Christianity 201

August 17, 2017

Neither Magic Nor Rocket Science, Ephesians 6:12

by Clarke Dixon

12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)

You can imagine the first readers of Paul’’s letter becoming excited with these words as many of them would have been new believers who had previously worshiped pagan deities. They had known all along that there were spiritual realities beyond what could be seen, that there were spiritual forces at work, and indeed this had always been a part of their pagan world-view. You can imagine also the ideas creeping back as to what to do about these forces of evil in the heavenly realms. What libations can we pour out? What oracles must be consulted? What offerings must be brought? Tell us, Paul, what to do that we can influence these spiritual forces!? What does Paul come up with?

13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Ephesians 6:13-18 (NIV)

In other words: Be honest. Be good. Be ready to forgive and make peace, showing others the way to God’s forgiveness and peace. Keep the faith. Trust in God’s power and love. Trust in God’’s Word. Communicate with the Lord. Do we notice how down-to-earth this list of things to do in the face of evil spiritual forces really is? There is no magic to be performed here, no rituals that will protect from evil or influence the spirits as those coming out of pagan religions would be used to. Rather there is the encouragement to be godly, to be becoming more like God. The reference to the armor of God is a reference to His character traits and His resources as the Old Testament references make clear (see post on Ephesians 6:1-20). Tap into that, not magic or ritual.

Sometimes in our attempts to be spiritual today we can unwittingly introduce pagan-style superstition into our faith. My wife once worked at a Christian bookstore not far from an army base, and as preparations were made for a deployment of soldiers, suddenly crosses and Saint Michael medallions became hot sellers. While wearing a cross can serve as a powerful reminder of God’s love, and for Roman Catholics the Saint Michael medal can be a reminder of God’s protection, I have no doubt that there are those that think that actually wearing such increase your chances of being protected. This kind of thing is pure superstition. Sought after items too, were St Joseph statues as some believe you will sell your home faster if you bury the poor fella in your yard. Even better if he is upside down! This too is superstition. Our prayers themselves can also become superstitious. Some think that if we just say the right words, or keep up with some regimen, our prayers are more likely to be answered. Do we do this kind of thing in our communications with our loved ones? Of course not, then why would we with our Lord? When it comes to prayer, He wants to engage with us, not our superstitions.

In Ephesians Paul is encouraging us to be aware of spiritual realities and spiritual forces, but our faith, in both belief and practice, turns out to be a really down-to-earth thing. Let’’s watch out for superstition creeping in.

At this point we need to consider an objection. Some will respond with: ‘Well is not the whole Christian faith one big superstition?’

We do not have the time to go into detail here, but no. Belief that God exists has much to commend itself. Let us not forget the likes of C.S. Lewis who came to Christ, not through a preacher’s appeal like at a Billy Graham crusade, but through thinking about it for a long time. In fact, the Christian faith is tied to a historical, or perhaps we might say “down-to-earth” event, namely the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Look at the beginning of Christianity and you will not find the spreading of a superstition or philosophy or the like, but rather knowledge of a historical event. You will not find the making public of ideas hatched in private. You will find the making more public something that had happened in public, the meaning of which was being worked out in public. (I forget the name of the blogger who should get credit for much of the last two sentences.) Christianity from day one was a very down-to-earth kind of thing; spiritual realities based in historical realities. In fact so ’down-to-earth’ was their faith that the early Christians were accused of spreading atheism since they encouraged skepticism towards all superstitious belief.

This brings us to the other extreme our passage will guard against. If some tend towards believing anything, even that which smacks of the superstitious, there are those who will believe nothing. Our verse is an affirmation that there are “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Some want to believe that there are neither spiritual forces, nor heavenly realms, that all that you can see, is all that there is, or at least all that is worth knowing about.

But is that a good way to look at things? There are many things that can not be seen, but are known. For example, though some may have seen a brain, no one has ever seen a mind. You cannot examine a mind under a microscope. We know the two are connected somehow, but we have no idea how. There are now about eight billion people in the world which works out to about eight million minds. That is eight billion bits of evidence that things exist which cannot be seen. A mind, however, can be experienced. So can God.

Also, history proves that hidden things can become apparent. There is much that could not be seen in the past which we now know about. Many of the things we believe about our planet and universe would not be believed by the ancients as they did not have the same access to such knowledge. Travel back in time and share what you know, and you will be faced with many sceptics. Travel forward in time and you will find realities like judgement and salvation being very much observed and experienced. The Bible gives us a window on truths that have been observed in the past, such as the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, but also a window on truths that can not yet be seen.

The teaching of the Bible is clear: There are spiritual realities around us that we should not expect to see. However, the existence of spiritual forces does not invite us into a world of superstition, but rather deeper into living for Jesus.

Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

August 16, 2017

Can People Be Saved via Other Religions?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to the website BibleKnowledge.com and an article on a subject sometimes called universalism. Note that the end there are links to other articles in a series on this topic, including one pertaining to the eternal destiny of those who have never heard; who have never been evangelized. You may land the plane differently on these issues, but the view presented is the one which has served Evangelical Christianity well for nearly all of its history. Click the title below to read at source:

What is Inclusivism?

Inclusivism is a view that includes all religions in God’s plan of salvation. Inclusivism is “inclusive” (hence the name) of all religions in salvation and says that a person can be saved regardless of his or her faith and/or religious practice.

Both a Buddhist and Hindu can be saved in this view — regardless of the fact that they believe in different things and hold to different views about man and the world.

Inclusivism is a view that is in contrast to exclusivism. If inclusivism means to include religions, then exclusivism is a doctrine that excludes religions or faiths. Christians who hold to exclusivism believe that one must assent to the teachings of Christ and believe that He is God and the way to eternal life if they hope to be saved.

Christians who hold to this view also disagree with all other religions and argue that a Buddhist and a Mormon, for instance, cannot be saved as adherents of their faiths; rather, the Mormon and Buddhist must turn to Christianity and Jesus in order to find salvation.

As usual, Christians want to know: Is there biblical evidence for inclusivism?

  1. That is, can people be saved by way of religions other than Christianity?
  2. Can an individual be saved through his or her belief in Buddha, Brigham Young, or some other god (Confucius, etc.)?

