Christianity 201

May 3, 2016

Dancing with the Wrong Partner

John 20:19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” …

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.”

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.”

In the process of digging deeper here at Christianity 201, we usually eschew certain types of illustrations, but every once in awhile there is one that really makes you think. That was the case when I read this article by Canadian pastor and fiction author Matthew David Brough. Click the title below to read this at source.

May I Cut In?

Today  I came across an idea I had written about three years ago for a sermon on the same bit of Scripture as this coming Sunday’s. Here’s the thought – stick with it to the end.

John 20:19-31 describes a group of frightened men locked away in an upper room on the first Easter evening. They’re afraid that they will meet with the same fate as Jesus did three days earlier. Will the authorities start rounding up his followers? Will the authorities find out that they were indeed his disciples?

Suddenly, though the doors are locked, Jesus appears among them. He shows them his hands and feet and says “peace be with you” – their faith in him is renewed.

How did Jesus suddenly appear among them? I guess Jesus’ resurrected body must be able to just disappear and reappear and pass through walls. That’s pretty awesome, but it’s not the point (at least not the point today). The point is that Jesus wanted to be in that room with his fearful followers. He chose to come to them. I imagine that if Jesus wasn’t able pass through walls, he would have found some way into that room – he would have broke in if he’d had to.

I think Jesus is like that with us. Ever been afraid? Ever been discouraged? Ever been full of doubt? Beaten by life? Jesus wants to break in and say “peace” to you.

Another way of thinking about this…

You may have seen this scene in an old movie or something. A man and woman are dancing and there is this other man on the sideline, watching. The man on the side knows in his heart that he is supposed to be the one dancing with the woman. She is so beautiful to him – he just knows they are meant for each other. She is dancing with the wrong partner. He walks up to the couple and says “may I cut in?”

That’s what Jesus does. He sees you for who you truly are – you are beautiful to him. He doesn’t judge you – he just despairs that you are dancing with the wrong partner. You’re dancing with fear, with greed, with ambition, with doubt. But Jesus knows you are meant to dance with him. Fortunately, Jesus is even more persistent than the romantic lead in the old movie.

He interrupts your dance and says “may I cut in?”

Then, it’s your move.

Incidentally, the disciples were still hiding in the same room a week later. You know what Jesus did? He showed up again. “May I cut in?” “Peace be with you” were the first words out of his mouth.

May 2, 2016

Lest Anyone Should Boast

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Genesis 11:1 NIV Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”


2 Corinthians 12: 7b NLT … So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.


Micah 6:8 CEB He has told you, human one, what is good and
        what the Lord requires from you:
            to … walk humbly with your God.


Proverbs 3:34 GNT He has no use for conceited people, but shows favor to those who are humble.


1 Corinthians 1:31 The Voice As the Scripture says: “If someone wants to boast, he should boast in the Lord.”

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think... Romans 12: 3a NASB

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think… Romans 12: 3a NASB

In the first two passages above we see God altering the circumstances in order to keep people — collectively in the first passage, an individual in the second passage — from become prideful or boastful.

Introverts might not get this, but as an extrovert, I can say that in my life there is very much a tendency towards arrogance.

In the movie Network the female lead is asked, “What’s it like to be the person in the room who always has the right answers?”

Smugly, she replies, “It’s awful, absolutely awful.”

Psalm 20:7 is a verse that some of you learned in the KJV and other translations as “Some trust in chariots and some in horses…” Having a gut feeling about this verse I checked and sure enough, these alternatives to trust exist:

  • Some nations boast of armies and of weaponry, but our boast is in the Lord our God. (TLB)
  • Some boast in chariots and some in horses, But we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God. (NASB)
  • Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God. (NRSV)
  • Some take pride in chariots, and others in horses, but we take pride in the name of Yahweh our God. (HCSB)

What are our modern equivalents? We don’t have chariots and horses, but many of us have nice cars which we spend our Saturday mornings polishing and caring for. What else?

  • education; including academic certificates, degrees, etc.
  • knowledge; both specialized and general
  • intuitive abilities; logic, reason, quick wit, tech savvy
  • friends; the size of our friends list on social media as a possible example
  • status; standing in the community, perhaps our name is in the local newspaper or mentioned on TV
  • spouse; we take credit for what is really a gift from God to us
  • possessions; our house, car, cabin the woods, consumer electronics, etc.
  • passions; the hobbies and interests we are always talking about

Thinking about these things and speaking of them sometimes boosts are adrenaline, brings a smile to our faces, or causes us to speak with greater volume and passion. We’re energized thinking about these things, and we can become arrogant.

The last category above is a good lead to these two questions:

  1. What’s the first thing you think about when you get up in the morning?
  2. What do you talk about when it’s your opportunity to control the conversation?

God had to wipe out the Tower of Babel. He didn’t wipe out Saul/Paul however, but introduced a condition — and Bible scholars vary as to what exactly it was — to keep him humble. Laura Story, in the popular Christian song Blessings asks:

What if your blessings come through rain drops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?

We very rarely thank God for Babel-type changes in plans, or Paul-type ongoing conditions, but they do prevent us from being less of a person than we might be; from being a person that others may not find particularly attractive; and from presenting ourselves in a way that people see us, but don’t see Christ living in and through us.

 

May 1, 2016

The Elephant in the Church

•••by Russell Young   

We often hear about the elephant in the room, meaning the issue that everyone knows about and which no one wants to address.  The elephant in the church is the issue of the gospel.  I have not yet met a pastor who can articulate the gospel message.  Its presentation is often piecemeal and its understanding gained as in trying to untangle a knotted ball of string.  One knot can be pulled and removed but the full gospel is often left a mystery…confused and entangled.  John Saxe presented the confusion in his poem/fable, “The Blind Men and the Elephant.”  I will not record it here because it is too long but it can be found on the internet.

The poem relates how some blind men (theologians and church leaders) approach theological issues.  None have a full understanding.  Like the blind men one approaches the tail and describes the elephant as being like a rope.  Another touches an ear and declares the elephant to be like a fan, while another touches the knee and declares it to be like a tree, etc.  The author relates that although the blind men might be partly right, they are all in the wrong.  Perhaps they should have done more touching in order to gain greater truth.

