Christianity 201

May 28, 2016

Paul, Silas and All the Other Prisoners

Acts 16:22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

[Click here for the full text from Acts 16:16-40]

This is from a sermon by Denver pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. You can read the entire text of the sermon and/or listen to it in full (only 12 minutes) at the link below.

Sermon on Paul, Silas, and the Prayers of My Mother

…Prayer plays an interesting role in the divine jailbreak story we just heard from Acts, because it sort of feels like something out of a comic book – as if Paul and Silas have obtained superhero levels of faith. Superman can leap tall buildings in a single bound and Spiderman has heightened senses but Paul and Silas can cause earthquakes that free them from prison just by praying and singing hymns.

I really really really want to see myself in Paul and Silas kind of in the same way that I realy really want to see myself in Wonder Woman. I want to think of myself as having that kind of super-hero faith. The kind that, were I falsely accused, stripped of my clothing, severely beaten with rods, thrown into the depths of a first century jail cell and shackled, that I too would respond not by crying like a baby or being immobilized with fear and hatred but like Paul and Silas I would respond in the dark of night by praying and singing hymns. I’ve not been in that particular situation or anything vaguely like it and maybe in true hardship I would surprise myself, but given how I respond to even minor irritations, that super hero response feels unlikely.

Because if I’m honest I have to admit that if I pull a muscle and can’t work out for two weeks or even if I just run out of coffee at home, I lose faith.

I’ve never known what to do with messages that tell me to “just pray and have more faith and everything will be fine”. Because those kinds of messages never make me have more faith. They make me have more guilt for not having more faith. And then I just feel more stuck in this feeling of spiritual inadequacy…

…So, as someone who is not unfamiliar with the feeling of spiritual inadequacy, which character do I really relate to in the story of Paul and Silas in prison? It’s not really Paul and Silas at all, it’s the other prisoners. Verses 25-26 tell us: About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.

Everyone’s chains were unfastened. Not just the ones praying and singing. But everyone.

I love that it was only Paul and Silas who prayed and sang hymns and yet it was all the prisoners who were freed. Like somehow the faith of two was sufficient for the whole group. And later the belief of the jailer was enough for his entire household to experience salvation.

I relate to being in the dark. I relate to feeling shackled to certain ways of thinking and feeling and acting. I relate to not being able to free myself and yet still experiencing freedom. In other words, I relate to relying on the faith of others, the songs of others, the prayers of others.

So many of us have felt tortured by not knowing if we have enough faith or the right kind of faith. I’ve said this before but perhaps it bears repeating: faith is never given in sufficient quantities to individuals…it’s given in sufficient quantities to communities. Because this thing isn’t an individual competition, it’s a team sport.

God has provided in us all the faith sufficient for our freedom. We just have to take turns being the ones being lowered through the roof to Jesus and being the ones doing the lowering.

There’s enough. There’s enough faith. There’s enough love. There’s enough hymn singing. There’s enough freedom.

And for we who bear the name Christian prayer and love and faith and hymns are our birthright. Even if we don’t always know how to pray and we love poorly and have little faith and don’t like all the hymns…even then all of this is ours just as it has been the birthright of all the people I’d God for millennia. Even when we don’t have enough of our own, there is enough…

…There is just so much prayer and faith surrounding us all the time and affecting us in ways we don’t even know and for this abundance in the face of my own insufficiency, for your faith and prayer and song which unshackles me over and over and for the God who made it all possible, I give thanks. Amen.

 

May 27, 2016

How Do You Like Your Eggs?

CEV Luke 11:11 “Which father among you would give a snake to your child if the child asked for a fish? 12  If a child asked for an egg, what father would give the child a scorpion? 13  If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Luke 11 12So is your answer scrambled? Over easy? Sunny side up? Omelette? Hard boiled? Poached?

A few days ago we ran an excerpt from the book Why Pray by Dr. Spiros Zodhiates, published in 1982. Today I want to quote from several sections of the book dealing with verse 12 above, starting with an observation:

Though Matthew and Luke mention the bread and the fish, Luke alone adds the third section of the questions which asks for an egg to eat with the bread, and mentions a dead scorpion as the evil substitute — a poisonous creature, curled up, that was never eaten after it had been killed. (124)

There are undoubtedly people reading this who feel that at times they’ve asked God for something they felt was desirable, and were given something quite undesirable. There are examples of this in scripture also.

The Egg the Disciples Wanted

You remember that the disciples came one day to Jesus and asked for the establishment of His literal Kingdom on earth. They also said, “Master, we would like some special positions in Your Kingdom.” …

…Did the Lord disappoint them? Very much so. They probably felt that He had given them a “scorpion,” a deceptive fulfillment of His promise. Christ crucified on the cross was not what they had envisioned at all. The egg of hope that their fond imagination had been hatching brought fort the scorpion of the cross to their Master, and shame and persecution to themselves. But afterwards, when their eyes were opened by the Holy Spirit, they saw that all that Christ had promised them had been fulfilled, that God had indeed given them what they had asked, and in a higher and more lasting form than that which they had expected.  (131)

The Egg that Jesus Asked For

Our Savior Himself prayed three times for what could not be given to Him. And when he asked for an “egg,” a seeming scorpion was offered — the cup from which He shrank with dread in Gethsemane. But He got God’s best answer He yielded His will, saying “Father…not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22:42) and an angel came an strengthened him (v. 43.) (137-138)

The Egg Paul Asked For

When the Apostle Paul prayed three times that the thorn in his flesh might be removed, and it was not, don’t you think the answer he got, “My grace is sufficient for you” (II Cor 12:9) was a far better thing than if the thorn had been actually taken away? Of course it was; for the removal of the thorn would have been a temporary relief, leaving behind no abiding results, and would have been a blessing to Paul alone… (137)

The Wrong Type of Egg

Our “asks” to God are often misplaced. The KJV version of James 4:3 says we “ask amiss.” The NASB clarifies, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.”

Very often people ask for a serpent’s egg thinking it to be a hen’s egg. They ask for health and prosperity, but that may only drive them away from God. Rather than helping them it might harm them…People are often mistaking what is good for them, and asking God for things which, if they were granted, they would curse Him. (132, emphasis added)

The Egg that Multiplies

Sometimes if we want an egg, we have to strive for it. The egg in that case would most surely hatch, and, if it is well taken care of, will mostly likely produced a hen that will multiply eggs from which to feed our hunger…

…Prayer is not always effective at once… the egg has to grow, to be formed from the smallest beginning to have its materials collected and prepared, before it can be given to us. And we ourselves must be prepared to enjoy and digest the egg so that it may become part of our being and build up our life.  (139)


I was also reminded of a few other texts:

…your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!. (Matthew 6:8 NLT)

These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. (Matthew 6:32 NLT)

The takeaway today is that your heavenly Father loves you and whatever he gives you and whatever it looks like, it’s not a scorpion.

 

 

May 26, 2016

Straight from a Faithful Heart

Lisa ElliottA guest post by Lisa Elliott

In August, 2009 Lisa and her husband David lost their oldest son Benjamin after a heroic battle with cancer at age 19. This loss greatly impacted many others, including ourselves, and I wrote about it at that time. Shortly after, she wrote her story in The Ben Ripple which we reviewed here. We also featured Lisa’s writing in a Facebook excerpt from those days. Recently I stumbled across a more recent article and knew that I needed to help her share it with a larger audience.

