Christianity 201

December 13, 2017

Where Seekers Find Love Without Judgment

Matthew 13.24-30.NIV Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

“ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them.   Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’


Romans 5.8.NIV But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Today we’re returning to re|knew the blog of Greg Boyd. The emphasis in two paragraphs below was added.

A Cross-Like Church

When God’s church loves like God loves—which means valuing the other at cost to self—it will puzzle those outside the church. While such love might cause the religious to rail with outrage, it will cause the searching and the hungry to ask, “how can people love like this?” In God’s plan, this puzzle is what prepares people to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and to surrender their lives to him.

The evangelistic task of the Christian community, in other words, is to live and love in a way that draws people and cries out for explanation. Our proclamation only has as much credibility as our love requires explanation.

For too long the church has blamed the world for how ineffective it is at attracting people. Evidence that we have failed to love like God loves is found in the long-standing pattern of the church deflecting responsibility for its own sin and placing it on the world. If people are not being drawn to the Lord by the church’s love, this is the fault of the church. For Jesus taught us from the start that it is by our love, not just by our words, that people will know he is real and be drawn into a relationship with him. Christ convinced us of the love of God by demonstrating it on the cross while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). We are called to do the same toward others.

By God’s own design—a design that recaptures the purpose for which God created the world—hurting and hungry people are to be drawn into the reality of God’s cross-like love by seeing it demonstrated in his body. Christ did this in his earthly body, which is why sinners were attracted to him. And he longs to do this again through his church body.

To the extent that the church embodies the spirit of Jesus as ultimately displayed on the cross, it will be a magnet for the hurting and the outcast.

On the other hand, to the extent that the church embodies a judgmental, critical spirit that sets up a perimeter, it will repel them.

This means that the church must be freed from any obsession with determining or developing rules that assess who is “in” and who is “out.” It must be ok with wheat and weeds growing alongside each other (Matt 13). When a church is focused on defining the perimeter that establishes boundaries for who is right and who is wrong, it will to some extent be getting its fulfillment and life from what it is “against,” rather than what is it “for.”

Sadly, far too many churches acquire their sense of worth and identity by their religious self-identity, where there is constant judgment and assessment whether people believe the right things and act the right ways.

When we define Christianity as “standing up for God” or defending a specific version of orthodoxy, we are focusing on the perimeter, not the cross of Christ. And as a result, we fall short of loving like God loves.

Churches will only embody and demonstrate to the world the cruciform life of Christ when we are defined by the center of God’s cruciform love. This empowers them to let go of any attempt to get life from their perimeter. They don’t need to police the perimeter to ensure that everyone looks and believes exactly as they do.

As a result, a church that lives out of the center of the cross is willing to have their reckless love scorned by the religious rule-keepers as compromising, relativistic, liberal, soft on doctrine, or anti-religious. After all, what kind of church attracts and embraces those who are judged by the religious, i.e. prostitutes, drunkards, those from the LGBT community, and drug addicts? In such a church, the perimeter between those who are “in” and those who are “out” is blurred, as seekers find love without judgment, and they have a gnawing suspicion that this is that for which they were created.


Adapted from Repenting of Religion, pages 198-200

December 12, 2017

Thinking about Different Types of Congregational Worship

But if all of you are prophesying, and unbelievers or people who don’t understand these things come into your meeting, they will be convicted of sin and judged by what you say. As they listen, their secret thoughts will be exposed, and they will fall to their knees and worship God, declaring, “God is truly here among you.” Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you.
I Cor. 14:26 NLT emphasis added

It’s been six months and a good time to make another visit to Seven Minute Seminary. This is a 7-minute video teaching today. I don’t like defaulting to videos, but this particular organization, Seedbed, always provides us with material that leads to deep thought. Rev. Glenn Packiam is Senior Pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs. He sees the three paradigms in use in our gathering services as being (1) Encounter, (2) Formation, and (3) Mission. “While it’s tempting to privilege one model over the other, a deep theology of the Holy Spirit can help the church keep these purposes of worship in healthy tension.”


Bonus item for those of you who like church history:

While deciding which video to include today, I was interested in the title of this one, “The Birth of Band Meetings.”  If you want to hashtag this, the category would be Pietism.  He describes it as a Protestant movement that predates Protestantism itself. John Hus (aka Jan Hus) was key to this movement, as was Count Zinzendorf (aka Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf.) And you thought church history was boring.

“The band meeting was a form of discipleship that helped small groups of men and women practice intense vulnerability and confession of sin together. It helped sustain the Methodist revival in the 18th century, which was preceded by other versions of this spiritual renewal across Europe. Watch this Seven Minute Seminary video by Dr. Scott Kisker [professor of History of Christianity at United Theological Seminary] as he traces the history of this powerful spiritual discipline.”

Other hashtags here would include The Moravian Church and The Religious Societies Movement. And Oxford Methodism. And John Wesley. Hey, one movement leads to another. Watch this. It’s really fascinating if you’re a religion nerd like me.

 

 

 

December 11, 2017

Temptation: Who Leads Us Into It?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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While we sometimes cross-post items from here to my topical blog, Thinking Out Loud, we don’t usually cross-post items from there to here, nor do we do newsy, time-specific items here. However this one raises something that we think is of interest to readers here at Christianity 201.

Matthew 6:13a

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (KJV)
And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.  (HCSB)
And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one  (NLT)
Keep us clear of temptation, and save us from evil. (J. B. Phillips)
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. (The Message)
And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one (NRSV)
Do not put us in temptation, but deliver us from evil, (Spanish RV1975, Google translated)
Do not expose us to temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.  (Spanish Dios Habla Hoy, Google translated)

Last week Pope Francis raised a theological point which wasn’t exactly new, but made headlines.  The New York Times article explains:

…In a new television interview, Pope Francis said the common rendering of one line in [The Lord’s Prayer] — “lead us not into temptation” — was “not a good translation” from ancient texts. “Do not let us fall into temptation,” he suggested, might be better because God does not lead people into temptation; Satan does.

“A father doesn’t do that,” the pope said. “He helps you get up right away. What induces into temptation is Satan.”

In essence, the pope said, the prayer, from the Book of Matthew, is asking God, “When Satan leads us into temptation, You please, give me a hand.”

French Catholics adopted such a linguistic change this week, and the pope suggested that Italian Catholics might want to follow suit…

Then followed some reactions, including Southern Baptist Rev. Al. Mohler, who not surprisingly was horrified. Then the article continued.

…A commentary on the website of TV2000, the ecclesiastical television station in Rome that interviewed the pope, acknowledged that the pope’s words had stirred controversy. But it said, “it is worth recalling that this question is not new.”

“This is not a mere whim for Francis,” it added.

The basic question, the commentary said, is whether God brings humans into temptation or whether “it is human weakness to surrender to the blandishments of the evil one.”

