Christianity 201

September 9, 2021

New Beginnings! Thinking Through Adam and Eve’s Experience, and Ours

by Clarke Dixon

[read and comment at source: Click here]

When we think of new beginnings, we may think of things like a wedding, the birth of a child, or winning a lottery. For most of us a new beginning may come with much less celebration. A new beginning might be a divorce, a broken relationship, the loss of a job, a fire, a bereavement, a health crisis, a mental health crisis, or some unwelcome, really bad news. COVID was a new beginning for all of us, so too are the faltering steps we are taking towards a post-COVID world, if that is indeed what we are doing.

For many people, their new beginning might be described as Adam and Eve may have wanted to describe their new beginning, as cursed. Perhaps you were thinking Adam and Eve’s new beginning was in their creation and placement in the Garden of Eden as described in Genesis chapters 1 and 2? Nope, that was their beginning, their new beginning was the experience of being kicked out of the Garden of Eden as described in Genesis chapters 3 and 4. Not exactly the kind of new beginning we would like either. Let us think through their new beginning and discover what can help us with ours.

There are four things Adam and Eve could say if they took a step back and looked at the big picture of their new beginning.

First, we are still here!

God had said “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Genesis 2:17 (NRSV). Some translations interpret “the day you eat of it” as emphasis on the fact that death would happen. Hebrew language and thinking does not quite work the same way as ours, so we should not get too caught up in the fact that Adam and Eve did not die that very day. The reality of death certainly did, however. Still, God did not say “when you eat it, you will live outside the garden, then die.” To be still alive would have come as a welcome surprise. They could say “we are still here!”

Second, God is still with us!

While we do not hear too much more about Adam and Eve, as Genesis 4 gets going, God is as available to Cain outside of the Garden of Eden as He was to Adam and Eve inside the Garden. There is conversation, there is presence, there is guidance. Though humans were now stuck outside the Garden of Eden, God was not stuck in it.

Third, there are signs of grace!

Adam and Ever were not just still alive, they were also experiencing further signs of God’s grace. Consider the births of Cain and Abel. There was the promise of death as the consequence of taking of the forbidden fruit, yet before we see death, we see the gift of life. In fact even the curse given in Genesis 3:16; “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children,” (NRSV) is a sign of grace. There will be life, there will be future generations.

Fourth, there are opportunities!

For starters, Adam and Eve would have the opportunity to fulfill God’s call to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 2:28). God’s call on humanity still stood. God still had, and still has, a plan for us!

Though we are not told much about Adam and Eve and their relationship with God and each other, we can suppose they also had increased opportunities for supporting each other in ways they did not have opportunity to do so before. They would also have had the opportunity to lean on God more than they ever had to before. Things were great back in the Garden. Not so anymore, so leaning on God and others, and being available for others to lean on, became opportunities to help and be helped.

When we face a new beginning.

When we are facing momentous change, a new beginning, whether one anticipated with great excitement and celebration, or one that is thrust upon us, we can look at the big picture.

But before we go there, there are two very practical matters we learn from life. First, change brings stress. New beginnings are stressful whether they are anticipated with joy, or experienced with dread. Let us watch for stress and the need for strategies to cope, things like getting enough sleep, eating well, exercise, breathing exercises, mindful moments, prayer, and the enjoyment of hobbies. Second, change brings loss. New beginnings require grief. We have all faced loss one way or another in this COVID era. Let us watch for signs of grief, like anger and denial, and consider a strategy to deal with grief.

Now back to the practical matters that we learn from Adam and Eve. When we face momentous change, a new beginning, especially one that might be perceived as a curse, there are four things we can say.

First, we are still here!

You are still breathing, so breathe a sigh of relief. God is not done with you yet. And in fact, God never will be done with you. So even when you wake up someday and you are not here, that will be an even greater blessing! Paul knew this when he said,

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.

2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NLT)

Second, God is still with us!

In the very last words of the Gospel of Matthew we read the promise of Jesus: “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 8:20 NLT)

We need not face our new beginnings alone. God’s presence is available through all the change we experience in life. In fact God’s presence is available to us even if we brought about the disastrous change we may be experiencing. God is not stuck in the Garden of Eden. In perfect love, God offers help to the imperfect.

Third, there are signs of grace!

We may have trouble seeing them, but they are there. We can pray for eyes to see them. They are the assurance of God’s presence, not just His presence, but His presence and love. There is no greater sign of God’s grace than Jesus, his being with us, his teaching, his death, his resurrection, and his presence now through the Holy Spirit. The bread and the cup we receive through the Lord’s Table are constant reminders, signs of God’ grace.

Fourth, there are opportunities.

Here again, we may have trouble seeing them, but they are there, and will be there as some come later. Again, we pray for eyes to see the opportunities, but also for the the courage to take them.

Our new beginning may feel like a curse, but it may turn around to be a blessing somehow to us, but potentially, for others.

Let me give a personal example of a new beginning we have faced and of the opportunities that have come though it. When one of our sons came out as openly gay, that was a new beginning for our son, and for all of us. With that new beginning comes opportunities. There is the opportunity of being in a relationship based on honesty, rather than our son feeling he has something to hide from us. There is the opportunity for my wife and I to be on a journey of understanding, challenging the usual story of fear, exclusion and broken relationships when there is a “coming out.” My wife and I have been on a journey of walking with our son as we continue to walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love. Going forward, I have no doubt that I will have the opportunity to grow as a person and as a pastor, to be a better pastor than I have been, to those who are, or those who have connections with the LGBTQ+ community. For some people, a child coming out as gay might seem like the end of the world. We are still here, God is still with us, there are signs of grace, and there are opportunities.

New beginnings in our church.

Every church family has faced momentous change, a new beginning in these days of pandemic. As society falteringly moves from a COVID era to a post-COVID era (hopefully?!), we can say we are still here, God is still with us, there are signs of grace, there are opportunities.

What about you?

Are you facing momentous change, whether an anticipated blessing, or something you would rather describe as a curse?

Are you taking care of yourself, watching for stress and creating strategies for coping, naming and grieving your losses?

Are you aware of the bigger picture? You are still here! God is still present! There are signs of grace! There are opportunities!

(Thanks for reading. You can watch me preach this sermon here.)

September 3, 2021

What I Love About the Bible Despite My Misgivings About It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

How could I, a Baptist pastor, possibly have misgivings about the Bible?

For one thing, the Bible has often been used to abuse. The movie, “The Book of Eli,” sets out a post-apocalyptic future where there is only one copy of the Bible. The main villain of the story knows that if he can get his hands on that one copy of the Bible, he will have incredible power over others. Throughout history many villains and nice people alike have used the Bible to have power over others, sometimes with terrible results.

Second, The Bible is terribly complex, convoluted, and leaves itself open to being misunderstood by everyone, including me. Such misunderstandings have often been divisive, and sometimes deadly.

So what do I love about the Bible despite my misgivings?

I love the genuine nature of the Bible

Let me take you back to my experience of preparing a study on the Book of Philemon when I was a student. Yes, we call Paul’s writings “letters,” or sometimes “epistles,” which sounds more religious, though it isn’t. But in preparing a study on Paul’s letter to Philemon I came to realize that this really is a letter. This did not sound like a letter from God to us, but from one person to another, about another person. The letter concerned a very real situation. In fact it seemed to me to be a very real situation that had nothing to do with me!

The Book of Philemon is not God saying to everyone “here are some rules to live by,” but rather Paul saying to Philemon, and I summarize, “since Jesus is Lord and Saviour, there are implications on how you are going to treat your runaway slave Onesimus, namely with forgiveness and treating him like a brother, not a slave.” What we have is an example of the good news of Jesus being worked out in a real life situation. And that has everything to do with me.

All the letters of the New Testament are like that. They speak to real situations. Through them we learn how to work the Gospel out in our lives. In fact all the writings that make up the Bible are very much tied to real world situations. Being rooted in real events, they are the record of real people responding to a real God in a very real relationship between God and humanity.

Let us consider these verses from Acts:

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

Acts 1:1-3 (NRSV)

Notice what the writer of Acts does not say. He does not say “God told me to tell everyone this.” Rather, “these things happened, and so I’m telling you about it, Theophilus.” We can thank God for some guy named Theophilos, because though the writer wrote for his sake and learning, we get the benefit!

These are very real events the writer wants to share with Theophilus. While there are metaphors, and poetic devices in Scripture, the Book of Acts tends to not be very poetic. These things happened!

