Christianity 201

February 27, 2020

Be Perfect As God is Perfect: So, Are You a Perfectionist?

by Clarke Dixon

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48 (NRSV)

Be perfect, as God is perfect. So, are you a perfectionist, doing everything perfectly all the time? Do you keep the rules perfectly? Is that what Jesus means?

Perfectionism can affect the culture within a workplace, a family, a church family, an organization, or even within one’s own soul. Perfectionism can lead to a culture of excellence, with high standards coming from high expectations. However, perfectionism can also lead to a culture of judgement, a culture of fear, a culture of exclusion. We can be hard on others. We might be hardest on ourselves.

Is that what Jesus is calling us to? To be perfectionists? Let us look again at the words of Jesus in the context in which they are spoken.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48 (NRSV)

In the immediate context, Jesus is telling us to be perfect in love. Nowhere in the Old Testament does it actually say “love your neighbour and hate your enemy,” (verse 43) but some Jewish groups were indeed saying that. In contrast, Jesus tells us to love our enemies (verse 44), and in so doing we will demonstrate a family resemblance to God (verse 45). After all, God provides graciously for all people without distinction (verse 45). The original hearers could reflect on the fact that Roman, or “enemy,” farmers would receive the same amount of sun and rain as the Jewish farmer. Since God loves the enemy, we all should. In the immediate context, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” is not so much “follow all the rules perfectly, keeping a perfect spirituality, while being a perfect person,” as “love like God does.” To quote the Common English Bible translation:

Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.” Matthew 5:48 (CEB)

In the larger context of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is leading us to become the kind of people who reflect the goodness of God, in love, and in everything else. We looked last week at how the scribes and the Pharisees were meticulous in studying and keeping the rules, yet were not the kind of people God was calling them to be. Jesus said that we must have a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees (5:20). In pointing to a better kind of righteousness, Jesus was pointing out that those who were merely focused on the rules were no different from anyone else, no matter how perfectly they kept them:

46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:47-48 (NRSV)

As we pointed out last week, it is not about the rules, it is about you and me, the kind of people we are becoming in Christ, the kind of people who show a family resemblance with God in love, and in everything else.

In the even larger context of the whole Bible, Jesus is leading us toward a goal that God has brought within reach. God has a goal for us. What is that goal?

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. Romans 8:29 (NRSV emphasis added)

21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him. Colossians 1:21-22 (NRSV emphasis added)

Being just like Jesus, made holy, blameless, and irreproachable before God; these are lofty goals which we could never attain on our own. God makes it possible.

In speaking of the goal of perfection, there are two big theological words that are worth learning: justification & sanctification. To explain them, let me use an illustration. Suppose your driving instructor is the devil himself. You learn terrible driving habits, and indeed you rack up so many speeding and dangerous driving tickets, you cannot afford to pay them. You are to have your day in court, the evidence is overwhelming, you expect to be in jail for the rest of your life. Judgement day comes. The judge sets the fine, and indeed you cannot pay it. You are headed to jail for sure. The judge gets off his judgement seat, comes down to your level, gets out his chequebook and pays the fine on your behalf. That is justification. You are free to drive. There may be an accuser in the gallery shouting about how guilty you are, how strong the evidence is, and why you deserve to be in jail. However, while you could never justify why you belong on the roads, the judge who just paid your fine can. So what is sanctification? You get back into your car to drive off, and there sitting beside you in the passenger seat is your new driving instructor, the Holy Spirit. You begin driving, you become a better driver. You are not instantly a good driver, but you are improving with every mile. That is sanctification.

Bible scholar Michael Wilkins talks of a “restful dissatisfaction.” We rest in the fact of God’s love and what God has done for us in the death and resurrection of Christ to enable us to reach the goal of perfection. Yet, we are dissatisfied if we do not experience movement towards that goal in the here and now. We are not concerned with how our lingering imperfections might disqualify us from belonging to God as His children. We are concerned with how our lingering imperfections can have a negative impact on our children, or anyone in relationships with us.

Are you perfect? If that is a question on an entrance exam for eternal life, then the answer can be yes; God offers to make you perfect in Jesus Christ. If that is a question we ask the people in our lives based on their experience of us, then no, we can likely make some improvements.

Are you a perfectionist? If you are the kind of person who loves like God loves, then you will not be. You will walk with imperfect people along a journey, putting up with their imperfections along the way. You may even learn to put up with your own imperfections. If you are a perfectionist, you may be hard on other people. You may be hardest on yourself. Perfectionism is not a part of love. God walks alongside us, not as a perfectionist judging our imperfections, ready to ditch us when we stumble, but as a Heavenly Father Who helps us walk better on our way to a wonderful goal.


Clarke Dixon is a minister with the Canadian Baptists denomination. For a limited time, the full sermon can be heard at https://podpoint.com/calvary-baptist-church-cobourg-podcast)

February 20, 2020

Extra Rules from Jesus?

by Clarke Dixon

Do you have the rules and commandments given by Jesus memorized yet? Jesus tells us we are to have a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 5:20. So on top of the Old Testament law we get extra rules as Jesus followers, right? For example, within the Old Testament there are rules about adultery, but now with Jesus we have a rule about lust as well:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28 (NRSV)

Is that what righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees looks like? Extra rules? Actually, no.

We can be meticulous in keeping the rules, yet still miss the mark. Let me give an example. Suppose my wife gives me plans to build a vehicle. Being an avid motorcyclist, I begin building a motorcycle. I pay careful attention to the instructions on making wheels, brakes, electrical components, and most importantly, engine components. Since the instructions are excellent, and I follow them meticulously, the motorcycle I build is excellent. However my wife is not happy. She tells me to look at the plans again, but this time take a step back and look at the big picture. I have been too focused on the little details to do that. Taking a step back, and taking in the big picture, I see my mistake. These were plans for a mini-van! We have a family to cart around. Oops, I missed the bus!

We can be super meticulous in keeping the rules, yet we don’t become the kind of people God is calling us to become. We ‘miss the mark,’ which is what one of the words used in the Bible for ‘sin’ literally means. We can become so mired in the details of religion, that we miss the big picture of what God has in mind, what is on God’s heart.

Jesus is not giving us new rules in his teaching, but rather is deepening our understanding of the kind of people God is looking for us to become. Continuing on in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, God is calling each of us to become . . .

  • the kind of person who does not blow their top at others. (See verses 21,22)
  • the kind of person who always seeks reconciliation, who seeks to have good relationships. (See verses 23-26)
  • the kind of person who gives their best to their spouse, in devotion and faithfulness. (see verses 27-32)
  • the kind of person who does not objectify others. (see again verses 27,28)
  • the kind of person who is honest and walks in integrity. (see verses 33-37)
  • the kind of person who handles offence with generosity. (see verses 38,39)
  • the kind of person who goes above and beyond in relationships, who goes above and beyond in making things right, who goes above and beyond in helping someone in need, who is generous, and who serves others. (See verses 40-42)
  • the kind of person who loves people like God loves people. (See verses 43-48)

Jesus is that kind of person! Jesus calls you to be that kind of person. It is not about the rules. It is about you and the kind of person you are.

Suppose you adopt a dog, and the adoption agency asks you to agree to a set of rules. You commit to walking the dog, feeding the dog, watering the dog, and keeping up with medications. You could keep all those rules, yet still be an awful dog owner. There is something lacking in the relationship, like; affection, time spent, and playfulness. Something is missing – you are! Your heart is not in it, and the dog knows that. That can happen with a strict rule-focused style of Christianity. Something is missing – you are! The rules are there because they will help the dog stay healthy. However, the dog needs more than your performance of the rules, the dog needs you. The dog needs you to be a certain kind of dog owner. My wife and children need more than my attention to the rules. They need me. They need me to be the kind of person who is an engaged husband and father. The people in our lives need more than scribes or Pharisees who can quote Scripture from memory. They need us! They need us to be the kind of people God is calling us to be, the kind of people God is helping us to become.

