Christianity 201

April 20, 2018

The Duplicity of the Sadducees

Today’s author is here at C201 for the first time today, though I have encountered his writing before. David Ettinger has been widely published including “various LifeWay publications, Single Parent magazine (Focus on the Family), Zion’s Fire magazine, and Real Life magazine.” David was born and raised in a Jewish family in New York, and converted to Christianity in 1986.

What’s reproduced below begins about a third into the article, so if you’d like to know more about the Sadducees, I strongly encourage you to click the title below.

A Brief Look at the Sadducees

This is the second in a short series of brief blogs on some of the “players” who had a major role in the four Gospels: the Sadducees, Pharisees, and, to a lesser degree, the Essenes. The first was “The Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes: The Precursor.”

Religious Beliefs
Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees did not accept all of the Hebrew Scriptures, but only the first five books known as the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Ironically, in this way they were similar to the lowly-regarded Samaritans (read my blog, “A Brief Look at the Samaritans”).

Furthermore, they did not believe in the concept of an afterlife, which at that time was gaining great popularity in Judaism, particularly among the Pharisees (and is clearly taught in the Book of Daniel). They also rejected the belief of angels, demons, resurrection from the dead, and apocalyptic predictions of the last days. They likewise did not accept the oral law as developed by the Pharisees.

What they did advocate was the animal sacrifices at the Temple and the role of the priesthood.

The Sadducees and Jesus
Perhaps the most famous confrontation between Jesus and the Sadducees concerned their questioning Him on an issue regarding marriage and, especially, the resurrection of the dead. This, of course, was disingenuous on the part of the Sadducees because they did not believe in the resurrection; their goal was to discredit Jesus, not to discover truth.

In Matthew Chapter 22, the Sadducees ask Jesus the following:

Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her? (vv. 23-28).

The question is preposterous and Jesus exposes the duplicity of the Sadducees while at the same time shaming them most deservingly. The Lord replied:

You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead – have you not read what God said to you, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is not the God of the dead but of the living (vv. 29-32).

One would think that after being taken so soundly to the theological woodshed the Sadducees would reflect, reconsider, and repent. However, as Jesus elucidated, the Sadducees did “not know the Scriptures” nor did they know “the power of God.” They were ignorant on both counts, and had no desire to overcome their spiritual shortcomings.

The Sadducee “Legacy”
It is no wonder that absolutely NONE of the writings of the Sadducees have been preserved. All we know about them is what we read in the Bible and extra-biblical sources. They were theologically limited, have left nothing in writing for the generations to come, and denied both the messiahship and Deity of Jesus Christ.

This is the lamentable legacy of a sect of men who lived at the same time of Christ, interacted with Him, witnessed the miracles He performed, but in the end denied Him.

 

 

April 19, 2018

Utter Mess, Utter Grace

by Clarke Dixon

1 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved– 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– Ephesians 2:1-8 NRSV

According to the apostle Paul we were all once in an utter mess, and in fact some people still are. While events around the world may confirm for us that yes, some people are in an utter mess, methinks there are many would say “others yes, but not me.”

Imagine, for example reading Ephesians 2:1-3 and then saying to a non-Christian friend that you just learned that they are ’dead in their sins’ (verse 1), or a follower of Satan (verse 2), or ’children of wrath’ (verse 3). Many fine folk would, I think, say something like “well that does not sound like me, I feel quite alive thank you, I have never been involved in Satan worship, and if there is a God I should not be judged by such a God for I am basically a good person.” How do we reconcile what we learn from scripture about our fallen nature with what a lot of what people think and feel?

First, you don’t need to feel dead to be dead. This mention of being dead takes us back to the story of the fall in Genesis. God said to Adam “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16b,17 ESV). Now we know that on the day Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit they did not die, but on that day we can say that death entered into the world, death becoming their inescapable future and a sure bet. In this sense when we are without God today we are “dead in our sins,” it only being a matter of time before death catches up to us.

Nor do you need to worship Satan to be listening to his voice. Again we go back to the story of the fall where we find the serpent tempts Eve, not to worship him, but to stop trusting God. Most people would never admit to worshipping Satan, but when pressed, might admit to not trusting God.

But what about the unbeliever who seems to be perfectly moral, in fact more moral perhaps than most believers; can we really say they are “children of wrath” deserving of what is commonly known as hell? According to the Bible you are either a child of wrath (Ephesians 1:3), or a child of God (see John 1:12). Many would like to say that by their moral actions they show themselves to be closer to being a child of God than a child of wrath. But this is like saying that a pregnant woman is a little bit pregnant, or very pregnant. I have heard and used such expressions but of course one is either pregnant or not. You are either a child of wrath or you are a child of God, you cannot be somewhere in between. Further, the symptoms may not be a good indication of truth.

There was once a show on TV chronicling the stories of women who gave birth despite not noticing any indications or “symptoms” of pregnancy until the last minute. You could say that with my middle-aged-spread — which began in my 20’s! — I have more symptoms of being pregnant than what some of those women experienced! What matters is not the symptoms, but the truth. And it does not matter how righteous or moral a person appears to beall have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV).

Consider the righteousness of Adam and Eve. When they were convicted of sin and banished from Eden they had no prior history of sin, and in sinning had not harmed anyone directly, nor done anything that most people might consider “immoral.” What they did was fall short of the glory of God, trusting the words of Satan over God, and so became children of wrath.

However, verses 1-3 are not the main point of our passage. They are verses that some will not get past in their denial of their need for a Saviour, but they are not the main point. Here is the main point: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4, 5 NIV). This passage is not really about sin or death or hell, but is about God’s grace, mercy, and love. No one need fear hell for anyone can trade in their status as a child of wrath for a new family tree, becoming a child of God and recipient of his grace though faith. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8 NIV).

We can imagine God’s grace and our faith like this: we are stuck in quicksand and there is no way out. However, God reaches down and lifts us out in the palm of his hand. God’s love, initiative, and reach to rescue is the grace by which we are saved – we would be sunk without that. Our trust which keeps us in his hand is the faith through which we are saved – we’d jump back into the quicksand without that. What most people do not realize is that while we are alive we all, everyone included, experience a measure of God’s grace. That we can live at all, breathing, relating, enjoying life is a sign that we are experiencing God’s grace. God is under no obligation to grant us life but he does so as a sign of grace. This should help us to understand what we know of as hell. We tend to think of hell as punishment reserved for those who have done evil things to other people, making salvation and hell a matter of morality. Many naturally consider murderers as deserving of hell, but regular law abiding folk as not for example. But in the Bible, separation from God (hell) does not come just because one deserves it. It also comes because one desires it. Having experienced God’s grace by breathing some will curse the God who gave them breath and say “I don’t need you.” Having experienced the grace of God through loving and being loved, some will curse the One who has loved them the most and say “I don’t want you.” And so some choose to jump out of the hand that has been holding them, the hand that is ready to save them if only they will turn to in repentance, and not away from, the Giver of Life.

