Christianity 201

April 24, 2019

Faithful in Little; Faithful in Much

Today we return to the writing of Sarah Jo who writes at Blind Insanity. Click the header below to read at source and then take a minute to look around the rest of her blog.

Faithful in a Little

I attended a leadership conference put on by CBMC (Christian Businessmen’s Connection). I am obviously not a businessman, but this was an open leadership conference, with five speakers; two of which were women…

The biggest takeaway I got … comes from a verse shared by one of the speakers:

 He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much. He who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. (Luke 16:10)

As I kept meditating on that verse, I was reminded of all the times I’ve cried out to God for a greater purpose, a greater calling. And I just feel ashamed of that prayer.

Yes, it would be great to do big and awesome things for God, but He is the One Who decides what is a “big” thing, not me.

I have called my current life and ministries “little things,” but those are the things God has called me to be faithful in. Anything God has called me to do is priceless and worth whatever price I must pay.

Whether my calling seems grand or seems humble, my resolve to serve well and to make the most of every opportunity should be the same.

I am not a prominent business leader. I have not inspired hundreds of people, but if I have cast a vision of Christ into one soul, that is enough.

The whole purpose of my life is not the pursuit of happiness or the satisfaction of my basic needs; it is the glory of Christ.

I don’t always live like that.

Too often, I live like my purpose is to be comfortable and have everything I need.

Just last night, as I was about to leave my house to spend the night at my parents, I went downstairs and found that the drain for my kitchen sink and clothes washer was blocked up. There was a mix of soapy water just sitting above the drain in the floor.

My first response was, “Jesus, why?!” And I have to confess that it has weighed heavy on my mind since then… but that is a very little thing. The answer is simple; trust God, face the problem, and take care of it.

Ultimately, God provides, and the hardships we face become a part of our past; important steps in our growth in Christ.

So, I choose to make the most of the life God has given me right here and now.

I choose to lead well in the sphere of influence God has presented me with.

And I choose to glorify Christ every step of the way.

April 23, 2019

A Willing Sacrifice

Paula Maillet has been blogging at Along Emaus Road since 2005, and we first introduced her here six months ago. Her pieces are shorter so I’ve posted two Easter-themed articles below.

The Deliberateness Of The Crucifixion Of Jesus 

“Then Jesus said to them,
‘All of you will be made to stumble because of me this night,
for it is written: “I will strike the Shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’”
Matthew 26:31-32

What is notable in the story of Jesus’s crucifixion is that he was in control of it from start to finish. He knew in advance every detail of the story before it happened. He knew Judas would betray him. He knew he would be condemned to die, and THAT – by human beings that he himself had brought into the world! He knew that the disciples would be scattered. When Satan had previously made attempts to do away with him, he would disappear into the crowd. He would not die until the determined time, and that was totally under his control.

“Therefore my Father loves me,
because I lay down my life that I may take it again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself.
I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.”
John 10:17-18

Pope Francis said that Jesus’s life ended in failure, “the failure of the Cross.” What heresy! ON THE CONTRARY -the Cross is the very foundation of the faith. His “failure” opened to us entry into heaven. His “failure” provides us eternal life.Through his “failure” alone is there forgiveness of sins. No, there is no failure in the atonement made by Christ for us, rather it is the single most triumphant accomplishment of God on behalf of lost mankind. From start to finish -he was in control of every detail.

The story of the Cross is the pre-planned work of God and Jesus did it deliberately.

The Cross of Jesus Christ was not a failure, it was the greatest act of love ever performed, through which God has provided salvation to mankind.

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
John 15:13

The Irony Of It – The Humility Of Jesus Christ

“And when they had come to the place called Calvary,
there they crucified him”
Luke 23:33

One of the most profound elements in this story is the irony. Jesus Christ ALLOWED himself to be tortured and crucified. He did not resist:

“He was oppressed and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth.
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.”
Isaiah 53:7

The men who crucified him were dependent on God for their next breath. Imagine it! This is the Son of God who created the universe:

“For by him all things were created
that are in heaven and that are on earth,
visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers.
All things were created through him and for him.
And he is before all things, and IN HIM ALL THINGS CONSIST.”
Colossians 1:16

He created and sustains the universe, yet he allowed men which he had made -to torture and crucify him. Oh the irony! Oh the condescension!

“He came to die on a cross of wood,
who made the hill on which it stood.”

In this the love of God is shown, because he condescended to do this FOR US. On that Cross, he received in himself the judgment upon all our sin. He did for us what we could never have done for ourselves because we are sinners, but he was not. The following is the most awesome clip I have ever seen. It’s short, take the time to see it. Then forward it, share it with others. It could change a person’s destiny.

In Christ All Things Consist

April 22, 2019

Hope Through the Resurrection of Christ

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Russell Young

The hope of all who will dwell eternally with the Lord is accomplished through his death and resurrection. Peter has written, “Praise be to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade.” (1 Pet 1:3) The word “through” is “a primary preposition denoting the channel of an act.” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary) That is, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the channel that gives new hope into an eternal inheritance; his resurrection does not accomplish the inheritance but gives hope for it. This makes sense when considering other texts.

Before his crucifixion the Lord said, “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (Jn 16:7) The Lord had to be resurrected to send the Counsellor or Spirit and it is the Spirit who gives life. (Jn 6:63) The resurrection of Christ is “the channel” through which God’s gift, the Spirit, is given. Paul taught now that “we have been released from the bondage of the law we serve in (are in bondage to or are a slave to) the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” (Rom 7:6) It should not be mistaken! Having been released from the law the confessor is now in bondage to the Spirit who was given through the resurrection of Christ.

The New Covenant is a covenant of the Spirit (2 Cor 3:6) and the hope of every confessor rests in his or her commitment to keeping it. Peter wrote of the need to be on guard against the “error of lawless men.” (2 Pet 3:17) Lawless men teach the absence of law; however, the law of the New Covenant is the Law of the Spirit of life (Rom 8:2) or the law of Christ (1 Cor 9:21). This is important! The confessor’s living hope comes through the resurrection of Christ and his provision of the Spirit so that his law might be honored.