I’ve made it a habit over the past number of years to visit a graveyard every Sunday before church. My purpose, you ask? To metaphorically, but in a very tangible way, and strategically before engaging in a worship service, put to death anything in my life that is dead or dying and especially those things preventing new life from taking root and producing fruit in my life in accordance with John 15. You see, I’ve experienced firsthand that the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; but Jesus came that we may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10).

You can be sure that the Enemy of our souls wants us to do anything but produce lasting fruit or enable us to live an abundant life—least of all, in our relationship with the Lord; the Lover of our souls, the One who died to give us life and who, in fact, is our life (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).

I hope you would agree that God has called us to so much more, even in this life, than what we’re often willing to settle for! He’s called us to not merely survive, but rather to thrive; whether it is in our relationships, in our investments, in our ministry, in our vocations, in our churches, or in life as a whole! Unfortunately, the sad reality is that many don’t! Rather, they forfeit the abundant life that He offers for a mediocre, lukewarm survival.

So what does it mean to thrive vs. survive? Here are some principles I have learned to thrive on:

  • Life is too short to pretend; to simply fake it until we make it. God calls us to be real, authentic, and transparent, especially in our relationship with Him (A good example is David in the Psalms).
  • Life is too short to waste our time, energies, and resources on people who suck the life out of us rather than on those whom we can mutually invest in life-giving ways (Proverbs 13:20).
  • Life is too short to use our time on activities that only serve the purpose of wasting our time. Time is precious to the Lord and we need to use it wisely (Ephesians 5:16).
  • Life is too short to exist merely for the sake of a paycheck or a pension (Luke 18:18-23; Mark 8:36).
  • Life is too short to let the fear of failure, the fear of man, or the fear of the future control us and deprive us of all that God has for us (Psalm 20:7; Matthew 6:25-34).
  • Life is too short to indulge in shallow, idol, and meaningless conversation and miss out on meaningful conversation about life and death issues (2 Timothy 2:16).
  • Life is too short to hold grudges against people who will hold us captive as long as we allow them to (Colossians 3:13).
  • Life is too short to obsess over keeping physically healthy when we should be investing in our spiritual well-being (1Timothy 4:7-9).
  • Life is too short to put off investing in and enjoying a personal and intimate relationship with the Lord until “there and then” when we could be investing and enjoying it in the “here and now”(James 4:13-15).
  • Life is too short to tolerate gossip and slander when instead we should be encouraging one another, and all the more as the day of Christ draws near (Hebrews 10:24-25).
  • Life is too short to wait for life to happen when we can choose to make life happen (Proverbs 4:6-10)!
  • Life is too short to allow the boulders in our life to be obstacles rather than opportunities to climb to higher heights (Galatians 6:10).
  • Life is too short to waste our time longing for the life that was seemingly so much better in Egypt instead of remembering the God who saved you from slavery and brought you through the wilderness (Deuteronomy 8).
  • Life is too short to wander in the wilderness when God calls us to a land promised to us that is full of life and growth and fruit in abundance (Deuteronomy 8)!
  • Life is too short to hold onto the past so dearly that you don’t have the capacity to grasp and embrace all that God is extending to us through the outstretched arms of Jesus (John 3:16).

The bottom line is that life is too short to settle for anything less than what God wants for His children. The question is what are you going to settle for?

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21).

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12).


Casting Crowns has a new release that fits so well into what I’m trying to say. You might want to have a listen:

Lisa Elliott is an award-winning author of The Ben Ripple; Choosing to Live through Loss with Purpose and Dancing in the Rain; One Family’s Journey through Grief and Loss. She is a dynamic inspirational speaker; often described as “refreshingly real” as she passionately shares the life-changing truths and principles of God’s Word in her ministry, Straight from the Heart. 

Visit her website — there are more articles in the “Straight from a … Heart” series —  at www.lisaelliottstraightfromtheheart.webs.com

Like her on Facebook at Lisa Elliott – Inspirational Speaker and Award-Winning Author

Lisa’s books can be purchased directly from her, greatcanadianauthors.com, Amazon, Indigo/Chapters, and Christian bookstores across Canada and throughout the U.S. via Anchor Distributors.

May 25, 2016

Christians and Cremation

NLT 1 Cor. 15:51 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! 52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Today we’re doing something a little more topical, but very appropriate for Christianity 201 readers. Perhaps this subject is an issue that has arisen in your local congregation or among your Christian friends.

This is an older post from regular Wednesday contributor Pastor Clarke Dixon.

Burial and Cremation: What Is a Christian to Do?

“The conclusion is simple. Cremation is devil worship and rejection of Jesus Christ and His gospel . . . the true followers of Jesus Christ will have nothing to do with it. His ministers and churches will not allow it, and they will speak boldly against it.”

So concludes an article I had reason to come across recently… People have asked me whether it is OK for them to be cremated to which my normal response is “yes, so long as you no longer have a pulse.” So why do I not speak against cremation as the writer of the article would urge that I do? What is the Christian to think and plan to do in this matter?

Cremation UrnThe first thing we should note is that nothing can trump the power of God.

What happens to the matter we are made of now, really will not matter to God. Some people have a fear, namely “what if there is nothing left of me to be raised at the resurrection?” And what if one’s family has ignored the desire for burial and gone ahead with cremation then lost the urn, or what if the circumstances of one’s death has ensured that there is no body to bury? Grim, but it happens. Let us note however, that we are not to be equated with the matter that makes us up. Most of our cells will be replaced over our lifetime, but even more importantly, the very atoms that make us up are continually being swapped out, so much so that it is suggested that the majority of atoms are replaced yearly. If our bodies are independent of the of the particular matter that makes us up, then what actually are they? They are the result of the information that guides the matter into place. We can think of creation when God spoke everything into existence. It is interesting that the language of speaking and communicating is used, for creation is not just about the creation of matter, but about the vast amounts of information that guides that matter into place. This was no cosmic tweet! And so if each atom of your body is scattered to the air, don’t worry, for as one of the youth from my last church profoundly put it, “God’s got your DNA.” He knows who you are and who you are to be, so as a matter of fact it does not matter what happens to the matter that matters so much to you right now.

Furthermore, the Bible teaches us that we “will be changed.” In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul uses the analogy of a seed to teach about the resurrection body. As with all analogies, we ought not to press the analogy too far, for example expecting that only if our corpse is “planted” will we expect to be raised. That is not what Paul is saying, but rather he is pointing out the continuity and change that we can expect. There will be a continuity that points to individuality, so if you die, you yourself can expect to be raised again as an individual. But you will be different, in fact whether alive or dead when Christ returns “we will all be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:52 NRSV) For “this perishable body must put on imperishability and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:53 NRSV) which does not mean to say that these particular atoms are used, but that you, who once had a body on a journey towards death, will now have a body full of life.

