Christianity 201

October 24, 2014

The Little Foxes

Over a year ago we did a devotional column titled Biblical Foxes, and at the end of it, I added an update recommending a similar column that Ben Nelson had written on the same theme at the blog Another Red Letter Day.  I decided that since it’s been a year, we would return to this topic again.  Click the title below to read this at source. (Note: This is a series on Song of Solomon joined in progress.)

The Trouble with Foxes

Image credit Wikipedia

Let’s recap where we have come in the song so far  – or as they say on TV – Here are some things you may want to know: (you can skip this part if you want – but it might paint the picture for you)

When we started this story of romantic pursuit our maiden (the passionate believer) was in love with the Shepherd King (Jesus) from afar. Her heart cry was “Draw me, and We will run.” At that time she was an admirer. He began to fulfill her request and began to woo her, and they have begun to get to know one another.

When she first begins to get to know Him she realizes that she is a mess. She says “Don’t even look at me – I am filthy on the outside, but because of your attentions I am becoming lovely inside. On the outside I feel like a nasty old desert tent, but on the inside, I feel I am adorned with curtains from the Kings palace. (1:5)

In Verse 6 of the first chapter she confesses that, in order to live out her deep desire to please her new love, she got right to work. I think of this as working in the Church, joining committees, going to meetings, you know the drill.

She got so busy with the work of the Church that she neglected her personal relationship with her Lover, and she began to feel like a failure:

They made me caretaker of the vineyards,
But I have not taken care of my own vineyard. ~ Song of Songs 1:6

Now she has spent time with Him. She pulled back from ministry and began to spend large amounts of time in worship, in personal connection with Jesus, just loving on Him. It’s been a warm and cozy time in her Christian walk.

Then we enter into a season of change. She awakes from her place of worship and see He is not in the room, but rather He is out in ministry, in life, “Climbing on the mountains, Leaping on the hills!” and calling her to join Him in ministry.

This is a frightening prospect for her. She likes her little cocoon of personal closeness to Him. But He reassures her with His declaration of how much He loves her and how beautiful she is.

This is where we come in today:

Catch the foxes for us,
The little foxes that are ruining the vineyards,
While our vineyards are in blossom. ~ Song of Songs 2:15

We find her second self-assessment in the Song, and she is not where she was. She has grown.

Her garden (her spiritual life) is no longer unkempt as it was in 1:6. It has blossoms and is beginning to bear fruit.

Is this the fruit of the Spirit? : “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23) These are beginning to show great progress in her life. No longer is she “dark but lovely.” Those around her are beginning to reckon her alive in Christ.

However there are little foxes.

The problem with these foxes is that they sneak around and just as the fruit is nearing maturity, they grab it and spoil the personal harvest she has been walking toward.

They are not the big animals who come in and destroy the vines and trample the vineyard, but just take these vines that are ready to bear fruit, and make them unfruitful.

Our girl is sensing the conviction of the Holy Spirit in her life. It is being stirred up by His call on her to get out of her comfort zone and move out in ministry, and she is afraid. Every time she take a step forward there is a little slipping going on. She is making HUGE progress in her Christian walk, but can’t seem to get fruit on the table.

And it is the little things, the things that are hard to give up.

Do you have little foxes that the Lord is pointing out to you even as you connect with this picture? Are there things that, just as you take a huge step forward in your patience pop up and challenge you and you lose your cool? Then you think, ‘that didn’t look much like Jesus at all.’

Or perhaps there is some little thing you hold on to, that when you were first started pressing into the Lord and intimacy, it did not hinder your massive growth, but now you find you have gotten stuck – plateaued so to speak.

Are you holding on to a liberty that turns out to be a little fox in disguise?

This is true in any area of our lives.

In the past few years I have tried to bring two huge areas in my life into control. I am talking about my natural life here. And it was in getting rid of the little foxes that I found victory.

I am talking about my finances and my weight.

A financial fox might be going to the ATM and then not paying attention to where the money goes. At the end of the month I would see that all the money was gone, but I had nothing to show for it.

And as for my weight – well – my life was beset with foxes all around, donuts, candy bars, 3rds at every meal.

So it is with your spiritual garden. Solomon calls them foxes, Jesus calls them thorns:

And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, and the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. ~ Mark 4:18-19

What I love here is that she does not shrug her shoulders and give up, she asks Him for help. Remember this wonderful promise:

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need. ~ Hebrews 4:15-16

If you sense the Spirit poking around at some little foxes, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and He will come along side you, and together you can clear out the garden, and enjoy the fruit you have labored for.

Well – I have gone way too long today, and for this I apologize. I suppose I could have broken into two posts. Perhaps you will forgive me and read it over two days.

I am really loving this Song!

October 23, 2014

Michael Card Quotations

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Genesis 17:1When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty[a]; walk before me faithfully and be blameless.

  1. Hebrew El-Shaddai

It’s been awhile since we ran something in our quotations series. Today we choose author of more than two dozen books, and songwriter with more than 30 albums, Michael Card.  We begin with one of his songs that you can leave playing as you read.  Lyrics are at the end of today’s post.


“There comes a moment in our lives when some of the pieces of the puzzle come together – where all our past experiences, both good and bad, are brought to bear in causing us to become who God intends us to be.”
―  A Fragile Stone: The Emotional Life of Simon Peter


Michael Card“You need to be confronted
By the Stranger on the shore
You need to have Him search your soul
You need to hear the call
You need to learn exactly
What it means for you to follow
You need to realize that He`s asking for your all.”
A Fragile Stone: The Emotional Life of Simon Peter


So, within the preexisting turmoil that was Galilee, another crisis was brewing. Amid the growing conflict between the Romans and the Jews that would result in the destruction of the temple and the rebirth of Judaism as we know it, a small group of Jews was coming together. They had found the Messiah, Jesus of Galilee. To the best of their ability, they carried on with their daily work, Sabbath observance and synagogue attendance (see the disciples observing the hours of prayer in the temple, Acts 3:1; 10:30). The crisis that loomed on the horizon would destroy what fragile identity they had left. They were Christians who did not yet know they were Christians. Matthew’s Gospel is written in the face of this growing crisis. His portrayal of Jesus and his word will provide for this conflicted congregation the one thing they most badly need: identity.

