Christianity 201

March 6, 2021

Looking at the Face of God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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If we compiled a list of the five authors we’ve featured here most often, Elsie Montgomery would be in that list.  She has been faithfully writing daily at Practical Faith since 2006.

For 2021, she decided to do something different, and use the alphabet to provide word prompts for themes. “God directed my thoughts to the alphabet and 2×26 equals the weeks in a year, and that He can be described by many English words beginning with those 26 letters.” (Never say you can’t think of anything to write!)

As always, please support our contributing writers by clicking through (it send them traffic) and reading this on her site. Click the article title which follows.

Seeing God?

During their wilderness travel, the Israelites sinned and Moses interceded for them. In that conversation, he asked God to “Please show me your glory” but God said to him:

(Exodus 33:19–23) “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But, you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live. Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

I picked FACE as a word about God for today. In Hebrew, FACE is a plural noun. It means “the presence or proximity of someone understood in terms of the face; with the implication of being before or in front of them.” This supports the idea that much can be known about someone by the look on their face.

However, God says no one can see His face and live. Then other passages speak of seeing the face of God. This stumped me. I found an article in a theological word book about this Hebrew term. The section is long but the content is helpful. Here are a few main points:

The face identifies the person and reflects their attitude and sentiments, much the same as we talk about how another person feels according to their facial expression. In the Bible, “face” can also refer to behavioral patterns as well as revealing human emotions, moods, and dispositions.

For instance, a “hard” face indicates defiance, impudence, ruthlessness. A “shining” face is evidence of joy while a “shamed” face points to defeat, frustration, humiliation. A “fallen” face indicates very strong anger or displeasure. The phrase “to hide one’s face” means to show aversion or disgust and “to turn away the face” is to reject.

There are more examples, many of which are applied to God. God’s face “shines” as a sign of favor and good will, or “falls” in anger. He also may “hide” his face. The phrase “to see God’s face” probably indicates someone is visiting the sanctuary to worship. It includes “to see” or “to appear” suggesting the idea of “appearing before” God rather than seeing His face even though it is said that Jacob and Moses saw God “face to face.” Even so, Moses, Elijah covered their faces in God’s presence. These who saw Him were overwhelmed with astonishment and gratitude and awe.

In the New Testament God is manifested in Jesus. John 6:46 says “Not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.” He is not only the Word through whom God is heard but also the image through whom God is seen.

(Hebrews 1:3) He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high . . . .”

GAZE INTO HIS GLORY. My eyes cannot ‘see’ the face of God nor do I get a full look at the face of Jesus Christ, yet when He walked on earth He was ‘seeable’ — His disciples could say, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) and “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16)

Their testimony helps me see the face of my God and Savior. It also makes sense of the reason why the Bible tells me to keep my focus on Jesus because by seeing Him, I am transformed to be like Him. This is the blessing in this pandemic isolation — for it has given me the time and motivation to draw near and see Him more clearly, not so much His face but the wonderful qualities of who He is.


What can be known about God? For starters we can know he exists. Here’s a bonus article from the same writer, The Fundamental Truth.

March 5, 2021

The Saddest Verses in the Bible

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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There are a number of narratives in the scripture which can only be described as unfortunate, sad, or perhaps even tragic. One of these will be quite familiar to all of you, the other two might not.

Close and Yet So Far

This is where the line “almost pursaded” which forms the title of a hymn of a generation past originates. Philip Bliss, who lived only from 1838 to 1876 would have used the Bible of his day, the KJV, as an inspiration; as Paul tries to reason with King Agrippa, defending himself in Acts 26:

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” (26:28)

Here is just part of the fuller context in the NIV:

22 But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

24 At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”

25 “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26 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. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

The hymn in question is worth studying in full but we begin with verse one:

“Almost persuaded” now to believe;
“Almost persuaded” Christ to receive;
Seems now some soul to say,
“Go, Spirit, go Thy way,
Some more convenient day
on Thee I’ll call.”

The second and third verses implore the hearer to respond, but by verse four, it’s already too late.

“Almost persuaded,” harvest is past!
“Almost persuaded,” doom comes at last;
“Almost” cannot avail;
“Almost” is but to fail!
Sad, sad that bitter wail—
“Almost—but lost!”

On a personal note, my mother’s faith was nurtured as much by the hymnbook as by her Bible. she often sang hymn fragments — isolated lines from rather obscure hymns — apart from their full context. The line, “Sad, sad that bitter wail;” was permanently embedded in her brain as a picture of the state of the lost soul. On my father’s side, his mother (my grandmother) played this as piano solo in a style I have never heard since.

Why was Agrippa “almost” but not fully persuaded to become a follower of “The Way” right then and there? The Enduring Word Bible Commentary offers three reasons having to do with three people in the room:

i. One answer was the person sitting next to him – Bernice. She was a sinful, immoral companion, and he may have rightly realized that becoming a Christian would mean losing her and his other immoral friends. He was unwilling to make that sacrifice.

ii. On the other side of Agrippa sat Festus – a man’s man, a no-nonsense man, a man who thought Paul was crazy. Perhaps Agrippa thought, “I can’t become a Christian. Festus will think I’m also crazy.” Because he wanted the praise of men, he rejected Jesus…

iii. In front of Agrippa was Paul – a strong man, a noble man, and man of wisdom and character – but a man in chains. Did Agrippa say, “Well, if I became a Christian, I might end up in chains like Paul; or at the least, I would have to associate with him. We can’t have that – I’m an important person.”

He Walked Away Sad

This is the more familiar of the three passages, the narrative of the “rich young man,” “powerful young man,” or “rich young ruler.” The encounter with Jesus appears in both Mark 10 and Matthew 19.  If you’re unfamiliar with it, click here to read.

Teaching points on this text usually include:

  • the man’s opening address to Jesus as “Good teacher,” and how Jesus responds,
  • Jesus sets the bar low, asking the man how he relates to the “second tablet” commandments — the ones dealing with our interactions with other people — and not the “first tablet” dealing with our prioritizing of God. The man claims full, lifelong compliance, and Jesus does not argue the point;
  • the proposal that he sell everything to “come follow me;” the same offer given to the twelve that leads to our key verse:

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (10:22, NIV)

But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (19: also vs 22! NKJV)

Again, The Enduring Word Bible Commentary:

In this, the wealthy questioner failed utterly. Money was his god; he was guilty of idolatry. This is why Jesus, knowing the man’s heart, asked him to renounce his possessions… The principle remains: God may challenge and require an individual to give something up for the sake of His kingdom that He still allows to someone else. There are many who perish because they will not forsake what God tells them to.

The same commentary, on the Mark passage states,

This man, like all men by nature, had an orientation towards a works-righteousness; he asked, “what shall I do.” If we really want to do the works of God, it must begin with believing on Jesus, whom the Father has sent (John 6:29).

Jesus’ purpose wasn’t to make the man sad; yet he could only be happy by doing what Jesus told him to do. So, he went away sorrowful. Many people have almost everything, yet they are sorrowful.

A Generation of Walking in Circles

This one may be one you hadn’t considered. It’s the second verse in the book of Deuteronomy, and it seems like a piece of geographical trivia, to the point several of the translations include it in parenthesis:

It is eleven days from Horeb to Kadesh-barnea along the Mount Seir route. (CEB)

or consider this casual way of putting things:

Normally it takes only eleven days to travel from Mount Sinai to Kadesh-barnea, going by way of Mount Seir. (NLT)

But this is verse is included for reasons far from trivial. Since we’ve been with the same commentary throughout today, let’s see how Enduring Word handles this (emphasis added):

The journey from Mount Horeb to Kadesh Barnea only took eleven days. But from Kadesh Barnea (the threshold of the Promised Land) back to Kadesh Barnea (back to the threshold of the Promised Land) took forty years.  This was because it took forty years for the generation of unbelief – those who were adults when Israel left Egypt – it took forty years for that generation to die out in the wilderness, and for a generation of faith and trust in God to arise in place after them.

