Christianity 201

January 30, 2023

The Gift Jesus Bequests to Us

This is our third time featuring the writing of Carolyn Kincaid who writes at Carolyn Kincaid’s Potpourri for the Soul and in keeping with the blog’s title, we have a potpourri of shorter devotional articles for you today. Find the original source of each by clicking the title links which follow.

Legacy

“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Don’t let your heart be troubled or fearful. – John 14:27 CSB

A friend came to me recently and asked my advice about a conflict she and her husband were having as they were updating their wills. Life can get complicated when we have previous marriages and families from blended households. We recently had an event where an attorney in our church gave moms some knowledge on what to do with wills and it’s gotten me thinking.

What does your will say? What might you leave to those you love that would have the greatest value? Because I’ve been thinking in this realm, when I read Jesus’ words in John 14:27, this is how I saw them, “I bequeath to you a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” Since Jesus was getting ready to leave this world I could see it saying bequeath. This is what He is leaving in His last will and testament to them…and to us as His followers—peace. It’s nothing that any amount of money can buy. It’s nothing that can be earned by any amount of doing. He says the world cannot give it. It can only be obtained through Him and He is giving it freely.

How many times have I taken that gift for granted, or worse, shoved it in a closet and forgot that I had it so I didn’t use it? He also said, “So don’t be troubled or afraid.” That is simply synonymous with living, right? Don’t we all have times when our hearts are troubled or we’re afraid? But as a believer I don’t have to let that be my norm. Jesus told me not to be troubled or afraid. He bequeathed to me His peace.

In summary, two things—what are you leaving to others and what are you doing with what He has given you?

Yes and Amen

For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory. – 2 Cor 1:20 NLT

This is not new, nor did it originate with me, but as I was reading my Bible this morning what I was prompted to do was to insert my name in what Jesus was saying to His followers. [Please note, that this promise is only for you if you are following Him.] So, as I was reading John 14, that’s what I did. I encourage you to replace my name with yours and take His promises and commands as your own.

Carolyn, if you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who will lead you into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But Carolyn, you know him because he lives with you and will be in you. No, Carolyn, I will not abandon you as an orphan—I will come to you. You will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you Carolyn. I know you love me Carolyn, because you accept my commandments and obey them. And because you Carolyn, love me, my Father loves you. And I will love you and reveal myself to you. — taken from John 14:15-21

A beautiful song on this verse is Chris Tomlin’s “Yes and Amen” which can be found on YouTube. [see video below]

He is forever faithful and He watches over His word to make sure it comes to pass. Say, “Yes” to His promises and appropriate them for you and yours in this new year.

Jesus Plus ________

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 1 Peter 5:10 NIV

I am still mulling over yesterday’s sermon. Pastor Matt preached on Matthew 14:34-36 and verse 36 says that they “begged Him to let them merely touch the fringe of His garment; and as many as touched it were perfectly restored.” Another version says, “perfectly well.” During my devotional time this morning I read 1 Peter 5:10, and thought, “Yes, another confirmation that God is about restoration in my situation!”

We all have areas in our lives where we would like restoration. Maybe it’s a broken relationship (those seem to touch each of us in some way), maybe it’s a sin in your life that you just can’t seem to be victorious over. It could be a sickness, alcoholism or addiction that you or a loved one suffer from.

It’s very natural for us to have a laser-focus on what ails us—on that area that needs to be perfectly well. However, what the Lord spoke to me this morning about was restoration in my relationship with Him for what it is—a relationship between my God and me alone. Not my God and me plus (fill in the blank). This is what Pastor Matt emphasized. Jesus alone is enough. Jesus alone makes me victorious. Jesus alone gives me a full, abundant life.


This is the video Carolyn referred to:


C201 is always looking for both submissions and suggestions for sources of material. Use the submissions page in the margin.

January 29, 2023

Old Testament Narratives Relate to Our Modern Lives

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV.Daniel.3.16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us fom Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (full narrative v.8-25)

Today we’re highlighting an author for the first time. Matthias writes at Understanding as I Go. Click the title which follows to read this where it first appeared, or just continue to jump into today’s study.

To Have Faith

What is right and wrong? This is a question that has come to my mind recently.

In recent months I’ve been studying the bible very intently, taking it slowly, praying, meditating and examining what I’m reading very closely. At times reading just a small section and trying to understand all that is within it.

Studying the bible can be difficult, mainly because of context. Much of what is in the bible is written for that time, though the message within it is timeless. Idioms and historical references, names of the people and who they were, all are things that I find important to understanding it fully. I can now understand why I often avoided the Old Testament in the past, simply because I couldn’t relate to what was going on.

As I study I realize that many things I thought I understood before were wrong, or not complete. What I imagined wasn’t what was actually being expressed. I could only relate to it in modern terms. Even the teachings of Jesus, which I once thought I understood for the most part, I was misreading because of lack of understanding.

I came upon a great Bible app called “Logos” which has been helping me a lot. I call it a study bible on steroids. I can read and hyperlink to many resources that help me to understand what I’m reading. I also watch many videos of people teaching about the Bible from their perspective.

As I’ve expanded this study, using many different resources, I come to find that resources often contradict each other. One video might explain something in one way and another in another way. Even so, I get something from both videos. I can see that some people are more “liberal” in what they teach and others are more “conservative.”

For example, a more liberal teacher might say that tattoos are okay, even though it states that one shouldn’t get them in Leviticus. They say that one should simply be thoughtful about what they are getting. To not tattoo themselves with things that might represent idolatry or worship to another god. She pointed out that if one were to rely on Leviticus then they would have to rely on this source for all the other laws in Leviticus, which few follow today.

More conservative people say that we should adhere to it as it is written, while at the same time not focusing on the other laws of Leviticus. They seem to think that this law is important and the others aren’t which is cherry picking from the bible.

I can understand both points of view and learn from both. I have no desire to get a tattoo so it doesn’t matter much to me anyway, but I examined this more to understand what is right and wrong in general.

It may have been easier in early Jewish life to understand what is right and wrong. They had 613 laws that they had to follow. If they followed them then they were doing right. If they didn’t then they were doing wrong. They also did it as a community. A rather closed community. They lived, celebrated and endured life together. Though they were also very rebellious at times to God. Which would cause God to leave their midst and let them indulge in their sin to their own destruction.

Over and over again they were nearly destroyed, taken into captivity, their cities destroyed and even their precious temple burned down. All because they would choose to live different from what God commanded them to live.

It is difficult to realize that we are merely tools for God in many ways. We are not our own person creating our own lives. It may seem like we are but it is just an illusion. Yes, we can set out on our own and even come to experience success in life, but all that success is vain without God.

