Christianity 201

March 11, 2019

Discernment: Hard to Define

NIV 2.Tim.3.12-14 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it

NLT.Phil.1.9 I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.

CEB.Col.1.9 Because of this, since the day we heard about you, we haven’t stopped praying for you and asking for you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding.

TPT.1Cor.1210b And to another the gift to discern what the Spirit is speaking.

NCV.1John.4.1 My dear friends, many false prophets have gone out into the world. So do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God.

CSB.1Pet.5.8 Be sober-minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.

13 months ago we ran a devotional containing short excerpts from four different websites on the subject of discernment. If you missed it, you can connect at this link. (Pay special attention to the third and fourth sections.)

I return to this topic frequently because I think that discernment is the gift needed in these times, and in particular this internet age.

Imagine for a moment someone you know is with you looking for insight on a particular Bible passage. They type, “Meaning of Philippians 4:6,” or if they know the language, “Philippians 4:6 commentary.” As they click the search results, you’re not looking at the main body of the screen, but instead you’re checking out the web address (URL) at the very top of the page.

The first link is to a site of a ministry you know and recommend. The second link is to a site that is very obviously connected to what is considered, to be polite, a marginal organization.

But then a third site pops up, “GodThings.com.” (Don’t bother, I made it up, it’s unassigned.) You don’t know who is behind the site. Clicking the ‘about’ page isn’t helping. So you read the commentary with your friend. It sounds great. Then you click another random page on the site, and suddenly something doesn’t feel right.

That’s an example of discernment kicking in. You can’t go by the information you already have, so you need to take a look at the content and discern whether or not this is a voice you want to be speaking to your friend.

Eight years ago we looked at this topic using an article by the late Dr. Greg Burts, at the blog Dying to Live, with the unusual title Are There Too Many Milk Drinkers? But then he goes on with something that suggested to me that perhaps many Christians lack discernment because they’re thinking in terms of the supernatural gift that’s mentioned in a list of other supernatural gifts that perhaps they see as outside their spiritual reach.

Throughout 2,000 years of church history, there have always been those who distorted the Scriptures. Paul provides a “who’s-who” list of false teachers to avoid in 2 Timothy. With increased television and Internet exposure for anyone who wants to promote his ‘take’ on Christian teaching, has there ever been a greater need for Christians to exercise discernment?

We need people with discernment who can detect false teaching (Heb. 5:14), and spot impostors who try to mislead them and others (2 Tim. 3:13-14). You may be saying, “but I don’t have the gift of discernment.” But Paul is not talking about the “gift of discerning spirits” found in 1 Corinthians 14. He is talking about discernment as a quality each of us is expected to grow in (Phil. 1:9).

And you can sense Paul’s frustration as he writes: “You have been Christians a long time now, and you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things a beginner must learn about the Scriptures. You are like babies who drink only milk and cannot eat solid food. And a person who is living on milk isn’t very far along in the Christian life and doesn’t know much about doing what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who have trained themselves to recognize the difference between right and wrong [discern] and then do what is right” (Hebrews 5:12-14 NLT).

 

February 17, 2018

Discernment: Helpful for All, Necessary for Leaders

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. I John 4:1

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:11

Today we offer highlights from a variety of articles which are not included in full. Starting with Floyd McClung of Youth With A Mission (YWAM):

Leading With Discernment

Effective leaders must be discerning. It’s important to look below the surface of people’s words and actions to see the deeper motives and character issues.

Exercising discernment is not about being critical or judgmental, but about looking beyond appearances. Leaders must be discerning if they are to know the strengths and weaknesses of those they lead or work closely with. Jesus was discerning. John 6:61-64 says,

“When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, ‘Does this offend you? There are some of you who do not believe.’”

There is a great difference between being a cynic and being discerning. Leaders who have been hurt, experienced betrayal, or have been wounded by criticism and rejection, sometimes become wary of people. They perform their ministry duties—perhaps with great flair—but at the core, they carry an offended spirit. Such leaders sow seeds of mistrust and suspicion in their followers.

A discerning leader reads people’s hearts without withdrawing from them. Discernment and judgment come from the same root word in the Greek language, but are very different in practice. “To judge” comes from the Greek word krino, meaning to judge and separate (and in some cases, to condemn). “To discern” comes from diakrino, which means to distinguish, to hesitate, to investigate thoroughly. The prefix dia means into or through.
 To judge, then, is to pass sentence on a person, to label them, and potentially write them off. On the other hand, to discern means to see through a façade (beyond face value), to look deeper into something, to see what others may not readily see.

Discernment is a vital leadership quality because it creates depth in a leader. Discerning leaders foresee trouble before it arises and prepare for it. They see the difference between talent and character, between right actions and wrong motives. They spot frauds, false prophets/teachers, and those with secret sins before others do. Discerning leaders are not easily deceived. They appreciate good endeavors by others, but notice when actions are not aligned with genuine values. Paul warned the Galatians about the need for discernment:

“But there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the Gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other Gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed…” – Gal. 1:7–9

My father was a Pentecostal pastor. Sadly, he came across many frauds and charlatans in his day. Because Pentecostals place a high value on personal experience, they tend to be more vulnerable to those who can imitate genuine spiritual experience but lack godly character.

Though my dad was a man of passionate spirituality, he was not fooled by superficial emotion. He was ardent for the things of the Spirit, but learned not to confuse spiritual passion with emotional hype. He placed great value on the fruit of the Spirit, which can be imitated for a time by the immature, but cannot be sustained under pressure.

To those who are discerning, people who wear a phony piety come across tinny, shallow, and are easy to spot. It can seem easier and less costly to wear spirituality like a coat, but true spirituality comes from deep within. It is developed through obedience to God’s Word, and through sacrifice and surrender to the work of the cross in one’s life.

The writer of Hebrews says mature Christians have so absorbed the Word of God that they can discern what is of God and what is not, and see the difference between what is great and what is good. They develop a sensitivity to what is true and what is false, to what may be good but is not the best in a situation. Here’s how Hebrews 5:13–14 describes this level of discernment:

“For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the Word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”  …

From the website Precept Austin:

Today in the Word

… Paul doesn’t waste any time in his letter to the Galatians before addressing the dire problem he sees in their churches. False teachers have been given standing in the churches, and the Galatians have been deceived. The error of the Galatians actually threatens their standing in Christ. Paul accused the Galatians of having abandoned God the Father and the gospel of Jesus Christ. They have deserted the One who called them and embraced another gospel.

What Paul wants to emphasize is that the message that the Galatians have now believed is really no gospel at all. The Galatians, of course, didn’t see it that way. Most likely, the false teachers hadn’t asked the Galatians to renounce their faith in Christ. No, their message was probably much more subtle. They’ve criticized Paul’s ministry, trying to discredit him and expose what they see as the error of his preaching and teaching. They’ve elevated their teaching as the “true” gospel. To Paul’s horror, they’ve preached the necessity of circumcision to Gentile believers (cf. 5:2).

Paul answers back emphatically: May all of God’s curses fall on them, or on anyone in fact who preaches anything other than the gospel of Jesus Christ! Paul was not going to cede any ground to these false teachers. He would not compromise the gospel, nor would he give up on the Galatians so easily.

What we start to see in this letter is Paul as a man who’s fiercely committed to the Galatians and who wants to secure their total commitment to Christ…

I believe that every believer should have a measure of discernment. The problem is we often speak of “the gift of discernment” and immediately some people concludes that this isn’t for them; they feel that they are as likely to have this gift as they are to speak in tongues or perform healing miracles (which they regard as unlikely.) That’s unfortunate.

This is from a longer article on the gifts by Susan Ream at LetterPile.com:

Gifted with Discernment?

How do you know if you have the gift of discernment? Here’s a hint. Those who possess the spiritual gift of discernment can see right through smokescreens and obstacles as they uncover the truth.

The source of the gift of discernment is God. Discernment springs from the truth taught in His word. The insights that come from discernment stem from solid knowledge, understanding, and a firm belief in God’s word.

Let me share some manifestations of the gift of Discernment. If you have this gift the following expressions will ring true to you:

  • Are you passionate about truth?
  • When you are placed in a situation where discernment is needed, do you experience an uncanny sense of knowing?
  • Does scripture flood your mind as you weigh the happenings?
  • Do you read between the lines?
  • Are you gifted with the ability to uncover wrong or evil?
  • Do you expose lies and bring them into the light of sound reason and truth?

