Christianity 201

September 20, 2017

The Mustard Seed

We continue our September Wednesday series looking at a few of the Kingdom parables as interpreted by Charles Price, Minister at Large and former Pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto. Some of his takes on these may be just slightly different from what you’ve heard or thought. Find more devotions like this at Living Truth.

The Mustard Seed

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.” Matthew 13:31

Though the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, “so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” Jesus gives no explanation of this parable, so we must tread carefully. If we remain consistent in our interpretation with the first two parables, which also include a sower sowing seed in a field, then it is a picture of the Son of Man sowing seed into the world, but this time specified as mustard seed.

The popular interpretation is that the kingdom grows from humble beginnings into something good and great, which provides a refuge for the birds. This is not a proper understanding. The key to this parable is in the seed being specifically stated as mustard seed. Mustard is a herb and not a tree. It normally grows to about four feet and would not be a place you would expect to find a bird’s nest. This is not a picture of natural growth but of something unnatural, portraying a false greatness. The birds nesting in the branches are not something good, but evil. In the first parable, the birds came and ate up the seed on the path. Jesus described them as representing “the evil one”.

There is a similar image in a vision given to the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, in which a tree, representing himself, grows large and strong, “with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth… and having nesting places in its branches for the birds of the air” (Daniel 4:20-21). The tree demonstrated Nebuchadnezzar’s arrogance, and in due time, a messenger of God came and chopped the tree down and Nebuchadnezzar was greatly humbled and reduced to poverty.

It would seem what Jesus is saying here is that instead of being characterized by humility and gentleness, the kingdom of heaven in its manifestation on earth has become rich, powerful and, in some instances, authoritative and arrogant. Its strategies are in danger of not deriving from obedience to Jesus Christ, dependency on the Holy Spirit and child-like trust in a heavenly Father, but from marketing tactics, high profiled publicity, public relations expertise and the attempt to woo others with our bigness and noise. It has become a nesting place for the birds!

This parable does not teach the failure of the church as a manifestation of the kingdom of God, but it does predict its distortion and corruption, which history and current experiences have shown to be true. This is how those outside of Christ will perceive the kingdom of God in our world today.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, grant me a humbled heart that remains in submission to You, and keep me from falling prey to arrogance in those who falsely represent Your kingdom. Thank You, Lord.

 

September 19, 2017

Surviving a Valley Experience

by Russell Young

Every believer will be faced with a valley experience at some point. That is, something will come into his or her life that seems devastating and destructive. It might be the loss of a loved one, financial damage, health issues, the pain of a destroyed relationship, the hurt of perceived betrayal, etc. For those living in Florida or Texas, or those suffering through the destructive earthquake of southern Mexico the valley experience is very evident.  Bad things happen and those engulfed in them must find a way through if they are to once more find hope on the other side.

When bad things happen, a person needs to clearly understand what victory looks like to him or her since without it only defeat remains. Their appreciation of victory provides objectivity and the goal that offers hope and recovery. It provides direction for obtaining the mountaintop and the ability to confidently proceed with life.

Although overcoming disaster may look different and feel different for each person, it is singular and consistent for all believers.  Victory while in this life is the attainment of God’s eternal kingdom. Jesus taught, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (Jn 12:25 NIV) This life and the glories of this world are not to be valued. There are lessons to be learned from all “misfortunes.” For believers, the lesson may be a reminder to rely on God and to live according to his priorities and purposes. The “consistent and singular” need of the Christ follower is to focus and remain focused on him.

Paul put difficulties into an eternal perspective. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor 4:17─18, Italics added.)

Victory must not be accepted as triumph over a momentary event but seen from an eternal perspective with the finding a place in God’s kingdom. There is no doubt that loss brings hurt and causes pain, even great pain and help and compassion needs to be shown the suffering. No one enjoys such experiences but it is through them that faith is tested and proven.  “…you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Pet 1:6─7 NIV) The faith of all will be tested. God made the Israelites wander for forty years to test their hearts (Deut 8:2), and Christ was tested in the desert for forty days. Those who confess Christ should not accept that they will be provided a life free of tribulation, turmoil, and pain. Trials are promised to all believers.

Whether or not release can be found from the effects of the devastations of life depends entirely on a person’s perspective. Those who do not have an eternal hope will feel great loss; those who know the Lord can find their way up to the mountaintop by fixing their sight on the only one who can meet their eternal need. They can look past their circumstance and onward to a better hope. Valleys are necessary for spiritual growth. They test our mettle and either engender and prove faith or reveal its weakness. Contrary to the teaching of many, the believer must be made into an “offering acceptable to God” (Rom 15:16 NIV) and “conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Rom 8:29 NIV) When the believer’s perspective becomes focused on the issues and pleasures of this life, it must be adjusted. That is not to say that all people who are walking in the valley need an adjustment.  Sometimes the valley experience becomes ours due to proximity of those around us…family members, neighbors, communities, etc. Few live in isolation.

Concerning God’s intercession Paul wrote, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NIV) This understanding can provide great encouragement for those who are suffering. Regardless of the believer’s circumstance he or she can accept that through humility and obedience all will be well.

Here and now issues must not be permitted to cast the Lord aside. Things arise that require immediate effort and resources. Although the tendency might be for the troubled one to address the problem through his or her own resources without the Lord’s leading a wrong path might be taken and his purpose thwarted. In 2 Corinthians 11:23─27 Paul has listed many of his trials; however, he never gave in to defeat. He did not lose himself in their midst but set his sight on the bigger picture.

Whatever the struggles of life seem to be, they are temporal and must be seen as temporal. As bad as they are if the Lord leads they will eventually pass allowing the sun to shine once again and peace to be restored. The believer is to keep his or her eye set on Christ and on honoring him. That is faith in practice. He must be honored even in the midst of trials. Earthly possessions, health, and relationships may be lost never to be regained; but God is in control and will always remain sovereign over all things.

Paul suffered through despair but found assurance of victory through Christ.  “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us…” (2 Cor 1: 8-10 NIV)  Surviving a valley experience requires eyes set on God and a heart set on honoring him.

September 18, 2017

Reclaimed and Renamed

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:27 pm
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Today we’re revisiting Michael Thompson at the blog Kindling Word. As last time, this is a longer piece that I’ve joined in progress; click the title below to read in full.

Is That Your Name?

God knew the importance of names…and he had a habit of changing them when the given name was restricting eternal purpose.

