Christianity 201

August 17, 2018

Daniel: A Trajectory of Consistency and Faithfulness Towards God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re introducing you to “a freelance writer, wife, and mom,” whose blog is titled My Way Home. I read several different articles before choosing this one to feature here at C201. Click the title below to read at source.

The Man Who Walked the Line

Daniel in the lions’ den is perhaps one of the most beloved Bible stories of all time, especially by children. I’ve taught it a number of times through the years, and Daniel’s great courage and the miracle of the lions’ closed mouths never fails to thrill.

But another aspect of Daniel’s life came to mind today when I was considering what to highlight in the life of this faithful man.

In Daniel 6, Darius the king formed a group of one hundred twenty princes, and over those, three presidents, of whom Daniel was chief. Daniel was so revered by Darius that the other leaders grew jealous of him and concocted a plan to get rid of him.


Then the presidents and princes sought to find occasion against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find none occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him.

Then said these men, We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God. – Daniel 6:4, 5


Daniel was a man of such integrity that his only apparent “weakness” was his faith.

So, the princes and presidents tricked Darius into signing a law requiring everyone in the kingdom to pray only to the king for thirty days.

Those who petitioned “any God or man” (Daniel 6:7) would be lion fodder.


Plot a graph of Daniel’s deeds throughout his life, and you’ll find a straight line connecting each point. Though his life was punctuated with the miraculous and the dramatic, Daniel himself was a steady, straightforward sort, solid as a rock in his faith. He never showed fear, never seemed to consider any alternative other than the right one, even when facing death.


Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime. – Daniel 6:10


Daniel just kept doing the same thing he had always done.

He had always prayed three times each day in front of his open window, and he continued to do so immediately following the new decree. His habits and character were so reliable that the men who plotted his demise were certain of their success.

And they were right. As we know, Daniel was caught, convicted, and cast among lions. But God saved his life, and his adversaries were tossed to the lions in his stead.


I will certainly strive, as Daniel did, to maintain godly habits, come what may. Sometimes, the habits of prayer, Bible reading, church attendance, Christian fellowship, and even blogging are what will keep us heading onward and upward in the valleys of our Christian lives.


Do you have a teenager in the house who would benefit from something like C201, only written by a teen for a teen? Today’s writer’s 13-year-old daughter, who calls herself Bible Blogger Girl has just launched Teen, Meet God.

August 16, 2018

A Destructive Love

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Love is a good thing, right? Love can fix problems, build bridges and have a positive impact. But there are certain kinds of love that are destructive. We can think of the “three biggies”, the love of money, sex, and power, for example. But there is another kind of love which can be quite destructive and insidious. We find an example of it in the letter we know as 3rd John. The apostle John sent this letter to Gaius to ensure hospitality toward missionaries he sent out. Given that travel could be dangerous in that day and place, hospitality was very important. While John shows some trust in Gaius to do the right thing for the travellers, he speaks of someone who lost his trust:

I have written something to the church; but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing in spreading false charges against us. And not content with those charges, he refuses to welcome the friends, and even prevents those who want to do so and expels them from the church. 3 John 1:9-10 (NRSV)

Diotrephes has four marks against him:

  1. He spreads rumors against John and his connections.
  2. He refuses to welcome anyone from John.
  3. He discourages everyone else from welcoming John’s missionaries.
  4. He throws out of his own church anyone who opposes him.

Diotrephes is a problem because he has a problem. We are told what the problem is in verse 9. Here there are two words, translated above as “who likes to put himself first”. They can be stated more literally as ‘the love of being first among them’. This is a love which is destructive.

The love of  being first was destructive in John’s day. Think of what it did to others, to the reputation of John and his connections. Think of what it did to hinder the growth of people as evangelism and discipleship were hindered. Think of what ‘the love of being first’ did to to the unity of the church when people were thrown out, and throughout the region as rejection left a bitter taste among Christians elsewhere.

The love of being first continues to be destructive in our day. It is destructive within marriage, within and between families, and among friends. If we love to always be first our only friends will be those who don’t mind always being second, or third. It is destructive within all organizations we might belong to, including the church. The love of being first is also destructive to our relationship with God.

The love of being first can be destructive even if you are considered righteous in every other way. There is no evidence that there was a disagreement over theology or church polity with Diotrephes. We would have expected John to have said something more specific if so. What John says is simply ‘Diotrephes loves to be first among them’. This is a kind of sin that is insidious. Church leaders and pastors can get away with it for a time. It can hide behind a clean life, solid theology, good preaching and everything else expected of a pastor. When there is a love of being first, it can unnoticed until the damage is done.

This leads to two questions. First, do you love being first? Second, is there a cure for the love of being first? The fist question is for each of us to answer for ourselves. Let us go on to answer the second.

John the baptizer is a great example to us of a better way:

Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John 3:25-26 (NRSV)

You can imagine the possibility of jealousy on the part of John since “all are going to” Jesus. What does John say?

John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven… He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:27,30 (NRSV)

John  has a humility which allows him to fade into the background when it is no longer appropriate for him to be in the foreground. Are you able to fade into the background when it is time for someone else to be in the foreground?

Jesus teaches humility. Speaking of the scribes and Pharisees, he says that they do

5 all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues,… 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. Matthew 23:5,6,11,12 (NRSV)

Jesus points to himself as an example of the kind of humility expected from his followers:

25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28 (NRSV)

Paul points to Jesus as the great example of humility:

3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross. Philippians 2:3-8 (NRSV)

God set the ultimate example of putting others first through the incarnation. Humility here is thinking of what is best for others. Jesus did not deny his capacity to do great things, indeed he did great things for others and for us! But he did put our need for a rescue from sin above his own need for rescue from a cruel cross. Jesus did not love being first, though in fact he is first.

Love is always a good thing, right? Love for God and for people is always a good thing. But our love can become destructive when we love certain things. The love of being first is a destructive love. Let us follow Jesus in loving God and others first.


The full 31-minute sermon can be heard here. Unless need otherwise, Scriptures are taken from NRSV

August 15, 2018

His Words or His Works?

Jenny writes at Covered in His Dust. This is her first time showcased here at C201, and there are a number of other great posts on her site. This one appeared in February; click the title below to read it there.

What I learned from an unclean spirit

I started a study through the book of Mark a little over a week ago.  In true form, I’m only three days in, but they’ve been a good three days.  It’s interesting what things stand out when you read scripture slowly and really sink your teeth in.

In Mark chapter 1, starting in verse 21, it says Jesus went to Capernaum and started teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath.

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.

~ Mar 1:21-22 NIV

Evidently these people had never heard anyone teach like Jesus before.  There was something different about Him.  He taught with authority and it was enough to make the people take pause.

But the enemy wasn’t having it.  Immediately following this verse, there’s a distraction.

Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!”

~ Mar 1:23-24 NIV

Jesus is right in the middle of teaching and the people are finding themselves being drawn to Him and boom…the enemy sends an interruption.  But here’s a couple of things I thought were interesting about this scene.

First, I wonder how long this guy with the unclean spirit had been hanging around the synagogue.  Like, who was he? And what was his influence on the people around him before now?  Did they know already that he was possessed or was it only in the presence of Jesus that he was forced to reveal himself?

Either way, I think it’s worth noting here how important it is that we stay connected to Christ and in constant fellowship with Him.  That we stay in the scriptures.  That we stay aware of what’s going on around us.  That we are in the habit of renewing our minds (Romans 12:2).  Because Satan is sneaky.  Who knows where he’s hanging around or how long he’s been there?  And if we are counting on our own eyes to see his schemes, we’re in trouble.

