Christianity 201

August 20, 2019

Natural Abilities versus God-Given Strength

Today we’re back again at Biblical Diagnosis. I chose to go back a few months for this one which is a reminder of something we know but often forget. If you are married, I’ve included a link to this excellent article; for today’s reading here, click the header below.

No Confidence in the Flesh

Friends, it is astonishing to see just how anti-biblical some of the deeply held beliefs in our societies are. And it is even more troubling when we see that they are deeply held even by our own Christian brothers.

Take for instance, the notion that we need to believe in ourselves.

This commonly accepted belief takes many forms: We need to have faith in ourselves. We can do anything that we put our minds to. We have amazing potential that just needs to be unleashed. These are just some of the ways this belief is expressed.

We see this belief applied in every domain of our lives, all geared toward some “betterment” of ourselves, our loved ones or our community, whether it be physical fitness, career advancement, or wealth generation.

But look at how the Apostle Paul expresses one of the defining characteristics of Christ’s followers:

Philippians 3:3 – …we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, boast in Christ Jesus, and do not put confidence in the flesh

The statement…do not put confidence in the flesh…refers to the fact that Christians should believe that they are incapable of doing anything worthy of anything by themselves, through some form of inner ability that – as being widely believed today – all of us may possess (what the Scripture calls the flesh).

Romans 7:18For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it.

This statement is perhaps even more troubling and echoes the sentiment of Philippians 3. Paul said that nothing good lives in him. It is incongruent to both believe that nothing good lives in you and at the same time believe that you have within you what it takes to accomplish anything worthy.

Now, you may at this point read these and call to mind the countless stories of success (your own, or of others) which attest to the contrary: Evidences which prove that indeed we have within ourselves the ability to accomplish whatever we put our minds into.

Romans 3:4…Let God be true, even though everyone is a liar

Man does indeed have an inner ability, but it is not to do anything good

How we do reconcile what the scripture says with the countless evidences which seem to affirm the opposite of what God says?

I submit to you that one may find the answer – among other places – in Romans 7:18 we just read.

Romans 7:18For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it.

Whatever we can accomplish through the strength of our will, our inner strength (however that ability is labeled) is not good.

But what is “good”?

GOD defines what is good (unless we want to define for ourselves what is good, at which point we have made of ourselves our own God). And only things that can be accomplished through Him and Him alone are considered good. Everything else is not good.

Hence we may say, that if one desires to satisfy the passions of his flesh, he indeed has the ability to do so within himself, for his flesh is inside him. But the one who desires to do anything that is good – and hence, pleasing to God – is incapable to do so but with the help of God Himself.

Should we therefore hold onto the belief that we can do anything we put our minds to?

No, we run away from it, for that mentality only promotes the flesh, and its sinful desires, no matter holy those desires may portray themselves. Just think of the Galatians who thought it a good thing to circumcise themselves (Galatians 3:1-5).

And this applies to ALL of our aspirations in life. No matter how noble and right they might appear. If we are able to attain to them through our own strength, then we ought to know that they were nothing more than the sinful desires of our flesh.

In me dwells no good thing. I place no confidence in my flesh. I am incapable of doing anything that is good, for myself, my children or my community. I am wretched and miserable, destitute.  

Romans 7:24What a wretched man I am!

We should truly believe in our utter destitution so that we may truly believe in our utter dependence on God.

Only with the profound belief that we are destitute and incapable of doing anything good for ourselves or anyone will we cherish and hold onto our dependence on GOD, THROUGH WHOM WE CAN DO EVERYTHING THAT IS GOOD.

Philippians 4:13I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me.

May the Spirit of Christ ministers to you the Word of Truth, for the glory of His own Name.


Again, if you are married, be sure to check out this article. I know we have readers who are single, separated, widowed, etc., and I don’t like to exclude people in what’s presented here, so I try not to include too many marriage-themed items.

August 19, 2019

Pain Makes Your Voice Louder

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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I subscribe to an email devotional called Devotions Daily. It’s a promotional vehicle for HarperCollins Christian Publishing under the name Faith Gateway. The devotions are always book excerpts, and as you’d expect, they try to sell readers a copy of the book at the end. There are always devotions I want to use here, but many of them are too long, and that raises the issue of copyright on longer excerpts.

