Christianity 201

July 11, 2019

In a Precarious Position

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Have you ever felt a sense of desperation? Like you are having, not just a bad day, but a bad year, or even a rotten season of life? You will be able to relate to Ruth and Naomi, who at the beginning of Ruth, chapter two, are in a precarious position.

Naomi is a widow, who not only lost her husband and sons, but therefore also lost the rights to the family land. Ruth is a foreigner, and a Moabite at that! The Moabites did not a great reputation among the Israelites. Neither Naomi nor Ruth had a livelihood. These were desperate times for them.

Despite their precarious position, Ruth chapter two is all about hope. Where we can find hope when we are in a precarious position?

Now there was a wealthy and influential man in Bethlehem named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech. Ruth 2:1 (NLT)

This book is full of hints, and chapter two begins with one; though Naomi and Ruth are destitute, there is a rich man in the family! Now, back to poverty:

One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.”
Naomi replied, “All right, my daughter, go ahead.”Ruth 2:2 (NLT)

Poverty was the reality for Naomi and Ruth. Picking up the leftovers from the harvesting was what the poor did in ancient Israel. In fact the Old Testament law instructed that leftovers ought to always be left over for the relief of the poor. We should also note the danger that Ruth is in. She planned on sticking close enough to the women labourers for the sake of safety.

So Ruth went out to gather grain behind the harvesters. And as it happened, she found herself working in a field that belonged to Boaz, the relative of her father-in-law, Elimelech. Ruth 2:3 (NLT)

The keys words here are “as it happened.” Remember the well-off family member from verse 1? Ruth unknowingly just happened to pick his field.

Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you! ”
“The Lord bless you! ” they answered. Ruth 2:4 (NIV)

Remember that well-off family member from verse 1? He just happened to be drop by. Talk about Ruth being in the right place at the right time! But what kind of man is he? Is he kind, or blind to the needs of the poor? We will soon find out.

Then Boaz asked his foreman, “Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?”
 And the foreman replied, “She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi. She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest in the shelter.”
 Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field.  See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.”
Ruth 2:5-9 (NLT)

As it turns out, Boaz is a kind man, a godly man. Talk about Ruth being in the right place, a the right time, with the right kind of person! Coincidence? No, the reader is to clue in that God is working unseen in the background on behalf of Ruth and Naomi. Despite their precarious position, there is hope!

God is working, unseen, in the background of your life in surprising ways. God is caring for you, even when you are not aware. 

Let us take a moment to see things from the perspective of Boaz. First, consider the blessing Boaz speaks over Ruth:

May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” Ruth 2:12 (NLT emphasis added)

Keep that in mind as we continue on with the story.

Ruth heads back to Naomi at the end of the day with a good haul of food, and the happy news that the owner of the field was a very kind man. Naomi asks for his name and upon hearing the name, Boaz, says,

“The Lord bless him! ” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers. ” Ruth 2:20 (NIV)

Here is another hint. Help will come! Boaz is not just a kind man, he is a ‘guardian-redeemer’ to Naomi, and therefore, Ruth. An NIV footnote describes the Hebrew word behind ‘guardian-redeemer’ as “a legal term for one who has the obligation to redeem a relative in serious difficulty.”

Talk about Ruth being in the right place, at the right time, with the right kind of man, with the right kind of relationship to her. He is one who has a potential obligation to help. In fact, he may have an obligation to marry Ruth in order to restore the land to the family. Let us skip ahead to the next chapter where Ruth carries out instructions from Naomi on how to approach Boaz with a marriage request.

 When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down. In the middle of the night something startled the man; he turned—and there was a woman lying at his feet!
“Who are you?” he asked.
“I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.” Ruth 3:7-9 (NIV)

Most translations focus in on a request to be covered by Boaz’s cloak. However, there is something profound about the Hebrew word that gets lost in translation. The English Standard Version brings out well that a word we have seen earlier is used again:

He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” Ruth 3:9 (ESV emphasis added)

Boaz spoke in verse 12 of Ruth seeking refuge under the wing of God, not knowing that Boaz himself would be asked to take Naomi and Ruth under his wing. God was working through Boaz on behalf of Ruth and Naomi. God may care for someone through us. You may be the person God uses to bring hope to someone in a desperate situation, you may become the answer to someone’s prayer for refuge.

There is something bigger hinted at here in Ruth, chapter 2. This is the first we hear of Boaz being a ‘guardian-redeemer,’ the one who can help family members in desperate situations. There is a desperate situation that we all face. We experience separation from God, an incredible loss of relationship with God due to sin. As Naomi had lost the rights to the land, land that was originally a gift from God, so we have lost our right to eternal life, life that was originally a gift from God. We need a redeemer, to restore what has been lost. There is a story of redemption in the Book of Ruth that hints at a bigger story of redemption. In the Book of Ruth we learn how God cared for Naomi and Ruth through Boaz. In the Bible, in its entirety, we learn how God cares for us through Christ. There is a redeemer, and his name is Jesus.

God cared for Ruth and Naomi. God cares for us. God cared for Ruth and Naomi through Boaz. God cares for others through us. God is our refuge when we find ourselves in a desperate and precarious situation. He is our redeemer.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario; a small(er) town about an hour east of Toronto, Canada whose writings appear at C201 most Thursdays. Read more here or at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

 

 

July 4, 2019

A Bitter Beginning, A Bitter Woman: Senseless Suffering and the Book of Ruth

  • Listen to the 34-minute sermon on which this devotional is based at this link.

by Clarke Dixon

19 So the two of them continued on their journey. When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked.
20 “Don’t call me Naomi, [which means ‘pleasant’]” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara [which means ‘bitter’], for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” Ruth 1:19-21 (NLT)

The Book of Ruth begins horribly. Naomi and their family flee their homeland to escape famine. Then Naomi’s husband and children died. Naomi’s story begins with grief upon grief. It may have helped Naomi if there were some reason for the deaths. A chain-smoking husband, a dedicated older son dying in the line of duty, a reckless younger son dying in a motorcycle accident. Naomi might then have at least made some sense of their deaths. She could connect the dots. However, there is no reason Naomi can give. All she can say is “the Lord caused me to suffer.” The dots cannot be connected. This is senseless suffering.

Perhaps you have experienced loss and grief that cannot be explained. Perhaps you have experienced senseless suffering yourself, or watched a loved one go through it. The Book of Ruth can help.

Notice first, that in the Book of Ruth, no effort is made to explain Naomi’s suffering.

The townspeople make no attempt to make sense of her loss. There are no platitudes. The writer of the book offers no theological insights at this point. We may need to the resist the desire to explain away senseless suffering.

This is true when we see others suffering. Job’s friends could not resist explaining why Job was suffering. After pages and pages of argument, we eventually discover that they were wrong. Words and arguments can lead, not to a healed heart, but to a hurting head. Our presence can be of greater comfort to someone living though senseless suffering than our words. We may need to accept that our suffering makes no sense, and may never do so.

Notice second, that Naomi holds nothing back in her lament.

Let us read it again:

20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” Ruth 1:20-21 (NLT)

Naomi is honest in her assessment of God. She may not be correct, but she is honest. She may not be in touch with good theology, but she is in touch with her feelings. There is no effort to correct her assessment of God, or her theology. The writer of the book sees no need to defend God at this point. There is no explanation of the fallenness of humanity, the corresponding fallenness of creation, and that sometimes bad things happen. God’s goodness will be seen later, but for now, God gets the blame. For now, Naomi expresses how she really feels. We do well to make space for honest sharing. We do well to be honest in our sharing, and in our prayers. Sometimes it is best to sit with someone in their emotions, than try to correct their thinking. Sometimes we need the space to lament and experience the depths of our souls, even when our heads can’t figure it all out.

Notice third, that suffering is at the beginning of Naomi’s story.

Let us jump to the end of the book to see how it turns out:

14 Then the women of the town said to Naomi, “Praise the Lord, who has now provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel. 15 May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!” 16 Naomi took the baby and cuddled him to her breast. And she cared for him as if he were her own. 17 The neighbor women said, “Now at last Naomi has a son again!” And they named him Obed. He became the father of Jesse and the grandfather of David. Ruth 4:14-17 (NLT)

In the book of Ruth, suffering is at the beginning of Naomi’s story. There are better days ahead. We can put suffering and loss at the beginning of a new chapter in our lives, rather than the end of our stories. Better days are ahead. When we think of suffering and loss as “where we have ended up,” we can get stuck. Our lives become for us a road that has led to tragedy. When we think of suffering as the beginning of a new chapter of our lives, we put ourselves on a road which includes tragedy, but does not end there. Tragedy is part of our experience, but is not our destination.

Putting suffering at the beginning is something we can do as Christians, because all suffering, indeed your entire life, is the beginning chapter of a really long book:

18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. Romans 8:18 (NLT)

Sometimes we need to jump to the end to see how it all turns out. In Christ and by the grace of God, in being reconciled to God, it turns out well.

Notice fourth, that baby steps are taken.

Naomi returns home. Ruth, in a beautiful step of commitment and care, goes with her. There is connection. If we read ahead into chapters two and three, we will find Ruth doing what the poor people of the land did in that time and place. She followed along the reapers and gleaned the leftovers. There is connection, and there is survival. Naomi and Ruth take steps to make life work. When faced with senseless suffering, we can take the next step. We can take the next best step, however small a step that might be. We can turn the page. We can get further into this new chapter. Is there a step you need to take today?