To change to an analogy from sports; God, the coach, is not looking for players who are fanatical about the rules. He is looking for players who score goals while being respectful of the rules. He wants people who are engaged in His Kingdom purposes in the world. The best way to keep the rules is live alone and stay at home. If we are followers of Jesus, we will follow him into the world where being the kind of person God is calling us to become will make a difference in the lives of others.

Our aim is to be Christ followers. Our aim is not to become Christian Pharisees. We want to be followers of Jesus, not scribes & Pharisees who have traded in Jewish rules for Christian ones, yet have still missed the mark. If we do that, then our righteousness has not surpassed that of the scribes and Pharisees, it is really no different.

We can be fanatical about the commands of Jesus yet miss the mark. When we lean into the teaching of Jesus, we see the kind of people God is calling us to become. When God leans into us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we become that kind of people.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Today’s article continues a series on The Sermon on the Mount. He appears here most Thursdays. You’ll also find these articles at his blog.

February 10, 2020

When Jesus ‘Turned the Tables,’ It Wasn’t About Money

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“And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.
-Acts 15:19

The verse above comes later than the story we’re looking at today, but in many ways reflects the same principle. I added it here to help focus our thoughts on the general theme of today’s devotional…

This time again we have another new writer to feature here. Paul O’Brien has been in pastoral ministry for nearly a dozen years and lives in Ohio. His blog is New Creation in X. Click the header below to read this one at source.

Why did Jesus flip over tables?

“And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And He would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple” (Mark 11:15-16).

Why did Jesus drive out those who sold and bought in the temple? Why did He flip over tables? That seems pretty extreme. Why was He so worked up? What was such a big deal? I mean in some ways the moneychangers actually helped people it would seem.

When I was in Germany, for instance, I had to go to the “moneychangers” to get euros. Without the moneychangers, after all, I would have had no schnitzel. Further, pigeons were sold. That is actually pretty convenient. Because who wants to have to haul a pigeon halfway across the known world? Not me. So, what was the deal with Jesus getting upset?

It seems that money was not the only issue. In fact, maybe not the biggest issue. Though, Jesus does mention that the moneychangers were essentially robbers (again, reminds me of the bank in Germany where I got my euros). But I think the bigger issue is what the Temple was intended to be and what it had become. It clearly was never meant to be “a den of robbers” but “a house of prayer.” A house of prayer “for all peoples,” it says.

The moneychangers were in the “Court of the Gentiles,” that’s basically equivalent to where Gentiles (non-Jews/”the nations”) would worship. As you can imagine that would obstruct worship. It would be a hindrance from Gentiles, “the nations,” from worshiping the Lord. This is the converse, as Jesus pointed out, of what Isaiah said: “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Is. 56:7).

Jesus brings blessing and salvation to all peoples but at the temple people were hindered from worshiping. That is why Jesus was furious. And rightly so. May we never be worthy of Jesus’ wrath for that same sin.

May we never prevent or hinder people from coming to the LORD, even if they are convenient or important things that we don’t want to give up. May we work to destroy unnecessary stumbling blocks. And may the church be a house and family that welcomes all people in!

50 Days of Christianity 201

On March 31st, 2020, Christianity 201 will have published a fresh devotional/study reading every day for ten years. On April 1st, Lord willing, we’ll still be here, but as I did with Thinking Out Loud, at the ten year mark I’m releasing myself from the obligation to post something every day. There will continue to be new content posting, as well as fresh articles by Clarke Dixon every Thursday, but not necessarily daily. If this is a subscription that you depend upon for daily input, I encourage you to start now following some of the other blogs which are featured here. Or consider writing for us to keep material coming! In the meantime, continue to enjoy “Digging a Little Deeper” daily at C201.

February 6, 2020

“Unless Your Righteousness Exceeds That of the Scribes and Pharisees.” Should We Be Worried?

by Clarke Dixon

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20 (NRSV)

Should we be worried? Is it even possible that our righteousness can exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees? Keep in mind how meticulous they were at keeping the Old Testament laws. Jesus’ words here can stress us out. Are we good enough?

Let’s leave aside whether we are good enough for a moment. The scribes and Pharisees were certain, that Jesus was not good enough:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. . . . Matthew 5:17 (NRSV)

That is exactly what the scribes and Pharisees were thinking! Jesus often seemed to be very un-Jewish in not keeping the laws and customs as expected. Healing on the Sabbath was considered work and so Jesus was obviously a lawbreaker! Further, for his first miracle, Jesus used jars that had been set apart for religious purposes to turn water into wine at a party. Not only did Jesus seem to be un-Jewish, he even seemed to be irreligious. Therefore the scribes and Pharisees were obviously exceedingly more righteous than Jesus. Or so they thought.

Jesus set the record straight:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Matthew 5:17-18 (NRSV)

Though the actions of Jesus seemed to indicate that he didn’t care about the law, he declares that it is very important. The law and the prophets, a short-hand way of referring to all the writings of the Hebrew Bible, reveal the heart of God, and point to Jesus himself. Far from ditching the Old Testament, Jesus was the focus of the Old Testament!

In setting the record straight, it turns out the the scribes and the Pharisees were the ones who were not good enough:

Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:19 (NRSV)

Ironically, despite how meticulous the scribes and Pharisees were at keeping the rules, Jesus, in what he would go on to say, insinuated that they were the ones breaking the commandments and teaching others to do the same. They kept the letter of the law, but they missed the intent of the law, the purpose of the law. They might have been meticulous with regards to the rules, but they were heartless. It is possible to keep all the rules and yet be an awful person. In calling the people of Israel into existence, God was looking to establish a good people, not an awful people who kept the rules. If “love the Lord” and “love your neighbour” sum up the law, then the scribes and Pharisees were not keeping it well at all. They needed to have a better kind of righteousness if they wanted to impress God. They needed a deeper righteousness, a heart righteousness, a righteousness expressed through good character.

We can now ask, is anyone righteous enough?

In his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul spends some time in chapters one and two establishing the fact that non-Jews have no right to a relationship with God. They are not righteous enough. Then he spends some time in chapters two and three establishing the fact that Jews also should have no right to a relationship with God. Though they have the law and the prophets, they also are not righteous enough. In conclusion,

. . . we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; Romans 3:9-10 (NRSV)

However, there is good news:

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26 (NRSV)

Though the Scribes & Pharisees were thinking Jesus was not righteous, actually Jesus is the only righteous one. Are any of us righteous enough? No, but God is good, and offers to make us good. God makes this offer because of His love for us, not because we make a good impression on Him.

God came to us in Jesus so that we could be forgiven of all sin. We will stand before the judgement seat of God with a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. It is Christ’s righteousness placed on us. God comes to us in the Holy Spirit to change our hearts for the better. We grow into a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. That transformation of character is Holy Spirit work. Though we might not feel good enough for God, and really, we are not good enough, God is good and wants to do good for us, and in us.

Jesus says “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Should we be worried? Should we be concerned that we will not “make the cut?” Without Jesus, if you want to impress God, then surpassing righteousness is an obligation. Good luck with that. Even the scribes and Pharisees, with all their meticulous law-keeping, failed to make a good impression. However, with Jesus, and with the gift of the Spirit, surpassing righteousness is an opportunity, through which God will make an impression on the world. Changed hearts, hearts in tune with God’s heart, lead to a changed world. “Surpassing righteousness” should not be a source of stress, but a source of great hope, not only for ourselves, but for the people around us.


Clarke Dixon blogs his messages weekly at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

January 30, 2020

Are We the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World?

You are the salt of the earth. . . You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. Matthew 5:13-14 (NLT)

by Clarke Dixon

Are salt and light good descriptions of Christians in our Western world today? Salt is helpful. What would McDonald’s fries be without it? Light is also helpful. Don’t drive without some! Salt is also essential. Salt was used extensively as a preservative in the days of Jesus. Additionally, our bodies need a certain amount of salt to survive. Light, of course, is also essential for life. Are we essential?