Abram became Abraham. Sarai became Sarah. Jacob became Israel. Gideon became Jerub-Baal.

Jesus picked up where His Father left off. Simon became Peter. Saul became Paul.

In all these cases God was redefining the identity of a person by assigning to them the name that described them as He saw them.

On one occasion near Gadara, Jesus was confronted by a wild man (Mark 5).

This crazed individual made his bed in tombs and was a scary paradox of helplessness and aggression. He was helpless to control the powerful forces within him and was beyond the help, control or management of anyone around him. He terrorized the people of the region and lived his days out among the graves.

He was the walking dead!

Considering the insane approach, appearance and actions of the man, it seems Jesus asks a completely out-of-context question. It is the only recorded time Jesus ever asked anyone, “What is your name?”

But Jesus knew something about this wounded man. The demoniac, as he was labeled by the world around him, had been so completely wreaked by life that he couldn’t even remember his real name.

Some might say Jesus was asking the demonic hoard their name…but Jesus didn’t need that information. What he did want the man to see was how he was completely defined by what he had become.

So he called himself Legion. And to show he’s not merely talking about a group of Roman warriors, he adds for we are many (Mark 5:9). At the core he was saying, “I am a catastrophic mess; a hoard of self-destructive impulses.”

  • Defined by his past
  • Labeled by his disease
  • Wearing the insignia of his insanity
  • Summed up by his sin

He had completely accepted–at the deepest levels of his identity–that he was what he had done.

This man fully believed the most debilitating and constricting lie of them all: That all he would ever be was what he had become so far.

When Jesus confronted the troubled man and forced out of him the junk that was defining him, it was like an eternal parent asking the man, “Is that your name!?”

And then defiantly answering with a resounding “No!”

Jesus refused to let the man be defined by any other name than the one that lived in the heart of the Father.

A few times in the Older Testament God speaks to a person or even a tribe and says, “You will no longer be called…” and then gives a redefining (redemption) name. A name that showed how that person or group was defined within the grace-filled love of God.

I love God’s promise to His recalcitrant people,

“No longer will they call you Deserted,
or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah, [my delight is in her]
and your land Beulah [married];
for the Lord will take delight in you,
and your land will be married.” (Isaiah 62:4)

Within the heart of God is our original identity–our true name. God is not willing to allow us to be limited and labeled by anything we have done or experienced in our pasts.

God works faithfully to bring us to that place where we become what we have always been in His heart.

Just as Jesus was the expression of God’s heart and the representation of God’s dream, so is the Holy Spirit’s work in us. We are designed to be God’s dream come true; God’s word in flesh; God’s heart on display.

Our destiny is His narrative written in our story.

Historically, when God’s people came under control of other cultures and slaves to other nations, the rulers would rename them in an attempt to redefine them.

The pagan King Nebuchadnezzar renamed the Jewish boys Daniel, Hanania, Mishael, and Azaria with Babylonian names Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

Godly men given heathen names so their divine gifts could be prostituted for the pagan King’s purpose.

But the old czar found out that there was a force far more powerful than his fiat or his fiery furnace.

When a man knows the name that lives in the heart of the Father, you cannot change his destiny no matter what you call him.

One of the most beautiful pictures of where God is taking this world is found in the final book of His-story. God says, To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it (Revelation 2:17b).

On that day, Jesus will place a white stone in our hands with the name on it that has been in the heart of the Father for each of us since before creation. Then, He will ask: “Is that your name.”

I can’t wait to shout “Yes!!”

September 17, 2017

Sunday Worship

While worship – acknowledging the worth of God – should be part of our everyday lives, we tend to do this best in a corporate setting. While we began this series saying that worship is more than just music; more than what we sing; we often forget that in that same corporate setting, we can ascribe worth to God, along with his majesty and greatness and power, in the words we pray.

This begs the question: Should those words be planned or spontaneous? While the terminology may differ if you’re taking a course in public speaking, rhetoric, debate, etc., in The Church we usually speak of extemporaneous worship vs. liturgy. So in prayer we’re talking about prayers which are generated on the spot, as opposed to those read from prayer books, from the prayers found in the Bible itself, or prayers simply written in advance.

Although the context is slightly different, I’m often drawn to this verse in this debate:

What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.
-1 Corinthians 14:15 ESV

While I’m sure there is much to find online about the negative aspects of spontaneous prayer — “Well, uh, Lord we just want to tell you and Lord we just want to ask you from the bottom of our hearts that, um, well, Lord… I just forgot what I was going to say…” — there are times when prayers simply overflowing from a heart of both gratitude and devotion are exactly what is needed.

But instead, we want to focus today on the positive aspects of perhaps planning to use something which has been previously written. This is a small part of an article by David Bennett at the website Ancient and Future Catholics. Click the title below to read the entire article.

Objection: Why Do You Pray Using a Book

1. Written Prayers Provide a Solid Structure for Worship
The original intention of using written prayers was to provide a basic order for worship and prayer. This basic order can be traced back to the earliest church, and the words and phrases of most written prayers and liturgies (such as you may encounter in a Catholic or Orthodox Church) are practically lifted verbatim from the Bible or the writings of saints. The traditional order of worship includes the spiritually necessary parts of a worship service: confession, thanksgiving, communion, etc.

2. Written Prayers Allow for Common Prayer
The early Church was a tight-knit community. Today, thanks to Western enlightenment values, many tend to view Christianity as a highly personal matter. The early Church did not. Therefore, they often prayed many prayers together, and always would offer an “amen” after the presider said his words. The idea that everybody comes to worship to sing a few songs, hear a sermon, and pray their own spontaneous prayers that do not include the entire assembly is foreign to early Christian ideals, and was not a generally accepted way of worshipping until the latter half of the 20th century.

3. Written Prayers Allow For Real Freedom of Worship
(See # 1) I remember trying to piece together something for morning devotions, asking myself continually, “where in the heck do I start?” This became a bigger problem as I would spend more and more time just wandering during my private prayer time. Once I discovered the written forms of Morning and Evening Prayer, I found that having the structure actually gave me more freedom. Instead of wandering aimlessly, lacking any focus, I had a structure to work within. Keep in mind, written prayer forms allow for plenty of spontaneity, if not more, than structure-less prayer. Think of it like a football game. There are structures and rules…but…think of how much excitement is allowed within the structures! If we showed up to a field every Sunday and just acted spontaneously, we would rarely have as much fun as playing football, because the form of football is a proven, fun game. In the same way, liturgical form worship is proven, meaningful, and biblical worship, where a whole lot of cool things happen.