We have all at some point been in an utter mess, dead in sins, under Satan’s influence, and children of wrath, but utter grace is there for anyone who will take and trust that nail-scarred hand reaching for us in grace.!


All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV. Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario.

Today’s post is from Clarke’s archives and was originally written in April, 2013.

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

April 18, 2018

Isaiah 53 and the Revelation of God’s Love Revealed in Jesus

This is our second visit with Ronnie Dauber who is a Christian author who lives in Canada with her family. She has written several young adult novels and seven Inspirational books. Her article below — click to read it directly at source, with images — is an expository devotional. In some cases we update the translation choice of the writer, but with Isaiah 53, I think the ornate quality of the older edition enhances the scripture passage.

Isaiah 53: The Epitome of Love

1 Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?

—He is revealed by the Spirit of God to those who hunger for God.

For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.

—Jesus was born to Joseph and Mary, humble Jews who worked hard to provide for their family. They were not rich, not popular, and did not hold prominent government or religious positions.

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.

—Jesus was killed by men who hated God and who hated that Jesus proclaimed to know God. And today people still hate God and refuse to repent and accept the salvation of Jesus and the Holiness of God.

Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

—Jesus took all of our griefs and sorrows upon Himself on the cross. We know Him as our Savior, and God sees Him as the Son who gave His life for our sins.

But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes, we are healed.

—Jesus took all of our sins, sickness and stresses upon Himself on the cross. We will no longer be judged because our sins were judged on the cross, and we no longer have to be sick because He also took that curse upon Himself at the cross.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

—We have all sinned and are all deserving of judgment, yet Jesus took our sins and offered His life as a sacrifice for our sins. And God accepted His sacrifice and pronounced the judgment for our sins upon His own Son so that we would be free.

He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth.

—Jesus was beaten, mocked, whipped and spat upon, yet He didn’t fight it or speak out against it. He knew He was the Lamb of God and He was willing to take upon Himself all of our sins. He suffered tremendously with physical pain, mental and spiritual depression, and evil oppression, and yet, He never once cursed the horror of the beatings or anyone. In fact, Jesus asked God to forgive them.

He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare His generation? for He was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was He stricken.

—Jesus was captured and thrown into prison, and then He was judged, stripped, beaten, mocked, whipped and cursed, and then killed—and all because He loved us so much that He didn’t want a single person to be punished and die lost because of their sins.

And He made His grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death; because He had done no violence, neither was any deceit in His mouth.

—Jesus was perfect. He was sinless, and there was no sin or violence or deceit in Him, yet because of our sin that He took upon Himself, He was crucified between two criminals. And He would have been buried in a common grave, but instead, His body was placed in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a rich politician who loved God.

10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief: when thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.

—Jesus chose to die for our sins because He loves us, and it pleased God because now those who accept the salvation of Jesus will live with Him forever, and with Jesus, who is now our King.

11 He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied: by His knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for He shall bear their iniquities.

—Jesus suffered beyond all measure on that cross, and yet He wanted to do it for us so that we would never have to suffer the punishment for our sins. Jesus defeated sin and death when He took them down to Hell and then rose back to life again! And so now, all those who receive His salvation shall be saved! And God was pleased that Jesus had made a way for His children to now come Home.

12 Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong; because He hath poured out His soul unto death: and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

—Jesus was faithful and made a way that we can all be redeemed back to God, and God has made Jesus King over the earth. And all of us who believe in Jesus will be saved from our sins and will share the blessings of God, both here on earth and throughout eternity. Jesus died on the cross for everyone, yet, only some will accept it and be saved.

The enemy is deceiving many so that they not only can’t see the truth but don’t want to see the truth. The glitter of this world, and the ease of wealth, and the lust of the flesh are more important than the truth. Yet, one day they will know the truth and it will be too late for them. They will regret it with everything that’s in them because they will stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ and they will all know that Jesus IS the Messiah, the Lord of lords and King of kings that they refused to accept when they had the chance. And the Bible says there will be crying and gnashing of teeth because those who refused to accept Him on earth will be sentenced to eternity in Hell.

We can put lots of things off until tomorrow, but if you don’t know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, then do NOT put that off. It’s too late to choose once you die; the opportunity is now!

And when you know Jesus, then you’ll see the things of this world as the shallow deceptions that they are, and you will be alive in a freedom that you never thought was possible!

And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him, He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.—Hebrews 9:27-28

 

April 17, 2018

Seeking Jesus for What We Can Get

We’re paying a return visit to the website Catholic Daily Reflections. Readers are reminded that we include writings here from a wide variety of Christian websites, and today is an example of that. From three devotionals we considered, we selected this one. Click to read at source.

Seeking Jesus

Jesus answered them and said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” John 6:26-27

This Scripture goes straight to the heart of our priorities in life.  What are you working for?  Are you working hard for the “food that perishes” and only working slightly for the “food that endures for eternal life?”  Or vice versa?

For some reason, we can easily become obsessed with working for the “things” of this world.  In the passage above, people were looking for Jesus because He had fed them the day before and they were hungry again.  They were looking for food, literally.  Jesus gently rebukes them, taking this as an opportunity to point out the real reason they should be seeking Him.  The real reason is that He wants to provide the spiritual food of eternal life.  What is the food Jesus wants you to seek?  That’s a question you must let our Lord answer in your heart.

There are two key questions we should ponder here so as to let Him answer us.  First, “What do I want in life?”  Spend time with that.  Spend time all by yourself and try to be honest with this question.  What do you want?  What is your heart’s desire?  If you are honest and if you let yourself face your desires you will most likely find that you have some desires, or even many, that are not put in your heart by Christ.  Recognizing what these desires are is the first step to discovering what the true food is that Jesus wants to give you.

The second key question is this: “Are you seeking Jesus for the right reason?”  When we are sick we seek a doctor for a cure.  When a child is hurt, this child often runs to a parent for comfort.  This is OK.  We do the same.  When we are lost and confused we often turn to God for answers and help.  But, ideally, we will eventually seek God for more than just healing or comfort.  We will ultimately seek God for the reason of love.  We will seek Him simply because we love Him and want to love Him all the more.

Reflect, today, upon your desire to seek Jesus, or lack thereof.  When you can begin to seek out Jesus simply because you love Him and want to love Him more, you are on the right road.  And as you walk down that road, you find it is a road of the utmost delight and fulfillment.