Finally, the Bible teaches us that God’s purposes stand. Job says “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2 NRSV). We have not learned this truth if we are worried about the future of our remains. As a Christian your resurrection is not dependent on the circumstances of your remains but on the purposes and power of God.

So it is not a matter of God’s power and ability, but is it a matter of obedience?

It is not a matter of law. Curiously, there is no law in the Old Testament stating what you must do with a corpse, though there are plenty of laws for what you must do if you come into contact with one. And there is no law given in the New Testament either. In fact it is instructive that when Jews and Gentiles join together in Christianity with all the ethical sorting out that goes on when two peoples bring their baggage along to a merger, we have no mention of burial versus cremation. Jews tended to bury their dead and Gentiles would sometimes cremate theirs, yet when they come together into Christianity this is not an issue. It is interesting that the issue doesn’t get a mention at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 which would have been an ideal time to lay such to rest.

Though it is not a matter of law, burial was the custom. As already stated it was the norm for God’s people in the Old Testament to bury their dead, and while we hear of burials happening in the New Testament, we never hear of cremation. Throughout the history of the Church, burial has been the more common custom. But does the fact that burial has been more customary make cremation a matter of disobedience? We should note that our burial customs today are not the same customs practiced in Biblical times. Embalming was not a customary practice, and in fact we know that in New Testament times the custom was often to bury twice. First the body would be laid in a tomb (and not in a casket) where it would decompose, then after a year the bones would be collected together and placed in small box (just long enough for one’s femur bone) called an ossuary leaving the former space vacant for someone else. Now consider that when a funeral home hands you an urn, it is not filled with ash, but rather the pulverized remains that do not burn away into the atmosphere, namely bone. You could therefore almost make the case that cremation is closer to the Biblical model of keeping a box of bone than our current custom of embalming.

But if we opt for cremation are we not taking on a pagan custom? We might consider the one time we do hear of embalming happening in the Old Testament, with Joseph in Genesis: “And Joseph died, being one hundred ten years old; he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt” (Genesis 50:26). Embalming and use of a coffin was an Egyptian custom, and was related to the Egyptian theology of resurrection. That Joseph took on the pagan burial practice of the land he had made his home does not appear to have threatened his status as a godly hero of the faith. Further I have heard it said that Christians should not cremate their dead for Hindus cremate theirs. But Hindus also sing, and laugh, and breathe, and do all manner of things that we also do. Rather than ask what cultures and religions carry out the custom, we might better ask in what spirit we carry out ours. Chocolate itself is not an evil thing, but if I were to eat it in a spirit of gluttony, then I might be doing something bad. Right now I cannot think of any other spirit to eat chocolate in so perhaps that is a bad example, but if I could eat it in a spirit of celebration of God’s goodness in providing sweetness, then I would be doing something good. If I were asking for cremation in a spirit of willful rebellion towards and rejection of God, then yes, cremation would be a very bad thing to do, but if I ask for it in a spirit of trust and rejoicing in the power and grace of God, then it is not.

But if we opt for cremation are we not doing violence to a gift from God? Some will want to say “you cannot just do to a body whatever you want, it is a gift from God that is to be cherished in how it is handled.” Yes we certainly do want to cherish the gift of our body while alive, but does that carry over into death? The words of Paul are instructive here: “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). Here our current bodies are contrasted with those to come, they are mere tents in comparison to proper buildings, and though gifts indeed, they are not ones Paul seems too keen on cherishing as he looks forward to a better gift to come. They are tents which are prone to destruction, in fact there is no dignified process ahead for one’s corpse whether pumped up with embalming, naturally decomposing, or cremated – it is all rather undignified and a violence to the body. For many of us the concept of dignity will be a personal matter, and speaking for myself, I would find it a most undignified end for my body to be done up with make-up and dressed up with a suit and tie.

If we began noting that nothing can trump the power of God, let us finish by noting that nothing can trump the grace of God.

While the writer quoted at first would imply that one would lose their salvation by choosing cremation, a “rejection of Jesus Christ and His gospel,” we must ask if our salvation is in jeopardy. From my study of the issue of burial versus cremation for the Christian, I have not found the case convincing that to be cremated is to reject Jesus and His gospel. If in fact I turn out to be wrong (yes it happens, ask my wife!) and cremation does sadden our Lord, at worst it is a misunderstanding on my part, not a willful rejection of a clearly stated will. Is God’s grace not sufficient to cover such misunderstandings? Is the love of God so weak so as to be so easily ended through my one decision?

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38,39 NRSV)

Dear reader, let us not belittle the grace, love, and power of God by taking salvation back into our own hands. Will you be buried? Will you be cremated? God’s grace, love, and power in Christ will shine through either way.


We also covered this topic (not as well) in 2011 at Thinking Out Loud under the heading
Cremation and Christianity.

May 24, 2016

The Gift of Evangelism

EvangelismWe all know that The Great Commission is a call to evangelism, but many prefer to think in terms of the gift of Evangelism, which affords the opportunity to say, “I don’t have that gift.” If we’re all called to “Go and tell” then why is evangelism listed among gifts that not all possess?

Let’s begin at the website Spiritual Gifts Test:

All Christians are called to evangelize and reach out to the lost with the Gospel (Matthew 28:18-20), but some are given an extra measure of faith and effectiveness in this area.  The spiritual gift of evangelism is found in Ephesians 4:11-12 where Paul says that Jesus “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”  The Greek word for evangelists is Euaggelistes which means “one who brings good news.”  This word is only found two other places in the New Testament: Acts 21:8 and 2 Timothy 4:5.

Evangelists are given the unique ability by the Holy Spirit to clearly and effectively communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others.  They are burdened in their hearts for the lost and will go out of their way to share the truth with them.  Evangelists are able to overcome the normal fear of rejection and engage non-believers in meaningful conversations about Jesus.  Their gift allows them to communicate with all types of people and therefore they receive a greater response to the message of salvation through Jesus Christ.  They continually seek out relationships with those who don’t know Jesus and are open to the leading of the Holy Spirit to approach different people.  They love giving free treasure away for Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:7), and it brings them great joy knowing that the “feet that bring good news” are beautiful to those who believe (Isaiah 52:7).  See Ephesians 4:11, Acts 8:5-12, 26-40, 21:8, Matthew 28:18-20.

We continue at Biblical Studies:

…In the early church, the evangelists were considered the successors of the apostles. They did not think that evangelists were the same as the apostles but merely that they continued the apostles’ ministry.

The term in the Greek is related to the word “gospel.” The euangelion is the “gospel,” or the “good news.” Euangelizo (the verb form) means to announce the gospel, “to evangelize.” The euangelistes is “the one who evangelizes,” or the “evangelist.”

The term “evangelist” occurs only three times in the New Testament, none of which actually define what an evangelist is. Acts 21:8 simply tells us that Philip was an evangelist; Ephesians 4:11 teaches that evangelists are gifts to the church; and II Timothy 4:5 commands Timothy to do the work of an evangelist.