Francis recently took the controversial step of changing church law to give local bishops’ conferences more authority over translations of the liturgy. He was responding, in part, to widespread discontent with English translations that were literally correct but awkward and unfamiliar for worshipers.

On Sunday, French churches began using a version of the Lord’s Prayer in which the line “Ne nous soumets pas à la tentation” (roughly, “do not expose us to temptation”) was replaced with “Ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation” (“do not let us give in to temptation”)…

Saturday morning, Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk — who prefers the type of rendering in the NRSV above — offers a different type of response from New Testament scholar Andrew Perriman:

The Catholic Church is unhappy with the line “lead us not into temptation” (mē eisenenkēs hēmas eis peirasmon) in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:13; Lk. 11:4). The problem is that it appears to attribute responsibility for a person falling into temptation to God. Pope Francis has said: “It’s not a good translation…. I am the one who falls. It’s not him pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen. A father doesn’t do that, a father helps you to get up immediately.” If anyone leads us into temptation, he suggests, it is Satan. So an alternative translation is being considered, something along the lines of “Do not let us enter into temptation”.

What Jesus has in view is not general moral failure (the modern theological assumption) but the “testing” of the faith of his followers by persecution. The word peirasmos in this context refers to an “evil” or painful situation that tests the validity of a person’s faith.

The Lord’s prayer is not a piece of routine liturgical supplication. It is an urgent missional prayer, best illustrated by the parable of the widow who prayed for justice against her adversary. Jesus concludes: “ And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk. 18:7–8).

The petition not to be led into a time of testing has a very specific eschatological purpose—to keep suffering to a minimum. When it came, as it inevitably would, testing was the work of the devil, aided and abetted by sinful desires. But even then it had a positive value: it proved the genuineness of their faith, and if they passed the test, they would gain the crown of life, which is a reference to martyrdom and vindication at the parousia.

 

 

December 10, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today’s article is best read at the author’s site because it contains a video of a different type of congregational singing which may or may not work depending on your system. But I encourage you to read this there on the off chance that it plays for you, which it did for me one time. The author is Kyle Borg who is a pastor in Winchester, KS in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, and the website is Gentle Reformation. Click the title below to read it there. There’s also an introduction which you need to read at that site as well.

What Then Shall We Sing About

God wants us to sing about depression. Yes, even believers get depressed and the Psalms give us songs to sing in the blackness and ache of depression, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5) and, “For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave” (Psalm 88:3-5).

God wants us to sing about persecution. Jesus warned that in the world we will have many troubles and the Psalms give us words to express the troubles that come for bearing the name of Christ, “For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me with cause; mighty are those who would destroy me, those who attack me with lies(Psalm 69:1-4).

God wants us to sing about children. Though many view children as an inconvenience in our culture, God delights in opening the womb and the Psalms instruct us to sing of their blessedness, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Psalm 127:3-5).

God wants us to sing about death. Often death is viewed as an almost taboo topic and yet the Psalms give us language to sing not only of its dark reality but of our confidence in the midst of it, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4), and “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).

God wants us to sing about sleep. The rest that is given to us is traced even to the gifts of God, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8), and “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest; eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:1-2).

God wants us to sing about atheism. The Psalms show us, in singing, how to interpret the world and its systems around us, even the system of unbelief, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:1-3).

God wants us to sing about prosperity. The Psalms demonstrate to us that God cares not only for our souls but also our physical well-being and blesses us in this manner, “May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace; may our granaries be full, providing all kinds of produce; may our sheep bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our fields; may our cattle be heavy with young, suffering no mishap or failure in bearing; may there be no cry of distress in our streets! Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall! Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!(Psalm 144:12-15).

God wants us to sing about enemies. It’s probably hard for the Western and contemporary church that has experienced little by way of outward and physical oppression to comprehend the way the Psalms invite us to sing over our enemies. But the Psalms are filled with warlike victory anthems, “I pursued by enemies and overtook them, and did not turn back till they were consumed. I thrust them through, so that they were not able to rise; they fell under my feet. For you equipped me with strength for the battle; you made those who rise against me sink under me. You made my enemies turn their backs to me, and those who hated me I destroyed. They cried for help, but there was none to save; they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them. I beat them fine as dust before the wind; I cast them out like the mire of the streets(Psalm 18:37-42).

God wants us to sing about missions. The scope of the gospel isn’t confined to the borders of any nation or people group. The knowledge of Jesus Christ knows no boundaries and we are to sing of the advance of the gospel to foreign lands and foreign people, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth(Psalm 67:1-4).

God wants us to sing about alcohol. The Psalms celebrate that it is God who waters the earth causing vines to grow which produce wine to cheer the heart even of the afflicted, “From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart” (Psalm 104:13-15).

God wants us to sing about sin. Not only are we to sing about sin’s pardon and forgiveness but the Psalms often emphasize the great danger that accompanies sin. We are to sing out these warnings and cautions, “For they provoked him to anger with their high places; they moved him to jealous with their idols. When God heard, he was full of wrath, and he utterly rejected Israel” (Psalm 78:58-59), and “Some were fools through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death” (Psalm 107:17-18).

God wants us to sing about hell. Frightening, terrifying, and sorrowful as the topic is — to bear the unmitigated wrath of God is unimaginable — yet the Psalms direct us to sing even of this, “The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God” (Psalm 9:17), and “Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me” (Psalm 49:14-15).

In the Psalms we sing of protecting the poor (Psalm 15:5), angels (Psalm 91:11-12, 104:4), political upheaval (Psalm 2:1-4, 135:8-12), frustrations (Psalm 73:1-3), history (Psalm 95:8, 106:32), the birthing of animals (Psalm 29:9), the keeping of vows (Psalm 76:11, 116:14), the failure of friendship (Psalm 55:14), family relationships (Psalm 128:3), false gods (Psalm 135:15-18), and so much more. These are some of the things that fill the content of the very songs that the Holy Spirit has given to the church… And he himself has approved these things to be expressed through the gift of singing in order to impress them upon our minds, provoke the emotions of our hearts, and activate the deepest recesses of our memories as our tongues are loosened to sing the praises of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 

December 9, 2017

Unpacking 666

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six.– Rev 13:18

Today we’re paying yet another visit to the blog of BibleStudyMagazine.com and a short article on a topic that you’ve probably encountered. You’re encouraged to read this at source, and then take some time to look at other articles on the site. The author is Michael S. Heiser.

666: What Theories Add up?

If there’s one part of the Bible virtually everyone has heard of, it’s 666—the “number of Beast.” And if there’s one thing no one can agree upon, it’s what that number stands for. We find the number in Revelation 13:18: “let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.” The wording here is important: John tells readers that the number needs to be “calculated,” which means there must be a hidden meaning behind it. But how do we calculate it?

Calculating Symbolism

One option for solving this biblical riddle is gematria, the idea that numbers have symbolic meaning. While some have called gematria a tool for speculation, it actually derives from an ancient convention in languages like Greek and Hebrew where letters of the alphabet are used to represent numbers.