The Book of Ruth begins with horrible and senseless suffering for Naomi and her daughter-in-laws. If you are a human being, chances are good that senseless suffering will happen in your life at some point. When it does, don’t dwell on explanations, make, or take space for honest sharing, put the suffering at the beginning a new chapter, and turn the page, taking your next best step into the future. With God, whom we may blame for the time being, the story will go on.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario; a small(er) town about an hour east of Toronto, Canada whose writings appear at C201 most Thursdays. Read more here or at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

June 27, 2019

Compelling: Believable and Beautiful

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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23 Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’ ” Luke 14:23-24

Editor’s note: This is the final installment in Clarke Dixon’s Compelling series and summarizes the entire series.

NIV.I Peter.3.13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

1 John.1.1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

Believable and Beautiful: Why Christianity is Compelling

by Clarke Dixon

Can we really believe what we read in books written so long ago? With so many world-views and so many religions, how could we ever pick just one? Does it really matter what you believe, so long as you are sincere, and don’t bother others with it? Don’t people need to leave their brains at the door of a Christian church? Many people are reluctant to consider Christianity. However, in our series we have considered how Christianity is compelling, both in being believable, and beautiful.

First let us review why Christianity is believable, why one need neither leave their brain at the door of the church, nor their faith in the university parking lot. (Click on the links to read the corresponding “Shrunk Sermon.”)

BELIEVABLE

  • Compelling Truth. People who are “relativists” when it comes to faith and religion suddenly become “modernists” when they need surgery. Truth can be known and does matter. We consistently live as people who know truth can be known and does matter. The truth about Jesus can be known and does matter.
  • A Compelling Cosmos. We considered that the universe had a beginning, the “fine-tuning” of the universe to be life-permitting, and the fact that anything exists at all. What we learn from studying the universe points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Morality. Very few people will say that there are not certain behaviours that ought to be considered evil for all people at all times in all places. The reality of objective morality points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Life. Life began and now flourishes in a world that seems ideally suited for it. The realities of life point to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Minds. Thinking people point to the reality of a thinking God.
  • Compelling Religion. The appetite for the spiritual points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Evil. The existence of suffering and evil is consistent with what the Bible teaches about our experience. Suffering and evil point to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Holy Books. What caused each of the books of the Bible to be written? The documents that make up the Bible point to the reality of God whose interaction with the world stirred up much writing.
  • The Compelling Man. The most compelling man in history, compelling in his activity, his teaching, his ethics, his presence, his good works, his love, and his impact, points to the reality of God.
  • A Compelling Turn of Events. The tomb was empty and disciples were going about telling everyone that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. They were willing to die for that testimony. Naysayers like James and Paul, changed their minds. Devoted Jews took radical shifts in their theology. The events of, and following, Easter, point to the reality of God.

Cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace speaks of a cold-case trial as being a cumulative case. That is, the best explanation of the evidence is the one that explains all the evidence. With regards to religion and faith, certain world-views may explain some of the evidence. For example, with regards to suffering, Eastern religions have a nice tidy explanation. If you suffer, it is because you deserve it. Your karma is catching up to you. There is a cosmic justice and suffering makes sense. However, there are still many things that don’t makes sense. If Eastern religions are correct, then how did the Bible come into being? Why was the tomb of Jesus empty, why did the disciples go around telling everyone that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead and why were they willing to die for that? Why did naysayers like James and Paul change their tune about who Jesus is and what he is about? Likewise, atheism also gives a good explanation as to why there is suffering. However, again, atheism can not explain all the evidence. Christianity explains all the evidence! Therefore, not only are the truth claims of Christianity believable, there are compelling reasons why we can see them as being the best depiction of reality. God is for real, and in Christ, God is for us.

We can further ask if each worldview is consistent in where it leads. It would be strange if, while the evidence points to the existence of a good and loving God, belief in, and devotion to, that God led to a terrible way to live, and a horrible society. We have used the example of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. If you have read the novel, or watched the tv series, you will see the dominance of a worldview which leads to ugliness and not beauty. Does Christianity lead to ugliness, or to beauty? In our series we considered how Christianity leads to beauty.

BEAUTIFUL

  • Compelling Evidence. Science and Christianity point in the same direction. Christianity helped science get started. A perspective which denigrates science is ugly. That Christianity can work with science is beautiful!
  • Compelling Religion. While religion can, in the words of Christopher Hitchens, “poison everything,” a Biblical Spirit-led Christianity leads to healing. This is beautiful!
  • Compelling Grace. The love of God for people is beautiful. God’s grace and forgiveness is beautiful!
  • Compelling Grace, Part 2. The call to grace, forgiveness, and wisdom in human relationships is beautiful!
  • The Compelling God. The perfect justice and wonderful mercy of God is beautiful. Only at the cross do we see God being perfectly just while also being merciful. This is beautiful!
  • Compelling Mission. The sharing of good news is always beautiful. That we share the good news through words, rather than by force, and give people the space and freedom to choose for themselves, is beautiful!
  • Compelling Family. The Christian vision for parenting and marriage is beautiful. Yet the flexibility that no one is forced to fit the mold of “married with children” is also beautiful!
  • A Compelling Life. The Jesus-centred, Spirit-filled, life lived in wisdom is beautiful. That we don’t just follow rules, but grow in character, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Society. Christians are not called to takeover the government and set up a society that enforces Christian living. That Christians are called to be salt and light is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Perspective on Humanity. No one has greater value than anyone else. That all people are created in the image of God, without exception, and without exception Christ bore the cross for all people, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling People. That the Church is to be a people who do good works in Jesus’ name, in allegiance to Jesus, under the influence of the Spirit, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Future. The future of every single person, whether they receive Jesus or not, is reasonable & consistent with a good and loving God. This is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Invitation. Everyone is invited! You are invited! This is beautiful!

The outworking of the Christian faith is consistent with the good and loving God the evidence points to. There are many aspects of Christianity that make us say “of course that is how a good and loving God would do it.” However, Christians have often made a mess of things and been the cause of ugliness rather than beauty. When this happens, it results from a disconnect from Jesus, and often, an unfortunate understanding of God’s Word. The inconsistency is ours. The ugliness is ours. But there is beauty. There is beauty, because there is God.

Perhaps you still have questions. I do. We don’t need all the answers. I have long thought of faith as being like a jigsaw puzzle. As we are figuring out our view of the world, our spirituality, and the way things are, pieces come together. Some people start with the most difficult of questions and give up. But for many of us, the puzzle pieces come together in such a way that the picture begins to form. It is a beautiful picture. So beautiful, in fact, that we cannot help but keep working on it. Sometimes there are pieces that we cannot yet place. Sometimes we have the sense that we are forcing certain pieces together that don’t fit. Sometimes we need to take pieces out that we thought fit, and fit them in where they really belong. This is all a normal part of growing and maturing in our understanding. The picture that comes together as we grow in our understanding is beautiful, and well worth the effort. It is a picture of the cross, of God’s love in Christ.

My prayer throughout this whole series is that you would find the Christian faith to be believable and beautiful, that you would find Christ to be compelling.


June 21, 2019

Basic Instructions Before Leaving Your Daily Devotional Time

Today we’re returning to the website, All About Reflections. The writer of this piece is C. Michelle Bryant, who is a freelance writer and the author of the devotional book “God, are You Listening?”

Rules to Live By

Rules to Live By – It’s so Elementary
Let’s take a trip back in time. For some of you it may be a further journey than others. Return with me to your younger days, when you stepped into your first elementary school classroom. You can probably envision all the desks strategically placed within sight of the teacher’s and can look back on exactly where the hooks were for hanging coats, gloves and so on. As you may also recall, your eyes glanced around the top of the blackboard to the alphabet with handwritten upper and lower case letters drawn beside a picture that started with the appropriate letter like an apple or a ball. You scanned the room with its bright colors and gasped at the joy of discovering all that was contained within these new four walls. Right now your heart is beating erratically from the reminiscent memories of your schooldays, as your mind seems to disconnect from reality, isn’t it?

But don’t stop there. Think even further. Close your eyes. Look off in the corner by the teacher’s desk, near the blackboard. There sits another desk for the one unruly student who simply can’t seem to get it together that day. Perhaps it is the daydreamer or the student who marches to the beat of a different drum. And right beside that small desk — a list. Do you recall the list? That’s right, every classroom has one…the list of classroom rules. Raise your hand. Be polite. Respect each other. Don’t talk when someone else is talking — things like that. As a substitute teacher I personally love to see this list when I walk into a classroom. Its posting serves as a reminder that this particular group of students are held accountable and made aware on a daily of what is expected of them. So, with that said, you can imagine how ecstatic I was when I found my “adult” list of rules for living.