Some understand that the believer’s eternal hope is accomplished through being raised with Christ– that those who confess belief have been raised with him and remain with him. Paul wrote, “Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set you hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” (Col 3:1) “Raised” means “roused or revived in resemblance” to Christ. (Strong’s Greek Dictionary) With the cleansing provided by Christ’s blood offering the confessor has been freed of sins (“past” Heb 9:15) and resembles Christ in purity. The confessor is not raised and seated with Christ but has been made pure. He or she has been given a “living hope” so that as Paul says, “we may live a new life.” (Rom 6:4).

Paul has addressed the security that comes from being “in” Christ. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 8:1) This thought should provide comfort and induce commitment. It is the dead in Christ who will be raised first at his return. (1 Thess 4:16) The problem is that not all confessors (possessors of the Spirit) will not remain in Christ. The Lord warned that those who do not produce fruit would be cut out of him. (Jn 15:2) John wrote, But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:5−6 Italics added)

Even Paul declared his lack of certainty about being resurrected (Phil 3:11−12) and that he wanted to become more like Christ in his death (to sin); he still had more living to do which would bring more opportunity to sin and continued need to overcome. A person’s resurrection to life or damnation will be based on his or her “doing” while in his or her body. (Jn 5:29)

Easter Sunday commemorated the resurrection of Christ and it is through him that the Spirit is given that we, too, might have a living hope through the defeat of sin by the power of the Spirit. The resurrection of Christ is the channel of the believer’s hope. “Christ in you, [your] hope of glory” (Col 1:27) and Christ is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:17, 18) Believers must continue to use all that has been provided to “work out (complete, finish) their salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12) Without the resurrection of Christ there would be no Spirit, and without the Spirit their would be no life and no hope.



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His 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.

 

April 21, 2019

Resurrected, Jesus Was Seen by Hundreds

Andy Rau writes at Bible Gateway:

It’s clear from the Gospel accounts that the story of Jesus reaches its culmination with the Resurrection. But the tidbits we do get about the post-Resurrection days not only satisfy some of our curiousity about how Jesus’ Resurrection was received by his followers, but also give us the evangelistic direction that guides Christ-followers to this day.


An introduction from the website Answers in Genesis:

Following His Resurrection from the dead, Jesus made a number of appearances to his followers—no less than ten of these are recorded in Scripture. Beginning on Resurrection Sunday, He “showed himself alive . . . by many infallible proofs” (Acts 1:3, KJV) and instructed His apostles and many other followers periodically for forty days. He then ascended from Mount Olivet, near Jerusalem, while the apostles watched (Acts 1:9–12). To sort out the verses in question, we need to examine several appearances in terms of when and where they occurred and who witnessed them.

Paul included a summary statement in 1 Corinthians 15 that provides information about these appearances and others unrecorded in the Gospels or Acts.

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. (1 Corinthians 15:3–7)

We know that those appearances include a visit with Cephas (Peter), to “the twelve” after that, and subsequently to over five hundred people at once, most of whom were still living eyewitnesses at the time Paul wrote his letter.


Don Stewart at the website Blue Letter Bible:

Luke records Jesus’ saying.

Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have (Luke 24:39).

The Various Appearances Of Jesus

Many different people saw Jesus after the resurrection. The appearances were as follows.

Mary Magdalene

The first appearance of Jesus was to Mary Magdalene.

Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ She, supposing him to be the gardener, said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him, ‘Rabboni!’ (which is to say, Teacher) (John 20:14-16).

This appearance was totally unexpected.

Mary The Mother Of James, Salome, And Joanna

Jesus also appeared to these three women. This happened after the appearance to Mary Magdalene. After an angel told them Jesus had risen, they were on their way to tell Jesus’ disciples when they met the risen Christ

And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him (Matthew 28:9).

Again, we have another unexpected appearance. As was true with Mary Magdalene, these women touched the body of Jesus.

Peter

Peter is the first person mentioned in Paul’s list of witnesses, and is the first of the apostles to see the risen Christ. This was a private appearance to reassure him, since he had just denied his Lord. The gospels are completely silent as to the details of this meeting. Luke merely wrote:

The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon! (Luke 24:34).

Two Disciples On The Emmaus Road

Later on Easter Sunday, Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. And they were conversing with each other about all these things which had taken place. And it came about that while they were conversing and discussing, Jesus himself approached, and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing him (Luke 24:13-16).

As was true with the women, these two disciples were not expecting Jesus to rise. In fact, they were leaving Jerusalem because they had lost hope in Him.

The Disciples – Thomas Absent

This is the last of the five appearances of Jesus on Easter Sunday. It took place in the evening, probably in the upper room in which Jesus had instituted the Lord’s Supper. It is recorded in both Luke’s and John’s gospel, giving us two independent accounts as to what happened. John wrote:

When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when he had said this, he showed them both his hands and his side. The disciples therefore rejoiced when they saw the Lord. . . But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came (John 20:19,20,24).

All Of The Disciples

Eight days later He appeared again – this time with Thomas present.

And after eight days his disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, ‘Peace to you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Reach your finger here, and look at my hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into my side. Do not be unbelieving but believing.’ And Thomas answered and said to him, ‘My Lord and My God!’ (John 20:26-28).

Seven Disciples At The Sea Of Galilee

Another appearance was to seven disciples on the Sea of Galilee.

After these things Jesus manifested himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and he manifested himself in this way. There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples (John 21:1, 2).

A Mountain In Galilee

There is also the account of Jesus appearing before His eleven disciples in Galilee.

But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. And when they saw him, they worshiped him; but some were doubtful(Matthew 28:16,17).

[There’s more supporting texts outside the Gospels; go back above and click the link for the whole article.]


Brian Chilton notes other appearances from a longer article, 13 Different Resurrection Appearances of Jesus

7. 500 or More at One Time (1 Cor. 15:6)

It could be that this meeting is the same as number 11 on our list. However, we do not have enough evidence to know when this gathering took place. Suffice to say, Jesus appeared to a large gathering of disciples. He was seen of over 500 disciples at one time.

Personally, since only men were numbered in antiquity, I think you see the same effect with this number that you would with the feeding of the 5,000. I think it is possible that there were 1,500 or even perhaps 2,000 that witnessed the risen Jesus at this encounter.

8. James and Perhaps Other Family Members (1 Cor. 15:7)

James had a private meeting with his risen brother. I think it is strongly probable that Jesus also met with his other family members at this time.

