Christianity 201

December 14, 2019

Different Types of Kisses

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Sam describes himself as “a minister, teacher, husband, dad, artist, basketball fan, Ph.D., computer geek, and SG-1 fan.” He’s been blogging for about a year now at Word-Centered Living. This is our first time highlighting his writing here at Christianity 201. He’s currently in a series in 2 Samuel.

What kind of kiss are your kisses?

“And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him.” (2 Samuel 20:4-13, NASB)

What kind of kiss are your kisses in life?

Not every kiss in life is a kiss of peace, friendship, or affection. Had Amasa understood this, he might have survived the assassination attack by Joab. King David commissioned Amasa the newly appointed general to rally the people to go after Sheba the troublemaker. But Amasa took too much time in carrying out the order that David re-delegated that order to Abishai and Joab.

When Joab met Amasa in the field, he came in a friendly manner and brutally killed him. It says, “And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. But Amasa was not on guard against the sword which was in Joab’s hand so he struck him in the belly with it and poured out his inward parts on the ground, and did not strike him again; and he died.

His motive for killing him was probably to remove him as a rival to his position in the army (2 Sam.19:13). While the killing itself was disturbing enough, the way Joab went about killing Amasa was even more disturbing. Joab came to him offering friendship and used it to deceive and attack him. He greeted, “Is it well with you, my brother?” Then he took hold of his beard as if he was about to kiss him and killed him.

Kisses of people can come in many forms—hugs, praises, gifts, or arm around the shoulder. The Bible says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov.27:6). Even our Savior was betrayed with a kiss by his friend and companion Judas Iscariot.

Do not be deceived by the kisses of people for not are all kisses of love and respect.

How about you? Do you use “kisses” to manipulate others, gain friendship, or even hurt others? Betraying people with a kiss is a cowardly act and something that Christians should avoid at all costs. As Christians, we are commanded to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (Rom.16:16). It means that the kisses we give in life ought to be a genuine, sincere, and sacred act. We may not be able to control the kisses of people around us, but we can control how we are going to use kisses in our own life.

What kind of kiss are your kisses?


Read more: The Joab story continues in Talk It Out Before Fighting It Out.

December 13, 2019

Good Habits

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

NLT.Luke.4.14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. 15 He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures.

Today we are back again at the blog with the unusual name, More than Useless, written by Thom Fowler. Click the title below to read this at source.

He Went as Usual

Father, it is much later than I like but I just couldn’t stop what I was doing. You and I were working on this coming Sunday’s sermon and You were speaking and guiding me so clearly that I just couldn’t stop! May it be a blessing to those that hear. May our time be a blessing, as well. Amen.

Luke 4:14-16 (<<see above or click to read the passage)

Frequently, I see and hear excuses for why people don’t attend church. Let me share one from a slightly different angle.

12 Reasons Why I, as a Pastor, Have Decided to Quit Attending Sporting Events

1. The coach never came to visit me.
2. Every time I went, they asked for money.
3. The people sitting in my row didn’t seem very friendly.
4. The seats were very hard.
5. The referees made a decision I didn’t agree with.
6. I was sitting with hypocrites – they only came to see what others were wearing!
7. Some games went into overtime and I was late getting home.
8. The band played some songs I had never heard before.
9. The games are scheduled on my only day to sleep in and run errands.
10. My parents took me to too many games when I was growing up.
11. Since I read a book on sports, I feel that I know more than the coaches, anyway.
12. I don’t want to take my children because I want them to choose for themselves what sport they like best.

Now this list is shared with a little tongue in cheek on my part but as I read through today’s passage something important was pointed out. At the beginning of verse 16, it says of Jesus,

When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath…

First of all, my Life Application Bible states, “During the exile when the Jews no longer had their Temple, synagogues were established as places of worship on the Sabbath and as schools for young boys during the week. [They] continued to exist even after the Temple was rebuilt.”

So, verse 16 states that Jesus “went as usual”.

Just for review, who is Jesus? He is fully God and fully man. Do you think that God needed to go to worship? And if you really give it some thought, wouldn’t His local synagogue had been a little sub-par, especially when compared to the majesty of heaven? But He went “as usual”.

Hebrews 10:25 encourages us by saying

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. NLT

Sunday is coming – and if Sunday doesn’t work others meet on Saturday night. Find yourself a place to set down the burdens you carry every day. Jesus will welcome you with open arms! Don’t miss out!

December 12, 2019

Did Elizabeth and Mary Earn their Special Place in the Christmas Story? Do We Earn Our Place in God’s Story?

by Clarke Dixon

God was up to something big at Christmas. Elizabeth and Mary were chosen to participate in very important ways. Why were they chosen?

We might write a sermon on how they earned their special place in the Christmas story. Elizabeth has a fine resumé:

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. Luke 1:5-6 (NRSV)

Elizabeth is a descendant of Aaron, so has a good family lineage. She is righteous and blameless according to the Old Covenant law. She is also married to a priest, which as anyone married to a pastor will know, means she must be a saint. Elizabeth is a very good woman. She ticks all the boxes for being top of the list for earning God’s favour.

What about Mary? Mary does not get the same build-up from Luke in his Gospel account as Elizabeth, but we can point to her humble character and her willingness to follow God’s lead:

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Luke 1:38 (NRSV)

We might therefore write a sermon about both Elizabeth and Mary earning their special place in the Christmas story and encourage everyone to earn divine favour. But I won’t. Why? The message “we are good, therefore God was good,” was not a sermon Elizabeth or Mary would preach.

Consider Elizabeth’s response when she conceived:

“This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.” Luke 1:25 (NRSV)

Notice what she did not say; “being good has paid off. I was good, so God was good.” Elizabeth does not put the spotlight of her own goodness, she highlights God’s goodness. Notice further her response when Mary comes to visit:

She exclaimed with a loud voice, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child in your womb! 43 And who am I that the mother of my Lord should come and visit me? Luke 1:42-43 (NET)

Elizabeth’s attitude is not, “I have earned this privilege,” but “who am I that I should have such a privilege?”