Does anyone consider the Church to be essential in today’s society? Would people notice if our church closed, or indeed all churches closed? Would anyone notice if Christians kept their Christianity to themselves? There are those who would prefer that be the case. Christians are non-essential in their eyes.

Jesus followers were not considered to be essential when Jesus first spoke those words “you are the salt of the earth, . . .  you are light of the world.” “You,” as in “As for you, who are persecuted on my account” from a previous verse. Jesus followers in the early days were considered to be disposable, even dangerous by the authorities. To such maligned and disposable people Jesus says “you are salt, you are light.” You are essential.

However, though essential, there is a danger of becoming tasteless salt, or perhaps a better way of putting it, foolish salt:

“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? . . . Matthew 5:13 (NLT)

The Greek word behind “lost its flavour” is a word used in antiquity for “being foolish.” Indeed, it seems that only here in this verse might it mean “tasteless.” Perhaps, therefore, we should not lose the original meaning behind the word as we hear the words of Jesus. Something like, “You are the salt of the earth, but you can be foolish salt.” Indeed, Jesus would go on to talk about doing something foolish:

No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. Matthew 5:15-16 (NLT)

The religious authorities in Jesus day could certainly be described as “foolish salt”, their deeds were not shining in a way that would bring glory to God. They tried to make Jesus out to be the one who was a fool. After all, Jesus did terrible nasty things like heal people on a Sabbath:

Then Jesus went over to their synagogue, where he noticed a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Does the law permit a person to work by healing on the Sabbath?” (They were hoping he would say yes, so they could bring charges against him.) Matthew 12:9-10 (NLT)

Jesus then made it plain who the fools were.

And he answered, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored, just like the other one! Then the Pharisees called a meeting to plot how to kill Jesus. Matthew 12:11-14 (NLT)

The religious authorities were supposed to be salt and light, but they were being foolish by being lawyers instead of lovers. They were often full of condemnation rather than being helpful. Though they would condemn Jesus for breaking a law on a Sabbath, they were plotting, on that very same Sabbath day, to kill. How foolish! In the religious leaders the salt had lost its taste, it had become foolish.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. Matthew 5:13 (NRSV)

Jesus asks how salt that has lost its saltiness can be made salty again. Technically, salt can not lose its saltiness and that is the point. It should be an impossible thing, such a foolish thing, for the people of God, having been called to be God’s people, having been rescued from Egypt, having been brought into a land they could call home, having been given the law to give them a better way, and having been given the privilege of walking with God Who remained faithful despite their failings – it should be impossible for them to not be salt and light. Why then, are the religious leaders, who should be leading the way in being salt and light, so filled with spite and condemnation when they are the people of God who have experienced such love and grace? That should be impossible.

It should be impossible for us, who are Christ followers, who benefit from the example and teaching of Jesus, who benefit from the death and resurrection of Jesus, who benefit from gift of the Holy Spirit and the gift of God’s Word, who have experienced forgiveness, who have experienced the love and grace of God – it should be impossible for us to not live love filled, grace filled lives. It should be impossible for us to not be good salt and shining light.

So what does it look like to be good salt and shining light? Jesus will go on tell us in the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount. There we will learn what it looks like to let our  “good deeds shine out for all to see” (verse 16). As we look to the Sermon on the Mount in the weeks to come, it is important that we recognize that we are put in a right relationship with God, not by our own efforts to be salty enough salt, or bright enough lights, but by the grace of God. But as salt and light, we can become ineffective, we can be foolish. In the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, we will learn, not what followers of Jesus must do to impress God, but what followers of Jesus look like when God uses them to make an impression on the world.

Society may think that Jesus followers are not essential. But Jesus does! Society may say that Jesus followers are disposable, perhaps even dangerous. Jesus says we are salt and light, we are essential. If people don’t agree with Jesus on that, perhaps we are either being foolish salt, or we are stuck in the saltshaker.


Clarke Dixon blogs his messages weekly at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

January 23, 2020

Kicked to the Curb? (Blessed Are The…)

by Clarke Dixon

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the . . . ” Matthew 5:1-3 (NRSV)

If we were to come up with our own beatitudes what might we come up with? We might say “blessed are the rich and famous, for they have no worries.” Or, “blessed are those with many Instagram followers for they will be popular and never be lacking for friends.” Or, “blessed are the Canadians, for they typically receive decent medical care.” Being quite shy, as a teenager I would have said “blessed are the outgoing, for they will not be overlooked.”

If people in various times and places could come up with beatitudes what might they come up with? Perhaps “blessed are the slaveowners, for they themselves are not slaves.” Or, “blessed are the males, for they will have more opportunities, earn more money, and will never face sexual harassment.” Or “blessed are the white people, for they will enjoy privilege.” Or, “blessed are the straight people, for they will not get beaten up or put to death for their sexuality.” Or, “blessed are the atheists, for they will not be shunned in their academic circles.” Or, “blessed are the religious, for they will not be shunned in their families.”

Going back to the days of the New Testament, if the people listening to Jesus were to come up with beatitudes what would they come up with? They might say things like “blessed are the Romans in Rome, for they will collect taxes from Jews in Judea.” Or “blessed are those who have the power and authority to crucify others, for they themselves will not be crucified and will have control.” Or, “blessed are those who cozy up to the Romans, for they need not fear being hung on a cross.” With such in mind, let us hear the beatitudes Jesus shared:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3-10 (NRSV)

Keeping in mind that the first hearers of these beatitudes were downcast and grieved at being occupied by the Romans, meekly putting up with the status quo, experiencing the injustice of being controlled by an unrighteous and often unmerciful empire, being asked to mix loyalty to God with loyalty to the emperor, and under threat of violence and persecution, we could summarize these beatitudes as “blessed are those who get kicked to the curb and look to God for help, for God will take care of them.” That would resonate with a people kicked to the curb by the Romans.

In that context, the beatitudes of Jesus were reminders that things were not as they seemed. It seemed like the powerful were the fortunate ones, but in reality those who look to God to act in power are the blessed ones. It might seem like the Romans are in charge, but in fact, God is. While “Caesar is lord” was a popular saying, it would later become evident that Jesus is Lord. Indeed the very symbol of Roman power, the cross, was to become a symbol of God’s love for the weak. While it seemed like the Romans were the blessed ones, truly God’s people were the blessed ones as they looked to, and trusted in, Him. Blessed are those who are kicked to the curb, who look to God for help.

As we consider the idea of “blessed are the kicked to the curb,” there is a twist:

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12 (NRSV)

It is not “blessed are you when the Romans persecute you because you are Jewish,” but “blessed are you when people persecute you because you follow me, Jesus.” Also, when we consider the persecution of the prophets, the identity of “they,” the persecutors, is not the usual list of Israel’s enemies, the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, or Romans. The prophets were persecuted by their own people. God’s people in Jesus day were being kicked to the curb by their own people, the religious elites. Jesus will go on to contrast His way with the way of the religious leaders in what has come to be known as the Sermon on the Mount. It might seem that the fortunate ones are those who are able to attain religious perfection according to the standards of those who think they are perfect. But in fact the blessed ones are those who look to God’s perfect love. It turns out that you are not in a good situation if you are depending on your own ability at being good. You are blessed if you look to the goodness of God, if you are aware of your need of His grace. Blessed are the poor in spirit.

Jesus teaches us in the beatitudes that things are not as they seem. It might seem that the powerful Romans are the blessed ones, the ones who can lord their power over the weak, but in fact, Jesus is Lord. It might seem like the religious leaders are the blessed ones, the ones who think they can earn salvation and shun everyone who cannot, but in fact Jesus is Saviour. Both these point to the cross, where the political and religious elites, the so-called “blessed ones,” combined forces to put Jesus to death. The death of Jesus seems to confirm that the Roman and religious leaders are the blessed ones. However, the resurrection of Jesus shows a different reality. The blessed are those who look to God. The blessed are those who look to Jesus, the Lord and Saviour. Blessed are those who are kicked to the curb and look to God for help.

