Christianity 201

September 27, 2016

The Target: Perfect Obedience

James 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

Today we pay a return visit to the blog Christians in Context, this time around the writer is J. Mark Fox. Click the title below to see other thoughts from the Epistle of James.

We grow according to our obedience

The late poet Archibald Rutledge told of meeting a man whose dog had just been killed. Heartbroken, the man explained to Rutledge how it happened. Because he worked outdoors, he often took his dog with him. That morning, he left the animal in a clearing and gave him a command to stay and watch his backpack that had his lunch in it, while he went into the forest. His faithful friend understood, for that’s exactly what he did. Then a fire started in the woods, and soon the blaze spread to the spot where the dog had been left. He stayed right where he was, in perfect obedience to his master’s word. With tears, the dog’s owner said, “I always had to be careful what I told him to do, because I knew he would do it.” That’s the kind of obedience that Jesus demonstrated to the Father. He went through the fires of suffering and death to accomplish God’s purpose, to win our pardon, pay for our sin and invite us into a relationship with Him. For His glory and for our great good, He also calls us into obedience to the Father’s will, no matter the cost.

In James’ powerfully practical book, he says the key to obedience to God is found in looking intently into the perfect law of liberty, God’s Word, and then doing what it says. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Why then do most of us struggle with this? James said a person who hears the Word and doesn’t do it is like a man who looks in a mirror and walks away, forgetting at once what he looks like. Most scholars believe the man forgets what he looks like not because he has short-term memory loss, but because he chooses to forget. He looks at himself in the mirror and sees the ravages of sin, the scars of lifestyle choices, the marks of laziness or lust, bitterness or gluttony. And he hurries away to the rest of his day, because he doesn’t even want to think of what changes he would have to make if he really took the image in the mirror seriously.

Isn’t that what Sunday morning can become, and has for many? We hear the Word and know that God is speaking to us, but as soon as the last amen is uttered we are out the door and on our way and whatever rumblings we were feeling in our soul during the sermon are gone. I have been in the movie theater, and so have you, where the credits are rolling and no one is moving. Everybody is sitting speechless, powerfully moved by what they have just seen and heard. There’s not a whisper in the place and if there is, it seems unholy. Everyone is stunned by what just happened, and no one wants to leave. That begs the question: when was the last time you responded to the Word like that? When was the last time you heard the message of truth from the Scripture and could not move from your seat until you had dealt with what God was speaking into your soul? Those times are much too rare, friends, but they don’t have to be. They increase at the same rate with which we take the truth of God’s Word for what it is.

Do you ever wonder why some Christians grow to maturity with rocket-like speed, and others seem to plod along in the same place for years? This is a key. We grow up in proportion to our obedience.

 

September 26, 2016

The Manner in which Holiness is Achieved

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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by Russell Young [Note: This is part two of two]

The provision that has been made for the believer to achieve holiness needs to be clear to those who would desire to dwell in their God’s presence.  Christ offered himself on the cross so that believers might be freed from the law (Gal 5:18) which brings kills and from sins committed while under its jurisdiction. (Heb 9:15) Upon the believer’s confession, pledge, or promise that Christ is and will be his lord, he is given the Holy Spirit so that he might honour his pledge, maintain the newly provided state of holiness, and practice it in life. He cannot walk righteously in his own strength and wisdom but needs the power and enlightenment of the Spirit for such a task. The Holy Spirit ministers in the believer as he or she responds obediently and uses his power to fight the temptations that would led him or her to sin.

Paul’s teaching to the Romans clarifies the means of freedom from condemnation: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Rom 8:1-2 NIV) The law of the Spirit of life is the living law or command of the Spirit.  It is revealed to each individual according to his or her need of the moment.  The imposition of the law of the Spirit may be different from one person to another depending on the sanctifying work that the Lord is engaged in on behalf of the believer.  The law of sin and death is the Old Covenant law. The righteous requirements of God have been revealed in the Mosaic laws and by the prophets; however, Paul has said that, “[f]or what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met is us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3-4 NIV) The weak flesh of humankind, the body of death, has prevented God’s requirements from being achieved so the presence of Christ in the believer and the personal revelation of his living law in the heart of the believer is to be the law to be obeyed.

HolinessPaul’s teaching is not that there is not condemnation for those who have confessed Christ but none for those in Christ who are walking according to the Spirit. These are the believers who are living out their confession, pledge, or promise that Christ is lord. They are practicing faith in Christ.

Those who have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Christ (Heb 10:10) must persevere (Mt 10:10; Rev 3:10; Heb 3:14) with the Spirit in order to maintain through practice that holiness legally applied to them. They can only accomplish this if they are washed daily through repentance and confession of sin (1 Jn 1:9) in order that they might be transformed in heart, mind and body to the likeness of the Son of God.

Holiness is not something that is handed over to the believer–Paul taught that righteous practices lead to holiness, (Rom 6: 19, 22); it is developed in co-operation with the Spirit and the believer has a part to play as old habits and practices are cast aside and a new mind and heart are developed.  Accordingly, Paul has revealed that each believer is “God’s workmanship” or “God’s masterpiece.” (Eph 2:10 NIV, NLT) It is the Lord, through his Spirit, who transforms the believer; however, the believer must respond in obedience to the Spirit’s leadership.

Some are of the opinion that the believer is not expected to be holy because he or she cannot accomplish such a requirement; however, Peter has taught that “[God’s] divine nature has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” (2 Pet 1:3 NIV) We cannot accomplish the holy state that God requires for his presence, but Christ in us can. The only way to miss the mark is to rebel against the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:17, 18) The practical holy state is gradually developed or put on as the believer lives by the Spirit.  “But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” (Gal 5:5 NIV)

The Spirit does not cleanse the believer from his sin, he only makes him or her aware of it and enables him with the power to gain victory over it.  Should the believer sin cleansing will come through repentance and confession as the blood of Christ is applied. (1 Jn 1:7)

Is the righteous life and holiness difficult to achieve?  Christ said that his burden was light.  It does take an ear sensitive to the Spirit’s leading, the maintenance of a clear conscience, and a commitment to love and honour Christ until the end, however.

The victory that brings holiness has not been won by Christ but can be for the one who is willing to live under his lordship. No one should be cavalier about his or her tendency to sin but should be prepared to work out his own salvation through fear and trembling. They should know and see God as did Isaiah and John.

September 25, 2016

Holiness, Your God, and You

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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by Russell Young [Note: This is part one of two]

It is often accepted that the person who has confessed faith in Christ has been made holy and that his or her state of holiness will last forever; consequently, not much thought is often given to it. Being holy in God’s sight at the end of a person’s life is extremely important.

The writer of Hebrews has recorded, Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see [put eyes on] the Lord. (Heb 12:14 NIV) Without holiness no one will be in close proximity to the Lord. Since he will dwell in the Holy City, the New Jerusalem and those who are not holy will not make it into the city, they will be separated from him. Each person needs to consider whether or not their state of holiness will allow them into the presence of God or will keep them separated from him.

