Christianity 201

July 28, 2021

Are You an Outlaw, A Lawyer, or a Lover?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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At Christianity 201, we’ve had a long relationship with Rev. Kevin Rogers, a pastor in Western Ontario, Canada whose writing appears at The Orphan Age. This is excerpts from a 4-part series. To read the introduction, where he sets up the distinction click this link. He says,

I see three categories of people when it comes to the acceptance and application of God’s law—we are all outlaws, lawyers or lovers.

To read the individual parts in full, click the headers which follow.

Outlaws

Outlaw culture is often glorified, and we all learned it early in life…So what does it mean to be an outlaw?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary says:

1 : a person excluded from the benefit or protection of the law

2a : a lawless person or a fugitive from the law

b : a person or organization under a ban or restriction

c : one that is unconventional or rebellious

Some perceived Jesus to be an outlaw based on his application of God’s Law. He and the disciples picked grain to eat on the Sabbath, brought healing to many on the Sabbath, did not always wash their hands before eating, association with people deemed unclean and a daily myriad of offenses drummed up by the faultfinders.

In spite of what the authorized experts had to say, Jesus was not an outlaw.

Matthew 5:

17 “Do not think I have come to get rid of what is written in the Law or in the Prophets. I have not come to do this. Instead, I have come to fulfill what is written. 18 What I’m about to tell you is true. Heaven and earth will disappear before the smallest letter disappears from the Law. Not even the smallest mark of a pen will disappear from the Law until everything is completed.

It is when we determine that laws are unfair, unattainable or illegitimate that we are tempted by outlawry. It’s easy enough to find reasons to minimize or defy human laws, but what about God’s Law? There are many outlaws that choose to live in opposition or resignation to what they perceive to be an unrealistic or impossible standard.

The Greek word for sin is hamartia. It is an archery term that means your arrow did not land on the target. When we recognize that we are sinners, we admit that our arrow went astray or dropped to the ground before the ideal target that God gives us to aim for.

Jesus came to hit the bullseye and inspire us to have an improved aim. We are to learn from the ways that fall short and allow God to perfect our aim. You may have given up on basketball or piano lessons, but the reason to learn God’s ways are not trivial options. God’s ways are a matter of life and death in a very real cosmic and earthly sense.

Every outlaw must live by a code that supports their values and will be deemed heroic by those sharing those values. But you cannot love God and at the same time have a complete disregard for the things God says. To know and disregard the law of God is to be truly lawless.

1 John 3:

Everyone who sins breaks the law. In fact, breaking the law is sin. But you know that Christ came to take our sins away. And there is no sin in him. No one who remains joined to him keeps on sinning. No one who keeps on sinning has seen him or known him.

Dear children, don’t let anyone lead you astray. The person who does what is right is holy, just as Christ is holy. The person who does what is sinful belongs to the devil. That’s because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the devil’s work.

In recognizing that your aim is off, the key remedy is remaining joined to Jesus. As we  understand what Christ is doing, we find that he is taking away our lawless instincts. He is mending our broken bow and showing us how to aim true and hit the target. It is in our mimicry and imitation of Christ’s ways that we see through the fog and shoot for the bullseye. The apostle Paul understood this implicitly when he said,

1 Corinthians 11:

Follow my example, just as I follow the example of Christ.

Lawyers

If the outlaw faces judgment, he is going to need a good defence lawyer. A lawyer will endeavour to prove that his client is not guilty, or at least not maliciously intent on breaking a law. The problem is that there will also be a prosecuting lawyer whose aim it is to prove that you are guilty.

There is an interesting phenomenon that happens to people trying to live up to God’s standards. If they are not rightly motivated inwardly, they will get obsessive about hacking their aim and telling others that they are the masters that can teach others how to achieve their spiritual aims.

It’s exactly the old adage that those who can’t, teach.

Matthew 23:

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples. “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat,” he said. “So you must be careful to do everything they say. But don’t do what they do. They don’t practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry. Then they put them on other people’s shoulders. But they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them.

Watch out for people that try to load you down with high expectations but don’t offer any understanding or relief for the burden they lay on you. They may be legalistic in their passion for definition, but inwardly lack the law of God. They may have the authority to wield the law, but are more interested in winning their case than being personally answerable for the consequences that ensue.

Matthew 7:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Lawyers are often great communicators and can weave a story line that will either condemn or excuse a lawbreaker.

Watch my life carefully. I may appear to be a masterful persuader and still have a lawless heart. Fortunately, you will not have to answer for me. I stand before the one true judge that can truly condemn me or save me. Don’t be naïve and do look out for the Pharisaical lawyer in me and for the one in you.

Fortunately, God has mercy for outlaws and for self-righteous lawyers. Otherwise, we would be surely doomed.

Romans 9:

30 What should we say then? Gentiles did not look for a way to be right with God. But they found it by having faith. 31 The people of Israel tried to obey the law to make themselves right with God. But they didn’t reach their goal of being right with God. 32 Why not? Because they tried to do it without faith. They tried to be right with God by what they did. They tripped over the stone that causes people to trip and fall. 33 It is written,

“Look! In Zion I am laying a stone that causes people to trip.
    It is a rock that makes them fall.
    The one who believes in him will never be put to shame.”

Imagine that. Your faith in the goodness and mercy of God is the bullseye. Jesus died to save outlaws and lawyers and we are both.

Lovers

In essence, you become what you love. When it comes to the Law of God, are you a lover of His Law? You will not become Christlike if you do not love God.

If it’s true that we all fail to hit the target, there must be something that Jesus wants to teach us. When you are being coached in some ability, it is easy to get overwhelmed and distracted. So what will keep us in the game, so to speak? What is it about God’s Law that we can learn to keep us from becoming an outlaw or a lawyer?

That is a great question and one asked by an expert in law.

Mark 12:

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard the Sadducees arguing. He noticed that Jesus had given the Sadducees a good answer. So he asked him, “Which is the most important of all the commandments?”