The Bible states unequivocally that one can only experience God’s salvation through faith in Christ, as can be demonstrated by the following passages:

  1. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12, NASB).
  2. “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
  3. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
  4. “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (Jn. 3:18).
  5. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (Jn. 5:24).
  6. “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me” (Jn. 5:46).
  7. “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal” (Jn. 6:27).
  8. “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (Jn. 6: 29).
  9. “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (Jn. 6:40).
  10. “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (Jn. 10:9).
  11. “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor Him” (Jn. 12:26).
  12. “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am” (Jn. 13:13).
  13. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (Jn. 14:6).
  14. “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (Jn. 17:3).
  15. In all these verses, it is Jesus who is to be believed in, whose name humans are to believe in so that they can experience God’s salvation. John 3:18 says that judgment awaits the one who does not believe on the name of Jesus, God’s “one and only begotten Son.” In other words, there is only one whose name we must believe in to be saved — that is, the name of Jesus. This is the same message Peter proclaims while preaching publicly:
  16. “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

First, notice that salvation comes through “no one else,” that “there is no other name under heaven” that can save humanity.

Peter’s words seem to exclude the possibility that God’s salvation can come through the names of Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, or some other human that mankind has elevated throughout world history. Peter’s statement does not so much as entertain the idea that mankind can be saved through the names of others who are not Jesus Christ.

Although inclusivism seems to be an intellectually acceptable position, it does not have biblical support. If one can only be saved by confessing the name of Jesus and following His teachings (Christianity, cf. Luke 14:26-27), then one cannot be labeled a follower of Jesus while practicing Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Mormonism, Hinduism, or the Muslim faiths.

If inclusivism lacks biblical support, the next question is as follows: Can Someone Turn Receptive to Christ by Way of General Revelation? Inclusivists also hold to general revelation as a source of conversion, but as will be shown in the article, General Revelation is Inadequate for Salvation.

August 15, 2017

The Measure of God’s Goodness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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One of my earliest “online friendships” with another Christian blogger was with Rick Apperson who is a Salvation Army officer in British Columbia, Canada and also the author of Killed by the Church, Resurrected by Christ, published by Westbow. Although he is not actively writing right now, I found this 2016 article and wanted to share it with you. Click the title below to read at source. See if you can sense which paragraph of the article inspired me to give it the title we used here.

Is God Good?

I have often heard the question asked, “Is God Good?”

When I answer in the affirmative, the follow up tends to be, “well then why does He allow suffering?” Or even, “Then how can He send people to Hell?”

It would seem that everyone wants to experience His grace, mercy and love but no one wants to hear His truth!  We want the good and none of the bad. The Bible clearly says the God is love (1 John 4:8), but it also says that He is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29).

So if God is good, then how come He punishes those who refuse to repent? I appreciate this quote from Salvation Army officer,  Samuel Brengle (1860-1936): In his book Love Slaves he writes that “Fire will not only bake our food, but it will burn us. Water will not only quench our thirst and refresh us, but if we trifle with it, it will drown us.”

God is good, but He is not to be trifled with. He has given us the freedom to choose eternal life in Heaven or Hell, to follow or reject Him. We can accept His wisdom and submit to His will, and live in true joy and peace, or, we can reject His offer of life in Christ, and pay the eternal consequences. Holding  us accountable for our sins does not negate His goodness.

God is good, loving, compassionate and slow to anger, but He is also holy and righteous. We can’t continue on a path that breaks His laws and not expect to be disciplined anymore than we can continually break man’s laws and not expect punishment. I can choose to obey the law of the land and enjoy the privileges of being a citizen in good standing, or violate those laws and reap the consequences…the choice is mine but being punished in the courts is not the fault of the ones who set the law in place, it is the fault of the lawbreaker.

Is God good? Absolutely.

Is He fair? Undoubtedly.

The question isn’t really is God good but Who will I follow and obey, my own idea of truth or His?

For me, Psalm 84:10 says it best,

“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

August 14, 2017

Owning It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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In Daniel 9, we see Daniel praying on behalf of the nation:

“O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands. But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land.

I can’t help but think as I read this that what he prays collectively has to begin individually, it has to begin with me. This is often contrary to our nature. We think ourselves righteous. It’s harder to pray:

But I have sinned and done wrong. I have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. I have refused to listen to your servants…

And yet, each time I ignore the commands of God, or rationalize some behavior, or allow myself some license in some area of thought or action, I am scorning God’s commands.

When our pastor spoke on this on Sunday he said you can’t always choose the place you live in, but you can decide where you are going to live toward. He contrasted living toward Jerusalem with living toward Babylon.

Our service ended in a time of confession, and then I sought someone to pray with me individually. I admitted that I am not living toward Jerusalem 24/7. I am distracted by worldly ideas. If you’re a guy, are you tempted by the girl at the mall in the miniskirt? For me it’s ideas and concepts. One single phrase or sentence in an online article can be as devastating to me as the girl at the mall is to you. My worldview warps; my mindset skews.

Psalm 139 ends with the type of mind inventory I need constantly:

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

About two and a half years ago we looked at a quotation by Jerry Bridges where he says, “We never see sin aright until we see it as against God.”

In Psalm 51, David writes:

Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
    I have done what is evil in your sight. (v.4a)

but he realizes he needs help to get back to the standard:

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and make me willing to obey you. (v.12)

If I were truly, truly sorry for past sins, I would never repeat them.

In the linked piece above, we included this graphic image:

We have to be truly sorry for our sin. Not the collective our, but the individual our.

I have to be truly sorry for my sin.

Heb. 10:25 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.

Prov. 15:10 There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; whoever hates reproof will die.

 

 

 

 

 

August 13, 2017

Mankind Worships That in Which He Sees Glory

This is the second post in our new series, Sunday Worship. In combing the internet looking for suitable material, we discovered the blog Ascents and this 2015 article. The phrase which forms the title of the post here is one that stood out. Truly, if we see the glory of God, we simply must and will worship.

Clicking the original title below will take you to the original article, which is always encouraged.

“Now” He is Glorified!

by Tim Adams

…Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; (John 13:31, NASB95).

Why would Jesus make this statement at the moment Judas leaves to betray Him? Prior to His humiliation; just before being handed over to sinful men and made to stand trial. How is this moment glorifying?

