Christianity 201

June 25, 2019

Light Has Come Into the World!

Today marks six months to Christmas, and we tend to focus on different scriptures at certain times of year, but not at other points on the calendar. Today is different. I ran this 3½ years ago, but in the busyness of the season, many may have missed it…

The Voice BibleSeveral years ago we were introduced to The Voice, a new Bible translation which we’ve used here a few times at C201. One of the interesting things about The Voice is the use of explanatory or transitional passages — they call them narrative links — which add commentary and context to what you’re reading. Further, in John 1, the phrase ‘the Voice’ is used where we are accustomed to hearing ‘The Word.’ Following our tradition here, I’ve left the Bible verses themselves in green, but the other sections which form part of the excerpt are in teal. (If too many Christmases have left you feeling you’ve heard the standard texts too many times, then just read the teal sections, but I assure you that you haven’t heard these texts themselves in exactly this manner.)

We start with John’s prologue in chapter one:

Before time itself was measured, the Voice was speaking.

The Voice was and is God.
2 This celestial Word remained ever present with the Creator;
3 His speech shaped the entire cosmos.
Immersed in the practice of creating,
all things that exist were birthed in Him.
4 His breath filled all things
with a living, breathing light—
5 A light that thrives in the depths of darkness,
blazes through murky bottoms.
It cannot and will not be quenched.

6 A man named John, who was sent by God, was the first to clearly articulate the source of this Light. 7 This baptizer put in plain words the elusive mystery of the Divine Light so all might believe through him. Some wondered whether he might be the Light, 8 but John was not the Light. He merely pointed to the Light. 9 The true Light, who shines upon the heart of everyone, was coming into the cosmos.

Jesus as the Light does not call out from a distant place but draws near by coming into the world.

10 He entered our world, a world He made; yet the world did not recognize Him. 11 Even though He came to His own people, they refused to listen and receive Him. 12 But for all who did receive and trust in Him, He gave them the right to be reborn as children of God; 13 He bestowed this birthright not by human power or initiative but by God’s will.

14 The Voice took on flesh and became human and chose to live alongside us. We have seen Him, enveloped in undeniable splendor—the one true Son of the Father—evidenced in the perfect balance of grace and truth. 15 John the Baptist testified about Him and shouted, “This is the one I’ve been telling you is coming. He is much greater than I am because He existed long before me.” 16 Through this man we all receive gifts of grace beyond our imagination. 17 You see, Moses gave us rules to live by, but Jesus the Anointed offered us gifts of grace and truth. 18 God, unseen until now, is revealed in the Voice, God’s only Son, straight from the Father’s heart.

Before Jesus comes along, many wonder whether John the Baptist might be the Anointed One sent by God. But when Jesus appears in the wilderness, John points others to Him. John knows his place in God’s redemptive plan: he speaks God’s message, but Jesus is the Word of God. John rejects any messianic claim outright. Jesus, though, accepts it with a smile, but only from a few devoted followers—at least at first. Of course John is crucial to the unfolding drama, but he isn’t the long awaited One sent to free His people. He preaches repentance and tells everybody to get ready for One greater to come along. The One who comes will cleanse humanity in fire and power, he says. John even urges some of his followers to leave him and go follow Jesus.

We also read from Hebrews 1:

Long ago, at different times and in various ways, God’s voice came to our ancestors through the Hebrew prophets. 2 But in these last days, it has come to us through His Son, the One who has been given dominion over all things and through whom all worlds were made.

3 This is the One who—imprinted with God’s image, shimmering with His glory—sustains all that exists through the power of His word. He was seated at the right hand of God once He Himself had made the offering that purified us from all our sins. 4 This Son of God is elevated as far above the heavenly messengers as His holy name is elevated above theirs.

Most images of angels are influenced by art and pop culture—and are far removed from the Bible. The word “angel” literally means “messenger,” and it can refer to either a human being or a heavenly being. The Hebrews author is writing about heavenly messengers.

In the Bible, heavenly messengers have several functions—executors of God’s judgment, guardians of God’s people, heralds of God’s plans. They appear at critical moments to chosen people who play important roles in God’s salvation, such as arriving to announce the birth and resurrection of Jesus and to transmit God’s law to Moses. They are no more than messengers, created beings, who serve the will of God and His Son. Recognizing their place, they bow before the Son in loving adoration.

And also Luke 2:

Around the time of Elizabeth’s amazing pregnancy and John’s birth, the emperor in Rome, Caesar Augustus, required everyone in the Roman Empire to participate in a massive census— 2 the first census since Quirinius had become governor of Syria. 3 Each person had to go to his or her ancestral city to be counted.

This political background isn’t incidental: it is crucial to the story. Conquering nations in the ancient world work in various ways. Some brutally destroy and plunder the nations they conquer. Some conquer people as slaves or servants. Other empires allow the people to remain in their land and work as before, but with one major change: the conquered people have to pay taxes to their rulers. The purpose of a census like the one Luke describes is to be sure that everyone is appropriately taxed and knows who is in charge.