If this depiction of discernment describes you, thank God for entrusting you with this extraordinary gift. There are many ways to use this ability. If you possess the gift of discernment, you will have the aptitude to minister as:

  • a counselor – adept at exposing the missing piece that stands in the way of healing
  • arbitrator – brings resolution and peace, between parties, by shedding a light on the truth, in the midst of a dispute
  • decision maker – see’s the answer and quickly moves from a decision to an action
  • the person in leadership – knows how to lead and discerns pitfalls and strengths in team members

Every Church is blessed with members who possess the gift of discernment. God uses those gifted to discern truth from lies; pure motives from evil intentions; and to help to settle disputes by communicating a clear picture of what the truth looks like.

I know we’re running long today, but I also wanted to include some excerpts from an article by author Laura J. Davis:

What is the Spiritual Gift of Discernment?

Everyone has a certain level of discernment. Some might call it intuition, or their “Spidey sense”, whatever you want to call it, we all have it. But, the spiritual gift of discernment is somewhat different…

The Greek word diakrisis is translated as “distinguishing, discerning or judging” and so this gift is used in various ways. In the verse above Paul points out one of its uses – that of discerning spirits, in other words, those with this gift are able to distinguish between good and evil. Now, you would think that is something most people are able to do. After all, don’t the Ten Commandments teach us the difference between right and wrong? Ah! But discernment isn’t about knowing right from wrong, it is about distinguishing between good and evil and yes there is a difference. For example, those with the gift of discernment have the uncanny ability to meet a person for the first time and perceive if that person is hiding something, has good or evil intentions, is trying to manipulate them, or is lying…

…An excellent example of how this gift was used, happens in Acts 5:1-11, where the Apostle Peter was able to discern that Ananias was lying to him when he and his wife Sapphira told Peter that they had sold land and were donating all the proceeds of the land to the church. But Peter knew they were both lying. How did he know? He had been given the gift of discernment and was able to clearly see through to their true nature and knew immediately that their motives were evil.

Most believers have a certain amount of discernment which increases as they mature in their faith (Hebrews 5:13-14)…

However, as I stated above, there are certain believers, who have “the uncanny ability to meet a person for the first time and perceive if that person is hiding something, has good or evil intentions, is trying to manipulate them, or is lying.” They also have the spiritual gift of being able to distinguish between the truth of the Word and deceptive doctrines. We are all exhorted to be spiritually discerning (Acts 17:11; 1 John 4:1), but some in the body of Christ have a unique ability to listen to a message on Sunday and know without a doubt that something was “off”…

If you know someone who has the gift of discernment, pay careful attention to their perceptions as they are usually right. Those with this gift are invaluable people to have on church boards, as Bible Study leaders, or in establishing new ministries. If you are looking for a minister of any kind in your church, you definitely want someone with the gift of discernment on the search committee!…

November 6, 2017

Developing the Discernment to Call Out False Prophets

I am grateful for the writers and musicians who speak into my spiritual life. But it’s only through God’s Word that I have a framework to know if they speak from God authentically. I need to be assured that their words resonate with scripture before I allow them to resonate with me.

Today we return to Todd Sepulveda who lives in Houston and writes at Glorify God • Magnify Him in This World. Click the title to read at source.

All the Voices

Scripture

Then the prophet Jeremiah told the prophet Hananiah, “Listen, Hananiah! The Lord did not send you! You are making these people trust in a lie!
Jeremiah 28:15 NET

Observation
Believers need to understand that not everything that proclaims to be from the Lord is truly from the Lord.

In Bible times, there were prophets whose message was different from each other. Both proclaimed to be prophets of God. Both proclaimed to have a message from God. But both had very different messages, one from God, one from wishful thinking.

Because people don’t necessarily want to hear a message of repentance and becoming holy, they usually listened to the false prophets. They listened to the wrong prophet.

At the most basic level, people who followed the false prophets we’re lazy. They didn’t care to know what the Word of God said. They didn’t examine or question the religious leaders. They new Jewish history, but they thought they were different.

And today, we have more access to the Word of God than any other time in history. Are you trusting what others say, or are you getting in the Word for yourself?

Application
There are so many voices vying for our attention. As a Believer, you should want the only voice you respond to, to be the true voice of God.

This means that you need to know Him, His Word, His presence!

Don’t rely on someone else to give you insight into spiritual matters only. Don’t fall into the trap of false teaching and false prophets, because there is much out there today! Don’t be lazy!

Start reading the Word today! Start praying today! Start walking with Him on a deeper level today. Nothing else compares.

Prayer
Lord, I desire to know You fully. Reveal Yourself to me as I read Your Word and I pray. Show me Your ways.

 

November 11, 2016

Developing and Practicing Biblical Discernment

Today we’re paying a return visit to Revive Our Hearts, though with a different author, Terri Stovall. This is a women’s ministry blog but I obviously felt there were some principles here that could be beneficial to a broader audience. Please support the various sources we use here by reading the articles at source by clicking the titles like the one below.

Get Off the Roller Coaster: 4 Ways to Practice Biblical Discernment

discernment-articleI am fascinated with roller coasters and just love riding them. Did you know that when a roller coaster is being constructed, if the builders are off even a half inch at the bottom of the first lift hill (the upward-sloping section of the track), it can be off as much as three feet at the top of the lift hill, depending how tall it is? That’s a coaster I don’t think I want to ride!

This past year has felt a bit like being on a roller coaster. Many of us have been shocked by the events and news reports that seem to challenge the very core of our beliefs. We live in a time when women are talking about transgender issues, political elections, and Supreme Court decisions on the one hand while struggling to know what really is true, noble, just, and pure (Phil 4:8–9).

Perhaps the place in which we find ourselves today is like the proverbial roller coaster that was a quarter of an inch off at the bottom of the lift hill. The issues that a decade ago didn’t seem like a big deal to slide a half-inch have now set us on a course where we feel we are about to fly uncontrollably off the track.

…We may not be building roller coasters, but we are mentoring, discipling, and influencing the lives of others. And it’s important to recognize there are many things that can move us off course from the truth.

We have the responsibility to make sure we are not even a half-inch off.

Warnings of Twisted Truth

Scripture warned that there will come a time when some will try to twist truth and deceive, even to the point of calling evil “good” and good “evil” (Matt. 24:4–51 Tim. 4:12 John 7; Isa. 5:20–21). Additionally, we have been commanded to grow in our ability to discern in order to test all things and to approve those that are excellent so we can hold fast to what is good (1 Thess. 5:21–22Phil. 1:9–11; Eph. 5:8–11). But I fear we have loosened our grip, and we are about to fly out of the seat.

Biblical Discernment: Four Ways to Develop

Discernment is being able to decide, determine, distinguish, or discriminate what is truth and what is error. So what is truth? It’s whatever God decrees. How do we, as women, build up those discernment muscles in order to know truth and recognize what is error? Jude 20–23 gives four admonitions that help us develop biblical discernment, which will keep us on track.

  1. Build your faith (v. 20) by being secure in knowing what and in whom you believe. The only way to do that is to continually read, study, and be consumed by the Word of God. You must engage and immerse yourself in what is truth so that when you encounter error, it can’t help but be obvious. How much does the Word permeate your typical day? How secure are you in your knowledge of who God is?
  2. Pray in the Holy Spirit (v. 20). You can have true biblical discernment only in and through the Holy Spirit. Pray without ceasing, being in constant communication with heart and ears wide open. Are you staying in constant communication with the Spirit, or do you have an on-again/off-again connection?
  3. Keep yourselves in the love of God (v. 21). How are you to love God? By being obedient to all He has commanded and walking accordingly (2 John 6:1, John 15:9–10). Are you picking and choosing some things to obey and letting others slide, or are you daily striving to walk obediently?
  4. Look for the mercy of our Lord (v. 23). That is, keep your eyes fixated on Christ. Paul puts it this way in his letter to the church at Colossae: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). When we take our eyes off those things above, we become distracted and frightened by all that is going on around us. What are your eyes fixated on today? What things easily divert your eyes away from Christ?

Biblical Discernment: Four Ways to Practice

As women’s ministry leaders, we have an added responsibility when it comes to the women we influence.

  1. Know what you believe, why you believe it, and be able to articulate it. If you can’t articulate it, you can’t counter lies with truth.
  2. Help the women you lead develop biblical discernment by teaching the whole counsel of God, not just the easy, feel-good parts we like.
  3. Recognize your responsibility to be on guard for the “savage wolves” that will come in attacking the flock ( Acts 20:28–29). You are the gatekeeper for what is let in and exposed to the women you lead. Keep your guard up, testing everything.
  4. Be willing to redeem and rescue. Jude 22–23 makes it clear that there is a time to be compassionate and redeem those who have strayed off course and there is a time to sound all alarms, rescuing someone before they are lost.

