Christianity 201

September 20, 2020

Jesus Changes Everything: Four Days in the Life of Martha

An imaginative reading based on Luke 10:38 – 42; John 11:1 – 44; John 12: 1-8;

by Ruth Wilkinson

Scene 1

One night, after she’d laid down to sleep, Martha lay awake for a while thinking that today, something had changed.

Jesus and all of his students, had stopped for a visit.

Martha loved Jesus—the way he talked, the things he said. If his followers became men like him… what a world that would be.

So she welcomed them to her home.

She was a practical person. She made sure things got done. She was trying to teach that to Mary.

Everybody loved Mary, but she needed to be…. shepherded from time to time.

Like today…

Daydreaming was one thing, but sitting down when there was work to do, and in front of Jesus with his students…. like she was one!

He was kind to women, but he was a rabbi. There were rules. Women were not students of rabbis. They just weren’t. Women had a place and men had a place. Mary’s place was serving, not sitting and asking questions.

But he didn’t seem to agree. When Martha complained, he said that Mary had chosen better. Better? Better than serving?

Sitting with Jesus was better?

Sitting with Jesus was an option?

Martha couldn’t just sit. There was too much to do. She kept working, but she slowed down. She listened. She thought of a question she wanted to ask when she had the chance.

She would always be practical. She would die with her boots on.

But… Martha had started listening.

Scene 2

One night, after she’d laid down to sleep, Martha lay awake for a while thinking that today everything had changed.

Lazarus had been dead. Dead dead. Now he wasn’t.

She’d welcomed into her home dozens of mourners but they’d all left. Because there was nothing to mourn.

Martha had learned a lot since she’d started listening to Jesus. She understood now that he was the One who would free her people. Who would mark the new beginning for humanity and creation.

She understood he had power from God that he used for people. He was her friend, her teacher.

She’d believed, when Lazarus died, that someday her brother, a righteous man, would be resurrected to a never-ending life.

When Jesus had finally arrived, they’d talked about that. He’d smiled at what she’d said. Though in hindsight, maybe that smile had been one for a child who almost understood.

Oh, that one time when she’d actually told him what to do! Told him what to say…

Good thing she didn’t do that today.

Because anything she could have asked would have been so much less than what he chose to do.

He listened to their pain, he wept for his own, and then he turned it all upside down and Lazarus was alive.

Not a someday future resurrection. Today. This afternoon. Just a few hours ago.

How could anything be better than today?

On one hand, it absolutely couldn’t. On the other hand… this is Jesus,,.

Scene 3

One night, after she’d laid down to sleep, Martha lay awake for a while thinking that something was changing.

The smell still filled the house—that perfume. She cringed just a bit. Her practical mind remembering the value of what had been in that jar (soaked into the floor, now)—a year’s wages for someone like Lazarus. A life savings.

Life savings. Life saving. Jesus. Lazarus. Life saving.

She took a deep breath and it smelled so good. Mary’s love. Lazarus’ gratitude. Everything Martha was learning.

She hadn’t known beforehand what Mary was going to do. But seeing her come into the room, carrying that jar, with that look on her face…

Martha was working, of course. Serving the guests in her home.

But when Mary’s eyes met hers and she realized what was about to happen…

She just thought, “Yes.”

She stepped back. Leaned against the wall. Said nothing.

Again, it wasn’t something she ever would have done herself. She couldn’t be Mary.

But neither was she Judas. Sure, they were both practical people. They were both doers.

So when Judas criticized “the waste,” she heard in his words her old voice. It shook her. Could she have ever been that person? Telling Jesus what to do?

There was something in the air, in the dark. Besides the perfume. Something not nice. She’d learned so much but she was worried, too. He’d been saying some things that she didn’t understand.

All she could do now was step back and lean.

Scene 4

One night, after she’d laid down to sleep, Martha woke up somewhere else, knowing that she was changed.

And Jesus was there, welcoming her to his home.

 

September 19, 2020

Opening the Pressure Valve on Resentment

NIV.2Tim.3.23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

This is our fourth time back with J. Mark Fox who is one of a number of writers at Christians in Context. This piece was written shortly after the world was plunged into lockdown due to coronavirus, and some of the dynamics mentioned haven’t really changed, in fact, some countries are heading back into lockdown as I type this. Click the title to read this at its site of origin.

Pressure Cookers of Resentment

Pressure Cooker
image: Wikipedia

The coronavirus has forced many of us to stay home more than we are used to, and that can lead to wonderful or not-so-terrific outcomes. People can tend to get a little touchy, slightly more irritable than normal. Reminds me of a peculiar habit camels seem to have. Read on…

William Barclay said, “There may be greater sins than touchiness, but there is none that does greater damage to the Christian church.” I found that quote as I was reading what Paul wrote 2 Timothy, instructing the young pastor that leadership requires thick skin, someone who is not easily offended. In fact, a leader is one who “patiently endures evil.” It could also be translated, “Bearing evil from others without resentment.” This is a rare quality, isn’t it? Let’s face it. There are lots of people who cannot bear anything without resentment, much less evil. They get resentful at the stoplight for staying red longer than they think is just. Look at them the wrong way and you are off their party-invitation list forever. Others will allow you a wrong look or a cross word or two, but they are adding your missteps to an invisible scale that they keep in their memory. Whoa to you when you finally tip the scale in the wrong direction.

This is illustrated in nature, I discovered, with camels. Who knew? In his book, Zoo Vet, David Taylor writes, “Camels may build up a pressure cooker of resentment toward human beings until the lid suddenly blows off and they go berserk. In Asia, when a camel driver senses trouble, he gives his coat to the animal. Rather like Japanese workers who are reported to work off frustrations by beating up models of their executives, the camel gives the garment (a fit)—jumping on it, biting it, tearing it to pieces. When the camel feels it has blown its top enough, man and animal can live together in harmony again.”

Talk about getting your hump in a wad. And, just wondering, how many coats does a camel driver have to keep on hand? The problem with that whole scenario is obvious. If Carlos the camel owner is off his game by just a little, and doesn’t correctly read the signs that Carl the Camel is subtly sending him, it may be that Carlos, not his coat, is torn to pieces. Same way with you, as you face the wrath of Ken or Kara the church members. You may never know when you say the very thing that sends them into orbit. Or out the door. They won’t even give you a chance to offer them your coat or your hat to jump up and down and spit on. They just bolt. You may hear some reasons why they exploded later, as a friend of a friend of theirs tells you what they said about you on Facebook. Or, you may never know.

Paul’s instruction to young Timothy is clear: don’t be a pressure cooker of resentment yourself. When the camels are spitting and stomping all around, you are to remain calm. You are to be quick to forgive and slow to take offense, not the other way around. That doesn’t mean a leader is as silent as a post. No, he is to be skilled in “correcting his opponents with gentleness.” This is part of the problem: leaders who are unable or unwilling to gently correct evil behavior.

There is power in the life that refuses to drink in bitterness when others attack. It is the power that Christ Himself displayed as He was mocked and beaten and spat upon and finally crucified. There is no more beautiful picture of Christ than that of suffering servant. “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearers is silent, so he opens not his mouth.”

Two things, then. When pressure at home builds up, go outside. Exercise! And, be very careful around your camel.


J. Mark Fox is the author of A Faithful Man and the pastor of Antioch Community Church in Elon, North Carolina. You can follow him on Twitter at @jmarkfox.

September 18, 2020

Four Things You Need When Considering Education Choices

One glance at today’s headline and you’ll see it’s a bit more “practical” than what we normally do here. However, these are times when many families are at a crossroads, and the “four things” are straight out of scripture, a checklist so obvious that I think it’s easy for many parents to miss it, because many are bewildered about what’s taking place in our schools.