10. 72 Apostles Implied (1 Cor. 15:7)

In 1 Corinthians 15:7, a distinction is made between Jesus’s appearance to the Twelve (1 Cor. 15:5) and his appearance to “all the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:7). Jesus had twelve disciples, but he also had a larger body of disciples outside of the twelve.

Luke notes that Jesus appointed “seventy-two others, and he sent them ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself was a bout to go” (Lk. 10:10). I think this means that Jesus appeared to all the seventy-two disciples that he had previously commissioned while in Galilee.

12. Ascension (Ac. 1:1-11)

Jesus’s final public post-resurrection event happened at his ascension. Being that the ascension happened in the bustling town of Jerusalem on a prominent mount in the area, it would be difficult to ascertain just how many people witnessed the ascension of Jesus.

13. Appearance to Paul (Ac. 9:1-9)

Lastly, Jesus appeared after his ascension to Paul. Saul Paul was a man who was an antagonist to the Christian faith. However, the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to Paul transformed him from a skeptic to a passionate communicator of Christian truth.

[The writer also notes that these appearances]

  1. Had embarrassing factors (seen first by women).
  2. Transformed skeptics into believers (Thomas, James, and Paul).
  3. Was not a one-time event but witnessed by many over the course of 40 days.
  4. Was publicly seen by multiple people which dispels any rumors of hallucinations.
  5. Allowed those who were weak to become strong in their faith that Jesus had risen (e.g., Peter).

I believe that Jesus appeared to many others during this period. Jesus’s resurrection was not a hallucination. His appearance was not a one-time showing. The fact that Jesus appeared after his resurrection as he did verifies that Jesus had indeed defeated death. This is something that we should not only celebrate for the forty days of Easter, but 365 days a year.


Summary of the events from the website Evidences for Christianity:

 

April 20, 2019

Holy Saturday: There Has Never Been Such a Silence as This

This day.

This day that is not Good Friday, not Easter Sunday.

In many respects, the Roman Catholic Church somewhat owns today in the sense that some of our best available commentary and liturgy is from Catholic sources. Today’s words are recent writings from a variety of Catholic and Evangelical sources.

From writer Hayden Royster:

Today, in many liturgical churches, there’s no service or liturgy on Saturday; instead, they’ll wait until evening to celebrate the Easter Vigil Mass. These vigils begin the lights extinguished, the holy water drained and the tabernacle empty. Some traditions will actually perform a funeral service using the​ E​pitaphios,​ ​an embroidered cloth that depicts a buried Christ​. In Mexico, Brazil and other Latin American countries, sorrow takes a more explosive form: people will purchase large, ugly effigies of Judas Iscariot (Jesus’ betrayer), string them up on lamposts, attach firecrackers to them and light ‘em up…

Holy Saturday is also, traditionally, a day of triumph. According to the Nicene Creed, Saturday is the day of the Harrowing of Hell, that spectacular event wherein Jesus descended into Hades, gathered all of the righteous people, and “opened Heaven’s gates for those that have gone before him,” in the words of the Catholic Catechism.

Now, not every Christian tradition holds to this piece of the Easter story; admittedly, the scriptural evidence for it is pretty sparse. But even those who don’t believe in the Harrowing still view Holy Saturday as a day of great expectation…

From John 19, NIV:

38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.[e] 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

From the Video Channel of Fr. William Nicholas:

How do we understand and observe the Day before Easter, between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection? Father Bill discusses a useful outlook and ways to remember and observe the “time in between” before launching into the 50 Days of Easter.

From the website All About Jesus Christ:

Jesus’ Tomb – The Stone

The stone at Jesus’ tomb serves as a reminder of other elements of Christ’s life. When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus is asked to turn a stone into bread (Matthew 4:3). Jesus is the bread of life (John 6:35) as well as the living Stone (1 Peter 2:4, NIV). In Mark 12:10, Jesus refers to Himself as the stone that the builders rejected, which becomes a capstone. If necessary, stones would cry out, proclaiming Jesus the King of Kings (Luke 19:40). Jesus appeared before Pilate, who sat upon the judgment seat, the Stone Pavement (John 19:13). It is not surprising, therefore, that a stone should serve as a phenomenal part of Jesus’ tomb. Upon Jesus’ death, the earth convulsed violently — rocks split, tombs opened, and bodies were raised from the dead (Matthew 27:50-54). This was certainly a prelude of things to come.

To assure that Jesus’ tomb . . . and its contents . . . remained undisturbed, Pilate ordered a large stone positioned against the entrance. A sloped channel assisted the guards in rolling the boulder. A deep groove cut in bedrock at the tomb’s entrance firmly settled the stone. At the urging of the chief priests, Pilate further secured the Jesus’ tomb by placing a Roman seal on the stone, stationing four Roman soldiers at the entrance. To guarantee maximum security, every three hours fresh, alert (i.e. not sleeping as indicated in Matthew 28:13) guards would be exchanged.

From Romans 6, NIV:

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 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— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

From another Roman Catholic website, Aleteia:

…For many centuries there was even a strict fast on Holy Saturday, permitting no food to be eaten in observance of this painful day. Many would stay in the church throughout the night of Good Friday, keeping Jesus company in the tomb.

A homily from the 2nd century confirms this general atmosphere in the church, “What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.”

One of the reasons for this “great silence” is to enter into the pain of Jesus’ death and the loss the apostles must have felt. Think about it for a minute.

While Jesus taught them continually about his resurrection, the apostles likely had some doubts, seeing the death of their master. They might have thought to themselves, “If he is the Messiah, why did he die? I thought he said he would rise from the dead?” In this way Holy Saturday is that day of doubt and sorrow, not knowing what to do or what to believe.

Even the Easter Vigil begins in silence, in the complete darkness of the church.

However, the good news is that Jesus, the light of the world, has truly risen and dispels the darkness and any doubts we may have had. The church erupts in pure joy at the Easter Vigil and music, bells and light lift up our hearts to God.

Only after experiencing the silence of Holy Saturday can we truly appreciate the loud and joyful celebrations of the Easter Vigil…

This day.

This day that is not Good Friday, not Easter Sunday.

But something is about the take place.

Something is about to happen which will change the course of history.

April 19, 2019

Final Words to Friends

An excerpt from Peter Marshall –The First Easter (McGraw-Hill, 1959) pp. 16-19

The eleven men who were left were very quiet. The voice of Christ was very soft and low — tender with farewell.