Jesus, Son of Man, is about to become both the means and object of our worship, and the ball is now rolling downhill.  At this moment, events are being set in motion that will not only bring about the completion of Christ’s earthly ministry, and the redemption of man; but in just a short while Jesus will be shown to be exactly what He has claimed to be–what He has always been.  He will be shown to be God incarnate.  Soon Jesus will rend the veil, rise from the dead, and take His place at the right hand of the Father in heaven, becoming our perfect mediator by removing the barrier between us and God, (Heb. 12:2).

Mankind worships that in which he sees glory. Ancient Egyptians worshipped the sun because in it they saw glory.  Modern man worships his favorite sports figures because he sees glory in the display of dominating athletic prowess. Since the fall man has, as Romans 1 tells us, exchanged the glory of God for other objects of worship. He has chosen to see glory in that which was created, rather than his creator (Romans 1:22-25).

But, God has provided for us another way. It is a way in which we are made able to see God in Christ, the glorified Son of Man; and are made able to worship Him in the manner He is worthy of.  This way is the way of the cross.  Christ’s death on the cross is the single most important event to ever take place. It is the very fulcrum of world history. At the cross, what was a mystery has been made clear to those who have been changed by it.  And, in this cross of suffering–in the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, the Son of Man is truly glorified.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory, (Ephesians 1:7–12, NASB95).

 

August 12, 2017

Get Wisdom; Get Understanding

Today we’re paying a return visit to the blog with the unusual name: Warning! Sleep Talking Zone. You really need to click through on this one because Christy, who posted this has a lot of passion which comes through in different rich text elements (bold face, larger font, etc.) which you don’t get to see here. (But you’ll feel at home, she puts the scriptures in green!) So for a better rendering of today’s devotional study, click the title which follows:

Let the Wise Listen

I just wanted to share something that stood out to me from my Bible study so far this week. This week’s Torah portion is Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11; Deuteronomy 4:6 is what I mainly want to focus on, but I will include verses 1-9 for context:

“And now, O Yisra’ĕl, listen to the laws and the right-rulings which I am teaching you to do, so that you live, and shall go in and possess the land which Yahweh Elohim of your fathers is giving you.

Do not add to the Word which I command you, and do not take away from it, so as to guard the commands of Yahweh your Elohim which I am commanding you. Your eyes have seen what Yahweh did at Ba‛al Pe‛or, for Yahweh your Elohim has destroyed from your midst all the men who followed Ba‛al Pe‛or. But you who are clinging to Yahweh your Elohim are alive today, every one of you.

See, I have taught you laws and right-rulings, as Yahweh my Elohim commanded me, to do thus in the land which you go to possess. And you shall guard and do them, for this is your wisdom and your understanding before the eyes of the peoples who hear all these laws, and they shall say, ‘Only a wise and understanding people is this great nation!’For what great nation is there which has Elohim so near to it, as Yahweh our Elohim is to us, whenever we call on Him? And what great nation is there that has such laws and righteous right-rulings like all this Torah which I set before you this day? Only, guard yourself, and guard your life diligently, lest you forget the Words your eyes have seen, and lest they turn aside from your heart all the days of your life. And you shall make them known to your children and your grandchildren.” (ISR)

There is SO much just in these few verses that really stand out to me, but I made it obvious where I am going in this post.  Verse 6 says that guarding the Torah (I have mentioned in other posts that Torah simply means “instructions”) of Yahweh is our wisdom and understanding. I couldn’t help but think of several verses in the Book of Proverbs where wisdom and understanding is mentioned.  I think it would be safe to say that wisdom and understanding is the theme of the Book of Proverbs.  Wisdom is personified and frequently referred to as “she” and “her”:

 Wisdom calls aloud outside; She raises her voice in the broad places.

Proverbs 1:20

 And now, listen to me [Wisdom], you children, For blessed are they who guard my ways.

Proverbs 8:32 

We see in Proverbs 8:32 the same exhortation to guard the ways of wisdom that we saw in Deuteronomy 4!

 1 Chronicles 22:12 we read David instructing his son, Solomon: “Only, let Yahweh give you wisdom and understanding, and command you concerning Yisra’ĕl, so that you guard the Torah of Yahweh your Elohim.”

 Job 28:28 says that the “fear of Yahweh is wisdom“, and “to turn from evil, that is understanding.

Going back to Proverbs, in the fourth chapter there is a sense of urgency concerning wisdom and understanding:

 Children, listen to the discipline of a father, And give attention to know understanding;

For I gave you good instruction: Do not forsake my Torah.

For I was my father’s son, Tender and the only one in the eyes of my mother, 

Then he taught me and said to me, “Let your heart hold fast my words;

Guard my commands, and live.

“Get wisdom! Get understanding!

Do not forget, and do not turn away From the words of my mouth. 

“Do not leave her, and let her guard you; Love her, and let her watch over you. 

“The beginning of wisdom is: Get wisdom!

And with all your getting, get understanding. 

“Exalt her, and let her uplift you; She brings you esteem when you embrace her.

“She gives your head a fair wreath, She shields you with an adorning crown.” 

Hear, my son, and accept my words, And let the years of your life be many. 

I have taught you in the way of wisdom, I have led you in straight paths. 

When you walk your steps shall not be hindered, And if you run you shall not stumble. 

Hold fast to discipline, do not let go; Watch over her,

for she is your life.   Proverbs 4:1-13

And in Proverbs 23:23 we read this advice: “Buy the truth and do not sell it – Wisdom and discipline and understanding.”  There are so many more verses that I could share from Proverbs alone, but I will stop there.

In the New Testament we read about Paul praying for Believers to be “filled with the knowledge of His desire in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, to walk worthily of the Master, pleasing all, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of Elohim.” (Colossians 1:9-10) And in Colossians 4:5 Paul exhorts Believers to “walk in wisdom“.

Paul is not the only New Testament writer who wrote about wisdom.  James instructs us to ask for wisdom:  “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of Elohim, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it shall be given to him.” (James 1:5) And then in James 3:17 we read:

“But the wisdom from above is first clean, then peaceable, gentle, ready to obey, filled with compassion and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” I put in italics “ready to obey” because it is the same thing as “guard” that is used in the other verses.