Matthew: The Gospel of Imagination


“Then Luke commits his most grievous error, and I’m not sure I will ever be able to forgive him for it, at least this side of heaven. Luke reports in verse 27 that Jesus explained everything concerning himself in the Old Testament. What was Luke possibly thinking? The greatest Bible lesson of all time, and yet we have not a single word!”
― Michael Card, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement


“When Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, He was already bloody before anyone laid a hand on him. He had been fighting a battle that would make certain the final outcome on Calvary. The blood and water that flowed from his wounds on the cross were preceded by bloody sweat that poured from His pores as He suffered the agony of a death more painful than the physical death of the cross, the death of the will... The painful crushing began appropriately enough, in the garden…”
~ Michael Card, quoted in Our Journey devotional


Song lyrics:

Come to the table and savor the sight
The wine and the bread that was broken
And all have been welcomed to come if they might
Accept as their own these two tokens
The bread is His body, the wine is the blood
And the One who provides them is true
He freely offers, we freely receive
To accept and believe Him is all we must do
–Come to the Table


When we in our foolishness thought we were wise
He played the fool and He opened our eyes
When we in our weakness believed we were strong
He became helpless to show we were wrong

And so we follow God’s own fool
For only the foolish can tell-
Believe the unbelievable
And come be a fool as well
–God’s Own Fool


Why did it have to be a friend
Who chose to betray the Lord
Why did he use a kiss to show them
That’s not what a kiss is for

Only a friend can betray a friend
A stranger has nothing to gain
And only a friend comes close enough
To ever cause so much pain
–Why


Love crucified, arose
And the grave became a place of hope
For the heart that sin and sorrow broke
Is beating once again
–Love Crucified Arose


El Shaddai, El Shaddai, Elyon no Adonai
(God almighty, God almighty, God in the highest, oh lord)
Age to Age you’re still the same
By the power of the Name
El Shaddai, El Shaddai, Erkamka na adonai
(God Almighty, God Almighty, I will love you, oh lord)
We will Praise and Lift you high
El Shaddai

Through Your Love and through the ram
You saved the son of Abraham
And by the power of your hand
Turned the sea into dry land
To the outcast on her knees
You were the God who really sees
And by your might you set your children free

El Shaddai, El Shaddai,…

Through the years you made it clear
That the time of Christ was near
Though the people failed to see
What messiah ought to be
Though your word contained the plan
They just could not understand
Your most awesome work was done
Through the frailty of your son

El Shaddai, El Shaddai,…


Sources: GoodReads, LyricsMode, CoramDeo

Go Deeper: Read a short Bible study on the meaning of El Shaddai.

October 22, 2014

What’s In It For Me?

Pastor Clarke Dixon continues his series on generosity; to read this week’s entry at source and check out previous installments, click the title below.

Selfish Generosity? Reflections on Matthew 19, 20

 

Rich Young RulerCan you be generous and yet remain selfish and self-centered at the same time? According to the Bible, yes!

First, let us consider the rich young ruler who asks: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16 NRSV). Notice incidentally that he is looking for only one thing to do! But notice especially what he is not asking: “Teacher, what must I do to see God’s name honored? Teacher, what must I do to see your Kingdom come? Teacher, what must I do to see God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven? Teacher, how can I be of help?” Instead his question is very self focused. He may as well be asking “What about me? What’s in this for me?” Being rich, he would have had the resources to be helpful to Jesus in His ministry, being young he would have had the energy, and being a ruler, his influence also might of been of help. But helping himself is the only thing on his mind at this time.

A short conversation between Jesus and the young man ensues, but there is something notable about Jesus’ response as to which commands the man should focus on:

And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 19:18-19 NRSV)

Do you notice anything about this list? These are all commands that focus on relationships. Jesus is here looking to wean the young man off his self-focus and instead to focus on others. Jesus takes this focus on others a step further:

“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me (Matthew 19:21 NRSV)

The young man walks away grieved for being rich now he cannot fathom becoming poor and trusting the Lord with his treasures in heaven. He cannot focus on others. He cannot get beyond his self-focus.

Jesus takes the opportunity to teach, as we read 19:23-26 , about the difficulty of the rich entering the Kingdom of Heaven but things quickly get back to the theme of self-focus: “Then Peter said in reply, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?”” (Matthew 19:27 NRSV). Peter here is comparing himself and the other disciples to the rich young ruler. They had left everything to follow, the young man had not. Is there reward for that? Yes, great will be their reward according to Jesus in verses 28-29. However, notice how Peter’s question is very much like the rich young man’s? He may as well be saying “What about me? What’s in this for me?” It is a self-centered question.

The next parable in 20:1-16 develops this. Some laborers are hired to put in a full twelve hour day, while others are hired for less, some even for only one hour. But at the end of the day they all get the same amount, and understandably the workers who worked the longest are upset. But to this the master responds:

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? (Matthew 20:13-16 NRSV)

That we are to take this parable as furthering the thoughts of reward in the previous chapter is made clear by the repeating of “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” in both 19:30 and 20:16. To summarize those two passages: “First; yes you will be rewarded. Second; do not focus on your reward.” Someone who has fully surrendered to the Master will trust Him with the final outcome of all things. Someone who has a self focus, however, will focus in on the rewards and make comparisons with others receive. Though we may leave all to follow Jesus, we may still be self-centered rather than fully surrendered. Self-sacrifice may not be sacrificial at all if it is an attempt to come out on top.

Keep reading and we will keep seeing this lesson on self focus. Next up, Jesus speaks of His own death in 20:17-19, which of course has its focus on you and me. Right after that in 20:2-,21 the mother of James and John, with both of them along, asks Jesus to give her sons the best places in the Kingdom. They didn’t get the lesson on being focused on others. They didn’t get the lesson on being focused on God. They didn’t get the lesson on being focused on the Kingdom. They had left everything to follow Jesus. But they had not yet left their self focus. Have you?

October 21, 2014

Chewing on the Word

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Jim ThornberFirst of all, it’s not a reference to Ezra eating the scrolls, but if you guessed that, give yourself five extra points!

Today’s reading is from Jim Thornber whose writing we have shared here several times. For four years, Jim was an Assemblies of God minister who was also a monk. Seriously! Check out his story here and here. To read this at source, click the title below.

Gnawing On God

“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” —  Joshua 1:8

I like the word “meditation.” Although some Christians are truly scared to meditate – thinking it is something done by cultic Eastern religions while forgetting that Judaism and Christianity ARE Eastern religions! – Scripture is full of injunctions to meditate upon the Word and Law of God.

