Christianity 201

January 16, 2017

On Speaking Things into Existence

As I grow older, one of the striking things about the distinctions between denominations is not the doctrinal beliefs per se, but rather the terminology used which differs from church to church. For many of you as well, the phrase speaking things into existence probably sounds like something you would hear in a Charismatic or Pentecostal context. The implied message in these congregations is that this is something we can do.

The origin of the phrase begins in Romans 4:17

As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed–the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. (NIV)

On a forum at Biblical Hermenuetics the challenge is spelled out:

Rom 4:16-17:

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring — not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations” — in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. (ESV)

This last part reads, in NA-28:

καλοῦντος τὰ μὴ ὄντα ὡς ὄντα

I’m having a hard time arriving at the English given above (which is consistent with most translations [but see below]), which seems to entail a reference to creation ex nihilo. The phrase is literally something like:

calling that which is not being as being

Unclear to me are both the meaning of καλέω (to call) is this context and the meaning of the ὡς + participle construction, which seems most often to indicate “as [if] being/doing X”.2 Interestingly, the KJV gives:

and calleth those things which be not as though they were.

While this English isn’t exceptionally clear, I at least understand how it relates to the Greek…

I decided to investigate this verse in various commentaries.

  • The NIV Study Bible reminds us that the context in Romans 4 is Abraham, and notes that the birth of Isaac is an example of God creating out of nothing.
  • The Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (p. 934) continues this theme. Paul “introduces the historical fact that God in his mysterious providence and testing kept Abraham and Sarah waiting for the fulfillment of the promise of a son until long after human conception and birth was physical possibility, thereby heightening the miracle of the event and the absolute necessity of faith. It was Abraham’s trust in God as true to his word in spite of appearances and the fact that he “was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God.”
  • The Eerdman’s Bible Commentary (p. 1024) notes that the speaking things into existence is a divine attribute and that actually two are listed, the other being giving life to the dead. Clearly, this isn’t necessarily something we can do.
  • The International Bible Commentary (p. 1325) reminds us that God “can both renew life and issue his creative call.” There is a reference to Isaiah 41:4 “Who has performed and accomplished it, Calling forth the generations from the beginning? ‘I, the LORD, am the first, and with the last. I am He.'” (NASB)
  • The Wycliffe Bible Commentary (p. 1125) spends a little longer with this verse: “This is the Lord’s power to create. It could also easily be translated: God calls into being what does not exist as (easily as he calls) that which does exist. No mortal can comprehend the divine creative power. The bringing of animate and inanimate objects into existence and their maintenance is God’s activity . The nature of the objects may be discussed — mind, matter, energy — but the why and how of their existence can be known accurately only to the extent that the Lord reveals them.

At the website Heartland, we’re presented with a much longer Bible study on the subject of God speaking things into existence which focuses on three examples:

  1. Creation
  2. Sin (an interesting concept to consider; I had to read this one twice)
  3. Salvation

…So can we speak things into existence?

I started out by saying this verse gives birth to certain phrases commonly in use in certain types of churches. Please don’t get me wrong, I believe we are to ask God to increase our faith. I believe we are to pray in faith. I believe in a God of miracles. But I’m not sure its right to import particular words or expressions into situations they were never meant to address. It certainly sounds spiritual to speak of “speaking it into existence” but it might be misappropriation of that particular verse.

In a sermon this fall, Willow Creek Discipleship Director Rick Shurtz said, “If you have to speak it into existence you’re not trusting God, you’re playing God.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 15, 2017

Considering Your Strength

by Russell Young

It is often considered prudent and is a common practice by most to consider the measure of their resources before undertaking a project or a ministry.  We live in a day where independence is applauded, abilities are fully considered, references are given and taken, and resources are counted.  Based on the consideration of our assets concerning the particular need a decision is made on whether to proceed or not.

From God’s perspective decision-making based the assessment of our human resources can be insulting.  The Lord does not want to be left out of consideration and when he is, failure is often the result of neglecting him and his resources to meet the particular need. Those “in Christ” are promised good results when trying to honour his purposes in their lives. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purposes.” (Rom 8:28 NIV) This promise is offered only to those who are attempting to honour his calling upon their lives, to those who have subjected themselves to the sovereignty of the Spirit and are attempting to live in obedience to him. To be clear, the promises of the Lord’s blessings are not offered to those who have made a confession of faith and of Christ’s lordship and who are living their own lives on their own terms. Unfortunately, many find themselves disappointed and weakened in faith when the “good” does not happen even when God is not being honoured in their hearts and through their practices. Also, the “good” may not always be that which was anticipated.

Near the end of his reign King David decided to consider the strength of his nation by having the number of fighting men counted.  “The king’s command was evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel.” (1 Chr 21:6 NIV) We are told that Satan had incited David. (v 1) Had pride filled his heart?  Was he wanting to consider his accomplishments and the military strength of the nation apart from God? His attitude had ignored an important issue.  God had been responsible for his successes and would remain the strength of the nation. The mighty hand of God had been removed from David’s consideration.  In spite of his history and experience with the LORD, even to the point of asking whether or not he should go into battle, David’s command that a count be taken implied the intention of weighing Israel’s strength through the nation of Israel, its people, and apart from God. The prosperity and strength of Israel was being credited to its people and leadership, and not to God.

A lesson should be learned from David. God is not to be left out of consideration. He is the believer’s strength and wisdom.  It is he who is accomplishing his will in the life of the believer and to leave him out of consideration is simply and abandonment of God and he will not bless when those who identify themselves as his children are determined to take the credit that belongs to him.  He will not give his glory to another.  In David’s case, a plague descended on the nation and many died. The Lord’s significance in the life of the believer is not to be restricted to certain times and for certain situations, he is to be lord at all times and in every situation. Without full and constant submission, his overall will cannot be achieved.

It is easy, and perhaps even expected, for decisions to be made based on the measure of human resources available, but it is not God’s way. The godly will walk with God; not apart from him.  He will be sought for direction and honoured through obedience.  God cannot be measured and his provision cannot be counted.  He is the source of all things good for the believer and will bless those who are obedient.

And God is able to make all things abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:8 NIV)

The wrath of God had been laid upon Israel many times because of their neglect to recognize his sovereignty over, and his place in, their lives.  It has been, and remains, a common failure of humankind to trust in themselves.  Today people build their wealth and count the resources that they can muster in order to assure comfort, peace, and security.  Society elevates those who have gathered the most.  But even God said that it was almost impossible for the wealthy to find salvation. In the end, their “counting” will have fallen short and their own resources will have been inadequate.

The Lord does not want to be left out of the believer’s planning, nor should a person presume to know his will without humbly seeking it.  God should be pursued and loved “with all of the heart, soul, and mind.” (Mt 22:37) His people will not find comfort in taking inventory, but will place their strength in their God and his resources.  (Mt 19:23-24; Mk 10:25; Lk 18:25).


eternal-salvation-russell-youngRussell Young is a weekly contributor to Christianity 201 and the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US

January 14, 2017

6 Roadblock to Christian Growth

We’ve featured popular Charismatic Christian author J. Lee Grady here several times, but not in the past few years. I really enjoy the balance his writing provides. This appeared at Charisma News a few days ago; his writing can also be found at the Charisma blog Fire in my Bones. I encourage you to read it there by clicking the link in the title below.

6 Roadblocks That Will Stop Your Spiritual Growth

J. Lee GradyA few days ago, I was driving from my home in Georgia to a church in Alabama to preach for five days. I didn’t think the predicted “snowpocalypse” would hinder my trip until I arrived in the town of Anniston—where state troopers had blocked the main road due to ice on bridges.

The road was closed, and I couldn’t get to Birmingham on Highway 431. When I tried a different route, I ran into more ice and more roadblocks. This had never happened to me in Florida—we don’t have ice on roads. So I was stuck. I had to turn around and go home.

Thankfully, my host rescheduled our meetings, and I arrived at his church two days later, after all the feared ice had melted. But the whole experience reminded me that there are times when we can’t get where we need to go because our roads are blocked.