Did you catch that? 40 years to finish an 11-day road trip. All because of a lack of faith and trust in what God had promised them.

Conclusion

All three are sad endings which were preventable. Do you see yourself in any of these narratives? If so, choose to make yours a different story.

 

 

 

March 4, 2021

Should Have Seen It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

I should have seen it. It was a Friday the 13th a few years back when I did what many motorcyclists in Ontario do on Friday the 13th, we head to Port Dover. I was on my way home after a long day of riding and I didn’t see the sand on the corner. Going around the corner I hit the gas and the motorcycle hit the ground. Thanks to some people nearby who had duct tape I managed to get home okay. But I should have seen it.

Is that something that we may someday say at the end of the ride called life? “I should have seen it.”

There is a “should have seen it” moment in John’s Gospel:

Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him.

John 12:37 (NRSV)

By this time Jesus had a reputation for profound wisdom and miraculous healings. Yet many of the religious leaders had written him off. They explained away the miracles as works done by the power of the evil one. They tried to trip him up in his teaching, to prove that he was a fraud. But the life-giving miracles continued to give life and the profound teaching continued to be profound. You would think the religious leaders, rather than condemning Jesus, would at least be curious. Who is this Jesus, really?

Curiosity

Even now, there are good reasons to at least be curious about Jesus. Consider the impact of Jesus on people’s lives throughout history. Consider the impact of Jesus on society. Consider the evidence for the story about Jesus as recorded in the writings of the New Testament as being reasonable and true. Contrary to popular belief, Christianity is not a leap of faith contrary to the evidence. It is a reasonable step of faith because of the evidence. There are good reasons to at least be curious about the evidence, to at least be curious as to who Jesus was/is. There are many great resources that explain the evidence. One can start by Googling names like J. Warner Wallace and William Lane Craig, but there are many other resources. The signs are there for those whose eyes and ears are open, for those who are curious. It is far better to be curious now, than someday say “I should have seen it.”

Curiosity, along with open eyes and ears, is not just important for those who currently do not follow Jesus. Curiosity is important if we, who are Christians, never want to say “should have seen it.” We as Christians can fail to stay curious in our search for truth. When we do we mislead people, we can cause damage.

In my early years as a pastor I had the opportunity to lead a Bible study for people with mental health challenges. A local church was very good about picking many of these souls up every Sunday for church. However, as I got to know them, I discovered that many of them thought that if they could have more faith, and be more holy, that God would heal their minds. I believe that God will indeed heal our minds someday, but I also believe these poor souls were being fed very simplistic answers to complex issues. We face many complex issues in our day. Curiosity may keep us from someday saying “should have seen it.”

Some did see the where the signs were leading, but kept quiet:

Many people did believe in him, however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it . . .

John 12:42 (NLT)

Why were these, who did believe in Jesus, not willing to openly confess that belief? We want to be careful here to note that their “belief in” Jesus is probably not a full blown belief in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Let us remember that the events of Easter had not happened yet, nor had anyone fully realised the implications of those events. At this point “belief in” may simply be belief that Jesus is from God, and not a fraud as many of the religious leaders were claiming.

We need not conjecture as to why these believers remained quiet about their openness to Jesus, for John goes on to tell us why:

But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. For they loved human praise more than the praise of God.

John 12:42-43 (NLT)

This helps explain why some are not open to Jesus today.

Fear of being put out of the synagogue

Fear can keep people from expressing faith in Jesus. What will my circle of friends say if I am curious about what they claim is a fable? Christianity may be dismissed vocally among friends and family. Christianity may be dismissed broadly within society. People are afraid to swim against the tide. Fear can kill curiosity, so no ones dares ask out loud “just who is this Jesus, really?” Eyes remain shut. No one sees it.

Fear can also keep we who are Christians from being honest about our questions. What if my church, or pastor, does not appreciate my curiosity? Yes, Jesus is my Lord and Saviour, but what is the truth with regard to all these complex issues? People have questions but keep quiet. No one sees it.

On keeping quiet out of fear of being put out of the synagogue; isn’t the synagogue the very place where there should have been a healthy curiosity about Jesus? When someone claims to be from God, teaches with profound wisdom and goes around doing miraculous and helpful works, shouldn’t that be “chatted up” in the synagogue? Isn’t the synagogue the very place where people should have been free to talk about Jesus, weigh the evidence, have conversations, ask questions, seek a better understanding, and keeping eyes wide open, be curious? Evidently the religious leaders who were quick to condemn Jesus, were also quick to stifle curiosity. People were afraid of them.

We could say in our day, isn’t the family, isn’t a circle of friends, a place where we should be able to talk about spiritually and truth, including curiosity regarding the claim that Jesus is more than a mere footnote in history?

Likewise, isn’t a church the very place people should feel they can be honest in their exploration for truth, ask questions, be curious and in conversation? Shouldn’t a church be the very place we should expect to find a curiosity and a search for truth about mental health, racism, LGBTQ+, sexuality, finances, relationships, and anything and everything? Fear of being shunned can keep the curious quiet. Am I as a religious leader stifling curiosity? Am I, the pastor, the one causing fear in my day?

The love of human praise more than the praise of God

Those who believed that Jesus was from God were more interested in being seen as smart among their peers than in encouraging the search for truth. Appearing to be smart is often not the smartest thing to do! Pride can keep us quiet about the truth. Pride can keep us vocal about falsehoods.

Pride was at the root of why the religious leaders stood in condemnation over Jesus in the first place. Pride kept them from having a posture of curiosity in learning more about Jesus. Jesus, a man of great works and profound teaching, was exposing their works as less than righteous and their teaching as less than sound. Pride ensured a violent reaction against Jesus, instead of a thoughtful and soul-searching response to him.

If Jesus really was from God in some way, then many of the religious leaders needed to be able to say “I have been wrong.” That is hard to admit when you are a religious leader, when you are supposed to be an expert. Further, they would need to admit that “I have been misleading others.” That is hard to admit when you are supposed to be a leader. Further “In being wrong, in misleading others, I have done damage.” That is hard to admit when you are supposed to be a religious leader, a godly leader.

Pride kills curiosity and the search for truth. No one likes to admit that they have been wrong. Does pride keep people from trusting in Jesus? Does pride keep some of us from growing as those who trust in Jesus? Admitting when we have been wrong is part and parcel of repentance, learning, growth, and discipleship.

Pride can keep people from searching for the truth about God in Jesus. Pride can also keep those of us that have discovered truth about God in Jesus from searching for the truth in so many other things. Pride will lead us to someday say “should have seen it.”

Concluding Thoughts

We should see it now:

I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.

John 12:46 (NLT)

There are many who would rather remain in the dark about Jesus. Fear and pride can kill the curiosity that can lead people to God. We can be in prayer for a courageous curiosity and remain open to conversations.

We, who are Christians, may sometimes be the ones who would rather remain in the dark about many things. We can be in prayer for a courageous curiosity and remain open to conversations.

We don’t want to get to the end of our lives and say “should have seen it.”


Canadian Pastor Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays. The full video sermon on which this is based is also part of this online weekly worship expression.

March 3, 2021

Accepting Our Acceptance

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Another day to highlight a writer here for the first time. Melissa Neeb lives in Minnesota in the U.S. and has written for a variety of publications. Her blog is Faith in the Mess where she writes about mental health, addiction, parenting and marriage. As usual, we urge you to click the header which follows to read this at source. Because this particular article was published just hours ago, we’re going to close comments here so you can leave a comment there.

