Christianity 201

March 29, 2017

The Three ‘R’s of Baptism

NLT Matthew 3:13 Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”

15 But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.[1] So John agreed to baptize him.

16 After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened[2] and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”

[1.] 3:15 Or for we must fulfill all righteousness.
[2.] 3:16 Some manuscripts read opened to him.

One of the ideals we’re committed to here is allowing what I call next generation voices to be heard. Katie calls her blog The Hipster Ginger, and I loved her take on what her denomination teaches about baptism. Click the title below to read the full article at source.

Renounce, Reject, Repent

I love baptisms. I love the stories, the memories that are made, and the amazing promises that happen at a baptism.

I am a United Methodist through and through. My experiences are pretty freaking Methodist, so this post will be mostly Methodist.

When we make our initial vow in front of the body of Christ when we are presented for Holy Baptism, to “renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin,” (Standard Book of Worship) we are not just renouncing the spiritual forces that we struggle with as individuals. We are also rejecting the evil powers that are loose in the world. Likewise, we are not just repenting of our sins as individuals.

We are also repenting of the sins of humankind as a whole.

Today we are going to have a VERY brief review of the three promises we make in baptism; renouncing, rejecting, and repenting.

To RENOUNCE is a fundamental act of treason. It is to break allegiance to a power or authority to which one had previously given allegiance and service. From the earliest examples of baptismal questions we have, renunciation of Satan or the devil (spiritual forces of wickedness, we say) always comes first. Because you cannot make new alliances until your old ones are broken.

This step follows biblical precedent. The very first story we hear of Jesus after his baptism in the wilderness is his renunciation of Satan. Jesus makes it clear where his allegiances lie, and he shows the way for all who would follow him. (Luke 4:1-13)

It also follows the pattern of centuries of practice when you seek citizenship in a new realm or country. You first breaks allegiance to the realm or sovereign of the people from which you have come from and only then you pledge allegiance to the new realm or sovereign.

To REJECT the evil powers of this world is a phrase that kinda makes me think I’m watching the exorcist. The English word “reject” comes from the Latin “reicere,” which means “to throw out”– and so translates the Greek verb “ekballein,” which is often used to describe what Jesus does to demons (to cast out, to throw out). When we pledge to reject evil, we are promising to do more than just not do evil things. We are promising to throw out, to cast out, to shut the door behind any evil powers that seek to control with us or use us in anyway. So we not only break allegiances, we also commit not to allow evil any sway in our lives. (Psalm 51:10) John Wesley’s first two simple rules cover this when he says “do good” and “do no harm.”

To REPENT of our sin (yeah, SIN. I did it on purpose) means more than feeling sorry or guilty for bad things we have done in the past. The Hebrew verb behind repent (shuv) means “to turn from.” The promise we make is not just to turn from “sins” (actions that bring harm) but “sin” itself.

The singular points less to individual actions and more toward whole patterns of life. So we here commit to turn and walk away from those patterns of life, habits, and behaviors that damage others and/or our relationships with God, with the earth, and with our neighbors. (Luke 5:31-32)


A few days later, Katie’s friend Melissa weighed in on a topic that often trips up Christians: Why should Jesus need to be baptized? We join that article in progress; click the title below to read it in full.

Jesus Got Dunked

…It is important to note that baptism is not exclusively a Christian ritual. Jesus and John were Jews, after all. Christianity gets the ritual from the Jewish cleansing rite, which symbolized a person’s changed nature – a new identification, new status, new creation.

People got baptized as a way to symbolize their repentance, or turning away from sin, and to be symbolically cleansed. So why did Jesus get baptized if John was only preparing the way for him?  Did Jesus need to repent and be cleansed from his sin?

Nah.

My suspicion is that Jesus was not baptized because he needed to repent, but because he was eager to show his devotion to God through baptism. He also was affirming the truth that John was preaching: The Kingdom of God is near, and Jesus would be the one to establish that Kingdom on earth.

After Jesus was baptized, the sky ripped open, God the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove, and God the Father spoke, affirming Jesus as God the Son. This was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on earth.

Because Jesus was baptized, we get baptized today as a way of following him and to remind us that when we live in the kingdom of God. We have a new identity, and that identity is in Jesus Christ. It is through the water that we experience God’s grace and enter into the Body of Christ.

The beautiful thing about the Kingdom of God is that all are welcome to this new identity. Our identity in Christ defines us more than what we look like, smell like, dress like, or talk like. God uses people as wild-looking as John the Baptist–the dirty, matted, smelly man with a weird diet.

How will you remember your identity in Christ today? How will you celebrate God’s grace in your life, and how will you offer that grace to others, regardless of what they look like?

March 28, 2017

Seeing it to Believe It

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
 ~John 20:25

Something different today. Bible exposition can take many forms. We’re familiar with formal exegesis as well as word study and even paraphrasing the story. This one goes beyond the usual paraphrase and provides us with a more dramatic context in which to view a familiar story. The author is Jenny and her blog is JennStory. Please, click the title below to read today’s devotional at her site. (This is also a great resource if  you’re looking for a reading at Easter.)

The Twin

Picture this: your world has just been shattered. And you did not see it coming.

Well, maybe you kind of did. You’re not stupid. Things weren’t going exactly well, but they were going magnificently. Something larger than life was happening, right before your eyes. You’d heard the prophecies all your life, of course, but you’d never dreamed you would live to see them be fulfilled. But you did, and you had a front row seat. He was your best friend. It amazed you, filled you with wonder.

But it didn’t blind you. You knew not everyone was pleased with him, not everyone believed in him. You knew some people, powerful people, wanted him dead. But you couldn’t imagine living without him. That was why, when he insisted on returning to a town where they had tried to kill him before, you told the others, his other friends, that you were going with him anyway. It was dangerous, yes. But you decided then that you would rather die with him than live without him.

But you didn’t die in that town, and neither did he. Instead you saw the strongest miracle yet, and for a moment, things looked better. It seemed that the people really realized who he was.

And then everything fell apart. They took him, and before you could think what to do, they killed him. And to twist the knife, it’s one of your own who betrayed him. And you can’t understand it. Somehow, you feel like he let you down. Like he let this happen to himself. Some part of you believed that he could do anything, and yet they killed him.

A week before you said you would rather die than live without him, but now that he’s dead and you’re still alive, you find yourself less willing. You’re scared, all of you. They killed him. You’re his closest friends, his strongest supporters. The ones who believed in him most. Won’t they come after you, too? So you lock all of your doors, and you sit and you wait. It’s a paralysis, cold in your heart, freezing your bones.

It’s dangerous to stay all in one place, might make you easier to find, but you gather as often as you dare. You need each other. No one else understands the pain and the despair of losing him. Everything you hoped and planned, shattered, ashes in your mouths.

But then one day you come in to find them all already gathered. They crowd around you, words falling over each other, trying to tell you something impossible. He’s alive. They’ve seen him. Talked with him.

But there’s no way. You saw him die. You know it. Dead is dead. Yes, he raised Lazarus, but he was alive then. And bringing someone back from beyond the grave – that’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. You don’t doubt their sincerity, but they can’t be right. Most likely Jehovah sent them a vision to comfort their hearts. Which doesn’t seem quite fair, because your heart could do with some comforting as well.

They’re insistent, every single one of them, but you’ve never been one to take up an opinion just because it was popular. It’s clear that they really believe their message, but you, well, you doubt it. And you tell them so. You’ll believe it when you see it. When you touch those wounds that tore open your heart. And not a moment before.