As Christians, we are called to move forward in our faith. The apostle Paul set the example for us when he said: “I press toward the goal to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). You are not supposed to stay in the same place spiritually year after year. God wants you to grow. But often we get stuck, usually because of one of these six roadblocks:

1. Lack of spiritual hunger. Let’s face it: The main reason many Christians get stuck in a rut is they are happy to be there. But God is looking for people who refuse to be content with where they were last year. He is calling you higher. You must ask the Holy Spirit to set your heart ablaze with a desire for more of His presence and power.

David is our example of spiritual hunger. He wrote: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants after You, O God” (Ps. 42:1). He actually felt lousy when he wrote those words, so we can’t use our discouragement as an excuse. David fanned the flames of spiritual fervor even when he felt like quitting.

2. Plain old laziness. Many of us become motivated at the beginning of the year to pray, study the Bible, go back to school or lose weight. But nobody wins a race by sprinting the first 50 feet and then sitting down. Winners must stay in the game. You must be determined to finish what you start instead of leaving a trail of aborted attempts.

Paul exhorted the Romans to be “fervent in spirit,” but first he warned them not to be “lazy” (see Romans 12:11-12). The Greek word used here, okneros, is the same word Jesus used in the parable of the “lazy servant” who didn’t invest the money he was given by his master. If you are sitting on your dreams or procrastinating when you should be growing your faith, the “lazy” label applies. Don’t just start and then give up. Be consistent and keep going.

3. Unpacked baggage. The Israelites who left Egypt could have marched into the Promised Land in a matter of weeks, but they ended up in a holding pattern for 40 years. Why? They were dragging their sin with them. The more weight you drag behind you, the less likely it is that you will reach your destination.

I knew a Christian guy who had a thriving ministry to college students. But because he refused to get help for his pornography habit, his addiction prevented him from functioning normally. It finally weighed him down so much that it destroyed both his marriage and ministry. You may think you can “manage” your sin, but it is more powerful than you are. You can’t move forward while carrying a load of shame and addictions. Repent, confess your weakness to someone else and get free.

4. Fear of change. Many people feel a tug in their hearts that says: Start that Bible study. Go on that mission trip. Write that book. Launch that business. But they never get past step one because they feel frozen in their tracks. Nothing will keep you in spiritual limbo like fear. It paralyzes.

Some people keep their dreams inside them for decades—and then they take them to the grave. If you want to grow, you must take risks. Don’t let your fear of public speaking, airplanes, crowds, strangers or people’s criticism stop you from trusting in the God who is bigger than all those things.

5. Shallow relationships. Who are you hanging around with? Abraham had to part ways with Lot because they had very different goals. Lot had a selfish motive, and Abraham was fully surrendered to God’s plan. If you spend all your time with selfish people who are content to live spiritually fruitless lives, you will end up just like them.

If you want to move forward spiritually in 2017, don’t expect the crowd to go with you. Some people don’t want God’s presence. Don’t let them drag you down. Be willing to find new friends who will support your spiritual commitment.

6. A religious spirit. Religious people build memorials to honor what God did in 1967, sing songs from that era and write books about “the way we’ve always done it.” Yet when the Holy Spirit calls them to “sing … a new song” (Psalm 96:1), or if He starts doing “a new thing” (Isaiah 43:19a), they get offended. They insist God must move the exact same way He did 50 years ago.

But God does not stay in the same place or do things the same way. His character is unchangeable, but He always has a fresh word and a new anointing to pour on His people. He loves to surprise and overwhelm us. Don’t let religious inflexibility keep you from experiencing the adventure of following His Spirit.

J. Lee Grady was editor of Charisma for 11 years before he launched into full-time ministry in 2010. Today he directs The Mordecai Project, a Christian charitable organization that is taking the healing of Jesus to women and girls who suffer abuse and cultural oppression.

January 13, 2017

The Origin of Our Capacity for Fear

Today’s study is the product of Martin and the team at Flagrant Regard. Click the title below to read this at their site.

Do You Struggle With The Concept Of Having To Fear The Lord? We Have A Patch For That!

Our fall Bible study has been centered on the Book of Proverbs and, a few weeks ago, the term ‘fear of the Lord’ came up for discussion. We examined the mystery of ‘fearing God’ as it often elicits thoughts of, or concerns about, a God who supposedly requires that we be frightened of Him. Our pastor, and facilitator of the study, wanted us to delve into what it means to ‘fear the Lord’ as it seems to stand in direct opposition to our being told that God is love. Is there a paradox here for the way we are to live – either ‘in fear mixed with love’ or ‘in love mixed with fear’ and do such dispositions affect how we feel about God?

As part of a New Year’s commitment, I hope to read more of the Bible and spend less time Internet-ing. Just yesterday, I came upon an interesting passage in Jeremiah that got me thinking about the topic at hand. I hope my personal discovery regarding this proves to be valuable to anyone who has struggled with the whole ‘fear of the Lord’ issue or teachings surrounding it.

fear-flagrant-regardBefore I present the Bible passage, I’d like you to consider something rather interesting. Every good attribute of God that we as humans share – love, gentleness, kindness, self-restraint, etc. – is considered the ‘fruit’ of a spiritual life. But where does fear fit into all of this? Fear is not considered to be a fruit of the Spirit, so what is it to the believer and why do we need it? 1

Fear is interesting in that: a) God does not manifest or experience it; and b) it is a reactive response to an outside stimulus, something we share with the animal world, even.

If God doesn’t possess fear as a characteristic, then why does He regard it as a good thing for us (as per the writers of Scripture) and why would it make us more Godly?

Well let’s think about another good thing God doesn’t need. Repentance. God has no need to apologize for anything (although some prominent atheists would disagree). But without repentance (a change of mind especially concerning the will of God) we are clearly told that no human being can access God. And so, if repentance (like fear) isn’t an attribute of God, then what is it?

Fear and repentance both seem to be presented to us in the Bible as a reflexive action, harmonized with our response to God’s promptings or influence.

In the physical world, reflexes and responses can be honed and sharpened. Watch any budding martial artist working hard at their craft and you’ll see that come into play in a matter of time. Is it the same for those of us whose lives are focused on spiritual development? Can responding to everything life throws at us with a reflexive ‘Godly fear’ be of any benefit to His children? Will it have us thinking better of God’s character or disposition toward us in the long run?

And now onto the passage that shows us why fear of the Lord is not only important, but essential for living well.

(36) … this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: (37) I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. (38) They will be my people, and I will be their God. (39) I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. (40) I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. (41) I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.
Jeremiah 32: 36-41 (NIV translation)

According to the above Scripture, it is only after God gives us a ‘singleness of heart and action’ that Godly fear can even enter into our lives. Further, the fruit or benefit resulting from this particular fear is, “that all will go well for us and our children”. Fear is, if we interpret this text correctly, a reactive or reflexive response to God that not only gives his people peace of mind but extends this promise to those we treasure dearly!

God then compounds the importance of fear in verse 40 by showing us that after something incredible (i.e., salvation) has been gifted to us, as well as promising to continually do good things for us, He will ‘inspire us’ to fear Him.

Why?

So that we will never turn away from Him.

This healthy Godly fear is like His word: ‘God-inspired’. It is furthermore something you cannot actively develop or appreciate in your own strength. This fear is more like a gift (once again similar to repentance) that is infused into our souls to keep us on the straight-and-narrow where, to put it simply, it is a safer and better place to be. Is it so wrong for Godly fear to hold prominence in our thoughts and actions so that all will go well for us and so that we may continually recognize, as the Psalmist said, “It is good to be near God.”? 2

I think it’s important, at this point, to distinguish between Godly fear and worldly fear.

Worldly fear is primal and can result in one’s being frozen like a deer in the headlights or in the fight-or-flight response. It can prompt chivalry in some and cowardice in others and is rarely viewed as a desirable thing.