4. Written Prayers Connect Us to the Past and to the Wider Church
When we pray written prayers together, we are doing so with billions of past and present Christians. Thus, when praying written prayers we are not spiritually isolated within our own region or time period. Instead we are saying prayers that have been faithfully said throughout history. We are praying with Africans, Asians, Europeans, etc, and not just those of our same culture. Think of how many people have recited the Lord’s prayer, or the Agnes Dei, or the Sanctus. The number is certainly in the billions and includes peoples of all races and classes.

5. Written Prayers Are Time-Tested
Most well-known written prayers, including those used during Mass by Catholics, Orthodox, and some Protestants, are time-tested because of their theological orthodoxy and clearly-stated themes. I have been in many non-liturgical churches, and sometimes the spontaneous prayers are so long and rambling that I wish the pastor had written down something! Sometimes they are so theologically thin that they seem so sickly and superficial when compared to great prayers of the past.

6. Jesus Gave Us a Set Form For Prayer
When Jesus taught us to pray, he gave us what has been traditionally called “The Lord’s Prayer” or, more commonly in Catholic circles, the “Our Father.” When Jesus gave his disciples this prayer, he gave them a useful form, which they could use and build from. He did not say, “when you pray, simply speak to God like you’re his best buddy, and say whatever comes from your heart.” While spontaneously speaking to God from the heart is very important, Jesus’ model for prayer is a form, showing the value of this type of prayer.

7. Written Prayers are Scriptural
Liturgical prayer, that is, prayer mixed with ritual, is firmly rooted in ancient Jewish worship. Ancient Jewish worship was not only strikingly ritualistic, but relied heavily on written prayers (for example, the Psalms). Christian worship follows in this pattern. Catholic worship even regularly integrates a Psalm (or similar canticle) into daily and weekly prayer services and Masses, usually sung, as in ancient Hebrew worship. This shows that many written prayers used in Catholic worship are taken directly from the Bible! Thus, written prayers allow a person to “pray Scripture.” Many written prayers that are not directly taken from the Bible are nonetheless full of biblical themes and symbols. Thus, far from being unbiblical, written prayers are probably the most biblical prayers available.

Does this mean there is no value to spontaneous prayers? Of course not! While written prayers are good for a variety of reasons, their use does not exclude made-up prayers. In fact, having a written form as a basic structure allows one real freedom to be spontaneous. Yes, written prayers can be misused, and are often said by people who don’t believe them, but this is hardly the fault of the prayers themselves. Spontaneous prayers can be misused as well. So why not give written prayers a try?

September 16, 2017

God Doesn’t Owe You

Nine years ago, in what was probably one of the shortest posts at Thinking Out Loud, I wrote this:

After walking a couple of dogs for a half-hour each, and cleaning out 14 cat cages, my son draws this conclusion about his first day helping out at the shelter:

“I volunteered for 90 minutes today at the animal shelter.   Somebody owes me.”

Is this a misunderstanding of the concept affecting his generation, or have we failed as parents?   Do we ever feel that way when we do things for God?

I thought about when reading this article by Jonathan Parrish who writes at Walking With Christ Daily, now in its 6th year. To read this at source and then check out their archives, click the title below.

God Reminded Me What He Owes Me

Tonight while doing my devotional God took the time to remind me what He owes me or any other person. God owes me nothing. There is nothing that I can give or do for God that would require God to owe me a favor or something in return. Lets take a look a single moment in the book of Job.

“Who has first given to me, that I should repay him?
    Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.” Job 41:11 ESV

That is God speaking directly to Job.  Job has had a pretty rough time, He has lost everything. He lost his children, home, servants, flocks, and even his own health. He is complaining to God wanting to know why. God reminds him who is God. That he owes Job nothing but his grace. I know its hard to see grace in the beginning of Job when all that bad stuff is happening, but God showed Job grace when He told Satan, do what you will but you can’t kill him. He chose to save Job’s life, we see that grace in our own in the cross, when God chose to save our lives from sin, instead of condemning us to a second death. God is reminding him that He is God. That he created everything he had and would have. In Romans and Psalms this thought is mentioned again

“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
Romans 11:35 ESV

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.

Psalms 24:1-2 ESV

God owns everything. We forget that so often when things don’t go our way. Everything around us, belongs to God. God is allowing us to be stewards of His stuff while we are here on earth. We are stewards of his money, we are stewards of the Gospel, we are stewards of our families and what ever else you can think of.  God has given us everything including our salvation and His mercy.

So the next time you think God owes you something just remember he has already given you everything.


Because we often get first time readers, every few months we like to review our purpose statement:

Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading. 

Usage: Items written by Paul Wilkinson contain no links and you are free to use the material provided you link back to C201 and don’t change the wording of quoted sections. For other writers, follow the link in the title and then see if their policies apply to what your planning.

Scriptures: This year we had several trees cut down on our property. Ever broken up a small tree or sticks and been aware of the green color inside? Green shows that there is (or at least was!) life inside. That’s why we highlight scripture here in green. To show that while the words of the various writers whose material we borrow are helpful and instructive, it’s God’s Word that brings life. Individual verses are sourced at BibleHub.com; multiple verse passages are sourced at BibleGateway.com

Writers: We’re always looking for contributions. Check out the ‘submissions’ page.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
 -Galatians 6:9 NIV

September 15, 2017

Changed from Glory to Glory

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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But whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would take off the veil until he came out; and whenever he came out and spoke to the sons of Israel what he had been commanded… – Exodus 34:34

Many times a phrase from scripture becomes, for lack of a better term somewhat enlarged through propagation in hymns or modern worship choruses and then finds its way into preaching. This is especially true when phrases rendered in the unique styling of the KJV become common in church life. Sometimes they can become part of the Christianese verbal landscape. Such it is with the phrase we’re looking at today.

The King James Version of 2 Corinthians 3:18 reads:

But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

First of all, the key in the context of this passage is not changed or glory, but rather the idea of the veil. This begins in verse 7 of that chapter, but because the imagery is unfamiliar to many of us, I want to look at verses 12-18 in four translations; two of which add additional words to bring clarity.

