Christianity 201

December 1, 2020

Enemies of God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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We return again today to the writing of Bill Muehlenberg at the website Culture Watch. Much of the first two-thirds of this article is simply a scripture medley. Clicking the header below will take you to the article directly where you can further consider these verses and the existence of what he calls “committed enemies of God, the gospel, and therefore of God’s people,” and what our response ought to be.

God’s Enemies

Yes there are those who are at enmity with God:

Some of you might be asking: ‘What, enemies of God? God has enemies? But I thought he loved everybody, so he cannot have enemies. At least he cannot regard anyone as an enemy, even if others see themselves as enemies of God! Isn’t that right?’

Well, no actually. There are indeed enemies of God, and from both sides of the equation sadly. There are of course those who hate God and resist God and see him as their one great enemy, even as so many of them deny his very existence. But I am speaking here of those that God regards as enemies.

The truth is, those who refuse to acknowledge God and his rightful place in their lives are living in enmity against God. Here I will present some of the biblical data on this, and then discuss how we are to respond. Plenty of Old Testament texts can be offered here. These are just some of them:

Exodus 15:6 Your right hand, O Lord, is majestic in power,
Your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy.

Judges 5:31 Thus let all Your enemies perish, O Lord;
But let those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its might.

Psalm 92:9 For, behold, Your enemies, O Lord,
For, behold, Your enemies will perish;
All who do iniquity will be scattered.

Psalm 110:1 The Lord says to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”

Nahum 1:2 A jealous and avenging God is the Lord;
The Lord is avenging and wrathful.
The Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries,
And He reserves wrath for His enemies.

‘Ah, but that is the Old Testament’ you say. ‘Everything is different in the New Testament.’ Well, not quite. We find plenty of passages there which say the same thing. Indeed, it is interesting how often Ps. 110:1 is quoted or referred to in the NT, by Jesus and by others. Here are seven cases of this:

Matthew 22:44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”’

Mark 12:36 David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”’

Luke 20:42-43 For David himself says in the Book of Psalms,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
  until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

Acts 2:34-35 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
   until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

1 Corinthians 15:25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.

Hebrews 1:13 And to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?

Hebrews 10:12-13 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 

And then we have other texts, such as:

Luke 1:70-74 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
    and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
   that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,

Acts 13:9- 10 But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?”

Romans 5:10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Romans 11:28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.

Philippians 3:18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.

James 4:4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

So the idea that God regards unrepentant sinners as enemies is found throughout all of Scripture. But let me finish by looking at one last passage…

click this link to read Bill’s article in full…

November 30, 2020

“There’s Sin in the Camp”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The phrase that forms the title of today’s thoughts may be familiar to you, especially if you grew up in Pentecostal or Charismatic or Holiness churches where there is often a stronger emphasis on personal confession of sin, and the teaching that much damage can be done to an entire family or church family due to unconfessed sin.

The Story

The backstory is part of a four-chapter narrative, and to take it all in, you need to read Joshua, chapters 6 – 9 which space does not permit me to reproduce here. So let’s do a quick overview. (Scriptures NIV unless indicated.)

■ Joshua and the Battle of Jericho: You know that story. Big military victory. Supernatural victory.

■ The contents of the city are entirely destroyed (and the city is ordered never to be rebuilt) with one exception:

6:24 Then they burned the whole city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the Lord’s house.

The burning of the rest of the contents of the city, even though those things weren’t retained for any monetary value they might have added to that treasury, can be seen as a sacrificial offering to the Lord. They weren’t to go through the residences and businesses of Jericho like they were shopping at a thrift store. (“Oh! This would look in my tent next to the clay pitcher.”) It was all (but for the silver, gold, bronze, and iron) to be to be burned.

So far, so good. On to chapter 7.

■ In the next chapter, the story goes south.

7:1 But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things, Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel.

The NIV uses the term devoted things. This is consistent with the idea of the sacrifice of everything else in Jericho being burned as an offering to the Lord. Perhaps a thanksgiving for the battle victory. I checked this out in various translations, and The Message sees items plundered as violating the holy curse, inasmuch as they fall under the category of things which could be enveloped in the concept of rebuilding the city.

■ Then Israel faces the city of Ai, which should be a much easier military conquest. A piece of cake, right? They don’t even send the entire army. However,

7:4 So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water.

■ So God reveals to Joshua that the reason for the defeat is connected directly to someone taking and keeping things from Jericho.

7:11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.

■ The question is, whodunnit? Joshua orders everyone to do a walk-past so he can narrow it down:

tribe by tribe
clan by clan
family by family
man by man

and by process of elimination, it’s a man named Achan who gets centered out.

20 Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: 21 When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels. I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

■ Upon his confession, Achan, his family and all his animals are taken away and are stoned, and they burn the bodies, his tent, and all his possessions (see v. 24-26). It’s not a pretty story, is it?

■ In chapter 8, Israel’s army under commander Joshua re-attack the city of Ai, and in a spectacular victory ambush the city behind while the army is chasing a smaller contingent in front. (It’s every bit as good as the first story about the walls of Jericho!)

What it means today

The application of the story that’s often repeated today is the teaching that sin can just easily enter your family or your church.

First and foremost is the concept that we can never hide our sin. The website Back to the Bible notes:

That we can never successfully hide our sin from God is the teaching of Jesus’ parable of the lighted candle. Luke 8:16-17 records, “No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a bowl or hides it under a bed. A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house. For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.” (reference changed to NLT)

See also

Though his hatred covers itself with guile, His wickedness will be revealed before the assembly.
 – Proverbs 26:26 NASB

People with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will be exposed.
 – Proverbs 10: 9 NLT

Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
 – Matthew 23:28 NKJV

The story of Ananias and Sapphira is also a useful study of people whose deception was exposed.

In 1 Corinthians 5: 1-13, there is a particular New Testament passage which also has some parallels to the story of Achan:

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. … (ESV)

The website GotQuestions.org looks at why Achan’s family was also killed. To our modern eyes, the story seems a bit severe at that point.

There is no way to know all of God’s reasons for what seems to us His harsh punishment of Achan and his family. He doesn’t always explain His reasoning to us, nor does He have to. The story of Achan and many other biblical narratives give us sufficient information to understand that God is holy and that He is not to be disobeyed without risking dire consequences.

Only those hearing God’s voice, or possessing the gift of discernment or the gift of the word of knowledge can make the proclamation, but sometimes it does happen; sometimes, “There’s sin in the camp.”

 

 

 

November 29, 2020

What Does It Mean to Say God is Immutable?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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What does the word mean?