Yes, it does feel a bit like a roller coaster ride today, and you may wonder how in the world you are going to be able to navigate all that is to come. The answer? Look to Jesus, the One who can keep you from falling out of your seat.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen (Jude 24–25).

March 9, 2015

Discernment Versus Judgmentalism

One short article, and an excerpt from a longer one:

What is the difference between discernment and being judgmental?

 It is important to understand the difference between being judgmental and discerning truth from error. In Matt. 7:1, the Lord said, “Do not judge lest you be judged.” Then, in verses 2-5 he warns against trying to correct others without first correcting what is wrong in our own lives. If we deal honestly deal with our own hearts, etc., then we have the responsibility to help others. But there is also a warning in verse 6. He said, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine” (vs. 6). How can we know that someone, in their spiritual condition, is like a dog or a pig (i.e., someone who is incapable of appreciating the truth—apathetic, cold, indifferent), unless you judge, discern their character or their spiritual condition?

This passage does not teach that judgments should never be made. In fact, Matthew 7:5 specifically speaks of removing the speck from your brother’s eye. But the Lord’s point is that no one is qualified nor able to do that if they are habitually critical or condemnatory of the specks in someone else’s eye when they themselves have a plank—a hyperbole for effect—in their own eye. Such are not truly interested in righteousness, only in playing spiritual king of the mountain.

So, as in selecting elders and deacons for office (1 Tim. 3), judgment is sometimes needed, but those making the distinctions (krino„, judge, means “to distinguish” and thus “to decide”) must first be certain of their own lives and their motives. We need to ask questions like, Am I doing this to show how much I know? Am I trying to play spiritual king of the mountain? Do I think I am better than they are because I know something they do not know? These are some of the logs that we must remove from our own eyes (hearts). We are not judging people when we discern behavior or beliefs that are clearly unbiblical. For an excellent passage on having a judgmental spirit versus a discerning spirit, read Paul’s teaching on the problem of doubtful or questionable things in Romans 14.

Furthermore when seeking to help others, we must exercise care to discern their spiritual appetites and do what would be appreciated and beneficial. We need to test the waters, so to speak. Ask a question in a non-threatening way to see if they might be open to discussion. “Would you be interested in what the Bible has to say about astrology?” We do this because one should never entrust holy things (what is sacred) to unholy people (dogs; cf. “dogs” in Phil. 3:2) or throw … pearls to pigs. Dogs and pigs were despised in those days. This is one of the reasons the Lord spoke in parables. He did so to hide truth from the indifferent and to reveal it to those who were hungry and prepared.

Finally, remember that the ultimate issue is not seeking to get people to change their behavior, but come to know and believe in Christ. This includes biblical repentance, but in a salvation context, that means recognizing their sinful condition and need and turning from their sources of trust (religion, human will power, cultism, astrology, etc.) to trust in Jesus and His death for their sin. It does not mean cleaning up their lives and then trusting in Christ. Only Christ can change lives in a way that is significant.

For this one complete, you need to click the header below; this is just a representative sample of three general paragraphs, but the article distinguishes between judging non-believers versus judging fellow-Christians:

Does the Bible Tell Christians to Judge Not?

…As Christians, we should be living godly lives so that we can first concentrate on our own repentance of sin. Sanctification is a lifelong process of being transformed every day into the image of Christ. Without this, we have no place in helping another brother or sister. What Christ teaches His believers in Matthew 7 is that if we ourselves are not personally repenting of our sins, we are in no place to tell others how sinful they are acting. But the Bible does tell us to preach the gospel—and part of the gospel message is that people are sinners in need of salvation…

…Are we being loving if we allow our fellow brethren to remain in error and even deceive others? Of course not. Loving others requires that we graciously correct them when they fall into error (Matthew 18; 1 Corinthians 1:11; Galatians 6:1). Those who err do not necessarily know they are in error; they are possibly  deceived or ignorant. So we gently and carefully correct the error in regard to teaching, no matter what the situation. After all, this is one of the responsibilities of the church: to teach sound doctrine and correct erroneous teaching (2 Timothy 2:25, 3:16; Titus 2:1). For example, we have to use discernment (judging between right and wrong) if we are to obey verses like 1 Corinthians 5:11–13; 6:4; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Timothy 6:20; and Titus 3:9, just to name a few…

…Those people who call for tolerance and quote “judge not” out of context are not using sound thinking. Their call for tolerance is impossible because as Christians, we are called to judge righteously, and judging between right and wrong is something we do every day—and it should be a part of biblical discernment in every believer’s thinking. But it is God’s Word that makes the judgment on morality and truth, not our own opinions or theories…


Every once in awhile we encounter articles that won’t fit here due to length, but which we think C201 readers might have some interest. Today we have two for you:

  • From Genesis 3’s garden narrative to being “clothed with the righteousness of Christ” this article covers (no pun intended) it all. Check out A Biblical Theology of Clothing.
  • Who did Jesus have in mind in Matthew 25, when he spoke of “the least of these?” This article focuses on how scholars view this passage, and it is a different result than what we pick up from casual reading. Check out What You Probably Don’t Know About ‘The Least of These.’

August 31, 2014

The Role of Discernment in Ministry

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Six months ago we introduced you to Bryan Lowe and if you didn’t then, I want you to take a few minutes to read his story

Bryan’s journey is tough to read. However, by God’s grace he writes daily devotional material that is both real and informative. On some days, his writing reflects struggle and discouragement…just like David did in many Psalms! (And just like you and I deal with, except that we never share it with anyone or let it show.)

You can click the title to read this at source and look around his blog, Broken Believers. Either way, take an extra minute to closely consider the quotation that appears at the beginning of the article. (Pause at that point after you read it.)

Discernment and Your Ministry

 

“He begs God on behalf of a human
as a person begs for his friend.”

Job 16:21, NCV

I’ve been thinking about a class I had in Bible School.  The instructor made a comment that has stuck in my thinking for over 30 years now.  I have relied on it countless times in ministry since. It has helped me piece together certain issues of the heart.

When we “preach” to a person, we are actively accelerating the judgement of God in their life. When we pray for that same person, we delay this judgement and allow more room for the Holy Spirit to work.

Preaching

Now I know this is a generalization, and yet the basic premise of preaching and praying has a specific action.  When you preach, you are calling that person to make a decision.  They meet up with the truth and must decide for themselves.  This is a very sensitive moment.  If they consider your message at all– you must understand, one way or the other, that it will require a decision.  Either they act on it, or they’ll decide to reject it.

Within the Bible we often see judgement coming to someone, and very often it comes right after a “declaration of the truth” by a witness or a sermon.  Those who hear the word must choose to believe it, or spurn it.  Even a neutral position is a position. A decision must be made on all light that comes their way.

Prayer

Perhaps this may be easier to see.  The Word is full of men and women who interceded for others.  If preaching accelerates God’s judgement on a person (or group,) than prayer decelerates it.  In a sense, authentic intercession can give them more time.  It delays things, without approving them.

A classic case is Abraham.  He intercedes, and by doing so desires to save and deliver God’s own.  He “stands in the gap” for the unaware.  We see him “negotiating” with the Lord, trying to make a deal of sorts. He is bold and somewhat presumptuous. And actually, this is a regular occurrence with different circumstances.  Many in scripture do seem to get intensely involved in the lives of the people they represent.

“I will surely not stop praying for you, because that would be sinning against the Lord. I will teach you what is good and right.”  1 Samuel 12:23

Conclusion

Should we preach or pray?  We must consider, I think, the certain obligations of both.  I believe at the end of a person’s life, they have had both dynamics working.  Its like the tide– it ebbs and then advances, and perhaps that will help us to do the right thing at the right time.  We understand the necessity of preaching, and just as important the work of prayer.  We must do both, but grasp the issues behind each work.  Both are necessary for one to come to faith in Jesus.

Seeing the effects of our actions brings us into a deeper understanding of the life in the Spirit.  It motivates and will guide us.  We start to understand the Lord’s ways and become aware of what is happening in the world that is around us. This new discernment can only sharpen our work.

March 4, 2011

Discernment: Two Gifts in Scripture

It was the title of this post that caught my eye.  Dr. Greg Burts, at the blog Dying to Live, called this post Are There Too Many Milk Drinkers? But then he goes on with something that suggested to me that perhaps many Christians lack discernment because they’re thinking in terms of the supernatural gift that’s mentioned in a list of other supernatural gifts that perhaps they see as outside their spiritual reach.