Holiness  Peter has recorded that we are to be holy just as God is holy. (1 Peter 1:15) ‘Holy’ means “(an awful thing); sacred (physically pure, morally blameless or religious, ceremonially, consecrated):- (most) holy (one, thing) saint.” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary #40, hagios) God is morally blameless and so must be those who are to dwell with him.  Paul revealed that God’s adopted children will be in the likeness of his Son (Rom 8:23, 29) and the Son is in the likeness of the Father. (Jn 14:9)

Isaiah had a glimpse of the heavenly realm in which he saw the Lord (Isa 6:1-4) The God of creation was seated on a high and exalted throne with his train filling the temple. Above him seraphs with face and feet covered were flying about. They were calling “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is filled with his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3 NIV) Because of God’s holiness the seraphs in his presence dared not look upon him and hid their feet. John has also recorded a vision where four living creatures around the throne never stopped saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” (Rev 4:8 NIV) And the twenty-four elders fell down before him and worshiped him when the creatures gave him glory. These visions reveal a God who is truly awesome and who is to be honoured for his holiness.

God is pure, morally blameless.  When Isaiah saw him he cried, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and living among a people of unclean lips.” (Isa 6:5 NIV) True believers, those who know the Lord, will recognize in their hearts the cry of Ezekiel. How can they be like him?

The awesomeness of God is beyond our comprehension and like Isaiah should draw humankind into a state of reverence and fear. The wonderful grace of God cannot shield the confessor who entertains sin from the reality and awfulness of God’s holiness. The Lord’s grace is intended to prepare people for holiness, to return them to the image of humankind at creation and to the likeness of their creator. God is holy and those who will be privileged to dwell with him must be holy also.  Isaiah was disarmed and defeated before the Lord and so was Paul as he revealed, “What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death [that brings about death]?” (Rom 7:24 NIV)

Paul was not writing about the physical mortality of his body as some suggest, but his anguish was over the fact that he could not prevent the interests of his body from enticing him to sin which would result in unrighteousness and in his death.  His response was, “Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 7:25 NIV) The rescue that he required was not only from sin but from his body’s interest in sinning.

The interest of Paul was not just in having the record of his past sin cleansed, it was in gaining victory over the body that causes sin in the first place so that he would be holy in his heart, in his mind and in his actions. He is not stating that the righteous life lived by Christ as he walked this earth has become the righteousness that will save him eternally.  Many fall into this error and rest their hope in it, in what the Lord had accomplished in his own body.  To accept such teaching requires a person to abandon much of the gospel of Christ and the truth of the Word.  It allows no value to the provision of the New Covenant or of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

But isn’t the believer’s holiness achieved by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness? No!  It is achieved through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness by the sanctifying work of the Spirit.

In Hebrews we read, “He sets aside the first [covenant] to establish the second [covenant].  And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Heb 10:9-10) The words “for all” are not in the original Greek and their inclusion may mislead the reader.  The sacrifice of Christ was offered ONCE and will not be offered again.  Availability to the New Covenant was made once and will not be made again.  Accordingly, the writer of Hebrews has admonished that “[i]t is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” (Heb 6:4-6 NIV) Following the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, there is a life to be lived and a death to be lived if holiness is going to be achieved.

The person who trusts in the imputation of the righteousness of Christ as his hope for holiness will be greatly disappointed.  This imputation made him or her holy ONCE by cleansing all of their past sins. (Heb 9:15) Following that cleansing holiness is to be attained and maintained through obedience to the Spirit. “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) “But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.” (Gal 5:18 NIV)  If the believer’s eternal hope rests in his “sowing,” How is anyone to meet the requirements of God?

September 24, 2016

Knowing Which Way to Fall

Today we’re again paying a return visit to Steven C. Mills of Steve’s Bible Meditations. (CEB refers to the Common English Bible, a newer translation that I also use frequently.) Click the title below to read this at source.

Failing Forward – Philippians 3:10-11

“The righteousness that I have comes from knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings. It includes being conformed to his death so that I may perhaps reach the goal of the resurrection of the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11, CEB).

I often take my kids to the skating rink to roller skate. Since they are still learning to skate, I tell them to keep their heads in front of their skates. Then, if they fall, they will fall forward and can catch themselves on their hands and knees and can get back up and continue skating. If they fall backward on their head or back, they risk hurting themselves and not wanting to skate anymore.

I’ve spent much of my career trying to understand how people learn. And one thing I’ve learned about learning is that some of the best learning occurs from failing. For example, it’s easier to learn how to skate when you know how to fall.

Failure holds a lot of opportunity for success! We call it practice. Practice is when we repeat failure until it becomes success.

Being a follower of Jesus and living a Christian life takes practice. We call this practice discipleship. Philippians 3:10-11 is the Apostle Paul’s definition of discipleship.

To become more like Christ, we must participate in His sufferings. Because, the power of resurrection is activated by participation in suffering.

In other words, Christ’s power in our lives can best be demonstrated when we are powerless–when we fail. When you lose control of your life, then Jesus can take control of your life!

That’s failing forward–in Christ.

When suffering, tragedy or failure come your way–and they will–fail forward.

Let your participation in the sufferings of Christ He experienced as a human being move you to grasp onto the the power of His resurrection so that you can achieve the ultimate goal–everlasting life in the presence of God.

All of us are looking with unveiled faces at the glory of the Lord as if we were looking in a mirror. We are being transformed into that same image from one degree of glory to the next degree of glory. (2 Corinthians 3:18, CEB)

 

September 23, 2016

Adventures in Amos

There wasn’t really a title provided for today other than Amos 1 to Amos 5.  Last year at this time we published a sample devotional from the Southern Baptist Convention. The depth of study is at the level C201 readers should expect. As we did last year, we’ll let you see it as it goes out; a devotional thought, some word study, the Christological connection, prayer requests for an SBC worker and a specific nation, and memory passage from the KJV. We don’t have a link for this; to read today’s devotional go to sbc.net/devotions. At the bottom is a link to SBC’s devotional content provider, but you need a password in order to see their material.

Amos 1 to Amos 5

Therefore the prudent shall keep silence in that time; for it is an evil time. Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the LORD, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken. Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph (Amos 5:13-15).

It seems strange for a shepherd from the hills of Judah to be sent into the affluent society of the ten‑tribed Northern Kingdom for the purpose of pronouncing judgment on it, yet that is exactly what God did. The Prophet Amos was only a shepherd, but he was sent to denounce Israel’s idolatry and foretell the destruction of this prosperous, powerful Northern Kingdom. The prophecy of Amos seems to have been proclaimed in the gate (5:10) at Bethel, one of the religious centers of Israel, about 30 years before they were defeated by the Assyrians. The gate was a city’s entrance and center of business where the elders judged the people (compare Jer. 17:19; Deut. 21:18-21). It was there that the Lord spoke through Amos to tell Israel how deceived they were and to appeal to them to seek good, and not evil, that ye may live. Amaziah, the paid priest of King Jeroboam II, was quick to get word to the king about this disagreeable prophet from the Southern Kingdom. The prophet had brought this message from God: And the high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste; and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword (Amos 7:9). Amaziah interpreted his words as a threat upon the life of Jeroboam, and was afraid. Just as a faithful Christian is often a target of criticism as he speaks out against sin, so Amos was rejected. Also Amaziah said unto Amos, O thou seer, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there: But prophesy not again any more at Bethel: for it is the king’s chapel, and it is the king’s court (7:12-13).