Accepting Jesus May Be Easier Than Accepting Ourselves

I accepted Jesus into my heart at a very young age. I knew I was precious to Him and always had a seat at His table as His beloved child and daughter. The unconditional love and forgiveness and grace of God was a gift I could easily accept.

What took much longer to accept, decades perhaps, was myself.

I couldn’t accept my fearfulness. My over-sensitivity. How easily I was embarrassed and cried.

I couldn’t accept my shyness, or my depression and anxiety, or my body.

I couldn’t accept my inability to put on weight, or my awkwardness around guys, or my terror of public speaking.

I couldn’t accept my indecision, my passivity, or my lack of boundaries.

I couldn’t accept that the traumas I had endured had permanently left scars and changed me.

Decades after accepting Jesus into my heart, I was still having a difficult time accepting myself and all my obvious (to me) flaws. I floundered and failed, doubted and rebelled until I reached the very end of myself.

That is when God took over.

He whispered into the recesses of my desensitized heart until I started to feel Him working again and transforming me into who He created me to be. He kept working, challenging my perceptions, and reminding me who HE said I was.

I started repeating His promises to myself all day long. That I am the daughter of the King. That I was loved into being. That Jesus left the 99 to chase down and bring me back into His strong arms. That I was created with a purpose, with a divine calling on my life.

I had to learn how to accept myself and let Him use my weakness to showcase His power.

Friend, if you are unable to accept yourself, please meditate on these affirmations. Say them out loud. Write them down. Put them on your mirror. Insert your name into these verses. Start believing it.

I AM CHOSEN.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
1 Peter 2:9 (NIV)

GOD COVERS ME WITH HIS SHELTER AND PROTECTION.

He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Psalm 91:4 (NLT)

I AM WONDERFULLY MADE.

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.
Psalm 139:14 (NKJV)

GOD IS WORKING IT OUT FOR MY GOOD.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28 (NIV)

GOD IS FOR ME.

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?
Romans 8:31 (NLT)

Let me remind you, precious one, of this truth. If you can accept Jesus into your heart, if you can accept Him as your Savior and Protector and Healer and Friend, if you can accept His boundless grace and mercy, then surely you can accept the being that was created in the image of God, whose body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is beloved beyond measure.

Yourself.

March 2, 2021

The Scary E-Word: Evangelism

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re back with First 15 by Craig Denison, a devotional site for the first 15 minutes of your day. There is a lot happening on this site and even within each devotional there is an audio version, related worship songs, and more. So I really hope you’ll click through today, which you can do by clicking the header which follows. You can also follow the audio version on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

  • lee esto en español: Read today’s devotional in Spanish

Evangelism

Today we’ll explore the concept of evangelism. There are so many fears and misconceptions wrapped up in this topic, and my hope today is that we’ll simplify it, and get straight to the heart of the issue. As we assess our hearts, may we remain soft and open to the commands and will of God for us.

“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” Mark 16:15

Devotional

The idea of evangelism has always been terrifying to me. Going up to someone and interrupting their day to tell them about Jesus, no matter how real and good I know him to be, has never been comfortable for me. But you can’t read Scripture and escape God’s command to share the gospel. You can’t read through the New Testament and discount the reality that the disciples gave themselves entirely—to the point of death—that the world might come to know Jesus.

Verses like Mark 16:15-16 couldn’t be more clear. Jesus commands us, Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Evangelism is meant to be a part of our normal lives. It’s not just for the few. It’s not just for pastors or the intensely extroverted. It’s for you and me.

When I assess my own heart I discover that my fears related to evangelism are entirely selfish. In fact, I don’t know if I could do something more selfish than hold back the one hope for the world just to protect my own image. Jesus is clear in Mark 16:16 that those who don’t believe in him will be condemned. It’s like I contain the cure for a deadly disease and rather than sacrificing my image to love them by sharing the one cure, I just let them continue to suffer.

In pondering my own heart I realize that the way to engage in evangelism isn’t fixing myself; it’s getting over myself. Is my image really so important that it’s worth condemnation for another? Are the opinions of others really so important to me that I would withhold from them eternal, abundant life with a God who loves them relentlessly and perfectly?

I am made to share God’s light. I have been commissioned by my King to go out and share his heart. It’s time that we obey God’s command in Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Sure, people might think I’m weird. Sure, it might be a little awkward. But God is after the hearts of his creation, and he’s called me to help. May we be those who set aside our pride, seek humility, and love others whatever the cost. May we be so bold as to set our eyes on heaven and sacrifice this life for the sake of eternity. And may the world change around us as we humbly and courageously proclaim the goodness of our heavenly Father.

Prayer

1. Meditate on God’s call for you to engage in evangelism.

“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:15-16

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:20

2. What are your fears in regard to evangelism? What holds you back from telling others about the good news of God’s unconditional love?

3. Take time to humble yourself before God and others. Ask him for grace to love others above yourself. Set your eyes on him and open your heart to receive his affection.

Go

In Jesus’ conclusion of the Great Commission he tells his disciples, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Our power for evangelism is that God is with us. He doesn’t send us out alone. His love, power, and presence are fully available to us when we seek to share the gospel with others. When you tell others about Jesus, don’t speak of him as if he’s not with you. Don’t pray as if he doesn’t move and work miracles. Instead, share the reality of God’s nearness with a world that needs to be touched by a revelation of his love. May you be empowered to share the gospel with someone today that they might come to know the power and presence of God.

Extended Reading:

Matthew 28 or watch The Bible Project’s video on Matthew 14-28.

March 1, 2021

The Test of Faith Was Both Abraham’s and Isaac’s

Could a familiar Biblical narrative had played out differently? We often consider the faith it took Abraham to be obedient to a horrid request, a demand concerning the child of promise given to him and Sarah. But Isaac was old enough that he could have rewritten the ending…

If you’re unfamiliar with Abraham’s test of faith in Genesis 22, click this link to read it in the Common English Bible (CEB).

by Ruth Wilkinson

Why did it have to be at the top of a mountain on a hot day, carrying all that wood?
His father wasn’t young anymore (had he ever been?) so Isaac took the load of wood himself.
Abraham went ahead, finding the path, carrying the fire for the altar. This was a long, long way
to come to make a sacrifice.

Isaac had seen his father make sacrifices to his god before, and it was always the same.
He’d build an altar, stone on stone ‘till it was right,
lay it with wood – first the tinder, then the kindling, then the fuel.
He’d choose the very best lamb he could find,
sometimes that took hours, talking to the shepherds, looking at hooves and skin.
If he couldn’t find the one he wanted, he’d buy one from a neighbour. That could take a day or two.

Once he’d found the one he wanted, he’d tie its legs with rope, lay it on the altar.
He’d cut the lamb’s throat quickly so it wouldn’t suffer and light the fire.
A complete waste, except it wasn’t.
It was a gift, a symbol of how nothing was more important to Abraham than his god.

But this one was different, not only the journey, but especially the fact that there was no lamb.
Abraham was always so picky about choosing just the right one, surely he didn’t expect it to
just be waiting there for him at the top.
Isaac had asked about that, but Abraham didn’t really answer,
so he dropped it.

Abraham was unusually quiet.
Anytime they’d sat or eaten or traveled together Abraham was full of stories
the time he’d tried to trick Pharaoh and his God had ratted him out,
the time he’d gone to war to rescue Uncle Lot and his God had given him victory,
the time his god had wiped a couple of entire cities off the earth,

and over and over and over again, the story of the son, the only son, the son their God had
given them, the son they loved, their miracle son.
The first star in his father’s sky of children and children’s children and
children’s children’s children.

Isaac had heard volumes about Abraham’s god. Sarah’s god.
But not today.

Today he was lugging a load of wood up a mountain, eyes on where he was putting his feet,
glancing at his father’s back.