Pastor often admonishes congregants to reach out to their friends, family, co-workers, and neighbours in order to share the gospel or to be Christ to them.  Sharing can be difficult and ineffective when gospel truths are not accurately known, when the gospel has not been made clear to those asked to share.  Experience shows that few people, even those who have attended church for years, can put the gospel into words.  Very recently a gentleman who had been attending an evangelical church for some time declared that ALL would be saved; eternal salvation wasn’t an issue to him.

Understanding and presentation of the doctrine of eternal salvation seems to lack critical consideration. Teaching is often not clear and considered.  Knowledge of the gospel as an entity seems to be somethings is best avoided.   Sometimes a “string” in the knotted ball of gospel truths may be pulled at a certain time and in a certain area and people are left to gain what they might from that tugging while on another occasion the string might be picked at in another spot.  The ball never gets untangled.  Frequently, praise songs have become the methodology of presentation and many of those contain inaccuracies.  Too often knowledge of the gospel has been left to such instances and devices and its truths are never really formed.  Surely, in the twenty-first century the church can do better at conveying these essential truths

Concerning the mandate of church leadership Paul wrote, “It was he [the Lord] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ might be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God and become mature [See Hebrews 5:13-6:3], attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13, NIV) The nature of the gospel needs to be boldly approached and critically considered if the body is to act as the voice of God in a wicked world.  It’s understanding can’t be left to chance. According to Paul prophets, apostles, evangelists, and pastors have been gifted for that purpose.

In his letter to Timothy Paul prophesied, “There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, etc.-having a form of godliness but denying its power.  Have nothing to do with them.” (2Timothy 3:1-5, NIV) That is, not only will those ‘outside’ the church have become disgraceful in their attitudes and practices, but even those who “have a form of godliness,” those ‘inside,’ will have missed the mark and an understanding of the truths of the gospel.

The Lord also prophesied to the degradation of true spiritual worship and its relationship to the destruction of the world.  “The earth suffers for the sins of its people, for they have twisted God’s instructions, violated his laws, and broken his everlasting covenant.  Therefore, a curse consumes the earth.  Its people must pay the price for their sin.  They are destroyed by fire and only a few are left alive.” Isaiah 24:5-6, NLT) God’s instructions, laws, and everlasting covenant remain important to Him and their place in the gospel and in the New Covenant must be made clear.

Confusion has reigned from the beginning of the church on this issue.  Christ taught that “everyone is forcing his way into it [the kingdom of God. (Luke 16:16, NIV)” and then referred to the need of satisfying the Law.  The gospel must be presented sufficiently clear so that no one can attempt to force his way into the kingdom.

The church CANNOT DO church (be used of God to build His kingdom) unless they ARE the church.  Believers must be equipped with the truth of the gospel so that they can live it and share it, and to do that with conviction.

April 30, 2016

The People’s Court

Early in my Christian walk, one writer and pastor who had a major influence on me was Stuart Briscoe. As a family, we traveled to his church in Milwaukee, and many years later I got to hear him in Toronto. Stuart has a devotional page at LightSource.com where this was posted recently. His target audience for this page is men, but there are good thoughts for everyone in his writing. To read more by him, click to this link.

Conflict Resolution

Don’t you know that those who do wrong will have no share in the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. . . . There was a time when some of you were just like that, but now your sins have been washed away, and you have been set apart for God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9, 11

Bumper stickers can communicate messages that might not otherwise be heard, but never take your theology from them! For example, consider this popular bumper sticker message: “Christians aren’t perfect—just forgiven.” The sentiment that Christians are painfully aware of their sinfulness is correct, and they know how necessary forgiveness is. Christians also affirm that while their sins are forgiven, that does not add up to an ongoing life of perfection. But to suggest that Christians are just forgiven is surely to miss the point. Christians are forgiven, they are not perfect, but they are more than “just forgiven”—they are called to and empowered for a new life.

Christians suing ChristiansPaul explained this truth quite bluntly and plainly. Having listed some of the common sinful behaviors of the day—behavior patterns that disqualify the behaviors from participation in God’s kingdom—he concluded: “There was a time when some of you were just like that, but”—and it was a big but—”now your sins have been washed away and you have been set apart for God. You have been made right with God because of what the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God have done for you” (1 Cor. 6:11). The Corinthians were undoubtedly forgiven sinners, but in light of the fact that they had been “washed” and “set apart” and “made right with God,” a higher standard was now expected from them in their lives.

For example, some of the Corinthian Christians were trying to resolve their differences by taking each other to court. There was nothing unusual about Corinthians suing each other, but Paul said it was not acceptable behavior for Christians. Christians will one day “judge the world” and also “judge angels” (6:2-3), so Paul argued that they ought to be capable of settling conflicts among themselves without seeking a legal remedy imposed by unbelievers.

How strictly modern Christians should apply this principle to their business lives is a subject of earnest debate and genuine disagreement. But Christians should, at least, be willing to “accept the injustice and leave it at that,” and they should be willing to “let [them]selves be cheated” (6:7-8). Nobody likes to be treated unjustly or to be cheated. And rather than accept such treatment, the natural response is to take whatever action is available to avoid it. Paul’s point is that Christians respond to life’s injustices in ways that are not “normal.” They have been “set apart” for something different. Their model, of course, is Jesus, who suffered monumental injustice on a cross without complaining. And their empowerment comes from the Holy Spirit. Christians are not “just forgiven,” they’re definitely different!

For Further Study: 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 

Excerpted from The One Year Devotions for Men, Copyright ©2000 by Stuart Briscoe.


Want to go deeper with this topic? Here’s a very lengthy article on the subject of Christians suing other Christians. Or check out an answer to whether or not it’s Biblical to sue other Christians.

 

April 29, 2016

Not Conformed, But Transformed

For today’s thoughts, we’re showcasing a devotional site that is new to us, StudyLight.org and in particular two word studies based on the same passage from Today’s Word with Skip Moen. For those of you who like to dig a little bit deeper, this is a webpage you should plan on returning to often. Clicking this link will take you the page, which shows the reading for that day, but you use a calendar to navigate to other days’ devotionals.

“Today’s Word” with Skip Moen

“and do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

Conformed – The word Paul uses for “conformed” is suschematizesthe. A mouthful, for sure. But if we break it down, you will see parts you already know. Sus comes from sum. Of course, it means “with” in the sense of added together. Schematizo is the root verb. We get “schematic” a plan or diagram. Because it’s a verb, the sense is “to make according to a design” or “to fashion like a pattern”. So, we have the meaning. Now we need the tense. That will tell us the “who” and the “when” of this verb. It is plural (all of you), imperative (a command), present tense (an action to do right now), passive (do it to yourself). So, “do not be conformed” is really “every moment, don’t make yourself into a person that is patterned after the world”.