Throughout 2,000 years of church history, there have always been those who distorted the Scriptures. Paul provides a “who’s-who” list of false teachers to avoid in 2 Timothy. With increased television and Internet exposure for anyone who wants to promote his ‘take’ on Christian teaching, has there ever been a greater need for Christians to exercise discernment?

We need people with discernment who can detect false teaching (Heb. 5:14), and spot impostors who try to mislead them and others (2 Tim. 3:13-14). You may be saying, “but I don’t have the gift of discernment.” But Paul is not talking about the “gift of discerning spirits” found in 1 Corinthians 14. He is talking about discernment as a quality each of us is expected to grow in (Phil. 1:9).

And you can sense Paul’s frustration as he writes: “You have been Christians a long time now, and you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things a beginner must learn about the Scriptures. You are like babies who drink only milk and cannot eat solid food. And a person who is living on milk isn’t very far along in the Christian life and doesn’t know much about doing what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who have trained themselves to recognize the difference between right and wrong [discern] and then do what is right” (Hebrews 5:12-14 NLT).

Dr. Greg Burts.

May 15, 2022

Approaching God: Awe, Obedience, Reverence, Fear, Caution

One of the most frequently appearing writers here is Elsie Montgomery who writes at Practical Faith. For this year, she is following readings in a book called Daily Treasures from the Word of God by Leona and Nicolas Venditti, published in 2012. She says, “I will read what they have to say listening to what the Lord is saying to me, write my thoughts here, and pray for His enabling to apply them to my life.”

To read this where it first appeared, click the header which follows.

Power of Reverence

READ Hebrews 5–8

Experience and the Word of God tells me that answered prayer is not a simple matter. It rarely happens unless I keep my communion with Him clear through confessing known sins. It never happens when I pray selfishly or plainly outside of His will. Today’s reading offers another thought; God hears the prayers of those who deeply reverence Him . . .

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. (Hebrews 5:7)

Bible dictionaries say that the words translated reverence mean “a feeling of profound respect” yet also a “certain element of awe, which may be interpreted in some instances as implying even fear.” The implication of such reverent fear or awe is, of course, obedience. Some scholars prefer to interpret these terms as ‘to obey.’ One dictionary says this word is properly understood as “caution” with religiously reverence or piety yet implying dread or fear. An English dictionary says reverence is profound respect and love and a reverent attitude toward God means honoring Him, expressing gratitude to Him, and obeying His commandments.

Another says common synonyms of reverence are adore, revere, venerate, and worship. While all these words mean “to honor and admire profoundly and respectfully,” reverence presupposes an intrinsic merit and sacredness in the one honored with a similar depth of feeling in the one honoring.

In other words, reverence is about my response but it is more about God. The idea of fear comes with the realization that I do not pull God’s strings. He IS in charge and every breath that I take is by His grace. Knowing His power and other qualities should produce in me total cessation of ‘doing my own thing’ and a deep desire to fit in with His plans. Jesus did that. He knew the Father could save Him from death and knew He heard His cries, yet said, “Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” Prayer is not about getting my own way but yielding to God’s way, sometimes in holy fear. This is being like Jesus.

The New Testament also talks about patience being the mark of maturity or being like Jesus. He was always emotionally calm in the face of provocation or misfortune and without complaint or irritation. It comes to us through trials and is also a huge part of reverence. Respecting God and not taking matters into my own hands requires patience and total faith. Hebrews 6:12 & 15 says it is “through faith and patience” that God’s people inherit God’s promises.

Maturity also involves discernment. This reading speaks of having my senses trained to rightly understand the visible realm of reality and the equally real realm of the unseen. God gives Scripture and the Holy Spirit so I can sense the unseen and not be swayed by the constant pull of the world and evil forces to pull me away from following Jesus and instead resorting to sinful self-effort.

Discernment also combats false doctrine and gives an accurate perception of what is really from God and what is not. Scripture warns believers about the devil appearing to be an angel of light. I need to discern fully the powers of darkness and realize how patience and discernment are both tied to spiritual maturity. Both have a strong relationship to effective prayer and to “holding fast to the hope set before us.” (Hebrews 6:18)

The marvel is that even if I pray incorrectly or fail to pray at all, Jesus still “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25) Jesus prays for me, protecting me from the evil one and from destruction. He is my Savior; I am not.

Another beautiful thought from this reading is the power of the gospel that begins a life of knowing God and growing in that patience that marks maturity and that ensures God’s ear to our prayers:

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:10–12)

The bottom line for all this is three-fold. Discernment is a gift that enables me to know the Christ of Scripture and not be distracted from Him as my source of all that is godly. Being like Him means reverence, not mere ‘joyful worship’ but the awe that is mixed with fear and obedience that considers His power and ownership of all that concerns me. If my prayers are to be heard and answered, then I must discern all that distracts me from Christ and know all He desires from me so I can yield all of my life to this amazing God of glory.

May 11, 2022

Hate What is Evil, Hold Tightly The Good

We are — once again — breaking the six-month rule to share an extra devotion with you from our online friends at DailyEncouragement.net. I would hold up Stephen and Brooksyne Weber as an example to anyone who wants to create a devotional/Bible-study blog. Click the header below to read this where it first appeared.

Calling Good An Abomination

Listen to this message on your audio player.

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20).

“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

Today’s message is written concerning current events here in the USA but the teaching is applicable wherever you may live.

For nearly 50 years among the most contested cultural and moral issues here in America has been the legalization of abortion, more specifically the killing of innocent life. In 1973 the Supreme Court decision asserted that abortion is a “constitutional right”. Two days ago a leaked report indicated that this decision may be overturned which has reignited simmering coals to a blazing hot fire in what has been called the culture war.

The report resulted in an emotionally strong reaction from both sides reinforcing the reality that there is a deep, deep division on this subject matter. But I was especially struck each time a statement played over and over on the news made by a prominent senator. He used a word from the Bible that describes what God strongly hates and abhors when he asserted that the decision to overturn Roe V. Wade would be “an abomination” (see here).

That immediately caught my attention since one of the abominations mentioned in the Bible is child sacrifice. “They built the high places of Baal that are in the Valley of Ben-hinnom to make their sons and their daughters pass through the fire to Molech, which I had not commanded them, nor had it entered My mind that they should do this abomination, to mislead Judah to sin” (Jeremiah 32:35). Essentially he was calling an abomination the opposite of what God calls an abomination!

“An abomination is something that causes hate or disgust. In biblical usage, an abomination is something that God loathes or hates because it is offensive to Him and His character.”(gotquestions.com)

Today let us examine timeless truths from the Holy Scriptures that address this matter as we seek insight and needed discernment.

We have used the first daily text many times in the course of writing these messages over the last 25 years, especially the first part, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil”. Evil is increasingly called good and good is increasingly called evil. Evil has existed during every generation after the fall but there are certain periods of time it increases and other periods, such as revival, when it’s tamped down a bit. You can see this in Israel’s history during the period of the Judges with the ebb and flow of good kings and evil kings.

In the 1960’s the church, whether liberal or conservative branches, was practically unanimous in its understanding of life, marriage, family and sexuality:

1) Life begins at conception.
2) Marriage is a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman.
3) The family is the fundamental unit in society.
4) The moral understanding that sexual relations were reserved for marriage.
5) God created male and female.

For that matter even society at large had these moral underpinnings. Hollywood used to have Biblical standards which was reflected in the Hays Code in the 1930’s regarding the movies they produced to be viewed by the public!

But throughout my lifetime there’s been a steady erosion of morality and subsequently so much “calling evil good”. This has brought about the inevitable corollary; good is called evil, even abominable. And with a deep fog of spiritual blindness enveloping our country (and many other countries) people are frustrated and confused. There seems to be a huge lack of discernment.

Several years ago a nationally known preacher made a statement concerning our present moral condition that is imminently Biblical and sensible regarding the obvious consequences to children being raised without a father’s influence. He was excoriated by the national media with the typical charges of being intolerant, narrow-minded and of course hateful.

Among the signs of our culture’s moral downfall is the failure to uphold the Creator’s standards, which has led to great confusion as to what even constitutes evil.

What a powerful message in our first daily text. “Woe” is a literal transliteration of the Hebrew. In other words it’s an expression that sounds the same in Hebrew, English or any language (similar to the word, “hallelujah”). Woe is also an onomatopoeia, which is when the formation of a word imitates the natural sound associated with the object or action involved. Consider the sounds of deep, painful wailing. Isaiah’s “woe” is timeless.