And then he just shows up. Really, truly him. The same man you followed and loved for three years, but different somehow. Bigger. More joyful. He lets you touch him but he reproaches you a little for thinking you have to see him before you can believe. Not everyone will have that privilege, and they will be blessed for their faith. And as you look into his eyes and listen to his words, something ripens and blossoms, something that has been growing in you ever since the day he first told you to follow him. You fully and absolutely realize, at last, who he is. There is no room for doubt here.

“My Lord and my God.

• – •

It’s not the end of your story. He has fulfilled his mission, and now yours begins. Your task is to tell his story, to go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations. And you do it. You live many years after that, long enough to see a new kingdom rising. His kingdom. And at the end of your life, the thing happens which you once feared most, but which you are honored to face now: you die because you are his friend.

But you are not forgotten. Year upon year passes until everyone you ever met has died, and still your name is not forgotten. Down through the ages you are remembered, but not for the reason for which you lived. Not even for the reason for which you died. As far as history cares, there is only one moment in your life that really mattered – those few hours in which you were Thomas, the Doubter.

March 27, 2017

New Creation? Or “Pretty much who I have always been?”

NLT 2 Cor. 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

Today we’re introducing a new writer, Tara who blogs at PursuePeaceBlog. Click to look around, I love her writing style and how she wrestles with the text. Click the title below to read today’s thoughts with photo images.

A New Creation

I’m dead.

Yep, dead as a door nail.

Nail down the coffin, people.

I am entirely unresponsive to the world around me.

Dead.

Don’t plan my funeral yet though, that would just be weird.

Allow me to explain…

In 2 Corinthians 5:17, the Bible says that in Christ, we are a new creation. In fact, Paul explains it further by saying that old things have passed away and all things have become new. Notice that Paul does not say some things have become new, or you have become new, or the world has become new. No. Paul says all things have become new for those who live in Christ Jesus.

I have always had a rather ambivalent relationship with Paul’s words. There is nothing more encouraging or edifying to know that Christ frees us in such a way that we become a brand new creation.

Just as many times as this verse has encouraged me, it has confounded and alarmed me. I am not certain when I became a Christian; I pretty much just always loved Jesus. I could tell you when my faith became my own, instead of my parents’, but I did not have a defining moment where the Lord saved me. I often wonder if Paul’s words would have a more potent impact upon me if I hadn’t always been a Christian—if I had a “me before Jesus” with which to compare myself.

I know I have grown more in love with Christ as I have entered adulthood, and I know my faith has matured in immeasurable ways; however, I don’t know that I see myself as a new creation. I am still pretty much who I have always been. I continue to struggle with the same sins I was struggling with as a young girl; they may look different now, but they are the same. I can be unimaginably prideful, and impeccably self-absorbed; I tend to envy one’s success long before I rejoice in it; I seek my own glory before I seek my Father’s, and I am impatient beyond logic.

How is this kind of mess a new creation?

Romans 6:4 says, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Read that verse again. I mean, really read it.

Paul says we were buried with Him…Whoa. I don’t recall being held up in a tomb for three days with the Son of God. I guarantee I would not have been as chill about it as Jesus was.

Colossians 2:11 also describes Christians as being buried with Jesus through baptism, but it goes further to say not only was Christ raised from the dead, but so were we.

Colossians 3 reminds us again that we have died and our life is hidden with Christ in God.

This begs the question that if we are dead, how then should we live on this earth?

It’s hard to be dead and alive at the same time, even for the most gifted of people.

Colossians 3 says more, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

Christ is life. Christ is life. Christ is life.

There are countless verses that address being dead to the world and alive in Christ. Galatians 3:26-27 says, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

Colossians touches on this same concept in chapter 2 by saying a Christian puts off the body of the things of the flesh…

If my faith in Christ allows me to drape Him over my shoulders like a blanket and traipse around like a beacon for Jesus, then I must simultaneously clothe myself in newness of life—my new man—killing my old self.  

In fact, Ephesians 4 says this of a Christian: putting off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

Despite all this evidence, the problem many Christians have with this idea is that our old self seems to still live, lurking in the shadows of our hearts, revealing himself or herself countless times throughout the course of one day—this old self is our sin, and it has the power to eat us alive if we don’t let Christ fight it.

Our old self fears sin, fears the world, fears failure—fears everything. Putting on Christ each day and making Him our life does not mean sin no longer exists within us: it means that sin no longer controls us; it becomes so powerless, in fact, that it is dead. Christ has given us a weapon with which to fight this sin, and the ultimate gift when we lose that fight – forgiveness.

For many of us, choosing to truly believe this is half the battle.

Jesus was buried with our sin, our muck, our nastiness, our filth. It is no longer ours, but His. Being a new creation does not mean that I no longer sin. When the world looks at me, it sees little change between who I am and who I once was. However, it is what God sees when He looks at me that truly makes the difference.

He sees His pristine and perfect child, dead to the world, yet alive and well in Christ. He sees a woman who has her mind set on things above.

My master is no longer sin; my master is God.

This is freedom.

March 26, 2017

The Prodigal Son and God’s Love for the Repentant Sinner

by Russell Young

Luke relates the parable of the lost or prodigal son. (Lk 15:11─31) The story is quite well known. According to its presentation, a wealthy father had two sons and the younger wanted his inheritance even while the father lived. Having been given it, he squandered it in “riotous living” until he had nothing left. Starvation caused him to humbly return home where he was compassionately and enthusiastically greeted by his anxious father. The older son had remained home and had worked the remaining part of the estate for his father. Seeing his father’s delight in the return of the reckless son and the celebration that was taking place, the older son became upset since his faithfulness to his father had never been recognized.

This parable is often presented to show the “forgiveness” and love of the father and/or the hard-heartedness of the brother who had faithfully toiled for so long. Regardless, the revelation of God’s heart concerning the repentance of a sinner is highlighted within the parable. The verse leading to the parable (Luke 15:10) reads that “there is much rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Repentance shows humility rather than pride. It indicates that the sinner has recognized the sovereignty of God and his laws and that he or she is subject to them. God loves the repentant person who is prepared to honour him and his creation.

Perhaps writings that have attempted to apply meaning to all aspects of this parable are confusing the issue. The father’s joy at the return of his son has been made clear. He loved his son and wanted fellowship with him. Without doubt, he had misused his inheritance and had done many foolish things, but he had learned some valuable lessons. His misadventure had taught him a great deal. From the parable, it seems that he had returned ready to be a committed and faithful son. Does our heavenly Father want anything less? Could he expect anything more?

Jesus had engaged his earthly ministry to redeem a lost people and was amid a people who had rejected God’s righteous requirements for thousands of years. His sorrow for Jerusalem was expressed as follows: “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate.” (Lk 13:34─35) His heart was breaking because of the bleakness that sin had brought upon God’s chosen people. In this parable he is bringing the need for repentance to the lost sons of Israel and expressing to them the joy that the Father feels when truth is finally recognized and appreciated.

The issue of repentance applies to humankind today. God’s lamentation over the state of wickedness that exists in the hearts of his created people was expressed early following the tenure of people upon the earth. “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Gen 6:5─6 NIV) God loves his creation and it was for his pleasure that he had created in the first place. Hearts have become thoroughly evil in his estimation and there is no good thing in them. God wants repentance! He wants hearts committed to him and to doing good. Perhaps, like the father in the parable, the church of Christ should rejoice more exuberantly with God when a repentant sinner acknowledges hurt to humankind and to God and returns humbly to meet the heart of God.