Pulling together the information available from these verses, we can come to an understanding of the term. The word itself, we know, means to announce the good news, to evangelize. Ephesians 4:11-12 teaches that the evangelist is for the purpose of equipping the saints to the work of the ministry to the edifying of the body of Christ. And with the ministry of Philip recorded in Acts 8, we have an example of what an evangelist is and does. An evangelist, then, is one who is especially effective in presenting the message of the gospel to the lost and instructing believers in the faith. His ministry is an itinerant one, ministering to believers and unbelievers alike in various locations. He is not one who announces new truth — that is a prophet. But he is one who announces truth. It seems that the New Testament evangelist more closely resembles our present day missionary. He brings the good news to an unevangelized community, disciples, establishes a church, and moves on. Our present day evangelists, as we have known them since the days of Wesley and Whitefield with their itinerant ministries, whose ministries are extremely valuable to our churches, do properly wear the title “evangelist,” but the evangelist of the New Testament, it seems from the example of Philip, had a broader work.

For a third perspective on this, I wanted to go to the site Lay Evangelism, but the article was too long here to print in full. (I hope you’ll click the link.) I did want to make sure you didn’t miss something that appears later on, regarding the difference between sowing and reaping.

… Other Christians pose the argument this way, they will say, “In our Church we feel that Evangelizing our community at this time is not right. Our community is not ripe yet for Evangelism.” What does Jesus and the leading of the Holy Spirit through the writer John say about this argument? Jesus said,

John 4:35-38 “Do you not say, “There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. Already he who Reaps is receiving wages, and is gathering fruit for life eternal; that he who Sows and he who Reaps may rejoice together. For in this case the saying is true, ‘One Sows, and another Reaps.’

evangelism quoteJesus asks us in this passage, “Are you saying you need to wait until your community is ripe? You are wrong. I say to you look out on your community and see that it is ripe for Evangelism now!” To help the reader, Jesus goes on to explain what he means by Evangelism and ripe for Evangelism. He explains that not all Christians are called to be Reapers but all Christians are called to be Sowers.

What is the difference between a Sower and a Reaper? In farming terms, the Sower is the farmer. The farmer goes out and plants the seed, waters and fertilizes the ground and weeds the ground. Who does the reaping? Hired labor. Is not an Evangelist someone who is hired to Reap where he did not Sow? Your community may not always be ready for an anointed Evangelist, but your community is always ripe to be Evangelized. Not all Christians are called to be Evangelists, but all Christians are called to do Evangelism. If you are not called specifically to be an Evangelist, you along with all other Christians are called to do Evangelism. You are called to be a farmer. You are called to Sow, water, fertilize and weed. You are called to go and plant the seed of the Word into the hearts of men. You are called to prepare the ground for the Evangelist. The command to do this has already been given. You do not need to wait for the leading of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has commanded you and I to GO THEREFORE! Behold the fields are WHITE for harvest!

Part of the problem of getting Christians involved in aggressive Evangelism is that unless they can be guaranteed to reap a harvest every time they go out, they get discouraged and won’t continue. That would be like a farmer saying that unless he can have a harvest now, he won’t sow seed, water, fertilize and weed his field. If the farmer refused to sow seed and then water, fertilize and weed his field, there would never be a crop for the Reapers to harvest. If Christians do not Sow the seed of the Word and then water, fertilize and weed the field, there won’t be a harvest when the Reaper comes. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 11:4 “He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap.” …

(Again, here is the link for the article Evangelism is Not a Spiritual Gift.)

May 23, 2016

Interacting With Your Enemies

This time, our return visit tour is to the blog Rhetorical Jesus by Jack Wellman. Each one of these is very new Christian-friendly, while still offering some depth for veterans. There’s also a great Facebook or Twitter graphic for each one which we won’t poach here, in order to encourage you to click through. This time around, I’ve also linked to a second recent article for those of you who want more to read today. Click the title below to start off with the first article:

How do you respond to and interact with your enemies?

Romans 12:20

To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.

Feeding Your Enemy

How can we possibly feed someone who is our enemy? Remember that at one time we also were enemies of God; and while still enemies of His, Christ died for us (Romans 5:10). In this sense, we are to die to ourselves and pray for those who hate us (Matthew 5:44). This, of course, is a supernatural, God-given ability; you won’t be able to do this in your own human strength. To feed someone who is your enemy means that you don’t give them what they deserve because God doesn’t give us what we deserve–that is called grace. Maybe we can feed them the Word of God because the Word of God changed us from being God’s enemy to being called one of His own children (1 John 3:1). Jesus is the Bread of Life, and that’s what they need: to be fed the Word while praying for those who abuse us (Luke 6:28).

A Cup of Cold Water

I was going door to door on a very hot, 100-plus-degree day, having more doors slammed in my face by those who said they were “Christians” when one man, a self-proclaimed atheist, offered me a bottle of cold water. He took me in and let me cool off in his air-conditioned home. This verse came to mind where Jesus said that if anyone gives someone called a disciple of His a cold drink of water, they will surely be rewarded for it (Matthew 10:42). I told this man about that verse, and it made him think. Perhaps by giving our enemies a cold drink of water, we show that God is a good God, as He sends the rain on both those who deserve it and those who don’t (Matthew 5:45). To this day I have never forgotten this man’s kind deed, and I pray he remembers Jesus’ words.

Being Just to the Unjust

Who among us deserves God’s mercy and grace? Not even one of us (Romans 3:10, 23; 6:23). God gives us what we don’t deserve (called grace) and then He withholds what we do deserve (called mercy) (John 3:36b). So when we are praying for our enemies and giving them food and drink, we are acting like God does toward undeserving sinners. This dying to the self may be the only Christ that those who are our enemies may ever see. When they see us not avenging ourselves but instead showing the similar love of God toward those who don’t deserve it, that might be the only Christ they will ever meet in someone, perhaps in their entire lives; and it make all the difference in the world.

A Closing Prayer

Great God in heaven, please help me to love my enemies, to pray for those who hate me by feeding them when they’re hungry and giving them a drink when they are thirsty. I need Your help in this because with my own human means, it is impossible for me to do. I pray in the King of kings and Lord of lords name, Jesus Christ.


Today’s two-for-one special — Click the title to link to a second article by this writer at this daily devotional blog: I have called you to be My disciple. What does that mean to you?

May 22, 2016

What is the New Covenant?

•••by Russell Young

A covenant is a compact or an agreement that holds surety of promise between two parties.  The Old Covenant is often referred to as the Covenant of the Law through which the Lord promised good to those who obey Him.  “Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people.  Walk in the ways I command you, that it may go well with you” (Jeremiah 7:23, NIV) This is also the “Everlasting Covenant.” (Isaiah 24:5)

According to the Old Covenant the Israelites had to obey all of the elements of the Law.  It was not arbitrarily designed but its purpose was to create a holy nation. (Exodus 19:6) Because man “was weakened by the sinful nature,” (Romans 8:3, NIV) he could not keep the Covenant.  However, the Covenant is everlasting and God’s blessings to man depends upon the believer satisfying its righteous requirements without which a holy nation could not be created.

The Old Covenant was brought to a close for those willing to accept Christ’s lordship (Romans 10:9-10) by having its requirement of death for sin satisfied through His substitutionary sacrifice.  The New Covenant makes the believer competent through Christ’s indwelling presence to overcome his sinful nature and become transformed into His likeness. (Romans 8:29)

The New Covenant is a covenant of the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:6) The Spirit is Christ in the believer (Colossians 1:27; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18) who is able to live without sin in the believer just as He had in the body that the Father had prepared for Him in the womb of Mary…provided He is obeyed.