Second, it’s interesting how this unclean spirit decided to out himself.  There’s Jesus teaching like nobody ever and all of a sudden there’s this guy crying out and detracting from the moment, but he’s doing it by addressing Jesus as the Holy One of God.  It would seem like this demon is working against the enemy by confirming Jesus’ identity.  And while that might be a little true, the fact is that even sometimes things we think are God things can be distractions from the main thing.

Jesus wasn’t having any nonsense and immediately cast the demon out, but then in the next verse it says,

The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching–and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”

~ Mar 1:27 NIV

Only a couple of verses before, the people were astonished by Jesus’ teaching.  They were listening to the Son of God talking about His father and they were enthralled.  Now it says they were amazed by His authority over demons and immediately His fame spread throughout the region.  I can’t help but wonder what spread the most from that occasion?  His words or His works?  Is it possible that the enemy thought that using a miracle would take the focus off what Jesus was teaching?  That people would be more interested in what Jesus could do for them than what He had to say to them?  Sorta like, fix their bodies, but stay away from their hearts?  Because the heart change was really the point, right?

Sometimes even things that seem good or right might not be best.  Sometimes the things we do for God can start to overshadow our walk with God.  Like it starts to be more about the doing than the being.  It’s like something Noelle said the Pursue the Passion conference this past weekend.

Walking with God is far better than walking for Him. 

It might seem like semantics, but think of it like this.  If I’m walking beside someone, conversation is easier.  Eye contact is easier.  But following along behind or getting ahead  can break the connection.  It’s easy to miss part of the conversation or even the direction the other person is going.

It’s not to say that doing God’s work is a bad thing.  But when our relationship with God gets off track because we’re fixed on this thing or that thing, God’s work really isn’t God’s work anymore.  Now it’s our work.  And I’ve come to realize more and more that if I’m going to stay in line with God’s will for me, then I’m going to have to stay in line with Him.

God, help me keep my focus.  When my eyes wander to great and mighty things instead of the Great and Almighty God, draw me back.

August 14, 2018

Enter the Most Holy Place

by Russell Young

The writer of Hebrews taught about the activities of the Most Holy Place. The heavenly system of worship was represented by the tabernacle practices. God had revealed to Moses that the sanctuary was “a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.” (Heb 8:5) Moses had been commanded to make everything according to the pattern that had been revealed to him on the mountain. Consequently, the functioning of heavenly operations is revealed in tabernacle worship.

Priests regularly entered the outer room to carry on ministry. They offered animal sacrifices to provide atonement for sin on behalf of the people as they came forth and made their needs known. “But only the high priest entered the inner room (the Most Holy Place), and that only once a year and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.” (Heb 9:7) Christ is the believer’s high priest.

Since we have been given confidence to enter the Most Holy Place through our dwelling in Christ availed by his body, we can draw near to God with a sincere heart and in the full assurance of our faith. Our hearts have been sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and we have had our bodies washed with pure water. Not only should we have the confidence to enter the Most Holy Place, we ought to enter. It is in the Most Holy Place that Christ ministers and believers have been invited into his presence. The writer has encouraged, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.” (Heb 5:16) He recorded these words after reminding his readers that nothing in creation is hidden from the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

The “time of need” is when we are facing or have given in to temptations; when we need strength for victory or when we have sinned. He is able to sympathize with our weakness (v 15) because he faced all the temptations to which we are subjected and did not sin. He knows all about the body that brings death and will be merciful to the contrite in heart because he understands the attractions of the flesh.

Christ is the believer’s helper and advocate; however, the one seeking him must “approach,” or be active in the pursuit of forgiveness. John has written, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9) Christ is for us but failure to confess and repent shows disregard for the holiness of God and deliberately continuing to sin is disrespect and defiance. Deliberate sinning will not be forgiven (Heb 10:26); it is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. (Num 15:30)

All sin is offensive to God. Paul taught, “For the wages of sin is death…” (Rom 6:23) Although many think that this does not apply to confessors, preceding this statement Paul addressed the need of those seeking holiness and eternal life (Rom 6:22) to be slaves to righteousness (Rom 6:18) and slaves to God. (Rom 6:22) Sinning is being a slave to sin (Jn 8:34) which leads to death. (Rom 6:16) John has written that, “no one who lives in him keeps on sinning,” and the Lord taught that being a slave to sin results in removal from the family. (Jn 8:35)

The encouraging truth is that sins committed in ignorance will be mediated by Christ as high priest. Just as in Jewish tabernacle worship, a person cannot offer a sacrifice or seek forgiveness regarding a sin about which he is unaware. The Most Holy Place can be entered by those needing to be cleansed from known sin. In relation to the need for continued cleansing, before his crucifixion the Lord washed the disciples’ feet. When Peter objected the Lord cautioned him that without feet washing Peter would have no part with him and further explained that “the person who has had a bath [been washed in the blood and cleansed] needs only to wash his feet. The whole body is clean.” (Jn 13:10) The feet are the part of the body that became dirty or soiled throughout the day; just as the feet become dirty, the body may give in to sinful temptations in the course of the day. The Most Holy Place can be entered to accomplish needed cleansing in the pursuit of holiness.

Christ is our mediator, he knows the weaknesses of the flesh, but he also knows the heart attitude of those who are “lukewarm” or rebellious and who are unwilling to engage the battle for righteousness. His mercy and grace will not apply to those who defiantly continue to sin and who defy his sovereignty and lordship. Everything that is needed for life and godliness has been provided (2 Pet 1:3) and a godly life is expected. The Lord who is the Spirit (2 Cor 3:17, 18) indwells believers and leads and empowers for righteousness. He also knows the commitment each has made to honor the one whom they had covenanted to be their Lord. (Rom 10:9) In the end, he holds the keys to death and Hades (Rev 1:18) and his judgments will prevail.

Those going before the throne of grace in the Most Holy Place need to appreciate that the only offering acceptable to God is one without blemish. Peter admonished, “So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to [a new heaven and a new earth], make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with [God].” (2 Pet 3:14) Peter was requiring something of believers. They were to walk circumspectly. They were also to confidently enter the Most Holy Place as needed for purification. Paul said that we are to “continue to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12) Believers are to walk humbly before the Lord and to pursue righteousness. Paul admonished his readers to “do everything without complaining or arguing, so that [they] may become blameless and pure children of God without fault…” (Phil 2:14)

Believers need to appreciate that Christ ministers in the Most Holy Place and that he desires for them to enter and to have their feet washed; however, they must humbly and confidently enter that most sacred realm. As he told Peter, those who reject the washing of their feet will have no part with him.


Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

(All Scriptures are from the NIV unless otherwise noted.)

August 13, 2018

Sin is like a Snake

His own iniquities will capture the wicked,
And he will be held with the cords of his sin. – Proverbs 5:22

“But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the Lord, and be sure your sin will find you out. – Numbers 32:23

Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins;
Let them not rule over me;
Then I will be blameless,
And I shall be acquitted of great transgression. – Psalm 19:13

…be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:2

Is it any coincidence that the Bible’s first representation of our predilection to sin is a serpent?

This is a very, very small part of an exhaustive article on sin which appears at the popular Bible study resource, PreceptAustin.org. (We don’t go there very often because the topical articles are just so deep that we could spend hours in any given one.)

The link below will take you to the main article, and then you’ll find this section by doing a keyword search for “Boa Constrictor!” We’ve included the first four scripture references above, you need to click through for the remaining verses.

Sin is like a Boa Constrictor!

Are you being deceived by sin and tolerating it like a pet? If you are, then you need to remember the fate of the man with the pet boa constrictor (Do a Google search – use the following three words in your search keeping the quotation marks as written >> “pet boa” killed). After 15 years of living with his owner, one day the “pet boa” would not let its “owner” out of its grip resulting in the owner’s tragic death. Wild animals remain wild and so does Sin. Do not be deceived (Stop being deceived)!

