Christianity 201

January 21, 2019

Miracles in the Bible

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“a noteworthy miracle has taken place through [Peter and John] is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it (emphasis added) (Acts 4:16; see also vv. 13-14; John 3:2; 11:47-48).

Today we’re back visiting what I last called a “wealth of articles” at the blog of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary in Allen Park, Michigan. This is part one of a two part series, you need to click the link at the bottom to finish this study.

Miracles: Then and Now (Part One)

On occasion through the years one reads or hears of a great revival somewhere in the world, a sudden outburst of the power of the Holy Spirit. It usually includes the testimony of many souls saved as well as miracles of all sorts that seem to parallel those of the Bible. Fantastic accounts of healings, resurrections from the dead, walking over red-hot burning coals, exorcisms of the devil and demons and the like are reported. What is an earnest Bible-believer to make of all this?

The subject of biblical miracles in the main has suffered disagreement over two factors–their nature and their purpose. Critical scholarship long ago consigned miracles to the ashcan of superstition, ignorance and mythical notions. More sophisticated critical studies have routinely denied the validity of miracles by means of the principles of modern science. It is asserted that divine intrusions simply do not occur in the closed time-space-mass universe of strictly uniform processes.

Bible-believing Christians have disagreed somewhat over the nature of biblical miracles but have had enduring differences of opinion concerning their purpose and longevity. My conclusion in summary is: The true nature of biblical miracles defined their purpose, and their purpose defined their continuance.

The point in this writing is to analyze in general the subject of miracles, mainly New Testament miracles, including those of the launching of the church. The church is the new body of God’s witness and work in the present stage of His overarching purpose of receiving the maximum self-glory from His creation. “Creation” in this sense entails everything that is not God. Some call this complex the world, the cosmos, the universe and the like. In any case this sharp division (between what is God and what is not God) preserves the Creator-creature distinction that is fundamental to the whole of the Bible and Christian Theology (Rom 1:25). Nothing exists in man as it exists in God.

The purpose of God getting glory to Himself means for Him to magnify His own infinitely unique person and cause it to be exclusively and universally enhanced, honored, esteemed and worshipped by rational beings. Since God exists by himself, i.e., he is self-existent, Scripture declares He exists for himself. His personal testimony, e.g., is “I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides Me there is no god” (Isa 45:5. Cf., Isa 47:8, 10; Hos 13:4; Zeph 2:15; Deut 4:35; 32:39; et. al.). And, “I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images” (Isa 42:8).

MIRACLES IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

First there will be a preliminary sketch of divine miraculous activity in the Old Testament, miracles of various sizes and shapes. However, there were times when clusters of miracles surrounded an important event or person. Some of those occasions were: (1) the Creation of the universe including mankind [Gen 1-2]; (2) the great Exodus from Egypt and the formation of the tribes of Israel into a theocratic kingdom via the giving of the Law at Sinai [Exod 1-15]; (3) the choice of Moses as the leader or king-in-effect of the theocracy [Exodus 3-4]; (4) the accreditation, to Egypt and Pharaoh, of the nation Israel as God’s favored, protected  people [Exod 5:1-2; 6:1-8; 7:1-6; 8:10, 22; 9:14-16, 29; 10:1-2; 11:7; 14:4, 18]; (5) the ensuing Sojourn in the wilderness [Exod 16-40, Numbers and Deuteronomy]; and (6) the Conquest and Settlement of Canaan [Joshua and Judges].

The Law of Moses was the charter, constitution or governing legal instrument of the new nation, and it included the provision of ongoing miraculous activity for some of its functions. Examples would include health and healing (Exod 23:25), food (Exod 16:35), water (Exod 15:23-25), clothing and shoes (Deut 29:5), fertility (Deut 7:12-16) and a direct revelation from God when evidence of an unlawful act was not certain (Num 5:11-31; 15:32-36).

During the United Monarchy (kings Saul, David and Solomon) notice of the occurrence of miracles was nil. In the Divided Monarchy (kingdoms of Israel and Judah) there was an outburst of miraculous activity in the Ninth Century BC. This was during the apostasy and political decline of the northern kingdom of Samaria/Israel. The miraculous activities of Elisha and especially Elijah were used by God to rid the nation of the pernicious debauchery of the Baal-Asherah fertility cult and to call the people back to Himself. This false religion had been established by Ahab and Jezebel as the semi-official, state-supported civil religion rivaling if not practically supplanting true Yahweh worship (850 of the cult’s clergy “ate at Jezebel’s table,” 1 Kings 18:19). The great confrontation between Elijah and the Baal-Asherah priests on Mount Carmel vividly illustrated what was at stake (1 Kings 18:20-40, especially v. 39, “When the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.”). The daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, Queen Athaliah, brought Baalism into Judah, building a Baal temple in Jerusalem (2 Kings 11:18).

The writing prophets spoke sparingly of miracles occurring in their days, the exceptions being Jonah and Daniel and the incident of Hezekiah in Isaiah 38. The prophets spoke often of the future golden Messianic Age when miracles would return as God crushed all temporal powers and set up His kingdom on the earth. See Isaiah 35 and 40.

THE INTERTESTAMENT PERIOD

The historical interlude between the testaments (ca 400-4 BC) was a barren wasteland as far as miracles, prophetism and other revelatory vehicles were concerned. The temple, the Levitical system and the nation’s political fortunes were deplorable. Even the prior Restoration Period (538-400 BC) with Ezra, Nehemiah, Mordecai, Zerubbabel, Joshua the High Priest, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi was not much of a restoration of Israel’s politics and spirituality. The return from the Exile did not fulfill the prophecies of a future golden age. Prophets and people knew fully that Israel was not free and independent but was subservient to the Persian domination.

This arrangement changed to the Hellenistic, Alexander the Great era (ca 334-166 BC) that included the ravages of the Egyptian Ptolemies and the Syrian Seleucids. The Jews had a bob-tailed form of independence under the Hasmonean priests (166-63 BC) after which transpired the harsh rule of the Roman Empire, beginning in 63 BC. Into the Roman milieu the New Testament opens with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth (ca. 4 BC).

By this time the nation was in a deeply apostate condition but still possessed a very small believing remnant such as Zacharias (Luke 1:67-80), Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:25-38), and the two from Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35).

►►Click here to continue with part two


Rolland McCune served as Professor of Systematic Theology at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary from 1981-2009, during which he also served as President of the Seminary for ten years and Dean of the Faculty for six years.

January 20, 2019

He Makes Our Path Straight

a worship liturgy by Ruth Wilkinson

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

So, what is a straight path? Today we read through some passages from the Bible that help us understand what that means.

A straight path follows after Jesus.

Whoever keeps His word, in that person the love of God is truly complete. This is how we know we are in Him: The one who says they live in Him should walk just as He walked.

1 John 2:5-6

A straight path leads to healthy relationships.

Once you walked in anger, rage, meanness, gossip, filthy language and lying.
But now, walk in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting and forgiving each another.

Colossians 3:7-9, 12-13 

A straight path leads to doing good in the world.

For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:10

A straight path leads to life.

There is life in the path of righteousness, but another path leads to death.

Proverbs 12:28

The Lord said, “They always go astray in their hearts, and they have not known My ways so they will not enter My rest.”

Hebrews 3:10-11

But He will enter into peace everyone who lives uprightly.

Isaiah 57:2

He makes our paths straight through each other’s guidance.

Teach a youth about the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Proverbs 22:6  

He makes our paths straight through giving us wisdom.

Wisdom holds long life in her right hand; in her left, riches and honour. Her ways are pleasant, and all her paths are peace.

Proverbs 3:16-18

He makes our paths straight through giving us discernment.