Let us also consider what Mary has to say:

And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)

Mary praises God, not herself. She does not say “he looked on the goodness of his servant,” but “he looked on the lowliness of his servant.” Throughout the song, God is spoken of as doing great things for others, especially the “lowly” and the “hungry.” He acts according to His promise, and not according to Mary’s perfection. In this song, Mary sees herself as being an example, not of perfect obedience and righteousness, but of weakness. In this song God does something special, not because people are perfect and deserve better, but because people have needs and God is good.

Neither Elizabeth nor Mary get overly religious. We are being very religious when we think that our own goodness leads directly to the experience of God’s goodness. When we experience blessing, we think it is because we earned it. When we don’t experience blessing, we think we have failed to earn it. Mere religion puts the focus on us, and what we do or don’t do. Truth is more important than religion. Truth is, God is good. His goodness to us does not flow from the building up of our merit, but the outpouring of His love. Our goodness follows from the goodness of God, it does not lead to it.

Religion has a nasty habit of putting the spotlight on us. We humans have a nasty habit of enjoying that spotlight. Christmas puts the spotlight on God. God has done something amazing, regardless of the goodness of the people involved. Neither Elizabeth nor Mary focus on their own goodness, or their lack thereof. Both point instead, to the goodness of God. Christmas causes us to stop thinking of ourselves for a moment, of how good we are, and instead to focus on God, how good He is.

A spirit of entitlement comes from one’s religiosity. “I am so good, therefore God must be good to me.” Elizabeth and Mary don’t say that.  A spirit of humility comes from one’s grasp of reality.  “God is so good! Who am I to receive a blessing?” Elizabeth and Mary do say that. Do we, through our goodness, earn a place in the story of God? A spirit of truth will bring our focus where Elizabeth and Mary’s was; on the goodness of God. God makes us a place for us in His story because God is good.


Listen to the sermon on which this article is based. Look for the December 8th message.


Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays and is the pastor of a church in a town located about an hour east of Toronto, Canada. Click here for his WordPress blog.

 

December 11, 2019

The Early Christian Writings Bring Hope

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
Tags: , , ,

I was surprised yesterday when one of the devotionals I subscribe to included a brief excerpt from The New Testament in Its World by N.T. Wright and Michael Bird. Taking a course with N.T. Wright this summer, I am beginning to form a much clearer picture of the context in which the gospels and epistles were written.

The New Testament in Its World:An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians (Zondervan) is a rather large book (992 pages) which probably exceeds the price range of many readers here. But I thought I’d bring you an excerpt of the excerpt.

Receiving Hope and Sharing Hope

by N. T. Wright and Michael F. Bird
from The New Testament in Its World

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God…
 
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.Romans 15:5-7, Romans 15:13

The purpose of Scripture, Paul says in Romans 15:4, is so that “we might have hope.” He was speaking, of course, of Israel’s scriptures [the Old Testament], but with hindsight the same applies to the early Christian writings [the New Testament].

If that is so, then a prominent purpose of New Testament study ought to be to explain and illuminate the substance of that hope. In fact, we could even say that the mission of the Church is to share and reflect the future hope as the New Testament presents it.

Hope is, in fact, the foundation for the daily workings of a church.

Where the Church Can Spread Hope

Faithful Christian ministry will often take Jesus’ followers to places where hope is in short supply:

  • places where a sense of hopelessness hangs over a community
  • where the effects of global financial chaos are still in effect
  • where there is unemployment and family breakdown
  • where refugees feel alienated and despised in their adopted homes
  • where racial injustice is regarded as a kind of ugly normality that we have to put up with, and xenophobia is part of normal political rhetoric

We are called to work with, and for:

  • people who are one illness away from financial ruin
  • people who fear for their children’s safety when walking down the street
  • people who find that cultural elites mock and attack them because they do not signal “progressive virtues”
  • communities where politics means partisan policies on the one hand and acute apathy on the other
  • a world in which, while all this is going on, the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer

To such places, and the sad people who live in them, as well as to those who find themselves battered by circumstances beyond their control, the message of Jesus and His death and resurrection comes as good news from a far country, news of surprising hope.

The Church, in the power of the Spirit, must signal in its life and teaching that there is:

  • more to being human than mere survival
  • more than hedonism and power
  • more than ambition and entertainment

Life… does have purpose; there is comfort for those weighed down by moral injury; narcissism is not the true “normal;” there is something more powerful than economics and bombs.

There really is a different way to be human, and it has been decisively launched with Jesus.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33

 

December 10, 2019

Devotional Thoughts When You Don’t Expect Them

I had this article as a link for our weekly news roundup at our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud. I thought this was a rather provocative teaser: Lessons in replacing toilet seals and the Corinthian church.

Much later in the hour it occurred to me it would also make a good fit here. This from the blog The Cripplegate, which we linked to in 2012, but not since! The author is Eric Davis.

Plumbing, Self-Esteem, & the Great Love of God

I recently noticed that the floor around my toilet looked stained with water. Knowing very little about plumbing, I contacted my trusty father-in-law. He knew what to do right away. “The wax seal is broken.” When he was in town for Thanksgiving, he held my hand through changing the seal. This was a first for me. In addition to saving $300 in plumber costs, many things about the experience were memorable; one in particular.

But first, a brief detour.

One of the first epistles I preached through as a pastor was 1 Corinthians. It was a good challenge.

Paul writes the letter to help this beloved church make some spiritual adjustments to their lives. Many in the Corinthian church were full of pride. They lusted after significance. They craved the praise of men. Likely they didn’t want to hear any “bad” news about things like sin, hell, and the need for repentance. They liked the more “positive” things. They were too sophisticated to talk about sin. It was all too fire and brimstone for them. Thus, the message that salvation is exclusively through an unflashy, unfashionable Jewish guy nailed to a cross was too offensive for their self-esteeming sensibilities. They wanted to feel important and esteemed. They lusted after recognition. They jockeyed with one another for popularity and praise. If a relationship or ministry association did not help them get notoriety and spotlight, then it wasn’t worth their time. In other words, they were self-worshipers.