But Godly fear is fruit-of-the-Spirit producing. The more of it we have, the better (and more immediate) our response is to the moral quandaries presented to us by the world we live in and the better our ability to see our way through the many challenges we will face in our lifetime. In conjunction with holy fear, we are given oceans of hope that are fed by the springs of God’s many great promises – promises we’d be fools to forget or ignore lest we lose out on all the benefits God has already showered on us, His children.

Preacher George MacDonald once said, “A perfect faith would lift us absolutely above fear.” That’s very true, but our faith is not yet perfect. We are ‘in process’. We live in the ‘now and not yet’ because of our frail humanity. Fear of the Lord then, in its purest form, can do nothing but evoke our deep love and utmost respect for the God who rescues us from darkness every day we find ourselves still breathing.

Truly, ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.3

© 2017 Flagrant Regard


1 See Book of Jude, Chap. 1, vrs. 23, Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians Chap. 5, vrs. 11
2 Book of Psalms Chap. 73, vrs. 28
3 Book of Proverbs Chap. 9, vrs. 10

January 12, 2017

The Final Page of the Final Chapter of the Christmas Story

by Clarke Dixon

Now that Christmas is over we might ask, where does the Christmas story actually end? Nativity plays often finish off with the visit of the magi. Some may think the story of Christmas concludes  with Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt, or coming home to Nazareth. Actually, the Christmas story points far beyond itself as it is part of a much larger story. The magi point beyond themselves to that larger story. Consider how the presence of the magi alludes to this prophecy spoken many years prior:

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
3 Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Isaiah 60:1-3

Though not kings, the magi are not Jewish and travel from afar, indicating that it is beginning; The nations are drawn to the light. It continues:

Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.
All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you,
the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you;
they shall be acceptable on my altar,
and I will glorify my glorious house.Isaiah 60:5-7

We cannot help but notice the gold and frankincense along with the possibility of camels. The visit of the magi is not the full fulfillment of Isaiah 60, but it is the beginning of the fulfillment. This is also pointing more generally to a greater fulfillment of a greater promise: all peoples of the earth worshipping the God of Israel.

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations. Psalms 22:27-28

Herod figures prominently in the account of the magi and he also points to the future when he says “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matthew 2:8 NIV) Of course Herod has no intention of worshipping Jesus. Herod would rather have Jesus destroyed. Herod would rather be in charge. Herod would rather attempt to grasp at a throne that truly belonged to another. Herod did not worship Jesus. But he will:

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him. Psalms 22:29

The Old Testament points to even the dead bowing down to the true king, the Creator God. The New Testament makes this even more explicit:

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11

Every knee and every tongue includes even the knees and tongues of the dead. Even Herod. So ironically, Herod was speaking truthfully about the future when he said he would worship Jesus. He will. So will you and I. The question is not if you will bend the knee to Jesus, or if you will confess that He is Lord, but when

Does the fact that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord mean that every person will experience eternal life with God? No.

Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:11-15

You and I have the wonderful opportunity to be among those who bend the knee and confess that Jesus is Lord sooner rather than later. The sooner we do, the greater the opportunity to live with the hope, peace, joy, and love, that we celebrate during Advent.

So where does the Christmas story end? With Mary and Joseph going home with Jesus? Or is the end of the story yet to come, with you and I going home?

He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. John 1:11-13

If you are a child of God, you will feel right at home in the presence of God. If you are like Herod and would rather stay in charge, rejecting God and the possibility of a relationship with Him, then you will feel right at home being separated from God. The final words on the final page of the final chapter of the Christmas story will not be you or I saying “You are unfair, Lord” but “I’m home.”


Read today’s column online at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermons.

Be aware of new blog posts by Clarke by following him on Twitter.

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV unless noted otherwise

January 11, 2017

Becoming a Person Given to Hospitality

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NLT Genesis 19:1 That evening the two angels came to the entrance of the city of Sodom. Lot was sitting there, and when he saw them, he stood up to meet them. Then he welcomed them and bowed with his face to the ground. 2 “My lords,” he said, “come to my home to wash your feet, and be my guests for the night. You may then get up early in the morning and be on your way again.”

“Oh no,” they replied. “We’ll just spend the night out here in the city square.”

3 But Lot insisted, so at last they went home with him. Lot prepared a feast for them, complete with fresh bread made without yeast, and they ate

I’ll grant you the above story doesn’t end well, but it was referred to by today’s writer, so I’ve included it. Today we’re paying a return visit to the website Bible Universe. In addition to the article — click the link below to read at site — I’ve also included a link to some additional resources they offer at the end of today’s reading.

Importance of Hospitality

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2

In the twilight two strangers drew near to the city gate. They were apparently travelers coming in to tarry for the night. None could discern in those humble wayfarers the mighty heralds of divine judgment, and little dreamed the gay, careless multitude that in their treatment of these heavenly messengers that very night they would reach the climax of the guilt which doomed their proud city. But there was one man who manifested kindly attention toward the strangers and invited them to his home.

Lot did not know their true character, but politeness and hospitality were habitual with him; they were a part of his religion–lessons that he had learned from the example of Abraham. Had he not cultivated a spirit of courtesy, he might have been left to perish with the rest of Sodom. Many a household, in closing its doors against a stranger, has shut out God’s messenger, who would have brought blessing and hope and peace.

Every act of life, however small, has its bearing for good or for evil. Faithfulness or neglect in what are apparently the smallest duties may open the door for life’s richest blessings or its greatest calamities. It is little things that test the character. It is the unpretending acts of daily self-denial, performed with a cheerful, willing heart, that God smiles upon. We are not to live for self, but for others. And it is only by self-forgetfulness, by cherishing a loving, helpful spirit, that we can make our life a blessing. The little attentions, the small, simple courtesies, go far to make up the sum of life’s happiness, and the neglect of these constitutes no small share of human wretchedness.

Seeing the abuse to which strangers were exposed in Sodom, Lot made it one of his duties to guard them at their entrance, by offering them entertainment at his own house. He was sitting at the gate as the travelers approached, and upon observing them, he rose from his place to meet them, and bowing courteously, said, “Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night.” They seemed to decline his hospitality, saying, “Nay; but we will abide in the street.”

Their object in this answer was twofold–to test the sincerity of Lot and also to appear ignorant of the character of the men of Sodom, as if they supposed it safe to remain in the street at night. Their answer made Lot the more determined not to leave them to the mercy of the rabble. He pressed his invitation until they yielded, and accompanied him to his house.


Earlier I mentioned there would be a bonus link today to some other resources at Bible Universe. First of all some general interest ones:

  • Keys to Bible Symbols — a great help if you’re wanting to follow the thread of various “types” used in scripture or in terms of literary imagery.
  • Keys to Bible Numbers — similar to the above, but dealing with the meaning of different numbers.

Also, do you know a Christian who is also a medical doctor? Bible Universe (dot com) recently ran a series of three short devotionals to encourage people in that profession.

01/03/2017

Encouragement for the Christian Physician #3

01/02/2017

Encouragement for the Christian Physician #2

01/01/2017

Encouragement for the Christian Physician #1

January 10, 2017

Trinitarian Praise

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

This is an excerpt from an academic book The Triune God, the second volume in Zondervan’s New Studies in Dogmatics series. Within, Fred Sanders seeks to retrieve the riches of the classical doctrine of the Trinity for the sake of a contemporary evangelical audience. Click the title below if you wish to read this article at their book excerpts site. (Don’t be afraid to copy/paste a couple of the words below in your browser to get the meaning — we did two of them for you — Christian Academic books aren’t for the faint of heart!)

Turning the Mind to Doxology

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the
Holy Ghost! As it was in the beginning, is now,

and ever shall be, world without end.