4-5 Mary’s fiancé Joseph, from Nazareth in Galilee, had to participate in the census in the same way everyone else did. Because he was a descendant of King David, his ancestral city was Bethlehem, David’s birthplace. Mary, who was now late in her pregnancy that the messenger Gabriel had predicted, 6 accompanied Joseph. While in Bethlehem, she went into labor 7 and gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped the baby in a blanket and laid Him in a feeding trough because the inn had no room for them.

Finally, here is a short excerpt from Matthew 2, after Jesus has already been born:

9-10 The wise men left Herod’s chambers and went on their way. The star they had first seen in the East reappeared—a miracle that, of course, overjoyed and enraptured the wise men. The star led them to the house where Jesus lay; 11 and as soon as the wise men arrived, they saw Him with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. They unpacked their satchels and gave Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

These are exceptionally good gifts, for gold is what is given a king, and Jesus is the King of kings; incense is what you expect to be given a priest, and Jesus is the High Priest of all high priests; myrrh ointment is used to heal, and Jesus is a healer. But myrrh is also used to embalm corpses—and Jesus was born to die.

12 And then, just as Joseph did a few months before, the wise men had a dream warning them not to go back to Herod…


Read an excerpt of what we call the Palm Sunday passage in Luke 20 from The Voice.

Below is a page sample of the end of Mark 1 and beginning of Mark 2 showing the dramatic script translation style, and two types of transitional notes.

The Voice Bible - Sample Page

 


Related: Romans 5 in The Voice

June 24, 2019

If You Don’t Step Out, You Can’t Receive It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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George Whitten is the editor of Worthy Devotions to which we’re paying a return visit today. Click the title to read at source, and then take a few minutes to browse the site.

Tread and Receive His Promises!

Joshua 1:3,7-8 Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses. Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

As Joshua is about to enter the promised land, God reassures him and affirms the promise that was given to Moses, saying, “Wherever you place your feet – it shall be given to you!” God reveals His will, makes an amazing promise, then gives His servant a practical principle for working the promise out and claiming it, telling Joshua to literally step into His will. This is true for every believer. Our mandate is to know, understand and step out into the will of God. How can we know God’s will?”

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” [Romans 12:2]

But once we know His will we need to have the faith and courage to step out into it. If you don’t step out – you can’t receive it!

Who knows how many blessings we’ve passed on because we were too afraid to step out! So become like Joshua today! Step out in faith! The enemy of our souls is desiring to prevent us from stepping out – but the promise was given that we should “tread upon the power of the enemy” [Luke 10:18-20].

Step out in His will, claim the promise He has spoken to you– and it shall be given to you! Step out – press through – and know the promises are sure to follow – God has spoken, your part is to step out!


Go Deeper: Click the article title above and scroll down to see four linked pieces dealing with other aspects of the Joshua story.

June 23, 2019

The Various Idols We Worship

For today’s Sunday Worship column, we’re featuring an author who is new to us. We tried to find Jack Garrott is what is termed a “Third Culture Kid.” That’s what it means when the country you think of as home is not the same as the country on your passport! He writes, “Raised in a missionary family, I’ve been steeped in the Bible from infancy, and my life has been a journey of learning to apply it. I’m far from perfect, but it is a joy to me to share with you some of the things God shows me day by day.” His website is Virtual Vitamins. Click the title below to read today’s article at source.

Idols

1 John 5:21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

I’m sure I’ve never written on this verse, but I was drawn to it by the very fact that it’s not underlined in my Bible! Why would this be the final word in a letter from “the Apostle of Love?”

I think it comes from the broader definition of “idol” that we use today, rather than the stone, wood, or metal sculptures that were widely worshiped at the time John wrote this. That is to say, an idol is anything the devil uses to distract you from God, to steal your devotion away from Him. Defined that way, modern society is absolutely rife with idols. We even have the honesty to call popular entertainment figures “idols.”

For some people, computer games are idols. For many people, their smartphones are idols. Actually, in both those cases and in a lot of others, the real idol is being entertained, that is, self. Countless people worship sex, in one way or another. Money, prestige, security, the list goes on and on.

Almost none of these things are originally or fundamentally bad in themselves, but the moment they become a distraction from God, they become an idol. It indeed comes back to lordship, which is an issue I’ve touched on a great deal recently. We must constantly be on our guard to be sure that Jesus is Lord in all our decisions and activities.

That certainly doesn’t mean we aren’t to relax and have a good time; Jesus Himself went to dinner parties, not to mention taking His disciples away from the crowds from time to time to relax. However, our goal should be a constant and growing awareness of God, our place in Him and His place in us. Idols are anything that distracts from that.