Paul wrote: “He [God] condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:4, NIV) Rather than accomplishing the law through one’s own resources as required by the Old Covenant, the believer has been provided with Christ’s indwelling Spirit to enlighten, lead, and empower Him to live righteously and develop a state of holiness (Romans 6:19, 22) without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14) The requirements set by God have not changed but the means of accomplishing them has.  According to either Covenant, obedience is required.  The writer of Hebrews has stated that “eternal salvation” comes to those who “obey” Him. (Hebrews 5:9)

The New Covenant is not engraved on stone but is in the flesh…the mind and the heart.  It is not legally based on satisfying the law but is based on the believer having a personal, living relationship with Christ.  It is those who are led by the Spirit who are no longer under the law (Galatians 5:18) and who are sons of God. (Romans 8:14) Those who choose to walk according to their sinful nature, even after pledging Christ’s lordship, will reap destruction. (Galatians 6:7-8; Romans 8:13)

Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant.  That is, He is the One who intervenes on behalf of the believer to accomplish the eternal hope for the believer.  He has done this to provide access to the Covenant through His death.  As mediator He has provided His Spirit to accomplish its requirements.  As High Priest, He intercedes on behalf of the believer for sins committed “in ignorance” (Hebrews 9:7) and for sins that have been confessed and repented. (1 John 1:9)

Peter wrote that “His [the Lord’s] divine power [Holy Spirit] has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3); however, the believer is not to be passive or lukewarm but is “to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling; (Philippians 2:12, NIV) that is, through obedience.

The New Covenant is NOT the promise of an eternal hope through the sacrificial death of Christ on his behalf.  It is a covenant by God which allows the Christ to live in the believer and through obedience to satisfy God’s righteous requirements for His Eternal Kingdom.  In honouring God’s Son the believer will be transformed into His likeness, will truly become His brother, and will inherit all of the blessing that apply to a son of God.  In the end, the “Everlasting Covenant” will be honoured by both God and man.

May 21, 2016

Proof-texting to Justify a Position on an Issue

Today we pay a return visit to Benjamin L. Corey who blogs at Patheos. This is really two articles in one. On the surface, it’s dealing with the issue of “just war theory” versus pacifism. On a deeper level, it deals with the complications that arise when we try to use particular Bible texts to justify a particular position. So… even if you’re not drawn to the particular issue — and I deliberately chose a neutral headline — consider this an A+ exercise in Biblical hermeneutics. Click the title below to read at source or leave a comment for Benjamin.

The Serious Problems With Using Ecclesiastes 3 To Justify Christian Support of War & Violence

I’ve heard a lot of reasoning over the years regarding Christian support of things like war, violence, and gun slinging. I’ve seen the Bible bent into a giant pretzel, watched folks do theological gymnastics, and I’ve seen the teachings of Jesus on the matter outright dismissed– over, and over again.

thought I had addressed all of the counter arguments over the years, but a new one is emerging and being used more and more frequently: the use of Ecclesiastes chapter 3 to justify the Christian’s support of war and violence.

Even the casual Bible reader probably knows this passage well, as it became the hit song, Turn, Turn, Turn, by the Byrds, which is still an iconic song of the 60’s. The biblical passage (and the song) goes like this:

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

So, here’s how this is starting to be used in Christian discussions about guns, war, and violence: When Christian A puts forth the nonviolent teachings of Jesus, Christian B retorts by posting this passage in reply. The inferred argument is, “Jesus couldn’t have really meant that, because Ecclesiastes says there’s a time to kill and a time for war.”

Let me quickly outline the serious problems with this argument:

First, it ignores Jesus! The act of rebutting Jesus using other passages of Scripture should be a major red flag in the mind of any believer. If Jesus is the living Word of God and the Wisdom of God, then we begin with what Jesus taught us. This is what makes us Christians instead of Biblicists– we follow the teachings of our Lord and Savior. When one rejects the face value teaching and example of Christ in favor of other passages or people in Scripture, it’s a good indication that such a person may like Jesus the Savior but not Jesus the Lord– and unfortunately, this thing is a package deal.

Second, it ignores the poetic nature of the passage. This passage became a hit song because it’s actually quite beautiful and insightful as a piece of literature. The author poetically describes the many seasons of life he has observed, and invites us into his inner thought process as he reflects on these deep questions. The result is certainly beautiful.

Finally, using this passage to trump Jesus falls flat, as it ignores things the author of Ecclesiastics totally got wrong. Because the poem describes the extremes that exist in life, there’s something in the passage that everyone will likely find disagreement with, and stuff that I believe a Christian should flat out reject as being wrong.

For example, when I first went to Bible college 20+ years ago, I tried to make the argument that we should be allowed to dance because the Bible says, “there’s a time to dance.” Of course, they rejected this argument and reminded me that even Satan knows Scripture and how to twist it. (But strangely when they got to the lines about hating, killing, and war, the passage all of a sudden became the “final authority for faith and Christian living.”)

But let’s look at a few more serious examples:

Do you really think there’s a time to hate? If Jesus commanded us to love God, love our neighbors, and love our enemies, I can’t think of anyone we’re allowed to hate. Thus, this passage cannot be read as a prescriptive command from God as to how to live, because according to Jesus, there’s not a time to hate.

Or, if one reads beyond the more famous lines of this passage, we find a few other things I hope we’d reject. In verse 12 he says that there’s, “nothing better than for people to be happy” and as a Christian I would categorically deny that our existence here on this earth has the highest goal of our own happiness. Surely, Jesus promised not happiness– but that the consequences of following him would great, including poverty, jail, and death.

In addition, the author states in verses 19-21 that humans have “no advantage” over animals and that he doesn’t know if the human spirit “rises upwards” or if the animal spirit “goes down to the earth.” I would hope that as Christians we’d reject such shoulder shrugging as to wether or not our fate after death is any better or different than an animal.

Finally, in that same set of verses, the author says that “everything is meaningless.” But do we really believe that life is meaningless? That it has no point? I certainly don’t see how “everything is meaningless” can fit within a Christian narrative– the opposite would be far more likely to be true.

Thus, to use Ecclesiastes 3 to justify the Christian supporting war and violence is one of the weakest arguments one could make. It completely ignores what Jesus said about things. It also completely ignores the context of the passage– someone poetically thinking about loud in the 3rd Century BCE as to whether or not life has meaning, and who wonders if we will share the same fate as animals. Finally, it ignores things the author simply got wrong about life– it’s not meaningless, and surely for the Christian, the highest goal of life isn’t the pursuit of personal happiness.

Can we please stop using this passage as an American Christian go-to passage to justify our support of war and violence? Because the passage doesn’t actually work that way.

 

May 20, 2016

Giving With All You Have

ESV Acts 20:34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.

Today it was my intention to introduce the ministry of Mustard Seed Associates and the website Godspace, but at the last minute I discovered we had shared their ministry with you previously, back in June, 2012. Click the title below to read this at source, and then take some time to look around the blog.