All the writings of the Bible are rooted in things that happened in history. These historical events point to the relationship of God with humanity. The New Testament especially, is rooted in who Jesus is and what Jesus did and said, and what happened including his death and resurrection. In Jesus we find the greatest self-disclosure of God. The Bible is not the greatest self-disclosure of God. Jesus is. In the Bible we have very real people responding to very real glimpses of God. Jesus is the greatest glimpse God has ever given of Himself.

We don’t want to just know the Bible, we want to know God, and we do that supremely through Jesus, whom we meet through the Bible.

I love the complexity of the Bible

Because the Bible is the record of a very real relationship between God and humanity, it is complex, and rich, with many genres, written by many different people in many different circumstances. The complex and convoluted nature of the Bible might be something we do not like about the Bible, however, it is actually something to love!

While some people come to the Bible expecting a simple rule book, we find so much more, including things like;

  • Frustration when God seem so distant, or not concerned – many of the Psalms.
  • The angst of trying to figure out the meaning of life – Ecclesiastes.
  • Questions around suffering – Job.
  • The beauty of romantic and sexual love – Song of Songs.
  • Questioning the fairness of God – Jonah (we should note that the Book of Jonah is not really about Jonah’s obedience, or lack thereof, but the reason for his disobedience; namely, his perception that God’s love of the enemy is unfair).
  • The historical event of God being with us, in Jesus – the Gospels.
  • The working out of “what does it look like to be a follower of Jesus in our day?” – the letters of the New Testament.
  • Encouragement for when we face persecution – Revelation (many interpretations of Revelation miss the point)

With the Bible we don’t have a simple rule book, but wisdom, wrestling, waiting, wanting, and the record of God with us.

While the Bible does not give easy answers, or give answers easily, I love that it leads to great questions.

There are easy answers found in the Bible. Is it okay if I murder someone? No! But it does not always give easy answers. Instead it invites us to wrestle with questions.

Consider, is it okay to kill someone? Killing someone can be different than murder, in self-defense, for example. Christians are divided on the answer to that. Those of the Anabaptist tradition point to the radical love of Jesus in responding to violence with peace and non-retaliation, this being the Kingdom-of-Jesus way. We Baptists tend to focus on the expression of love for those we want to protect from violence, which sometimes may require violence. The point is, there is no easy answer on this, people have read the same Bible and come to different conclusions on it. But wrestling with the question is a great thing to do and deepens us, no matter what answer we may come up with.

I have heard people describe the Bible as an answer book, with the answers to every question you might possibly have about anything and everything. I simply have not found that to be true. But I have always found that it leads to great questions. Great questions lead us to greater depth. Sometimes it is better is better to be deep than correct.

The Bible does provide the answers to the most important questions we could ever ask, like; Who is Jesus? Who is God? What does Jesus have to do with God? And with us? We are reminded of those important questions, and the answers when we participate in the Lord’s Supper. There is a place for deep conviction and for sharing answers. There is a place for for deep humility and living with questions. We do well to figure out which is best where.

While the Bible did not fall from the sky, I love that the Bible is God-breathed.

This is something that cannot be said of other writings:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)

We should not think of the Bible as being God dictated. The fingerprints of human authors are all over it, human authors who faced very human situations, just like we do. While the fingerprints of human authors are all over the Bible, the heart of God is in it. The writings which are collected into the Bible are what God has seen fit so that we can know Him.

Conclusion

If people are looking for a simple book dropped from heaven that explains everything and gives us simple rules to live by, we will be hard pressed getting people to love the Bible, especially if they actually read it.

But if people are looking for authenticity, for genuine writings by real people experiencing real problems, in real situations, in relationship with a real God, as really experienced in the real person of Jesus Christ, then we can be hopeful, for I know I will not be the only one who loves the Bible!

September 2, 2021

In Repentance and Stress is Your Salvation?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through Isaiah 30:15

by Clarke Dixon

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength . . .

Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)

For many people, the Christian life does not seem like a restful life, but a stressful life. It is a life of continual guilt, and when you do not feel guilty, you feel guilt for not feeling guilty. It is a life preoccupied with sin.

Repentance can be defined as remorse over wrongdoing or sin, feeling shame and regret. We might assume that the Christian life is to be a life of constant remorse, regret, and shame.

And so some have found Christianity to be stressful. Isaiah 30:15 may as well read, ”in regret and stress is your salvation.”

Is this the way it should be? Is the Christian life best described as a life preoccupied with sin?

Thinking through Isaiah 30:15 will help. So let’s dig in.

The prophet here is speaking to a specific situation in Old Testament times when God’s people in Judah were under threat of invasion by Assyria. When small nations are under threat from bigger, more powerful nations, the most natural thing to do is make an alliance with another big nation. We do this as Canadians, seeking national security by being part of NORAD and NATO. If anyone wants to mess with us, they will have to mess with the collective might of so many other nations including the military might of the Americans.

So God’s people in Judah did what small nations do, they sought an alliance. What did God think of that?

“Woe to the obstinate children,”
declares the LORD,
“to those who carry out plans that are not mine,
forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit,
heaping sin upon sin;
who go down to Egypt
without consulting me;
who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection,
to Egypt’s shade for refuge.
But Pharaoh’s protection will be to your shame,
Egypt’s shade will bring you disgrace.
Though they have officials in Zoan
and their envoys have arrived in Hanes,
everyone will be put to shame
because of a people useless to them,
who bring neither help nor advantage,
but only shame and disgrace. ”

Isaiah 30:1-5 (NIV) 1

Making an alliance with Egypt? Bad idea!

The right thing to do, would be to seek God, to remember the covenant with God, to lean into that covenant with greater passion, trusting that God is faithful and will carry out His covenant promises. To sum up God’s covenant promises, “stick with me and I’ll stick with you and you will live and flourish in the promised land. Don’t stick with me and you are on your own (and remember you are a small nation stuck between big bad enemies, so invasion and exile is how that will go).” Therefore turn to God, and not Egypt.

This is where verse 15 comes in:

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,

Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)

To paraphrase; in turning, or rather returning, to God for help, rather than turning to Egypt for help, and in resting, putting your future as God’s people in God’s hands, rather than trying so hard to ensure safety through an alliance, will be your rescue from the Assyrians. In a quiet confidence in God and trusting in him rather than the Egyptians will be your strength.

The Hebrew word translated “repentance” here in the NIV is not the word meaning “feel ashamed of” or “regret.” It is the word for turning as recognized in many translations, including the NRSV: “In returning and rest you shall be saved”.

So in context, repentance here is not so much a feeling of regret or shame over sin as we would normally think of it, but a decisiveness, a decision to depend on God rather than Egypt. Yes, feeling guilty over not sticking with God and his ways would happen, but the more important thing than the emotions involved is the decision to stick with God. As my wife and I have often said to our children, “it is not an apology we are looking for, but a change in behaviour.”

Given that Isaiah 30:15 was written for a specific occasion, what does it have to do with us?

Does this mean that we as Canadians should not turn to allies like we do with NORAD and NATO for security and defence? Does this mean that we should not turn to doctors when we fall ill, or scientists and their vaccines when there is a pandemic? Does this mean we should trust no one but God alone?

Well, no. Remember the prophet was originally speaking to a specific people who were under a specific covenant with specific promises, about a specific patch of land, during a situation that was specific to them. We are not that people, those are not our promises, Canada is not that land, we are not living under that covenant.

That being said, we too have the opportunity to be in a covenant relationship with God; the new covenant through Jesus. He died for the forgiveness of our sins. God’s promise to us is eternal life with God, beginning with his presence in our lives now. When it comes to these spiritual realities that are a matter of eternal life and death, what can be said about the old covenant, can be said about the new covenant:

In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.

Isaiah 30:15 (NRSV)

In turning to God and in resting in what God has done for us in Jesus is our salvation, in quietness and trust is our strength. We don’t depend on ourselves, on our own capacity to impress God with how good we are. We live in relationship with God, trusting Him, trusting in His love for us. We rest in God’s love, we live in a quiet confidence. The Christian life is not a life of preoccupation with our sin, and our imperfections, but of preoccupation with God and God’s perfect love.

There may well be things in our lives that we should feel ashamed of, that we should regret. Repentance is part of the Christian life and an opportunity for growth. However, framing the Christian life as a life of constant shame and regret, as a never-ending preoccupation with sin, is itself regrettable.

The Christian life is a life of trust and living in God’s love, of resting in God’s loving embrace.

It is not “in regret and stress is your salvation” but “in turning to God and rest is your salvation.”


Join us again tomorrow for a “catch up” post now that Clarke is back from vacation. Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursday and is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Clicking the header which appears just above his name takes you to his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

August 26, 2021

Making a Fall Commitment Reset

With regular Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon still on holidays, we mined his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon for something we had not presented before. This one appeared on the Labor Day weekend of 2021. Clicking the link in the header below takes you there directly.