The glory of God is from everlasting to everlasting, but while the praise of the Trinity will have no end, it had a beginning. There was never a time when God was not glorious as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit. But there was a time when that singular glory (singular because, to gloss the Athanasian Creed, there are not three glorious, but one) had not yet disclosed itself so as to invite creatures to its praise. To join in the ancient Christian prayer called the Gloria Patri, directing praise to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is to come into alignment here in the world “as it is now” with triune glory “as it was in the beginning.” All theology ought to be doxology, but Trinitarian theology in particular is essentially a matter of praising God. This doxological response is the praise of a glory (ἔπαινον δόξης, Eph 1:6, 12, 14) that always was, and whose epiphany in time entails its antecedent depth in eternity. Those whom God has blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ are summoned to join that praise: “Blessed be God the Father, who has blessed us in the Beloved and sealed us with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph 1:3–14, condensed).

TURNING THE MIND TO DOXOLOGY

Theology too can be attuned to this praise of glory when it pursues its “proper calling,” which John Webster has identified as “the praise of God by crafting concepts to turn the mind to the divine splendor.”

Trinitarian theology, when conducted rightly, deploys a venerable and copious set of conceptual tools for precisely that task of mind-turning (μετάνοια), because, having heard the word of the one who said “and now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” ( John 17:5), it breaks forth in praise that has the character of verbal-conceptual profusion. It names him as only-begotten and the filially proceeding and declares that his prevenient glory is shared with the Father and the Holy Spirit undividedly, consubstantially, and perichoretically, as three persons subsisting in relation. These are just the most historically prominent of the concepts crafted to assist the mind in turning to the glory of the Trinity. Each of them, and the entire corpus of them, directs us to the scriptural witness as the triune God’s self-testimony.

Trinitarian theology is an intellectual Gloria Patri, a reasonable service (λογικὴν λατρείαν, Rom 12:1), an ascription of one glory to three persons then, now, and always. “The doctrine of the Trinity is a doxology using the means of thought,” writes Helmut Thielicke, concluding that for this reason the Gloria Patri “is both formally and materially the most fitting form of the Trinitarian confession.”

The great step forward taken in the Christian doctrine about the triune God is the retrospective recognition that what God manifested to us in Christ is ultimate divine reality, meaning that (in Barth’s words) “He is the Son or Word of God for us because He is so antecedently in Himself.” Athanasius, considering the revelation of God in Christ and the Spirit, drew the necessary conclusion about the antecedent being of God: “There is one Glory of the Holy Triad . . . For if the doctrine of God is now perfect in a Triad, and this is the true and only religion, and this is the good and the truth, it must have been always so, unless the good and the truth be something that came after, and the doctrine of God is completed by additions.”

With the confession that the Son and the Holy Spirit are from the Father and that “it must have been always so,” the doctrine of the Trinity arises like praise from the horizon of salvation history. This insight that the Son and the Holy Spirit are not mere surface phenomena of God’s ways with the world is the insight that must be articulated in order to set the history of salvation in the right context. “The economy of grace in all of its dynamism drives one to say something about its source, its very condition of possibility,” writes Christopher R. J. Holmes. The Son and the Holy Spirit are sent by the Father because they are, together and in person, the source of salvation, and the divine condition of its possibility.

Trinitarian praise points back to that triune source. This is the matrix of Trinitarian theology: wonder, love, and praise that God has done for us and our salvation something that manifests and enacts what he is in himself.


consubstantial = of the same substance or essence
perichoresis = a Greek term used to describe the triune relationship between each person of the Godhead. It can be defined as co-indwelling, co-inhering, and mutual interpenetration.


As we prepared today’s reading, I kept thinking about the Paul Baloche song which begins “In the name of the Father | In the name of the Son | In the name of the Spirit | Lord we come.”

January 9, 2017

Where God Dwells There are No Clocks

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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And He Shall Reign Forever

Today we pay a return visit to the Lutheran pastor Paul Willweber at the website, The Three Taverns. Click the title to read at source.

The Timelessness of Eternity

NLT John 16:15 All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’

16 “In a little while you won’t see me anymore. But a little while after that, you will see me again.”

17 Some of the disciples asked each other, “What does he mean when he says, ‘In a little while you won’t see me, but then you will see me,’ and ‘I am going to the Father’? 18 And what does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand.”

19 Jesus realized they wanted to ask him about it, so he said, “Are you asking yourselves what I meant? I said in a little while you won’t see me, but a little while after that you will see me again. 20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy. 21 It will be like a woman suffering the pains of labor. When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world. 22 So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy. 23 At that time you won’t need to ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name.

What do you think heaven is going to be like? We know heaven is perfect, but what will it feel like? What will you do for all eternity? Will you get bored? Will you be aware that you are in heaven forever? Will it seem like it’s taking a long time? Can eternity take a long time?

Heaven is what God wants for you for eternity but it’s impossible to comprehend eternity. You can only think in terms of time. You know when events begin and when they end. Sometimes they fly by, sometimes they drag on. If someone tells you not to think in terms of time, you can’t do it. You are bound by time. You cannot remove yourself from time. The closest to it is being asleep or in a coma. But even so, when you wake up you are aware that time has elapsed. Time continues when you are not in a conscious state.

God, however, is not bound by time. He is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. Things don’t go slow for Him or take a long time. He is outside of time. He created it.

But He did something remarkable, perhaps even strange. He placed Himself into time. He bound Himself to it. He became a man, a human being. He was born in a specific moment in time. He lived in a particular era of history; He lived for a certain amount of years. He who is not bound by time was now having to wait 365 days to turn a year older.

We know God did this to save us. But did He have to save us in this way? Why would God submit Himself to what we endure in this life? He’s God, He can do anything. What moved Him to bind Himself to time?

Jesus shows us with His words to the disciples in the Gospel reading. He told them He would be leaving them. But then He would return to them. They had no idea what He was talking about. They were trying to figure it out.

He was referring to the fact that He would be going to the cross where He would die. He would be leaving them. But then He would come back to life and so He would be with them again. This is what He was talking about. They didn’t get it. And they continued to not get it until He rose from the dead.

He said they would fall into deep sorrow. They wouldn’t come out of it until they saw Him again and they would rejoice in seeing Him alive. They weren’t getting it when He was telling them, but afterward they would remember that He had told them beforehand. And that was a comfort to them.

But the apostle John was not writing this down out of historical interest. The apostle John was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write this down for you. What Jesus told His disciples has meaning for you. It applies to you because what He said to the disciples shows you why God saved us in the way He did, humbling Himself to become a human being, to be bound by time, to suffer and die.

He is showing you how He uses time to save you. Jesus wasn’t just telling His disciples what would happen. He was saying that He would be leaving them in a little while. And then it would be a little while when He would return to them.

When you are experiencing sorrow it doesn’t seem like a little while. It seems like it won’t end. Jesus uses the example of a woman giving birth. She’s not thinking that this is a brief moment of difficulty. She must endure it because her baby is not coming right away.

But Jesus’ words are what determines what is. When Jesus was gone the disciples despaired in sorrow. But in the light of eternity it truly was a little while.

And now you experience a similar thing to the disciples. Jesus went away from them when He died, but then He returned to them when He rose. But then He left again, ascending into heaven. The disciples were left without Him but then He returned. You are left without Him and it seems anything but a little while until He returns to you.

And you know why this is? No, it’s not because two thousand years since Jesus ascended is a really long time. You are bound by time. You are viewing what Jesus says through your limited understanding. You need to see time from His perspective, not yours. You need to view your life the way He views your life, not in a way that makes sense to you. You need to see your life not as your own but as what God has given you to live and to see yourself not as who you are but who you are in Christ.

As a Christian you are not bound by time. You are not waiting around for God to save you. You aren’t in a holding pattern until God brings you to heaven. As a Christian you have eternal life. That’s life outside of time. It’s without end. It is life with God whether you are awake or asleep. You are not in a state of grace one moment and then apart from Christ the next if you have an evil thought. You are either in Christ or you’re not. If you’re in Christ you have eternal life, not salvation that will be given at some future point.

Jesus speaks of a little while because there is no long while with Him. Time is at His disposal. You can’t make time do what you want. You have only so much of it and it’s the same as what everybody else has. But Jesus? He uses time, something He is not bound by, to bring eternity to you. Since you cannot bring yourself out of time, He comes to you, in your life, in time, to give you eternal life. You now have life that is timeless, it is not here and then not, not flying by or dragging on interminably. It is life with God in Christ, forever.