It was now only a matter of hours until Christ and his disciples would be separated. He wished to fill those last hours of fellowship with the tenderest and most significant of His teachings.

The most sacred… the most tender… the most heart-felt emotions… are those expressed at the end of the letter…

The tenderest caress comes just before the parting. The softest word just before the conversation is ended… before the train pulls out… before we turn away.

We seem to catch the quiet intimacy of that fellowship. Unforgettable words of parting and comfort were spoken by Jesus to His friends. Jesus has written them out for us:

  • “Little children … a new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have loved you … By this will all know that you are my disciples…”
  • “Let not your heart be troubled; … In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you…”
  • “I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you…”
  • “I am the vine, you are the branches… Abide in me, and I in you…”
  • “these things I have spoken unto you that in me you might have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world…”

Overcome the world? When the one who spoke was so soon to fall under the power of Caesar? Yes, for in reality we must remember that Jesus could have escaped the cross. No one compelled him to go to Jerusalem on that last journey. Indeed His friends and apostles urged Him not to go.

Watch Him, in the bitter hours that lie immediately ahead, time after time taking the initiative in deciding His own fate.

Christ had begun His ministry by telling His apostles that the Son of many must suffer many things. Must — there was no other way. It was for that purpose that He had come into the world.

“For as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up .. that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

There was Light in the little room that night. But beyond the light lay a death-ridden world…

  • in the midst of the military might that was Rome where life was cheap
  • in the philosopher’s porticoes of Athens where the mind found no hope
  • in the dangerous living of the great shipping centers of Asia Minor to the disease infested alleys of old Jerusalem —

Men feared death, dodged its hideous grasp, could nowhere find respite from their fear.

But here was something new… Here was one facing death — not afraid but confident … already triumphant … already speaking about seeing His friends again … about never leaving them…

Strange words … about being with them to the uttermost parts of the earth and to the end of time.

How? Why? Because He alone knew the Father’s eternal purpose for what it was — the determination once and for all to destroy the power of death — once and for all to deliver men from their lifelong bondage to the fear of death.

Within a matter of hours, Christ Himself was to become the instrument by which the Father would — for all time — make death not a wall … but a door.

April 18, 2019

Compelling Grace, Part 2

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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How Loving Others Points to God

by Clarke Dixon

For a worldview or religion to be compelling you would expect it to nurture good relationships. This is especially true where offence is involved. Where there are relationships, there are hurting people, for people hurt people. We are human. If a worldview or religion is true, we should expect that it will help us relate to one another and navigate the nasty quirks of our humanity.

Does Christianity provide a compelling vision for relationships including a method of dealing with offence? Some would say “no, Christianity is all rules which makes people get all judgemental.” Others would say, “no, Christianity is all forgiveness which turns people into doormats.” So which is it?

Last week we looked at the compelling way God relates to us. To summarize, God’s relationship with us is based on His grace, not our performance. How are we to relate to others?

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 (NLT)

As God relates to us, we relate to others; with love and grace. Consider the following verses:

7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. . . .
10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. . . .
16 God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.  We love each other because he loved us first.
 If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. 1 John 4:7,10,16-21 (NLT)

We are to relate to others in the same manner God relates to us; with love and grace. There are some things we can say about this . . .

First, grace provides a compelling atmosphere for relationships. Some relationships are like sailing in a thunderstorm or like walking on eggshells. Fear is a constant. However, “perfect love expels all fear.” God drives out our fear for He does not treat us as our sins deserve (see Psalm 103), but rescues us, and relates to us, by his grace. What is true with our relationship with God can also be true in our relationship with others. Grace provides a great fear-free atmosphere for people to thrive in growing relationships. In marriage, in family, among friends, at the workplace, in teams, the experience of grace given and received provides a great atmosphere to live, work and play.

Second, grace provides a compelling response to offence. People often deal with offence by either “fight or flight.” Neither work well. The Christian is to do neither. Rather than lash out and risk an all out war, we are to turn the cheek. Some will say that is not at all compelling. Won’t people will walk all over us and take advantage of our grace? Well, no, grace provides for a flexibility in responding to offence.

Suppose a spouse is abused again and again, and each time the abused spouse is expected to forgive the abuser as if nothing ever happened. Is that compelling? No. I call this “doormat grace.” Some would say this is the vision of Christianity in dealing with offence, but it is not. The Bible teaches the need for grace, love, and forgiveness in relationships, yes, but the Bible also teaches the need for wisdom. The Book of Proverbs is still in the Bible! We need not offer doormat grace, but wise grace. Grace toward offenders means wanting the best for them, it does not mean putting up with the worst for yourself. When you respond with grace, you do not seek the destruction of the offender, but neither do you open yourself up for destruction. The gracious person turns the other cheek instead of hitting back. The wise person also takes a step back.

Grace, when applied with wisdom, sounds like this: “I will not seek your harm, though I think you deserve it, however, I do not trust you and so have set boundaries so that you can not harm me further. There may be opportunities for changing these boundaries in the future, but right now I discern these to be appropriate for my own safety and well-being.” Grace leads to not seeking revenge. It does not lead to acting as if the offence never happened, that trust has never been broken. Wisdom considers trust. Grace considers the possibility of future relationship. Wisdom considers the possibility of future harm. Grace leads to treating people better than they deserve. Wisdom leads to not letting people treat you worse than you deserve.

Grace in relationships is compelling. It provides a compelling atmosphere for relationships and a compelling response to offence which includes flexibility in applying wisdom in responding to offence. Within Christian relationships there is space for growth, reconciliation, boundaries, and safety for oneself. Christianity when practiced in emulation of God, in the Spirit of Christ, and keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, provides a compelling vision for relationships, including a compelling method of dealing with offence. The manner in which Christians are to relate to others is really compelling. This is no surprise of course, for it comes from a real God.


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.

 

April 17, 2019

Wounded by a Fellow Soldier

This week we haven’t focused specifically on the Passion Week of Jesus as we have in other years. Today’s theme seems equally disconnected, until one considers the betrayal Jesus suffered from Judas, and the betrayal inflicted by Peter. Two of his own disciples.

Today we’re returning to Jeffrey Youngblood, who writes at Thoughts of a Blessed Man. Click the header below to read at source.