Not surprisingly, today’s post comes from a parenting blog and one that is new to us. Wattsup with Kids is written by Tracy Watts. (I’ll give you a few seconds to make the connection!) As we say daily, click the header below and read this at her site and then take a few minutes to look around at other articles.

[Not a parent? Check out this post by Tracy on Trying to Do Everything in the Will of God. It’s more similar to what we normally share here!]

Simplicity and Direction

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. ~ Luke 2:52

In all the myriad of choices, stresses, and concerns of education this fall lies this verse. Here in first century Palestine, without electricity, Amazon.com or even running water, Jesus grows and develops (as any child should). And how did he grow? This verse lists four categories:

  1. Wisdom (Mental? Intellectual? Spiritual? I think the answer is probably yes 😊)
  2. Stature (physical growth and skills)
  3. In favor with God (spiritual growth)
  4. In favor with man (social growth)

I find much comfort from this verse. We see here both simplicity and direction. In an age of endless options, we hold in our hands simple truth: Do I provide opportunity for my child to grow his mind and wisdom? Do I provide opportunity and sustenance to grow physically? Do I provide time where I impart the love of God and the truths of the Bible – both in explicit teaching as well as in the “teachable” moments throughout the day? And do I provide opportunity for him to practice kindness and love to others?

Sometimes, we get lost stressing about things that are not actually important. We worry about things that God has not placed in our hands. We need to lay aside these weights, like the Hebrews author says

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. ~ Hebrews 12:1-2

Stretching before us is an entire season of tomorrows, seemingly filled with worry and doom, judgement and criticism. God does not ask us to live weeks or months at a time. He gives us one day, one hour, one moment at a time. Choose God’s direction and simplicity. Choose what is more – eternity. Live in today, point your feet heavenward, and take someone else by the hand to go there too.

Dear one, leave tomorrow to God – it belongs to Him anyway.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. ~ Matthew 6:33-34

September 17, 2020

Thoughtful Love

by Clarke Dixon

Jesus told us to love our neighbours, and even our enemies, so basically to love everyone. What does that even look like? Does that mean just having warm, fuzzy feelings for everyone? Does it mean just being polite?

Loving people can sound like a nice platitude, but what does it look like on the ground, when the rubber meets the road?

In Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi we read a prayer of Paul’s, which if it were to be answered in our lives, will help us love others well. So what is it?

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11 (NIV)

Notice that Paul is not simply praying for more and more love, as if more and more warm fuzzy feelings toward each other would make a difference. He is praying for love that grows in knowledge and full insight, so that they will know what is best. Translations use various words here including knowledge, discernment, understanding, insight, perception, and even intelligence.

So what does it mean for our love to grow in knowledge and depth of insight? What does it look like to love someone with intelligence and thoughtfulness?

First, love that grows in knowledge and full insight is love that grows in knowledge of, and insight into, the love of God. This would mean love that perceives what generosity looks like, love that has insight into what grace looks like, love that knows what reconciliation feels like, and love that knows what it feels like to be forgiven. This is love that has learned the art of love from God.

When we have experienced the love of God in our lives through Jesus, we learn what love looks like between people. Our love for others grows in generosity, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, and all such things.

The knowledge and full insight Paul speaks of is not limited to Biblical knowledge. It can include knowledge and insight gained from other sources.

When our love is growing in knowledge, it can be knowledge we gain from science and the world of medicine. As an example, we might feel quite justified for being miffed if someone in our family forgets our name. Knowing something about Altzheimer’s disease, I do not get angry when my Mum forgets mine. I have adjusted my expectations. Love that is growing in knowledge makes such adjustments.

Likewise, if we in a relationship with someone with a mental illness, learning something about that illness will help us know what love looks like in that particular relationship.

When our love is growing in knowledge, it can be knowledge we gain from wise people who have learned how the world works. We can give as an example the knowledge we gain from Gary Chapman in his series on “The 5 Love Languages.” Gary lists these love languages as,

  • words of affirmation
  • physical touch
  • the giving and receiving of gifts
  • quality time
  • acts of service

How does it work? Consider, for example, a father who gives many gifts to his daughter, but never spends time with her. Now suppose his primary love language, the way he expresses love, and feels loved, is through the giving and receiving of gifts. And suppose the daughter’s primary love language, the way she expresses love, and feels loved in return, is through spending time with people. This daughter may sit someday on a therapist’s couch lamenting that her father never loved her. In fact he did, and expressed it in the way he knew how. But he was not speaking her language.

There is so much more that can be said about all this, so I will encourage you to look into Gary Chapman’s books and resources. The point here is that knowing how people express and receive love in different ways can really help us love with knowledge and insight. This is another way by which our love can grow in knowledge and depth of insight, so that we will know what is best.

When our love is growing in insight, it can be insight from the experience. As an example, if you think same-sex attraction is a choice rather than something that just is for some people, it can really affect what you think love looks like toward a gay person. Consider if one’s child comes out as gay in the teen years. If you take the traditional viewpoint, you may think that the most loving thing you can do is get your child to change his or her mind, to fix them. The experience of many gay people, however, is that, a) they did not choose it, and b) it can be a very difficult journey, a journey which goes down a path of self-harm for some.

What, therefore, does love that is growing in knowledge and insight look like when one’s child comes out as gay? If I could go back to the moment one of my son’s came out as gay, I would now say “What has that journey been like for you? How are you?” I didn’t say anything really bad, but I didn’t say anything particularly thoughtful either. At that moment I did not love with knowledge and insight and say what was best. There is no doubt that Christian parents, while being so often motivated by love, can seem quite unloving due to a lack of knowledge and insight.

When our love is growing in knowledge, it can be knowledge we gain from studying history. As an example, we might think that once slavery was abolished in the United States, that was the end of racism. History records otherwise. When we study the history of how people of colour have been treated differently ever since, then we are in a better position to discern what love looks like in these days of racial tensions. Let those of us who are white, commit to a journey of learning.

When our love is growing in perception, it can be knowledge we gain from having open eyes to see the needs around us. Then we need the discernment to know what can be done about the needs around us. To give an example, while pastoring in Ottawa I had the opportunity to begin building a relationship with a homeless man. He explained that he would get off the alcohol in an institution, then would be set up in a room in a dwelling with people who were hooked on drugs and alcohol. Of course he went back to such things himself. He found living on the street to be far better. If we as society have a love growing in knowledge and depth of insight, we will figure out a better solution.

Loving people goes way beyond having affection for them, warm feelings, or wishing them the best. We can think we are doing the most loving thing, but when our love lacks discernment, it may not be the best thing. As I’ve often heard said, love is a verb. Since love is an activity, love requires action. Action requires decision. Decisions are always best when made with discernment, understanding, insight, and knowledge.

If Paul’s prayer for love that is growing in knowledge and insight is answered in our lives, it can make a huge difference in our capacity to love. If we love with discernment, it will make a huge difference in the lives of others, indeed it can change the world. God’s discerning love is the prime example of a thoughtful love that changes everything!


This reflection can be seen as part of the “online worship expressionat the Ontario church where Clarke is the pastor from September 13, 2020.

September 16, 2020

We Fail; He Helps us Back Up… Each and Every Time

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

One writer in our frequent-flyer club here at C201 is Elsie Montgomery who has appeared here more than 20 times.  This very personal reflection appeared yesterday at her blog, Practical Faith. Click the header below to read and find more great devotionals like this one.