Rules to Live By – Finding My Rules
One day, while doing my daily devotions, I ran across this scripture in a New Century Version Bible. It was so pure and simple it rocked my world in a way that I cannot explain except to take me back to my childhood days in elementary school. It is from Romans 12:9-21:

Your love must be real. Hate what is evil, and hold on to what is good. Love each other like brothers and sisters. Give each other more honor than you want for yourselves. Do not be lazy but work hard, serving the Lord with all your heart. Be joyful because you have hope. Be patient when trouble comes, and pray at all times. Share with God’s people who need help. Bring strangers in need into your homes. Wish good for those who harm you; wish them well and do not curse them. Be happy with those who are happy, and be sad with those who are sad. Live in peace with each other. Do not be proud, but make friends with those who seem unimportant. Do not think how smart you are. If someone does wrong to you, do not pay him back by doing wrong to him. Try to do what everyone thinks is right. Do your best to live in peace with everyone…If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink….Do not let evil defeat you, but defeat evil by doing good.

Can’t you just see those on posters around a classroom?

1). Hate what is evil!
2). Hold on to what is good!
3). Do not be lazy but work hard!
4). Serve the Lord with all your heart!
5). Be patient when trouble comes!
6). Pray at all times!…

…you get the idea.

This scripture has been that “rules for living” list for me. I’ve printed them out one by one and placed them around my house as a daily reminder of how God wants me to live. They are my mantra for my life. I need them like I need air. I believe we all do.

Rules to Live By – Will you join me?
I hope you read each one over and over again and really chew on its meaning and that they would move you as they have me. Perhaps you feel it is too overwhelming, too much to take in all at once. I challenge you to grab one or two and focus on that for one month. Then do that one and another one for the next month and so on. Imagine what kind of world we would live in if everyone followed these rules on a daily basis. I hope that you will join with me in the quest of not just “making” the world a better place but “leaving” the world a better place.

I think I should warn you though, that should you choose not to join me, I’m perfectly content to sit in the unruly desk all by myself- serving the Lord with all my heart.


We want to take another day to remind you of our survey. It’s an open-ended invitation for you to comment on one, two or all of the suggested topics below.

How to respond: Copy and paste this address — searchlight@nexicom.net — into an email and let us know your reactions to these topics. (You can also then copy and paste what follows and react to each as applicable.)

If you’re an online reader only, let us know how often you drop by.

Also, let us know if you read on a PC or laptop, or whether you read on a mobile device.

① Which of these types of articles do you find helpful:

■ General devotionals from various sources
■ Weekly (Thursday) articles by Clarke Dixon
■ Bi-Weekly (alt. Tuesdays) articles by Russell Young
■ Sunday Worship series
■ Original articles by Paul Wilkinson
■ Quotations series featuring various authors
■ Articles consisting of commentary on verses/passages from 3-4 different writers
■ Worship liturgies by Ruth Wilkinson
■ Articles featuring worship songs and hymns at the end
■ Scripture medleys (articles that are entirely Bible text)

② How do you feel about the length of the articles?

► Too long
► Too short
► Just about right (Admittedly this was a “Goldilocks” question!)

③ We draw on a number of authors from the widest variety of Christian denominations. Do you find the selection

► Too diverse
► Still not diverse enough

④ Our aim at Christianity 201 is to be “digging a little deeper.” In other words, to be more more than Christianity 101. Given that, would you say that,

► The articles go deeper than many devotionals
► The articles still don’t go deep enough
► Because there are different writers each day, the depth spiritually is inconsistent
► Because there are different writers each day, the variety of voices makes up for the inconsistencies in the depth

⑤ We didn’t want to make this too long, but if there’s anything else, this would be the place to mention it. For example:

► Time of day you receive the devotional. Most newsletters go out in the morning but we wanted to create something different when we started this.
► Use of a wide variety of Bible translations
► Use of a green font to highlight scripture selections (because the scriptures are alive!)
► Nothing to sell you. Other than anything WordPress ads (and a bi-weekly mention of Russell Young’s book) I wanted to this to be a commerce-free zone.

Two quick questions about your reading habits…

⑥ Do you ever forward your copy of the newsletter? It would help us out if you would help spread the word.

⑦ Do you click through to read the articles at source or simply read them on the email or at the website?

► Click through sometimes
► Click through frequently
► Simply read the articles on the email or at C201

We’re using searchlight@nexicom.net to collect responses as your comments won’t get lost in all the other mail that Paul receives daily.

June 20, 2019

A Compelling Future

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

Are Heaven and Hell Consistent with a Good and Loving God?

by Clarke Dixon

Does Christianity have a compelling vision for the future? It would be odd if you were considering the compelling reasons to trust in Jesus, but then upon asking about the afterlife you are told that you enter an endless cycle of being reincarnated as a bird if you receive Christ, and as a worm, if not. That should strike you as utter nonsense. Now what about Christian teaching? The idea that upon death we either sprout wings and play a harp while sitting in the clouds, or burn in an eternal fire, is for many people, too much to believe. Is the Biblical Christian vision for the future consistent with a good and loving God? Or is it nonsensical? When we hear what the Bible teaches about eternal destination, do we say ‘of course that is what a good God would do”?

Let us look first, to the Book of Revelation;

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

Here we have, not a hope of going up into heaven when I die, to spend eternity there, but something much grander. This is a vision of God’s re-creation of all creation. All of creation was negatively impacted by the sin of humanity (see Romans 8:18-23). All of creation will be positively impacted by God’s rescue of humanity.

2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Here we are told of a city, not in the sense of roads and buildings, but in the sense of people. The holy city is the “bride,” that is, the people of God. Just as people are the focus in the creation account of Genesis, people are the focus of the re-creation account. God created humanity, the only creature we are told he created in his image, for a special relationship. That relationship is what is truly important.

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;

There is much in the Bible about separation from God being a huge problem for humanity. It begins with Genesis chapter three and the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. It becomes apparent at Mount Sinai when the people cannot approach the mountain on which God’s presence was made palpable. It is emphasized in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, with the establishment of both the tabernacle and priesthood. While God was willing to dwell among his people, as symbolized through the pitching of his “tent” among them, God needed to remain separated from the people, for their sake. An unholy people cannot approach a holy God without becoming holy first. The sacrificial rigmarole of the priesthood was a constant reminder of separation from God and the need for atonement. The priesthood and the sacrifices pointed forward to something greater; God the Son making people holy through his sacrifice. In Christ the future of God’s people is wrapped up with being at home with God. There is no more separation from God.

The problems of this world, which separation from God creates, also are dealt with;

4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”  Revelation 21:1-4 (NRSV)

The consequence of sin and separation from God is death. The consequence of being reconciled to God is eternal life. In Christ death is no longer part of the human condition. However the consequence of God’s grace is not just eternal life, but as we have already seen, eternal life with God.

In sum, the Biblical vision of the future is one of transformation, for all creation, for our bodies, and for our very selves. The transformation within us begins now through the Holy Spirit. The fact that the Christian is to look to God to fix everything in the future is compelling. The fact that the Christian need not wait for Christ’s return to fix everything in us is also compelling. The hope of meaningful change, not into brilliant cloud-sitting harpists, but into good people who dwell with a good God in a good creation, is consistent with a good and loving God.

However, is the future of those who reject God consistent with a good and loving God? The idea of being on fire forever does not seem consistent to many of us. In answering this we must first appreciate that the people of the Bible often speak in poetic ways, just as we do today. We sometimes pick apart the Bible as if we are in math class working out equations. Let us remember our English literature lessons and have an appreciation for the poetic and literary nuances which often escape the math whizzes. We will not dig into this too deeply, but it is best to take the language about hell, with the everlasting fire and torment, as poetic. The least poetic, the most matter-of-fact, the most precise and concise description of hell we have in the Bible is this;

9 These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (NRSV)

What is hell? It is separation from God. What is it like to be separated from God? Thankfully, no one alive can truly tell, for to be alive at all is to experience a measure of God’s grace. However, we do well to remember that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NRSV). As you read through the Bible, watch out for how often salvation is spoken of as a matter of eternal life versus death. This is consistent with the Genesis account and the promise that death would occur if the forbidden fruit were eaten. What we can say with certainty is that to experience hell is to experience everlasting separation from God.

If hell is separation from God, then is separation from God consistent with a good and loving God? Consider first, the holiness and justice of God. That unholy people cannot dwell with a holy God is made clear in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers; at Mount Sinai, and through the establishment of the tabernacle and priesthood. God did not teach about His holiness and our sinfulness in the Old Testament then come to us in the New Testament and say “it doesn’t matter anymore.” It does matter, but God offers to make us holy in Christ and through his Holy Spirit. If you reject that offer of being made holy, then separation from God is a very natural consequence. The experience of death is a natural consequence of refusing the offer of eternal life. Therefore, the future of those who reject God is consistent with a good and loving God who respects the wishes of those who want nothing to do with him. Of course that is what a good God would do.

The Bible presents a compelling and beautiful vision for the future of those who receive Christ and accept God’s offer of relationship. While we might not use the word beautiful, the Bible provides a vision of the future of those who do not want a relationship with God that is consistent with His goodness and love. The consistency of the Christian vision of the future is yet another aspect of Christianity that is compelling.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

June 13, 2019

A Compelling People

A Compelling People: Does the Church Point to the Reality of God?

by Clarke Dixon

If Christianity is compelling, should we not expect the Christian Church to be compelling also? If the good and loving God proclaimed by Christianity is real, then would we not expect beauty and not ugliness in the Church? So is it beautiful?