29 Jesus answered, “Here is the most important one. Moses said, ‘Israel, listen to me. The Lord is our God. The Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 And here is the second one. ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ There is no commandment more important than these.”

32 “You have spoken well, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one. There is no other God but him. 33 To love God with all your heart and mind and strength is very important. So is loving your neighbor as you love yourself. These things are more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 Jesus saw that the man had answered wisely. He said to him, “You are not far from God’s kingdom.” From then on, no one dared to ask Jesus any more questions.     NIRV

Your aim always improves when you love from the core of your being. Loving God means loving the wisdom and perfection of what he is teaching us. Loving your neighbour and loving yourself flows from the love you find in God.

Jesus says that all law is grounded in love. Until you know that and agree to it, you will resist the true nature of God. Jesus is the highest expression of God’s Law. He fulfills the law of God.

Are you convinced by the Holy Spirit that the ways of God are desirable? Listen to this ancient song of praise for the ways of God. Listen to effect that the love of God has on the fabric of our life.

Psalm 19:

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse me from secret faults.
13 Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins;
Let them not have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
And I shall be innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.
NKJV

Talk about exactly hitting the target… love will do all of these things to establish your heart, mind and soul. We are taught by perfect love and changed from outlaws and lawyers. We are lovers of God’s Law.

January 8, 2021

So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt? Jesus Had No Choice

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Imagine if you will, “palm trees bowing before the infant Jesus, Jesus taming dragons, the beasts of the desert paying him homage, and an encounter with the two thieves who would later be crucified alongside Jesus.” Sound far-fetched?

Wikipedia’s condensation of the extra-Biblical accounts of Joseph, Mary and Jesus taking flight to Egypt notes that all those accounts are there and are still revered by some branches of Christianity. The online resource continues:

These stories of the time in Egypt have been especially important to the Coptic Church, which is based in Egypt, and throughout Egypt there are a number of churches and shrines marking places where the family stayed…

One of the most extensive and, in Eastern Christianity, influential accounts of the Flight appears in the perhaps seventh-century Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, in which Mary, tired by the heat of the sun, rested beneath a palm tree. The infant Jesus then miraculously has the palm tree bend down to provide Mary with its fruit, and release from its roots a spring to provide her with water.

I mention this because the undocumented time that the young family spent in Egypt has been fodder for novels and screenplays, with author Anne Rice being the most notable in recent years to offer her conjecture on that time.

But think for a minute about what it means for this family, “the Holy Family” if you prefer, being in Egypt, the place from which Israel continues to celebrate its deliverance to this very day.

Before we continue: Keith Green’s somewhat whimsical song, “So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt” comes to mind.

This is a place to which the People of God simply don’t want to revisit. If it’s not the heat it’s the manna.

In a devotional posted just this morning, Kevin Rogers connects the dots between the Pharaoh whose actions are part of the story whereby the Israelites ended up in the desert to begin with, and King Herod whose actions are what drives Jesus and his parents back to Egypt.

If you would like more background about the idea of “the destroyer” (also introduced by Kevin here), Kevin covered that in a previous post; read this short article first.

Destroyer’s Agenda — Herod Repeats History

The same spirit of the oppressor is active in Jesus’ time. Instead of an Egyptian Pharaoh, we have a Roman king infected with the Destroyer’s agenda.

The Magi from the East come to bring gifts to the newborn King Jesus. Herod, hearing this news gets to the Magi and requests an audience with this baby. God warns the Magi in a dream to not return to Herod after they find Jesus.

Matthew 2:

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.

In a strange twist, God is going to have Joseph, Mary and Jesus escape to Egypt of all places! The Saviour of the world would be spared by going back to the place despised by Israel for enslaving them for generations.

Just as a Jewish child named Moses would become their deliverer, Jesus the Jewish boy would become the emancipator for the whole world and call out every oppressor.

The agenda of the Destroyer to rob, kill and destroy is always looking for its next victims. But the God who saves, sends his firstborn Son Jesus into the world to be about His Father’s business.

It is the plan and purposes of God to reconcile all things to Himself. It is the Father’s heart that inspires the Son’s sacrifice.


It is the same destroyer spirit. Do we seek that spirit working today? Of course we do. Be always discerning.


I checked to see if we’ve used Keith Green’s song here before, and it did appear in a different context in December, 2016 in Wishing You Had Never Been Delivered.

August 14, 2020

Simply “Claiming” a Biblical Promise is Not Enough

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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“Simply claiming God’s promises without speaking to Him about the issue for which you are claiming them is more a reflection of your reliance on yourself … rather than your reliance on God.” – Biblical Diagnosis

Today we have two shorter devotions on the subject of prayer. Our first thoughts today are from our 7th visit to Biblical Diagnosis and are appropriate for the season we find ourselves in these days. The second is from one of our most-quoted sources here, Canadian pastor Kevin Rogers’ The Orphan Age.

Click the respective headers for each to read at their original site.

It is Not Enough to Claim God’s Promises

The notion of God’s protection has taken on a whole different dimension in light of the Coronavirus outbreak. It certainly goes without saying that we should all follow the practical tips our officials are giving us, and apply some common sanitary sense.

But with the Lord’s permission, I would like to give you, my dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, a very important advice:

DO NOT JUST CLAIM GOD’S PROMISES

Yes, you can comb through the Bible and find all the promises of God’s protection. You may recite them, claim them, appropriate them for you and your family. BUT THAT IS STILL NOT ENOUGH.

You need to TALK TO GOD. You need TO PRAY FOR PROTECTION. You need to COMMUNICATE WITH GOD. Simply claiming God’s promises without speaking to Him about the issue for which you are claiming them is more a reflection of your reliance on yourself (i.e. how strongly you can claim them, how high your faith may reach, or even how well you can memorize them), rather than your reliance on God.

How about speaking with Him about this problem in prayer? How about petitioning for you, your family, and for your neighbors? How about seeking insight from God as to why this is happening, rather than conjecturing with your own mind? 

It is easy to recite and to declare Bible verses boldly. But where is the humble Spirit to kneel at the Lord’s feet to intercede and to listen? 