My understanding of this has been weak at times, but has grown greatly in recent years. I am interested in a vast number of different things, from physics to electronics to biology to history to geography to many more, and often enough I have allowed those interests to distract me from the One who creates all that.

I’ve never been particularly taken by the “entertainment industry,” but recently politics has been quite a distraction. I need to keep my focus on the “God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:6) At the same time, since I deal with so many distractions myself, I need to have grace and mercy on those around me who are likewise distracted. I need to keep Christ in focus myself, and seek to help those around me do likewise.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Father, thank You for this reminder, and for directing my attention to a verse that wasn’t underlined. Help me not set up expectations that cause me to miss what You are saying to me, but rather listen always for Your still, small, voice, to obey You with all I have and am, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

 

June 22, 2019

Speaking from Deceived Hearts

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out.- Jeremiah 17:9, The Message

Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ – Ephesians 4:15, CEB

Finally, beloved, whatever is true… – Philippians 4:8a, NRSV

Today we’re again back at the website Live as If (part of StudyLight.org) This time around the writer is Stan Smith whose subsection of the site is called Winging It. (I know we all feel we’re doing that sometimes.) The verse above from Jeremiah is mentioned at the end of the devotional and it raises some interesting thoughts in view of the subject of the devotional that follows. How good can we be at speaking truth if our own hearts are deceitful more than anything else? Click the title below to read at source.

Speaking the Truth

It is obvious that our job as followers of Christ is to speak the truth. Lies do not become us. Neither do false doctrines, misguided rants, or a lazy understanding of God’s Word. As followers of “the Truth” (John 14:6), we must find the truth mandatory rather than optional.

However …

… Scripture is clear. We must speak the truth, but we must do so in love (Ephesians 4:15). You see, it can be a pretty simple thing to declare with teeth bared what is true, but it can be a real challenge to do it in love. It speaks to the motivation, the aim, the purpose. Paul told Timothy, “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). If love is seeking the best for others, our truth-speaking would need to be motivated by a grand desire to seek the best for others.

You must admit, that isn’t always easy. I mean, listen to the lies that are told, even in Jesus’s name. Look at the harm they do with their lies. Look at the outrageous things they say. No, it’s not always easy. But it’s always necessary. So we need to check ourselves. We need to constantly aim to love God and love our neighbors even as we aim to speak the truth.

I’m convinced, though, that perhaps the hardest place to speak the truth in love is someplace you might not have considered. That’s when you’re talking to … yourself. What do you tell yourself? Is it true? Is it loving? Many of us are harsh on ourselves. “I can’t do anything right.” “I’m good for nothing.” Others are lying to themselves in the opposite direction. You’ve met guys who think they’re God’s gift to women. Trust me; it’s a lie. So we lie to ourselves in the negative and the positive. We tell ourselves we can’t do “that” even if “that” is something God has commanded. Or we tell ourselves it’s perfectly okay to do “this” even if “this” is something God has forbidden. We lie to ourselves about our abilities and our shortcomings, our weaknesses and our strengths, our character and our lack thereof. Brothers and sisters, these things ought not be.

We suffer from deceived hearts (Jeremiah 17:9), so it’s no surprise. Still, we’re commanded to speak the truth in love. That would include those around us, obviously, but it is in our own best interest that we speak the truth in love to ourselves as well. Because we suffer from bad hearts and bad thinking and we need to be made new. It’s a constant battle. And if we just ignore, it doesn’t just go away. In a world full of lies (like identity by sexual preference, non-binary gender, gay marriage, confused morality, the right to murder babies if we feel like it, one-sided racism, “The Bible isn’t a reliable document,” the separation of church and mind, etc.), speak the truth in love — to others and to yourself.

June 21, 2019

Basic Instructions Before Leaving Your Daily Devotional Time

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

Rules to Live By

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

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

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

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

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

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

…you get the idea.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

► Too diverse
► Still not diverse enough

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

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

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

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

Two quick questions about your reading habits…

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

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

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

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

June 20, 2019

A Compelling Future

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

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

by Clarke Dixon

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

Let us look first, to the Book of Revelation;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

June 19, 2019

Quotations: Paul the Apostle

Today we’re back with our quotations series, but for a change, I thought I’d try our various sources and see what they came up with if I typed “Paul the Apostle,” “Apostle Paul,” or “Paul of Tarsus.” (I’ve always wanted to see what the general, non-faith websites might come up with, many were quotations about the Apostle Paul.)

It was interesting that some of the sites made no attempt to cite the reference for the quote, and none of the sites indicated which translation of the Bible they were using. When you’re doing this, you start to get a few repeats, but the Guideposts site (see below) had a refreshing collection of ten key verses that the others had overlooked.

Also these were copied and pasted somewhat randomly. Slow down and take from these what God would have you be reminded of today, since the verses are quite familiar.