My wife has been sewing since she was a child. In her sewing room are many envelopes with patterns in them. When she uses a skirt pattern, even if the material is different in each skirt, the design follows the same pattern. This is what Paul has in mind. He is telling us that the world has a pattern. Even if we make things look different on the outside, that inner pattern will dictate the shape of our lives. Sometimes we aren’t even aware of that design because it has actually formed the way that we think. Let me give you some examples: Do you place a higher value on gaining knowledge than you do on submitting to God’s wisdom?

Perhaps you will say, “Oh, no. I don’t do that. I want to serve God’s purposes”. But see how you respond to these implications. How often have you shortened your time studying God’s word so that you could get to a training class for work? How many times have you missed a Bible study because you got too busy with ordinary things? Do you tell your children that the way to success is by getting a college degree? How much emphasis do you and your family put on understanding God’s precise purpose for your daily life or do you “assume” it while you rush to get to work or school?

Do you measure achievements according to the standards of your career instead of according to God’s revelation?

I have many college degrees. They are displayed on my wall. Do you think that they make me a better person? When you meet someone, do you judge him or her by their accomplishments before you know if they have submitted their lives to God? If someone asks you what you do, is God’s purpose part of your answer? How many times have you turned down a business deal that looked good just because the other party was not a believer and had motivations that were not in the Christian pattern? How often have you measured your success by the number of converts, the size of the choir, the people in the pews or the budget for the building?

Patterns run deep.


Transformed – In Greek, metamorphousthe. Another big word, but this one we have in English. Metamorphosis. To change from one thing into another. Caterpillar to butterfly. The two words that make up this concept literally mean to move from one place to another. It is the same word that is used to describe Jesus when he was transfigured from the earthly human form into the divine form of glory in that brief moment on the mountain. Much better than caterpillar to butterfly. From this earthly body to a shape fit for glory.

Isn’t that what we want? We want to leave behind this world of toil and care. We want to quit the tears, sorrows and struggles. We want the shape of glory, the everlasting peace of God’s presence. To be really free. Just writing these words brings tears to my eyes. There is something in my soul that longs to be released, to be reunited with my Creator.

This word is so much more than the natural process of becoming a butterfly. It is a divine process of the Holy Spirit as I am transformed into the image of Christ. There is nothing on earth like it.

And the most amazing thing is that it is happening right now. We don’t to wait until we die to get it started. It won’t be finished until death, but we are already being moved from one place to another right now. The trials of this world don’t disturb me as much as they used to. The sorrows find comfort. The pains find fellowship. My purpose looks forward. God is changing the shape of my pattern.

But there is something important hidden in the verb tense. Paul is saying we have to do something. We don’t just sit back and let God work. This is active engagement. Transformation requires participation. Look for the new pattern. Let it sink in. Then, just do it!


“Today’s Word” devotional, from Skip Moen . © 2008 is used by permission. All rights reserved.

April 28, 2016

Let’s Get Spiritual

If today’s header bears a mild resemblance to an old Olivia Newton-John song, I apologize for the fact it’s now stuck in your head. Perhaps the article’s own title below will help clear your mind! Jim Thornber writes at what we always call the “other” Thinking Out Loud blog and he’s been featured here four times previously. Click the title below to read at source.

So, You Want To Be “Spiritual?”

The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” — 2 Chron. 16:9

Worship LeaderWhen you hear someone say, “That is a very spiritual person,” what do they mean? I’ve often heard that description used, but when you ask the person who said it what it means, they are often at a loss. I know what it doesn’t mean. To be a “spiritual” person does not mean you walk around silently like some kind of ancient mystic, listening to the quiet breath of God for instructions on what to say and how to pray. It doesn’t mean you’re always ready to say something prophetic and give a word of knowledge and have miracles following you. It doesn’t mean you can quote a thousand different verses on any given subject. Try this for a definition of spirituality: Living your life in harmony with God.

To be spiritual means you make God’s thoughts your thoughts, God’s priorities your priorities. What is important to God is important to you. What burdens God burdens you. When He says, “Go right” you go right, you don’t say, “Why?” A spiritual person decides to follow God knowing that God doesn’t need to explain Himself to anyone. A spiritual person is one whose heart is sensitive to the things of God. 2 Chron. 16:9 says, The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” God is looking for men and women who are completely dedicated to Him.

When I think about a spiritual person I think of David, who was completely dedicated to God in every aspect of his very earthly life. And his was a very earthly life. In Psalm 18:29 David says, “With your help I can conquer an army. I can leap over walls with a helping hand from you.” Can you envision a leaping David? Can you see him running, coming to a wall and leaping over it without hesitation and continuing his run? Eugene Peterson describes David as

“running toward Goliath, running from Saul, pursuing God, meeting Jonathan, rounding up stray sheep, whatever, but running. And leaping. Certainly not strolling or loitering. David’s is a most exuberant story. Earthy spirituality characterizes his life and accounts for the exuberance. Earthy: down-to-earth, dealing with everydayness, praying while doing the laundry, singing in the snarl of traffic. Spiritual: moved and animated by the Spirit of God and therefore alive to God” (Leaping Over A Wall, pg. 11).

Spirituality means you invite God into your everyday, very ordinary, dull, repetitive sameness and converse with Him about the dullness, the hopes, the dreams, the disappointments and the surprises, the decisions about what to make for dinner and how to pray for a child with cancer. The most spiritual people are the most ordinary people. They aren’t necessarily the religious leaders we see on television, but the unseen housewives and workers we never see up front who are affecting the lives of men and women all over the world without ever getting their names mentioned in Christianity Today or appearing on Christian television.

A spiritual person is a man or woman who longs to please God. They know going in that loving God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength is not going to please every one of their friends or all their family. It certainly didn’t please all of David’s brothers. But a spiritual person, although they are concerned with the thoughts of others, do not make what other people think their prime motivation for doing what they do. They know that at the end of their lives they must answer to God, so they look to make their every moment count in the sight of God. And when they fail, which they will (although hopefully, not quite as dramatically as David failed), they turn quickly to God, grieve over their wrongs, and allow His grace and forgiveness to guide their future actions. A spiritual person is an everyday person who chooses to put God first in everything they do.