One Prayer God Quickly Answers…

2 Samuel 11; Psalms 62–63; Ezekiel 18; 2 Corinthians 4

Reading the familiar story of David and Bathsheba reminds me again of one hard truth: strong desires blind my eyes to reality and truth. David wanted this woman and went against all that he knew was right. He seduced her, used his power to manipulate the death of her husband and tried to cover up his sinfulness with lies.

His actions beg the question: How can a person overcome strong desires? These include lust, desire for power, popularity and fame, even the desire to eat too much or drink too much alcohol. The list is long. David loved the Lord but his desire for a woman ruined his desire for doing the will of God. I don’t want that.

The Apostle Paul was also a man who loved the Lord. He lived with a strong determination to turn away from sin and live a godly life. What made the difference? These verses explain:

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:1–6)

Paul knew that blindness caused by sin is also blindness from the evil one whose goal is to keep people from seeing the glory of God in Jesus Christ. It is in knowing who Jesus is that changes everything. Paul was given that vision while on his way to persecute and destroy Christians. When he saw the risen Christ, he called that amazing experience “light shining out of darkness” and from that moment on, his life changed.

I understand Paul’s experience. Mine was similar. I read the Bible for nearly two decades but it was darkness to me; I didn’t understand any of it. Then one fall day, while reading another book that had a Scripture verse in it, Jesus shone into my life. I instantly knew that He was God in human flesh and that He came to save me from my sin. He shone in my heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

The biggest difference is that my life didn’t change as rapidly as Paul’s life! He was zealous for God before that great event, but I was zealous for me, with many strong desires for what I wanted. God keeps shining light into my life and is amazingly patient with me yet I am slow and forgetful, stubborn and selfish.

However, the Lord does give me an understanding of how Satan works. I know that I can be in the dark with those I-wants and that all of them must be yielded to Him. The more I give up the more I gain. That is, when I refuse to act in disgraceful or underhanded ways, or to be cunning or try to mess with what the Bible says or run my own life, then seeing the glory of God is easier and desirable. This battle against sin is won by losing.

APPLY: Every day I need to ask Jesus what the psalmist asked: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24) This is one prayer that God is so faithful to answer quickly that I’ve often said if you pray it, you better duck!

Later: This application is proven once again. Today God gave me a test . . . which I flunked! It happened a very short time after writing the above words. Again, if you pray those verses and mean it, He will answer quickly.

September 15, 2020

Salvation: A Continuous Imperative

If I were to leave you to keep an eye on my office, and just before walking out the door, I pointed to the back and said, “Shut the door;” what would I expect? Namely that you would shut the door. That’s it.

But if I were to turn around and say, “And answer the phone;” what does that imply? It implies that if the phone rings, answer it, and if it rings again, answer it, and if it keeps ringing, keep answering it. It’s what is called a continuous imperative.


Today we’re back with a visit to the blog Brothers of the Book, written by Bill Hood. While the column is directed at men, there is application here for everyone. (Also, with so many printed devotional resources directed toward women, here is a site you can recommend to a male friend or relative.) As always, click the header below and read this there instead of here.

You Are Being Saved

1 Corinthians 15:1–11

God’s work of salvation pre-dates your existence, is on-going in your life, and will be witnessed again in eternity. You are saved; you are being saved; you will be saved.

Today’s reading is a re-presentment of the Gospel.  Paul shares the facts of salvation with the Corinthians.  It is important for us to remember what we believe.  It is so easy to be led astray.  A little twisting of the truth produces a lie – not an alternate truth.

Changing subjects, I found the comparison of various translations of the following verse to be rather interesting.

1 Corinthians 15:2

ESV
“and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.”

NIV
“By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”

KJ
“By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.”

Most translations refer to the Gospel as something by which they “were saved” while the English Standard Version (ESV) refers to the Gospel as something by which they were “being saved”.  Did the ESV get this wrong?  I don’t think so.  I went back and did a word study in the original Greek, and the word translated “you are being saved” by the ESV does give a sense of something that is on-going; at least it gave me that sense.  My pastor, several times, has said from the pulpit “you are saved, you are being saved, you will be saved”.

This sounds a bit odd, doesn’t it?  Try this on for size.  God chose to save you before He even created the World.  Moving forward in time, if you are a Christian, there was a moment in your past when you submitted your life to Christ, and at that moment you were saved as God had already determined you would.  Can you lose your salvation?  Christ says He will lose no one whom God places in His hand.  Did the Son of God get this wrong?  Can He lose you due to your own choices?  No brothers, it is His grace and presence in your life that keeps saving you every moment of every day.  God doesn’t save you and walk away hoping you’ll make the right choices so you can keep what He gave you.  Your salvation is a complete work of grace on the part of God Himself.  You had nothing to do with it.  God saved you and He is saving you.

One day, you will stand before the righteousness of God.  Jesus will step forward and say “Abba, he is with me.  I paid for his sin.”  You will be allowed to pass in to eternal fellowship with God. At that moment, you are saved anew.  You will be saved.

Salvation is an amazing thing.  It is beyond miraculous.  It is beyond comprehension.  Brothers, you are not alone in your wanderings in this desert called life.  If you truly submitted your life to Christ, Jesus goes with you in the form of His Holy Spirit.  He lifts you up.  He carries you through.  In the Good News of Jesus Christ, you are being saved!

Vivere Victorem! (Live Victorious!)

Your brother and servant in Christ,
Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!

 

 

September 14, 2020

When Those Who Oppose Jesus Fall Down

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Revelation.7.9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.

Today we are back again with Stanley J. Groothof who blogs at The 4th Point.  Why is his blog called that?

I’m a husband, dad, friend, and pastor. In connection with that last role, you may know that traditionally sermons often have 3 points. When I research and reflect on Sunday’s messages, often I find more material than can fit in my message for the day. Here is a place for some “fourth points” that, while not showing up in a message, I feel still should see the light of day.

As usual click the header below to read this at source. Scriptures referenced in today’s devotional are included in full after today’s reading.

Falling down with my enemies

To the church in Philadelphia, Jesus gives the encouragement to keep holding on. They have little strength left from enduring rejection and persecution from the leaders of the local synagogue who deny Jesus is Lord. But they can indeed hold on knowing their current situation will not last forever. Jesus promises He is coming soon, giving the church hope that the time is coming when wrongs will be righted.

More than that, Jesus tells the Philadelphian church they can look forward to the day when those who hurt them will “come and fall down at [their] feet.” Those opposed to God and His people will one day experience the return and victory of King Jesus. At that time they will hear Him say He is on the side of His people and He loves them.

But as Lou Lotz once noted, this talk of enemies groveling at one’s feet smacks of triumphalism and vengeance, and seems to be out of character with Christ’s command to love our enemies. True, but the picture of poor souls who have always resisted Jesus and harmed the church bowing down to Jesus’ followers helps me in two ways:

1. I’m given hope: Ungodliness will not endure forever. One day, to quote Pastor Lotz, “the tables will be turned, and God’s people will be vindicated.”

2. This picture also offers inspiration: Christians desire to love their enemies, to love their enemies to Christ. The more Christ’s reconciling grace is in me, the more I want no one being punished at my feet. I’m not saying there won’t be anyone; I’m just saying Christians love their enemies and the church’s enemies with the dream that all of them will change and love Jesus today and in eternity.

I’m fascinated by the actual words used in Jesus’ letter to Philadelphia, that those who oppose Jesus and His church will one day “fall down.” This is the same language used elsewhere in the Bible (in Revelation 4, as one example) for falling down in worship! I think I’m supposed to love my enemies, praying that they’ll fall down in worship with me and all God’s people.