And the apostle Paul loved this wrecked church. So, to shepherd them, he says things like this:

“[W]hen we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now” (1 Cor. 4:13).

Their founding pastor shepherds them here to understand how the world views Christians, and apostles in particular. He does so to corral them away from their craving of praise and esteem. And it’s good shepherding.

Let’s consider two words he uses, translated “scum” and “dregs.”

The word translated, “scum,” is the Greek word περικαθάρματα (TDNT, 3:430-431), and, “dregs,” is περίψημα (TDNT, 6:84-85). They are rich, colorful words, being synonymous in Greek.

The word, “scum,” meant, “to clean around,” and “dregs,” literally meant, “to wipe around” or “rub.” Sometimes they referred to a sweat rag or bath towel, used to wipe away those less noble areas of the body. Also, they referred to something of no value that had to be scraped off and thrown away, particularly sewage and refuse. In ancient times, human waste would sometimes be carried out in pots and disposed of. As one can imagine, “build-up” would accumulate in these pots. In order to effectively love one another in a household, the “build-up” would have to be scraped off and diligently disposed of.

Back to my recent plumbing inauguration. So, after undoing a few bolts and draining the water from the toilet, the enlightening moment came: we lifted the toilet off of the seal in the floor. And for those of you who haven’t done this, let me tell you. Actually, let me show you (see the pic above, taken after I had scraped most of it off, to spare you all). There it was. The dregs. The scum. The “build-up.” The scrapings. And I had the privilege of scraping. It was necessary character building. Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 4:13 will never be the same to me.

So, how does the apostle of grace help people struggling a bit with the love of significance and a lust for mattering? How does he come alongside those battling a tad with self-exaltation syndrome? How did this exemplary church leader love those who did not have much of a pallet for those unfashionable, negative things like sin and a bloody cross?

It’s as if he says, “So, you want to be praised and popular in the world. I understand. Ok, so, you know the sweat rags people use at the bath houses and gymnasiums? And you know the excrement pots in your house? And how you have to scrape them often? That’s what we are. We are nothing more than sweat wipe and sewage scrapings. Glory to God.”

“Scum” and “dregs.” Scrapings. Wiping-around. These are the words that our good and loving God decided to preserve for the ages in Holy Scripture. The Holy Spirit could have spoken many words here. He chose these. And we shouldn’t try to soften this. Beware of being too sophisticated for God and his word. And beware of using the Bible to shield the Bible.

Glory and praise be to Almighty God. The Lord Jesus Christ bore our wrath on the cross. He loves the scrapings and the sweat-rags. He loves us! He loves us! And by faith in Christ, we will bask and rejoice in his love for all eternity!

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

 

December 9, 2019

Who You Are in the Good Samaritan Story

NIV.Luke.10.25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Twitter is increasingly become a long-form medium. Individual tweets can be strung together in a thread to present more detail insights. As I mentioned on Friday, I’ve occasionally encountered material there that might not get well-deserved exposure to the people who read blogs, and I’ve strung many of these together at Thinking Out Loud, and, as of three days ago, here at Christianity 201.

Jennifer Michelle Greenberg describers herself as “Author, Survivor, Recording Artist, Mommy, Wife, Church Pianist.” Her book is Not Forsaken (Good Book Company). Learn more at her website. The link in the header below takes you to the thread itself which contains some highlighted verses.

Picked Up From the Dust

NIV.Luke.10.30 … Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The first thing we must ask is, “Who is Jesus telling this parable to, and why?” As we see in verses 25 and 29, Jesus is speaking to a lawyer who wants to justify himself. He asks Jesus for a to-do list of good works he can check off so he can get into Heaven on his own merit.

Jesus goes back to the Old Testament, asking, “What does the Law say?” The man, educated, correctly summarizes the Law. Jesus replies, “Do all that, and you’ll be saved.” The man knows he can’t love everyone, so he asks Jesus to narrow things down; “Who qualifies as my neighbor?”

Jesus replies with a parable. A man gets robbed and beaten. A priest – a holy man well versed in the Law – passes by the beaten man. A Levite – another holy religious leader – also sees the man but passes him by. Likely, they didn’t want to become unclean from touching him.

But then a Samaritan comes by.

Now, Samaritans were not full Jews, and were looked down on by the Jews as idolaters and sinners (the woman at the well in John 4 with seven husbands was a Samaritan). But this Samaritan proves himself more Godly than even the priest or the Levite.

Then Jesus asks the lawyer, “Who was a better neighbor?” In other words, who was more Godly? Who fulfilled the Law? The lawyer rightly answers, “The one who showed mercy.” Jesus says, “Yes, be like that man.”

Jesus is telling this lawyer, in order to earn Heaven he must be holier than a priest and more righteous than a Levite. He must be perfect. He must know the Law backwards and forwards, and not only do everything in the Law, but be merciful and pay the price for other’s suffering.

What I want you to understand is, Jesus is The Good Samaritan. The glorious Son of God became a lowly human. He walked the road of life perfectly to pick us up out of the dust and filth of our sin and rescue us from the oppression of wicked people, Satan, and the powers of evil.

He has put us in the care of his Spirit, who tends our wounds and cleanses our sin. But Jesus has promised to return one day to redeem us once and for all. Jesus is telling this lawyer, who wants to justify himself with his own acts, “To earn Heaven on your own, you must be Me.”

You aren’t The Good Samaritan. You’re the guy lying on the side of the road, beaten up, dirty, bruised, and bleeding, incapable of saving yourself. Evil has been cruel to you. People have failed to love you. But Jesus got down into this dirty fallen world to pick you up.