In the hierarchy of Israelite society, Amos was little higher than the servants. It would not have surprised anyone if, at the first challenge from his “superiors,” he had quietly crept away. However, Amos had been called and empowered by the Lord. Because of this, he had been given the strength to stand firm in the face of any earthly adversity. God often uses ordinary people like Amos to proclaim His message. The call from God came to Elisha as he was plowing, to David in the sheepfold, to Matthew the despised tax collector as he sat at the receipt of custom (Matt. 9:9), and to Peter at his fishing nets. They were selected as messengers of our Lord, not because of their social standing or the talents they possessed, but because of the obedience and willingness to follow that the Lord saw in their hearts.

Our Lord, while here on earth, continually used the expression: The Father hath sent Me (John 5:30,36-37; 6:44,57; 8:16, 18; 12:49; 14:24). Just as the Father sent His Son to make known His love and salvation to sinners, so too did Jesus send forth His disciples (17:18). Today, Jesus has called each and every one of us to go forth with the spiritual strength of Amos and minister to a world that has lost its way.

Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you (John 20:21).

Thought for Today:

The LORD is far from the wicked: but He heareth the prayer of the righteous (Prov. 15:29).

Christ Revealed:

As the fiery (Amos 1:4,7,10,12,14; 2:2,5; 5:6) judge (chap. 1 ‑ 5). Jesus . . . was ordained of God to be the Judge (Acts 10:38-42; also II Tim. 4:1; Rev. 2:18-23). His eyes were as a flame of fire (Rev. 1:14; also 2:18).

Word Studies:

2:13 pressed = burdened; 3:5 gin = trap; 3:14 visit = with punishment; 4:1 kine of Bashan were the fat cows, raised in the best pasturelands; but here, it is used figuratively in referring to self-gratifying, sensual, influential women who encourage their husbands to do wrong; masters = husbands; 4:3 breaches = breaks in the city wall; cast them into the palace = cast them into the mire (dunghill); 4:9 blasting = blight; 5:21 smell = be pleased, take delight; 5:23 viols = harps.

Prayer Needs:

Pray For Staff: Rita Guerra • Government Officials: Rep. Will Enyart, Jr. (IL), Rep. Bob Goodlatte (VA) • Country: Cayman Islands (54,914) Caribbean • Major Language: English • Religious Freedom • 67.8% Protestant; 14.1% Roman Catholic; 1.1% Jehovah’s Witness; 7% Other; 9.3% None; 0.7% Unspecified • Prayer Suggestion: Ask for forgiveness for particular sins (Ps. 51:1-9).

Memory Verse:

John 15:1-5
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

Devotion courtesy Bible Pathway Ministries

September 22, 2016

What’s Up With the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

[Editor’s Note: This week’s contribution from Pastor Clarke was a little different from what we normally present here…I would love to have been at his church for this sermon!]

You may be wondering “what’s up with a sermon called ‘What’s Up With the Flying Spaghetti Monster?’” You can blame this one on one of my sons who over the summer said “hey Dad, you should preach a sermon on the Flying Spaghetti Monster.” If you have never heard of such a thing, be assured many others have, including, of course, my sons.

So what even is it? The Flying Spaghetti Monster is the god of a new religion called “Pastafarianism.” Now to be clear, most “Pastafarians” do not actually believe this religion per se, rather it is practiced as a parody of religion. When you hear that some Pastafarians get their ID pictures taken with colanders on their heads, you may think that it is a big joke. It kind of is, but at the heart of it are some important issues that the atheist community want people to think about. “Belief” in the Flying Spaghetti Monster all began in the United States with one man challenging a school board to reconsider whether Creationism should be taught alongside Evolution. He was reasoning that if time was given to the story of God creating the universe as found in Genesis, then equal time should be given to his god, “The Flying Spaghetti Monster.” His letter was put on the Internet and it has since become “a thing.”

There are two questions that the The Flying Spaghetti Monster should cause a Christian to grapple with:

  1. Should Creationism be taught alongside Evolution in schools?
  2. Is Christianity just a made-up fable like the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

1. Should Creationism be taught alongside Evolution in schools?

My answer to this may be tainted by the fact that I am Canadian. If a school system is publicly funded, and is made available to all the public, then one particular religious viewpoint should not be privileged over the rest. Many a good Christian will be very disappointed with me right now, but if we Christians were in the minority, and Muslims in the majority, would we want Islamic precepts being taught in our public schools?

However, are we too quick to roll over and play dead? I fear we Canadian Christians often are. There is a field of study that looks at the origins of the universe from no particular religious viewpoint. It is commonly referred to as Intelligent Design (ID for short) and begins not with a religious text, like “In the beginning, God . . . ,” but with the study of our world and the universe. It looks at the apparent elements of design in the universe and infers that behind the design is a Designer. The illustration is sometimes used of flying an airplane over an island and finding the letters “SOS” written in sand. You know someone is, or has been, there based on three letters. Then go on to consider the amazing amount of information stored in DNA. Or how amazing it is that so many things have to be “just so” for life to be possible. Such evidence of design begs for a Designer.

Some think that the more we learn about the universe from science, the less we need any notion of a god to explain things. God has been moved to the margins it has been said. However, this would be like someone taking apart an iPhone and in figuring out how the parts and software work together, saying “there is and never has been a Steve Jobs or Johnny Ive. We don’t see them present with us making this thing work.” You see the misstep. As John Lennox has pointed out, God is not a “God-of-the-gaps” God, that is, the explanation of the things we cannot understand, but rather is the “God of the whole show.” If an iPhone is an incredible achievement in design and engineering, the universe is infinitely more so. As the Psalmist writes:

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)

Should ID be taught in schools alongside Evolution? After all, some would point out, perhaps correctly, that it is not science strictly speaking. It wanders into the realm of philosophy. Whatever it is, it is good, clear thinking. Schools should be places of good, clear thinking.

But does ID get you to Jesus? Or to the Flying Spaghetti Monster for that matter? This brings us to our second question.

fsm2. Is Christianity just a made-up fable like the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

This is an insinuation of those who practice Pastafarianism, namely that belief in Jesus, or in any god for that matter, is as ridiculous as believing in something like the Flying Spaghetti Monster. So is it?

Here we look to the where the evidence leads, particularly with respect to the origins of each religion. For example, if you were to investigate the origins of “belief” in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the evidence would lead to knowing exactly when, where, and even why the whole thing started. You can easily account for the birth and development of Pastafarianism without needing the actual existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to account for it. It is clearly a people made religion. You can go on to apply this same inquiry of all religions, asking “how did they begin and develop, and can you account for such things without the existence of the god they point to?” This all works very well until you come to Christianity. I am only scratching the surface here, but birth and development of Christianity falls nicely into place if Jesus rose from the dead. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then it is hard to account for why the first Christians believed what they believed, did what they did, and wrote what they wrote. N.T. Wright is one of the best scholars to look up to learn more about this.

If you are looking for a more accessible read you could look up the writings of an expert in evidence by the name of J. Warner Wallace. He was a cold-case detective and an atheist, who upon reading the Gospels came to realize that what he was reading bore the marks of genuine eyewitness testimony. I am only scratching the surface, but he gives us pointers on handling the evidence, some of which are paraphrased poorly by me below, but told in better detail himself. Consider:

  • The variations between the Gospels are evidence of genuine witnesses being behind them. Detectives get suspicious of collusion when witnesses all end up saying the exact same things in the exact same way.
  • The case for the reality of Jesus and the truth for Christianity is a cumulative case, built upon many bits of evidence.
  • While there is no direct evidence for Jesus available to us today, circumstantial evidence is enough to establish truth. All convictions of cold cases are built on circumstantial evidence.
  • Evidence does not need to get you beyond every possible doubt for a conviction, but beyond every reasonable doubt. Some people hold the bar far too high when it comes to Jesus so that no amount of evidence would ever be enough.
  • Not every question that is raised in a case needs to be answered. Belief in Jesus as Lord is reasonable, even when questions linger.
  • Unbiased jurors make the best jurors. That is why there is a process of jury selection, to weed out those who would begin with prejudice and bias. Some people will never believe Jesus rose from the dead because they start with a bias against the possibility of any miracle.