Our Lord Jesus is a personal Lord. GOD our Father, is a GOD OF RELATIONSHIPS. Do not just attempt to take what is HIS (i.e. His promises). BE WITH HIM in PRAYER.

BE WITH HIM IN PRAYER MY DEAR FRIENDS.

And let His peace guide you. Let Him reveal you His secrets (if He so chooses). Let Him show you how you should navigate and how you should strengthen your brothers and sisters, and why not, even the unbelievers. For just as He did with the Apostle Paul, when He committed to him all the souls on the ship he was traveling on, who knows whether He will commit to you some souls for their protection?

Acts 27:23,24last night an angel of the God I [Paul] belong to and serve stood by me 24 and said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul. It is necessary for you to appear before Caesar. And indeed, God has graciously given you all those who are sailing with you.’

Run to the Father. PRAY. Talk to HIM. SEEK HIM.


John 17.11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.

15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.

Intercede on Behalf of Others

As we see in priestly descriptions, there is a place between God and man that priests inhabit. You may have heard of people being described as intercessors. That is a priestly description. To intercede is to appear on someone’s behalf to present their condition to the one God who can help them.

When we intercede, we recognize a person’s brokenness and appeal to God to come and be present in their life in a way that will break through the barriers shielding them from God’s grace and truth.

Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John chapter 17 is an intercession. He appeals to the Father based on his own relationship with the people he has loved.

A real intercessor is not a reclusive, power-hungry, spooky person claiming to have secret knowledge. Intercessors are deeply personable and considerate of people because they understand their priestly function. They may feel torn between the house of prayer and the outer courts. But they move from the people to the altar and back again.

We are tasked with being intercessors for the world around us.

 

January 8, 2020

To The Church in Ephesus

Over the past ten years, Canadian pastor Kevin Rogers has been a staple for readers here at Christianity 201. I follow him on Twitter as well, and get a frequent update as to what he’s writing about. He recently did two blog posts based on two verses in Revelation 2, the letter to the church at Ephesus. Here are both articles with the headers below so you can click through to read one or both.

But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

Revisiting ‘Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin’

So Jesus and the church of Ephesus were on the same page in this regard. The Nicolaitan sect were teaching and doing things that were destroying the integrity of their relationships.

While historians do not know much about this group, it appears that there was a movement led by a man named Nicolas. They were rejected by the mainstream church and mentioned again in Jesus’ word to the church in Pergamos. Instead of teaching and practicing faithfulness to God, they compromised with the world in ways that destroyed their integrity.

Roman rule required sacrifice to their gods. Emperors such as Decius attempted to weed out Christians by enforcing sacrifices to various Roman deities. Those who resisted faced persecution and possible execution.

The Nicolaitans appeared to conform to this Roman culture, and seemed to encourage Christians in Ephesus to do the same in a time of dire persecution (1 Corinthians 6:12). In eating the food given to the idols, this implies they had gone to the temples to receive this food and would’ve had to engage in the immoralities there to acquire this meat.[1]

God loves the world he created, but Jesus hates the way some people act. This is not the same kind of hatred that develops because of racial bias, petty disagreement or annoyance. This hatred is an active opposition to ways that destroy people.

In the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, he showed what his love for a sinner looks like. He was not condemning her but turned the attention to the conscience of the accusers. Their demands were destroying the woman and giving her no way to reconcile her failure. Jesus removes accusation and opens the door to her freedom to live reconciled to God.

You can hate what crystal meth does to people in the name of love for the user. The well-worn cliché is to hate the sin and love the sinner. This idea has been largely challenged today relating to sexual ethics, but is exactly what Jesus does. He does hate the sin and love the sinner. The sin is that which takes people away from unity with God and their neighbour.

A Change of Diet

Jesus always tells us what will be gained if we patiently endure and overcome the pressures set against us. Anyone who has victory over sin will eat from the tree of life.

Overcoming sin is not so much starving ourselves as it is changing our diet. The meat offered to idols and the infidelity that went along with worshipping the Empire provided people with a sugar high. It was a fleeting sense of addictive pleasure but it also bonded them to the domination of Rome.

Jesus offers them another kind of food without oppression and bondage. Fruit from the tree of life is offered as a diet for those who hunger and thirst for union with God. Taste and see that the Lord is good.

What do you have an appetite for?

As the [Western European and North American] church continues to decline, there is a way for those who remain to patiently endure. We can survive if we return to our first love. We need to name those things that erode our relationships and turn away.

In this time of tectonic shift, we will need to change to a diet of truth and grace. We cannot love the things that God hates and we cannot hate that which God loves.

If we keep looking for understanding and affirmation from the Empire, we will eventually drink the Kool-Aid. Don’t you hate that? God does…


The Ephesians are also the ones who Jesus said had ‘lost their first love.’ Kevin writes on this in Light Exits When Love Dies.

 

August 22, 2019

Jesus Gives Them a Problem to Solve | Jesus Slips Through the Crowd

Canadian Pastor Kevin Rogers is one of the most frequently cited devotional writers/bloggers here at C201. Today we have two devotionals for you. Click the titles below to read this at his site.

When Jesus Creates Your Problem

So let’s explore some ideas about problem solving in prayer.

If prayer is a relational dialogue with God, we can learn plenty by observing how Jesus related and dialogued with individuals and with crowds. I am interested in both the conversations and the Presence of Jesus to teach us about prayer. We are going to explore the dynamics around the miracle of loaves and fish to see something about how people relate to Jesus and how he relates to them.

John 6:

As Jesus sat down, he looked out and saw the massive crowd of people scrambling up the hill, for they wanted to be near him. So he turned to Philip and said, “Where will we buy enough food to feed all these people?” Now Jesus already knew what he was about to do, but he said this to stretch Philip’s faith. Philip answered, “Well, I suppose if we were to give everyone only a snack, it would cost thousands of dollars to buy enough food!”