It’s good to aspire to be merciful, compassionate, and helpful. We’re called to be Christlike, and the Spirit works in us to create good works. However, we must never lose sight of the fact that nothing we do, no matter how well we try to follow the Law, we need Jesus to save us…

[Postscript]

…This tweet attracted some odd responses, including a “church leader” who thinks the Good Samaritan possibly did ask these questions, and a few who think the parable teaches free healthcare. So, I thought I’d do a little thread about what this parable means. Grab your popcorn.

Things the Good Samaritan did NOT say:

  • Have you forgiven the robbers yet?
  • What were you wearing?
  • Why were you out here alone?
  • How’s your prayer life?
  • God’s trying to teach you something.
  • You need to have stronger faith.
  • Think positive.
  • God helps those who help themselves.

Oh yeah, and “Are you sure you’re not faking this to get attention?”

And, “It’s a sin to falsely accuse! You could ruin a robber’s life if you report.”

 

December 8, 2019

Only One Generation Saw the Promise Fulfilled

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

Last year at this time we introduced you to a site where one wouldn’t expect to find devotional insights, at least based on its title. Rebecca LuElla Miller is a freelance writer and editor whose blog has the title, A Christian Worldview of Fiction. She had me from the opening sentence of what follows. Click the header to read this at her page.

And We Wait

There’s only been one generation in all of history that actually waited for the promised Messiah and saw Him come. All the rest of us wait. The people who believed God before Jesus came, waited for the promised Messiah.

We know this from Scripture but also from history. Any number of false messiahs claimed they were the one promised by God, and for a time groups of people believed them. Until Rome killed them.

From the early pages in Genesis, God promised to crush Satan’s head, the very thing Jesus did by defeating death, by freeing us from sin and guilt and the Law.

Many prophecies told the Jewish people to expect a King, but also to expect a suffering Savior. The King, they embraced. The suffering Savior, they overlooked.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem before His last Passover on earth, the people flocked to Him, expecting Him to declare Himself the promised King. They had waited and watched, and many thought Jesus was the One.

People had asked John the Baptist if he was the one. They wanted so much to see the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy in their time. They wanted to have a King that would defeat Rome and free Israel once and for all from political tyranny. John said no, he wasn’t the one. But of Jesus he said, Behold, the Lamb of God.

The Lamb? Not, the King?

Not the King, yet.

So many missed the bigger picture. They missed that the Messiah was not just for Israel. They missed that His Kingdom was not an earthly or a political kingdom. Yes, they waited for the Messiah, but in some measure, they didn’t understand what they were waiting for.

A handful of people got the message—pretty much hand delivered to them by God. Mary received the announcement that Messiah would be her son. And the angel Gabriel also told her why the Messiah was coming: “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” (Luke 1:33)

Interestingly, her soon-to-be husband received even more information:

She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” (Matt 1:21-23)

Then there were John the Baptist’s parents. And the shepherds and the prophetess Anna and the godly priest Simeon and the magi traveling from the east. All were looking for and expecting the Messiah. And all saw the promise fulfilled. Their wait was over. Sort of.

Some undoubtedly began a new wait, the one we share today—the wait for the Messiah to return.

I know, kind of crazy to talk about the return of the King during Christmas time when we celebrate His first coming. But I think seeing the promise of His first arrival come to fruition gives hope as we wait for His second coming.

We live in a day that was similar to what the first century people waiting for Messiah experienced. There were problems morally, socially, even within the ranks of religion. They wanted a King who would set things right.

And so many people today want the same thing. They are empty, without purpose, filling their lives with pleasures that grow stale, thinking there should be more.

And there is. Waiting for the Suffering Savior to come as the triumphant King, is an awesome joy. It’s like the bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom to show in one of the parables. Or for the tenant workers waiting for the landowner to show and evaluate their work. It’s a glory and an honor to be found when the King comes, faithfully carrying out the tasks we’ve been assigned.

That’s why Scripture says over an over to stand firm, to “hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end” (Heb. 3:6b). It’s why we’re not to grow weary in well-doing. We have the promise that Christ is worth waiting for.

And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:4)

So yes, we wait, just like those Jews so long ago waited for the Messiah to come. And because Jesus fulfilled the prophecies about the Suffering Servant, because He came as an unblemished Lamb and shed His blood for the sins of the world, we can know with certainty that He will also come again.

God doesn’t do things half way.

December 7, 2019

No Bible Verse is Trivial

This article really resonated in ways I wasn’t expecting. It’s from a site we’ve visited before, The Christian Courier. The author is Wayne Jackson. Click the header below to read at source and then check out the other articles.

Why Is King David’s “Grocery List” in the Bible?

Louis Gaussen (1790-1863) was a Swiss scholar who served as professor of systematic theology in Geneva, Switzerland. He produced a classic volume, Theopneustia — The Plenary Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.

In this work, he responded to several criticisms often made against the concept of the Bible’s verbal inspiration.

One of these is “the apparent insignificance of certain details,” that allegedly tend to nullify the lofty purpose claimed for the Scriptures (1840, 306ff).

On such example is a passage having to do with an incident in the life of David that is quite intriguing.

The Bible student is informed that when king David came to Mahanaim, three men, Shobi an Ammonite, Machir of Lode bar, and Barzillai of Gilead:

… brought beds, and basins, and earthen vessels, and wheat, and barley, and meal, and parched grain, and beans, and lentils, and parched pulse, and honey, and butter, and sheep, and cheese of the herd, for David and for the people that were with him (2 Sam. 17:28-29).

The critic is prone to ask: “Do we really need an entire ‘grocery list,’ in this book that purports to be a spiritual document that guides one from earth to heaven?”

But the possible background of the passage could shed a floodlight of meaning upon this seemingly trivial list.

David’s beloved son, Absalom, was a rebel at heart. He was envious of his father’s success and wanted acclaim for himself.

So he carefully plotted to wrest the allegiance of David’s subjects from him, and transfer the same to himself.