On the other hand, we can worship God with all our might and strength and at times feel that we are all alone, struggling just to get to the next day. Even feeling that God isn’t there listening to us. It is these times when one simply wants to give up and try something else, even if from the illusion, to make life a little easier. But it is also these times when we should be most faithful to God, for God will always come when least expected and give us rest.

In my case, I have come to believe that God is making it so difficult simply because when He makes it easy I’m more likely to drift away. When I’m happy and comfortable, though I am grateful to God, I also have a tendency to drift and become complacent. I’ve seen that during this time of struggle I’m doing more what God would want me to do, though not perfectly by any means.

In fact, I often feel completely unworthy of God. I struggle with my own difficulty of having Asperger’s. I want so much to do what is right, it’s almost like it’s chiseled in stone in my heart, giving me no choice but to do what is right, yet this obsession causes such stress that it causes me to do wrong things. To be angry and frustrated. Feeling pain all the time in my heart. I want to give God everything but I can’t. So many times I want to give up.

The irony is that God always tells me that He loves me and that I’m doing fine. I guess that I constantly argue this point because I feel I fight against such a generous judgement. I think, “I’m reading and studying all of this and I can’t live up to it completely. I’m all alone without any community and when I try to join a community, I am not accepted because they are living of the world and I have no desire for the things of the world. I have no interest in the things of the world.

When I meet people who claim to be religious, they ask me questions like, “What to do for work? What type of music do you listen to? What movies do you like? etc.” We can be sitting in a church and they talk to me about the world when all I know is my own obsession, studying the Word of God and trying to live by his Word. I want to talk about Jesus but they don’t.

If I bring up God in public to others who say they are religious, they look around uncomfortably to see if others are listening. I myself will talk loudly about God. I have nothing to hide. Even so, they usually change the subject to something they are more comfortable talking about, such as family and friends or movies and TV.

Among all the books that I’m reading right now, I have been reading “The Crucified Life” by A.W. Tozer. It is very good stuff about living solely for God. In it he states that you might work in a large office building and when you go to break you might look around and see that you have nothing in common with anyone there. They are all talking about the world and you have no interest in the world.

It feels good to see that another person feels this way but it doesn’t make it any easier. I was thinking that why it might be so difficult for me is simply that I have weak faith. I can’t let go completely and live solely for God. I still have a longing to be accepted by others rather than being completely satisfied by being accepted by God.

I thought of the story in Daniel about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace. How they were put into the furnace for not being willing to worship other gods and live by different standards than that of God. They fell into the furnace as if falling into worship for God and thus God came and saved them from burning.

I have come to see that the stories in the Old Testament relate directly with our own modern lives. The rebelliousness of the Jews and the punishments that came because of their disobedience to God. Punishments that basically come by their own actions and hands. The true punishment is that God withdraws from them. God doesn’t necessarily inflict the punishment.

A lesson here is that life here is not safe, even though it seems to be safe based on the illusion. When we go off on our own, like a stray sheep, we no longer have the Shepherd there to protect us from the wolves and other threats. No matter how strong we might feel, believing that we can protect ourselves, the reality is that we are all merely sheep in this world with wolves all around desiring nothing more than to destroy us. They will destroy us in many ways, mainly coming from the inside of us, where they will first change our hearts and pull us away from God. Then they will lead us to a place far away from God so they can then take us down very painfully, destroying us from the inside out as well as from the outside in.

All because we lost faith. We gave up on God. We decided that we could do it better than God. We can protect ourselves better than God.

Grace through Faith. This is the core message, not only of the New Testament but also throughout the Old Testament. We are not worthy of God. No one can ever truly be worthy of God. This isn’t what God expects from us. He makes it difficult so that we won’t become complacent. So we will understand that we truly need Him and nothing else. It may seem like punishment, mainly because we might have experienced comfort and always desire that comfort after having experienced it.

In many ways, modern humans in industrialized nations are spoiled, experiencing comforts that they don’t deserve without realizing that it is these comforts that can take us away from God. Make us complacent and even come to believe that we don’t need God and can do it all on our own. Maybe even become immortal as Cyborgs, as some futurists place their hope within.

This life is difficult and many times I have no idea if what I’m doing is right or wrong. I can’t look to the world to know the difference because what is right for some is wrong for others and they seem to have a great desire to promote such things passionately. I can only look to God and realize that those times when it feels that I did everything wrong, made the wrong decisions because my life isn’t reflecting something I would see as positive, as long as I maintain faith in God, it is usually simply a path to another destination on the journey. Many times the pain is what guides me to go through things that we wouldn’t desire to do if I were comfortable.

Life is not about being comfortable, successful and having wealth and physical security. Life is about dedicating our lives to God, no matter what they conditions of our lives might be.

January 28, 2023

The Final Words of Jesus

ESV Matt 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…

In the western world much is made of being present when someone issues their last words. We want to know what the final words were from politicians, authors, great military men and preachers.

The first time my father was hospitalized with a heart attack, he pulled me close to his hospital bed and said, “I want you to know, I have always been very proud of you.” You have no idea how much I needed to hear that. My father worked in the world of finance, dealing with budgets, financial forecasting and investments. I have only once in my life — a very brief time working with InterVarsity — had anything resembling a regular, normal salary. I’ve always felt like that by the standard he would measure achievement, there wouldn’t be much to be proud of.

But he said he was, and although it was twelve years later when he finally passed away, I have always regarded that sentence as his ‘official’ last words to me; his blessing.

Famous Last Words

So what were Jesus’ last words to his disciples? 

Ask most people, and they will say, “The Great Commission;” the command to, as The Message bible puts  it, “Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you.”

But another phrase follows that,

ESV.Matt.28.20 … And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

It’s a promise of his ongoing presence and comfort. You have no idea how much you and I need to hear that. We live in a world where it is so easy to lapse into the mindset that, as a song once said, “God is watching us, from a distance.” But the scriptures teach that God is very close, very present, very much at hand.

While Luke doesn’t reiterate the exact words, he mentions this blessing.

NIV.Luke 24:50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.

This was Jesus’ benediction to us.

Matthew Henry writes:

Two solemn farewells we find our Lord Jesus giving to his church, and his parting word at both of them is very encouraging; one was here, when he closed up his personal converse with them, and then his parting word was,Lo, I am with you always; I leave you, and yet still I am with you;” the other was, when he closed up the canon of the scripture by the pen of his beloved disciple, and then his parting word was, Surely, I come quickly. I leave you for awhile, but I will be with you again shortly,” Rev. 22:20. By this it appears that he did not part in anger, but in love, and that it is his will we should keep up both our communion with him and our expectation of him.

