Christianity 201

February 9, 2016

On Being a True Servant

Today we’re paying a first-time visit to a writer whose blog was bookmarked in my computer, but I don’t believe we’ve ever featured here. Tanya Nemley blogs at God Speaks I Listen and you may click the title below to read this at its source, complete with graphics.

Are You a Servant of God?

John 12:26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

I decided to write about the subject of being a servant of Jesus Christ. Why… you might ask? Because I feel that I need and maybe we all need to remember why we remain on the earth after our salvation experience. To put it simply…we are now working for God!

A servant is a…helper, follower and supporter of an important person, one who performs duties for a person in charge, a personal attendant, worker, hired help, steward, hireling, underling, an assistant.

We are not to be the one in charge but a servant to the one in charge. We are not supposed to out there making a big name for ourselves but making a name for the one we serve. Our whole Christian walk is not about us and what we can get out of God. It’s about what God can get out of us. This is for our benefit in our eternal life with Him. Some may ask… why don’t we just go to heaven after we get saved? We are servants after salvation and we assist in leading others to Jesus.

Mark 10:44-45 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

There is a word in the above scripture verse that really quickened me down in my spirit and that word is “even”. Even Jesus who is the Son of Almighty God served. He knew His place and duty down here on earth. He knew He had a job to do for Father God. We all have a job to do for God.

The older I get and the more I pray and study God’s word I am coming to realize my purpose for my existence and reason for my earthly stay. Excuse me for putting it this way…I want to work my butt off for God! Now that I know who I am and what my whole life is about I KNOW what I need and want to do. My life is dedicated to serving my husband, my 6 kids, my parents, family, friends, acquaintances and strangers.

Galatians 5:13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

I need people to see Jesus in my life and the only way to show them is to do what He did:

John 13: 12-15 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

servant heartBeing a good servant means being keenly aware of the one that you are serving. Without knowing who’s in charge one might begin to take control of things. They might take over authority. They could abuse power that they don’t really have. Worse yet they may get puffed up and accept credit for any successes.

Paul makes it clear who he is as he makes these statements several times in the bible…” Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ.” “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus”.

John the Baptist made this statement:

Act 13:25 As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you suppose I am? I am not the one you are looking for. But there is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.

See people will try to follow you because John said “who do you suppose that I am.” He knew that they what they were thinking about him and that they might want to follow him. But John was a Worker and was trying to complete his job here on earth. He could have taken a little credit here and told these men to come and join his group but instead he told them of the master… his employer. He humbled himself by saying he was unworthy to even tie His employers shoes. What a servant John was!

Jesus mother Mary said this:

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. Luke 1:18

What a woman of God! There was no doubt that she knew what she was!

The bible says we must be a servant and the Holy Spirit will help us accomplish this task all day every day. God WILL honor you us serving. We will be rewarded too.

Don’t follow anyone who is looking for praise and adoration, but stick around with those with a humble and giving spirit. You don’t even need a lot of discernment for this…you will just know the difference between who wants to be served and who is serving.

I’m seeing a vision right now: I see Jesus high and lifted up and there is a very long line of people standing in front of Him.   They have servant’s outfits on with a towel on one arm and the other behind their back. They are saying…. “What can I do for you my Lord?” Jesus says something to each one and they leave Him. I asked Jesus what did He say to them and He said He told them to obey the word. He said He has told everyone what to do already. He said everyone was born with gifts and talents and then when we accept Him as Lord and Savior the Holy Spirit has been leading us from day one. We must obey God.

Checklist for our job as a servant of God:

  1. We all have a gifts and talents naturally given to us by God. Think about yours.
  2. The bible gives us clear instruction in what we are to do for the kingdom. If we don’t know what to do start by finding out what the bible says we should do.
  3. Walk with God so you will find it much easier to hear Gods voice when He by way of the Holy Spirit gives you direct orders for His divine purpose or mission.
  4. Make sure you are always prepared and ready to serve. Know your word, have tracks and bibles available, have your testimony ready and be prepared to share it, have a sharp eye for those divine appointments…in other words look for opportunities kingdom work.
  5. Make sure your house is in order. Have you ever seen a beautician with her hair looking busted and she wants to do your hair? We represent the King of Kings. You don’t need a Louis Vuitton handbag to witness to someone but a clean, humble, willing and dedicated heart.
  6. Be willing to do dirty work. God may not start you at the top. He may want to see if you’ll be faithful with smaller task until He sees that He can trust you.
  7. Let love be your motivation in all that you do for Him. Have love for Him and love for others.

Looking back over the past day, week, month year(s) can you really say what you’ve done for the Lord? Maybe a little, a lot or nothing at all. We need to take our Christianity seriously. Being a servant is what a Christian is and who a Christian is. I pray this blog today will cause one to ponder and make adjustment if necessary. God bless you!

 

February 8, 2016

Why We Pray

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we pay another return visit to the blog Christward Collective. This post is by Jason Helopoulos. Click on the title below to read this at its source.

Nine Reasons to Pray

Why should we pray? God already knows our hearts. He already knows our desires. So why pray? We could easily say it is because the Bible commands it. Paul goes as far as to say, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17)—that is reason enough. But let’s explore a few other reasons for why we should pray.

1. We pray because we love:

A relationship of love is one of enjoying each other. If I say “I love my wife” but never speak to her, it is likely that I don’t love her. If I love her, then I will want to talk with her, spend time with her, and desire her. This is why we see Jesus in passages like Mark 1, “rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” He loves the Father. The Father loves Him, so He wanted to spend time talking with Him even before the day started.

2. We pray out of gratitude:

James says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). Paul says in Philippians that we are to “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Like the one leper who returned to Jesus, we are to return to God time and again with thanksgiving. All that we have been given, all that we have received, is a gift from His hands. Prayer demonstrates and provides a vehicle for our offering gratitude.

3. We pray because we want to know God more fully:

There is nothing more lovely, nothing greater our hearts can seek, and nothing more fulfilling than God Himself. And as we speak with Him, we get to know Him more. As the Psalmist says, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). We want to know Him. We want to know God in all His glory. If that is the case, then like a young woman dating and trying to get to know a young man, we will want to talk with Him more.

prayer14. We pray to know our own hearts more fully:

I think of Habakkuk’s words, “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silent before him” (Habakkuk 2:20). There is a real benefit in coming before the Lord in silence. It is true that we get to know Him more fully in prayer, but we also get to know ourselves more fully. How often we pray and are convicted by some sin that we didn’t know was present before. We hear it uttered from our lips or find our minds entangled by it as we approach Him in prayer. Like Peter on the rooftop, we are made aware that what we have believed or practiced or dreamed or sought is unholy. Prayer lays open our hearts not only before God, but before ourselves. God already knows what is in them, we often do not.

5. We pray to be conformed to His Image:

Some have said that prayer’s purpose is not so that we might change God, but so that God might change us. And there is much truth in this. Calvin said, we pray in Jesus’ name so “that there may enter our hearts no desire and no wish at all of which we should be ashamed to make him a witness, while we learn to set all our desires before his eyes, and even to pour out our whole hearts.” In prayer our hearts are shaped and molded, our affections are stirred, and our minds are transformed. The prayer closet is the academy of righteousness. One may enter as a truant and emerge a cadet.

6. We pray to acknowledge our dependence upon Him:

We are not independent beings. As Paul preached at the Areopagus, “In him we live and move and have our being.” We are and can be nothing apart from Him. Prayer recognizes that. Ursinus once commented that, “Prayer is as necessary for us as it is necessary for a beggar to ask alms.” A beggar is by definition one who asks for alms. We are people, human beings, created in His image; by very definition we are dependent and are to pray.