The evidence points to the unreality of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the reality of Jesus. Evidence is spoken of in the Bible:

This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
5 For there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
6 who gave himself a ransom for all
this was attested at the right time. 1 Timothy 2:3-6 (emphasis mine)

The word for “attested” is a word meaning “evidence, proof, testimony.” That there is one God, and that Jesus is how we can know God has been “attested to,” or “evidenced.” Jesus is the greatest proof of Who the Designer is, and the greatest evidence of His love for us. Which brings us to our conclusion.

The evidence points to what seems too good to be true. If the evidence pointed to atheism being true, that would be a depressing thing. If the evidence pointed to Islam being true, that could be a scary thing. If the evidence pointed to Eastern religions being true with their focus on karma, that would be an unfortunate thing. But the evidence points to the resurrection of Jesus, the reality of God, and the reality of God’s grace and love for the sinner. That is the best possible place for the evidence to lead. It seems too good to be true! Yet that is where the evidence points. So instead of asking “what’s up with the Flying Spaghetti Monster,” we should instead be asking “what’s up with God loving us so much?”

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Read more of Clarke’s writing at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

September 21, 2016

The Bible on Sleep

Amy Simpson is the author of Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission and Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry (both InterVarsity Press). She posted this a few days ago at her eponymous blog where it appeared with a much longer introduction documenting “The Sleep Business.” You’re encouraged to read it all by clicking the link below.

Let’s Get Serious about the Sacred Mystery of Sleep

sleeping-cat…Sleep is big business partly because we see it as disconnected from waking life. Most of us consider it a forced interruption in our otherwise productive lives. When we’re sleepy, it’s a tempting luxury we dare not indulge in until our work is done. Yet ironically, our sleep-abstinence undermines our work. And more ironically, our failure to value sleep as a critical part of what we do makes it elusive, and therefore even more valuable.

Perhaps the supposed separation between sleeping and waking hours is somewhat false. After all, both are critical parts of a whole life. Would we offer God the work we do when we’re awake and wall off our time in sleep as unworthy of his notice? Perhaps sleep is not simply a necessary activity that fuels the work God put us on earth to do. Perhaps it is part of the work God put us here to do.

God created us not only with a need for sleep, but with an incredible capacity for it—most of us need to spend at least one-third of our life in sleep. Is all this sleep really a waste? a luxury we can’t afford? a haven for the lazy? Or is it an expression of our humanity, an act of submission to God, a celebration of his creation? Might it be valuable in its own right?

The Bible frequently portrays sleep as a reflection of our relationship with God. Sleep is…

An act of trust:

“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe” (Psalm 4:8).

An act of humility:

“It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones” (Psalm 127:2).

A celebration of God’s blessing:

“You can go to bed without fear; you will lie down and sleep soundly. You need not be afraid of sudden disaster or the destruction that comes upon the wicked, for the Lord is your security” (Proverbs 3:24-26).

A position of receptivity:

“After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,’ the angel said” (Matthew 2:13).

A point of distinction between us and God:

“He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps” (Psalm 121:3-4).

Sleep is not a state of non-being. It’s critical–we literally can’t live without it–and active. In sleep, we rest. We relax our muscles in forced paralysis. We dream and generate ideas. We solidify and retain memories. Our bodies restore and heal themselves and, among the young, grow. We reinforce our immunity. We give up control. We place ourselves in the hands of God for our safety and preservation. And we may do much more that we don’t yet know about–sleep is still a mysterious frontier of science.

While we may not fully understand our need for it, we can’t dismiss sleep. Instead we should view it differently. It’s a faithful act in a rhythmic life, honoring to our Creator, and part of what we were put on this planet to do. Sleep matters because, done well, it’s part of a whole life devoted to the one who never sleeps.

September 20, 2016

The Disappearance of the Triune God Doctrine

ESV Gen 1:2b And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

For today’s devotional, we went to the blog of one of my former employers, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. To read this at source, and look around at other articles, click the title below. Jonathan Rice is an editor and writer with InterVarsity.

holy_spirit_-_pentacost_jwisWho Is the Holy Spirit?

When describing God, the language of the Bible is not merely truthful but careful. For instance, biblical descriptions of the Holy Spirit in the original languages of Hebrew and Greek always use a personal pronoun. The Bible never refers to God’s Spirit as an “it,” as if the Spirit is merely an impersonal object.

Such care for language is evident in Genesis 1:2, where the Hebrew word for “spirit” (ruach) is grammatically feminine. And though in the New Testament, the Greek word for “spirit” (pneuma) is neuter, it is still a personal pronoun, implying that the Holy Spirit not only transcends gender but also possesses personhood. So in contrast to popular notions that speak of God’s Spirit in abstract terms, the Bible speaks most clearly of the Holy Spirit as a personal deity.

An impersonal deity, a mere force of energy, is incapable of loving us. Such an impersonal energy is emotionless, feeling neither joy nor grief about our lives. But in Ephesians 4:30, we read that the Holy Spirit is grieved by our unwholesome talk, among other sins. And in 1 Corinthians 12:11, the Holy Spirit personally determines the distribution of gifts among believers for the common good of the church. In each of these biblical verses, the Holy Spirit is portrayed as a thinking, feeling, choosing Being—a true personality.

The personality of the Holy Spirit is typically manifested through actions. The Bible shows the Holy Spirit acts in this world by creating (Genesis 1:2), empowering (Zechariah 4:6), guiding (Romans 8:14), comforting (John 14:26), convicting (John 16:8), teaching (John 16:13), restraining (Isaiah 59:19), and commanding people (Acts 8:29)—all of which require intelligence, emotion, and will. Other Scriptures indicate that the Holy Spirit can be lied to (Acts 5:3), another relational behavior that implies the Spirit is a person.

Regardless of these biblical evidences, some people continue to believe that the Holy Spirit is simply a convenient term to indicate God’s activity. While describing the Holy Spirit as being active is certainly consistent with the biblical revelation of the Spirit’s personality, descriptions such as Comforter, Encourager, Healer, etc., when relied upon alone, are detrimental to our building a sound biblical theology about the nature of God, since any abstract, depersonalizing, reductionist notion of the Holy Spirit undermines the doctrine of the Trinity. So whether one obscures or denies the personhood of the Spirit, the result is the same—the existence of the Trinity is undermined and the personal triune God of biblical Christianity fades away.

Why the Loss of the Doctrine of the Trinity Is a Problem

The disappearance of the doctrine of the personal triune God is a problem, for the personhood of the Holy Spirit is a necessary truth of the whole gospel and should constitute a part of the theological legacy we leave for future generations. But these days the doctrine of the Trinity is again being questioned, though the church has repeatedly through the centuries affirmed the existence of the Trinity and the personhood of the Holy Spirit through historic church councils and creeds.