Jesus taught about the Good Samaritan, the outsider willing to help someone left for dead at the side of the road. The so called “blessed ones,” the religious leaders crossed the road to avoid him. They were on their way to the temple and so needed to stay pure to stay blessed. Or so they thought. The one kicked to the curb was the blessed one when the Good Samaritan went above and beyond to be helpful. Have you been kicked to the curb? God is the ultimate Good Samaritan. Cry out, He’ll cross the road.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Today’s article kicks off a series on The Sermon on the Mount. He appears here most Thursdays. You’ll also find these articles at his blog.

January 17, 2020

The Best Proof for Christianity

Today is a revisit to the website Truth or Tradition, sponsored by Spirit and Truth Fellowship International.This is about half of a much larger article. If you read this, and fear rejection, click the header below to include the two sections on ‘having a thick skin’ and ‘having a thicker skin!’

Heart Matters

Proof of Jesus in our Actions 

Apologetics is the religious discipline of defending or proving the truth about one’s religion. Although some would argue that Christianity is not really a religion, there is information that every Christian needs to know to be able to defend and prove that Jesus Christ and his saving works are true. With all the different belief systems and ideas moving through our society, we need to be able to show others genuine and honest evidence that Jesus is who they need, that God is the creator of this universe, and that he is very real and alive and active in his endeavors to help them.

Your love Matters

I recently heard someone say that the best proof (apologetics) we have of Christianity being true and real is Christians themselves.  He said the way Christians act and relate to others is the best evidence to the world that Jesus is the answer, that Jesus is truth and life. Of course, this would mean that Christians are being good imitators of the love and kindness as shown by Jesus. One of the commands of our lord Jesus, and also one of the prayers by the apostle Paul for us, is that we have love for one another and love for all.

This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:12-13

and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you,

 1Thes 3:12 

We are truly living in some very good times to be able to display this love for one another and to those around us that have not named Jesus as lord, yet. No matter where we turn there is so much strife and conflict and uncertainty and division and…and …and. Your love for a hurt and confused and possibly hateful person will certainly stand out in blatant contrast to the minimizing and indifference that they might be all too aware of in their interaction with others. During these difficult days we need to not withdraw our attempts to love and reach out to others and help with their difficulties, but we need to be bold and confident because we truly have answers and help for a dying world…

Plant and Water

There is no way of knowing for sure what effect we are having on many of the people we interact with over the course of our lives. So many times I have wanted to be efficient with my time in finding people who are interested in repenting and getting saved, and I have hastily necessitated a decision or a commitment from them without allowing ample time for them to consider deeply what the decision will mean for them, without allowing them to being able to see my life and the fruit produced by following Jesus.

But in my attempts to be efficient, I have often damaged my ability to be effective. It is almost always impossible to be efficient with people because there are so many emotional loose ends that end up taking longer than we have scheduled. Often people need to not feel pressured into making a decision, to have room to consider what they are getting into. Better to be effective than efficient.

Many times we hear about spectacular conversions of people coming to Christ. And of course this does happen at revivals or other life altering events. We need to be ready to supply people with the truth at these times. However, there are by far more people who come to know Jesus over a course of time, and sometimes through many exchanges from many different people.  Jesus said that he would personally build his church, and something for us to remember is that Jesus brings people and situations together into the lives of the people we meet to help in his building.

On a construction site, usually there are many different contractors who bring different skills at the right time during the building project. The foundation people show up first, then the framers, followed by the mechanical people including plumbers and electricians. It is a process that requires time and planning. Our lord Jesus is very good at putting us into others’ lives at the right time so that we can be a part of the building process that results in God giving growth. Even the Apostle Paul knew that there are others involved in the growth process.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

1Cor 3:6-7

My wife and I were at a restaurant eating with a neighbor of ours that we have befriended. We of course have the hope of sharing the good news with her, and do so in little tiny bits. She has, through the course of our friendship, been very outspoken of her non-biblical views. She has listened briefly to some of the points we have made about God, but mostly changes the topic quickly. She also has a few tattoos that she has collected over the course of her life.

As we were at this restaurant, she mentioned the hostess who had these beautiful tattoos all over her arms.  She told us tattoos like those are called sleeves. As the hostess came by our table, our friend mentioned to the hostess how nice her tattoos were. This hostess asked if she could share the story of her tattoos with us. She sat down and started talking about her life and how she was into drugs and other very dark situations, and as she pointed to her arms, from one tattoo to another as they all tied together, she explained her journey out of darkness and into the grace and salvation of Jesus. Part of her tattoos where a stairway leading out of pain into light. Our friend was quiet and did not have much to say after the hostess left, until she changed the subject again.

This was such a great example to me of how our Lord is in the process of building his church and bringing different people together to plant and water.  We may not always be the one who gets the joy of seeing the actual conversion in another’s life, but we should be filled with joy that we get to be a part of the process of planting and watering, realizing that  we are not the whole process. In fact we need to pray that others will be sent to the people we love, so that there will be a concentrated effort leading them in the right way…

…continue reading here

75 Days of Christianity 201

On March 31st, 2020, Christianity 201 will have published a fresh devotional/study reading every day for ten years. On April 1st, Lord willing, we’ll still be here, but as I did with Thinking Out Loud, at the ten year mark I’m releasing myself from the obligation to post something every day. There will continue to be new content posting, as well as fresh articles by Clarke Dixon every Thursday, but not necessarily daily. If this is a subscription that you depend upon for daily input, I encourage you to start now following some of the other blogs which are featured here. Or consider writing for us to keep material coming! In the meantime, continue to enjoy “Digging a Little Deeper” daily at C201.

January 16, 2020

Learning From the Master Learner

by Clarke Dixon

Jesus is arguably the greatest teacher that ever taught. His teaching was recognized as profound by those who first heard it:

Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. Matthew 7:28-29 (NRSV)

The teaching of Jesus continues to be revered in our day, by Christians and non-Christians alike. The impact of Jesus’ teaching is undeniable, on both individuals and societies.

Neil Peart was arguably one of the greatest rock drummers ever. The one known as “The Professor” said this on why he took drum lessons despite his already high level of drumming proficiency: “What is a master but a master student?” (Rolling Stone Magazine 2012). Was Jesus, the master teacher, also a master student? While the Bible tends to focus on the teaching of Jesus, there is one passage which speaks to his learning:

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.  Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. Luke 2:41-47 (NRSV emphasis added)

Before Jesus taught, he learned. There are two things to take note of.

First, Jesus went to the right place and the right people to further his growth and learning. He went to the temple, he sat under those who taught things about God. According to the custom of that time and place, Jesus should have been focused on learning carpentry from Joseph. No doubt most his days were taken up with learning that trade. However, even from a young age, Jesus had a sense of a much deeper calling:

When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”  He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? Luke 2:48-49 (NRSV emphasis added)

Yes, Jesus would have called Joseph “Dad.” And yes, Jesus would have been learning carpentry from him. However, in being in his “Father’s house,” and in learning things about God, Jesus showed his awareness of being someone special, of being called to something special. Jesus, being the Son of God, was called to do what no one else in history could do; be Lord and Saviour.

Do we know our identity in, and calling from, God? We may immediately think of our vocation or volunteering. We may have matched our passions and gifts with what we do with our time. There is a calling more basic and fundamental than that. We are called to follow Jesus. We are called to be his disciples, a word which simply means ‘student.’ If Jesus, being aware of his calling and identity as the Son of God, went to the Temple, we, as disciples of Jesus, will want to go to Jesus. Perhaps you thought I was going to say we go to church. Yes, that is part of it, but even in church we focus on learning from Jesus.