When We Feel Not So Into It

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1st Corinthians 15:58 NIV)

Here is a verse we may read and think “I could not be described as a person who gives myself fully to the work of the Lord.” And of course this does not mean we should all quit our jobs and become pastors or full time missionaries or ministers of some sort. If we all did that I’d have to wonder where my salary was coming from. I depend on people committing, or in the case of the retired, having committed, themselves to regular jobs. We all do! And we should not make the mistake of thinking that Paul here is only speaking to the full-time professional minister. All Christians are called and invited ‘excel’ in the Lord’s work as another translation puts it. This means serving the Lord with passion in everything we do, including our ‘secular’ jobs, or put another way, serving the Lord as sacred people in the midst of a secular world. So what happens we find ourselves lacking in Christian spunk and fervor? What might we do as we read this verse and find ourselves faithfully serving ourselves and our own ambitions, or those of another person rather than our Lord?

First thing is to check your faith in the resurrection of Jesus. We do well to read the rest of 1st Corinthians where we find it all begins with teaching on the resurrection of Jesus. The ‘therefore’ that introduces verse 58 is key, as is the concluding reminder that the resurrection hope means our service to the Lord is not in vain. We serve a risen Saviour, to quote a familiar hymn, precisely because He is risen.

The 20th century was a time when many church goers got quite vague on what the resurrection was all about. Many turned their backs on anything sounding supernatural in the Gospel accounts right up to and including the resurrection of Jesus.

This leads naturally to a very vague kind of faith where one might say “I believe there is perhaps some sort of God, who I guess loves us”. Theology becomes very vague as the Bible fades into the background (taking Jesus with it) and faith is built only on reason, tradition, and experience, becoming a “build your own” kind of thing. And how easy it is for the Christian today to forget that our faith, our theology, and therefore our ethics are all founded upon and center around the resurrection of Jesus.

If Jesus was not raised from the dead, Christianity is dead. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, I wouldn’t bother being a pastor, indeed I wouldn’t even bother with being a Christian. Many in my own generation think likewise, and some, not having a solid sense of the resurrection of Jesus, are leaving the pews empty today. All the contemporary music in the world won’t help a church that has forgotten that Jesus lives.

So if you find your dedication waning, or your commitment lacking, check the place the resurrection of Jesus takes in your faith. Paul could always be described as giving himself “fully to the work of the Lord”, and little wonder when you consider his experience of meeting the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. The fact that Jesus is risen changes everything, and for Paul, and millions since, everything changed.

If you find you are not “fully giving yourself to the work of the Lord”, perhaps it is time for a fresh encounter with our risen Saviour.


Bonus scriptures for today’s theme:

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.
 – Galatians 6:9 NLT

But those who trust the LORD will find new strength. They will be strong like eagles soaring upward on wings; they will walk and run without getting tired.
 – Isaiah 40:31 CEV

Therefore, since we have this ministry, just as God has shown us mercy, we do not become discouraged… Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day.
– 2 Corinthians 4:1,16 NET

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
 – Romans 12:11 NIV

 

July 22, 2021

Abraham’s Faith Never Wavered

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Clarke Dixon’s regular Thursday column returns in four weeks.

Today again it’s our privilege to feature who writes at Feeding on Jesus where she has a following of many faithful readers who actively engage with her in her comments section. We chose this one for you today. Click the header which follows to read at source. There are also two more recent articles there on the subject of angels including some inspiring stories, and also a link to her devotional book, Feeding on Jesus.

Weak Faith? Strong Faith? Keep Pushing Forward!

“And Abraham’s faith did not weaken… In fact, his faith grew stronger…(Rom. 4:19a; 20b, NLT)

We can draw much encouragement from how God remembers and memorializes Abraham’s life. I’ve always done a double take when reading this passage from Romans 4. The Holy Spirit, writing through Paul, makes the statement that “Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise” (v. 20a).

I read that and my mind starts to protest: Wait, he never wavered? What about when he despaired of waiting and decided to take matters into his own hands? What about Ishmael? What about the poor boy he engendered that had to be sent off into the desert to almost die there?

Somehow, as God gives the overview of Abraham’s earthly sojourn, He chooses not to bring up the Ishmael incident. Apparently, it’s not relevant to the main point: that Abraham’s faith eventually completed the test. The extremely lengthy, prolonged process of waiting on God for His promise actually accomplished something staggering in Abraham. His initially shakeable faith became so resilient that he became renown as “the father of all those who believe” (v. 11).

At the culmination of Abraham’s faith journey, this is the description God gives us of him: “He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises” (v. 21). How do I know this verse is talking about the “end product” of the (twenty-five year) long process that went into the development of Abraham’s faith?

Well, just take a quick look again at the midpoint. That was when Ishmael happened. So clearly Abraham wasn’t fully convinced at that juncture that God was able. He kinda thought God might need some help. His faith was a bit wobbly yet.

However, even after that faltering moment, he didn’t give up on God. He didn’t give up on the process. He didn’t give up on what must have felt like an eternal wait. He kept on choosing hope when for all the world it didn’t look like there was any shred of a reason to keep on hoping (v. 18).

Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, he kept pressing on. His body kept getting older and older. His wife’s did too. But he refused to relinquish God’s word to him.

Every night, he would look up at the stars and remember his Promise encounter. Over and over, he kept choosing to feed and edify his faith. He kept reminding himself of what God had said. He kept stomping on doubt by lifting up his voice and glorifying God (v. 20). He kept pushing through the process. Every. Single. Day.

The result? “Abraham’s faith did not weaken… In fact, his faith grew stronger…” And stronger, and stronger, and stronger, and stronger, and STRONGER!!!!

Here’s my encouragement to you today. Feeling a little wobbly? Not quite at the “completely convinced” stage yet? That’s okay!!! Just keep pushing forward! Be assured, your faith is not weakening; it’s getting stronger and stronger and stronger by the day. No matter how eternal the wait seems, you ARE going to complete this test. And when God is through with you, WATCH OUT WORLD!! I can’t wait to see the flattened mountains in your wake!!!

*******************************************************

Do you find comfort, as I do, in knowing that “the father of all who believe” started out with faith that needed to be greatly strengthened?

July 15, 2021

Parallels Between the Ethiopian Eunuch’s Story And Ours

NIV.Acts.8.30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. 31a “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?”

This article is based on a sermon that was a sequel to the one which presented here last week and appeared under the title below. Clarke Dixon is a pastor in one of several Canadian denominations of Baptist.  We hope some of the good things he has to say about his faith family apply to yours as well. The scripture focus today is the story of the eunuch who was some type of government official as well, so I’m not sure why we focus on his eunuchicity. (Like that word?) He was riding in a chariot when the encounter took place. Clarke has linked the scripture text in the article.

What I Love About Being a Baptist Despite My Misgivings About Baptists

by Clarke Dixon

Yes, I am a Baptist pastor, but no I don’t always like Baptists.

First off, I don’t like being a Baptist when people think they know what you are like and what you believe. This happens for people from every Christian tradition I’m sure, but when you are a Baptist, you face things like “you can’t dance.” True enough in my case, but that is not a theological thing, I’m just not good at it.

People hear you are a Baptist and think Westboro Baptist, they think Republican party. They don’t think Tommy Douglas, an NDP politician voted the Greatest Canadian in a national poll by the CBC not too long ago. Oh, and he was also a Baptist pastor.

People think “Bible thumpers.” They don’t think of people who put a lot of thought into reading and understanding the Bible.

We also have a reputation for not getting along with others, including each other! When it comes to the churches we officially associate with, the sentiment is often expressed, “if they are in, we are out.”

Worldwide, Baptists are one massive dysfunctional, disorganized, and often estranged-from-each-other kind of family.

What I love about being a Baptist, despite my misgivings.

In reading the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:26-39 we can find some of the reasons I love being a Baptist.

I love being a Baptist because freedom is important.

The Ethiopian Eunuch came to trust in Jesus freely and of his own accord. Phillip did not force him, in fact being baptized was the Ethiopian’s idea. He would also have been free to reject what Phillip told him about Jesus. If my sons express faith and are baptized, it will be their decision, their faith, not mine.

We promote the freedom to worship God according to our own conscience and not under compulsion from any government or church hierarchy telling us what to believe and how to live as followers of Jesus.

We also believe in the importance of freedom for others to worship God, or not, according to their own conscience. Religious freedom, within reason, for all people is important to us.

We do not think of the Christian Church as being a community of people who ought to be Christian because they are born in a certain nation, but rather a community of people who have freely chosen to follow Jesus, no matter where they are from.