And he was significantly successful. He “stole the hearts of the men of Israel” (2 Sam. 15:6).

Eventually, a full-blown rebellion was ignited.

David, with his remaining loyalists, fled Jerusalem. The king, with head covered, barefooted, and weeping, abandoned his palace for the sheltering seclusion of the forests east of Jordan (2 Sam. 15:30; 17:22ff).

Absalom hotly pursued his father, doubtless with the intention of assassinating the king. Such wretchedness!

David and his people were hungry, exhausted, and without adequate provisions.

What were they to do? Was there no assistance? Where was God?

Rather than acting directly, as in the case of dropping food from heaven for the Israelites (cf. Ex. 16:4), the Lord providentially intervened through indirect means that appeared altogether natural.

Jehovah sustained this man “after [his] own heart” in his time of distress.

Some scholars believe that Psalm 23 might well have been written to celebrate the answer to David’s prayers during this time of intense danger — especially verses 5-6 (see: Johnson 1981, 225; Kirkpatrick 1906, 124).

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil.
My cup overflows.

If there is no specific historical connection between the song and this episode in David’s life, the events certainly illustrate one example of how David was cared for by his Shepherd in the face of his adversaries.

The sneered-at “grocery list” becomes a prime example of one’s “cup running over” — even in the looming shadow of a deadly enemy!

December 6, 2019

Anna The Prophetess

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

This appeared originally as a Twitter thread. On our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud, I’ve taken threads from Twitter and grouped them into a single article on about eight occasions, believing that they need to be seen by more people. It’s in that spirit I’m highlighting these thoughts here today.

Rich Perez is the author of Mi Casa Uptown; a memoir of his experiences growing up in the inner city of New York and the intersection between faith, family, identity and the significance of place. He’s also the lead pastor of Christ Crucified Fellowship in New York City. The link below takes you to the original thread.

Anna: Going Deep in Three Verses

In the Bible, only 3 verses are dedicated to Anna the prophetess. Because most Christians lack imagination, they’ll miss how deep those 3 verses go….

NIV.Luke.2:36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.[*] She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

* Or then had been a widow for eighty-four years.

Something worth noticing about Anna: before she’s the daughter of Phanuel; before she’s known to be of the tribe of Asher, Anna is identified as a prophet.

Being part of a society that disregarded women, esp. an old widow like Anna, God shows us that his world is upside down. Women were identified by the men they were connected to. But God is making a different connection. God’s saying that the most important thing about Anna is not the man she’s connected to but the God that she’s connected to.

Anna also teaches us quite a bit about waiting and aging well. she was 105 years old when she finally saw what she was waiting for: Jesus. Eight-four of those years were alone after her husband died.

I think the real value of these verses is how waiting has the potential to change us.

In my life, waiting has often made me frustrated, hurt and then bitter. Then it’s made me distrusting, hopeless and sometimes, unbelieving.

As young people, we need Anna. she shows us how to grow old well.

God uses Anna to show us that waiting for God isn’t passive, but active. That waiting doesn’t have to mean we grow older and bitter. That waiting doesn’t have to mean we grow stale and skeptical, but waiting can mean we grow to be more present and expectant.

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that Anna had many moments where she doubted God’s promise. Many nights where her bitterness got the best of her. Many nights where trusting God may have seemed impossible. But whether it was her doubt, her bitterness or her distrust, it all happened in the temple with God.

“She did not leave the temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayers.”

Waiting, with all of its frustrations and darkness, is welcomed in the presence of God.

Anna shows that her life of waiting— most of it in the dark and alone— is not possible without prayer. Anna discovered a kind of prayer that doesn’t simply speak to God, but more importantly hears from God and is present with God.

One-way prayers assume that what we have to say is of greater importance than what God has to reveal to us.

I can only imagine Anna’s days and nights in the temple with God to be filled with a lot of silence; waiting to hear from God.

More reflections on Anna…

God’s three short verses on her show us the power of names. In just the first verse we get three of them: Anna, Phanuel and Asher.

Anna means “grace from God.”

Phanuel means “the face of God.”

Asher means “good fortune.” And it was to the tribe of Asher that God said: “…May the bolts of your gate be iron and bronze, and your strength last as long as you live.

Throughout the decades of her life; of her waiting – filled with what I imagine were many lonely moments, Anna waited for “the good fortune” of seeing “the face of God,” and at the temple 40 days after Jesus’ birth, by “the grace of God” she did!

Did you know that patience comes from the same Latin root as passion, which means “to suffer”? In other words, patience ain’t easy.

It all makes me wonder how Jesus waited. How did knowing what he came to do shape HOW Jesus waited?

Jesus waited knowing the the end from the beginning. He waited knowing at least part of the outcome of his waiting. Jesus waited knowing that part of waiting involved disappointment. He waited knowing that part of waiting involved his own suffering and his death.

Yet he waited knowing that his waiting would lead to life… quite literally, revival. Not simply for himself but for all who would trust his work and wait for his finally fulfillment.

December 5, 2019

The Christmas Story: Just a Good Story?

by Clarke Dixon

The Christmas story is a good story. There is something about it that engages even people who would not call themselves Christian. Where Christianity gets a cold shoulder, baby Jesus seems to receive a warm embrace. The Christmas story is a good story for many reasons. It is a story of ordinary people experiencing the extraordinary. It is a story of the underprivileged experiencing an incredible privilege. There is nothing special about Mary or Joseph, either in their societal or religious standing. There is nothing special about the shepherds. The wise men don’t even belong, they are complete outsiders. Herod, rich, powerful, and privileged, threatens and kills, but the ordinary people battle through dire circumstances and participate in something truly remarkable. Everyone loves a good story where the underdogs come out on top. As for the divine, well the divine very clearly sides with the regular folk. You don’t need to be a Christian enjoy the Christmas story as a good story. But is the Christmas story just a good story and nothing more?