For those who want to direct the parable to address the father’s rejoicing over the wayward “believer’s” return it needs to be appreciated that the prodigal had no inheritance and no recourse to attaining any. He had returned home having wasted it. The inheritance that belongs to the believer is the same inheritance that Christ will receive since the believer is a co-heir with Christ. (Rom 8:17) God will not be mocked, the “believer” cannot truthfully be repentant and act otherwise. Concerning the nature of his preaching, Paul told King Agrippa that his preaching to the Gentiles was that “they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20 NIV) The writer of Hebrews has recorded: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (Heb 10:26─27 NIV) God will not be mocked and “believers” who repent after deliberately continuing to sin will not enjoy the celebration that the prodigal received.

Those who want to find meaning in the parable through reflecting on the attitude of the elder son through his hesitancy to rejoice at the return of the lost son need to understand that the elder has been presented as having been fully obedient to his father and the father did not chastise him but conveyed his heart over the return of his lost son. He desired the son to rejoice, as well. The elder son was to get all his father’s inheritance and was to be with him always. (Lk 15:31)

This parable was an attempt to reach out to the children of Israel to encourage repentance and a return to the family and perhaps it should not be considered beyond this point. There is great rejoicing in heaven when a sinner has been convinced of the pain he has brought to the heart of God and returns contritely and committed to live a life of humility and obedience. As depicted in this presentation by Christ, believers can cause rejoicing in heaven and can “shine like the brightness of the heavens” (Dan 12:3 NIV) through encouraging repentance and a walk of righteousness by believers. The father shared his heart that you might bless him.


Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and 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

March 25, 2017

Temptation

As I mentioned yesterday, last March I introduced you to a new online resource, Start2Finish.org which includes various blogs, podcasts and Bible study materials materials available on everything from a phone app to print. This weekend we’ve returned there, sharing two other authors from the site. Click the title below to read today’s article at its source, and then use the navigation bar to check out the rest of the website

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

by Keith Harris

Jesus prayed, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (Matthew 6:13).  Many would respond that certainly God would never lead us into temptation.  This verse then becomes the more puzzling phrase of this prayer.  Notice a couple of similar texts.  Matthew 26:41 says, Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”   James says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him (James 1:2, 12).  Understanding this request requires a look at the Greek word “pārasmos”.  This word is often translated as trial or test.  This is the same word for temptation.  This word is used in Hebrews 2:18 which says, For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.  The same Greek word (pārasmos) is used of Abraham in Hebrews 11:17, By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac…  It is used of Jesus in Matthew 4:1, Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”  Certainly, temptation is a reality for us all.  To avoid temptation entirely would be to place ourselves above Jesus.  The implication of this verse in Hebrews is that there was benefit in the temptation.

The Bible tells us that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the Devil.  We make a significant distinction between the words, “temptation,” “test,” and “trial”.  Many questions arise in this study.  Was Jesus really tempted to give in or was he strong in his resolve?  Different people come to different conclusions, and for various reasons.  We make a distinct difference that is not easily discerned in the words alone.  But two things are clear in scripture: 1) God does not tempt anyone to do evil, 2) Satan is out to get us by pulling us into evil.

First, God does not tempt us to do that which is contrary to his will.  James says, Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one (James 1:13).  God is not out to get us.  He is not trying to trap us.  He is not sitting on his throne, looking down just waiting for us to mess up so he can zap us.  God desires for us to do his will.  He does not tempt us to do evil.  Second, Satan is out to get us by pulling us into evil.  Peter says, Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).  Satan is real.  His desire is for us to turn away from God, to disregard the will of God.  And he works diligently to trap us, to cause us to question the will of God, to see the pleasure of sin.  It is Satan who is out to get us, not God.

The truth is, we all have areas of weakness.  We all have those vulnerable spots in our spiritual journey where Satan seeks to penetrate, driving a wedge between us and God.  The request of this prayer is that God keep will us from that place of vulnerability.  We need to learn where we are vulnerable.  Think about a infants soft spot (anterior fontanel).  It’s that place on the top of their head where the bones in the skull have not fully fused, leaving the infant vulnerable to any impact.  Where is your spiritual soft-spot?  Ask the Lord to help you. And don’t go there.

Jesus asked the Father to protect us from the evil one.  “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).  Paul talked about extinguishing the flaming arrows of the evil one in Ephesians 6:16.  Because Satan is alive, active, and often victorious, we fear that we may fall and become his prey.  He sows tares in the wheat field (Matthew 13:28).  He snatches the Word of God out of men’s hearts (Matthew 13:19).  He goes about as a strong lion seeking his prey (1 Peter 5:8).  Paul understood this real and present danger.  Notice what he says in 1 Thessalonians 3:5, For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.”  Some give it as “the evil one” because this word is singular.  Temptation comes from the evil one, and we must constantly be alert.  But thankfully, we are not left to deal with Satan using our own power.  And thankfully, God provides a way out.  Paul teaches us that God provides a way of escape, No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Paul illustrates this passage in writing to the Thessalonians.  Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men.  For not all have faith.  But the Lord is faithful.  He will establish you and guard you against the evil one (2 Thessalonians 3:1-3).  We need the help of others as we seek to do the will of God.  We cannot do it alone.  As iron sharpens iron, we sharpen each other.  God has provided a place where no one stands alone – the Church.  And God stands alongside each one of us as we strive to do his will.

  Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  (Matthew 6:9-13)

 

 

March 24, 2017

Examine Yourself

Last year at this time I introduced you to a new online resource, Start2Finish.org which includes various blogs, podcasts and Bible study materials materials available on everything from a phone app to print. This weekend we’re going to share two other authors from the site. Click the title below to read today’s article at its source, and then use the navigation bar to check out the rest of the website.

The Man in the Mirror

by Billy Alexander

Let us search out and examine our ways, and turn back to the Lord (Lamentations 3:40).”

Bucknell University did something interesting recently. They covered all of the mirrors in the residence hall with construction paper to block reflections in what they called, “No Mirror Monday,” as part of a program to promote “body positivity” and “self-love.” (1)

At a surface level, the idea is to ignore the body shaming of the world and to promote positive self-esteem among the student body. However, in essence it is an effort to cover up the truth and confronting the truth of the image we are presenting to the world. In a spiritual sense this is a daily practice of many in the world. They do not merely go out unaware of their physical appearance but they ignore that their character is spotted by many stains (Psalm 73:6, Romans 1:28-32).

Men are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) but because of sin and “self-love” that image has been marred and disfigured grossly. To be certain, we must all have a proper love of self (Matthew 22:39) but to promote this without looking in the metaphorical mirror is dangerous. The Scribes and Pharisees dressed themselves up in false humility and appeared to be the most religious and righteous men on earth. But Jesus rebuked them for not examining their inner flaws, saying that they “cleanse the outside of the cup and dish but inside were full of extortion and self-indulgence (Matthew 23:25-28).” Jesus told them that they were blind to truth or their actual appearance before God. The Lord cautioned that on Judgement Day “many” will be shocked to find that they will be cast away from Him forever (Matthew 7:21-23). How else could they be unaware of their unsightly appearance to the righteous Judge unless they ignored their visible spots and blemishes?