I love being a Baptist because our main creed is ‘Jesus is Lord.’

Jesus was the focus for Phillip when the Ethiopian asked about the suffering servant in the scroll of Isaiah he was reading. We see no effort on Phillip’s part in trying to get the the Ethiopian to start practicing a certain kind of religion, or buy into a certain tradition, but rather he introduces him to Jesus. As Baptists, we are all about Jesus.

Jesus is Lord, and therefore the head of the church, not a king or queen, or a pope. This is why congregational voting is so important to us. The hierarchy of the church is not Lord, nor is the pastor, but Jesus. Since Jesus is Lord, we believe finding out what our Lord desires is very important. Since we believe that the Lord speaks through the entire body of believers, we ask the entire congregation. The way we discern what the Lord desires is through every member. Our congregational votes are not about the preference of the members, but the discernment of the mind of Christ, even when that may be contrary to one’s own preference.

I love being a Baptist because the Bible is our authority.

The Scriptures played an important role in the Ethiopian’s embrace of Jesus. We are a people for whom the Bible is very important, it is our authority.

We should note that Jesus is Lord and the Bible is our authority. The way we talk about it, however, may cause some people to think our belief is that the Bible is Lord and our particular understanding of it is the authority.

Since the Bible is our authority, we keep going back to it in every generation. While confessions of faith have been drawn up by different Baptist groups over the years, we often push against the idea of having such. We can learn from what those in former generations have learned and taught from the Bible, but they are not the authority. The Bible is our authority and not a statement of faith. Therefore, the teaching of the Bible can come alive for every generation and in every context.

I was once asked for a statement of faith by an organization wanting to partner with our church. I asked if they would like a pdf of the Bible!

I love being a Baptist because there is a focus on each person relating to Jesus directly.

When the Ethiopian Eunuch trusted in Jesus, he did not need to go find an official priest back at the temple in order to experience the forgiveness of sin. His sin was forgiven at the cross. He was free to come before the throne of God without any need for a priest as a “go-between.”

We call this the priesthood of all believers, each person relating directly to God through Jesus. We also have the role of priests, of being “go-betweens,” presenting God to people through witness and conversation, and people to God, through prayer.

I love being a Baptist because it is a grass roots, keep-it-simple-like-the-early-Christians-did kind of movement.

The baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch was not very formal at all. If this Ethiopian came to faith in Jesus today and said “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?(Acts 8:36 NRSV), we would come up with reasons! We would make it complicated. Some churches, and entire denominations, have such complications formalized in the rules of how things are to be done, on baptism, in fact on everything. We Baptists don’t always keep it simple, but the opportunity is there to do so.

Conclusion

If people are turned off by organized religion, then we can tell them not to worry, for we are highly disorganized religion! Seriously though, our goal is not to help people move towards organized religion, but relationships and connections starting with a vital relationship and connection with Jesus. This is what Phillip did in the life of the Ethiopian Eunuch.

People today do not like organized religion but they do like authenticity. We have space, as Baptists, for authenticity. We do not say; “here are our traditions and rules developed in another time and place, which you all need to conform to,” but, “here is the Bible, how does it speak into how we walk with Christ in our day, in ways that are authentic to our time and place?”

At the end of the day, it is all about helping people know Jesus and walk with Jesus, like Phillip did with the Ethiopian Eunuch. May we, who are Baptists, be like Phillip, but even more so may we be like Jesus.

July 8, 2021

What I Love About Being a Christian, Despite the Shenanigans of Christianity

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV John 13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

NRSV Acts 5:31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.

by Clarke Dixon

It may surprise some of you, but sometimes I, a Baptist pastor, don’t like being a Christian. There are aspects of Christianity that I don’t like. In fact there are aspects of Christianity I hate.

For one thing, I don’t like quite a bit of our history, especially where we have done things to others, and one another, which go well beyond the “shenanigans” spoken of in the title. Atrocities is a better word.

In our day we can point to residential schools here in Canada, all seemingly staffed and run by Christians from various denominations. These are only the tip of the iceberg on Christians doing things that would cause any atheist to say ‘you Christians make a good case for believing that evil exists, but not God.’

We Christians have done and still do bad things. We used to put one another to death for thinking differently. So much for “they will know we are Christians by our love” (see John 13:35). Many shady characters throughout history have identified as Christians. We have used the Bible to support the suppression of human rights, slavery and sexism coming to mind.

So why I am a Christian?

Despite all the things that I hate about Christianity, there are things I love about being a Christian.

I love being a Christian because following Jesus brings beauty.

The way the Jesus centered life works out in life is beautiful. While yes, we Christians have had our share of atrocities, there have been so many beautiful moments because people have followed Jesus in the way of love. This is a sermon in itself, actually many, so I will refer you to a series from a couple of years ago called “Believable and Beautiful. Why Christianity is Compelling.”

I love being a Christian because I don’t have to stop thinking to follow Jesus.

As I have often said, I don’t ever leave my brain at the front door of the church, and neither did I leave my faith in the parking lot of the university. Critical thinking (in the best sense of the phrase) is well integrated into my faith. Again, here is a series touching on this.

I love being a Christian because I am part of a movement of Jesus followers that is worldwide and enduring.

Despite efforts to stamp it out, the movement centered in Jesus continues on. Despite all the stupid and sinful things we have done, the movement has brought and continues to bring a positive impact in peoples lives.

I love being a Christian because the facts about Jesus answer my deepest questions.

The Bible’s storyline focused on Jesus answers my deepest questions about existence. That God is, and that Jesus is the self-revelation of God, makes the best sense of everything; the existence of the world, the existence of humanity as a unique species, the existence of the Bible as a unique collection of writings, and yes, even the existence of suffering.

It answers my deepest questions about the past, present, and future. Looking to the past, there is healing and forgiveness in Jesus, there is change from all that is ugly to all that is beautiful. As one songwriter has put it, we trade our ashes in for beauty. Looking to the present, there is the potential for growth and continual renewal in Jesus through the Holy Spirit. We trade our ashes in for beauty on a daily basis. Looking to the future, there is assurance of life through Jesus. We will trade our ashes in for beauty, quite literally, when even the ashes of our deceased bodies will be traded in for beauty.

I love being a Christian because of Christ.

Though there are things I actually hate about Christianity, Jesus resonates. In speaking before the religious leaders who wanted to squash the nascent Christian movement, Peter calls Jesus “Leader and Saviour” (Acts 5:31). If there is any person in the history of the world that I would want as my leader, it is Jesus. If there is any person in the history of the world that I could consider has any claim to be Saviour, it is Jesus. There is not even a close second. There is not even a distant second. There is no other. There is no other person in the history of the world where we see that God is, that God is love, and that God is for us and not against us.

There have been many inspiring people throughout history, but none as inspiring as Jesus. There have been many revolutionaries, but none as revolutionary as Jesus. There have been many who have had a lasting impact, but none have had as great and lasting an impact as Jesus. Looking to the future, none will have the impact on world, and on our lives, as Jesus.

Many people have inspired me, have brought revolution to my thinking, and have had lasting impact on me, but none like Jesus. No one rescues me from all that separates me from God like Jesus. No one else can.

In conclusion, there are reasons that I don’t like being a Christian. There are aspects of Christianity I actually hate. But I love being a Christian mainly because I love Jesus. Jesus loved me first.


Clarke Dixon appears here weekly. Videos for this and other messages on which his blog posts are based are available at this link.

July 1, 2021

Ready to Meet Your Maker?

Thinking Through 1st John 5:6-21

by Clarke Dixon

So you have become a Christian trusting in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. But are you sure you are ready to meet your Maker? Should I be bringing you a “Shrunk Sermon” right now on how you need to try harder and do better so that you will be okay on the day you meet your Maker?

In our day it seems there is an epidemic of doubt among Christians. Not doubt in God’s existence, but in our standing with God. In the apostle John’s day it seems there was an epidemic of doubt thanks to a certain group of false teachers.

So John wrote a letter. What John said to the Christians of his day in addressing their doubt is going to help us with ours in ours.

Here near the end of John’s letter we find the main point:

And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

1 John 5:11-13 (NRSV)

What is the main point? You can have confidence!

Since you have the Son, you have life! John does not say “Whoever has kept all the rules has life, or whoever has been religious enough, or knows enough, so that when you meet the Son, you will perhaps get life,” but “Whoever has the Son has life.” It is clear that John believes his readers have the Son. He says that he wrote the letter “so that you may know that you have eternal life.” Note the tone of confidence! John knows they have life, they should too!