The word for “meditation” in this passage comes from the Hebrew haghah, meaning to murmur, to mutter, to sigh, to moan, to roar, to meditate, to muse, to speak, to whisper. The word also describes the low moaning sound of a dove (Isa. 38:14) or the “growl” of a lion (Isaiah 31:4). Eugene Peterson uses the analogy of a dog gnawing on a bone, getting everything it can out of it.

This got me wondering: what is my heart gnawing on? What causes me to moan and growl, to be so totally consumed with God that I’m unaware of any thing else? If people could listen to my thoughts, would they hear me murmuring and musing about God and His goodness? Would they hear me whispering to God the joy and wonder I sense in His ever-present love? Or, would people hear me doubting my place in His Church, struggling with my pride and my desires and wrestling to place my wants into the realms of His eternal agenda?  Depending on when a person tuned in, I know they’d hear a little bit of both.

I want my heart to murmur, sigh, growl, moan and utter the goodness and glory of God. I want to be lost in my consumption of God and unaware of anything but Him. But in reality, I spend too much time thinking about my self and my place, or perceived lack of a place, in the Kingdom. In say I want to consider Him but I end up thinking mostly of my self.

However, meditation is not thinking, which is where I go wrong. Meditation means I’m gnawing on the truths of God. It means I’m taking into my spirit the very nourishment that God knows I need in order to grow into a healthy man. Meditation is the simple act of putting my mind and spirit into the hand of God and allowing Him to take me where He needs me to be. Thinking, on the other hand, is me taking God where I think God and I need to be. See the difference?

I want to wrap my thoughts and prayers around God the way a lion wraps its paws around a piece of meat, savoring and tasting its life-giving goodness. I want to meditate upon God and reap all possible benefits from the encounter. I wonder if this is why the Psalmist encourages us to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8)? Could this be one of the reasons Jesus said we must eat His flesh and drink His blood (John 6:53)? How else could we take into our spirits the nourishment needed for the eternal journey?

Today I purpose to gnaw on the goodness and faithfulness of God. What about you? What’s on your plate?

 


Related: 4 Previous posts by Jim Thornber at Christianity 201.

October 20, 2014

God Isn’t Always Looking for Ability

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But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.        1 Peter 2:9

Years ago I remember hearing the idea that “God isn’t looking for your ability, just your availability.” You can be a very competent person, but if your talents and gifts aren’t fully surrendered — or even casually offered — you won’t get picked for the team on God’s next mission.

After leaving university, I remember wanting to work in a particular facet of a particular industry. I sought information on the training needed and was told that the dominant employer didn’t actually take graduates of that program. Simply put, it was easier for them to take willing people off the streets and train them than to take people who thought they know how to do everything and have to retrain them in the company’s methodology. The gifts and knowledge that would have resulted from the training would have actually gotten in the way.

Our pastor spoke on this yesterday; how our culture tends to default to able-ism. I didn’t take exhaustive notes because I intended to ask him after for his sermon notes, only to discover he was working from a rough outline. (He’s always better off-script anyway; not to mention one-on-one with people in his office or over coffee.)

The notes he sent me follow. What does it mean to be a chosen people?

What did that mean?

God would work through everyday people

  • not through the most powerful
  • not through the religious hierarchy
  • or the ecclesiastically ordained
  • not through an elite group of somebodies
  • but through everybody

And this truth bears out over and over again in the pages of scripture as God chooses the most unlikely people to do his work.

John Goldingay: “God’s instinct is to resist social conventions by resisting eldest-ism, able-ism, racism and sexism.”

God works in the ordinary and God works through the ordinary.

The idea that God would not choose the eldest in the family repeats over and over again in scripture, and in a couple of real-life situations today, I’ve seen the same thing play out in everything from Christian organizations to families.

In the sermon, he noted that God chooses to work through

  • the second oldest*
  • the foreigner
  • the woman
  • the weak

*In our sermon text, I Samuel 16, God doesn’t just choose the next oldest, but he chooses the youngest. It was pointed out that to have the prophet — no, wait; that should be capitalized — to have The Prophet visit your home was a rare and high honor, but nobody even bothered to go get David at that point. Furthermore, in verse 11, he isn’t even mentioned by name, just by “the youngest” which is a polite translation of a derogatory term.  Eugene Peterson renders this verse:

“Well, yes, there’s the runt. But he’s out tending the sheep.”

All other translations listed online use youngest, except for the Wycliffe Bible:

Yet there is another little child, and he pastureth sheep.

The Spanish RVR1960 is interesting, rendering the verse:

Queda aún el menor

which while it could also translate as “youngest,” also  translates (as you might expect) as “the minor.”

And yet, this is the one Samuel realizes that God has chosen. David had his flaws and his failings but he is called ‘one after God’s own heart;’ and thus we remember him favorably. But we were reminded at the outset of yesterday’s message that David was also very ordinary: There are no miracles associated with his story as one finds with Elijah or Joshua.

There may not be any miracles in your story, either; but God chooses to work through people just like me and you.


Thanks to Rev. Jeff Knott for today’s inspiration and notes!


We’ve used this song here four years ago, but it really fits. Danniebelle Hall singing Ordinary People: (Audio window showing; click center of the black bar to play.)

October 19, 2014

Everyone Matters

Jesus’ compassion wasn’t measured by the social context, or the condition of the individual, but by the need.

I found this on the blog of Jonathan Zinck who pastors The Pier Church in Brockville, Canada; a city in which we were involved for 14 years. He wrote it for the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday, and with a largely U.S. audience here, I thought of filing it away for the end of November; but with its references to leprosy it seemed more immediate in light of Ebola and Enterovirus. There are however, less dramatic examples of outcasts around us all the time. Do we reach out to touch them as Jesus did?

Thankful in All, for All

“Everyone has to matter, or no one matters”. This is a quote I saw on Twitter yesterday. Although it was a quote from a current TV drama, it was a statement I couldn’t ‘shake’. The reason it resonates with me so deeply, is because it is a statement I have been wrestling with the last number of weeks. Whether in conversations with friends, in my devotions, or while ‘people watching’ over the steam of a cup of coffee, the message of this statement has been churning my heart.

