Christianity 201

April 28, 2017

Benedictions and Blessings

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:37 pm
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This is a topic that came up in a discussion earlier in the week. At FaithAndWorship.com we read:

The tradition of a blessing or benediction as part of an act of worship has been a part of Jewish worship for generations, and we can trace it back to the book of Numbers where Aaron and his sons bless the Israelites with this blessing :

“The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace. ”
(Numbers 6:24-26)

Interestingly this is apparently the oldest known Biblical text that has been found; amulets with these verses written on them have been found in graves in dating from the First Temple Period, and are now in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

At Benediction.net we’re informed that

It is pronouncement of divine blessing given in the Bible. It represents a joyful, unifying call to faith, patience, and practice for the faithful, based on the Certainty, divine Principle, God.

A benediction is a short, concise statement given in the Bible in the form of a petition, an assurance, a promise or principle. It voices images of protection, or comfort, or abundance, or some other word of assurance.

The word benediction means to say good, to voice good thoughts, to pronounce. What makes good thoughts good is that they are based on Truth, based on Principle, God. Whatever is true fulfills itself. Good is the inevitable result of the certainty and righteousness of Truth, God, who is all good.

The reading aloud of a benediction at the conclusion of a church service is joy expressed, and cherished, and shared with the all in its hearing. It is a feast.

They also list a number of Biblical benedictions. In fairness, I’m not going to reproduce all of them, but here’s about half:

1. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore. Psalms 121:7,8

2. Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost. Romans 15:13

3. Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5,6

4. The Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace. Psalms 29:11

5. Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you. And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you; to the end he may stablish your heart unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.   I Thessalonians 3:11-13

6. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:7

7. God shall supply all you need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.   Philippians 4:19,20

8. The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. Philippians 4.23

9. Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue. II Peter 1:2,3

10. Blessed be the Lord for evermore. Amen and Amen. Psalms 89:52

11. Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.   Jude 1:24,25

12. Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Hebrews 13:20,21

Jumping back to our first source, Benedictions and Blessings offers some contemporary alternatives; again here are about half of them:

May God the Father
prepare your journey,
Jesus the Son
guide your footsteps,
The Spirit of Life
strengthen your body,
The Three in One
watch over you,
on every road
that you may follow.

May the peace of God enfold us,
The love of God uphold us,
The wisdom of God control us.

Let the majesty of the Father
be the light by which you walk,
the compassion of the Son
be the love by which you walk,
the presence of the Spirit
be the power by which you walk.
The love of God be the passion
in your heart.
The joy of God your strength
when times are hard .
The presence of God a peace
that overflows.
The Word of God the seed
that you might sow.

Perhaps the next time you feel an impulse to say, “God bless you” to someone, you might want to refine that, to speak into their lives particular things and particular areas where they might see that blessing take place. Think of it as praying over them, and make that prayer specific.

…Today’s devotional has ended. Go in peace!

April 27, 2017

Investigating Jesus: Not Jumping to Conclusions

by Clarke Dixon

Some people see the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus as a matter of faith, and by faith they mean “belief despite the lack of evidence.” However, is this really how we define faith? Consider the things we trust, like a chair when we sit, or a car when we depend on it to get us somewhere. We don’t give much thought to whether the chair or car will let us down because we have evidence; they don’t normally let us down. When they begin to show some wear and tear, then our trust may wane, but here again this distrust is due to evidence. Consider the people you trust and those you do not trust. They have have likely earned your trust or distrust and you can probably point to evidence as to why your trust or lack thereof is reasonable. So too, trust in Jesus is a reasonable step to take based on evidence. Back to Easter, is there any evidence that the resurrection of Jesus happened? Can we put our trust in Jesus, not despite the evidence, but rather based of it?

J. Warner Wallace was an atheist when he became a cold-case detective, so we can rely on him to be very capable in handling evidence and eyewitness testimony. Follow his works in print and online and you will discover that he came to trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, not despite the evidence, but based on it. In our current series we are going to lean upon Wallace as we investigate the evidence for Jesus. I encourage you to read his books for yourself, Cold Case Christianity, and God’s Crime Scene and visit his website. For readers from our church family, our Sunday School children will be working their way through Cold-Case Christianity for Kids.

The first thing we learn from Wallace about conducting an investigation, is to never jump to conclusions. Let me give an example. Suppose you are a detective and you are called to the scene of a death. On the way you learn that it is me. Your first thought is “who would want to murder the pastor?” Knowing me well you think you know what happened. You arrive at my house, and, sure enough there I am at a table with all kinds of Easter chocolate wrappings. That confirms what you were thinking; Clarke has died from chocolate poisoning.  Additionally, there are no signs of the windows being tampered with. You conclude that this is not a murder scene and that your work here is done. You think you can explain the evidence by staying inside the room, there is no need to look outside for a murderer. Case closed.

This is what happens when people try to explain “who Jesus really was” or try to “get back to the historical Jesus” from a  purely naturalistic viewpoint. There are many books, documentaries and other media that do this. They evaluate the evidence but only allow for explanations that don’t include the possibility of any kind of supernatural occurrence or “Anyone out there”. Evaluating the evidence for Jesus without allowing a supernatural explanation  is to begin the investigation with a conclusion. Beginning with a conclusion is not a good way to discover truth.

The policewoman who was first on the scene asks you what you think about the gunshot wound. Oops, you missed some evidence. She also points out that no gun was found and the front door was unlocked. When I said you were a detective, I didn’t say you were a very good one! The evidence is pointing “outside the room” for an explanation. This is now a murder scene and someone out there is responsible.

Is there “Someone out there” when it comes to Jesus? Should the truth seeking person consider all the explanations for the resurrection of Jesus including the supernatural one? But we all know dead people don’t rise from the dead, you say. Yes, that is true, but when you understand the story of God as related in the documents that make up the Bible, then you will know that we should not expect to see people raised from the dead to a new kind of life in past history except for this one time. Can we rule out the supernatural? Can we rule out God’s involvement? Can we rule out God’s existence?

J. Warner Wallace has written a second book where he writes about the evidence for the supernatural, and indeed not just for the supernatural, but for the existence of a personal God. I encourage you to read the book for yourself, as I cannot explain adequately here the eight lines of evidence pointing to the existence of God. All I can do is whet your appetite:

  1. Science and philosophy point to a beginning and if there is a beginning – then something or Someone caused it.
  2. The universe gives the appearance of being “fine-tuned” for life. So many different circumstances are “just right” for life to be possible on earth.
  3. Life had a beginning, and a lot of information is involved with proteins and DNA. The existence of God as creator is the best explanation for the beginning of life.
  4. There are signs of design in biology with living creatures and even the smallest of cells demonstrating complexity, intricacy, and purpose. This points to a Designer.
  5. We have an experience of consciousness. How do we get from brain matter to mental states? No one has been able to figure out the relationship between the two, however this is not a quandary for God.
  6. We experience free will. Purely naturalistic explanations do not allow for free will. This does not fit with our experience, or our legal system.
  7. We appeal to moral absolutes. Moral truth is grounded in the reflection of the nature of a perfect Being.
  8. We experience evil. Evil can only exist if there is a Divine Being who is Good.