From Dictionary.com:

adjective: not mutable; unchangeable; changeless.

synonymns: immovable, inflexible, sacrosanct, enduring, abiding, changeless, ageless, constant, fixed, invariable, permanent, perpetual, stable, steadfast, unalterable, unmodifiable

From a very detailed, very researched page at the website PreceptAustin.org:

Immutability means that God is not subject to change through time or circumstances. He is invariable. In His nature and character, God is absolutely without change. In God’s essence, attributes, consciousness and will, He is unchangeable. Ponder the significance of this truth, in light of other truths about God such as “God is love.” (1Jn 4:8, 16)…

A W Tozer ..adds that “If God is self-existent, He must be also self-sufficient; and if He has power, He, being infinite, must have all power. If He possesses knowledge, His infinitude assures us that He possesses all knowledge. Similarly, His immutability presuppose His faithfulness. If He is unchanging, it follows that He could not be unfaithful, since that would require Him to change. Any failure within the divine character would argue imperfection and, since God is perfect, it could not occur. Thus the attributes explain each other and prove that they are but glimpses the mind enjoys of the absolutely perfect Godhead.” …

Where does the Bible teach this?

The website AllAboutGod.com provides the scripture references:

The Old Testament clearly states that God is immutable:

“God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19).

“He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind” (1 Samuel 15:29).

“They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end” (Psalm 102:26-27).

“Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please’” (Isaiah 46:10-11).

“I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed” (Malachi 3:6).

God is Immutable – New Testament Verses
“Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Timothy 2:11-13).

“God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged” (Hebrews 6:18).

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

“He also says, ‘In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end’” (Hebrews 1:10-12).

“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness— in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time” (Titus 1:1-2).

Why is it Necessary that God have this Characteristic?

From the website GotQuestions.org:

…There are several logical reasons why God must be immutable, that is, why it is impossible for God to change. First, if anything changes, it must do so in some chronological order. There must be a point in time before the change and a point in time after the change. Therefore, for change to take place it must happen within the constraints of time; however, God is eternal and exists outside of the constraints of time (Psalm 33:11; 41:13; 90:2-4; John 17:5; 2 Timothy 1:9).

Second, the immutability of God is necessary for His perfection. If anything changes, it must change for the better or the worse, because a change that makes no difference is not a change. For change to take place, either something that is needed is added, which is a change for the better; or something that is needed is lost, which is a change for the worse. But, since God is perfect, He does not need anything. Therefore, He cannot change for the better. If God were to lose something, He would no longer be perfect; therefore, He cannot change for the worse.

Third, the immutability of God is related to His omniscience. When someone changes his/her mind, it is often because new information has come to light that was not previously known or because the circumstances have changed and require a different attitude or action. Because God is omniscient, He cannot learn something new that He did not already know. So, when the Bible speaks of God changing His mind, it must be understood that the circumstance or situation has changed, not God. When Exodus 32:14 and 1 Samuel 15:11-29 speak of God changing His mind, it is simply describing a change of dispensation and outward dealings toward man…

Does this mean the God of the New Testament is the same as the God of the Old Testament?

In many respects, this question needs to be re-framed to be a valid question, but the clue to the answer is in the last sentence of the previous answer (“a change of dispensation and outward dealings toward man.”)

Look at this way, you can’t read Hebrews 13:8

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

without having passed by Hebrews 8:13

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

(Like the 8:13/13:8 thing I did there?)

Similarly, you can’t answer this question in terms of God’s core character or essence, but rather, one resolves the presumed dilemma in terms of discussing the idea that God has, with the coming of Jesus, ushered us into an era of a new covenant with humankind.

Thankfully, we get to be participants in this new covenant.

 

 

November 28, 2020

Paul the Apostle Needed People to Support Him

Periodically I check the website A Life Overseas which is written for MKs (Missionaries Kids) and TCKs (Third Culture Kids; people for whom the word home doesn’t mean the place on their passport.)  We’ve shared content from that site here and at Thinking Out Loud. That’s where I found today’s article.

Craig Thompson and his wife, Karen, along with their five children, served as missionaries in Taipei, Taiwan, for ten years before returning to the United States. His blog, Clearing Customs, is an interesting mix of poetry, embedded music videos, and good writing. Click the header below to read this at A Life Overseas, or click the link at the end of the article to read a shorter version at Clearing Customs.

Paul and the Corbels of Member Care

There’s something in architecture called a corbel. Even if you’ve never heard the name before, you’re probably familiar with what it is. A corbel is a bracket, sometimes ornamental, that projects out from a wall, providing support to a structure above. It allows that structure to extend out to where it couldn’t on its own.

Cross-cultural workers are the kinds of people who want to reach out far from home, who dream of going where no one has gone before. They’re often pioneering spirits who’d even go it alone, if that’s what it took—empowered only by their calling and their grit, gristle, and God-given abilities. That’s how the Apostle Paul did it, right? If I were more like Paul, I’d rely on God more and on people less . . . right?

Yes, at times, Paul stressed his independence. In his letter to the Galatian churches, he affirmed that his role as an apostle came directly from Jesus, not from his association with the other apostles:

But when the one who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I could preach him among the Gentiles, I did not go to ask advice from any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me, but right away I departed to Arabia, and then returned to Damascus.

But Paul wasn’t a loner. He took partners with him on his missionary trips, and he also recognized the need for flesh-and-blood corbels to hold him up as he reached out, bearing the gospel. He valued the encouragement and comfort of others. He understood the importance of member care (pastoral care, nurture and development, tender care, that one safe friend).

When Paul finally met with the apostles in Jerusalem, Barnabas helped him by being his advocate, vouching for his dedication to Jesus. Later, Barnabas sought out Paul for his help in working with the church in Antioch, and the two were sent out by the church on Paul’s first missionary journey. It was during his trips and while he was a prisoner that Paul wrote his New Testament letters, often mentioning those who served to encourage him.

Near the end of his first letter to the church in Corinth, he wrote about “the household of Stephanus” (or Stephanas), who “devoted themselves to ministry for the saints,” and added,

I was glad about the arrival of Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus because they have supplied the fellowship with you that I lacked. For they refreshed my spirit and yours. So then, recognize people like this.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul told about how he even turned away from a God-sent opening for ministry because he needed to hear from Titus:

Now when I arrived in Troas to proclaim the gospel of Christ, even though the Lord had opened a door of opportunity for me, I had no relief in my spirit, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-bye to them and set out for Macedonia.

Then, in Macedonia,

our body had no rest at all, but we were troubled in every way—struggles from the outside, fears from within, But God, who encourages the downhearted, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. We were encouraged not only by his arrival, but also by the encouragement you gave him, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your deep concern for me, so that I rejoiced more than ever.

While under house arrest in Rome, Paul wrote to Philemon, “I have had great joy and encouragement because of your love, for the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.” He went on to address the subject of Onesimus, Philemon’s slave who had run away, had come to Paul, and had become a Christian. Paul was sending him back to Philemon, not as a slave but as a brother in Christ, even though Paul wrote, “I wanted to keep him so that he could serve me in your place during my imprisonment for the sake of the gospel.” Paul also looked forward to spending time with Philemon in the future, telling him to “prepare a place for me to stay, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given back to you.

Still a prisoner, Paul wrote to the Colossians and the Philippians. He told those in Colossae that Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus (called Justus) were the only Jewish Christians still working with him, saying “they have been a comfort to me.” And to the Christians in Philippi, he told of his plans to send to them Epaphroditus, whom he described as

my brother, coworker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to me in my need. Indeed, he greatly missed all of you and was distressed because you heard that he had been ill. In fact he became so ill that he nearly died. But God showed mercy to him—and not to him only, but also to me—so that I would not have grief on top of grief. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you can rejoice and I can be free from anxiety. So welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, since it was because of the work of Christ that he almost died. He risked his life so that he could make up for your inability to serve me.