First, here’s The Voice Bible (added words in italics, as is that translation’s custom)

12 In light of this hope that we have, we act with great confidence and speak with great courage. 13 We do not act like Moses who covered his face with a veil so the children of Israel would not stare as the glory of God faded from his face. 14 Their minds became as hard as stones; for up to this day when they read the old covenant, the same veil continues to hide that glory; this veil is lifted only through the Anointed One. 15 Even today a veil covers their hearts when the words of Moses are read; 16 but in the moment when one turns toward the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 By “the Lord” what I mean is the Spirit, and in any heart where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is liberty. 18 Now all of us, with our faces unveiled, reflect the glory of the Lord as if we are mirrors; and so we are being transformed, metamorphosed, into His same image from one radiance of glory to another, just as the Spirit of the Lord accomplishes it.

Next, we have The Amplified Bible (added meanings in brackets, as is that translation’s custom.)

12 Since we have such a [glorious] hope and confident expectation, we speak with great courage, 13 and we are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the Israelites would not gaze at the end of the glory which was fading away. 14 But [in fact] their minds were hardened [for they had lost the ability to understand]; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed [only] in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil [of blindness] lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a person turns [in repentance and faith] to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty [emancipation from bondage, true freedom]. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, continually seeing as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are progressively being transformed into His image from [one degree of] glory to [even more] glory, which comes from the Lord, [who is] the Spirit.

Third, we have the Common English Bible.

12 So, since we have such a hope, we act with great confidence. 13 We aren’t like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the Israelites couldn’t watch the end of what was fading away. 14 But their minds were closed. Right up to the present day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. The veil is not removed because it is taken away by Christ. 15 Even today, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But whenever someone turns back to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Lord’s Spirit is, there is freedom. 18 All of us are looking with unveiled faces at the glory of the Lord as if we were looking in a mirror. We are being transformed into that same image from one degree of glory to the next degree of glory. This comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Finally, Here’s the full passage in The Message:

7-8 The Government of Death, its constitution chiseled on stone tablets, had a dazzling inaugural. Moses’ face as he delivered the tablets was so bright that day (even though it would fade soon enough) that the people of Israel could no more look right at him than stare into the sun. How much more dazzling, then, the Government of Living Spirit?

9-11 If the Government of Condemnation was impressive, how about this Government of Affirmation? Bright as that old government was, it would look downright dull alongside this new one. If that makeshift arrangement impressed us, how much more this brightly shining government installed for eternity?

12-15 With that kind of hope to excite us, nothing holds us back. Unlike Moses, we have nothing to hide. Everything is out in the open with us. He wore a veil so the children of Israel wouldn’t notice that the glory was fading away—and they didn’t notice. They didn’t notice it then and they don’t notice it now, don’t notice that there’s nothing left behind that veil. Even today when the proclamations of that old, bankrupt government are read out, they can’t see through it. Only Christ can get rid of the veil so they can see for themselves that there’s nothing there.

16-18 Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.

I was going to look at the one verse only and present about a dozen different renderings of it, but decided to go more in depth with these four translations. By now you have a clear picture of the imagery here — in reference to Moses — but you see that the opposite situation is hoped for. The classic Albert Barnes commentary points us to this:

This is said in contradistinction probably to Moses. The splendor on his face gradually died away. But not so with the light reflected from the gospel. It becomes deeper and brighter constantly. This sentiment is parallel to that expressed by the psalmist; “They go from strength to strength” Psalm 84:7; that is, they go from one degree of strength to another, or one degree of holiness to another, until they come to the full vision of God himself in heaven. The idea in the phrase before us is; that there is a continual increase of moral purity and holiness under the gospel until it results in the perfect glory of heaven. The “doctrine” is, that Christians advance in piety; and that this is done by the contemplation of the glory of God as it is revealed in the gospel.

We won’t spend more time here, but to say that in understanding various types of imagery like this one, we are really learning more about the ways of God and the desire of God for our lives. Here’s a modern worship song which uses this phrase:

 

 

 

September 14, 2017

When Your Greatness Messes Others Up

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

The person next to me had figured out very quickly that I was not a good volleyball player. So whenever the ball came my way he would yell, “I’ve got it” and then he would get it. Everyone else on the team was playing volleyball. I, however, was playing dodge-ball. My role was to get out of the way and let the better player save the day. I do not know who won the game. But I do know that I did not grow as a volleyball player that day. I did not develop any volleyball skills that day. I didn’t even like playing volleyball that day. If I had any potential as a volleyball player, it was missed that day. This kind of thing happens in all areas of life. This kind of thing would not happen if people followed the Biblical principles laid down in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. Romans 12:3 (NRSV)

When we think we are the best person to hit the ball back, we may think we should be the only person to hit the ball back. Our high opinions of ourselves easily translates into low opinions of others. We can do it, they probably can’t. We are capable, they probably are not. We are the solution, they are probably the problem. So we should do it, they shouldn’t. When we think of ourselves more highly that we ought, we can end up stifling others without even realizing it.

Paul goes on to speak about knowing our calling, finding our role and place, and so not squash out others as they are finding theirs:

4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. Romans 12:4-8 (NRSV)

These verses are as much “back off, and let others shine in their calling” as they are “discover your own”. They are an encouragement to shine, but they are also and encouragement to give space for others to shine also.

Messing others up by our own perceived greatness can happen in any relationship. Let us consider marriage, about which there is an interesting, and often misunderstood passage in the Bible. On first reading, Proverbs 31:10-31 seems to be quite sexist with the man doing nothing while the woman does everything. But keeping in mind the patriarchal society into which this Scripture is given, look at how much the wife accomplishes. While the titles given to this passage by translators are usually things like “Ode to a Capable Wife” (NRSV), or “The Wife of Noble Character” (NIV), another title might be “The Good Husband”. The good husband does not think he is better at everything and so does it all. The good husband does not think he is a better decision-maker and micro-manage his wife. The good husband gives space for his wife to shine. The final verse of Proverbs captures it well: “let her works praise her in the city gates.” Proverbs 31:31 (NRSV emphasis mine).

Not thinking of yourself too highly is part of “thinking towards yourself with smart thinking” to translate Romans 12:3 very literally. We are to have a good, reasonable self-understanding. Although Paul does not say it, included in this would be not thinking of ourselves too lowly either. At the very least, each person can say they are created in the image of God and so are therefore deserving of being treated with dignity. We have important functions within our families, networks of friends, and in God’s Kingdom. Romans 12:4-8, quoted above, is an encouragement to stand up and grow up into what God calls us to do, even if others seem to be better than us at the time of our standing. While we ought not think of ourselves too highly, recognizing that we are not indispensable in everything, neither are we to think of ourselves as disposable either.