Friendly Fire

For you will certainly carry out God’s purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.- CS Lewis

Friendly fire is a devastating term. In warfare,  it is the term indicating that someone has sustained a wound from a source that is unlikely, their compatriot, comrade, fellow-soldier, and friend.

Can you imagine receiving a mortal wound from someone fighting for the same cause as yourself? Could you imagine being the one that inflicted this wound?

I am currently reading a book about US Grant, and it describes the devastating blow that the Confederate States of America sustained  when Stonewall Jackson was cut down by friendly fire in the heat of the battle. For many, they felt that this one man’s death was a catalyst for the Union armies to ultimately win the Civil War.

Friendly fire is almost certainly accidental. The term for non-accidental friendly fire is called murder…

Peter may have experienced a glancing blow during his walk with God, or sustained a devastating blow himself a time or two. In his second letter he wrote that if someone was going to make their calling and election certain there had to be somethings that were added to the Christians life. Faith was essential, and was the starting point. Obviously this makes sense, because Paul reported that our first line of defense as we are armored in the Lord’s army was the shield of faith.

Without faith we know that “it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.(Hebrews 11:6).

Peter does not stop there to ensure our calling. He said on top of faith, add good character or virtue. Have integrity. Do things the right way all the time regardless the circumstances. Then he admonishes to utilize your knowledge to supplement your good character.

Knowledge of what? What side are you on? We are not wrestling against mankind. Paul in Ephesians said we are wrestling against rulers, authorities, cosmic powers over this present darkness, and spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places. We know that the enemy of our soul is after us. We know that he is trying to destroy us.

So now our faith has been supplemented with virtue and knowledge, but we still are not done. We are still going through the credentialing process of our calling. Peter said that self-control should be betrayed in our actions/lifestyle. Then we have to be consistent and try to mirror the image that God has given us in his word.

People should be able to see Jesus in our lives, and Peter said that the only way people are going to be able to see Jesus present in our world is by supplementing the faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, and godliness with brotherly kindness.

Paul said it this way…

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:9-10).

Only after we begin to love our brothers and sisters, and take every opportunity not to cause harm, can we affirm that we have charity that can be added to our faith. In this case we are able to affirm to Jesus Christ that we have taken necessary steps to ensure that our calling and election is certain.

The will of God is going to be accomplished with or without us. Are we going to inflict “friendly fire” like Judas? Are we taking the necessary steps to ensure that our calling and election is above reproach?

Jesus still went through with obtaining our salvation on the cross, but Judas did not have to be the catalyst to ensure his “friend” was murdered.

Take careful aim today. Who do you find in the cross hairs?

 

April 16, 2019

Mid-Course Corrections

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The analogy between living the Christian life and flying an airplane or sending up a rocket; and the inherent need to make mid-course corrections, is an analogy that I feel is under-utilized.

For the above reason, I chose this shorter devotional from Chris Hendrix at the website Devotions by Chris.

Readjusting Your Course

Every time I fly, I think about a friend of mine who is a pilot. I’ve asked him many questions about the process of flying and what it’s like to be in the cabin. I’ve even questioned him about autopilot. He told me that before a flight, he plots the course based off of information he gets from others who are flying that route. Once the plane is in the air and cruising, he turns on autopilot. I wondered if it was really that easy. He then explained that at the cruising altitude, the winds can blow us off course and he has to readjust to get the plane back on course. If he doesn’t, the plane could arrive miles from its destination.

Our walk with God is a lot like that. We love to set our lives to autopilot and think that will get us directly to Heaven, but the Christian life is more than autopilot. In order to be successful at living this life, we need to have people in our lives who are ahead of us and have walked the path we are on. We need to listen to the information they’re giving us because they’ve seen first hand where turbulence lies. It’s important to have people in our lives who can give us guidance and the information we need to make the right decisions. Proverbs 13:20 tells us that if we want to be wise, we need to be around wise people.

The next thing we have to do is be aware of how the winds of life shift us from our course. Things happen. Problems are going to arise. We need to be in a constant state of questioning if we are still on course for where God has us headed. Reevaluation is an important part of your Christian life. Asking if we are where God wants us when God wants us to be there is important. Are we still on the path that God put us on? That path is hard to see sometimes. We need to have God’s Word in our hearts.

Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.”

Applying God’s word to your life and taking advice from others will help you to live the most impactful Christian life you can. When we know what God says in His Word, we are able to defeat temptation that would take us off course. If we do get knocked off course, it’s not the end of the world. God offers forgiveness and course corrections. He makes a way to get back to where He had us heading. Don’t quit because you’ve been blown off course. Take the advice of someone who has been blown off course and been given a path back. God will not abandon you or the plans He has for you no matter how far off course you get. There’s always a way back.


We used this analogy before here in a different form — the idea of wandering off a path and needing to find our way back — in an often repeated item here at C201 on 2 Timothy 3:16.


Today’s devotional was shorter, so if you’re up for some bonus content, here’s a scripture medley Chris put together on the theme of kindness.

April 15, 2019

A Conscious Choice to Use What We Have for Good

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This marks seven times we’ve featured the writing of Paul Steele at the blog Paul’s Ponderings. The blog isn’t currently as active as it was, but I felt this deserved to be shared with you today.

Two Ways to Live

Have you ever had a truth penetrate your mind that was so simple that you wondered why it took you so long to figure out?

I have.

One of the reasons for this reality is because the Holy Spirit holds back a teaching for the moment it will make the biggest impact in our lives. It has less to do with our IQ and more to do with timing.

One of the times I have experienced this happened several years ago while I read James 3:1-12, particularly verses 9 through 12:

With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water (James 3:9-12; ESV).

James wrote that there are two uses for our tongues.

  1. We can bless God and others with our words. Our tongues can be an instrument of worship to God and an instrument of encouragement to those around us.
  2. We can curse God and others with our words. Our tongues can be an instrument to misuse the holy of God and an instrument to abuse those around us.

Think about how you use your tongue. Are people blessed by what you say or are they hurt by the words that come out of your mouth?

As I pondered this passage, the Holy Spirit showed me that the application encompasses more than our tongues.

Ultimately, what James taught in this passage applies to the way we live.

We can use our bodies to either sin and rebel against God, or we can use them to obey and worship God.

It is true that our actions fall on a spectrum between those two realities, but in the end we are either living in obedience or we are living in sin.