Jesus continued on to tell us that the wise are those who “Hear and Do” what He instructs (Matthew 7:24). James expands on this notion by saying, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was (James 1:23-24).” This is the state of those who hear the Bible and do not put the precepts into practice. What of those who fail to hear what the Bible says (John 12:48)? They have covered up the mirror of the soul (Hebrews 4:12) and go about blind to their true condition. We must all seek to see ourselves as God sees us.

Imagine failing to look in the mirror and going in for a job interview with a stained and untucked shirt, disheveled hair, and spinach in your teeth. Would you really ever dare such thing before a person who could determine whether or not you gain a job? Yet so many are heading into a much more fateful appointment (Hebrews 9:27) without ever laundering their garments and preparing properly (2 Corinthians 13:5).

If we allow Him to do so, God seeks to restore all of us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). “The Bible itself functions as spiritual direction, for as we read it prayerfully we are being formed more and more into the image of Christ. (2) Jesus is Himself the image of God (Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3) and has made God visible to us all (John 1:18). As we examine His character and model and follow Him we become partakers of the divine nature forsaking the habits of the self-seeking world (2 Peter 1:4). Look deeply into the perfect law of liberty Christian. Day by day the wrinkles, stains, and scars are fading and the high definition image of God is being perfected in you. As we look into that mirror and see His image there is no shame in that.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12 NIV).”


  1. http://libertyunyielding.com/2017/02/27/bucknell-u-promotes-positive-self-image-covering-mirrors/
  2. Richard J. Foster, A Celebration of Discipline, HarperCollins, 1978, p.187

March 23, 2017

Feeling Less Than Perfect? Romans 8: 4-14

 . . . so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:1-8 (emphasis mine)

by Clarke Dixon

There is good news here for those who “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” This of course will raise within the Christian the question “am I walking in the Spirit?” And to many, “how could I possibly be walking in the Spirit when I find myself, well, less than perfect?” This is a very important question to answer since most of us, when honest, find ourselves feeling less than perfect. Contrary to some eulogies I have heard, I have never officiated at a funeral for a perfect Christian. Experience teaches us that there has never been a perfect person except One. Are we walking according to the Spirit if we are less than perfect?

First off, we can note that the language of Romans chapter 8 does not push us toward thinking we ought to find ourselves perfect. To “walk according to” is not “to be just like in every way.” Similarly, “to set your mind” on something is not to be so consumed by something that you cannot possibly think of anything else. If you have no musical experience or instruments and you set your mind on learning guitar, you are going to want to walk out of a music store with a guitar and not a drum kit. You are going to want to sign up for guitar lessons, and not clarinet lessons. To do otherwise is to not have your mind set on learning guitar. But picking up the sticks and having a go on a friend’s drum kit is not inconsistent with having your mind set on learning guitar. Spiritually, being less than perfect is not inconsistent with having our minds set on the things of the Spirit. Of course we want to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48), however being less than perfect does not disqualify us from being people who walk according to the Spirit.

Second, God’s leadership in our lives is never described in terms that would make us conclude that we will achieve instant perfection. We are now used to living in an instant world. It is with some excitement that I download updates to my phone’s operating system. Each update comes with old problems fixed and new features added. Perhaps we expect receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit to be exactly like receiving an update that changes everything instantly. While some people experience miraculous deliverance from addictions and the like when coming to Jesus, most of us don’t feel a big instant change. The Bible never suggests our relationship with God will be like a computer user receiving a big update. The Bible points instead to a shepherd with the sheep, a father with a child, and a vine with the branches. These are all enduring mentoring relationships which require time and lead to development.

It takes time for sheep to learn and know the voice of the shepherd. It will take us time to discern the voice of God in our lives. Of course vines and branches take time to bear fruit as any gardener can confirm. Likewise, parenting takes time. Parenting takes so much time, in fact, that on average, for a parent to raise a child from birth to the age of eighteen requires about eighteen years! No parent I know expects his or her child to be perfect over those eighteen years. Our relationship with God is consistently described in ways that point to the passage of time and to development. There is no promise of instant perfection.

So if perfection is not evidence of “walking according to the Spirit,” then what is? The evidence that a shepherd and sheep are in relationship is the sheep’s response to the shepherd’s voice. Our listening may not be perfect, but we will be listening. There is a desire to hear the Lord’s voice. The evidence that branches are abiding in the vine is fruit: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal 5:22,23) The Christian does not experience perfection in every way upon receiving the Holy Spirit, but in walking according to the Spirit will be developing in these character traits and more.

Perfectionism is not a fruit of the Spirit. In fact, perfectionism can be a tool of the devil. While I have largely given up on perfectionism, there is one area of my life where I am still a perfectionist. It is an area of my life in which I struggle with frustration and where I am most likely to sin through losing my cool: renovations. It is not that I cannot do it. It is that I cannot do it perfectly. My aunt expressed wonder at my recent bathroom renovation. By recent, I mean completed recently, though started three years ago! She exclaimed “Wow! You did this?” When I walk into that same bathroom, I see the poor drywalling work to the left and think, “yes, I did that.” Don’t fail to celebrate the fruit of the Spirit in your life because you are too focused on your imperfections. The devil is happy when we do. Perfectionism will not lead you into greater righteousness. An enduring relationship with God will.

As a rhythm guitar player I would be thrilled if my favourite guitar player, Peter Townshend, were to come to my home and offer to give me guitar lessons. I could be a glass-half-empty guitarist and say “I will never be able to play like that.” Or I could be a glass-half-full guitarist and say “with Pete’s help I will be able to play better today than yesterday.” Of far greater significance and wonder, the Lord of the universe has taken his place by our side, and on the inside, as our shepherd, father, and friend. We can be glass-half-empty Christians and say “I am not perfect and feel like I never will never be perfect. I therefore doubt I have the Holy Spirit and am beginning to doubt I am a Christian.” Or we can be glass-half-full Christians and say “I may not be perfect, but with the Holy Spirit on the inside helping me, I can be better today than I was yesterday.”

There is a wonderful affirmation in verse 9 “But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Since you have the Holy Spirit, since you have God inside, live as you are; not perfect, but a growing child of God. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” Romans 8:14

(All Scripture references are from the NRSV)

Click here to read this at Clarke’s webpage, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

March 22, 2017

I Now Live in a New Family

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we are again paying a return visit to the writing of Elsie Montgomery at the blog Practical Faith. As I’ve stated before, she is one of the most faithful writers online, now in her 11th year of daily devotional studies.

I am adopted

Before believing in eternal life, I had to believe in eternal condemnation. Who needs salvation if there is no consequence for sin? Yet my condemnation was not ‘in place’ because I believed it, but because of the family line to which I (and everyone else) belongs.

As described in Romans 5, eternal condemnation began when sin began — through Adam. Sin results in death — which is separation from God, and because all humanity comes from Adam, then all are born into sin and separated from God. This is called spiritual death. We still walk around, but are dead to God and ignorant of sin. We needed a measuring stick and the Law of God did that, making us aware that we fall short.

Yet because of God’s great love and grace, He offered redemption — a free gift to sinners. This offer came through the righteousness of another man, Jesus Christ. Just as those in Adam were condemned in sin, those in Jesus Christ are made righteous in Him.