All this evidence found within the universe points to a Being outside the universe. And what’s more, each of these add to our understanding of that Being as Wallace relates:

The evidence we’ve identified in the universe is best explained by an external suspect, and given the nature of this evidence, our suspect is clearly nonspatial, atemporal, nonmaterial, and uncaused. Our suspect is also powerful enough to create everything we see in the universe and purposeful enough to produce a universe fine-tuned for life. Our suspect is intelligent and communicative, creative and resourceful. As a conscious Mind, our suspect is there personal source of moral truth and obligation and the standard of goodness. (J. Warner Wallace God’s Crime Scene)

This is what we understand from looking at the universe. Please note that we have not even cracked open a Bible yet! That being said, does the description fit with Someone you may have heard about?

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.Genesis 1:1-3 (NRSV)

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21 for though they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools . . .Romans 1:19-22 (NRSV)

Since studying what we find in the universe points us to the supernatural, we should not be ruling out the possibility of a supernatural explanation for Jesus, his teaching, his miracles, and his resurrection. Even more precisely, what we see by looking the evidence in the universe points us not just to the “supernatural” but to a Supreme Being that fits the description of God in the Bible. Therefore, when that grand story of the Bible includes the resurrection of one man from the dead, we will want to pay particular attention to the possibility of the supernatural in his case. You might acquiesce with “I suppose anything is possible, but it is still not probable.” Hold onto that thought for now and allow the possibility. Next week we will begin looking at the proposed explanations of the resurrection of Jesus and start thinking about what we may consider to be “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Please don’t assume that the only way I could die would be by chocolate poisoning. And please do not assume that nothing supernatural ever happens and Jesus is not risen. Let’s not jump to conclusions too quickly!


Read more from Clarke at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

April 26, 2017

Who Was Thomas Doubting?

John 20:24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

This is actually part two of two posts by Jon Swanson at 300 Words a Day who we linked to many times in the early days of C201. A link to part one is found in the first paragraph, but I especially appreciated the insight found in this part of his study on Thomas.

More on Thomas

(Part two of a message from April 23, based on John 20:19-31. See part one.)

And we say, “But what about Thomas’ statement when he heard about the night?” He says, “unless I see his hands and side, and I touch him, I won’t believe.”

That’s the sure sign of a doubter, right?

May I ask a question? Who is he doubting? Jesus? Or is he doubting Peter? The man who had said he would stick with Jesus and then denied him. Is he doubting Nathaniel, who had been the original doubter of Jesus? Is he doubting the word of a bunch of guys who are never recorded as saying anything at all?

Thomas had no reason to trust these guys who talked to him about seeing the hands and side of Jesus. So when he says, “unless I see” he’s not doubting Jesus, not necessarily. But he is doubting them. He’s wanting the same evidence that they say they received.

And Jesus knew. Because Jesus loved Thomas. Jesus wanted him to believe, to trust. So a week or so later, Jesus gave Thomas the evidence that he wanted. Jesus appeared. He offered his hands. And Thomas believed. He didn’t even have to touch.

Because he was known by Jesus, I think. The person who had called him by name years before. The person who had fed him, taught him, walked with him, died in front of him, was alive and calling him by name. With gentle scolding and clear conversation.

Some of us resonate with Thomas.

We are active people, willing to move ahead, even in risky times. We, or I should say, “you”, don’t much care about the resisters, about the opposition, about those who are making threats. You are practical people, aware that if you die, you die, because everyone does some time.

But you have questions. You’d love to have the kind of evidence that other people say they have. Just once, you’d like to hear a voice from heaven like other people claim to have. Just once, you’d like to see the evidence of Jesus that other people claim they have.

Not miracles, not healing necessarily, not everything going great.

You just want to know that God knows you. For who you are. And to you, the story of Thomas says, “just say it.” Just tell Jesus that you’d like to hear him in the way that you can know it’s him.

And I’m confident that you will. If and as you listen.

I’m a little envious of Thomas, by the way. His honesty, his perseverance, his courage. Those were things the people who knew him saw. The rest of the disciples I mean. And Jesus.

People who lack discernment may call him, and you, “doubter”.

But Jesus doesn’t. After he said to stop doubting, He calls you friend.

And maybe you are ready to take steps that Thomas didn’t at first. You can take the words of the rest of the disciples-and Thomas-that this is Jesus, died and risen. And God.

April 25, 2017

Got Questions for God? God Has Questions for You

A year later, we’re back to the website Forward >> Progress, written by Michael Kelley an in-house writer for LifeWay. This is a writer who offers great content daily and I encourage you to check it out by clicking the title below and then clicking the “blog” tab at the top of his page.

How God Uses Questions in the Bible

Most every parent has gone through the sweetly annoying stage of questions from their children. These are the days when kids seem to have an inexhaustible curiosity, and the correspondingly inexhaustible list of inquiries to go along with it. The questions range from why the sky is blue, to why certain animals have spots when others don’t, to why we have to eat our vegetables.

The questions come in a flurry during that season of life – one right after the other, until most of the time the parent says that he or she has dispensed enough information for the day.

Now the reason kids ask these questions, at least in the purest sense, is because they lack information. They are sponges, wanting to soak up every bit of information that we, as the parents, have to give them. They assume that we, because we are their parents, actually are in possession of all this information and will freely give it to them.

Parents ask their children questions, too, albeit for different reasons. Sometimes we ask our kids things because we feel distant from them. We want more than anything for our children to open up and share not only about what’s going on in their lives, but how it makes them feel. So questions for us are not really about information; they’re more about intimacy. And we have such a strong desire for this intimacy that we can ask questions back to our children with the same frequency and intensity they once upon a time employed with us.

The badgered becomes the badgerer.

The same action – asking questions – is employed, but there is a different purpose behind it.

Now consider the fact that God, too, is a question asker. We see this happen many times in Scripture:

  • When Adam and Eve first sinned, God responded with a question: “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9).
  • When Adam and Eve presented themselves, God asked Eve directly, “What is this you have done?” (Gen. 3:13).
  • When God responded to Job’s accusations, He used a series of questions beginning with, “Where were you when I…?” (Job 38:4).
  • When Jonah was angry that God did what Jonah feared He would – relent on His punishment of the Ninevites – God asked him twice: “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4).
  • When the people said Jesus was a prophet or a reincarnation of John the Baptist, He asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15).

The list could go on. In each case, God is asking a question. And because questions serve different purposes, depending on the occasion, we might wonder what God’s intent is in asking these questions

Well, we know first of all what His intent is not. We know that the question is not informational in nature because God already knows the answer. In fact, God actually knows the facts of every situation better than the people involved in the situation. And here we find one of the great purposes of God in His asking of questions.

God uses questions to force us to confront our own hearts. He questions us not because He needs to know and understand something about what’s going on, but because He wants us to know and understand the truth of what’s going on. Through questions, God forces us to turn our gaze on ourselves, our hearts, and our motivations. He makes us look deeply into ourselves, knowing that He already knows, and then own up to that which we have either been unable or unwilling to see previously.

As He did in the garden, God might ask us, “Where are you?” not because He doesn’t know, but because He wants us to bring into the light the fear and shame that keeps us in hiding.

Or as He did with Jonah, God might force us to confront our own bias and prejudice and bitterness so that we might, through His compassion and grace, actually move past it.

Or as Jesus did with the disciples, God might ask us again and again who He is not because He has forgotten, but because He wants us to form the discipline in ourselves of speaking the truth of His character to our doubts over and over again.