Jesus, help me to seek You.  Help me to seek You for the help and healing I need.  But more than that, help me to seek You out of love.  My Jesus, I do love You.  Help me to love You more.  Jesus, I trust in You.

 

 

April 16, 2018

Filled With The Spirit

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Acts:13.6 They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.”

Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.

Today’s thoughts are from a 2010 Zondervan book, A Certain Risk: Living Your Faith at the Edge, by Paul Richardson. To learn more about Paul, check out a story we did at Thinking Out Loud on Mustard Seed International.


In Acts we read that Barnabas and Saul were traveling together when suddenly they came face to face with a sorcerer. Luke writes that Saul was”filled with the Spirit” as he stepped forward to face the adversary. From this moment forward, Saul’s name is inexplicably changed to Paul. When I studied this event, I asked myself, wasn’t Paul already filled with the Spirit? He’d been a follower of Jesus for many years! I believe the answer is yes and the answer is no. Luke writes with the assumption that there’s a distinction between (1) being sealed with the Spirit, unleashing God’s ebb and flow of artistry in us and resulting in bearing fruit, and (2) being filled with the Spirit during certain moments, launching us into the fray to fulfill God’s chosen purposes in those moments.

Luke aligns Paul’s brazen response to the sorcerer with hundreds of other moments in the Scriptures when individuals are momentarily “filled with the Spirit.” Let’s slow down a bit and take a careful look at the following examples of Spirit-filled moments. Try not to rush through them. Instead, soak them in, allowing them to revitalize your understanding of what it means to be filled with the Spirit. Notice the triangulation of God, one of his image bearers, and the world around that person. Also notice how these moments portray how God takes purposeful action, drawing men and women of faith into movement, shattering our mundane routines in extraordinary fashion. I have added italics for emphasis.

  • “The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, so that he went to war.”1
  • “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet.”2
  • “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah. He… advanced.”3
  • “The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy.”4
  • “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me.”5
  • “Then the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah… He stood before the people and said…6
  • “The Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field.”7
  • “I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice  to the nations.”8

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners. (Is. 61:1)

The following Spirit-filled moments can be found in the four gospels:

  • “It will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”9
  • “I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.”10
  • “But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”11
  • “At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert.”12
  • “Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say.  Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”13
  • “For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”14
  • “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”15
  • “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.”16

Notice that Spirit-filled moments have three elements in common: God, image-bearer, world. God moves from within an image bearer to somehow imprint, transform or confront the world around that person.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Acts 1:8
A Certain Risk, pp 98-100

1 Judges 3:10
2 Judges 6:34
3 Judges 11:29
4 I Samuel 10:6
5 II Samuel 23:2
6 II Chron. 24:20
7 Isaiah 32:15
8 Isaiah 42:1

9 Matthew 10:20
10 Matthew 12:18
11 Matthew 12:28
12 Mark 1:12
13 Mark 13:11
14 Luke 12:12
15 John 14:26
16 John 15:26

April 15, 2018

May We Be Discontent to Live in Sin

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re introducing a writer who is new to us. Sarah Jo writes at Blind Insanity. This is really part testimony and part teaching. I appreciate her transparency. To read this post at its source, click the title below.

Worship in Deed

[Friday] night, I went to a worship concert.

It was wonderful to worship with so many believers of Jesus. But as I looked around the auditorium, seeing so many hands raised, I was reminded of what Samuel said to King Saul:

“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22)

Saul chose to disobey God’s commands, but he tried to cover up his disobedience with excuses. Obviously, God did not stand for his excuses, because He could see Saul’s heart. There was no excuse for Saul’s sin. He should have bowed before God right then and there, but he chose to stand in his sin.

Almost everyone at the concert raised their hands and sang praises to Jesus, but I know that so many of them choose to stand in their sin on a daily basis. They make excuses for their actions, so they worship God in vain, because they worship with their lips, but don’t bow down their hearts and surrender their lives to His leading.

How can I know that people are living in sin and rebellion against God? Because I am no different.

I believe in Jesus. I love Him. But so many times, I sin, and that, knowingly. I have the willpower to resist sin and do the right thing, but I still choose sin. By the grace of God, my guilt draws me back to Jesus, again and again, and He gives me grace upon grace. But His grace and His Holy Spirit are changing me; making me more like Him, teaching me what it means to be holy, and giving me the strength and will to follow.

I am only accountable for my actions and the condition of my heart, but I see a need for every professing believer in Christ to live a holy life before God.

Without Christ, righteousness is impossible, but anyone who has Jesus has put on His righteousness. Through Him, they are made righteous, and through His Holy Spirit, they are given the strength to live a holy life; to live in a way that glorifies Him. That means that, what would be seen as normal, and even “healthy,” by the world, should not be present in our lives.

Every form of sexual immorality, gossip, lying, hatred, drunkenness, cheating, and any other sin should no longer have dominion over us. That is not to say that we won’t struggle or that we won’t stumble, but we should grow to the point where we don’t fall into that sin again. And we should humble ourselves before God on a daily basis; asking Him for the strength to resist sin and live for Him.

We need revival in the Church. Revival starts in the heart, and it should produce good fruits that bring glory to Jesus Christ.

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will show forth Your praise. For You desire not sacrifice; else would I give it. You delight not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. (Psalm 51:15-17)

Abba, we need You to step into our mess and bring us to our senses. May we be discontent to live in sin. Teach us to be holy as You are holy; to be examples of You in word and deed. Please continue to shower Your grace and mercy over us, and may it be Your love that brings us to our knees and shapes us into the men and women that You intended us to be. Thank You for listening when we speak, and never forsaking us.
I love You, Jesus.

Amen.

April 14, 2018

Clear Them Out … Completely

Back in October we introduced you to Peter Corak who has been very faithfully writing devotionals at My Morning Meal since November, 2009.  In this devotional from a few days ago, he combines two articles from a scripture passage he finds himself returning to. Click the title below to read at source.

Drive Them Out . . . Again

Looking back through my journal, it’s been a reading that I’ve spent extra time “chewing on” seven of the past ten years. The opening chapters of Judges have repeatedly served as a fresh warning against the propensity to compromise. The Israelites failure to drive out the inhabitants of the land an ominous reminder of what happens when we get comfortable with the sin in our lives, or try to buddy up with the world around us.

They thought they were strong enough to live over their enemies and were confident that they would continue to submit them to forced labor–their arrogance blinding them to the real danger of their enemies’ gods gaining the upper hand and having dominion over them. Thorns that festered in their sides, snares that would eventually entrap them, that’s what they would become (Judges 2:1-3).

If for no other reason then the a regular reminder of these types of ageless warnings, having a plan to read repeatedly through the whole Bible on a regular basis has been of great value for me.