Throughout the entirety of the Bible we see a consistent thread connecting wisdom and understanding to Yahweh’s Torah, and how His children must diligently guard the Torah.

The Torah of Yahweh IS wisdom and understanding. 

 Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.
Proverbs 1:5 (ESV)

August 11, 2017

Who Was Jesus?

As the Pharisees were regrouping, Jesus caught them off balance with his own test question: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said, “David’s son.” – Matthew 22:42 MSG

In the part of Toronto where I spent the most time in my teen and twenties, there was conservative, King James Only church with a back-lit sign on their building which read,

What think ye of Christ?

The question is the first part of Matthew 22:42 — which the NIV translates as “What do you think about the Messiah? — which I’ve written about before here:

This is probably the question that should be on everyone’s lips at Christmas, at Easter, and other times as well; though you might choose a more modern rendering. The story is not content to have its hearers close the book on the final page. Rather, the book gets stuck open, simmering, percolating, demanding something of each individual with whom it comes in contact. It’s like a computer program you can’t shut down until you respond to a question in a dialog box. It stares at you, and goes, “Well? …Well? …What about it?”

Whenever you hear phrases like “great moral teacher” in reference to Jesus, you need to be aware that during his time on earth Jesus was a great teacher, the answer is selling Jesus short in so many ways.

So what answer are we looking for? The second part of I Corinthians 12:3 reads

…no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.

One online writer calls this The Litmus Test of True Believers. I would agree, but want to take this one step further. While certainly Jesus is Lord to me, I want to suggest the question is best answered with a general reply that goes further than my subjective view. After all, I’m human. I could pledge support to anything or anyone but that wouldn’t mean a whole lot to anyone other than other people who have taken up the same cause.

In Philippians 2 — the section sometimes called The Philippian Hymn — Paul writes (or quotes; depending on how you understand this passage):

5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
6 Though he was God,

–I stop there in the middle of verse 6 because not all who show up in a church on Sunday would say that ‘Jesus = God‘ even though Jesus said it himself as quoted in John 14:

8 Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus replied, “Philip, I have been with you all this time, and still you do not know Me? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me?

Another time he reveals himself as “the Christ” the anointed one.

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being.

Of course, if time permits, and you can remember a longer answer, you might answer this way as Paul does in Colossians 1:

16 For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and firstborn from among the dead, so that in all things He may have preeminence.…

He is then,

  1. God
  2. My Lord
  3. His disciples’ glimpse of the Father
  4. The world’s awaited Messiah
  5. The universe’s creator and keeper

and so much more. So…

What think ye of Christ?

 


Because you never know who’s reading. You might ask why a blog called Christianity 201 would run a rather elementary article today and the answer is because you never know who’s reading. For the rest of us, success in the Christian life depends on sticking to the fundamentals. The ‘What think ye of Christ?’ question is one we need to ask ourselves from time to time.

Who is Jesus to me?

August 10, 2017

Jeremiah and the Popularity Contest

by Clarke Dixon

“Your popularity has gone down 25%!” Such was a new expression one of my boys brought home from school as a way of expressing annoyance. I suppose I should have been happy that my son was learning percentages, or that my popularity was not dropping near as fast as my other sons. What I was not so happy about was the lifting up of popularity as something of great importance.

As prophets go, Jeremiah was not popular, indeed he went beyond being unpopular to being hated. And little wonder, Jeremiah 1:10 gives a nice summary of what Jeremiah was expected to do:

See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”
(Jeremiah 1:10 NRSV)

You may have noticed that the description of Jeremiah’s call has twice the amount of negative sounding items as positive. Read the entire book of Jeremiah and you will notice that Jeremiah spends most of his time prophesying destruction and hard times. Such messages would not help his popularity rating! Jeremiah’s contemporaries preferred a kinder, gentler, and of course, more popular message, but Jeremiah remained faithful. Had he cared more for his own popularity than God’s truth, he would have faded into obscurity as a prophet not worth remembering. Like most of his contemporaries he would have become irrelevant.

There is a great effort in the Church today to try to be relevant, to regain some of the popularity we perceive ourselves to have lost. There are those who think the Church can be relevant if it pays attention to the shifts in society in world-view and ethics and make similar shifts, “keeping up with the times” as it were. However, the opposite is true. It is by maintaining the distinctive teaching from God’s Word that we become relevant. It is when we play the popularity game that we become irrelevant.

Jeremiah lived in a time and place where his message was necessarily negative. The time had come for judgement, for which there was no sugar coating, and about which Jeremiah could do nothing. As Christians we live in a time and place where our message will necessarily be unpopular.

Let’s consider one of the most unpopular teachings of the Church in our day. Consider our message regarding sexuality. The message of the Church that sex belongs within marriage sounds antiquated to many, judgemental and negative. Should we play the popularity game and change our views? While viewed negatively by society, there is much to commend a Biblical view of sexuality. Sexually transmitted diseases are not transmitted by God fearing people. Marriages are not ripped apart by adultery among God fearing people. The Canadian definition of marriage today may as well be “the relationship among the many we have had that we hope lasts the longest.” Among God fearing people marriage is a fundamentally different relationship from any other relationship ever had, not just the longest lasting among many. “Being faithful so long as we both shall live” rings deep and true when a person can speak of “being faithful so long as I have already lived.” Faithfulness to one’s spouse can and should begin long before the wedding day. But even if there was nothing practical to commend our message, faithfulness to it would still demonstrate our faithfulness to God, and that ought to matter. The message of the Church with regards to sexuality is not popular today. But that should matter to us about as much as the popularity of the message of judgement mattered to Jeremiah. What matters is faithfulness to God, and it is by remaining faithful to Him we remain relevant to our society.

There are many other examples of Christian teaching that will be unpopular; belief in the supernatural, belief that abortion is wrong, belief in the importance of sobriety, belief that Jesus is the only Saviour, belief that other world-views are wrong. We can not expect the Church to win a popularity contest while it holds to these teachings. But neither do we need to enter a popularity contest. God calls us, like he called Jeremiah, not to popularity, but to faithfulness to Him, and to true and lasting relevance.