In his book Surprised by Hope, N. T. Wright devoted a whole chapter to the idea of “building for the kingdom.”

“But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom” (p. 208).

This leads us to ask the question, “How do we build for the kingdom?”

In light of the passage from James, I would argue that we build for the kingdom when we devote our lives to doing good works in the name of Christ Jesus.

This is the point I want us to get today: just as our tongues can curse or praise God, our lives can either work for His kingdom or they can work against His kingdom.

I believe that sin is rebellion against God, and it has a corrupting nature, not only in our lives, but in the world.

Remember, this world was created good, and it has been corrupted through Satan, sin, and death.

For us to build for God’s kingdom requires us to leave sin behind through repentance, and join our lives to Jesus.

It is not enough just to leave a life of sin, but we also need to pursue what is right.

God called us to a life of obedience and good works. This is the practical side of how we join Him in His effort to redeem all of creation.

It is crucial to remember that our good works are not what makes us right with God, that only happens through faith in Jesus. Rather, our good works are our effort to partner with God in bringing His Kingdom to earth.

The implication of this thought is that the more we devote our lives to God’s kingdom the less we will be involved with sin. In other words, the best way to live out our repentance is to spend our lives doing good.

When we devote our lives to doing good, we are no longer participating in what brings corruption and injustice into God’s good creation.  Just as salt corrupts fresh water, sin corrupts good works.

Consider what the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians:

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:7-10, ESV).

Here we discover the key to good works: being led by the Spirit.

The best way I know to be led by the Spirit is to be students of Scripture, to be involved in a church family, and to be devoted to prayer. If we care about doing what God has called us to do, if we desire to be led by the Spirit, then we will make these things a priority in our lives.

There are two ways we can live our lives. We can lives our lives in rebellion against God, or we can live our lives building for His kingdom.

Make the right choice.

April 14, 2019

Immersive Worship

Six months ago we introduced you to The Serener Bright. Ian Graham describes himself as “a pastor, church planter, musician, songwriter, reader, and writer.” His church, Ecclesia, is located in West Trenton, New Jersey. Although the blog has not been very active, I wanted to share this one (which followed the one we shared here earlier by only a few days and was included then as a bonus link) as it fits well with our Sunday theme.

Psalm 27: Worldly Hope

Fearless Trust

Psalm 27 invites us to a glimpse of a well-worn, mature faith. These words are not those of one freshly afoot on the road of life with God. These words are the embodiment of the image of the tree in Psalm 1, a life firmly rooted in God, watered by past experiences of God’s salvation, by the promises and hope of what the Lord has said. David writes as one well-schooled in the art of trusting God.

Perhaps most striking about David’s assurance is that chaos seems to be the vantage point from which he prays. He describes his circumstances with images of vandal hordes descending and all hell breaking loose (vv.2-3). David’s increased depth of trust and hope in God has not resulted in a diminishing of the very real threats that plague him. But David’s trust has reframed everything. In the midst of this anarchy, David is “calm as a baby, collected and cool” (vv.2-3).

There is something so radically this-worldly about the shape the hope Psalm 27 invites us into. The pain and the danger are real but so is the reality that God is inviting us into counter-rhythms that syncopate the cadences of chaos with order and beauty. Two important practices stand out within the context of the psalm. He writes in vv.4-5:

I’m asking God for one thing,
only one thing:
To live with him in his house
my whole life long.
I’ll contemplate his beauty;
I’ll study at his feet.

1. Contemplative Prayer

First, David invites us to the disciplines of contemplative prayer, silence and solitude. David’s world much, much like our own, moves at a frenzied pace. We are constantly being discipled by the antichrist rhythms of noise, notifications, news, and the normalization of violence. David knows that the only response is to retreat. A retreat not away from this world but a retreat into the refuge of God’s presence. Thomas Merton writes that when Christians forsake contemplation they substitute the “truth of life” for “fiction and mythology” bringing about the “alienation of the believer, so that his [sic] religious zeal becomes political fanaticism.”  David instead of leaning into the madness, embraces silence and solitude. He writes of the presence of God:

 That’s the only quiet, secure place
in a noisy world,
The perfect getaway,
far from the buzz of traffic.

2. Immersive Worship

Second, David immerses himself in worship both private and communal. Even on the way to church, he’s already singing his own songs:

I’m headed for his place to offer anthems
that will raise the roof!
Already I’m singing God-songs;
I’m making music to God.

Worship is the eruption of joy and gratitude, not a response fueled by emotivism, but a quiet resolve to contemplate what God has done and to voice heartfelt thanksgiving for it. Worship is the antidote to our own poisonous obsession with self, our propensity to live at the mercy of our circumstances and our ever-changing whims. Worship in the face of great trial is not a denial of our situation. Rather it is God’s invitation to to view the world from his own vantage point, to be with God and find that in all things he is drawing near to us.

This Exuberant Earth

David expresses one final plea, “You’ve always been right there for me; don’t turn your back on me now. Don’t throw me out, don’t abandon me; you’ve always kept the door open” (vv. 9-10). He asks for guidance, he needs God to show him the way. He writes:

Point me down your highway, God;
direct me along a well-lighted street;

And he ends his prayer in one final, resolved, steadfast, radically hopeful expression of trust. Again, what’s remarkable about this ending stanza is that this resolution is not reserved for another life. He finds hope right here in the midst of the confines of this world, this place, amongst these people and these circumstances. He knows that God won’t quit on him and so, grizzled veteran of faith and trust in God that he is, he won’t quit on God. He holds fast to the hope that God’s goodness will reveal itself again, right here in this “exuberant earth.” Don’t quit. God is faithful. In the beautiful translation of Eugene Peterson:

I’m sure now I’ll see God’s goodness
in the exuberant earth.
Stay with God!
Take heart. Don’t quit.
I’ll say it again:
Stay with God.

 

April 13, 2019

Worry and Anxiety Can Blind Us to God’s Sovereignty

This is from a book published in 2000, The Ways of God by Henry Blackaby and Roy Edgemon. (pp 67-68)

Sovereignty and Worry

God’s sovereign presence remains and is active in the midst of His people today. However, things that can blind us to God’s rule still surround us. Jesus declared the truth when He said,

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matt. 6:24).

You might think, Great! I know that money is not my master. But are you making important life decisions based on the presence or absence of money? Do you determine whether or not to obey God depending on practicalities, such as “overhead”? If you do not immediately think of “no!” as your answer, you may be ruled by money more than you thought.