Alms….and legs, feet, hands and eyes

Christian generosityBy Rowan Wyatt

Acts 20: 34-36

As you walk through the shopping area in the center of Tunbridge Wells, on any given day, you run the gauntlet of being pounced on and harangued for money, often quite aggressively, by people who are being paid by charities to sign you up for direct debits for their already very rich charities. You can always tell the charities that can’t afford to pay people to hassle you for money, as the volunteers collecting are patiently waiting, greeting each clinking of coins with a grateful smile, whereas the paid collectors hassle and are aggressive, and don’t care about the charity.

When Keren and I were hit by some financial hardship recently we were determined to continue, as much as we could, to give our money to the charities and organizations we support. We had to cut funding to some, and as we sank deeper into hardship we had to cut even more. I have never felt more upset than I did then, to write to people and say “I can’t give anymore”. We have a girl, Mekdes, that we sponsor in Ethiopia through Compassion UK. We have supported her for many years and we decided that no matter what we would always ensure we could pay for her, I am pleased to say we have never once failed to provide our sponsorship money for her.

Giving is a gift that God has given us. Some may scratch their heads at that, how can us giving our money away be a gift from God. But it is and it’s not just a simple act of contrition to make you feel better about yourself, it is a real way of blessing people and being blessed in the process. I can’t get to Ethiopia to see Mekdes but I know that thanks to our small act of giving each month, she receives clothing, food and education. It is a way of touching someone’s soul, connecting with love, not because you have to, or it’s the right thing to do but because LOVE has moved you to do it. It is a gift to us to know that thanks to our giving Mekdes has a better chance in life, and with the thousands of others who also sponsor children through Compassion, others get that blessing too.

Giving is not just an offering to help those in need it is also an offering to God. It is pleasing to God, he wants us to give and finds joy and love in that act, He delights in us when we give gladly. Look at Mark 12: 41-44 to see Jesus’ viewpoint. The large sums being offered didn’t interest him, he was only concerned with the heart of the giver, the poor widow who had naught to give but gave anyway, with a willing and joyful heart. Because she loved God, and through that act God blessed her, what a precious gift.

The title of this article may seem a bit flippant, but I really mean it. Give with your all, your whole body and soul. If you don’t have finance to give, then give in kind with your time. Physically serve, use your hands and feet, helping people or working for free doing some part-time admin. All is a gift from your heart which blesses others and yourself.

Who do you give to? Follow your heart, let God speak to you. Ask him where you can direct your help and allow him to guide you in what charities/organizations you should donate your money or time to. There are charities that I wouldn’t give a penny to and others I wish I could give more to. It isn’t possible to help all of them, no matter how hard you try, so follow your heart. Let the Holy Spirit guide you. A few days ago I was out and I saw a homeless girl, huddled with her dog in a doorway. I can’t put her up or give her a home. I can’t give her a job or an income but what I could do was remember that poor widow and give what I had to give. I didn’t look to see what I gave, I just gave all the cash I had, patted the dog and walked on. God used me to bless that girl and blessed me at the same time.

You often hear nowadays of compassion fatigue. I don’t think people are tired of being compassionate or giving money to charity, I do feel they are tired of the aggressive tactics being used in the streets, or seeing the managers of these charities driving around in very expensive company cars and living in big houses on large salaries, all paid for by the donors. Look at who you give to and pray about it. Let God guide you and when he makes it clear, give joyfully and as abundantly as you can, just as God has.

 

For starters please take your time to look at these few wonderful organizations. Thank you.

 

Compassion UK Compassion UK

Compassion USA Compassion International

Compassion Canada Compassion Canada

 

May 19, 2016

He Has Risen, He Is Alive

NIV 1 Cor 15:13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.


NASB Rev 1:17 When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, 18 and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.

HeHasRisen_lg

For the third time, we return to the writing of Hajnalka Elleh who works as a translator and writes devotional blog posts in both English and Hungarian. In today’s writing, she is quoting excerpts from J.H. Jowett’s “My Daily Meditation for the Circling Year”, 1914. Source of illustration: here. Translated by/Fordította: wordwatcherdawn.

The Ever-Living Lord! – Quotes by J.H. Jowett

If Christ Were Dead!

1 Corinthians 15:12—26.

“If Christ be not risen!” That is the most appalling “if” which can be flung into the human mind. If it obtains lodging and entertainment, all the fairest hopes of the soul wither away like tender buds which have been nipped by sharp frost! See how they fade!

“Your faith is vain.” It has no more strength and permanency than Jonah’s gourd. Nay, it has really never been a living thing! It has been a pathetic delusion, beautiful, but empty as a bubble, and collapsing at Joseph’s tomb.

“Ye are yet in your sins.” The hope of forgiveness and reconciliation is stricken, and there is nothing left but “a certain fearful looking-for of judgment.” Nemesis has only been hiding behind a screen of decorated falsehoods, and she will pursue us to the bitter end.

“We are of all men the most miserable.” Joy would fall and die like a fatally wounded lark. The song would cease from our souls. The holy place would become a tomb.

“But now is Christ risen from the dead!” Yes, let me finish on that word. That gives me morning, and melody, and holy merriment that knows no end.

**********

The Ever-Living Lord

Revelation 1:9—18

Let me take the simple words, and quietly gaze into the wonderful depths of their fathomless simplicity. An old villager used to tell me it would strengthen my eyes if I looked long into deep wells. And it will assuredly strengthen the eyes of my soul to gaze into wells like these.

“I am He that liveth.” What a marvelous transformation it worked upon Dr. Dale, when one day, in his study, it flashed upon him, as never before, that Jesus Christ is alive! “Christ is alive!” he repeated again and again, until the clarion music filled all the rooms in his soul. “Christ is alive!”

“And was dead.” Yes, the Lord has gone right through that dark place. There are footprints, and they are the footprints of the Conqueror, all along the road. “Christ leads me through no darker room than He went through before.”

“And, behold, I am alive for ever more.” “Jesus has conquered death and all its powers.” Never more will it sit on a transient throne. Its power is broken, its “sting” has lost its poison, there isn’t a boast left in its apparently omnivorous mouth! “Where’s thy victory, O grave?”

And here is the gospel for me—“Because I live ye shall live also.”

May 18, 2016

The Well-Watered Christian

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

37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water. ’” 39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39 NRSV)

WaterfallHere is a wonderful promise of the Holy Spirit so infilling the Christian believer that “rivers of living water” flow and others are blessed as well. You get the impression that there will be “times of refreshing” to borrow a common phrase and that things can’t help but grow in the presence of Holy Spirit filled people. The believer will be a “breath of fresh air” to change metaphors. Of course we recognize that God is the source, we are merely the vessels. Yet when we are being honest there are some days we feel more like a drip than a river, more dry in our own spirituality that overflowing with the goodness of God. How do we get to that place of being so refreshed by the presence of the Holy Spirit, God’s presence overflows to refresh and bring life and growth to others?