“Woe” is an exclamation of pain and grief. As our culture drifts farther and farther from its Biblical moorings we see the truth of Isaiah’s proclamation. Do we also feel his exclamation of woe as well?

What is the subject of this woe? Three are listed in the daily text.

Those:

1) who call evil good and good evil,
2) who put darkness for light and light for darkness,
3) who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

Biblical morality is being turned on its head, not only in Isaiah’s cultural setting but also in our own lifetime. Sometimes I am stunned by that which is so contrary to the right and wrong I was taught as a child now being accepted by non-believers and sadly even some professed believers. Today much of what is evil is called good and what is good is called evil.

The second daily text is a zinger of truth that we all need to hearken: “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

Today let us remain faithful to the perspective that God gives us through the inspiration of Scripture. As unpopular, “intolerant”, socially insensitive, and politically incorrect as it may be described, let us continue to call evil “evil” and to call good “good”. For sure, let us not call a good decision an abomination!

As God’s children let us hear the words of the apostle Paul and “hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9).

 

February 8, 2022

Making a Spiritual Checklist, and Checking it Twice

We’re breaking the six-month rule to share an extra devotion with you from our online friends Stephen and Brooksyne Weber who faithfully write devotions at DailyEncouragement.net from their beautiful home in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania where, alongside editing and preparing weekday devotions like this one, they are in full time workplace chaplaincy ministry.

Click the header below to read this where it originated and you might find yourself clicking “previous message” or “next message” to read more!

Taking Spiritual Inventory

Message summary: Taking spiritual inventory enables us to examine ourselves so that we can correct ourselves on a regular basis to make certain we bring glory to God in the manner in which we live our lives.

“But let a man examine himself” (1 Corinthians 11:28a). “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Randy is an inventory control specialist we see at a company that is a wholesale distributor of car wash supplies. The other day I was inquiring about his job and he told me, “I just love inventory”. Now in this day with so much laxness in regard to a solid work ethic his enthusiastic assessment of his job is heartening.

An inventory control specialist tracks inventory and stock changes. Responsibilities include overseeing inventory control, managing deliveries, inspecting inventory, maintaining inventory records, and ordering products. For a well run business it is an essential and very important job. But it’s a good thing that God made people with different gifts and interests because I can’t see myself saying, “I just love inventory”!

But Randy’s comment also prompted me to consider the vital importance of taking personal inventory of our own lives. That’s not something we necessarily enjoy, but it is beneficial since it shines the light on what really matters and that which we need to lay aside and the sin that might easily entangles that keeps us from running with endurance the race that is set before us. (See Hebrews 12)

In taking personal inventory we must reflect inwardly and take stock of our lives. Personal inventory can apply to our health, finances, family, goals and many other areas of life. But today let us consider a spiritual inventory, a self examination of the most important aspect of who we are.

“But let a man examine himself.” Today’s first Scripture verse is in the context of partaking of Communion at the Lord’s Table. Before one eats and drinks of the emblems representing the broken Body and shed blood of Christ he is instructed to “examine himself”. Of utmost importance in this personal spiritual exam is the answer to these foundational questions:

* “Do I have saving faith in Christ?” (Romans 10:8,9).
* “Do I have unconfessed sin in my heart?” (1 John 1:9).

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.” In the second text Paul uses two words (“examine” and “test”) to emphasize his point. “Examine” is the Greek “peirazo” which conveys the sense “to scrutinize”. “Test” (“prove” KJV) is the Greek “dokimazo” which has the sense of discernment.  It implies the expectation of approval and is thus a very positive function. We need to regularly (I believe daily) examine and test our spiritual walk. Let’s confess sin, express faith, and practice obedience daily.

This vitally important exam asks this question, “to see whether you are in the faith”. Then there’s a sobering follow-up question, “Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”

In his article “The Place Of Self-examination” Bible teacher S. Lewis Johnson comments concerning this verse:

“There are literally millions of professing Christians who need to pay attention to this statement of the apostle. They have entered into a shallow commitment to Christianity, they’ve joined the church, they’ve been baptized or they’ve done other things that might make them think that they are genuine believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. They’ve been encouraged to think that, by men who’ve not been careful to point out that, there is more to becoming a Christian than subscribing to a statement. They don’t hate sin. They don’t love holiness. They do not pray. They do not study the word of God. They do not walk humbly with God. These individuals, so many of them stand in the same danger in which the Corinthians stood. And the apostle’s words, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith, examine yourselves,” are valid words that each of us should ponder.”

Taking spiritual inventory enables us to examine ourselves so that we can correct ourselves on a regular basis to make certain we bring glory to God in the manner in which we live our lives.

Colossians 1:10-12 provides a list of examination items for our consideration. We will phrase them as personal questions:

* Am I living in a manner worthy of the Lord?
* Am I pleasing Him in all respects?
* Am I bearing fruit in every good work?
* Am I increasing in the knowledge of God?
* Am I being strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might?
* Am I attaining steadfastness and patience?
* Am I joyously giving thanks to the Father?

Daily prayer: Father, I ask myself, “Am I living in a manner worthy of Your name? Do I seek to please You rather than myself? Does the fruit of my labor reflect the Spirit of Christ living within my heart? Do I have a zeal for the things of Christ and a desire to know Him better, to reflect His character every day in my life? Am I steady or do I sputter in my Christian influence?” Father, in all these things I want to be more like Christ, consistent in the ways that bring glory to Your name and growth in my spiritual nature. I want my spiritual walk to be the most important pursuit of my life as I journey here below so that I may influence as many as possible to live for Jesus, for it is in His name that I pray. Amen.

Be encouraged today, (Hebrews 3:13)

February 7, 2022

Aaron: The Significance of the Symbols

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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We return once more to the site My Morning Meal, written by Peter Corak. I found this article really brought to life a passage I had perhaps rushed through previously. Clicking the header which follows will take you to where we located it.

Aaron Shall Bear

Reading in Exodus this morning. And what catches my attention, and imagination, is a phrase repeated four times in the instructions concerning the priest’s garments.

The uniform to be worn by Aaron was, to say the least, pretty elaborate. And, I’m thinking it must have weighed a ton. No light weight, sweat resistant, high-tech stretch fabrics here. Instead, multi-layered garments of thick coarse yarn and fine linen. Supplemented with onyx stones for the shoulders and twelve precious stones interwoven within the breastpiece. Add to that chains of pure gold attaching this to that through rings of gold, and I’m thinking this is a pretty weighty garment.

But it’s nothing compared to the weight of what it signified. The weight born by the priest before the LORD in the Holy of Holies.

And you shall set the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel. And Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders for remembrance.

(Exodus 28:12 ESV)

So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the LORD.

(Exodus 28:29 ESV)

And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron’s heart, when he goes in before the LORD. Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the LORD regularly.

(Exodus 28:30 ESV)

It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts. It shall regularly be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.

(Exodus 28:38 ESV)

Aaron shall bear.

Aaron was to carry, take, lift up, support, and sustain. The weight of Aaron’s garment had direct correlation to the weight of Aaron’s responsibility to bear the sons and daughters of the exodus before the LORD of their deliverance.

He would bear their names, on his shoulders and on his heart, before the Lord regularly. Bringing the people of Passover before the God who had made provision for them to be passed over. A reminder, a memorial, of the people God had redeemed through the blood of a lamb. Aaron would carry symbols bearing the names of the tribes of Israel. And when He saw them, God would look afresh upon the people — each one, name by name — who He had led out of Egypt with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. God providing Himself a perpetual reminder of the people He had promised for Himself.

Aaron would also bear the judgment of the people. Not judgment as in divine punishment, but judgment as in divine discernment, determination, and direction for a set apart people. With a heart for their good and God’s glory, not only would Aaron bear the peoples names before the Lord, but would bear the LORD’s will concerning their ways.

Lastly, Aaron shall bear any guilt for the peoples’ less-than-holy holiness. With “Holy to the LORD” born on the front of his turban, he would compensate for the blemishes of well-intended sacrifices. He would stand in the breach of offerings which came up short, though offered sincerely. It was because he stood in the gap, that the worship of a less than perfect people could be a sweet-smelling savor to a thrice holy God.

God would remember His people. God would lead His people. God would look past His people’s imperfect worship. All because Aaron shall bear. All because the high priest would carry God’s people into God’s presence. He would take them, lift them up, support them, and sustain them as they sought to walk with God in their midst.

Jesus is our High Priest.

► A merciful and faithful High Priest in the service of God (Heb. 2:17).
► A great High Priest who has passed through the heavens (Heb. 4:14).
► One who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15)
► and bridge the gap because He is “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (Heb. 7:26)
► Even now “seated at the right hand of the throne of Majesty in heaven” (Heb. 8:1).