Even if you were quickly able to rule out money as a barrier to your service to God, there are plenty of other “practical” candidates for the job of master. Even after ruling out the potential of kings and money, that still leaves another frontrunner – worry.

Sovereignty is clearly a way of God. Yet worry can be a sign of doubt, evidence that we are not trusting God as sovereign over everything. How well do we witness to His nature as sovereign Lord and Creator if we continue to worry? Jesus taught about the dilemma some find in trying to serve the Father by offering this advice,

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:25, 33).

When believers worry, they actually may be trying to control a situation. They also may be revealing that they believe their situation is too difficult for God. But God has shown throughout Scripture that He has ultimate power over everything. He wants us to function under His lordship, trusting His sovereignty over this world.

God wants us to seek Him. The reward for seeking God, however, is His activity in and through our lives. When we serve our Sovereign, He will use us. Yet God never functions based on our will, but by His sovereign rule. God’s purpose in working through you is not to help you to be successful or even worry-free, but to use your life as a means by which He reveals Himself. He is not there to reveal you to a watching world. He is there to reveal Himself to a yearning, hurting and watching world.

April 12, 2019

An Abandonment of Reputation and An Outpouring of Love

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.
 -Philippians 3:7 (NIV), 8 (NLT).

Today we’re returning to Jon Swanson’s site, 300 Words a Day, and I’m taking two different devotionals and combining them into one, as he connected the dots earlier for his readers.

Being known

…Paul was an amazing scholar. Paul was a remarkably religious person. Paul was passionate about his devotion to protecting the true obedience to God. He was so devoted that he arrested people who were disobedient. He was working so hard to make God happy, to satisfy God’s expectations, God’s obligations. To defend God’s dignity and reputation.

Until it became clear to him that he was the one who was disobedient. Jesus appeared to him and said, “Why are you persecuting me.?”

I sometimes talk with people who say, “God couldn’t forgive what I’ve done.” I say, “Have you killed Christians?” That usually stops them. “No,” they say. “I haven’t.” “Paul did,” I tell them, “And he was forgiven and embraced by God and lived a life of service and devotion.”

Paul realized that his success had come working against God. Paul realized that God didn’t want his hard work. Paul realized that God wanted him. Relationship with him. Conversation with him. Reconciliation to him.

God wanted Paul to know him. To know that the love of God isn’t measured out in scoops the size of our prayers, one act of God for each 100 or 1000 or million words from us. Paul realized that the love of God was measured out, poured out really, in the resurrection and the death of Christ. That love drew Paul in.

Paul made it his life’s work to abandon his own reputation-seeking. Paul made it his life to live in the middle of God’s love for him, God’s love for us, God’s work for us.

He was devoted to God, like a baby is devoted to her mother. But unlike a whining, helpless baby. Like a person rescued from death is devoted to the rescuer. Wanting to know how to help, how to serve, how to care. But unlike a rescuer who is called to be a rescuer, like an EMT. A friend and mentor and provider and lover who rescues you at great personal cost, for the sake of having you close, helping you grow, drawing you into the family.

If we understood the graciousness, the opportunity, the gift, to be more than nothing, to be a pauper welcomed as royalty, to be a reject welcomed as family, we might, like Paul, reject what we thought mattered and do everything possible to learn about the new house, the new kingdom, the new relationship, the rescuer.

Wasteful love

…I talked about Paul’s abandonment of reputation-seeking in response to Jesus’ invitation to relationship. It’s a story related to an act of devotion that happened less than a decade before Paul’s decision.

There was a party to celebrate the resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus was the special guest. Martha was hosting. Lazarus was there, talking to Jesus.

In the part of the dinner when people were talking and listening to Jesus and having a good time, Mary got up from her place and got a container of perfume and poured it on Jesus’ feet and, rather than using a towel to clean it up, got so low to the ground that she used her hair.

Judas gave voice to the thoughts of at least some others: “Is this the best use of money?”

Because it wasn’t. Even if you weren’t an embezzler, this was a poor use of money. The perfume could have been sold. Mary could have earned a million points for serving.

If the use of money is to earn points.

But what if Mary was grateful to the only man who ever treated her with respect, treated her as a person, listened to her, wept with her, defended her, and then raised her brother from the dead. What if she was so grateful that being reasonable and earning points was the last thing on her mind. What if showing her love in the most extravagant way she could think of was to go to her room, get the perfume, and pour it out?

Her savings. Her assets. Her treasure. As Judas said, this was a year’s wages, poured out in service of Jesus.

A remarkable action of love.

Here’s what I’m thinking. I’m thinking God loves our extravagant imperfect devotion more than he expects our hesitant attempts at perfection.

Rather than worrying about how much we should pray or read or help the poor, what if we forgot what we did and what we had to appease God for. And what if we loved extravagantly right now.

What if.


NLT Mark 14:6-9 But Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me? You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time. I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.”

 

April 11, 2019

Compelling Grace

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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How the Love of God Points to the Reality of God

by Clarke Dixon

Is the manner in which God relates to us compelling? That is, does the relationship offered by God make us go “wow, that makes sense and is is consistent with a good creator God.” Is it consistent with what the Bible teaches about God, namely that “God is love” (1 John 4:8)?

Many would answer, no. Their impression of Christianity is that you try to keep the rules, then you go to hell when you die because you couldn’t. If that is it, then no, it is not compelling! However, that is not it! Many religions are based on performance, that is, your relationship with God is dependent upon how well you keep the rules. Many people, including many Christians, think that Christianity is based on performance. That, however, is not Christianity.

What does Christianity teach? What does the Bible teach as to how God relates to us?

Let us first go to the Old Testament.

We might be quick to point to all the rules of the old covenant law and assume that relationship with God was, and is, based on performance. However, look closer. Long before the law was given at Sinai, God continued in relationship with humanity. Adam and Eve sinned, which introduced death and separation from God. However, God stayed in relationship with Adam and Eve, and with humanity. Israel was called to be a different kind of people, a people who followed God’s lead. They often stumbled, and yes, bore the consequences. However, despite their poor performance, God stayed in relationship with stumbling Israel, and with stumbling humanity.