But gematria is not limited to just Revelation; the New Testament contains several other symbolic figures. The 153 fish of John 21:11 could be interpreted as ancient symbolism for the Church, the body of Christ, and the Old Testament sons of God as analogous to believers in the Church. The Greek word for “dove,” like the dove that descends on Jesus at His baptism, has a numerical value equivalent to the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, thus symbolizing the Alpha and Omega (Rev 1:8).

Calculating 666

When it comes to 666, one gematria explanation is that the number represents Nero Caesar. The Greek Neron Kaisar adds up to 1,005, but when the name is transliterated into the Hebrew letters nrwn qsr, the sum is 666. Nero Caesar also would explain the variant number of the Beast (616) found in some New Testament manuscripts. Transliterating the Latin Nero Caesar into Hebrew, nrw qsr, yields 616, suggesting John may have been thinking of the well-known Nero Redivivus myth when writing about the Beast (i.e., that Nero would rise from the dead to destroy Christians).

The gematria solution presents three major problems: it could be viewed as cheating with the spellings (the usual Hebrew spelling for Caesar is q’st, not qsr, although the qsr form does exist). It assumes that readers knew Hebrew well enough to do the transliteration from Greek back into Hebrew. And, perhaps most tellingly, the early Christian commentators who knew of the Nero Redivivus myth never identified 666 with Nero.

Ancient Sudoku

There is another possibility: 666 is a magic square. From very ancient times, philosophers and mathematicians were fascinated that the numbers 1–36 could be arranged in squares so that each row and diagonal would add up to the same sum (the same principle as modern Sudoku). One magic square has four rows and two diagonals that each add up to 111. The six lines of 111 = 666. Each magic square in ancient Jewish and Greek tradition was also associated with a celestial body. In the case of the 666 square that body was the sun, which was associated with Zeus, the highest god in the Greek pantheon.

Zeus was often associated with Baal and the mythological north (tsaphon) of Canaanite religion. Most relevant to the Beast of Revelation is Baal’s (and Zeus’) title, “lord of heaven” (Baal-shamem). It is possible that the “abomination of desolation” (shiqquts-shamem) in Daniel 9:27 is a play on Baal-shamem, since the Old Testament writers sometimes substituted words that meant “shame” or “abomination” into proper names that formerly contained “Baal” (e.g., Mephibosheth, Ish-Bosheth). This would mean 666 is a symbol for the abominable Baal, the dark lord of the Old Testament world—satanic power in New Testament thinking.


Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 4 No. 5

December 8, 2017

Continuing in the Faith: Two Perspectives

Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.
 – Luke 17:33

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. – John 16:13

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. – Phil. 3:14

Today’s post was intended to be a return to Blogos.org for the usual type of devotional article you see here. However, I stumbled across this article — the link “letter from the editor” got me curious — and while some of this isn’t new to many readers here, I hope you will take the time to read this and notice the balance this writer achieved between what can be two divisive doctrinal viewpoints.

Which view is right for you?

Are you confused by Calvinism and Arminianism and which to believe?

By Jim Allen

Calvinism and Arminianism are two major branches of Protestantism that follow separate theological views, pulling the true Gospel apart into two camps of faith. While the views differ in how one attains and continues in salvation, they do agree on the core of Christendom, which is faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:16). It is also true that most believers know nothing about either of these two doctrinal views when saved.

I was one of them. I had no clue. Not until sometime later did I learned about these two views and then became entirely confused by which one was correct. Of course, the adoption of Calvinism or Arminianism can influence how one lives out his or her Christian faith.

Beyond a personal influence, these two branches of Protestantism have split the church for nearly five hundred years. But, here’s the thing. Got Questions got it right by recognizing Calvinism and Arminianism are too demanding for anyone to understand. They correctly said both views fail to fully explain God’s role and man’s role in the mysteries leading to salvation. More precisely:

Human beings are incapable of fully grasping concepts such as these because the theology is deep and demanding. Yes, God is absolutely sovereign and knows all. Yes, human beings are called to make a genuine decision to place faith in Christ, and these two facts seem contradictory to us, but in the mind of God they make perfect sense. (Source)

Can these two opposing views ever be brought into alignment with Scripture? I have read the arguments for and against Calvinism and affirm some aspects are biblical while other aspects fog the brain. At the other end is Arminianism, which also has views that battle against the teachings of the Bible.

While the conversation between these two views is not the most important topic in Christianity, it’s a worthwhile discussion in having. This article makes no attempt to uphold one view over the other or reconcile opposing verses of either view; but rather, its purpose is to look beyond the teachings of John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius to the centrality of the true conversation.

Is Calvinism or Arminianism the right conservation to have about salvation? I would propose neither because the right answer for salvation is a message that has been longstanding since the Resurrection. The message of Christianity is far more than adopting a view to walk out one’s faith. Christianity is about entering into a living and loving relationship with the Lord of Glory. Jesus said it’s all about exchanging a life we can never keep for one we can never earn (Luke 17:33).

The Apostle Paul wrote about the exchange. Paul said our change begins when God changes us into a new person by changing what we think (Romans 12:2). But, what we think and believe can be skewed by what other men think and believe. Men can hold us captive to their view (by what they teach) instead of God’s view, and herein the peril.

Was the greater problem for Calvin and Arminius a tendency to pitch their tent of understanding (about salvation) around selected verses that supported their personal beliefs? Did they set aside, gloss over, and debate away verses that didn’t agree with those views? Some think so.

Of no surprise and as a result, the number of opinions supporting Calvinism or Arminianism is vast. The Internet is overflowing with books and articles and charts and testimonies supporting one view over the other. Reading the arguments for one will convince you until you read the rebuttal given by the other. It’s all very confusing, troubling, and unnecessary. It’s not the conversation we need.

Even more so, the Bible makes no attempt to distinguish the Gospel into two opposing views. There is no reason to redefine the Gospel. Jesus didn’t split hairs and the apostles were never inspired to write other than what they did. The Bible is a finished work. It stands on its own. It needs no clarification.

Dividing the Gospel into different views is the work of men, a work never intended by the Lord of Glory. He made everything simple, and we receive it by faith. Man makes everything hard, and we debate it until entirely confused. Is Calvinism the right answer for salvation? No and neither is Arminianism.

The right answer for salvation is for a believer to make it a personal quest, to view the Lord of Glory through the lens of the Bible, and to discover for themselves the deep caverns of unveiled truth (John 16:13). When revealed, the believer will be encouraged to continue in the faith.

Calvinists call “continuing in the faith” irresistible grace. Armenians call it making a commitment of faith. Whatever you call it, it’s the high call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). This is the conversation worth having.

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

In closing, there is no greater call than to hear the One calling from above (1 Peter 2:25); and, there is no greater conversation than with the One who is the lover of the soul (John 10:28).