LOVE
YOUR ENEMIES
DO GOOD
TO THOSE WHO HATE YOU
BLESS
THOSE WHO CURSE YOU
PRAY FOR
THOSE WHO MISTREAT YOU

~ Jesus


Scriptures in today’s devotional:

Revelation.7.9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.

Matthew.5.44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

Revelation.4.9-11 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”

September 13, 2020

Why Did God Make Just ONE Way to Heaven?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm

If you look at our parent blog, you’ll see a reference in the “News” section to The Denison Forum, and I have occasionally linked to their articles.

In 2009, Jim Denison and Jeff Byrd founded the Denison Forum in Dallas, Texas, with three employees. Their goal was to encourage spiritual awakening while equipping believers to engage with the issues and news of the day. Jim Denison’s The Daily Article is distributed via email, social media, and podcast to hundreds of thousands of culture-changing Christians daily. Today, Denison Forum employs eleven full-time employees who produce and distribute content worldwide.

This is one such article. We’re joining it in progress, so if you came to read this because a search engine brought you to this particular topic, I encourage you to click the header which follows and read it in its entirety, which is about twice the length of what’s here.

Why is there only one way to God?

…Why would God make only one way to heaven, anyway? How does this align with the claim that he is love (1 John 4:8)? And why is this issue relevant to you today?

What the Bible says

Let’s begin with what the Bible actually says on this subject. If God is God and heaven is his home, he has the right to decide how we can go there. Our opinion doesn’t change his decision or the reality of the situation. What does his word tell us?

Jesus was explicit: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He prayed to his Father, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Eternal life comes in no other way but this.

Why would this be true?

Jesus is the only person in history to have come from heaven to humanity: “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (John 3:13). He is the only person to live a sinless life: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus had no sins for which to atone, so he could atone for ours. If I have $1,000 in my bank account and owe $1,000 in bills, I can’t help you pay your bills. Jesus had no sins in his account, so he could die to pay for yours and mine.

That’s why Paul could say, “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5–6). That’s why Peter could proclaim, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Why there is only one way

Consider a parable. You’re all invited to lunch at my house today. We’ll hang a key outside the door, so you can all unlock it and come inside.

For you to join us, four essentials must occur:

  • You must know that we’re having lunch and you’re invited.
  • You must decide to join us for lunch, believing that what we’re serving is better than your other options.
  • You must set aside your key.
  • You must use our key.

Let’s think about these essentials together.

One biblical metaphor for heaven is a “feast” (Matthew 22:2). However, a third of the world doesn’t know that they’re invited. They’ve never heard the gospel. And another third lives in a place where it is very difficult to accept the invitation.

However, this is not God’s fault. He calls us to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). If I were the only Christian on earth, and I shared Christ with you today so that you became a believer, there would be two of us. If the two of us shared Christ with someone tomorrow so that they became believers, there would be four of us. The next day four could become eight, then eight sixteen, and so on.

By this simple process of multiplication, how long would it take for the entire world to receive eternal life? Thirty-three days. On that day, 8,589,934,592 people would be Christians, a number exceeding the planet’s population. You might say, But I can’t win one person to Christ every day. Could you win one a year? In thirty-three years the entire world would be saved.

So people need to know they’re invited—that’s our job. Next, they need to decide to come. That’s the issue for most people in our culture: They don’t want to give up their lunch to join God’s feast. They don’t believe that his will for them is better than their will for their lives. They don’t think that they need what he offers.

So we need to show them why they need God, by showing them the difference he’s made in our lives. When they see the fruit of the Spirit in us—God’s love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—they will want what we have. This is why I became a Christian—I saw something in Christians I didn’t have in my life.

St. Francis suggested that we “preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” It is always necessary to use words. But first it is necessary to live what we preach, to show what we believe to be true. Ken Medema was right: “Don’t tell me I have a friend in Jesus until you show me I have a friend in you.”

So people must know that they’re invited, and choose to come. Next they must set aside their key, their attempts to save themselves. I once read that seventy-eight percent of Americans think “God helps those who help themselves” is in the Bible. Actually, Ben Franklin said that, not God.

Scripture is clear: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). As a result, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a). But here’s the good news: “But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 23b). God promises: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).

Why does God offer only one key? Because one key is all we need…

[continue reading here]

 

September 12, 2020

Our God is an … Unusual God

“Whatever your need today, when you pray, stop trying to tell God what to do and how to do it… Get out of the box of your preconceived ideas and pray again, ‘I don’t know how, when or who You are going to use, I just know You will do all that You promised.’”

~ Andy and Gina Elmes

You were waiting for that title say, “Awesome God,” weren’t you? Not “Unusual.” But today’s focus is different.

I have only two devotionals which I personally subscribe to, and one which I read online. One of the daily emails is titled “Breakfast of Champions” by Andy and Gina Elmes. To get these sent to you by email, go to Great Big Life and click on Breakfast of Champions.

Today’s devotional here is a highlights reel of things they’ve been sharing this month.

Don’t try and box an unusual God

Ephesians 3:20, NKJV
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.

If you want to experience all the things God has for you then you need to make the decision to let Him out of the well-constructed boxes you have tried to package Him in. The fact is, God normally always does things in Unusual Ways. Think about it, when you are believing for a miracle or a breakthrough very rarely does it come the way you anticipated or expected, right? Most often it comes in a way you never imagined or could have planned. In fact, it normally always comes when you did not expect, in a way you never thought of, and involving people you never thought would be involved – that’s God!

You see, God is not limited by, or to, our ways of doing things – but sometimes we can limit Him by trying to govern or work out how He will do what He promised He would do. The fact is when it comes to God and His promises the best thing we can do is lay aside all of our preconceived ideas and self-imagined routes and just turn our heads to heaven and say “I don’t know how, when or who You’re gonna use to do what You have promised, but I just know You will do what You have promised”, and then leave the rest to Him…

God does Unusual things

John 3:8, NKJV
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.

What a great comparison! Just as you can’t govern or control what the natural wind does, neither can you control or govern what a supernatural God does. Like the wind, He is not contained or controlled by any other and blows where He chooses and when He chooses, whether it feels usual to us or not. As we considered last time, it is vital that we understand that God is an unusual God who does unusual things. But then remember, they may seem unusual to us but they are not to Him – they are simply the ways He chooses to do things. They just seem unusual to us because they were not what we expected and often go against the preconceived plans we had for how things should work out. Again remember, His ways are always better and never less.

It’s when we begin to accept this truth that we can begin to expect Him to do unusual things in our lives and the situations we face, and be blessed and amazed when He does. It’s then we can begin to experience the unlimited God “make a way where there seemed to be no way.”

Let’s face it, isn’t this a better and more enjoyable way of walking with a living God? Isn’t this more exciting than waking up every morning thinking you know everything He is going to do and how He is going to do it, only to later be again disappointed when it does not happen as you planned or pre-thought that it would? …

God’s Unusual track record

Isaiah 43:16, NKJV
Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea and a path through the mighty waters.

We have been spending time considering how God often does things in ways that seem unusual to us and it’s when we begin to accept that He does things in unusual ways that we can have fresh hope in situations we find ourselves; that even when it looks impossible naturally, and every road we had placed hope in has failed us, God will still do something unusual to turn it all around for our good.