The word “know” shows up a lot in the final paragraphs of John’s letter:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. . . . We know that we are God’s children, and that the whole world lies under the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

1 John 5:13,19-20 (NRSV emphasis added)

John did not say “you need to know,” but you know already. Note the confidence! Reading between the lines, and knowing that the false teachers were, according to Bible scholars, spreading an early form of Gnosticism where you are saved through increasing your knowledge, John was in effect saying “don’t let the false teachers tell you that you need something more, that you are lacking knowledge, that you need to learn from them.” Whoever has the Son has life.

In our day, many Christians have doubts, through false teaching, but also through incomplete teaching.

For example, God is thought of by many primarily, and sometimes only, as a judge. While that is to be taken seriously, Jesus taught us to also think of God as our Heavenly Father, as we see, for example, in the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus also said “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). Want to know what God looks like? Jesus is the best picture we have!

There are two very different kinds of relationships we can experience, egg shell relationships and solid rock relationships.

In egg shell relationships you are not sure where you stand. You think it could all fall apart at any moment. You start each day knowing that you need to be the right kind of person, doing the right things in order to be accepted, to be loved, to still be in the relationship at the end of the day. In this kind of relationship, the phrase “suffer the consequences” is important. You try, and try, and try harder, and keep trying. You live in fear.

In solid rock relationships you are sure where you stand. You have confidence that you are loved. You are able to lean into that love, you are able to live out of that love. You live in confidence.

People often portray God as the God of egg shell relationships. It is a “suffer the consequences of your actions, and even your thoughts,” kind of relationship.

In Jesus we see that God is the God of solid rock relationships. He suffered the consequences of what we have done so that we might enjoy the consequences of what He has done. God is faithful, not fickle. That solid ground allows us to lean into God’s love, to live out God’s love in all our relationships and in all of life. Yes, we can always be growing and doing better at living out the Christian life. But that is a walk of confidence, not fear.

So are you ready to meet your Maker? If you trust in Jesus, you already have.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario and articles here appear first at his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

June 24, 2021

Feeling Defeated?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through 1st John 5:3-5

Do you ever get that defeated feeling? Like you are fighting a losing battle or are on the losing side? It might be your health or a relationship gone sour. It might be your parenting skills or your relationship with God. We try to be Christlike and loving, but there we go again with a rather unloving attitude, words, or actions. Or there we go again, being inpatient or lacking in gentleness or self-control. Or there we go again, another drink, another look. We are losing the battle, again.

We feel defeated, yet John says that we are conquerors!

Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

1 John 5:5 (NRSV)

Perhaps we think that John is thinking of the Christians in his day and wonder if only we could be like those earliest Christians, going from victory to victory in Jesus! But were they going from victory to victory in life and faith?

The earliest Christians would have have sometimes felt like they were fighting a losing battle.

We can think of Paul never being delivered from his “thorn in the flesh.” We can think of how the family of James, the brother of John, would have felt when their loved one was executed while Peter was miraculously rescued by an angel. You win some and you lose some. Some battles were indeed lost.

While there were very positive moments and very good things happening among the young Christian communities, there were reasons these earliest Jesus followers would have felt defeated collectively.

They would have felt like they were losing the battle for the hearts and minds of God’s people, the Jews, who had a great hope that God would come and intervene on behalf of His people. God did, through Jesus. But the good news largely fell on deaf ears.

They were also losing the battle for the hearts and minds of non-Jews in the Roman world. For example, why didn’t Paul and the other apostles ever speak out directly against slavery in their letters? Well, what would be the point? Who would have listened?

Paul did tell the Christ followers that their relationships could and should be different, as we read, for example, in his letter to Philemon. The way of Jesus was working its way into all relationships, but mainly relationships within the community of Christians where there “is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 NRSV).

However, among those calling the shots in society, the Christians were just a small insignificant sect. They were like an insect the authorities would try to squash time and again. Like us, they experienced victories, and crushing defeats. The winds of change were indeed blowing, but at times the battle would have seemed to be lost. We are not alone if we sometimes feel like we are fighting a losing battle and not on the winning team.

Yet John calls us conquerors. John, who would have seen the highs and lows, the ups and downs, the wins and the losses, has the audacity to call us conquerors. How so?

And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.

1 John 5:3-4 (NRSV)

Notice how that victory is described by John as “our faith.”

The one who conquers is not the one who figures out how to win every battle by their own efforts, but the one who trusts Jesus to win the war. And Jesus has won the war.

The one who claimed to be the Messiah, the rightful king, seemed to be dispatched easily by the craftiness of the Jewish authorities combined with the power of the occupying Roman authorities. The disciples would have felt the sting of defeat in that moment. But notice what Jesus said:

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

John 12:23-24 (NRSV)

Sure they killed Jesus, but he rose from the dead. This was no defeat, but victory.

Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

1 Corinthians 15:24-26 (NRSV)

We are conquerors, not through our abilities, but through faith in the ability of Jesus to win the war against sin, evil, and death.

Faith kept the earliest Christians going when they seemed to be fighting a losing battle. Faith has kept Christians throughout the centuries going despite often losing battles. Faith keeps Christians around the world today going when they seem to be fighting a losing battle against persecution. Faith keeps us moving forward no matter what.

If we feel like we are fighting a losing a battle, perhaps we are. Not every battle will be won. But we have faith that Jesus has won the war.

There are battles ahead that will be lost. For some, that ends up not being the last drink, the last time watching pornography, or the last time losing one’s temper. Some, despite their belief in Jesus and the support of Christian friends, will lose the battle to stay alive. Battles are fought, and sadly, sometimes lost.

We see the struggle that prayer does not seem to touch. We see the disease that takes a life. Some battles will indeed be lost and we will feel defeated. The battle may indeed be lost, but the war is won. That makes us victors in Christ.

When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:54-57 (NRSV)

Keep the faith!


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor who appears here most Thursdays. You can read more devotions like this by clicking the header which appears just above his name. Video of the full sermon on which this devotional is based can be seen on its own, or as part of this online worship expression.

June 17, 2021

When We Live in a Loveless World

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through 1st John 4:7-21

by Clarke Dixon

Does it ever seem like love is just a luxury? It would be nice to have, but . . . not happening. In buying a new car, you could have the heated and cooled leather seats, plus a high end sound system for just a few thousand dollars more. That would be nice, but . . . not happening. You are buying used anyway, so you settle for vinyl seats and am radio with 8-track. Yes, I’m old enough to remember those.

We settle for a loveless world.

Some settle for a loveless marriage, whether love is thought of as romance, commitment, or friendship. Some settle for a marriage where there is none of the above. Some settle for loveless family relationships, or work environments. Some settle for a loveless life.

Love can seem to be a luxury, nice to have, but . . . not happening. And we settle for a life without love. We settle for a loveless world.

When we follow Jesus, we don’t settle. We can’t settle. Here are a few things we do instead as found in 1st John 4:7-22.

First, we experience love from the original source of love.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins

1 John 4:7-10 (NRSV emphasis added)

With God, love comes standard, meaning God’s love for us. When we think we live in a loveless world, let us be aware of God’s love, let us be be loved by God. We will discover that this is not a loveless world after all.

Second, we love.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. . . . Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. . . . We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

1 John 4:7,8, 11,12,19-21 (NRSV)

With God, love comes standard, meaning our growing love for others. We think we live in a loveless world, but it won’t be loveless for long if we take the intuitive to love. If we find ourselves in a loveless marriage, a loveless family, or a loveless work environment, let’s bring the love. This cannot be a loveless world because, well, we are in it, and we are learning to love others as God loves us.

Third, we trade in our insecurities about being loved for confidence.

It is a human thing to be insecure, to think “nobody loves me.” In fact we can convince ourselves of that even when it is not true. We might think no one loves us when the truth is, we have no love for ourselves.

We have good reason to trade in our insecurities:

So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:16-19 (NRSV)

We have good reason to have confidence that God loves us. We are not really living the Christian life if we are constantly wondering if we will go to hell if we do this, that, or the other thing, or fail to do this, that, or the other thing. The Christian life is not a life of fear, but a life of confident living in Christ and serving in the world.

For many people, fear comes standard with religion. For the Christian, love comes standard with God. Let love be the standard, not fear.

We can be bold and fearless because God took the first step of love toward us:

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. . . . We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:10,19 (NRSV)

I remember well the fear I felt when I asked my wife out on our first date. I took the first step and was not sure it would go well, but she was (and is) super cute and there was no way I was not going to ask. I’m glad I did!

With God, we never take the first step. We are not the ones going to God looking for a relationship. God approached us first, we know his intentions and desire for a relationship. At the cross we see the lengths God is willing to go to for that relationship. We don’t go to God wondering, will God say yes? God has already asked you out, go ahead and give God your number already!