“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:18–21)

Salvation is about a change in family, about being taken from the line of those descended from Adam and placed in Christ, adopted into the family of God. This is something only God can do and did do because of His great love for us:

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:1-3)

Living in the family of eternal condemnation is made evident by lifestyle. Sinners sin; it is as simple as that. Law reveals and defines the sin, but sin was there before the Law was given. People murdered people before God said it was not lawful, and people hated God before He told them “No other gods.”

Jesus came to take away that sin and enable sinners to live righteous lives. God actually made a trade; He put our sin on Jesus, and put Jesus’ righteousness on us:

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

This incredible swap means that I now live in a new family, the family of eternal life. That change is made evident by a lifestyle change. While not perfect in practice, I have a new identity; I’m no longer ‘in Adam’ but ‘in Christ’ and rejoice that God has adopted me.

“Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:4–10)

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Dear Jesus, God imputed Your righteousness to my account as He imputed my sins to You. You became responsible to the Law of God for my sin, took its penalty and died under His wrath. As my sin was made Yours, and Your righteousness was made mine, so also were the rewards of Your righteousness given to me. This is substitution and astonishing grace. Because of it, the Father sees me in You, not in Adam. I am a new creation and a member of Your eternal family, loving that which once didn’t matter, and hating those things I once loved. The more I hear this incredible Gospel, the deeper it sinks into my heart and flows out into my life. This too is amazing grace, grace that I cannot earn or deserve, only respond to in grateful obedience. grateful obedience.

March 21, 2017

The One Where God Halts the Self-Defense Plea of Sinners

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we are paying a return visit to John Myer at the blog Barenuckle Bible. His pieces are much longer than we normally use here, so you’re seeing about the first 60%, but need to click through to reach the conclusion. (And see the verse I chose — and John chose — for today’s header.) Click the title below or the link at the end to begin. Also, be aware this is part of a much longer arc of articles working through the book of Romans. Consider using the link below to navigate to commentary on other sections.

Every Mouth Stopped

Judgment is certain.  God’s warning to mankind:  Don’t show up to the trial of your life armed with nothing but a folder of good deeds.   

Twinkies in the Courtroom

In 1979 an ex-San Francisco police officer assassinated the San Francisco mayor. Attorneys for the defense argued that around the time of the murder, their client had begun consuming large amounts of sugary food and drink.  This, they said, had triggered deep mood swings in the defendant which in turn substantially contributed to the homicide.  It was the first ever courtroom defense based on junk food abuse, and it worked.  The jury reduced the charge from murder to voluntary manslaughter.  Following those days, the term “Twinkie Defense” became part of the unofficial legal lexicon, describing any improbable defense strategy.

The Bible assures us there will be a Day of Judgment, when God will directly judge every individual.  Most people have no plan for that Day.  Those who do are piecing together a “Twinkie Defense.”  They intend to tell God that although they’ve done many evil things, they’re not completely to blame because forces beyond their control compelled them to sin.

They hope to redirect God’s attention to a portfolio of their nicer, more decent deeds, ranging from Goodwill donations to handing change to the homeless man standing at the highway exit ramp.

Aside from the New Testament faith, every world religion trains, encourages, and indoctrinates its followers to prepare a “Twinkie Defense” for the great day of reckoning—to amplify good works so they can hopefully outweigh the bad.    Human beings have an almost unprecedented trust in this strategy.  We believe God will credit our works of shaky goodness to the highest possible extent, not only meriting a reduced sentence, but full acquittal.

We are actually hoping God will be more gullible than that San Francisco jury.

As dubious as this plan sounds, it is pervasive.  Ask anyone.  Begin with grandparents, especially those who are not committed Christians.  Say to them, “Statistically speaking, you’re going to meet God before I do.   For my peace of mind, please tell me, what is your plan?”

Ask friends and other relatives, too.  Listen closely to identify a Twinkie Defense strategy commonly emerging.  Most importantly, check with yourself to see whether you are unconsciously trusting in that same plan.

A Dose of Reality

The cold hard reality of Scripture warns us no human being stands a chance of acquittal before God based on his or her personal righteousness.  We must look for righteousness outside of ourselves.

The previous sections of Romans have led up to this closing thought, this slam dunk, in 3:9-20.  At this point, if any reader still trusts in his native righteousness, Paul will seek to overwhelm that trust before he moves forward into the rest of the gospel.

He begins by pointing out that every human is a sinner, virtually from head to toe.

What then? Are we Jews any better off? 

Paul leads with this question, because lurking in the subconscious of his Jewish countrymen is still the supposition that a particular group of people is nobler born than the rest of mankind.

No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;

An Apostolic Insult?

“None” is a scandalous assertion, and one that always elicits protest.  For that reason, Paul once again unfurls the rap sheet of typical sinners, so that we can come face to face with our own character and symptoms.

11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.

The apostle begins with the braincase, pointing out that sin is firstly evidenced in the  muddled understanding of the mind.  Sinners not only find the knowledge of God impenetrable, but they are in a maze of confusion about the obligations of morality, the meaning of life, and the importance of eternity.  Their thought processes as to profound matters have been warped to the point of non-understanding.

Nor are they interested in seeking answers.  Sinners find the exercise of pursuing God an insufferable bore, especially when compared to other, far more stimulating pastimes.  The philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote, “Man’s sensitivity to trivia, and his insensitivity to matters of major importance, reveal he has a strange disorder.”  Strange indeed, that we can name five brands of beer, but not five commandments.  We can cite detailed stats from players on our favorite athletic teams, but can’t find the book of Colossians.

Paul goes to write,

12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good,
    not even one.”

Whether we turn aside because we’re distracted by the tinsel of the world, or drunk on its intoxication, our inability to walk a straight line says something about our sinful condition.  As God estimates the global value of this scene, with the entire history of our race, His “math” sums us all up a flat, worthless zero.  In the sight of God, every work and deed and accomplishment piled up, resembles a landfill.  These calculations are fair, for when no one does good—zero—then the grand total of all such individuals must also be zero.

Moving Right On Down…

But Paul isn’t done with the sinner’s profile.  He moves from the brain to the mouth:

13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

Human beings sin not just in deed, but in verbal communication.  Here the Scriptures resort to thick metaphor in order to portray the garish variety of evil we transmit with our words.    “An open grave” refers to a place of exposed death, depicting the way a sinner’s words spread spiritual uncleanness.  “The venom of asps” corresponds to the poison of a snake, and well describes sinful words as being analogous to snakebite.

The sinner’s mouth is also full of curses, that is, expressions of ill-will, and bitterness, anger that has been allowed to simmer, sometimes for years. Simply stand next to a sinful human being and it will not be long before all of this—death, lies, poison, mean talk, and anger—creep out.

Your Worst Life Now

Following this sketch, Paul then illustrates in brief, the way, the habit of life, exemplified by a sinful person:

15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Humanity is swift to violence, as any study of history will show (or any local police blotter), but even when violence is not present, the path of a sinner is one of ruination.  Wherever he goes, ruin occurs, whether it is to himself and his health, or his marriage, or employment.   In addition, humans continually taunt themselves into misery, always fancying if they could only get this or that, life would be better.  But when they finally obtain the thing long pursued, their pleasure only lasts fleeting moments before misery begins to reemerge.