Some would say no. Churches can be marked by politics within, sometimes brutal politics. Church people can also be known for politicking beyond the church, and that can be brutal also. Plus, the Christian Church appears to be greatly divided. Not only are there many different camps, there are even camps within the camps! This can all seem quite ugly to the onlooker. While there is ugliness, is there also beauty? Does the Bible have a compelling and beautiful vision for the Church? There is so much we could say, but let us go to the words of Jesus in John 14 as a starting point.

12 “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. John 14:12 (NLT)

The Christian Church is to be a people who do great works. We may be startled by the idea that we, who are Christians, could do “greater works” than Jesus. Perhaps we immediately think of miraculous works of great power and wonder how we could ever match his healing ministry. However, we should note that Jesus’ greatest work was not a health restoring miracle, but a relationship restoring death. While reconciliation to God is something only God can accomplish, the Church is called to participate in God’s work of reconciliation! Consider the words of Paul,

18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 (NLT emphasis added)

The Christian Church has been involved in this ministry of reconciliation throughout the world over the past 2000 years or so. This is a great work, and it is beautiful.

We can go on to speak of the many other good works that Christians have been involved in. Alvin Schmidt outlines the great positive impact of the Christian Church on the world in his book, How Christianity Changed the World. Consider his chapter titles as an indication of that impact.

  1. People Transformed by Jesus Christ
  2. The Sanctification of Human Life
  3. Christianity Elevates Sexual Morality
  4. Women Receive Freedom and Dignity
  5. Charity and Compassion: Their Christian Connection
  6. Hospitals and Health Care: Their Christian Roots
  7. Christianity’s Imprint on Education
  8. Labor and Economic Freedom Dignified
  9. Science: It’s Christian Connections
  10. Liberty and Justice for All
  11. Slavery Abolished: A Christian Achievement
  12. Christianity’s Stamp on Art and Architecture
  13. The Sound of Music: It’s Christian Resonance
  14. Hallmarks of Literature: Their Christian Imprint
  15. Additional influence: Holidays, Words, Symbols and Expressions

The positive impact of the Christian Church on the world has been massive and beautiful. I encourage you to read the book to discover just how massive and beautiful it has been. Yes, Christians have often got it wrong and brought ugliness and not beauty. But over the centuries, God has used His people for beautiful purposes. Good things have happened and keep happening through the people known as the Church.

Let us consider the next two verses of John 14:

13 You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. 14 Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it! John 14:13-14 (NLT)

The Christian Church is to be a people who ask in Jesus’ name. To ask ‘in his name’ means that we are to be a people who rally around his purposes. These verses do not indicate that Jesus will bend to our will, something we might desire as we consider what great things we might include under “anything.” Rather in asking ‘in Jesus’ name,’ Jesus’ will is becoming ours.

Very often on a Sunday morning I will choose a tie to go with a shirt. Very often on a Sunday morning my wife will say something like “you are not going out dressed like that, are you?” I might try to bend my wife’s will to accept my clothing choice, but it never goes that way. It is not that my wife wins a battle of wills. It is that I am steered in a better direction. I am not upset with being called out on my tie selections. I am very pleased to be better dressed! When all is said and done I realize that my ultimate desire was not to wear a particular tie anyway, but to be well dressed. This is like our relationship with God. It is not that God wins the battle of wills. It is that we are steered in a better direction. When all is said and done we realize that what God has for us is really what we would have wanted all along and asked for if our eyes had been open to all the possibilities.

The Christian Church is a people who are steered by God, who pray in Jesus’s name, seeking His Kingdom, not our empires, His purposes, not our flights of fancy. This is beautiful!

Let us consider the next verse:

15 “If you love me, obey my commandments. John 14:15 (NLT)

The Christian Church is a people who love Jesus, who have an allegiance to Jesus.

We are to be a people who put the teaching of Jesus into practice. We are to love our neighbours, and love our enemies.. As Jesus points out in the Sermon on the Mount, we are to pay attention to character. We are to make disciples. It is beautiful when a person lives out the teaching of Jesus.

We are to be a people who emulate Jesus. We seek to reflect the goodness of Jesus in the way we relate to people and are relatable. We do good. We live grace filled lives, ready to forgive. The Christian Church is to be a Jesus emulating people. It is beautiful when a person emulates Jesus.

Let us consider the next few verses:

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. 17 He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. John 14:16-17 (NLT)

The Christian Church is to be a people who are impacted by the Holy Spirit. This means a number of things including the fact that we are being transformed by the Spirit:

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! . . . 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Galatians 5:22-23,25 (NLT)

When people are transformed by the Spirit, this is beautiful.

Conclusion.

The Church can sometimes seem pretty ugly. But the Biblical vision for the Church is beautiful. The Church is to be a people wrapped up in a deep life changing connection with God. When church is ugly, there is always a disconnect from God. When there is connection, truly the Church is beautiful; a people involved in God’s great works, a people who pray in Jesus’ name and rally around his purposes, a people who have an allegiance to Jesus, a people filled with and led by the Holy Spirit. The Biblical vision for the Church is consistent with what you would expect from a good and loving God. The beauty of the Church in that vision is another aspect of Christianity that is compelling.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

June 9, 2019

Jesus in the Psalms

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:48 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

John 5:39:

You pore over the Scriptures because you presume that by them you possess eternal life. These are the very words that testify about Me (BSB)

You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!   (NLT)

■ Worship liturgy by Ruth Wilkinson:

The Son of God
Comes in name of the Lord
Praised by children
Delights in God’s Word

Mocked by enemies
Accused by liars
Hated without cause
Betrayed by friend
Prays for enemies

Lots cast for clothes
Given vinegar & gall

Hands & feet pierced
Bones unbroken
Forsaken by God

His betrayer replaced
Rises from death
Ascends to heaven

A priest forever
The Chief Cornerstone
Ruler of all
The Eternal King
Rules over His enemies with justice

■ From Nick Batzig at The Place for Truth

Athanasius once made the following statement about the book of Psalms: “While the entire Holy Scripture is a teacher of virtues and of the truths of faith, the book of Psalms possesses somehow the perfect image for the soul’s course of life.” The Psalter has a unique place in Old Testament revelation in that it really is a sort of miniature Bible. Every systematic and biblical-theological truth of Scripture is found, in seed form, in the Psalms. It should not, therefore, surprise us that the New Testament writers cite the Psalms more than any other book of the Old Testament. Neither should it surprise us that, in each citation, Jesus and the Apostles teach us that the Psalms are Messianic in nature. In so doing, they teach us the principles that we must follow as we seek to discover Christ in all the rest of the Psalms.

■ Timothy Keller at Crosswalk

…Most of all the psalms, read in light of the entire Bible, bring us to Jesus. The psalms were Jesus’s songbook. The hymn that Jesus  sang at the Passover meal (Matthew  26:30; Mark 14:26) would have been the Great Hallel, Psalms 113–118. Indeed, there is every reason to assume that  Jesus  would have sung all the psalms, constantly, throughout  his life, so that he knew them by heart. It is the book of the Bible that he quotes more than any other. But the psalms were not simply sung by Jesus; they also are about him, as we will see throughout this volume.

■ Nicholas Davis at Core Christianity

…At first glance, Psalm 1 doesnt look like a Messianic psalm. Theres no mention of a king or of a kingdom like we see in Psalm 2 or Psalm 110. There is nothing that ties the psalm directly to the suffering work of Jesus Christ as in Psalm 22. Psalm 1 looks like its just about any Israelite who is given the basic instruction to follow the Torah (the Law). But if we look at it again, we see something else. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus taught his disciples how to read the Bible. In Luke 24:44, he claimed that the whole Bible is about himself. This means that even all of the Psalms are ultimately about him.

■ Jeffrey Kranz at Biblia (Noting that the connection runs both ways; the Psalms point to Jesus and Jesus points to the psalms.)

…People didn’t follow Jesus only because of his miracles—they also followed him because he knew how to handle the Old Testament…

…Psalms is the most-read book of the Bible, and it’s the one Jesus quotes most often.

The book of Psalms is a collection of 150 songs and poems written to God. David penned half of them, and the rest were written by temple worship leaders (like the sons of Asaph), wise men (like Solomon), and some unknown poets (like . . . well, I don’t know).

Jesus quotes the Psalms on 11 occasions:

 


Go Deeper: Click the individual links to read more of each article by each author.


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① Which of these types of articles do you find helpful:

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④ Our aim at Christianity 201 is to be “digging a little deeper.” In other words, to be more more than Christianity 101. Given that, would you say that,

► The articles go deeper than many devotionals
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► Time of day you receive the devotional. Most newsletters go out in the morning but we wanted to create something different when we started this.
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June 8, 2019

Falling Prey to the Lies that Lead to Failure to Trust

Today we’re making a return visit with Ted Gosard who blogs at Jesus Community.

leaving (instead of living) the lie

Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scoffers
who rule this people in Jerusalem.
You boast, “We have entered into a covenant with death,
with the realm of the dead we have made an agreement.
When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by,
it cannot touch us,
for we have made a lie our refuge
and falsehood our hiding place.”

So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it
will never be stricken with panic.
I will make justice the measuring line
and righteousness the plumb line;
hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie,
and water will overflow your hiding place.
Your covenant with death will be annulled;
your agreement with the realm of the dead will not stand.
When the overwhelming scourge sweeps by,
you will be beaten down by it.
As often as it comes it will carry you away;
morning after morning, by day and by night,
it will sweep through.”