Read more at Clarke’s sermon blog: clarkedixon.wordpress.com

August 9, 2017

Initially, Job Got It Right; But Then…

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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One of the consistently finest sources we have used here at C201 is Paul Tautges at the website Counseling One Another. Breaking our six-month rule, this is his twelfth appearance here. As always, click the title below to read this at source.

Four Reasons Job Stumbled

Job started so well. His faith was as invulnerable to Satan’s onslaughts as a turtle snuggled up inside its shell is to the frantic pawings of a dog. Job tucked his head and feet inside his faith in God and said, “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Later, however, Job was rebuked by God for his complaining spirit. What went wrong? There are at least four reasons Job’s trust in God took a tumble. First, he listened to bad counsel.

Avoid Bad Counsel

If you are going to handle your calamity in a wise, God-honoring manner, you must ignore well-intentioned but unbiblical counsel. If Job’s counselors had been from the church in our era, they probably would have said, “Job, look at these terrible things that are happening to you. We have to break the generational curses that have power over your life. We have to cast out the demons of skin disease. You need to send 500 dollars to the faith-healer, I. M. Acharlatan, at Better-for-a-Buck Ministries.” People will say all kinds of crazy things to you when calamity strikes (“don’t worry, God didn’t know this was going to happen.” Really? now I am worried!). Don’t let their well-intended but unbiblical counsel trip you up spiritually and send you sprawling. To handle calamity, you must ignore unbiblical advice with a gentle smile and a thank you. People speak to you because they care; receive their counsel with a gracious attitude, but don’t let their unbiblical advice throw you into a tailspin like Job did.

Time Keeps On Tickin’

A second reason Job went off the rails was that he let the termite of time gnaw at his faith. According to Job 7:3, Job’s grief and the burning torment of his physical ailments had extended for months by the time his friends arrived. Job’s suffering felt eternal; the sheer duration of it was wearing him down. Like an eager marathon runner, Job bolted off the starting line of faith, but as the race of responding to his calamity stretched out mile after mile and day after day, Job’s faith began to stumble and stagger. Time is a killer in trials. Like Job, we start with strong faith, but as we tick off days on the calendar, turn over the page to a new month, eventually buy a new calendar for next year, and then a new one for the year after that, we can easily despair. Time makes trials hard.

The Expectations Trap

A third reason Job stumbled is he had false expectations of God. In chapter 29, Job listed his many accomplishments. For example:

  • He was a respected civic leader: “When I went out to the gate of the city … the old men arose and stood” (29:7–8).
  • He was adored by the poor and disadvantaged because of his philanthropy: “I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame” (29:15).
  • In summary he declared, “My steps were bathed in butter, and the rock poured out for me streams of oil!” (29:6).

Because of his success and his great kindness to others, Job had built up some expectations—things he believed God owed him because he had been good. In chapter 30, Job had this flash of insight into his confused and angry heart: “When I expected good, then evil came; when I waited for light, then darkness came. I am seething within and cannot relax; days of affliction confront me.” (30:26–27)

Job’s summary is both pathetic and perfect: “When I expected good, then evil came” (30:26). The expectation that God owes me good if I have been good is dangerous because it leads to feelings of betrayal and anger at God. God, however, never promises endless good if we are a devoted mother, a patient father, a faithful taxpayer, or if we don’t run with the wrong crowd at school. To handle calamity rightly, Christians must avoid Job’s mistake of building up the expectation that “God owes me because I’ve tried to be good.”

The Shield of Faith

Finally, besides bad counsel, time, and expectations, there was one other reason Job stumbled: he lost his grip on the shield of faith. In chapters 1–2, Job was solidly entrenched behind an impenetrable barrier of faith in God’s wisdom—a perfect example of Paul’s teaching about the shield of faith in Ephesians 6. The soldiers of the ancient world often carried large shields. When enemy archers fired a volley of arrows, they ducked behind those shields and let the arrows harmlessly ricochet off. In Job 1–2, Job had done just that. Satan had fired a barrage of fiery darts at him, but the shield of Job’s faith had deflected them all. That’s how faith works: no arrow of Satan—no matter how hot or deadly—can overwhelm simple, childlike faith: “I’ll trust God whether I understand what he is doing or not.” In chapter 3, Job allowed the handle of the shield of faith to slip from his sweaty fingers. Rather than preoccupy himself with believing trust, Job allowed his thinking to be dominated by frustrated expectations and, later, by the disheartening, untrue accusations of his friends. In the Gospels, the man cried, “I do believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). In calamity, we must voice a similar cry to Christ: “I believe; rescue me from my doubt, fear, anger, and unbelief.”

For these reasons, Job stumbled. But, thankfully, that is not the end of the story. In heartfelt worship, Job returned to a fear-of-the-Lord-faith which enabled him to humbly walk with God the rest of his days.

[This post is a chapter excerpt from Joel James’ helpful mini-book, HELP! I Can’t Handle All These Trials. If you find yourself in the midst of a painful trial, or know a friend who is, you will benefit from reading Joel’s counsel from the life of Job.]

August 8, 2017

Living as a “Mugwump”

by Russell Young*

God strongly condemns living as a “mugwump.” A “mugwump” is someone who lives with his mug on one side of the fence and his rump on the other. He or she is partially committed to living for Christ but has not divorced himself or herself from the world. A mugwump wants the pleasures or benefits they perceive as coming from the world as well as those promised by Christ…hope of an eternal life with Christ. Many are taught that a person can live as a mugwump. However, the Lord has prophesied, “[B]ecause you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:16 NIV) James has described these people as being double-minded. “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (Jas 4:7 NIV) He has also proclaimed the inability of the double-minded to gain wisdom. (Jas 1:8)

Believers must be careful not to be deceived. Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7─8) The Holy Spirit and the natural spirit are opposed to each other so that the confessor must make a conscious decision to accept one and to repel the other. When he or she cannot accomplish this, that person might be considered to be a mugwump. The pleasures of the world, entertained by the natural spirit, will bring destruction; obeying the Holy Spirit will being eternal life. The Lord also admonished, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Mt 6:24 NIV) This passage is a caution against “mugwumpery.”

Belief without cost is often the connotation of freedom that has allowed for fence-sitting. Evangelistic efforts often proclaim the glory awaiting the one who would profess a commitment to Christ. Promise of eternal security, surety of a place in God’s eternal community, allows for diminished commitment. Understanding that all believers–defined as those who have made a profession of faith–will share in Christ’s glory and rule with him, allows for a relaxed and uncommitted lifestyle. The mugwump does not seek righteousness since regardless of his or her choices Christ is promised as his righteousness.