I have kept my feet from every evil path to follow Your word. You Yourself have instructed me. Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.

Psalms 119:101-105

He makes our paths straight through the companionship of the Spirit.

He leads me along the right paths for His name’s sake. Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for You are with me.

Psalm 23:3

He makes our paths straight through being our example.

Make Your ways known to me, Lord; teach me Your paths. Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation.

Psalms 25:4-5

He makes our paths straight through setting us free from the ruts that lead to death.

I will always obey Your instruction, forever and ever. I will walk freely in an open place because I seek Your precepts.

Psalm 119:44-45

He makes our paths straight through correcting us when we go wrong.

Whenever you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear this command behind you: “This is the way. Walk in it.”

Isaiah 30:21

He makes our paths straight by making his commandments clear.

Mankind, He has told you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

Walking a straight path sounds simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The principle we find in this proverb doesn’t promise that our road won’t go uphill and downhill, or through shadowy valleys.

It simply and joyfully reminds us that as we travel, as we “walk by faith, not by sight”, we don’t have to figure it out on our own. And that the journey itself is part of our reward.

 

 

 

January 19, 2019

Some Analogies from Photography

Today we’re paying a return visit to the website Truth or Tradition, sponsored by Spirit and Truth Fellowship International. The first article is more elementary, but is a good setup for the second. Both are so very well written.

Where is Your Focus?

If you have time and have never thought about the analogies in scripture to light and lenses click the title above and read this devotional first. Click the title below to read the second article at source.

Why focus is Important

…In a good photograph, the subject is in focus and the viewer’s eyes are drawn to that spot in the picture, seeing the statement the photographer is trying to make. In our Christian walk, we have to make sure we are focused on the right subject so that our life reflects the image of Christ that dwells in us. A camera records an image by the light reflected off the subject, back through the lens where it is captured on film or a digital sensor; it records the subject we focus on. Jesus stayed focused on his Heavenly Father so well that Colossians 1:15 says that He is the image of the invisible God.”  

The Importance of Lighting 

For good focus to be achieved, you need good light. Modern cameras have auto-focus, but if there is insufficient light, the camera will not focus correctly. One of the ways the word “light” is used in scripture is as an idiom to represent the knowledge and wisdom from God. Psalm 119:105 says Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. Jesus was a man who was well-versed in the Old Testament scriptures. When he was being tempted in the desert by the Devil, he countered each temptation with it is written (Matthew 4:1-11). Jesus hadn’t eaten for forty days during this account, and was tired and hungry. If anyone had an excuse to become unfocused, Jesus did. This is a great example of how using the light of God’s word allowed Jesus to stay focused and achieve victory over the temptations the Devil had set before him.  

Hebrews 12:2 

…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the leader and finisher of our trust, who, because of the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, thinking nothing of the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 

What Do We Focus On? 

With all the distractions in life, it’s easy to get focused on the wrong thing. Jesus Christ is the subject of God’s word from Genesis to Revelation, and that should be a clear message of “what” we need to focus on. Subsequently Christ, in his life and ministry, stayed focused on God’s will, which was to conquer sin and death and make life right again just as He intended it when He first created mankind in Eden. Jesus is our example of how to stay focused on the right thing, we can focus on him by studying his life as it is recorded in Scripture. 

The “joy” that was set before Christ was a picture of a Kingdom here on earth that he would rule in peace and justice—a kingdom where there is plenty of food, safety, health, and ultimately, no more death. Because Christ was so focused on this picture, he was able to endure the torturous death of the cross along with the shame and pain that he suffered. God asks us to stay focused by “fixing our eyes on Jesus. Christ is the epitome, or that perfect example, of a particular quality or type; he is the subject of our focus in our walk of trust.  

Quality of Light 

The quality of light is also important. Photographers know about the “golden hours,” that time of day just after sunrise and just before sunset when the sun is low in the sky and the quality of light is at its best. They also use flashes and studio lights with their camera to eliminate harsh shadows and to illuminate the subject so that the image is the best representation of who or what that subject is. Sadly, much of Christianity today presents God in poor light—such as with the common saying that “all things happen for a reason.” When many Christians make that statement, what they mean is that “God is in control of everything that happens.” That presents God as a shadowy figure who is very arbitrary, who can bless us one minute and destroy us the next. That is not the God of Scripture.  

1 John 1:5 says that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. And 1 John 4:16 says that God is love. One of Satan’s strategies is to “shoot” God in poor light, as a shadowy figure who is untrustworthy. 2 Corinthians 11:14 says that the Adversary disguises himself as an angel of light. His purpose is to keep us from “shining forth the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, which represents the true image of God to the unsaved world. 

2 Corinthians 4:4 

…in whom the god of this age (Satan) has blinded the minds of those who do not believe, to keep them from seeing and shining forth the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

1 John 3:8 says that The Son of God appeared for this purpose: to destroy the works of the Slanderer.1 Timothy 2:4 teaches that God, wants everyone to be saved and to come to a full knowledge of the truth. That “full knowledge of the truth” is the quality light that reveals the true nature of God.   

The Depth of Field 

Another element in photography is the f-stop. The “f” stands for focal ratio. This setting controls the pupil in the lens of a camera and determines how much is in focus in a picture. Portrait photographers are very aware of this setting because it controls what is called “depth of field.” If all the objects in a picture are in focus, this can make for a confusing picture. The subject can get lost in all the background details. Using a shallow depth of field blurs out the distracting details in the background and brings the true subject forward in a picture.  

There is a great example in the Gospel of Luke 8:40-48 of Jesus doing this very thing. The fame of Jesus Christ had spread throughout Israel by this time. Many believed he was the promised Messiah and in this account, a crowd surrounded him and his disciples and were pressing in to see and touch him. At one point, Jesus said, Someone touched me.” Peter turned to him and replied, “Thank you, Captain Obvious. We’re in the middle of a crowd. Of course someone touched you!” But Jesus was not distracted by the crowd. He focused in on the real subject: a woman who was suffering from menstrual issues and had been bleeding for twelve years. She had also spent all of her income on doctors, but they were unable to help her. This woman knew the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. She believed that if she touched the folds of his robe, she would be healed. In the middle of all this confusion, Jesus stopped and said, Daughter, your trust has made you whole. Go in peace. It’s easy to become unfocused by all the background distractions that life presents, but staying focused by zooming in on the real issues, just as Jesus did in this instance, will keep us centered in our walk of trust in God and His Son.   

Producing a Good Image 

We all project an image. We do it with words and deeds in our interactions with others. For the most part that image depends on what we focus on. Mankind was created in the image of God, but we have the freedom of will to project that image or not. As His children, God asks us to put off the old sin nature and put on the new one that is created in us through the gift of holy spirit. That new nature bears the image of the One who created it in us. 

Colossians 3:9-10 

Never lie to one another, since you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self that is being renewed to a true knowledge that is in accord with the image of the one who created it.  

Photography is a learned craft. It takes consideration of all the elements involved to produce a good image. With digital photography, an image is further developed with software in what is called “post processing.” With film, it takes time and skill to develop a quality image. It’s taken me years to hone my photography skills, but over time my ratio of good photos to bad ones has improved. This is also true when developing the image of God that we project. It’s something we have to practice every day, but by staying focused on our Lord Jesus Christ, that image should develop and become clearer as we progress in our walk of trust. 

2 Corinthians 3:18 

And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same appearance, from glory into glory, even as from the Lord who is the Spirit. 

 The final glory we will be transformed into will occur when our Lord appears at the Rapture, and as 1 John 3:1 says, Beloved, we are children of God now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when it is revealed, we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is.” Our focus should not be limited to the Jesus of the Four Gospels; it should also include the risen Lord who is seated at the right hand of God, far above all might and dominion, and who some day in the future will transform us into that “same appearance.” 