But just then, Andrew, Peter’s brother, spoke up and said, “Look! Here’s a young person with five barley loaves and two small fish . . . but how far would that go with this huge crowd?”

So what is the problem here? Thousands of people are in the wilderness and need to eat.

Many of them were on a journey to Passover at Jerusalem and had detoured to go hear Jesus teach. Instead of arriving at that day’s destination where they would have found food and lodging, they were miles away with no ready resources. The disciples came to Jesus and said that he should send them away so they could go find food in the closest villages.

It would be easy to say, “Well, that’s their problem. They should have planned better or they should have brought food with them.” The opportunity to see Jesus and hear his teaching was so life giving and refreshing that thousands gave up their day to hear his voice. No one wanted to leave his presence.

When it comes to problem solving in prayer, there’s an important thing to notice here. Jesus creates the problem and turns to the disciples for their solution. Sometimes Jesus does that to us. What a strange question he asks—where will we buy enough food to feed all these people?

Jesus assumes a massive, disproportionate act of hospitality and asks his team how to do it. It could be easily argued that everyone was responsible for his or her own food but Jesus has a profound thing to do here.

Jesus already knew what he was going to do, but asks questions to stretch the faith of his disciples.

There are times that Jesus wants to speak to you and give you a massive problem to solve. The easy solution is to ignore Jesus and lay the responsibility at someone else’s feet. But he asks you what you can do about the problem that he has created.

Stop looking at your problems as massive inconveniences and do some problem solving in a conversation with Jesus. See that Jesus wants to create massive opportunities to grow your faith.

It starts with a realistic assessment of natural conditions. It would cost us eight months wage to do this. We do not have the resources, but there is a little boy with a lunch.

Your answered prayer may begin with the smallest, most insignificant detail. A little boy’s lunch… a cloud the size of a hand… a dove carrying an olive branch in its beak or manna on the ground…

You may miss the answer to prayer because you miss the small detail needed to grow into God’s massive answer.

Thank you Jesus for bringing problems to us. Thank you for asking us to assess and then showing us what you can do with the smallest detail.


When Jesus Exits

It would be easy to look at the miracles that Jesus has done and still does and get side-tracked. A relationship with Jesus could easily become more about his power than his presence.

Do you know what the vast majority of people in this world are looking for when they go to church? More than any comfort, catering or style people go to church to experience the presence of God.

That’s what keeps us coming back. We have enough social programs, recreational opportunities and causes to support without ever darkening the door of a church. But if you can gather with other believers and experience God’s presence in the body of Christ, there is nothing comparable.

In our prayer lives, do we pray to enter God’s presence or are we more focused on using God’s power to shape our world?

John 6:

14 All the people were astounded as they saw with their own eyes the incredible miracle Jesus had performed! They began to say among themselves, “He really is the One—the true prophet we’ve been expecting!”

15 So Jesus, knowing that they were about to take him and make him their king by force, quickly left and went up the mountainside alone.

If you think that you know everything there is to know about Jesus and have an idea of what he should to do to fix things, be careful. Never presume that our ideas are all inspired because we witness God doing something miraculous.

When Jesus was transfigured on the mountaintop with appearances of Elijah and Moses, the disciples beheld the glory and jumped to a conclusion. We need to build a shrine here and perpetuate this experience.

Our first response to miracles, revival and signs might be to presume a plan to perpetuate, that which would most benefit our experience.

The crowd saw Jesus’ power to multiply the food and feed them all. That was enough to convince them that Jesus was sent from God. They knew that eventually the King of Israel would come and it appears to be Jesus.

Jesus can see how people think and that they would quickly organize to go to war against Rome. They would bring Jesus to the throne because he represented good government and social justice for the poor.

So, rather than being co-opted into a political agenda, Jesus withdraws. He leaves them and his disciples and heads to the hills to be alone.

I wonder if sometimes our attention to what God can do for us becomes selfish. Are there times when God withdraws His presence because we are coming up with bad ideas that use God’s branding more than His presence?

God is not persuaded by the power grabs that are borne out of our fleshly ideas.

February 6, 2019

Why We’re Not Hearing Each Other

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re back once again sharing the thoughts of Pastor Kevin Rogers who is, one of the longest running and perhaps the most frequently cited devotional writer/blogger here at C201.

Why Can’t We Hear Each Other?

When I have talked to couples or family members that are struggling with understanding each other, there is often a failure to have communication at that deeper level. It is possible to have lots of words or nearly none and be at an impasse with each other.

I have relationships like that. There are those that I would like to have more understanding and meaningful conversation with, but somehow lack the right words or the right connection. If you are on a cell phone and the signal is breaking up, you eventually give up and try again. You disconnect and dial again. That is assuming that you want to have the conversation.

In face-to-face encounters, we may have some people that we do not want to talk with. Why is that? We can choose to avoid them, but that is not always satisfactory. Sometimes we know that there are good reasons to be connected to them and there is a communication breakdown repeatedly.

Sometimes you cannot hear the voice of the other because the voice inside you is hurt, angry and insecure. The voice competing with real communication is telling you it’s time for fight, flight or freeze. This not only happens in human relationships, but also with the Divine. We cannot communicate with God when something else is interfering.

Would you like to have better communications? I know that I would. Let’s pull back the curtain and see what is going on behind the scenes.

James 1.19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

James identifies a core problem that affects all of our relationships. He says to get rid of everything that is sinful. Get rid of the evil that is all around us. Human anger does not produce the holy (healthy and fulfilled) life that God wants for us.

There are lying, hurtful, selfish things that lie at the heart of our failure to communicate. (Either in myself or in you—likely in both of us). I cannot start to connect with another until I first see what barrier is preventing that closeness.

I would like to blame you for the ways you are not meeting my needs or how you are insensitive toward me; but, that world of resentment and hurt inside me has a way of convincing me that it’s all you or that I am incapable of real meaningful connection. And so, my sin becomes unworthiness, self-pity and angry frustration.