So, are you ready to be “spiritual?”


This song is based on our opening verse today and is written and sung by Phillip Telfer.

April 27, 2016

Resurrection: The Big Picture

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:58 pm
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Clarke Dixon continues his Resurrection Facts series. To read them all, go to April 2016 entries at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, or for this post at source, click here.

•••by Clarke Dixon

When we are being honest, we may be more easily identified as Canadians than Christians. The passion of the typical Christian in Canada just does not seem to be of the same caliber as that of the apostles we meet in the pages of the New Testament. And if the Christians in Corinth in New Testament times were being honest, they would seem to be more easily identified as being Greek than Christian. As we learn in 1st Corinthians 15 their theology was influenced by Greek thinking, especially with regards to the afterlife. Their lacking theology could and would cause a lack in living for Christ:

Do not be deceived:
“Bad company ruins good morals.”
Come to a sober and right mind, and sin no more; for some people have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame. (1 Corinthians 15:33-34)

In contrast, there is no doubt about Paul’s allegiance, passion, and priority: “And why are we putting ourselves in danger every hour? I die every day!” (1 Corinthians 15:30-31a) How is it Paul is so recognizably representing Christ than his birthplace,Tarsus, his religion, Jewish, or his citizenship, Roman, while the Christians at Corinth seem more Greek than anything? How is it Paul is passionate and we are often not? One reason is that he, and others like him, have a bigger and better picture of reality. They have a solid knowledge that Jesus is risen from the dead and that there will be a resurrection to life of anyone who is in Christ. That hope drives Paul to choose the dangerous and difficult path rather than an easier one:

If with merely human hopes I fought with wild animals at Ephesus, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32)

Paul, the other apostles, and many, many Christians down through the centuries have risked their lives, given their lives, lived their lives for Jesus, and shared the Gospel everywhere they went because they had a bigger and better picture of the reality of God’s love and eternal life. Paul in 1st Corinthians 15 was encouraging the Christians at Corinth to see this bigger picture and if we feel more Canadian than Christian, perhaps we ought to see it also. Here are a few things to think about:

Our vision of the afterlife may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of eternal life. Paul’s vision of eternal life put his experiences of life in perspective: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18) The notion of glory here is not to be missed. Paul speaks of this glory in what he says immediately before:

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:15-17)

Some people think the afterlife of the Christian consists of being a disembodied immortal soul sitting in clouds playing a harp, which of course sounds kind of boring and lacking in glory. That concept is not Biblical. The Bible points us to relationship. We are children of God, and remarkably co-heirs with Christ. We deserve to be neither. All attempts to describe what God has prepared for His children invariably fall short. We simply do not have the language yet to describe glory. Sadly most attempts to describe eternal life are missing God Himself, as if being home for Christmas is more about enjoying the view from the front porch than in enjoying the presence of loved ones.

Our vision of God with respect to the afterlife may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of God Himself. The picture of disembodied souls flying around captures neither the capability nor desire of God. Indeed such a picture does not even require thinking of God’s presence, many people believing in their souls flying away to some sort of afterlife at death with no idea of God being a part of it. And it does not capture the grand span of Biblical theology. We can make it sound like God is on some sort of plan B, disembodied souls in eternity, because He could not pull off plan A spoken of in the first two chapters of Genesis. He is still on plan A and we look forward to bodily existence in the presence of God following our resurrection.

There is a wonderful thought of being reunited with loved ones in the afterlife. I once heard a pastor powerfully give an illustration of the death of a loved one being like a person taking a journey across a river. We are sad as we say our goodbyes, but upon arriving on the other shore, there is joy as loved ones are reunited. A beautiful illustration but with one problem. God was missing! And at funerals, even Christian ones, God is often is left out of the picture. We need a bigger and better picture of God Himself. To be in His presence will be astounding, more astounding, in fact, than being reunited with loved ones.

Our vision of Jesus with respect to the afterlife may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of who Jesus is. Some who would call themselves Christian would qualify that by saying that Jesus was a great teacher, but just that, and being a Christian means being inspired by his great example and teaching. Jesus therefore has nothing to do with any kind of afterlife we might experience. The New Testament points to a far more divine picture of who Jesus is and what he accomplished. However, skeptics say this results from an evolving picture in the minds of Christians between the events of Easter and the writing of the New Testament documents. People’s memories would have changed they say. Indeed I recently heard a podcast where this was claimed along with appeals to an experiment where people had poor memories of the speeches of American Presidents. I was surprised at the comparison. There is no comparison! Jesus was unforgettable. His teaching astonished. His miracles astounded. His death and resurrection caused people, sinners and skeptics alike, to pick up their crosses and follow. He was unforgettable. The apostles were not changing their stories about Jesus, they were changing their lives for Jesus. They were willing to die, having a bigger and better picture of eternal life, having a bigger and better picture of Jesus and his role in the hope of eternal life.

Our vision of salvation may not be clear enough, we may need a bigger and better picture of God’s grace. Some think there will be no salvation. Some think that salvation can be earned, as if it is an easy thing for us to span the gulf that exists between a sinful creature and Holy Creator. Some think salvation is a right: “You created me, you owe eternal life to me.” Because of our sin, God does not owe us another minute of life either now or in the future. Salvation is God doing something for us we could never do for ourselves, something we do not deserve. There is far more to say about it, but when we truly understand God’s amazing grace, we sing the hymns of the faith with far more passion than than we can muster for our national anthem. When we grasp the depth of His grace, we will want to be known first as Christians, second as Canadians.

If we are lacking passion, it may be because we do not have a clear enough picture of eternal life, God, Jesus, and salvation. Like the Christians of Corinth we may want to trade in a theology shaped by society for the bigger and better picture we get in the Bible.

 

 

April 26, 2016

Hallowed Be Thy Name

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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God's Name

Today we pay a return visit to the website Missio Alliance, and what I believe to be our first look at professor and author who has started a series on The Lord’s Prayer. Click the link below to read this article at source, or click his name above to find part one — this is part two — and bookmark the page as new posts are added.

The Lord’s Prayer, A Missional Reading: Hallowed By Thy Name

I remember as a teenager having really no idea what “hallowed” means in the Lord’s Prayer. Is it related to Halloween? Or the phrase “hallowed halls”? My guess was that it had to do with being respectful to God – he is God, I am not. Actually, I came to learn that that is not too far off. To “hallow” the name of God is to sanctify or consecrate it, to make it holy (or, better yet, attribute it all holiness).