When it comes to compassion and needs to be met, my first step has always been to meet the challenge. In fact, as a Church family that we affectionately call ‘the knee-cap’, our primary mandate is to invest in others’ lives. So why the challenge in my heart? It isn’t because of the words ‘to matter, but the word ‘everyone’. This statement speaks more than just being compassionate, but that our compassion is not limited to a few, but a commitment to ‘all’. This statement challenges my heart because its origin isn’t in a TV drama, but from the words of Jesus.

At the very onset of His ministry, Jesus was approached by a leper, begging Jesus to heal him. While for us today we would see this leper as a man who was sick, those in Jesus’ culture saw him as a social outcast. People feared so much about ‘catching’ the disease, that they would make those with leprosy yell out “…unclean! unclean!”. As a result, leprosy not only condemned the afflicted physically, but socially as well. Because of this, what happens next is remarkable:

“…Deeply moved, Jesus put out his hand, touched him, and said, “I want to. Be clean.” ~Mark 1:41

Jesus’ compassion wasn’t measured by the social context, or the condition of the individual, but by the need. From the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus made it very clear that He had come for all, and that ‘everyone has to matter, or no one matters’. In fact, the Bible tells us that this statement is the very context of the Cross. John 3:16-17 Jesus proclaims that He came to spiritually rescue ‘all’ who would come. John 17:20, Jesus prays that ‘all’ who believe the message will be united as one. Romans 3:22, stresses that salvation through the Cross is for ‘all’ who believe, and 1 Tim 4:10 impresses on us that Christ has come as Saviour for ‘all’.

So what’s my point? Why am I so challenged by the statement ‘ Everyone has to matter, or no one matters”? Because if I am a follower of Christ, I am not only to live a life of compassion for others, but a life of compassion for all. Because as I honestly look into my life I have to ask myself if I show equal measure of compassion to everyone. Am I willing to walk with those who are labeled as socially ‘unclean’ in the same way with those who are socially accepted? Am I willing to invest in the needs of those who oppose me, in the same way I am willing to invest in the needs of those who accept me? For all of us, as followers of Christ and walkers with Christ, is mandate our to show compassion to all…period?

Jesus’ voice from the Cross answers with a resounding “Yes!” What Jesus risked with the leper pales to what He did on the Cross. Taking on the ultimate persecution, humiliation, and torture, He sacrificed and invested His life for ALL…yes All. Regardless of our need, our past, or our social status, Christ made the ultimate sacrifice so that we (all of us) have the opportunity to reach out to Him in faith, to receive the ultimate reward- salvation and eternal Hope.

Thanksgiving is not only a time of celebrating how we have been blessed, but the active sharing of what we’ve been given. Likewise, Thanksgiving of Faith- celebrating the message of the Cross- is not only celebrating our salvation and deliverance, but is sharing this hope to all, by investing in others what Christ has invested in us: all love, compassion, and message of Hope.

So here’s my encouragement, challenge, and request for you. My request is that you walk with me in this. I encourage you to wrestle with what “Everyone has to matter, or no one does” means to you. I want to challenge you to intentionally reach your hand out to someone who you have personally regarded as ‘unclean’, and example Christ to them.

Being a follower of Christ is not only fully receiving what Christ has done for us, but the commitment to follow Christ…walking in His steps…love those He loves (All)…share hope with those He sacrificed His life for (All). This is a Thanksgiving celebration of Faith.

October 18, 2014

Give Me This Mountain

I was enjoying the lyrical depths of a playlist of songs by Graham Kendrick and was particularly drawn to the song Give Me This Mountain (Caleb’s Song). I decided to post it on Thinking Out Loud by itself, but wanted to at least include the scripture reference. The video annotation reads:

A song about a Biblical encounter between Caleb and God. Caleb was called ‘wholehearted’ by God and was allowed to enter the promised land.

I decided to investigate that further, first in scripture,

Numbers 14:24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.

and then when I landed on the blog of Harvest Pointe Fellowship in Evans, Georgia. Once there, I knew I had to include it here at C201.  Click the title below — a reference to Caleb’s character before God — to read it at source.

Wholehearted -Joshua 14

Besides God, there are two main characters throughout this stage of our study of Joshua: obviously Joshua is one of them, and the other is Caleb. Caleb is one of the spies who entered the Promised Land the first time– all the other spies gave reports of giants and fortified cities and how it would be impossible to take this land but Caleb (and Joshua) stuns everyone by boldly proclaiming that they should enter the land because God had already given them the victory. No one listened to him and the children of Israel are forced to wander the wilderness once more. We should not be surprised to learn that the name “Caleb” comes from Hebrew and means “wholehearted”. Caleb is a man who lived his entire life with wholehearted devotion to God’s purpose.

…Caleb is one of the unsung heroes of the Bible. He stands as a shining example of one who never lost his edge spiritually. He himself said at age 85, “I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and coming in” (Joshua 14:11 NKJV). This demonstration of courage must have unnerved the other men. They may even have thought him senile.

At this point of our study of Joshua, God’s people have taken much of the long awaited Promised Land and Joshua was dispensing portions of it to the tribes. However, Caleb steps forward to claim that which had been promised him by Moses. In fact, Caleb asks for the land that he had surveyed as much younger man.

In response, Joshua granted his faithful friend Caleb what he asked. He gives Caleb Hebron. The old man proved he had not yet exhausted his courage, when he said:

Now therefore, give me this mountain [the land of Hebron] of which the Lord spoke in that day. . (Joshua 14:10–12 NKJV)

The other men of Israel must have breathed a sigh of relief that Caleb had chosen this portion of land. This was not some beautiful, green pasture; it was one of the most treacherous mountainous areas of the Promised Land. Even more problematic was the fact that formidable adversaries inhabited this land. This was the home of the sons of Anak, the very same giants that terrified the 10 spies sent by Moses. No one wanted to take on the giants except 85-year-old Caleb. Can’t you just envision him holding up that muscular old arm, saying, “Give me this mountain”?

I love the boldness of this man of God. I can just see Caleb running up that mountain. I can see him as he slays his adversaries. He was victorious. He had been strong all those years and he finished well.

Let me share several principles with we learn from Caleb’s life that can give us this same spiritual stamina we need to run and indeed finish in the race of life well.

1. Follow the Lord 100 percent. Scripture says again and again that Caleb “wholly followed the Lord.” It’s in Joshua 14:8–9 and verse 14: Joshua blessed Caleb and gave the old man what he asked because “he wholly followed the Lord God of Israel.”