Isaiah 28:14-19

I think it’s far more common than we imagine, just how we live in lies. And I’m thinking of Christians, too. Specifically I’m thinking of myself, included. Part of what got me thinking this way were two posts quoting Dallas Willard who says it quite eloquently in the details spelled out in Scripture (here and here).

We live lies in a multitude of ways. Essentially living in the truth is “truth in Jesus” and an important aspect of that is living in the Father’s care, so that we’re free to seek his kingdom and righteousness, not encumbered with any of the cares common to humanity, or part of our culture. That is so much more easier said than done.

When one is weighed down, maybe nearly stricken with panic, that’s a sure sign one is not living in the Father’s provision, or as it’s been called, his providential care. We’re failing to trust in God, at least not to the extent needed. We need to take our hands off so to speak, but through prayer, find our way into that peace that frees us up to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.

Patterns in our lives will have to be broken, and that can be hard. It will require effort by us, but an effort essentially to let go, and let God take over. We need to find his peace. Part of this is not just to be freed up to put first things first, but with the prior commitment to that.

As the text above tells us, life simply doesn’t work well when we make a lie our refuge. And God won’t let it work well for those who name his name, who profess faith in him.

This is something we need to strive to enter and remain, come what may. God has us, as we seek first of all to live in his care and love and will. Part and parcel of being followers of Jesus in and through him.


We want to hear from our subscribers. Copy and paste this address — searchlight@nexicom.net — into an email and let us know your reactions to these questions. (You can also then copy and paste what follows and react to each as applicable.)

If you’re an online reader only, let us know how often you drop by.

① Which of these types of articles do you find helpful:

■ General devotionals from various sources
■ Weekly (Thursday) articles by Clarke Dixon
■ Bi-Weekly (alt. Tuesdays) articles by Russell Young
■ Sunday Worship series
■ Original articles by Paul Wilkinson
■ Quotations series featuring various authors
■ Articles consisting of commentary on verses/passages from 3-4 different writers
■ Worship liturgies by Ruth Wilkinson
■ Articles featuring worship songs and hymns at the end
■ Scripture medleys (articles that are entirely Bible text)

② How do you feel about the length of the articles?

► Too long
► Too short
► Just about right (Admittedly this was a “Goldilocks” question!)

③ We draw on a number of authors from the widest variety of Christian denominations. Do you find the selection

► Too diverse
► Still not diverse enough

④ Our aim at Christianity 201 is to be “digging a little deeper.” In other words, to be more more than Christianity 101. Given that, would you say that,

► The articles go deeper than many devotionals
► The articles still don’t go deep enough
► Because there are different writers each day, the depth spiritually is inconsistent
► Because there are different writers each day, the variety of voices makes up for the inconsistencies in the depth

⑤ We didn’t want to make this too long, but if there’s anything else, this would be the place to mention it. For example:

► Time of day you receive the devotional. Most newsletters go out in the morning but we wanted to create something different when we started this.
► Use of a wide variety of Bible translations
► Use of a green font to highlight scripture selections (because the scriptures are alive!)
► Nothing to sell you. Other than anything WordPress ads (and a bi-weekly mention of Russell Young’s book) I wanted to this to be a commerce-free zone.

Two quick questions about your reading habits…

⑥ Do you ever forward your copy of the newsletter? It would help us out if you would help spread the word.

⑦ Do you click through to read the articles at source or simply read them on the email or at the website?

► Click through sometimes
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► Simply read the articles on the email or at C201

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June 7, 2019

Forgiving the Otherwise Unforgiveable

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

NIV.Matt.6.14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

We’re paying another return visit to Serving Grace Ministries. This time it’s an archived post from a different author, Kadie Rumby. The title below is the name of popular American household product. Click the header below to read this at source.

Today is also the first day we’re introducing our reader survey. Our first in nearly ten years. See below.

Miracle Grow

A pastor friend of mine once said, “If you want to grow in the things of God, you’ve got to pray the hard stuff.” He was speaking on harnessing the power of emotions, and at this point in his message he was talking about how he overcame the offenses he’d experienced when dealing with members of his congregation, and – yes – even fellow pastors. Even though many of us will never have to encounter those types of offenses, the power of offense is still very real. Without a counter attack to this especially insidious emotion, it can overtake us completely. Thankfully, there are things we can do to fight back.

“Pray the hard stuff” is praying for [ways to bless] your enemies. Jesus specifically instructs us to do this in Matthew 5:44,

“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

I can remember many times in my own life when I wish I’d known this verse and practiced it. I can tell you now that it would have saved me a lot of headache and heartache. Moreover, I wish I’d known that when I did pray for others, I had to do it with the right heart.

Too easily, we can develop a hardened heart or selfish motives when obeying this command. Such an attitude can do you more harm than the offense itself. It’s very important to forgive immediately, unselfishly, and with your whole heart. This, too, is a command found in Matthew 6:14. Satan would love nothing more than for you to hold on to an offense against someone else, since it is a sure way that God will judge you unworthy. Sadly, what many people fail to understand is that their lack of forgiveness, intense emotions, and irrational actions have nothing to do with others.

German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, is famous for his expression, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” Did you notice that statement does not mention the word ‘them’ even once; in fact, it mentions ‘us’ twice in the same sentence! That’s because our emotions have nothing to do with other people; it has everything to do with us! Don’t give the control of your destiny to an enemy that will never have the best intentions for you. Instead, give it to someone who will have only your best interests in mind. Give it to God.

So next time you are faced with an offensive situation, do not let it steal your peace – which was freely given to you and is rightfully yours. The next time, don’t embrace the unforgiving attitude that will cause your heavenly Father to not forgive you. The next time, close your eyes and thank God that you have a divine connection with Him that can change that person’s life. Once you learn how to repel offense, pray for your enemies with a forgiving heart, and love them with the love that God loves them, you will grow – personally, spiritually, and miraculously.


We want to hear from our subscribers. Copy and paste this address — searchlight@nexicom.net — and let us know your reactions to these questions.

If you’re an online reader only, let us know how often you drop by.

① Which of these types of articles do you find helpful:

■ General devotionals from various sources
■ Weekly (Thursday) articles by Clarke Dixon
■ Bi-Weekly (alt. Tuesdays) articles by Russell Young
■ Sunday Worship series
■ Original articles by Paul Wilkinson
■ Quotations series featuring various authors
■ Articles consisting of commentary on verses/passages from 3-4 different writers
■ Worship liturgies by Ruth Wilkinson
■ Articles featuring worship songs and hymns at the end
■ Scripture medleys (articles that are entirely Bible text)

② How do you feel about the length of the articles?

► Too long
► Too short
► Just about right  (Admittedly this was a “Goldilocks” question!)

③ We draw on a number of authors from the widest variety of Christian denominations. Do you find the selection

► Too diverse
► Still not diverse enough

④ Our aim at Christianity 201 is to be “digging a little deeper.” In other words, to be more more than Christianity 101. Given that, would you say that,

► The articles go deeper than many devotionals
► The articles still don’t go deep enough
► Because there are different writers each day, the depth spiritually is inconsistent
► Because there are different writers each day, the variety of voices makes up for the inconsistencies in the depth

⑤ We didn’t want to make this too long, but if there’s anything else, this would be the place to mention it. For example:

► Time of day you receive the devotional. Most newsletters go out in the morning but we wanted to create something different when we started this.
► Use of a wide variety of Bible translations
► Use of a green font to highlight scripture selections (because the scriptures are alive!)
► Nothing to sell you. Other than anything WordPress ads (and a bi-weekly mention of Russell Young’s book) I wanted to this to be a commerce-free zone.

Two quick questions about your reading habits…

⑥ Do you ever forward your copy of the newsletter? It would help us out if you would help spread the word.

⑦ Do you click through to read the articles at source or simply read them on the email or at the website?

► Click through sometimes
► Click through frequently
► Simply read the articles on the email or at C201

We’re using searchlight@nexicom.net to collect responses as your comments won’t get lost in all the mail that Paul receives daily.

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June 6, 2019

A Compelling Perspective on Humanity

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

How the Christian Perspective on Humanity Points to the Reality of God.

by Clarke Dixon

Does Christianity lead to a beautiful perspective on humanity? Or is it ugly? If the God of the Bible is real and is love, then we should expect beauty and not ugliness. Some would say it is ugly, setting up some people as better than the rest, creating a people who look down on others. It sets up a hierarchy of worth and value. There is no doubt, that we who are Christians, have sometimes acted or spoken like this is so. But is that accurate? What does the Bible teach that our perspective on humanity should be?

Let us turn first, to the beginning;

26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. . . . .
27 So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27 (NLT)

All people are created in the image of God, without exception. This fact unites us in our humanity.

It might be suggested that while this was true of Adam and Eve, it has not been true of anyone since the Fall, that we no longer bear the image of God because of sin. However, consider this early appeal to justice;

5 “And I will require the blood of anyone who takes another person’s life. If a wild animal kills a person, it must die. And anyone who murders a fellow human must die. 6 If anyone takes a human life, that person’s life will also be taken by human hands. For God made human beings in his own image. Genesis 9:5-6 (NLT)

To paraphrase, “how dare you lift a finger against another person in violence, for people were created in the image of God and that still matters.” Every person has worth and value, even with sin in the equation.