Lots of time to think.
This god of his father’s was a strange one as gods went.
He didn’t seem to follow the same rules.
The other gods, the ones that ruled the lands around them, the ones that came into the family
compound with slaves from other places…
The other gods were tied to one particular nation or tribe or family. This one seemed to be
everywhere, involved with anybody he chose.
Isaac wasn’t sure whether he went ahead, or if he was following Abraham, but he had been
everywhere.

The other gods were distant and people did extravagant things to get their attention…
shouting, dancing, extreme sacrifices – even killing their own children to get their noticed.
His father’s god seemed to be waiting around every corner,
with something to say,
to ask,
something to offer
– kind of like Abraham was with Isaac.

But Isaac had never heard the voice his father heard.
Everything he knew, he’d learned from his parents’ lives and stories.
He’d lived his whole life from before he could remember by the words and ways
of his father’s god.

Abraham stopped walking. He looked around and said,
“We’re here.”
He told Isaac to sit down and have a drink while he built the altar.

Stone on stone ‘till it was right,

Then, he opened the bag of tinder,
untied the rope that held the bundle of wood,
arranged the altar, – tinder first, then kindling, then fuel.

He stood still, looking at it.

Isaac said, “Perfect! Now all we need is the lamb.”

There was a long silence. Abraham trembled, sat down beside his son, his only son,
the son his god had given him, the son he loved, his miracle son
the first star in his sky of children and children’s children and
children’s children’s children and told him about the lamb.
What he said cut Isaac open like no knife ever could.

Isaac was to be the lamb.

No.
That can’t be right.
All his life he’d been told how special he was.
His life was a miracle, an answered prayer, a promise kept.
He couldn’t die now!
It was too soon!
That can’t be right.
No.

His father was old, confused. Isaac was stronger, he could take him, maybe tie him up with the rope from the wood and get him home somehow. (On the donkey. That would work.)

To Sarah. Sarah would know what to do.
Isaac snatched up the rope, jumped to his feet ready for anything and in that moment,
he heard it.

He heard the voice – whispering somewhere inside him, behind him.
Whispering his name
“Isaac”

The whisper took over his heart and his mind and whispered to him in that split second every story his father had ever told him.

Every step of his father’s journey,
every promise made and kept,
every tear,
every laugh,
every surprise,
every demand,
every moment of forgiveness and starting over again and redemption.
Every star in his father’s sky.

And in that moment, Isaac knew he had a choice to make. A line to cross.

He had lived his entire life from before he could remember by the words and ways of his father’s god and
now
now
now he had to decide whether this god was his own.
Isaac had to choose.


“All the nations of the earth will be blessed because of your descendants, because you obeyed me” (God, v18)

February 28, 2021

The Name God Gives You

by Ruth Wilkinson

Jesus and his followers arrived in Jerusalem, and He went into the temple complex. He found people had set up shop there, selling oxen, sheep and doves.

He also found money changers sitting there.

So He made a whip out of cords, and began driving everyone out of the temple with their animals and birds.

He dumped the coins of the money changers and flipped their tables.

He told those who were selling doves, “Get these things out of here! Stop turning My Father’s house into a marketplace!”

Then He began to teach them: “You know that it is written, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” But you’ve turned it into a den of thieves!”

When the chief priests and religious leaders heard this, they started looking for a way to bring Him down.

They were afraid of Him, because the whole crowd was astonished by His teaching.

(adapted from Matt 21:10-17, Mark 11:11, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13-22)

___________________________

There is an old Black Spiritual that goes something like this:

I told Jesus it would be alright if He changed my name
Jesus told me the world would be against me if He changed my name
But I told Jesus it would be alright if He changed my name

__________________

What surprises us the most about the event at the Temple is Jesus’ actions. His behaviour. We shake our heads and say, “He’s such a nice guy! Why would he act that way?”

What most surprised the people who where there that day was not so much what he did, as what he said. In several places, the Scripture’s writers tell us that people were “astonished” by his air of authority.

He taught with authority.

He healed with authority.

He cast out demons with authority.

He forgave with authority.

Because Jesus had–and has–authority.

He is the ref on the ice, saying yes and no.
He is the prof in the classroom, saying true and false.
He is the quarterback on the team, saying go there, don’t go there.
He is the King. He is the Creator.

Jesus is the boss of you. He is the boss of me.

The people who first sang that old Spiritual, and especially the person who wrote it, understood authority. They understood what it was to be under authority. They knew that someone else had all the power.

They were slaves, so if someone sold them and someone bought them, that someone had the authority to say, “Your name is Ruth? I don’t like that name. I like Sally better. From now on, if I say, “Sally,” that’s you.” They would have to adapt because somebody had changed their name.

But the person who wrote that song wasn’t just a slave. They were a theologian. They were a thinker. They understood that there are different kinds of names.

There are labels that we give each other. There are sounds that we make to define who we’re talking to. But in the Scriptures, some names are much more than that. Some names are identities. When Moses asked God, “What is your name?” God just said, “I am what I am. Call me that.”

The writer of the song understood that kind of name. They must have been familiar with the verse in Revelation that quotes Jesus as saying,

“Listen… To the one who is victorious… I will also give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name is inscribed that no one knows except the one who receives it.” (2:17)

That name is not a label. It’s an identity.

The songwriter, who was a slave, who didn’t even have ownership of their own name, says to Jesus, “You can change my name.” They trusted him to define their identity. They trusted him to tell them who they were. They trusted Jesus to give them a new name.

Can I trust Jesus to define my identity?
Can I trust Him to tell me who I am?
Can I trust Him to give me a new name?

Is there something about who I am that I need to surrender to him?

_____________

Jesus, change my name from “Slave” to “Son” or “Daughter” –
Make me one who has a home and an inheritance.
Gal 4:7

Jesus, change my name from “Dead” to “Alive” –
Make me one who has a future and purpose.
Eph 2:4-5

Jesus, change my name from “Dry Grass” to “Fruit Bearing Branch” –
Make me one who has something to give.
John 15:5

Jesus, change my name from “Unknown” to “Understood” –
Make me one who has a connection and a friend.
Psalm 139:1

Jesus, change my name from “Guilty” to “Not Condemned” –
Make me one who has freedom, joy, a chance to start again.
Romans 8:1

Jesus, if that’s really who you are,
it’s alright if you change my name.


by the same author:

February 27, 2021

Our Actions and Activity Count

Last year at this time we introduced Paul O’Brien is in pastoral ministry in Ohio. His blog is New Creation in X. Click the headers which follow — this a mash-up of a two-part article — to read these on his site.

The Bible teaches that what we do matters

The Bible teaches that what we do matters.

“For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:27).

“The Son of Man is going to come.” That’s going to happen. Just as surely as Jesus came, He’s coming back. And He’s coming in glory.

No stable, no mere star. All of the world will see His utter glory. That’s going to happen. And Scripture repeatedly reminds us to be ready because it’s going to happen soon.

The One who took His cross and beckons us to take up ours will soon take His full rightful glory. All the world will be awed by His power. All the world will bow and acknowledge the reality that He is Lord (Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:10-11).

And as the Lord, He will dish out what’s deserved. The Just One will measure out justice. All will meet their deserved fate. There will be grace and wrath in abundance. And there will be peace.

A takeaway for all Christians: we must see the utter importance of our actions. Just because one is saved by grace through faith does not at all mean that what one does doesn’t matter.* Christians should be people of faith-filled sacrificial love. Because…

The Lord Jesus will repay each person according to what they have done.

What we do and don’t do matters. It matters a lot. Our lives and our actions have significance. They have significance because there is a Savior who reigns who will enforce His loving rule.

*Christians are saved by faith alone but the faith that saves is never alone. Those who are made new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), are to live as new creations in Christ. They are to live holy lives because they are holy (1 Cor. 1:2).

What we do matters: And that’s good news

Matthew 16:27 which says “the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done.”