So just as the Bible is not merely truthful but careful in its use of language, our learning what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit is essential for our careful articulation of the whole gospel.

Today when you hear the Spirit’s gentle voice in your life, listen carefully and ask God to guide your thoughts, words, and actions. Through the person of the Holy Spirit, you can be a living testimony of the gospel and a worker for Christ in this world.


What is Christian doctrine? And do words such as eschatology, sanctification, and atonement really have anything to do with our everyday, going-to-class, working, hanging-out-with-friends lives?

Christian doctrines begin as interpretations of the Bible. Throughout the history of the church, Christians have preserved what they believe the Bible teaches. They form doctrines so that they may remember what other Christians have historically believed about God, humanity, and God’s mission in this world.

These days it’s no less important than in ages past for us to understand Christian doctrine. So we’re offering you brief posts about what Christians have historically believed are the core teachings of the Bible. We hope you find that these historic teachings not only broaden your understanding of Christianity but also deepen your love of God.

September 19, 2016

What it Looks Like to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

Today we’re introducing a new writer to you. Jonathan Parrish writes at Walking With Christ Daily, now in its 5th year. To read this at source and then check out their archives, click the title below.

How we can love our neighbor as yourself?

The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31

How are we to love our neighbor as ourselves? Some people have applied this to many things in life as lessons. From not judging others to giving to others, but what is a real way to love our neighbor as our self. I’m going to cover a few points that will help in a way that loving our neighbor as ourselves can have eternal and not just life impacts.

The first point I want to cover is looking out for needs of your neighbors, be it prayer, help during a rough financial patch, or even just talking to them. Neighbors can be more than just a literal neighbor it could be anyone you meet also.

Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Romans 12:13

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4

We should be fulfilling needs in our communities, friends, and family. If we truly want to love them as ourselves. And this is a just small way of meeting a physical need for someone. Especially if they don’t know Christ.

My second point is this. If you truly love someone like you love yourself, then guess what you will share the Gospel with them. The Gospel is the demonstration of love. So we should not be afraid to offend or be ashamed of the Gospel, but instead proclaim it to your community proclaim it everyone as you go about your daily life.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  Romans 1:16

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1st Corinthians 1:18

We need to remember that someone in boldness shared the Gospel with us, know very well that we could reject it because we found it to be crazy or offending. They still did it because we are called to do that, but also because they loved you as much they loved themselves. So if we love someone as much as love ourselves then we won’t worry about our reputations, but instead will worry about the fact that neighbor, friend, family member is condemned to Hell.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Colossians 3:16

Last, if we love them as ourselves, we will grow and disciple them. We won’t leave them out there to dry. They need to be led and taught. They need to be grown in the likeness of Christ. We start with the basics and we work our way up. We don’t let them catch on in a more mature Sunday class or as they go. We take them one on one and show them how to have a quiet time, teach them what it means to be a Christian and prepare them to go out and share the Gospel with their neighbors.

So when we love each other as Jesus commanded us to, we meet physical needs with our neighbors, we share the Gospel with them, and once they come to salvation we help grow and disciple them into mature Christians. That is how we love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus proved it ultimately at the cross when He died for all of our sins and rose again. So get out there and love somebody this week.

September 18, 2016

Communion: Eating and Drinking, the Forgotten Components

Communionby Russell Young

Communion should be a powerful reminder, not just of what Christ has done but of that which he continues to do in the believer’s life.  It is well understood that the body of Christ was broken for mankind; the significance of eating the bread and drinking the wine is less well appreciated.

Christ said, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (Jn 6:53 NIV) Although some do not connect this revelation to communion its linking seems obvious.  The Lord has made it clear that unless the eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood is done, a person has no life.  Communion is not only a command of Christ; it should be a potent reminder of the Lord’s ongoing ministry for the believer and of each person’s need.  It is not so much obedience to the command that God requires as it is a reminder to continuously eat and drink of the Lord.

Luke has recorded the Lord’s Passover celebration: “And he took the bread, gave thanks and broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me. In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in [because of, through] my blood, which was poured out for you.” (Lk 22:19-20 NIV) The new covenant, a covenant of the Spirit, was made available through the blood of Christ (Heb 9:15) and is only accomplished through the willingness of the believer to be led by the Spirit.

The bread of communion is to remember that Jesus, the Christ, gave his body as propitiation for the sins of the world. Bread also had great spiritual significance for the Israelites. Bread was and is a staple of life.  It nourishes the body and provides strength.  In the wilderness, manna, which was bread-like, had been provided for the Israelites. It was very nourishing and gave life to the Israelites as they wandered the wilderness.  However, Moses told them that “man does not live on bread alone but from every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut 8:3 NIV) Christ said that he was the bread of life, the nourishment they needed.  He promised that those who “eat” (take him in) would never die. He said, “I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.” (Jn 6:48-49 NIV) Jesus is also referenced as being “the Word.” (Jn 1:1; Rev 18:13)

The Bible also states that Ezekiel was given a scroll and was told to eat. “Then he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.’ So I ate it and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.” (Eze 3:4 NIV) The apostle John was also given a little scroll and was told to eat it (Rev 10:9), after which he was told to prophesy again. The scrolls contained the words of God and these servants were told to eat them.

The bread not only represents the Lord’s death, the significance of communion also rests in the understanding that the bread is God’s Word which must be taken in daily. Bread needs to be chewed, to be digested, in order to be made useful; it cannot be swallowed whole. Likewise, the Word needs to be “chewed” and digested.

Neither is wine a mere remembrance of the shed blood of Christ.  Life is in the blood. (Deut 12:23) Blood symbolizes the Spirit and drinking it symbolizes taking in the Spirit.  “The Spirit gives life.” (Jn 6:63 NIV) “He [came to] convict the world [including the believer] of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” (Jn 16:8 NIV) The Spirit saves through his sanctifying work. (2 Thess 2:13; Titus 3:5-6) Since his sanctifying work has not been completed (Gal 5:5), neither has the believer’s need.  Communion needs to be a reminder of that fact; he or she must take in the Spirit and allow their Lord to live within them, leading them in righteousness apart from the law (Rom 8:4 ), into sonship (Rom 8:9) and it is he who will provide the believer with eternal life. (Heb 5:9; Jn 10:27-28) The people who will dwell in the Lord’s eternal presence are required to “let the Spirit renew [their] thoughts and attitudes.” (Eph 4:24 NLT; Rom 8:29)

Eating the bread is a different issue than breaking it.  The eating is a reminder that Christ is in the believer and that his Word must also be within them.  The living Spirit provided through the Lord’s blood is necessary if the believer is to gain victory over sin and to be conformed to the likeness of God’s Son. Christ in the believer is his hope of glory (Col 1:27) and the means of glorifying him. The acts of eating the bread and of drinking the wine will not clearly portray meaning to the believer until their significance is commemorated. Neither will the fullness of the Lord’s ministry and of the believer’s need be remembered until proper celebration takes place.

How great is God!  There is no good thing in us.  But, with Christ in us what great things can be accomplished.  What “good” is possible!  The fullness of His ministry must be commemorated! This must be remembered regularly.

September 17, 2016

Hope in Hard Times

Today we’re returning to Michael Thompson at the blog Kindling Word. This is a longer piece that I’ve joined in progress; so click the title below to read in full.