Later, imprisoned in a Roman dungeon, Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, saying, “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy,” and then,

May the Lord grant mercy to the family of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my imprisonment. But when he arrived in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me. May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day! And you know very well all the ways he served me in Ephesus.

Alone, except for Luke, Paul told Timothy, “Make every effort to come to me soon,” requesting that he also bring Mark, because “he is a great help to me in ministry.” Paul even mentioned some items that he wanted (a care package?), asking Timothy to bring along a cloak that Paul had left in Troas, as well as his scrolls.

Even Paul needed member care, not just for the sake of his work, but also for his personal well-being. Or maybe we should say, given the hardships that he faced, especially Paul needed member care. He needed it, and he appreciated it. And if Paul needed it, so do today’s cross-cultural workers, every one.


A version of the post originally appeared in ClearingCustoms.net.

The Scriptures quoted are from the NET Bible® http://netbible.com copyright ©1996, 2019 used with permission from Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved)

Photo: Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

November 27, 2020

Following Jesus, but with Reservations, Pessimism and Doubts

In one of the original pieces here six months ago, I re-classified the twelve apostles into some different categories, including “final week disappointments” consisting of “Peter’s denial, Judas’ betrayal, and Thomas’ doubt.” We often hear sermons on the similarities and contrasts between the first two, but Thomas usually doesn’t get included in this grouping.

You know the story. Thomas misses out on that initial resurrection celebration because he just can’t take in the possibility.

At Joyful Heart Renewal Ministries, Dr. Ralph Wilson notes

…Thomas is a pessimist. Some people rejoice to see a glass half full, but Thomas sees it half empty. Oh, he’s full courage, but also possesses a streak of fatalism. Once, when Jesus and his disciples hear about their friend Lazarus’s death near Jerusalem, the center of Jesus’ opposition, Thomas comments darkly, “Yes, let’s go there that we might die with him.” His words are almost prophetic.

Soon, his world falls apart. Thomas sees his Master arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and he flees for his life. On Good Friday he watches at a distance as they spike his Friend to a cross on the Roman killing grounds of Golgotha. As Jesus’ life drains away, so does Thomas’s hope.

On Saturday he is in shock. On Sunday he is so disillusioned that he doesn’t gather with his fellow disciples for an evening meal. Thomas is dazed, hurt, bitter — and lashing out. Monday morning, the disciples go looking for Thomas and tell him what has happened in his absence…

Thomas, at least in this moment in the narrative, is both a follower and a skeptic. And it’s safe to say his skepticism is winning the day on that Monday.

NIV.Jn.20.24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

He is basically saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Does that remind you of a verse of scripture?

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
 – Hebrews 11:1 NASB

or perhaps

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?
 – Romans 8:24 NIV

We have to recognize that some of this is just the way Thomas is wired. It’s his temperament; his default setting; his basic character. The website for the Jesus Film Project notes that:

…At one point Jesus tells the disciples:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1–4, NIV)

Naturally, the disciples don’t necessarily understand what He’s talking about. And it’s Thomas that asks Him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way” (John 14:5, NIV)?…

So was Thomas a “doubting Thomas?” The Enduring Word Bible Commentary says no. You’re thinking, wait? No?

…Thomas is often known as Doubting Thomas, a title that misstates his error and ignores what became of him. Here we could say that Thomas didn’t doubt; he plainly and strongly refused to believe.

· Thomas refused the believe the testimony of many witnesses and reliable witnesses.

· Thomas made an extreme demand for evidence; evidence of not only sight but of touch, and to repeatedly touch the multiple wounds of Jesus.

The same commentary, quoting McLaren’s Commentary notes:

Thomas did the very worst thing that a melancholy man can do, went away to brood in a corner by himself, and so to exaggerate all his idiosyncrasies, to distort the proportion of the truth, and hug his despair, by separating himself from his fellows. Therefore he lost what they got, the sight of the Lord.

And as a result, he misses out. He misses out on the “Peace be with you” blessing noted earlier in John 20, and he misses out on that moment when something bigger happens:

He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Thomas imposes a lot of conditions on what it would take to believe. Enduring Word quotes Leon Morris:

[A]nother possibility should not be overlooked, namely that he was so shocked by the tragedy of the crucifixion that he did not find it easy to think of its consequences as being annulled.

As we’ve seen above (vs. 26) he does see the risen Jesus. Eight. Days. Later.

Finally!

Then follows his confession; his affirmation; the statement that has major impact because it’s the words of someone who formerly did not believe:

NIV.Jn.20.28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Dr. Wilson says,

“Doubting Thomas” utters the greatest confession of faith recorded anywhere in the Bible.

The Enduring Word commentary notes that the final part of verse 29, which begins “blessed are” is a beatitude, but then quotes Spurgeon on ways we can miss that blessing:

· When we demand for a voice, a vision, a revelation to prove our faith.
· When we demand for some special circumstances to prove our faith.
· When we demand for some ecstatic experience.
· When we demand for an answer to every difficult question or objection.
· When we demand what men think of as success in our work of Jesus.
· When we demand that others support us in our faith.

Are you a doubting Thomas? You may not think so, but if we’re honest, most of us, even on our best days, harbor misgivings about some aspect of the faith, or its relevance to our personal situation. We’re like parent who comes to Jesus with concern for a gravely ill son:

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
 – Mark 9:24 NKJV

At those times our prayer should be

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
 – Luke 17:5 NIV

or in the NLT

The apostles said to the Lord, “Show us how to increase our faith.”

 

 

 

November 26, 2020

Six Things to Do When Life Ain’t Perfect

A Reflection on Philippians 4

by Clarke Dixon

There is sometimes an expectation that since God loves us, and since we have responded in faith, then life should be pretty much perfect from now on. But then what follows in our experience is, well, far from ideal. When we realize that things are far from perfect we might be surprised. We might even fall to pieces.

Life is a reality check. Paul’s concluding words to the Christians in Philippi are also a reality check. The reality is, that things are far from perfect.

In Philippians chapter 4 we are reminded that the apostle Paul’s life was far from perfect. Here we are given the reason for the letter. It is a thank you note from Paul for the gift the Christians in Philippians sent him because he was in prison. Yes, this encouraging letter was written while Paul was in troubling circumstances. He may even be executed! We have good reason to believe that he eventually was executed following another imprisonment. Paul’s life was far from the perfect experience we seem to expect Christians to have. His life was no picnic.

In Philippians chapter 4 we are also reminded that the Christian church is far from perfect, since Christian people are far from perfect. In verses 2 and 3 we discover that there are troubled relationships. Euodia and Syntcyche are two leaders who are evidently mature Christians. Yet they are not getting along. They are not the perfect people we seem to expect Christians to be. Getting along was no picnic.

As a side note, if you ever find a perfect church, where everyone is perfect, don’t bother telling me about it. I don’t want to wreck the perfection by showing up.