Now let us turn to the ending;

9 After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10 And they were shouting with a great roar,
“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne
and from the Lamb!” . . . .
14 Then he said to me, “These are the ones who died in the great tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.
15 “That is why they stand in front of God’s throne
and serve him day and night in his Temple.
And he who sits on the throne
will give them shelter.
16 They will never again be hungry or thirsty;
they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.
17 For the Lamb on the throne
will be their Shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of life-giving water.
And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:9,10,14-17 (NLT emphasis added)

The Book of Revelation speaks of an incredible diversity of peoples gathered together, redeemed by God through Christ. From this we learn that all people are redeemable, all people have the opportunity to wash their clothes in the blood of the Lamb.

To sum up what we learn at the beginning and at the end, we will never meet a person who was not created in the image of God, we will never meet a person for whom Jesus did not choose to bear the cross. All people bear the image of God without exception. Without exception, Jesus bore the cross for all people. That is the starting point point of relationship with God, though there is much we could say about where it goes from there and what allegiance to, and trust in, Christ looks like. It is also the perspective on humanity for the Christian and the starting point for our relationship with others.

We see this humanity valuing perspective in the Bible, not only at the beginning and the end, but also from beginning to end. For example,

  • When Abraham is called, that calling is ultimately for the sake of all nations, not just Abraham’s descendants.
  • In the Old Testament there are laws that provide for the well-being of the foreigner.
  • Foreigners were welcomed into the community, as exemplified with The Book of Ruth. We should note, however, that the community was to keep its worship pure from foreign religious influence. While foreign religion was unacceptable, foreign people were accepted.
  • God’s concern for the foreigner is explicitly made clear in The Book of Jonah. Jonah shrank back from God’s call to preach to the enemy, the people of Ninevah, knowing that God would be kind to them. God did indeed show His kindness to them.
  • Jesus loved all kinds of people, even touching “unclean” people, whom no one would touch, before healing them.
  • Jesus taught the importance of love for thy neighbour, then emphasized that the neighbour is anyone and everyone. Your neighbour could even be those dreaded Samaritans, who can act better than the religious elites by the way, as told in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
  • God called Phillip for a special mission to the Ethiopian eunuch, who was from a different land, likely had a different skin colour, and, being a eunuch, could be described as having a different sexuality.
  • God gave the Holy Spirit to all kinds of people beyond the Jewish people.

From beginning to end, the Bible promotes the value and worth of all people. This covers more than just race, it covers any kind of difference. Consider that in a very patriarchal time and place, there is an emphasis on the equality of the sexes;

27 So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27 (NLT)

Speaking of gender, there is a lot going on with gender in society these days.  Many of us may struggle to understand why a man identifies as a woman, or a woman as a man, or some don’t identify as either. The starting point for relationship, even when people are beyond our understanding, is this: they are created in the image of God and Jesus chose the cross for them. What will we choose to do for them?

All people bear the image of God without exception. Without exception, Jesus bore the cross for all people. This is true for people who are unique for any reason. With each of our pregnancies, my wife and I were offered the opportunity to test for Down syndrome. This would lead to an opportunity to have an abortion. In our minds people with Down syndrome have as much worth and value as any other person. They are created in the image of God. Jesus chose the cross for them. Therefore should a Christian carry on with such a test? Speaking of abortion, in my mind, people in the womb has as much value and worth as people outside. This is why Christians often tend to be pro-life. We should understand that nothing is as simple as it seems, that there is a great need for sensitivity on this topic, and people need reminding of the grace of God. Also we should understand that some people are pro-choice based on their Christian ethic, based on love and concern for Moms and women in difficult circumstances. Nevertheless, every person has value and the question is valid; is a fetus just “tissue,” or a person created in the image of God and for whom Jesus bore the cross?

Given that all humanity bears the image of God, the Christian cannot not look down on people as being worth less for any reason. Rather, we are called to love others with the love of Christ who bore the cross for them. The starting point is not “you are so different from me,” but “we are so much alike, in our creation in the image of God, in our need for grace, and in being given the invitation to a relationship with God.” All people bear the image of God without exception. Without exception, Jesus bore the cross for all people. This is Christian view of humanity, and it is beautiful.

Now consider what can happen when we take God out of the picture. Without the Biblical perspective on humanity, we can easily fall into racism, sexism, or looking down on people because they are different.  If we are indeed evolved, if there is no God, then what is to stop us from thinking that one race has greater value than another? The rat has had just as much time to evolve as the human. We naturally give the human more value and will call exterminators to deal with rat infestations so as to protect humans from disease. What is to stop us from giving greater value to one type of human, even going as far as exterminating other types of humans to protect the more valuable? Indeed this kind of thing happened with Nazi Germany. It was not Bible study and a hunger for God that led the Nazi machine to commit atrocities against the Jews. It was philosophical thinking that applied evolution to society. “We are more highly evolved than you” is ugly. In contrast, “You bear the image of God, Christ bore the cross for you,” is beautiful.

Every single person bears the image of God, regardless of colour, culture, medical conditions, gender, sexuality, or anything else. Jesus bore the cross for every person regardless of colour, culture, medical conditions, gender, sexuality, or anything else. We share this same starting point with every other person without exception. This is a beautiful perspective on humanity which is also helpful to humanity. This is what we should expect if the God the Bible points to, the God the Bible portrays as love, is real. This is yet another reason that Christianity it compelling.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada and is featured here each Thursday. This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

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May 30, 2019

Compelling Society

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:27 pm
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How the Christian Vision for Society Points to the Reality of God.

by Clarke Dixon

Are Christians to rebel against governments? Are Christians to submit to governments? Are Christians to take over governments? Does the Christian vision for society lead to a theocracy, where God’s law is the law of the land? Does Christianity promote a beautiful vision for society? If God is real, and Christianity is true, then we should expect beauty and not ugliness. What is the vision?

Are Christians to rebel?

8 So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.
19 But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? 20 We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:18-20 (NLT emphasis added)

26 The captain went with his Temple guards and arrested the apostles, but without violence, for they were afraid the people would stone them. 27 Then they brought the apostles before the high council, where the high priest confronted them. 28 “We gave you strict orders never again to teach in this man’s name!” he said. “Instead, you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about him, and you want to make us responsible for his death!”
29 But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. Acts 5:26-29 (NLT emphasis added)

In the New Testament we find rebellion against the authorities in order to be obedient to God. We can think of the many Christians around the world who disobey the authorities by gathering together as the Church, by telling others about Jesus, sometimes simply by owning a Bible. Let us not just think of the underground Church, let us pray. So yes, we are encouraged to rebel and break the laws when necessary.

Are Christians to submit?

1 Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. 2 So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. 3 For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. 4 The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. 5 So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.
6 Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority. Romans 13:1-7 (NLT)

Keep in mind that these words are taken from Paul’s letter to Rome, the seat of power in the ancient world. While the Christians in Rome recognized that “Jesus is Lord” meant  therefore that Caesar is not, there was still a call to respect the authorities. There is an impulse to be good citizens of the land, to be good Romans, or Canadians, as well as good Christians.

We therefore find in the New Testament a balance between respect for the authorities, but also disobedience when necessary.

Are Christians to take over the government, to aim for a “Christian Nation,” to establish a theocracy?

Reading through the entire New Testament we find no encouragement to take over the government, to establish a theocracy. Christianity began as a minority movement and therefore a takeover was not even entertained as a possibility. Even so, neither do we find a longing to do so at some point in the future. What we find is a focus on individuals having a life changing encounter with Christ. We find disciples making disciples. We find the recognition that Jesus already reigns without the need for a coup. There is no need to take over the government, for Jesus is already Lord. There is no need to set up a theocracy, for God is already sovereign.

15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices shouting in heaven:
“The world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,
and he will reign forever and ever.” Revelation 11:15 (NLT)

The place of the Christian is not to enforce laws that make the land look like God’s kingdom. The place of the Christian is to live kingdom focused lives while watching and waiting for God to bring His kingdom.

We find something similar in Old Testament. While there was a call for the establishment of a theocracy, known as Israel, there was no impulse for that theocracy to take over the world. Israel was to be salt and light to the world. Christians today are to be salt and light within the world.

We can have influence on society, but we are to be salt and light, not a hammer and gun. We are to carry a cross, not a sword. Helping people know Jesus is the priority of the Christian, not enforcing non-Christian people to live like Christians, especially not our own vision of what a Christian looks like. Our own idea of a “theocracy” might better be termed a “meocracy.” We are not kings over the land but kingdom people in the land, leading kingdom lives, looking forward to the Kingdom to come. We are disciples making disciples.

As lives are changed, society is changed. Christianity has brought good and beautiful changes to society, yet without a vision for totalitarian control. As an interesting example, consider the nations that are best, and worst, to live in if you are gay. According to one source, here are the ten best in ascending order; Argentina, Belgium, Malta, Germany, Iceland, Portugal, Sweden, The Netherlands, Spain, and Canada takes the top spot as the best. From another source, here are the worst in descending order; Afghanistan, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somaliland, Nigeria, Russia, United Arab Emirates, and Mauritania. Notice anything about these two lists? The nations that are considered best have all had Christianity working in the background for a long time, helping to shape the culture, helping to develop a societal vision of love for one’s neighbour. The nations that are considered worst share a history of either Sharia law or communism, Islam or atheism. Rights and freedoms have flourished in lands that have been marinating in Christianity. This speaks positively about Christianity.