For a lot of people that may seem very heavy and discouraging. For me, it’s good news. It’s good news because it means there’s meaning. What we do matters.

It makes me think of Albert Camus’s “The Myth of Sisyphus.” In “The Myth of Sisyphus,” Sisyphus has to carry a huge rock up a hill and you know what happens once he does? It rolls right back down the hill… And again and again and again… Basically, Camus is saying life is meaningless and absurd.

And that reminds me of another philosophical work, the book of Ecclesiastes from the Bible. One of the reoccurring phrases in that book is “vanity of vanities.” Is all meaningless? Does what we do matter?

The Bible answers with a resounding “Yes!”

For someone who has wrestled with depression because of perceived purposelessness, it’s good news that what we do matters. It adds pep and purpose to my life… Even if it’s a heavy truth, I’ll take it because it means our lives have weight.

The fact that Jesus will repay each person according to what they have done adds huge significance to our lives. “We’re playing for keeps,” so to speak. Life is the real thing. We should live and enjoy it and we should love God and others. That’s what Ecclesiastes concludes with.

So, I’m thankful for the good news that what we do in life matters. I’m especially mindful of that on the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Martin and the Million Man March mattered. It mattered and racism matters.

It matters that MLK was killed. It matters that MLK peacefully fought for the sanctity of blacks and all people. It matters for a lot of reasons. But for one, it matters because people will give an account for their racism, acts of violence, and even every careless word (Matthew 12:36).

So, as I said, this is heavy and hard. It’s not an easy pill to swallow but it is the medicine we need. We can’t lash out and attack and think it doesn’t matter. Our every action is riddled with significance. That truth, however, shouldn’t cripple us, it should cause us to fly to Jesus who is both our Savior and Sanctifier.

When the options are laid out in front of me, I’ll take actual meaning and significance every time. I don’t want the poisoned sugar pill that says what we do doesn’t really matter. I’ll take the truth even if it’s bitter.

What we do totally matters. It’s hard in some ways to hear that but the alternative is to say it doesn’t matter. And that would be saying nothing matters, there is no meaning.

To close, it seems there are three options:

1) Be crushed by the utter meaninglessness of life (e.g. give up, don’t care) or…

2) Be crushed by the utter meaning of life (e.g. try to own everything, try to be the great rescue yourself) or…

3) Trust Christ. Christ says there’s meaning and He says there’s hope. What we do matters and we’ve all failed. He, however, didn’t throw in the towel on us. He took up a towel and lived as a servant. He did all the good we should’ve done and didn’t do the bad. And yet He was crushed for us but not under the weight of meaning or meaninglessness but on a cross.

Jesus finished where we bailed, He succeeded where we failed. He’s always right and we’re often wrong. He has a perfect record and He offers it to us.

February 26, 2021

Running to Spread the Word

Today another new author whose writing we’ve chosen to highlight for you. Bernie Lyle writes at Musings from an Idle Mind. I encourage you to click through and read some of his devotionals at their source, or click the header which follows to read today’s.

Run

“Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, both that you do and will do the things we command you.”
‭‭II Thessalonians‬ ‭3:1-4‬ ‭NKJV

Even in the time of the writing of this passage in II Thessalonians, Paul was dealing with people in the church who were not quite what they seemed. In that letter, Paul was cautioning the church, then and now, of things that were and things to come, as people were falling away. We are seeing this in our world today, as the evil one is attacking assemblies and driving wedges between people.

There are disrupters amongst us, people bent on drawing others after sin, and causing havoc to the faith. I have heard of pastors attacked over petty things, of people being accosted over matters of faith. There are families in turmoil, and marriages crumbling. People are enduring a multi-tiered assault.

It is tough being an intercessor in these perilous times, as I hear of the struggles of others, and am horrified by the attacks of the evil one on families. I pray fervently for many.

I have learned that prayer is the most needed thing today, as many of us are facing challenges to our ability to share the Gospel. We are often distracted by inner struggles, and the mission is put on the back burner.

Just as Paul called upon the Thessalonians to pray for him, I implore you to pray for me, and others who have taken on the ministry of prayer. We are dealing with supernatural pressures and there is no natural remedy.

Opposition is making it difficult to do the work, slowing the spread to a crawl. I pray over all those on my list, that they have opportunities to share the Good News, that they would do so with no inhibition, with boldness, that the message would indeed run swiftly to the ears of all who need to believe.

If ever there was a time to take up the full armor of God, it is now.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭6:12-13‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Often the opposition that we encounter comes from with in the church, and the family, as people whose god is the flesh have crept in and seek to disrupt the work of God. The attacks are personal and intimate.

Great care is needed in dealing with those in opposition, as we are on mission to lead people to Jesus, whether they be friend or foe. Most of those in opposition have no idea that they are pawns being used by the evil one. Great damage can be done with a single word.

“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.”
‭‭II Timothy‬ ‭2:24-26‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Brothers and sisters, pray that we keep our hearts open to those around us. The people who go against us have no idea of what the future holds, and no idea how much danger they are in. They are driven by raw emotions, and find themselves propelled to strike out against others they blame for damage brought on by their own sin.

I am willing to suffer all things if it means someone comes to know Jesus. God has built into me long suffering, as I have been chosen as one who prays. Pray for me. Pray for your pastors, for they are the essential, frontline workers in this rescue mission. Pray that we all remember that we are here to rescue people bound for hell.

My people, let us bear each others burdens, let us lift each other up, as the these times are draining. We all need endurance as time is short. We are nearing the end of a long, long race, and there is a great tendency to slow down, to ease up, to coast into the tape. We have so many saints who have gone before us, so many who gave of themselves with the fullest measure of devotion. Let us run, that the Gospel run swiftly and reach as many as possible.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭12:1-2‬ ‭NKJV‬‬


How to become a Christian:

Bernie ended his devotional with a link to a page called The Roman Road. (No, it’s not about the Catholic Church!) If you’d like to read more about following Jesus, click this link.

February 25, 2021

Driven to Tears? Jesus Was Too

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

Have you been driven to tears yet? Feeling discouraged? We may be driven to tears when we hear how many deaths are being reported around the world due to the pandemic. We think of those who have lost life in other ways, losing connectedness with others, losing work or schooling opportunities. Even where very few are infected, everyone is affected. Everyone has experienced change and loss. Grief is a normal way of dealing with loss and tears are a healthy part of that grief. Of course there are those who are driven to tears even without the pandemic. Life can be hard and when it is, we may be driven to tears.

We may be thinking, “God, you could have done something about all this, if you had been where the COVID-19 virus started, if you had been where the cancer cells started, if you had been where my loved one lost control . . . if you had been here.” We experience things that are life taking, that seem to diminish our lives or the lives of loved ones. We wonder where God was in those moments.

Martha and Mary must have been driven to tears. Jesus was their friend and the friend of their brother Lazarus as well. Jesus was well known for his miracles and healings. Yet now Lazarus is dead and buried:

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

John 11:21 (NRSV)

Word was sent by Martha and Mary to Jesus days before that their brother was ill. Jesus could have made it on time, but he didn’t.

When Mary came to where Jesus was, she saw him and fell down at his feet.
‘Master!’ she said. ‘If only you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died!’
When Jesus saw her crying, and the Judaeans who had come with her crying, he was deeply stirred in his spirit, and very troubled.
’Where have you laid him?’ he asked.
‘Master,’ they said, ‘come and see.’
Jesus burst into tears.

John 11:32-25 (translation by N.T. Wright, as found in the “John For Everyone Commentary”)

Jesus was also driven to tears. Was this grief over Lazarus? Was he perhaps thinking that things could have been different if only he made it on time? When we read the whole story we know that this is not the case. Or, is it possible that Jesus could look back, seeing how things could have been different, if only . . .