We will never perfect the image of Christ in us in this lifetime because of the sin nature we struggle against. But as we stay focused on the subject, who is Jesus Christ, and as we illuminate the “subject” with the true light of God’s word, and as we use the proper depth of field to eliminate distractions, we will reflect the glory of Christ who is the image of the true God.

 

 

January 18, 2019

Our Need to ‘Fix’ People

The second and third sections today are only quoted in part. You’re strongly encouraged to use the links.

Earlier this week, author Jentezen Franklin wrote:

“Pick me up and throw me into the sea…and it will become calm.” John 1:12 NIV

When Jonah boarded a ship going in the opposite direction to God’s will, the crew discovered there’s a high price to pay for allowing the wrong person into your life. So what’s the point? It’s this: God hasn’t authorized you to be somebody else’s life support system. Especially if they’re running from Him, and using you to do it! With Jesus on board you’ll make it through any storm. But when you allow Jonah on board he’ll turn your life upside down, and before it’s over you’ll risk losing everything. Do you seriously think you can fix your Jonah? No. “The Lord…prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah” (v. 17).

Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is to wake them up and throw them overboard. As long as you keep rescuing them, you get in God’s way. It’s pride that makes us think we can do what only God can do! Look at Jonah—while the crew was desperately throwing stuff overboard, he was sleeping! He didn’t want to be corrected, he wanted to be comfortable! Do you know someone like that? The reason they haven’t changed is because they’re not ready to! Jonah was so stubborn that he stayed in the belly of the huge fish for three days before he prayed. If that had been you, the moment you spotted “Jaws” you’d have been on your knees calling on God, right?

This may be hard to hear, but sometimes the best thing you can do for your Jonah—and yourself—is to throw them overboard and let God rescue them.

In 2014, Jenny Rae Armstrong wrote at Red Letter Christians:

…[N]one of us really know what another person is going through. We’re all in process, and none of us are perfect yet. I remember hearing Brennan Manning speak years ago. He pointed out that that runaway teen turning tricks on the street, who falls asleep with the name of Jesus on his lips, may in fact have made a lot more spiritual progress than a milktoast Christian who came from a happy home.

It’s like Paul Hiebert’s evangelism paradigm, bounded sets vs. centered sets. Maybe one person seems closer to Christ than another, but what is their trajectory? Are they moving toward Christ or away from him? Are they stagnant and complacent?

We should be helping people move toward Christ, not shoving them into the position we think they should inhabit.

Second, it’s not our job to change, convict, or transform people. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job.

I think parents can be especially guilty of this mindset, because we want to raise our kids well, instill healthy habits and beliefs. But that wears thin after twenty years or so, and attempting to police someone’s speech, behavior, and lifestyle can push them further away,  because who wants to be manipulated and controlled?

We also need to look at our motives for pushing people. While we may worry about destructive choices, oftentimes, a good part of our concern is about how WE want people to live their lives, how their choices make us feel. We’re worried about how their behavior reflects on us, and our attempts to change them are motivated by shame. C O – D E P E N D E N T. We can’t love freely when our self-worth is tangled up in someone else’s free will.

We need to get better at loving people where they are at, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Love should never include disclaimers.

So should we just let people do whatever they want to do, live however they want to live? …

It’s not our job to fix people’s behavior. It is our job to love them, pray for them, and point them toward Christ, in whatever way we can.

In order to do that, we’re going to need to offer a lot of grace. And in order to offer grace, we need to let go of the shame, perfectionism, and fear that drives us and accept that grace for ourselves.

Finally, to those of you in leadership or currently walking alongside a “Jonah,” in an undated article at Rick Thomas’s blog, Fernando Serna writes to biblical counselors, pastors, parents, missionaries, and teachers:

[T]he sting of not seeing results can be even sharper as we are ministers of God’s Word offered into the lives of people, and we expect change and a demonstration of the effective Word of God.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)

So, what is the deeper learning and formation made available to us through the pointed experience of limitation and even apparent failure in ministry?

One of the elements that attracted me to chaplaincy ministry is what is called a ministry of presence.

Presence has to do with availability at the level of the heart and mind, deep listening, empathy, connection, coming along side, walking with, and accompanying.

My theology of ministry is informed by Trinitarian theology that accentuates mutual relationship and respectful, non-coercive presence…

My point is that the primary element in biblical counseling and other forms of ministry is to be an agent of God’s presence to the other person, rather than an agent of our own anxious agenda to fix the other person…

…This fix-it mentality has a dimension of coercion and subtle violence that is not of God. It is success oriented rather than Spirit oriented. This requires humility and sobriety on the part of the counselor or minister.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.Mark 10:45 (ESV)

As counselors we are mere servants of the Word, and our measure of success is not the world’s. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has a different logic and grammar…

The Divine Physician is the one who completes, who fixes, who brings to completion the shattered and broken human heart. We have been given the dignity to be called into ministry by the Spirit and to be ambassadors of Christ.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.2 Corinthians 5:20 (ESV)

There is good news here: we do not need to be God! The dignified service God has given us, His sons and daughters, is to plant and water the seed of His Word in the lives of others, and He will give the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7).

This is a liberating message that frees us to be present to others in ministry, not for our sense of accomplishment, but for the love of the Father, whose Spirit will blow when and as it wills, over the lives of the those who He has placed in our path.

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.John 3:8 (ESV)

 

January 17, 2019

Compelling Truth

by Clarke Dixon

How can you know that anything is true? If Christianity is not true, it is not truly compelling. So if we can’t know anything to be true, how can we be sure Christianity is true?

The idea of truth permeates the arrest of Jesus in John chapter 18. We have Jesus appealing to truth in verses 19-23, Peter denying the truth in verses 25-27,  the religious leaders lying in verses 30-31, and Pilate trying to get to the truth in verses 33-37. This is all capped off with Pilate’s famous words:

37 Pilate said, “So you are a king?”
Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”
38What is truth?” Pilate asked. John 18:37-38 (emphasis added)

What was Pilate’s tone of voice when he asked “what is truth?” If you were an actor how would you portray it? Would you make Pilate sound like a philosopher on a quest for knowledge? “Hmmm, an interesting question I would love to spend some time pondering.” Or would you make Pilate sound like a busy man who wanted to get back to his own plans for the day? “What does your version of truth matter when I’ve got so much more to worry about?”

Whichever you would choose, these are two approaches to truth today. There are those who get all philosophical about truth and say “We cannot be sure of anything, so don’t tell me about Jesus.” Then there are those who could care less; “It just doesn’t matter, so don’t tell me about Jesus.” Are they correct?

Can we know the truth?

How do we know that the entirety of our lives is not just some big dream and we will wake up some day to an entirely different world? How do we know we are not stuck in some sort of matrix kept alive by machines or aliens in state of dreaming as in the Matrix movies? Can we be 100% sure Christianity is true if we cannot be 100% sure anything is true? Can we be certain beyond all possible doubt?

Here’s the thing; we do not live as as if we cannot know anything. We live as people who know stuff! We are never 100% sure of anything before we make decisions. Even Pilate, after he asked “what is truth?”, immediately went to the people to report what he knew to be true:

“What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime.” John 18:38

Pilate knew enough to be able to form an opinion and make a decision. This is how we live. I had a scary experience many years ago. The roads were icy and I lost control of my car causing me to be on the wrong side of the road. I did not take the time to ponder if in fact it was all a dream, or that possibly the truck bearing down on me was just a hallucination, or a trick being played on me by aliens. After all, anything is possible. I knew I was in trouble, I made the right decisions and got the car under control again. This is how we live, not knowing things beyond a possible doubt, but knowing them beyond a reasonable doubt. We make decisions all the time, not because we can be 100% certain we are correct, but because it is reasonable to assume that we are.