Think about it: you only have to read the Bible to see God’s proven track record for doing unusual things, both in the Old Testament and the New. In the Old Testament we read of a man losing the iron axe head from his borrowed axe, and then God telling the man through the prophet to throw a stick in the water to make the axe head float! You’ll read of prophets telling military generals with leprosy to dip seven times in a dirty river to receive their miracle of new skin! Telling a widow to pour a small pot of oil out into large containers to get a miracle of provision! Everything from men being told to build enormous boats to parting un-crossable oceans with sticks. Come on, read it for yourself – these are just a few. He constantly asked people to do unusual things to get incredible outcomes.

Then we step into the New Testament and watch the ministry of the Son. In the same way, we see one unusual thing after another. He spat in the eyes of the blind, stuck his finger in the ears of the deaf, turned water into wine. He left it four days before raising a man from the dead, and sent His disciple to get tax money from the mouth of a fish! And these again are just a few of the unusual things Jesus daily did in His ministry.

Now think about it for a minute: if God did things in an unusual way in the Old Testament through the prophets, and in the New Testament through His Son, then why is He going to be any different today for us? …

God uses Unusual people

1 Corinthians 1:26-29, NIV
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.

Another Unusual thing about God is that he chooses to use Unusual people. By that I mean He delights in selecting and using people to do unusual things for Him that others would not pick or even consider.

Again, think about the different people God selected and used throughout the Bible. They were often overlooked people who had hang-ups and had made mistakes. I don’t know about you, but this makes me smile because if God did not choose people this way I don’t know if I would be doing what I am for Him today. Here’s a brief handful of examples:

  • Abraham – who would choose an old man to birth a nation?
  • Jacob – who would entrust so much to a cheating liar?
  • Rahab – who would use a prostitute to help a people win a city?
  • Moses – who would use a man with a speech impediment to be the spokesman for a nation?
  • Gideon – who would use a hiding coward to lead an army?
  • David – who would pick a shepherd boy to be a king?

The list could go on and on, and when you look in the New Testament it’s the same with Jesus. The men He chose as disciples were such a random bunch of men from such different backgrounds: tax collectors, fishermen and doctors to name a few. None of them had trained at theology seminary, all had been overlooked by every other rabbi in the city. They had watched the Jewish rabbis select the men around them and had given up on thinking that a rabbi would ever want them. Then they met the greatest Rabbi, Jesus, who hand-picked them from the crowd.

Because, you see, like we see in the story of David being selected above his brothers, God does not select like natural men do. Man looks at the outward appearance whereas God looks at the heart and what He is able to do with the person through His grace…


Contact if you would like the complete text of one of these devotionals forwarded to you. Or better yet, click this link and try a free subscription.

Andy and Gina concluded this 4-part series with these words:

“Today, present your life to an unusual God, give Him everything that you are, then watch what He does with you and through you as all the glory goes back to Him. Don’t be surprised when unusual things begin to happen!”

September 11, 2020

Forgiving the Unforgivable

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks in the United States, which means today marks 19 years.

The Lectionary readings for this Sunday include Matthew 18:21-35

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.

and with that, Jesus launches into a story I trust is familiar to all of us. (If not, click this link.)

Occasionally I run into blogs that consist of pastors’ sermon notes involving churches that use the Lectionary as a guide to preaching. Instead of the pastor selecting a text on his or her own, there are three or four prescribed readings for each Sunday, usually consisting an Old Testament reading, a Psalm , a selection from the gospels, and an excerpt from an Epistle.  One of the texts is required to form the basis of the weekend sermon.

We’re returning today to the blog ForeWords written by Rich Brown.  Although he is not currently writing, I went back to 2017 to see what he’d written when this text appeared for a Sunday that year which also followed a 9/11 anniversary. Click the title below to read this at source.

Forgive Each Other

His disciples asked Jesus just how often they should/must forgive a brother or sister. In response Jesus gave them a number: either 77 or seven times 70, depending on the Bible translation you’re reading. In either case, it means pretty much the same thing: Never stop forgiving!

Jesus goes on to share a parable. Unlike many of his others, this parable is clear, understandable, and obvious. Maybe Jesus thought this topic was so important, so critical to the functioning of his kingdom that he didn’t want even the most dim-witted of his inner circle to misunderstand. In its own way it’s a commentary on the lines from the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

As part of a philosophical discussion this instruction is so evident in its meaning and purpose that it almost requires no further thought. Yet when we move from the realm of the theoretical to the actual, well, there’s the rub.

Of all the Sundays when the Lectionary focuses on forgiveness, what an interesting coincidence that this year it falls on the Sunday after the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on New York, Washington, and the plane that crashed in western Pennsylvania.

Whoa, most of us probably immediately think: How is it even conceivable to contemplate this topic near September 11th? One way out, of course, is to zoom in on the idea that Jesus told his disciples they were to forgive members of their own faith community (brothers/sisters, church, or however else that Greek word is translated), so this situation doesn’t apply. That feels like a cop-out to me.

Although it’s been more than a decade and a half (and consider what those years have brought, with war and economic catastrophe just for starters–plus record-shattering natural disasters with floods, earthquakes, and wildfires), those of us who lived through that day and the ones immediately following it have little trouble being transported back. The media replays those towers burning and crashing, people screaming and running and, soon, scouring the streets of New York City with posters of their missing loved ones.

The United States went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq (and wherever else the so-called “War on Terror” took it), which led to tens of thousands of other deaths, and easily dramatic changes in life and lifestyle to millions more. There’s Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and, eventually, Navy Seal Team 6 taking out Osama bin Laden on the direct orders of the President. We’ve changed presidencies from Bush 2 to Obama to Trump, yet the terrorists atacks and wars in the middle east go on. [Editor’s note: Since this was written we could add political polarization, racial tension and COVID-19.]

With all that not just in the background but in our faces, how can we possibly talk about forgiveness? Isn’t it too soon, too powerful, too sensitive, too whatever?

Someone once said that evil can imagine only itself. Righteousness, however, can imagine both good and evil. Forgiveness isn’t a feeling; it’s a decision–and a process at that.

And so the formula becomes Remember, Forgive, Repeat.

I recall reading the comments of someone whose loved one had died in the Twin Towers on 9/11. She wrote that every September as this anniversary rolls around it’s as if she has to live through her loved-one’s memorial service all over again. The pain and grief come rushing back. But she hopes, somehow, that each ensuing anniversary will bring some kind of closure to that, and that from that point on she can start replacing the pain of the past with hope for the future. I pray she can–and that so many others personally touched by 9/11 can do the same.


September 10, 2020

Introducing Philippians

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

As we begin a series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we remember that the apostle Paul introduced the Christians in Philippi to Jesus. As we read this letter he sent them, we begin with some introductions.

First, we are introduced to Paul and Timothy.

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, . . .

Philippians 1:1a NIV

At the time of writing, Paul is a prisoner, likely either in Ephesus or in Rome. This fact was well know to the Christians in Philippi who had in fact sent him a financial gift. In that time and place your friends and family needed to supply you with provisions if you were a prisoner. What we now know of as “The Book of Philippians” is actually a thank you note!

Interestingly, Paul describes himself first off, not as “stuck in prison,” but as a servant of Christ Jesus. His relationship with Jesus was of greater note than his relationship with the state. Never mind being captive of the state, more importantly, Paul is a servant, or better, slave, to Jesus.

The Christians in Philippi knew all about slavery, many of them either being slaves themselves, or owning slaves. They would all know that it is better to be a free person than a slave. However, Paul sees it as a mark of distinction.

This was all part and parcel of a new way of thinking because of Jesus who himself modelled servanthood:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:25-28 NIV

Paul will go on in the letter to encourage the Christians in Philippi, and us also, to be a people who think different because of Jesus.