Remember also that if you want to know which are the most sought after verses for each of Paul’s epistles and letters, you should go to TopVerses.com and use the book-by-book links. (I didn’t use TopVerses for this collection; it might produce different results.)

I guess everything is in green today, because everything is a scripture verse. At least I don’t have to supply a biographic link this time, as I think you know who I’m referring to!


Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.


For when I am powerless, it is then that I am strong.


I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.


I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.


Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.


There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.


Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.


But God commended his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us


I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.
Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own [will], is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.


And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.


Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.


Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.


Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.


Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.


Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.


I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.


For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.


God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.


In whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the good news of the glory of the Messiah, who is the image of God.”



Sources:

Inspiring Quotes, AZ Quotes, BeliefNet, Quotes and Thoughts, Guideposts

June 18, 2019

Christ, the Bread of Life

by Russell Young

Some Jews tried to entice Jesus into performing a miraculous act asking him what sign he would give so that they might believe and offered that their fathers had eaten manna from heaven. Christ responded that it was not Moses who had given the manna but his heavenly Father. He followed that by asserting that the true bread from heaven gives life to the world (Jn 6:33) and declared that he is the bread of life. It is easy to skip over this pronouncement without further reflection. However, later in the passage he presents, “For my flesh is real food and my blood real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them.” (Jn 6:55−56)

The requirement to eat his flesh and to drink his blood caused many disciples to leave him. He is not talking about literally eating his body of drinking his blood. Such a thought is certainly repulsive; his words are metaphorical. As well, “eats” and “drinks” should be understood as “is eating” and “is drinking”; they do not represent a single act, but a continuous one.

Christ, the rider on the white horse of Revelation, is referred to as “the Word of God.” (Rev 19:13) That is, to eat his flesh is to be feeding on the Word. Matthew has recorded, “It is written: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Mt 4:4) Eating his flesh is continuously feeding on his Word.

Likewise, the blood refers to that which is life, or the Spirit. The LORD admonished the Israelites, “But be sure that you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life.” (Deut 12:23) Paul has written that the last Adam (Christ), is “a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor 15:45), and the Lord stated, “the Spirit gives life.” (Jn 6:63) While life exists in the blood of a living body, it is the Holy Spirit who gives life to the body of death by cleansing it from its misdeeds. (Rom 8:13)

When Christ said that you must eat his body and drink his blood, he is presenting that you must feed on his Word and allow the Spirit to quicken or to give life to the body that loves sin. This though is born out in Revelation. “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Rev 12:11) These believers had overcome Satan by the blood of Christ which provided atonement for sin and by the words that their life-testimony spoke; they way they had lived. In speaking to the woman at the well, Christ reported, “God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (Jn 4:24) Paul wrote: “God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth (his Word).” (2 Thess 2:13)

It is unfortunate that communion services have limited understanding to the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine as emblems of Christ’s offering on the cross. He also commanded people to eat and to drink of those emblems, to take them in, for he is both the Word and the Spirit (2 Cor 3:17, 18). Communion is to be a reminder of what Christ has accomplished and of what he is still accomplishing and needs to be completed through his Spirit, the redemption or sanctification of the body. It is a reminder of that which believers must do to complete or to finish their salvation. (Phil 2:12)

John has recorded the Lord’s words of admonishment that people should “remain” in him and that they could be cut out. He stated, “Remain in me and I will remain in you” (Jn 15:4) and “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) and in John 6:56 it is recorded, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” The one who would remain in Christ and who would enjoy fellowship with him must feed on his Word and practices the life-giving power of the Spirit.

The person who would avoid God’s wrath and seek his eternal kingdom cannot gain his or her hope through easy-believism; the truth of God’s Word must be honored, and the Spirit must be obeyed. Christ is to be the bread of life and the Spirit must give life through the defeat of temptations as the believer is conformed to the likeness of the Son of God (Rom 8:29) and made into an offering acceptable to him, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. (Rom 15:16)



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His first book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link

June 17, 2019

The Early Church Moment Where Fear Overtook Love

Keith Giles was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church 11 years ago, to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. He is the author of several books, including Jesus Unbound: How the Bible Keeps Us From Hearing the Word of God; and the best-seller, Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb. Today, He and his wife live in Meridian, Idaho, awaiting their next adventure. Click the title below to read this at his Patheos blog and check out other articles.

Great Love or Great Fear?

It’s one of the weirdest things in the book of Acts. One minute you’re reading about how love filled the community of Christ; how everyone shared what they had in common with people who only days before were total strangers; selling land and property to buy food for their hungry brothers and sisters in Christ, meeting daily in homes, breaking bread together; they “ate together with glad and sincere hearts,” and devoted themselves to the fellowship of the Saints and the Way of Christ,….and then…

Well, then we read the very next chapter about how two people are struck down dead for not giving as much money to the community as they said they were giving, and then we read this:

Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events…(and) no one else dared join them…” [Acts 5:11-13]

So, in just one chapter, the early Christian community went from being filled with great love to being seized with great fear.