Paul adds that they do not know peace, which explains why, wherever sinners go, drama breaks out.  If none is present, they seek it, or deliberately stir it.  Peace to them is unfulfilling.  As a final observation, and probably worst of all, their way of life does not incorporate any true fear of God.  The sinner feels emboldened to develop ever darker, more destructive strains of sin.  In that fearless vacuum, any imaginable evil could occur…

you’re more than half-way done, continue reading at source

 

March 20, 2017

He Wants Us to be With Him in His Glory

Tomorrow, I’m posting a review of a new collection of C. S. Lewis works wherein I noted that  Lewis wrote: “The symbols under which heaven is presented to us are (a) a dinner party, (b) a wedding, (c) a city, and (d) a concert.” Today’s devotional contains the wedding banquet theme presented in many depictions of the end times.

To do so, we pay another return visit to the blog of Gordon Rumford, one of the most faithful devotional writers online. I think the example by which he frames this best illustrates what Jesus is saying in the prayer which forms the key verse. Click the title below to read at source.

Who do you really wish to be with?

“Father,
I want those you have given me to be with me where I am,
and to see my glory.”
John 17:24 (NIV)

 

View in your web browser here

I often am enlisted to drive one or another of my grandchildren somewhere. Occasionally it is to church but mostly to or from school. It is a great opportunity to engage them in conversation and learn more about their world and how they see it. I love this time and am thankful that I live close to them in order to be with them so frequently.

Some time ago I drove one of them to a banquet at school. Then, when the time came, I picked her up to drive her home. When my granddaughter got into the car she enthusiastically said that she had won an award and showed me the plaque with her name inscribed and a description of her achievement.

I knew that the banquet was only for the students and staff but I still expressed my disappointment that I could not be there to hear her name called and see her on stage to receive the honour. I was very proud of her and her diligent work to gain such recognition.

It is such a pleasure to see those we love recognized and honoured in front of their peers. To be able to say to others I am related to the person honoured brings such joy to our hearts.

This is what Jesus is getting at in our verse today. He has troubled the disciples by saying He is going away and now He lets them hear His words indicating He wants them with Him where He is going. He adds to that request the reason He wants them with Him.

It is a concern to Jesus that His people see Him in all His glory. Since Jesus humbled Himself by leaving heaven and becoming a “Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” He now wishes the disciples to see the eternal glory He would re-assume in heaven.

Many of us have invested loved ones in heaven. They have gone ahead to be with Jesus and we wish to be reunited with them. This is indeed a good thing to wish for in our lives. It will be a grand reunion and there will be so much to catch up on and share at that time.

However there is a wonder in heaven that goes far, far beyond the reunion with loved ones. It is to see Jesus Who is the centerpiece of heaven. Ultimately it will be Jesus will Who receives the attention and praise. Anna Cousins… puts it like this:

The Bride eyes not her garment, but her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory but on my King of grace.
Not at the crown He giveth but on His pierced hand;
The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land.

Who do you really wish to be with? Jesus indicates that those whom the Father has given Him are those who will be with Him. Have you decided that Jesus is the One you really wish to be with? He invites you to come to Him and be one of His chosen people for all eternity. Will you come?


Further reading: As I read this, I couldn’t help but think of the earlier words of Jesus in John 14, “I go to prepare a place for you… I will come again and receive you unto myself.” (Yes, I know, KJV is how I memorized it as a child!) As it turns out, just a few days prior, Gordon Rumford wrote another devotional based on a verse in that same passage.

March 19, 2017

The Wrath of God

by Russell Young

Even though it is not popular, consideration needs to be given to the issue of the wrath of God. The Word presents it as being a reality and the experience that some must face. The church needs to be more forthright in dealing with the consequences of disobedience and defiance, and of the rejection of God, both of which have consequences.

The redeemed belong to Christ; they are his servants and he is their sovereign. He has purchased them with his blood. Consequently, he cannot be accepted as savior without being accepted as their sovereign and lord. Believers are not permitted to live under their own rule. A condition of salvation is the declaration that Christ is Lord. (Rom 10: 9) Christ queried some of his followers, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Lk 6:46 NIV) Paul wrote: “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled shall we be saved through his life!” (Rom 5:9─10 NIV) Being saved from God’s wrath is a process undertaken following a person’s “reconciliation” to God and it comes through “the life” of Christ. Christ in the believer is his or her hope of glory. (Col 1:27)

Contrary to some modern theological teaching, reconciliation to God does not prevent God’s wrath. Paul wrote that the manner of a person’s living was important. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please the sinful nature from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7─8 NIV)

Contemporary Christian music along with much teaching has emphasized and exaggerated the “freedom” and “unconditional love” that exists for the confessor. (There is a distinction between a believer and a confessor. A believer recognizes God’s sovereignty in his or her life and obediently responds to his calls.) Reconciliation to God is for gaining forgiveness for past sins, those that had separated the sinner from God and from certain death, allowing him or her the promise of the Spirit. (Gal 3:14) It is living through the Spirit that prevents the visitation of God’s wrath.

Many proclaim that the Lord in his mercy and grace has released confessors from both judgment and negative consequences. After all, they would say, all sins have been forgiven so there is nothing to be judged. Careful reading of God’s Word makes it clear that it is all sins committed while under the jurisdiction of the first or old covenant from which they have been released, not the sins that follow, unless they are confessed. “[H]e has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Heb 9:15 NIV; 2 Peter 1:9) The Lord has given all confessors everything they need for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3) and it will only be through neglect or rebellion that sinning will be continued, prompting his wrath.

As servants, all of those who have pledged his lordship will one day be rewarded for their obedience or suffer wrath for their disobedience. Not only will confessors be judged by Christ, so will all of humankind. (Rom 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10; 1 Pet 4:17) Those who have honoured his calls upon their lives will be rewarded while all others will suffer destruction from his presence, either outside the walls of the New Jerusalem or in the lake of burning sulphur. Many will quote John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV) Of course, this is true but the promise belongs to those who believe (are believing).

Belief is revealed by adherence to that which a person claims to believe. In the case of eternal salvation, the avoidance of God’s wrath is revealed as coming through obedience. The writer of Hebrews stated, “And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed. So you see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” (Heb 3:18 NIV) It is through lack of obedience that judgment will come, failure to honor Christ as lord. “He will come with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know (understand) God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus.” (2 Thess 1:7─8 KJV)

The church has failed to ring the alarm concerning the visitation of the Lord’s wrath through the judgment to come, and its avoidance through the practice of personal righteousness. The admonition has been given for believers to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling so that they might become blameless and pure. Fear is a great motivator, just as is love. When John wrote that “perfect love drives out fear” (1 Jn 4:18 NIV), he was talking about perfect obedience since those who love God obey him. Paul cautioned the Ephesians not to be deceived by empty words for because of immorality, impurity, and greed God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. (Eph 5:6)

Despite modern theological presentations, God’s wrath will be visited upon those who have pledged Christ’s lordship and have not lived it. God’s grace is evidenced in his workmanship (Eph 2:10) as the Lord transforms the obedient into his likeness; his wrath will be based on a person’s ‘doing’ (Jn 5:28─29), on the rebellious and disobedient who resist his transforming work.


Russell Young is a Sunday 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

March 18, 2017

Negative Thoughts May Block Healing

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.
 ~Song of Songs 2:15

In our quest to feature writers from different branches of Christianity, today we are paying a return visit to the blog Power Up! which is part of the Charisma Magazine website. This particular blog is updated weekly and features different Charismatic writers. To read this at source, explore other articles on the blog, and then migrate to one of ten other blogs on the site, click the title below; for more info on the writer, click her name below the title or the links at the bottom of today’s article.