Many of you will find this verse echoing in your minds as you’ve thought about this:

Hebrews 13:5b God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
    never will I forsake you.” (NIV)

The writer of Hebrews is recollecting several passages including Deut 31:6, Deu 31:8, Joshua 1:5  and 1Kings 8:57  Again, Peterson renders this:  God assured us, “I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you,”

You have no idea how much the world needs to hear this. Maybe that’s why it’s paired with the command to go out into the world…

PW

January 27, 2023

Loyalty vs. Allegiance

NIV.Mark.14.17 …Herod himself had given orders to have John [the Baptist] arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled;  yet he liked to listen to him.

21 Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” 23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”

24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”

“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.

25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. 29 On hearing of this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Mark Buchanan is Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Ambrose University in Calgary, Alberta, and is the author of several books including, God Walk and The Rest of God. This is the 5th time we’ve excerpted some of his writing here at Christianity 201. You are very much encouraged to read this where it first appeared by clicking the title which follows.

Many Loyalties, One Allegiance

“In your hearts, set apart Christ as Lord.” I Peter 3:15

Recently, a friend asked me to preach at his church on Mark 6:14-29

Well, I thought he was my friend: that’s the story of King Herod’s order, in a perfect storm of folly and ego and hubris and spite, to behead John the Baptist. I complained loudly to my so-called-friend. That is not the kind of text, I said, you assign to a guest preacher, and especially not to one you have shared meals and taken walks with. It’s gruesome. It’s bleak. It’s dark. And – this, I said, to finally clinch the argument – it’s inescapably political. You don’t want the guest preacher wading in on post-Covid politics, do you?

He told me to suck it up.

A few weeks before, one of the students in my preaching class quoted someone to the effect that you can have many loves but only one treasure. I liked that. I wrote it down. And it struck me, as I thought about John in the dungeon of Herod’s palace while all the revelers upstairs gorged and besotted themselves, and watched the grisly pageant of John’s head served on a platter, that something similar is true here.

You can have many loyalties but only one allegiance.

You can be loyal to your school, loyal to your girl, loyal to your guy, loyal to your flag, loyal to your tribe, loyal to your favorite airline, loyal to your political party, loyal to your theological camp.

The heart can hold a thousand loyalties

But only one allegiance.

John the Baptist got that. Herod, he was too clueless and cowardly to even know that.

John pursued the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness. Herod pursued the kingdom of self and his own fragile ego.

I think many Christians got confused about loyalties and allegiances over the past few years. Too many of us took hold of a loyalty, or three – loyalty to a political person or party, to a philosophical or medical or cultural view, to an ideology – and elevated to an allegiance.

An allegiance is our one reckoning. It is our single non-negotiable. It is our only priority. It is the sole conviction and passion that controls, moderates and, if needed, displaces all loyalties. Nothing comes before it. All things must bow to it.

It is the hill we are willing to die on.

The hill we are willing to die on. Such a poignant phrase. That gets to the heart of the matter for Christ followers. Our single allegiance is Christ, the one willing to die on a hill for us and, frankly, the only one who commands our sole allegiance.

Christ alone is Lord.

Not left or right.

Not liberal or conservative.

Not socialism or capitalism.

Not anti this or pro that.

Those are all mere loyalties.

And a loyalty must never become an allegiance, or … or, we get the world we have now: divided over a thousand things, many of them little and petty.

Our hope is built on nothing less – and nothing else – than Jesus Christ.

He alone is our sole allegiance. Everything else must bow. 

January 26, 2023

What Jesus Said About Our Biggest Influencers

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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How What Jesus Said Has Helped Me As a Father of a Gay Child

by Clarke Dixon

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me…

Matthew 10:34-37 (NRSV)

These may be the most surprising words of Jesus. It seems out of character, not Christlike. However, when read with everything else, of course Jesus said it.

Let us remember that Matthew in presenting Jesus to us has already pointed out that the current leadership, both political and religious, is lacking. Jesus is the better leader. Matthew has told us that Jesus faced opposition from those other leaders, and his disciples will face the same. Which leads to the next point Matthew makes as he continues to introduce Jesus to us, namely, we face a choice. Given the leadership credentials of Jesus, will we follow him? Given that we may face opposition, will we follow him?

We can follow the status quo leadership and experience the status quo, or we can follow Jesus and experience big disruption in our lives. To paraphrase Jesus as he speaks about the division that following him brings, even to families: “Follow me and it is going to get messy!”

Thinking of what Jesus said about our love for him being greater than for our families, when we see the word love we may jump to the idea of “having affection for,” or “having compassion and concern for.” Is Jesus asking us to have greater affection for him, or concern for him? It seems to me that Jesus can take care of himself. As for our sons, when they were younger, not so much.

Family relationships and love within family relationships are about more than affection, compassion, and concern. They are about being formed, influenced, and affected by. Our families probably have greater influence on us than anyone or anything else. My Mum had an expression which I often heard growing up, “you get like the people you live with.” If we are not careful we will pick up attitudes and habits without even knowing it, which can include judgemental attitudes, overly pessimistic or overly optimistic attitudes, misuse of alcohol, and bad financial habits to name a few.

When Jesus says love me more than your family, he does not mean have more compassion and concern for him than your family, but allow your relationship with him to have greater impact on you. What he is in effect saying is “Don’t fall into being just like your family, lean into me and be more like me instead.” We tend to have a deep relationship of influence within our families, even when we don’t think we do. Jesus wants us to have a deeper relationship of influence with him and experience a greater impact from him. He is the wiser and greater authority on life than our family members. The way of Jesus is way better than the ways of your family.

Some will read these verses about disruption coming to family and will think “see we are following Jesus well because my devotion to Christianity has brought division to my family.” There is no more obvious example of this than when a child comes out as gay. Some well meaning Christian leaders call upon parents of gay children to try to get them to change their minds, to straighten them out. If that does not happen, don’t allow a significant other into you home for that will send the wrong signal. If they get married, don’t attend the wedding because that will send the wrong signal. If they do get married, don’t allow your child to bring their partner for Christmas dinner, again because it will send the wrong signal. Following this kind of advice will obviously bring disruption to family relationships and indeed one’s child will pick up the signals and will likely not want to show up for Christmas dinner thank you very much. This family disruption is proof, for some, that one is following Jesus well. “See I love Jesus more than my child!”

Moving further along in Matthew we come across some words of Jesus that have been very meaningful for me:

He left that place and entered their synagogue; a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

Matthew 12:9-14 (NRSV emphasis added)

The religious teachers were quite adamant that to be godly one must never work on a sabbath. Yet Jesus points out that even they knew that sometimes it is better to ignore their own teaching on righteousness in order to do the right thing. The sheep needs rescued. The religious rules just don’t work in this instance. Following the religious rules is unwise when there is a sheep in a pit.