Paul includes Timothy in his opening greeting. Timothy was not really known to be an apostle, certainly not in the way the twelve disciples were, or Paul, all of who had met the risen Jesus. Paul brings no attention to that by saying something like “From Paul the apostle, and Timothy my assistant.” No attention is drawn to Timothy’s “rank,” the assistant is included on an equal footing, as a partner.

Whatever our role may be in service to Jesus, we are partners in the good work Jesus is doing in and for the world. Whether we are playing what people think to be a big role, like the apostle Paul, or we are are playing what people think to a smaller role, like the assistant Timothy, we are partners. Whatever the Lord calls us to do, we are necessary and valued. Again, because of Jesus, we are to think differently.

Second, we are introduced to ourselves:

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, . . .

Philippians 1:1b NRSV

We might wonder what subset of Christians qualify to be known as “saints.” Some translations use the words “God’s people” but the most literal translation is “holy ones.” We are introduced, therefore, to all Christians, we are introduced to ourselves as saints or “holy ones.”

We might struggle to call ourselves saints or holy ones, but Paul can simply state it with confidence.

We may think, to be a saint I need to know more. Remember, the saints in Philippi don’t even have a full Bible yet. No doubt, some, perhaps many, would be illiterate. Yet they are saints, holy ones!

Of course digging into the Bible and growing in knowledge is part of growing in Christ, but not being well versed is not a hindrance to being a saint, a holy one.

I have a lot to learn as a bass player, especially scales and musical theory, but my lack of knowledge does not stop my bandmates from introducing me as their bass player. We are holy ones in Christ Jesus, not because we know a lot, but because Jesus makes it a reality.

We may think, to be a saint, I need to be better than I am. In Jesus we are on a journey of becoming better than we are, but we don’t need to wait for our arrival at the destination to be called “holy ones in Jesus.”

Though many would call me a decent bass player, I don’t play nearly as well as so many others, but that does not stop my bandmates from calling me their bass player. Being part of the band is not conditional on my achieving perfection, but on my bandmates saying I belong to the band.

We are holy ones in Christ Jesus, not because we have passed some sort of test for perfection, but because of the blood of Jesus, because of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, because God has included us, because God says we belong.

Third, we are introduced to church structure:

. . . together with the overseers and deacons:

Philippians 1:1c NIV

We see here the beginnings of organization. What we do not see is a complicated and complex organization. As I often half-jokingly say “I don’t like organized religion. That is why I am a Baptist, for we are the most disorganized group of people in the history of the world.”

There is a lot written in the writings of the New Testament about Jesus and how to be a follower of Jesus. There is very little written about organizations called “churches” and how to “do church.” The writings of the New Testament are far more interested in helping people grow in Jesus, than in setting up rules for organizations.

Let us keep it about Jesus and helping people grow in Jesus in our day. Let God call people to leadership. Let God call all of us to serve. Let’s not make it complicated.

Fourth, we are introduced to God:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:2 NIV

We are introduced to God as father.

Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we can now be included in the family of the one Creator God. Anyone and everyone has the opportunity to call God “father.”

Remember how the Lord’s prayer begins, a prayer the Christians in Philippi would have been instructed in; “Our father.” These would be meaningful words within a mainly non-Jewish city like Philippi. God is “our father,” and not just the father to the Jews.

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God

John 1:11-13 NIV

The other side of the coin, of course, was that the Creator God of the Jewish Scriptures is God, and the idols and gods of the Romans therefore, were not.

We are introduced to Jesus as Lord and Christ.

The primary creed of the early Christians was “Jesus is Lord.” This would be fitting for the non-Jewish believers in Philippi, many of whom were Roman citizens thanks to the city being a colony of Rome. While they may not know much about a Jewish messiah, or the Jewish Scriptures that point to the Messiah, they knew all about lords. Indeed they would be familiar with the idea that “Caesar is Lord.” Except, that he is not. Jesus rose from the dead showing that he is Lord, Caesar is not. Though being Roman is in their blood, they are now marching to the beat of a very different drummer. Again, in Jesus, it is time to think different.

Less familiar to the Romans in Philippi would be the notion of “Christ,” which is the Greek term for “Messiah” or “anointed one.” The Christians in Philippi were primarily non-Jewish, and they were not required to become Jewish, as we read about in Acts 15. The Jewish scriptures, however, were very important. The Hebrew Scriptures point to God fixing everything though his anointed one, the Christ, the Messiah. The term “Christ” may not have resonated with the Philippians as strongly as “Lord” did, but it was instructive. Though they were not becoming Jews, they were now to look to the Scriptures of the Jews as a source of truth.

We are also introduced to what happens when God comes to earth.

The Roman gods were known to be very fickle. But when the true God, the Creator God, and as it turns out, the only God, came to earth in Jesus, grace and peace became possible. “Grace and peace” was a common greeting in letters of the ancient world, but it is a loaded term on the lips of Paul, and a reality in Jesus Christ.

Do you need to be re-introduced?

  • To who Paul is, to what the New Testament is?
  • To yourself, who you are in Christ?
  • To God?

If so, join us in the weeks to come as we unpack Pauls’ letter to the Philippians, learning more about the impact of Jesus as we go.


This starts a new series; Clarke continues to explore Philippians next week. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced regular church worship at Clarke’s church. The reflection alone can be seen here.

September 9, 2020

Not Holding Back: Making God’s Plan-A Clear

Acts 20:27

For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. (NIV)

For I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know. (NLT)

Many times in the church, the leadership is asked to comment on the social issues of the day; including things that simply never existed at the time the scriptures were written; but also including things which were the same in their day as they are in our own.

A pastor may feel pressed to comment on homosexuality, but I guaranty that a minister who is in the least compassionate will temper that message, or at the very least phrase things very gently, if he knows there are lesbian or gay people in the congregation, or people who are related to (by being parents or brothers or sisters) someone with that orientation. Even the most conservative sermon approach will, I hope, offer God’s “Plan A” in a loving manner; and hopefully some will allow for the possibility of other interpretations where their theology and convictions permit.

When it comes to abortion, in a congregation of any measurable size, there is even more likelihood that someone listening to the pastor’s words have walked down that road. The sting of those memories is still strong, and dredging that up in a weekend worship service may seem like the last thing they needed.

This bring up the question of, ‘Why bother to address these things at all?’

There is some wisdom which must be credited to those who follow a Lectionary approach to preaching. Prescribed readings for each week offer a compendium of scriptures over a three year cycle. There aren’t “sermon series” topics running consecutive weeks, or room to maneuver the preaching focus to social issues or political ones.

That said though, the scriptures have application to so much of every day life. A pastor who goes off on a rant on abortion at least once a month runs the risk of appear obsessed on the topic, and as stated above, may be trampling on the sensitivities of individuals in the church. A pastor who ignores the possibility* that abortion grieves the heart of God runs the risk of making the Bible seem irrelevant to social issues and practical concerns.

[*Okay, more than possibility, but this is what I meant by speaking things gently. In fact, having presented some foundational scriptures, making the point in an interrogative form — “Do you think perhaps this grieves the heart of God?” — is probably closer to how Jesus would handle this.]

But on the off-chance your church doesn’t have people who are homosexual (or leaning in that direction) or have had an abortion (or are close to someone who did), it is entirely possible that you have people in your church who have been through divorce, or are even about to proceed in that direction. Statistically, it is far more likely.

The most cited phrase is “God hates divorce;” but notice the difference in two popular translations’ rendering of Malachi 2:16

“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the LORD Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.  NIV

“For I hate divorce!” says the LORD, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.”  NLT (NASB, NKJV, GNT, NET, are similar on the key phrase)

But even with the NIV rendering, it’s clear that God’s original “Plan A” was marriage for life.

“Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Mark 10:9 quoting Jesus

Some will ask, and the disciples did ask,

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

to which

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.  (Matthew 19: 7 above, and 8, NIV)

Even there we see grace, and in similar fashion grace* should be at the center of our proclamation.

[*Sadly some pastors don’t read Jesus this way and prescribe that people should stay together even in the middle of a physically abusive situation. Hardliners, including some pastors and authors whose names you would recognize, would insist that saying otherwise is creating situation ethics. But that’s a topic for another article.]

I mention all these things not because today’s devotional has in any way been an attempt to cover the subject of divorce, although if you’re interested in an exhaustive 3-part research piece on the effects of divorce on children, I encourage to read the one we ran here, here and here.

Rather, I am to say here that in the course of the life of a church congregation, certain topics should eventually surface in its preaching and teaching ministry, and at that point, one cannot avoid lovingly declaring “the whole counsel of God.”

So I want to end where we began:

Acts 20:27:

For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. (NIV)

For I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know. (NLT)

 

September 8, 2020

Looking for Lepers

Today we’re highlighting a new author, Lydia Shearin, who writes at Soli Deo Gloria. Because this was slightly edited for length, you’re encouraged to click the title below and read this excellent article at her site.

Just one Touch

I have heard people say that the COVID-19 pandemic has been the hardest on extroverts, who have been forced into social isolation by quarantine, and I know many introverts who would debate that statement, but I think we can all agree that there is one group of people who have been hit especially hard by all of the social distancing and safety measures:

Huggers.

We all know at least one of these people who thrive off of physical touch, and will hug anyone and everyone, from their friends and family to the grocery store clerk. To these people, hugs are the best way to communicate greeting, farewell, joy, empathy, sadness, and many more emotions…

…I can’t deny that there is something special about our sense of touch. Have you ever noticed how many different emotions we can communicate through a simple touch on the arm, or a squeeze of the hand? As humans, I don’t think that God intended for us to live 6ft apart from each other. We were meant to be spiritually, emotionally, and physically connected to one another.

As I was pondering these things this morning, I was reminded of a powerful story found in three of the Gospels (Mark 1:40-45, Matthew 8:1-4, and Luke 5:12-16); The story of a leper that Jesus healed. Here is Luke’s version of the story:

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him. Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Luke 5:12-16

I believe this is such a powerful story because it shows us the character of Jesus, and gives us insight into how he reacts to us when we bring him our brokenness.

At first glance, this my seem like just one of the many healing stories in the Bible, but for the Jews, Jesus’ response to the leper carries a whole different meaning. For him to reach out and touch a leper would have been shocking, to say the least, and ungodly, to say the worst. To understand this, we have to understand how serious having leprosy was in Jewish times. In those days, leprosy had no cure. You could not just grab some prescription anti-itch cream and put it on. People did not realize that the disease was caused by a bacterial infection that could be easily spread, but they did know that it was very contagious, and so lepers were avoided at all costs. Because leprosy seemed to appear out of the blue, a person who had leprosy was often considered to be stricken and punished by God himself.

If you go back to the Old Testament and read Leviticus 13, you will see that there was a rigorous process to figure out if someone had leprosy, and the chapter lists some of the symptoms to watch out for. I will spare you the nauseating details in case some of you are eating lunch, but trust me when I say that it was bad. Regardless, at the end of that chapter, we get a picture of what life would have been like for a leper:

 “Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.”

Leviticus 13:45-46

If a person was found to have a skin disease, they were to be isolated outside of normal society. They couldn’t work, no one could visit them, and no one could touch them. Because of the nature of the disease, they were either in pain or in an unbearable state of numbness all the time, and they had to depend on the generosity of others for their daily food and money. Not only that, their appearance was a badge of shame, as they were required to tear their clothes, wear their hair unkempt and call out that they were ill so that no one would come near them. Imagine if we did that today with other ailments. Imagine having to walk into a grocery store shouting, “Move everybody, lady with cancer coming through!” or “Don’t come near me, I have Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicavolcanoconiosis!” (yes, that is a real disease)   Imagine not being able to see your loved ones or hug your children for years.

In this context, Jesus’ choice to touch the leper was unimaginably shocking, but also so loving. Imagine, after not being able to touch anyone for years, the first touch you feel is that of your savior. that’s powerful. You can be sure that that leper never forgot Jesus’s touch.

But that is not all. There is another deeper, spiritual level to the story. Not only did Jesus heal the man’s body, I believe he forgave the man’s sin and healed his soul as well. That’s a big statement; let me explain. You may have noticed that after Jesus proclaimed the words, “Be clean” over the leper, he commanded the man to go and offer the sacrifices commanded by Moses for cleansing. Why? Not to receive spiritual or physical cleansing (he had already received that), but as “a testimony to them [the priests, scribes and pharisees]”…

…So when Jesus touched the man, he brought him ceremonial cleansing as well as physical cleansing. Yay! But there is one caveat: Anyone who touched a leper was considered to be defiled. In Leviticus 5:3-6 it says:

3 or if they touch human uncleanness (anything that would make them unclean) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt; 4 or if anyone thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil (in any matter one might carelessly swear about) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt— 5 when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned. 6 As a penalty for the sin they have committed, they must bring to the Lord a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for them for their sin.” 

According to the law of Moses, If a Jew touches someone who is unclean, he defiles himself and must offer a sin offering to the Lord to be right with him. So when Jesus touched this leper, he literally took upon himself the man’s uncleanliness. Now, although the man has become ceremonially clean from Jesus’ healing touch, Jesus would be considered by the priests and other Jews to be ceremonially unclean. He would not be able to have full communion with God in the temple until he had made the correct sacrifices for sin. But we know something that the Jews of that time didn’t know: Jesus didn’t need to make sacrifices to be reconciled with God after touching the man’s uncleanliness, because he was the sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world! Nevertheless, bearing all these factors in mind, it was a deliberate and conscious choice by Jesus to touch this man!

How easy would it have been for Jesus to simply call out to the man from a distance, “You are healed”? He had healed people from a distance before; he would later heal the centurion’s slave from a different part of the city. No one would have thought anything if Jesus stood back at a safe distance and spoke healing over him. The man would have still rejoiced, and the people would have still been amazed. But for this man, love meant reaching out and touching him. Love meant taking the man’s filth onto himself.

How often does God treat us the same way? When we bring ourselves to him, with all of our filth and sin and shame, does God turn away in horror? Does he stand at a safe distance from us and shout “Be Clean”? No. When we fall before his feet with nothing but lust, pride, envy and all the other infectious sins that we bear, he reaches out and pulls us close. He touches us, and takes all of our uncleanliness upon himself so that we can be clean before God.

Praise God we have a savior who is not afraid to get his hands dirty!

Yet we as Christians are often so unlike our Savior. We are quick to judge, but loath to lift a finger to help. When we encounter broken people with messy lives we say, “I don’t want to get into all of that.” We hide behind the walls of our church buildings and proclaim a gospel of radical love that we don’t live, while outside our doors there are hurting people who need the touch of a Savior. When God brings hurting, messy, unbeleivers into our lives, we try to love them from a distance, secretly worrying that their ways will rub off on us and our children.

Well guess what, Christians: Real love is messy.

If you want the Lord to use you to touch people, you must first get close enough to them to touch them yourself. And I don’t mean just physically close enough- I’m talking about removing some of the emotional “protection” barriers we put up and really loving people. And yes, they might curse a lot. And yes, they might have a drinking problem. And yes, you might loose some money, or “waste” some time, or get a little hurt, but love always costs something and if we want to be like Jesus we need to learn to accept the cost.