To conclude, the New Testament does not promote a vision for society that is to be fought for, that is to be enforced. That could get ugly quite quickly. Unfortunately, being all too human, we Christians have made things get ugly at times. What the New Testament promotes is a vision for how Christians engage with and interact within society, any society. We are to be individuals reaching individuals with the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are to be disciples making disciples. We are to do good, to love our neighbours. We are to lead Jesus-centred, Spirit-filled, wisdom seeking lives. We are to be kingdom people living kingdom lives, while watching and waiting for the kingdom to come. We are to be good citizens of whatever land we live in. We are to rebel when necessary. Overall, the Bible promotes a beautiful vision for how Christians engage with and live within society. This is another reason Christianity is compelling.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

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May 23, 2019

A Compelling Life

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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How Christian Ethics Point to the Reality of God.

by Clarke Dixon

Is the kind of life Christianity leads to compelling? Is it a beautiful life, or is it ugly? If Christianity is compelling, and if God is good, then we would expect the way God would have us live should bring beauty and not ugliness. So does it?

Some would say no. In the Margaret Atwood novel, A Hand Maid’s Tale, everything is supposedly ordered according to the Bible. It does not take too long for the reader to figure out that this is a very ugly society. Many would say that even without such Christian state control, the Christian life is ugly. The Christian life is described as blindly following many, many rules without any thought as to whether they are good or not. So is the Christian life beautiful or ugly? People may portray the Christian life as ugly, or even live out a Christian life that is ugly, but the Bible points to a life that is beautiful for the following reasons.

First, the Christian life is a Jesus centred life. 

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV emphasis added)

The focus was not to be on the what the teachers of the law commanded in Jesus’ day. The focus is not to be on what the teachers of the law command in ours. The focus is on Jesus and what he commanded. It is not about powerful people or powerful traditions. It is about Jesus.

The focus is on Jesus, even when we are reading the letters of Paul, Peter, James, or John. The letters in the New Testament are not “here is something new, because Jesus did not say enough,” but, “here are the implications of Jesus on theology, and here is what the Jesus-focused life looks like for us.” What we have in the letters are the apostles working out the implications of Jesus for first century Rome, Corinth, Ephesus and so on.

This has important implications. Take slavery, for example. Some would say that the inclusion of slavery in the Bible demonstrates that the Christian life is ugly. Does the New Testament support the institution of slavery? Slavery was a part of life in that day, a fact which was not going to change anytime soon. Since slavery was a part of life, Paul offers how a Jesus-centred person should live when they happen to be a slave, or a slave holder. In fact, there are beautiful implications as we discover in Paul’s letter to Philemon where Philemon is encouraged to take back his runaway slave, Onesimus, “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother” (Philemon 16 NRSV). Philemon’s Jesus-focused life was to be a thing of beauty for Onesimus. Life is beautiful when it is impacted by Jesus.

All of the New Testament letters are part of the Word of God, yes. However, we do not read Paul’s letters to find out how to become a Paul follower, or how to be more focused on Paul in our lives. We read Paul to discover how people were encouraged to be Jesus followers, to live Jesus-centred lives in the first century. This helps us discover how we can live Jesus-focused lives in our day.

A Jesus-centred life is a beautiful life. Of course this is so, Jesus was a beautiful man! Notice the way he related to people, his integrity, his reverence for the Father, his focus on the spirit of the law and not the letter, his ability to challenge and unravel the status quo, his living out of the Great Commandments, his good works. Notice how he gave his life to rescue you and I from sin. Jesus is beautiful. A Jesus-centred life is a beautiful life.

Second, the Christian life is a Spirit filled life.

22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-25 (NRSV emphasis added)

The “fruit of the Spirit” is all beautiful stuff! We would describe a person whose character is marked by such traits as being a beautiful person.

Fruit grows naturally. A beautiful character is the natural consequence of a relationship with God. Fruit naturally grows where the conditions are right. Our part is to see that the conditions are good by keeping our connection with God open through prayer, Bible reading, relationships with other Christians, and worship. But God is the One who makes fruit grow. A Spirit filled Life is a beautiful life.

Third, the Christian life is a life of wisdom.

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace. James 3:13-18 (NRSV emphasis added)

The letter of James has been described by some Biblical scholars as being like the “wisdom literature” from the Old Testament. It points to the good life and how to live well. Notice the focus on gentleness and peace. The wise person knows that being gentle and peaceable is a good thing. A wise person living in wisdom is a beautiful thing. A life of wisdom is a beautiful life.

Conclusion.

Some paint the Christian life as being ugly. It is portrayed as blindly following rules without any thought given as to whether those rules are helpful or not. It is portrayed as a very narrow life with no fun allowed at all. But that’s not it! The Christian is to be Jesus-centred, Spirit filled, and wise! The Christian life is a beautiful life, just as we should expect if Christianity is true, if God is good. While many world-views and religions can lead to ugly places, the beauty of the Christian life is yet another aspect of Christianity that is compelling.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

 

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May 16, 2019

Compelling Vision for the Family

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

Does Christianity have a compelling vision for family life? Some ancient religions required child sacrifice. That is not a compelling vision for family at all! Some would say that the Christian vision for family is likewise not compelling. It is too rigid, too patriarchal. Does the Christian vision for family make you think “that sounds right, that is consistent with a good and loving God” Is the Biblical vision for family beautiful, or ugly? It is beautiful, for the following reasons.

There is a beautiful vision for parenting.

To begin with, child sacrifice was strictly forbidden under the Old Covenant law. God’s people were to be different from other peoples of that day who did indeed sacrifice their children. The place near Jerusalem where people sacrificed their children was eventually used as a garbage dump, as it was despised by God’s people. It was called Gehenna, which most English Bibles translate as ‘hell.’ God’s people were expressly forbidden from sacrificing their children. This already was a positive step for family life!

But is there anything else about parenting? If you happened to read through the entire Bible this week, you might say, “I did not see too much on parenting.” If parenting is all about technique, then yes, the Bible does not say too much. However, if parenting is about character, then the Bible has much to say. Let us consider one example from Galatians:

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 (NIV)

Not only will those who “live like this” not inherit the kingdom of God, they will also make life miserable for their children.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:22-24 (NIV)

Those who live like this, on the other hand, will be appreciated by their children who will have great examples to follow. Who wouldn’t want to grow up with parents whose character is marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control? Techniques in parenting will vary according to culture, but the character of a parent can make for beautiful parenting in any society.

Character development is also good for marriage, which is also great for family life. This brings us to our second point.

There is a beautiful vision for marriage.

While we find polygamy quite often in the Old Testament, things are different in the New Testament. In speaking about marriage, Jesus focused, not on the people from the Old Testament who practiced polygamy, nor on the law, which allowed for polygamy, but on the creation account:

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Matthew 19:3-6 (NIV Quotes from Genesis emphasized)

This return to the original vision for marriage paved the way for women to be on a more equal footing. Polygamy naturally leads to someone being in charge of “the clan,” a supreme leader. Monogamy more naturally allows for the possibility of an equal partnership.

Further, the Biblical vision is of covenant faithfulness and loyal love between two people. Such covenant faithfulness, based on God’s covenant faithfulness, is a beautiful thing and enables family life to be settled and stable. It is a beautiful thing to grow up in a home where one’s parents are in love, with each other!

There is also beautiful vision for leadership and submission in marriage:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. Ephesians 5:21-27 (NIV)

Perhaps that does not sound beautiful to everyone. Women being under the thumb of a controlling man sounds ugly. However, let us dig deeper. When leadership is about control, it is ugly. When leadership is about care and responsibility, it is beautiful. Notice the focus on the lengths Jesus went to in his care of, and love for, the church. He was willing to die for the church! There is a great expectation placed on men here, and one that was not prevalent in that day. Likewise, when submission is about giving control over, it can be ugly. When submission is about trust, it is beautiful. When a man loves a woman the way Christ loves the church, trust is built. This passage is not about men taking control without building any trust. It is about harmony in care and trust. It is a beautiful vision that was quite radical and woman affirming in its day. And let us not forget verse 21! Love, trust, and mutual submission makes for great family life.

There is beautiful flexibility in the Biblical Vision for Family.

Although Jesus focused in on the creation account of marriage, something you do not find in the New Testament is a push for everyone to be married with children. Jesus himself affirmed that not everyone will be married with children in Matthew 19:10-12. The Ethiopian eunuch was welcomed into the Kingdom in Acts 8. Paul encouraged people to remain single in 1st Corinthians 7, or get married! While married with children is a beautiful vision, it was not an expectation in the New Testament church. It should not become an idol on ours. If you are single, or have no children, you are not a second class citizen in the Kingdom of God. We do well to ensure that no one is a second class citizen in our churches.

Since there is flexibility in not forcing everyone to fit the pattern of married with children as set out in the creation account, is there also flexibility with leadership within the family? Can it be based on giftedness and capacity rather than gender? My wife takes the lead in a number of areas of our family life. She is so much more capable than I am in those areas!