7. We pray to receive from Him:

James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach and it will be given him” (James 1:5). We ask to receive. Jesus follows His teaching of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11 with the story of the man who is awoken from bed by a friend who desires three loaves of bread. And Jesus says, “How much more the Father? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” This is all in the context of the Lord’s Prayer, which is filled with asking to receive. We do pray to receive. And we have a Heavenly Father, who loves to give. He is the giver of all good gifts. If everything good comes from Him, then in prayer we rightfully seek and ask of Him.

8. We pray because God chooses to use means:

There are many who say, “Why pray if God already predestines all things? Why pray for someone’s conversion, why pray that God would heal my body, why pray for anything?” Because God chooses to use means. He uses rain to make the grass grow. He uses the sun to light the world. He uses our prayers to accomplish His purposes. It is one of the most amazing and humbling realities in the universe, but it is true. God chooses to use us in accomplishing His purposes. Our prayers may be the very means He uses to save our children, to provide health to the person on the prayer list, or maintain unity in our local church. James says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). We have no clue this side of heaven what our prayers are accomplishing for the sake of the Kingdom, our church, our families, or our person. Frankly, we would be overwhelmed in the present if we knew how purposeful, meaningful, and essential God has made our prayers. It is humbling. And it is terribly exciting.

9. We pray that God might receive glory:

When the lame man is healed in Acts 3 by the prayer of Peter, his response is to rise, leap in joy, and praise God. When God answers our prayers, we offer praise. God receives glory as men receive from Him and respond rightly.

Prayer is a gift from a heavenly Father, who loves to hear from His children. There are countless reasons to pray. Let’s be a people of prayer. Never will one minute in prayer closets be a minute wasted or later regretted.

 

 

February 7, 2016

Beware the Teachings of Man

We’ve asked Russell Young to become a regular contributor here; in addition to being active in our comments section. This article got me thinking about how we have a clergy class who we expect to be the arbiters of all things spiritual, instead of learning how to go to the source

 

See that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8, NIV)

A god of this age is philosophical thought. Its expression has been seen in teaching about the issues of life (abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, tolerance, etc.) and even in spiritual teachings. Our institutions of “higher learning” have derailed the gospel message; philosopher-theologians often leave the confines of God’s Word in search of understanding so that Believers might be ‘better informed.’ Their proclamations are often accepted as “truth” and they are honored as being the source of all knowledge and the founts of wisdom. The problem is that their “truths” often come from “principles of this world” as Paul has warned. Their philosophies are deceptive.

The reason why our pastor/teachers are accepting the deceptions of these philosopher-theologians must be discerned by themselves. Is it that the Holy Spirit only speaks to a few? Is it that they do not hear the whisperings of the Spirit? Is it due to the ease that comes from relying on another’s mind? Is it that they have been convinced of authenticity of a world system that honors institutional learning?

Why is it that our theological institutions have replaced the ministry of the Holy Spirit in His teaching role with that of esteemed men? Through John’s gospel our Lord stated,

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

Modern ChurchThe neglect of cherishing the Spirit and of seeking Him as the source of truth, and the practice of relenting to human understanding has led many astray and is resulting in the destruction of the modern church. The LORD said that He would not give His glory to another, and in the end He will not give it to those who have honored themselves or who honor others for their human thought. This is a serious matter!

Paul wrote,

“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 will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8, NIV)

This passage is straight-forward. How do believers know the leading of the Spirit if they are led by men? What teaching is being provided to help them avoid destruction? Teachings about righteousness that allow the believer to mature and to “train himself to distinguish good from evil” are the “solid food” of God’s Word. (Hebrews 5:14) The nature of one’s “sowing” will lead to his eternal life or to his destruction. This teaching and the many that require the practice of righteousness, the transformation of the heart to one that pleases God, and the awaiting judgment have all be cast aside in favor of man’s persuasions of provision provided through God’s grace. This is a very serious matter!

Paul taught that “the righteous requirements of the law are fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:4, NIV) It is the teaching of our Lord that He did “not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17) He fulfills them through His life lived in the believer which is one’s hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27) In the end the LORD is going to destroy the earth and its inhabitants because “it has been defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken his everlasting covenant.” (Isaiah 24:5)

What disappointment awaits those who have relied upon man rather than upon God! Woe to those who teach man’s philosophies rather than God’s truths. Those who do so will face God’s wrath. Concerning the “distortion” of truth and the destruction that follows, Peter wrote:

“He [Paul] writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16)

Teachers will be judged for their deceptions!

The world has a great pull on the interests of man. The Israelites wanted a king so that they might be like the rest of the world and the Lord gave them one. Philosophical-theologians want to honor the institutions of man just as do teachers of other disciplines and the body is reaping its reward.

It is “hollow and deceptive philosophy,” as Paul has presented, that is deceiving many. The church needs to rest its understanding on the teachings of God’s Word through the Spirit’s revelations and not on the musings of man. Destruction is going to fall on many for their neglect of the precious “gift” of the Spirit and of His ordained ministry. In the end the wisest philosopher will receive no exaltation over the humblest servant of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Psalm 111:10)

February 6, 2016

Responses to ‘Sin Boldly’

NIV 1 John 1:8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Two days ago we ran a devotional post centered on the phrase ‘sin boldly’ which is a modernization of words spoken by Martin Luther. You can read that post at this link, along with Luther’s original quotation. I realize that we only scratched the surface on this, and sensed through one posted comment and an email that a few of you would like to delve into this a little deeper. So today we’ll take some extra time to hear from several voices.

First, Russell Young posted this (click the article link to read the full comment):

…There seems to be a common understanding that the believer is “free to sin.” This is not so! All, starting with the household of God, will be judged for the things done in the flesh whether good or evil. Will we sin? Yes! Can it be forgiven? John makes it clear that repentance and confession can result in forgiveness. (1 John 1:9) The believer must be led by the Spirit. He must be obedient and it is through “obedience” that he will gain “eternal” salvation. (Hebrews 5:9) The result of being led is that he will become a “son of God.” (Romans 8:14) If he lives according to the sinful nature he will die. He must put to death the misdeeds of the body if he is to live. (Romans 8:13) You are correct in stating that we cannot help but sin, but the Spirit, who is the Spirit of Christ in the believer, will not sin and will provide escape from temptations and recourse for those who do…

…Although there are a great many references to the need to walk in the light and under the leadership of the Spirit, these are being ignored as spiritual educators hang onto the teachings of Martin Luther, John Calvin, etc. and set the Word aside.

The Lord’s own teaching should give cause for concern: “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.” (John 8:34-35) A son is the one who is being led. Also, He revealed in His Revelation that it is those who “overcome” who will be allowed entry into His holy city, the New Jerusalem. (Revelation 21:7)

At the website, The Grace of God:

…Replacing the word “sin” with the word “murder” we have this:  Be a murderer and murder boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.  Or how about this: Be an adulterer and commit adultery boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. Or perhaps your favorite sin is lying:  Be a liar and lie boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.  Do you steal? Be a thief and steal boldly! Just make sure you believe and rejoice in Christ more boldly!