This is clearly a key to Caleb’s spiritual success. But what does it mean to “wholly follow the Lord”? It means that you must fully follow our Lord not halfheartedly, but completely. One hundred percent.

Are you wholly following the Lord your God? If you are not, you will eventually be picked off. It is only a matter of time until you become a casualty in the race of life.

2. Don’t compromise—stand your ground. At the risk of being ostracized, Caleb took a stand for what he knew was true. He knew he needed to be more concerned with God’s approval than man’s approval. And for this, he was rewarded.

As you walk with the Lord, you will face many temptations to cave in to peer pressure, to do what everybody else does. But if you are going to fully follow the Lord, then, like Caleb, you must make this principle operative in your life. Stand firm and seek God’s pleasure, no one else’s.

3. Take God at His Word. Caleb didn’t win immediate entrance to the Promised Land. First, he had to wander around with those ungrateful, complaining Israelites for 40 years. They said things like “We remember the good old days back in Egypt, where we had garlic, leeks, and onions.”

Despite the Israelites’ childish clinging to conjured memories, Caleb hung on to the promises of God. He knew God would be faithful, regardless of the time frame. Caleb trusted God’s word to him. We can do the same.

4. Long for fellowship with your God. Caleb asked for a place in the Promised Land called Hebron. There is something very interesting about the name Hebron, which—in the original language—means “fellowship, love, and communion.” Hebron is where Abraham met with God face-to-face and received the promise of the new land in the first place.

Caleb yearned for fellowship with God. While the other Israelites longed for Egypt, Caleb longed for Hebron. While the others looked back in dread, Caleb looked forward with fearless anticipation. While others wanted to please themselves, Caleb wanted only to please God.

This is an essential key to spiritual longevity. You must always move forward. You must always seek to grow spiritually and never look back. That’s what will keep you going.

If you are living this Christian life for others’ applause, you won’t make it. You have to run empowered by your love for God.

Questions for thought:

1. Have you ever felt resentful or burdened by something God was calling you to do?
2. One justification for not helping or serving is that feel we need time for ourselves, for our studies, for our work, for our own rest. While easy to understand, what do you think is wrong with this mindset?
3. When was the last time you felt excited and even proud to have the chance to serve? What made that situation so different?
4. What are some practical ways you can begin to see serving God as your privilege rather than your burden?

 

October 17, 2014

Full of Grace

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John 1:14 — The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (NIV)

John 4:19, 20 — “Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?” (NLT)

Today we offer you a preview excerpt from Philip Yancey’s new book Vanishing Grace: Whatever Happened to the Good News, releasing Tuesday from Zondervan.

Vanishing Grace Jesus “came from the Father, full of grace and truth,” wrote John in the preface to his gospel.  The church has worked tirelessly on the truth part of that formula:  witness the church councils, creeds, volumes of theology, and denominational splits over minor points of doctrine.  I yearn for the church to compete just as hard in conveying what Paul calls the “incomparable riches” of God’s grace.  Often, it seems, we’re perceived more as guilt-dispensers than as grace-dispensers.

John records one close-up encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman.  Knowing well the antipathy between the two groups, she marveled that a Jewish rabbi would even speak to her.  At one point she brought up one of the disputed points of doctrine:  Who had the proper place of worship, the Jews or the Samaritans?  Jesus deftly sidestepped the question and bore in on a far more important issue:  her unquenched thirst.  He offered her not judgment but a lasting solution to her guilt over an unsettled life.  To her and her alone he openly identified himself as Messiah and chose her as a grace-dispenser.  Her transformation captured the attention of the whole town, and Jesus stayed for two days among the “heretics,” attracting many converts.

That scene of Jesus and the Samaritan woman came up during a day I spent with the author Henri Nouwen at his home in Toronto.  He had just returned from San Francisco, where he spent a week in an AIDS clinic visiting patients who, in the days before antiretroviral drugs, faced a certain and agonizing death.  “I’m a priest, and as part of my job I listen to people’s stories,”  he told me.  “So I went up and down the ward asking the patients, most of them young men, if they wanted to talk.”

Nouwen went on to say that his prayers changed after that week.  As he listened to accounts of promiscuity and addiction and self-destructive behavior, he heard hints of a thirst for love that had never been quenched.  From then on he prayed, “God, help me to see others not as my enemies or as ungodly but rather as thirsty people.  And give me the courage and compassion to offer your Living Water, which alone quenches deep thirst.”

That day with the gentle priest has stayed with me.  Now, whenever I encounter strident skeptics who mock my beliefs or people whose behavior I find offensive, I remind myself of Henri Nouwen’s prayer.  I ask God to keep me from rushing to judgment or bristling with self-defense.  Let me see them as thirsty people, I pray,  and teach me how best to present the Living Water.

pp 27-29

October 16, 2014

God Has Done the Big Thing

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It wasn’t intentional, but today we have a post from Stephen Altrogge at Thinking Out Loud, and below, a post by Mark Altrogge here at C201.  This topic appears very simple, but I had to read it twice to get all the nuances. To read this at The Blazing Center blog, click the title below:

God Has Done The Big Thing. Surely He’ll Take Care Of The Lesser Things.

Israel had a short memory.

They had been miserable slaves to the king of Egypt who seemed to have all power over their lives. They had no means of escape, yet God heard their groaning, and struck Pharaoh and Egypt with plague after plague, then brought Israel out of Egypt loaded with their gold and silver. Then God miraculously split the Red Sea and brought his people through on dry ground, then Israel watched the sea come back together and engulf the Egyptian chariots who pursued them.

Though God delivered them and provided for them again and again, they couldn’t seem to remember his faithfulness. In their unbelief, every new challenge they faced made them doubt the goodness of their God. They failed to make this important connection: If God did the big thing for them, he’d surely do lesser things. If God delivered them out of Egypt, he’d surely provide for their needs.

A short memory wasn’t just the problem of the generation who left Egypt. It was Israel’s constant failure over the years. We see God reminding his people again in Psalm 81:

I relieved your shoulder of the burden;
your hands were freed from the basket.
In distress you called, and I delivered you;
I answered you in the secret place of thunder; (6-7)

I am the LORD your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. PS 81.10

God says to his people: Don’t forget who I am: I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. I did the big thing. I saved you when you couldn’t save yourselves. So ask me to provide for you – open your mouth wide – expect me to meet your needs – and I will fill it – I’ll do the lesser thing and answer your prayers and provide for you.