Here we have evidence, of less than than perfect people in less than perfect circumstances. In fact you could say, messy people in messy circumstances. Perhaps you can relate . . .

So how do we handle the mess?

First, we do the best we can:

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Philippians 4:2-3 (NRSV)

Euodia and Syntyche are to iron out their differences and be reconciled. We can wonder if Paul in our day would encourage the Anglicans and the Baptists among others to iron out our differences and be reconciled. At any rate, we are to just do the best we can as individuals and faith communities and to help each other out the best we can too.

We celebrate God:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

Philippians 4:4 (NRSV)

Most translations go with “rejoice” or “be glad,” but I like those that say “celebrate.” It can be hard to just switch our emotions, to suddenly just go from grumpy to joyful. It is not like our emotions respond like a light to the flick of a switch. Think of going home grumpy from a hard day at work. We may still be grumpy when we get home, which is no fun for our loved ones. But if you go home to a celebration, a birthday celebration for example, your emotions may well catch up to your celebrations. When we regularly celebrate Jesus, celebrating all that is real and true in Jesus, then our awful emotions will eventually catch up with the awesome facts.

We grow in gentleness:

Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.

Philippians 4:5 (NRSV)

How often have you heard a sermon on gentleness? If you attend my church, not very often, for I have not often preached on it. I suspect that across our land there are many sermons on holiness, and very few on gentleness. Yet gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit. Gentleness is an important mark of following Jesus. I promise to speak about it more often. Perhaps we should all promise to grow into it more.

We give our anxiety to God through prayer:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7 (NRSV)

Simply turning off worry can feel like an impossible thing to do. It likely is. Thankfully, we are not so much encouraged to simply turn it off, but rather to trade it in. Through prayer we trade it in for peace.

We focus our minds on good things.

I like Eugene Peterson’s rendition of the next few verses:

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

Philippians 4:8,9 (The Message)

We are so good at being focused. Unfortunately we focus on the dirt. We focus on the negative. We focus on what is worst about others, and ourselves. News and social media often doesn’t help in this regard. Let us learn to focus on all that is good, in God, in life, in our world, in our church, in others, and yes, even in ourselves.

We learn contentment with the reality of things:

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

Philippians 4:10-14 (NRSV)

Here we are, back to a reminder that Paul’s situation was from from ideal as he sits in prison, dependent on others for the basic necessities of life. Yet Paul could speak of being content. Yes, things could be better. But yes, things will be better. The reality is that being a Christian is no guarantee of a perfect life. The reality is that in Jesus there is the guarantee of God’s perfect love. As bad as things could get, they can’t do anything but get better yet.

Things are less than ideal in our day. We have been living through an incredibly messy year. We should not act surprised. In fact we have been sheltered. Messiness is nothing new. One of the books I read this summer was “A Journal of the Plague Year, written by a citizen who continued all the while in London,” by Daniel Dafoe. This book is a memoir about a plague that hit London, England, in the 1600’s. It puts our current plague into perspective. Thanks to advances in society, we are in a much better situation now than then.

The first Christians knew what Paul knew; life gets messy. Following Jesus does not excuse us from the mess. In fact, as Paul also knew, following Jesus could get you into a bigger mess. Sadly, many believers around the world today know that all too well as persecution continues to plague many Christ followers.

Let us not fall to pieces when life is less than ideal, when the people around us, including ourselves, are less than perfect. Let us do the best we can, celebrate Jesus, grow in gentleness, trade anxiety for peace through prayer, focus on the good, and learn contentment. May we not fall to pieces, but as we walk with Jesus, let us watch how God picks up the pieces.


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor and his weekly devotional here is taken from his blog Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, which in turn are derived from his weekly sermons. With the pandemic, he’s been preaching shorter messages; each one he calls a full reflection and the shorter services he calls an online worship expression(Use the links provided to see other content from previous weeks.)

November 25, 2020

Friends You Can Trust

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:28 pm
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Much of our lives are circumstantial. We live in a particular part of the world at a particular time. We’re part of a particular family. We have particular friends.

The latter is where our story branches out into areas where we seemingly have more choice in the matter: Our friends. Two summers ago I was asked to share a sermon based on Proverbs and I chose Proverbs 13:20:

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.  (NIV)

You can read a devotional based on that message at this link.

The opposite of choosing wise friends, good friends, helpful friends, etc. is finding yourself in a situation where there are toxic people in your life. For more on this, look into books on the subject by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, Gary Thomas, or June Hunt.

Even in the church, one can encounter people, the type of which one preacher called “Brother Sandpaper and Sister Sandpaper;” people who cause more irritation than joy.

Both inside and outside the United States, political polarization has caused people to take sides and the sources of potential interpersonal irritation have multiplied. Perhaps people you always thought of as amiable and pleasant have turned toxic.

Cloud and Townsend did a book years ago called Safe People, the definition of which is on their website in this article.

They say that a safe relationship is one that does three things:

  1. Draws us closer to God. (Matthew 22:37-38)
  2. Draws us closer to others. (Matthew 22:39)
  3. Helps us become the real person God created us to be. (Ephesians 2:10)

Let’s look at those scriptures:

  1. Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.
  2. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.
  3. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

In other words, the things that scripture admonishes us to cultivate in ourselves should also be the things that we look for in the people we allow to be part of our close circle of friends.

The article continues,

When John (Townsend) and I asked people to describe a “safe person” to us, they gave us these descriptions:

  • A person who accepts me just like I am.
  • A person who loves me no matter how I am being or what I do.
  • A person whose influence develops my ability to love and be responsible.
  • Someone who creates love and good works within me.
  • Someone who gives me an opportunity to grow.
  • Someone who increases love within me.
  • Someone I can be myself around.
  • Someone who allows me to be on the outside what I am on the inside.
  • Someone who helps me to deny myself for others and God.
  • Someone who allows me to become the “me” that God intended.
  • Someone who helps me become the “me” God sees in me.
  • Someone whose life touches mine and leaves me better for it.
  • Someone who touches my life and draws me closer to who God created me to be.
  • Someone who helps me be like Christ.
  • Someone who helps me love others more.

We all want people in our lives that help us in these ways. But how do we recognize them? What do they look like?

If we are to begin to utilize safe relationships, we need to first understand what a safe person is and why we need that kind of safety.

The best example of a safe person is found in Jesus. In him were fount the three qualities of a safe person; dwelling, grace and truth. As John wrote: “The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Again, I encourage you to finish reading the article, where they talk about the meaning of dwelling, grace and truth.

Here are some additional considerations about safe friendships:

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Col. 4:5,6 NIV)

Wounds inflicted by the correction of a friend prove he is faithful(Prov. 27:6a, The Voice)

The slap of a friend can be trusted to help you(Prov 27:6a NCV)

Rather, let our lives lovingly express truth [in all things, speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly].(Eph. 4:15 Amplified Bible)

Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity. (Romans 12:2 Phillips)

We should keep on encouraging each other to be thoughtful and to do helpful things… We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer.
(Hebrews 10:24-25 CEV)

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. (Psalm 1:1. Yes that’s KJV, but read what’s next…)

How well God must like you— you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon, you don’t slink along Dead-End Road, you don’t go to Smart-Mouth College. (same verse, The Message!)