In the Bible we have a long record of relationship between God and humanity. Within this, to use literary language by way of analogy, the old covenant is a sub-plot which is essential to the unfolding of the main story. Yes, in the sub-plot Israel’s performance was tied to Israel’s future. If they rebelled against God, they would be exiled. They did rebel. They were exiled. But God stood by them anyway! Through Israel God was working out his plan for relationship with all of us. That plan was not dependent on anyone’s performance, but on God’s grace.

The old covenant law was not the main story, even of the Old Testament. The main story, from Genesis to Revelation, is God’s relationship with humanity, not through our performance, but by His grace.

. . . . God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,  but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 2 Timothy 1:8-10 (NRSV) 

Second, let us consider Jesus.

How do you begin your prayers? Is it “O all seeing, all knowing judge, who is ready to pounce on me for every sin”? Jesus, in teaching us to pray, taught us to begin with “Our Father.” The Lord’s prayer begins in away which reminds us that we belong. We begin prayer with a reminder that when we are praying in the presence of God, we are exactly where we ought to be. We belong, even when we are aware that belonging is not what we deserve. In teaching us to pray, Jesus reminds us that we relate to God, not through our performance, but by God’s grace.

Consider too, how Jesus related to people in the Gospels. We have Jesus being gracious to all, being known as a “friend of sinners” (see Matthew 11:19). Jesus did have harsh words, but he reserved his harshest criticism for the religious perfectionists who harped on performance of the law. Jesus modelled a grace-filled life. God relates to us in the same way people related to Jesus, not by our performance, but by his grace.

Consider too, the cross. We sinned; he died. He rose; we live. That is all grace. Eternal life is a gift made possible only by the grace of God.

Third, let us consider Paul, as an example of what the apostles taught.

Paul teaches about grace Ephesians 2:1-10;

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,   so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:1-10 (NRSV emphasis mine)

Though we were in a mess, God rescued us. Paul himself, is an example of grace, since he messed up terribly in persecuting God’s people. If God’s grace can reach Paul, it can reach anyone.

So how does God relate to us?

The Bible teaches that God’s relationship with us is marked, not by the performance of perfect people, but by God’s grace for imperfect people. This is a compelling aspect of Christianity.

Grace provides a great atmosphere for our relationship with God. When a relationship is based on performance, it can be like sailing in a thunderstorm, scary. When a relationship is based on grace, it is like sailing with a good breeze on a sunny day. There can be adventure, enjoyment, and progress. Grace provides an atmosphere perfect for flourishing and growth. When we receive God’s grace, we do not come before Him like a distrusted employee before a cruel boss, or a hated criminal before a harsh judge. The Christian comes before God as a child welcomed into the presence of a good, good father. The Christian experience of grace is therefore consistent with how God would relate to us if “God is love.” The manner in which God relates to us is consistent with a good and loving God. Grace points to the reality of the God we meet in Jesus, God as revealed in the Bible.


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. All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

 

April 10, 2019

He Gave Up A Successful Ministry in order that His Congregation Could Find Something Better

“And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.’” – John 4:26

While I’ve linked to Matt Tullos before at our other blog, I’ve not mentioned him here until today. I was originally going to go with the shorter blog post which appears at the end of today’s writing — and I hope you see the connection between them — but decided instead to let you see more of his writing. I was going to build from the first post to include some other writers, but again, didn’t want to shortchange you.

Only a few times have we included poetry here, but it’s a very powerful writing form, as you see below. Click the headers to read the individual pieces at the source and thereby encourage Matt.

Jesus, the Increasing One

They came to John the Baptist with a report of Jesus baptizing. “All are going to Him,” they observed. This itinerant preacher who made his home among reeds and wild goats listened and then replied. “You heard me saying from the start that I am not the One. Don’t expect me to be anything other than elated by His renown, All must go!

John’s was the first all-in believer who gleefully tossed his ambition into the fire of His coming.

“He must increase and I must decrease.”

This is the disciple’s passage into the Kingdom: “It’s not about me. It’s never been about me.” 

Once a disciple of Jesus understands the grand, expansive nature of Christ, everything else falls away. The things that were once important and needful are now flimsy and unsatisfying. The things we chase after aren’t worth the wind. It’s not a sudden change. At least it hasn’t been for me. We often give in to the instinct to build our own castles and place His name on the threshold. As we grow closer to Him, we begin tearing down these false edifices for something more beautiful: the presence of Christ… in every inch of our souls. Piece by piece we dismantle the personal idols and achievements to make more room for His presence. We learn that the works of our hands are best used as kindling for the fire of our own sanctification. No relationship, account, possession or achievement can touch the joy of falling headlong into His grace. And so we toss it all in with little thought of their merit. As we do this, Christ’s presence expands and overtakes our territory. He increases and we decrease.

Like Enoch, if we walk with him long enough we will be no more.

I often lust for definition
affirming nods
Self-decision
Protection for extreme derision
Better plans
And high ambition

Then…

I come to see
And come to say
that what I need
in close of day
is more of you and less of me
More of you and less of me

The world doesn’t need more of me
My brains, my skill, my vanity
I wish to take a solemn vow
To say to heaven here and now
That what I have is travesty
With less of You and more of me.
Life is filthy rags times three
When there’s less of Him
and more of me.

So drown the egocentric urge
Begin the Romans 12:1 purge
My ever foolish bent to judge
To trust myself
To hold a grudge
Let truth be told
And words be few

Less of me
And more of you.
Less of me
and more of You.

[Bonus content:]

Jesus, The Early Riser

We see Jesus rising up early:

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.  Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
Mark 1:35-37

Jesus leaves the house before the crow of the rooster. He retreats into the morning air.

There’s something about waking up alone and experiencing the first stirrings of morning. The air seems pure. The sounds of night in glorious stillness. The whole countryside waits in longing anticipation for the light of morning. This is the dawn-treading Messiah sleuthing for the stillness of the dawn’s advent.

Before any healing, deliverance, miracle or story, Jesus’ days begin with the power of stillness, intimacy and prayer. It is the key to true mindfulness.

He wakes to pray…

He prays to wake…

Lord. of the Dawn…

King of Creation…

Teach me your abiding peace that seeks the Father before any other relational transaction.

When everyone is looking for me, may I, first, begin to look for You.


…If this left you wanting more, here’s one more devotional from Matt on the life and ministry of Jesus and John the Baptist: Jesus the Beloved Son

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