We too need to remember this truth: God did the big thing for us – he saved us from our sins and his wrath by sending his only Son to live and die and rise for us – surely he will do the lesser things – provide, protect and help us.

God has done the big thing – he saved us. Surely he’ll take care of all the lesser things we need.

God could say to us:

I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of your land of Egypt – your slavery to sin, your misery, your condemnation and hopelessness.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it – ask me and I’ll give you all you need.

Romans 8:32 puts it this way:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

God gave up his most valuable thing – his Son Jesus on the cross – he sent Jesus to be broken and to pour out his blood for sin, then he poured out his horrific wrath upon his Son’s soul, withdrawing every shred of mercy and love from Jesus’ awareness. He did this for us all. After doing this, how will he not graciously give us all lesser things? Surely God will give us all we need to glorify him. Surely he will give us mercy and grace and strength and help. Surely he’ll provide for our needs.

So open your mouth wide and God will fill it. Open your mouth today in praise and thanksgiving. Open your mouth wide in prayer. Ask for whatever you wish. Nothing will be greater than Jesus. Open your mouth wide in expectation that your heavenly Father will answer your prayers.

October 15, 2014

Jesus: Don’t Bank on Inheritance

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Micael Grenholm writes at the blog Holy Spirit Activism. There are some articles there I think you would enjoy, so click on the title below and then look around by clicking the ‘home’ button. This is one presents a topic I’d never considered before…

Why Jesus Doesn’t Like Inheritance

It isn’t surprising that Jesus often is surprising, but I find this response of His particularly fascinating in that it’s definitely not what I would expect someone else to say:

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:13-15)

Most pastors, rabbis or other kind of leaders I know of would never, ever, give such an answer. They would politely obey the person and strongly encourage the person’s brother to share their inheritance equally. We all want to be fair, right? But Jesus firstly questions why the person views Him as a judge or an arbiter, secondly He warns the whole crowd for greed and for wanting an abundance of possessions.

See, if it’s fair to split an inheritance equally, how much more fair isn’t it to split all the world’s wealth equally? Jesus practiced community of goods with His disciples (John 13:29), and the church continued to do so when He had levitated into Heaven (Acts 2:44-45). But the inheritance of the world is private, those with rich parents inherits more than those with poor parents. Since the world doesn’t have the Jubilee economic system that Old Testament Israel was supposed to have, there is no mechanism to stop this other than tax, which in most cases doesn’t create much equality (in Sweden we used to have an inheritance tax, but the conservative “Christian democratic” government abolished it).

A couple of months ago I wrote about how economic inequality often is rationalized through claiming that hard work lies behind personal wealth, but I argued that this is wrong since may poor people work much harder than the rich – instead most wealth is inherited, and a lot of times it was originally collected through exploitation, slavery and war (and still is, to some extent). Basically, fairness isn’t just splitting inheritance equally between the inheritants, fairness is questioning why we want a lot of inherited wealth.

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21)

We should not desire to be rich, we should desire to be faithful to the Lord and do good deeds towards the poor and destitute. If we live simply, give away as much as we can and care for people and God’s creation, we will be much more blessed than if we had just been longing for the wealth of our parents.

October 14, 2014

Combatting Entitlement

Regular contributor and Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon continues to look at issues revolving around the broader theme of generosity. Click the title below to read this at this blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon…

Curing a Bad Case of Goodstuffitis. Gratitude, Generosity, and Deuteronomy 8

Many of us suffer from a widespread but little known affliction called “Goodstuffitis”. How do you know if you have it? Its primary symptoms are forgetfulness and boasting but the early warning signs that we are getting it are when we say things like “I deserve this, I earned that, life would be unfair if I did not have it.”

The Bible speaks of a people in danger of coming down with a bad case of goodstuffitis in Deuteronomy. God’s people are ready to enter the promised land and God, through Moses, is preparing them. But the danger they face in the future is not just from the danger of battle, but also what waits for them beyond the battle:

12 When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15 who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, 16 and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. 17 Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.” Deuteronomy 8:12-18 (NRSV emphasis mine)

Affluence is the danger that lay ahead of God’s people. Note the twin dangers that lurk in a good life; forgetting God and exalting oneself. A lot has been written on the sobering statistics of the Christian faith in Canada. Some blame church music, some blame boring preaching, and some blame stuck-in-the-mud ethics for the shift away from faith. Meanwhile those of an atheistic bent would have us believe that we can thank better education. But perhaps what we are experiencing are the symptoms of a bad case of goodstuffitis. Things are going good for the typical Canadian. Opportunities abound. Houses are being built. Fancy cars, fancy cottages, and fancy coffees are being bought. People are doing well. And God is all but forgotten. Self, on the other hand, is exalted.

What are we to do? The cure for goodstuffitis is gratitude. God’s people are told to “remember the Lord your God” (verse 18). They are, of course, not just to remember that God exists, but rather to remember that everything good that they have and experience, would not have happened if it were not for the Lord’s goodness to them. Likewise, we can remember the Lord in all the good that we have and experience.

However, we may push back and say “I have this because I earned it, I am entitled to it.” We might consider the words of Paul here: “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” 1 Corinthians 4:7b (NRSV). Yes, we may have worked hard in school to get good grades, but did you create your own brain? Yes, you may work hard to earn money, but did you create the earth with its resources, routines, and seasons so necessary for your work to be carried out? At some point or other, everything that we can point to as good in our lives has its source in God.

​Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (James 1:17 NASB)

And the greatest example of all is our salvation. How people so badly want to earn it! How people so assuredly think they are entitled to it. We can not, and we are not. Salvation, in all the fullness of what that means, is a gift! There is no greater good that we could have or experience, but gratitude must be applied to keep us from developing goodstuffitis even in this: “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:15 (NRSV).

We have been considering how God through His Holy Spirit is creating within us the character trait of generosity. We have considered also that we may at times stifle the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. A bad case of goodstuffitis with its symptoms of boasting and a sense of entitlement can kill generosity. It’s not hard to see how this can kill our hopes of becoming generous people; “I worked for it and you didn’t, I deserve it, and you don’t.” But thankfully there is a cure, and that cure is gratitude. Lord, may I not feel entitled to, nor boast about, the good that I have and experience, but may I be grateful to your for it, and knowing it is from your hand, help me share it with others.