Profanity

A biblical text that helps to explain why Jesus wanted his disciples to desire the consecration of God’s Name is Ezekiel 36, a passage prophesying the restoration and “new life” of Israel. The Lord details the waywardness, idolatry, and covenantal rebellion of Israel such that the Lord’s people were scattered in exile (Ezek 36:17-20). Instead of immediately repenting, they became a mockery of God amongst the nations. Out of concern for “my holy name,” the Lord was compelled to act:

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God; it is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned [i.e., degraded] among the nations to which you came. I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned…and the nations will know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes.” (Ezek 36:22-23).

The Lord goes on to promise Israel that he will gather and unite them, restore them to their land, cleanse them and give them a new heart and spirit to obey, and turn them from their idols back to the one true and living God (36:25-27).

God’s Name, People and Restoration

Two things are striking here: First, God’s name is tied to his people – their behavior and reputation redounds upon him, for good or bad. Secondly, God’s plan to restore God’s own name entails a restoration of all things – and this requires the transformation of God’s people both in terms of ethics (doing what’s right) and in terms of unity (bringing God’s people together in common life).

This is a healthy reminder that the Lord’s Prayer cannot be prayed by those who say, “I like Jesus, but don’t believe in the church.” Insofar as the church is the people of God, God’s name must be “sanctified” within the world through the church as a “conductor” of his reputation. You really can’t pray the Lord’s Prayer – at least not in the way Jesus expected – without doing so for the sake of the church as the worshipping and apostolic people of God.

What Name?

There is one more piece I want to bring into this petition. When we say, “sanctify your name,” what “name” is it? It is not simply the name “God” or even “YHWH” the prayer assumes here. The prayer begins, “Our Father” and the Gospels attest that, first and foremost, this is the Father of Jesus. And, by the time we get to the end of the Gospels, this Jesus, Son of God, is crucified and dies a miserable, shameful death on a cross (Roman statesman Cicero called the cross the “tree of shame”).

For the crucified, their family “name” was ruined, worse than ruined. The Roman state declared such ones fools, criminals, and abject creatures. When we pray “sanctify your name,” we pray to the Father who is implicated in this profaning of Jesus’ name. The reputation of the Son “sticks” to the Father. When we pray for the holiness of the Father’s name, we signal a protest against the Roman punishment, against the public judgment on Jesus.

We reject the verdict on Jesus, and the implication against his Father. Your Name is holy, Father of Jesus, Our Father. The cross of Christ is not folly or shame. It is beautiful. We embrace it. If the ignominy of Jesus “sticks” to you, Father, let it stick to us. Let us together fight for a world where the “Jesus way” – even if it be to a cross – represents the holiness of God.


 

I really wanted to include “Our Father” by Brian Doerksen here, but iTunes has it wiped from YouTube. This is a song from the same album.

April 25, 2016

God Won’t Give You More Than You Handle?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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I’ve linked and reblogged material from Stephen Altrogge many times at Thinking Out Loud, but this is the first time we’ve borrowed his material here. He is one of my favorite bloggers, even though we come from rather different doctrinal tribes, and I think this is the best refutation of a popular Christian belief (mostly based on a misreading of I Cor. 10:13) that I’ve seen. To read this at source, click the title below:

There’s A Good Chance God Will Almost Kill You

When someone is going through a tough time we like to say, “Don’t worry, God won’t give you more than you can handle.” It sounds nice and is semi-inspirational, kind of like saying, “Whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger!” Kind of a Christian bootcamp, I’m in the Lord’s army, suck it up fella you’re gonna make it, saying. God won’t give you more than you can handle! You’re going to get through this! Bite the bullet, buckle down, suck it up, push through, dig deep, unleash your animal, huzzah, hip hip hooray.

One slight problem with this line of thinking: God will often give us more than we can handle. In fact, there will be times when God practically kills us.

In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 Paul said:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

God nearly crushed Paul and his apostolic companions. He allowed them to be so afflicted, so burdened, so overrun, so overwhelmed, so beaten down that death seemed like a real possibility. He brought them to the end of their resources and then kept pushing and crushing and grinding until Paul and his friends felt they were under a sentence of death. Did God give Paul more than he could handle? Yeah, I guess you could say that. God nearly killed Paul, and there will be times when he does the same thing to us.

Why does God do this? Is he some sort of sick sadist who enjoys tormenting helpless men and women? No, not at all. God burdens us beyond our strength so that we will be forced to utterly and completely depend on him. God gives us way more than we can handle so that we’ll stop trying to live a self-sufficient life apart from God. He brings us to the brink of death so that we’ll rely on the One who can raise the dead.

When we’re overwhelmed, beaten down, and worn out, we’re in a good place. We’re finally seeing ourselves as we truly are: weak, helpless creatures who desperately need God. When we acknowledge our pervasive weakness we can then receive the overwhelming, sustaining, empowering, conquering grace of God. When we put our face in the dirt before God we’ll discover the spring of His grace running just under the surface.

If you feel overwhelmed don’t take comfort in your ability to handle it all. Don’t try to figure out how you’re going to make it through the darkness. On your own you won’t make it. You can’t handle life. It’s too hard and too heavy and too oppressive. But we serve a God who causes old women to give birth and gives life to dry bones and raises the dead. Run to God in your weakness and bone-tiredness and despair. Rely wholly on him. Throw aside any foolish confidence you have in yourself. Drink deeply of his overwhelming, overflowing grace.

Will God give you more than you can handle? You better believe it. In fact, he might almost kill you. But he brings us to the brink of death so that we’ll trust in his ability to raise the dead.

 

April 24, 2016

God’s Love is NOT Unconditional

•••by Russell Young

The Christian mythology of God’s “unconditional love” has entrenched itself solidly in church teaching and is often promoted without being given adequate thought.  Many people are resting their adoration of Christ and their eternal hope in the thought that God’s love is unconditional and that their sin practices will be over-looked.  It almost sounds heretical to refute such an idea.

God’s love is expansive and beyond understanding but it is not “unconditional.”  If His love is accepted as being expressed as one’s presence in His Eternal Kingdom, and if His love is without condition, salvation must be universal.  Further, if His love is without condition, there will be no place for judgment since judgment implies the assessment of one’s faithfulness in meeting conditions.