*Calvinism is named for John Calvin, a French theologian who lived from 1509-1564. Arminianism is named for Jacobus Arminius, a Dutch theologian who lived from 1560-1609. (Source)


Linked scriptures are in the ESV. We selected three and quoted them at the top of this article, and those are NIV.

December 7, 2017

Praying for God to Come Down. Or Not.

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence. Isaiah 64:1

This may not be everyone’s favourite prayer. Some would find the presence of God to be a frightening experience and some would prefer God not exist at all so they need not worry about it. Some have deeply thought through positions of agnosticism or atheism. Many, however, land there having heard or seen slogans like “God probably does not exist, so stop worrying and enjoy your life”, and are quite happy to not give it much further thought. So please don’t talk religion, thank you. Why? Because people assume that if God exists, then they should worry. If God is alive and well, then while we are alive and well for now, all will not be well when we are no longer alive. There is a feeling that we would never be good enough, or could never be good enough to meet our Maker. So please don’t tear open the heavens and come down Lord!

However, there is a tone of confidence in Isaiah’s prayer which runs from Isaiah 63:15-64:12. Isaiah is confident that if God were more fully present, it would go well for His people. Is this confidence based on the goodness or righteousness of the people, or even his own? Far from it, in fact the prayer is full of honest confession:

6 We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
7 There is no one who calls on your name,
or attempts to take hold of you; Isaiah 64:6-7

Given the fact that God’s people have strayed far, praying for God to “tear open the heavens and come down” is sounding like a risky prayer to make indeed. Isaiah alludes to times in the past when God had “come down”:

When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. Isaiah 64:3

The prayer for God to come down could be answered like the time God “came down” at the Exodus. While that went well for God’s people, it did not go well for the Egyptians with plagues and a sea that closed in on the Pharaoh’s army. Given the sinfulness of God’s people as confessed by Isaiah, perhaps this time the plagues will land on them?

So where does Isaiah’s confidence in God come from if not in the righteousness of the people? Why does he pray with anticipation of good things, and not plagues? This prayer for help is not made with an appeal to the justice of God, to rescue the righteous. That option is not open for God knows too much! Rather it is made with an appeal to the character of God and the relationship God chose to have with His people. Consider the following references in this prayer:

For you are our father,
though Abraham does not know us
and Israel does not acknowledge us;
you, O Lord, are our father;
our Redeemer from of old is your name. Isaiah 63:16

Turn back for the sake of your servants,
for the sake of the tribes that are your heritage. Isaiah 63:17b

8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
and do not remember iniquity forever.
Now consider, we are all your people. Isaiah 64:8-9 (emphases mine)

Isaiah prays with confidence because he knows the relationship God has with His people is like that of a father to a child. While God as a perfectly just judge can expect, in fact must expect, perfection, a father can have compassion and mercy toward an imperfect child. So how can God be both perfectly just and yet act “fatherly”? How can God be both judge and “Dad”? The answer is given in God’s response to Isaiah’s prayer.

There is an answer to this prayer, but instead of the prayer being answered with plagues and punishment, it is answered with the arrival of a baby and the beginning of a new kind of Exodus. While the plagues on Egypt resulted in the firstborn of the Egyptians experiencing death, in this Exodus it is God himself that goes through it, both as the grieving Father, and as the dying son. Only a holy and perfect offering could stand in the place of sinful person, taking the consequence of sin. Only God Himself could do that, and in Jesus He has done that. In Jesus God is the perfect judge, taking care of sin at the cross, while also being the good father, being compassionate and merciful toward His children.

For those who feel that they have wandered so far from God that they could never turn or return to Him, it has nothing to do with how far we have travelled away, and everything to do with how far God has travelled toward us. He answered Isaiah’s prayer and has come all the way from heaven to a cross on earth in Jesus, so that we could be reconciled to Him. Turning to God has nothing to do with impressing the judge with our own efforts, and everything to do with the love of a compassionate heavenly Father.

Maybe you don’t think of yourself as God’s child. An opportunity is before you:

12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13

Our relationship with God does not begin with our goodness. It begins with His.

However, even if you recognize that you are a child of God, you may think of yourself as the wayward child, the messed-up child, the stressed-out child, the foolish child, the undeserving child, or even the stupid child. On the one hand these might be accurate descriptions and we have room to grow like everyone else. On the other hand, The Lord’s Table while being a reminder of many things, is also a reminder that there are other adjectives that can be used to describe you. You are the redeemed child, the reconciled child, the forgiven child, the embraced child, the loved child.

Although the presence of God can, and should, be scary to someone who has rejected the Lord’s invitation to a father/child relationship, a child of God can pray with confidence as Isaiah did: “tear open the heavens and come down”. Being in Christ we can pray with confidence the last recorded prayer of the Bible:

20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen. Revelation 22:20-21 (emphasis mine)


All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Canadian Baptist pastor Clarke Dixon’s writing appears here most Thursdays; read more at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

December 6, 2017

About Angels

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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With Advent begun and Christmas approaching, we see an increase in renderings of angels, even in secular environments. Angels can often be seen as a peripheral aspect of Christian theology, and it’s true that many people who are not truly followers of Christ can get caught up in themes such as out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences, the supernatural and things relating to the perceived presence of angels.

If for no other reason, it’s good to know a little more about this topic than most of us do. Today we’re returning to the website icthys.com and trust me, this is just a very, very small part of a much longer piece there on this topic. So you are strongly urged to click the link, and read the two sections which precede this one, and then be aware of the material which follows.

Angelogy: the Study of Angels

The Purpose of Angels

1) God, the Creator, existed before His creation (Jn.1:1-3). It is important to remember that angels, for all their temporary superiority to mankind, are creatures too. God, the Creator of the universe, of time and of space, existed (and exists) before the universe and outside of it. Angels, on the other hand, as creatures, can only exist within the creation, and are, therefore, subject to time and space. Though their capabilities currently surpass those of human beings, they are still “fellow servants” of God, and subordinate to Him in every way (Rev.19:10; 22:9).

Before the mountains were born, or you gave birth to the earth and world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.
Psalm 90:2

2) God was self-sufficient before He created the universe, and is so now (Is.40:21-26). God did not “need” to create the universe, or angels, or mankind, or anything, for that matter. He is perfect and has no needs whatsoever. This was true before His first act of creation, and remains and will remain so throughout the course of creature history and into eternity.

God, who created the universe and everything in it, even He who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples our hands have made, nor is He ministered to by the hands of men (as if He needed anything from us) – [on the contrary], He is the One who gives life and breath and everything else to us all.
Acts 17:24-25

3) God’s purpose in creating angels and mankind is for His glory and our good (Is.43:7; Eph.1:5-6; 1:11-12). God is the Potter, and all we His creatures are the clay, created for the praise of His glory, and His glory we shall praise on that day of eternity and forevermore (Is.29:16; 45:9; 64:8; Jer.18:4-6; Rom.9:21).