October 13, 2014

Being Made New, Both Now and in the Future

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Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
II Cor. 5:17 NIV

Today we feature Canadian author Jeff K. Clarke. You’re encouraged to click the title below to read this at source, and then, choose a category from the bar at the top and read some other articles.

Escaping Escapism – Pulling the Future Ideal of ‘New Creation’ into the Present

It was the apostle Paul who first introduced the New Testament idea of people being made new through the life-giving grace of Jesus Christ. In a number of his correspondences, he chose the phrase ‘new creation’ as a way to capture the essence of Christ’s saving vision for the world.

However, when people think about and attempt to explain what Paul meant by the term ‘new creation,’ the focus primarily centers on salvific concerns that highlight the effects of Christ’s work in us. That is, through Christ, we have been saved from God’s coming wrath and must respond by keeping ourselves pure in order to escape this final judgement.

Unfortunately, our reflections often end there, and as a result, we fail to comprehend the cosmic dimensions associated with the language of ‘new creation.’

The idea of ‘new creation,’ when used to describe followers of Christ, is a companion to the cosmic and futuristic ‘new creation’ promised by God. And, while it does have implications for the personal component inherent to salvation, its focus doesn’t end there. In fact, the personal is meant to be a precursor to and a reflection of the cosmic and fulfilled dimension of ‘new creation’ communicated throughout the biblical witness. Unfortunately, we normally embrace the personal dynamic, only to abandon the universal.

Embracing the cosmic focus of ‘new creation’, however, offers us a remedy to our traditional lack of concern – often displayed in much of contemporary evangelicalism – for present earthly realities, i.e., ecological, environmental and social issues.

Rather than try to escape this world and launch into the world to come, the promised ‘new creation’ should create the opposite effect; it ought to inform and shape those who have been made new, now.

Ideas that center on notions of escape have no voice in the teachings of Jesus. The salt and light of the Christian’s witness is not to be removed from the present order, but remain within it, effecting positive influence by reflecting tomorrows realities today.

God’s kingdom comes to earth in and through those who have been made new and precipitates the promised, future and fully realized kingdom inaugurated by Jesus. As a result, we don’t live to escape this world, but seek to find ways to express the realities of the world to come, now.

This captures the kingdom ethic of Jesus. His sermon on the mount is an invitation to live out his kingdom vision in the present. The Spirit enables Christ followers to emulate their leader in such a way that the kingdom brought near in Jesus is to be seen with increasing clarity in and through his followers. This ought to permeate the essence of our communal witness (words and works) to Christ.

If we are to abandon anything, it should be our ideas of escapism. Such a notion causes us to neglect present concerns because we believe they really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. It’s as if we think God only cares about tomorrow and not today. This is inaccurate at best and an obvious misreading of scripture.

If Christ came to save the world, shouldn’t we too be about our Father’s business?

By embracing the present and infusing it with the future, God’s kingdom vision of a cosmic ‘new creation’ will one day be realized.

‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’

October 12, 2014

The Shepherd’s King

Today we look at the basics of Psalm 23. The author is Allan Connor, author and retired missionary. This is actually the first three of a number of shorter devotions; we’ll run the balance as Allan makes them available.

sheep in green pastureDavid, great King of Israel, had known the rugged life of a common sheep farmer – the hectic, 24 hour-a-day lambing season at the end of winter; the search for good summer pasture on far away fields, bedding down in a make-shift tent; the care of sick and wounded sheep; the never-ending battle with wild animals. He had cared for his sheep. Now, in the 23rd Psalm, he sees his experiences as a metaphor for God’s care.

The Bible Society’s Contemporary English Version of the Psalm provides a fresh translation so I thought it good to include it in full. Read it slowly and refresh your spirit. Take a few minutes to reflect on how these verses apply to your own life over the years.

“You, Lord, are my shepherd. I will never be in need.
You let me rest in fields of green grass.
You lead me to streams of peaceful water,
And you refresh my life.
You are true to your name, and you lead me along the right paths.
I may walk through valleys as dark as death, but I won’t be afraid.
You are with me, and your shepherd’s rod makes me feel safe.
You treat me to a feast, while my enemies watch.
You honor me as your guest, and you fill my cup until it overflows.
Your kindness and love will always be with me each day of my life,
And I will live forever in your house, Lord.”

Note the words “shepherd’s rod” in verse 4. The Hebrew text actually mentions two items carried by the shepherd: a club to defend against wild animals and a long pole to guide and control the sheep.


David writes in Psalm 23 that the Lord leads him “along the right paths.” But look how it’s done – from the front! When the shepherd has brought his sheep out of the sheepfold, “he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4). No cajoling or beating here; just solid leadership. The sheep follow automatically because they have learned to trust their master.

Think of the meaning for us! The great God, the God who built the universe and everything in it, will go on ahead of us, if we are his sheep. He’ll search out the places and the circumstances so nothing happens by accident. What a tremendous comfort – being in his will! But there is an important caution: The shepherd must have control. Here is a story:

John D. Rockefeller, America’s richest industrialist, owned a large oil refinery in Cleveland, Ohio. Not far away stood a shabby wooden shop where an older man sold peanuts and penny candy. As Rockefeller passed the store day after day, he felt sorry for the vendor. One late afternoon he stopped for a chat.

“My good fellow,” he began, “why don’t you come and work for me. I’ll give you a decent wage, holidays with pay, health benefits and a pension.” “I don’t know,” the man replied. I’ll have to think about it.” Rockefeller’s brow registered his surprise .

“Alright, take your time, then.“ Rockefeller answered.

A couple of week later, the industrialist stopped in again. “So,” he said, expecting a positive answer this time, “what’s the verdict?”

“Well, sir, it’s like this. Your offer is a fine one but I have to turn it down. I’ve decided that I want to run my own business.” Rockefeller knew by the tone that persuasion would fall on deaf ears. He pulled at the brim of his hat and strode briskly to the door. Now compare this:

Jim Elliot, while studying at Wheaton College in 1949, wrote in his journal, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Jim was killed in 1956 by Huaorani Indians of Ecuador , the very people he had come to share the Gospel with.


King David tells us, “I may walk through valleys as dark as death, but I won’t be afraid. You are with me and your shepherd’s rod makes me feel safe” (Psalm 23:4). David may well have been thinking of the numerous times his enemies had tried to kill him; yet he wasn’t afraid. He knew how to deal with fear. How does this apply to us?