To these scriptures and Cloud and Townsend’s thoughts, I would add this question: Are your friends leading you closer to the Cross; closer to Christ?

In today’s heated and polarized political climate, it’s possible some toxic people have emerged in your life. It might mean making some hard decisions to put some relationships on hold. Only you know if this applies to you.

November 24, 2020

Coming to God with Child-like Faith

The basic offer of Jesus to redeem us is so simple that even a child can understand it and act on it. But it’s part of a narrative that is so wonderfully, beautifully complex that theologians have never stopped marveling about it.

We come individually to God with a child-like faith; a child-like trust; but the good news of the gospel can never be considered childish. Notice how much this theme is repeated:

“Truly I tell you,” he said, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
 – Matthew 18:3 CSB

But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”
 – Matthew 19:14 NLT

Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
 – Mark 10:15 NIV

Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.”
– Luke 18:17 MSG

I wasn’t familiar with Lacey Strum until I tuned in for a live feed of one of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Celebration events. I was electrified as she started to share her personal testimony. She is a Christian musician who was in the band Flyleaf, and is the author of three books.

Her blog posts are no longer part of her website, but this one survives on GoodReads. This is a bit different than our usual devotionals here, but I felt there might be someone out there who needs this, or would benefit from her story, which I’ve included below.

Eyes of a child

My son is three. He is currently obsessed with taking pictures. The other night I was falling into a deep sleep in our dark hotel room when I heard his tiny voice from the other bed break the silence. “Daddy. Can I have da phone?” “No,” sighed my sleepy husband. “It’s not time to play.” “But daddy, I gotta take a peetchur!” As an artist himself, my husband sympathized with our sons urgency to seize a moment of inspiration and make it count. So he handed him the phone. My son slid off the bed, took the phone aimed it at the air conditioning unit and snapped. Satisfied he handed the phone back to his father, got back into bed and fell right to sleep.

It’s funny how many times I feel deeply about something right before I fall asleep or early in the morning before I’m ready to wake up. But instead of creating art to express those depths, like my soul is aching to, I turn over and fall back asleep. There are times when I know I should skip lunch to spend more time with my friend. Or times when I should skip working so I can help find dinosaur bones in the back yard like my imaginative boy keeps asking me to. Or times when I should turn off my phone cause I know I’m going to be with loved ones and they are a precious gift. But so often I know what I should do and I roll over and do the predictable, less heroic, self centered grown up thing.

But my beautiful little boy on the other hand… He will never willingly let sleepiness keep him from a moment of inspired creative exploration. His three year old heart would never willingly interrupt the laughter of playtime with friends in order to eat lunch! And when he is around the people he loves, they have his full attention and he is always competing for theirs. “Watch this Granna! Papa look what I can do!”

I love looking at the pictures my three year old takes. It reminds me to pay attention. And it reminds me to seize every moment for what’s most important. It challenges me to see the world with childlike wonder. I think we miss the “on earth as it is in heaven” perspective we need in order to experience life the way God intends for us to. But. I think children rarely miss it. Maybe we should pay more attention to them and learn what’s most important. And (Jesus) said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” -Matthew 18:3



I did an article about Lacey at Thinking Out Loud in October, 2014. Here’s the link.

November 23, 2020

Placing the Message of a Prophet in the Form of the Proverbs

Indeed, the Sovereign LORD never does anything until he reveals his plans to his servants the prophets.
 – Amos 3:7 NLT

For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
 – 2 Peter 1:21 NIV

I have also spoken to the prophets, And I gave numerous visions, And through the prophets I gave parables.
 – Hosea 12:10 NASB

Again and again the LORD had sent his prophets and seers to warn both Israel and Judah: “Turn from all your evil ways. Obey my commands and decrees—the entire law that I commanded your ancestors to obey, and that I gave you through my servants the prophets.”
 – 2 Kings 17:13

When they were alone, the people around Jesus, along with the Twelve, asked him about the parables.He said to them, “The secret of God’s kingdom has been given to you, but to those who are outside everything comes in parables. This is so that they can look and see but have no insight, and they can hear but not understand. Otherwise, they might turn their lives around and be forgiven.
– Mark 4:10-12 CEB

Usually when we introduce a new author here, it’s someone just starting out on their writing journey, but today we have someone who already has a profile, though he may be new to you as he was to us. On his Twitter account, Mark Charles describes himself this way: “I’m a dual citizen of the US and Navajo Nation and was a 2020 Independent candidate for President of the United States.” He’s also the coauthor of Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery (IVP 2019) You can learn more about it at this link. (Just reading the book’s blurb will change how you react the next time you hear that “Columbus discovered America.”)

I felt directed to share his writing today. This short article appeared on his blog, WirelessHogan in 2018. (Again, note this was written at least two years ago.) Read it slowly. Click the title below and read it there.

From Prophecy to Proverb

The summer of 2018, during the height of the immigration crisis with families being separated at our borders, I had the privilege of speaking at Calvin College to a couple hundred worship grant recipients from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. In a plenary session titled “Learning How to Talk in Proverbs” I was given a few minutes to “Propose a proverb about your prophetic insight using a ‘prophecy to proverb’ mode of speech.” Below is what I wrote and shared:

Wise is the church that refuses to buy into the trappings of partisan politics

Remember my brothers and sisters, Jesus did not come to create a Christian Empire

He came to make disciples.
He came to offer his body as a living sacrifice.
He came to plant a church.

When the church merely lobbies one political leader and protests the other

When, for the sake of argument or political gain, the body of Christ turns a blind eye to one sin and magnifies another

We are not representing the headship of our body…

who is Christ.

As vile, repulsive and urgent is the Trump administration’s separation of families at our border

it is not the first time…

Indian Removal, the slave trade, Boarding Schools, lynching’s, Japanese Internment camps, mass incarceration, even the deportation numbers of the Obama administration

the list of ways the United States government has worked to destroy the family structure of people of color throughout our history is as long as it is depressing.

So lets stop pretending that President Trump is the God ordained savior, or the ultimate demise of our union.

The same with President Obama.

What our nation needs is not for democrats to be better democrats.

Nor do we need Republicans to simply be better Republicans.

We don’t even need our nation to be more Christian.

My brothers and sisters, the United States of America is not, never has been, nor will it ever be Christian.

Jesus did not come to create a Christian Empire

He came to make disciples.
He came to offer his body as a living sacrifice.
He came to plant a church.

And wise is the church that refuses to buy into the trappings of partisan politics.

I agree with Kenneth Kaunda, the former president of Zambia, who said,
“What a nation needs more than anything else is not a Christian ruler in the palace but a Christian prophet within earshot.”

Mark Charles
(Navajo)

 

 

November 22, 2020

Radical, Dramatic Change Can Occur When Least Expected

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Can people change? Of course they can. The why and how is often more predictable than the when and where.