This morning, I’m rerunning some thoughts from 2013 that I remixed from some thoughts in 2008. The message unchanging, Drive Them Out!

————————–

“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us!”

So goes the old western movie cliche. So sets up the confrontation at high noon. If one ain’t leavin’ peaceably-like, then the other’s gonna make him git! So what’s got me thinking of old western re-runs? (Or was it a Bugs Bunny cartoon? . . . whatever.)  It’s the opening chapter of Judges and the ominous foreshadowing of a phrase repeated nine times. The land wasn’t big enough for the Israelites and the Canaanites . . . but the Israelites did not “drive them out.”

Through Moses, God had made the game plan clear. He was going to give them the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  They were to go up in the power of His might and possess the land.  And they were to rid the land of its previous inhabitants . . . completely!  The warning had been clear:

But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell.  (Numbers 33:55 ESV)

Any Canaanite remnant would tempt the Israelites away from their God.  Their worship would contaminate true worship.  Their world-view would obscure heaven’s view. And so the charge was unambiguous, “Drive them out!”

Looking at the original word, it looks like it has the idea of possessing or inheriting by the means of dispossessing or impoverishing. Moving into the promised land of God was dependent on completely evicting the previous owners.

But they did not completely drive out the inhabitants of the land.  They allowed them to live among them or they pressed them into forced labor. Bottom line is that God said they needed to be gone, and the people settled for “mostly gone” or “kinda’ gone”.

And Judges 2 says that within just a few decades the result was disastrous. Within a generation, “the people did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals” (Judges 2:11).

These pagan nations left to live among them became a snare to them in subsequent generations. In particular, their gods and pagan religions became an alluring trap. The people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, but, as the next generation grew up, those who didn’t have this first hand knowledge started being attracted to other gods. And our God, who is a jealous God and will not share His glory with another, dealt with this infidelity quickly and harshly.

Thus the vicious cycle of Judges: the people serve other gods . . . God judges them by allowing the nations around them to oppress them . . . the people cry out to God for deliverance . . . God raises up a judge to deliver the people . . . there’s a time of peace . . . and then the people slip back into serving other gods . . . and so it goes.

And so the warning is pretty clear to me . . . Drive them out!

By the abiding grace of God and the indwelling power of His Spirit, I need to put away that which is temptation and can become a snare. I need to renounce that which is of the world and would fester as a thorn. As much as lies in me, I need to leave no fuel to feed the old nature’s fire. I need to dispossess the things of the old man and the old way, that I might fully possess that which God has promised for the believer.

Drive them out!

By His grace . . . for His glory . . .

This town ain’t big enough for the both of us!

April 13, 2018

The Conversion of Saul: Did He Have a Choice?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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The most important event in human history apart from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the conversion to Christianity of Saul of Tarsus. If Saul had remained a Jewish rabbi, we would be missing thirteen of twenty-seven books of the New Testament and Christianity’s early major expansion to the Gentiles. Humanly speaking, without Paul Christianity would probably be of only antiquarian or arcane interest, like the Dead Sea Scrolls community or the Samaritans.

IVP Commentary as cited at BibleGateway.com; emphasis added.

NLT Acts 9:1 Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers.  So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.

As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”

“Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.

And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink.

10 Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord!” he replied.

11 The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. 12 I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.”

13 “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers  in Jerusalem! 14 And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.”

15 But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. 16 And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.”

17 So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19 Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength.

In light of the divide between Reformed and Arminian approaches to grace and salvation, the conversion of Saul (to Christ, and then in name, to Paul) seems like an open and shut case. I found this article at the Society of Evangelical Arminians helpful to seeing things in the text which are easy to miss. This is actually a series of responses to the title’s question that were posted on the Society’s Facebook page. Click the title below to read at source.

What About Paul’s “Irresistible” Conversion?

In our Facebook Outreach Group, we were presented with this question:

How should Paul’s conversion be interpreted? It doesn’t seem like much of a choice at first glance – but that God showed up and said “you’re mine.”

Here are the various responses:

1.  He said he was not disobedient to the heavenly vision (free will).

2.  God taking it upon Himself to introduce Himself to someone isn’t a conversion. The per se conversion occurred and revealed itself in Paul’s response.

2a. So God doesn’t kick in the door?

2b. Another great example of God introducing Himself was the burning bush. Although Moses did require additional convincing.

2c. God had been working on Paul long before the Damascus road experience.  Based on His foreknowledge God had chosen Paul to become an Apostle called out of due season. Paul had not been taught by Christ personally like the other Apostles. Paul is not only called to conversion but to Apostleship to the Gentiles. God reveals himself to Paul in unusual ways and instructs him in unusual ways but Paul’s responses are his own even though his prevenient grace is unusual.

3.  I think that is reading too much into the narrative. Here is something Brian Abasciano wrote a while back in response to the same sort of question:

“I believe Paul did have the ability to resist God in his Damascus Road experience. At the very best for the contention that he could not have done so, it is speculation whether he could or not. The text certainly does not indicate that he could not. On the other hand, I would say that Paul actually does imply that he could have disobeyed the vision. In Acts 26:19, he says, “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.” Telling someone you were not disobedient to something without provocation to do so seems to imply that you could have been disobedient to it. If I had replied to you, “As you can see, I have not ignored your email to me . . .” that would imply that I could have ignored your email. Rhetorically, what that sort of thing does is emphasize one’s obedience by using the fact that one could have done otherwise.”

I would add that the Israelites often experienced incredible manifestations of God and yet continued to rebel against Him, so it seems we have no real basis for correlating a powerful vision of God with irresistible response.

4.  Paul wasn’t saved until he prayed and sought God after being blinded.

5.  Paul was exposed to Christians and their witness repeatedly.  God had, through prevenient grace, been convicting Paul of the truths of the Gospel and drawing him to repent and believe in Christ.  Paul had been having a hard time resisting the truth of the Gospel. It was hard for him “to kick against the pricks.”

6.  I agree with the preceding comments, but I’d like to add three things…

(1) For God to use external means to convert Saul of Tarsus to Christ, does not prove a Calvinist’s assertion of God using internal means of “forcible regeneration upon the unbelieving.”

(2) Paul tells us why God did it. He says that God knew that he [Paul] had acted in ignorance.

(3) Even if God used “overwhelming means” to secure the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, to the point where conversion was rendered certain, how would the raising-up of one man to apostleship, for the greater benefit of humanity in spreading the gospel to all men, establish a bifurcation of elect vs. non-classes of humanity? At most, it would only speak of what God was doing in the life of that one individual person, in terms of how God would bless “all the families of the earth” through him, fulfilling in one man, God’s purpose in the election of the Jews as His witness nation.