Liberating Your Mind From ‘Destructive, Little Foxes’ That Block Your Healing

by Kathie Walters

“Why is it that when I get physically hurt, I can receive healing right away, but emotional hurts hang on for months?” my friend Jill asked me. I answered with a question: “What do you do when you need a physical healing?”

Jill thought for a while. “When my father was visiting me,” she replied, I made the mistake of mounting one of the horses while we were in the barn. The horse reared up, and I fell off. Then the horse fell on me, and the horn of the western saddle dug into my stomach.”

“What did you do, I asked?” I asked. “I immediately began to praise and thank the Lord for my healing,” Jill said. “I could feel pain, but I didn’t allow any negative thoughts to enter my mind. I kept praising Jesus and looking to Him, and within a few minutes all the pain left, and I was totally OK.”

Jill told me that she had experienced similar healings in the past, so her faith was built up in the area of physical healing. I asked her about the problem she was having with receiving inward, emotional healing.

Before she could respond, the Holy Spirit began to show me what the problem was. “You receive the inner healing when you pray, don’t you?” I asked. “But then negative thoughts come and you start to dwell on them, right?” Jill thought for a few minutes and agreed that this was what happened whenever she was hurt emotionally.

Jill’s difficulty is a widespread one in the body of Christ today. Many of us have had physical or emotional healings or even visions and words from the Lord that we received and believed at the time. Then after a while negative thoughts began to come and fight against the healing or vision. As we entertained the thoughts, they got a stronger hold, and then we became double-minded.

The apostle James tells us that a person who is double-minded is “unstable in ALL his ways” (James 1:8, emphasis added). He also says that we are to “Ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind” (v. 6) and is unlikely to “receive anything from the Lord” (v.7).

No wonder the devil wants us to entertain negative thoughts that war against our faith! No wonder we are told to bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5)!

Thoughts can be very positive and build our faith, or they can become the means of aborting our vision. The devil doesn’t want us to prove God and fulfill our destiny, so he continually throws thoughts into our minds like arrows. If we are not on guard against them, the arrows will enter and bring unbelief, doubt, fear and even depression and defeat. Remember, God is not a yes and no God! The Bible says that “ALL the promises of God in [Christ Jesus] are YES, and in Him, AMEN, to the glory of God through us” (2 Cor. 1:20, emphasis added).

Our first battle is in the mind. This is why Paul instructs us to “Gird up the loins of [our] mind[s]” (1 Pet.1:13). To “gird,” according to Webster’s dictionary, means “to encircle, bind, to surround, to prepare oneself for a trial ahead, to provide, equip or invest with power.”

Paul is saying there is a preparation we need to make concerning our minds. In the book of Ephesians he tells is what it is: putting on the pieces of armor, particularly the helmet of salvation, that are given to us to equip us for battle. What is the helmet for? It covers the mind.

Sometimes we get so busy wielding the sword that we forget to put on our helmets and “gird up the loins of our minds.” Then Satan has a field day. Remember, his ministry is the same today as it was in the beginning—to plant doubt in the in mind of God’s people by asking, “Has God indeed said?” (Gen. 3:1).

When God gives you a word or a vision, or gives you direction for your life and calling, you receive it and are excited. But then Satan, that sly, old fox, sends all his little foxes out to capture your thoughts, generally before you’ve had the opportunity to lay hold of your vision. Just as in the natural foxes come to steal the farmers’ chickens, in the spiritual realm Satan’s cohorts come to steal God’s word out of your heart and mind by causing you to doubt. Many of God’s children have almost given up their “word” or the vision that God imparted because of these destructive little foxes that come in the guise of negative thoughts.

The negative thoughts are particularly destructive when they play on past disappointment. If if the enemy can get us to dwell on all the times when we didn’t receive what we hoped or believed for, he will lead us into certain defeat. Don’t allow past disappointments to affect your present faith! Instead, look to Jesus, the “author and finisher of [your] faith” (Heb. 12:2).

God wants us to walk in faith to receive the things we need to do His work. We must be filled with the Spirit and with faith in order to bring healing and deliverance and dwell in the wisdom of God, not just for our own lives but for others’ also. So put on your helmet of salvation, and when you see those foxes advancing, send them packing by taking every thought captive and trusting Jesus to increase your faith.

Prayer Power:

As you pray this week, remember God’s Word and believe what He has promised on your behalf (2 Cor.1:20). Claim the Scriptures for the salvation of your loved ones, the furtherance of the gospel, and the establishment of His kingdom on earth. Continue to pray for worldwide revival, and especially for our own nation. Remember our government and spiritual leaders and ask the Lord to give them wisdom, grace and protection (1 Tim. 2:1-3; 2 Cor. 1:20; 2 Cor. 10:5).

March 17, 2017

Peace for Jerusalem

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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This is our second visit in six months to the writing of Amy Simpson, author of Troubled Minds and Anxious. You may learn more about her books at this link. To read today’s post on her blog (with an appropriate picture) you are encouraged to click the title below:

A Prayer that Will Change Your Perspective

“I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’
And now here we are,
standing inside your gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is a well-built city;
its seamless walls cannot be breached.
All the tribes of Israel—the Lord’s people—
make their pilgrimage here.
They come to give thanks to the name of the Lord,
as the law requires of Israel.
Here stand the thrones where judgment is given,
the thrones of the dynasty of David.
Pray for peace in Jerusalem.
May all who love this city prosper.
O Jerusalem, may there be peace within your walls
and prosperity in your palaces.
For the sake of my family and friends, I will say,
‘May you have peace.’
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek what is best for you, O Jerusalem.”
Psalm 122

This psalm is one of David’s songs of ascent, probably written to be sung as God’s people ascended on their trip to Jerusalem for worship. Jerusalem, after all, is on a high hill, and there is no way to approach the city without ascending. This fact, and this psalm, never meant a whole lot to me until I actually visited Jerusalem. I had valued these pieces of Scripture, like all of God’s Word, but I had not truly understood the meaning and significance of a song meant for ascent.

On visiting Jerusalem, I came to understand so much more about that beautiful city’s significance to God’s people from before David’s time to the present. During my trip to Israel several years ago, I was looking forward to visiting Jerusalem, and I knew it would be a powerful experience. I also knew about the importance and sacredness of this city to so many around the world. But honestly, I was not prepared for the incredible experience of walking its streets. I was overwhelmed by the beauty, history, and passion present there. The sense of culture is incredibly rich; history greeted me at every turn; and nearly every corner features an expression of faith.

And at the center of it all is the site of the ancient temple: lovingly built, destroyed, rebuilt, reviled, revered, mocked, contested, and excavated for more than 3000 years. Seeing the temple within the city walls helped me understand so much about significance of this site in Scripture. The temple that stood there was high atop a mountain, towering over valleys below. It was huge, visible to everyone, and infused with the indwelling presence of God. It gave hope, guidance, purpose, a sense of unity, and faith to God’s people. A holy place, indeed!

It’s truly impossible to describe the experience of seeing the remains of that temple and the city that surrounded it. Jerusalem is a capsule of much of human history—and God’s ongoing work among people—packed into a larger dose than I could swallow at once, much less communicate. But as our group ascended the temple steps—many of which are the same steps Jesus and his disciples walked on—our devotion leader read Psalm 122. And I understood a bit of why God’s people were and are drawn to the place where his presence was made manifest. I felt small in the presence of a holy God who has reached down to people and lovingly called them to himself throughout all ages.