No Small Deviations in God’s Economy! – In St. Louis there is a railroad switchyard. One particular switch begins with just the thinnest piece of steel to direct a train away from one main track to another. If you were to follow those two tracks, however, you would find that one ends in San Francisco, the other in New York. Sin is like that. Just a small deviation from God’s standards can place us far afield from our intended destination. Don’t be deceived by the world, the flesh and the devil who whisper “It’s no big deal!” Wrong! Sin is a VERY BIG DEAL! (Sin seeks to rule over us and to kill us = Ps 19:13note, [See also Spurgeon’s comments] Ps 119:133note, 1Jn 5:16)

Entanglement by the Cords of one’s own Sin – Not long after a wealthy contractor had finished building the Tombs prison in New York, he was found guilty of forgery and sentenced to several years in the prison he had built! As he was escorted into a cell of his own making, the contractor said, “I never dreamed when I built this prison that I would be an inmate one day.” (cp Nu 32:23, Pr 5:22See Captured by Iniquity and Held by Cords of one’s own Sin – A Study)

Sin will take you further than you ever wanted to stray!
Cost you more than you ever dreamed you would pay!
Keep you longer than you ever thought you would stay!

Sin (266) (hamartia [word study]) in simple terms is missing the mark, specifically missing God’s will for us, a will which is good and acceptable and perfect (Ro 12:2bnote). Sin is what you do when you obey your fallen flesh, instead of obeying the Holy Spirit (cp Gal 5:16note, Gal 5:17note). The apostle John has a good “working” definition of sin writing that sin is lawlessness (anomia > a = without + nomos = law – behaving as if one had no supreme, divine law ruling their flesh, cp Jdg 21:25note) (1John 3:4 = practices is present tense = as one’s lifestyle – something a truly born again person cannot do habitually – 1Jn 3:9, 10). In Romans 5 and 6 Paul explains that Sin refers to the inherent propensity to commit specific sins a propensity that entered the human heart of Adam and as a result constituted or made him a sinner by nature. Adam then passed the inherent sinful nature (the “sin virus”) he possessed to all of his offspring (which is every person ever born) (Ro 5:12note, Ge 5:3 = “in his own likeness”, not God’s as in Ge 1:26!). This same “Adamic” nature which always seeks to satisfy self will (cp “lovers of self” –2Ti 3:2note) rather than God’s will is present in every person at the moment of conception when the “sin virus” is passed to the fertilized ovum (Ps 51:5note, Ps 58:3note, Job 25:4).

This sin nature which is still present in believers (some subtle, “snake-like” teachers falsely teach that the sin nature is no longer present in believers! Wrong!) is personified as an active power which continually seeks to seduce, deceive, delude and destroy (our fellowship with God).

Sin appears to be fair (“you deserve this little treat”!), but is in fact filthy. It appears pleasant (“it will make you feel so good”), but belies its pernicious character and finally it promises much pleasure (“you’ll be better for having done this”, cp “passing pleasures” He 11:25note), but performs nothing good, in the end bringing only death (to our fellowship with God if we are believers, eternal death/separation if unbelievers).

Paul alluded to the crafty character of sin in Romans 7 writing that “sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me. (see note Romans 7:11; James 1:14, 15note, Jas 1:16note ).

Paul speaking of the character and activity of the Antichrist in the end times declared that he will come…

with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved (2Thes 2:10) (Note that they perish not because they were deceived but because they made the conscious choice to refuse the truth of the gospel of salvation. And the divine punishment for their rejection is that they will receive a deluding influence which causes them to believe what is false.)

James makes it clear that God never tempts one to do evil

“But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. (James 1:14, 15note, Jas 1:16note)

Some commentators have state that the definite article preceding the word “sin,” identifies a specific sin which in context is the sin of apostasy or falling away from the truth of the gospel.

Sin promotes the illusion that disobedience is more secure (Ex 17:3) or pleasurable (see notes Hebrews 11:25; 26; Ex 16:3) than the life of faithful obedience.

The terrible danger of sin lies in the deceptive ease with which it slowly but surely hardens one’s heart, ever gradually weakening one’s will’s power to resist evil temptations. Paul gives us a command that is good “preventative maintenance” which serves to minimize our vulnerability to the deceptive temptations of sin “Even so consider (present imperative = command to continually take spiritual inventory of what we have and we now are in Christ. Why? Because we are continually vulnerable/susceptible to being deceived if we let go of our grasp of the truth of this affirmation. Speaking this truth does not make it true, but it does remind us that it is true, so that this truth like a shield might be readily recalled in time of need!) yourselves to be dead to sin (separated from, no longer subject to the power of Sin), but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Ro 6:11note)

Alexander Maclaren… in his sermon What Sin Does to Men (Isaiah 1:30, 31)…

Sin withers. We see the picture of a blasted tree in the woods, while all around are in full leaf, with tiny leaves half developed and all brown at the edges. The prophet draws another picture, that of a garden not irrigated, and therefore, in the burning East, given over to barrenness. Sin makes men fruitless and withered. It involves separation from God, the source of all fruitfulness (Ps. 1).

Think of how many pure desires and innocent susceptibilities die out of a sinful soul. Think of how many capacities for good disappear. Think of how dry and seared the heart becomes.

Think of how conscience is stifled. All sin, any sin, does this.

Not only gross, open transgressions, but any piece of godless living will do it.

Whatever a man does against his conscience—neglect of duty, habitual unveracity, idleness—in a word, his besetting sin withers him up.

And all the while the evil thing that is drawing his life-blood is growing like a poisonous, blotched fungus in a wine-cask. (Read full sermonIsaiah 1:30, 31 What Sin Does to Men)

Spurgeon writes that…

Sin slyly insinuates itself and by slow degrees prevails, therefore must we carefully guard against it.

B H Carroll on the deceitfulness of sin – This deceitfulness consists in misconstruing the grace of delay in punishment as immunity altogether, as saith the prophet: “Because sentence against an evil deed is not speedily executed, the heart of the sinner is fully set in him to do evil.”

As someone has written…

[1.] There is a great deal of deceitfulness in sin; it appears fair, but is filthy; it appears pleasant, but is pernicious; it promises much, but performs nothing.

[2.] The deceitfulness of sin is of a hardening nature to the soul; one sin allowed prepares for another; every act of sin confirms the habit; sinning against conscience is the way to sear the conscience; and therefore it should be the great concern of every one to exhort himself and others to beware of sin.

August 12, 2018

A Year of Sunday Worship

53 Weeks ago I introduced our Sunday Worship feature, and then 52 weeks ago, we began including a number of articles on the subject of worship which introduced us to a number of new writers. Our first stop was Ascents and while we won’t return to each and every one of our sources as this series continues, this one is no longer active and I wanted to include a third and final article from writer Tim Adams.

Before you start reading, click here to read Psalm 74.

Psalm 74 – How long, O God?

Can there be a more desperate state than to think that the creator of all that exists, the singular infinite power, has cast you aside? To feel as though God has rejected you?  I can think of nothing more desperate than to see myself forgotten by God.  Psalm 74 informs us how to respond when those thoughts overtake us, and we find ourselves full of despair—feeling useless.

I struggle with the 74th Psalm; particularly, with phrases such as “…why have you rejected us forever?” or, “remember your congregation which you have purchased”.  Does God reject His own?  Does God “need” us to remind Him of His promises? Does God forget?  These notions seem to challenge what we know to be God’s divine attributes, and what we see as absolute Biblical certainties.  Certainly, the psalmist cannot be affirming these ideas, but there is no question that he is struggling with feelings of abandonment by God, and those feelings can be consuming.