With God, love comes standard. When we think we live in a loveless world, let us open our eyes enough to see and experience the love God has for us. Let us trade in our insecurity and fear for confidence.

Conclusion

According to John, love is not an option in our relationship with God. Neither should we think of it as an option in our relationship with others, or ourselves.

In a world that seems so unloving, where love seems like a luxury we can’t ever have, let us love and be loved! With God, love comes standard.

(Video is available for the full sermon or it can be seen as part of this “online worship expression”)

June 10, 2021

Test the Spirits… Wait, What Spirits?

Thinking Through 1st John 4:1-3

by Clarke Dixon

Have you ever been in conversation with a spirit and asked “spirit, do you confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh?”

No, neither have I. What is John talking about then when he says “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God,” then goes on to give us the test?:

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.

1 John 4:1-3 (NRSV)

At first glance we might think we are to be asking spirit beings to clarify their theological positions for us. Perhaps in thinking through these verses we may hope to learn more about angels and demons. While I believe such exist, we won’t be talking about them here. Why? Because John is not talking about them here.

What is John talking about?

John is continuing to talk about what he has already been talking about in this letter, namely, the false teachers who were trying to influence the early Christian communities. Let us read what John has written again, and as we do so, let us recognize that he is not changing topics when he moves from ‘spirits’ to ‘prophets’:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.

1 John 4:1-3 (NRSV emphasis added)

John was giving the recipients of his letter a simple test, a question they could ask to discern if a someone was one of those false teachers who had hijacked Jesus to promote a more Gnostic way of thinking. In this way of thinking, anything spiritual is good, anything material is bad. Therefore the false teachers would have claimed that Jesus is from God, yes, but he just seemed to be in the flesh. Surely God would not become flesh and dwell among us, right? From a Gnostic way of thinking, God certainly would not. But John knew better.

John knew better because John knew Jesus. He spent time with him, and knew he was no phantom ghost, no mere spirit being. John saw Jesus die, in the flesh. John knew Jesus raised from the dead with a resurrection body. That resurrection body seemed to be a different kind of body, but was no mere spirit. John knew Jesus and could say,

. . . the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14 (NRSV)

Therefore in telling the early Christians to test the spirits, John was encouraging them to stick with what they had learned from the apostles who were with Jesus, including John himself. They should stay away from the false teachers who had the “spirit of error” (1 John 4:6).

So, what does this have to do with us now?

I can think of three things.

First, it gives us a foundation stone which is part of a robust foundation for our Christian thinking and belief.

If you think that Jesus was a spirit, and not a man, as many false teachers in John’s day thought, then you are lacking a key foundation stone for Christian thinking and belief. You are missing what John, and the other apostles who spent time with Jesus, knew about him. They knew that in Jesus “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

However, if you think, as is more common in our day, that Jesus was just a moral teacher, and nothing more, then you are lacking a key foundation stone for Christian thinking and belief. You are missing what John, and the other apostles who spent time with Jesus, knew about him. They knew that in Jesus “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

We are reminded of this foundation stone when we participate in The Lord’s Table. His flesh was broken for us, his blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins. He was no mere spirit being as the Gnostic teachers were claiming. But neither was he a mere teacher of morality as is more commonly held in our day, but rather Saviour, and Lord. The bread and the cup remind us of these things.

Second, it helps us sort out the foundation stones from the wallpaper, it helps us understand how to read the Bible.

As you read through 1st John 4:1-3 and following, you may hope to learn something about angels and demons, or even the antichrist. John mentions these, but not to satisfy our curiosity about them. Rather he mentions them to make a point. John is not really talking about spirits and demons here. He is speaking about Jesus, and an important fact about Jesus the false teachers were getting wrong.

As we read the Bible, let us not attempt to force it to answer our questions, to satisfy our curiosity. Let us allow the Bible writers to speak what needed to be said in their day. Let us wrestle with what it means for us in ours.

Third, we remember the importance of reading more than just a few verses of the Bible.

When we read 1st John 4:1-3 in the context of the entire letter of First John, the entire New Testament, and the entire Bible, we will realize that it just gives us just one foundation stone for Christian thinking and belief. Immediately before, and immediately after, we have another foundation stone, the life of love patterned after God’s love.

Recently the bodies of 215 children have been discovered in a residential school set up to educate indigenous children. These are not just unmarked graves, these have been unknown graves. How many others are there? What happened, and how? Who could have allowed this to happen? As we ask these questions, let us remember that this was not just a Canadian school, but a school representing Christianity.

If we could go back and ask those who were responsible if they believed that Jesus is the Messiah come in the flesh, they would likely have passed that test. That foundation stone was probably in place. But was the foundation stone of love in place? From where we stand, it sounds like “love” was not the word of the day, but “colonialism.”

Would we have done better if we were there at that time?

We must do better now. Being able to pass a theological exam from a few verses of the Bible is not enough.


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor who appears here most Thursdays. You can read more devotions like this by clicking the header which appears just above his name. Video of the full sermon on which this devotional is based can be seen on its own, or as part of this “online worship expression

June 6, 2021

Speaking Out

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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We were on a road trip with the kids and saw a record store and thought we’d pick up a new CD to listen to as we drove. I found an album which contained a song we’d grown to love on YouTube, but it turned out what we’d heard online was a remix, and when the track came up, it was quite different. Still, I always enjoyed the band, but then lost track of them somewhat.

Earlier this week the YouTube algorithm thought I might enjoy a song by them, and as much as I liked the music, I also appreciated that they were using their music industry platform to champion a cause that was important to them.

As I considered this earlier today, I thought of Queen Esther. At a key juncture in the history of her people, she finds herself with a unique platform, and wrestles with risking all to speak out. Mordecai tells her, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

The phrase “for such a time as this” is so strongly identified with this story that I hesitated to even quote it, and almost all translators are reluctant to change it, but here’s how some other translations render Esther 4:14:

  • who knows whether you have attained royalty for such a time as this [and for this very purpose]? (Amplified Bible)
  • Maybe it was for a moment like this (CEB)
  • Perhaps it was for a circumstance such as this (Segund 21 via Google translate)
  • Perhaps you have become queen precisely to help us in this situation! (Dios Habla Hoy via Google translate)

Esther’s unique placement in the king’s household meant that there was no plan B; no visible alternative that might effect the deliverance of her people.

The same is true of Nathan. He is another whose story is remembered for a very short phrase, “Thou art the man.” Okay, that’s a bit King Jamesey for some of you, but even with our modern translations, that’s how I remember it. The NIV has it as “Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!'” 2 Samuel 12:7.

I’m sure that in this situation, Nathan was the stereotypical reluctant prophet, though presenting his challenge/accusation to David through a parable certainly softened the impact. Initially, at least. Nathan uses his platform as prophet to arrest David in his tracks. Only then does he launch into more typical prophet-language and in the five verses which follow, spells out to David his transgression with Bathsheba, and we should add, his transgression with Uriah, her husband.

Has God placed you in a unique place in someone’s story or given you a unique platform?

Earlier this week someone tweeted this:

If God calls you to be a Nathan, and you don’t respond, then you need a Nathan.

Think about it.

Clarke Dixon wrote these words here in 2018 referencing Esther:

…Mordecai and Esther are not perfect Jews. Both have names reflecting pagan deities. You have likely heard the expression “Dare to be a Daniel”. We preachers love that story as we encourage people to have the courage to stand up and stick out for their faith. Esther does not dare to be a Daniel until it is nearly too late, preferring, on the advice of Mordecai, to keep her faith a secret, even from her husband! Where Daniel kept to a kosher diet, we see no such efforts from Esther. The Book of Esther is not a story of God rewarding a good Jew for her piety. It is a story of God keeping His covenant promises despite the imperfections of His people…

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is another example of God choosing to use someone uniquely situated in location and time. While she had no platform before the conception miracle, she breaks out into a powerful prophetic voice after being told of her place in God’s larger narrative, revealing the inner-life she had with God. It is only in hindsight we see her willingness to be used by God:

Galatians 4:4But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law.

and also Christ’s uniquely placement in location and time:

Romans 5:6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. (both NIV; italics added)

Sometimes we ourselves need to recognize or even enhance the “no plan B” circumstance. Writer Sharon Jaynes comments on the anointing of Elisha to replace Elijah:

…Elisha was just minding his own business and doing his job when Elijah walked up and threw his cloak over him. I’m sure it seemed very “out of the blue” to this young man. But I’ve learned that oftentimes what seems “out of the blue”, is right “out of God’s playbook.” God had had this in the works for quite some time.