 

April 12, 2018

Why Does Your Church Exist?

by Clarke Dixon

Why does your church exist? Why does any church exist? What is our primary purpose? There may be quite a number of answers to this question based on mission statements and what you see churches do. But is there a purpose which is common to all churches whether they think they are accomplishing it or not, whether they articulate it or not in their mission statements?

There is. Jesus get us on the right track on discovering it by his prayer in John 17:1 “Father, the hour has come; . . .”. Given that this prayer occurs just before his arrest, trial, death, burial, and resurrection, what might you expect next? Perhaps ” . . . save Your people, reconcile Your people to Yourself”? What he says is, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” Of all the great things we can say about the work of Jesus on our behalf, his primary purpose is the glory of God. Of all the many things we can say about churches and what they are and do, their primary purpose is the glory of God. If God’s glory is central to Jesus, it is central for us!

We are reminded of our primary purpose most Sundays as we conclude our worship service. Those who attend our church will know that I tend to use this same benediction:

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21 (emphasis added)

I might have chosen the “Aaronic Blessing” as my favourite, the one that goes, “May the Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you . . .”, but I have not. And for a reason. We tend to think that we attend church to glorify God, then we leave with the expectation that God will bless us in the week ahead. I think we have it backwards. We are blessed as we gather to worship, and we leave to bring glory to God with the week ahead. Even as we hear my favourite benediction from Ephesians, we may still be wrapped up in us. We may concentrate on what God can do in our lives; that is, “abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” While that is important and sometimes we will need to focus on that, we can remember that God’s power in our lives is not the central thought of this benediction. The glory of God is.

But doesn’t “glory in the church” mean “here in this place”? There were no buildings referred to as “churches” when Paul wrote this, so no. The word refers to the people. This is not “glory in the church building”, but rather “glory in the people who are the church.” Snoop Dog gets it right with the opening words of his latest album; “Church, say Amen”. He is speaking to people, not a building or an organization!

How do we bring glory to God as a church? What does that even mean? To roughly quote one Bible teacher; “the very existence of the Church brings glory to God”. The existence of a rescued people brings glory to God. The existence of a redeemed, forgiven, Spirit-filled people gives glory to God. There are many small churches like our own which may feel quite beat up over not being able to offer this, that, or the other program. There is no shortage of guilt in smaller churches for not measuring up and giving proper glory to God. However, the existence of any group of Christians, no matter the form of worship, or how well they are organized, or how many programs they can offer, already brings glory to God! That is not an excuse to not pursue excellence. But it is an encouragement.

That being said, is Ephesians 3:20,21 a prayer or a resolution? Do we hear this benediction and think, “God, we pray You make Your glory happen in us this week?”, or do we think “God, our resolve is to make Your glory happen in us this week?” Let us think again of Jesus’ prayer in John 17. God in His sovereignty made it happen. Jesus was arrested, suffered, executed, buried, raised, and he ascended, all by the sovereignty and to the glory of God. However, Jesus was also resolved to stay the course as we learn from his prayer later in Gethsemane:

He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” Mark 14:36

We do well to make our benediction from Ephesians a prayer in dependence upon God while we also watch for opportunities to participate in God’s work as His glory unfolds.

We do have some guidance while we watch for those opportunities. One definition given for glory is “giving God his proper place”. We cannot do that if we are trying to take his place. We have bad examples of giving glory to God in Adam and Eve who were quick to want to be just like God. We have good examples of giving glory to God including John the Baptist who pointed beyond himself to Jesus (John 1:27,303:30). Unfortunately, we often find it easier to talk about ourselves than about God. In the same way, we likely find it easier to talk about our church than God: “we have the best music, the best programs, the least boring pastor, try us, you’ll love us”. While we will want to aim for excellence, we do not want our tag-line to be “I’m lovin’ it”.  We will not give God his proper place if we are trying to get into his place, and take the glory for ourselves. God is glorified when we take the place he has prepared for us. Our best opportunity to glorify God is not in the loudest and most professional sounding rendition of the hymn “To God Be the Glory”, but in often-quiet, Christ-redeemed, Spirit-filled lives.

Why does our church [or your church] exist? It exists for the same reason as every other church, which is no less that the same purpose for which Jesus did all he did – for the glory of God!


All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV. Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (31 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

April 11, 2018

When Did Time Begin?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV John 17:5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

NIV Col 1:15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

This topic came into greater focus for me back in 2012, when Wheaton College professor John Walton, author of The Lost World of Genesis One (and now a number of other “Lost World” books in a series) was a guest on the Phil Vischer Podcast. I wrote about that here at this article.

Another topic, which is of course quite related is studies into what theologians refer to as “the pre-incarnate Christ.” A book I always wanted to read on this topic is Ron Rhodes’ Christ Before the Manger: The Life and Times of the Preincarnate Christ (Baker, 1992). I recently got my hands on a copy and this short introduction turns up in chapter two.

When Did Time Begin?

Related to the issue of the preexistence and eternality of Christ is this question: When did time begin? Scripture is not clear about the relationship between time and eternity. Some prefer to think of eternity as time – a succession of moments – without beginning or ending. However, there are indications in Scripture that time itself may be a created reality, a reality that began when God created the universe.

The book of Hebrews contains some hints regarding the relationship between time and eternity. Hebrews 1:2 tells us that the Father “has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe(italics added). The last part of this verse is rendered more literally from the Greek, “through whom he made the ages.Likewise, Hebrews 11:3 tells us that “by faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command” (italics added). This is more literally from the Greek, “By faith we understand that the ages were formed at God’s command.”

Scholars have grappled with what may be meant here by the term “ages.” Lutheran scholar R. C. H. Lenski says the term means “not merely vast periods of time as mere time, but ‘eons’ with all that exists as well as all that transpires in them.” New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce says that “the whole created universe of space and time is meant.” From this verse, theologian John MacArthur concludes that “Jesus Christ is responsible for creating not only the physical earth but also time, space, force, action and matter. The writer of Hebrews does not restrict Christ’s creation to this earth; he shows us that Christ is the Creator of the entire universe and of existence itself. And Christ made it all without effort.”

Church father and philosopher Augustine (A.D. 354-430) held that the universe was not created in time, but that time itself was created along with the universe. Reformed theologian Louis Berkhof agrees, and concludes: “It would not be correct to assume that time was already in existence when God created the world, and that He at some point in that existing time, called ‘the beginning,’ brought forth the universe. The world was created with time rather than in time. Back of the beginning mentioned in Genesis 1:1 lied a beginningless eternity.”