So God questions us. Not because He doesn’t know, but because He wants us to know. And when God asks us a question today, I wonder if we will be courageous enough to answer it. Because doing so will not mean calling up a new piece of information; doing so will mean confronting the truth about ourselves.

 

April 24, 2017

Water for the Thirsty and the Great Co-Mission

Today we’re again paying a return visit to David McGee who writes at Cross the Bridge which is carried on his own website as well as at Lightsource.com. There are two shorter devotions today and we’ve posted the link for each.

Give Me Some Water

John 4:15

“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me some of that water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to haul water.”
NLT

The Israelites and Samaritans lived in a dry, thirsty land; in a desert. It is hard for many of us to imagine how valuable water is in such a desperate place. Yet, we live in a spiritually dry and thirsty land; we are often oblivious to the lack.

I wonder how many times a day someone tells us they are thirsty. Perhaps not “Please give me some of that water,” but they put it another way. When they speak of problems with their children, troubles in their marriage, trials in their life, they are really saying, “I am thirsty.” When they are short tempered, worn out and angry, they are saying they don’t know how to quench their thirst. I also wonder how many times we don’t really understand their plea and their thirst. How many times we walk past opportunities to minister to them. Look for the thirsty and look for the dry. Hear their cries and offer them living water.

Life Lesson: We should be pouring out to the world what God has poured into us.

Dear God,
Thank You for loving me so much that You allow me to serve You. Lord, I lift this land up to You and ask You to raise up workers for the harvest. You offer the water that completely quenches our need and You offer it abundantly and freely. Open the hearts of this world to Your gift and allow me to play a part in the quenching of this thirsty world. I thank You that the results are in Your almighty hands. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Great Co-Mission

Ephesians 5:14
Therefore He says: “Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light.”

NKJV

The scriptures teach us that we have light when we are in Christ. When we have His light we have His insight. We can begin to see the world the way that He does and love people that way that He loves us.

Matt 28:18-20
18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
NKJV

Jesus was the lamb without blemish offered up for our sacrifice. Jesus, through His sacrifice, has now made us the bride of Christ without blemish also. Because of this we can begin to look at other believers the way that He looks at us ñ without blemish, with no condemnation. And for those who haven’t yet come to the Lord we offer the message of our Messiah, the Gospel, to share in eternal life. Have you invited someone to hear the Gospel or to be a disciple at your church recently?

Life Lesson: Your mission is to reach and teach: to evangelize and disciple.

Lord, thank You for Your sacrifice so that I might be without blemish. Please forgive me when I fail to allow Your light to shine through me to the dying world around me. Give me the power to see things and do things with the same heart that You have for me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

April 23, 2017

Unless You Repent

by Russell Young

Unless you repent you too will all perish.” (Lk 13:5 NIV) Jesus spoke these words while addressing the people of Jerusalem. The words sound very much like those that John the Baptist would have proclaimed. The need of God for repentance is very clear. Repentance requires a person to recognize an attitude or an act as being offensive to God, to seek forgiveness, and to discontinue its practice. Paul told King Agrippa, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove (perform repeatedly) their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20 NIV) Paul did not teach that a single act of repentance was acceptable, but that a person’s life practices were to change.

In truth, there is not much preaching today concerning the need for repentance. One is more apt to hear proclaim the need to invite Jesus into his or her heart, following which he will meet their need for eternal salvation and a blessed life. The call to repentance during the “camp meetings” of past years has been displaced by the overarching love of God. Rather than admonishing “believers” to walk circumspectly, to “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12), to be humble before God, to honour and obey the Lord, believers are being told that they are to trust God because they are loved by him.

Repentance requires that the believer walk closely with his or her Lord so that his voice can be heard and his heart known. Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice.” (Jn 10:27 NIV) He also said, “When [the Spirit] comes he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” (Jn 16:8 NIV) It is easy to restrict the Lord’s teaching of repentance to those who are acknowledged as not knowing him, who have not “invited him into their heart,” but the world includes those who have made a confession of faith as well. Sin is sin, it is rebellion against God’s government and those who do not repent of their evil deeds will one day do so on their knees before him. Sin is to be acknowledged as the Spirit leads to its awareness; it is to be acknowledged and humbly confessed. “John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9 NIV) Repentance is not conveyed merely by the mouth but is demonstrated by the deeds that follow.

In spite of teaching that negates a walk of righteousness or of “walking in the light” (1 Jn 1:7 NIV), the Lord requires righteousness leading to holiness. (Rom 6:19) The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New. The God that punished sin in the Old is the same God who will punish it even at the end. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please the sinful nature from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7-8 NIV) Christ’s admonition was that unless a person repents, they too will die. Do not be deceived!

Christ also revealed that “[The brothers] have overcome [their accuser] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Rev 12:11 NIV) Overcoming Satan requires the word of their testimony as well as the blood of Christ. The testimony of their lives, their deeds, loudly proclaimed the word of God. (Note that he did not say, ‘the testimony of their word,’ but “the word of their testimony.”) The righteous manner in which the believer lives his or her life is important.

When asked if only a few people were going to be saved, Christ replied, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24 NIV) Note that the Lord required an “effort” to enter his Kingdom. Some will not put forth the required “effort” an will be left outside. The effort requires a victorious walk using all that the Lord has provided, especially his indwelling presence as Spirit. “He who overcomes will inherit all of this (life in the New Jerusalem), and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Rev 21:7 NIV) Victory can only be accomplished by defeating those practices and by disposing of those attitudes that are offensive to God through repentance and the demonstration of that repentance through a person’s deeds. God’s love does not cover defiance and rebellion which is blasphemy of the Spirit. In the end the believer is to be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Rom 8:29) by walking as Jesus walked. (1 Jn 2:6)


Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

April 22, 2017

The Essence of Our Lives: To God and To the World

Once again we’re paying a return visit to the daily devotional section of the online Bible resource Blue Letter Bible and also returning to the subsection, Pastor Bob Hoekstra’s Day by Day by Grace.  These are related devotionals which ran a day apart and so we’re including links for both parts.

A Fragrance of Christ to God

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge…For we are to God the fragrance of Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:14-15)

In addition to the characteristic of triumphant living, God also wants to develop in our lives the fragrance of Christ. “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge.”

Just as there are physical fragrances that can be noticed by our physical senses, there are also spiritual fragrances that can impact us spiritually. If a woman generously applies perfume to herself, others will certainly notice the fragrance of that perfume. If a person consistently presses on to know the Lord, others will definitely be impacted by the fragrance of His knowledge.” This is described as the fragrance of Christ.” This is that spiritual aroma that emanates from the lives of those who are getting to know the Lord. It is a validating reality that the Lord Jesus Christ is dwelling in their lives and is being evidenced through their lives.

As we are getting to know the Lord more and more, this spiritual aroma of Christ blesses even God Himself. “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ.” Yes, God is the first one who savors this Christlike fragrance.

Our ministry and testimony is always primarily unto the Lord. We who believe in Jesus Christ are to be finding out what is acceptable to the Lord (Ephesians 5:10). We are not here on earth to please ourselves. “Do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). We are here to please our God. “Brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God (1 Thessalonians 4:1).