In this prayer, I see four stages that the psalmist goes through in his despair.  In the first three verses, he expresses to God his feelings of abandonment—feeling that God has forgotten him.  He feels that God has forgotten His promises to His people.  Even though we know that God has promised never to leave us or forsake us (Matt. 28:20, John 14:16, Heb. 13:5), there are times in our lives when we don’t feel the closeness of God.  There are times when it seems like our prayers bounce off the ceiling right back down on us, never to find the ear of our Creator.  I have actually prayed, “Dear God, I don’t know what to say and I don’t feel like you’re listening… amen.”  I’m not proud of it, but I’ve said it.

In the second stage, vs. 4-10, Asaph recounts the circumstances God’s people find themselves in. Their enemies have taken over the sacred meetings of God’s people and arrogantly “roared” in defiance of God.  They have burned the sanctuary to the ground, and there is no one to speak for the Lord (v.9) to tell them when this time of tribulation will end.  So, the psalmist asks again, “How long, O God?”.  Certainly, God doesn’t need me to tell Him what’s going on.  He knows better than I.  But, honestly and humbly taking stock of my troubles helps me to acknowledge that He is my only hope for deliverance.

The third stage is praise (vs. 12-17), and this is also one I tend to miss in my prayers.  It’s not that I don’t tell God how great, how powerful, and how marvelous He is.  But, far too often, those are just words I’m obliged to say.  The fact is, praise is hard when life is at its low points and God feels far away.  The importance of Asaph’s praise is that it not only ascribes God’s worth, but it also serves to remind Asaph who he’s talking to.  It renews his awe, and strengthens his faith.  It prepares his heart for the fourth phase of the prayer.  He knows that His Lord and Savior can, and will, deliver and care for His chosen people.

In the fourth and final phase, Asaph tells God precisely what he desires Him to do.  With confidence and faith, he petitions God to remember His people and avenge His holy name.  Asaph’s request is not only for the oppressed nation, but also for God’s glory.  Again, God doesn’t need our insight, our wisdom, or our perspective on what needs to be done.  Nor does he need our permission to do what He has promised.  The need, rather, is ours.  We need to remind ourselves of what is true, what is honorable, what is righteous, pure, and so on (Phil. 4:8).  It is then that …the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus,” (Phil. 4:7).

Something that needs to be noted is that when the psalm ends, there’s no indication that the trials are soon to be over.  There’s no indication that Asaph “feels” any better about the circumstances he and the nation are in.  The fact is, feelings can deceive us, and distract us from what is true about God’s character.  Let’s not forget that God wants the best for us, and only He knows exactly what that is.

He will always bring about His perfect will, and even though His will may be hard, He is always a good Father who hears and cares for His children.

Sometimes He calms the storm
With a whispered peace be still
He can settle any sea
But it doesn’t mean He will
Sometimes He holds us close
And lets the wind and waves go wild
Sometimes He calms the storm
And other times He calms His child

“Sometimes He Calms the Storm” by Kevin Stokes & Tony Wood,
©1995 Universal Music – Brentwood Benson Publishing Universal Music – Brentwood Benson Songs 

 

August 11, 2018

The Psalms as Narrative

This one involves a lengthier introduction.

It started a few days ago when I was composing a book review where I noted that while there has been much emphasis lately on the importance of respecting the various genres of scripture and reading each according to its unique style; the author of the book I was reviewing “suggests that they are all narrative, even to the point of labeling the poetic books as ‘wisdom stories,’ existing alongside ‘war stories,’ ‘deliverance stories,’ ‘gospel stories,’ ‘origin stories,’ and yes, in a category by themselves, ‘fish stories.'”

Unless it’s one of the Psalms which contains historical narrative such as #137:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,
3a for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;

…I personally don’t tend to think of the dramatic or narrative elements.

So when our son Aaron posted this to his blog earlier this week, I needed to read it twice to see the movement from micro-narrative to macro-narrative.

To make it easier for you to do, I’ve added a few sentences in italics below. It’s also helpful to ask yourself, “What is my present vantage point in this narrative?”

You can also click the title below to read the original.


Psalm 23 (CEV) 1 The Lord is my shepherd.
    I lack nothing.
He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
    he leads me to restful waters;
        he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths
    for the sake of his good name.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
    they protect me.

You set a table for me
    right in front of my enemies.
You bathe my head in oil;
    my cup is so full it spills over!
Yes, goodness and faithful love
    will pursue me all the days of my life,
    and I will live in the Lord’s house
    as long as I live.

The Shadow of the Valley of Text

by Aaron Wilkinson

I’ve been reading about Hebrew poetry lately and I’ve realized that I may have been reading Psalm 23 all wrong.

Over-familiarity is our worst friend when we’re trying to develop a deep understanding of a text. I’ve heard the words “The Lord is my shepherd” and everything that comes after so many times that I’ve come to take it for granted. It becomes an absent-minded recitation. While I think all of us who grew up in the church have a grasp for the basic ethos of the poem, I’m discovering that Hebrew poetry demands that the reader slow down to really unpack the parallel images and words that characterize it.

I’ll assume you’ve read or heard or sung this poem before. Shepherd, Green Pastures, Quiet Waters. This part makes me feel nice. Although the line “I shall not want” feels more like a wish than an assertion. When I see my friends getting promoted or engaged, I definitely do want. I could say a lot about how profoundly rebellious this statement is against an ambitious and consumeristic culture, but that’s not my main point.

The tranquil tapestry of this mellow meadow ends with this.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

And then…

New paragraph. A gap in the formatting of the text! Now we’re going to talk about a new idea. If this were a film, we might put a scene transition here.

The camera pulls back from a tight close-up to a wider shot.

The tone is still optimistic but we’re no longer in that prior pastoral paradise.

But were we ever?

The way that the text is usually formatted suggests a shift that I’m not sure is meant to be there. Verse 3 and Verse 4 both use language of journeying. Being lead down the path and walking through the valley. Verses 1 and 2 show us images of stillness. Verses 3 and 4 get us moving. Unless the editors of the text are using the gap between the verses to symbolize a valley between hills, I think this break can be misleading.

Picture this: our scene opens on a young lamb, grazing on grass and sipping from a stream. We then see the lamb approached by a strong but gentle shepherd who signals to the lamb with his staff that it’s time to get moving. The lamb hops up and begins following the shepherd. As they go, they walk. They don’t run. They don’t hide. They walk.

The camera pulls back again.

Zoom out and we see that the two are, in fact, in a dark valley. Clouds thunder overhead and predators growl in the distance. Abandoned arrows, slash marks from swords, and spots of blood speak of some battle that was fought here recently. Warriors may still be crouching around the next bend. And there they walk, the sheep and the shepherd. Stopping for a break and a snack every now and then.

The green fields with quiet waters and the valley of the shadow of death aren’t two places. They are one. And Verses 5 and 6 will confirm this for us. How does the poem begin? Fields to graze in, water to drink, rest for the soul. Food, drink, rest. How does it end? A table in front of my enemies, an overflowing cup, goodness and mercy following me all the days of my life. Food, drink, rest – not in some idyllic ethereal otherworld, but in the very presence of enemies and threats. There are always the enemies, the shadow of death, but also the shepherd offers provision and comfort.

The camera pulls back one last time, this time showing a macro-image beyond imagination.

What’s more, we’ve zoomed out even further. We began in the sheep’s little world: the grass, the water, the shepherd. We zoomed out to see what the shepherd is protecting the sheep from: the valley. Now we are in “The house of the Lord, forever.” We end in the eternal transcendent House (surely this encompasses all creation) and the enemies and valleys are left sandwiched – surrounded – between the immediate local provision of the shepherd and the eternal promises of the future.