What is it that we’ve learned about fear and love? They cancel one another out.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” [1 John 4:18]

Sadly, just at the moment when the love of Christ had broken through the darkness; when the light of Christ had filled their hearts and opened their fists to share all that they had with one another, when the unconditional love of Christ had just started to blossom in their hearts, this great fear seized them and crushed the flow of unity and trust.

Now, people were afraid – both within the Body of Christ, and outside the Church. Love was not the driving force. Fear was.

Maybe it was this flash of fear that cast out the perfect love of Christ and prevented the Apostles from remembering what Jesus had told them the night he was betrayed; when he took off his outer garment, wrapped a towel around his waist, poured water into a basin, and knelt down to wash their feet, exactly as a slave would have done.

Maybe it was momentary lapse of love the kept them from recalling the words of Jesus as he asked them,

“Do you know what I have done for you? I am your Teacher and your Lord, and yet I knelt down to wash your feet. I have set you an example that you should was one another’s feet.”

Instead of remembering this essential lesson from Jesus, the Apostles in Acts are seen coming to the conclusion that they are too important to wait tables and feed widows and orphans. Instead, they decide to elect some lowly people to do this menial task so that they can devote themselves to the Gospel – forgetting that, to Jesus, this serving of the widows and orphans; waiting tables; WAS the Gospel in vivid, vibrant 3-D.

I think this is why one of those lowly servants they selected to wait tables – a job the Apostles were too important to keep doing – is suddenly filled with the Spirit of God and anointed by the Holy Spirit to speak powerfully to preach the Gospel – even greater than the Apostles themselves. We read that whenever engaged with those who opposed the Gospel of Christ, …they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke,” [Acts 6:10] and that when he is taken before the Sanhedrin on charges of blasphemy, “they saw that his face was like the face of an angel” [v.15]

And then Stephen gives one of the most moving [and one of the longest] testimonies of Christ to the Jewish leaders and onlookers, and at the end of it, he is martyred for his witness and stoned to death. Yet even as he is dying, he forgives his murders – just as Jesus had done – and his eyes are opened to see Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father.

It’s a glorious and troubling testimony, and yet I can’t help but feel that it’s the Holy Spirit’s attempt to remind those Apostles what their mission is really all about. See, up to that point, we read that Peter had become a local celebrity and that his fame had spread through the land; that even those who were pagans would lay their sick out on the street whenever the Apostles walked by in hopes that their shadows might heal them.

But then came Stephen. Not an Apostle. Not one who walked with Jesus for three years. Not one whose feet had been washed in that room by Jesus. Not one who was too proud and important to wash feet. But one who was humble, willing to serve, and even willing to die – with joy – for the Lord Jesus he loved so much.

Stephen is not only the first martyr of the Church, he’s not one of the Twelve. He’s no one. And yet, that seems to be the point: God loves to do extraordinary things through ordinary people.

Love – not fear – is what drives us.

Humility – not fame – is where our true strength is found.

Service to one another, and to those in need around us IS the ministry of the Word of God, who is Christ.

Christ is revealed in us when we are like Christ: Humble, loving, compassionate and willing to wait tables in obscurity for the rest of our lives without ever seeking, or needing, any other recognition from anyone.

This challenges me. It makes me pause and rethink my own life, and my own mindset.

Sometimes we have to take a few steps backwards to move forward.

 

June 16, 2019

God’s Picture of Father Love

AMP Mark 4 : 2a And He taught them many things in parables (illustrations or comparisons put beside truths to explain them)…

PHILLIPS Mark 4 : 1 – 2a Then once again he began to teach them by the lake-side. A bigger crowd than ever collected around him so that he got into the little boat on the lake and sat down, while the crowd covered the ground right up to the water’s edge. He taught them a great deal in parables…

When you look at the ministry of Jesus there are at least three things that separate Him from all others who came before and all others who have come after:

  • Miracles
  • Questions
  • Parables

While all the parables contain more depth than we see in the first reading, one that is especially rich is the one we call The Parable of the Lost Son, or The Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Six years ago, for Father’s Day our pastor spoke on this parable and as always happens with this particular section of Jesus’ teaching, there is always a new takeaway waiting if you look for it.

Before we gloss over this point too quickly, let me say that we need to approach familiar Bible passages with the attitude of expectancy. I do this every year at Christmas and Easter and I am never disappointed if I have my radar set to look for a new insight or revelation.

I knew of a pastor once who would begin some of his messages with a prayer that ended, “…and God if there’s anyone here who feels they’ve heard this all before, help them to know that your desire is to write this on the tablets of their heart.” (And that was before computer tablets!) Some messages we simply need to hear over and over and over and over and over and over again.