Everyone around us benefits when we have a good self-understanding and a proper self assessment of ourselves. But no one benefits more than we, ourselves. When we have too high an opinion of ourselves we don’t see our need of anyone, even God. And when we have too low an opinion of ourselves we cannot imagine allowing ourselves to be loved by anyone, especially God. Having a proper assessment of ourselves is not just a matter of thinking clearly, it is a matter of loving dearly.


Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

September 13, 2017

The Wheat and the Weeds

On the Wednesdays in September, we’re going to look at a few of The Kingdom Parables as interpreted by Charles Price, Minister at Large and former Pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto. Some of his takes on these may be just slightly different from what you’ve heard or thought. Find more devotions like this at Living Truth.

The Wheat and the Weeds

“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in the field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.” Matthew 13:24-25

This second parable tells us that if the Son of Man is sowing His seed in the world, an enemy is also sowing his seed in the same field. Jesus explains to His disciples, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil” (Matthew 13:37-39).

Wherever God is at work in this world we can be sure the devil is also at work. His purpose is to counterfeit the work of God, tempting us with something that looks real but is unreal. Within the kingdom of God, the devil will offer an attractive alternative to Jesus Christ, and it is not always easy to distinguish between the real and the counterfeit. This is conveyed by Jesus when the servant asked the owner about the weeds, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?” His answer was: “No, because while you are pulling the weeds you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest” (Matthew 13:29-30).

Jesus tells us there is going to be a harvest time at the end of the age, and there will be harvesters, the angels whom Jesus will send to sort the weeds from the wheat. This parable is not about false teaching so much as it is about false Christians, people who present themselves as part of the real thing but are counterfeit. False Christianity will inevitably lead to false teaching, but at the harvest when the fruit is evident, it will be easier to identify and handle. This means we are not to set out on a crusade to purify the church of any false ingredient, because if we attempt to do so, we may disrupt the good.

On the day of separation of the wheat from the weeds, the real from the false, the bad seed will face the prospect of a fiery furnace where all will be lost and destroyed. The good seed, the righteous, will face the prospect of shining like the sun in the kingdom of the Father (Matthew 13:41-43). In the end, the kingdom will be pure, but in the meantime, it is infiltrated with false Christians. Were we to look over a fence to the field where weeds were growing among the wheat, we would not be impressed. This is the picture of the kingdom of heaven as the world perceives it.

PRAYER: Thank You, Lord, for these parables that teach us the importance of being genuine in our Christian faith, so that at harvest time we will be among the wheat.

 

September 12, 2017

Appointments with God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NET 1 Timothy 4:8 For “physical exercise has some value, but godliness is valuable in every way. It holds promise for the present life and for the life to come.” 9 This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance. 10 In fact this is why we work hard and struggle, because we have set our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of believers. ©NET

If my schedule permits, I do prefer writing these devotional studies myself rather than importing than from the various sources we use in the course of a year. I find doing so forces me to spend time in scripture, immersed in a particular theme.

If you’re at a small group meeting and you contribute something verbally, it’s much easier to just say it than to have to commit to print. Knowing the words will be here for successive hours, days, months and years means fine tuning what it is you really intend to express.

But regular readers here will notice a disconnect between the words “forces me” and what we talked about in the last Sunday Worship column, which involves doing things wholeheartedly out of joy and delight. If you missed, you can read that article here. Just because I love to do something doesn’t mean I do not face the busyness and distractions common to us all.

However doing something joyfully can also mean that, while I see the benefit which occurs in my life by spending time in God’s word (versus the days I don’t get to do this) it doesn’t mean I have organized my life to the point where this flows naturally into my daily schedule. For you that might mean blocking out the time in your daily schedule; for me that means facing a 5:31 PM deadline each day knowing that subscribers are expecting something in their in-box.

And so it is we speak of spiritual disciplines. This term really grates on some people because of childhood memories of what constitutes discipline, namely punishment. (Often this intersects with the category of people who have problems with seeing God as Father, again because of painful memories.) I much prefer the term spiritual practices.

Another verse which evokes negative images for people is 2 Timothy 2:15, at least in the way many of us learned it as children: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (KJV) Besides “shew” and “needeth,” the issue is actually the choice of the word “study” which is not used by other translations that are not derivatives of the KJV. “Study” tends to remind us of cramming for an exam. It’s not a positive image for many people, especially people who didn’t do well in school! Again, since we’re using the NET Bible today, better to go with, “Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately.” It’s talking about diligence; applying ourselves to present our best to God.

⊕⊕⊕⊕⊕⊕⊕⊕

The term “spiritual discipline” is a frequently used tag on this site, but though it’s often covered here, I wanted to end with this list, posted in 2012 at the website Soul Shepherding for those less familiar with the concept. The author is .

Disciplines of Abstinence (Self-Denial)

These are ways of denying ourselves something we want or need in order to make space to focus on and connect with God.

Solitude: Refraining from interacting with other people in order to be alone with God and be found by him. (Solitude is completed by silence.)

Silence: Not speaking in a quiet place in order to quiet our minds and whole self and attend to God’s presence. Also, not speaking so that we can listen to others and bless them.

Fasting: Going without food (or something else like media) for a period of intensive prayer — the fast may be complete or partial.

Sabbath: Doing no work to rest in God’s person and provision; praying and playing with God and others. (God designed this for one day a week. We can practice it for shorter periods too.)

Secrecy: Not making our good deeds or qualities known to let God or others receive attention and to find our sufficiency in God alone (e.g., see Matthew 6).

Submission: Not asserting ourselves in order to come under the authority, wisdom, and power of Jesus Christ as our Lord, King, and Master. (If you think of this as submitting to a person as unto Christ then it’s a discipline of engagement.)

Disciplines of Engagement (Christ in Community)

These are ways of connecting with God and other people, conversing honestly with them in order to love and be loved.

Bible Reading: Trusting the Holy Spirit-inspired words of Scripture as our guide, wisdom, and strength for life. (Related disciplines include Bible study, Scripture meditation, and praying God’s Word.)

Worship: Praising God’s greatness, goodness, and beauty in words, music, ritual, or silence. (We can worship God privately or in community.)

Prayer: Conversing with God about what we’re experiencing and doing together. (As we see in the Lord’s Prayer the main thing we do in prayer is to make requests or intercessions to our Father for one another.)