Jesus tells us how: “Let anyone who is thirsty . . . ” It begins with thirst. But thirst for what? The timing of Jesus’ call to the thirsty helps us figure that out for thirst was an important theme of the festival happening that day. Actually it was seven or eight days, depending on whether you counted the eighth day when things were being wrapped up. This was the Feast of Tabernacles and over the course of seven days priests would go to the Pool of Siloam to fill pitchers with water which would then be brought up to the temple to be poured out around the altar. All this happened with prayers being made for rain and with certain “watery” scriptures floating in the background of people’s minds.

For example, the people would have been thinking of the time God provided the Israelites with water from a rock in the wilderness following the escape from Egypt.

But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:3-7 NRSV)

That miracle began with thirst. They also would have been reminded of Ezekiel’s prophecy to God’s people in exile about coming back to the Promised Land. The temple was to be rebuilt and there would be a life giving river flowing from it.

1 Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. 2 Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and the water was coming out on the south side. . . . Then he led me back along the bank of the river. 7 As I came back, I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on the one side and on the other. 8 He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. 9 Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes. (Ezekiel 47:1,2,6-9 NRSV)

The exiled people of God were thirsty for God’s forgiveness and restoration. By the time Jesus makes his call to the thirsty the people had returned from exile, at least some of them, and the Temple had been rebuilt. However, with the Romans in charge, it hardly felt like God’s promise had been realized. Surely this is not what the prophecy through Ezekiel was pointing to! Hence, there was still thirst for the presence of the Lord in a fuller way, and for the fulfillment of His promises. “Let anyone who is thirsty . . . “, thirsty for God’s presence and provision, thirsty for God’s glory. Rivers of living water will not flow from us if we are not thirsting after the presence of the Lord.

While it begins with thirst, it does not end there: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.” Here we have not just thirst, but a call to decision. God’s people had faced decisions before. Looking back to the example of God providing water from a rock in the wilderness, the people faced a decision. They could either go back to Egypt, or go forward with God trusting He will continue with the blessings of His presence and provision. They could cave into temptation, or crave the presence of God. When Jesus calls out to the thirsty at the temple, he is pointing to Himself as the rock through whom God’s presence and provision happens. He is calling people to decision, to trust in him.

The example from Ezekiel is similar. When Ezekiel prophesied the restoration of the nation and the rebuilding of the temple there would have been a temptation for the exiles to just blend into Babylonian society instead. Ezekiel’s prophecy about a rebuilt temple with a flowing life giving river came with a decision, either cave into the temptation to blend in, or crave the presence and provision of God, looking forward with trust to His keeping of the promise. When Jesus calls out to the thirsty at the Temple, he is pointing to Himself as the Temple, the source of the living waters, and those waters will not flow from a building, but from Himself and through the people of God. He is calling people to decision, to trust in him. We face that same decision.

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.”

Perhaps we do not feel like the promised vessels of God’s blessing and refreshing because we are not thirsty for God. Or perhaps we are thirsty, but we try to quench that thirst with gods we have created instead of the God Who is. There is so much temptation all around us to cave and blend in. We will never be vessels for God’s living waters if we drink deeply from our society and culture with a fire hose while we sip at God’s presence with a straw. When we feel dry ourselves, when we feel our presence in the lives of others lacks any kind of spiritual refreshment, let us evaluate our thirst for God. Then let us evaluate the decisions we have made in quenching that thirst. Have we gone to Him? Do we drink deeply?

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.”


Enjoy more of Clarke’s devotionals/studies at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

 

May 17, 2016

Thomas, Revisited

Today we’re paying a return visit to the blog, Finding the Holy in the Mundane by Rachel Stephenson.  Click the title below to read at source or leave a comment for the author.

Changed and Unchanged By Doubt

But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”

John 20:25 (MSG)

The first time I was in the Operating Room (OR) during nursing school I got sick. It was not from being in the OR. It was coincidental. I had some questionable food the night before. I was in the OR, ready to see the surgery and I started getting hot. I must have looked funny since the circulating nurse looked at me and asked me what was wrong. I told her I felt hot. That nurse whisked away from the operating suite before I could say another word.

Feeling better, a few days later I had another opportunity to re-visit the OR.   It was then I found my previous visit did not go unnoticed. My welcome the second day was, “Oh, you’re the one who got sick the other day.” One moment of claustrophobic hotness and I had a reputation, “the sick one.”

I can identify with Thomas. You know him, Doubting Thomas. One moment of unbelief and this poor disciple ends up with the name that is synonymous with unbelief—Doubting Thomas.

It’s fascinating to see Thomas in another setting. Jesus, informed of His friend Lazarus’ death, decides to make the trip to Bethany. Thomas is the one who rallies the rest of the disciples and seems willing to face the inevitable along with Christ.

That’s when Thomas, the one called the Twin, said to his companions,

“Come along. We might as well die with him.” John 11:16 (MSG)

Do you see Thomas in a little different light? Realizing a trip back to Judea might mean trouble for Jesus, it’s Thomas who is willing to follow Christ to death. At that moment, that is.

After Jesus’ arrest, all the disciples, except John, deserted Jesus. I doubt they went far. Out of fear, they hid. It’s likely, from a distance, they watched Jesus on the cross. If Thomas didn’t see Jesus die, some of his comrades did. Jesus was dead. There was no doubt. Thomas, the pragmatist, didn’t understand this talk of seeing Jesus alive.   Here is John’s record of the fateful moment.

But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.” But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”

Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then He focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.” Thomas said, “My Master! My God!” Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.” John 20:24-29 (MSG)

This is a tender moment between Jesus and Thomas. Jesus knew what Thomas said. Jesus made Thomas’ ultimatum the invitation. Instead of rebuke, Jesus invites Thomas to do the thing he said it would take to convince him Jesus was alive. The focus of Jesus’ attention was Thomas, not his doubting, not his weakness, not his fear.

Jesus was unchanged by Thomas’ doubt. Thomas was changed by Jesus’ grace.

Do you doubt? Everyone has in a moment of weakness, anger, uncertainty, selfishness or pride. In all of that, Jesus remains unchanged. The invitation remains unchanged. Jesus is bigger than your doubt. He’s man enough to take your unbelief and with love mold it into faith; the kind of faith that cries, “Master!”

Father, as I face many uncertain situations, remind me of Your unchanging love and grace. Help my unbelief. Open my eyes to the truth in Your Word. Open my heart to the depths of Your grace. Change me, Father, change my unbelieving heart.

May 16, 2016

Which Crowd Speaks Well of You?

Once again we’re paying a return visit to Done With Religion by Michael Donohoe. I really liked the insights here. To read this at source or leave a comment for the author, click the title below.

When All Speak Well of You… Did I Have It Wrong?

Have you ever questioned some of the things you were taught in church? I have been questioning a lot recently, but a couple verses have been on my mind and I am wondering if I may have been taught wrong or misinterpreted what is really meant. The verses are as follows:

Luke 6:22 Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.

I was taught this verse was talking about living as a Christian witness in front of non-believers and how that would upset them. They would insult you and say you were evil because you followed Christ.

The other verse is Luke 6:26 Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.

I was told this meant that I was not living as a good Christian witness. All non-believers would speak good things about me because I was just like them. I was not living my Christian witness strong enough, pointing out their sins and mistakes. Living like them meant it caused no guilt on their part because I was not being a good Christian example.