Second, Jesus engaged in conversation, asking questions and giving answers:

. . . they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. Luke 2:46-47 (NRSV)

There is a theological question we must answer so that we can better understand this Bible passage. Was Jesus, since he was God the Son, and therefore potentially knew everything already, showing off his knowledge? Or, was Jesus actually engaged in learning? While Jesus is fully divine, he is also fully human. Bible passages will sometimes put the focus on one or the other. In this passage, the emphasis is on the humanity of Jesus. Note the verses immediately preceding and following this passage of Scripture:

And the Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. Luke 2:40 NASB

And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Luke 2:52 NASB

Before Jesus taught, he learned. He asked questions, he dug deeper. He gave answers, giving opportunity for correction. This was how people learned from the rabbis in those days. The teachers were not annoyed with the answers of Jesus, as they would be if he was coming off as a ‘know-it-all,’ rather, they were amazed. Before Jesus taught with great wisdom, he learned with great wisdom.

Are we asking good questions? There is never a dumb question. But there are questions that are are more wise to ask than others. For example, I have often been asked whom Cain married. Since the Bible only told us about Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel up to the point of Cain going off and getting married, whom did he marry? This is not a dumb question. However, a better question, a wise question to ask is: “what is the nature of, and God’s vision for, the Bible?” When we find the answer to that question, the question about Cain goes away. In a nutshell, the Bible is given to teach us what we need to know about ourselves, God, and our relationship with God. It is not given to tell us everything. Are we asking good questions? Are we open to correction? Do we have a teachable spirit? Sometimes this means, not adding to our understanding, but making adjustments to our understanding. Are we learning with wisdom?

Like Jesus, the master learner, we want to be in the right place to grow into our identity and calling. We want to be learning at the feet of Jesus. Like Jesus, we want to be wise learners, asking questions, digging deeper, giving space for correction.

Jesus is not just a great teacher, but being God the Son, Jesus is Lord and Saviour. Jesus is not a self-help guru! Our growing in, and learning from, Jesus is not just about living the good life. It is part and parcel of our salvation. Salvation is not just about going to heaven when we die. It is also about heaven’s influence on us now. Are we learning from the Master Learner?


Clarke Dixon is a musician, motorcycle enthusiast, and pastor in Ontario, Canada. He is the single-most-frequent contributor to C201, with articles appearing most Thursdays.

January 15, 2020

Did You Bring the Right Offering to Church?

Can we return one last time to the Advent/Christmas narrative? We weren’t sure, but we knew last week there was a possibility that Clarke Dixon’s article from last week, would have a Part Two, but it didn’t get published on his blog until this week. So today, this article, and then tomorrow, Lord willing, Clarke’s regular Thursday blog post.

by Clarke Dixon

Did you bring the right offering to your church? Perhaps pastors such as myself will be tempted to say “no.” That may be based on organizational number crunching for 2019 and a realization that red is not just a Christmas color. As Christmas fades into the past, an event following that first Christmas will help us reflect on our offering.

Let us consider the Magi. We usually think of the Magi as being at the manger along with the shepherds on the first Christmas Day. However, based on Herod’s killing of Bethlehem’s 2-years-old-and-under infants (see Matt 2:16), they likely arrived later.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:11 (NIV)

Being non-Jewish, the Magi do not bring an offering according to any religious rule, but rather from of a spirit of generosity. It is an interesting exercise to read through the entire New Testament, taking note of how often religious rules for giving are promoted in contrast to how often generosity is taught and modelled, especially by Jesus.

It is an interesting exercise to also consider the difference between giving out of religious duty and a spirit of generosity. For example, it is possible to earn millions of dollars, tithe a tenth of all that is earned to a church, and yet be completely lacking in a generous spirit. We would be left with incredible wealth, yet could still be stingy to everyone and every need that crosses our paths. Even though we have given much to our church community, we can be Scrooge-like in sharing our gifts of time and talents. Are our offerings of time, talents, and treasures an expression of a growing and generous spirit, or merely an expression of how religious we are? Our offering is not just a matter of accounting and number crunching, but a matter of the heart.

Further, let us consider that the Magi bring their offering, not to the temple, but to a person. Are our offerings focused on Jesus? Are they focused on Jesus when they are given to an organization we call a church? It is more important that churches help people connect and walk with Jesus, than simply keep churchy and religious things happening. Since our offerings are part of personal devotion and worship, we would bring them as an act of worship, even if we were asked by God to be burn them on an altar.  But God has not asked for that. He has directed us to help people connect with Him.

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (NLT)

Do our offerings help people connect with God and walk with Jesus?

There is another offering for us to consider as we bid farewell to the Christmas season. Let us go back to the temple, to the moment Simeon held the infant Jesus in his arms and said to Mary:

“This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” Luke 2:34-35 (NLT)

A sword would indeed pierce Mary’s soul when Jesus was opposed by his own people, who should have known better, and hung on a cross by the Romans, who should have done better. We are barely beyond Christmas and already we are hearing about Good Friday. While we think of the offerings of the Magi, the offering brought by God for outsiders like the Magi is the real news here. God’s generous spirit is on full display!

Have you brought the right offering to church? Come to Jesus, see the gift he has for you. Then see where generosity leads you.


Clarke Dixon is a musician, motorcycle enthusiast, and pastor in Ontario, Canada. He is the single-most-frequent contributor to C201, with articles appearing most Thursdays.

January 9, 2020

Do You Belong in Church on a Sunday Morning?

by Clarke Dixon

Listen to the original sermon on which today’s article is based at this link.

Do you belong in church on a Sunday morning? There are those who have no desire to go. I get that. However, there are those who who would like to, but don’t feel they belong. They feel they will be judged, by the regulars, or worse, by God. There are those who feel that they are not good enough to be found in church, their attendance would be hypocritical in some way. At the tail end of the Christmas story, there is an event which will help us reflect on where we belong.

Let us first consider Mary and Joseph:

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord  (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” Luke 2:22-24 (NRSV)

Often missed in the Christmas celebrations, and often neglected in our rush to get beyond Christmas, is this story about Mary and Joseph taking the infant Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem. The temple was known to be the place where God took up residence among His people. Of course everyone would have known that God, Who created the cosmos, could not be contained in any single building. But there was a sense in which God had chosen to dwell among a certain people and therefore dwelt at a certain place. The temple, therefore was a sign of intimacy.

Do we think of Joseph and Mary as just going through the motions, doing a religious duty and nothing more? Or was there a sense of wonder, expectation, gratitude, and recognition of the intimacy between God and his people? Indeed this intimacy with God would be worked out in a special way through this child Mary and Joseph carry. Would they really have known what a privilege they had? If they did, being regular people, would they have felt they deserved that privilege? I doubt it! Do we really get what a privilege it is to be in the presence of God together with God’s people? Do we think of going to church as merely ‘doing a religious thing,’ or are we aware of our participation in something quite incredible?

Let us also consider Simeon. While Joseph and Mary are at the temple, Simeon took Jesus in his arms and said:

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32 (NRSV)

These are surprising words. We may have expected ‘for my eyes have seen your salvation, for this child will deliver us from all peoples, and kick these pesky Romans out.’ Instead, salvation is “prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” The temple was a place of nationalistic pride. Many held the attitude that “Romans don’t belong here,” not in Israel, certainly not in the temple. Many feared the Romans would destroy the temple, just as the Babylonians had done hundreds of years before. Many were hoping the coming Messiah would protect the temple by destroying the Romans. However, this infant called Jesus was not destined to protect the temple and destroy the Romans, but rather to include the Romans in God’s loving embrace!

Next, let us consider Anna:

 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:36-38 (NRSV)

As God used Simeon to drop big hints about what was to come through this infant Jesus, so He used Anna also. Anna spent most of her time for most of her long life at the temple. However, if the temple stood as a symbol of intimacy with God, it also stood as a symbol of distance from God. Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy place in the temple, only once a year, and only after much rigmarole to ensure ritual purity. Such is the holiness of God. Your regular priest could not go as far into God’s presence. Non-priests were kept further away. Women were kept further away still. Anna spent her life in devotion to a God she could not properly approach. God would change all that through this infant Jesus. Following his life, death, and resurrection, people like Anna could “come boldly unto the throne of grace” (Hebrews 6:16 KJV).