Now consider that ordinary people experienced the extraordinary person of Jesus in ordinary ways. They could be as sure about him as I could be sure about my situation in a skidding car. With the exception of Paul and his Damascus road experience, those who experienced Jesus experienced him in the same way they would experience anyone. This is true before Easter, when ordinary people heard his extraordinary teaching and witnessed his extraordinary miracles in ordinary ways. This is also true following Easter when people saw Jesus alive again. Yes, he was even more extraordinary that before, but again, ordinary people were experiencing his extraordinary presence in normal ways. They were not having visions or dreams, they were living life, but there was Jesus in front of them. They could see him and touch him. They knew him to be real, just as they would know anything to be real:

1 We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. 2 This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy. 1 John 1:1-4 (emphasis added)

All those who saw Jesus risen from the dead were ordinary people experiencing the extraordinary person of Jesus in ordinary ways. They could be as sure of him as they could be sure of anything. Sure you can always say “it was possible that the risen Jesus was actually an alien imposter,” for anything is possible. But we don’t live that way. Neither did people 2000 years ago. They knew beyond a reasonable doubt that this was the risen Jesus. The truth of Christianity continues to be beyond a reasonable doubt in our day. We will be looking at some reasons to think so in the weeks to come.

So can we know anything? Yes, we reasonably know things to be true, but . . .

Does truth matter?

We live as if truth matters, a lot. Back to my scary experience in the car. I knew that moment could have changed my life for the rest of my days, if I had any more days left in this life. Reality matters! What is true with respect to Jesus matters incredibly. Grasping the reality of Jesus is not the same as forming an opinion on whether Coke is a better cola than Pepsi, or whether the Boston Bruins are a better team than the Toronto Maple Leafs. It is more like grasping the reality of a truck bearing down on you. It impacts every moment of your future. Why do people often live as if truth matters, but when it comes to spiritual things, it suddenly does not? You could say it matters more! Truth matters and spiritual truths matter, a lot.

Why has truth been challenged in our day? 

Deceit and deception are at the heart of the Fall as described in Genesis chapter 3. Adam and Eve were deceived, and in that deception sinned creating a wedge between themselves and God. There are deceptions today which keep that wedge in place. For example, that knowing truth is impossible or does not matter. Deceit and deception also run through the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Pilate was being deceived by the ones who wanted Jesus dead. Pilate was not totally deceived by them, knowing that Jesus was innocent of their accusations. However, he failed to recognize that the deception mattered. He thought his relationship with the people under his charge was more important the his relationship with the one now under his judgement, the One under whose charge he himself was.

Ironically, while the crucifixion of Jesus happened because of failure to apprehend the truth, it is a clear window into the truth, that

. . . God is love. 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. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 1 John 4:8-10

Deception ran through the Fall. Deception ran through the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Don’t let deception run through your life! God is love. That is a truth which can be known and which matters more than anything!


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.

All Scripture references are taken from the NLT. This is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast here.

January 16, 2019

Five Practices Needed to Ward Off Lack of Faith

The major takeaway I took from today’s devotional is that spiritual warfare is not always an external battle; it may begin with an inner fight.

Today we’re paying a return visit to the devotional page at Daily Paradigm Shift. We visit these blogs either annually or every six months in the hope that at some of them you’ll see writing which resonates and want to bookmark or subscribe to their sites.

Today’s writer is Brian Maisch.

5 Tactics for Fighting Unbelief

It could be argued that the greatest enemy in our spiritual walk is unbelief. Someone might say, “No, it’s Satan.” However, as one of my favorite Christian teachers likes to say, “The bible doesn’t say, ‘pick up your cross, deny the devil, and follow Jesus.’ It says, ‘Deny yourself, and follow Jesus‘ (Matthew 16:24 NIV emphasis added.)

In Mark Chapter 9, Jesus’ disciples are unable to cast a demon out of a boy. Then Jesus shows up on the scene and is able to cast it out. When they get alone with Jesus, the disciples ask Him why they couldn’t cast out the demon, and Jesus tells them that it is because of their unbelief. Jesus’ exact answer to the disciples is, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20 NIV).

Related Post: 4 Ways to Remain Grounded and Steadfast in Your Faith

Brothers and sisters, we live under an open heaven! Satan has already been defeated. Jesus has given us the authority in the heavenly realms to unlock any door that needs to be unlocked in order to carry out His will on this earth. Matthew 18:18 NIV says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” The only battle left to fight is the one we fight with ourselves to dispel unbelief and to trust God!

If the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead lives in us, then there is absolutely nothing the enemy can put in front of us that is more powerful than that Spirit. It’s not even a competition! Therefore, the enemy’s main tactic is to get us to doubt. He is constantly trying to instill unbelief, while the Holy Spirit is constantly working to instill faith. The enemy’s main tactic is to twist the truth in such a way that we begin believing things that are incorrect about God and incorrect about ourselves. Sometimes it seems like the enemy’s main weapon is the Bible itself! He twists and distorts scripture to confuse people and keep their lives from bearing fruit for the Kingdom.

So how do we practically fight? I wanted to provide a quick list of things that have helped me experience victories in fighting unbelief:

#1. Spending intimate and meaningful time in the presence of God.

Spending intimate and meaningful time in the presence of God is the most important activity in our lives. It helps us to establish a relationship with our creator. It is where we learn His nature, His voice, His touch and His will. This is how we practically allow Jesus to teach us and guide us in every step of our lives.

#2. Reading God’s word.

Maybe it would be better to say falling in love with God’s word. This goes right along with the first point. God’s word brings clarity and insight into the things that God is saying to us. It shows us God’s nature, and helps us to understand His will.

#3. Guarding our hearts and minds.

The enemy has set up the world system to fight for our affection. It will constantly try to turn us away from Jesus, and towards our own selfish desires. Therefore, we have to draw lines in the sand. We have to protect ourselves from destructive mindsets and behaviors. Part of that process is controlling what we allow into our minds. Over the years, I have had to stop watching certain television shows that I knew were destructive, distance myself from certain friends who were pulling me in the wrong direction, and surround myself with people who would hold me accountable in my areas of struggle.

#4. Hanging around people with outrageous faith.

Bill Johnson, senior pastor of Bethel Church, always says, “If you want to slay giants, then hang around a giant slayer.” We all need people in our lives who stretch our faith and compel us to deeper levels of reality in the Kingdom!

#5. Fasting.

There have been so many times where I could feel the snares of the world getting a hold of me and smothering the faith in my life. Declaring a fast is a way to draw a strict line in the sand, and to separate ourselves from the worldly things that have become louder than heavenly things. Whether it is food, social media, television, or all the above, fasting is great way to unplug from the world and get plugged back into God.

These are just a few tools that have helped me in my journey. The bible provides many weapons for fighting unbelief. No matter what weapon you choose, the most important thing is engaging in the fight! Instead of rolling over and giving in to yourself, make the choice to proactively fight to dispel unbelief!

January 15, 2019

Observations from the Parable of the Wedding Banquet

by Russell Young

The parable of the wedding banquet as spoken by the Lord was to reveal some aspects of the kingdom of God to his Jewish listeners. It is recorded in Matthew 22:2─14 and in Luke 14:16─24. Those in attendance would have understood the nature of a Jewish wedding. Guests enjoyed a lavish feast and merriment that went on for seven days and would have been given in honor of the son. This banquet would have been particularly important because it was being hosted by the king. Both the importance of the invitation and the insult of its rejection could not have been missed.