Today we’re featuring a writer here for the first time. writes at Our Living Hope. If you’ve got the time, click the link to the blog and spend some time with some really well-written devotions. Click the title below to read this one at source.

U-Turn

“As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day”. 1 Samuel 10:9.

An instantaneous change in a person’s life is possible with God. Many people in the Bible experienced a U- turn in their lives, when they least expected it, because God intervened in their paths. King Saul was searching for his father’s donkey when he was anointed the king of Israel by Prophet Samuel. When he left him, God changed Saul’s heart to become a new person. A new purpose was given to his life. We might be be searching and going after things which doesn’t cause transformation in our lives. We got to turn to God.

God intervenes in a person’s life, in the most unexpected ways. Even in our ordinary days God can work in extraordinary ways, since he always seeks to change us, transform us, make his own, and fulfill his plans through us. Sometimes the transformation is gradual, but a turn towards the right direction starts the change. When a person turns to God, their Saviour, everything is possible in that person’s life.

The following lines were written about George Muller, the man of great faith, who impacted many for Christ through his life and service,

His own brief account of his boyhood shows a very bad boy and he attempts no disguise. Before he was ten years old he was a habitual thief and an expert at cheating. In time, card-playing and even strong drink got hold of him. The night when his mother lay dying, her boy of fourteen was reeling through the streets, drunk; and even her death failed to arrest his wicked course or to arouse his sleeping conscience. And—as must always be the case when such solemn reminders make one no better—he only grew worse”.

“Of course a man that had been so profligate and prodigal must at least begin at conversion to live a changed life. Not that all at once the old sins were abandoned, for such total transformation demands deeper knowledge of the word and will of God than George Müller yet had. But within him a new separating and sanctifying Power was at work. There was a distaste for wicked joys and former companions; the frequenting of taverns entirely ceased, and a lying tongue felt new and strange bands around it.”

At private meetings at Halle University, God touched George Muller’s life and caused a complete turn around. Everything that was holding his life for the bad came to an end when he decided to hold on to God. He went on to change the life of others through the Gospel of Jesus. If he can do to him, he change your life too!

In the Bible, Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus, Zaccheus on a sycamore tree, the other thief on the cross, Moses before the burning bush, and Peter by the seashore everyone experienced this U-turn when they met God personally, he changed their hearts and gave a new direction and purpose to their lives. Even today Jesus is able to change your life upside down, he is able to give you a new start, new heart, a spirit, a new direction and purpose, so that you will live for him. There is nothing impossible with God.

Do you believe an U-turn is possible in your life?

Confess your sins, and ask God to change your life today.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I seek a change, and only you can provide it. I turn to you. In your Name. Amen.

Bible Reading: Isaiah 9.


Second Helping:

…We all have experienced this in our school or college days, when the teacher or professor enters the classroom there will be a different atmosphere. Till then there will be noise, and a continuous buzz because of much chatter , but when they enter, suddenly the class would become silent. Yes, the presence of the teacher can make a difference.

God’s presence in our life should make a difference to our nature and actions…

By the same author, click to read He Watches Over.

November 21, 2020

Our Highest Desire for Our Children … and for Ourselves

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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If you’re a parent, grandparent, godparent or aunt/uncle, the spiritual aspirations you have for the children in your sphere of influence should also be the same spiritual aspirations you set for yourself.

Today for the first time we’re featuring the writing of Luke Wagner who serves as a volunteer pastor in Lawrence, Kansas, and writes at An Eternal Viewpoint.

Called To Influence

There is a prayer I have for all of my kids, and I think it’s one most parents who are followers of Jesus have for their kids as well.

God, empower them be the influence.

It’s simple. But it could change the world.

And honestly, being influential in the life of my kid’s beyond just being the parent is something I am still learning. Speaking life isn’t always the tendency I have, but it needs to be. Jesus gave the instruction,

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

Matthew 28:19-20

In essence, get out there and influence others for Me. Live a life that points others to Me. Tell them about Me with your words AND actions. When I see my daughter interacting with her friends and peers, I pray that she would be the influence in the group that points towards Jesus.

She doesn’t always get it right. But then, perfection isn’t the expectation.

Really, that’s the same position God takes with us. He knows perfection isn’t a reality for us in this life. But are we striving to be the influence in our circles? When guidance is sought, direction is needed; are you the one who steps up and points those around you in the right direction?

I love how Jesus begins this directive. In the verse before He says,

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

Matthew 28:18

His basis for giving this directive is rooted in His ultimate and explicit authority over everything. And He doesn’t kind of suggest we do this, He commands it. This is what gut punches me, as a follower of Him, being a person of influence for the Kingdom isn’t an option. It’s not a task get to decide when and where I want to engage in.

It’s implied that this is an ongoing, constant expectation as a follower of Jesus. I mean, look at how He ends this command:

And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:20

I’m pretty confident that my time on earth will end before the “end of the age” comes to pass. That leads me to conclude the expectation is to live a life of influence for Jesus. To strive every day to make an impact for His Kingdom through the interactions I have. To speak life.

That’s what I want to see in the lives of my kids.

But it has to start with me.

November 20, 2020

Know Any Sorcerers?

Have you ever met someone whose God-following seems motivated by self-interest? Or recognized mix motives in your own life?

This article is by Penny Gadd who is featured here for the first time. Her blog is Seeking the Light. Click the the title which follows to read this at her site.

Acts 8: 9 – 25 Simon the sorcerer

Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, ‘The man is rightly called the Great Power of God.’ They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; They had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’

Peter answered: ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.’

Then Simon answered, ‘Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.’

After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.

Sorcery was strictly forbidden under Mosaic Law. Perhaps the most emphatic statement against it is this:

“A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads” (Leviticus 20: 27)

It would seem that Simon concealed the occult nature of his practices, for Luke reports that “all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, ‘The man is rightly called the Great Power of God.’ ”

Then Philip arrived in Samaria, chased out of Jerusalem when the church there was persecuted. He was one of the seven who had been appointed to oversee food distribution, and had been a co-worker with Stephen. He preached to the Samaritans about the kingdom of God and about Jesus, and his ministry was validated by many healings. People flocked to be baptized.

This must have had a bad effect on Simon’s prestige – and his income.

Nevertheless, Simon joined the congregation, and was himself baptized. Luke says “And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.”

I wonder if it was only the signs and miracles that attracted him? Maybe he was also drawn to Jesus by Philip’s witness to him?

Simon’s self-interest was threatened by the miracles worked by God through Philip. A threat to self-interest often prompted the violent rejection of Jesus, as we’ve just seen in the stoning of Stephen. Yet Simon became baptized and followed Philip everywhere.

News of Philip’s success in preaching the word to the Samaritans was reported to the apostles in Jerusalem, who sent Peter and John to Samaria. They found that Philip had simply baptized the new believers in the name of Jesus; the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them.

Peter and John prayed for the Holy Spirit to be given to the new believers, placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Luke doesn’t describe the scene, but it must have been quite dramatic. In fact, it was so powerful that Simon immediately identified it as the source of the signs done by Philip and the apostles.

“When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’ ”

Peter’s reply bears close study.

“ ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!’ ”

The gift of God is the forgiveness of sins. It is free; it can’t be bought, or earned, or in any way deserved. Belief in Jesus is all that you need.

“You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.”

Simon had seen that the presence of the Holy Spirit had brought power, and he desired that power. But he hadn’t realized that the real gift of God wasn’t the power, but the forgiveness of his sins. He didn’t believe in Jesus, he believed in the power he saw. Simon had not sought and received forgiveness; how, then, could he have any share in the ministry?

“Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.”

What was the sin that needed repentance? Well, it was actually a very common sin, the one that underlies most sin. Simon wanted to retain control of his life. He wanted God’s power, but not God’s direction. He had been through the ritual of baptism but had not surrendered his life to Jesus.

“For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.’ ”

Peter could see clearly that Simon wanted to retain control of his life and was therefore captive to sin.

Simon’s reply to Peter is intriguing

“ ‘Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.’ ”

He clearly trusts what Peter has told him. He fears the consequences of his sin. He’s some way short of repentance and belief, but he’s moving in the right direction, I think.

Meanwhile, Peter and John return to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages. The good news of Jesus has started to spread!

Prayer

Heavenly Father

Thank you that I can turn to you for guidance when I need to know your will. Please help me to allow you to direct my life.

In Jesus’ name, Amen

November 19, 2020

Christian Maturity: Arrived, or Just Way Too Far Behind?

by Clarke Dixon

Have you ever thought, “I’m just not where I am want to be, or feel I am supposed to be as a Christian”? The most dominant feelings in your life may be of guilt, a feeling of dissatisfaction with yourself, of feeling stuck.

Or perhaps quite the opposite you think “I have arrived.” You have a dominant feeling of satisfaction, of being satisfied with yourself as a person, and as a Christ follower.

Whether we are feeling satisfied or dissatisfied with ourselves, something Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi will help us:

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

Philippians 3:12 (NRSV)

Paul is well aware that despite his extensive experience of walking with Jesus, he has not arrived. This speaks to us when we think we have arrived.

There are two different ways that we may think we have arrived.

First, we may think we have progressed so far in Christian maturity, that there is nowhere left to grow. There are no changes left to be made. There is nothing more to learn about God, or ourselves. When we think that, let Paul’s words come as a challenge. If the apostle Paul knew that he had not yet arrived, how much more should we realise the need, and opportunity, for further growth?

Second, we may think that the only goal of Christianity is to get people to heaven and since we know that we are saved by the love of God and not our own righteousness, well the goal has been reached. We have been saved. We will go to heaven when we die. All is good.

However, is that the only goal? It may sound like the only goal in certain variations of Christianity, but we won’t find that it is in Biblical Christianity. Consider what Paul goes on to say:

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:13-14 (NRSV)

The Christian life is described here as a race. There is motion, there is direction, there is an effort expended in reaching toward a goal, there is a sense of progression, of movement. We could sum it up with “yes, by God’s grace you will reach the finish line, but you are now in the race, so get running!”

The goal of Christianity is not just getting people to heaven instead of hell, of ensuring life forevermore as opposed to separation from God at the end. The goal is experiencing God’s presence in our lives forevermore, beginning now, and affecting us now. The goal is not just resurrection to eternal life when Christ returns, but new life now made possible through the Holy Spirit’s presence within us now. There is a maturing process, touching our character, our motives, our ethics, our attitudes, affecting everything about us. This race is not a sprint, but a marathon, a long journey. Of course we have not arrived.

This brings us to those times we beat ourselves up because we have not yet arrived. If that describes us today, there are three things to take note of from Paul’s words.

First, be comforted by the fact that God’s got this, even if we don’t:

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

Philippians 3:12 (NRSV emphasis added)

We belong, even though we have not arrived. We belong because of the faithfulness of Jesus, because of the love and grace of God. Our Christian maturity does not make God love us more. So be comforted by the fact that you belong.

Second, if you feel you have some distance to go, you are not alone. Paul makes no claim on being the perfect Christian either. None of the heroes of the faith that we find in the Bible were perfect. None of the heroes of the faith we find through the history of Christianity were perfect. Why do we beat ourselves up for not being perfect? So let us be comforted by the fact that we are not alone in our imperfection. God is not surprised.

Third, let us be challenged. There is a road to travel, there is a race to run:

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:13-14 (NRSV)

Are we challenged by those verbs of action: “straining forward,” “I press on.” Do we hear the challenge to put some effort in?

To run a race, it is best we not spend all our time looking behind us. When we spend a lot of time looking back we might end up thinking things like “I experienced this, my family of origin was like that, I have never been able to . . . , I have always . . . ” If we look at how things have been, why would we expect anything to ever be different? But if we look forward . . .

In an effort to more healthy I have lost 50 lbs. If I only looked back I would see nothing but a steady rise in weight. An app forced me to look forward. At the close of each day it would say “if every day was like today, in five weeks you will weigh . . .” Looking back I would always feel defeated. Looking forward I felt inspired.

If we feel stuck, let us hear the challenge to look forward. In motorcycle safety courses they teach you that where you look, you go. So don’t spend all your time looking back, and don’t look down! In life, if we keep looking back we will continue to get hung up over the same old things. Let’s not keep looking back at events and decisions we think define us. Instead let’s look forward to what God has for us. Let the future God has in store for us define us.

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:6 (NRSV)

Let us not look back at a history of failures, whether our own or how others have failed us, but let us look forward to where God is leading us, to what kind of character we will have, what kind of people we will be.

Growth is possible, especially given the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and the upward calling in Christ. We can grow in our character. We can grow in our depth of relationship with God in Christ. We can grow in our awareness and knowledge of God. We can grow in our awareness and knowledge of ourselves, where we have come from, but more importantly, where we are going.

Whether we feel we have far to go, or nowhere left to go in the journey of Christian maturity, God will help get us moving on our way.

Are you growing?


The full reflection can be seen as part of this “online worship expression.Read more from Clarke at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

November 18, 2020

Christians Should Make a Lot of Noise, Right?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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The NIV provides a header for the first part of I Thess. 4, and that is “Living to Please God.” Here’s the portion of that we’re focusing in on today:

Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

We’re back again with Josh Ketchum, a Church of Christ pastor in Mayfield, Kentucky, who writes at Life in the Kingdom. Click the link below to read.

A Quiet Life

Noise! We are used to it every day; our world is chaotic and busy. In the midst of this chaos, Paul gives us an unusual command, “aspire to live quietly” (1 Thes. 4:11). Does Paul want us to quit talking so much? While that is a part of the idea, it seems the concept is more of serenity, rest, peace, and contentment.

Isn’t that the life you want to live? Paul will tell the church at Thessalonica that the quiet life involves three aspects. I would call these tried and true principles your grandparents taught you.

First, a quiet life means loving one another (1 Thess. 4:9-10). Christians have been taught by God how to love. We emulate his love. People of the world don’t truly understand about love, making it all about romance or emotional feelings, but God through his actions teaches us true love. A quiet life is focused on loving others like God has loved us (1 John 4:11).