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. Ephesians 3:12 (NLT)

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26-28 (NLT)

In fact, people like Anna, once kept at a distance without Christ, together are the temple, the place where God takes up residence:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 1 Corinthians 3:16 (NRSV)

With Simeon and Anna we discover that God can surprise us with his inclusive love. Are you surprised by the fact you can be included in God’s love? One of the things I am fond of saying at the Lord’s Supper is “it is not necessary for you to be a formal member of our church, or indeed any other church to participate with us in the Lord’s Table.” People are often not “good enough” to be included in church membership rolls. God is good enough to include them in His love, in His mercy and forgiveness at the cross. Perhaps that describes you? You may think you should stay away from church for you are not good enough to enter. You are welcome to come. You would be in the right place.

January 2, 2020

2019 Bible Verse of the Year

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by Clarke Dixon

With 35 billion chapters of the Bible read using their Bible apps in 2019, the people who bring us YouVersion have some impressive statistics to back up their announcement of the “verse of the year.” It is the most looked up, most highlighted, and most shared verse in the YouVersion community. So what is it?

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 (NRSV)

This speaks to the fear and anxiety in today’s society, and since the app is used across the globe, the anxieties felt around the world. This verse was written by someone who had great reason for anxiety and worry, for people who had great reason for anxiety and worry. It is in a letter written by the apostle Paul from prison, always a place of uncertainty in that time and place, to the Christians in Philippi who were facing persecution. So what does Paul say? Let’s consider what the Bible says about worry here, beginning with verse 4:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Philippians 4:4 (NRSV)

We rejoice, even though we may feel scared, mad, or sad. That might seem like an impossible thing to do, since we cannot normally choose our emotions. However, “rejoice” here is an imperative verb, it is an action rather than a feeling. According to Greek experts it is the activity of being glad or taking delight. It is possible to feel sad, and be glad at the same time. Paul is not contradicting himself when he says “we are saddened, but we rejoice” in 2nd Corinthians 6:10.

To give an example, I might be sorrowful that we are now in a Canadian winter and I cannot ride a motorcycle. But at the same time I can be glad that I have enjoyed motorcycling every year since 1991, and look forward to another season of riding in the spring. For another example, I am unhappy about my Mum having Alzheimer’s disease, and feeling distraught that she is now living in a nursing home. However, I am glad she is safe, and with our shared hope in Christ, I take delight in the fact that her best days are still ahead. My emotions have not changed, I am still feeling the emotions brought by grief, but I can focus my mind on things to take delight in. I don’t try to change my emotions from feeling sad to happy, but rather refocus my mind, engaging in the activity of rejoicing even while unhappy.

This is part of what happens in worship and praise at church gatherings. Whatever our emotions resulting from a difficult week, or a difficult season of life, in worship we focus on the big picture, the reality that is ours in God. There can be awful stuff happening in our lives which will result in negative emotions, but in worship all the awful stuff takes the background. The reality of God takes the forefront of our hearts and minds. We cannot change our emotions, but we can change our focus. We are told to “Rejoice in the Lord!” We focus on God. We focus on the big picture God paints for us which takes the focus off the limited perspective of our own field of vision.

Next:

Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Philippians 4:5 (NRSV)

We keep our cool, even though we may be mad enough to blow our tops. If our emotions take the forefront, then our relationships will be affected. When we allow the worries of life to take the foreground of our hearts and minds, we can easily hurt others. We can “kick the dog” so to speak. The Greek word for ‘gentleness’ has the idea of fitting, appropriate, or fair. Our response to the troubles of life can make our family and friends suffer unfairly, not to mention the poor dog. It is much better when we relate to people with the reality of God in the foreground. We relate to people, not as wounded people flailing away with swords, but as healed and healing people, experiencing grace and love from God, seeking grace and love in the lives of others.

And now for the verse of the year:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 (NRSV)

We can pray, even though worry seems like the best, or only, thing to do. When we rejoice, we put the big picture in the forefront. In prayer, we have the opportunity to get our concerns and frustrations back to the forefront. Our frustrations and concerns are important, so should not merely be hidden away as if they do no matter. However, we do not put them forward so they can consume us. We focus on them in order to name them and hand them over to God. What is the result?

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7 (NRSV)

We may be uncertain about many things, but in Christ we can be certain God is our Heavenly Father who works out all things together for good (see Romans 8:28). One very literal translation puts it this way: “The peace of God, the one surpassing in value all reasoning, will watch over your inner selves and your thoughts” (from Scripture Direct Interlinear Greek Bible). While many understand this verse to mean something like “the peace of God is beyond understanding,” another possibility is; “having the peace of God is better than having understanding.” In other words, it is better to experience the peace of God, than have everything figured out. That is often our trouble, we want to have everything figured out, we worry and fret when we don’t. We don’t need it all figured out! Give it to God, Who already has it all figured out, Who has the power to do something about it, Who has the love to do something good about it, even if we can’t see it or understand it. Once we have given our concerns over to God, we can then refocus the mind again:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 (NRSV)

We have something far greater than knowing every detail of the future, and the ability to control that future. We have a relationship with the One who holds the future. Instead of worrying, let us go to God, rejoicing in our reality in Christ, relating to others with that reality in mind, giving our concerns over to God, then refocusing on all that is good. Whatever emotions you may experience in 2020, may you know peace, especially the peace of God.


Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays and is the pastor of a church in Cobourg, Ontario about an hour east of Toronto. Click here for his WordPress blog.

 

December 27, 2019

The First Christmas. An Ordinary Day?

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This week Clarke Dixon posted both his Christmas Sunday message and his Christmas Eve message. We decided to share this second one while it was still closer to the 25th.

by Clarke Dixon

For most of us, Christmas is no ordinary day. We prepare for it, we take time off, we meet with family, we play special music. This is no ordinary day. Yet the first Christmas was actually quite ordinary in many ways. It was not marked on anyone’s calendar as being a holiday, or anything out of the ordinary. Yet there was something extraordinary about that first Christmas. Let us consider the many ways Christmas Day points to both the ordinary and the extraordinary.

Mary. An Ordinary Woman. An Extraordinary Calling!

Mary was an ordinary young woman, like every other young woman. We don’t know too much about her, but we can assume that she had quite an ordinary childhood. Like other young women of her age, she was engaged to be married. Her life was quite ordinary, until she had an extraordinary calling from God.

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee,  to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David.  Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”
 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.  “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.  What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For the word of God will never fail.”
 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.Joseph.

Luke 1:26-38 (NLT)

Joseph. An Ordinary Man. An Extraordinary Family!

Joseph was also quite an ordinary person. He was a descendant of David, but he was also a normal man like any other man. In fact when he learned that Mary was pregnant, he decided to do what any good man would do, he decided to call off the wedding. However, this was no ordinary child Mary was carrying. As it turns out, while Joseph was an ordinary man, he would have an extraordinary family.

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:
 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us.’” Matthew 1:18-23 (NLT)

Bethlehem. An Ordinary Town. An Extraordinary Fulfillment!

That first Christmas took place in an ordinary town. Bethlehem at that time was probably no bigger than the small town we live in which only has 2000 or so people. It had a rich history, with King David being from Bethlehem. However, living in Bethlehem would feel no different to the locals than living in a small Canadian town does today. Life there was quite ordinary. But something extraordinary did happen there.

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.
And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. Luke 2:1-7 (NLT)

While being an ordinary town, through the birth of Jesus this town became the site of an extraordinary fulfillment of prophecy.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:
‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’” Matthew 2:1-6 (NLT)

The Shepherds. Ordinary People. An Extraordinary Invitation!

You might think that the birth of a long awaited king would be announced to a long list of important people, like rulers or religious leaders. God chose to announce the birth to quite ordinary people, shepherds working nearby. In doing so, God indicated that ordinary people are important people. They are important to him.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.  All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them. Luke 2:8-20 (NLT)

Jesus. An Ordinary Baby. An Extraordinary Baby!