Turning around and looking down from that spot, I realized it’s no wonder David focused on Jerusalem in this song. All pilgrims would have passed through its gates, then its narrow streets, to reach the temple. Then, looking down from that holy place, they would have seen the city flowing around them, houses hugging the hillsides.

It’s no wonder David prayed for the peace and prosperity of Jerusalem “for the sake of the house of the Lord our God” and “for the sake of my family and friends.” The security of the city meant the security of the temple, and peace in its spiritual center meant peace for everyone in the nation.

They say that after you visit Israel, you’ll never be the same. It was true for me, and one of the many ways that visit challenged me was in hearing this Psalm of ascent as I climbed the ancient temple steps and prayed for peace in Jerusalem, this spiritual microcosm of the world. A prayer without answers, prescriptions, or solutions. A prayer without the arrogance of believing I know what is best. A simple prayer for peace and the best from God’s hand.

Do you pray a similar prayer for the well-being of our nation, our churches, and our global community? I can’t wait to see the day when God truly does bring lasting peace to Jerusalem–and to the whole world. In the meantime, we don’t always know what’s best for the world around us, and conflicting priorities can make peaceful resolution seem impossible. But as God’s people, for the sake of God’s glory and the well-being of all the people God loves, it’s always appropriate to pray for peace and desire what is best in God’s eyes.

Like everyone, we are tempted to limit our vision for the good life to what would make our own lives better (or more comfortable or easier or more apparently successful). Our prayers might change if, instead of wanting just what seems best for us and to us, we were to truly seek the peace and well-being of everyone. We don’t have to know what that means. We don’t have to have all the answers or stop grieving over the fact that people can, do, and will turn their backs on God. We simply have to agree with what God wants. And he will change our hearts when we do. He will help us see the world a little more like the way he does. The closer we get to God’s holiness, the more we long for peace and well-being within the city that surrounds us.

From where we stand right now, if we open our eyes, we can see the whole world. And we are in the house of the Lord.

March 16, 2017

Feeling Condemned? Romans 8:1-4

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Condemnation is in the air. Every day in law courts across this land verdicts are reached and sentences given. Whether fiction or reality, tv is full of stories of condemnation. Then there is the condemnation that shows up in our personal relationships, from friends and enemies alike. There is also the self-condemnation many of us face when we either step in front of a mirror or step onto the weigh scales. All too often we wear false verdicts as life sentences.

Perhaps this is the reason why many people are not bothered with church. “Just another place to face more condemnation.” Perhaps this is the reason why many people do not want to think about their relationship with God. “More condemnation.” Yet if we think one hundred years or so into the future, which verdicts will still matter? Will the condemnation we have faced from others, or even ourselves, matter? One verdict will matter. God’s. One sentence will matter. God’s. His verdict is a just verdict. His sentence is an eternal-life sentence. Given the supreme importance of that verdict, what can be said about it? Let is turn to the book of Romans to find out:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

The ‘therefore’ of Romans 8:1 points us back to consider what has been said earlier in the book of Romans. A thousand sermons could not do the first seven chapters of Romans justice, so let us attempt a quick summary. As we look back we find there is some good news, some really bad news, some really great news, some more really bad news and some more really good news.

So first the good news: God has given us the law as a gift. Without law society, and life along with it, devolves into chaos. God has given two kinds of law. There is the law that is written on the hearts of all people (Romans 2:14,15). That sense of conscience, of the difference between right and wrong. Further, to give a shining and clear example, The law was given to a specific group of people, the Hebrew people, through Moses. This was good news since this law helped people thrive together and was a proper yardstick for measuring up.

Now for the really bad news: As wonderful as it is to have this yardstick, God’s law just confirms that could never measure up.

What then? Are we any better off? No, not at all; for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; Romans 3:9-10

Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For “no human being will be justified in his sight” by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. Romans 3:19-20

If you think that God has reason to condemn you. You are correct. That is really bad news.

Now for the really great news:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

Why?

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26

There is a lot to unpack in those few verses, but suffice it so say here that in the blood of Christ we have forgiveness of sin. The verdict has been arrived at, the sentence has been served by Jesus. This is a gift of God’s grace. Receiving that gift is a matter trust.

But now for some more really bad news: There is a second kind of sentence to deal with; a sinful life. To understand this we can think of a drug addict who has served time for being in the possession of hard drugs. A verdict has been reached, and the sentence has been served in the eyes of society. However, the addict is still that, an addict. Addiction can be a life sentence, and for some that life sentence is worse than jail time. It would be an awful thing if we were given assurance of a positive final verdict before the judgement seat of Christ, yet nothing changed for us in this life. Though looking forward to freedom, we would still be serving a life-sentence to a life in the service of evil in the here and now. Paul speaks about this problem in the very verses that precede Romans 8:

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 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. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin. Romans 7:21-25

And now for some more really good news: we are freed from this sentence also!

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4

To say that sin was condemned “in the flesh” is akin to saying that the full sentence of the addict was served, not just the jail term, but the life-sentence of bearing the disease of addiction as well. The addict’s identity would be forever changed, no longer being known as an addict. Likewise, our addiction to sin is broken, our identity changed forever, as we are now “in Christ,” people who walk “according to the Spirit.” Paul has more to say about this in the verses to follow, and so will we next week.

We are guilty sometimes of speaking of salvation as if it is only a matter of what happens at the judgement seat of Christ. It is more than that. Because of the love and grace of God in Jesus there is no condemnation for those who belong to Him, neither a guilty verdict at the judgement seat of Christ leading to an eternal-life sentence, nor a life-sentence to  slavery to sin here and now. God rescues us from both. That is really great news!

(Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

Clarke Dixon is a regular midweek contributor to C201 whose material can also be seen at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

March 15, 2017

Right Results, Wrong Method

Numbers 20 (NIV):

1In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.

2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! 4 Why did you bring the LORD’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. 7 The LORD said to Moses, 8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

9 So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

This passage contains an interesting sequence of events:

  • The people are thirsty
  • God reveals to Moses that water can be obtained by speaking to a particular rock
  • Moses hits the rock instead (this worked before)
  • Water gushes forth

Maybe God had His instructions wrong, or maybe it applied to some other rock? After all, the water issued forth and the thirst of the people was satisfied.

Hardly. Moses was angry. “…Listen you rebels…” In anger he struck the rock.

In Moses defense, he was using a tried and true formula; see Exodus 17. And he got the desired result. No biggie, right?

The point is that Moses disobeyed; he did God’s work in a sense, but didn’t do it God’s way.

I find myself often guilty of this. I can justify something done in anger because it produced results. I’ve even said to myself, “I think sometimes you just have to get mad enough about something and then God uses that anger.”

Yes. I’ve really thought that. More than once.

And there is such a thing as righteous anger. But it is characterized by being shaped over a long-term, not a short-term; and by its righteousness more than its anger-ness.

James 1 19b & 20 (NIV)

…Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

Whether or not you feel like you are more a product of the information age or the industrial age, either way you are probably results oriented.

But just because it worked doesn’t mean that God was in it, or that He was pleased, or that you were obedient. Even if the “worked” in question seems to bear the mark (vs. 11) of the miraculous.

And a great danger lies in trusting in what worked before, when God wants to lead you into something new.

And like Moses (vs. 12) by doing it our way, you and I may be missing out on God’s greater blessing and the fullness of God’s highest goal for our lives.

~PW


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