Life is “good” for the mugwump. He or she lives a life of promise while basking in the pleasures of the world. The promises are false, however. John has recorded, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 Jn 2:15 NIV) James depicts friendship with the world as adultery. “You adulterous people don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” (Jas 4:4 NIV) Living as a mugwump is the same as being married to a wife while claiming the right to flirt, or worse, with others on the side. God is a jealous God and will not delight in the person who is not prepared to love him with all his or her heart, soul, mind, body, and strength. A believer is a person who is fully committed to the purposes and objectives of his or her Lord; He or she does not walk the path of personal interest or convenience.

Those who live as mugwumps will live to regret their positioning one day as they find themselves separated (2 Thess 1:9) from the one that they had pledged as their lord but had not committed to live under his rule.


*Starting today, Russell Young’s column here moves to every other Tuesday, or the first and third Tuesday in months having five. He is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

August 7, 2017

Give us a King

NIV 1 Samuel 8:1   When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

This passage is significant in many ways.

First of all, we see a transition from from theocracy to monarchy. To this point, God’s people were guided by prophets and priests. But they have always had one eye on God and one eye on the surrounding nations. The other nations have kings. Those kings no doubt had a certain charisma. They were the resident celebrity. Israel wanted in on that political system. In the two chapters that follow, they get King Saul.

But it’s also significant in that we see God’s desire in all of this, and it is probably best summed up in the modern phrase, “You’ll be sorry.” In the verses that follow, God explains why. There will be taxation. There will be confiscation of land. There will be a military draft, as well as a draft for skilled workers to serve  the royalty. A closer look at how the monarchy functions in other nations would have revealed this. But Israel is looking from a distance. The grass is greener over there.

10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

Plus, it’s not God’s desire. This is key. God’s ‘Plan A’ for Israel is to be a distinct people. The book of Leviticus is full of the ways in which this nation will distinguish themselves from those around. But God is seen as capitulating to their wishes.

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. 22 The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

Then Samuel said to the Israelites, “Everyone go back to your own town.”

In the general, we know that God has already foreseen everything that will take place. We know that he is sovereign and therefore in control of the situation. But from their perspective, in the particular, it would appear that God has changed his mind. That he has given in to their request, like the parent who, after having been nagged for 30 minutes, decides to take the little girl out for ice cream after all, even when he had previously stated it was too close to mealtime. In the lists of ‘the names of God’ is there one meaning ‘the God who gives in?’

There clearly isn’t, and for reasons too long to get into here. But many times we do see God listening and granting requests even after his ‘Plan A’ has been clearly stated. The Reformation Study Bible notes,

The Lord’s concession to the people’s sinful request is, at this point in the account, perplexing. If their desire for a king is sinful, amounting to a rejection of God as king (vv. 7, 18 and notes), how can God grant it? One answer lies in the standards of acceptable kingship that the Lord will establish. God is graciously willing to give the people a king and even to bless him, although not the sort of king they envisage (10:1, 7, 8 and notes). At the same time, because they adopted kingship in unbelief, they came to suffer under kings like those of the nations.

There are many modern applications here as well. On the same day this devotional is posted, I posted a review of a book dealing with the election of the latest U.S. President. It’s a story about the faith-factors which led to his victory; the intersection of Christianity and party politics. Again, this is too long to get into here, but I must repeat that God’s ‘Plan A’ desire would be that his people would be a distinct society even in the middle of a foreign land; even when in exile.

No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. – 2 Timothy 2:4

He wants us to focus on being the People of God.

As Christians, we already have a King.

 

August 6, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we’re beginning something new at C201. Each Sunday when you come here you’ll see the same title, Sunday Worship, with an article or study which revolves around some aspect of that theme, which as most of you realize, involves much more than music.

NIV Genesis 14:17 After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).

18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
20 And praise be to God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

Melchizedek blesses Abram. Isn’t that the opposite of where we should be looking to consider worship? Isn’t worship about us blessing God through our worship?

I was drawn to this passage through a chapter in Rob Bell’s book, What is the Bible? I know Bell is controversial, but hear him out on this. He writes that Abraham has been promised that God is going to do a new thing through him. He begins a covenant with Abraham. Something that has not existed prior.

But then along comes “a priest of God Most High.” So there’s already a thing. An ongoing thing. A thing that’s been taking place long enough for there to be a priesthood. And even though we’re only 14 chapters in, the writer of Genesis assumes we get what that means. Long before the birth of Levi, there is already the notion of an ecclesiastic structure; within it a group that is set apart — by the designation priest — to serve in some capacity related to the sacrificial system which, in chapter 14, is just beginning. I think that’s Bell’s point.

So Melchizedek is part of that priestly class then, right?

Maybe not. Many believe that this is a theophany, a place where God himself breaks in and makes a post-Eden appearance. Perhaps even a Christophany, an Old-Testament appearance of the Son. (We’ve written on this subject a few months ago in this article.) Really, how can anyone ignore the mention of bread and wine in verse 18? So shouldn’t Abram fall on his face and worship Melchizedek? That’s what often happens in theophanies, where the term “the angel of the Lord” is used to describe the one making an appearance. Instead, Melchizedek blesses him.

So let’s instead go back to the idea that this priest is in every sense a human like us; the idea that there is a designated structure that involves a set apart, priestly class. We have a reference to him again in Psalm 110:4 and also in Hebrews. Who does he serve? What does he do?

Remember, by the time the book of Genesis is recorded, it’s a given that we know something of the meaning of the word priest. Part of the sacrificial system was to offer animals and the fruit of the land in hope of God’s blessing. But part of it was also as an act of thankfulness for blessings already received.  It meant honoring God’s place, God’s position, God’s status, God’s authority, God’s power, God’s involvement in the everyday, God’s predisposition to bless, God’s prerogative to withhold blessing. A calendar cycle would evolve which represented the intersection of God’s work and our lives.

There was a role for the priest in all of this, as overseer of that system. In facilitating that worship.