Now, if you’re thinking, Okay, I have eternal life but I’m still here, aren’t I? I still have to set an alarm clock and be at meetings and appointments on time, don’t I? If I tell my boss that I have eternal life and so am not bound by time, he’ll tell me that if I’m late again I’ll be fired. Right?

Yes. You live in time and you should. God has given this to you to do. Having eternal life doesn’t remove you from your life here; your time, your vocations, your duties and responsibilities. The beauty of God giving you eternal life now is that it frees you up. And what Peter says about that in the Epistle reading is, Live as people who are free. You are a Christian, live like one. Don’t use your being freedom to just live as everyone else does, where they are constricted by time and cannot see beyond it.

Live, as Peter says, as one who freely gives of your time, because you are not subjugated to it. It’s not your time. You have eternal life! What is using your time to help someone when you’re tempted to think that you’ll be inconvenienced. Jesus freed you up from such a shortsighted and constricting view. You are freed up to help others. To serve them. To give of yourself to them. Your time, your resources. What are these in eternity? They are nothing more than as Jesus describes, a little while.

In a moment of time Jesus took in Himself the sin if the world. In that moment there was no time, Jesus brought eternity to earth. In Him God was reconciling the world to Himself. When you are reconciled to God, there is no time, only eternity. Time is momentary. Eternity is forever.

That’s why you need to stop thinking of God and what He does for you in terms of time. In a moment of time you were Baptized and you were no longer bound by time as you were brought into eternal life with God, you were and are now in Christ, who is above time. When He gives you His body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar, it is in a moment of time but there is no time. You are feasting with the angels and the archangels and the whole company of heaven. This is the Eternal Feast, the Feast of the Lamb. It has no ending; you are brought into this eternal Feast as you commune at this altar.

Heaven is not a place. It does not start and go on for a period of time. Heaven is being with God, without time, forever. He gives you heaven, eternity, in Jesus. He gives you Jesus right here, in this place, in this moment, at this altar. No time, no ending, just eternity. Amen.

January 8, 2017

A Variety of Rewards in God’s Eternal Kingdom

by Russell Young

It is the believer’s greatest hope that he or she will be able to enjoy eternity in God’s presence.  Modern teaching often leaves the perception that all “believers” will enjoy uniform rewards and pleasure in the kingdom to come, but is this so?  The concept of God’s heavenly kingdom has been simplified to the point that its truth has been lost. A careful consideration of the scriptures can shed some light on the nature of his heavenly kingdom.

1. Rewards will not be the same for all.  Although it probably makes sense when carefully considered, the one who has given his life in service to the Lord will reap different rewards than those who have confessed Christ’s lordship, but who have enjoyed the pleasures of the world.

Jesus taught that rewards would be person specific. “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” (Mt 16:27 NIV) “And, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.” (Rev 22:12 NIV) Paul taught similarly: “The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labour.” (1 Cor 3:14 NIV) And, “If what he has built survives [his ministry for Christ], he will receive his reward.” (1 Cor 3:14 NIV) It is the Lord’s expressed revelation that every person will eventually be rewarded according to their believing (continuous) in him and according to their degree of service. Rewards in the heavenly kingdom will be varied. The Lord prophesied through Malachi, “And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve (labour for) God and those who do not.” (Malachi 3:18 NIV)

2. Daniel has revealed that some of those raised at the return of the Lord will awaken to “everlasting life,” while others will awaken to “shame and everlasting contempt.” (Dan 12:2 NIV)

These “rewards” or “inheritances” apply to those who will be resurrected following the Great Tribulation and before the Millennium; consequently, they apply to the children of God, or to those who are of the first resurrection, those whose names are written in the book of life. It should be noted that “shame and everlasting contempt” do not belong to those sentenced to the “lake of burning sulphur.” Contempt does not originate from those of like mind but from those who have recognized and committed to higher standards, and shame is what is felt by those who have been made to recognize failure due to their own lack of commitment. The shame and contempt will belong to those who have pledged Christ’s lordship but who have not lived it.

3.Reason would suggest that not all would be assigned the same responsibilities within God’s heavenly kingdom.

For instance, not all can be rulers.  If some are rulers, there must be some who are being ruled. Thought needs to be given to this reality.  Although some might debate this observation, once the New Jerusalem descends to earth, it will be the seat of God’s government. Outside are “the nations.”  (See Rev 2:26, 21:24) The Lord cautioned the church in Thyatira that he would repay people according to their deeds and that those who “overcome” by doing his will to the end will be given authority over the nations. (Rev 2:26) Outside are those who love to live the lie. (Rev 22:15) They have pledged Christ’s lordship, but haven’t lived it.” (Rom 10:9─10; 1 Jn 1:6)

Jesus also stated, “I say to you many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast (wedding) with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mt 8:11─12 NIV) God’s kingdom will have both rulers and subjects.  The rulers will be inside the walls of the New Jerusalem while the subjects will dwell outside where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Many envision the Heavenly Kingdom as being somewhere in space.  Revelation 21 suggests that it will be on earth but will be heaven-like. “Heavenly” does not necessarily mean “in heaven” but ‘like heaven.’ The Merriam Webster’s Dictionary states that -ly means “like in appearance, manner or nature; having the characteristics of” Those in it will be holy and will walk righteously with their God.  The Word does not speak of people dwelling in the heavens above, but reveals God’s kingdom as being present on earth. A great deal of fantasy has been allowed to exist concerning the nature of heaven.

It is very possible that some of those in the eternal kingdom will never enjoy rest.  Paul stated that “And so all Israel will be saved.” (Rom 11:26 NIV) On the other hand the Lord told Moses, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times—not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.” (Num 14:20─23)

The nature of God’s eternal kingdom needs to be understood. There is room for a variety of honors and positions of responsibility and for the place of shame.  Within God’s kingdom some will enjoy his presence, while others will be separated (2 Thess 1:8─9) from him eternally and be banished to outer darkness. (Mt 8:12, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30) Only those “worthy” will dwell with God. (Lk 20:35)

January 7, 2017

Horrified at His Unworthiness

Something different today, a recommended website that’s new to us, Life Reference. Writer Don Merritt is working his way through Luke’s gospel, so to read more in the series, or bookmark the site, click the title below.

Calling Disciples

Luke 5:1-11

Luke’s account of the calling of Peter, James and John as disciples differs in many ways from the accounts of Matthew and Mark; I’ll let others speculate on the reasons for this and try to focus on what I see as the really instructive part of Luke’s account. Please read these verses, if you haven’t already, and let’s talk…

…OK, now that you have refreshed your recollection of this account, did you notice Peter’s reaction when Jesus caused his nets to be so overloaded with fish?

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (5:8)

Doesn’t that remind you of Isaiah the prophet?

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Isaiah 6:1-5

This is from the passage that describes the call of Isaiah to prophesy to the people; do you see the similarity in his response to that of Peter when he saw how amazing and holy Jesus was, that He knew just where to cast their nets for a record catch? Isaiah was accepted for service and went without hesitation:

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:6-8)

Like Isaiah, Peter was horrified at his unworthiness to be in the presence of the Son of God, yet in Luke 5:10 Jesus reassured him, and they dropped everything and followed Him without hesitation. You might also take a look at the call of Moses in Exodus 3 and Gideon in Judges 6.

It would be quite normal for any of us to realize that we are neither qualified nor worthy to serve our Lord; we are all sinners after all. Yet none of the “greats” of Scripture were any more perfect than you or I, and when reassured, they followed God’s call. Each of us knows that our sin has been taken away by the blood of Christ, and each of us has every right to seek His loving arms… and each of us has received His call to follow Him.

Will we follow the example of Peter, James and John?


Ever broken up a small tree or sticks and been aware of the green color inside? Green shows that there is (or at least was!) life inside. That’s why we highlight scripture here in green. To show that while the words of the various writers whose material we borrow are helpful and instructive, it’s God’s Word that brings life.