I’m sure there are layers of this poem that I’m still missing. The Israelites were masters of poetry so I’m sure that there are layers that shine out much better in the original language. But this poem is dense even in English. It’s packed. The images are tied together brilliantly and even the subtle implications of a verb like “walk” are carefully selected to tell us something about the beautiful relationship that God has to his creation, and the relationship between his providence and our challenges.

I think we miss this when we treat the Psalms first as theology and as poetry second. When we slow down and read them as poetry, their theology becomes much more profound.

August 10, 2018

God Wants Us To Fan Out, Not Hunker Down

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Genesis.11.1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Six months ago we introduced you to Chicago area Youth Pastor Joshua Nelson who writes at The Sidebar Blog: Current Issues from a Biblical Perspective. I read a number of his recent posts before settling on this one for today. (Note this was published mid-July.) Click the title below to read at source.

Not My Name

This week at my church is the incredible, exciting, draining, and yet fulfilling event known as Vacation Bible School. VBS has always been an extra special time around here, and last night was just the beginning of what I am sure will be a fantastic week.

Last night in the Bible lesson we talked briefly about the Tower of Babel. Do you remember that one? It’s in the 11th chapter of Genesis if you would like to read it for yourself. (You probably should.) One of the neat things that I have experienced at just about every VBS that I have ever been a part of is that the truth shared is just as relevant for adults as it is for the kids.

Anyway, back to the Tower of Babel. Actually, the story is more about the people than the actual tower. You see, God has told mankind twice now in the book of Genesis to “be fruitful and multiply.” (Gen. 1:28, 9:1) It’s important for us to understand that God’s command to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth is about much more than just simply having babies. It is about obedience to God and making His name great.

The problem with the people of Babel? They chose not to obey God. The settled down instead of spreading across and filling the whole earth, and they tried to make themselves famous instead of God.

The ancient people ignored God’s instructions, clustered together, and tried to make themselves great.

Sadly, not much has changed.

People now, just like people then, have a tendency to ignore God’s clear instructions, cluster together in alike tribes, and make themselves great-often at the expense of others.

So, what do we, who have put our trust in Jesus, do about this? Or how should we respond?

We first start by looking in the mirror.

God’s Old Testament command is echoed in the New Testament when Jesus said, “Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15) God told Adam and Eve to reproduce in order to produce children who would know, obey, and love God. God now tells us to produce disciples who know, obey, and love Jesus.

But the temptation to cluster together and build a name for ourselves is ever-present. Sadly, at times, churches can be so focused on programs and events that they lose sight of what is truly important.

We cannot worry about increasing our church empires, we need to be focused on increasing His Kingdom.

Francis Chan has a pretty matter-of-fact quote “Christians are like manure: spread them out and they help everything grow better but keep them in one big pile and they stink horribly.” Ouch.

The Bible is pretty clear that those who follow Jesus are to be lights in this dark and dying world. We need to shine in the dark and we cannot allow the comfort of our familiar tribe to prevent us from doing so.

Tribalism is a dangerous and unproductive thing and it has no place in the church of Jesus Christ.

Now, let me be clear, I am not advocating that we stop spending time with the people whom we love and are comfortable with. What I am saying though is, let’s be sure to be active in our love and Good News witness to people who don’t fit inside of our cookie cutter vision.

There are a whole lot of people in this world. Many of them do not look, think, act, smell, sound, or see things the way you do. That is O.K. Our objective is not to make people become just like us. Our goal is to show people how to become like Jesus.

I don’t want to make my name great.

I want to make His name great.

August 9, 2018

Shall We Make Alterations to Jesus?

by Clarke Dixon

Does what the Bible say about Jesus fit you or would you like to make alterations? You love Jesus but perhaps you would rather he did not make such exclusive statements like “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)? We might prefer that he had said “I am a way, one truth among many, one road to life, and people can come to the Father in various ways”. In our pluralistic day we might be tempted by a view of Jesus that seems more inclusive of other religions.

In New Testament times, Christians were being tempted by an early form of teaching later known as Gnosticism. This teaching speaks of Jesus, but does concur with what the Bible teaches about him. The apostle John deals with this temptation in a letter known as 2nd John. In John’s letter we discover three reasons to resist the temptation to make alterations to Jesus.

First, if it is not the Biblical view of Jesus, then truth falls off a cliff. John uses the word “truth” four times in the opening verses, then in verse seven he warns against deception:

Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! 2 John 1:7

The Gnostics were making alterations to Jesus to fit their worldview, rather than making alterations to their worldview to fit Jesus. They were messing with truth.

Why are you a Christian? Is it because you were raised a Christian? This can be a great introduction to Christianity, but is not, in fact, a reason to embrace it. Why was John a Christian? It was not because he was raised a Christian. He gives us some clues in 1st John:

1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:1-3 (emphasis mine)

John was a follower of Jesus because he met Jesus, learned from Jesus, saw Jesus crucified and then risen from the dead. John was an eyewitness, he knew these things to be true. John does not write a warning against heresy because he is concerned about religion, but because he is concerned about truth. If we do not follow a Biblical view of Jesus, then truth falls off a cliff.

Second, if it is not the Biblical view of Jesus, then love falls off a cliff. Love is a prominent theme in John’s letter:

4 It has given me great joy to find that children of yours have been living the life of truth as we were commanded by the Father. 5 And now I am asking you — dear lady, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but only the one which we have had from the beginning — that we should love one another. 6 To love is to live according to his commandments: this is the commandment which you have heard since the beginning, to live a life of love.

7 There are many deceivers at large in the world, refusing to acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in human nature. They are the Deceiver; they are the Antichrist.  2nd John 1:4-7 (NJB)

You might think it strange that I would include verse seven, about deception, along with verses five and six, which speak about love, but in fact John connects them. Verse seven begins with a rarely translated connecting word ‘for’. We might give a rough summary of the line of thought like this: “It is great to find your children living according to truth. Now you, yourself, must double down on living a life according to truth, a life of love, because false teachers are coming, and they have a very different ethic than the love ethic you learned from the teaching and example of Jesus.”

Love is important to the Christian because Jesus, in his existence, life, teaching, death, and resurrection, is an expression of God’s love. If Jesus is something other than that, then love is no longer the main thing. Under the gnostic teaching facing the Christians in John’s day, the main thing was the separation of the body from the spirit. This led to an ethic of either extreme asceticism, because you must care less about your body, or extreme indulgence, since you could care less about your body. Either way, a life of love was no longer the main thing.

There is a popular notion that all religions lead to a very similar ethic. However, some religions in the history of the world have required human sacrifice. Not all religions lead to the same ethic and not all religions are equal. Christianity offers love as the main ethic, for Christianity was born out of God’s love. We won’t be strongly pursuing a love ethic if we are listening to an alternate views of Jesus. If all religions lead to God, then who are we to condemn human sacrifice as an unloving practice? If it is not the Biblical view of Jesus, then love falls off a cliff.

Third, if it is not the Biblical view of Jesus, then souls will fall off a cliff. John speaks of this in verse 9:

Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 2 John 1:9

If Jesus was not executed then raised, we still have a separation from God problem.

But isn’t Jesus being too exclusive when he says “no one comes to the Father but by me”? A specific problem calls for a specific solution. Suppose my motorcycle stops running and a mechanic tells me that I need new ignition coils. Will I then say, that sounds too exclusive, perhaps we should replace the carburetors, tires, wheel bearings, and piston rings? A specific problem calls for a specific solution and nothing else will help. Our sin problem calls for a God’s grace solution. When Jesus says he is the way the truth and the life and that no one can come to the Father except through him, he is not being arrogant, but accurate. Greater effort can not deal with our separation from God problem. More religion just makes things worse. Only the grace of God will help us, and that grace has been expressed through Jesus. If we are not sharing a Biblical view of Jesus, then souls will fall off a cliff.