The way in which Luke begins to tell the story tells us something else about it:

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. Luke 1:1-4 (NRSV)

Luke sets out to write, not a story, but history. Notice how Luke begins; not with “a long, long time ago in a galaxy far away,” but with, “an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us.” That is, events that really happened in Luke’s time and place and which people who were there would still remember. There are eyewitnesses. The original readers of Luke’s Gospel could check his sources. These eyewitnesses were not people indoctrinated into a school of thought, but people who witnessed things with their own eyes. They were not philosophers, or religious people, but ordinary people who experienced something, and Someone extraordinary. Luke is not making things up, but writing them down. Those who know Greek well can tell that Luke is an educated man from these first verses, for his Greek, we are told, is very good. Luke is not some religious nut who has been duped, but an educated man who has “investigated everything carefully,” so that the reader can “be certain of the truth” (v.4 NLT). The Christmas story is not just a good story, it is also a true story. 

You can imagine a scenario where something is known to be true, but it is not good news. A doctor gives the correct diagnosis, for example. What she says is true, but it may not be good news. Is the Christmas story good news? The way Luke continues drops big hints about that.

The name “Herod” elicited a response in people in much the same way that the name “Trump” does today. However, where Trump elicits a polarized response, Herod’s name always brought fear. Herod’s name shows up early, verse 5 in fact. Fear continues to be a theme of the Christmas story, especially whenever an angel appears:

When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him.  But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Luke 1:12-13 (NRSV)

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Luke 1:30 (NRSV)

Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:9-11 (NRSV)

Every time an angel shows up there is much fear, yet fear not, for behold, there is good news!

People are often reticent about becoming Christians because of fear. They fear that becoming a Christian would have a negative impact on their lives. Their sense of freedom might be impacted. They might have to become “religious.” They don’t like religious people and fear they might have to become like people they don’t like. Therefore if the Christmas story and all the stories of Jesus, including the Easter story, are true, that would be bad news. However, when you dig deeper you discover that the story of Jesus is good news indeed!

Throughout his writing Luke does not come across as saying something like; “sadly, having looked at the evidence, I have to tell you that this religion is true, so you had better commit to it, even though it will be drudgery.” Rather; “having looked at the evidence, all this stuff about Jesus is true, and is great news and brings great opportunity.” It begins with ordinary people and with mean and privileged people but ends in great blessing for the ordinary people. It begins with sinful people, their relationship with God broken and shattered, and ends with people reconciled to God by his love and grace. It begins with death being a certainty and ends with eternal life being an opportunity. It begins with people getting religion all wrong and ends with people living a new kind of life focused on Jesus. It is true, but that does not mean you need to fear becoming someone you don’t like. You become a better version of yourself as you become more like Christ. It is all good news! The Christmas story is not just a good story, and a true story, it is also good news. 

Many people dabble in spirituality; “there is something out there.” Luke has good news based on a true story; there is something out there, in fact, there is Someone out there, and that Someone out there became someone down here. It is a good story, a true story, and is great news!


Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays and is the pastor of a church in a town located about an hour east of Toronto, Canada. Click here for his WordPress blog or click here to listen to the message on which this article is based.

December 4, 2019

When Your Habits and Speech Have Morphed

Romans 12:2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.NLT

Romans 12:2 Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.The Message

Other than perhaps a much more liberal use of the word ‘crap’ in the last few years, I am somewhat guarded in my speech, at least when there are ladies, small children, or anyone else present.

As a writer, I’m also very conscious of changes taking place in language. So back a decade ago, I couldn’t help but notice the way the ABC TV show Extreme Makeover Home Edition with Ty Pennington advanced the broadcast use of the expression, “Oh, My God!” The show’s final segment — called “the reveal” — would contain at least a dozen utterances of this phrase which, unless the participants were truly calling on God to give thanks for the new housing they were about to receive, amounted to a needless invocation of God’s name that I believe the third commandment is referring to.

The proliferation in print and texts of its abbreviation, “OMG,” unless it a reference to the Ohio Macrame Guild, is equally disturbing.

There are some lines I am very assured I will never cross, and speaking the OMG line in either form or using it print is certainly one of those lines. Still, I often find myself falling into an OMG mindset, where I don’t audibly say the words, but think either them, or something reflective of the spirit of them. Unless I am truly crying out to God — and I wonder how many of us today really cry out to Him — I shouldn’t allow that phrase to be part of my unspoken vocabulary.

But what do I mean by the “spirit” of that expression?

I can probably best illustrate that with another three-letter text gem, ‘WTF.’ If you believe this has something to do with a wildlife federation, then I envy you, since such ignorance is truly bliss. It means something else. (Go to the last letter for clues…)

WTF is somewhat of an attitude. It expresses a familiar kind of bewilderment, but is in some respects a statement of a kind of confusion or Twilight Zone moment that didn’t really have a previous equivalent in colloquial speech.

Which is why I was rather amazed to hear it in church recently.

No, it wasn’t uttered out loud — either as an acronym or fully — but the highly respected Christian leader I was talking to was clearly dancing around it. You could feel the tension of the self editing taking place. The words used were different, but the articulation was intended to convey the spirit of WTF. The attitude was 100% present.

For the reference, file away the phrase “Twilight Zone moment” when trying to describe something of this ilk.

Another point — he said, anticipating the comment — is that if we really believe that in all things God is working for our good, should we really ever experience WTF moments? If we are trusting, clinging and relying on God, while unexpected things happen, and while they do bewilder and confuse, should we embrace the WTF kind of attitude? (A friend of ours call these “sand in the gears” moments.) Aren’t these weird and wonderful things the cue for a “count it all joy” attitude? And what about the idea that Christians are expected to “maintain a distinct identity” from the world?

I think it is only a matter a time before OMG and WTF arrive at church. As shows like Extreme Makeover program opens the door, this type of speech becomes more entrenched, and other broadcasters will follow the trends, at which point it’s easy to predict OMG being on the tongues of people at Sunday worship.