In view of the above, we may conclude that when the apostle John said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1), the phrase in the beginning has specific reference to the beginning of time when the universe was created. When the time-space universe came into being, Christ the divine Word was already existing in a loving, intimate relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

(pp 36-37)

April 10, 2018

Death and the Body

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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by Russell Young

The body, or the flesh, presents a big problem for humankind. It functions well and can accomplish many amazing things; however, it also imposes many desires and wants. It can cause the body to entertain and be tempted to sin, and sin destroys. (Rom 8:13; Gal 6:8) All are familiar with the body’s need for comfort and protection, for sexual gratification, for elevation or prominence in the sight of peers, and for general acceptance. All want to be valued and to feel comfortable ‘in their own skin.’

The issue of concern is the tendency for people to take excessive interest in the things of the flesh, to give the body more prominence in life than the LORD has allowed. Pleasing the body through excesses can result in an ungodly focus and a denial of the purpose and place of God in a person’s life.

Paul calls the flesh “the body of death.” (Rom 7:24 NIV) That is, he refers to it as the body that brings about death. He states, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of death might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” (Rom 6:6 NIV) To find God’s eternal kingdom the interest of the body to entertain sin must be “overcome”. (Rev 7:21) Concerning the nature of his body, Paul lamented, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:24 NIV)

Paul made it clear that deliverance from the death imposed by bodily interests was gained through Jesus Christ our Lord. But how? Deliverance seems to remain a matter of great confusion, but it is really the means of eternal salvation. When the believer is liberated from the “body of death,” he or she will have met God’s righteous requirements and will enjoy an eternal hope. (Rom 8:23) There have been many different postulations as to how Christ rescues a person from the death brought on by the flesh; many provide an understanding that is more philosophically than scripturally based. However, Paul has presented a clear theological understanding to the Romans in Chapter 8.

According to him, “the law of the Spirit of life set [people] free from the law of sin and death.” (Rom 8:2 NIV) It is the “law of the Spirit of life” that has freed the believer from death. Many understand that the crucifixion of Christ has met their need when it is “the Spirit of life” who must do it. The sacrificial offering of Christ was made to cleanse the sin accumulated by the confessor from his or her consequent death, and to provide the Holy Spirit so that he might set the believer free from the “law of sin and death.” Paul has made it clear that the confessor’s redemption was to make the Spirit of life available to the confessor. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Gal 3:14 NIV Italics added) He is not saying that believers have received the fullness of the Spirit’s cleansing, but that we might receive the promised Spirit. The writer of Hebrews has stated that Christ died so that the confessor might be set “free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Heb 9:15 NIV)

Deliverance from the body that brings death is accomplished through obedience to the Spirit. “And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom. 8:4) Living according to the Spirit requires that believers hear and obey the call of the Spirit concerning their life practices. (Jn 14:15) This theme is presented in many places in the Scriptures and the believer would do well to understand it.

Earlier in his book to the Romans, Paul had addressed the need to “count” the flesh to have been crucified or to reckon that it has been put to death and has revealed that baptism is a proclamation of the believer to that effect. Chapter 6 goes on to develop and to explain this point. Death to the flesh is a matter of a person’s will and is proven by his or her choices. Paul told King Agrippa that he had preached that people “should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20 NIV)

Further, Paul wrote, “But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8: 1011 NIV Italics added) It is the Spirit who delivers the body of the believer–the obedient confessor—from its interest in sinful activities and gives it life, the life pleasing to God. Because of the saving power of the Spirit, Christ admonished that those who “blaspheme against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven.” (Mk 3:29; Lk 12:10) The LORD had defined blasphemy to the Israelites. “But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the LORD, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the LORD’s word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him.” (Num 15:3031 NIV Italics added) The Spirit must actively “live” (Rom 8: 9, 11) in the believer; he cannot be denied, quenched, or thwarted.

Paul has reminded his readers that they have an obligation to live according to the Spirit, if they are to be a son of God (Rom 8:14)—they are to put to death the misdeeds of the flesh. (Rom 8:13) They are to do something! The death that the flesh would bring is to be avoided or overcome. It is for this reason that he calls the Spirit, the “Spirit of sonship.” (Rom 8:15) Death to the flesh allows Christ to live his life in the believer and so to become like him.

Many have accepted the idea that they have been adopted into the family of God, however Paul taught that the believer’s adoption is being “eagerly awaited”. (Rom 8:23 NIV) Adoption into the family will occur when the body has been redeemed (Rom 8:23) from its sinful practices and from death.

Even Paul recognized that he had more to do in order “somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil 3:11 NIV) He wanted to suffer as Christ did to overcome temptations (Heb 2:18). Although his conscience bore witness that he was progressing well, his life had not been completed. Christ requires that the believer remain firm in his or her faith to the end. (Mt 10:22, 24:13; Mk 13:13)

Because Christ has provided everything that is needed for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3), and because he indwells the believer as Spirit (Col 1:27), judgment remains for all concerning the things done in the flesh, whether good or bad. (2 Cor 5:10)

Paul knew that Christ could rescue him from his body of death, but he also knew that his needed deliverance was being awaited (Gal 5:5) and that it came through obedience. (Heb 5:9) Christ has admonished believers “to make every effort” to enter through the narrow door, because many would try but would not be able to enter. (Lk 13:24)

 


Author 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.

April 9, 2018

Receiving What You Work For

Isaiah 65:23 They will not labor in vain,
    nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord,
    they and their descendants with them. (NIV)

Isaiah 60:11 Your gates will always stand open,
    they will never be shut, day or night,
so that people may bring you the wealth of the nations—
    their kings led in triumphal procession. (NIV)

Today we’re again returning to the website, Theology of Work, part of the Theology of Work Project. Many scripture references are embedded in the commentary today; open a second window with your browser using the Bible sites you prefer, and feel free to click back and forth.

Work’s Ultimate Meaning

Throughout the book, Isaiah encourages Israel with the hope that God will eventually put to right the wrongs the people are suffering in the present. Work, and the fruits of work, are included in this hope. By chapter 40, as the book moves from telling the truth about the present to telling the truth about the future, the sense of hope increases. The material about the suffering servant in chapters 40-59 can hardly be understood except as God’s gift of hope in the future fulfillment of God’s kingdom.

In chapters 60-66, this hope is finally expressed in full. God will gather his people together again (Is. 60:4), vanquish the oppressors (Is. 60:12-17), redeem the rebellious who repent (Is. 64:5-65:10), and establish his just kingdom (Is. 60:3-12). In place of Israel’s faithless leaders, God himself will rule: “You shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob” (Is. 60:16). The change is so radical that it amounts to a new creation, of parallel power and majesty to God’s first creation of the world. “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind” (Is. 65:17).