We don’t know much about Elisha. He was just a working man. Every day, he got up out of bed, hooked up the oxen, and looked at their backsides. Nothing special. Nothing extraordinary. Just a working man.

But God had a plan; God chose a man.

Now, here’s what grabbed my heart. After Elijah threw his mantle over Elisha, which was a sign that he was passing his prophetic anointing to the younger man, Elisha went back to tell his family goodbye. He also had a giant barbeque celebration and sacrificed his oxen. He didn’t keep a few just in case this prophet gig didn’t work out. He even burned the plow.

He burned the symbol of his former life.

He burned the source of his former livelihood.

There was no turning back.

There was no plan B…

Who are those uniquely situated in your personal sphere of influence?


For some of you, the mention of Elisha burning the plow (or for our UK readers, plough) reminded you of the popular CCM song, Burn the Ships by King and Country. In 2018 we ran a devotional based on the original story.

 

 

June 3, 2021

One Word to Capture the Essence of Christianity?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through 1st John 3:11-24

by Clarke Dixon

What one word would you use to convey the essence of Christianity?

■ For some it might be heaven, as in how to get to heaven when you die.

■ For some it might be law, as in how to live, what rules to follow.

■ For some it might be tradition, as in the Christian tradition is good for our society.

■ For some it might be theology, as in knowing all the right things about God.

■ For some it might be politics, meaning if you are a Christian, you will vote this way and not that.

■ For some it might be the word belief. Just believe in Jesus, and all will go well.

There is a word that John uses a lot in the letter we now know as 1st John. It was a word John knew the early Christian communities in his day needed to hear as they faced false teaching from a specific group of people. It is a word that maybe we need to hear in our day as we face all kinds of teaching from all kinds of people.

One Word to Describe the False Teaching, and the Word John Uses to Describe the True Teaching

Let us think first about what one word would capture the kind of Christianity the false teachers were trying to promote.

We have already seen how they were trying to change the facts about Jesus to fit their thinking rather than change their thinking to fit the facts about Jesus. We have also already seen that they missed the mark on what it means to follow Jesus, how to live as a Christians.

Bible scholars tend to agree that these false teachers were trying to advance an early form of Gnosticism. In this kind of thinking, anything spiritual is good, anything material is bad. For the Gnostics the one word that might sum up the essence of their thinking, and what they thought Christianity should be about, is escape, meaning an escape into the good spirit world while leaving the awful material world behind. And by the way, on your way there it doesn’t really matter what you do because the material world means nothing. So just do what you want while you are waiting for your escape from the body.

To this John says, and I paraphrase, “no, as Christ followers, as God’s children, we don’t just do what we want”:

For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

1 John 3:11 (NRSV)

There it is, the word, love. As John points out, this word was there from the beginning. As the apostles first taught people about Jesus, they didn’t tell them that Jesus was Lord, and that was all there was to know. Nope, loving one another was an integral part of the message from the beginnning too. It was not considered an option that might be nice to have at some point in the future. It was essential. It still is!

Love Explored

John goes on to say more about love, first, what it does not look like:

We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.

1 John 3:12 (NRSV)

Someone who loves, who is not self-centred and jealous, will be unlike Cain, and will not murder. John continues:

We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death.

1 John 3:14 (NRSV)

It turns out that love is so important that it is the test of whether we are following Jesus! Speaking of Jesus:

All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.

1 John 3:15 (NRSV)

In writing this John is echoing the teaching of Jesus who said:

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment . . .

Matthew 5:21-22 (NRSV)

Love is the better way as Jesus goes on to say in that Sermon on the Mount.

In addition to being reminded of the teaching of Jesus, We are also reminded of his example:

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

1 John 3:16 (NRSV)

Jesus is the opposite of Cain here. Instead of taking the life of another, he lays down his own. Cain is the first example of a life taker. Jesus is the first and best example of a life giver, and of love.

We have the teaching and example of Jesus on love. We are changed by the love of God:

How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action

1 John 3:17-18 (NRSV)

The Christian Faith is Grounded in Love.

This word ‘love’ was an important focus when facing the false teachers in John’s day. The false teachers wanted to change the facts about Jesus to fit their way of thinking. But the facts about Jesus speak of the love of God. The incarnation, the teaching, the example, the death and resurrection of Jesus, these all speak to the love of God. Change the facts about Jesus to suit yourself and you lose the greatest love that has ever been known.

Also, you don’t just do what you want as the false teachers were claiming. You become a person of love. The word is not escape, but love.

This word ‘love’ is an important focus when we face all kinds of teaching in our day.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about getting to heaven. Are you becoming a person of love here on earth? In fact, merely becoming a Christian so that you can get to heaven someday can actually be a self-centred thing. It is all about me and what I get. It should also be about picking up our cross and following Jesus in the way of generous love.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about keeping law. We can keep the rules and yet somehow not become a person of love. Jesus has a lot to say about that in his teaching as found in the Gospels.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about tradition. We can keep the traditions and yet somehow not become a person of love.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about theology. We can know all the right things about God, yet not become a person of love.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about politics. Politics is so often about power. Jesus has a lot to say about serving others with love, giving the example of washing the disciples’ feet, giving the example of the cross. A Christian does not avoid politics. A Christian is to express love through politics, loving others through serving them.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about belief:

And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.

1 John 3:23 (NRSV)

John just can’t help but mention love along with belief!

Conclusion

At the beginning I asked which one word you might use to describe the essence of Christianity. Of course, we should never just reduce Christianity to just one word. But perhaps Paul is onto something when in writing to the Christians in Corinth he says,

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13 (NRSV)


The full video of the sermon on which this is based can be seen as part of this “online worship expression Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada and appears here most Thursdays.

May 27, 2021

Does Any and Every Sin Cancel You Out as a Christian?

Thinking Through 1st John 2:29-3:10

by Clarke Dixon

Have you ever felt like you just don’t measure up as a Christian? You believe in Jesus, but you don’t believe you have achieved the kind of sinless perfection you think a Christian should have?

Perhaps a church or a Christian has made you feel that way. I remember well having coffee with a student from a certain Bible college while I was at seminary. It felt like an interrogation and I’m not sure I passed the test of “good enough” to be a Christian in his mind.

Perhaps you don’t need any help in feeling you don’t measure up. You get there all on your own.

Perhaps the Bible sometimes makes you feel like you don’t measure up. For example,

2:29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him.

3:1-10 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him . . .  Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.  You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.  No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.

1 John 2:29 – 3:1,4-10 (NRSV emphasis added)

Discouraged yet? Actually, as we dig into what John has written here, we will find great encouragement.

Let us keep in mind what we learned last week, that John had been speaking about false teachers who tried to change the facts about Jesus to fit their thinking, when they should have changed their thinking to fit the facts about Jesus. They were missing the mark on their teaching on who Jesus was and is. But here is what is important for us to know in understanding our passage today; they were also missing the mark on what it looks like to follow Jesus.

The false teachers got the identity of Jesus wrong, but they also missed the teaching of Jesus on loving God, neighbour, and one’s enemies. In getting the identity of Jesus wrong, they also missed the example of Jesus on loving God, neighbour, and one’s enemies, namely, the incarnation, death and resurrection.

John’s point here in 1st John 2:29-3:10 is that these false teachers are easy to spot. Not only do they try to change Jesus, they don’t live Jesus focused lives:

  • They don’t do what is right (see 2:29 and 3:7 above).
  • They have no concern for sin (see 3:4-6 above).
  • They have no concern for destroying the works of the devil, for overturning evil (see 3:8 above).
  • They have no conscience (see 3:9 above).

The false teachers were easy to spot, and in our passage John gave the early readers the way to notice them easily:

Here’s how you tell the difference between God’s children and the Devil’s children: The one who won’t practice righteous ways isn’t from God, nor is the one who won’t love brother or sister. A simple test.

1 John 3:10 (The Message)

John’s intention was not to discourage the Christians he was writing to. He was not writing to make them doubt their salvation over each and every sin they might commit. Nor was he writing to discourage us today. He was writing to discourage them, and us, from following false teachers, who were, and are, easy to spot by their lack of Jesus-focused lives. In fact he is very encouraging when he highlights the identity of the readers:

What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are.

1st John 3:1 (The Message)

There is no hint here of “be sure to never, ever, ever sin, and if you do, then you are a child of the devil!” No, rather you are the children of God, but watch out for the false teachers who are the children of the devil.

Jesus spends quite some time teaching us to think of ourselves as God’s children. He teaches us to pray “Our Father” in the Lord’s Prayer. In fact Jesus gives many references to thinking of God as our father throughout the Sermon on the Mount where we find that prayer in Matthew’s Gospel.