Invitations delivered by the king’s servants to his chosen guests had all been rejected. Their excuses were offensive and humiliating to the ruler who had endeavored to honor both his son and those he wanted to attend. The called had considered the daily issues of life to be of greater importance than honoring their king or his son. The invitees did not have interest in the wedding nor time to show respect. Some even seized his servants, mistreating and killing them.

In anger the king destroyed their city then invited those of no significance: anyone they could find, the poor, the lame, the blind, and the weak. To his Jewish listeners such an opportunity could never have been realized by such a collection. The king had invited the lost and unlovely into his royal presence. The attitudes of the privileged and their rejection of the king’s invitation would not have been missed.

However, the parable offers insight into some other interesting observations. Many of those who had been called had rejected the invitation and not all of those who attended could remain since at least one had been thrown out.

The king’s calling can be refused! Consider the implications. The king, who represents the Lord, did not exercise absolute power over those whom he had called but had allowed them freedom of choice and had honored their decisions. In this case the Jews, those of the house of Israel, had rejected the King and his Son. According to this parable, the exercise of free-will has not been removed and all have the option to reject the king’s pleasure at their own loss. Some suppose that God’s will is absolute and beyond being refuted by mere humankind; however, people have been gifted with the ability to make choices and they will be honored.

The rejected guest was found startled or “speechless” when the king had him bound hand and foot and thrown outside. He did not expect to be denied right to the feast; after all, he had been invited. He had anticipated the occasion. Surely such a reaction would have startled Christ’s listeners as well. Why would the king have done such a thing? The guest lacked wealth, and the king had known this but had still encouraged the calling. The invitee ended up bound and in the darkness. What does this tell us?

According to the parable, his ejection was due to his lack of wedding clothes. Clearly, the guest’s attire had not been acceptable for the presence of the king or of his son and did not bring honor to the occasion. However, there were many like this guest who when called were poor, blind, lame and weak and they had managed proper clothing even in their poverty.

The parable should be carefully considered, there will be many called to the Son’s wedding banquet but not all will be chosen to attend. Only those who are appropriately dressed and who through their presentation, the testimony of their covering, will enjoy the celebration.

In speaking of faith and of the “feast”, in another place the Lord said, “I say to you many will come from the east and the west and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mt 8:1112) The ISV translates “subjects” as “the unfaithful heirs of that kingdom,” while the Contemporary English Version presents as “the ones who should have been in the kingdom.” The Greek uses the word huios for “subjects” which means sons and refers to both Gentiles and Jews. Although the huios have been called, they must attend the wedding feast with the proper garments. (For a more detailed examination of “subjects of the kingdom” see a previous writing: “The Subjects of the Kingdom Will be Thrown Outside”.)

Many will respond to the calling with expectation and enthusiasm only to find that upon entrance, they will be bound and thrown outside because their testimony; their attire, their lack of preparation or righteousness, will not be found acceptable for the occasion.

Those not clothed in righteousness will be found “naked”. The angel to the church in Laodicea admonished, But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see, (Rev 3:17─18) Concerning the bride of Christ we are told, “his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)” (Rev 19: 7─ 8) According to the book of Hebrews, “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14) Although many have been called, few will be chosen (Mt 22:14) for lacking a testimony of righteousness. Many will be startled and speechless and thrown outside.

The called need to recognize their poverty and to use the resources available to “purchase” white clothing. Those who carry the stains of sin will be cast out.

The Lord also addressed the matter when he stated that “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Mt 7:22─23 Italics added) They were thrown outside because of their “doing” and were not allowed in through a confession once made or an invitation accepted. Their garments were stained and dirty. They needed proper wedding clothes.

The parable revealed the Lord’s perception of Israel and that nation’s rejection of him as the Son of the King. It also made known that there are expectations for those who will celebrate his Son with him and that they can either reject their calling or prepare for his kingdom. “Evil-doers” will not be welcome.



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also a feature-length article at this link.

Advertising posted at C201 does not originate with us.

January 14, 2019

Classic Writing

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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On the weekend I discovered a devotional website which had been bookmarked in my computer for several years, but in the wrong file. It appears to take short excerpts from both classic and contemporary writers and then repeat the same writers on the same day of the week. At least I think so. The site is called Standing for God, and here are a total of four short thoughts by two men instrumental in the founding of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination. [To go deeper, see if you can sense what these devotionals have in common.]

The Danger of Moral Trifling

by A.W. Tozer

And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. Second John 1:6

Moral decisions should be made in view of moral consequences, never in fear of the effect such decisions may have upon our economic or social future. The wisest of the Greeks said, “A man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong.” It is more than a little embarrassing that an uninspired Stoic should see what so few of us Christians, with all our claims to superior religious experience, seem unable to understand.

It is doubtful whether we can be Christian in anything unless we are Christian in everything. To obey Christ in one or two or ten instances and then in fear of consequences to back away and refuse to obey in another is to cloud our life with the suspicion that we are only fair-weather followers and not true believers at all. To obey when it costs us nothing and refuse when the results are costly is to convict ourselves of moral trifling and gross insincerity.


Look unto Him

by A.B. Simpson

We would see JesusJohn 12:21

Glory to Jesus for all the things laid up for us in the days to come. Glory to Him for all the visions of service in the future, the opportunities of doing good that are far away as well as close at hand.

Our Savior was able to despise the cross for the joy that was before Him. Let us look up to Him, and rise up to Him until we reach the peak and are able to look out from the mount of vision over all the distant land. Not a single thing will come to us in all the future in which we may not be able to see the King in His beauty. Let us be very sure that we look at nothing else. Our pupils will then become so impressed as they look at this vision that they will not be able to reflect anything else.

My small son came to ‘ me once and said, “Papa, look for a long time at that golden sign across the street. Now look at that brick wall and tell me what you see.”

Why, I see the yellow sign on the brick wall,” I replied.

So, if we look a long time upon Jesus we cannot look at anything else without seeing a reflection of Him. Everything which we behold will become a part of Him.


The Truth Guide

by A.W. Tozer

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. John 16:13-14

While it is true that theological truth is modified by its passage through the individual mind, it is also true that there is an anointing which teaches us about all things (1 John 2:27). It is the Holy Spirit, poured out into our hearts (Romans 5:5). There is no danger that we go seriously astray from the truth if we walk humbly, trust completely, search the Scriptures daily, expect divine illumination and lean not on our own understanding. Most assuredly the Holy Spirit will take control of our minds and help us to think like God. Then will be fulfilled the Scripture which says, But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).


What a difference It Would Make

by A.B. Simpson

Thou hast the dew of thy youth —Psalm 110:3

Oh, that we might get such a view of Him as would make it impossible for little things ever to fret us again! The petty cares that have troubled us so much ought rather to cause us to wonder that we can think so much about them.

if we had the dew of His youth we would go forth as the morning and fulfill the promise of a glorious day! What a difference it would make in life were we to realize this is possible! How easy it would be, when the little troubles come, to draw a little closer to Christ, to drink in a little more of that fountain of life, to get a little nearer to that loving heart and to draw in great draughts of refreshing and strength from it. How clear it would make the head for work!

Coming to Him thus, heavy and dull and tired, we can become rested and able to spring forth ready for work. How inspiring to think that our living Head never grows weary! He is as fresh as He ever was. He is a glorious conqueror. He is ever the victorious Christ. Let Him take you today, and He will cause you to see in Him the invincible Leader!

January 13, 2019

Examples of True Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is taken from the first three paragraphs — we’ve formatted it differently — of a much longer article at a blog which was new to us, The Millennial Christian. You can link to it at the title below, or we’ve included the link toward the end for those of you who start out reading it here.