The people didn’t worship 24 hours a day. There were fields to cultivate, animals to feed and children to tend to. But where they set apart their time, they did so with the aid and direction of one set apart to lead. In other words, before the establishment of the singers, we could see the priests as worship leaders. Just not in the sense we use that term today.

But this priest “blessed Abram.” Is that backwards?

It depends how you were raised. In a Roman Catholic context, there’s nothing surprising about a priest blessing children or even blessing objects. If our modern day worship leaders are some type of parallel or equivalent, do they, in addition to facilitating God-directed worship, ever bless the assembled worshipers? Or does that tread into the murky territory of responding to God in hopes of receiving something in return; i.e. a blessing.

I want to raise the possibility then that Melchizedek is part of something larger, and something ongoing, and something that Abraham is going to be a part of, but in so doing, he is plugging into something long-established. Something that pre-dates the new thing God is doing with him. Some that has already been taking place…

…in heaven. That is to say beyond the time constraints of this earth. In eternity. We see visions of angelic worship in Revelation but that heavenly worship is, to use a common phrase today, a pre-existing condition. In other words it follows through in Revelation but it also precedes Genesis.

And the notion of being a “priest of God Most High” is an extension of what has already taken place in heaven, is already taking place in heaven, and will continue to take place in heaven: The worship of God.

 

 

August 5, 2017

Ministry Give-and-Take

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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The Message, Philemon 8-9 In line with all this I have a favor to ask of you. As Christ’s ambassador and now a prisoner for him, I wouldn’t hesitate to command this if I thought it necessary, but I’d rather make it a personal request.

Today we’re paying a return visit to the rather unusually named Chocolate Book with writer Jackson Ferrell. Each day the author has a chocolate flavor of the day and a reading for the day (seriously!) working his way through the Bible chapter by chapter. (This is another excellent blog to bookmark if you want a commentary source in the future.) To read this at source, click the title below.

You’re encouraged to begin by clicking through to read the entire book of Philemon before beginning.

Philemon – Gospel Negotiations

Today’s PassagePhilemon

Welcome to the third-shortest book in the Bible by word count. It’s Paul’s letter to Philemon, a man who had come to faith through Paul’s missionary work. Philemon owned a slave named Onesimus, who had run away, encountered Paul, and been converted to Christianity. In the ancient world, fleeing as a slave was a capital offense, but Onesimus had tended to Paul’s needs while in prison and proven himself an enthusiastic and helpful follower of Christ. Paul found himself in a tight and complicated spot, and the letter gives us a look into his response to the problem at hand.

Full disclosure: I’m drawing heavily from N.T. Wright’s commentary on Philemon in Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters. It provides an excellent perspective on a situation that it could be easy to misunderstand, particularly when one is inferring based on nothing but a quick read of a 335-word letter. Wright’s done his homework, and his insights into Philemon come highly recommended.

But if you aren’t familiar with the letter or its background, Paul’s actions may surprise you: he’s sending back Onesimus to Philemon. He writes, “I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart” (12). He’s sending a runaway slave back to his master, who in the Roman world would have every right to punish a slave as severely as he sees fit.

Paul, however, has another plan. He tells Philemon, “For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother…If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me” (15-17). Paul makes an appeal, strongly suggesting that Philemon should not only accept Onesimus without penalty, but go further and free him. Paul negotiates shrewdly throughout the letter, but here we see the ace up his sleeve. If Philemon has in fact accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ, if he’s a partner with Paul in furthering God’s kingdom and embracing the love of Christ as a way of life, then he should no more return Onesimus to a life of slavery than enslave Paul himself. The implication is subtle but serious: if he doesn’t free Onesimus, then what kind of partner in the gospel is he?

Slavery in Paul’s writings, as we’ve seen before, is a thorny issue. But in his actions we see what is perhaps his strongest stance against slavery, a push to free slaves without resorting to a violent overthrow of the Roman social order, and an appeal to brotherhood between believers. And he puts his money where his mouth is, telling Philemon, “But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account…I will repay it (not to mention to you that you owe to me even your own self as well)” (18-19). One gets the impression that even as he pushes against anticipated arguments, Paul is ready to pay the cost of Onesimus’ release, if Philemon would dare to charge him for it.

That’s the third-shortest book in the Bible by word count. It’s Paul’s letter to Philemon, a man who used to own a slave named Onesimus.

August 4, 2017

When Worship Feels Counterintuitive

Christian author and television personality Sheila Walsh writes a weekly devotional at SheilaWalsh.com. Here’s a sample of what subscribers are getting…just click the title below to read at source and sign up.

Worship Your Way Through Your Storm

by Sheila Walsh

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment.” Romans 5:4-5 (NLT)

I’ll never forget the sight of my son the first time he was fully suited up for Friday night football. The shoulder pads alone made him look like someone from a Marvel comic book. His instructions to me before the game began were crystal clear,

“No matter what happens out there mom, do not come on the field!”
Seemed simple enough.

That was until Christian was tackled, legitimately, from behind and as he lay face down on the field another boy from the opposing team intentionally stomped on the back of his left knee. It took both hands on the tail of my jacket for my husband to keep me in my seat!

His injury led to knee surgery and after one more bad fall, a second surgery. At that point the surgeon told him his football days were over. Christian was disappointed but he rebounded and threw himself into many other interests.

Some disappointments are not like that though.

Some are devastating and life altering.

I think of the mom who challenged me after I’d spoken in her city.
“You said something on stage tonight that can’t be true,” she said.
“What was that?” I asked.
“You said that God is all powerful and that God is all loving.” She replied.
“I believe He is both,” I said. “Why do you question that?”
Her answer was heartbreaking.
“I’ve buried two sons so you’ll have to pick one!”
She continued, “If He was powerful enough to stop their deaths, then He can’t be loving because He didn’t.”
I held her as tears ran down her face in rivers.

That’s one of the greatest challenges to our faith. Will we still love and worship a God we don’t always understand? Will we still love Him when our marriage is not healed? Will we still worship when we didn’t get that job we so badly needed?
In moments of profound disappointment and pain the enemy loves to make us question God’s love for us.

Her husband came back but yours didn’t!
God doesn’t love you as much as he loves her!
Why bother praying, no one is listening!