But that’s not what I mean here. I’m talking about where we haven’t heard it all before because there is so much depth to the passage in question. I’ve said that I think all scripture is like that to some degree, but in some passages, the potential message outlines are infinite.

I am continually fascinated by the concept of scripture as a multifaceted jewel which reveals, refracts and reflects with each slight turn. The geometric properties of a large diamond mean that each face is interconnected directly to several others, which in turn are attached to others.

Christianity 201, 1/24/13

At church that Sunday, the takeaway had to do with the father in the story running to meet his returning, contrite, repentant son. Our pastor pointed out that traditionally, because of the son’s shame in losing his money to Gentiles, the town would gather to shame him as he re-entered. But instead, the father runs to meet him, hug him, kiss him and give him a ring.

NIV Luke 15: 20b … But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Usually, the focus here has to do with the way in which the father runs to meet the son, that he was essentially shaming himself by lifting his tunic to run to do so. He thereby identifies with his son’s shame, his indignity, his disgrace.

But there’s a parallel between this event and what happens minutes later in the story where the father has to take shorter but equally important walk to meet his other son, the elder brother.

The Voice Luke 15 : 28b The older brother got really angry and refused to come inside, so his father came out and pleaded with him to join the celebration.

The NLT has “begged” instead of “pleaded.” Young’s Literal Translation has “entreated.” This was not a 30-second conversation. This other young man required convincing; he needed to be persuaded.

So the parallel is that the father leaves his party of which he is the host, and leaves his home to go outside and beg the older son to come in. He is identifying here with the elder son’s appraisal of the injustice of the situation, his feeling that his performance based approach has counted for nothing.

And in terms of performance, Jesus was sinless. Jesus’ life was characterized by the injustice of the condemnation of an innocent man. Jesus had to leave the comparative ‘party’ of heaven to come to us. Jesus suffered the indignity of the cross…

…I grew up in The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada under the ministry of Dr. Paul B. Smith. Each Sunday night as the choir sang Just As I Am, Dr. Paul would remind everyone that, “If you take one step toward God, God will take ten steps toward you.”

So imagine how much the speed at which God will move to embrace and welcome and restore you if you yourself come home running…

June 15, 2019

Light and Darkness

This is our third time highlighting the site Discovering the Bible, written by Deborah, a retired doctor now living in Swansea, Wales. Choosing a devotional (or two smaller ones) for today was a tough process; there’s so much good material. Click the header below to read this at source.

Learning to walk in the light

Psalm 89:15

“Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim You,
who walk in the light of Your presence, LORD.”

What is it like to know God? The people who get to know Him develop an attitude to life that is full of confidence and gratitude. They are not merely drifting through life; they know what they are doing and where they are going. They are ‘walking in the light’.

This sounds deceptively easy, but it doesn’t come naturally even to Christians. In fact, it’s something that we have to learn to do.

The pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21)

Ex.13.21 By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.

When we start out on our Christian journey, God often seems especially close, because He makes things easy for us during our spiritual ‘babyhood’. It was like this on Israel’s first crucial journey out of Egypt: His unseen presence was made visible as a pillar of fiery cloud, and all they had to do was follow it.

In the desert, it’s easier to travel at night (when it’s cooler) – but in the darkness it’s all the more vital to know where you are going! And in a world that is spiritually dark, we need to know which road to take. Whenever we come to a moral decision-point, it’s to God that we must look for direction. We don’t have a convenient pillar of fire (or an audible voice from heaven) to lead us; we must learn to discover God’s will by reading the Bible and by discussion with other believers.

The light of the world (John 8:12)

In Jesus’ time, the four great candelabra in the Temple courtyard were lit during the Feast of Tabernacles to remind the people of the pillar of fire that had led their ancestors through the wilderness. John tells us that at the end of the festival, when the lights were being extinguished, Jesus declared Himself to be the Reality behind the symbol:

“I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Decision (Isaiah 2:5)

Walking in darkness is the ‘default option’. We have to make a positive decision to become followers of Jesus in the first place; and thereafter we must make a conscious effort to reject the ways of the world and keep following His light.

Is.2.5 “Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the LORD.”

But if we stop paying attention to where we are heading, we will gradually drift off course and back into the darkness again!

Walking together (I John 1:7)

1Jn.1.7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

Walking in darkness includes such things as having bad relationships with our Christian brothers and sisters (I John 2:9). We cannot have full fellowship with God while refusing to join and work together with other believers!

Walking in the light is also by its very nature a communal activity; for everyone who is following close to Jesus must also be close to one another. “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…” And that fellowship also helps to keep us together on the right path.

Our destination (Proverbs 4:18)

Prov.4.18 The path of the righteous is like the morning sun,
    shining ever brighter till the full light of day.

The path of light is one of safety and growing certainty. As we grow in our faith, and diligently put it into practice, we come further and further into God’s light – and it actually becomes easier to make the right decisions.