C201 is always looking for new sources of material. Feel free to refer sites to us — use the contact page here, or Twitter — or even your own writing. We’re also looking for associate editors who can supply us with suggestions on a regular basis.

January 6, 2017

Nothing But the Blood

I’ve been wanting to find a way to share with C201 readers this video by David Wesley of a virtual choir representing several different countries singing the classic hymn, Nothing But The Blood of Jesus.

Hymnary.org notes that, “When this hymn was first published in 1876, Hebrews 9:22 was quoted underneath the title: ‘Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.'”

At Hymnal.net a reader comments:

…There is a question about whether the Bible itself ever talks of being ‘washed’ in the blood (in Rev 1:5 the verb is better translated ‘loosed’ or ‘freed’). But my point here is a wistful sadness that the word ‘sin’ is so often used in the first line rather than ‘stain’. There is evidence that the latter was Lowry’s choice. Of course it rhymes better with ‘again’ in the third line. But more to the point, it is such a colourful word. How easily we can picture the ugly stain of sin blackening our lives like a huge ink-spill. What a pity the more common but less pointed word ‘sin’ is so often used.

Of course, both terms are theologically correct. But the charm of poetry is largely that it can create images that make us envision things in a new and vivid way. Language is one great gift God has given us that separates us from the rest of creation. It is important to make full use of its marvelous potential…

At the blog Before the Cross, Chris Howard has a longer discussion of the hymn:

Outside of blood drives, I’m sure it’s not common to hear gratitude and blood thrown together in the same sentence… Jesus Christ, being the very Son of God, was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, was crucified on a cross for all the sins of man past, present and future and was raised again to life so that anyone believing in Him would live an eternity with Him. We are thanking Jesus for His blood spilled on our behalf. Every time we sing it, I wonder what a person unfamiliar with the gospel must think as they give church a try. Here are some of my guesses:

  • That’s gross.
  • Did I come to the wrong place?
  • Why are these people singing about blood?
  • Of all things, why are they thankful for blood?

If those are the questions, I hope they don’t leave without getting them answered and I certainly hope they come back.

Let’s face it. The lyrics aren’t exactly “seeker” friendly and some churches might treat this song like any blood-related incident, to keep the lyrics sanitary and removed from the scene, out of mind and out of sight for believer and non-believer alike. Blood evokes a strong mental image and unless you’ve been desensitized by horror movies, it usually isn’t an image someone likes to think about. There are certainly other worship songs we could sing that would bring about more peaceful, calming and relaxing images of God’s saving grace without mentioning blood.

And that’s the very reason why I think we need to sing about it. Without the blood shed by Jesus Christ, there is no cross. If there is no cross, there is no resurrection of Jesus Christ. If there is no resurrection, we are doomed.

The Blood Is Necessary

Since the first sin of man in the Garden of Eden, blood was required. Animals were sacrificed for their skins to cover up the nakedness of Adam and Eve. The sacrifice of animals for atonement of sin was still present in the time of Jesus.

And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”Exodus 24:8

“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”Hebrews 9:22

The Blood Protects

The Israelites are instructed to place animal blood over the door of their dwellings to avoid God’s plague on Egypt.

“The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.”Exodus 12:13

Jesus, before His crucifixion refers to his shed blood as that which would forgive sins.

“for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”Matthew 26:28

The Blood Cleanses 

Redemption, fellowship and cleansing are benefits we as Christians who believe in Jesus Christ get to enjoy as a result of His shed blood.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ.”Ephesians 1:7-9

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”1 John 1:7

We often see what we prize most in light of what we pay for it. In the case of our salvation, it is we who were purchased with blood that ran through the body of our savior, the same body broken on our behalf to allow God and His creation to have a restored relationship. If you are a Christian, you are in this restored relationship.

We can sing it out unashamed. Thank you Jesus. Thank you for the blood!


 

January 5, 2017

A Theology of Clothing

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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You’ll have to look up the scripture verses for this one. We found this a few days ago at Share Faith Magazine, which is a wonderful resource site for churches. It originally appeared under the title below, which you may click to read it in full.

10 Threads Of Deliverance In The Bible: Symbolic Clothing of Deliverance

by

Threads of deliverance in the Bible: Scripture is often enlivened when we see symbols or circumstances through the stories in the Bible. As we delve into particular events, there is rich and complicated meaning in real-time, but a bird’s eye view can also assess what’s occurring in light of what happens next. For example, Sarah wouldn’t know Hannah or Elizabeth or Mary, but the line of God’s mercy and providence in these unexpected mothers is profound, and comparing the songs of Hannah and Mary, even more. Water is another example. It nourishes the first garden, redeems us through Noah, delivers Moses, turns red with plague, comes apart several times, quenches wilderness thirst, saves Israel for a time with Hezekiah, breaks with the Son of God’s first breath, begins His ministry, changes to wine… and more. It’s a powerful, redemptive narrative. And this kind of patterned approach is applicable to our congregations. Water, for example, is something God still uses, inviting each of us into baptism and a life sustained by living water. How much more full is the symbol with the background of God’s story! Let’s read some stories of the threads of deliverance.

10 Threads Of Deliverance In The Bible

I want to weave a similar collection of moments where clothing is significant, leading up to the swaddling clothes in a manger and beyond. It sounds strange at first, but I think we’ll find an application of deliverance in the Bible at every turn. (Let me make one note. The stories of the Old and New Testaments are stories and not simply symbols. As many of us learned in seminary, there is a fair warning to not over-extend our interpretation or diminish the contemporary working of God into only a projected symbol.)

God fashions the first clothing (Genesis 3:21-24)

After the sin that cast us out as sojourners, it is God who kills the first animal in order to clothe Adam and Eve. He’s a good, good father and he does what he can to protect the first couple in the wilds of a fallen creation. I imagine God weeping through the whole episode, knowing what they don’t, that the father of lies will drag them through the dirt of his own fall, trying desperately to wipe clean any hint of the imago dei that makes them unique before God. This clothing is the first step in grace.

Rebekah’s deceit (Genesis 27)

Jacob learns a valuable lesson with his thread of deliverance. It starts with Rebekah favoring Jacob over Esau. It’s a sordid tale that makes me wonder why we follow the mischief of Jacob and not the clan of Esau. The hair-shirt Rebekah uses to deceive her blind husband is a costume Jacob doesn’t forget (and Laban returns it with disguising Leah). Yes, God uses a liar, but he knows he can break the liar into a limping man, one who sees the activity of God in heaven and becomes the father of 13 sons who form Israel’s tribes. When Jacob puts on his brother’s clothes, he disguises his real identity to get what he wants. He puts on a show. What a change of clothing from the first couple, who in humility and with heads down, leave the garden. But, in time Jacob learns his lesson and even celebrates his son Joseph in a brilliant cloak. Who knows, perhaps he remembered that evening a long time ago.

Joseph’s coat of many colors

Joseph’s thread of deliverance causes quite a stir. It’s a wonder why Jacob didn’t learn about the danger of playing favorites from his own upbringing, but he doesn’t. Joseph gets his coat and with it, God’s plan. The rage in his brothers and the near death experience for Joseph will be the stuff God uses to humble all of them. Without the coat, the brothers don’t have anything tangible to wield against their father, and, I bet without the coat, we don’t have a Joseph who runs so quickly away from Potiphar’s wife that he leaves behind his cloak (Gen 39:11-18). He knows God has a plan for him and he will not be defiled by the charms of sin.

Wash your clothes (Exodus 19)

After the exodus, God says, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession” (19:4-5). He then instructed them, among other things, to wash their clothes (10). Why? This is certainly in line with being holy and set apart. It’s tucked into this passage about God coming into their midst and warning them to not even touch the mountain or they will die. God is holy. It’s a precursor to what we know baptism symbolizes, a washing clean of sin. And baptism is a precursor to the white robes we’ll receive in heaven (Rev. 7:9).