Second, a quiet life means minding our own affairs (1 Thess. 4:11). The church there had become idle waiting on the return of Christ. This idleness led to the sin of gossip. They were likely meddling in the affairs of their church leaders, rather than submitting to them (1 Thes. 5:12-13). Living the quiet life means you focus on keeping your own house in order, rather than trying to discover the dirt in other people’s homes.

Third, a quiet life means working with our own hands (1 Thess. 4:11-12). Paul was esteeming manual labor and hard work. He is elevating the need to be independent and self-sustaining when you are capable of such. Once again their idleness was getting them into trouble and they needed to be encouraged to find productive tasks to put their minds and hands to work.

We have to aspire to live this quiet life, because it takes focus to keep out all the noise and worldly pursuits. These are things that if we did them our peace and happiness would be greater. Our world would look so different if all of us lived this quiet life. These are not radical principles, these are the traits our country was built upon and we need them now. Will you live the quiet life?

 


From the same writer:

What Type of Tents Did Paul Make?

The Danger of an Idle Mind (timely for 2020)

 

November 17, 2020

On Recommitting or Rededicating Your Life to Christ

The large church I attended had a room off a hallway which was used for counseling people who responded (or came forward) to the appeal (or invitation) at the end of the Sunday evening service. Sometimes the chairs were arranged in pairs so that a counselor (or personal worker) could talk to and pray with an individual and a small pre-printed index card was on one of the chairs that could be filled in with a name, address, phone number for further ministry contact (or follow-up).

There were a number of boxes on those index cards that could be checked if the person was seeking salvation, or desiring to be baptized, but there were often boxes that said assurance or re-dedication.

I’ve talked before about the fact we don’t hear much about assurance anymore. We covered it here in 2013 and also in 2015. The same could be said for recommitting or rededicating. In the ebb and flow of topical trends in the church, some things get said at the expense of other things.

For some, the concept treads on a narrower, more-Calvinistic view of the salvation process (or soteriology.) One particular site which I’m not going to link to (for many reasons) is dismissive of the need to recommit or rededicate oneself to God; to Christ; to Christ’s cause. But they did get one sentence right: “Repentance is not re-dedication.” The world may offer that ‘confession is good for the soul,’ but confession of sin is a necessary part of following after Jesus, honoring God and not grieving the Holy Spirit.

But having said that, are there times in the life of a believer when, not over specific sin, he or she needs to reset, refocus and renew?* Of course there are.

CompellingTruth.org is an outreach of GotQuestions.org who we often cite here. They offer this teaching:

The idea of “rededicating your life to Christ” is not named in the Bible, but that doesn’t mean it’s not useful. In fact, it can be an effective way to help people realize that Jesus’ forgiveness is for all of us.

There are two common scenarios in which people rededicate their lives to Christ. The most common is that of an older child or young adult who accepted Christ at a young age. After years of going to church and living through the influence of his parents’ faith, he may realize his own faith is stagnant and underdeveloped. He may have never taken responsibility for his relationship with Jesus, or he may actually be living a sinful lifestyle. He comes to the realization that despite the fact he is a Christian, he wants a stronger Christian life. So he rededicates his life to Christ, taking a leap in maturity and restarting His Christian growth.

The second scenario is not strictly a re-dedication, but a realization. It involves someone who heard the gospel and thought she accepted Christ, but didn’t understand the implications well enough to have a saving relationship with Jesus. She may have gone to church the whole time, even served, but at some point she comes to know and accept the true nature of salvation. If she doesn’t realize that she was not a Christian before, she may call the transformation a re-dedication, even though it is technically a conversion.

Of course, it is not God’s intent for any young Christian to fall into a sinful lifestyle. Romans 12:1-2 says that a believer is meant to reject sin and experience continual spiritual growth. Likewise, it’s not God’s plan for anyone to misunderstand the gospel, going through the motions of a Christian life for years, before really understanding saving grace.

But re-dedication as a concept is a powerful tool. It clearly demonstrates that God forgives. He forgives old Christians who sin, and new Christians who were deceived for years. It is a spiritual deep breath, wherein a believer can refocus her relationship with Christ. Like the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) and Peter in John 21, it shows that Jesus will always take us back…

Their parent website, Got Questions looks at this from a different angle:

…In a desire to consciously choose to adhere to a newfound, deeper understanding of the gospel, believers may “rededicate” themselves to Christ.

However, falling away and returning to God is not how the Christian walk is supposed to look. Romans 12:1–2 explains that spiritual maturity is a gradual, ongoing process. Jesus said that to follow Him we should take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). And 1 Corinthians 9:24 and Hebrews 12:1 speak of the Christian life as a race, meant to be run every day. Many people rededicate after every sin. It’s easy to get caught in a cycle of rededicating, striving to follow Jesus closely, failing, and rededicating again. But habitual sin is not a problem solved by rededicating. It’s a deeper issue that can only be solved with a greater understanding of the grace and love of God.

Still, re-dedication is a useful tool. It’s a way to deliberately reject sin and renew a love for Christ. The disciples went through a re-dedication of sorts when they saw the risen Jesus. Their half-hearted devotion turned into a desire to pour out their lives for His service. In the same way, whether because of a conviction about a sinful lifestyle or a greater understanding of the gift of Christ, we can choose to abandon our shallow devotion to Christ and devote ourselves to Him more fully…

Here are today’s key scriptures:

Lord, [earnestly] remember now how I have walked before You in faithfulness and truth and with a whole heart [entirely devoted to You] and have done what is good in Your sight (2 Kings 20:3 Amplifed).

Remember from where you have come out and do the former works (Revelation 2:5a Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

Though You have shown me many troubles and misfortunes, You will revive me once again. Even from the depths of the earth You will bring me back up.  (Psalm 71:20 Berean Study Bible)

Do you need to, in computer language, “reset to factory settings?” That is to say, do a reset back to the days when you first followed Jesus? Or a time when your level of commitment was more wholehearted?

Then recommit. Rededicate.

This prayer is from the website ThreeDimensionalVitality.com:

Dear God,

I confess that I have strayed from my first love – Jesus – and I want to recommit my life to You. Please help me to become the person You created me to be. Enable me to always live a life that is pleasing to You.

I want to be a witness to others of Your saving grace and power. Forgive me when I take back the control of my life. I want You to be Lord of my life.

Renew my passion to walk more closely with You. You know all my desires and plans. Help me to fulfill Your unique call and purpose in my life.

Renew my heart, restore the joy of my salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me. Lord, thank You for this hope I have in You. Use my life to bring You glory, honor and praise.

Thank You, Lord, Jesus for hearing and answering my prayer. In Your Name. Amen.


*In our list of ‘re’ words, there is a great crossover between re dedication and repentance but there is also one word I didn’t touch because it offers us two different paths. That word is revival. The two paths are quite distinct, but one deals with personal revival, and other deals with the collective revival of a family or a church (or in Old-Testament terms, an entire nation.)

But at this point, we can also work backwards and say that perhaps there are times when a whole family or a whole church needs to re-dedicate or re-commit. And that may be a path to consider. But start with me and then look outside to we.

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