I Hope So

… “I hope so” is a subversive phrase. In the face of the worst circumstance it expresses a rough, raw confidence that things as they are now are not at all how they will ultimately be.

The “so” part for me has gone from a period that groans in defeat, “Is this all there is?” to an ellipsis that shouts in defiance, “There is much more to come!”

Back then it was “I hope so…”

But now it is “I hope…so.”

I hope…
So discouragement never gets the final word even when routines are deadening

I hope…
So no matter what I am facing, I will not quit because failure is not final or fatal

I hope…
So I choose to see a preferable “then” in the face of what seems an impossible “now”

I hope…
So I embrace God and good and grace even when my world screams evil and injustice

I hope…SO

As Habakkuk once sang:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”    –Habakkuk 3:17-18

Hope is that “yet”.

It has become a treasure to me–recovered from the ashes of an epic life implosion. It is supremely valuable. The most critical survival skill for a soul living in between the dreaming and the coming true.

Hope is the incredibly strong, tenacious, even visceral conviction that I am

  • Defined by my Father’s affection
  • Designed to live a significant life, and
  • Destined to leave an imprint for good as my legacy.

In the face of each personal failure hope is doggedly determined to live on purpose. Underneath it is a passionate struggle to survive and succeed in the painful experiences of a world that can be harsh and unforgiving.

The Israelites of the Older Testament hated the Valley of Achor outside of Jericho because it was a constant reminder of where they had experienced their most humiliating defeat at the hands of a pathetic militia from Ai (Joshua 7). Much later in their history, God promised one of His old prophets, There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. (Hosea 2:15)

God was saying, “I will make the place of your humiliation the passageway to your destiny.”

Now if you see this as one more feel-good pep talk from someone out of touch with the rub and reality of life you certainly don’t know my backstory.

I have lived through the end-of-all-things-as-we-know-it stuff. Despair and I are well acquainted. Failure was my tailor and humiliation my wardrobe for years. I know what it is to stand hip deep in ocean waves and seriously contemplate letting them draw me under.

I know from deeply personal and painful experience that sometimes (often!) hope is hard. The difficulty comes from the fact that it is contrarian.

Hope says “yes” to every unquestioned and unjust “no” in life.

It confronts status quo and sabotages “just how it is”. It kicks over the injustice of money-changers in houses of love and throws incarcerating spirits of despair off cliffs in pig bellies.

Hope is a stretch because it always sees things as they are but believes them as they should be. It is hard because it yearns for what is not. …we hope for what we do not yet have… (Romans 8:25)

But hope is also easy because it is based on something unshakable…Someone eternal. God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth. (Psalm 65:5)

“My hope is built on nothing less…”

Hope is a lone tree growing in an arid desert; a beautiful flower springing from solid rock. Hope remains. Hope sustains. It is an anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6:19).

Hope is a resurrection in the heart. It is life poured into dead things–oxygen for lungs that long ago ceased to breathe. It is a bittersweet longing; a life-defining ache.

Hope is desperation without despair.

This is not a pipe dream or unrealistic panacea. As David knew from his own experience, No one who hopes in You will ever be put to shame (Psalm 25:3).

The old Apostle who had seen more pain in a few years than most of us will know in ten lifetimes, once reminded us:

We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit… (Romans 5:3-5)

Like Jonah reeking of fish guts or three Hebrew boys with the hint of smoke about them, when you’ve been THROUGH exile and walked THROUGH fire and you COME OUT on the other side, you have no choice but to be a hope addict.

I am among this ragged band of survivors who wear as a badge of honor the moniker of Zechariah (9:12)Prisoners of hope.

I hope…SO!

*******

A prayer for you who struggle today: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

September 16, 2016

Our Faith Should Be More Than Just a Coping Mechanism

john-10-10When I have finished formatting a devotional study here, the last thing I do before scheduling it is to add the tags; the key words that can be used to locate the article in a search engine or internally. Many times I find myself writing trials, tribulations, suffering, difficulties, trials, etc. Often when I listen to a couple of preachers in my car, I notice they are often simply offering their listeners encouragement through desert experience, tough times, difficult circumstances.

I keep thinking there should be more.

I keep thinking that our faith should be more than just a mechanism by which we can cope with the hard times of life.

In John 10:10 Jesus said,

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (NIV)

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. (NLT)

One of the first sermons I remember was hearing this preached at an outdoor Christian music festival. The speaker said that in the original language the abundant life being discussed was:

  1. Abundant in quantity
  2. Superior in quality

We see picture of this abundance in quantity in the feeding of the 5,000

1 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near. 5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”

And we see a picture of the superior quality in the very first miracle at Cana

John 2:1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Both seem to be describing a feast. The latter, at the wedding is expected. The former, with each receiving “as much as they wanted” was probably a surprise.

In each case the final verse reveals the ultimate outcome:

  1. They recognize that he is the prophet, the one expected
  2. He reveals his glory and his disciples believe.

At the blog, Yeshua=God (also the source of today’s graphic image) the contrast in John 10:10 is fully highlighted:

Whenever John 10:10 is quoted, it’s usually just the first half about Satan, or the last half about Christ. It’s not often you hear the entire verse quoted together. But the Lord showed me recently in my personal study time that this Scripture is meant to reflect what Satan does compared to what the Lord does. It is meant to be read as a whole, to compare and contrast the enemy verses the Lord.

Let’s break it down –

The thief does not come except to STEAL, KILL, and DESTROY.
The Lord comes that they MAY HAVE, LIFE, MORE ABUNDANTLY

The opposite of steal would be to give. When our Lord says they “may have”, He’s referring to the gift of His salvation. Not necessarily “will have”, because some people don’t become Christians. Therefore He comes that they “may have” this gift.

The opposite of kill is to give life. Christ does give life, as He IS the Life. So while the thief wants to steal and kill, the Lord has come to give the gift of Life.

The opposite of destroy is more abundantly. To destroy something is to pull it down, wreck it, demolish, obliterate, or ruin it. To have something in abundance is to have plenty of it, it is lavished upon you, bountiful, copious, and plentiful.

Notice how the words are all present tense. Kill, steal, destroy – these are ongoing, they are in the here and now. He has not “stolen, killed, and destroyed”, it is what the thief continues to do. When the Lord gives His rebuttal, His words are present tense as well. May have instead of “have had”. Life that’s ongoing and eternal, rather than one that can be killed. And more abundantly instead of “in abundance”. It assumes a continuance of the abundance – “more abundantly” – as if the abundance is an ever-flowing fountain.

But then the author points out that the life we can expect is even more:

The Lord gives us life, and not just life, but life more abundantly. A better life than these 70-80 years on earth. A life that continues on into eternity. A life with blessings that never end (Ephesians 1:3).

We tend to focus on our pain and difficulties, but be encouraged to look for the signs of abundance.

I Kings 18:41 And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” 42 So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.

43 “Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked.

“There is nothing there,” he said.

Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”

44 The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.

So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’”

45 Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling and Ahab rode off to Jezreel

 

September 15, 2016

You Don’t Have to Tell Everyone, Just Tell Us

Today we’re looking at a few verses in Mark 13.

Matthew 13:1 NIV As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Last night I watched a most informative sermon on John 3 from Dr. Gary Burge, professor at Wheaton College who teaches at Wheaton College, given on a Wedneday night at Willow Creek. You can watch the sermon at this link.