But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter, and we all are the work of thy hand.
Isaiah 64:8  KJV

This is true not only of His creatures who respond to Him and follow Him and His Son, but also for those who have rejected His authority and His Son (Rm.14:11; Phil.2:10-11):

By Myself I have sworn. From my mouth a righteous word has gone forth, which will not be revoked, that every knee will bow to Me, and to Me every tongue will swear. And so they will acknowledge Me: “Only in the Lord are righteousness and might.” Before Him will come all who raged against Him and they will be put to shame.
Isaiah 45:23-24

Moreover, angels and mankind alike will praise Him for all His marvelous deeds on our behalf, for He is glorified by blessing us. This is the God with whom we have to do!

To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, be praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever!
Revelation 5:13b  NIV

The Creation of Angels

At some undisclosed time following His creation of the heavens and the earth, God created the angels (Ps.148:2-5; Col.1:16). This event took place after the original ex nihilo (i.e., “out of nothing”) creation of the universe described Genesis 1:1, and before the restoration of the earth (described also at Job 38:4-7) which followed God’s initial judgment upon the universe because of Satan’s rebellion (the results of which are described in Genesis 1:2 and following). God created all angelic kind at this time (including Satan and all those who would eventually rebel against Him). Though some would come to choose against Him, all the angels were originally created holy (Deut.33:2; Ps.89:7; Mk.8:38; Lk.9:26). God gave each of them distinct duties and definite domains in which to exercise specified authority delegated by Him (Col.1:16; Eph.6:12; Heb.1:7 & 14; Jude 1:6).

The Nature of Angels

1) Angels are finite beings: As created beings, angels are dependent upon time and space. Though more powerful (2Thes.1:7; 2Pet.2:11), mobile (Gen.28:12) and knowledgeable (2Sam.14:20) than mankind, they are neither omniscient (Matt.24:36), nor omnipotent (Rom.8:38), nor omnipresent (Dan.10:13).

2) Angels are finite in number: Angels are often described as the “host of heaven” and otherwise compared to the innumerable stars (e.g., Job 25:3; Ps.103:20-21; Is.40:26 w. Lk.2:13), but although they are a highly organized group and quite numerous, it should be understood that they are not infinite in number, however large that undisclosed number may be (Deut.33:2; Ps.68:17; Dan.7:10; Heb.12:22; Rev.5:11). Further, angels are not subject to death (Lk.20:36), nor do they reproduce (Mk.12:25), leading us to the conclusion that their number has been the same since their collective creation.

3) Angels are different from human beings in significant respects: Unlike human beings, angels do not grow old, or hungry or tired. Angels are thus not subject to many of the more obvious material restraints that limit human activity and are, for the most part, completely invisible to us. However, angels can at times appear in bodily form (as in the case of the announcement of Christ’s birth: Lk.2:8-15), and can also affect the material world with great power (consider the angels who control the winds: Rev.7:1-3).

4) Angels are similar to human beings in significant respects: Like human beings, angels possess personality and individuality (as evidenced, for example, by joy: Job 38:4-7; Lk.15:10; desire: 1Pet.1:12; and choice: Jude 1:6). And like us, they are created to serve and worship God for His glory (Ps.103:20-21; 148:2; Matt.4:11; Heb.1:14; Rev.4:8).

5) Angels are temporarily superior to mankind: In terms of power and ability, the present angelic superiority to mankind is obvious in every passage of scripture in which they are described. This current angelic superiority significantly also extends to the area of longevity. While mankind is enjoying a sequential residence on earth (generation following generation), angelic kind has been experiencing a continuum of existence in heaven, even before the creation of Man. This longevity, combined with the fact that angels (though creatures like Man) are not subject to the same degree to the restraints and necessities of time and space that encumber mankind, undoubtedly contributes to their superior knowledge and wisdom as well. By its very essence, therefore, the angelic nature is superior to our present earthly human nature in terms of appearance, intellect, power, mobility and authority (2Pet.2:11).

6) Angels will ultimately be inferior to mankind: Angels will not always be superior to mankind. Just as our Lord’s humanity is, in resurrection, superior to angels in every way (Heb.1:4 – 2:18), so also we are destined to share that superiority with Him in our resurrection (1Cor.6:3; Heb.2:5).

7) Angels are acutely aware of and involved in human affairs: The involvement of angelic beings in human affairs is part and parcel of their role in promoting (or, in the case of the fallen angels, opposing) God’s plan for human history (see “Satan’s Rebellion” immediately below). On a more personal level, however, angels are also apparently extremely interested in observing human behavior in general and in the playing out of God’s plan in particular (1Tim.3:16; 5:21; 1Pet.1:10-12). This is particularly true in the case of the Son of Man, our Lord Jesus Christ. They were present at His birth (Lk.2:13-14), temptation (Matt.4:11), resurrection (Lk.24:4), ascension (Acts 1:10-11), and return (2Thes.1:7), evidence which underscores angelic interest in the most crucial phase of God’s plan, namely the life and work of the Messiah. By observation, angels are learning (to their joy in the case of the elect angels, to their sorrow in the case of the fallen angels) about the wisdom, the power, the grace and the mercy of God (cf. Lk.15:10; 1Cor.4:9; 11:10).

8) Angels should neither be worshiped nor disrespected: In any discussion of angels, it is important to keep in mind both their present superiority and their eventual subordination to us. Angels are not to be disrespected (Lk.10:20; 2Pet.2:10-12; Jude 1:8-10; cf. Rom.13:7), but neither are they to be worshiped (Rev.19:10; 22:9; cf. 2Ki.17:16; Jer.19:13; Col.2:18). This is especially important in regard to fallen angels. God counterbalances their evil efforts with the work and ministrations of His holy, elect angels. Therefore, although we are to have a healthy respect for the Adversary and his potential to oppose us (2Cor.2:11; Eph.6:11; 1Pet.5:8), we are not to be unduly terrified by him and his minions. And while we are to have an awareness and appreciation for the positive function of the elect angels on our behalf, we are not to be inordinately fixated upon them (especially since both their persons and their work are invisible to us). In neither case should we “go beyond what is written” in the Bible about angels, whether through excessive fear of Satanic influence or an exorbitant fascination with the ministrations of the holy angels.


I don’t usually repeat the link at the end as well, but there is so much to see in this article. Click this link to continue reading.

December 5, 2017

The Church of Sardis Needed Strengthening

by Russell Young

At the beginning of his revelation to humankind, the Lord pronounced blessings on those who would hear and take to heart the fullness of that revelation. Following this he commended the seven churches for their strengths and admonished them for their failures. At the end of his revelation he promised a presence in the New Jerusalem for those who overcome. (Rev 21:7) They were to do something to find eternal fellowship with him, not to passively rest in mental “belief” or in the “acceptance” of his gift of grace.