Some may accuse me of taking Martin Luther’s words out of context, but I assert that his words have been used as a license to sin by many, and indeed seem custom-made for the job!  He said you can murder a thousand times a day and still remain in Jesus Christ! Have you ever heard such blasphemy? I know Luther is a revered reformer, but Christ’s sheep hear His voice and they follow Him. They will not follow the voice of the stranger, and this is the voice of a stranger if I’ve ever heard one. Test the spirits by which men speak!  Never assume that someone honored by others is the friend of your soul.

To the shamed adulterer, Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11)

To the man whom He had healed from a 38-year infirmity, Jesus said, “Sin no more lest a worse thing come upon you.” (John 5:14)  What could be worse than 38 years of perpetual infirmity?

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.” (I Cor. 15:34)

He also wrote, “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” (Rom. 6:15-16)

Again, Paul wrote to Timothy, “Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ DEPART FROM INIQUITY.’”  (2 Tim. 2:19)

The Apostle John testified that he wrote his epistle “that you may not sin.” (I Jn. 2:1)

Peter wrote of false teachers who would deny the Lord who bought them, bringing on themselves swift destruction. How do they deny the Lord?–through disobedience and teaching disobedience to the Lord’s servants. For they profess to know God, but in works they deny Him. Some of their distinguishing marks are:  they will receive the wages of unrighteousness (because they are unrighteous), they count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime (not even blushing for their sins, but doing them boldly even in the company of the Christian church), and they have eyes full of adultery, and they cannot cease from sin (2 Pet. 2:1-14; Titus 1:16).

They cannot cease from sin! Though Jesus said to cease from sin and gives victory over sin to those who abide in Him, and though His apostles taught that we must cease from sin and obey Jesus, these teachers not only cannot cease from sin in their own lives, but they also teach others, “Be a sinner and sin boldly…as long as we are here, WE HAVE TO SIN.”

Do you hear the hiss of the deceiver in those terrible words? …

The website Confessing Evangelical quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s response to sin boldly:

…Is this the proclamation of cheap grace, naked and unashamed, the carte blanche for sin, the end of all discipleship? Is this a blasphemous encouragement to sin boldly and rely on grace? Is there a more diabolical abuse of grace than to sin and rely on the grace which God has given? Is not the Roman Catechism quite right in denouncing this as the sin against the Holy Ghost?…

Taken as the premise [for our doctrine of grace], pecca fortiter [sin boldly] acquires the character of an ethical principle, a principle of grace to which the principle of pecca fortiter must correspond. That means the justification of sin, and it turns Luther’s formula into its very opposite.

For Luther “sin boldly” could only be his very last refuge, the consolation for one whose attempts to follow Christ had taught him that he can never become sinless, who in his fear of sin despairs of the grace of God. As Luther saw it, “sin boldly” did not happen to be a fundamental acknowledgement of his disobedient life; it was the gospel of the grace of God before which we are always and in every circumstance sinners. Yet that grace seeks us and justifies us, sinners though we are.

Take courage and confess your sin, says Luther, do not try to run away from it, but believe more boldly still. You are a sinner, so be a sinner, and don’t try to become what you are not. Yes, and become a sinner again and again every day, and be bold about it.

But to whom can such words be addressed, except to those who from the bottom of their hearts make a daily renunciation of sin and of every barrier which hinders them from following Christ, but who nevertheless are troubled by their daily faithlessness and sin? Who can hear these words without endangering his faith but he who hears their consolation as a renewed summons to follow Christ? Interpreted in this way, these words of Luther become a testimony to the costliness of grace, the only genuine kind of grace there is.

At the website authored by J. P. Serrano:

…First, it is an indictment of who we are.  Luther is clearly saying to Melanchthon that we (people) are sinners and because of our fallenness, we will continue to sin until the second coming.  I believe that Luther is using a hyperbole here in order for us to understand exactly who we are.  Our sins are real; they are not unimportant nor minimal…they do matter. Luther is trying to tell those people who think they are pretty good, except for those little sins here or there, that they are in fact really big sinners and should see themselves as big sinners.  Hence why he says, “be a sinner.”  What I hear in this is an admonition for me to own the state I am in now and a recognition that I am not a saint on my own.  Nowhere in here do I hear Luther giving permission to sin–which is the way I hear the quote often used.

Secondly, we need to own our sin and understand it to be real, in order for grace to be real.  If we have fake sin, then we don’t need grace.  If our sin, however, is real, then we in fact need a grace that is real.  What I hear in this is more about God’s grace to forgive and continually seek me out rather than doing whatever I want (or as it is more popularly summarized: SINNING BOLDLY!)

Lastly, what is missed in not quoting the whole phrase Luther uses is the admonition to let our trust in Christ be stronger than the sins we commit.  Luther is telling Melanchthon (and us) that our trust in Christ is of first importance.  It is to be stronger than our sin, and it is to cause us to rejoice in victory.  This is important because I often I hear a defeatism in Lutheranism that keeps continually reminding people that we are sinners (which we are), but doesn’t in the same breath remind us that we are in fact freed from sin in Christ whom overcame.

I want to thank Deb for getting us thinking about this two days ago and getting us started on the path where we’ve ended up today. She concluded that we can’t be “avoiding life and people to protect ourselves from sin.” In the real world we’re going to get our hands and feet dirty. We need to acknowledge that, which is a very nuanced difference from accepting that.

February 5, 2016

A Life of Peace Overflowing out of an Experience of the Grace of God

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
 (Phil 1:2 NIV)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:7b)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
 (2 Cor. 1:2)

(are you sensing a pattern here?)

Today we pay a return visit to Alex Koo who writes on Christian living, theology, culture, and books; and also speaks, teaches, and performs at various events. Click the title below to read this at source.

Searching for Shalom

In almost all of the Apostle Paul’s letters, he begins with the greeting: Grace to you and peace from God. It is dangerously easy to quickly skim over these two words without stopping to be arrested by the weight of this new Gospel reality. Grace and peace.

The reformer Martin Luther described this phrase as the heart of all Christianity; all of Christianity is a life of peace overflowing out of a genuine experience of the grace of God. Do you know this peace?

sunsetHow would you define peace? I posed this question to our young adult ministry. Some answered rightly that peace was a ceasefire, an absence of conflict. Others added that peace was being able to truly rest. But it’s infinitely more than that.

Yes, “grace and peace” was a typical traditional greeting offered in antiquity, but I’m convinced when Paul pens this, he’s also describing the new reality of the Christian. See, when he says peace, he means shalom. When he carefully writes the blessing of peace, he is also directing our hearts to the explosive reality that in Christ, there is shalom. And every single person reading this is longing for shalom. Pay attention to how Christian philosopher Cornelius Plantinga explains this concept of shalom:

The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight … a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights in. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.

Let me put it this way: we were made for shalom. Shalom is the reality of how God intended all things to be. Shalom is the experience when every arena of life functions in the way God designed it to be. Shalom is wholeness. It is fulfillment. Satisfaction. Shalom is when you take all the individual pieces of a watch, fashion them carefully together, and it starts to tick.

Pause for a moment and ask yourself, what was Adam’s God-given purpose? When we ask a typical evangelical today, our instinctive, church-like response is: “Share the Gospel” or “Make disciples.” Or perhaps some of us give the more sophisticated answer of “Glorify God” or “Love God”, but when asked how that looks like, the answer usually still boils down to “Share the Gospel” or “Make disciples”.

That wasn’t Adam’s purpose.