One of the things he spoke about was how the coming of Jesus replaces the things that have existed as central to Judaism with new things. Burge says that “Jesus is abundantly replacing the things he encounters in his world.”

  • In his first miracle, Jesus takes the ceremonial water for washing and replaces it with wine.
  • In his encounter with Nicodemus (the subject of Burge’s message) Jesus reminds him that “you are Israel’s teacher and yet you don’t know these things;” (Jn. 3:10) and Jesus himself replaces him as Israel’s teacher.
  • In the text above we’re told that the temple itself will be replaced with something new, the temple of his body which will die and be raised within three days.

Continuing in the chapter,

Mark 13:3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

jesus-core-group-peter-james-and-johnThis question sets the stage for the rest of the chapter, but the thing that struck me as I was reading it in The Voice Bible was a bit peripheral, but still worth noting. There’s a sense in which they are saying, ‘Just tell us — just the four of us — what the signs will be.’ As a group of people taken aside, they felt entitled to some insider information. Who would not be eager to be the chosen of the chosen?

But it’s also worth noting the inclusion of Andrew. We tend to think of the inner circle as consisting of a type of triumvirate consisting of Peter, James and John. In a natural sense, we can see Andrew’s inclusion here, after all, James and John were brothers and so were Peter and Andrew. Two sets of brothers. But usually (see Mark 5:37 and The Transfiguration in Matthew 17) Andrew isn’t part of this select group. So what we see here with Jesus is flexibility in choosing who is part of the core group at any given time. There’s a leadership lesson here, that some other people can be brought to the table as occasion arises; the group is not tightly closed.

Mark 5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.

“You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

I find verse 11 somewhat paradoxical in light of other New Testament instructions such as,

I Peter 3:15b …Always be ready to offer a defense, humbly and respectfully, when someone asks why you live in hope.

There is a balance to be struck between Holy Spirit leading and proper preparation. Having been in this situation many times in my contacts with seekers and non-believers, I can honestly say there are times when, even though I feel I can offer textbook-precise answers, I have to pause and ask God to speak through me.

As to the dominant theme of these verses, I think it’s interesting that all three synoptic gospel writes include something to the effect “these things must happen.”

Luke 21:9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

Matthew 24:6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.

Mark 13:7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.

Personally, I subscribe to what I call ‘The Domino Theory.’ When people say, “Jesus could come today;” I believe that’s true in the sense that Jesus might call me home today. (In other words, he might come for me.) The imperative of the gospel is ‘Choose today whom you will serve;’ (Joshua 24:15) and ‘Look: Now is the right time, today is the day for salvation.’ (2 Corinthians 6:2; in The Message: “Well, now is the right time to listen, the day to be helped.”)

As important as this is, it remains true that there are certain prophetic markers which must occur first. This is where the dominoes kick in. I believe that those markers could be staked like dominoes and fall together in rapid succession. So yes, “the end is till to come;” but don’t kick back and relax because of that. A wise person will not wait for the dominoes to start falling, but will be observant of the stacking of the dominoes.

So we jump to the end of the chapter and see Jesus saying,

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.

Our desire should be the deepest intimacy with Jesus that was enjoyed by Peter, James and John (and Andrew), but if our goal in that is simply knowledge, we need to know that Jesus might not grant us insider information, because some things are not for us to know.


Read the full chapter of Mark 13 at Bible Gateway

 

 

September 14, 2016

What it Takes to Have a Church

by Clarke Dixon

What do you have to have to have a church? Here are some possible answers I’ve heard along the way:

  • you have to have mission and vision statements.
  • you have to have music that reflects the culture outside the church.
  • you have to have music that reflects the culture within the church.
  • you have to have PowerPoint for the sermons, shorter sermons, or even no sermons.
  • you have to have a constitution, a budget, a proper system of governance, and a bunch of paperwork.  . . or risk losing your charitable status, which of course everyone knows you have to have.
  • you have to have buildings and paid staff.
  • you have to have programming for every age group and for every felt need.
  • you have to have values that reflect the society around you, which means ever changing values of course.
  • you have to have a worship experience that makes each person feel affirmed and good.
  • you have to have a good consumer experience for a happy customer.

House ChurchWhat does the Bible say you have to have to have a church? What better place to go than the Books of Acts where we read about the earliest Christians and the origins of the Church. In looking to the book of Acts there is one sentence that captures what you have to have to have a church:

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:46-47

Did you notice what was there in the first church without which you cannot have a church? No, not food. Just two things: “The Lord,” and “those who were being saved.”

“The Lord.” You cannot have a church without the presence of the Lord. And by Lord we do not mean just any god, or God in a generic sense. This is the LORD, Who created the heavens and the earth, Who created all life including humanity, Who called Abraham with a promise, Who rescued His people from slavery in Egypt, Who gave His people the Law and the covenants, Who came to humanity in Jesus, and bearing a cross for our sin He rose from the dead, Who comes to us in the Holy Spirit, Who ensured we had a record of all this and more in the Bible. That LORD. The church is not in the business of promoting spirituality but rather has a ministry of reconciliation. We introduce people to that LORD. You can have all the things people generally think you have to have to have a church, yet if you are missing the presence of the Lord, then you don’t have a church.

“Those who were being saved.” We can read the entire book of Acts to be introduced to those people and find out what they are like. When we do we find out that they are an imperfect people, a growing and learning people, a praying people, a listening people, a preaching and reaching people, a generous people, a missionary people, a hope filled people, a changed people, and a willing-to-be-persecuted people. You have to have people like that to have a church.

Lego ChurchThere are some practical implications in needing only two things to have a church:

Church is a people rather than an organization. In the Book of Acts we are not given a manual on how to organize a church. Sometimes we might wish we were! We are given, rather, the story and stories of people responding and relating to the Lord. We do well to remember that we organize as churches, not for the sake of the organization created, but for the sake of the people God is re-creating. As you read through the book of Acts you never once hear a church named. There is no “Calvary Baptist,” or “Grace United,” or the like. But you hear time and time again about the Lord, about people, and about the Lord in relationship with people. When we celebrate a church anniversary, which is something we love to do for we like any excuse to have our cake and eat it too, we are not celebrating how long an organization has been organized. We are celebrating the lives that have been changed by God through the lives of the people who have been changed by God.

The church is something we always are rather than something we sometimes do. It is funny how when asked to describe our churches we quickly report on Sunday morning attendance. Instead we ought to report about what happens throughout the week. We should speak of the saints on their knees in prayer, those who visit, those who give, those who encourage, those who volunteer, those who forgive, those who are patient, those who are peaceful, those who are joyful, those who are self-controlled. . .  you get the picture. In the Book of Acts you never hear of a church described by numbers in attendance on a Sunday morning. But you you do read of people living their lives for the Lord every day. Church is what we always are, not something we sometimes do.

That you only have to have two things is good news for the small church. I must admit to being discouraged when I read a book written for small church pastors then realize they are written by superstar pastors, or that by “small church” they mean a church of 200. That is so not me, and so not us! Good news, to have a church you do not have to emulate the big churches and do everything they do. We are not to follow the lead of bigger churches, we are to follow the lead of the Lord. Small church leaders can learn to say as the church leadership said in Acts “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” (Acts 15:28)

That you only have to have two things is good news for a church under threat. We are told we face the threat of becoming irrelevant. From that perspective, the first Christians must have seemed supremely irrelevant. The apostle Paul discovered that the Gospel was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1st Corinthians 1:23). Yet the presence of the Lord together with the presence of God’s people was turning the world upside down.