Guess what? I will not breakthrough until I am willing to see the barriers that exist in me. By acknowledging my distorted perception, I can find God’s help to deal with my stuff. Maybe that will include me making amends, confessing my faults and relieving you of the awkward tension that comes from my fuzzy thinking. If it does nothing for you, I still need to get right in my understanding and live in God’s grace.

Let’s look at ways that we can move toward healthy communication and connectedness.


Kevin continued in these same verses in James in three consecutive posts:


For today’s text in The Passion Translation, click this link.

May 30, 2018

A Holy Discontent

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:40 pm
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Subscribers: We’re unable to account for Wednesday’s devotional here. There are a couple of theories! We know you want your money’s worth, so we’re sending you this one tonight as a bonus.

Sarnia, Ontario pastor Rev. Kevin Rogers is one of the longest-running and most frequently-appearing authors here at Christianity 201. I can always count on him to have a thought-provoking article centered on scripture at his blog, The Orphan Age. Click the title below to read at source.

Lead the Way

Have you ever sat back waiting for your leaders to show the way? While that is in their wheelhouse, they sometimes hesitate or hold back from truly leading because they are distracted, hurt or side-tracked. I know that I have been there at times but, what a difference when a leader steps up and takes the risk.

The Book of Judges was written about a time in Hebrew history when God’s people were oppressed, disobedient and powerless. Through that time God kept raising up leaders with holy discontent.

They would not settle for the lethargy and hopelessness that prevailed. We need some more voices in our time that tell us to cast down our idols and lean into God like never before.

Judges Chapter Five is entitled ‘The Song of Deborah.’ She was a leader that God raised up to inspire God’s people to do something. There are a few verses that I want us to consider in light of where and how we live today.

Judges 5:

On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this song:

“When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves— praise the Lord!

“Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers! I, even I, will sing to the Lord; I will praise the Lord, the God of Israel, in song.

When people willingly offer themselves, we all say ‘Praise the Lord!’ It happens always to people and leaders who have their heart captured by God. There are strategic moments in life when we cannot stand status quo for one more minute. We get weary and disturbed by the oppression of the enemy and have to do something. There is a growing sense that we need to trust God again and something like a song is happening in our soul.

Max Lucado said,

God chooses the person with the strongest character to lead His people to victory at crucial times. The key elements for such leadership are faith, trust, and worship. *

You may not feel as if you are the most qualified, but there is an urgency and demand on your life that must be met– and that is when you need to respond to God with next steps. Faith, trust and worship. Come on now… lead the way.


* Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (NKJV)

February 19, 2018

Questions We Ask of God; Questions God Asks of Us

NIV Matt 22.46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

DLNT Mark 4.10 And when He came-to-be alone, the ones around Him with the twelve were questioning Him as to the parables.

BBE Mark 8.11 And the Pharisees came out and put questions to him, requesting from him a sign from heaven, testing him.

NLT Luke 2.46  Three days later they finally discovered him in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions.
Geneva 2 Tim 2.23 And put away foolish and unlearned questions, knowing that they engender strife.
 TLB Titus 3:9 Don’t get involved in arguing over unanswerable questions and controversial theological ideas; keep out of arguments and quarrels about obedience to Jewish laws, for this kind of thing isn’t worthwhile; it only does harm.
– just a few of the search results for “Questions” at KnowingJesus.com

We thought we’d kick off with a few examples of  the actual use of the word “questions” in scripture. Now, on to today’s devotional…

Pastor Kevin Rogers is, I believe, the most frequently cited devotional writer/blogger here at C201. Today he looks briefly at a subject worthy of our consideration. Click the headline below to read at source or leave comments.

Good Questions

Throughout the Bible, many examples of prayer, songs and meditations are filled with good questions for God. How long? When? Will you? Why? Who? At the heart of our questions for God is the ache for healing, redemption and a reason to hope. The questions we have for God tend to be very human and speak to our longing for a better world. Here’s a Psalm that gives voice to honest human questions.

Psalms 44:

23 Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
24 Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?

25 We are brought down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
26 Rise up and help us;
rescue us because of your unfailing love.

There are also questions that God asks throughout Scripture. In prayer we want God to be able to ask us some clarifying questions. Consider these examples.

Genesis 3:

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

Matthew 16:

26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

In this session together, we want to focus on asking God difficult questions and also ask each other probing questions. Take notes.

Prayer Prompts

  1. Start by thanking God for ways that your questions have been answered. What are things that you used to wonder about and now have settled in your mind?
  1. In prayer, bring all the questions you have for God. What are the things that you are not sure of, having difficulty with and wondering why it is not clear? What is bothering you?
  1. Ask God what he wants to show us as a church. What are the unanswered questions and unfulfilled longings for the body of Christ in our church and in our city?
  1. Now, we shift focus and ask God to examine our hearts. God, are there things that you want to ask us? God, speak to us about what is on your mind about our lives.
  1. Pray for each other that God would give wisdom for unanswered questions. Pray that we would be willing and open to hear answers.

James 1:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.


By the same author, Profound Questions. You may find in this short devotional some of the same type of questions you’ve been asking God.

April 10, 2017

Christianity 201: Quotations

For those who come to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

Christianity 201 started on April 1st, 2010. So we had a birthday a few days ago that we didn’t mention. The early days were rather rough and haphazard. To give you an idea, one post the first month contained the above verse, but not the reference. (For the record, it’s a shortened version of Hebrews 11:6.)  It took a year or so for us to find our rhythm.

Over the years we’ve done a quotations series from various authors, but today, in a sense, we’re quoting ourselves. Here, in no particular order, are some very random things that were posted in those early day from our very first month:

Watchman Nee:

Nothing is so hurtful to the life of a Christian as acting; nothing so blessed as when our outward efforts cease and our attitudes become natural — when our words, our prayers, our very life become a spontaneous and unforced expression of the life within.

Bruxy Cavey:

The thing about grace is that it makes religion totally redundant

E. Stanley Jones:

When we say we begin with God, we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God.   Instead, we ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ.

Oswald J. Smith:

Why should anyone hear the gospel twice before everyone has heard it once?