The nature of fullness of God’s love is seldom taught.  That is, the Lord not only gave His life on the cross so that past sins might be forgiven (Hebrews 9:15) and a new covenant provided, He dwells “in” the believer so that the righteousness demanded by the law might be achieved by those who are willing to obey Him. (Romans 8:4)

Since salvation is NOT universal, condition(s) for it must apply.  According to the Psalmist the first condition is contrition of spirit.  “The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” (Psalm 34:18, KJV; 51:17; 57:15) A second condition is that they must “obey” the Spirit.  “He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:9, NIV; Romans 8:4) A third condition is that they must stand firm to the end. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22, NIV).  A fourth condition is that they must share in His suffering (to overcome temptations),” Now if we are children [of God], then we are heirs—heirs of God and coheirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:17, NIV; Romans 6:5)

All will be judged at Christ’s return for the things done in the flesh. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each may receive what is due him for the things done in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10, NIV).  There will be a separation of those “who do not obey the gospel” from those who do.  “He will punish those who do not know [appreciate] God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified.” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10)

God’s love is expansive, but not unconditional, and those who teach otherwise are deceivers leading many into a false hope for their disobedient behaviors.  Paul told his readers to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) Christ told His followers to “make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. (Luke 13:24, NIV)

The mythical concept of God’s “unconditional love” is so pervasive that it has overwhelmed contemporary Christian music and has lulled believers to sleep concerning the need for their own righteousness.  God’s love is expansive, but He is also HOLY and “without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14) The Kingdom of God was not created for man; it is God’s kingdom created for Him and those in it must be suitable for His Presence.  “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Matthew 13:41)  “Only a few” will find life. (Matthew 7:14)

April 23, 2016

Why Stop at Just Casting Out Demons?

NIrV: Matthew 8:30 Not very far away, a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31 The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”

32 Jesus said to them, “Go!” So the demons came out of the men and went into the pigs.


NIrV Matthew 8:43 “What happens when an evil spirit comes out of a person? It goes through dry areas looking for a place to rest. But it doesn’t find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives there, it finds the house empty. The house has been swept clean and put in order. 45 Then the evil spirit goes and takes with it seven other spirits more evil than itself. They go in and live there. That person is worse off than before. That is how it will be with the evil people of today.”

If you can cast them out, why not totally annihilate them? Today we return to the writing of pastor, author and Bible translator Christopher R. Smith at the blog Good Question. Due to changes in his life, he is no longer updating this blog, but the resources remain available, presented in a Q&A format. Click the title below to link to this one directly:

Why didn’t Jesus destroy demons when he cast them out?

Q. In any of the situations where Jesus cast out demons, why didn’t he kill them so they would not enter another person?

Matthew’s gospel relates how, when Jesus was casting out demons in the region of the Gadarenes, they cried out, “Son of God, what do you want with us? Have you come here to punish us before the time for us to be judged?” The encounters between Jesus and demons described in the gospels are typically brief and cryptic, but we can at least tell from this one that God has set a time for demons to be judged and punished. But as these demons knew, that time had not yet come during the ministry of Jesus, and they successfully appealed to be sent into a herd of pigs instead.

destroying demonsThe reasons why Jesus allowed such demons to continue to roam the earth, at least for a while, have to do, I believe, with the need for there to be freedom in order for people to make the choice to love God and others. God could have removed all sources of suffering and discord in the world, but this would have been at the cost of making true freedom impossible and depriving the world of the fruits of freedom, including love, courage, creativity, and so forth.

One of Jesus’ parables shows how God wanted people to respond instead to the fact that demons remained at large even after they had been cast out of their victims.  Jesus said, “What happens when an evil spirit comes out of a person? It goes through dry areas looking for a place to rest. But it doesn’t find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives there, it finds the house empty. The house has been swept clean and put in order. Then the evil spirit goes and takes with it seven other spirits more evil than itself. They go in and live there. That person is worse off than before.”

Jesus actually told this parable about his own generation as a whole, to illustrate how, by rejecting his true message of the kingdom of God, they were leaving themselves open to the influence of false messiahs who would lead them astray into destruction.  (This happened during the two Jewish-Roman wars in the decades that followed.) But for the parable to make this point by application, its story needs to make a valid point of its own, and that is that people who have been freed from a demon are responsible themselves to fill their lives with godly and wholesome influences that will discourage any demons from ever returning.

In other words, while Jesus didn’t destroy the demons he cast out, he brought the truth of the kingdom of God, and ultimately he sent the Holy Spirit, to occupy the place the demons had left so that they would never try to fill it again.  And I think this is how we need to think about all of the evil and destructive influences around us as we live in these “in-between times,” when the kingdom of God has already been inaugurated but not yet completely established.  God has not yet removed all these influences from the earth.  But he has sent other influences that can effectively displace them in our own lives, and increasingly in our world, if we recognize and accept our responsibility to welcome and cultivate these life-giving endowments.

 

April 22, 2016

When We Judge God

NLT Job 9:22 Innocent or wicked, it is all the same to God.
    That’s why I say, ‘He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.’
23 When a plague sweeps through,
    he laughs at the death of the innocent.
24 The whole earth is in the hands of the wicked,
    and God blinds the eyes of the judges.
    If he’s not the one who does it, who is?


NIV Job 40:2 Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”


NIV Matthew 25:24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.


NIV Genesis 3:8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”


NLT Proverbs 19:3 People ruin their lives by their own foolishness
    and then are angry at the Lord.


HCSB Ezekiel 18:25 “But you say, ‘The Lord’s way isn’t fair.’ Now listen, house of Israel: Is it My way that is unfair? Instead, isn’t it your ways that are unfair?


NIV Ecclesiastes 5:2 Do not be quick with your mouth,
    do not be hasty in your heart
    to utter anything before God.
God is in heaven
    and you are on earth,
    so let your words be few.


The other morning I did a study that resulted in some of the above texts which have to do with blaming God or incorrectly presuming to know the ways of God. You can find more verses on this theme at BibleResons.com . (Emphasis in the texts above has been added.) If you’re not familiar with the contexts of any of these go to BibleGateway.com and click the symbol identified below to see the full chapters.

Bible Gateway full chapter link

I got into this topic reading the following short devotional at Stop And Pray TV. (They had reblogged an article from Thinking Out Loud, so I thought I’d see if I could return the favor!) One thing apparently led to another, resulting in the above scripture medley. You can click the title below to read this at source:

Can a Saint Falsely Accuse God?