What ultimately pleases our heavenly Father is His beloved Son. When the Father looked down from heaven at the baptism of His Son, He exclaimed, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased (Matthew 3:17). When our Father looks down upon our lives today, He wants to enjoy the fragrance of His Son emanating forth from our lives. “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ.

Heavenly Father, I long to bless You by the fragrance of Christ through my life. I am sorry that the stench of selfish flesh is what sometimes emanates from me. Lord, help me to get to know You more and more, so that the knowledge of You can produce the aroma of Christ in and through me, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

A Fragrance of Christ to Every Person

Now thanks be to God who…through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death to death, and to the other the aroma of life to life. (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

The fragrance of Christ is one of the great characteristics that God wants to build into our lives by His grace. “Now thanks be to God who… through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge.” This spiritual aroma, which results from getting to know the Lord, blesses the heart of God. “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ.” The Father loves to see the life of His Son being expressed in and through our humanity, even though this requires our dying to self. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh (2 Corinthians 4:11).

As we are getting to know the Lord more and more, our God is not the only one who is impacted. This spiritual aroma of Christ impacts every person we meet. “God…through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.” This includes both the saved and the unsaved. “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”

This fragrance affects those who know the Lord: “the fragrance of Christ…among those who are being saved.” For those who are enjoying life in Christ, that heavenly scent in our lives is “the aroma of life to life.” Christ’s fragrance in us draws them to seek abundant measures of that life which they have already entered.

This spiritual scent also influences those who do not yet know our Lord: “the fragrance of Christ…among those who are perishing.” To them it is “the aroma of death to death.” They are dead in their sins, and this aroma makes them more aware of their deadness, more aware of their need for Christ.

When this fragrance is emanating from our lives, we are not the cause. God is the active agent, working in and through us to bring forth this heavenly scent. “Now thanks be to God who…through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge.” This work of God’s grace is available to us every day we live and every place we go: “the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.”

Father God, I long to know You more and more. I want to have this fragrance of Christ emanating up to You and out to every one I meet. I praise You that this is a work You do by Your grace. So, I humbly bow, trusting You to work in me this way, through Christ, my Lord, Amen.

 

April 21, 2017

Intentional Followership

Today we’re paying a fourth visit to Paul Steele at the blog Paul’s Ponderings. Usually at this point I encourage you to click the title below to read at source, but I also want to point you to a blog post Paul did in the form of an infographic. Before or after you’re done here, check out 6 Helpful Scriptures to Guide our Choices.

3 Components to Spiritual Formation

Intention in spiritual formation is essential. Our faith cannot, and will not, remain static. Every day our spirits are either being molded into the likeness of Jesus or into the likeness of the world.

Passivity is not an option.

Without intentional action our spirits will be conformed to the way of the world. If we are not moving towards Christ we are moving away from him.

The Apostle Peter was very aware of the importance of spiritual formation.

In 2 Peter 3:17-18 he wrote:

I am warning you ahead of time, dear friends. Be on guard so that you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen. (NLT)

There is a great danger in not being intentional about our spiritual formation in Jesus Christ.

Peter pointed out 3 dangers that we face when we are not serious about our spiritual formation:  (1) losing our faith, (2) being led astray, and (3) living in error.

No matter how strong we believe our faith is right now, it is not enough to sustain us through all of life’s ups and downs. The faith that is sufficient today will not be sufficient tomorrow.

The writer of Hebrews shared a similar sentiment when he wrote:

 So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds* and placing our faith in God. (Hebrews 6:1, NLT)

God expects us to be engaged in spiritual formation. Maturity will only happen through intentional effort.

If we are not willing to do what it takes grow spiritually and to deepen our relationship with God, then we will continue to miss out on the life He created us to live. We cannot remain the same and remain with Jesus. Either we are moving with him or we are allowing ourselves to be left behind.

If spiritual formation is this important, how do we make it a part of our lives?

The entire Bible is filled with instruction and example of how we can partner with the Holy Spirit to bring maturity to our spirits.

Today I want to share with you a little bit of what the Apostle Paul told the Colossians about spiritual formation.

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.

Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers* of this world, rather than from Christ.(Colossians 2:6-8; NLT)

Let’s take a moment and examine what Paul wrote about spiritual formation:

1. We need to be consistent – Vs. 6

Faith is the key.

We came to salvation because we trusted in Jesus to deal with our sins. We experience spiritual maturity because we trust Jesus to lead us to the life God created us to live. Without this faith in Jesus we are unable to grow. If we cannot be consistent in our trust (trusting Jesus to take away our sins but not to lead us to life) means that we will be stunted in our maturity and our relationship with God will begin to die.

The consistency we need becomes visible through our obedience.  We need to ask ourselves these questions: Am I willing to follow Jesus wherever he leads me? Will  I risk my life, career, and reputation for the sake of the Gospel?

By being obedient we demonstrate that we trust God.

2. We need to be concrete – Vs. 7

Remember the parable Jesus told about the wise man and the foolish man?

The point of the story is people need to build on a firm foundation. The wise man is able to survive the storms because his house is built on the rock, which was able to withstand the power of the waves. The foolish man is destroyed because his house is built on the sand, which washed away with the raging water.

Being concrete is about holding on to truth. Jesus’ teachings are a firm foundation because they are truth. We receive truth through instruction, reading, relationships, and experiences. By constantly seeking and applying  truth to our lives we are building on a firm foundation. This foundation will provide us with the security we need to survive any situation.

3. We need to be cautious – Vs. 8

It is easy to be led astray by something that seems credible.

Proverbs 14:12 reads; There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.  (NLT). What seems to be right and what sounds good are not the best indicators of what is truth. We can get very lost following what seems to be right to us.

This is about influence. Who will we allow to influence us? What type of media will we use? Is their message in agreement with the message of Jesus?

The best way we can safe guard ourselves from being led astray is to know and live the teachings of Jesus. Only when we are familiar with the truth are we able to identify the lie.

Spiritual formation is essential for our relationship with God. We need to remain consistent in our faith, we need to be concrete in our belief, and we need cautious about what influences us.

These 3 components will help us stay on the path of spiritual formation. Without them we will be prevented from living the life that Jesus has for us to live.

Don’t neglect your spiritual formation. Be intentional about the person you are becoming and make an effort to become like Jesus.

 What is an essential component to your spiritual formation?

April 20, 2017

How Easter Cures Our Religion Addiction

by Clarke Dixon

We can become addicted to religion. Behind this there can be a sense of “if I do the right things, and say the wright words, God will have to love me and be good to me.” Religion has “me” as its focus. What I do. What I say. What I think I deserve. When we are addicted to religion we put ourselves, rather than God, at the centre.

The Christians in Colossae were being pressured into becoming more religious. Some scholars think that the pressure was coming from Jews who thought you needed to practice the Jewish religion to be a Christian. Other scholars think that it was an early form of the religious philosophy “gnosticism” that was the source of the pressure. Either way, in his letter to the Colossians the apostle Paul wants to set the record straight. In chapter two Paul lays out clearly our part in being Christian, but also what we cannot accomplish. Let’s take a look.

First out part:

Colossians 2:6-19 (NRSV) As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Notice, first off, that Paul’s encouragement is not “since you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, now get very religious, doing the right religious looking observances, saying the right religious sounding words.” That would actually be too easy, for you can do that kind of thing on your spare time. What is called for is something far more profound; “live your lives in him.” The requirement is not in doing religion, but living life. It is an every moment thing. The focus is not the religion, but the Person of Jesus. It is a relationship thing.