We don’t have to face such life-threatening situations. But there is a universal fear that can harass us. It crosses all human barriers; no social group, class or country is immune. It is the fear of death.

The CEV translation above uses the words, “valleys as dark as death.” This phrase may also be rendered, “valley of the shadow of death,” as in the King James Version. The fear of death really is more like a shadow – it hangs around. It clings.

So how do we shake this fear? What is the shepherd’s rod that makes us feel safe? We get rid of the fear of death by receiving life – the life that Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, will give us under his own terms.

John 3:16 is one of the best known verses of Scripture. Here it is: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” For years I read this verse thinking only of its application to death and eternal life in heaven. It means that, of course; it is the Shepherd’s rod. But it also means much more.

The apostle Paul says, ”if anyone is in Christ, he (or she) is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17). I receive this brand-new life the very moment I place my faith in Christ as savior! So it’s like a two-for-one deal! I become a child of God, receive a new nature and at the same time don’t have to wait to become comfortable with death. As I learn to trust Jesus on earth I become comfortable with trusting him about my eternal life in heaven.

~Allan Connor

October 11, 2014

Participating in The Lord’s Supper

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Today’s thoughts are from the book In The Breaking of the Bread: 52 Meditations on the Meal of Remembrance by J. Lee Magness (Standard Publishing, 2007).

CommunionAll Of Us

Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ?  And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?  Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.  (1 Cor 10:16, 17)

This is not just a pageant, this breaking of the bread, this out-pouring of the cup.  It is a feast for us to participate in – all of us.  This is not a concert or a lecture or a demonstration, not something done to us or for us.  It is something done by us – all of us.

If it is in any sense a drama, it is a drama in which we are not the on-lookers, not the applauders.  We are not the audience but the actors – all of us.  And our play has its props, but they number only three.  There is the loaf – his body broken for us – all of us.  And there is the cup – the cup of the new covenant in his blood poured out for us – all of us.  But there is also the table, not an altar for priests and presbyters, not a stage for the star alone, but a table, reminding us that we are the guests, that we have our part to play in the play – all of us.

And who is this all-of-us who have come to this table?  We are migrant workers and business executives and shopkeepers.  We are unemployed.  We are children, elderly, single, married.  We went through grade school, we have a Ph.D.  We are rich, and… not rich.  And we have all-of-us come to this table because someone invited us and died for us and rose for us and lives for us.  But aren’t we sinners?  Yes, all of us.  The same all-of-us sinners he saved.

The one who gave us himself has given us parts in his great drama of redemption.  We are not the audience, we are the actors – all of us.

God, thank you for inviting us to share the loaf and the cup, and thank you for inviting us to sit around the table, together, all of us, through Jesus, Amen.

October 10, 2014

The Purpose of Prophecy

Rev 19:9 Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”

10 At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For it is the Spirit of prophecy who bears testimony to Jesus.”
(NIV)

Two weeks ago I felt strongly that I was to share Revelation 19:10b with readers here but wasn’t sure exactly what it was I was to add to the passage.  Here are a few translations of this verse:

  • For the essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus. (NLT)
  • For the testimony about Jesus is essentially the prophetic spirit. (The Voice)
  • Those who tell about Jesus have the spirit of a prophet. (Worldwide English)
  • the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (KJV)
  • For the truth that Jesus revealed is what inspires the prophets. (Good News/TEV)
  • Everyone who tells about Jesus does it by the power of the Spirit. (CEV)
  • For the substance (essence) of the truth revealed by Jesus is the spirit of all prophecy [the vital breath, the inspiration of all inspired preaching and interpretation of the divine will and purpose, including both mine and yours]. (AMP)

Days later however, the top religious news story was the release of a new movie based on the Left Behind books. Those books are, to most people and many Christians, the essence of prophecy. However…

In the Bible prophecy does not refer to foretelling but rather to forthtelling.

I remember as a young adult the first time my pastor referred to prophecy as “powerful preaching.” “No, no!” I wanted to scream, “It’s about being able to tell the future; being given supernatural knowledge to know what is going to happen next.” You see, I had been greatly influenced by the Charismatic movement and got caught up in the sensational and supernatural aspects of the gifts of the spirit; the signs; the wonders.

I still consider myself a post-Charismatic. I still believe in the limitless power of the Holy Spirit. I believe that God indeed does give people insights into the future, but this is more through the gifts we call the word of knowledge and the word of wisdom; and even those are more concerned with seeing things as they are, not necessarily what will be.

The gift of prophecy is in no way connected to the fortune tellers who occupy low-rent business locations and invite clients to learn where they are to live or whom they are to marry. It’s more about speaking plainly and in the power and authority that God gives to speak into a person’s life, or to a situation; and then to point them to Christ.

Prophecy is indeed speaking in power and testifying to Jesus.  Charles Stanley writes:

Very seldom does the Lord God reveal a future event to us. The motivational gift of prophecy is primarily concerned with speaking forth the truth. The Word of God helps us to understand characteristics and avoid misunderstandings associated with the gift of prophecy, and it shows us how we use that gift when we walk in the Spirit.

…continue reading a 9-point outline on prophecy

The IVP New Testament Commentary offers this:

The apparent meaning is that those who have the testimony of Jesus—the angel, John and John’s brothers (fellow believers)—are all prophets. Prophets are bearers of the word of God, and in this book “the word of God” and “the testimony of Jesus” are inseparable (see 1:2, 9; 20:4). We learn now that the testimony of Jesus is not only a message about Jesus but also a message from Jesus the risen Lord. His is the one voice behind the many prophetic and angelic voices echoing through the pages of this book. So the testimony of Jesus is the spirit or essence of Christian prophecy. Whether it is also “the spirit of the prophecy,” referring to the book of Revelation itself (1:3; 22:7, 18-19), is more difficult to say (it does have the definite article in Greek). If it is, then the testimony of Jesus is virtually equivalent to the title “revelation of Jesus Christ” at the beginning of the book (1:1).

Although I couldn’t find an exact quotation on this, I love how Canadian pastor Bruxy Cavey teaches on the times where Bible prophecy does involve looking into the future. He says that the point is not to look forward but after the events have come to pass to look back and realize that God had it all under his control all the time. God knew about it all along.

In the meantime, the words of our mouths, and the meditations of our hearts should be all about testifying to Jesus. To Him be the honor, the power and the glory, both now and in the unknown future yet to come.

 

 

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