Soul Friendship: Engaging fellow disciples of Jesus in prayerful conversation or other spiritual practices. (Related spiritual disciplines or practices include small groups, spiritual direction, and mentoring relationships.)

Personal Reflection: Paying attention to our inner self in order to grow in love for God, others, and self. (The Psalms in the Bible model this.)

Service: Humbly serving God by overflowing with his love and compassion to others, especially those in need. (Also tithing and giving.)

 

 

September 11, 2017

Jesus: Opening Move

Jesus Commences His Ministry

Compare the four gospels and see how Jesus begins his public ministry. At the outset some of the narration involves activities that are somewhat passive on His part. He was visited by the Magi. He is presented to Simeon in the temple by His parents. He is baptized by John. He is tempted by Satan. But the change from passive to active ministry involves the following:

It takes Matthew four chapters to get to this:

Matthew 4:17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Then He calls The Twelve.

In Mark the story is similar:

Mark 1:14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Luke also takes four chapters to get to the commencement of Jesus’ ministry:

Luke 4:16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

John’s perspective, ever unique, involves Jesus at the wedding at Cana:

John 2:6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.

John follows this with Jesus clearing the temple courts.
After the calling of the disciples, Matthew follows with the healing of the sick.
Mark also follows with the choosing of The Twelve, followed by the healing of a man possessed by an unclean spirit.
Luke follows with the same story of the man with the demonic spirit who is healed.

So why does all this matter?

First of all, in the synoptic gospels Jesus begins with a proclamation of His purpose and then moves to action; mostly ministry to individuals. Being a minister of the Good News involves both proclaiming (preaching, teaching, speaking) and also dealing one-on-one with people.

Is John an exception? Not at all. In John’s gospel, Jesus begins with a sign, and then ministers to the needs of those who are being disenfranchised by the profiteering that is going on in the temple courts and also taking up space in the one part of the temple that was open to everyone, the court of the Gentiles. (This explains, “My house shall be a house of prayer for the nations.)

Secondly, we can’t say we don’t know why Jesus came. But neither can we expect to be able to answer this question with a single answer. We might say,

  • Jesus came to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins, and then to triumph over death.

But Jesus doesn’t start His ministry that way. He doesn’t say, “I’ve come to die;” even though John the Baptist foreshadows this with “Behold, the Lamb of God…”

Rather, in the above scripture texts, Jesus says of His ministry:

  • To preach “repent”
  • To announce “the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (or, “at hand”)
  • To proclaim good news to the poor
  • To proclaim freedom for the prisoners
  • To give sight to the blind
  • To set the oppressed free
  • To declare “the year of the Lord” *

* – “the day when salvation and the free favors of God profusely abound” (Amplified Bible)
– “the year the Lord has chosen” (CEV)
– to announce “This is God’s year to act!” (Message)
– “the year when he will set his people free.” (NIrV)
– “the jubilee season of the Eternal One’s grace.” (The Voice)

As Jesus makes His opening moves, he sets out his initial purpose and plan plainly.

September 10, 2017

Sunday Worship

Your View of Worship is Reflected in Your Attitude When You Can’t

I have a number of pastor friends. I know that for some of them, a week off means, “I don’t have to preach this weekend.” But I’ve also heard the sentiment, “I don’t get to preach this weekend.” While I recognize that sermon preparation is arduous task, and also realize that we all have tough weeks, nonetheless the difference in attitudes is worth noting. Have you or people who know ever experienced

  • missing being able to give as you’d like because money is tight?
  • missing being able to serve as you’d like because the family is on vacation?
  • missing being able to preach, or sing, or teach because of illness?

The Psalmist wrote,

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.”    Psalm 122:1 NLT

For many, the trip to God’s house is done out of a sense of obligation, not joy.

In a verse many of you have sung, a reminder:

Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing. – Psalm 100:2 NASB

If you see giving as an act of worship, you’ll immediately think of this verse:

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  – 2 Corinthians 9:7 NIV

But in Deuteronomy 28, we see the opposite situation where a number of curses are promised in the event of disobedience, and one of these is:

Because you didn’t serve the LORD your God with joy and a cheerful heart, even though you had an abundance of everything,   – Deuteronomy 28:47 HCSB

Do we worship God out of a sense that we have to, or are we thrilled that we get to?

Worship should be wholehearted. Notice the multiple iterations of the following verse:

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” –  Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27; see also Deuteronomy 30:6, 13:3, 10:12.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us of our chief goal. I’ve added emphasis:

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

It is certainly our duty to do so, but this should be done with delight, with joy, with pleasure. It should flow out of us organically; not as something which seems forced.

Worship never takes a week off, or even a day; nor wishes to.

September 9, 2017

“What is This You Have Done?”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re returning again to the blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. The author of today’s piece is Lisa Rieck. This is another site you might want to bookmark and check back with from time to time. Click the title below to read this at source.

The Sorrow and Mercy of God

“What is this you have done?”

These words from God to Eve in Genesis 3:13 are always heart-wrenching to me when I read them. I imagine so much anguish in his voice.

Because of course God isn’t just talking about Adam’s and Eve’s one decision to eat from the one tree they were explicitly told by God, in his one command, not to eat from. This is the God of the universe speaking. A God who took exquisite delight in creating a world exactly as he wanted it. A God who was wild about these two people he had made in his image, and about their intimacy with each other and with him. A God nearly incoherent with joy regarding the eternity of beauty and goodness and rightness he could see stretching out before him.

It’s hard for most of us to imagine the glory of the world those first two chapters of Genesis describe because we’ve only ever known a world disfigured by sin. But try to picture it. Every plant vibrant with color. Every animal thriving, both on its own and in relationship to other animals. Human relationship free from blame or shame or fear or hurt or jealousy or dishonesty, with each person being fully known, fully loved, fully satisfied in the most complete way.

All of this and so, so much more was changed in a minute, in what seems like a flippant decision on Adam and Eve’s part. Of course, they could not have known what the full implications of their action would be, since they had no concept of sin or brokenness, imperfection or guilt. But God obviously did. And so, as he uttered his question, I imagine the span of history flashing before his eyes: Cain killing Abel. The Israelites enslaved in Egypt. Children sacrificed to idols. War between nations from the first civilizations to the present. John the Baptist being beheaded. Mary and Martha weeping at Lazarus’s tomb. The Black Death. Genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda and Ukraine and Germany and Guatemala. The Trail of Tears. Miscarriages and abortion. Affairs and divorce. Cancer and dementia. Families torn apart by deportation. Poverty. School shootings. Slavery. Mass incarceration. White supremacist rallies in Charlottesville. I wonder if it all rushed through his thoughts in an instant.