John had also highlighted the opportunity to become children of God in his Gospel account:

He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

John 1:11-13 (NLT)

As children of God, we are those whose lives are being transformed by Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit. We may not be perfect, but we live Jesus-focused lives:

  • We have a concern for righteousness (see 2:29 and 3:7 above).
  • we have joined and are actively playing for “Team Jesus” (see 3:4-6 above, plus an eariler “Shrunk Sermon” on 1st John 2:1-6. Yes, we make mistakes and the other team may score because of those mistakes, but there is forgiveness, we are still on the team, and the other team scoring is never what we want).
  • We are those who participate apte in God’s plan of destroying the works of the devil, of dealing with evil (see 3:8 above).
  • We have a conscience (see 3:9 above).

Though John does not mention the Holy Spirit in our passage, the Holy Spirit is here, the Holy Spirit is involved:

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.

Romans 8:15-16 (NLT)

There is a spiritual rebirth that happens, a transformation as we begin to show a family resemblance to our heavenly Father, even though we are still children.

Jesus teaches us to come to God like a small child:

I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”

Mark 10:15 (NLT)

When a small child is called to the dinner table, does the child ask “do I deserve dinner tonight?” When we are sitting at dinner with God, we are not worried about our standing before God. But we will have a natural desire to be “just like Dad.”

We belong, we are a children of God. Let us not fret about whether we measure up, anxious that any and every sin will cancel us out as Christians, but instead let us continue to take our place at God’s table, growing into this beautiful relationship with our heavenly Father.


The full message on which this is based may be viewed on its own, or as part of this “online worship expression

May 20, 2021

With So Many Opinions About Jesus

Thinking Through 1st John 2:18-28

by Clarke Dixon

With so many opinions about Jesus, whom do we trust?

We live in days of opinions on everything. Masks, or no masks? Vaccines, or no vaccines? Jesus, or no Jesus? There is no shortage of opinions on politics, hockey, religion, the weather, anything and everything.

The internet has only made things worse, or better, depending on your perspective. It is said that thanks to the internet we live in the Information Age. It may be more correct to say that thanks to the internet, we live in the age of opinions.

Anyone can now share their opinion with the world, no matter how ridiculous the opinion may actually end up being. Nothing needs to be reasonable, or sensible, to be published.

This might be fine when the opinion does not matter much. Which hockey team will win the Stanley cup? I may have an opinion on that, in fact I do. You may not care. It may matter to some of us now, in fact there is a whole industry devoted to sharing opinions on sports. But will I care in 100 years? Will any of us?

There is something that matters now, that can make a big difference in our lives now, and will matter to each and every one of us 100 years from now; What, or better, who, is God?

What, or better, who is God? This is the most important question ever asked. This is the most important question ever avoided on a regular basis. When it is asked, there are so many opinions.

Even if we narrow it down to thinking about Jesus, asking, ‘is Jesus the best representation of God the world has ever seen?’, even then, there are so many opinions.

Some are of the opinion that Jesus is just a mythical figure. Some are of the opinion that Jesus was a man who lived, but the early devotees, or rather ‘inventors’, of Christianity, made him bigger than he is, turning the man Jesus into a God following his death. Some of us are of the opinion that Jesus rose from the dead and is, in fact, Lord and Saviour.

How do we ever find our way in a sea of opinions about Jesus?

John, in his letter known to us as 1st John, responds to an opinion some were promoting about Jesus. What John has to say in helping the early Christians navigate a different opinion about Jesus will help us navigate different opinions about Jesus in our day. So let’s take a look:

Dear children, the last hour is here. You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared. From this we know that the last hour has come. These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us.

11 John 2:18-19 (NLT)

With our fascination with the end of the world, we may want to know more about the Antichrist. However, John here is not wanting to talk about one figure, but rather some people who were sharing opinions about Jesus that were new and different. They are “anti,” meaning “instead of” Christ. They were promoting their own conception of Jesus instead of receiving the teaching about Jesus already given by the apostles. John is careful to point out that these people may have hung out with the Christian community, but they were never really Christians.

Who are these people?

In John’s day there was a way of looking at things which developed more fully into what is now called Gnosticism. There is much to say, but to keep it simple, anything “spiritual” and “otherworldly” was good, anything “material” and “this-wordly” was bad. Interestingly, many Christians today are somewhat gnostic in their thinking!

Given such a view, you can well imagine how certain teachings of Jesus would resonate, things like “I am the light of the world.” Since some of the teachings would resonate, they basically highjacked Jesus. They tried to change Jesus to fit their way of understanding instead of changing their understanding to fit Jesus.

They denied the humanity of Jesus, his death, and his bodily resurrection, and the logical conclusions from those facts. These things were all too “worldly” to fit with their way of thinking.

What is important for us to understand here is that the apostles, including John, were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life, death, and life after death. They were with Jesus, heard his teaching, knew him to be a man like any other, yet a man unlike any other, saw him killed, and saw him alive again, not as some ghost, but as he was, in the body, yet different somehow. The disciples of Jesus adjusted their thinking to fit the facts before them. So when some people come along giving their opinions on how Jesus fits their way of thinking if you just think differently about Jesus, John is eager to set the record straight.

To this, John says,

But you are not like that, for the Holy One has given you his Spirit, and all of you know the truth. So I am writing to you not because you don’t know the truth but because you know the difference between truth and lies. And who is a liar? Anyone who says that Jesus is not the Christ. Anyone who denies the Father and the Son is an antichrist.

1 John 2:20-22 (NLT)

John is saying, you know the truth! And you know that these opinions from the false teachers are not it! You have heard about Jesus, his life, teaching, death, and resurrection, from the eyewitnesses. That’s it! Plus there is a presence through the Holy Spirit that brings you to a place of hearing about Jesus and saying “that’s it.” And “it” is the best news ever!

You know it and in fact you don’t need these false teachers to teach you anything anything extra:

I am writing these things to warn you about those who want to lead you astray. But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ.

1 John 2:26-27 (NLT)

Hearing the false teachers would be like being on a jury, hearing all the evidence that has been carefully collected and presented, then picking up a tabloid with the headline “the shocking truth” about the case you are working on. So John is saying, don’t trade facts for opinions!

So remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father. And in this fellowship we enjoy the eternal life he promised us.

1 John 2:24-25 (NLT)

So how does this help us navigate the many opinions being shared about Jesus today? Is Jesus just a mythical figure? Is Jesus just a mere man that other mere men conferred divinity upon later?

Just as the false teachers in John’s day were trying to change Jesus to fit their way of thinking instead of changing their thinking to fit the facts about Jesus, there are those today, who having already made up their minds that miracles do not happen, that the supernatural is not real, or that Christianity is a bad religion, try to change Jesus to fit their thinking rather than change their thinking to fit Jesus.

We do well to do as the early followers of Jesus did and follow the evidence.

The early Christians had heard about Jesus, his life, teaching, death, and resurrection from the eyewitnesses, the apostles who had experienced the reality of Jesus, his life, teaching, death, and resurrection. With the testimony of the Holy Spirit, the news rang true, that Jesus is Lord. And the news was the best news ever.

Today we still follow the evidence. We still have the testimony of those who knew Jesus, witnesses of his life, teaching, death and resurrection. It is found in the writings we now call the New Testament. The case for Jesus as Lord and Saviour is compelling. It is both beautiful and believable. (See my sermon series called “Compelling” which is summarized here.)

People can share their opinions about the lake I go windsurfing in. They might be of the opinion that the lake is teeming with great white sharks and that since I fall off a lot I had better not windsurf there. They would be correct about my falling off a lot, but what about the presence of great white sharks? I can do the research and look up what kinds of fish are found in Ontario’s lakes. I can do the research and find out what kind of water great white sharks live in. I can ask those who regularly swim in the lake. I can learn from my own experience of swimming in the lake.

Let us follow the evidence, then walk with Jesus:

And now, dear children, remain in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns, you will be full of courage and not shrink back from him in shame.

1 John 2:28 (NLT)

There are many opinions about Jesus, but it really matters that we get it right.

Sorting out the identity of Jesus affects life now, it matters now, it makes a big difference, not just for us, but for everyone around us.

Sorting out the identity of Jesus will still matter to us 100 years from now and beyond, when God’s grace, God’s gift of eternal life will matter more to us than anything.

Let us not settle for opinions about Jesus, Let us pursue Jesus.

With so many opinions about Jesus being shared in our day, whom do we trust? Let us trust Jesus!


The full sermon on video can also be seen as part of this “online worship expression

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