True Worship

We have been called back to our original purpose, which is to worship God, and out of our worship the love of God flows through our mind like a cool summer breeze. Removing the character flaws of our earthen past, it instills in us the true character traits of who we were prior to our physical birth. Our spiritual age is undetermined along with the many things that will be revealed to us upon our death or resurrection. To receive our revelation we must understand that the Holy Spirit only descends upon us while we are in worship, and out of our worship our service to others is revealed. Our ministry was set before God prior to the foundations of the earth and is given to us while our mind is full of the glory of God.

Examples of true worship can be found in Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Revelation. In Isaiah 6:1-3 we read,

“I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!”

They are worshiping our awesome God in joyous celebration.

In Ezekiel 1:1-28 we are treated to some of the events of the throne room, and a personal description of God. All of God’s creations are in continuous worship of their Majesty, and in Revelation we read,

Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: “You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created. And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13)

It really makes us humans look totally pathetic in the way we treat our God, our Father.

When we get down on our knees, alone in private, we use these Biblical examples to guide us through the process of true worship. We imagine the atmosphere of heaven, the colors and sights we see in our mind’s eye. We focus our attention on the One who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb of God. Joyous noisy worship explodes from the disciples, for they cannot hold back their love for Him anymore.

Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen.

The crowd detonates in glorious praise saying,

“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:37-38)

Some of the Pharisees complained to Jesus about the crowd, demanding that He quiet His followers, and Jesus said, “

I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”

Worship is as important to us as food and water yet we starve our soul to death without our spiritual blessing…

continue reading here


By the same authors: How to Worship God

January 12, 2019

Frequently False Prophets

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in
sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves…” – Matthew 7:15 WEB

Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world.  – 1 John 4:1 NLT

Just as false prophets rose up in the past among God’s people, false teachers will rise up in the future among you. They will slip in with their destructive opinions, denying the very Master who bought their freedom and dooming themselves to destruction swiftly, but not before they attract others by their unbridled and immoral behavior. Because of them and their ways, others will criticize and condemn the path of truth we walk as seedy and disreputable. These false teachers will follow their greed and exploit you with their fabrications, but be assured that their judgment was pronounced long ago and their destruction does not sleep. – 2 Peter 2: 1-3 The VOICE

This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says to his people: “Do not listen to these prophets when they prophesy to you, filling you with futile hopes. They are making up everything they say. They do not speak for the LORD!
 – Jeremiah 23:16 NLT

I realized that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me. Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, my God, because of what they have done; remember also the prophet Noadiah and how she and the rest of the prophets have been trying to intimidate me. – Nehemiah 6: 12-14 NIV

We were due for a return to look at the many writers at Charisma Blogs, and when I clicked the top article was from an author whose name I have been seeing quite frequently, Jennifer Leclaire. This article reflects some experiences that may seem unusual to you if you don’t have contact with Charismatic or Pentecostal people, but trust me, this sort of thing goes on all the time! (I would expect even more so in places like South America and Africa.) We desperately need discernment. Jennifer isn’t being dismissive of the gift — she moves in that circle of people — but of words given as prophetic coming from a person with a religious spirit.

When Religious Spirits Masquerade as Prophets

If you could look at my e-mail inbox, some of what you read would make you cry out in travail for the trauma good people in the body of Christ are suffering. Other messages would make you shout for joy as testimonies of breakthrough roll in. Still others would make you scratch your head and ask, “How can anyone who calls themselves a Christian behave this way?”

I got an email last week that ranks in the top 10 ridiculous category. I’ve left off this person’s last name so he doesn’t get flooded with rebukes. Take a read and judge the spirit thereof and let’s learn some lessons about prophecy along the way.

A Long False Prophecy That Carries a Curse

My name is Robert and I am a Prophet here in McKinney, Texas. I moved here about 7 months ago with my wife and children from Miramar, there in South Florida. Holy Spirit led me to one of your YouTube videos and told me to contact you and give you this word.

For the past 9 months the Lord Jesus has been using me to give words to many of the saints about moving. Many of these saints are Apostles, Prophets, and Pastors with large ministries. As you may or may not know, judgment is here for America. Catastrophic events are going to start happening soon so God is moving his saints into specific safe areas and assignments.

The word that I have been told to give you is that Jesus is calling you to move your family and ministry to the Dallas, Texas area as soon as possible. 1 Peter 4:17 says judgment must begin at the house of God. Every believers [sic] obedience is being tested right now. Jesus says to whom much is given, much is required.

Let me pause on the prophecy right there. This is your textbook doom-and-gloom judgment prophet. Most doom-and-gloom judgment prophets have a religious spirit. There are true words of warning and God is a God of judgment, but this is not one of them. The Lord is not speaking to me to move.

I have had prophetic words from well-known, credible prophets about laboring for a great revival in my region. This religious doomsayer was sent by the devil in a feeble attempt to get me off the wall, just as false prophets were sent to Nehemiah to get him off the wall (Neh. 6:12-14).

Prophetic Presumption Exemplified

The false prophecy continues: “God is up to something big here in the Dallas area and I believe part of it has to do with TV because a lot of the saints that he told me to contact are or have been on television. I have also received a few prophetic words myself last year about being on TV which is not something I ever even thought about or wanted.”

Here’s a great example of prophetic presumption. We don’t need to have opinions about prophetic words. We need to have God’s mind on what God is saying. Presumption can be deadly, as I’ve said many times before. Notice also the emphasis on self here. If he’s supposed to be delivering a life-saving word to me, why does he talk about how God wants to put him on TV?

When the Religious Spirit Manifests

The false prophecy continues:

Also The Lord is bringing true biblical holiness back to the church. Jesus says he wants you to stop cutting your hair short. 1 Corinthians 11:15, “But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.

Jesus is also saying to all his women no more fake hair, painted or fake nails, and no more makeup which as we read in the Bible was used by wicked women. Also no more earrings or jewelry, which were associated with idolatry in the Bible. A watch and wedding ring are all Jesus wants his women and men to wear. We have to be the example of what holiness looks and acts like. 1 Timothy 2:9, “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array.”

Also read 1 Peter 3:1-5. Jesus says he is coming for a church without spot or wrinkle and he made women perfect without these foolish things … Will be praying for you sister and God bless!

I don’t have room in this column to teach about the religious spirit. I believe in holiness, but holiness is a matter of the heart, not the hairstyle. Esther was a godly woman, and she wore jewelry, makeup and expensive clothing. I agree with the modesty message and have championed it. But I don’t agree with this prophetic word came from the Lord because neither the message nor the messenger is lining up with the character of God.

January 11, 2019

Paul’s Perspective

Again we’re back highlighting The Life Project written by Don Merritt who is currently in the book of Philippians. If you’re looking for more in your Bible study time, this will be an excellent overview of one my personal favorite epistles.

Paul’s Unique Way of Looking at Things

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Philippians 1:15-18a

Paul has been telling the Philippians that he is rejoicing because as a result of his imprisonment the gospel is being preached in Rome, and now he continues his thoughts on that subject. It would seem that there are people who are preaching the gospel with impure motives, that they would like to stir up trouble for Paul.  He hasn’t told us exactly how this would happen for him, so I will leave the speculation to others, but let’s be honest; there are those today who preach for the wrong motives as well.

I have seen and heard of some who preach out of envy and rivalry, have you?  I have seen some who simply can’t stand the thought of anybody else serving Christ in that way, who are always afraid that someone might supplant them or their ministry.  Maybe they are afraid for their job or their position, or maybe they just have a sense of inferiority. Whatever the reason, they are only good “team players” if everyone else is on their team.  It’s sad really, for it should never be this way in the Body of believers, for all of us are on His Team!  Most that I have seen, however, serve out of goodwill.  As Paul has noted here, they serve out of love for others. As Paul put it, they know that he was put here for the defense of the gospel.  Yes, isn’t that why all of us are “put here”?