“What is this you have done?”

This is not to say that I think I would have chosen differently than Adam and Eve. I’m sure, had I been in their place, I too would have been persuaded that tasting the fruit, testing God’s words a bit, wouldn’t matter much. Isn’t that the way the devil always works? He tells me today that my jealousy, my bitterness, my judgment of others or my self-condemnation, my fears, my silence in the face of injustice, are not that big of a deal. He tells me that I have not contributed to racism because I did not march in Charlottesville this weekend. He keeps me dulled to the pain and far-reaching effects my sins of omission and commission have.

I imagine, though, what also flashed through God’s mind in that instant was what it would cost himself and his Son to make things right. His question was not without hope—but that hope did not cancel out or override his sorrow. Nor does it today; I believe he still suffers and grieves with us in the pain we experience from our own sin and from the sins of others, even though he has set in motion, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the redemption of all things.

Today, as on so many days, I am trying to hold those two things in tension as well—a horrified sorrow that does not end in despair, and a grounded hope that does not make light of the gravity of sin.

I’m also finding hope in ten other words from Genesis: “But Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD.” Amidst a world gone completely evil, where “every inclination of the thoughts of [people’s] hearts was only evil continually,” and “the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth,” God saw the (I imagine) quiet faithfulness of Noah.

Given the rampant wickedness he knew was coming, it seems like God must have been tempted to end things right away in Genesis 3. By Genesis 6, we know that his grief over the wickedness in the world was so great that he did, indeed, send the flood to destroy most of what he had made. But not all. As has happened over and over throughout the history of the world, God was merciful, seeing and saving the ones who could not be moved from their faithfulness to him, despite being surrounded by utter evil.

And that renews my faith that every seemingly small act of obedience matters. Every kind word. Every risk, in conversation or action, that helps me know someone different than me politically or ethnically or denominationally or religiously a bit better. Every dollar given away joyfully. Every “thank you” spoken, and meant. Every beautiful poem or painting created. Every act of listening that seeks to really understand. Every truth told. Every renouncement of racism. Every meal shared with every orphan and widow. Every hurt forgiven.

Most days, I feel more aware of the world’s evil than of God’s mercy, more cognizant of the fact that we have inherited the painful effects of Adam’s and Eve’s sin than of the truth that those who believe in Jesus have also received every benefit of his death and resurrection. But as Paul wrote in Romans 5, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” Which means that every day, through God’s Spirit at work in us, we can choose differently than Adam and Eve did. We can—and must—choose obedience over disobedience, worship of God over worship of self, humility over pride, life over death.

And when we fail, as we will—when I fail—I can and must refuse to blame someone else, like Adam and Eve did, and refuse to listen to Satan’s lie that my own seemingly small sin is not that big of a deal. Each time I rebel against God, my work is to hear his question to Eve in my head, ringed with the sorrow of a Creator watching the destruction of the world he created to be good and beautiful. I must be willing to look straight at, to name, to reflect on and lament the ways my particular sin has contributed to that destruction, hurting others and myself and perpetuating the broader sinful structures and systems of our world.

Because though God’s question came from grief over the death that had entered and would continue to enter the world, even this weekend, even today, it can lead us to life if we let it move us, next time, to choose faithfulness. To receive God’s forgiveness, and then show forgiveness to others. To take every opportunity to be kind. To work for justice for all, even when it means giving up some of our own power and privilege. To live in genuine relationship with others. And, in the face of every evil, to choose obedience to the God who grieves with us, grieves over us, and still chooses mercy. Over and over and over again.

September 8, 2017

God is Not a Force

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. John 16: 13-14 ESV

God replied: “I am who am. Thus shall you say to the children of Israel: He Who is has sent me to you.” Exodus 3: 13-15

This may seem like more of a 101 type of topic to many of you, rather than a 201 type of discussion you expect here. But I think it’s important not only to have this matter settled for ourselves, but to have our ears tuned to hear it when spoken by people inside or on the periphery of our Christian community in order that we can offer correction and clarification.

Today we’re returning to the writing of Jeff Loach, who we often referenced in the early days of Thinking Out Loud, and have included here at C201 before. He blogs at Passionately His. Recently we caught up with about a dozen of his most recent topics. Click the title below to read this at source.

Force or Person?

God is not a force.

Many people talk about various forces in the universe, or even about certain forces that may hold divine power.  But let’s not be mistaken:  the God of the Bible – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – is not a force.  God is one, yet three persons.

That gets confusing for some folks, because when we think of a person we think of someone with flesh and bones who walks the earth like we do.  In that sense, we can wrap our heads around the idea that Jesus is, or was, a person, but God the Father?  Not so much.

To make it more confusing, because the Holy Spirit is invisible, many people – even well-meaning followers of Christ – will refer to the Holy Spirit as a force.  But the Holy Spirit is not a force.  The Holy Spirit is a person.

The dictionary generally defines a person in human terms, but the best dictionaries will acknowledge that in Christian theology, a person is defined as one of the three members of the Godhead, i.e., the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Each is a person.  Not a force, a person.

While this can get into deep philosophy and theology, for the purposes of a brief devotional, let’s understand this:  the fact that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are persons means that God is personal, and we can be in personal relationship with God.

Lots of folks think of God as very far off, unreachable, even unknowable.  But the fact that God is not a force, but is personal, means that God is near, reachable, and knowable.  God showed his great love for us in sending Jesus as the incarnation – God with skin on, literally.  As an old song says, “He’s as close as the mention of his name.”

Forces are impersonal.  God is personal.  Let’s get personal with the God who made us, who loves us with an everlasting love, and who longs to live his life in and through us.

“God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him” (1 John 4.9, NLT).

September 7, 2017

Life as a Living Sacrifice: Sounds Like Fun?

by Clarke Dixon

Romans 12:1 (NRSV)  I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

“Present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” You may have three reactions to this verse.