All the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen… — 2 Corinthians 1:20

Jesus’ parable of the talents recorded in Matthew 25:14-30 was a warning that it is possible for us to misjudge our capacities. This parable has nothing to do with natural gifts and abilities, but relates to the gift of the Holy Spirit as He was first given at Pentecost. We must never measure our spiritual capacity on the basis of our education or our intellect; our capacity in spiritual things is measured on the basis of the promises of God. If we get less than God wants us to have, we will falsely accuse Him as the servant falsely accused his master when he said, “You expect more of me than you gave me the power to do. You demand too much of me, and I cannot stand true to you here where you have placed me.” When it is a question of God’s Almighty Spirit, never say, “I can’t.” Never allow the limitation of your own natural ability to enter into the matter. If we have received the Holy Spirit, God expects the work of the Holy Spirit to be exhibited in us.

The servant justified himself, while condemning his lord on every point, as if to say, “Your demand on me is way out of proportion to what you gave to me.” Have we been falsely accusing God by daring to worry after He has said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you”? (Matthew 6:33). Worrying means exactly what this servant implied— “I know your intent is to leave me unprotected and vulnerable.” A person who is lazy in the natural realm is always critical, saying, “I haven’t had a decent chance,” and someone who is lazy in the spiritual realm is critical of God. Lazy people always strike out at others in an independent way.

Never forget that our capacity and capability in spiritual matters is measured by, and based on, the promises of God. Is God able to fulfill His promises? Our answer depends on whether or not we have received the Holy Spirit.

 

April 21, 2016

Our Sin and the State of Creation

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today we pay a return visit to the devotional blog Get Along With God. Choosing a selection from this blog is never easy, but I found the idea in this one something I hadn’t truly considered before. This time around the writer is John. Click the title below, then click on ‘home’ to visit other articles at the site. You’ll also see some nice graphics that go with this article. (This article also contains links to others at the same blog.)

All Creation is Calling

All Creation

God created the heavens and the earth and everything that lives. At the end of His creating He said, “It is VERY good!” He made a masterpiece of the world and universe we live in. It was blessed!

Then came man, made in God’s image. We roamed the earth and were given preeminence over all Creation. We were able to walk in the cool of the day with God, our Father, in unbroken fellowship. It was beautiful! But then came the day that we fell.

As a result of our choice and fall, all of creation was cursed along with us. Its fruitfulness and flourishing gave way to thorns and thistles. On that day, death and decay permeated everything created. That which was blessed and VERY good, bore the scars of our choice against God. Yet did Creation turn against us in revolt and bitterness? No, the Word says that all Creation longs for the sons of God to come into glory. Creation literally groans as it waits to see us reunited with God in perfection.

For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed.
Romans 8:19 HCSB

Everything on earth is subject to our fall. Nature itself was subjected to our evil choice and yet lives in hope and anticipation. Imagine, hope reigns supreme throughout all creation even in the face of our evil. The earth didn’t swallow us whole in a vengeful act for mangling its form; no, it teems with expectation for the day that we and it will be liberated in newness.

For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it—in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now.
Romans 8:20-22 HCSB

The Story of All Creation and Our Today

So, how does this relate to us today? Because “The Story” is the same in the microcosm as it is in the macrocosm. The Creation Story is reflected in our personal lives as well. In the same way that Creation was hurt by our choices, other people’s choices have and do hurt us deeply.

Whether through ignorance, or in willfulness, or with malice, we are wounded, scarred, and crippled by the choices of those around us. Be it parents or siblings, spouses or children, authorities or friends, we are wounded and sometimes irrevocably. And this happens in both directions. We wound as much as others wound us. But here is Creation standing as an ever-present sentinel, a beacon for hope. Creation bowed to the Sovereign Hand who subjected it to man, and now it groans and waits for the redemption we all seek. Which one of us hasn’t also had to personally twist in the wind of adversity, waiting for our Redeemer in Glory to come?

This fact could sink us emotionally if we didn’t have the sustaining power of the Spirit of God. It’s too much to bear on our own. But the good news is we were never intended to. Our Savior came to heal the breach, and He left the Spirit to be our Life. It’s true, without Him it is impossible, unsustainable, and devastating. But the story of His Redeeming Love is sung throughout Creation—all Creation calls, waiting patiently without bitterness, malice, or scorn.

This is our lesson and our life. We are each called to receive our bruising, accept our crippling and groan with all Creation for the end of the age.

Am I a pessimist? A gloomy Gus toting a “Life’s a bummer and then you die!” bumper sticker? No, on the contrary, I know that God has subjected me and I have been maligned by the choices of others, but I am called to embrace His sovereign choices and not take up bitterness against those who have sinned. Others are also the recipients of my sinful choosing – may they have the grace to embrace our Sovereign God.

All Creation has a lesson to teach us. It has a vital call for us all. Surrender to the Hand of our Sovereign God and eagerly wait and groan for His Sovereign Hand to liberate us all. Oh, how often I have taken up an offense and become bitter, writhing with resistance rather than groaning with anticipation. It’s a life or death choice—one we each have the grace to face.

In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared with the magnificent future God has planned for us. The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own. The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!
Romans 8:18-21 Phillips

April 20, 2016

Resurrection: Dead in Adam, Alive in Christ

Wednesday contributor Clarke Dixon continues his Resurrection Facts series, begun last week. Click this link to read at source.

•••by Clarke Dixon

Have you ever had the experience of knowing something is coming and there is not a thing you can do about it? I remember vividly the first time I capsized a sailboat. You might think it would be a sudden thing and that you would find yourself in the water before you knew it. But it wasn’t. It seemed to happen in slow motion. With the boat laid over on its side, the hull slowly sank into the water. I even had time to say to my sailing partner that day “well, here we go.” We knew we were about to get wet and there was not a thing we could do about it.

The apostle Paul speaks of something coming that we can do nothing about: “For as in Adam all die.” (1 Corinthians 15:22) There is much that confirms this fact. History confirms it. Study the history of any era in any place and time and time again you will see the same thing has happened; “In Adam all die.” Look to science and the same thing is confirmed again. Indeed the news there is worse as scientists point out, quite matter of factly, that some day the sun will go out and the earth will be no longer life permitting. “In Adam all die.” Look to the arts, and there you will find many novels, poems, songs, music, paintings, and movies dealing with the theme of mortality and what is the meaning of life when “in Adam all die.”