The priestly garments (Exodus 39; Leviticus 6)

The details in the priestly garments are fascinating: “the robe of the ephod entirely of blue cloth… bells and pomegranates alternated around the hem… tunics of fine linen… the plate, the sacred emblem, out of pure gold and engraved on it, like an inscription on a seal: holy to the Lord…” A human being is readying himself to go into the presence of God. The garments act as a barrier between the Almighty and the altogether puny, if we’re honest. The priest goes into the Holy of Holies to ask for God’s mercy upon a guilty people. And we go into his sanctuary under the same reality. Yes, we know God through Jesus, but his holiness has not changed and our sinful hearts are still in dire need. The garments are a symbol for what we hear the Psalmist say, “I will clothe her priests with salvation, and her faithful people will ever sing for joy” (132:16).

The sash of Rahab (Joshua 2 & 6)

The thread of deliverance for Rahab was her sash, her sash represents the salvation for the Israelites and her own redemption, placing her in the family tree of Joseph (Matt 1:5). Her scarlet cord is a testimony to God’s mercy to a foreigner and a sinner. Remember that Rahab is a prostitute. The cord that wraps and unwraps sinful acts becomes the salvation for the two spies and all of Rahab’s family. It’s easy to read into the story of her self-interest, but God doesn’t see an opportunist; he sees a broken woman who wants mercy and love and a home. She converts and the story says, “…she lives among the Israelites to this day” (6:25). She stands as an early Mary Magdalene and receives favor because she knows she needs help. May we have eyes to see what others don’t and minister beyond our own comforts.

Saul’s robe is cut

Saul is in devilish pursuit of David. The former guitar soother is now an enemy to Saul’s throne and he will not surrender it to this farmer boy from Bethlehem. David knows he’s beyond angry and hides out until God works the circumstances into His will. David doesn’t force them. Remember when Saul sacrifices to God because Samuel is late (I Samuel 15)? When Samuel turns to go in anger over Saul’s sin, Saul rips his robe. Samuel then says, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you” (28). We then get this moment in I Samuel 24 where David sneaks up to Saul and cuts a piece of his robe. The point is, “I will not lay my hand on my lord, because he is the Lord’s anointed,” David says (10). Saul will end up piercing his own robe and killing himself (I Samuel 31:4-6). What does it mean? Saul continually tries to shape God’s will around his own, and not the other way around. If we are molded by God’s will for us, perhaps we will sing with the psalmist, “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy…” (30:11).

David’s sin and response (2 Samuel 11-12; Psalm 51)

This thread of deliverance in the Bible ironically starts with no clothes. David intrudes on a private moment and takes advantage of Bathsheba. There is nothing, nothing, nothing good about this story. It’s a breaking point for David. It’s entirely his fault. His unchecked pride invites sin to the table of a man touted as someone after the heart of God. Not so in this case or in his coverup with Uriah’s murder. What happens next is where David gets it right.  When comforted by Nathan, David admits to his sin. He gives no excuses. When Nathan says the child will die, David fasts and wears sackcloth, pleading before the Lord. When the baby dies, David, “got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped” (12:20).  David learns what the prophet Joel says, “Rend your heart, not your garments” (2:13).

The magic cloak of Elijah (2 Kings 2)

Elijah’s thread of deliverance in the Bible leaves us speechless. First, Elijah rolls up his cloak and bats the Jordan River. Then he and Elisha cross over because the water obeys him. He tells Elisha to watch, drops his cloak, and catches a ride on a fiery chariot to Heaven. Elisha uses the cloak to direct the Jordan again and leaves with even greater power. What?! Certainly, the cloak represents Elijah and his holy commitment to God, but what a story and why a cloak? We know the cloak is used almost as a shield, protecting the wearer against weather, for example. We more commonly think of a cloak as a disguise, an interpretation with some historical age to it. Perhaps the suggestion is that Elisha is now fully identified in the powerful “skin” of Elijah. This idea of putting on is part of our walk with Jesus. Paul says, for example, that, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 2:22-24).

Find him wrapped in swaddling clothes (Luke 2:11-12)

The angels make sure to mention the swaddling clothes to the shepherds because more than likely it shows Jesus’ significance. The wrapped linen is juxtaposed to the lowly surroundings of a stable and makeshift bed. Much like the first couple, perhaps the clothes signaled God’s provision after a long journey from Nazareth. Did Mary keep them at the ready? Did a kind stranger provide them to Joseph as they entered the town? We don’t know. Including it in the proclamation of the angels gives us the best guess that these clothes mean royalty, Son of God, the God of Joseph’s robe and Rahab’s sash and Elijah’s magic cloak is here in humble splendor.

It is Jesus who invites us, like the father of the prodigal son, to come home and wear the best robe (Luke 15:22). It is Jesus who notices the need of a broken woman who touches the hem of his robe (Luke 8:43-48). It’s Jesus who gets mocked with a purple robe by the guards he loved even then, in their darkest hour (Mark 15:20). It’s Jesus who resurrects and folds his grave clothes (John 20:7). It’s Jesus who will make our robes white with his blood (Revelation 7:14).

 

January 4, 2017

The Better Source of New Year’s Resolutions

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today we pay a return visit to the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s website. Click the title below to read at source. The author of this piece is .

Follow Your Star

I had once given up on making New Year’s resolutions, because I never kept them. I now realize that the problem was that I had not consulted the Lord. They were my ideas of what I should do, or what other people thought!

The image of a star comes to mind, because Epiphany, when we observe the arrival of the wise men, is in the first week of January. When they followed that star, it was because the Lord had placed the goal of doing so in their hearts.

Matthew 2:9b-11 – The star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of frankincense and of myrrh. (NIV)

We each have a star to follow as well. The Lord has placed within each one of us hopes, dreams, and goals, but we often push these aside.

My experience has been that the quiet voice of the Spirit gets louder and more persistent until I start listening. Even then, my response is likely to be, “I’m busy now. I really don’t want to do this” or “I am a senior; I am past that sort of thing.”

Then, I am reminded of the story of Abraham, who was told that his ninety-year-old wife Sarah would have a son.

Genesis 18:13-14 – Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” (NIV)

Indeed, nothing is too hard for the Lord. We are not too old, too young, too inadequate, if it is the Lord’s idea. The Lord knows what gifts we have to offer, and like the wise men, He will direct us to the place where we need to give them.

Some years ago, I left a secure job because the Lord was calling me to work in the community. I was scared because it involved becoming self-employed and operating with no paycheque. All my life, my greatest fear was financial insecurity. Not only was I challenged to face that fear, but He has always provided, to this day. I have also had a lifelong fear of public speaking, and although I have a good singing voice, I have been terrified when asked to do a solo.

Once I said “yes” to the Lord, however, over a six-month period, both fears not only disappeared, but now I also enjoy both public speaking and solo work. So my New Year’s resolution will be to listen carefully for the Lord’s direction, then to follow my star wherever it leads. That feels sort of scary. However, I am determined. Why not join me in this prayer?

Prayer: Lord, I ask You to take over. Help me to listen for and hear Your direction for my life, and to trust You, knowing that You will always be present to help and guide me as long as I seek to do Your will, and follow my star. Amen.


January 3, 2017

Add God to Your Equation

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we pay a return visit to Weeping Into Dancing. Click the title below to read at source.

God’s Point of View and Proportions

When life is chaotic, painful, or full of uncertainty, it is easy to become overwhelmed. Exhaustion wears a person down, both physically and spiritually. And without time in the Word, depression is certain to knock on our door. It takes both physical and spiritual strength to weather a storm, and we require nourishment to persevere a lengthy or intense battle.

Without spiritual manna, the devil can easily establish footholds in our walk with Christ. Footholds are often secured when we doubt the goodness and faithfulness of God. Is God not constant? Is He good only when times are joyful and fruitful? Or, is God good, in spite of the trials that try to knock us sideways?