There are a whole group of people in a pit. They hide, sometimes for years, sometimes forever, something very important about themselves from religious parents. They try to change themselves and despair when they can’t. Some are kicked out of their homes. Some take their own lives. The religious rules make gay children, teens and adults alike, feel not at home at home, not at home in their home church, and not at home with themselves.

I know what the Bible says about same-gender sex (which happens to be way less than what it says about the Sabbath), but people in a pit need our help, and I know what Jesus said about that.

It has been important for my wife and I that our gay son feels at home at home. Being the father of a gay child has not been difficult. Being the father of a gay child and being a Baptist has. Having a gay child has not led me to have all the answers, but it has led me to good questions, and to a greater awareness of some really bad answers. With so much being said among Baptists in our day on such matters perhaps part of the solution going forward is for less pontification from religious leaders like me, which ends up sounding like Pharisees pontificating about the Sabbath, and more giving parents and those who are gay alike the resources and space to figure it out. When it is your sheep that falls in a pit you have the eyes to see the wise thing to do. The Bible says that sometimes the religious rules just don’t work. Or at least Jesus pointed it out.

The way of Jesus is way better than the ways of our religion. Let us put Jesus and the way of Jesus at the centre. Sometimes religion doesn’t and sometimes religious leaders don’t. Let us not unthinkingly fall into religion and the religion of the religious leaders but let us lean into Jesus.

So in introducing us to Jesus, Matthew begins to present us with a choice; to put Jesus at the centre of our lives or not. We may think we do, but family and/or religious leaders may be there instead.


Note from Clarke: Some time ago I put together a series of videos on my experience of being a pastor and the father of an openly gay child. The project is unfinished, and in hindsight could be better, but it is what it is, I did what I could, and if it helps anyone, it can be found here. The full sermon from which this bog post has been taken can be seen here.

January 25, 2023

The Second Thing You Should Read Today

…for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. – Acts 17:11b NIV

Today’s reading here hits absolutely all of us where we live, because it’s related to what we’re doing at this exact moment!

…This would have been the 12th time we posted something from Gary Henry at the blog WordPoints. Well, actually, it is the 12th time, but it’s not from his devotionals. Rather, something caught my eye on his site, a special article with the title below, and I knew I should share it here.

Daily Devotional Books

Setting aside some “devotional time” each day is a practice that many, if not most, Christians prioritize. During that time, whether short or long, various activities may be engaged in. These are intended to foster greater “devotion” to God: prayer, study of the Scriptures, singing of hymns, devotional meditation, etc.

But many Christians also read a selection from a “daily devotional book.” These books contain short readings on topics of spiritual significance. Hugely popular, devotional books are a major sector in the religious book market. Many people purchase one or more new ones each year and read them as part of their daily devotional time.

Unfortunately, many of the best-selling devotionals are popular not because they produce greater devotion to God but because they give the reader a sugary “high.” They aim to make the reader feel better, but they do little to stimulate significant spiritual growth.

In an article analyzing the popularity of devotional books, author Jen Wilkin noted that most of these are based on a two-fold premise concerning “daily devotion”: (1) it involves being inspired, and (2) it involves being comforted. But while devotion to God is a biblical concept, there is more to it than feeling better emotionally. Read the following words by Wilkin several of times and give them a chance to adjust your thinking:

Are the words of devotional books profitable? Some, but not all. Emotion is certainly an expression of devotion but is not its sum total. Biblical words of comfort are profitable, but so are words of correction. Both are words of life. If devotional reading is our primary vehicle for formation, we run the risk of malformation and — worse still — of forming God himself into an idol, one who comforts without correcting, seeks relationship but not repentance, dotes but does not discipline, and is our companion but not our commander (Christianity Today, October 2020).

So identifying a good devotional book requires that we first understand what devotion means. It means to be consecrated or set apart for God’s special service. When we spend time each day in “devotional” activities, those should result in our being more “devout” — that is, we are more intensely interested in serving God and we have a better sense of what His service requires of us. “Devotion is not mere feeling, but action: It serves and it obeys” (Wilkin). As Jesus taught in Matthew 6:24, being “devoted” to a master and “serving” that master are inseparable.

Concerning the Scriptures, Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16,17, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Scriptures are “profitable” because they provide four things: doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. Providing these things to us perfectly, the Scriptures are our source for the Lord’s “words of eternal life” (John 6:68). There is not a devotional book in the world that can give us what the Scriptures provide, but to whatever extent such a book can be an “aid” to us, shouldn’t we want it recognize the priority of these same four needs: doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness?

With the above thoughts in mind, I suggest that you ask these questions about any resource (not just books but any other devotional aid) you might consider using:

  • Does it provoke and challenge me in a healthy, biblical sense (Hebrews 10:24)?
  • Does it contribute to my spiritual formation or my malformation?
  • Does it result in my being more devoted (“set apart for special service”) to God?
  • Does it provide correction as well as comfort?
  • Does it promote service and submission in my life?
  • Does it call me to repentance and change?
  • Does it encourage me to take the next step in my obedience?

But finally, there is one more thing to say, and it is the most important thing of all: not even the best devotional book should take the place of studying the Scriptures and prayer. To quote Jen Wilkin one last time: “Devotional writing, when done with excellence, may supplement our time in the Scriptures, but it must not subordinate or supplant it.” To which this writer says a hearty “Amen!”

January 24, 2023

God the Uncreated One

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today’s thoughts are taken from two consecutive daily devotions by no less than A.W. Tozer, which appear daily at the website of The Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination’s devotional page. Tozer was known for his emphasis on the deeper life movement. His message, informed as it was by A.B. Simpson the founder of The Alliance, brought the missionary call to a massive audience. Today he is still frequently quoted by authors, pastors and Christian leaders.

His books have been published around the world and in many languages. These two devotionals were compiled from the book: The Knowledge of the Holy. (These can be found at the site’s postings for January 22nd and 23rd, 2023.)

Someone Who Was Made of None

Verse:

“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
the One who is and who was,
because you have taken your great power
and have begun to reign.”
— Revelation 11:17

Devotional:

Lord of all being! Thou alone canst affirm I AM THAT I AM; yet we who are made in Thine image may each one repeat “I am,” so confessing that we derive from Thee and that our words are but an echo of Thine own. We acknowledge Thee to be the great Original of which we through Thy goodness are grateful if imperfect copies. We worship Thee, O Father Everlasting. Amen.

“God has no origin,” said Novatian, and it is precisely this concept of no-origin that distinguishes That-which-is-God from whatever is not God. Origin is a word that can apply only to things created. When we think of anything that has origin, we are not thinking of God. God is self-existent, while all created things necessarily originated somewhere at some time.