Chuck Swindoll:

At Catalyst ’09  Chuck Swindoll shared some wisdom that he’d compiled over the course of his fifty years in ministry. One of his many points was that “God’s way is better than my way.”

He says that “our problem is that we are too capable.” We are too talented, too skilled, too knowledgeable, and too busy doing it all. No room for God. No need.

Swindoll says that “God can’t pour His riches into hands that are already full… Empty your hands… [We must] empty our hands” of our own clippings, ideas, dreams, philosophies.

Tim Keller:

Jesus came on a rescue mission for creation. He had to pay for our sins so that someday he can end evil and suffering without ending us.

J.D. Greear:

Both Blaise Pascal and Jonathan Edwards were known to arrive home with a couple dozen hand written notes pinned to their jackets. Yes, they looked like dorks, but we remember them hundreds of years after their deaths and don’t even know the names of the cool people anymore.

Unknown:

Collapse in the Christian life is rarely caused by a blowout.  It is usually the result of a slow leak.

A. W. Tozer:

There is within the human heart a tough fibrous root of fallen life whose nature is to possess, always possess. It covets “things” with a deep and fierce passion. The pronouns “my” and “mine” look innocent enough in print, but their constant and universal use is significant…

They are verbal symptoms of our deep disease. The roots of our hearts have grown down into things, and we dare not pull up one root lest we die. Things have become necessary to us, a development never originally intended. God’s gifts now take the place of God, and the whole course of nature  is upset by the monstrous substitution.

Ghandi:

“You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilization to pieces, turn the world upside down, and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of good literature.“

Steven & Brooksyne Weber (on the scribe in Matthew 8: 19-20)

Our Lord tests the sincerity of the scribe’s loyalty by warning him that He was so poor that beasts of the fields and birds of the air have nicer accommodations than He Himself had. “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” If the popular leader fared so badly, what was the follower to expect? 

Ottawa area pastor Paul Kern provided us with our first ever graphic element, borrowed from his church website:

Finally, here, in its entirety is the first of what would turn out to be many posts from Kevin Rogers. If you click the link and then look around, you’ll find that Kevin is faithfully writing and that the title of this devotional is still the tag line for his website.

Loners Learning About Community

God’s eyes are watching loners. He is the shepherd who leaves a flock of ninety-nine in the care of another and travels to find the one-hundredth sheep that wandered away and was lost.

He is the Father who watches and waits for broken rebels to humble themselves and return home to His endearing love and unmerited acceptance.

God is a father to orphans and a new husband to widows. The societal separation, abandonment and sudden loss create a lack of belonging. The loneliness of orphans becomes their new identity. Where will the widow and orphan belong? Who will provide for them? Who will be their protector?

God not only finds loners but calls them to belong to His family. He adopts and marries the ones misunderstood, rejected and divorced from their own family of origin.

His presence in a life can sometimes cause difficulty and separation from your roots. The sins of the fathers affect the family down to the great-grandchildren. But God’s blessing goes further in unlimited potential.

February 11, 2017

Truth and Honesty in Times of Depression

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Pastor Kevin Rogers has been one of the most frequent writers here since we began C201. In January, he ran a series of posts all containing the word Blue and words which rhyme with it.  In the introductory piece, Lonely and Blue he set up the series noting how depression peaks in winter (which it is here in the Northern hemisphere) and went on to write Blue, Take Your Cue before writing today’s piece:

BLUE, BE HONEST AND TRUE

Truth can be painful because it proclaims life’s situations as they are, and not as we hoped they would have been. An important step out of loneliness is to be honest with God and with others. If you are not being honest with yourself, there’s no way for you to be honest with God.

Sometimes we want to minimize our problems or live in denial. We may be too proud to admit that we have a problem.

There are many people who hide behind service to others. They will do things for all kinds of people, but leave their own needs unmet. Perhaps you find it harder to pray for yourself. This is a false belief that it is wrong to ask God or anyone else to take care of you. This lack of self-love will lead to isolation and self-loathing.

God will never belittle you for being honest with Him about your deep inner feelings. He really does love and care for you.

1 Peter 5:7

“Cast all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.”

God’s ability to work in our lives is dependent upon our openness to Him and allowing Him to absorb our deep inner hurt. His power to heal our fears and pains deepens with our honesty. He will not take away the anxieties that we keep from Him.

Many do not make themselves vulnerable to God. They hold back in fear. They think they are being childish, rude or selfish if they bring their complaints to God. It’s as if we want to keep our relationship with God on a professional, adult level. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work out too well. We need to let God see the hurt and immaturity that grips us.

1 Peter 1:13

“Prepare your mind for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

People of fate believe that they are lonely because it is meant to be, but people of faith believe differently. They do not take loneliness sitting down. People with faith cry out to God and look for an answer that will help them break free of their cycle of frustration.

 

November 25, 2014

The Ten Lepers

Sarnia pastor Kevin Rogers’ material at The Orphan Age has been featured here since Christianity 201’s inception. Today, we’re ‘borrowing’ from three different blog posts on the story of Jesus healing the ten lepers.  To read the original posts, click here, here and here.

Luke 17:11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy[a] met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

 

Hansen’s disease (also known as leprosy) is a long-lasting infection caused by bacteria. The disease was once feared as a highly contagious and devastating disease. Now, however, the disease is very rare and easily treated. Early diagnosis and treatment usually prevent disability related to the disease. [i]

Today the world is dealing with the crisis of the Ebola disease. This is likely the largest outbreak in history for this particular disease. If an epidemic affects a whole country or spreads over the world, it is called a pandemic. Ebola is not yet a pandemic, but the potential does exist.

While it is necessary to take wise precautions in areas affected and those who deal with patients, we need to understand a historical perspective on diseases.