Jesus himself was quite ordinary in some very important ways. He was a baby like any other. Despite the claim of a favourite carol, he cried like any other baby would. He needed fed like any other baby. He probably kept his parents awake at night, like any other baby! But he was also extraordinary. He was the incarnation of God. He was “Immanuel,” God with us.

In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone…
So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. John 1:1-4,14 (NLT)

Christmas. An Ordinary Day. An Extraordinary Event!

That first Christmas Day was a very ordinary day. It was not marked as special on anyone’s calendar. There were no decorations. There were no Christmas carols. There were no Christmas trees. There were no gifts under the trees. There was no Christmas shopping. It was such an ordinary day, that really the only ones who knew about it were Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, and perhaps a few others. The Magi probably didn’t arrive until later. It was actually a very ordinary day with a very ordinary birth.

Yet that first Christmas Day was an extraordinary day. It was a day which would lead to the possibility and opportunity for reconciliation with God. Because of the Son of God, Jesus, who was born on that day, we could become God’s children.

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. Galatians 4:4-5 (NLT)

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. John 1:10-12

We could go on to speak about how ordinary people would experience the extraordinary teaching, miracles, and presence of Jesus. We could speak of his crucifixion, unfortunately an all too ordinary event in that time and place. We could speak of God’s extraordinary love expressed through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Although we may feel like we are far far extraordinary people, we can experience that extraordinary love.

My family and I wish you a Merry Christmas!

December 26, 2019

A New King in Town at Christmas

Dealing With the Powers That Threaten Us

by Clarke Dixon

What is the biggest threat to your well being this Christmas? It might be health, family dynamics, addiction, work or a lack of a work. It could be Christmas itself, with all the stress that often comes with it. For many it is the anxiety in the air thanks to events and politics all around the world. What was in air when Mary and Joseph were making their trek to Bethlehem? What was felt to big the biggest threat to everyone’s well being that first Christmas? Luke mentions it when he begins to tell us about the birth of Jesus:

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. Luke 2:1 (NRSV)

The emperor was the big threat of the day. Rome was looming large in the background of the Christmas story. The power of Rome was looming large in the background of everyone’s story. When Luke describes what happened on that first Christmas, he tells us in a way that subtly shows a contrast between the emperor and a new king. There are subtle hints of a movement from the powers that be, to something much greater. As the angels announced to the shepherds; there is a new king in town.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!” Luke 2:10-14 (NRSV)

Let us consider this move from the emperor, to the true King.

There is movement from the peace of Rome to the peace of God. There is an expression, pax Romana, which refers to a time when there was relative stability and peace between nations and peoples, thanks to the Roman Empire. However, this peace could be defined as an absence of conflict. It did not mean there was perfect harmony. It was the kind of peace that is held when a bigger power threatens to wipe you out if you fight with your neighbour. With this baby king, there would come a different kind of peace, the kind of peace implied by the Hebrew term “shalom.” It goes far beyond absence of conflict, to the presence of perfect harmony. This kind of peace comes when you love your neighbour. This baby king will bring true peace; reconciling us to God, and teaching us to live reconciled lives with others.

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!” (verse 14).

There is a movement, from the privilege of one class of people, to the opportunity for blessing for all people. The Roman empire could give you great freedom and opportunity, if you are free, and not a slave, if you are male, and not a female. Life in the empire was not that great if you were not born in a privileged position. The angel announces good news for everyone: “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people” (verse 10 emphasis added). Because of this new king, Paul could later write:

. . . for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26-28 (NRSV)

There is a movement, from indifferent and uncaring, to intensely interested and caring. Augustus would have known nothing about Mary and Joseph. Caesar Augustus didn’t know, and likely didn’t care that his census made life difficult for Mary and Joseph. God knew Mary and Joseph. God chose to announce the new king’s birth to shepherds. In doing so, God showed his intense care and concern for the regular folk.

There was a movement from taxes gained to a gift given. The purpose of a census in the ancient world was to predict military strength and tax revenue. While the Jews were exempt from military service, they were not exempt from paying taxes. Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem so that the powers that be could figure out what they would be getting. In the bigger picture, Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem because there was a precious gift that God was giving.

There was a movement from a small world to the universe. “All the world” (verse 1) was not all the world, it was just all the world under Roman jurisdiction. It felt large to the people of that time and place. But it was not, especially compared to all the world, or better, worlds, under God’s care. The angels announce “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!” (verse 14). God’s sovereignty stretches everywhere. This new king was a much bigger deal than Augustus.

There was a movement from a very temporary Augustus to an eternal Lord, God. The Christmas story begins in chapter two, verse one with Augustus, the most powerful man of that time. The angels announce the birth of  “the Lord” in verse eleven. Augustus Caesar is dead and gone by chapter three. By the end of the whole book, Jesus is killed, but not gone. The Lord God is eternal, here long before Caesar, and here here long after.

There was a movement from the fear of Rome, to the love of God. The cross was originally a symbol of fear, the fear of Rome. It was a method of execution and it induced terror. The word “excruciating” comes from crucifixion. The pax Romana, the “Peace of Rome,” existed partly due to the Roman cross. Crucifixions were common and public. You could see people hanging on crosses on your way into town. Step out of line and you could end up on one yourself. However, the cross has now become a symbol of love, of power turned on its head. It is the symbol of God’s reconciling love through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Rome used the cross, and the fear it represented, to keep the peace of Rome. God used the cross, and the love it represents, to bring us peace with Him.

Rome loomed large as a large threat in the days of the first Christmas. Indeed, the Romans did eventually destroy Jerusalem. Augustus, and Rome, had the power to destroy many an individual, and a people. We may feel threatened by the powers looming in our lives. There is a downturn in the economy, or in a company. There is a downward spiral of ill health. There are powers that threaten to undo us, which are indifferent to us. However, there is power which holds us, and rescues us, which is intensely interested in us. Christmas is a signal of a big change; from the power of Rome to the power of God. What is your Rome? What is the power looming in the background of your life? This Christmas, make the move from the fear of Rome, to the love of God. The Christmas story begins with the power of Rome, but ends with the glory of God. Will yours?

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!” Luke 2:13-14 (NRSV)


► This week, a bonus item from Clarke Dixon which he wrote for his church family in Ontario, Canada:  Shortbread for Christmas on a Journey of Grief.

December 22, 2019

The Tower of Flock and the Birth of Jesus

Recently I reconnected with a longtime friend who is now working for Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. While checking out their website earlier today, I discovered their blog and the article below. Its author Bruce Scott is the director of Program Ministries at The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry and is the author of The Feasts of Israel: Seasons of the Messiah. Click the header below to see the article in full — which deals with context, cultural conditions and historical background in interpreting this type of text — of the following is a portion:

The Jewish Life of Jesus

What Is the Tower of Flock?

We read in Genesis 35:19-21, “So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). And Jacob set a pillar on her grave, which is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day. Then Israel journeyed and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.

The phrase “tower of Eder” literally means “tower of flock.” In those days when a flock of animals, particularly sheep, were being cared for and watched, the shepherd would oftentimes be in a tower overlooking his flock, keeping an eye out for bandits or wild animals. This particular tower of the flock was near Bethlehem of Judea, and it was here that Jacob pitched his tent after Rachel died.

The only other place in the Old Testament where the Hebrew phrase “tower of flock” is found is Micah 4:8:

And you, O tower of the flock,
The stronghold of the daughter of Zion,
To you shall it come,
Even the former dominion shall come,
The kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.

Targum Jonathan (an ancient Aramaic translation) sees the word “tower” in this verse as referring to the Messiah, and the word “flock” as referring to Israel. It therefore translates the beginning of the verse as, “And you, O Messiah of Israel . . . .”

Based on these verses, therefore, later Jewish tradition taught that when the Messiah would come, He would be revealed from Migdal Eder, the tower of the flock (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Gen. 35:21).