Aside from God, nothing is self-caused. By our effort to discover the origin of things, we confess our belief that everything was made by Someone who was made of none. By familiar experience we are taught that everything “came from” something else. Whatever exists must have had a cause that antidates it and was at least equal to it, since the lesser cannot produce the greater. Any person or thing may be at once both caused and the cause of someone or something else; and so, back to the One who is the cause of all but is Himself caused by none.

Thought:

God’s nature, the fact that He has no origin, is that which sets Him apart from everything that is not God.

Prayer:

Father, can we ever understand Your majesty, Your self-existence? Never! Help us, then, to understand our place in Your creation as Your created beings.

The Idea of the Uncreated

Verse:

Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”
— Exodus 33:21–23

Devotional:

The child by his questions, “Where did God come from?” is unwittingly acknowledging his creaturehood. Already the concept of cause and source and origin is firmly fixed in his mind. He knows that everything around him came from something other than itself, and he simply extends that concept upward to God. The little philosopher is thinking in true creature-idiom and, allowing for his lack of basic information, he is reasoning correctly.

He must be told that God has no origin, and he will find this hard to grasp because it introduces a category with which he is wholly unfamiliar and contradicts the bent toward origin-seeking so deeply ingrained in all intelligent beings, a bent that propels them to probe ever back and back toward undiscovered beginnings. To think steadily of that to which the idea of origin cannot apply is not easy, if indeed it is possible at all.

Just as under certain conditions a tiny point of light can be seen, not be looking directly at it but by focusing the eyes slightly to one side, so it is with the idea of the Uncreated. When we try to focus our thought upon One who is pure uncreated being, we may see nothing at all, for He dwells in light that no man can approach unto. Only by faith and love are we able to glimpse Him as he passes by our shelter in the cleft of the rock.

“And although this knowledge is very cloudy, vague and general,” says Michael de Molinos, “yet, being supernatural, it produces far more clear and perfect cognition of God than any sensible or particular apprehension that can be formed in this life; because all corporeal and sensible images are immeasurably remote from God.”

The human mind, being created, has an understandable uneasiness about the Uncreated. We do not find it comfortable to allow for the presence of One who is wholly outside of the circle of our familiar knowledge. We tend to be disquieted by the thought of One who does not account to us for His being, who is responsible to no one, who is self-existent, self-independent, and self-sufficient.

Thought:

The human mind cannot comprehend the presence of God because He is beyond our knowledge. He is responsible to no one and is entirely self-existent.

Prayer:

Lord, can we, like Moses, ask to see Your glory? We know we cannot see Your face, but can we catch a flitting glimpse of Your back? In doing so, perhaps we can come to understand, if only partly, the concept of Your uncreatedness.

January 23, 2023

Serving Like Jesus: The Drop-In Center

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Through a rather non-linear series of events, Ruth Wilkinson finds herself back doing urban ministry from the church where she works, which is uniquely situated in the heart of a small town. After Christmas, she formed a group to start a Drop-In Center (or, as it’s spelled in Canada, Centre) to meet some needs with people lacking a permanent address.

A few weeks ago she was asked to give a presentation at a different church, about what she was doing. Since the 15-minute talk would be on a Sunday morning, as she wrapped up, she showed how each of the four areas they are striving to provide assistance is entirely consistent with the ministry life of Jesus.

I asked her if we could have a peek at her notes, and I’ve integrated her concluding scripture references with each of the four areas here.

The vision based on four kinds of interaction:

Charity

This is the simplest concept to implement, involving redistribution of resources. money, food, clothing, wifi, information.

Jesus performed acts of charity by feeding the hungry, healing the sick.

When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’”

At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” – John 7: 20-23 NIV

I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was alone and away from home, and you invited me into your house. I was without clothes, and you gave me something to wear. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ – Matthew 25: 35&36 NIV

Justice

This comes most naturally for some people – redistribution of power. looking a power structures and systems, seeing where selfishness and corruption are making life more difficult than necessary, speaking out, or working to change that dynamic. We all are born with a sense of when something is ‘not fair.’

Jesus performed acts of justice by flipping the tables to make room for all people to pray.

When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.” – Mark 11:15-17 NLT

Advocacy

This one is complicated but hugely important: They have to trust us. This can include listening to people who need help and going with them into the situations where they struggle – attending a doctor’s appointment and taking notes, making a phone call and navigating the “press one, press seven, press star” to get an actual answer from an actual person, sitting down with a pen and an application form and working through it together, finding out how to file an appeal when the answer is no.

Jesus performed an act of advocacy when he stood alongside the woman brought for judgement to the temple. He spoke for her, saying things she was unable to say herself.

Finally, only Jesus and the woman were left in the middle of the crowd.

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Is there no one to condemn you?”

She said, “No one, sir.” – John 8: 3, 9b-11 CEB

Presence

This one is most difficult – sometimes it feels like you’re not really doing anything. Having a conversation. Going for coffee, letting the other person pay. Showing up. Keeping your promises. Laughing. Grieving. Doesn’t feel like you’re making a difference. No bottom line. No accomplishments to point to. Being visible. Being reachable. Being a friend.

Jesus performed an act of Presence his whole life.

In his very nature he was God.
Jesus was equal with God. But Jesus didn’t take advantage of that fact.
Instead, he made himself nothing.
He did this by taking on the nature of a servant.
He was made just like human beings. (Phil 2:6-7 NIrV)

Conclusion

How we can serve our neighbours?
Just like Jesus.

Each of the four points above can be summed up in four short phrases:

  • Giving To
  • Speaking For
  • Speaking With
  • Being With

January 22, 2023

The Outward Sign of Holiness is… Holiness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re again highlighting an author here for the very first time. The blog Insights from Tom has been active since April, 2014. Tom is a former pastor. Readers here are reminded daily to send encouragement to featured authors (in the form of traffic) by clicking titles like the one which follows, and reading these articles where they first appeared.

[Note: The words in the verse which lead off today’s devotional are the words of Bildad, one of Job’s “comforters.”]

Job 8:6 False Prosperity

If you were pure and upright, surely now He would awake you, and prosper your rightful dwelling place. Job 8:6

Being prosperous is something that most people dream of and aim for. While all will aim for it, many, in their own minds, will never really make it there. In order to be considered prosperous, most believe that they must own a large home, have several cars and a very large income with no bills. And all of this must be at least as much as their neighbor has or more, regardless of how much that is.

Bildad tells Job that if he were really pure and upright God would make him prosperous right away.

Belief that prosperity makes one better. It is all about having more physical things, rather than having good character. Having more tends to be seen as having greater favor.

Inside the church this false belief has crept in and taken over the mindset of many believers. Along with seeking bigger, better and more things, many also believe that if one is faithful to God, He will automatically give them all of those things. Although God can bless a believer with many physical things in this life, He does not always do that. God only gives a believer what is best for him.