The Religious or Non-Believers?

I have come to think I was told wrong about these two verses. I wonder, could it be that these verses are actually talking about religious people rather than non-believers?

When we read about Jesus and how he lived while here on earth, I see something different from what I was taught about living a Christian life. Jesus loved the people who most religious people would not want to be around. I was always told I had to separate myself and stay away from non-believers. I should be ready to point out why they were wrong and that they were on the way to hell if they did not change their ways. This is not to say all these people were wrong or terrible people, but in the eyes of other christian people they were wrong. Neither does this consider the verse saying the Holy Spirit will convict the world and draw others to the Father. It is not our job to convict and condemn, but to love.

Funny, I just do not see Jesus condemning and staying away from anyone. Jesus loved all people, even those that religion tells me to stay away from. When Jesus spent his time around the people the religious people wanted nothing to do with, He was hated, insulted and called evil…..by the religious people.

Just maybe when men speak well of us, it may not be non-believers. Maybe this is talking about the religious people speaking well of us because we are just like them, religious, condemning, relying on good works and fulfilling the law, and isolating ourselves from the people they thought were evil. Maybe when we want to spend time with those the religious try to avoid, it makes the religious crowd mad and they will be calling us evil. That’s what they did to Jesus, so we can expect the same.

May 15, 2016

The Forgotten Ministry

•••by Russell Young

John wrote,If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life.(1 John 5:16, NIV)

This is a curious promise written by John.  There are many different opinions as to what John meant when he spoke of a sin that does not lead to death.   For this writing, however, consideration will be given to the issue of life that John has promised.  Is he promising physical life or spiritual life?  Throughout his epistle John has been speaking of one’s spiritual health and well-being, not his physical well-being.   However, applying the notion of spiritual life or death does not make sense to those who claim that one’s spiritual hope was assured at the time of their confession of faith.  They would proclaim that the ‘believer” was saved eternally at that point and this reality cannot be altered.  If this is so, how can sin bring about his spiritual death?  Consequently, they must attribute the death being spoken about as one’s physical death.  And examination of the Scriptures reveals that John might very likely be addressing one’s eternal health or spiritual life.  Disobedience, and walking in sin has been revealed to bring about one’s spiritual destruction or death.

John has recorded the Lord’s teaching that one’s doing will either allow him to rise to live or rise to be condemned.   “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out-those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” (John 5:28-29, NIV) That is, his practices are what determines his outcome.

Erroneous teaching about the nature and application of God’s “grace” and of “works” has allowed God’s children the freedom to engage in sin without concern for judgment and death.  The Word is clear that eternal salvation is only accomplished through obedience. (Hebrews 5:9) Paul taught that we are not to be DECEIVED, a man reaps what he sows.  “The one who sows to please his sinful nature from his sinful nature will reap destruction.” (Galatians 6:7-8) Paul also recorded: “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey-whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 5:16) He also taught that the believer was to offer his body in slavery to righteousness which leads to holiness (Romans 6:19), resulting in eternal life. (Romans 6:22) Further in his letter Paul wrote: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13)

It is not the gospel message that God’s grace will deliver the confessor into His eternal presence.  In order for that to be accomplished he must utilize the resources that have been provided according to God’s grace and mercy and live a life of obedience.  Sin is disobedience.

Just before the Lord’s crucifixion He washed the disciple’s feet.  Many take this as an act of humility and command to service.  It certainly is that, but much more.  Peter was appalled and at first would not submit.  However, the Lord rebuked him.  Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” (John 13:8) And clarified,A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.  And you are clean.” (John 13:10) The soil of daily sins (dirty feet) according to the Lord still needed to be washed clean if the Lord was “to have any part with him.”  That is, known sin must be repented and confessed if it is to be forgiven and removed.  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1John 1:9, NIV)

It is in the context of these understandings that the passage under consideration and the “forgotten ministry” makes sense.  If you see your brother (a fellow believer) commit a sin you are to pray for him so that he might have life.  It is unfortunate that this ministry is not promoted more within the church.  It is both an act of service and of love.  The reality of this ministry has been lost in exaggerated and misleading teaching concerning the nature of God’s grace and of His “unconditional” love, but it still remains in force.

May 14, 2016

Is There a Conflict Between Predestination and Prayer?

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

NIV Luke 11:5 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

This is Chapter 15 of a 1982 book Why Pray: An Exposition of Luke 11:5-13 and Related Verses by Dr. Spiros Zodhiates, best known as the originator of the Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible available in several translations.

God has made everything; He knows how everything works; He knows what everybody will do.  Why, then, does He tell us to pray, when He already knows what the end result will be?  What difference does it make whether we ask, seek and knock?

There are two things that are clearly indicated throughout the Word of God, and especially by Jesus Christ in the Gospels, and we might as well accept them because they come from Him.  One is God’s sovereignty.  He sends rain whenever He wants it to rain.  He sends snow whenever He wants it to snow.  Whatever He wants to do, He does and we cannot hinder Him or influence Him in the doing of it.  He is sovereign.  We can’t change that.

But the fact also remains that He wants us to pray, and that is just as much a part of His sovereignty as everything else.  He says, “Pray, ask, seek, knock.”  The fact that He wants us to pray is a recognition of the sovereign freedom of our will.  He has given us freedom of will to come to Him, the omnipotent, all-sovereign God, as a Father and talk to Him about our needs.

If God entered a heart against its will, He would be violating the freedom of will with which He created us.  Only when our will voluntarily comes into harmony with His will can we ask and expect to receive.

Now, there is something we must understand about the Lord’s prefacing the words, “Ask, seek, knock” with the declaration, “And I, myself, say unto you,” and that is He has the authority to say so.  He is the Creator, and “in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9).  Here He is declaring that He is God Himself.  he is the Creator, and the Sustainer, also, of all things.  As the Sustainer of all things He is able to hear us and to do what we ask if it is in accordance with His eternal will – or even to give us something better than what we, in our limited wisdom, ask for.  John 1:3 says, “By him were all things made, and there isn’t a thing that was made that wasn’t made by him.

Colossians 1:17 is a mind-boggling verse, which I’ll translate directly from the Greek: “And he it is who is before all things, and all things in him consist.”  In other words, in Him everything holds together.  He is the cohesive force of everything.

Have you ever thought what happens when you ask something from God and then another child of God asks exactly the opposite? Take a farmer who needs rain and another believer who needs sunshine. Now since God cannot please both, what will He do?  In His eternal wisdom and providence, He will answer in a way that will best further his plans. If the believer needs the sunshine more than the farmer needs the rain, then God may bring the sunshine. Otherwise, He might bring rain – unless, of course, in His larger view of the needs of all, or His plans for all, He sends what is best for all. Our prayers are often so competing that when the Lord looks from above He must decide what is best from His own point of view. Unlike a human parent, He is not perplexed as to whom to please.  Have you ever had this happen:  one child in your family wants to do one thing and another child wants to do the opposite, and you as a parent don’t know what to do? I sometimes think it is not easy for God to be God. He created, He sustains everything, and I’m glad that He sees all of humanity from above and answers accordingly.

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