Another translator — it might have been the old Living Bible — put the verse I started out with this way…

Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold…

December 3, 2019

Mary: Did She Know?

With the continued popularity of a certain Christmas song I won’t name, the announcement to Mary that she was the one who would bear the promised Savior stands apart from all other personal revelations given in scripture. The Roman Catholic Church has a special word for this, “The Annunciation.” You can read more about that at Wikipedia.

Luke 1:26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

From ten years ago at Internet Monk, these questions:

Mary was more than likely no more than 13 or 14 years old when the angel appeared to her. She had her whole life in front of her—a marriage to a man who would be able to provide for her, and that was not something to take for granted in those days. And then … and then God came and turned her whole world upside down.

Was this fair? Shouldn’t God knock before entering someone’s life? How would you have responded if the angel had come to you with this news? And does God still move in impossible ways today? Is God still coming and turning people’s lives upside-down?

And these responses:

  • Karin: Being told that you are favored by God would make saying ‘yes’ a whole lot easier and saying ‘no’ a whole lot harder. Mary seemed wise beyond her years and said, “I am the Lord’s servant.” At age 13 or 14 one usually does not have preconceived ideas about the consequences of such a life changing decision. Perhaps this kind of visitation by an angel and being chosen to be the mother of the long awaited Messiah was every young spiritually minded Israelite girl’s dream!If my daughter had come and told me that she experienced the same as what Mary experienced, I would probably have needed a visitation from an angel to confirm it, just as Joseph did!
  • Joanie: I have noticed that when Zechariah questioned the angel about how his wife could possibly become pregnant, he was made unable to speak until John was born. But Mary questioned the angel about how she could possibly get pregnant and the angel explained. I have read that Zechariah was a priest, was old and should have known that God could do whatever God wanted to do. Mary was a young girl and as such, was treated more…patiently. Do you often wonder what it would be like to encounter an angel? Do you think angels take on human-like properties so that they can communicate with us? I wonder how long it took for Jesus as he was growing up to fully realize who he was, why he was and what he had to do? And how much of that would Mary have understood? When they were at the wedding in Cana together, she obviously knew that he could turn water into wine. How did she know he could do that and would do that?
  • Hannah: Mary’s response of submission to God is so beautiful. I wonder if this was, completely and utterly out of the blue for her, or if, in some way, God had been preparing her for what He needed her to do? He doesn’t test us beyond what we can bear, so says the word, and she must have trusted God so much to just submit to him like that, not knowing at that time if Joseph would stick by her or not. And if God was preparing Mary in some small way, would He have been preparing Joseph too then, to do the right thing and stay with her. Did they risk small town humiliation and unbelief, or was the culture of the time open to what they said to curious neighbors and family friends about Mary’s pregnancy? They had to be so strong, it seems to me, in their commitment to God and each other and their trust in what God had told them. I wonder what Mary and Joseph’s individual relationships to God had been like up to that time?
  • John: I think when God speaks to people in these more direct and miraculous ways, we encounter more closely just what the nature of his kingdom is and how it operates. And because of that, things like having our lives turned upside down tend to pale in comparison. It’s not that there aren’t real effects on our lives, but that we have encountered in some very real way an intersection between our earthly plodding and the fuller reality of God’s eternal kingdom and purpose. When that happens, priorities get shifted a bit. In other words, the reality of God with us begins to take hold and change things, starting with us. “Shouldn’t God knock before entering someone’s life?” I think God does, but in our dullness and distraction we aren’t always listening. And even if we are, he still tends to look and act a little different than we imagined before the actual encounter.God still turns lives upside down and moves in impossible ways today, but it’s easy to miss if I’m not looking and listening. Lord, give me the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

Read the other comments at Internet Monk.

December 2, 2019

In The Fullness of Time

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:57 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Today it’s a joy to once again highlight the writing of Stephen and Brooksyne Weber at Daily Encouragement.

Lessons From A Blank Page

ListenListen to this message on your audio player.

“But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son” (Galatians 4:4).

Yesterday was the first Sunday in Advent when we especially give attention to the first advent (coming) of Christ.

There’s a page in each of our Bibles we don’t read and probably have never given any consideration to. It’s the blank page found in many Bibles separating the Old and New Testaments. Now to be sure there may be another reason printers use this blank page and as more and more people read their Bibles on devices the concept of this blank page may not be apparent.

Today let us consider this wordless blank page and what it represents. There was a 400 year period that separated the final record in the Old Testament (Malachi) from the events in the New Testament beginning with Matthew’s Gospel. In secular history this was when Alexander the Great lived during the Greek Empire and the ascent of the Roman Empire. There are also some extra-Biblical records during this period recorded in the Apocrypha.

The blank page represents several things I can think of such as silence, hope and waiting, which we will consider today.

Do you have a hard time waiting? Are delays difficult to deal with causing you stress and anxiety? For most of us the answer is “yes.” God had first promised the Messiah after Adam and Eve’s transgression in the garden. Over the next several millenniums there was a growing body of Messianic promises that the Jewish people were given. But they waited and waited and waited.

At the time of Christ’s birth two elderly Jewish people are mentioned in Luke who had waited for the Messiah’s coming. Simeon had been waiting for the consolation of Israel, and Anna spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

In the daily text the Apostle Paul is reflecting on the events of Christ’s incarnation. He uses an intriguing phrase “But when the fullness of the time came” to describe that wonderful moment in space and time when God acted on our behalf in sending His Son for our redemption. The long wait was over. The faith of devout people like Simeon and Anna and others like them was now reality. God kept His promise.

And God still keeps His promises. He always will. He’ll keep everyone of them. We have the perspective of looking back and seeing the fulfillment of the greatest of God’s promises when “God sent forth His Son”. This occurred after a long wait and not until the fullness of the time came.