Why would it be? Adam’s purpose was indeed to glorify God, but there was no need yet to share the Gospel. Why? Because everything was as God intended it to be. There was shalom. I usually explain this concept of shalom in the form of four dimensions. For Adam, he experienced shalom:

  1. Upward. Adam and Eve enjoyed an upward shalom with their unhindered, pleasurable, freeing relationship with God Himself as He walked and dwelled among them.
  2. Outward. Adam and Eve enjoyed the trusting, loving companionship and friendship with each other.
  3. Inward. They lived with a sense of fulfillment, satisfaction, purpose, and meaning.
  4. Downward. Finally (and the most unfamiliar to most Christians), they also experienced a downward shalom and rightness with their relationship with creation. This means that they fulfilled their role as cultivators and stewards of the earth over their possessions, over the animals, over technology, over their work.

But ever since the fall of our spiritual parents Adam and Eve, shalom has been shattered. Everything changed when sin entered the picture. Pastor Timothy Keller says:

Human beings are so integral to the fabric of things that when human beings turned from God, the entire warp and woof of the world unraveled …We have lost God’s shalom — physically, spiritually, socially, psychologically, culturally. Things now fall apart.

In each of the four dimensions, shalom has vanished, leaving only a broken shadow of what used to be and what God had intended.

  1. Upward. Now, humanity’s relationship with God has been severed. We belittle and mock God by worshiping other things. We don’t love God as we ought and we run from Him because of our sin and shame.
  2. Outward. Horizontal relationships are now characterized by jealousy, hostility, fear, gossip, lack of trust, betrayal, manipulation, oppression.
  3. Inward. We all live with a broken sense of purpose. We are paralyzed by guilt and shame, if we’re honest — or we buy into an illusion of self-sufficiency and pride, and attempt to recreate purpose for ourselves apart from God.
  4. Downward. Our responsibility to manage God’s creation is out of alignment. We now look to our vocations for identity. We look to hobbies, technology, the arts, the sciences, to give us hope and significance. We look to created things to give us what only the Creator can.

All of this brokenness, in each dimension, all play out in our daily lives. It plays itself out when we gossip about others (outward brokenness) to feel significant and validated (inward brokenness). We refuse to worship God (upward brokenness) and instead look to creation — video games, hobbies, careers, academics — for purpose (downward brokenness). All these dimensions are connected. Shalom has vanished. Yet, in every one of our hungry souls, we all long for shalom. That’s why Saint Augustine writes, “our heart is restless until it rests in You.”

The Gospel is God’s plan of restoring all things to shalom. Including you and me.

This is the Gospel: God looked down in love, and for His glory and the joy of His people, embarked on a mission to reconcile all things back to shalom. Every dimension. And in the fullness of time, God sent His son Jesus Christ, to live a life of perfect shalom and died for our sin, as our substitute. Now, if we confess our sin, our idolatry, our rebellion … if we put our faith in the work of Christ, we will be saved. We will be reconciled back to the Father. But not only that, as we begin to believe the Gospel truly, we begin to be reconciled to shalom in all areas — upward with our Father, outward with others, inward with our souls, and downward with creation. When we believe and receive the grace of God for our sin, then we begin to experience peace or shalom, in the here and now, until He comes again to restore all things.

And because of this, we say with the apostle:

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).

Have you been reconciled to the shalom God is extending to you in the Gospel? Have you been reconciled to God Himself? Believe in Christ and be saved!

Grace and peace.

February 4, 2016

Let Your Sins Be Strong…

Today we pay a return visit to Deb Wolf who writes at the devotional blog Counting My Blessings. The header we gave today’s post is meant to be provocative. Deb’s title, below clarifies it a little. Be sure to click through (on the title below) and look around the blog. (Her version of today’s post has some graphics!)

You are Free to Sin Boldly

You’ve heard the quote from Martin Luther, “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.”

I woke up the other morning with the words “sin boldly” on my mind.

Not your typical opening thought for the day? Not mine either. I believe it was God’s nudge for me to write about this to start the discussion on—freedom to.

For two weeks I’ve looked at the freedom I have “from.” Now it’s time to look at the freedom I have “to.” Freedom to be who I am created to be. Freedom to plan my calendar. Freedom to love big. Freedom to live.

And part of living in this sinful world is well . . . sin.

So, when I woke up thinking “sin boldly” it seemed a good place to start. I am free to sin boldly.

You are too.

Wait a minute. What exactly does that mean?

I’ve read several articles from teachers whose students use Luther’s quote as an excuse to do as they please and disobey. Is that it?

Paul said, “Some might say, “our sinfulness serves a good purpose, for it helps people see how righteous God is. Isn’t it unfair, then, for Him to punish us?” (This is merely a human point of view.) Romans 3:5

And

Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of His wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Romans 6:1–2

But you and I do continue to live in sin. No matter how hard we try, we’re going to sin.

I have times when my motives are far less than honorable. When my attitude stinks. When I’m tired and cranky and selfish. Times when I do the right thing because I’m supposed to not because I want to. Okay, that’s enough. I’m starting to squirm here.

Let’s take a look at Luther’s actual quote found in – A Letter from Luther to Melanchthon, written August 1, 1521

“Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides… It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him.” ~Martin Luther

“We will commit sins while we are here…”

Hmmm. Yes, we will.

I believe Luther’s point is this—we’re not going to get it right!

While we are here we will commit sins, but does that mean we should sit in a corner all day with our Bibles in our laps avoiding life and people to protect ourselves from sin.

Absolutely not.

February 3, 2016

The 613 Commandments

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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Fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a wild ride today!

I always enjoy returning to K.W. Leslie’s blog, but this time around the blog has a new name, The Christ Almighty Blog, and a new location. Clicking the title below will take you to the site, and you’ll want to click through today because we’re only bringing you half of the article, the rest is a list of all 613 commandments!

What, you thought there were only 10 commandments?

ten_commandmentsGod’s 613 commands, and how Christians treat them.

Most Christians are familiar with the fact there are 10 commandments. Ex 20.1-17 Not so familiar with the actual 10 commands, but we do tend to know there are 10 of them, and it wouldn’t hurt to live by them. In fact the politically-minded among us think it’d be a good idea for the whole of the United States to live by them… although it’s a bit of a puzzler how we might simultaneously enforce “You’ll have no other gods before me” Ex 20.3 and “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Amendment 1

Some of us have also heard the idea there are 12 commandments. Where’d the extra two come from? Well, someone once asked Jesus his opinion on the greatest command.

Mark 12.28-31 KWL
28 One of the scribes was standing there listening to the discussion.
Recognizing how well Jesus answered the Sadducees, he asked him,
“Which command is first of all?” 29 Jesus gave this answer:
“First is, ‘Listen Israel: Our god is the Lord. The Lord is One.
30 You must love your Lord God with all your heart, life, purpose, and might.’ Dt 6.4-5
Second is, ‘Love your neighbor like yourself.’ Lv 19.18
No command is higher than these.”

Since these two commands aren’t among the 10, certain Christians tack ’em on at the end.

But there’s far from just 12 commands. There’s 613.

Technically there are even more than 613. But when you combine redundant commands—namely all the commands repeated in Deuteronomy, like the 10 commandments Dt 5.1-21 —you get 613 of them. Or at least that was the conclusion of Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon of Spain (1135-1204, also called Maimonides by westerners, Rambam by Jews). Moshe listed them in his book Sefer Hamitzvot/“Book of Good Deeds.” He had slightly different priorities than Jesus, which is why he put loving God at 3 and 4 in his list, and loving neighbors at 13.

These commands are mostly for everyone. There are many priest-specific commands, which don’t apply to the general population. (Although Pharisees customarily practiced ’em anyway, figuring all Jews ought to be as ritually clean as priests.) There are also many gender-specific commands, which apply to men and not women, or women and not men.