Aaron shall bear . . . the remembrance of God’s people, on his shoulders, over his heart, and upon his head into the presence of God. A picture that, in like manner but to a far greater degree, Jesus shall carry His people too.

Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

(Hebrews 7:25 ESV)

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

What wondrous grace. To God be the glory!


Diversions:

We’ve seen Bible verses that frequently become memes. And we’ve seen lists of the most looked-up Bible verses at online Bible platforms. This is different. It’s a list of frequently occurring verses posted by Chinese Christians for Lunar New Year.

November 22, 2021

Prayer: Don’t Do All the Talking

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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We are continually grateful to HarperCollins Christian Publishing for blanket permission to occasionally include short excerpts from their books here. Transcription for this one was found at today at Devotions Daily. If you’re looking for a daily book excerpt in your inbox each morning, consider subscribing there.


O.S. Hawkins is a very prolific author of more than 40 books, which have sold more than 1 million copies, including The Joshua Code, The Bible Code, The Nehemiah Code, The Believer’s Code — are you detecting a pattern? — and The Jesus Code, and preaches regularly at Bible conferences, evangelism conferences, and churches across the nation. This excerpt is from his newest, The Prayer Code. See below for a link to the publisher page for this title.

Listen to Him

While He was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” — Matthew 17:5

Many of us share a common fault in our conversations with others. So often, we fail to listen. We are so immersed in preparing to articulate our next brilliant thought that we are prone to not hear what the other person is saying. How many times have we been introduced to someone and as soon as we walk away cannot even remember the person’s name? On the mountain of transfiguration, the Father gives us some good advice. He introduces His Son, affirms His pleasure in Him, and then admonishes us to “listen to Him” (Matthew 17:5 ESV).

One of the things we often forget about prayer is that it is communication with the Lord. And communication is a two-way street. We talk… and, if we are smart, we listen even more than we speak.

Perhaps one of the most overlooked and forgotten elements of prayer is taking the time to listen to Him. He still speaks to us through His Word and by His Spirit. God is essentially saying to us here, “This is My Son; I love Him; I am pleased with Him. Stop talking so much and listen to Him.”

After the resurrection, Jesus showed up on the road to Emmaus to perfectly illustrate this need in all of us to take time in prayer to stop talking and simply “listen to Him.” For three years the disciples had walked with Christ, talked with Him, virtually lived with Him, when suddenly it all came to an abrupt and crashing conclusion: Jesus had been viciously executed and His body tossed in a cold, damp tomb. Then, all the disciples “forsook Him and fled” back to their own abodes (Matthew 26:56).

Two of these followers headed home to Emmaus, a village seven miles west of Jerusalem. As they walked in discouragement toward the sunset that afternoon, they exclaimed to one another,

We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. — Luke 24:21

But they had buried that hope when the body of Jesus was placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. Dejected and dismayed, they were walking proof that there is never power in the present when there is no hope in the future.

But, then — suddenly — the resurrected “Jesus Himself drew near and went with them,” but they “did not know Him” (Luke 24:15-16). After this incredible encounter “their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight” (Luke 24:31). And their response?

Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road? — Luke 24:32

Isn’t this one of our most pressing needs today? That is, burning hearts that come from listening to Him along our own Emmaus road.

LISTEN TO HIM AS HE SPEAKS TO US THROUGH HIS SPIRIT

Their hearts were set on fire when “He talked with [them] on the road.” Jesus was doing the talking, and they were doing the listening. Their hearts did not burn when they talked to Him, or when they talked to each other about Him. Their hearts began to burn with a new passion when they stopped talking to Him and to others and started listening to Him, spirit to Spirit.

There comes a time when we need to stop trying to perform, stop offering our petitions, even cease our praise for a moment, and simply be still and listen to His still small voice speaking to our spirits, and heed the admonition of our heavenly Father to “listen to Him.”

LISTEN TO HIM AS HE SPEAKS TO US THROUGH HIS SCRIPTURE

The Bible remains a sealed book until God’s Spirit opens its truth to us. We may gain a head knowledge of Him through the Bible, but we will never be able to understand a heart knowledge, a spiritual discernment, until, like the disciples, He talks to us along the road and opens the Scriptures to us (Luke 24:32). And we do the listening.

Jesus “expounded” to them in all the Scriptures the things that concerned Himself (Luke 24:27). The word expound connotes the thought of translating something out of a foreign language. The Bible is really a foreign language to those who do not believe.

Beginning at Moses… He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.

From the Pentateuch to the Prophets Jesus preached Jesus.

From Moses to Malachi He revealed how the entire Jewish Bible speaks of Him. As He spoke to them, a shadow of the cross fell over the Jewish Bible. He was that ram at Abraham’s altar in Genesis. He was the Passover lamb in Exodus, whose spilled blood meant freedom from slavery and deliverance from death… and still does. He was that scarlet thread out Rahab’s window in Joshua. And the good shepherd of whom David spoke in the Psalms? Jesus was that shepherd. As the disciples listened, they understood that Jesus was the suffering servant spoken so eloquently about by Isaiah. And He was the fourth man in the midst of the fiery furnace in Daniel. No wonder their hearts began to burn within them. He was doing the talking… and they were doing the listening.

The disciples’ immediate response was noteworthy. They “rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem” to exclaim to all the others,

The Lord is risen indeed! — Luke 24:33-34

Their glowing hearts turned into going hearts. With beating, burning hearts they scurried back to Jerusalem, around the corners, down the narrow alleys, up Mount Zion, to find the others and share the good news. And they shared it not with an emaciated question mark, but with a bold exclamation mark: “He is alive!”

One of these Emmaus followers was named Cleopas. His companion is left unnamed. I like to think this is so in order for you and me to find ourselves in his or her place as we walk on our own road today. Perhaps you are reading these words with your own hopes dashed and your own dreams smashed.

Stop.

Look.

Listen to Jesus’ Spirit through His Scriptures.

He is still speaking. And if you listen, you just might walk away with your own heart burning within you.

“Listen to Him.”

CODE WORD: CELL PHONE

Today, when your phone rings and you answer and begin listening, let it remind you that prayer is a two-way conversation also. Stop doing all the talking; listen to Him!


Excerpted with permission from The Prayer Code by  O. S. Hawkins, ©2021 Dr. O. S. Hawkins.

Read more about the book from Thomas Nelson.

To sign up for Devotions Daily, click this link. (But don’t leave C201, we love you, too!)

 

November 15, 2021

Deleted Devotional

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. Matthew 18:6 NLT

“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.” – Mark 9:42 NKJV

Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. – Luke 17:1-2 NIV

He said to his disciples, “Hard trials and temptations are bound to come, but too bad for whoever brings them on! Better to wear a concrete vest and take a swim with the fishes than give even one of these dear little ones a hard time! – same Luke passage, The Message.

 

 

While writing original material takes some time, the more frequently-used daily “beg, borrow and steal” approach actually involves just as much, as posts from other sites have to re-formatted for what we do here, including the trademark placing of scripture verses in green.

So I was already 15 minutes invested in a post planned for yesterday when I realized I simply couldn’t present it. The writer had used a quotation originating with another faith group (a religion whose name you would recognize) and while that in and of itself is not grounds for rejecting it, a closer look at the writer’s work made the choice obvious.

But as I say, it was a process. In my mind I had gone from
“this is a really creative illustration”
to
“this is really edgy for us here at C201”
to
“I wonder if our readers are all on-board for this”
to
“This is a really, really bad idea.”

Now, some of you will say, ‘If you liked the writer’s material; why not do what you always do and just choose a different article?’

The problem was that this writer was clearly a universalist in his theology. A universalist is someone who believes that many (if not all) of the major religions of the world offer equally valid pathways to God.

However, the writer operated within the framework of being in vocational ministry as a ‘Christian’ pastor.

In other words, if I were to say to you, ‘I believe there are many ways to God,’ that would be one thing; you know where I stand.

But if I say, ‘I am a the lead pastor of XYZ Christian Church,’ but then you find out in talking to me or reading things I’ve written over an extended period of time that I see Christianity as simply one of many expressions of means of salvation; then you would have every right to be upset with me for either (a) not stating my beliefs up front, or (b) perhaps ‘using’ Christian employment as a means of income when in fact my beliefs were not centered on this historic claims of Jesus, or the core doctrines of his followers as outlined in scripture.

I would argue that there’s some dishonesty implicit in that situation, but I would also remind you that much discernment is needed.