Bonus devotional: If you have time, here’s another from the same author…

The Gospel: Some Questions Answered

25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— Romans 3:25,26

Our sins could not be forgiven without atonement being made. So what about those, like David, whose sins were forgiven before Christ came?

2.Sam.12.13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.

Paul’s answer is that the cross is a ‘once-for-all’ method of dealing with sin, effective both retrospectively and prospectively

Heb.9.26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Before Christ came, God had refrained from executing full judgement on sin because of His mercy.

“He does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.” (Psalm 103:10)

But this was not because of moral indifference; rather, judgement was withheld until it could fall upon Jesus.

The cross also answers the question of how a righteous God can remain righteous while forgiving our sins – which seems to overturn the whole concept of justice. Justification is not an amnesty; our sins are not being ignored or ‘swept under the carpet’. In fact, justice has been done – and seen to have been done – in the public execution of Jesus Christ. Because His sacrificial death fully satisfies the demands of justice, God can justify sinners without compromising His own righteousness.

June 14, 2019

Faith Enough to Trust

We’re back again with David Kitz at I Love the Psalms. David has served as an ordained minister with the Foursquare Gospel Church of Canada. For several years now, he has toured across Canada and into the United States with a variety of one man plays for both children and adults. For further information visit: http://www.davidkitz.ca/

Grown-up Faith or Childlike Faith?

Reading: Psalm 78
(Verses 17-22)
But they continued to sin against him,
rebelling in the wilderness against the Most High.
They willfully put God to the test
by demanding the food they craved.
They spoke against God;
they said, “Can God really
spread a table in the wilderness?
True, he struck the rock,
and water gushed out,
streams flowed abundantly,
but can he also give us bread?
Can he supply meat for his people?”
When the Lord heard them, he was furious;
his fire broke out against Jacob,
and his wrath rose against Israel,
for they did not believe in God
or trust in his deliverance
(NIV).

Reflection
Psalm 78 is largely an indictment against the people of Israel for their lack of faith and their rebellious ways. As the psalmist says, They willfully put God to the test.

As a child I recall reading the entire book of Exodus and thinking to myself, “Wow, these people sure are dumb. How could they see God’s amazing miracles and then a few days later grumble, complain and doubt that the LORD would help them? These people are real losers!”

Then I grew up and had a family of my own. At times I saw amazing miracles and God’s supernatural provision. But guess what? When the next big difficulty arose, I found myself doubting that God would come through. I complained about the difficulty I was in and acted just like the people of Israel in the wilderness.

Oops! I thought I was different. I thought I was smarter than those spiritual dullards in the Old Testament. In reality my grownup faith was much weaker than my childhood faith. When real testing and temptation came, I was and still am, as susceptible to unbelief as any of the wandering Israelites in the wilderness. Faith is a gift from God—a wonder-filled gift that carries us through the hard times.

The indictment against Israel is that they did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance. Do I truly believe in God and trust in his deliverance? Is my faith more than a creedal statement? Does it have legs and wings to carry me through the toughest situation? Often I am more like the rebellious children of Israel than I would like to admit. How about you?

Response: LORD God, I humbly ask you for the gift of faith—faith to sustain me through the tough times ahead. You are my help, my salvation and my deliverer. I praise you for your faithfulness. Amen.

Your Turn: Do you have grown-up faith or childlike faith? Which is better?

 

June 13, 2019

A Compelling People

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

by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us consider the next two verses of John 14:

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

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

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

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

Let us consider the next verse:

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

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

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

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

Let us consider the next few verses:

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

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

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

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

Conclusion.

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


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

June 12, 2019

It’s Up To Us To Issue The Invitation

Today, we return to the writing of Andy Elmes. To get devotions like these sent to you by email, go to Great Big Life and click on Breakfast of Champions.

Yeah, But What If?

Matthew 24:42-44, NKJV

Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

A few years back the world was subjected to another end of the world prophecy, where a man apparently representing Christians all over the world told how Jesus would return on a particular date. He said that at 6 pm Pacific time the earth would split, Jesus would return and the rapture would begin. The date came and went without anything that had been forecasted happening. All that sadly did occur was, once again, the media and sceptics of Christianity had more fuel to use and reasons to laugh.

But this false prophecy got me thinking, and the next day in Family Church I preached a topical message on it. After sharing on the news reports of what this man had claimed was going to happen, and of course clarifying the truth of no man knowing the exact day and the time, I posed a question: “Yeah, but what if?” What if, for some bizarre reason, he had got it right? I then played a very loud soundbite of thunder and lightning in the room and, as it echoed violently through our bass speakers, people stopped to think, “Yeah, what if, if it was all over what would I have changed?”