Physical prosperity is seen as a sign of one’s holiness bringing on God’s great favor, and those not prosperous are seen as failing in their walk with God.

Many believers have been blessed with great prosperity only to forget about God and their original mission to serve God. They begin to serve the things rather than God.

One must believe in and follow God, trusting God with all that God provides, whether little or great. God may or may not provide a lot of physical things, but either way He provides true life and true prosperity.

You may or may not have a lot of things in this life. One thing that you can have and is free is forgiveness of sins and an abundant life that will last for eternity.

Do not allow yourself to be caught up in the false belief that following God will automatically make you physically rich. That is a choice God makes based on what is best for you personally. The things of this world will pass away, but the life Jesus provides will last for eternity and nothing is better for you than that.

Today I pray that you will know Jesus as your Lord and Savior; that you will know the riches of God’s grace in your life; that you will see how prosperous you are with the eternal life God is giving you; that you will seek God above all things; and that you will seek to be like Jesus, rather than like the world.

January 21, 2023

Problems, Pain and Heartache

This is our third time with Rolain Peterson in Zimbabwe and his blog called Kingspeech. Two of his recent blog posts were related, the first is presented below in full, the second was originally Christmas-themed, but there was some content related to the other article that we felt fit perfectly and we slightly edited it for year-round application. Better yet, click the blog’s link above or the titles linked below and read these where they first appeared.

Big Problems, Bigger God!

There will always be giants to fight, trials and difficult times that come our way but we must always remember that no matter how big the giants are, or how threatening the trials and problems seem, that God is bigger than ALL the problems we face.

In the midst of the problems you face remember that God is bigger.

There is NO problem that you are facing right now that is bigger than God.

And it’s especially important where you are focused. Make sure that you are not focused on the problem alone.

Focus on the Lord in the midst of what you are going through.

The enemy wants you to focus on the problems, and the giants that are in your way so much that they seem bigger and stronger than God. That’s what happened to Israel when they faced Goliath.

Goliath stood and shouted a taunt across to the Israelites. “Why are you all coming out to fight?” he called. “I am the Philistine champion, but you are only the servants of Saul. Choose one man to come down here and fight me! If he kills me, then we will be your slaves. But if I kill him, you will be our slaves! I defy the armies of Israel today! Send me a man who will fight me!” When Saul and the Israelites heard this, they were terrified and deeply shaken.

1 Samuel 17:8-11 NLT

And this happened for 40 days and nights. (1 Samuel 17:16)

They were so focused on the GIANT problem in front of them that they forgot that God was bigger and much stronger than Goliath. But that was not the case with David. He knew God was bigger than Goliath. He was confident that God would destroy Goliath. (1 Samuel 17:34-37)

Friends, I want to encourage you to look to God in the midst of the difficult things you are going through today.

He is bigger than EVERY problem you will ever face.

No matter what you are going through call on Him.

You don’t need to go at it alone. You are not alone in the fire.

God is with you and He will deliver you!

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.”

Psalm 18:2 NLT

You Are Not Alone

(excerpt)

… The reality [is] that there are a lot of people facing depression, people who are contemplating suicide, people who are facing mental health issues and so many other negative things.

But there is an answer to all the pain and difficult things we go through… throughout the year.

“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

Isaiah 53:3 ASV

I love this scripture because it’s talking about JESUS. He was despised and rejected by men. He was acquainted with grief.

He was a man of sorrows! What a title.

If there is anyone who knows the pain you are going through it’s JESUS. He knows exactly what you are going through?

He knows the darkness you are in and the chains that are suffocating you.

He knows the hopelessness you are feeling at the moment and that is why you should call on Him immediately.

Whatever you are going through at the moment I want you to know that you are not alone. He is with you. He wants to help you and bring you out of the darkness. He wants to break the chains that are suffocating you right now.

Whatever pain and heartache you are going through remember that Jesus went through it. He was the man of sorrows.

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”

Isaiah 53:4 ASV

Give Him your grief. He will carry your sorrow.

So cry out to Him for help. He loves you and wants to be there for you.

He knows your every pain that you are going through right now.

There is hope for you… And His name is JESUS!

January 20, 2023

Models for Prayer

In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans. – Romans 8:26 CEB

But whenever you pray, go into your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him – Matthew 6:6-8 NET

Different people have different mental images when shopping for books in the “Prayer” category. For some it means books of prayers; the prayers of our spiritual forebears, the great prayers of the Bible, and occasionally, prayers shared by Christian authors and leaders still living. For others, it means books about prayer; teaching as to the how and when and where of our communication with our heavenly Father.

In my tribe, I was more exposed to the latter. I had great difficulty understanding why someone would want to pray a prayer that was written by someone else. To someone in a more liturgical tradition, it can still be, after many years, still difficult to form their own words and speak to God as one would speak to a friend at the coffee shop.

Today we look at three model prayers. The one which we did have a link for no longer connects to anything, so I can’t speak to the origins of these, but I know when I first found them, they struck me as worthy to share here. Two are simply variations of the model prayer Jesus teaches his disciples.

Becoming Like the One We Worship

This prayer is found in the book by G.K. Beale, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry, page 311.

Father, we thank you for your Word,
which is sober but not without hope.
Jesus has reformed his true people into his own image
on the basis of his own person, death, resurrection, and sending of the Spirit,
and he wants us to trust him and not be idol worshippers.

And so Lord,
cause us to revere you so we resemble you
and are blessed and restored to you,
and not ruined.
Give us eyes to see and ears to hear your truth
and give “us understanding so that we might know him who is true”
and to abide “in him who is true,
in his Son Jesus Christ.
This is the true God and eternal life.”

Give us grace to guard ourselves from idols.
Be with us to this end for your glory.

In Christ’s name,
Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer as You’ve Never Heard It

This appeared in 2010 at Thinking Out Loud. It is a version of what is commonly known as ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’ However this version is one translated from Aramaic, rather than Greek.

Oh Thou, from whom the breath of life comes,
who fills all realms of sound, light and vibration.
May Your light be experienced in my utmost holiest.
Your Heavenly Domain approaches.

Let Your will come true
in the universe
just as on earth.

Give us wisdom for our daily need,
detach the fetters of faults that bind us,
like we let go the guilt of others.

Let us not be lost in superficial things,
but let us be freed from that what keeps us off from our true purpose.

From You comes the all-working will,
the lively strength to act,
the song that beautifies all and renews itself from age to age.

Sealed in trust, faith and truth.
(I confirm with my entire being)

The Sibling’s Prayer

I have no idea how this got its name. It appeared in the early years of my other blog, Thinking Out Loud. It is credited to Dave Aldrich. It is also based on The Lord’s Prayer.