  • Adam and Eve had chosen life, instead of choosing the one thing that would lead to death.
  • Cain had chosen life instead of choosing death for his brother Abel.
  • humanity had chosen life instead of violence toward one another in the days of Noah.
  • Pharaoh had chosen life instead of ordering Hebrew babies to be killed.
  • the Israelites in the desert had chosen life with GOD instead of longing to go back to slavery in Egypt.
  • the people had chosen life instead of choosing death in neglecting the law that God had given.
  • when God sent the prophets, the people had chosen life and listened to the prophets instead of choosing to remain in the ways that led to death.

The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 KJV). Is it possible that Jesus was driven to tears because he knew how often we chose death? Things could have been different, if only . . .

Is is possible that Jesus was driven to tears by the fact that even as he was planning on raising Lazarus to life, the religious leaders were potting to put Jesus himself to death. Things will be different.

Was Jesus driven to tears because he could look forward to our lives today? How things could be different, if only . . .

  • we would choose to love like God, love that brings life to people, instead of choosing hate that brings death, or apathy that fails to prevent it.
  • we would choose to develop in the fruit of the Spirit, including love, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22,23), instead of choosing to cultivate the weeds of the evil one.
  • we would choose to engage in conversation instead of shutting it down.
  • we would choose a posture of learning, instead of always choosing the same echo chambers where our thinking is never challenged.
  • we would choose to recognize the impact we have on people, instead of ignoring the hurt we may cause.
  • we would choose to get help with an addiction.
  • we would choose to not gossip, but lift others up with our speech.
  • we would choose to do something about racism, poverty, homelessness, and many other issues that plague our world.

We sometimes lament how things might be different if God would show up. Things could be different, if we would show up.

Was Jesus driven to tears when, looking forward, he would see the many who would choose death over life by rejecting the Giver of life?

Jesus was driven to tears, yet Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life,” (John 11:25 NRSV). Mary and Martha could say “if you had been here, our brother would not have died.” Jesus could say “I am here now and because I am, Lazarus will live.”

Jesus told Lazarus to come out of the tomb, and he did. Jesus calls us to come out of our tombs, to choose life over death. Jesus calls us to leave our graves, to listen to him, to do those things that bring life instead of death to us, and others. Jesus calls us to choose life, to choose him. Jesus will someday call us from our tombs to share in everlasting life with him:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:3-4 (NRSV)

Until then we have a lot of opportunities to choose life. If we show up, and keep choosing life, things will be different.


Canadian Pastor Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays. The full video sermon on which this is based is also part of this online weekly worship expression.

February 24, 2021

Spiritual Warfare: The Weapon of Lies

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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As we soon approach devotional #4,000, it amazes me how many times a reading is tagged with the words, spiritual warfare. Even on my other more topical blog, Thinking Out Loud, this is a theme which is constantly recurring

This theme appears in so many books. Most authors agree that the battlefield on which the warfare is enacted is our minds. Think of bestsellers such as Battlefield of the Mind or Victory Over the Darkness. Spiritual warfare need not be the province of Charismatic or Pentecostal authors however, and it’s a topic we shouldn’t back away from. The battle is real.

Today at Devotions Daily, there was an excerpt from a forthcoming book, Winning the War in Your Mind, by Oklahoma pastor Craig Groeschel. To read it in full, click the header which follows.

Old Lies, New Truth

…You are constrained by a lie, something that doesn’t exist. The Enemy has arranged enough hurtful circumstances, in key places of your life, in which you got just enough jolt — a bit of a shock, a sting of pain to your heart — that you have decided trying even one more time is just not worth the risk. What makes it worse is that the number of places where you have stopped trying is growing ever larger.

The greatest weapon in Satan’s arsenal is the lie.

Perhaps his only weapon is the lie. The first glimpse we have of the devil in the Bible, we see him deceiving Adam and Eve in the garden. He created doubt in Eve’s mind by asking her,

“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.

“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:1-5

What Satan did in the garden back then is the exact same thing he will attempt to do in your life today.

In 2 Corinthians 11:3, our thoughtology professor Paul said,

I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

Satan will whisper accusing questions and deceptive statements. He schemes to twist your mind, because if he can, he then

  • diverts you from your purpose,
  • distracts you from God’s voice,
  • destroys your potential.

If he can get you to believe a lie, your life will be affected as if that lie were true.

Unfortunately, Satan’s lies are easy to believe. Why? Part of the reason is that because of sin, we have a flawed internal lie detector. God warned us:

  • “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9).
  • There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12).

That’s definitely the problem, so what’s our solution? How do we access God’s power to stop Satan’s lies? How can we demolish his strongholds in our lives?

If Satan’s primary weapon is lies, then our greatest counter-weapon is the truth of God’s Word.

Not just reading the Bible but learning to wield Scripture as a divine weapon. God wants us to view His Word that way. See how Hebrews 4:12 offers a direct solution to the warning of Jeremiah 17:9:

The word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.


Excerpts from Zondervan books are used with permission from HarperCollins Christian Publishing. Winning the War in Your Mind by Craig Groeschel, copyright 2021 Craig Groeschel.

February 23, 2021

A Seriously Miscalculated Swap

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Once again, we’re back at the the blog My Morning Meal, written by Peter Corak. (For many of you, our blog would be called My Afternoon Snack!) I hope you’ll click the header which follows and read this on his blog. Because this was posted just hours ago, I’m going to close comments here to encourage you to encourage Peter there.

A Bad Deal

We made a bad deal. A poor trade. A seriously miscalculated swap. That’s what I’m taking away from one of the most depressing passages in all the New Testament, Romans 1:18-32.

Yesterday, I concluded my Romans 1 reading on a high — the good news of the power of God for salvation. A righteousness independent of our best efforts at trying to be righteous. Available for all who believe. Revealed “from faith for faith.” But there’s no need for such good news if there isn’t the reality of bad news. Cue the end of Romans 1, and Romans 2, and the first part of Romans 3. Heavy sigh.

In past years, it has been the repeated phrase, “God gave them up,” which caught my attention in this reading. It’s the response of God toward those who choose self-determination over God exaltation, He allows them to be more self-determined. For those who resolve to lean on their own understanding, who trust in their own wisdom above their Creator’s, God says, in effect, Go at it. Heavy sigh, again.

But this morning it’s another repeated word that catches my attention.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

(Romans 1:22-25 ESV)

All creation points to the Creator. All that’s been made, a testament to the invisible attributes of the Maker. Every person a walking indicator of His eternal power. All of nature pointing to His divine nature. Everything declared to be good in the beginning a conduit towards knowing His glory in the present (Rom. 1:19-20).

But the propensity of fallen men and women is to exchange the glory for goods. To disdain invisible attributes for more tangible aspirations. To not see creation as a means towards knowing about the Creator, but as an end in and of itself. As something worthy of worship. Choosing not to distinguish man from birds from animals or creeping things. All the same. All idol worthy. Exchanging the riches of a supernatural reality “for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand” (MSG).

It’s equated to exchanging the truth about God for a lie. That, instead of “In the beginning, God,” we think we should rewrite the story, “In the beginning, molecules and matter.” Instead of God creating men and women in His own image, men and women imagined into being God for their own purposes. Rather than living in the here and now with a view towards a there and then, there is no there and then so do what you gotta do to be happy here and now. And the exchange goes on . . . and on . . . and on. Lies supplanting truth, thus mankind becoming increasingly out of sync with reality, as God gives us over to our own “wisdom.”

What a bad deal. Exchanging immortal glory for immaterial gain. Exchanging a revealed reality for a narrative of our own making.

Bad news. But that’s what makes the good news so good!

. . . but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

(Romans 5:8 ESV)

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved . . .

(Ephesians 2:4-5 ESV)

But God. How I love those two words.