First off, it does not sound much like fun. A sacrifice, not just of money, or of some time, but your very self. And just any old self, but a self which is “holy and acceptable to God.” However, to have this kind of negative reaction is to miss what is really being said here. To react negatively to the idea of giving yourself to God would be like a groom, who on seeing his bride walking down the aisle says “well this sucks.” Or a bride walking down the aisle to meet her groom saying “I’d far rather be somewhere else, with someone else.” I suppose such sentiments can happen in arranged marriages and the like, but in the twenty years I have been officiating weddings, the excitement of the bride and groom over the moment and over each other has always been palpable. The wedding, that moment you give yourself to another person, is not seen as a misfortune, but as a very positive opportunity! Likewise with God, giving ourselves to God is a glorious opportunity! We should not think of it as something we have to do, so much as something we get to do. I did not have to get married, changing my life and focus to “us” rather than “me.” But I got to!

Additionally, “holy and acceptable to God” may seem like a downer. However, holiness is also something we get to do, something we will want to do! I have never officiated a wedding where upon getting to the marriage vows the bride or groom has said, “Do I have to do this part?” To be a good man or woman for our bride or groom is something we aspire to on our wedding day. Sometimes the bride or groom will forget such things once they are wife and husband, but God is always faithful.

Being “holy and acceptable to God” may also feel like a predicament. How are we going to pull that off? But this is something we are enabled to do. It is “by the mercies of God” or “through the mercies of God” that we are enabled to become holy and acceptable to God. It is through the work of Jesus for us and the Holy Spirit within us. Again, it is part of a wonderful privilege and opportunity.

Secondly, you may think: “I guess I can commit to this if it is going to make God love me.” This is to to turn this verse into a “so that” verse. There is no “so that” here in Romans 12:1. There are “so that” verses in the Bible. For example you might want to consider John 3:16, which says “For God so loved the world, so that he gave His only begotten Son, in order that, whoever believes in Him, shall not perish” (a conglomeration of translations, quite literal where italicized). The “so that” points to how God loved us first. In Romans 12:1 we have a “therefore” verse. Paul is pointing back to all he has reviewed in Romans chapters 1 through 11, namely, the human predicament and the glory of God’s love. Now, therefore, on the basis of His love, let us commit ourselves to God. We do not do so to make Him love us more. We can not make Him love us more than He already does. We give ourselves to Him as our expression of love for Him.

Consider the vows and promises that an in-love couple make to each other on their wedding day. They should never think “I commit to these vows so that you will love me”, but rather “I commit to these vows already knowing you love me”. Living out the the vows of marriage is a reflection of the reality of love, not a prerequisite to eventually attain it. It is much the same with our relationship with God who has already demonstrated His love for us in the gift of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Further, when you have a good love relationship with your fiancé, committing to these vows, committing to having your life changed by marriage, is a very reasonable and rational thing to do. It is a sensible next step in your relationship. This too is reflected in our relationship with God as Romans 12:1 points out:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1 (NRSV emphasis mine)

The word translated as “spiritual” here in the NRSV is a word from which we get the English word “logical.” Knowing God’s love and commitment to you, committing your life to God is a logical next step. It is a reasonable and rational thing to do in the same way that marrying my wife was one of the smartest decisions I have ever made!

Third, you may hear these verses and think “Okay, I’m in. I’m ready to present myself to God as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable, now give me the rule book so I can memorize all the rules.” We want to be careful here, not to think of Paul, or any other New Testament writer, as the second coming of Moses. It had already been established that Gentiles coming to faith in Christ did not need to become Jewish with the observance of all the rules of Judaism. But they could not simply live like Romans either. So what we have in the New Testament is not a new rule book, but the implications of giving one’s life to God. The Christian life is not about following a rule book, but about relationship. Relationships require, not rules, but discernment. God is not asking us to fill our minds with rules, but the renewing of our minds with His presence:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2 (NRSV)

Looking to the marriage analogy again, I have never known a bride and groom exchange rule books at the wedding ceremony. They are entering into a relationship, not with a list of rules, but with each other. There is a learning and discerning which is part and parcel of the wonderful institution of marriage.

In conclusion, people may have negative responses to the idea of giving themselves to God as living sacrifices. But when we begin to grasp just Who God is, and what His love is like, we recognize that doing so is a most wonderful opportunity. May the opportunity that lay before you fill and thrill your soul.


Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon blogs his previous weekend’s sermon at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon aka clarkedixon.wordpress.com. For several years, they’ve been a perfect fit here at C201.

September 6, 2017

Sown Into The World

On the Wednesdays in September, we’re going to look at a few of the parables as interpreted by Charles Price, Minister at Large and former Pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto. Some of his takes on these may be just slightly different from what you’ve heard. Find more devotions like this at Living Truth.

Sown Into The World

“Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Matthew 13:8

The Shallow Seed: This seed is sown along the path and the birds come and snatch it away. This is the person who hears the Word of God but does not digest it, understand it or appropriate it. He or she is vulnerable to losing it all as “the evil one snatches away what was sown in their heart.” Truth has to be combined with faith in order to become experience, but this seed has never taken truth into the realm of experience. This person is shallow and their being planted in the world comes to nothing.

The Superficial Seed: This seed is sown among rocks and is the person who hears the Word of God and receives it with joy, but since they have no root, “they last only a short time.” When trouble or persecution comes because of the Word, they quickly fall away. In the right atmosphere they can coast along, but will blow with the prevailing wind. This person is superficial and their planting in the world comes to nothing.

The Secular Seed: This seed is sown among thorns that choke the plants. This is the person who hears the Word of God and starts off well, but “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” He or she has never been weaned from secular world views. They are deceived by wealth and seduced by worldly things. This person is secular and their planting in the world also comes to nothing.

The Successful Seed: This is the seed sown on good soil and is the person who “produces a crop yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Like the first seed, they hear the Word of God, like the second seed, get excited by it, and like the third seed, live in a secular world subject to all its temptations, but their roots are deep. They survive and are successful. Their planting in the world accomplishes its purpose.

The intention of this parable is not to show how some people respond to the Word of God and are converted while others are not, but it is to show how the kingdom of God is to be advanced. Each of us who belongs to Jesus Christ is planted by Him for the purpose of producing fruit. If we were to look over the fence to the fields in the first, second and third planting of seed, we would not be impressed. This is a true picture of the church of Christ, the physical manifestation of the kingdom on earth as seen from the vantage point of those yet outside of the kingdom.

PRAYER: : Dear Lord, I pray that I not only retain, digest and understand Your word, but that it grows and flourishes in me so that I may be used in producing fruit for You.

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