  • 541-542 AD – 100,000,000 died from Plague of Justinian
  • 1346-1350 AD – 50,000,000 died from Black Plague
  • 1969 to present – 39,000,000 died from AIDS/HIV
  • 1918-1920 – 20,000,000 died from Influenza
  • 1894-1903 – 10,000,000 Modern Plague
  • 1957-1958 – 2,000,000 Asian Flu
  • 1968-1969 – 1,000,000 Hong Kong Flu
  • 2009 – 284,000 Swine Flu
  • 2002-2003 – 774 SARS[ii]

While this is just a small list of killer diseases in history, we can see that human history has been unable to eradicate sicknesses that kill. Every generation has had its theories and science to try and prevent the spread. In many cases, we are able to protect and prevent. But, new ones appear in time.

The history of civilization is also a history of disease. Every generation lives with the fear of death from unseen biological enemies. We are able to eliminate some diseases, but we are not able to eliminate the fear of death.

There have always been diseases and conditions that become the defining feature of a person’s existence. No longer a man or woman, you have become something else—a leper.

What other ways have we taken symptoms and characteristics and used them to define people as something less than what we are?

Jesus often travels along borders of human division. If you want to see where Jesus is at work, look for human borders that separate people from one another. The separation between Samaria and Galilee was marked by a huge gulf in understanding and respect.

The ten men on the outskirts of town were all given the same name—Leper. Any other defining characteristic was lost or losing ground. It may be that 9 of them were Jewish and 1 was Samaritan. The religious distinctions were buried by the disease identity. Their names, family connections and occupations were quickly becoming memories.

In suffering, they become each others companions. Former distinctions were less important to them now that they were truly alone. There are some labels that supersede everything else that you are or were. Is it any wonder that they cry to Jesus for mercy? Who else was there to listen to them? The gatekeepers of society ensured that they were kept away in the name of public safety.

In the absence of a healthy community connection, the exiles formed community among the sick. Sometimes the sick take care of the sick, better than the healthy do. Other times, they lack the strength and resource to make any difference for their companions and misery is met with misery.


 

[i] http://www.cdc.gov/leprosy/
[ii] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/10/141025-ebola-epidemic-perspective-history-pandemic/

 

September 19, 2014

The Devil is in the Details

Earlier today, Kevin Rogers had an interesting article at his blog, The Orphan Age, which gives us a few things to think about. When do we place the blame on the Devil? Aren’t some things just the consequences of living in a fallen world?  To read this at source, click the title below. (We’ve used a lot of Kevin’s writing here over the years, so please send him some link love by clicking through.)

DIAGNOSING BEDEVILMENT
When it comes to understanding strange behavior there is plenty of controversial speculation about how the Devil is involved.

There may be two extremes in this regard—one that does not accept the reality of evil and the other that ascribes too much blame to dark forces.

I remember a man who worked with people with exceptional needs telling me that he thought a particular individual must be possessed to make such strange gestures. Out of his need to explain the unexplainable, he gave the Devil credit.

We see the word lunatic used in the King James Version of the bible to describe some people that Jesus encountered.

Matthew 4:24 And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them.

Matthew 17:14 And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying,
15 Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatic, and sore vexed: for oft-times he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.
16 And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.

If we accept the reality of evil forces at work in the universe, we must ask how they affect humanity. The Scriptures do tell us about the Devil’s strategies. Jesus described himself as a shepherd who stayed at the gate of fold to protect his people from the Enemy.

John 10:
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Peter, who was once warned by Jesus that Satan wanted to sift him like wheat, later was known to say,

1 Peter 5:
8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

Peter knew first hand how the enemy could affect the mind with crippling fear. Peter knew how the mind could play tricks on you and how the devil could convince you of great falsehood.

It is not fair to say that a mentally ill person is possessed by the Devil. But, it is very possible that in the vulnerability of their condition, the Soul Enemy goes to work to bring a crushing load of accusation, shame and destruction. The debilitated mind is not in a state of sobriety where it can process thoughts in a healthy manner.


Today’s picture is completely unrelated, but when pastor and author Pete Wilson posted this picture this morning of the eggs his hens have been laying, I was reminded of the beauty and detail and variety that exists in creation that we often miss.

Beauty of Creation

 

July 31, 2014

From Acorn to Oak; Turning the Other Cheek

Double devo day! (It’s been awhile since we did one of these!)

Today’s first post is from the blog Into the King’s Garden by Angel Koerner Bohon. Click here to Acorn to Oak Tree.

Isaiah 61:1-4 NKJV

” The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” And they shall rebuild the old ruins, They shall raise up the former desolations, And they shall repair the ruined cities, The desolations of many generations”

A miracle is in progress when we look at a tiny acorn. The miracle in progress lays there totally unnoticed – which makes me wonder how many times I have stepped on one of God’s miracle’s in progress.

It takes spiritual eyes to see a tall oak tree when you are holding a tiny acorn. There is an oak tree inside of every acorn and no one but God can pull that oak out of the seed.

Isaiah 61 says that God’s children grow up and become “oaks of righteousness.” I am so glad that in my early stages of Christian growth that those around me looked at me as an acorn and saw the miracle that God was creating in me and didn’t trample me down under foot.

Think about that when you are surrounded by new Christians (and those we hope soon will be) and don’t trample on an acorn that God puts in your path. Pick them up gently when they fall and speak life and you will soon see the miracle unfold, the tiny acorn will become a magnificent oak tree for Christ.

Our second devo for today is from Kevin Rogers at The Orphan Age who we often feature here at C201. Click here to read Peter, Grab Your Sword.

The teachings of Jesus are very clear about us not taking matters into our own hands. Jesus is a pacifist in the truest sense and overcomes evil with good. He does not return evil for evil. He brings a better human law than the Old Testament or any other law code.

The gospel still exceeds all human codes of conduct and governance. If you call yourself a follower of Jesus, how are you overcoming this present world?

Are you becoming more merciful toward the world or just angrier? How are you in the face of open hostility and rejection of your Lord? Do you sometimes feel like Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane wanting to swing at someone with a sword? Or do you follow the Lamb to the sacrifice?

What would Jesus have us to do when we are rejected and despised, as He was? On the road to His demise we see the disciples with an attitude that easily infects us today.

Luke 9:

51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.