His address to the churches was not to the church corporate but to the body of the churches. To the church in Sardis he stated, “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard: obey it and repent.” (Rev 3: 1─3 NIV) The blessing that the Lord had proclaimed rested in the need for those of Sardis to wake up and to obey what they had received.

It is easy for a church to have a reputation of being alive. A reputation is derived from the impressions of others. A church can be very active within itself and within the community, as was likely the church in Sardis. However, the Lord declared it to be “dead,” or perhaps, its members to be dead. He left them with the call to “obey” and dismissed their reputation of being alive.

The issue of concern to him appears to be that of personal righteousness, since he addressed the state of their coverings and commented that a few people had not soiled their clothes. These he proclaimed would walk with him dressed in white. “White” raiment stands for purity and holiness. Those who don’t wear white will be left shamefully exposed. He admonished the church in Laodicea to buy “white clothes to wear, so so[they] could cover [their] shameful nakedness.” (Rev 3:18 NIV) Apparently the need for personal righteousness had been lost in the church of Sardis and in the minds of its people. The Lord said that he or she who “overcomes” like them would be dressed in white, that their name would not be blotted from the book of life, and that he would acknowledge them before his Father and his angels.” He did not say that they needed to confess him as Lord but that they had to live out their confession through obedience–to do something, if they were to avoid death. Even though the church had a reputation of being alive, the Lord’s assessment was that most of its members were dead.

The need for personal righteousness is seldom declared; it is assumed to have been given as an act of grace by the Lord. Many claim to rest their hope “in the righteousness of Christ alone” without exploring the meaning of their pronouncement. Paul warned his readers not to be deceived. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6: 7─8 NIV) Pleasing the Spirit requires obedience to him. The writer of Hebrews declared that “[Christ] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5: 9 NIV, Italics added.) Those who have chosen to walk in darkness—apart from the Spirit, or who do not recognize the need for obedience due to deceptive teaching will reap destruction even though they may have attended church many times a week and have a reputation for being alive because of their busyness and activity.  The Lord commends his children for their righteous acts and gifts of mercy; however, without holiness no one will see him. (Heb 12:14 NIV)

There are many false doctrines being presented that bring comfort to the dead, but the Lord cautioned the church of Sardis, and his people through them, to “Wake up!” The promise of a place in the New Jerusalem is only offered to those who “overcome.” (Rev 21:7) Does your walk need strengthening? Do the teachings of your church need strengthening? The church in Sardis was found wanting and needed strengthening.


Author Russell Young’s column appears on alternate Tuesdays. His book Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo. 9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.


Our Thursday contributor, Clarke Dixon, also looked at the church of Sardis earlier this year. Click here to read Dead Churches, Like Sardis.


Yes, today’s first scripture text did indeed form the basis of a Bob Dylan song, When You Gonna Wake Up.

December 4, 2017

Identifying The Spots and Wrinkles

When He cometh, when He cometh,
To make up His jewels,
All His jewels, precious jewels,
His loved and His own

Like the stars of the morning,
His bright crown adorning,
They shall shine in their beauty,
Bright gems for His crown.

– William Cushing, 1856


Do you hear them coming, brother?—
Thronging up the steeps of light,
Clad in glorious shining garments,
Blood-washed garments, pure and white

’Tis a glorious church without spot or wrinkle,
Washed in the blood of the Lamb;
’Tis a glorious church without spot or wrinkle,
Washed in the blood of the Lamb.

– Ralph Hudson, 1892


Today we’re back with Patrick Hawthorne who blogs at Serving Grace Ministries. Click the title below to read it at source (with comments) and then click “author’s blog page” to view other articles.

Has the Separation Begun?

A passage that has always troubled me is Ephesians 5:27 which reads,

“…that He (Jesus) might present her (the Church) to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”

While the “what” of the verse is self-explanatory, the “how,” of the verse is not.  How will the Church – the Body of Christ Jesus – be without spot or blemish?  It’s obvious that the Church has some serious issues that need dealing with, but how will the Lord deal with these issues prior to His return?

Lately, the Lord has been revealing things to me about the Church so that I might pray more effectively.  One way was through a vision while in prayer, A Body Out of Alignment. Another way was through the Word, Storm On the Horizon. This latest has come through a conversation with my mom.  As a side note, never discount nor limit the way in which the Holy Spirit may speak to you.

As I was speaking with my mother about this burden to pray and write concerning the Church she said to me, and I paraphrase, “Did you know that the spots and blemishes of the Church are people?”  Of course I asked her to explain.  “Yes,” she said, “Look at 2 Peter 2:13 and you will see that the spots and blemishes are those within the Church who appear to be part of the Body but practice wickedness and deception.”  Naturally, my curiosity was peaked.

At the first opportune moment I went to those verses.  Sure enough 2 Peter 2:12-13 read,

“But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption, 13 and will receive the wages of unrighteousness, as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime. They are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you,

(2 Peter 2:12-13 NKJV underline mine).

The spots and blemishes written of are church members.  These are they who live two lives; one life is in the church and the other is in the world. Suddenly things were making sense.

As I previously wrote, I believe we are in the season of the last of the last days.  I don’t know how much longer till Jesus returns but all indications reveal that we are close.  Could it be that the prophecy of Malachi 3:16-18 may occur prior to His return?  Could it be that the separation of the wheat from the tares within the Church has already begun?  Maybe… Be blessed.

Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name.17 “They shall be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “On the day that I make them My jewels.  And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.”18 Then you shall again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.  (Malachi 3:16-18 NKJV underline mine)


Lyrics for When He Cometh and ‘Tis a Glorious Church from TimelessTruths.org

December 3, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

This Sunday morning, being the season of Advent, many churches may have looked at the announcement to Mary by the angel Gabriel that goes by the title, The Magnificat. That name is based on the first word of the text in Latin, and three other prayers or exultations with regard to the birth of Christ have names based on the first word in Latin. The passage in Luke 1 begins:

Magnificat anima mea Dominum;
Et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo,

This announcement is also sometimes referred to as the annunciation, again based on a Latin word annuntiatio.
The full text in English reads:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.”

The text contains allusions to at least a dozen Old Testament scriptures with which Mary would have been familiar. (Some set the number much higher.) Mary is conscious of the implications of the role to which she has been called, saying “Many will call me blessed.” But there is no arrogance in this. Rather it is preceded by a statement of great humility:

  • He has looked with favor on the humble condition of His slave (HCSB)
  • he has shown his concern for his humble servant girl (New Century Version)
  • he hath beheld the meekness of his handmaiden (Wycliffe)
  • he took notice of his lowly servant girl (New Living Translation)

Similarly, later verses have given rise to this being called a “song of reversals.” A new order is about to take place; a new paradigm is about to be introduced.

Some additional resources:

Here is a somewhat recent version of the prayer set to music by Keith and Kristyn Getty.