Chapters 60-66 are rich with vivid portraits of the perfect kingdom of God. In fact, a large fraction of New Testament imagery and theology are drawn from these chapters in Isaiah. The final chapters of the New Testament (Revelation 21 and 22) are, in essence, a recapitulation of Isaiah 65-66 in Christian terms.

It may be surprising to some how much of Isaiah 60-66 is related to work and the outcomes of work. The things people work for in life come to complete fruition at last, including:

  • Markets and trading, including the movement of gold and silver (Is. 60:6,9), the bringing of firs, and the opening of gates for trade. “Your gates shall always be open; day and night they shall not be shut, so that nations shall bring you their wealth, with their kings led in procession.” (Is. 60:11)
  • Agricultural and forest products: including frankincense, flocks, rams (Is. 60:6-7), cypress and pine (Is. 6:13)
  • Transportation by land and sea (Is. 60:6, 60:9), and even perhaps by air (Is. 60:8)
  • Justice and peace (Is. 60:17-18, 61:8, 66:16)
  • Social services (Is. 61:1-4)
  • Food and drink (Is. 65:13)
  • Health and long life (Is. 65:20)
  • Construction and housing (Is. 65:21)
  • Prosperity and wealth (Is. 66:12)

All these things have eluded Israel in their faithlessness to God. Indeed, the harder they tried to achieve them, the less the cared to worship God or follow his ways. The result was to lack them even more. But when the book of Isaiah presents Israel’s future hope as the New Creation, all the preceding promises in the book come to the fore. The picture portrayed is that of a future eschatological or final day when the “righteous offspring of the servant” will enjoy all the blessings of the messianic age depicted earlier. Then people will actually receive the things they work for because “they shall not labor in vain” (Is. 65:23). Israel’s sorrow will be turned into joy, and one of the dominant motifs of this coming joy is the enjoyment of the work of their own hands.

April 8, 2018

Worship Devotional Sampler

Three items today. Three very different items, but all involving worship.

The first is from the blog of Crossroads Church in Grain Valley, Missouri.

Impactful Worship

Acts 16       

In Ethiopia, where we lived, the people would use a tree or even a mountain to bring their sacrifices to appease the evil spirits.  They would take their sacrifices to the base of the mountain to appease the evil spirits. These sacrifices were ritual acts of worship; they were showing their adoration, devotion and respect to the evil spirits seeking the spirits blessings.  However, this kind of worship never brought them joy or peace. They always lived in fear of whether or not they had done enough to appease the spirits.

Worshiping the God of the universe is different.  It is not a ritual act in which we try to appease God and gain His favor.  It is an action which should involve our entire being (heart, mind, and soul).  We are to give total control or our lives to God which is our “living sacrifice.”  We do this by being “transformed by the renewal” our minds (Romans 12:1-2).  We must replace our human way of thinking with God’s way of thinking.  In order to change our way of thinking, we must learn the truth about who God is in His Word, talk to God in prayer, and be obedient to Him.

In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were thrown in jail.  What did they do?  Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, they prayed and sang hymns to God. And it visibly impacted the people around them.  No matter what situation we find ourselves in, when we truly worship God we can have “joy unspeakable,” and “peace that surpasses all understanding” – all the while impacting the world around us.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. (Acts 16:25-26 ESV) 

Today in Prayer
Private Worship: Romans 12:1-2

  • Pray that your private worship would be made a priority on a daily basis, so that you would know Him more intimately.
  • Pray that you find true joy in Him through your private worship.
  • Pray that you see yourself as a living sacrifice, DAILY, so you can stay focused on Him and be in the world, but not of the world.

“Public worship will not excuse us from secret worship.” ~Donald S. Whitney


The second is from Core Christianity. This is only the second half of the article, so click the title below if you wish to read it all.

Why You Need to Be in Church

In Scripture worship is the intrusion of God’s alien kingdom upon us.

by Adriel Sanchez

It may seem quite ordinary to the one without faith, but for the faithful, something magnificent is happening in the mundane. The author to the Hebrews put it best when he said that in coming together for worship, we are coming to: “the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and the church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.” (Heb. 12:22-24)

Please, stop for one moment and consider that when you go to church, you are ascending the heavenly Jerusalem. Angels are present, though not to the naked eye. God has promised to meet you there, and your new-covenant mediator, Jesus, is in the midst of the assembly by the power of the Spirit (Rev. 2:1). Earlier in Hebrews, we’re reminded of the fact that in worship we “taste the heavenly gift,” probably a reference to the Lord’s Supper; and that the powers of God’s coming kingdom are breaking in on us like rain from heaven (Heb. 6:4 & 7).

All of this is in fact, quite alien to the normal person, even perhaps offensive. How can we speak of eating the body and blood of Jesus? Isn’t preaching from the Bible sort of outdated? No one uses words like covenant, and blood-sacrifice, today! We’ve forgotten that it’s this strange beauty that captivated the Greco-Roman world. The Christian church after the days of the apostles was accused of practicing cannibalism and incest because of how they spoke in their assemblies, but according to sociologist Rodney Stark, the church also experienced unprecedented exponential growth during that time (See Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity). It turns out, the heavenly service sets people’s hearts on eternity, and that results in their willingness to lay down their lives for their neighbors. The church grew not by trying to imitate this world, but by giving this world a glimpse of another world, even by offering them a taste of it in the Eucharist.

This Sunday, God invites you, together with your brothers and sisters, to ascend his holy mountain. To join the angels around us, and the martyrs, who preceded us. He promises to give you the rain of his holy Word, able to spark faith in your heart, and raise you from spiritual lethargy. He offers to feed you, not ordinary food, but heavenly food. A bread so sacred that the apostles warned that eating it could result in death if it was received with impudence (1 Cor. 11:30). In the Bible, worship was far from comfortable, but it was life-giving (Jn. 6:53).  It’s life-giving still.

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isa. 55:1)


This last one is from the early days here at C201. The phrase from The Lord’s Prayer appears now as a tag line for many churches, only with the name of their city or town substituted for “earth.”

On Earth As It Is In Heaven

We’ve prayed it many times:

Thy Kingdom come
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven

But how is God’s will done in heaven?

I see two things, but perhaps you can think of others:

(1) There is constant worship. The KJV of Rev. 4:8 says “they rest not.” The NLT reads:

Day after day and night after night they keep on saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty — the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come.

So if you want to see a bit of the will of God done here on earth, there’s going to be non-stop worship.

(2) There is instant compliance. God simply speaks the word and it happens. “And God said…” is the constant theme of the creation narrative, giving new meaning to the old phrase “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Except that in heaven, the middle part wouldn’t be “I believe it;” but something closer to “I’m obeying it.”

Simply: He speaks and it is.

Unlike creation, God cannot always simply make things happen unless we’re willing to be used as partners with him; he has chosen in this time and place to work through willing people.