Proverbs 31 is often thought to be about “the virtuous wife.” It is often pitched to women, that they should be more like that Proverbs 31 ideal. However, I think it pitched to men. The lesson of Proverbs 31 for men can be summed up as “don’t micro-manage your wife, she excels without your interference.” Proverbs ends with this instruction:

Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate. Proverbs 31:31 (NIV)

This description of the capability of a wife must also be considered a part of the overall Biblical vision for family. The flexibility of the Biblical vision for family is a beautiful thing.

There are those who say that even if they became convinced that Christianity is true, they would still not want to be a Christian because it has a very patriarchal and constrictive vision for family life. Indeed, some Christians live out a constrictive and patriarchal vision. However, the Bible gives us a vision for family which is a beautiful. This is another aspect of Christianity that is compelling. What the Bible teaches about family life is indeed consistent with a good and loving God.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

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May 9, 2019

Compelling Mission

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Does the way in which we engage people outside the church point to the reality of God?

In previous posts we have looked at Christianity as compelling because it is true. This week we begin looking at how Christianity is compelling because it is beautiful.

My boys are now reading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which I also read in school. In this book and corresponding TV series American society has been ordered, supposedly, according to the teachings of the Bible. However, it is not long before the reader realizes that this is a very ugly society. If that is what Christianity leads to, it is not compelling at all! If Christianity is true, reflecting a good and loving God, we will expect it to bring beauty, not ugliness. Does Christianity lead to beauty or ugliness? Specifically, is the way Christians engage non-Christians beautiful?

First, freedom is beautiful. Imprisonment is always an ugly thing. With Christianity there is to be freedom. When we read the New Testament we find people freely choosing to be followers of Jesus. In the “Great Commission” of Matthew 28, Jesus did not say “go and force everyone to be a Christian,” but “go and make disciples.”

This means that everyone should have freedom to not be a Christian. Some religions and worldviews use power to keep people in. We can think of fundamentalist versions of Islam. In some nations it is illegal to convert from Islam to another faith! My own children have been raised with a strong connection with the church family. But they are free to not be Christians. While my heart’s desire is that all three will follow Jesus, it is not my decision to make. They are free to choose their relationship with Jesus. As they grow into adulthood they will be free to choose their connection with the church family also. Sometimes we as Christians have made it difficult for people to leave the faith. That gets ugly. Freedom is beautiful.

There is also to be freedom for the non-Christian to not have to act like a Christian. Jesus did not say in Matthew 28 “go and make Christian nations, forcing everyone to have Christian morals,” but,

. . . 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 emphasis added)

The New Living Translation goes beyond what is in the original Greek, but captures for us well who is to learn Christ’s ways, namely, His disciples. As a Canadian I am watching the culture war in the States with interest. I see a desire to ‘make America Christian again.’ However, forcing an entire nation to follow Jesus gets ugly. We understand that Christianity is spreading very well in China. I imagine that the Chinese Christians are focused on making disciples, one person at a time, not fighting a culture war, one law at time. That is not to say that Christians should not be involved in politics. But when we are, let us not confuse lawmaking with evangelism.

We Christians have sometimes denied freedom, and sometimes still do. It has been and can get ugly. But we will not deny freedom if we are looking to Jesus, if the New Testament is our guide. Freedom is beautiful, and a Biblical Christianity promotes freedom.

Second, words are a beautiful way to share truth. Forced conversion through violence is ugly. Conversion through force or manipulation is something you will not find happening in the New Testament, nor is it something Jesus told us to do. Instead, we find people sharing what they know to be true about Jesus using words. You will not find a Christian going to war in the New Testament to ‘take the land for Jesus.’ You will find honest sharing. You will find conversations. You will not find warriors. You will find preachers.

We Christians have sometimes resorted to power, and sometimes we still do. It has been and can get ugly. However, we will not use force if we are looking to Jesus, if the New Testament is our guide. Words are beautiful. A Biblical Christianity promotes conversation and sharing through words.

Third, it is a beautiful thing to share good news. Keeping life changing good news to oneself would be ugly. Keeping Jesus for ourselves would be ugly. Keeping quiet about the amazing news of God’s amazing grace would be ugly. Some religions may promote a ‘keep to yourself’ attitude. That might be okay if you are keeping your love for liver and onions to yourself. But imagine finding the cure for cancer. We have learned of the cure for death itself! We have learned that God has a love solution for our separation-from-God problem. Keeping that to ourselves would demonstrate an ugly, ugly lack of love for others. From the very earliest days, Christians have been involved in missions. Because we must in order to get to heaven? Nope! Because sharing good news is a beautiful thing, a natural thing. The good news is too good to keep to ourselves!

The way Christians are to relate with non-Christians is not ugly, but beautiful. Freedom is beautiful, words are a beautiful way to share truth, and it is a beautiful thing to share good news. God’s call for how the Christian should engage with the non-Christian is, just as you would expect from a good God, beautiful. This is yet another aspect of Christianity that is compelling.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

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May 2, 2019

Compelling Events

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A Compelling Turn of Events: How the Events of Easter Point to the Reality of God

by Clarke Dixon

I Cor.15.1  Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance; that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Can we really believe that Jesus rose from the dead? If someone told you they had a friend who spontaneously rose from the dead three days later, would you believe them? Probably not, and that is good, for doubt and skepticism are important tools in helping us avoid deception and discover truth. So if we would not believe a report about a friend being raised in three days, then why believe it with regards to Jesus?

First off, let us remember the nature of the Bible. It does not present a simple system of belief, or a series of philosophical ideas, but instead a series of sometimes convoluted history lessons. For the person of faith it is the history of God’s interactions with humanity. For the unbeliever, the history lessons are still important. For example, when we look to the Old Testament, even a very skeptical person will want to consider what happened that caused the Israelites to think they were rescued from Egypt, and to think they had a special covenant relationship with God. Likewise in the New Testament, even a very skeptical person will want to consider what happened that;

  1. caused the body of Jesus to not be in the tomb in which he was laid, nor ever be produced.
  2. caused many people to go around saying that they saw Jesus risen from the dead and be willing to die for that testimony.
  3. caused naysayers like James, and especially Paul, to change their tune despite a very devout devotion to Judaism. Paul went from persecuting Christians for their supposed blasphemy to being one. Why?
  4. caused theology to develop within the New Testament which has some surprising and unexpected twists. It was expected that God would rescue His people. It was expected that God would send a messiah. It was expected that there would be a resurrection of all people at the end of the age. It was not expected that God would rescue people through being the suffering messiah who would be executed then rise from the dead, quite apart from a resurrection of everyone else.

What happened to cause these things?

Were the disciples hallucinating? Were the disciples so distraught that they all just thought they saw Jesus? The possibility of mass hallucinations is fraught with problems from the get-go, however the hallucinations theory does not explain the new boldness of the disciples, the empty tomb, the turnarounds in Paul and James, nor the surprising new twists in theology.

Did the disciples steal the body of Jesus then make up the story of the resurrection? This would explain the empty tomb, but would not explain why the disciples were not only willing to die for their testimony, but able. No one broke down and shared a different story! It also does not explain the change in Paul or James. Nor is it likely they would have made up a story and developed a theology which ensured persecution from both Jewish and Roman antagonists alike.

Perhaps Jesus did not really die? However, the Romans were recognized as being very capable at putting people to death! But why the change in Paul and James, neither of whom were disciples before the events of Easter? A battered and bruised Jesus would hardly be convincing. Why the interesting and unusual new twists in theological reflection?

If you are open to a miracle at all, an actual resurrection of Jesus is the simplest explanation that accounts for all the evidence. The resurrection explains everything; why the tomb was empty and a body was never produced, why the disciples were willing to die for their testimony of seeing Jesus alive and boldly all stuck to the story, why skeptics like James and Paul change their tune, and why theology developed in an unexpected way.

If you are open to a miracle. Therein lies the problem for many people. However, we have already looked at compelling reasons to believe in a miracle working God, a creator God. The cosmos points to the reality of God. Our minds point to the reality of God, as does the existence of evil, the fact of morality, and the existence and nature of the Bible. We can be reasonable people, and be open to the miraculous. If you are open to a miracle at all, the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation of all the facts.

Consider also, that the resurrection of Jesus was not a random occurrence that came out of the blue. Rather this is an event in history which fits the compelling nature of Jesus. What he did, what he taught, how he related to people, it was all extraordinary. His resurrection may still be surprising, but it makes sense given how extraordinary Jesus was known to be. The resurrection is also an event in history which perfectly fits what the Old Testament was pointing to all along. The death and resurrection of Jesus confirms what we should expect to be true about God, that God is perfect in justice and in love. While a story of spontaneous resurrection would normally be considered nonsense, the resurrection of Jesus happens in a context in which it makes sense.

In considering the context of the resurrection of Jesus, we can also consider the purpose. If Jesus rose from the dead, we look forward to resurrection to eternal life also. This too, is compelling, for why bother with a random resurrection that has no purpose? The resurrection of Jesus is not some random event but one which fits a context, fulfills a purpose, and best explains the evidence.

Last, but not least, the resurrection of Jesus makes sense of the experience many of us have of Christ making a difference in our lives!

Can we, as intelligent, thinking people, really believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Yes, not only can we, there are compelling reasons to do so. The events of Easter point to the reality of the God we discover in the Bible.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

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