So my question for you today is this: Who is the leper in your life?

September 7, 2020

For Those Needing Encouragement

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A devotional website which has been a great inspiration to me, as well as the source of many articles here, is Daily Encouragement, written (and recorded on audio) weekdays by Stephen and Brooksyne Weber of Pennsylvania. Their devotional writing, combined with their workplace chaplaincy ministry is a full-time job.

Today’s post is in many respects a “signature” devotional, which covers the topic in their site’s name. I encourage you to click through and enjoy the flavor of what they post every day, including personal notes and video links. Click the title below to start.

Paying Encouragement Forward

Listen to this message on your audio player.

“But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. His presence was a joy, but so was the news he brought of the encouragement he received from you” (2 Corinthians 7:6,7).

What a surprise blessing to be the recipient of someone “paying it forward”. The simplest way to define “pay it forward” is that when someone does something for you, instead of paying that person back directly, you pass it on to another person instead. An example is buying a coffee for the person in line behind you at the coffee shop and then they buy a coffee for the person behind them and so on (which really seems to me “paying it backward”).

Today let us consider “paying encouragement forward”.

I have on my heart today those who may be in need of encouragement. It may be a painful loss resulting in difficult major adjustments ahead such as those who recently experienced a very damaging hurricane in the Gulf Coast. It may be the sense of despair many feel as we see the crumbling conditions around us. It may be the loneliness so many of our seniors and others feel as this covid season goes on and on. We all need a mighty dose of God’s encouragement. Many of you reading this know of similar situations and in fact some of you are now in that place of need.

Today’s verse reminds us again of the power of God to bring encouragement and encourage others. The verse before indicates Paul’s need, For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn–conflicts on the outside, fears within (7:5). Have you ever felt that way? I sure have. I believe we all have! And I thank God for people who refresh us like Titus.

He is one of the many ministry associates of Paul with whom we have little background information. He is referenced several times in 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 2 Timothy and most famously in the book written to him that bears his name. It seems his ministry spanned quite a few years indicating that he remained faithful.

The daily verse begins: But God, who encourages those who are discouraged“. Foundationally, God is the Ultimate Encourager. During a time of deep despair David felt strengthened and encouraged in the Lord his God (1 Samuel 30:6). What a blessing that we can get encouragement directly from God.

Encouraged us by the arrival of Titus“. The operative agent used by God to bring encouragement (Greek “parakaleo”, often translated “comfort”) to Paul was Titus. He was returning with news concerning the Corinthian believers who had been severely rebuked in an earlier letter. Titus’ report brought Paul joy because, he told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever (7:7b).

His presence was a joy, but so was the news he brought of the encouragement he received from you.” What does Paul mean by this?

1) It could be that he was heartened at the results of his teaching in the lives of the Corinthian believers, how that they had encouraged Titus. In ministry we are so blessed to see Christ-like fruit in the lives of those to whom we have ministered.

2) It could be in the sense that Titus would have been unable to bring encouragement to Paul if he himself had not been encouraged by the Corinthians believers.

We are all aware of people who may be downcast today, people who need their day brightened. Could our actions or words, or the combination of both be an encouragement to someone in need, just as Titus was used of God to bring encouragement to Paul. He had received encouragement from the Corinthian believers and in turn reciprocated by transmitting that encouragement to Paul. The encouragement we share might be in the form of a visit, a phone call, or a brief e-mail message or text assuring the recipient of our interest and prayer. Indeed, let us practice paying encouragement forward today!

Be encouraged today.

Daily prayer: Father, sometimes we are frustrated by what little we have to offer others when we compare ourselves with those who are greatly talented or have a special way with words, or even those who may have financial resources to bless others in ways that we cannot. But we are not limited in reaching out to one who may be looking for a reason to smile or to the one who simply needs a helping hand. Paul indicated that the comfort You dispensed to Titus, was then transmitted to him, and then he passed it onto the Corinthian church. We pray for the prompting of the Holy Spirit to show us ways that we can encourage those around us so that it will naturally be passed on to others as well. We pray for this through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

September 6, 2020

God’s Five Senses… and Ours

by Ruth Wilkinson

Gen 1:26-27
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…”
He created humanity in the image of God;
—male and female He created them.

It’s important to know this: He is not like us. We are like Him.

Although God is infinite, since we’re made in his image, our five senses, “tasting, touching, hearing, seeing, and breathing” can, even with our constrained reality help us begin to understand an infinite God and by beginning to understand Him, we begin to understand ourselves and what He wants from and for us.

►►Each of the reflections below ends with a question beginning “What do you want?” We can ask ourselves how God wants to inform us through those senses.


Sight

definition: to look at, observe, consider; requires distance, even objectivity

The LORD looks down from heaven;
He sees all human beings.
From His dwelling place He gazes
on all who inhabit the earth. Gen 33:13-14

The picture here is that God is observing, standing back, at a distance, aware and watching carefully, taking in what is happening in Creation.

You are the God who sees.
You stand apart and observe, your eyes witness and consider our lives.
You made us like you – with objectivity and insight.

Prayer: What do you want me to see?


Sound

definition: to hear, pay attention to; requires closeness and attention

The LORD is far from the wicked,
but He hears the prayer of the righteous. Prov 15:29

The book of Proverbs often presents contrasts; here the righteous are contrasted with the wicked. This picture goes beyond distance and detachment. God comes close. He doesn’t just know what’s going on, but is paying attention, and even doing what He’s asked.

You are the God who hears.
You come close and actively listen.
You made us like you–to silence our own voices and turn our ear toward you and each other.

Prayer: What do you want me to hear?


Taste

definition: to identify, classifying or discerning i.e. by eating

“I know you,” says the Lord. “You are neither cold nor hot….
…because you are lukewarm, I am about to spit you out of My mouth!” Rev 3:15-16

Our picture of God expands; goes beyond observing, beyond hearing. God is discerning, identifying, judging the difference between good and bad. Healthy and poisonous. True and false…

“…For the ear tests words
as the mouth tastes food.” Job 34:2-3

You are the God who tastes.
You judge our thoughts and intentions.
You made us like you–to recognize that not everything in our hearts or in the world is loving or true.

Prayer: What do you want me to taste?


Smell

definition: to detect the presence of by inhaling; implies and requires breathing

May my prayer be set before you as incense,
my raised hands an offering. Psalm 141:2

To God, we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved
and among those who are perishing. 2 Cor 2:15

This picture goes beyond the previous senses; beyond observing, beyond listening, beyond judging. God is taking a deep breath, drawing us into Himself and finding pleasure in
• our words and gifts to him
• and to the people around us.
• the ways in which we express our love and our faith.

You are the God who breathes in our fragrance.
You absorb the gifts we give in love.
You made us like you–to inhale the goodness of the world, of each other, and of You.

Prayer: What do you want me to smell?


Touch

definition: to interact with in a physical way, especially with hands

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life.
You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes; with your right hand you save me. Psalm 138:7

He observes, He listens, He judges, He accepts us and He gets involved. He acts. His strength and compassion engage, and interact with the world. Opposing the wrong. Saving the vulnerable.

You are the God who touches.
You create, build, defend, tear down.
You made us like you –to touch the world, uphold the good, resist the wrong, protect the vulnerable.

Prayer: What do you want me to touch?


God gives us each different gifts and priorities. If we get to know Him, we come to understand better what He calls us each to bring to the world and His Church. Take time to consider where you best can work alongside Him.

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