Second, the following resource was posted, with permission at the source linked, but the link in the introduction itself is no longer working. We felt this work was worthy of further exposure.

The Magnificat: A Prayer

Here’s a prayer based on Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:47-55). It was written by Janet Morley, and posted on the Canadian Foodgrains Bank website.

The Magnificat: A Prayer

(based on Luke 1: 47-55)

O God, whose word is fruitless
when the mighty are not put down,
the humble remain humiliated,
the hungry are not filled,
and the rich are;
make good your word,
and begin with us.

Open our hearts and unblock our ears
to hear the voices of the poor
and share their struggle;
and send us away empty with longing
for your promise to come true
in Jesus Christ.
Amen.

—Janet Morley, in Tell Out My Soul, Christian Aid, 1990. Reprinted by permission.
From Bread of Tomorrow: Prayer for the Church Year, ed. Janet Morley
Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1992, p. 151.

Go Deeper: We looked at The Magnificat in much greater detail in 2013 at this article.

December 2, 2017

Texts Worth Memorizing

Today we’re paying a return visit to the blog Preacher Smith written by Missouri pastor David Smith. At his church they have been working to memorize 45 scripture texts this year. (A tough assignment as you get older!) As of October they had posted 40 of these, so I’m not sure what the last five were. Take some time to look at these. Ask yourself, ‘Why are these important?’ Or, ‘Out of all the verses available, why did they choose these?’ See if there’s any passages here you’re unfamiliar with and perhaps spend more time looking at those, or look them up online to get the fuller context. Is this a type of project that you, your small group, or your church could consider for 2018?

The First 40 Texts in The C45 Project

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him … (Ephesians 1.3-4a NIV)

▪ Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Have respectful fear of God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2.17 CEB)

▪ … make your top priority God’s kingdom and his way of life … (Matthew 6.33a KNT)

▪ He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6.8 NASB)

▪ … imitate me, just as I imitate Christ. (1 Corinthians 11.1 NLT)

▪ … the LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin … (Exodus 34.6-7a NRSV)

▪ … yet by no means clearing the guilty. (Exodus 34.7a NRSV)

▪ … your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6.8b NIV)

▪ … offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to this world’s pattern, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12.1-2a)

▪ I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14.6 CEB)

▪ My grace is enough for you; my power comes to perfection in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12.9 KNT)

▪ Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love. (1 Corinthians 16.13-14 NIV)

▪ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1.1,14a NIV)

▪ 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. (John 3.16 TNIV)

▪ Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. (John 20.29b NRSV)

▪ … even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. (1 Peter 3.14-15a TNIV)

▪ Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience … (1 Peter 3.15b-16a TNIV)

▪ Return the joy of your salvation to me and sustain me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51.12 CEB)

▪ The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them. (Psalm 145.18-19 NIV)

▪ Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119.105 NRSV)

▪ God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble. That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart … (Psalm 46.1-2a CEB)

▪ … God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah. … Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. (Acts 2.36b,38a NIV)

▪ Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5.21 NIV)

▪ … I may have all the faith needed to move mountains — but if I have no love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13.2b GNT)

▪ … the only thing that counts is faith working through love. (Galatians 5.6b NRSV)

▪ “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” (Mark 1.17 NIV)

▪ I will do whatever you ask for in my name, so that the Father can be glorified in the Son. When you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14.13-14 CEB)

▪ I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. (Luke 6.47 NRSV)

▪ Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart … (Matthew 11.28-29a NIV)

▪ The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. (Numbers 6.24-26 NRSV)

▪ Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6.4-5 NRSV)

▪ You must not take revenge nor hold a grudge against any of your people; instead, you must love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19.18 CEB)

▪ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1.27 NRSV)

▪ Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true. (Revelation 21.5 CEB)

▪ My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect … (James 1.2-4a NRSV)

▪ Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. (Hebrews 13.1 NIV)

▪ … if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong. (1 John 1.9 CEB)

▪ … let us draw near to God with a true heart in the full assurance of faith … hold fast to the unwavering confession of hope … consider how to provoke one another to love and good works … (Hebrews 10.22,23,24 TCV)

▪ I have sent you to harvest what you didn’t work hard for; others worked hard, and you will share in their hard work. (John 4.38 CEB)

▪ … choose this day whom you will serve … but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24.15 NRSV)

December 1, 2017

Mind Your Own Business

1 Thess. 4:11

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before.   (NLT)

and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, (ESV)

and to strive earnestly to live quietly and to attend to your own matters, and to work with your own hands, just as we commanded you,  (Berean Literal Bible*)

We’re back with yet another return visit to Done With Religion by Jim Gordon. If you click the title below and then click the banner at the top of their page, you’ll see that this is a blog written from the perspective of ones who left the institutional church. It’s in some ways a refreshing perspective.

Words Are Important but What About Actions

Do you feel guilty when you do not talk to someone about Christ? Do you feel obligated to speak your mind about a particular sin? Do you feel it is your duty as a Christian to force every conversation into an opportunity to point out sinful behavior or to tell someone about salvation?

If we answer yes to any of these questions, I disagree with all of the above. I agree that some people have the gift of evangelism and should be using that gift to the fullest. I also feel that not all of us need to be forcing the issue with those we come in contact each day and we should not feel guilty for not doing so.

As Christians we are to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind and love others as ourselves. When we live our lives each day under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the love of God, the way we act will be a witness to the love of God.

We have always heard that actions speak louder than words. Our actions show what is within us. Words do not always show the real us. Words without the actions are usually pretty meaningless or as the bible calls it, faith without works is dead. This does not mean that faith without our effort or good works are required for salvation. It means that our words and our actions should match up showing the love of God to all people. Because of our faith and love for God, our actions or works will be a natural result of that love.

Anyone can speak words…words of condemnation, words of how we should live for God, words against particular sins, words about Christian living but words themselves have no strength. It is the daily life we live allowing the love of God to show through that makes a difference. How many times have we heard of a pastor saying words against something only to find out the pastor is doing the same thing that is being spoken against?

We need to remember that it is the Holy Spirit that convicts and draws people to the Father. It is not our job to condemn people nor point out what we think is sinful. We do not have to force every conversation into a gospel presentation.

God’s word says that we should live a quiet life, working with our hands and to be ready to give an account of the hope that is within us. Notice we are told to be ready to speak up when asked. Go about your daily routine minding your business, living a peaceful life and be ready at all times to give an answer about salvation and God’s love when someone asks. Only when the Holy Spirit is leading the opportunity will it make an impact on the person anyway.

By living this way and not forcing our views on others, the words we say will have more meaning to those who are wondering about the hope that we have within us. When our actions are consistently showing the love of God, our words will fall in line and have more impact on those we meet throughout the day.


*Sourced at BibleHub.com

November 30, 2017

Why Worship This God and Not Another, Or None?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

by Clarke Dixon

The new Governor General of our nation, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, recently found herself in a bit of hot water with religious groups. In a speech she expressed concern that that anyone would believe in something other than what you can learn from science. To quote:

“And we are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, a random process.”