We must recognize that it’s the fullness of God’s time, not ours. Many of us are waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled in our lives. The wait is very trying. Many are living with an ongoing burden for spiritually wayward family members, others have a long-standing physical ailment in their lives or in someone they love. And on my heart this morning are so many of our dear brothers and sisters living in very oppressive conditions. And we all wait for that next great cosmic event when Jesus again keeps His last word to us when He declared, “Yes, I am coming soon”.

God has fulfilled the biggest promise. Let us wait with faith and assurance that “in His time” He will also take care of the scores of other matters we all deal with. He is faithful!

In His time, in His time;
He makes all things beautiful in His time.
Lord, please show me every day
As You’re teaching me Your way
That You do just what You say in Your time.

Daily prayer: Father, we know that Your time table is pre-ordained in the events that make an eternal difference in our lives. Thank you that when the fullness of the time came, You sent forth Your Son in the first advent. In this age help us to patiently wait for Your will to be fulfilled in our personal lives, in the lives of our loved ones, and in the world around us. May we be found steadfast, sober, expectant and alert awaiting the day of your second advent, your promised return. In the precious name of Jesus. Amen.

December 1, 2019

Losing Control and Becoming a Slave to Sin

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , ,

This is our fifth article featuring David Kitz at I Love the Psalms. For more about his ministry, http://www.davidkitz.ca/. Click the header below to read this one at source.

Will Sin Rule Over Me?

Reading: Psalm 119
פ Pe
(Verses 129-136)
Your statutes are wonderful;
therefore I obey them.
The unfolding of your words gives light;
it gives understanding to the simple.
I open my mouth and pant,
longing for your commands.
Turn to me and have mercy on me,
as you always do to those who love your name.
Direct my footsteps according to your word;
let no sin rule over me.
Redeem me from human oppression,
that I may obey your precepts.
Make your face shine on your servant
and teach me your decrees.
 Streams of tears flow from my eyes,
for your law is not obeyed
(NIV).

Reflection
Slavery is distasteful. Distasteful is a rather mild term. Let’s call it what it is—an abomination. It’s difficult these days to find someone who is in favor of slavery. We all seem to be in favor of personal liberty. But are we?

While trumpeting our personal liberty, are we letting ourselves become shackled by crippling habits? We seem quite willing—maybe even eager—to let sin enslave us.

James, the brother of our Lord, provides us with this warning: When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death (James 1:13-15).

Clearly sin has consequences. Yielding to temptations takes us down a dark path. We may think we are in control, but before long we discover we have a new master. Our sinful nature takes over. Evil desires are in control. If we persist in that pattern of behavior, the end result is a seared conscious and death.

We need a Savior to set us free. The psalmist expresses that earnest desire: Turn to me and have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name. Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.

Is that your prayer and the desire of your heart?

Response: Father God, I need you to liberate me from every stronghold of sin. Establish within me a clean heart. Help my thoughts and actions to be pure. Lord Jesus, be my master. Amen.

Your Turn: Have you yielded control to sinful habits? Take some time to go to the cross of Jesus.

November 30, 2019

Blameless and Pressing On

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Today’s writer is appearing here for the first time. Tina Clark “a children’s minister and writer with a passion for seeing kids and their families grow in their faith and finding their purpose in the world.” Her blog is titled The Kidmin Journey.

Weekend Word: The Fear of Falling Short

Read: 1 Corinthians 1:4-9

Today’s Scripture: He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:8)

During the announcements at church the last few weeks, we’ve watched a video about a man running a race. In the video, the man injures his leg. Instead of giving up all hope of finishing the race, he gets back up and limps toward the finish.

With still a long way to go, another man notices the injured runner and jogs to his side. With the help of the uninjured man, our runner makes it to the finish line.

The video was an illustration about helping missionaries by giving to missions, but when I saw it, it also reminded me of Christ. When we fail, fall short, or struggle through difficulty, Jesus is by our side to help us push through.

In the Bible, the apostle Paul often describes life as a race (1 Cor. 9:24, 2 Tim. 4:7). He talks about pressing on toward eternity with Christ.

But it can sometimes feel like a long race, and there are plenty of chances along the way to stumble and fall. Plenty of opportunities to sin and fall short. How can we remain blameless to the end? That seems like a tall order.

It’s easy for me to fall into this train of thought. Maybe it is for you, too. But it’s not helpful or true, and we can thankfully challenge this line of thinking.

You see, we know that salvation is by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8). It’s a gift of God, not of works. But even though we know this, we can still battle fears of coming up short. Because we live in this imperfect world and still sin despite our best intentions, our sin can lead us to believe that we don’t belong in God’s presence.

Be honest with yourself for a minute and ask yourself if you harbor these fears. If you don’t, that’s great. But if you do, even though you know you’ve been saved by grace, you’re not the only one to feel that way. Perhaps more of us feel that way than we let on.

Take a look at 1 Corinthians 1:8 again. Running the race isn’t about you keeping yourself blameless. It’s about God keeping you blameless.

The word “blameless” here means “not to be called to account.” It doesn’t mean that you haven’t sinned. It means that you aren’t “convictable” for your sin. If you belong to Jesus, your sin won’t be held against you when you stand before God in the end. His death and resurrection already has it covered.

Pressing on until the end can be difficult. But when you feel weak, when you stumble and fall, or when you’re weighed down by guilt, Jesus comes alongside you to give you the strength to keep running the race.

And when He brings you to the end, you’ll stand blameless before Him. Not by your own merit, but by the grace given to you by Jesus’ sacrificial gift. Whenever guilt tries to condemn you, remind yourself of this simple truth.

Today’s Thoughts: Do you still harbor fears about being in God’s presence even though you know your sin is forgiven? Are you afraid that by the time you stand before God, you’ll come up short? How can knowing that God can keep you blameless and strengthen you to the end help you release that burden?


[Today’s devotion about running the race is a part of the Weekend Word devotional series. Check Tina’s blog every Saturday for fresh insights from God’s Word, or follow via email or WordPress to have content sent straight to your inbox.]

Next Page »