Sceptics like to say that religion is a man made thing. Paul would agree:

8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.

Paul is not speaking against philosophy as an academic endeavour here. Philosophy, like all the arts and sciences are worthy pursuits. Paul is warning against, more literally “the philosophy”, that is, a particular way of thinking being foisted on the Christians at Colossae. He is arguing against becoming too religious “according to human tradition.” Rather than pursuing man-made religion, we are to pursue Christ himself.

We could sum up Paul’s line of thought here with “live your lives in him rather than practice religion.” That is our part. Next Paul points us to God’s part. Religion highlights the things we do. In the following passage I have highlighted [in darker type] the things God has done.

9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12 when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

The focus is on God’s activity. As Paul warns the Christians at Colossae against false religion, he puts the focus on what God has done in Christ. While religion points us to our activity, relationship with God as revealed in the Bible has always been first about what God has done. He created. He Made a covenant with Noah. He called Abraham with his promise of blessing that would touch the world. He rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt. He gave His chosen people the law at Sinai. He gave them the promised land. He called the prophets and gave them the words to speak. He came to us incarnate in Jesus. He, God the Father, raised Jesus, God the Son, from the dead. While religion has what we can do as its focus, Christianity has as its focus, something we could never do, that is, raise the dead.

Because Jesus is risen, we do not practice Christianity as a religion, we relate to Jesus as a living Person. We serve Him, we worship Him, we adore Him, we learn from Him. This may give the appearance of being religious as prayer, the Bible, and church become expressions of that. These religious looking things are not the practice of religion, but rather part of how we live our lives in Christ. Living our lives in Christ goes way deeper than doing “religious duties,” it goes to walking with the Spirit and being transformed from the inside out: “. . .the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) Compared to character transformation, being merely religious would be far too easy!

Paul continues his argument against being religious:

16 Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 17 These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.

Religion fills us with pride as we point to what we have done. The events of Easter fill us with humility as they point to what we have done. We committed a reprehensible crime when we crucified Jesus. We fell short of the glory of God. The events of Easter also point to what God has done. He has reconciled us to Himself. Our part is to live in Christ, “holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.” Are you addicted to religion? God has done for you through the events at Easter what religion never could. Why dedicate yourself to religion, when you can dedicate yourself to the One Who loves you?

(Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

Read more at Clarke’s blog Sundays Shrunk Sermon

April 19, 2017

Building from the Materials God Provides

Psalm 104:14 NRSV:

 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,

Today we’re paying a return visit to the website, Theology of Work. Many scripture references are embedded in the commentary today; feel free to click back and forth. (Suggestion: With most PCs, right-click and select “Open in New Tab.” This allows you to go back and forth more easily.)

Human creativity with God (Psalm 104)

From the beginning, God intended human work as a form of creativity under or alongside God’s own creativity (Genesis 1:26-31; 2:5, 15-18). Human work is meant to fulfill God’s creative intent, bring each person into relationship with other people and with God, and glorify God. Psalm 104 gives a delightful depiction of this creative partnership. It begins with a broad canvas of the glory of God’s creation (Psalms 104:1-9). This leads naturally to God’s active work in sustaining the world of animals, birds and sea creatures (Ps.104:10-12, 14, 16-18, 20-22, 25). God provides richly for human beings as well (Ps. 104:13-15, 23). God’s work makes possible the fruitfulness of nature and humanity. “From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work” (Ps. 104:13).

The work of humans is to build further, using what God gives. We have to gather and use the plants. “You cause the grass to grow for the cattle and plants for people to cultivate” (Ps. 104: 14, alternate reading from NRSV footnote f). We make the wine and bread and extract the oil from the plants God causes to grow (Ps. 104:15). God provides so richly, in part, by populating his creation with people who labor six days a week. Thus, while this psalm speaks of all creatures looking to God for food, and God opening his hand to supply it (Ps. 104:27-28), people still have to work hard to process and use God’s good gifts. Psalm 104 goes so far as to name some of the tools used for the work of God’s world—tents, garments, beams, fire, ships (Ps. 104:1, 2, 3, 4, 26, respectively). Intriguingly, the Psalm happily ascribes use of such tools to God himself, as well as to human beings. We work with God, and God’s ample provision comes in part through human effort.

Even so, remember that we are the junior partners in creation with God. In keeping with Genesis, human beings are the last creatures mentioned in Psalm 104. But in distinction from Genesis, we come on the scene here with little fanfare. We are just one more of God’s creatures, going about their business alongside the cattle, birds, wild goats, coneys, and lions (Ps. 104:14-23). Each has its proper activity—for humans it is work and labor until the evening—but underneath every activity, it is God who provides all that is needed (Ps. 104:21). Psalm 104 reminds us that God has done his work supremely well. In him our work may be done supremely well also, if only we work humbly in the strength his Spirit supplies, cultivating the beautiful world in which he has placed us by his grace.


© 2014 by the Theology of Work Project, Inc.; used by permission
Unless otherwise noted, the Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, Copyright © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved.


Read another devotion from the same source: God’s Guidance in Our Work: Psalm 25


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

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

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!


Introducing EMU Music. “Emu is a collaborative ministry focused on contemporary, Biblical, Christ-centered music in church. Founded in Sydney, Australia, and now operating throughout the world…” This is the 2nd most-viewed (in the last year) video on their YouTube channel:

This is their highest viewed song in the same period:

 

 

April 18, 2017

The Crucifixion in Street Language

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.

But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.

Isaiah 53:5, NKJV and NLT


From The Street Bible by the late Rob Lacey*

The macabre scene moves slowly up Skull Hill. They get there and the Roman Death Squad shove a cocktail made of wine with myrrh into Jesus’ face. He takes a sip but spits it out, flat refusing to drink the stuff.

They pin Jesus to the rough crossbar leaving him to die. Him and the two hardened criminals — one on either side. Jesus says, “Dad! Don’t hold this against these people — wipe their slates clean. They’ve got no idea what’s going on here!”

The Death Squad rip his clothes off and start playing gambling games to see who “inherits” the clothing mementos.

Time check: Friday 9 AM. One of the soldiers grabs the multi-use Offence Placard, writes up Jesus’ “crime” and then pins it just above his head. It reads, “Jesus: King of the Jews”.

The other two victims with him — the terrorists — one on either side of the central focus point, Jesus… bite back their excruciating pain and add their jibes to the mix… “Aren’t you supposed to be The Liberator? Get liberating, won’t you? You need it and we need it!”

But the other guy calls across, “Don’t you have no respect for God? You’re getting what you had coming to you, but this guy’s done nothing wrong. So shut it!”

The second career criminal turns to Jesus and says, “Jesus, don’t forget me when you sit on your throne, okay?”

Jesus answers him, “I’ll tell you today — no lie — you and me, we’ll be in paradise together.”

Time check: 12 midday. It goes dark, totally dark, for three full hours right across Judah. Nothing except the chilling sound track of three men inching toward Death. Later, about three in the afternoon, Jesus freaks those still left there by shouting, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” Translation: “My God, my God, why’ve you abandoned me?”

Some of those within earshot hear the “Eli, Eli” bit and get the wrong end of the stick, saying, “Listen, he’s trying to connect with Elijah!”