For me some things were very clear, because my life is built on His word. Would I be in heaven standing in heaven’s Sonlight? Yes, I do not doubt that, or have to hope for it – rather, I have an assurance because my salvation is the result of my faith in His grace and performance, not my ability or works. But the troubling question was, if He had returned who would not be in heaven with me? Who would not be there with me because I didn’t make time to tell them, or was not able to get over the pride or embarrassment that caused me not to give them their invitation? A very sobering thought and one that should cause us all to think about those we say we care for. Do we care for them enough to make sure they would be there with us?

Other questions caused me to review my life and priorities (things I thought were important). If I was now standing in heaven, how much would the things I thought I needed and had lived for now really matter? What worth would they have to me now? Was what I spent my life on worth it? Did it carry any profit in the place I now called home?

We know that Bible teaches that no man knows the hour or the day, but we also need to remember that a lot of what this fanatical man said was actually true: one day Jesus will return without warning, like a thief in the night, at a moment when people least expect, and in the twinkling of an eye it will all be over.

Let me leave you with this motivating thought: What if? Who do you need to reach for Christ? Do you need to take a fresh look at your priorities and what really matters? What do you need to spend the currency of your remaining days on?

I’m so glad He didn’t come on that highly-advertised date, as it means we still have time to invite those we need to, and live the life we always intended to. What are you waiting for, Champion – live your best life now?

June 11, 2019

Those Who Don’t Share Show by Their Actions They Don’t Know Him

It was either an email or a referral from another writer we feature here, but sometime late last week we got connected to the website Generosity Monk. Author and teacher Gary Hoag has curated an amazing collection of excerpts from scholarly books and commentaries — including some obscure sources — and runs the excerpt followed by some observations on what makes this personal to him.

There are similarities to C201, as he’s been doing this faithfully on a daily basis since June, 2009. The site is a goldmine of devotional and study resources.  Because of that, we’ve featured it both yesterday and today. Click the header below to read this at source.

A.W. Tozer: Abundant Goodness

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends Your works to another; they tell of Your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor of Your majesty—and I will meditate on Your wonderful works. They tell of the power of Your awesome works—and I will proclaim Your great deeds. They celebrate Your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of Your righteousness. The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made. Psalm 145:3-9

“The goodness of God is that which disposes Him to be kind, cordial, benevolent, and full of good will toward men. He is tenderhearted and of quick sympathy, and His unfailing attitude toward all moral beings is open, frank, and friendly. By His nature He is inclined to bestow blessedness and He takes holy pleasure in the happiness of His people.

That God is good is taught or implied on every page of the Bible and must be received as an article of faith as impregnable as the throne of God. It is a foundation stone for all sound thought about God and is necessary to moral sanity. To allow that God could be other than good is to deny the validity of all thought and end ill the negation of every moral judgment.

If God is not good, then there can be no distinction between kindness and cruelty, and heaven can be hell and hell, heaven. The goodness of God is the drive behind all the blessings He daily bestows upon us. God created us because He felt good in His heart and He redeemed us for the same reason.

Julian of Norwich, who lived six hundred years ago, saw clearly that the ground of all blessedness is the goodness of God. Chapter six of her incredibly beautiful and perceptive little classic, Revelations of Divine Love, begins, “This showing was made to learn our souls to cleave wisely to the goodness of God.”

Then she lists some of the mighty deeds God has wrought in our behalf, and after each one she adds “of His goodness.” She saw that all our religious activities and every means of grace, however right and useful they may be, are nothing until we understand that the unmerited, spontaneous goodness of God is back of all.”

A. W. Tozer (1897-1963) in “The Goodness of God” in Knowledge of the Holy, 57.

God’s abundant goodness serves as the basis or foundation for all of our living, giving, serving, and loving. See for yourself. Read Psalm 145. Consider verse 16, in which David proclaims: You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. The reason we live with openhanded generosity is because that’s God’s posture toward every living thing. Those who know and understand Him for who He is will enjoy and share His goodness and kindness.

The sobering truth is that those who don’t share, show by their actions that they don’t know Him.

This thinking is echoed much later by Julian of Norwich, an anchoress, who (of course) reminds me of my wife, Jenni, who serves God as the Soulcare Anchoress. Those who adopt the title “anchoress” (or anchorite) imply that they have discovered by knowledge and experience that all of life must be anchored in one thing alone, the goodness of God, which is why relationship with Him (and obedience to Him) must be pursued above all else.

Rather than lose you with what sounds like lofty thinking, let me make my point.

Because of the abundant goodness of God, we can be kind and generous. But will we be kind and generous? As His blessings flow to us, the only way to rightly receive and share them is to know and have a deep relationship with Him. Out of that anchored relationship, we become like Him when we walk in obedience, and then with righteousness, justice, and open hands, we dispense His abundant goodness and kindness.

If that went over your head, then read Psalm 145, count your blessings, and think how you can bless others today and this week as a result.

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