainly got our attention when we first saw it, so we decided to retain it here. This is from a source that’s new to us, The Christward Collective is the blog of The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. To read this at source, and then look around at other aspects of the website and blog, click the title below.

Why Not Sin?

As a Christian, why not sin? We could give a myriad of answers to that question. However, the best answer is supplied by Paul in Romans 6. Paul could have talked about the misery that sin brings, the pain that it inflicts upon others, the consequences which flow from it, or the penalty that Christ had to pay for it. But that is not where he first turns. He wants Christians to understand that we cannot easily entertain sin, because of our identity.

In Romans 5, Paul focuses on justification. In Romans 6, he points out that our sanctification cannot be separated from our justification. Those who have been forgiven their sins in Christ are to live in light of having been forgiven. Paul addresses this by pointing out that we are in union with Christ. Look at the language in Romans 6:3, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Verse 4, “We were buried therefore with Him.” Verse five, “For if we have been united with him.” Verse 6, “We know that our old self was crucified with him.” Verse 8, “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.” As Christians, we have been united with Christ. We are one with Him. In fact, that is what makes us Christians. Paul would have us to understand that our union with Christ marks every aspect of our salvation. That is, by faith we have been united with Christ for our justification, sanctification, and glorification. These cannot be separated anymore than Christ can be separated. Christ cannot be ripped asunder; therefore, we cannot rip sanctification from justification. This has great ramifications.

We have nothing apart from Christ. We have no justification, peace, forgiveness, sanctification, righteousness, holiness, Heavenly Father, or indwelling Spirit apart from Christ. Every part and parcel of our salvation is ours, because we are in Christ. As Anthony Lane put it, “Until we are united with Christ what he has achieved for us helps us no more than an electricity main supply that passes our house but is not connected to it.” Union with Christ is our identity.

This leads Paul to ask the question that he does in Romans 6:2, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Before we came to know Christ, we were dead in sin. Ephesians 2 tells us, “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.” Now as a Christian, Paul declares that we are not dead in sin, we are dead to sin. This is what Paul wants Christians to understand above all else in response to the question of why we should not continue in sin: you have died to sin, dear Christian. It has happened. That is our identity in Christ. That is who we are.

When we became a believer by grace through faith in union with Christ, we died to sin. It is not a progression that Paul has in mind, though it is true that we are to die to sin every day. It is also not a future reality that he is looking to, though it is true that we will know freedom from sin more in heaven than we have ever experienced on this earth. Rather, what Paul is pointing out in Romans 6 is that it is a historic reality for the Christian. We have died to sin. It has already occurred in our past by virtue of our being united with Christ. John Murray aptly explained this by suggesting that when we came to saving faith in Christ there was “a definitive breach with sin.”

Look at how desirous Paul is for us to understand this in just the first 14 verses of Romans 6. Verse 2, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Verse 3, “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.” Verse 4, ” buried with him by baptism into death, just as Christ was raised from the dead.” Verse 5, “united with him in a death like his.” Verse 6, “crucified, brought to nothing.” Verse 8, “died with Christ.” Verse 9, “being raised from the dead will never die again. Death no longer has dominion over him.” Verse 10, “For the death he died.” Verse 11, “consider yourselves dead to sin.”

Death is everywhere in these 14 verses. Even the most uninformed reader can see that Paul is making a single point. He is declaring with passion, “Don’t you understand, when you were united with Christ by grace through faith, you were united with Him in His death?” Christ died. And by our union with Him, we died with Him. He died, so we died. That old life of mine, that unregenerate man that I was, that man trapped in sin, steeped in sin, dominated and controlled by sin, is dead. And so it is for you, if you are in Christ. Sin’s power and authority has already been broken in your life.

Sin is no longer our king. It is no longer our sovereign. We need not follow its dictates. It cannot command us. We have been set free to serve a new Lord, a better Lord. Sin no longer sits upon the throne of our hearts, grace does in the person of King Jesus. That is the principle reason we are not to sin. Our identity has been changed. Giving ourselves over to sin is harkening back to an old lord, an impostor, a realm to which we no longer belong. Sin that grace may abound? By no means!

September 15, 2014

Lists to Live By

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:42 pm
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2 Peter 1:5-8 -New International Version (NIV)

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Gal. 5: 19-23

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Several years ago, in a time before the internet, a series of books came out under the name Lists to Live By. Today, emails and blog posts are always bringing us “10 Ways To…;” “Seven Tips For…;” and “Five Reasons You Should…”  But in today’s reading we’ll take a look at three Biblical lists, two by New Testament writers and one written by God Himself! This is from the classic (1994) devotional book The Finishing Touch by Charles Swindoll.  This was written for the start of a new year, but we feel it applies equally to the fall season of school, work, ministry and life. [Changes indicated by * ]


 

Finishing TouchInvariably, a [fall season*] prompts us to make our own list of things deserving our diligent attention and pursuit.  Instead of using the wish-list stats as a kick-starter into the new [season*], let me suggest that we work off the lists of a few men who have gone before us.  Happily, there is not a discouraging or dreamy thought in any of them.  And, best of all, they are attainable.  And 100% wholesome.

Moses’ List  (Exodus 19:3-17)

  • Don’t ever place substitute gods before the Lord your God.
  • Don’t make an idol out of anyone or anything.
  • Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.  It is holy.
  • Remember to observe a Sabbath rest every week.
  • Honor and respect your dad and mom.
  • Don’t murder anyone for any reason.
  • Never, ever commit adultery.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Never lie or give a false impression.
  • Don’t covet another person’s mate, benefits or belongings.

Paul’s List (Galatians 5:19-23)

  • Stay away from the things which flesh produces, such as immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, arguments, jealousy, angry outbursts, heresies, envyings, drunkenness and running around with the wrong crowd.
  • Emulate the things which the Holy Spirit produces, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Peter’s List (2 Peter 1:5-8)

  • Be a diligent person.
  • Don’t waver in your faith.
  • Be known for uncompromising moral excellence.
  • Enlarge your reservoir of knowledge; keep learning.
  • Stay balanced; guard against extremes.
  • Persevere.
  • Make sure your godliness is free of hypocrisy.
  • Treat others tactfully, graciously.
  • Let your Christian love flow, let it flow, let it flow.

Been looking for a few hints to stimulate some [fall season*] resolutions?  Need a little invigorating oomph?  I suggest you focus more on these biblical lists rather than those earlier-mentioned temporal stats.

If you take these lists seriously, two things are certain…:  1) You won’t be the same person you were…, and 2) You certainly won’t get bored.

 

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