April 7, 2018

Choosing to Set our Focus on Things Above

This is our fifth visit with Paul Steele at the blog Paul’s Ponderings. He doesn’t write frequently, but often deals with the issue of spiritual growth.

A Gift for Our Spiritual Formation

Almost everyone enjoys gift giving. We enjoy giving gifts, but we really enjoy receiving gifts.

When we give a gift we give it with the intention that the gift is used. If we give a gift of chocolate we want the person to eat the chocolate. If we give a gift of clothes we want those clothes to be worn. If we give a gift of toys we want those toys to be played with in imaginative ways.

God has given us a great gift to be used for our spiritual formation in Jesus Christ. That gift is the Bible. Christians believe that God has preserved the Holy Scriptures over the years to help guide us in following Jesus.

Since the Bible is a gift that God has given to us, it is a gift that He expects us to use. God will speak to us by the Holy Spirit through the words recorded in Scripture.

If we are interested in spiritual formation and following Jesus, then it is essential we spend time with the Bible.

The book of Colossians is a book of the Bible that God has used over the years to speak to my heart.  One of my favorite passages is Colossians 3:1-4:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (ESV)

Our salvation and transformation begins and ends with God. It began with God’s promise to bless all the nations of the world through Abraham and his descendant; it continued through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus (the promised descendant of Abraham); and ends when Jesus returns and makes all things new.

Without God’s initiative, without God’s promise, and without Christ’s faithfulness we would have no life, no purpose, and no hope. Our redemption and restoration are bound up in the actions of our loving heavenly Father.

With that being said, we still have a great responsibility when it comes to our spiritual formation.  We do not become like Jesus by accident.

Paul wrote in Colossians that there is a choice we must make. The choice we are to make is to set our minds on the things that are above.

To set our minds requires an act of the will.  We have the choice about what to focus our minds on, and if we  don’t choose to set our minds on the things of God, then our minds will be set on other things: sports, money, pleasure, politics.

What must we do if we are going to set our minds on the things that are above?

I believe there are at least three steps we need to take in order to set our minds on heavenly things.

  1. We must change what we feed our mind. This is a two part process. The first part of the process is to acknowledge the ways we are being distracted. I recently had to to do this when I realized that the political podcasts I was listening to were influencing the direction of the my thoughts, which were flowing out into my sermons. We need to be aware of what is influencing our thoughts, and whether that influence is positive or negative. The second part of the process is to fill our minds the truth. This means we intentionally use the gift of Scriptures to set the course of our thoughts. If we are not replacing our old negative thoughts with new positive thoughts then our minds will go back to the old ways of thinking.
  2. We must be guided by the Spirit. The best way for us to be guided by the Spirit is to practice spiritual disciplines. We need to make room for the Spirit to speak into our lives. This includes Bible study and reading (both private and group), prayer, fasting, generosity, service, hospitality, and even simplicity (living a simple life). It is crucial that we intentionally make room for the Spirit to guide our lives.
  3. We must speak about what God is doing. It is crucial that we don’t keep all that God is doing in our lives to ourselves. We need to share our experiences with God with other people. By sharing our stories we become better aware of the truth God is teaching us and the direction He wants us to go. By sharing we allow other people to discover what God is doing and open their hearts to God working in their lives.

God took the initiative to save us from sin and death.

To be good stewards of God’s initiative and His generosity we need to be intentional in our spiritual formation. This requires us to be intentional in setting our minds on the things of heaven, so our hearts and minds are focused one following Jesus. We do that by using the gift of Scripture to set the direction of our minds.

 

April 6, 2018

What Sort of Person Are You?

NIV 2 Peter 3:8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. 11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives.

Today we’re returning to the writing of popular Christian author Neil Anderson whose unique writing helps us focus on we are in Christ (positionally) and what manner of people we ought to be (in daily practice). This is his 5th time at C201, but the first in four years.

Living Today

I believe in setting goals and making plans. But biblical vision for the future and godly goals for ministry or work have no value if they don’t provide direction for our steps today. Goals for tomorrow that don’t prioritize present activities are nothing more than wishful thinking. We make plans for tomorrow in order to establish meaningful activities for today. We need to ask the Lord each day if we are still on target, and give Him the right to order mid-course changes in direction.

Some people don’t like to set goals because they feel goals only set them up for failure. But a goal should never be a god. It should be a target, not a whip. Other people become obsessed with goals for tomorrow. Biblically, the will of God is almost entirely directed at living responsibly today. Legitimate goal-setting should support that.

“Are you trying to tell us that we aren’t to make any plans for the future or establish any goals for our ministry or work?” No, I’m trying to say that the primary focus of God’s will is that we seek to establish His kingdom by becoming the person He wants us to be today .

Most people want to know what God has in store for them tomorrow. That’s why prophecy has always been a popular subject. Most prophecy teachers know that the critical issue concerning the Lord’s second coming is “What sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness(2 Peter 3:11). Jesus said, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow(Matthew 6:33, 34). Biblical prophecy is given to us as a hope (the present assurance of some future good) so we will have the courage to live righteously and confidently today.

Prayer: Father, help me live in the present and not worry about tomorrow, accepting only Your will and guidance for my future.

Seated With Christ

NIV Ephesians 2: 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.

The New Testament clearly reveals that Christ’s power and authority over Satan and his kingdom have been conferred to those of us who are in Christ. In Ephesians 2:4-6, Paul explains that when Christ was raised from the dead, those of us who have believed in Him were also resurrected from our condition of spiritual death and made alive “together with Christ.” It’s only logical that the head (Christ) and the body (His church) should be raised together.

Furthermore, when God seated Christ at His right hand and conferred on Him all authority (Ephesians 1:20, 21), He also seated us at His right hand and conferred on us through Christ all authority because we are “together with Christ.” The moment you receive Christ, you take possession of what God did for you 2000 years ago. Your identity as a child of God and your authority over spiritual powers are not things you are receiving or will receive at some time in the future; you have them right now. You are a spiritually-alive child of God right now . You are seated in the heavenlies with Christ right now . You have power and authority over the kingdom of darkness right now . We have the authority because of our position in Christ, and we have the power when we are filled with the Holy Spirit.

Paul also related this life-changing truth in his letter to the Colossians: “In Him [Christ] you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority” (Colossians 2:10). Notice again that the action is past: We have been made complete. When? At the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. And since Christ is the God-appointed head over all rule and authority, and since we are seated with Him in the heavenlies, we have the authority and power to live responsible lives.

Prayer: Father, help me want to live responsibly, to claim my position as Your child, and to grow to full stature in You.


Related song: Seek Ye First, The Imperials

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