“Selfish ambition” may be a reason that many preach, thinking that they can “be somebody” by attracting followers, just as a celebrity might attract fans.  This sort of thing has no place in the church, and yet perhaps it is more common than we might like to admit.

I know about a particular case where there was a minster leading a growing church. He was doing good work, and yet like all of us, wasn’t good at everything. His leadership considered adding an “associate” to staff who was much more experienced and who could handle the areas that the minister had problems in.  When the minister heard about this, he became quite upset; all he could see was that the leaders were thinking he wasn’t doing the job right.  He felt that if they added someone to help him, the people would see him as having been rebuked in some way.  When the other guy heard of this, he removed himself from consideration, not wanting to cause any division.  Was the growth and health of that church damaged by this?  Would it have been even more vibrant had things worked out differently? We will never know; maybe that guy coming on board just wasn’t God’s plan, but I think you get the idea of what can happen… Right about now, we might want to jump on the bandwagon of condemnation and indignation, but before we do, maybe we should see how Paul reacts…

Paul recognized the situation, and while he did not endorse false motives in any way, he saw that good was coming out of it in spite of everything.  What did it matter anyway? For whatever reason, the gospel of Christ was being proclaimed, and that is the most important thing.

Have you noticed how Paul views things?  He isn’t overly concerned with his unfortunate circumstances, he isn’t overly concerned that everything isn’t always ideal, his sole concern is that the gospel of Jesus Christ goes forth so that some will be saved, that their sins may be forgiven, and that they may inherit eternal life.

I wonder, is there a lesson in this for us today?

 

 

 

January 10, 2019

A Compelling Invitation

by Clarke Dixon

What do Chance the Rapper, Snoop Dog, Blake Shelton, Avril Lavigne, and Justin Bieber have in common? Beyond perhaps that they sing music you do not like? They have each expressed more than a passing interest in Christianity in recent years. They have this in common with 2 billion other people today, and a further few billion throughout the last two millennia. There is something compelling about Christianity. What is it? Why has Christianity stood the test of time? Why has it weathered every storm, from within and beyond?

Some have said that Christianity is appealing to people who need a crutch. Perhaps that is what is compelling. However, people like C.S.Lewis, Lee Strobel, and J. Warner Wallace have found it compelling for other reasons. Thinker C.S. Lewis became a Christian through thinking it all through. Journalist Lee Strobel became a Christian through a journalistic inquiry. Cold case detective J. Warner Wallace considered the evidence and became a Christian. None of these felt any need for a crutch. They, along with many, many others, have found Christianity to be compelling.

When it comes to providing compelling answers to important questions, Christianity is like a banquet. I am reminded of an invitation Jesus speaks of in Luke 14:

16 Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17 At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ 20 Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ Luke 14:16-20 (NRSV)

An invitation was given to great dinner. But some fluffed it off. While billions of people have found Christianity compelling why have billions of others not? Some things to think about:

People can be distracted by chip trucks.

You are invited to a great dinner, but on the way you drive by a chip truck. You have heard the french fries there are really good. You stop and your appetite is satisfied. “Please make excuses to the dinner host, I cannot come now.” This kind of thing happens with regards to worldview. When a worldview answers a few of the questions of life well, people may not feel the need to look any further. It is like enjoying great french fries at a chippy daily, yet not realizing what delightful foods are being served elsewhere.

To give an example of this, consider those worldviews that make reference to karma. The idea of karma gives a compelling answer to the question; “why do good people suffer?” The answer is that good people who suffer now must have been bad people at some point, likely in a previous incarnation. They are now working off bad karma. There is “cosmic justice” after all. The righteous really are rewarded and the evil really do suffer. Some people find this way of looking at things compelling. It is a nice tidy answer. However, how well do the karma-focused religions answer all the other questions? For a worldview or religion to be truly compelling it must provide compelling answers to many questions. In the weeks to come we will be looking at how Christianity provides compelling answers to many questions.

People can be distracted by various religions, which may offer good answers to some questions in the way a chippy can offer some tasty food, but what about those who say they just don’t believe anything?

Dinnertime comes for everyone.

Those who refuse the invitation to the great dinner are not saying “I refuse to eat.” They are saying “I refuse to eat what you are offering, I will eat something else.” All people have a way of looking at things. All people have some perspective on religion and “religious” truth. It is sometimes said that only people advancing religion who hold a burden of proof. As a Christian I don’t mind shouldering a burden of proof. There is good evidence for the truth of Christianity. It is compelling. However, anyone advancing any kind of perspective has the same burden of proof. The atheist who says there is no God and the agnostic who says it cannot be known if there is a God or not, will still need to give reasons why their perspective is compelling. All people have religious views. God invites all people to the banquet. All people need to think through their response to the invitation. All people need to explain why they find their choice compelling.

We focus on the food and forget about the host.

Think of someone you would not dream of declining if they invited you to lunch. Perhaps it is a loved one you have not seen in ages. Perhaps it is a celebrity you adore. Whoever it may be, you excitedly accept the invitation no matter what is on the menu! Now consider that God Who has revealed Himself in the Bible is far greater than that person in every possible way. The dinner is not that important after all. Being with the host is!

In the great dinner parable told by Jesus, the initial invitees are too wrapped up in themselves to go. Jesus told this parable to people too wrapped up in themselves to care about him. The scribes and the Pharisees could not, and would not, grasp the identity of Jesus. He did not fit what they thought the Messiah should look like. In the parable there are those who are initially invited, who then make excuses and decline. These represent the Jewish elites, invited by God to participate in what He is doing, yet who decline the invitation to participate in what He is doing through Jesus. Watch what happens next:

21 So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ 23 Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’ ” Luke 14:21-24 (NRSV)

The religious leaders did not respond well to Jesus, but everyone else is invited! We are reminded of these words from John, chapter 1:

11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. John 1:11-13 (NRSV)

While we will be looking at many reasons Christianity is compelling in the weeks to come, the most compelling thing about Christianity is not a thing at all, but a person, Christ Himself. Yes, the food is really great. But it is really about the host!

In the parable of the great dinner the master sends his servants to compel people to come to his banquet. It is funny that the servants would need to compel people, for there were already compelling reasons to go! It is a great meal, it is free, there is great company. You are invited to the table of the Lord. On the first Sunday of every month we invite people to partake of the Lord’s Supper, a symbolic remembrance of Christ’s body broken, his blood shed for forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God. There are compelling reasons to say yes to the invitation to the table. The invitation to be reconciled to God through Christ is a compelling invitation indeed.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.

Check out Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

…or, if you prefer, all his articles here at C201 can be seen at this link.

January 9, 2019

The One Who Has Faith is Never Insignificant

Each year we revisit the devotional page at the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s website. There are many great insights here from a variety of writers. The author of this piece is Don Lipsett. Click the title below to read at source.

(In)significant

Luke 8:42b-45aAs Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. (NIV)

Imagine the scene that day: Jesus, the Man who did miracles and spoke powerfully — unlike any other — was making His way down the street, surrounded by His disciples and a noisy, jostling crowd. Everyone was trying to get close to Him, to be seen with Him, to hear His words, or ask a question. In the dust and commotion, the woman just hoped to touch the outer hem of His robe. She was seemingly so insignificant in that whole chaotic scene, unnoticed — except by Jesus.

Do you remember about the day when the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, met Jesus?

Mark 10:46-52Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. (NIV)

Here also we find weakness, faith, and hope, face to face with the Saviour.

These incidents touch us, I believe, in their revealing how Jesus responds to faith, and to those who humbly seek. No one is insignificant to Him.