Unfortunately, stories of such people employed in vocational Christian ministry but denying the exclusive claims of Jesus are all too common. Some of these people start out very orthodox, but allow themselves to fall into a more liberal reading of scripture texts, or perhaps, because advanced scholarship and higher criticism (rightfully) points out areas where we’ve misinterpreted key passages, they then proceed to call everything into question…

…Sometime, perhaps a month from now or several months from now, I may indeed highlight an author who borrows a quotation from another religion’s literature. There’s nothing wrong with that if the illustration or principle is being properly used in connection with the Bible-based teaching that’s being advanced. However, there are other times alarm bells start to sound and you know that you’re crossing a line.

In this case, the decision began with reading the quote out loud to Ruth, who was working at the computer next to mine, and then discussing it further. (There is value in ministry partnerships; even informal ones.) I also realized in writing the introduction (that you never got to read!) that rather than explaining the writer’s use of the quote, I was trying to justify it, and that, combined with doing some simple online research into their ministry left no doubt that I was dealing with a devotional that readers here will never get to see.

 


Something positive to end with:

Directly adjacent to two of the parallel accounts of Jesus saying the words which form our theme today, there are some contrasting positives:

If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded. – Mark 9:41 NLT

“And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me. Matthew 18:5 NLT

November 4, 2021

Pushing for Passion about God Without Being Pushy

Thinking Through Ezra and Ruth

by Clarke Dixon

Great to be getting back to normal, right? We are back into the swing of things in our post-pandemic world!

Except that we are not.

Whether in society or in church, it feels like we are taking faltering steps back to normal. When the pandemic hit, everything changed as if someone flicked a switch. As one of our leaders has said, it now feels like someone is playing with a dimmer.

We are living though an experience that God’s people of the Old Testament times could relate to. When the exiles returned to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon they must have been glad to get back to normal. Except that it was anything but getting back to normal. Everything was in ruins including the temple and the very important city walls. In returning, God’s people were not stepping back into normal, they were stepping into a new normal, a new not-as-good normal.

A time for greater excitement.

Enter Ezra who prays a prayer that challenged the people of his day, and is a challenge for us in ours. Let’s break it down into two parts:

I prayed,
“O my God, I am utterly ashamed; I blush to lift up my face to you. For our sins are piled higher than our heads, and our guilt has reached to the heavens. From the days of our ancestors until now, we have been steeped in sin. That is why we and our kings and our priests have been at the mercy of the pagan kings of the land. We have been killed, captured, robbed, and disgraced, just as we are today.

Ezra 9:6-7 (NLT)

Here Ezra recognized that they were in a mess because they were messy people who had created a mess. They had lacked enthusiasm for God, breaking their covenant with God, and hence they experienced exile and the reality of a city and people in ruins. Confession is the moment we reorient our perspective around God’s perspective. Ezra did that and called for that.

Perhaps it is time we did that too?

Ezra’s prayer continues:

But now we have been given a brief moment of grace, for the LORD our God has allowed a few of us to survive as a remnant. He has given us security in this holy place. Our God has brightened our eyes and granted us some relief from our slavery. For we were slaves, but in his unfailing love our God did not abandon us in our slavery. Instead, he caused the kings of Persia to treat us favorably. He revived us so we could rebuild the Temple of our God and repair its ruins. He has given us a protective wall in Judah and Jerusalem.

Ezra 9:8-9 (NLT)

Here Ezra recognized that God is indeed good, and that God has granted the opportunity to build toward a better future. Yes, technically the Persians were in charge, so things were less than ideal, yet ultimately, God was in charge, so this was a time of opportunity, a time to reach for a better ideal.

It may feel to us today like a pandemic is in charge and everything is still in a mess, but ultimately God is in charge, there are great opportunities for a better future.

While we have only looked at a portion of Ezra’s prayer, we could summarize it this way: it was time to get excited about God. Today we can say, it is time to get excited about God! These strange days are an opportunity to stop seeking the same old, and instead to reorient our lives around God.

So how do we express that greater excitement?  

If we were to read all of Ezra’s prayer, and indeed the rest of the book known by his name, we would see how that excitement ended up being expressed. Here is one part to give us a taste:

While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites—men, women and children—gathered around him. They too wept bitterly. Then Shekaniah son of Jehiel, one of the descendants of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law. Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.”

Ezra 10:1-4 (NIV emphasis added)

In case you missed it, Shekaniah was proposing that the best way to express excitement about God, was by doubling down on the purity of the people, and the best way to do that was by sending all the foreign wives away along with any children borne by them. Ezra agreed and indeed this is what happened.

Imagine that you were there as a man who had a foreign wife, say a Moabite, and you have been commanded to divorce her and send her and the children you had together away. How does that strike you? Might you be wondering if this is really how excitement for God is to be demonstrated? While only four, at least four men expressed their doubts. Can I confess that had I been there, I would have been a fifth?

Back to placing ourselves in the story: As you walk home you hear someone reading the book of Ruth. You hear about how Ruth, a Moabite woman, had married a Hebrew man living in Moab. Her mother-in-law, Naomi, having lost her husband and two sons, including Ruth’s husband, decided to go back to Israel. She encouraged her two daughter-in-laws to stay behind in Moab. Ruth refused to stay and instead said,

Your people will be my people and your God my God.

Ruth 1:16 (NIV)

Naomi and Ruth returned to Israel. Eventually Ruth met Boaz who was her potential “kinsman-redeemer.” While we might imagine that this is a romantic love story, the focus of the book of Ruth is not the romance, but the fact that Boaz, in marrying Ruth, does in fact become her “redeemer,” with the consequence that Ruth becomes fully welcomed as a member of God’s people, Israel. The story ends by revealing the identity of Ruth’s great-grandchild, David. Yes, that David! The great king from Israel’s glory days.

So you begin to wonder, am I being asked to send my Moabite wife and our children away, yet there is Moabite blood in David, and therefore in all the kings of Judah?!

So, you think, how about instead of racing toward divorce and exclusion, the foreign wives are given the opportunity to say as Ruth did, “Your people will be my people and your God my God”? Could they not be given the opportunity to learn about God’s covenant and covenant people, to choose be included in that people? Instead it seems they were simply herded up and shipped off.

Many Bible scholars believe that though the story of Ruth was set in the days of the judges, the book of Ruth itself was committed to writing at the return from exile to challenge the powers that be. In a push for purity, people were pushed aside. The book of Ruth pushed back on this. In the book of Ruth God’s people were not defined by national purity, but by covenant love. Would not a nurture in covenant love, something Ruth expressed for Naomi, and Boaz expressed for Ruth, have been the better way?

So how does this help us express our excitement for God in our day? 

When we read only Ezra we may think there is a clear cut instruction to always push for purity no matter what the consequences may be in the lives of others. Many people bear scars, not from following Jesus, but from attending and participating in churches. We do well to remember that the book of Ezra relates history to us, and just because someone does something and it gets recorded in the Bible, that does not make it the best thing to do, the “Biblical” thing to do.

When we read Ezra and Ruth together, we realize they do not give us a clear cut “this is the way you express excitement for God, walk ye in it” kind of instruction. Rather, they cause us to reflect on what it should and should not look like to express our excitement for God. The Bible pushes us to seek wisdom and discernment. The Bible calls us to lay aside simplistic answers, to experience depth.

The foreign wives in Ezra’s day were not even given a chance. There is no record of an invitation. How many are never really given a chance in our day? Are people in our society really hearing an invitation to know the love of Jesus? Or are they only hearing us push for purity? Have we become so focused on the purity of the church, of building and rebuilding walls, of defining who’s in and who’s out, of shouting each other down, that any invitation is drowned out, that the one invited already feels pushed away anyway?

The fact that Ruth was a foreigner did not disqualify her from the possibility that Boaz could be her kinsman-redeemer and that she could become part of the people of God and an ancestor of Jesus. There is nothing about the people beyond the walls we have erected in the name of purity that disqualifies them from the possibility that Jesus can be their redeemer. Do they know that? Do we know that?

Yes, Ruth said to Naomi “your people will be my people and your God my God.” I suspect that Ruth saw something beautiful about the people and God she was committing to based on her experience of Naomi’s family. I don’t think the foreign wives of Ezra’s day saw much that was beautiful when they were herded up and shipped off. Are we expressing excitement for God as beautiful people in beautiful ways? Or is it getting ugly?

There is a tension here between Ezra and Ruth that is hard to resolve. Perhaps we should avoid easy answers, but learn instead to lean into the tension, learning to seek wisdom and the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

In conclusion.