Knee-jerk reaction for one guy was to offer some soured wine to the sufferer, hoisting a soaked sponge of the stuff up to Jesus on a stick. Others are going, “Whoa! Hang on. Wait to see if Elijah’s going to turn up like a one-man SWAT team and rescue him.”

Jesus shouts on out one more time and finally allows his spirit to be torn out of his broken body.

He cries out, “Dad, I trust you with my spirit!”

His last words.

He dies.


Quotations about The Cross:

God proved His love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, “I love you.” ~ Billy Graham


All God’s plans have the mark of the cross on them, and all His plans have death to self in them. –E. M Bounds


The Blood deals with what we have done, whereas the Cross deals with what we are. The Blood disposes of our sins, while the Cross strikes at the root of our capacity for sin. ~ Watchman Nee


Today Jesus Christ is being dispatched as the Figurehead of a Religion, a mere example. He is that, but he is infinitely more; He is salvation itself, He is the Gospel of God. –Oswald Chambers


The Gospel is good news of mercy to the undeserving. The symbol of the religion of Jesus is the cross, not the scales. ~ John Stott


*Note to overseas friends: In the USA and Canada, The Street Bible was published as The Word on the Street.

April 17, 2017

The Reality Check of the Cross

It’s Monday and we have a bonus item for you by regular Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon. These notes are from a message that I got hear in person which was preached three times on Good Friday morning.

by Clarke Dixon

“This teaching of the cross is nuts, pure and simple.” Such is how you could translate Paul’s words in his first letter to the Christians in Corinth in chapter 1, verse 18. Later, in verse 23 he calls it a “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” We can imagine how a conversation would go between a Christ follower and a Jew in New Testament times:

Christian: Good News! The Messiah has come. God has put into place His great rescue!

Jew: Oh? Tell me more!

Christian: His name is Jesus. He was born in Bethlehem, taught with great authority, worked miracles, and was crucified . .

Jew: Hold up! Crucified, as in executed by the Romans? As in dead at the hands of our enemies? Umm, you need a reality check – your so called Messiah is a failure!

In days when the Jewish people were looking for a rescue from the Romans, being executed by them was a sure way to be deleted from the list of potential rescuers.

We can also imagine how a conversations would go between a Christ follower and a non-Jewish person in New Testament times:

Christian: Good News! God, the creator of everything has revealed Himself to us!

Gentile: Oh? Tell me more!

Christian: His name is Jesus. He was born a Jew in Bethlehem, taught with great authority, worked miracles, and was crucified . . .

Gentile: Hold up! Crucified? As in the God of the universe was executed by the Romans? I knew our Roman soldiers were good, but I didn’t know they were that good! You need a reality check. Your so-called God is a failure.

Two millennia later and reactions are often much the same. Consider these lyrics from the metal band Metallica:

Trust you gave
A child to save
Left you cold and him in grave . . .
Broken is the promise, betrayal
The healing hand held back by deepened nail
Follow the god that failed . . .

There is a clear message to Christians here. You need a reality check – a God that dies is a God that fails, and that just doesn’t make sense.

On Good Friday Christians around the world gather to commemorate the death of Jesus. On Good Friday many more people don’t bother, thinking that doing such would be a waste of time. “A good and influential teacher? Sure. Inspirational even. But God Himself dying a death that has anything to do with anything? Nah, that doesn’t make sense.” Many people would say that Christians need a reality check. Christ crucified is nonsense and Christians are deluded.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing . . . 1st Corinthians 1:18

Christ crucified is indeed a reality check, but not in the way that many people assume. Christ crucified is a reality check in the way that a blood test ordered by the doctor is a reality check. When the results come in the doctor never asks “what would you like the results to be?” or “what do you think the results should be?” The doctor says “here is what the results are.” Truth in such things as our health is not a matter of our imagination, but a process of discovery.

People often think that when it comes to spirituality truth is a matter of our imagination, what we like, or what we think it should be. Spirituality is seen as something you can make up or change. However truth itself is not something you can tamper with. We may decide how we express spirituality, but we do not get to decide matters of truth. What people fail to understand is that when it comes to God and our relationship with God, we are talking about matters of truth and not personal preference.

In matters of truth we can do a reality check. Like the doctor, we can check the blood. So let us do that.

Check the blood. The blood spilled through racism. The blood spilled through violence. The blood spilled through war, whether gang wars, drug wars, or world wars. The blood spilled between enemies. The blood spilled between brothers. The blood spilled when an innocent man was nailed to a cross on bogus charges. Check the blood, sin is real and a real problem.

People don’t like the idea of sin being a reality. But not liking it does not mean you can wish it away… You do not get to decide that kind of reality. The cross of Jesus Christ is a big arrow on the map pointing to sin saying “you are here.”

Check the blood spilled at the cross. At the cross we sank to our lowest low in our rebellion against God. We were there, at the cross. Would we have done any different than Pilate, or Herod, or the chief priests, or the disciples, or Peter? As the Bible says “There is no one righteous, no not one.” Think of it; it is really bad when an innocent person suffers. But when God Himself comes to us, and though being innocent, we condemn him to death. Can we sink any lower? If there was ever a moment, that God would lash out and destroy humanity, this is it, at the cross where collectively we sunk to our lowest low. He would have been perfectly just in sending 10,000 angels to destroy the world and not endure the shame and suffering of the cross.

The Jews thought that in being crucified, Jesus failed at being the Messiah, the Greeks thought that in being crucified, Jesus failed at being God, people today think that in being crucified Jesus failed at doing anything relevant – but if God can be spoken of as failing at anything when Jesus was crucified – God failed to treat us as our sins deserve. (Psalm 103:10)

Check the blood spilled at the cross. It is a reality check: God’s love is real. Let the Scriptures speak for themselves:

For in Jesus all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. Colossians 1:19-20

But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:10

If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Romans 8:31-34

Crucifixion was not a failure for Jesus. Rather, as Paul puts it, “Christ the power and wisdom of God.” (1st Corinthians 1:24)

  • In Christ crucified God’s perfect justice was expressed with judgement against sin. Yet humanity was not wiped out. God’s perfect mercy was also expressed. That is the power and wisdom of God.
  • In Christ crucified, we were at our lowest low in our rebellion against God. Yet Jesus at the cross made possible God’s invitation to be reconciled. That is the power and wisdom of God.
  • In Christ crucified, the powers of evil were working overtime to destroy and bury the work of God, and as Jesus’ body is laid in the tomb, it certainly seems like they’ve won. But Sunday’s coming! That is the power and wisdom of God.
  • In Christ crucified the curtain of the temple separating out the most holy place was torn in two from top to bottom. This was symbolic of God in effect saying, you can not and will not come to me through religion. I am coming to you by the cross. That is the power and wisdom of God.

Check the blood for a reality check.  Crucifixion is not a sign of failure, it is a sign of God’s success in expressing His perfect love, in all His holiness, justice, grace, and mercy. In that way, Jesus is the only way. Every other possibility put forward as a means of dealing with our sin problem is a failure.