We refused His glory shown through creation, but God shows us His great love through His crucified Son.

We traded in His truth for our lies, but God offers to redeem our lives by His amazing grace.

Yeah, we made a bad deal. But praise God for a better deliverance!

February 22, 2021

Reaping Where You Did Not Sow

Titus 1:7

Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless–not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.
(NIV)

dollar signNot wanting to overstate this, but in the past year we’ve watched as people who were stewards of ministry organizations, including those responsible for the finances of those same organizations, have proved themselves to be less than good stewards of what well-meaning donors had entrusted to them. Some have shown themselves, in their other endeavors to be “pursuing dishonest gain.”

This should not be. The ESV version of today’s verse says, “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain.

In a world of capitalism, there is a sense in which person “A” is exploiting person “B” by way of their possession of a scarce resource or a unique talent. My plumber or electrician (both Christians who have been very fair with us over the years) have skills and abilities that I do not have and the KJV scripture reminds us that “the workman is worthy of his hire.” (NIV/NLT: deserves his/their wages/pay.)

When found out, we sometimes expect God will just step in and seize control of the situation, but sometimes he allows things to go unchecked. One of the more interesting articles here at C201 is a 2014 one called “Why Did Jesus Allow Judas to Manage the Petty Cash?” Matt Perlman wrote,

Why did Jesus let Judas carry the money bag during his ministry, knowing in his omniscience that he was stealing from it (John 12:6)? One blogger humorously points out “one is tempted to offer the Lord some consulting on good stewardship.”

But then goes further,

…If it’s surprising that Jesus would have let Judas carry the money bag, it should be even more shocking that he let Judas be an apostle at all. For the task of going out and preaching the gospel, which Judas participated in, is even more significant than carrying the moneybag.

(Now you want to read the whole article, right?)

While we’re reminiscing about previous articles, a 2013 article from (re)Versing Verses which we called “Two Different Measures” looked at this verse:

You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. Deuteronomy 25:15 NIV

and noted:

The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him [Proverbs 11:1]. This is a matter of integrity, and often it’s so easy to gain a little here and there that we tend to do it naturally and think of it as harmless. It isn’t harmless though. It harms your integrity. The Lord frowns on it. It incurs the Lord’s wrath – For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly [Deu 25:16]. Let us learn to be honest and have integrity in small things and big things alike.

How do I know if my “gain” is “unjust”? A page at Knowing Jesus provides some scriptures to help us make the call. (They have 12 key verses, I added #3 and #7)

  1. It has come about through violence. “So are the ways of everyone who gains by violence; It takes away the life of its possessors.” Prov. 1.19
  2. It is achieved through misrepresentation and lies. “The acquisition of treasures by a lying tongue Is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death.” Prov 21.6
  3. It is accomplished through trickery and deception. “The LORD detests the use of dishonest scales, but he delights in accurate weights.” Prov 11.1
  4. It exploits the poor. “He who oppresses the poor to make more for himself Or who gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.” Prov 22.16
  5. It exploits done by others. “As a partridge that hatches eggs which it has not laid, So is he who makes a fortune, but unjustly; In the midst of his days it will forsake him, And in the end he will be a fool.” Jeremiah 17.11
  6. It involves not properly paying staff or contractors. “Woe to him who builds his house without righteousness and his upper rooms without justice, Who uses his neighbor’s services without pay and does not give him his wages” Jeremiah 22.13 also “Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord” James 5.4
  7. There are underlying, unjust motives. “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD.” Prov. 16.2

I think the word “pursues” is not to be overlooked in this phrase as well. See resources on this at OpenBible.info.

  1. It exhausts you. “Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit. Prov. 23.4
  2. There is never contentment. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
  3. It can cost you your soul. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8.36 also Luke 18.25 “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.
  4. It may cause you to neglect the poor. “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.” Prov. 28.27
  5. It will divide your loyalties. “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Prov 16.13
  6. Achieving it may be elusive or temporary. “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Luke 12 18-20
  7. It can leave you miserable. “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Rev. 3:17

Growing up in the church founded by Dr. Oswald J. Smith, people were encouraged to invest their money, time and talents in world missions with this motto,

You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.

In other words, you can invest it in the Kingdom of God (“where moth and rust do not corrupt“) and where it lasts.

Someone else also shared with me that

The main thing that Bible teaching has against money is that it perishes with use.

A 2015 C201 post, “Proverbs on Poverty…and Riches” contained a number of scriptures on this (unfortunately without references) and ended with this one:

Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

So while we may have determined we have not pursued dishonest gain, we need to be careful we haven’t become caught up in pursuing gain itself.

February 21, 2021

Having an Elijah Moment

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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The phrase was used in the middle of a sermon I was watching by John Mark Comer. (Either Feb. 7 or Feb. 14.) I immediately recognized the Biblical context, but in an online search discovered the phrase has been used with several different applications.

The Biblical context in which John Mark used the phrase was about the time after the showdown on Mount Carmel with the prophets of Baal. Buried in one verse in that account is Elijah’s preoccupation with the numerical challenge. Or what he considers the overwhelming statistics:

NCV.1 Kings.18:22 Elijah said, “I am the only prophet of the Lord here, but there are four hundred fifty prophets of Baal.

repeated in 19:10b “…I am the only prophet left…”

Not only does Elijah win the fire-on-the-altar contest, but the drought ends and the area receives the rain it badly needed. But Jezebel is not pleased, and next thing, Elijah is fleeing for his life.

God meets him where he is, and there follows a familiar passage where again, Elijah is looking for “big-ness” even though there isn’t a particular quantity mentioned.

NCV.1 Kings.19.11 The Lord said to Elijah, “Go, stand in front of me on the mountain, and I will pass by you.” Then a very strong wind blew until it caused the mountains to fall apart and large rocks to break in front of the Lord . But the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake, there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire, there was a quiet, gentle sound. 13 When Elijah heard it, he covered his face with his coat and went out and stood at the entrance to the cave.

At that moment, God throws out his own statistic:

18 I have seven thousand people left in Israel who have never bowed down before Baal and whose mouths have never kissed his idol.”

This is the Elijah moment that John Mark referenced. It’s a verse that has stuck with me because I believe that even in the most God-less locations, God has a people — a remnant if you prefer — who are following Him.

I’ve seen this firsthand. I live in a small town. Actually, it’s the convergence of two small towns, and each has about ten Christian churches. If you were to add up the  total attendance, or membership, or some other metric you could easily conclude that this is the total Christian population. But working several hours a week for 25 years in the Christian bookstore has introduced me to hundreds (literally) of people who for various reasons would not be included in such a census.

I also saw it in my extended family. As a child, our family was always “the Christian family.” We went to church. We did church things. Most important, in terms of how I remembered this as a kid, there was no beer in our house. And nobody smoked. But a recent re-connection with a cousin was eye opening as she described her mom’s (my aunt’s) prayer life. All those years, perhaps she has never been that far away.

As Henry Blackaby said in Experiencing God, “God is at work all around you.” …

…So what were the other “Elijah Moment” iterations online?

There was this one: “Rabbi Daniel Cohen of Congregation Agudath Sholom, Stamford, Connecticut and Pastor Greg Doll of Norton Presbyterian Church, Darien, Connecticut created the Elijah Moment Campaign to encourage people to put aside their differences and simply help each other anonymously” Their motto is “Give Back – Pay it Forward Through Small Acts of Anonymous Kindness.”

It was also the title of a book by Veronica Merchant. She derived the phrase from the larger section of 1 Kings quoted above, “…the intercessory prayer warrior’s daily meditation to give you peace in the midst of the storm. The Elijah Moment is your moment with God in devotion. It’s a personal walk with the Lord! It’s journal time between you, God, and other warriors walking and praying with you. The Elijah Moment truly takes a moment in your life to return to God for specific requirements for daily living.”