No Ordinary Shepherds

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, the Scriptures say, “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Lk. 2:8). What is interesting about these shepherds is that according to Jewish law, small animals from herds and flocks were not allowed to be raised in the land of Israel because they could damage people’s fields (Mishnah, Baba Kamma 7.7; Demai 2.3; Talmud, Sukkah 29a; Midrash, Exodus Rabbah 2.3). They were, however, allowed to be raised “in Syria or in the wildernesses that are in the Land of Israel” (Mishnah, Baba Kamma 7.7).

But in Luke 2:8 it states “in the same country,” meaning the same region of Bethlehem, there were shepherds watching their flock. If there was a prohibition against keeping flocks so near a community with cultivated fields, why were these shepherds in the same region as Bethlehem?

When you learn the value of these [Jewish] contexts, they will richly enhance your understanding of the Scriptures.

One explanation could be that by the phrase “in the same country” Luke meant a wider territory than first thought, a territory that included a nearby wilderness area used for keeping sheep.

Another explanation could be this. The rabbis taught that if a male sheep, one year old or younger, had strayed and was found one month before Passover roaming around in the area between Jerusalem and Migdal Eder, or the area equidistant from Jerusalem to Migdal Eder in any direction, then the sheep could be used for sacrifice at Passover (Mishnah, Shekalim 7:4). The inference is that sheep found anywhere from Migdal Eder near Bethlehem to Jerusalem were most likely used for Temple sacrifices.

Therefore, could it be that the shepherds watching over their flock by night when Jesus was born were not ordinary shepherds? Instead, could it be they were shepherds specifically hired to watch sheep that were destined for sacrifice?

If so, then how appropriate it would be that God should first reveal the arrival of the Messiah to those particular shepherds near the tower of the flock not far from Bethlehem. And how appropriate that these shepherds wanted to go to Bethlehem and watch over the baby Jesus, lying in a manger, who was destined to be, as the Lamb of God, the ultimate, once-for-all sacrifice that would take away the sin of the world.

100 Days of Christianity 201

On March 31st, 2020, Christianity 201 will have published a fresh devotional/study reading every day for ten years. On April 1st, Lord willing, we’ll still be here, but as I did with Thinking Out Loud, at the ten year mark I’m releasing myself from the obligation to post something every day. There will continue to be new content posting, as well as fresh articles by Clarke Dixon every Thursday, but not necessarily daily. If this is a subscription that you depend upon for daily input, I encourage you to start now following some of the other blogs which are featured here. Or consider writing for us to keep material coming! If you’re already a WordPress blogger and want to consider being an editor here, let me know. In the meantime, continue to enjoy “Digging a Little Deeper” daily at C201.

 

December 19, 2019

A Christmas Reflection on a New Father’s First Words

Uppermost in Heart and Mind

by Clarke Dixon

What is the first thing a new father wants to talk about? Zechariah was unable to speak for nine months or so during his wife, Elizabeth’s, pregnancy. This is no ordinary pregnancy for he and his wife Elizabeth are quite elderly, well past the child-bearing years, and they have not been able to have children. This was no ordinary child for God spoke of the special calling upon him. He would become known as John the Baptist. Zechariah knew how special this all was. So what does he say?

We might expect Zechariah to gush over this new baby boy, and he does gush, but not over his own child. He gushes over someone else’s, a child yet to be born:

67 Then his father, Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave this prophecy:
68 “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has visited and redeemed his people.
69 He has sent us a mighty Savior
from the royal line of his servant David,
70 just as he promised
through his holy prophets long ago.
71 Now we will be saved from our enemies
and from all who hate us.
72 He has been merciful to our ancestors
by remembering his sacred covenant—
73 the covenant he swore with an oath
to our ancestor Abraham.
74 We have been rescued from our enemies
so we can serve God without fear,
75 in holiness and righteousness
for as long as we live. Luke 1:67-75 (NLT)

With all Zechariah could talk about; the excitement of being a new father, Elizabeth bearing a child safely in her elderly years, his son John and the amazing things promised about him, Zechariah talks about Jesus first. Even when he gets around to talking about his son John, he does so only briefly:

76 “And you, my little son,
will be called the prophet of the Most High,
because you will prepare the way for the Lord.
77 You will tell his people how to find salvation
through forgiveness of their sins.
78 Because of God’s tender mercy,
the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
and to guide us to the path of peace.” Luke 1:76-79 (NLT)

Zechariah starts talking forgiveness and immediately gets back to talking about the expected arrival of Jesus! Zechariah talks about Jesus first, and most.

It is fitting that Zechariah should focus on Jesus. Being filled with the Holy Spirit (see verse 67), Zechariah puts the focus on whom God wants the focus. Zechariah’s prophecy centres on the theme of rescue by God. This will be done through Jesus, not John. Jesus was uppermost in Zechariah’s heart and mind. Even upon the birth of his own child, Zechariah could not stop talking about Jesus.

What is uppermost in our hearts and minds? What, or whom, can we not stop talking about?

We sometimes have favourite themes within Christianity. Some love to talk about obedience, some love to talk about justice, some love to talk about the end of the world, some love to talk about systematic theology. All these things are important to talk about, but do we talk about Jesus first, and most?

In my early 20’s I focused mainly on the writings of the Apostle Paul. Paul appealed to my analytical mind. In my mid-20’s I began reading the Gospels more because they are easier than Paul’s letters to read in Greek. In doing so I rediscovered Jesus! Paul would have us go back to Jesus too! I forget who said it, and the exact wording, but to give a rough quote: “the Bible is not the treasure, it is the treasure map. Jesus is the treasure.” Paul would agree. Jesus was Paul’s main focus. Paul knew that Jesus was the treasure. Likewise, Zechariah might say “my son John is not the treasure. John is the treasure map. Jesus is the treasure.” Jesus was uppermost in Zechariah’s heart and mind. Is Jesus uppermost in ours?

What is uppermost in the hearts and minds of people around us? What do they like to talk about?

When it comes to Christianity, they may want to talk about abuse in churches. Unfortunately it has happened, and still happens. Confess that, but talk about Jesus. Jesus-centred people don’t abuse, but want to help. They may want to talk about how Christianity was responsible for dark moments in history. Yes, sometimes Christians have created dark spaces, but talk about Jesus. Jesus brings light and healing to people living in dark spaces. They may want to talk about ethics and how Christians often can not agree on what’s right and what’s wrong. Yes, that is sometimes true, but also talk about Jesus and the ethic of love. We disagree over ethics because love is creative and not a blind following of rules. They may want to talk about theology and how Christians disagree on doctrine. Yes, that is often true, but talk about Jesus. We are united in and through Jesus, not our uniformity of thought. Whatever there is to talk about, learn from Zechariah, and keep talking about Jesus.

People, ourselves included, may want to talk about a messy Christmas, whether a result of a terrible situation, or sour relationships. Yes, Christmas can be difficult, but talk about Jesus. Let a messy Christmas be a commemoration of that first Christmas which itself was horribly messy. There was no room at the inn, Herod was violent. Things got messy for Jesus as he faced constant opposition during his life. He was arrested. That was messy. He was given a mock trial. That was messy. A crown of thorns was thrust upon his head. That was messy. He was crucified. It doesn’t get any messier than that. Talk about Jesus and how through him, God stepped into a mess, to deal with the mess we’re in.

We often hear the slogan, “put Christ back into Christmas.” We need to put Christ back into Christianity. I’m sure you are finished your Christmas shopping by now and ready to focus on New Year’s resolutions. Here’s a good one; commit to seeing Jesus in 20/20 in 2020. All the Bible is important, but let all the Bible point you to Jesus. Perhaps we might commit to reading from the Gospels every day.* If we, like Zechariah, have Jesus uppermost in our hearts and minds, we will be more likely to talk about him. Good news is worth sharing. Zechariah knew that. Do we?


* If you are interested in reading through the Gospels with a daily email reminder, you may be interested in the reading plan found here.

Commit to seeing Jesus in 20/20 in 2020

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