As we head into a new normal, let’s not get back to how things were, but rather move forward into a better future, where there is greater excitement about God, where there is an honest search for wisdom, discernment, and Holy Spirit guidance on how our excitement for God is best expressed.


Regular Thursday contributor and Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon initially posts the devotions here at his own site, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. To watch the full sermon on which today’s writing is based, click this YouTube link.

November 1, 2021

Be Careful How You Judge

Today our search for good devotional material took us to Lamp and Light, and writer Jason Smith who lives in Oregon, a state in the western US. On his “About” page he writes, “…if there is one thing that will be said of me at the end of my life, I hope it is this: this man lived for Jesus.”

Because this article appeared just hours ago, I’m going to close comments here and invite you instead to click the header which appears below, and read and comment there. I know he would be encouraged if you do.

Beware a Critical Spirit

“What gives you the right to judge?”

If you’ve lived in the United States for almost any amount of time, there’s a good chance you’ve heard this question or some version of it. Maybe someone even threw this barbed question at you or someone you know. It’s a question that gets to the heart of some major cultural shifts that have been witnessed in the last several decades. It’s also a question that points to why so many seem fed up with Christianity today.

But wait a minute, someone might say. Didn’t Jesus Himself tell us we are not to judge others?

Judge Not or Judge Correctly?

Perhaps more than any other passage in Scripture, I hear Matthew 7:1 quoted today – by both Christians and non-Christians alike.

“Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1, ESV)

Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? Many will even say, “Who are you to judge? Even Jesus said ‘Judge not.’”

Certainly such a command should be taken seriously, if we claim to follow Jesus as Lord. But let’s make sure we are understanding what exactly Jesus meant by this. For example, in another passage of the New Testament, the crowds are quick to criticize Jesus – even calling Him “demon-possessed!” That’s when Jesus showed them the error of their ways and added,

“Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” (John 7:24, NIV, emphasis added)

So, which is it? Are we to judge or not judge? We like simple and straightforward answers to this question, don’t we? And yet, as with so many other areas of human relationships, the answer has to be more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no.”

Let’s consider the Matthew 7 quote in its full scriptural context. After saying “Judge not,” Jesus goes on to say this:

“For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.” (Matthew 7:2-5, ESV)

There’s a lot to unpack here, but if we seek to understand Jesus’ words we can avoid one of two errors that people often make. The first error is to think “judge not” is an absolute statement calling us to forsake all moral judgment or critique. The second error is to judge with a Pharisaical or self-righteous judgment.

Pharisaical Judgment

The first thing we need to see is that judgment here is akin to the word criticism. Jesus is chiding those who were eager to make harsh criticisms of others. This is seen in the ridiculous image Jesus paints for us. If you have read this passage before and completely missed Jesus’ use of righteous satire, there’s a good chance you missed what He’s saying.

Imagine someone walking into church with a massive tree trunk sticking out of his eye. To the amazement of everyone around him, the poor guy is somehow unaware of this ocular protrusion. How do you even broach the subject when he’s acting as if nothing is wrong? You then watch as he suddenly approaches one of the gentlemen staring at him in wonder.

“Listen, pal,” says Mr. Tree Trunk. “It seems that no one else is willing to tell you this, but you have some kind of black speck stuck in your eye. Here, I don’t want to embarrass you, but let me see if I can get it out of there.”

To which the other man, still startled by the size of that log, blurts out, “No, no! Thanks, but I think I’ll ask someone else to help with that.”

The whole scene sounds absurd, and yet it makes Jesus’ point perfectly. Jesus talks about things stuck in our eye, because very often our harsh criticism is the result of blindness to our own faults. To criticize someone else when we are struggling with the same thing (maybe even to a greater degree!) is to play the hypocrite.

Why Are We Quick to Judge?

It is part of our human nature that we tend to minimize the seriousness of our own sins and failures while we magnify the shortcomings of others. This can stem from spiritual pride – even if we don’t consider ourselves religious. We all have an inner Pharisee that is eager to make others look worse in order to make ourselves look better by comparison.

Take inventory of your own heart. When you hear about someone else’s failures, are you quick to condemn? Is there a part of you that smiles when others are exposed for wrongdoing? Do you jump at opportunities to show others to be in the wrong simply because you are gratified by being right?

There are times when we might be absolutely right, but the way we are speaking is shortsighted and harsh. Maybe it’s because we’re speaking like someone who has the goal of tearing others down rather than building them up.

Are you better at seeing the good intentions of others or finding errors in their thinking? Too often, we can criticize someone else only to find out later that we had no understanding of their unique situation. Proverbs 18:13 says, “To answer before listening— that is folly and shame.”

The Pharisees felt they had to bolster their own self-image, because for them everything hung on being seen as righteous and morally praiseworthy. But when you understand that your righteousness comes from Christ through faith, you no longer feel the need to be superior or self-righteous. When you understand your own guilt has been removed by Christ, you won’t feel the need to find guilt in others.

Why We Can’t Neglect Discernment

Secondly, let’s note that Jesus is not calling for an absolute ban on any and all moral judgments. We’ve already noted that Jesus elsewhere calls people to “judge correctly” or to make sober judgments in the right way. And in Matthew 7, Jesus goes on to say, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs” (v. 6). Picking up Jesus’ metaphor for those who mock and malign us, how are we to know who the “dogs” or “pigs” are without careful discernment? A little later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns of “false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (v. 15). If we should never make any moral judgments whatsoever, why would He say, “You will recognize them by their fruits” (v. 20)? To determine if “fruit” of someone’s life is good or bad, one must make a moral judgment.

But even in the example of the man with a log in his own eye, Jesus tells us to “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5, ESV)

In other words, Jesus isn’t calling us to stop correcting people who are in error. Jesus is saying that until we have examined our own hearts first and confessed our own sin to God and others, we are in no position to confront others. A good question to ask ourselves before issuing criticism is: “While my situation is different, is this something that I too struggle with in some way?”

God calls all His people to live in holiness, so of course Jesus still wants us to speak the truth in love to one another (Ephesians 4:15). If God calls something “sin,” so should we. Sin is always destructive, and God’s commands are for our good (Deuteronomy 10:12-13). When we keep this in mind, we can warn both ourselves and others against it. Jesus calls the clear-eyed to help the brother with the speck out of love.

Elsewhere the New Testament says:

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. (Galatians 6:1, NIV)

Confronting a brother or sister in sin is something Jesus explicitly calls His followers to do. But this is so important: the goal must always be restoration. The goal is not to expose, embarrass, condemn, or make an example of someone. To confront someone in love is to say, “I know that what you are doing offends God and can only bring harm to yourself and others in the long run. So please come back to the Savior who loves you too much to let you go your own way!”

Tenderness in tone goes a long way here. That’s why Paul says to restore the person caught in sin “gently.”

Jesus, Friend of Sinners

Let’s remember that Jesus came into this world not to condemn, but to save.[1] If you are at all familiar with the teachings of the Bible, you know it says that every last one of us are sinners. Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.” All includes you, me, and everyone else in the line of Adam. What does that have to do with being overly critical?

Well, if I am a sinner who deserves condemnation but instead receives grace from God, that should radically shape the way I deal with others. As a Christian, I know that Jesus found me when I was lost and showed me incomprehensible grace when I was headed for the ultimate judgment of hell. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NIV). To forget this in my relationships with others is to forget the greatest thing that happened to me.

How quickly we can forget that because of Jesus’ compassion for the lost, He was frequently found with the biggest sinners. Why? Not because the perfect Son of God wanted to join in their sin, but simply because He loved them and knew they needed Him. How ironic that we don’t find Jesus sharply criticizing the sexually promiscuous or materialistic tax-collectors. Instead, it was for the religious leaders that Jesus reserved His sharpest criticism, the very ones who mocked Him with the label “Friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19).

Cruelty, slander, and mud-slinging happen in the world. We know that. We know people get canceled and shamed and ostracized without a fair hearing. But that should not happen in the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus does not delight in a church that looks down on a sinner who has lost their way.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who goes after that wandering sheep with the goal of bringing it back to the fold. That should be our hearts, too. And as I look at my own heart, I confess there are times that I’ve jumped to conclusions about people without giving them a fair hearing. That is always wrong, and Jesus calls us to do better than that.

Christians of all people should understand the importance of being slow to criticize. We should take our cues from Jesus and be known for humbly loving those with whom we strongly disagree. We should confront religious hypocrisy while being especially watchful about such hypocrisy in our own hearts.

Question for reflection: Am I more eager to confront hypocrisy in others than I am willing to confront it in my own life?


[1] John 3:18.

 

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