Accurate teaching about Jesus is important enough that we should not allow false teachers to set up shop:

10 Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching; 11 for to welcome is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person. 2 John 1:10-11

In other words, when heresy knocks, don’t send Jesus out to make room for the heretic.

We may be tempted to run after alternative views of Jesus, but truth, love, and souls are in danger of being destroyed if we do. While it might sound tempting, if Biblical teaching about Jesus is not at the heart of our Christian faith, then our Christian faith has lost its heart.


(The full sermon can be heard here or through iTunes podcast here, while available. Unless stated otherwise, Scriptures are taken from NRSV)

August 8, 2018

The Lord Cares for the Poor

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Last year at this time, we introduced you to Neil White, a Lutheran (ELCA) Pastor, currently Senior Pastor for Rejoice Lutheran in Frisco, Texas. His blog is called Sign of the Rose. We returned for a visit only to find him in the middle of a series on Revelation. Rather than jump into one of those at random, we sourced this item from last summer. Click to read at source.

Psalm 41 The One Who Cares for the Poor

<To the leader. A Psalm of David.>
1 Happy are those who consider the poor; the LORD delivers them in the day of trouble.
2 The LORD protects them and keeps them alive; they are called happy in the land. You do not give them up to the will of their enemies.
3 The LORD sustains them on their sickbed; in their illness you heal all their infirmities.
4 As for me, I said, “O LORD, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against you.”
5 My enemies wonder in malice when I will die, and my name perish.
6 And when they come to see me, they utter empty words, while their hearts gather mischief; when they go out, they tell it abroad.
7 All who hate me whisper together about me; they imagine the worst for me.
8 They think that a deadly thing has fastened on me, that I will not rise again from where I lie.
9 Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.
10 But you, O LORD, be gracious to me, and raise me up, that I may repay them.
11 By this I know that you are pleased with me; because my enemy has not triumphed over me.
12 But you have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever.
13 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.

The final psalm in the first book of the psalter (Psalms 1-41) begins with a beatitude (Happy/blessed are…) just like the first psalm in this collection. Psalm 1 begins by stating “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked…but their delight is in the law of the LORD” and now closing this section of the book of psalms we hear, “Happy are those who consider the poor.” The structure of the book of psalms wants to encourage us to hear the connection hear between a life that avoids the way of the wicked and delights in the law of the LORD with a life that considers the poor. Looking back at the previous forty psalms that comprise this first section of the psalter it becomes clear that one of the central messages is that God hears those who have been oppressed or isolated from their community and so the one who considers the poor models their path after the God who hears the cries of the poor and neglected of the world. This psalm begins with the one who considers the poor being able to count upon the LORD’s deliverance in their own time of trouble. A life that is blessed is one that in following the law of the LORD hears the way in which they are to be a community which cares for the weak, the widow, the orphan, the alien and all the others who are vulnerable in society.

The similarity between the beginning of this psalm and the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5: 3 (or Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:20) is just one of many places of resonance between the psalms and the message of Jesus. Jesus vision of the kingdom of God reflects the law of the LORD which imagines a society where the wicked no longer take advantage of the weak. The psalms, along with the law and prophets, the gospels and the letters of Paul as well as the rest of the bible attempt to imagine for the world a different kind of community. I’m reminded of a story that the New Testament scholar Mark Allan Powell shares about the parable of the prodigal son in Luke’s gospel.

He asked his American student why the son who goes to a foreign country ends up starving and they almost all point to him squandering what he had, the son’s life was his own responsibility. When he had the opportunity to ask students in Russia the majority pointed to the reality that in the story there is a famine in the land, that the person’s peril was due to external conditions in the environment. Perhaps most interestingly for the reflection on this psalm was the answer he received when he was in Tanzania about why the son was in danger of starvation: “Because no one gave him anything to eat!” and they went on to explain that:

The boy was in a far country. Immigrants often lose their money. They don’t know how things work—they might spend all their money when they shouldn’t because they don’t know about the famines that come. People think they are fools just because they don’t know how to live in that country. But the Bible commands us to care for the stranger and alien in our midst. It is a lack of hospitality not to do so. This story, the Tanzanians told me, is less about personal repentance than it is about society. Specifically, it is about the kingdom of God. (Powell, 2007, p. 27)

This is the type of society that this psalm attempts to help us imagine, a world where the poor are considered and cared for, but the psalmist doesn’t live in that world. Just because the poet believes that God delivers those who care for the vulnerable they also are honest that attempting to live righteously does not exclude them from the challenges of life or from feeling the exclusion that the poor often feel.

The poet spends most of this psalm reflection on how their own community was not a blessing to them in their time of trouble. The LORD sustains those who care for the poor on their sickbed, but now the psalmist community has only the LORD to call to for healing on their own sickbed. Perhaps their community believes that the illness is a judgment from God and therefore they are justified in their exclusion of this one. It may also be that the illness demonstrates the true nature of the community. The community seems to be a place where only those who can actively contribute are valued and where people are actively waiting on the death of the psalmist to inherit his property. At a time where the community was needed the most for the poet, they found themselves a member of an unjust society that does not consider the vulnerable and weak. The community of the speaker has become warped and close friendships revealed as fading and shallow. Yet, the LORD can bring the one who has a deadly thing fastened to him back to life.

Like in Psalm 38 the psalmist wrestles again with a connection between sin and sickness. On the one hand many modern Christians too quickly dismiss any connection when there are times when one suffers because of one’s own actions or choices. Yet, there are other times where both people too quickly and tightly assume a connection. As Rolf Jacobson shares from his own life:

Even modern agnostics or atheists prove themselves capable of making this assumption when they assume that a person’s poor health is automatically the result of poor lifestyle choices. In my own life, when I was diagnosed with cancer as a teenager, a well-meaning but misguided neighbor remarked to my mother that it was a shame she had not been feeding her family the proper, high anti-oxidant diet, or her son would not have developed cancer. Besides being incredibly unhelpful, this comment was simply wrong—the type of cancer I had is not lifestyle dependent. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 390)

Regardless of whether a person’s plight is caused by personal actions and choices or whether they simply find themselves among the weak, sick, injured, poor, or otherwise vulnerable the psalms imagine a community that can respond differently than what the writer of Psalm 41 discovers in their community.

The psalmist asks to be able to ‘repay’ those who have not acted as a supportive community in their plight and unfortunately in English we lose the double meaning of this phrase. On the one had the psalmist does desire that their health would be restored so that those waiting on their death to claim their payment from their property would have no inheritance because the psalmist continues to live. But the word translated to repay comes from the noun shalom and has the connotation of making complete, restoring, to recompense or reward. (Brueggeman, 2014, p. 200) The poet may also be pointing to being a person who can demonstrate what a righteous life looks like by in the future caring for those who failed to care for them in the present.

The LORD has cared for the one who has cared for the poor. The righteous one can point to their own life as a witness to the LORD’s action on their behalf. Even when their community failed them God proved to be faithful. And they end this psalm and this portion of the psalter with a blessing to the God who has avoided the way of the wicked, who has delighted in the law of the LORD, and who has cared for the poor.

 

August 7, 2018

Avoiding Ambush

Proverbs 11:17-18:

If a bird sees a trap being set, it knows to stay away. But these people set an ambush for themselves; they are trying to get themselves killed. NLT

Indeed, it is useless to spread the baited net In the sight of any bird; But they lie in wait for their own blood; They ambush their own lives. But they lie in wait for their own blood; They ambush their own lives. NASB

Last year at this time I introduced you to Arnold Reimer, a retired pastor from a church I frequently attended — Bayview Glen Alliance Church in Toronto — and his blog titled Finishing Well. Today’s thoughts are from two consecutive posts there.