God does test our faith. But when adversity comes, He hopes the struggle succeeds in chiseling away personal impurities. Remember, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we become more like our Savior, Jesus Christ. When we look into a mirror, we should see Christ in our reflection.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.James 1:2-4 (NKJV)

But the devil, always the prowling opportunist, uses adversity to spread lies. His lies attack the very nature of God.

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10 (NKJV)

In good times and bad times, we have to keep our focus on things above. By doing so, we obtain a proper perspective of our situation and correctly see things in their right proportion. Our circumstances may look grim, but Jesus walks with us through every storm!

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)

When we remember God’s love for us, we can look at our situation and identify positives, if we search them out. God is all about turning bad things into good. Learning to develop God’s perspective on life is greatly beneficial, but it takes self-discipline and there is no room for self-pity.

Consider the story of David and Goliath. If David had simply looked at the proportions of size and strength when facing Goliath, he would never have approached the giant. But David put God into the equation. He knew that all things were possible with God. He also knew that God would not be mocked.

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.Galatians 6:7 (NKJV)

David had God’s perspective when he accepted Goliath’s battlefield challenge. He was able to perceive things from God’s point of view. He knew God was all-powerful. He was certainly far greater than the prideful Philistine who had yelled insults at God’s chosen people. Without armor, and holding a mere slingshot, David slew the enemy who had insulted his God, tormented King Saul, and terrorized the entire army of Israel.

King Saul, David’s brothers, and the Israelite army were paralyzed with fear because they viewed the giant and his challenge with earthly eyes. When God is not added into the equation of life, the proportions of the battle before us will cause feelings of intimidation and even terror.

If you find yourself in a time of testing, where a trial of some sort presses in, add God to your equation. When you do, the obstacles Satan has planted for intimidation purposes will appear out of proportion. Circumstances that initially seemed vast and capacious will melt away and become a fraction of what they had once appeared to be. The Light of the World will disperse all darkness and expose the devil’s handiwork. Step-by-step, through every twist, bump, and turn in your road, God will walk beside you in love, grace, and mercy. Like David, you too will sleigh your Goliath because God is with you.

The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” Isaiah 58:11 (NKJV)

 Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you.Proverbs 4:25 (NKJV)

 “So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” Hebrews 13:6 (NKJV)

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)

January 2, 2017

“Skip the Truth and Make Us Feel Good”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
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Today’s title is from the NCV rendering of Isaiah 30:10

They tell the seers,
    “Don’t see any more visions!”
They say to the prophets,
    Don’t tell us the truth!
Say things that will make us feel good;
    see only good things for us.

The pastor in the church we visited on New Year’s Day started 2017 with a message on sin. Although he used literally dozens of scripture references — many from Romans — this passage in Isaiah 30 (12-14 in particular) was the only verse for which he prepared a slide for us to read. Many people just want to hear things that will make them feel good. Elsewhere, we read about people having “itching ears.”

Today, we’re going to contrast the contemporary language of The Message with the more formal commentary of Matthew Henry. However, where you see italics, I’ve used more modern expressions. Everything from this point on is Matthew Henry.

So, go now and write all this down.
    Put it in a book
So that the record will be there
    to instruct the coming generations,
Because this is a rebel generation,
    a people who lie,
A people unwilling to listen
    to anything God tells them.
They tell their spiritual leaders,
    “Don’t bother us with irrelevancies.”
They tell their preachers,
    “Don’t waste our time on impracticalities.
Tell us what makes us feel better.
    Don’t bore us with obsolete religion.
That stuff means nothing to us.
    Quit hounding us with The Holy of Israel.”  – Isaiah 30: 8-11 (MSG)

They forbade the prophets to speak to them in God’s name, and to deal faithfully with them.

They set themselves so violently against the prophets to hinder them from preaching, or at least from dealing plainly with them in their preaching, did so banter them and browbeat them, that they did in effect say to the seers, See not. They had the light, but they loved darkness rather. It was their privilege that they had seers among them, but they did what they could to put out their eyes — that they had prophets among them, but they did what they could to stop their mouths; for they tormented them in their wicked ways, Rev. 11:10.

Those that silence good ministers, and discountenance good preaching, are justly counted, and called, rebels against God. See what it was in the prophets’ preaching with which they found themselves aggrieved.

  1.  The prophets told them of their faults, and warned them of their misery and danger by reason of sin, and they couldn’t take it. They must speak to them warm and fuzzy things, must flatter them in their sins, and say that they did well, and there was no harm, no danger, in the course of life they lived in. No matter how true something is, if it be not easy to listen to, they will not hear it. But if it be agrees with the good opinion they have of themselves, and will confirm them in that, even though it be very false and ever so undeserved, they will have it prophesied to them. Those deserve to be deceived that desire to be so.
  2.  The prophets stopped them in their sinful pursuits, and stood in their way like the angel in Balaam’s road, with the sword of God’s wrath drawn in their hand; so that they could not proceed without terror. And this they took as a great insult. When they continued to desire the opposite of what the prophets were saying they in effect said to the prophets, “Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the paths. What do you do in our way? Cannot you leave us alone to do as we please?” Those have their hearts fully set in them to do evil that bid these accountability monitors to get out of their way. Be quiet now before I have you killed! 2 Chron. 25:16.
  3.  The prophets were continually telling them of the Holy One of Israel, what an enemy he is to sin ad how severely he will judge sinners; and this they couldn’t listen to. Both the thing itself and the expression of it were too serious for them; and therefore, if the prophets will speak to them, they will determine that they will not call God the Holy One of Israel; for God’s holiness is that attribute which wicked people most of all dread.

Now what is the doom passed upon them for this?

Therefore, The Holy of Israel says this:
    “Because you scorn this Message,
Preferring to live by injustice
    and shape your lives on lies,
This perverse way of life
    will be like a towering, badly built wall
That slowly, slowly tilts and shifts,
    and then one day, without warning, collapses—
Smashed to bits like a piece of pottery,
    smashed beyond recognition or repair,
Useless, a pile of debris
    to be swept up and thrown in the trash.”

Observe,

  1. Who it is that gives judgment upon them? This is what the Holy One of Israel says. The prophet uses the very title they find so objectionable. Faithful ministers will not be driven from using such expressions as are needed to awaken sinners, though they be displeasing. We must tell men that God is the Holy One of Israel, and so they will find him, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear.
  2.  What is the basis of the judgment? Because they despise this word—whether, in general, every word that the prophets said to them, or this word in particular, which declares God to be the Holy One of Israel: “they despise this, and will neither make it their fear, to respect it, nor make it their hope, to put any confidence in it; but, rather than they will submit to the Holy One of Israel, they will continue in oppression and perverseness, in the wealth they have collected and the interest they have made by fraud and violence, or in the sinful methods they have taken for their own security, in contradiction to God and his will. On these they depend, and therefore it is just that they should fall.”
  3.  What is the judgment is that is passed on them? “This sinfulness will be to you as a wall ready to fall. This confidence of yours will be like a house built upon the sand, which will fall in the storm and bury the builder in the ruins of it. Your contempt of that word of God which you might build upon will make every thing else you trust like a wall that bulges out, which, if any weight be laid upon it, comes down, nay, which often sinks with its own weight.”

The ruin they are bringing upon themselves is,

  1. Surprising: The breaking shall come suddenly, at an instant, when they do not expect it, which will make it the more frightful, and when they are not prepared or provided for it, which will make it the more fatal.
  2. Total and irreversible: “Your and all you hold dear shall be not only weak as the potter’s clay (Isa. 29:16), but broken to pieces as the potter’s vessel. He that has the rod of iron shall break it (Ps. 2:9) and he will not spare, will not have any regard to it, nor be in care to preserve or keep whole any part of it. But, when once it is broken so as to be unfit for use, let it be destroyed, let it be crushed, all to pieces, so that there may not remain one shred big enough to take up a little fire or water”—two things we have daily need of, and which poor people commonly get in a piece of a broken pitcher. They shall not only be as a leaning fence (Ps. 62:3), but as a broken mug or glass, which is good for nothing, nor can ever be made whole again.
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