Dear Father,

We, Your children in Jesus, who live throughout the world, who love and revere You and await your perfect Kingdom…

Together we pray that Your will be done here on earth, in all our lives, as it is always fulfilled in Heaven.

We pray for one another, asking You to take care of our needs. We ask You to forgive all that divides us from You and from one other. And to lead us away from the temptation of trying to control our lives or the lives of others.

Keep that enemy of ours from distracting our focus upon You. We depend upon Your strength for we are but weak vessels.

This is Your Kingdom at stake, Your power and glory. Help us to put aside our differences and remember all that You’ve done for us and how much You love us. We love You.

 

January 19, 2023

Is Opposition Proof that We Are Good Christians?

by Clarke Dixon

…and you will be hated by all because of my name.

Matthew 10:22 (NRSV)

Hated by all. That is what Jesus said would happen. That is what many Christians think is happening now. With great apathy towards Christianity, or at least organized Christianity, by many plus outright outrage against the faith by some, this is proof we are being good Christians, right? Not necessarily.

People may reject or be against our particular expressions of Christianity for good reason. They may never get around to experiencing a better expression.

Let me give one example. Suppose we take the Bible at face value, taking the plain sense in every instance starting right at the beginning with how everything came into being. Taking six days of creation literally, and the timing of the patriarchs as accurate, we will arrive at the conclusion that the earth is quite young. However people go off to university, or Google, and are confronted with some pretty convincing evidence that the earth is not nearly as young as we say it is. Some of us will be unflappable: “see, hated by all just like Jesus said would happen! Therefore trust God, not scientists!” The opposition found in universities and online is treated as proof of correctness. We dig our heels in. The questioner walks away. The questioner may walk away, not just from our church or denomination, but from Christianity altogether and, sadly, from the possibility of connecting with Christ.

But what if we are wrong? N.T. Wright has said somewhere about how we do well to consider how history, theology, and literature has shaped the Bible. Something happened in history which either affirmed or challenged what people believed (theology). They then wrote from, and sometimes about those belief perspectives (literature). In the Bible we hold that literature. We don’t necessarily hold the history as it happened.

Having studied English Literature and Classical Studies in my undergraduate studies, I have little difficulty in seeing that there is something quite literary going on in the creation account of Genesis. In fact it is so poetic that I can’t even comprehend that it is supposed to be read as being a straight historical account. The writers of that day were trying to convey, in ways appropriate to their time and place, beliefs about God. They were not trying to write history the way we think we do today.

If we are holding tightly onto the idea that every word of the Bible conveys an accurate historical account, and if we then face opposition from those who have studied science and history, that opposition is not proof that we are being faithful, but rather that we might need to do a rethink. What we need is not more Bible reading from our own perspectives and biases, but more Bible reading with wisdom. The questioners who walk away depend on it.

Let us also note that the opposition Jesus spoke about was not from people outside Jesus’ own religion, but from people within. The opposition Jesus said his disciples will face is also from within, from their own religious peers, from their own faith family:

“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles… Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

Matthew 10:16-18,23 (NRSV)

Opposition from within still happens in our day. In fact opposition from within Christianity may be better proof of being on the right track than opposition from without.

Recently I preached a sermon called “The Bible Clearly Says that Women Must Be Silent in Church. Is that Fair?” Here is what one person commented on the video version of that sermon:

Fair? The Most High God determines fairness. This is a question asked by a base conscience person. Repent, walk away from your wicked ways, seek Christ, and live by the fruit of the spirit. Gal. 5:22-23

Evidently my quest for fairness and equality is to be equated with wickedness. Meanwhile people walk away from Christianity because they know better. Maybe they really do know better. Perhaps, like Jesus they have a nose for fairness and can smell injustice a mile away. The danger if we confuse opposition of our bad ideas with the kind of opposition Jesus faced, is that we will fail to break through to a better expression of our faith. We won’t be following Jesus as well as we think we do. We won’t be helping people connect with Jesus.

If we are going to face opposition in our day let it be because we are like Jesus, pushing against the status quo and seeking good things for people, and not because we are holding onto bad ideas.


Before they appear here, Ontario, Canada pastor Clarke Dixon’s condensed sermons appear at his blog, Thinking Through Scripture.

January 18, 2023

The Chain of Scripture

I’ve never owned or used a Thompson Chain Reference Bible, but I can see how, in a pre-personal-computer era, the concept would have been very appealing. You’re presented with a full-text Bible, but where certain key themes emerge, you’re encouraged to skip to another passage which is related, and then to another, and another; following a chain of thematically-connected verses.

Many years ago I became fascinated by the concept of scripture as a multi faceted 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. So we find as we read God’s word that many passages are connected to other passages, and that many others, even on their own, offer depths and riches of meaning and application.

But there is also the aspect that many verses are links in a chain, offering part of a whole larger imparting of God’s ways and God’s instructions on a variety of subjects. To fully grasp the mind of God — to see what is called the whole counsel of God — we need to dig deeper.

For example, what is the mark of our work and witness in the world? The first answer we would expect is love.

“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  ~John 13:35 NKJV

But we all know people who, because they are created in God’s image, are very loving people, do good works, are benevolent and charitable; but they have never acknowledged Christ’s deity or given him lordship over their lives.

Let’s take another step and expand the definition and say that the mark of the true Christian is the fruit of the spirit.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! ~Gal 5: 22,23 (NLT)

Peter would remind us however that in addition to growing in love (and joy and peace, etc.) we are to grow in the knowledge of God.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. ~II Peter 3:18 (ESV)

But clearly there is more, as we see in Paul’s prayer — and expectations — for the Colossian church:

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.  ~Col 1: 9-12 (NIV)

(We looked at this passage here.)

Even that passage doesn’t cover everything; there are other dimensions of evidence of Christ’s lordship over our lives — our possessions, our thought-lives, our decision making, our priorities and yes, our anxieties) and this is the idea of Christ’s rule and reign in our lives as we work toward becoming more conformed to his image.

I have no specific verse for this because there are so many. Someone once told me that the word Saviour appears 37 times in the KJV, and the word Lord appears over 7,000 times. That Jesus Christ is Lord is among the great themes of the Bible. The sovereignty of God, his ‘King-ship’ and Lordship over all creation is mirrored in the expectation that he will have rule and reign in our individual lives.

But if you want a specific reference, you do no better than the book of Romans which talks about whereas once sin ruled over us, the believer is now ruled by Christ.