We are no strangers to checking blood. Having a Type 1 diabetic in our family, we are used to a reality check with every finger poke. The glucose meter does not care what we want the blood sugar to be, nor what we think it should be. It tells us what it is. And based on what it is, we need to make a decision. Give insulin, sugar, or do nothing. The cross is the ultimate reality check. Check the blood. Sin is real, and a real problem for our relationship with God. God’s love is real, and a real solution to our sin problem. What decision do you need to make? Perhaps your walk with the Lord is solid and flourishing. Then your decision may be to rejoice in your salvation today. Perhaps you know the Lord, but have not been walking close. Your decision may be to reaffirm your commitment to walking in Christ, walking according to God’s Spirit.

But perhaps you are not a believer at this time? Then Christ crucified is a reality check in one more way: Check the blood spilled at the cross. This is an event in history. Christianity is not a religious philosophy or a set of rules for life. Christianity is about God revealing Himself to humanity over many occasions, but supremely though Jesus. His death was an event in history, as was his resurrection. Christianity did not have its beginnings, as many religions do, in a man teaching certain things about God and then trying to persuade people his ideas are correct. Christianity had its beginnings in the historical event of the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus. Check the blood. Yes, this really happened.

  • Look into it, and investigate it.
  • Look into like journalist Lee Strobel who as an atheist came to trust Jesus as Lord and Saviour having investigated it with all his journalistic skills.
  • Look into it, like J. Warner Wallace, who as an atheist came to trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour having investigated it with his skills as a cold case detective.
  • Look into it, like C.S. Lewis who described himself as the most reluctant convert in all of England, but who came to trust in Jesus as Saviour and Lord having investigated it with all his intellectual skills.

And there are many stories like these. I hope your story will be similar. Do not become a Christian because you think it might be a good religion to practice. Trust in Jesus because Jesus died and rose again. Reality check. The events of Easter really did happen. Check the blood. You have a decision to make.

(All Scripture references are taken from NRSV)

Connect with Clarke at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

April 16, 2017

Why Good Friday is Good?

by Russell Young

This being Easter weekend, I was compelled, like most, to consider the events that took place more than two millennia ago. The immense importance of the passion of Christ can never be taken for granted, but perhaps the exact events, those hidden from view, can escape our appreciation. I have discovered that reflecting on the sacrificial offering of Christ has given clarity to other biblical teachings.

Accepting that Christ died for my sins is humbling and awe-inspiring. Appreciating the unseen dynamics is enlightening. For instance, how did his death “destroy the work of Satan”? The Lord’s death was not a simple trade of his life for mine.

Christ came “to destroy the devil’s work.” (1 Jn 3:8 NIV) Trading lives would not have accomplished the destruction of Satan’s power. His power rested in his ability to make people sin, bringing about their death and ultimately defeating God’s plan to have a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. The defeat of Satan’s work could only be accomplished by eradicating sin and the death that accompanied it. It is transgression of the law that comprises sin-the law of Moses. Paul wrote, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” (1 Cor 15:56 NIV) And, “Where there is no law, there is no transgression.” (Rom 4:15 NIV) The law had to be satisfied and terminated. That is what Christ accomplished.

It is true that I deserved death for sin just as do all of humankind. I had been caught in Satan’s deceits and those practices that were offensive to my creator and sovereign. Had justice been served neither I nor anyone else would have survived. Satan would have won. There would not have been a single person suitable for God’s presence. Had Christ died for my sins and for those of all of humanity, the devil’s work would still not have been completed since sin would have reared its ugly head again during the remaining part of my life.

Some teach that all sin was forgiven at the cross but this is not so. According to Hebrews 9:15, “[Christ] died as a ransom to set [believers] free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” If at confession of faith, only my past sins had been forgiven, I would have still been at the mercy of the devil since my evil nature would have compelled me to continue in sin.

Christ not only provided my pardon, he defeated sin by destroying the law that defined it. Christ brought to an end the Old Covenant, the covenant of the law of Moses, the covenant that kills. (2 Cor 3:6) There can be no more sin under its jurisdiction. (see again Rom 4:15) This is Christ’s great victory over the devil. He robbed Satan of his power. Again, the writer of Hebrews stated, “For this reason (to cleanse our moral consciences from acts that lead to death) Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.” (Heb 9:15 NIV) The writer also stated, “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first obsolete.” (Heb 8:13 NIV) Believer’s are no longer under the righteous requirements of the Old Covenant and the evil one can no longer use its laws to cause sin and to bring about death.

That is not the end of the matter, however. John wrote of The Lord’s victory and of his proclamation: “I am the first and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Rev 1:18 NIV) The one who holds the keys has the power to control their use. That is, Christ has the power to determine who will die, who will be sentenced to Hades, and who will find eternal life. These are his determination!

The sacrificial death of Christ, in itself, does not fully meet the need of believers. The Lord holds the keys, and the matter of righteousness has not been concluded as some suppose. God still has requirements for those who are to dwell with him throughout eternity and the issue remains a “law” issue, not the law of Moses but the law of the Spirit. (Rom 8:2) “For the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”(NIV) The issue remains one of obedience, and God’s righteous requirements still exist; Christ is the means of accomplishing them, however. Paul wrote: “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so, he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3─4 NIV) The New Covenant is a covenant of the Spirit. The Lord is the Spirit (2 Cor 3:18) and he must be obeyed. (Heb 5:9) Fortunately for me and for all who claim the name of Christ, the law of the Spirit is embodied in the Spirit and he gives the power to accomplish his law and to achieve victory over Satan for the believer. (2 Pet 1:3) I have been freed from the death I deserved and from the weakness of my sinful nature. I walk cleansed and in the power and authority of the Spirit of Christ. Greater is he that is in [me] than he that is in the world.” (1 Jn 4:4 NIV) I have a better hope of victory because I have Christ and his presence in me. (Col 1:27)

In the end those who have claimed belief will face Christ at judgment to determine their reward or judgment in compliance to his rule. Freedom from judgment comes from allowing the Spirit to enlighten, lead, and empower the believer so that he or she does not commit practices that are offensive to God. Believers are compelled to walk in the light-in obedience to the Spirit-or as Christ walked. (1 Jn 2:6)

The great work of the cross was the destruction of Satan’s power by instituting a new and better covenant empowered by Christ, and the cleansing of believers from the sin that they carried while under the Old Covenant.

April 15, 2017

The Seven Words

For Holy Saturday, we look the website Catholic Daily Reflections. Readers are reminded that we include writings here from a wide variety of Christian websites, and that not all readers will agree with all interpretations, today particularly with respect to the third cry from the cross in this devotional. I could have edited this, or not included this piece at all, but I thought it was interesting to see a Catholic interpretation of “Woman behold your son.”

As always, click the title below to read at source.

God Suffers Death

Ponder today, this dark day, the final words of Jesus.  Scripture records seven last statements, or the “Seven Last Words.”  Take each phrase and spend time with it.  Seek the deeper spiritual meaning for your life.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Jesus’ forgiveness of others was radical and to a degree never seen before.  While hanging on the Cross and enduring the cruelty of others, Jesus spoke words of forgiveness.  He forgave them in the midst of His persecution.

What’s more is that He even acknowledged that those crucifying Him were not fully responsible.  They clearly did not know what they were doing.  This humble acknowledgment of Jesus shows the depth of His tender mercy.  It reveals He died not in anger or resentment, but in willing sacrifice.

Can you say these words?  Can you call to mind the person who has hurt you and pray that the Father forgives them?  Leave judgment to God and offer mercy and forgiveness.