Ambushed

A downside of being a news junkie is the gloomy reports of tragedy and violence one hears nightly.  Accidents, shootings bombings, floods, hurricanes, sickness, death, deceit, fires, political strife and corruption – the list is almost endless!  Worst of all are the stories of man’s inhumanity to man – the acts of violence due to anger, revenge, lust, greed, drunkenness, rebellion – the whole gamut of consequences brought about by bad choices.  Too often a damaging environment in home, school, society, even religion or its absence, have shaped and twisted thinking and personality.

Whoever rejects the concept of sin, or the depravity afflicting humanity, is either blind or detached from reality.  The biblical explanation is, “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?”  Truly, the “god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”  Our nation’s increasing rejection of God’s authority over what is, and is not, sin is determining the decline and bleakness of our future.  The high cost of rejecting God and His commandments cannot be avoided.  We reap what we sow.

Who of us has not experienced, or observed, how easy it is to ambush one’s own life?   A wrong choice or decision, carelessly made, can reek havoc to one’s future, marriage, finances, relationships, reputation, health, career or whatever.   How grievous it is to see youth making choices about behaviour, morality, appearance, companions, habits, work ethics and attitudes that can only result in limitations and hurt, if not disaster.

For years our family devotions included reading a chapter from the Proverbs.  The first chapter contains a vital motive to pay attention to the whole book.  It warns the reader of those who “ambush their own lives,” by rejecting wisdom, knowledge and the fear of God.  They do not accept counsel and spurn reproof.  “They eat the fruit of their own way.

Oh, that young and old alike would seek the forgiveness of God that leads to salvation; and the wisdom of God that leads to wise choices, good decisions and true blessing.  Another proverb admonishes: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  From my youth, I have held on to that promise.  I can report with conviction that deviation from it hurts, but obedience benefits.  God is faithful to His Word and Ways.

Thank God, most ambushes to which we victimize ourselves, though often hurtful, are not fatal.  That allows us time, the wisdom of understanding, the grace of repentance, the kindness of forgiveness and the blessing of renewal.  “Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your heart, for the night comes when no one can work.”   “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  What a wonderful, healing promise – a way to avoid an ambush!

Ambushed – Part Two

The Proverbial statement, “They ambush their own lives,” is a sad description of the self-hurt most of us have experienced at one time or another.  Wrong choices, bad behaviour and foolish rebellion result in wounds, dysfunction, crippling limitations, grief and the judgment of hurtful consequences – sometimes life-long and beyond.

The list of things that ambush one’s life can be found in the Ten Commandments.  Most of the disruption to family life, social chaos and corruption can be traced back to our disregard or violation of the divine will and order.  Because our government, educational system and courts of law have often chosen to reject God’s counsel for a noble society, our country is increasingly losing its way and stumbling in darkness.  The individual or family who rejects God’s way misses the pathway to a happy home and a safe environment.  The evidence of this is most everywhere one cares to look.  Our stubborn refusal to admit to our national rebellion against God and His ways, and thus to correct it, condemns us to devastating hurt!  We are literally ambushing our own lives!

Is there a solution?  What can we, who care, do about this before it is too late?

  • Proclaim faithfully the saving grace of our Lord Jesus.  Respond to the convicting, convincing work of the Holy Spirit who bears witness to all who will believe that they are children of God.  He guides into all truth those who listen.
  • Demonstrate and teach the fear of God, the value of obedience to absolute truth, and the beauty of holiness.   Sin must be named and forsaken.  Guilt must be understood rather than be disregarded or shoved under a rug.  The way of cleansing, purchased by the blood of Christ Jesus on the cross, must be applied.
  • Search the Scriptures daily to advance your knowledge of God.  Draw upon the sufficiency of Christ.   Find and own the promises of God which cleanse and shape thoughts and behaviour.   These actions build discernment and wisdom.
  • Learn to recognize the deceitfulness of the devil, the lust of the flesh, the nature of idolatry and the lure of the world and its ways.  Distrust yourself, but trust God.  He satisfies the hungry soul.
  • Put on the whole armor of God.  Practice using both the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit.  Expect to be attacked, and prepare for it.
  • Rejoice that greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.
  • Worship God in spirit and in truth.  Praise Him with a whole heart.  Pray to Him without ceasing, rejoicing in the Lord always.

As long as we walk this earth we will face things that ambush faith, hope, love, holiness, body, soul, spirit and our very lives.  So be it!  But our protection and victory are assured in Christ Jesus who has promised never to leave nor forsake us.  Having done all, stand – and keep standing for victory in Christ Jesus is sure and His coming is near.

August 6, 2018

Contentment

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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This is our 4th visit to Start2Finish. This devotional begins with an illustration of people finding treasure (literally) and realizing it wasn’t theirs to keep which you might find helpful, so click the title below to read the entire piece at source.

It Wasn’t Ours

“Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).

…It was the greediness of desiring more that drove Ahab to crave a prime piece of real estate belonging to his next-door neighbor (1 Kings 21:1-14) for which a cruel conspiracy was hatched to wrest it away from Naboth.

The same covetousness corrupted David’s heart and led him to destroy another man’s life and family. Having at least six wives already (2 Samuel 3:2-5) David cast longing eyes out his own back yard on his neighbor’s wife (2 Samuel 11:2-4) and took her for himself. When confronting David’s sin God reminded him of how much he had already been given and reasoned with the king, “If all this had been too little, I also would have given you much more (2 Samuel 12:8)!”

The key principle being that God is the giver of all that we have (Acts 17:25, James 1:17) therefore if we believe we are truly lacking we are to approach Him and not to take what He has already given to our neighbors. In the ten commandments is this prohibition, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor ANYTHING that is your neighbor’s (Exodus 20:17).”

When considering these biblical examples, we may errantly believe that we aren’t vulnerable to such covetousness. The truth is that we all have appetites for more that must be controlled. Covetousness, desiring what belongs to others for ourselves, has been mankind’s peril from beginning.

Adam and Eve were given EVERYTHING (Genesis 1:29) but the devil succeeded in directing Eve’s attention to the ONLY thing that God had prohibited (Genesis 3:1). Notice how her appetite for more was stirred when she fixed her eyes on that which was not hers and reasoned that it was good for food (couldn’t any of the hundreds of other foods satisfy her appetite?), that it was pleasant to look on, and could position her in God’s place (Genesis 3:6). It is giving in to this determination to fulfill the lust of the flesh, eyes, and our own pride of life (1 John 2:19) that demonstrates we are not satisfied with God’s provision. John Piper has written, “sin is what we do when we are not satisfied with God.” (2)

Jesus presented many teachings to demonstrate that our lives are merely stewardships in which we care for the things of God. Everything is His (Psalm 24:1, 50:10) and what we seem to have is merely temporarily given into our charge. In the parable of the talents these servants were called upon to give an account of their stewardship (Matthew 25:14-30). It was demanded of the unjust steward to submit to an audit of how he had managed his master’s goods (Luke 16:1-2).

Likewise, the Lord wants each of us to know that whatever we have is ours only for a while (Acts 5:4) but in the end all that remains is whether or not we were fruitful with them towards God (Matthew 25:26-30). My car? My home? My job? My family? My very life? How differently would we live if we fully comprehended this truth – IT WASN’T OURS.

“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:20)


Bonus item:
Today we learned that Start2Finish is not only a website, but they’re a book publisher. The quotation below, in Greek and English, appears on the back page of each of their books; something scribes would write having finished a manuscript.