And let’s be honest: There is a double standard in the Law. Women and men may be equal in Christ, Ga 3.28 but not under Law. Fr’instance there’s a test for a wife’s faithfulness, Nu 5.11-30 but no such thing for husbands. ’Cause under patriarchy, men could have sex with any woman in their household. The Law abolished many of patriarchy’s customs—no they couldn’t have sex with just anyone they wished. But though abolishing patriarchy was God’s goal—with men in leadership or service practicing monogamy 1Ti 3.2, 12 and loving their wives like Christ loves his church Ep 5.25 —he didn’t do it outright in his Law. Though certainly the test of a wife’s faithfulness under the Law is considerably better than the previous patriarchal custom: Kills her without any trial. Ge 38.24

How Christians see the Law.

Christians are of three minds when it comes to following the Law. And some of us are of multiple minds: Sometimes we follow one of these practices, and sometimes another, depending on when it’s convenient or advantageous.

  1. Fulfilled. The most common belief you’ll find among Christian theologians is there are three types of commands:
    1. Moral, defining right and wrong. They always apply.
    2. Ritual, defining the religious practices of ancient Israel and ritual cleanliness. In his self-sacrifice, Jesus rendered them irrelevant: We don’t need to sacrifice animals and grain anymore, or practice ritual cleanliness. (In fact, doing so indicates we don’t really believe in what Jesus did for us.)
    3. Judicial, defining the civic society of ancient Israel. They apply to Israelis, not gentiles. Gentile Christians should study them, since they describe God’s will and justice, and adopt their principles in our cultures. But obedience isn’t mandatory; just recommended.
  2. Abolished. The most common belief you’ll find among Christian non-theologians (i.e. everybody else) is every command, of every sort, has been abolished altogether. Except maybe the 12 commandments, and the commands against homosexual stuff, and anything else we’d kinda like to apply. But in general Jesus wiped out sin, freed us from the Law, and we’re no longer under it. We’re totally, absolutely free, to do what we want, any old time. (Scholars call these folks antinomians. Jesus just calls ’em lawless. Mt 23.28)
  3. Advisory. Certain Christian libertarians agree with the antinomians: Every command was abolished, and we needn’t do them. But same as with the judicial commands, the Law still describes God’s will and justice, and they’re a good guideline, a good set of principles to live by. In that spirit, we should adopt those principles as our lifestyle. (But not enforce them on others. ’Cause grace.)
  4. Applicable. Jesus, because he’s the LORD who handed down the Law in the first place—it’s his Law—didn’t abolish any of it. He simply affirmed some issues in the Law are more important, and some issues are less important. Use your head, but follow the Law.
  5. Semi-applicable. Among certain Christian legalists, you’ll find the position that Jesus fulfilled the ritual commands, which no longer apply; but all the others do apply. (They’ll even include some of the cleanliness rules.) Further, these laws ought to become the law of the land.
  6. Applicable to Jews. If you’re a Jew, the Law still applies, ’cause God’s covenant with Israel is an everlasting one. If you’re gentile (like me), we’re not obligated to follow any commands other than the ones God applies to all humanity, as told to Noah:
Genesis 9.1-7 KWL
1 God blessed Noah and his sons.
He told them, “Bear fruit. Be many. Fill the earth.
2 Respect for you, and terror of you, is upon every beast of the earth, bird of the skies;
upon everything which crawls in the dirt, every fish in the sea. They’re put in your hand.
3 Every moving, living thing is for you,
for food like the plants I gave you. All for you.
4 Only don’t eat living meat, or blood.
5 I only demand from your hand your blood, your lives.
I demand it of every living thing; I demand it of humanity.
I demand the life of humanity from your and your brother’s hand.
6 One who spills human blood: Their blood will be spilled by humanity.
For God made humanity in God’s image.
7 And you: Bear fruit. Be many.
Swarm the earth. Be many in it.”

From this, they extrapolate “seven Noahide commands”: Don’t deny God, blaspheme God, murder, have illicit sex, steal, eat live animals; and create a justice system to ensure people follow the above. If gentiles do this, they’re fine with God. This is also called a dual-covenant system, and appears to be what the early Christians endorsed. Ac 15.19-21

My own view? The historic fulfilled view: Moral commands count, judicial commands ought to be taken seriously, and ritual commands are moot.

But the danger of all commands is when we try to follow them without taking God’s character into mind—without his love, grace, patience, and forgiveness. When people sin against you, forgive. Lk 17.3-4 Too many Christians “forgive,” but try to exact penalties from people for sinning, and obligate people to earn back their good graces. That may be fine for civic authorities, but wholly inappropriate for Christians.

>>Click here and scroll down to read all 613 commands.

 

February 2, 2016

Where Compassion Meets the Refugees – Part Three

In Part One, we looked at the similarity between some North American attitudes toward the Syrian refugee crisis and Jonah’s attitude toward Nineveh.  In Part Two we looked at the three categories of our financial blessing and how we’re commanded to allocate these. However, we stopped short of fully fleshing out the third category.

André Turcotte is a Christian & Missionary Alliance pastor and church planter, and a Canadian Armed Forces chaplain. What follows is adapted from his notes, and not word-for-word. (Some sections in parenthesis today are my additions.)

• • • by André Turcotte

Some of the help we’re able to give will come from this third category…

Margins

Leviticus 23:22 “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.’”

(This should remind you of another passage, the story of Ruth and Boaz in Ruth 2.)

This is repeated in scripture:

Deuteronomy 24:19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow.

Leviticus 19:9 “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

(This of course bears on the broader topic of margin. Is there enough in your life generally? There should be some discretionary spending money in your budget.)

The problem is that instead of living with some margin or leftover, many of us are living financially beyond our means. (This would definitely include those who make only the minimum monthly payment on their charge cards, or whose cards are already maxed-out.)

In the New Testament Jesus takes it even further:

Luke 12:33 “Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it.

Remember the image of a wheat field from yesterday? Perhaps the most compelling argument for what this means is found in

The Principle of Sowing and Reaping

2 Cor. 9:6 Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”

All through scripture, God’s rewards generous, cheerful giving; again, not done out of compulsion or duty but joy.

But the natural human response is to say, ‘What’s in it for me?’

God’s blessing

8 (NLT) And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say,

“They share freely and give generously to the poor.
    Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”

10 For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity [NIV: righteousness] in you.

11 Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God.

(Note: This should not be interpreted as what is currently called ‘prosperity doctrine.’)

Though our motive should be giving joyfullly to the Lord, God promises to supply, multiply and reward those who are His generous stewards. God multiplies our giving for many purposes.

Multiple effect

12 (NIV) This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 

Generosity with our money in this instance helps the refugees, shows the unity of the Body of Christ, bears witness to Christ, honors God, and increases our faith in Christ.

 

February 1, 2016

Where Compassion Meets the Refugees – Part Two

Yesterday we looked at the similarity between North American attitudes toward the Syrian refugee crisis and Jonah’s attitude toward Nineveh. (If you have sensitivities toward the Syrian situation, please note that not all Christians feel this way; we’d like to think it’s just a minority, but the challenge of opening our communities is stretching us and steepening our learning curve!)

André Turcotte is a Christian & Missionary Alliance pastor and church planter, and a Canadian Armed Forces chaplain. What follows is adapted from his notes, and not word-for-word.

• • • by André Turcotte

So what does all in look like when it comes to giving to projects such as this one?