The Jews and Samaritans had a longstanding feud based on bad history between them and a difference of religious opinion. It is extremely bold of Jewish Jesus to seek hospitality from a Samaritan village. It’s as if all the reasons to despise another race or religion fell out of Jesus’ head. He is willing to go to anyone who will receive Him.

The Samaritan villagers were not open to this act of reconciliation from a Jewish leader. Bitter history, fear and ‘he hit me first’ keep many people from even thinking about hospitality to strangers. Racism and prejudice always make you guilty by association.

We see hear a failure to provide basic human care. The Samaritan villagers would just as soon see these Jews vulnerable, hungry, unsheltered and alone on a dark road than to find a way to help them.

The disciples were not used to turning the other cheek or going the extra mile. They want to ask God to retaliate with fire from Heaven. How many followers of Jesus today would also ask God to rain down fire on atheists, humanists, homosexuals, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims or anyone else who might be dismissive or mock our Lord’s Name?

Hurry Peter! Pick up a sword and start swinging. Fire from Heaven on those who do not treat Jesus well!

And Jesus rebukes us…

March 23, 2014

What Does a Carpenter Know About Fishing?

If you go back to the first couple of years of C201, you know we often linked to Kevin Rogers’ blog The Orphan Age. Kevin has been very faithful to his ministry in southwestern Ontario, Canada, and has updated his blog almost daily for years and years! This post was originally titled Another Option.

Our greatest answers may sometimes come from unexpected sources. Consider the seasoned fishermen taking advice from a stranger on the shore.

John 21:

“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

These first century fishermen had one lake. All of their experience came from fishing with tried and true methods. From years of successfully harvesting the lake, they knew how to recognize its seasons, currents and conditions. They knew what sort of fish swam in its depths. Perhaps, they had reached a point where they were experts and could laugh at the new, inexperienced people starting out.

Still, their nets were empty this night. As experts, they could probably explain why there was no catch tonight.

The stranger on the shore asks if they caught any. “No.” It’s a one-word answer that may reveal that they are tired and defeated. It’s time to quit and head back to land. They have nothing to show for their time spent. They are returning empty.

In the state of emptiness, is it possible that we will consider a voice that we might ignore when full?

If the story had gone that they had a full catch and the stranger suggested throwing the net on the other side; who would have listened? Emptiness and humility may be necessary for us to hear truth coming from unexpected places.

Empty Nets If a church is to hear what the Spirit is saying to it, there will need to be a condition of heart that is open to suggestion. How might Jesus speak to us expert believers and tell us to drop net on the other side?

Could it be that we sometimes pull in empty nets to prepare us for listening to unlikely counsel? In the boat, they did not recognize that God was speaking to them from the stranger on the shore. But when the nets filled on the other side, they realized that Jesus was the stranger. It is a reoccurring story in the gospels that people did not recognize Jesus until something happened. We may miss Jesus’ voice and presence many times until we awaken to Him.

The fishermen thought it was a hopeless night and did not realize that success was right under their noses. The success was waiting where they were not going on their own.

November 22, 2013

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

sheep1

For three recent blog posts, Kevin Rogers at the blog The Orphan Age has been studying the parable that is part of a trilogy of stories that we call “The Lost Sheep.” Below are excerpts from the series and a link to each.

Luke 15:

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

One hundred sheep represent a healthy community. Together they have shared resources and maintain a strong defense. The predators are warded off by the efforts of good shepherding.

Jesus told this story to religious leaders who were entrusted to take care of God’s flock in Israel. They noted with contempt that Jesus always surrounded himself with the people who were not righteous. This story responds to the Scribes’ and Pharisees’ self-righteous, smug posturing.

People who were immoral or who followed occupations that the scribes held to be incompatible with keeping God’s law. A rabbinic rule stated that “one must not associate with an ungodly man,” and the rabbis would not even teach such a person… The rabbis taught that God would welcome a penitent sinner, but these parables teach that God seeks out the sinner.[i]

The Jewish leaders excluded those who wandered away from their demanding righteousness. These people who got into trouble were the lost sheep and expected to find their own way home. Shepherding was conditional upon compliance with flock standards of behaviour.

The fact that tax collectors and sinners listen to Jesus while the leadership does not is a cultural reversal of expectation. Sometimes hearers are found in surprising places.[ii]

Religious elitism and arrogance always leaves people on their own without community. Hard-hearted religion leaves behind its homeless sheep.

[i] Reformation Study Bible
[ii] The IVP New Testament Commentary Series

Read THE PROBLEM WITH EXCLUSIVE CHURCHES in full.


Through Jesus’ continuing use of the sheep/shepherd metaphor we learn some important things about God’s involvement in peoples’ lives. Jesus echoed what the ancient Scriptures spoke of. What is a good shepherd?

Ezekiel 34:

For this is what the sovereign Lord says, “I will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

God says that this is what is in his heart towards people. Ezekiel described 4 characteristics that are consistent with Jesus’ leadership. As Jesus’ followers, have these values started to grow in us?

1.     God searches for the lost
2.     God brings back the strays
3.     God binds up the injured
4.     God strengthens the weak

Continue reading THE VALUE OF 1%


The parable of the lost sheep speaks to the challenge of living right. Personal righteousness was a central theme to Scribes and Pharisees. Lost sheep were those who did not follow the leader and stay with the flock. They disobeyed the rules of good sheep:

1.     Sheep need to listen to shepherd’s voice and follow
2.     Sheep have a communal flock instinct. Sheep that are ill might wander away

When someone distances him/herself from the faith community, it is usually for similar reasons. They have had poor leadership in their life or lacked respect for shepherds in general. Wanderers let the sickness of soul lead them away instead of letting a good shepherd restore them to health, bind their wounds or accommodate for their weakness.

So we may easily blame sheep for wandering away. But that is not the moral of the story. The heart of God searches for the wanderers and brings them home, fully aware that the sheep is sick, wounded or foolish. The Shepherd values every lamb and knows each weakness.

Read the conclusion of HOW TO GET LOST

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