Of course the Bible itself confirms that “in Adam all die.” We can look to the time death entered our world:

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die. (Genesis 2:15-17)

Adam ate the fruit. The consequence was death: “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23). Some may point out that Adam and Eve did not in fact die that day. However, they did start dying that day. When the Bible says “for as in Adam, all die” the word for ‘die’ is in the present tense so could be translated “in Adam all are dying.” We tend to think we grow until we are 20, have a perfect body until we are 60 and then we start the ageing process. Being in my mid 40’s I can attest to this being untrue with the ageing process being quite underway. We actually begin the ageing process at conception. Our bodies are continually changing so that even while we are living, we are also dying.

To continue in the Greek, “in Adam all die” is also in the active voice. This means it is something we do, something we are responsible for. We can speak of this or that disease “taking us,” but in fact it is we who are doing the dying. We are responsible. Now some will deny this. “Put me in the Garden of Eden, I would have done better!” But when we are being honest we will relate to Paul who said:

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death. (Romans 7:21-24)

“For as in Adam all die.” And there is nothing we can do about it.

Alive in ChristThat is the bad news. Is there any good news? Well yes, because we have only read one half of the verse so far: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Back to the Greek; “All will be made alive” is in the future tense, so even if we feel we are presently dying, hang on, death is not the end of the story. When we are “made alive” we will have a new beginning within God’s grand story.

“All will be made alive” is also in the passive voice, meaning it is not something we do or are responsible for. Someone will do for us something that we could never do. This takes us back to verse 3 of 1st Corinthians 15 where Someone does something for us: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.” All those sins we have committed that show we are no better than Adam and are sharing in the same fruit? Yes, Jesus died for those. The bad news gives way to very good news!

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 7:24-25)

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

This is very good news indeed but we might be very typical and think it is all about us. We get to enjoy eternal life. But there is more going on here. The resurrection of the dead is not just about us.

Consider that back in the Garden of Eden there seemed to be new rulers in town. The serpent was powerful in temptation. Adam and Eve were powerful in exerting their own will and doing their own thing. Soon Cain was powerful in the ending of his brother’s life. And on it goes down through history with people wielding power and enforcing wills. “Just try to stop me God!” With all that exercise of power let’s read what happens with the resurrection of the dead:

Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:24-28)

That can all sound quite complicated, but it points to something very simple; God’s rule, God’s sovereignty, for God’s glory. While salvation is really good news for what it means for us, it is also about the glory of God. He is “all in all.” The spanner thrown into the works by the evil one, and by Adam and Eve, does not upset God’s apple cart at all. Despite Satan’s best efforts to drive a wedge between humanity and God, despite Adam and Eve’s sin, despite yours and mine, The LORD will be

. . . among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them.
(Revelation 21:3)

God’s purposes will be accomplished, God’s Kingdom will come, God’s glory is intact.

Let us go back to the original question. Have you ever had the experience of knowing something is coming and there is not a thing you can do about it? The resurrection of the dead in Christ to eternal life is something Satan and the powers of evil know is coming  and there is not a thing they can do about it. When we repent and trust in the Lord Jesus, then our resurrection becomes something coming that no one can touch. Not because we are better than Adam, but because God is all in all.

All scripture references are from the NRSV except “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” which is taken from KJV.

Image: Augsburg Fortress Bulletins

April 19, 2016

Sacrifice: When the Cause is Too Important

Whenever a nation gets involved in a major wartime effort, the civilian population left at home tends to have to make plenty of sacrifices as well…

So begins an article by Bill Muehlenberg at the blog Culture Watch, who we have featured here twice before. This is a longer piece, and we’re going to join it about halfway through so you are encouraged to click the title below to read it all.

Wartime, Self-Sacrifice and the Christian Life

…The Christian life is a life of warfare, of battle, and of fighting. It is also a life of hardship, surrender and self-sacrifice. At least it is supposed to be.

I have written often the issue of warfare and the Christian life. See here for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2009/03/18/fighting-the-good-fight/

And I have often written about the sacrifices a believer is called to make for his Lord. But here let me offer some spiritual parallels to what we found happening in the countries reduced to rationing during the last great war. The parallels are not perfect of course because in the Christian’s life, it is a voluntary rationing and self-sacrifice, not one forced upon us by government.

Spiritual WarfareBut otherwise we have some real similarities. In both cases, an urgent end requires discipline, self-denial and sobriety in order to achieve a good outcome. In both cases the cause is much greater than the individual, and any sacrifices we can make for the greater good are vital.

In the Christian life we war against the world, the flesh and the devil. The spiritual battle is constant and to the max. If we hope to properly present Christ and extend his Kingdom and strike blows against the satanic empire, that will require real effort from us, and real self-sacrifice.

If we just keep living a self-indulgent, me-first lifestyle, we will achieve nothing of worth for the Kingdom. In fact we will end up aiding and abetting the enemy. The New Testament makes much of this type of thinking. For example Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, as he mixes his metaphors:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Or consider his words as found in 2 Timothy 2:1-5:

You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.

Self-discipline and self-denial are essential parts of the Christian life if we want to see Christ glorified, the world reached, and enemy strongholds pulled down. It will not happen any other way. Like Paul, we make sacrifices for our Lord because he made the greatest sacrifice for us. We can do no less.

As C. T. Studd once said, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.” Or as the Welsh preacher J. D. Jones said, “All the calls of the gospel are calls to hardship, to sacrifice, to battle. Christ would have no man follow him under the delusion that he was going to have an easy time of it.”

F. B. Meyer put it this way:

It is urgently needful that the Christian people of our charge should come to understand that they are not a company of invalids, to be wheeled about, or fed by hand, cosseted, nursed, and comforted, the minister being the head-physician and nurse – but a garrison in an enemy’s country, every soul of which should have some post of duty, at which he should be prepared to make any sacrifice rather than quit it.

Let me conclude with the words of Leonard Ravenhill on this issue. He said,

When a nation calls its prime men to battle, homes are broken, weeping sweethearts say their good-byes, businesses are closed, college careers are wrecked, factories are refitted for wartime production, and rationing and discomforts are accepted – all for war. Can we do less for the greatest fight that this world has ever known outside of the cross – this end-time siege on sanity, morality and spirituality?

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