On one extreme end, some could say it means giving all we have to those in need, but practically that would just leave us in that same place (and in some cases diminish our ability to help when future causes arise.)

On the other extreme end, some would just take money they are currently giving to “A” and simply redirect it to “B.”

Obviously we need a new perspective: What it means is realizing that all we have is given to us from the Lord and stewarding all of it for Kingdom purposes is our duty.

To repeat, all in does not mean giving every last cent to others, but rather stewarding every last cent in a way that makes room for the needs of others.

So what do we mean by stewarding everything we have?

‘Everything we have’ can be categorized in 3 ways: First fruits, Middle fruits and margin/leftovers.

Picture in your mind a vast field of wheat. Today not many of us are farmers, so we don’t practice our giving in terms of grain or sheep, but picture a wheat field divided into the following categories:

First fruits

Several times God calls his people to give the first fruits to him — this is constant even at times there were other needs around them.

Honor the Lord with your wealth,
    with the firstfruits of all your crops;
10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
    and your vats will brim over with new wine.

This is important: Note that taking the tithe or first fruits and redirecting them to the needy is a violation of God’s directive.

Many reading this will say, what about people in need right here in the United States or Canada? It would be an epic fail on the part of God’s people if we

  • redirected what would normally be our tithes to engage this need, or
  • stopped giving to other local or regional projects to help those who will arrive (or, the current ‘flavor of the month’ charity; the one making the headlines).

On the other hand, saying that we can’t do anything to help those in need because we are ‘tapped out’ or because we have given all our charity money to God is not acceptable either.

This reminds us of the passage where Jesus deals with what were called the Corban rules (which we can cover here as a separate study sometime*) described in Mark 7:

10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother.

Rather, our giving should come out of our middle fruits and out of our margins.

Middle fruits

This money is a blessing. It’s the fund that most of us live on. Our family operating budget after we’ve first taken care of giving first fruits to God’s work.

The principle here is to enjoy and wisely use God’s blessings.

Ecc. 5:19 Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.

Margins

This is a scriptural principle that I haven’t heard as much teaching on but a principle that is clearly taught in scripture. It’s really the meat of the sermon that attracted me to sharing these notes with you.

But for that one, you’ll have to tune in tomorrow!


* In September, 2015, Clarke Dixon looked at an aspect of the Corban laws in this article:  The Conflict Between Tradition and Jesus.

 

January 31, 2016

Where Compassion Meets the Refugees – Part One

For a few days, I want to share some material that was presented as a sermon by my home church pastor as part of a series that eight area pastors are doing in a 4-week rotation as part of our faith community’s sponsoring of a number of families from Syria. The project is called Better Together, though the name predates the present world conflict and was the name of a similar 6-week pulpit exchange the same churches did two years back before coming together as one body for a Good Friday service in which they gave around $50,000 for a Habitat for Humanity project. (The part we’re looking at today was a collaboration with Clarke Dixon, whose name is most familiar to readers here.)

Sponsoring families of a different faith background, different ethnicity, different linguistic set is extremely stretching for some people, especially people in a rather homogeneous small Canadian town. We tend to look after our own or are drawn to projects where, after a clear proclamation of the gospel, the prospects for conversion are high. Our learning curve as a community is very steep with this project, and will probably become steeper after the first family arrives.

André Turcotte is a Christian & Missionary Alliance pastor, a former (and possibly future) church planter, and a Canadian Armed Forces chaplain. What follows is adapted from his notes, and not word-for-word.

• • • by André Turcotte

The situation we face with Syrian refugees is very similar to that of Jonah, a man called by God to engage people different than himself.

The situation also has some geographic coincidences: Nineveh was part of the Assyrian — even the name is a giveaway — empire; the Assyrians were brutal conquerors who destroyed and abused people. Nineveh is incorporated today in the city of Mosul where ISIS activity made headlines and from where many of the refugees originate.

Jonah 1:1 NIV The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port.

Tarshish, at the far end of the Mediterranean was not only in the opposite direction, the distance was five times the opposite direction.

Most readers here know the basics elements of what happens next. Jonah would love to see the Ninevites destroyed, even though he doesn’t particularly want to be the messenger; but after his rebellion leads to him being tossed overboard by the Tarshish freighter, he has a three-day time-out to reconsider his position.

Jonah 2:9a NLT But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise,
    and I will fulfill all my vows.

The overall arc of the story show that Jonah goes and preaches his message while seriously hoping against hope that the Ninevites don’t respond. (This would be like a modern evangelist going to preach in Las Vegas and preparing to give an altar call at the end, but not really expecting anyone to raise a hand or go forward at the end for prayer.) His goal seems to be about himself, about being able to do his ‘prophet thing’ and then, when the city is destroyed, be able to say, ‘See, I told you so.’

It would seem that although Jonah had obeyed is heart was still bent on their destruction.

This raises a serious application point for those of us whose lives have some type of ministry component; those of us who give the money, offer the time, use our gifts, and are busy about church business:

You can be obedient in your action, but your heart is not all in.

Ultimately, Jonah is more concerned with his reputation and personal comfort than the well-being of Nineveh’s 120,000 population.

4:10a Then the Lord said, … 11 “But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

(So does the idea of refugees in our community — especially in small-town America and Canada make us uncomfortable? I’m sure some would answer yes.)

We learn several things about God in this story, not the least of which is: God wants everybody to come to him and he called you and me to reach them. He is looking for people who are all in.

2 Peter 3:9 NIV The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

So what does all in look like when it comes to giving to projects such as this? Tomorrow we’ll look at scripture teaching on first fruits, middle fruits and margins.


We’ve covered Jonah here a couple of times before including twice recently; here are some older ones:

 

 

 

 

January 30, 2016

Psalms Provide Keys to Longed-For Happiness in Life

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Devotionals at C201 are usually either (a) original or (b) drawn from more recent writings of authors we’ve used before or (c) drawn from leads or running down various ‘rabbit trails’ of good devotional articles. Sometimes in running the trails there are some interesting discoveries. Today we introduce you to Alfred D. Byrd of Lexington, KY who has about a dozen-and-a-half blogs devoted to his various interests which include writing, microbiology, Christian theology, ancient history, American history, science fiction and horror!

In January he kicked off Happiness in the Psalms, a new blog devoted to the places in the Psalms where the writer provides us with an understanding of what it takes to be happy. (In your older Bibles, the word blessed might be used instead.) Happiness is something everyone longs for.

In selecting today’s reading, I read almost half of the devotions archived and I would encourage you to click the title below, and the select other readings from the margin on the left of his blog.

#6 The Right Confidence

Happy is the one who puts one’s confidence in the LORD and does not look for guidance to proud persons or those who turn aside to lies.

— Psalm 40:4

The road to happiness runs through trusting others. Seeking happiness, you must know whom you may trust, and whom you may not.

The Psalmist points out two categories of persons who will make you unhappy if you trust them. The first category consists of the proud, who, the Psalmist implies, will lead you astray from happiness.

Properly to interpret the Psalmist’s teaching, you should know that Scripture sees two kinds of pride, a right kind and a wrong. The right kind is rooted in a realistic appraisal of who you are in relation to others and to God. This kind of pride expresses itself through proper care for your body, your belongings, and your relationships, and through proper development of your abilities. This kind of pride in itself helps lead you to happiness.