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— ~Rom. 6:6 (NIV)

The ‘Lordship’ or ‘rulership’ of Christ doesn’t need a list to cover all possible situations. A life under Christ’s control will be able to deal with any and all possible situations and a person who defers their life choices to Jesus will stand out from the crowd. Their distinction will be evident. I believe that Christ leading us and captivating all that we think and do is going to impact the world in ways we can’t imagine.

As we said at the beginning, yes, the world will know we are Christians by our love, but they will also know it because we have submitted all to Christ. I’m not there yet — I have a long way to go — but as I write this, I make this my desire.


You thought of us before the world began to breathe
You knew our names before we came to be
You saw the very day we fall away from you
And how desperately we need to be redeemed

Lord Jesus
Come lead us
We’re desperate for your touch

Oh great and mighty one
With one desire we come
That you would reign that you would reign in us
We’re offering up our lives
A living sacrifice
That you would reign that you would reign in us

Spirit of the living God fall fresh again
Come search our hearts and purify our lives
We need your perfect love we need your discipline
We’re lost unless you guide us with your light

Lord Jesus
Come lead us
We’re desperate for your touch

Oh great and mighty one …

We cry out for your life to revive us cry out
For your love to define us cry out
For your mercy to keep us
Blameless until you return

Oh great and mighty one

So reign please reign in us
Come purify our hearts
We need your touch
Come cleanse us like a flood
And set us out
So the world may know you reign you reign in us

January 17, 2023

God Doesn’t Share His Lordship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. – Matthew 26:49

Today’s devotional is shorter, but I loved the story at the beginning which sets us up for what follows. (There’s an artist’s depiction of the event if you click on the title which follows.)

Last year at this time we introduced you to Hope who writes at Patiently Hopeful. Clicking the individual post titles like the one below sends the writers traffic, which in turn sends encouragement.

Crowning Himself King

“As the pope approached Napoleon with the crown, Napoleon took the crown and placed it on his own head. Napoleon did not want to answer to anyone.” Ray Notgrass, Exploring World History part 2, 2014, p. 580

He crowned himself king.

As arrogant as this action speaks to us of the pride of Napoleon, we dare not pass it off as merely one man’s error.

For arrogance is simply the offspring of self being allowed to rule within one’s heart.

We might fool ourselves or others, as to the extent we allow self to rule.

But God is never fooled.

Not only is He always aware of the complete standing of one’s heart, He is also seeking to teach us what is there as well.

Our teachability comes from who sits upon the throne of our heart.

“While Judas called Jesus ‘Rabbi’ (Matt. 26:49), there is no record that he used the term ‘Lord’. It has always been possible to claim allegiance to God without ever handling over the soul’s title deed…How many attend church regularly and give Jesus intellectual assent, but not their hearts? How many call Him King, only to assume their own thrones?” – Charles Stanley, The Life Principles Bible, Nelson Bibles, 2005, page 1257

Have I crowned myself king?

Or do I allow God to rule my heart?

The Lord knows the truth and we should be honest within ourselves as to that truth as well.

Because God doesn’t share lordship.

Either we grant Him the place He deserves our we don’t, it’s never a partial thing.

Luke 16:13 KJV — No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

“That faith alone is true which rests on God alone, that confidence which relies but partly on the Lord is vain confidence.” C. H. Spurgeon

Dear Lord Jesus,

Thank You for Your faithfulness. Thank You for Your Word. Lord, please continue to show me my heart and the motivations there. Lord, I want You to rule and reign. I want my life to bring You glory. I want my actions, attitudes, and words to be honorable before You. Lord, I know You have everything in Your hands. Your ways are perfect and blessing comes from You. Please continue to teach me how to walk in today letting You be King, for You are the King of all kings. I love You, Jesus. Amen.


Second Helping:

In another piece of writing, Hope weaved together some scripture passages concerning the arrest of Jesus. It contained this quotation from David Guzik for your consideration:

“A sinless Man in an appointed garden was about to do battle with Satan’s representative (Luke 22:3). The first time this happened, the sinless man failed. The Second Adam would not fail.”

Click to read, When Surrender Was Victory.

January 16, 2023

Peter Wrote to an Ongoing, Continuing, Future Church

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. – Matthew 16:18 NLT

Did the epistle-writers (Paul, Peter, John, James, Jude) know that their words were not just for the immediate recipients of their letters but also “… your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call;” including you and me? In today’s devotional we get a sense of that. His generation would pass, but God was building his church; his gathered ones; and Peter had been told personally that nothing would thwart that…

Last year at this time we introduced you to Pastor Will who lives on the U.S. west coast. If you have time, check out his testimony. His blog is titled, Today’s Scripture. We plucked today’s devotional from the middle of a series on 2 Peter, all of which makes great commentary on the passage.

When We Listen

Read with Me

2 Peter 3:1-2 (HCSB)
Dear friends, this is now the second letter I have written to you; in both letters, I want to develop a genuine understanding with a reminder, so that you can remember the words previously spoken by the holy prophets and the command of our Lord and Savior given through your apostles.

Listen with Me

Peter knew two things very well. First, he knew that he was not going to live forever. This knowledge was underscored as he wrote this letter by the fact that he was now sitting on death row in a Roman prison. He knew that he would never deny Jesus to save his own life again, so he knew that he would make his transition the next world sooner rather than later.

But he also knew that the Church, the community of those belonging to God through faith in Jesus, would continue after he was gone. And he knew that, for that reason, he had a responsibility to ensure that the Christians of the future would be reminded of who they are and what they were charged with doing, even after he and the other apostles had passed on. That is the reason for his writing both of his letters, and it provides the context in which both are to be read.

Whereas neither Peter, nor Paul, nor any of the other writers of the New Testament epistles, ever sat down to write “Scriptures”, Peter also understood that what he was writing to pass down to future generations of Christians was not merely his own thoughts or opinions.

Instead, he knew that he was passing on the commands of Jesus that were being given to his people through the apostles. His words were not his own. He was just doing his best to pass on the words of the holy prophets of old, pure and untarnished, but made clear by the life and ministry of Jesus. And he was also working to make sure that he was passing on the words that Jesus Himself spoke, both while in the flesh and through the presence of the Holy Spirit, also pure and untarnished. And it was these words, not his own thoughts or opinions, that he knew would serve to stimulate his readers to genuine understanding, and would protect them from both false teachings, and compromises and corruptions of the truth.

Pray with Me

Father, reading these letters with Peter’s stated intentions in mind really does provide a content that makes them make a lot of sense. Peter was not only living focused on the present, but with an eye to the future; a future that includes me today. He was well aware that false doctrines were already arising, and that they would only multiply as time went on. So, he did his best to convey what Jesus revealed to him would help us to stay in the center of what is true and right, instead of allowing ourselves to be whipped about by the winds of changing worldviews and morphing doctrines. Thank you for Peter and his faithfulness. Amen.

 

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