In the midst of storms like these we need to remember two things:
1 — The enemy is a thief and a liar.
2 — God is for you. He promised to never leave or forsake you. He held nothing back in saving you, not even the life of His own son.

The hope that Paul speaks about in his letter to the Church in Rome is different than anything this world has to offer. This hope is not wishful thinking. On the contrary, it’s the stuff you can stake your life on!

Until we see Jesus face to face we will endure storms. Some will blow over quickly while others will seem to last longer than we can bear.

It used to be that if I were walking through a hard season I would be confident that God would get me through, and when He did, I would worship and thank Him. But what I’m learning in this season of my life is to worship Him in the middle of the storm, before there’s even a hint of dawn breaking, because He is worth it!

I want to encourage you today. If you are facing some rough seas — lift up your head, your heart, and your hands to the Lord and worship your way through the storm. He will hold you as you do.

“Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.” James 1:24-25 (NLT)

REMEMBER: God is for you and He loves you.

 

August 3, 2017

Ezekiel and the Glory Days

by Clarke Dixon

We may feel like our glory days are well behind us. Some look back to when one hundred sit-ups were an easy thing, others look back to when they could simply sit up without help. Some look back to better paychecks. Some look back to when children were home and a spouse was still alive. Some look back to a time when loved ones were not suffering. When the aches and pains of life settle in, we can long for the “glory days” we see in the rear-view mirror.

God’s people in Ezekiel’s day would have felt that their glory days were behind them. They could look back to the days of David and Solomon, and see how things had never been quite as good as they were then. And now that they are in exile, Jerusalem is destroyed, and the temple lay in ruins, there would be a strong temptation to keep their eyes fixed on the rear-view mirror in search of the “glory days”.

The prophecies in Ezekiel chapters 36 through 39 spoke to God’s people about their glory days. They speak to us today about ours. Let’s take a bird’s eye view.

Chapter 36. The first prophecy is directed toward the land itself. For example,

. . . and I will multiply human beings and animals upon you. They shall increase and be fruitful; and I will cause you to be inhabited as in your former times, and will do more good to you than ever before. Then you shall know that I am the Lord. Ezekiel 36:11 (NRSV)

The wording of this alludes to “Be fruitful and multiply” from Genesis 1:28 which recalls Eden before the ground was cursed thanks to Adam (see Genesis 3:17). The promise is for a future even better than the glory days!

The second prophecy of chapter 36 is directed at the people. Among the promises are the following:

I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Ezekiel 36:24-27 (NRSV)

The promise goes well beyond a mere return to the land and the status quo. God promises to clean His people up and give them His Spirit. This is a far better situation than what they enjoyed in the “glory days” of David and Solomon.

Chapter 37. The first prophecy is the infamous “dry bones” vision where Ezekiel sees dry bones come together, and then come alive when life is breathed into them. This is another allusion to Genesis when God breathed life into Adam (see Genesis 2:7). There is a tension in this vision between a metaphorical interpretation, meaning a promise of return from exile, and a more literal interpretation, meaning an anticipated resurrection from the dead. We feel this tension in verse 12:

Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Ezekiel 37:12 (NRSV)

We should probably see both here, with a return from exile made even better by the fact that all past generations will be able to participate as well. This would be far better than the past glory days.

The second prophecy speaks of there being one king again, like the glory days of David and Solomon. But watch for what is repeated again and again in the following:

 I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms. 23 They shall never again defile themselves with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. I will save them from all the apostasies into which they have fallen, and will cleanse them. . . . They shall live in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, in which your ancestors lived; they and their children and their children’s children shall live there forever; and my servant David shall be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary among them forevermore Ezekiel 37:22-26 (NRSV)

Words like “never again” and “forever” are important, whereas in the glory days of the past, the big word was “if”. That is, “if you are faithful to me things will go well”. Here in Ezekiel’s prophecy there is no “if”, just God’s people enjoying God forevermore. This is much better than the glory days of the past.

Chapters 38 and 39. These are prophecies against a land called Gog. There has been much conjecture as to the identity of Gog. For now, let us notice that the enemies assemble to the north (see Ezekiel 38:1-6). The Assyrians invaded from the north when they destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel. The Babylonians invaded from the north when they destroyed the southern kingdom of Judah. The point is that such destruction will never happen again! The safety and security of God’s people will be much better than in the glory days of the past.

Concluding chapter 39, we can sum up Ezekiel 39:21-29 this way: “God hid His face from His people and they went into exile because they sinned against Him. But now God, for the sake of His glory, will be generous with His Spirit and never hide His face from them again.”

Then they shall know that I am the Lord their God because I sent them into exile among the nations, and then gathered them into their own land. I will leave none of them behind; 29 and I will never again hide my face from them, when I pour out my spirit upon the house of Israel, says the Lord God. Ezekiel 39:28-29 (NRSV)

This is not just restoration of the former status quo. This is restoration to God! This is much better than in the glory days of the past!

History records that God’s people did, in fact, return from exile in Babylon to their own land. However, there was a problem. Not only were things not better than the glory days of David and Solomon, they were not even as good. Roman occupation made sure that Israel’s glory days remained firmly in the past. However, this seeming lack of prophetic fulfillment points us to the the greater fulfillment in Christ. The fulfillment of these promises lies not in the flourishing of an empire-like kingdom called Israel, but in a greater Kingdom brought through Jesus Christ. There is a much bigger exile in view here; separation from the presence of God. Through Jesus we have:

  • Cleansing from sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit, as in Ezekiel 36.
  • Resurrection from the dead, and the inclusion of all generations in the promise, as in Ezekiel 37:1-14.
  • The Messiah as the Lord of a united and holy people, as in Ezekiel 37:15-28.
  • A future, safe and secure from every enemy, as in Ezekiel 38 and 39:1-20.
  • Restoration, not just to a land, but to God Himself, as in 39:21-29.

The days of David and Solomon never really were the glory days. The days of Adam and Eve before the fall are a better fit for the title “glory days”. According to Ezekiel chapters 36 through 39, the glory days are ahead. When we find ourselves wishing we could be restored to the so-called glory days of our past, in Christ we have something far better; restoration to God Himself. In Christ our glory days are ahead! As Randy Bachman famously sang “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”


Read more at Clarke’s sermon blog: clarkedixon.wordpress.com

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