“I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

What a consolation it must have been for the good thief to hear these words.  He must have been experiencing a certain despair in life at that moment as he, along side of Jesus, was dying on a cross.  What a gift it was to be there next to the Savior of the World, sharing in the sufferings of Christ in such a real way.  And this man was privileged to be among the first to receive this gift of salvation won by Jesus on the Cross.

Jesus offers us the same assurance.  He offers salvation to us beginning today.  And He offers it to us in the midst of our own suffering and sin.  Can you hear Him offer you this gift of mercy?  Can you hear Him invite you to share His gift of everlasting life?  Let Him speak this invitation to you and let the eternal life of paradise begin to take hold more deeply today in your soul.

“Woman, behold your son.”

What a gift!  Here, dying on the Cross, Jesus entrusted His own mother to John.  And in so doing, He entrusted her to each one of us.  Our unity with Jesus makes us a member of His family and, thus, sons and daughters of His own mother.  Our Blessed Mother accepts this responsibility with great joy.  She embraces us and holds us close.

Do you accept Jesus’ mother as your own spiritual mother?  Have you fully consecrated yourself to her?  Doing so will place you under her mantle of protection and love.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus was not abandoned but He allowed Himself to feel and experience this complete loss of the Father in His human nature.  He felt the deep experience of despair.  He allowed Himself to know and experience the effects of sin.  Therefore, He knows what we go through when we despair.  He knows what it feels like.  And He is there with us in those temptations enabling us to press on through any despair toward total faith and trust in the Father.

“I thirst.”

What a meaningful statement.  He thirsted physically at that moment for water to quench His dehydration.  But more than that, He thirsted spiritually for the salvation of all of our souls.  Jesus’ spirit still longs for this gift of salvation.  He longs to call us His children.  He thirsts for our love.

Ponder Jesus saying these words to you.  “I thirst for you!” He says.  It is a deep and burning thirst for your love.  You satiate Jesus’ thirst by returning that love.  Satiate His thirst this Good Friday by giving Him your love.

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

These are the words we need to pray more than any.  These are the words of complete surrender to God.  Prayer is ultimately about one thing.  It’s about surrender.  It’s about trust.  Say these words over and over today and let this perfect surrender of Jesus also be your surrender.

Surrender means God is in control.  It means that we let go of our own will and choose only God’s.  And it means that God pledges to accept our surrender and guide us into the perfect plan He has in mind for us.

“It is finished.”

It’s significant that He said “It is finished” as His last words.  What does this mean?  What is finished?

This spiritual statement from Jesus is one that affirms that His mission of the redemption of the whole world is accomplished.  “It” refers to His perfect sacrifice of love offered for all of us.  His death, which we commemorate today, is the perfect sacrifice which takes away the sins of all.  What a gift!  And what a sacrifice Jesus endured for us!

We are used to seeing this sacrifice on the Cross.  We ponder this sacrifice every time we look at the crucifix.  But it is important to note that our over-familiarity with the Cross can tempt us to lose sight of the sacrifice.  It’s easy for us to miss what Jesus actually did for us.  He accomplished the act that saves us and He is now offering it to us.  Let this completed act of Divine Mercy penetrate your soul.  He desires to say that His sacrifice has “finished” its work in your soul.

So today, on this Good Friday, it would be good if we spent the day pondering the reality of Jesus’ sacrifice.  Try to understand what it was like for God Himself to suffer and die.  Contemplate what it was like for God Himself, the Creator of all things, to be put to death by those whom He created, to suffer at the hands of those whom He loved with a perfect love.

Understanding Jesus’ sacrificial love will enable us to love as He did.  It will enable us to love those who have hurt us and those who persecute us.  His love is total.  It is generous beyond description.

Lord, I know You thirst for my soul.  You finished what You started by dying on the Cross for my salvation and the salvation of the world.  Help me to understand Your love and to accept it into my life.  Help me to forgive. Help me to invite you into my own darkness and sin. Help me to abandon all to You. I thank You, dear suffering Lord, for the gift of Your Precious Blood, poured out for the salvation of the world.  Jesus, I trust in You.

April 14, 2017

Appeasement or Deliverance?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Mel Wild is senior pastor at Cornerstone Church and as director of Radiant School of Ministry, both based in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin USA. We’re introducing him to readers at C201 today for the first time and I was thrilled to find an article which would be a such a good fit for Good Friday.

As always, click the title below to read at his blog, In My Father’s House.

Christ, the Passover Lamb (Part One)

How is Christ is Lamb of God? Is the emphasis on appeasement, like with the animal sacrifices in the Mosaic Law, or is it about deliverance?

Yesterday marked the beginning of the Jewish Passover, but we’re going to look at the first Passover and see how that might answer the question for us.

First, here’s how Paul made the connection between Christ and the Passover:

Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. (1 Cor.5:7 *)

This passage also brings up another question: in what way does it mean that Christ was sacrificed? I’ll address that question next time.

In my series, “Jesus Christ: Savior of the world,” I made the point that the Cross of Christ delivered us from Satan’s societal construct in alienation from God called “this world.” From what we learned from the series, let’s take a fresh look at how Christ fulfilled the Passover.

What are we being saved from?

We see the Passover instituted in Exodus 12, but the promise is made earlier. I want you to notice the nature of this promise. I’ve highlighted the salient points for our discussion:

And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel whom the Egyptians keep in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. Therefore say to the children of Israel: ‘I am the Lord; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.  (Exod. 6:5-7 *)

Looking at this passage, which the New Testament says Christ fulfills as a type for our salvation, is there any mention of God needing to be paid in order to forgive us? (I’ll come back to this in part two.)

What is the context here? “I will bring you out from under the burdens”…”I will rescue you from their bondage…”

Is this not talking about deliverance from bondage? In Israel’s case, from the Egyptians? In our case, from “Egypt” as a biblical archetype for “this world?”

Let me ask you another question while we’re here. What is the difference between being forgiven and being saved from your sins?

21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matt.1:21 *)

Forgiveness speaks of forbearance. The criminal is pardoned. But to be freed from your sins is much more than this!

Israel being delivered from their slavery in Egypt is the best way to see this. But, with us, it’s a slavery of another kind.

First, we see Moses as a type of Israel’s Messiah to come:

So the Lord said to Moses: “See, I have made you as God to PharaohAnd the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the children of Israel from among them.” (Exod.7:1, 5 *)

Notice that it says that God will bring Israel out from among them. It speaks of removal from what’s keeping them in slavery. For us, “Pharaoh” represents the “god of this age” (2 Cor.4:4), and “Egypt” represents the societal structure in alienation from God that he controls called “this world.”  The New Testament writers understood that Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment.

37 “This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear.’ (Acts 7:37 *)

So, Jesus, as a type of Moses, came to free us from our slavery to this world system:

34 Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. 35 And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. 36 Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. (John 8:34-38 *)

who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Gal.1:4 *)

He didn’t come just to forgive us (although we are forgiven), or even to take us out of the physical world. He came to free us from Satan’s construct in this world that has enslaved us. I go into this in much greater detail in my post, “The sin of the world.”

13 He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love (Col.1:13 *)

We will look at how we might understand Jesus as our ransom and how He purchased our freedom as the Passover Lamb when I conclude tomorrow.

* Unless otherwise noted, New King James Bible translation. All emphasis added.

 

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