Perhaps someday we will face the threat of losing our charitable status as we do not keep in step with a society that keeps changing step. Look to the first Christians. Never mind a privileged position in society, they were persecuted. Yet with the presence of the Lord and the presence of a people who set themselves to the task of keeping in step with God’s Holy Spirit, not even the gates of hell could stop the Church.

What do you have to have to have a church? Look to the Book of Acts where they did not have charitable status, buildings, mission and visions statements, organs, worship bands, a multitude of programs for every age, denominations, PowerPoint, constitutions, church growth consultants, or a very organized clergy. (Some days it seems the church I pastor still lacks organized clergy!) All they had was the presence of the Lord, and the Holy Spirit filled people of God. And it was brilliant. When we have those two things, it still is!

Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Clarke Dixon is a Baptist pastor in Canada; read more at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

September 13, 2016

What is Meant by Binding and Loosing

NIV Matthew 18:18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

binding-and-loosingThere are many variances on the meaning of this particular verse, as outlined below.

Barnes Notes:

He employs them here to signify that they all had the same power; that in ordering the affairs of the church he did not intend to give Peter any supremacy or any exclusive right to regulate it. The meaning of this verse is, whatever you shall do in the discipline of the church shall be approved by God or bound in heaven. This promise, therefore, cannot be understood as extending to all Christians or ministers, for all others but the apostles may err.

Equip.org:

[no quotation available; commentary focuses on what it does not mean — binding demons — but does not provide a clear explanation]

Pulpit Commentary:

The Lord solemnly confers the grant made to Peter (Matthew 16:19) on the whole apostolate. The binding and loosing, in a restricted sense, and in logical connection with what precedes, refer to the confirmation and authorization of the sentence of the Ecclesia, which is not valid, so to speak, in the heavenly court till endorsed by Christ’s representatives – the apostles. Whether the verdict was the excommunication of the offender (“bind”) or his pardon and restoration (“loose”), the ratification of the apostles was required, and would be made good in heaven. The treatment of the incestuous Christian by St. Paul is a practical comment on this passage. The congregation decides on the man’s guilt, but St. Paul “binds” him, retains his sins, and delivers him to Satan (1 Corinthians 5:1-5); and when on his repentance he is forgiven, it is the apostle who “looses” him, acting as the representative of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:10). In a general sense, the judicial and disciplinary powers of the Christian priesthood have been founded on this passage, which from early times has been used in the service of ordination. Each body of Christians has its own way of interpreting the promise. While some opine that, speaking in Christ’s name and with his authority, the priest can pronounce or withhold pardon; others believe that external discipline is all that is intended; others again think that the terms are satisfied by the ministration of the Word and sacraments, as a physician gives health by prescribing remedies.

GreatBibleStudy.com

Binding is like a temporary spiritual handcuffing. You can bind a demon spirit, much like tying something up with rope or chains. You cannot bind a person’s free will, but you can bind the demons affecting or influencing that person. Binding is NOT the same practice as casting out demons, casting out demons brings fourth lasting results, whereas binding is only to tie them down for a period of time. If you are trying to talk to or minister to somebody, and they seem impossible to get through to it can be helpful to bind up the spirits inside that person, which will handcuff the enemy so you can directly and effectively minister to that person without having them continually held back by the enemy’s interference. Another good time to bind is when the person isn’t ready for a deliverance and you are not willing to put up with their demonic personality.  (emphasis in original)

Loosing, like binding, can be done here on earth, and takes effect in the spiritual realm. Loosing however, refers to the loosing of a captive or person in bondage. You bind demons, and you loose the captives. When Jesus set free the woman with the issue of blood, He said unto her, “Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.” (Luke 13:12)

GotQuestions.org

Jesus is speaking directly to the apostle Peter and indirectly to the other apostles. Jesus’ words meant that Peter would have the right to enter the kingdom himself, that he would have general authority symbolized by the possession of the keys, and that preaching the gospel would be the means of opening the kingdom of heaven to all believers and shutting it against unbelievers. The book of Acts shows us this process at work. By his sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-40), Peter opened the door of the kingdom for the first time. The expressions “bind” and “loose” were common to Jewish legal phraseology meaning to declare something forbidden or to declare it allowed.

Peter and the other disciples were to continue Christ’s work on earth in preaching the gospel and declaring God’s will to men, and they were armed with the same authority as He possessed. In Matthew 18:18, there is also a definite reference to the binding and loosing in the context of church discipline. The apostles do not usurp Christ’s lordship and authority over individual believers and their eternal destiny, but they do exercise the authority to discipline and, if necessary, excommunicate disobedient church members.

Christ in heaven ratifies what is done in His name and in obedience to His Word on earth.

IVP New Testament Commentary

Bind and loose refer to the judicial authority of gathered Christians to decide cases on the basis of God’s law. Most scholars thus recognize that this passage applies to church discipline (Cullmann 1953:204-5; R. Fuller 1971:141). The more popular use of “binding” today in many circles (exercising authority over the devil) resembles instead an ancient practice in the magical papyri-also called “binding” (see note on 12:29)-of manipulating demons to carry out a magician’s will. (The Bible does support Christians’ authority to cast out real demons-compare comment on 17:17-but the only “devils” in this passage are fully human ones, and they are being cast out of the church!)

Not found

One version I did not find online was that this passage is referring to the yoke of a rabbi, and refers to whatever you forbid and whatever you permit. That’s possibly closer to the context than you might at first realize, but it has a completely different nuance.

Translation comparison

A look at various translations however is more supportive of what you just saw in the preceding paragraph. The Amplified Bible has, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, whatever you bind [forbid, declare to be improper and unlawful] on earth shall have [already] been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose [permit, declare lawful] on earth shall have [already] been loosed in heaven.” This meaning may appear to be ‘bound’ (for lack of a better word) to what is first established in heaven (by the inclusion of the word already.)

The HCSB also is unique in its time-frame with the phrases “is already bound in heaven,” and “…is already loosed in heaven;” as opposed to the more broadly used “will be.”

The ICB renders this as “I tell you the truth. The things you don’t allow on earth will be the things God does not allow. The things you allow on earth will be the things that God allows.”

The Message Bible is very different on this “Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this.”

Finally, Young’s Literal Translation expresses the verb-tense challenge, “Whatever things ye may bind upon the earth shall be having been bound in the heavens, and whatever things ye may loose on the earth shall be having been loosed in the heavens.” (emphasis added)

Conclusion

Sometimes in our Bible study we have to accept that certain passages are challenging in terms of meaning. For many years, the KJV dominated the English Bible landscape, and often their word choices became set in stone as far as the meaning of the words goes.

But I don’t believe God intends us to be confused or bewildered. Don’t feel you need to buy into what a particular pastor says on this. Ask God to give you wisdom as you read, so that you might end up with an interpretation which you own. Dig into the whole chapter and see what God shows you.


Go Deeper: Today’s graphic image appears at a much longer article than anything we’ve linked to here and from a Pentecostal perspective. (Appropriate, since this verse is a favorite among Pentecostals and Charismatics.)

Click to read the article Enrichment Journal of the Assemblies of God Church.

 

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