At the blog, Vision for Living, it was about the contradiction between Elijah’s victory and his subsequent flight:

…Elijah was a man of the same weaknesses as us, and like us, he was prone to forget God’s goodness or remember it while moaning about something else. Not that Elijah’s problems were insignificant. After the victory at Mount Carmel, his life was threatened and he was left to hide in the desert without food and water. He despaired of life and questioned the God he had so faithfully trusted. It was a low point in Elijah’s otherwise faithful life and ministry.

But lest we are too hard on the Prophet, we are all prone to the Elijah moment. We are often “giving thanks for one thing in spite of something else”; or we are giving thanks for one thing while complaining about something else. Truth is, life is not perfect, nor is it supposed to be this side of eternity…

…Elijah’s victory is both short-lived and bittersweet. I’ve always found this to be one of my favorite narratives in scripture, but when I think of it now, I don’t frame it in terms of the faceoff (to use a hockey term) against the prophets of Baal, but rather that tidbit of statistical information God passes on to him.

CEB.1 Kings.19:18 But I have preserved those who remain in Israel, totaling seven thousand—all those whose knees haven’t bowed down to Baal and whose mouths haven’t kissed him.”

I’m not saying this is a general principle that applies at all times in all places, but I do believe God is working in the lives of people where you live in ways you cannot begin to imagine.  Blackaby’s next advice to us would be to find those places where God is working through the Holy Spirit, and come alongside those people who are endeavoring to serve Him [see this article, Applying Energy Where God Is Already at Work] rather than worrying about getting them to attend our Church and become part of our programs.

 

February 20, 2021

Sin and “Wet Paint” Signs and Your Neighbor’s BMW

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Some people can’t walk by a sign which says, “Wet Paint” without touching their finger to the paint to see if it’s true. This is well-documented. Some readers here may be able to provide their own anecdotal evidence of this. It does appear to give credence to our sinful nature, and even if you’re not a child of the 1960s, it also evidences our rebellious nature.

Romans 7:11 made me think of this.

For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. (NIV)

It’s a rather odd verse if you haven’t noted it previously. A basic commentary might give you something like is found at BibleRef.com:

Paul repeats an idea he introduced in verse 8 of this chapter. He was talking about his response to learning of God’s command not to covet (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21). The very existence of this command from God created an opportunity that sin pounced on. Suddenly, Paul was both aware of his own covetousness, and driven by a desire to covet!

Now he writes again about how sin seized the opportunity created by God’s commands in the law. This time, though, he describes sin as deceiving him or leading him astray. Sin lied to Paul, as it lies to all of us. How does sin lead us astray? It convinces us that acting on our own desires is better in some way than obeying God. As the serpent did with Eve in the garden, sin says to us, “God is not good” or “You will not surely die.”

The truth, though, is that God is good, and that sin always leads to death. Paul writes here that sin’s deception killed him, metaphorically speaking, describing his spiritual death and separation from God. Sin does the same to all of us, and the law makes us aware of our sinfulness.

Let’s pause and look at the context; first the NASB:

What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. (7-13)

Next, The Message:

Don’t you remember how it was? I do, perfectly well. The law code started out as an excellent piece of work. What happened, though, was that sin found a way to pervert the command into a temptation, making a piece of “forbidden fruit” out of it. The law code, instead of being used to guide me, was used to seduce me. Without all the paraphernalia of the law code, sin looked pretty dull and lifeless, and I went along without paying much attention to it. But once sin got its hands on the law code and decked itself out in all that finery, I was fooled, and fell for it. The very command that was supposed to guide me into life was cleverly used to trip me up, throwing me headlong. So sin was plenty alive, and I was stone dead. But the law code itself is God’s good and common sense, each command sane and holy counsel.

Finally, J.B. Phillips:

But the sin in me, finding in the commandment an opportunity to express itself, stimulated all my covetous desires. For sin, in the absence of the Law, has no chance to function technically as “sin”. As long, then, as I was without the Law I was, spiritually speaking, alive. But when the commandment arrived, sin sprang to life and I “died”. The commandment, which was meant to be a direction to life, I found was a sentence to death. The commandment gave sin an opportunity, and without my realising what was happening, it “killed” me.

(Italics added in all three versions.)

Warren Weirsbe writes,

…Something in human nature wants to rebel whenever a law is given. I was standing in Lincoln Park in Chicago, looking at the newly painted benches, and I noticed a sign on each bench: Do Not Touch. As I watched, I saw numbers of people deliberately reach out and touch the wet paint! Why? Because the sign told them not to! Instruct a child not to go near the water, and that is the very thing he will do. Why? “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7).

Believers who try to live by rules and regulations discover that their legalistic system only arouses more sin and creates more problems. The churches in Galatia were very legalistic, and they experienced all kinds of trouble. “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Gal. 5:15). Their legalism did not make them more spiritual; it made them more sinful. Why? Because the law arouses sin in our nature…

At Apologetics Index, David Kowalski writes,

…Paul does not blame the Mosaic Law for this provocation even though it is the occasion for the provocation. There was never anything wrong with saying what was wrong. Declaration of standards merely revealed what we already were — rebellious sinners by nature. Rebels chafe against restrictions and their rebellious hearts make them all the more inclined to do something they are forbidden to do — even if it is God Himself who prohibits the conduct in question.

At Spiritual Gold, Richard Strauss puts this in practical terms:

Paul chooses one of the Ten Commandments to illustrate his point–the last one, “You shall not covet.” To covet is to want something intensely that somebody else has, to long for it. The law says that we are not supposed to covet our neighbor’s house, his wife, his servants, his animals, or anything else that is his (Exodus 20:17). That would include his BMW, his boat, his camper, his cottage on the beach, or anything else he might have.

Let’s talk about his BMW. That’s reputed to be a very nice automobile, which costs considerably more than the average car. And I can’t afford one. So I look at my neighbor’s and I think, “It sure would be nice to have a car like that. Boy, I’d like to have that car. I’d give almost anything to be able to have one.” I could think that, and maybe even feel a little uneasy about it, but it isn’t until I read God’s law that I realize it is sin. The BMW itself is not sin, but my attitude is sin. To want that thing so intensely is to elevate me and my wishes to a supreme place, and that is the height of egotism and pride. Furthermore, it places my love for myself, my comfort and my pleasure, above my love for God, and that’s idolatry…

Go back to Paul’s experience. He thought he was doing fine. He may have wanted a few things, but he didn’t think that was any big deal. Until he read God’s law: “You shall not covet.” And then all of a sudden he realized how many things he wanted, and that exposed how sinful he was, how far short he fell of God’s holy standard…

…Isn’t that interesting? Paul here pictures sin not as something we do, but as something that itself acts. When Paul uses the word “sin” like this–a singular noun–he is often referring to our sinful human nature. And it does something. What does it do? It seizes the opportunity afforded it by the commandment not to covet, and produces in us all kinds of coveting. Everywhere Paul turns, he sees something he wants. See that word “opportunity.” It’s a military word that refers to a base of operations, a springboard for offensive action. Our sinful human nature is pictured as a powerful enemy who takes God’s holy law and uses it as a military base from which it launches powerful and devastating attacks on us that stir us up to sin…

I wouldn’t put much stock in Mark Twain’s theology, but he did have a good deal of insight into human nature. He insisted that one feature of the human make-up is plain mulishness. If a mule thinks he knows what you want him to do, he’ll do the very opposite. And Twain admitted that he was the same way, along with most others. “The point of it all is that until the command not to do an evil thing comes we may not feel much urge to do it, but when we hear the command our native mulishness takes over. But the fault is not in the command. It is in the mulishness, in the sinner.”

Of all the links here, I would encourage you to delve into this last commentary to  consider this passage further; again, just click here.

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