August 5, 2018

Teach Me: A Worship Liturgy

a worship liturgy by Ruth Wilkinson

Jesus said,
“A time is coming and is already here,
when the true worshipers will worship the Father
in spirit and in Truth.
The Father wants such worshipers.”

Paul reminded us,
“Brothers and sisters,
I urge you by the mercy of God
to present your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and pleasing to God.
This is your spiritual worship.”

Father, I want to worship you in spirit and in truth.

Teach me to live my life in acts of worship —

Teach me, like David, to sing freely, to dance without shame,
to call out boldly, “Sing to the Lord all the Earth!”

Teach me, like Solomon, to give generously out of my abundance and my security
to point people toward your Name.

Teach me, like Paul and Silas, to faithfully speak about you,
even when running away is the obvious thing to do.

Teach me, like Elijah to take a stand in the face of my enemies, calm and courageous,
saying, “Today let it be known that You are God and I am Your servant.”

Like Isaiah, teach me to lament my inadequacy, my sinfulness, my fear,
and to be ready to be forgiven.

Like our sister the prostitute, teach me to humbly pour out gratitude,
because my many sins have been forgiven and I have reason to love much.

Teach me, like Ruth, to move forward, walking away from what’s comfortable,
saying, “Wherever you go, I will go. Your God will be my God.”

Like our sister the widow, teach me to give what I can’t afford to give,
when it’s just the right thing to do.

Like Mary, teach me to obey when I don’t understand,
to trust you for the consequences, to say “May your will be done.”

Teach me, Father, to surrender my physical life as my spiritual act of worship,
holy and pleasing to You.



To read all of Ruth’s readings here at C201, click this link.

August 4, 2018

The God Who Pursues

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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I wanted to spend one more day on a subject introduced yesterday, the idea of God seeking us out; searching us out…

This is our first time at a blog with a whimsical title, Through the Bible in who knows how many days. Although this article is 6 years old, the blog is still being updated. Click the title below to read at source.

Hosea 1-3 — The God who pursues us

This is definitely one of the more bizarre stories we see in scripture, God telling Hosea, one of his prophets to get married to a woman that would be unfaithful to him.

As this story takes place, Jeroboam II is still on the throne in Israel, as is Uzziah in Judah.  Hosea was primarily a prophet to Israel, but he had his words for Judah as well.

And in this time of material prosperity, there was definitely a spiritual problem.  The people were being unfaithful to God, following other idols, namely Baal.  And thus, the object lesson of Hosea to the nation.

Hosea marries this woman Gomer, and she soon bears him a son that God says to call Jezreel.  God told him to do so because of the massacre at Jezreel where Jehu went far beyond the words of God in committing bloodshed.  And so God was saying that judgment was coming upon the house of Jehu and upon Israel.

Gomer then gets pregnant twice more, but the Bible never says they were Hosea’s children.  The implication being that they were children born out of Gomer’s unfaithfulness to Hosea.  The first is named “Lo-Ruhamah, meaning “not loved.”  The second is named “Lo-Ammi” meaning, “not my people.”

The picture couldn’t be clearer.  Hosea must have had a tough time loving these children that was not his, and could not call either child his own.

In the same way, because of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, God could not call them his loved ones or his children.  Instead, he would reject them and cause them to fall as a kingdom.

And yet even in the midst of this, God makes clear that this punishment would not last forever.  That the day would come when he would call them his people and his sons once again, and would restore them.

But in chapter 2, he rebukes Israel for its unfaithfulness.  The people didn’t realize that all their blessings came not from the gods they were following, but from God.  And so God said the day was coming when he would cut off their blessings, and that he would strip them naked of every good thing.  Though they would pursue pleasure and happiness, they would not be able to find them.  The only thing they’d be able to find was shame.  And eventually, the time would come when they would be so desperate that they would have no choice but to return to God.

The amazing part of it all, is that through all of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, he would continue to pursue them.  It says,

“Therefore, I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the desert, and tenderly speak to her…
I will make the valley of trouble (Achor) a door of hope.
There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

“In that day,” declares the Lord, “you will call me ‘my husband’;
you will no longer call me ‘my master.’…

“I will betroth you to me forever.
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness and you will acknowledge the Lord…

I will show my love to the one I called, ‘Not my loved one’.
I will say to those called, ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people.’” (Hosea 2:14-16, 19-20, 23)

And to firmly imprint all of this in the minds of Israel, he told Hosea in chapter 3, to show his love to his wife once more, to buy her back from the one she was enslaved to, and to restore her to her position as his wife once again.

What does this mean for us?  No matter how far away we fall away from him,  God still loves us and pursues us.  He may discipline us.  He may allow bad things to happen to us as a consequence for our sin.  But his main goal is to restore us.  And all he does is out of his love and faithfulness towards us.

So as Hosea told his wife, let us not prostitute ourselves any longer to the world or the things in the world.  Rather let us return to him and be faithful to the God who is faithful to us, and who loved us enough to redeem us by Christ’s death on the cross.

August 3, 2018

Lessons from the Searchlights

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Regular readers know that the philosophy here at C201 is to avoid example-based or illustration-based devotionals and studies, and to simply cut to the chase of Bible exposition or topical study.

Today, however, I had a strong impression that this simple devotional is what someone out there needs today…

Some of you know that while I’m not writing on a number of online platforms, I spend a few days a week at a Christian bookstore which we own. The shop is named “Searchlight” and it’s registered as a business although we don’t draw a salary. Some years it makes money, and some years it loses.

So what was I thinking when I named the company?

On one level, I was thinking of a song by Christian artist Nancy Honeytree from the 1970s.

On a higher level however, I had in mind the two definitions of the word.

The first type of searchlight is the type you see mounted on the back of a large truck. The lens is at least a metre across and the light pivots, pointed to the nighttime sky to attract people from a wide area to see what’s happening, whether it’s the opening of a new store or restaurant or the premiere of a new movie.

It’s saying, “There’s something happening here.”

The Apostle Paul is standing before Governor Festus…

At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”
“I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.
”  – Acts 26:24-26 NIV

The Passion Translation states the last phrase as, “After all, it’s not like it was a secret!” while The Message renders it as, “You must realize that this wasn’t done behind the scenes.”

There’s something happening here. The Good News is changing hearts and lives. The message of Jesus is raising people to new life.

The prophet Habakkuk is told to write God’s message in a way that no one can miss it:

And the Lord answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. – Habakkuk 2:2 ESV

I love how The Living Bible (the predecessor of today’s NLT) renders this:

And the Lord said to me, “Write my answer on a billboard, large and clear, so that anyone can read it at a glance and rush to tell the others.

The word of the Lord is larger than life; not done in a remote corner, and certainly not about something distant, or ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far away.’

This is the best news ever.

The second type of searchlight is smaller, but much more important. It’s the type of light is mounted on a vehicle, a boat or a small plane.

It’s saying, “Someone out there is lost.”

It’s meant not to draw people in to a location, but rather to go out from a location to look for a missing person or persons.

Jesus is concluding his meeting with Zacchaeus:

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:9-10 NIV

(Jesus says the same words in Matthew 18:11, in a different context.)

This mirrors Ezekiel 34:11-12:

“For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. – NLT

This has led many to refer to “The God who pursues.”  (We’ll look at that tomorrow!)

Part one of the Gospel is “come and see” and part two is “go and tell.”

Something is happening that compels us; draws us; then like Andrew (who on meeting Jesus went to get his brother Peter) we go out and search out more who need to hear.


It turns out I mentioned Searchlight once before in this August, 2015 article.


The meaning of Searchlight in the Honeytree song is different yet again, asking God to shine his light into our hearts and souls.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. – Psalm 139: 23-24 NLT

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