While people of faith, including myself, may have felt slighted by this, we do well to consider that our Governor General really is expressing a sentiment of many Canadians. Our most recent worship service began with the following words:

1 O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! Psalms 95:1-2 (NRSV)

Many Canadians would respond to this call to worship with “why would we bother to do that? Has not science taught us that God is not necessary?”

The people in the Psalmist’s day would have asked a similar question coming out of the typical worldview of their day: “Why sing to this Lord, and not another? Why not worship the gods of the Babylonians or the Egyptians? After all, those nations seem to be more powerful, so maybe their gods are more powerful! Why not the gods of the Canaanites? The worship in their fertility cult temples sounds like more fun than ours!”

The Psalmist goes on to answer this question, which in turn also helps us answer ours. Why worship this God?

3 For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
6 O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! Psalms 95:3-6

Worship the Lord, because He is the one true God, the Creator of everything including us. God as revealed in the Bible is quite a different kind of god from all the other gods believed in during those times. Of all the mythologies of those days, no other religion expressed the theology of creation in quite the same way as the Hebrew Scriptures. The theology of God as revealed in the Bible has stood the test of time in a way no other theologies have. Belief in God is still very much with us. Zeus and the rest, not so much. Why? The Judeo-Christian concept of God stands up to philosophical enquiry, historical study, and scientific scrutiny. In fact such investigations even point to Him!

You might ask, “how can science point to God as creator when there is a fight between science and faith?” Let us consider an example (inspired by John Lennox). Consider my favourite motorcycle, a 1939 Triumph Speed Twin. Now consider a motorcycle enthusiast who owns one, and loves to take it apart and put it back together again to see how it all works. Scientists are like the motorcycle enthusiast who studies the motorcycle. Now consider a history buff who collects books about the Triumph Motorcycle Company.  The history buff learns that a man named Edward Turner was the chief designer of the Speed Twin. Theologians are like the history buff who studies Edward Turner, the man behind the motorcycle. Now when scientists say things like “having studied the world and the universe, we are able to explain how things work without reference to God, therefore God does not exist”, it is a bit like the motorcycle enthusiast saying “having studied the motorcycle, I did not find Edward Turner in the crankcase spinning the crankshaft to make the motorcycle go, in fact I can explain how the motorcycle moves without reference to Edward Turner, therefore Edward Turner does not exist”. Scientists say a lot of good things, but they say too much when they say that kind of thing.

Theologians can say too much too of course. Though a history buff will learn about the Speed Twin from history books and biographies on Edward Turner, they will not learn the same kinds of things as someone with the blueprints. Both the scientists and the theologians need to be careful they don’t say too much.

Consider further, that the existence of the Speed Twin as an engineering marvel, and as a work of art, points to a designer. That much is obvious. There are scientists who infer the existence of a Creator God from the engineering excellence and the artistry evident in the universe. This is the theory of Intelligent Design which you can read more about here.

While the existence of design in the universe points to a Designer, why should someone today worship God as understood through Jesus and not some other? The Psalmist helps us answer this question also.  Why worship this God?

For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand. Psalm 95:7a

Worship this God because He is the God who has had a relationship with us all along. God’s people in the Psalmist’s day could look back at the records chronicling God’s relationship with them and recognize that God has been walking with them all along. The gods of the other nations were not. God was their shepherd, sometimes protecting, sometimes correcting, but never far away. Likewise, we can look back and see God’s hand in history.

If you are a Christian, suppose for a moment that you are not. You are hardly going to believe that the Bible is the Word of God, or that miracles of the Bible happened. However, even if we do not believe that the Bible is the Word of God, we should at least recognize that it is a collection of historical records. It is a collection of 66 books, written over 1500 years, by the hand of over 40 different authors from quite different backgrounds. Whether you believe what the authors have to say or not, at the very least you can believe that these are historical records of what they believed to be true. As we study this collection, questions arise. For example, why the incredible unity of thought about God? Why the incredible storyline that runs from beginning to end including creation, fall, promises plus shepherding, redemption, and restoration? Why did a group of Jews claim that Jesus experienced resurrection, and why were they willing to die for that claim? Why has Christianity stood the test of time where other religions have faded away? How has Christianity become the biggest religion in the world, and why does it spread even quicker under persecution? The simplest answer is often the best, and in this case answers every question: Jesus is Risen Lord, God is our maker and has a long history of relationship with humanity.

The Psalmist calls upon the people of his day to worship God and not another, to listen to God’s voice: “O that today you would listen to his voice!” Psalm 95:7b. Why listen to His voice and not another, or none? Because God is the Creator, and humanity has a long, and recorded history with Him. Are we listening?

1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high . . . Hebrews 1:1-3

All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Canadian Baptist pastor Clarke Dixon’s writing appears here most Thursdays; read more at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

November 29, 2017

Credited With a Status We Didn’t Earn

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is our fifth visit with Juli Camarin at JCBlog.net. Click the title below to read at source or click this link and navigate your way back through the whole series (so far) on Romans. I loved the phrase in what follows: “Credited with a status of always having obeyed everything He said.”

Credited as Righteousness—Romans 4:4-5

“Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:4-5)

Anyone who works at job knows that the paycheck that comes at the end of the week isn’t a gift. It is the exchange given from the blood, sweat, and tears that come from being employed. We give our time, effort, skill, and passion to our employers, and in return they give us money.

This is a good system in the workforce, but a bad deal when it comes to an arrangement with God. As Paul notes later on in the letter, the only wage we’d earn on our own merit is death (Rom. 6:23).

However, the contrast to working and earning something from God is to trust in His grace. The beautiful result is that we, too, (Like Abraham in this example) will be credited with righteousness.

That’s right, credited with Jesus’ perfect and sinless record.

Here’s the good news—We don’t have to be good or have it all figured out! Trying to only excludes us. As Paul points out, God justifies the wicked and in reality, we all fall into that category.

It’s an either-or scenario. We can work at trying to be good, do the right things to earn something from God (death), or we come to Him just as we are (wicked) and be credited with a status of always having obeyed everything He said (justified).

It takes a lot of faith to trust God’s good intent toward us without offering anything in return. But the payoff is huge—We are credited with righteousness.

Where are you trying to earn God’s favor? Where could you take a step back and simply thank Him for it?


In an article based on the verse immediately prior — “What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3) — Juli noted:

When God started making promises to Abraham, he was a wanderer without a home, and without an heir. Then God visited him and started making outlandish declarations.

And what’s amazing is that these promises had absolutely no requirements on Abraham’s part. He was simply to sit back and enjoy these blessings…

…Today, where can you trust God? Is there a promise in scripture that God has made that you need to act on?


Our bonus music today is Abraham by Phil Keaggy from his second album, released in 1976.

 

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