Perhaps for many of us, our contributions to and work for God’s kingdom may seem to be insignificant in the big scheme of things, or in the monotony of daily life. However, Jesus’ call to us is to be faithful. Even if our circumstances may be limiting, we can pray, and maybe, there are yet little ways that we can share God’s love and the gospel with family, friends, neighbours, strangers, or even enemies. In little things and details, people can see, and wonder, and be moved by the Holy Spirit.

As the Lord said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.(Matthew 25:40 NIV)

Prayer: God of grace and mercy, fill our weakness with Your strength, and give us faithful hearts that we may “not grow weary while doing good” (Galatians 6:9a NKJV). We ask this in Jesus’ precious name. Amen.

January 8, 2019

Between the Wings of the Cherubim

NIV.Ps.5.7 But I, by your great love,
    can come into your house;
in reverence I bow down
    toward your holy temple.


CEB.Ex. 25.10 Have them make an acacia-wood chest. It should be forty-five inches long, twenty-seven inches wide, and twenty-seven inches high...

…17 Then make a cover of pure gold, forty-five inches long and twenty-seven inches wide. 18 Make two winged heavenly creatures of hammered gold, one for each end of the cover. 19 Put one winged heavenly creature at one end and one winged heavenly creature at the other. Place the winged heavenly creatures at the cover’s two ends. 20 The heavenly creatures should have their wings spread out above, shielding the cover with their wings. The winged heavenly creatures should face each other toward the cover’s center.

NIV.Ex.25.2 There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.

Often we begin here with some printed thoughts and end with a song. Today’s thoughts began with a song. First, they began with hearing of the passing of an older member of our congregation. When we began attending, Gwen was the pianist. My first contact with her was over a song she played that Sunday as an offertory, Commune With Me. Absolutely beautiful song, and I had to know what it is. She asked me if I played the piano, and I told her I did, never knowing that about a year later I would be the church’s first Director of Music.

As I thought about the song, I delved more deeply into the phrase that forms the title of today’s thoughts, and found a 2006 post at the blog The Voice of David:

“Commune with me” – that’s our communion/fellowship/one-ness with God
“I worship You” – our worship of Him
“I’ll meet You there” – again, speaking of fellowship, but also speaks of our eternal
reward and inheritance in Christ

The term “between the wings of the Cherubim” is taken from God’s promise in the Old Testament that He would meet and talk with the high priest… between the wings of the cherubim (that’s where the blood of the sacrifice was put) in the Holy of Holies, behind the veil, into which the high priest could only enter once a year on the day of atonement. Now we have Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God, the end of the Law of commandments in ordinances, whose blood was shed for us so that now, it is only in Christ that we have communion with God, it is only in Christ that we can worship Him, and it is only in Christ that we can finally meet God face to face.

Yet the wonder of all this is that no matter how much I try to explain this in words, my words will never be fully sufficient all that this means – all that it means to be in Christ, to commune with God, worship Him and to meet Him there between the wings of the cherubim. I dare say I am not fully able to comprehend this wonderful idea yet, either. It takes the Holy Spirit who indwells each person who believes in Christ to first implant the Word, then develop it until the Word becomes unto each one of us true revelation.

At the beginning of today’s devotional I quoted from Psalm 5. Bible Study Tools offers commentary on this verse:

With this verse the first part of the Psalm ends. The Psalmist has bent his knee in prayer; he has described before God, as an argument for his deliverance, the character and the fate of the wicked; and now he contrasts this with the condition of the righteous.

But as for me, I will come into thy house. I will not stand at a distance, I will come into thy sanctuary, just as a child comes into his father’s house. But I will not come there by my own merits; no, I have a multitude of sins, and therefore I will come in the multitude of thy mercy. I will approach thee with confidence because of thy immeasurable grace. God’s judgments are all numbered, but his mercies are innumerable; he gives his wrath by weight, but without weight his mercy.

And in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple, — towards the temple of thy holiness. The temple was not built on earth at that time; it was but a tabernacle; but David was wont to turn his eyes spiritually to that temple of God’s holiness where between the wings of the Cherubim Jehovah dwells in light ineffable. Daniel opened his window toward Jerusalem, but we open our hearts toward heaven.  (Emphasis added.)


In memory of Gwen Burgher

 

 

January 7, 2019

Scripture and the Road to God

NIV Ex. 21.23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

NIV Lev.24.19 Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury.

NIV Mat.5.38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.

Today’s thoughts are from author Richard Rohr. It was forwarded to us by someone who I believe subscribes to Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation. Because he is a Franciscan, is very ecumenical, and leans heavily into meditative and contemplative practices, he is considered controversial by conservative Evangelical standards. Nonetheless, I’ve made a deliberate choice to share this short devotional with you today which both I, and the person who sent it to us, found helpful.*

Midrash

More than telling us exactly what to see in the Scriptures, Jesus taught us how to see, what to emphasize, and also what could be de-emphasized or ignored. Beyond fundamentalism or literalism, Jesus practiced a form that the Jewish people called midrash, consistently using questions to keep spiritual meanings open, often reflecting on a text or returning people’s questions with more questions. It is a real shame that we did not imitate Jesus in this approach. It could have saved us from so many centuries of righteousness, religious violence, and even single-issue voting.

Rather than seeking always certain and unchanging answers, the Jewish practice of midrash allows many possibilities, many levels of faith-filled meaning—meaning that is relevant and applicable to you, the reader, and puts you in the subject’s shoes to build empathy, understanding, and relationship. It lets the passage first challenge you before it challenges anyone else. To use the text in a spiritual way—as Jesus did—is to allow it to convert you, to change you, to grow you up as you respond: What does this ask of me? How might this apply to my life, to my family, to my church, to my neighborhood, to my country?

While biblical messages often proceed from historical incidents, the actual message does not depend upon communicating those events with perfect factual accuracy. Spiritual writers are not primarily journalists. Hebrew rabbis and scholars sometime use the approach of midrash to reflect on a story and communicate all of its underlying message. Scripture can be understood on at least four levels: literal meaning, deep meaning, comparative meaning, and hidden meaning.

The literal level of meaning doesn’t get to the root and, in fact, is the least helpful to the soul and the most dangerous for history. Deep meaning offers symbolic or allegorical applications. Comparative study combines different texts to explore an entirely new meaning. Finally, in traditional Jewish exegesis, hidden meaning gets at the Mystery itself. Midrash allows and encourages each listener to grow with a text and not to settle for mere literalism, which, of itself, bears little spiritual fruit. It is just a starting point.

Whatever is received is received according to the manner of the receiver. [1]

This statement from Aquinas was drilled into me during seminary. People at different levels of maturity will interpret the same text in different ways. There is no one right way to interpret sacred texts. How you see is what you see; the who that you bring to your reading of the Scriptures matters. Who are you when you read the Bible? Defensive, offensive, power-hungry, righteous? Or humble, receptive, and honest? Surely, this is why we need to pray before reading a sacred text!

Jesus consistently ignored or even denied exclusionary, punitive, and triumphalist texts in his own inspired Hebrew Bible in favor of passages that emphasized inclusion, mercy, and honesty. For example, referencing two passages from Exodus (21:24) and Leviticus (24:20), Jesus suggested the opposite: “You have heard it said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you . . . turn the other cheek” (see Matthew 5:38-39). He read the Scriptures in a spiritual, selective, and questioning way. Jesus had a deeper and wider eye that knew which passages were creating a path for God and which passages were merely cultural, self-serving, and legalistic additions.


References:
[1] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, 75, 5. Original sentence: Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Yes, And . . .: Daily Meditations (Franciscan Media: 2013), x-xi; and

Hierarchy of Truths: Jesus’ Use of Scripture (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2014), CD, MP3 download.


* This is actually the third time Fr. Richard Rohr’s writings have appeared here; the other two being:

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