The proud persons against whom the Psalmist warns us express the wrong kind of pride. This is a selfish, self-centered pride that falsely inflates the self-image of the person possessed by it. It leads that person to regard him- or herself more highly than he or she ought to in respect of others and of God. It leads the falsely proud person to value possessions over sharing, domination over friendship, and instant gratification over long-term well-being. Such a person, seeing you only as a means to an end, will ignore your need for happiness in favor of his or her distorted view of his or her own happiness.

False pride is based on a false assessment of who one is. It is no wonder, then, that the Psalmist follows mention of the proud with mention of the second category of those who will make you unhappy if you trust them, those who turn aside to lies. The person possessed by false pride is out of touch with reality. He or she is living a lie and must rely on lies to get from you what he or she wants. If you follow a person who has turned aside to lies, you yourself will turn aside from the way that leads to true happiness.

That way lies in putting your confidence in the LORD. He is the Source of truth, which alone can lead you to true happiness. He, the Creator of all things, is not consumed with the need to possess them, but shares them freely with His creatures. He, Who is both unimaginably far above and inexpressibly close to us, does not remain on His throne in the heavens, but comes down to us and lives among us to be closer to us than our own earthly relatives and friends are. He, Who is eternal, gives us rewards that are everlasting.

Only turning from false pride and lies to confidence in the LORD can give us true happiness.

January 29, 2016

Why Apologetics?

Red Letter BibleYesterday I was reading an article which spoke of the main purpose of Christian apologetics is to “strengthen the believer.” We tend to think of it as a branch of evangelism, but unless believers are fully grounded themselves, they can’t share their faith effectively, or be able to deal with objections raised by those outside the faith.

The article mentioned a familiar verse:

I Peter 3:15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect

But also

Titus 1:9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

Jude 3 Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.

2 Corinthians 10:5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

(all NIV)

At this point, I want to share the whole article with you. It’s from the website Ratio Christi and clicking the title below takes you to the site, from which you can explore many other resources. (I’ve added emphasis to some of the things the author feels are symptomatic of the shallowness of Christianity in present times.)

Strengthening the believer…

Most have probably heard the saying “if, insert name here, jumped off a bridge would you follow?” The context meaning just because someone else does it, be it popular, or not real smart, would you follow simply for that reason? The point being, a lot of people, do and believe a lot of, well let’s just say strange things. So what does this have to do with strengthening the believer? I am glad you ask!

In Dr. William Lane Craig’s book On Guard, he writes “the purpose of apologetics is to reach the lost, strengthen the believer and to change culture.” I spend, and know God has led me to this point, most of my time attempting to strengthen the believer. Unfortunately, apologetics receives some of its strongest opposition from this group of people. I find this very confusing and extremely frustrating. I mean, after all, apologetics is Biblical, part of the first and greatest commandment, and Jesus used it, as did Paul. But that is not the point. How can professing believers reach the lost, or change culture if they do not know what and why they believe? It has been written about many times before, they cannot. In fact, the majority of professing followers do not know what or why they believe. I was ask recently to back that statement up. Herein lies the point.

As an apologist I felt it to be pretty obvious, (the shallowness of professing believers). I mean, I do this for a living. And a simple conversation with many other professing believers seemed like sufficient evidence. So when ask to provide evidence of my claim I was, honestly, taken by surprise. After all, it has been written about extensively, statistics show the church is declining, as do they show our 18 to 20 something’s leaving in mass numbers, (50-80%). So I thought about what would seem to be a good indicator of, or considered acceptable evidence for, most believers not knowing what or why they believe. Are you ready? Brace yourself, or sit down if you are standing. This could be earth-shattering. But in reality, probably not. Remember when I stated God is using me, through apologetics, to strengthen the believer? Previous paragraph…well, that is a tough “row to hoe” as they say in southern West Virginia. Okay, okay, I will get to the point, or my evidence.

False teachers! Pretty simplistic huh? Why would one use false teachers as evidence for a shallow church? Are you serious? One of the fastest growing “denominations” is the Word of Faith movement. Joel Osteen packs in 45,000 every Sunday. Ken Hagin, Joyce Meyer, Beth Moore, TBN, GodTV, Creflo, TD Jakes are all the most popular people and most watched and listened to “Christians.” That is just to name a few. There was a recent Facebook post with Jessi Duplantis and one of his cohorts discussing why they needed private jets. The top selling “Christian” books continuously are written by these people. And one would question the shallowness of professing followers?

What about all of the misquoted scripture one is faced with on a daily basis? We have all heard it from Jeremiah 29:11 to Philippians 4:13. The teaching how to reach the lost by sharing our testimony. By thinking witnessing to someone is inviting them to church. I could go on and on. The evidence is strong. The church NEEDS apologetics. The church NEEDS sound doctrine. The church NEEDS to make disciples. All of which a Biblical commands. Sadly, it would appear the church is in denial!

Please, don’t get me wrong. There are many solid teachers/preachers out there. But if professing followers don’t know what they believe, or why they believe it, how can they possibly distinguish the false teachers from sound theology. Remember, people actually followed Jim Jones to the jungle and killed themselves. And he was extremely popular.

Boys and girls, Christianity is not relevant or popular in today’s society. In fact, it has never been popular. The gospel is offensive. The promise of trails and tribulation does not sound fun. Or happy, blessed, or favored as so often quoted.

I often tell my students that we need to get the majority of professing followers lost so that we can get them saved. Please consider the first and greatest commandment, Matthew 22:37, the next time you consider an apologist that is attempting to strengthen believers too harsh, or not speaking with gentleness and respect. Please read 2 Corinthians 10:5, Jude 3, Titus 1:9, and 1 Peter 3:15.

I pray for the maturity of every professing follower. I ask God that each of you to stop watching, reading and listening to false teaching. Would you at least admit the problem? Would you please commit to figure out what you believe and why?

January 28, 2016

Why “I Couldn’t Help Myself” is Often Untrue

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

2 Samuel 3:26 Joab then left David and sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the cistern at Sirah. But David did not know it. 27 Now when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into an inner chamber, as if to speak with him privately. And there, to avenge the blood of his brother Asahel, Joab stabbed him in the stomach, and he died.

Earlier today we discovered a new devotional site that some of you might like to join for the current series on 2 Samuel. (You’ll have to backtrack a few days to start at the beginning; we’re going to be in chapter 3 today.)

Read it and Do It is written daily by Tennessee pastor Todd Stevens. Friendship Community Church’s statement of beliefs would make a great devotional here on its own.

As always, read this at source by clicking the title below. To start at the beginning of 2 Samuel, next click the header at the top of his blog’s page, and then scroll down to the start of the series.

Did your parents say these crazy things to you?

READ IT
Today’s chapter: 2 Samuel 3

When I was a kid, my parents said certain crazy phrases to me over and over. I swore I’d never use say of those clichés with my kids. “Don’t make me turn this car around!” “If you don’t stop making that face, it will freeze that way.” “Would you jump off a cliff just because all your friends did?” I think I’ve already said them all to my kids at one time or another.

There is a phrase I also remember my mom saying to me many times when I was angry. “You better just cool your jets, mister. Cool your jets.”

I hated it when she said that. First of all, I didn’t have any jets. Second, if I did have jets, why would they need to be cooled? But I knew what she meant. She was telling me to control my temper. I would get so mad when she said that because I was sure it wasn’t possible. How could I be expected to control my temper when I had every reason to be angry?

Joab felt the same way I did when I was a kid. His brother had been killed by Abner and he wanted revenge. He had every reason to be angry, so why should he be expected to control his temper? He let his anger consume him and got vengeance by murdering Abner.

Although his anger was justified, his actions weren’t. It wasn’t his place to exact justice. David was his king and he alone had the authority to decide whether Abner should be punished. Since David had sent Abner off in peace, Joab was out of bounds to kill him. He should have cooled his jets.

The idea that we can’t control our anger is a myth. Let me prove it to you. Think about the last time you got angry and lashed out at someone. Imagine that just before you lashed out, an angel appeared and offered you a million dollars if you could wait at least 10 minutes before responding in anger. Could you do it? (Please don’t get hung up thinking I’m suggesting this is something an angel would ever do. It’s just a hypothetical scenario…)

Here’s the point: if you could control your anger for 10 minutes for a million bucks, then clearly you could control your anger. Each time you’re in a situation that makes you angry, you can decide whether you’re going to allow your anger to consume you.

Nobody can make you furious without your permission. With God, you can choose to respond to anger in a way that demonstrates His love. Even if your anger is justified, you can still decide to cool your jets.

DO IT
At some point today, things aren’t going to be the way you expected them to be. You’re going to be angry and will have an opportunity to decide how to respond to it. Choose to demonstrate God’s love. Do something kind for someone who has done nothing to deserve it.

How will the situation change because of your choice?

 

January 27, 2016

Prophetic Reluctance: Jeremiah

A few days ago we introduced the term prophetic reluctance and interestingly enough it was also connected to Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 20:9

But if I say, “I will not mention his word
    or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
    a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
    indeed, I cannot.

Eugene Peterson renders this in The Message:

But if I say, “Forget it! No more God-Messages from me!” The words are fire in my belly, a burning in my bones. I’m worn out trying to hold it in. I can’t do it any longer!

The NIV Study Bible notes that this one verse indicates two seemingly contradictory inclinations: a prophetic reluctance that is overcome by a divine compulsion.

…Today we pay a return visit to the blog Weeping Into Dancing. I had a hard time choosing which devotional article to feature here, so I really hope you’ll click the title below and then take a few minutes to look around at other items.

Will You Speak?

Uniquely formed by the hands of God, with special gifts and talents, each one of us has been created to fulfill a specific purpose. Understanding the cost of our redemption, a freely given blood sacrifice, humbles man into submission. Therefore, we yield our will and take up His instead. Obedience, faith, and trust draws one into Christian service, but it is our love for the blessed Redeemer that propels us forward into unknown territory.

The prophet Jeremiah was very young when the Lord called him into service. He was ordained to be a prophet, a mouthpiece for God. Understanding the importance of such a position, he was filled with fear. He felt all of his insufficiencies. But God insisted that he go where he was sent, and speak as he was commanded. God persuaded Jeremiah there was nothing to fear, saying He would be with him to provide any necessary deliverance.

“Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: 

‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;  Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.’

 Then said I:

‘Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.’

 But the Lord said to me:

‘Do not say, “I am a youth,” for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,’ says the Lord.”

From that moment, Jeremiah lost all fear and pronounced the sad prophecies and warnings of God, without regard for the king and his strong men. This was often at the peril of his life. However, God was faithful to protect and deliver him from all harm. This is not to say he was free of trials and hardship, including time in a cistern. (Jeremiah 38)

Jeremiah lived during one of the most devastating periods in Jewish history. He saw the destruction of Jerusalem, after his warnings and prophecies fell on deaf ears. How sad it must have been to speak words of warning yet see them ignored. Once the catastrophe came, he lamented the terrible fate of his people in the Book Lamentations.

Hope found in Jesus ChristAs children of God, we ALL have a responsibility to share the Good News with others. To hold on to this hope, found in Jesus Christ, and not speak of it is contrary to our calling. The Great Commission is not just for missionaries, evangelists, preachers, or teachers. We all need to be ready and willing to give a reason for the hope that lives within our hearts. Fear will try to hold our tongue, but like Jeremiah, we must trust God to give us the words to say and the deliverance from every evil.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)

Some will ask, “What about the Christians who have been unjustly imprisoned for their faith? How is God protecting them? So many Christians are facing dreadful atrocities, painful persecution, even murder for simply professing their faith in Christ.

Here now is the hard pill to swallow. How do we know God hasn’t delivered them? Our heavenly Father is a God of compassion. He wants the very best for us. Although our feeble minds might not fathom the purpose for such trials and suffering, should we toss aside what we do know of God’s righteous character? Surely our faith assures us that there is some good, some great work, and some wondrous reward for those who refuse to deny Christ. We must remember our inheritance is in heaven.

The heavenly Father had a purpose for Jeremiah. God’s plan was to use Jeremiah to pronounce judgment upon the people of that time. It was not a job he relished. In all honesty can we say, should an opportunity arise, that we too would speak the truth regarding our faith, even if it led to persecution? Would we deny Christ to avoid imprisonment… or even death? The day may soon be upon us when the faith of every American is questioned, just as it is now questions in Syria, Iran, and across this world.

But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 10:33 (NKJV)

January 26, 2016

A New Song, An Old Story

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

Ecclesiastes 1:9

What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun. (NIV)

Decades ago The Rambos, a country gospel group, recorded My Song Is New, My Story’s Old. I had to look up the song yesterday, but the idea of the lyric has always stuck with me. There’s a line that says, “Found a new way to say it.” That’s the challenge to Christ followers everywhere; to find a new redemptive analogy that puts across the story of grace and forgiveness; or to leverage the current technology to get that message seen.

Our devotional today is by John Stuart at the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s website. Click the title below to read at source.

Something Old, Something New

Ecclesiastes 1:10 – Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. (NIV)

I am fascinated by the current cinematic trend of remaking or re-envisioning old movies. For the last couple of years, it’s been difficult to find an original story or a completely new series of pictures. Hollywood seems preoccupied with retelling old tales with new actors and brilliant special effects, yet, no matter how wonderful these remakes appear to be, they’re just the same old stories presented in a different style or new medium.

As I watch crowds of people lining up at the movie theaters, it makes me wonder if the church could not learn something from this post-modern phenomenon. Are there new ways to retell God’s stories? Should we seriously consider using innovative media techniques to present our worship, our Bible studies, our programs, and our missions in order to reach a wider community?

The answer is, of course, “Yes!” Christianity has always been good at adapting its faith to new innovative processes. The gospel writers used widely-spoken Greek instead of obscure Aramaic to spread Christ’s message. The Reformers employed the printing press to produce Bibles in various European languages to expand Protestantism. Missionaries traveled the entire world using ships, trains, automobiles, and planes to take the gospel to other nations and indigenous peoples. And today, Christian pastors use the Internet by uploading sermons and devotionals, writing blogs, and posting pictures to reach people in their homes all over the world.

A long, long time ago, in Galilee far away, Jesus Christ lived, bringing a message of hope to His people and the rest of the world. His story is our history and we are the messengers of His words, works, and ways in our own homes, churches, and communities today. The gospel may be almost 2000 years old, but its teaching is still relevant for every human being on this planet. As Christians, it’s up to us to present that old message in new forms, whether it be by texting Bible verses, sharing prayers on Facebook, or writing devotional blogs. The opportunities are both amazing and boundless; it’s up to us to use them to glorify God and expand Christ’s kingdom across the globe.

Questions for personal reflection: How has my faith been shaped by current technology? How am I using that technology to share my faith?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we live in amazing times and have wonderful resources to share Your gospel message with our families and friends, neighbours and strangers. Grant us new opportunities to express our faith in positive ways using the technology at our disposal. In Your holy name, we share and pray. Amen.

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