This one is an excerpt from an excerpt, with Pastor Levi Lusko writing about pain and suffering from his book, Through the Eyes of a Lion. He’s also the author of Swipe Right and I Declare War. He is the lead pastor of Fresh Life Church with multi-site locations in Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, and Utah.

🎤 Pain is a Microphone

Pain is a microphone. And the more it hurts, the louder you get.

Suffering isn’t an obstacle to being used by God. It is an opportunity to be used like never before.

This truth leaps off the pages of Scripture again and again and again. Joseph suffered for years as a prisoner for crimes he didn’t commit, but it only made him louder. In the end he was raised to the right hand of Pharaoh and put in a position to save the lives of his brothers, who had tried to kill him (Genesis 45:5).

Esther went through the unspeakably difficult trial of becoming an orphan when both her parents died (Esther 2:7). Yet her adoption by Mordecai set into motion the events by which she would become queen of Persia and prevent a holocaust.

David was forced to go on the run, like Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, while he was hunted by his lunatic of a father-in-law, Saul. David was homeless, living in and out of caves in the wilderness of Israel, and yet it was in those caves he poured out his heart to God in worship (1 Samuel 23–24, 1 Samuel 26). His greatest praise came from his darkest days.

When the apostle Paul was saved, a prophecy was given to Ananias, who had the unique challenge of discipling this recently converted terrorist. God told him that Paul would stand before kings, gentiles, and the nation of Israel and that he would suffer many things for Jesus’ sake (Acts 9:15–16). There are two elements there that we must not miss: (1) Paul would be used powerfully, and (2) Paul would suffer greatly. But I believe those are actually two sides of the same coin that exists within every calling. It would be while he was suffering for Jesus that he would do the great things (speaking to the Jews, speaking to the children of Israel, and speaking to kings).

Here’s where this concept comes to your front door. Just as Ananias was to tell Paul that he was a chosen vessel, so you are part of a chosen generation. No ordinary child. You are royalty, remember? A unique part of God’s forever family. But there’s a catch: just like Paul, you will suffer many things on the way to your destiny being fulfilled.

Pain is guaranteed. The Bible says that the rain falls on the evil and the good alike (Matthew 5:45). Part of living on this fallen planet cursed by sin is that trials are inherent. That’s just the way it is.

What about for the child of God? What happens when you give your life to Jesus Christ? The difficulties ramp up to a whole other level.

Jesus said that He wants us to shine brightly. He didn’t just say,

I am the light of the world. — John 8:12;

He also said,

You are the light of the world. — Matthew 5:14, emphasis added

Daniel said that those who turn many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever and ever (Daniel 12:3). Guess what? God wants to make a star out of you. That’s wonderful — but as the great theologian Spider-Man said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

The enemy is not going to let you capture his flag without some serious flak. When you stand up as a Christian, attempt to share your faith, and live to see lost people won, you’ll invite suffering, persecution, and opposition your way. This is why Paul told Timothy,

All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. — 2 Timothy 3:12

Adversity is going to happen. In fact, it’s part of your calling. We’re told in 1 Thessalonians 3:3,

No one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this. (emphasis added)

Jesus warned His followers that the world hates Him, and if you’re trying to follow Him, the world’s going to hate you too…


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August 18, 2019

The Tenth Fruit of the Spirit

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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I usually put a different spin in the title here, and then run the article with the title the author originally chose. Today however, the original title arrested me in my tracks! What is he talking about?

We’re back with Peter Corak, writer of the blog My Morning Meal, Click the header below to read at source.

The Tenth Fruit of the Spirit?

It’s been a good week working through Titus as part of my morning readings. And in a letter that is so concerned with teaching, and defending, sound doctrine, what has been clear is that, in a sense, sound doctrine is not the ends but the means. The goal is not just to cross our theological i’s and dot our systematic t’s, but that high and holy teaching would manifest itself in boots-on-the-ground, godly–and goodly–living.

And so, Paul wraps up this letter, which began by emphasizing the need to present and protect the faith, with an equal, or perhaps greater, emphasis on the need for all believers to practically live out the faith.

And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.

(Titus 3:14 ESV)

Devoted to good works–it’s something that is learned. Focused on helping others–it’s a practice to be practiced, a habit to be formed.

But what grabs my attention, in particular, is that learning to help others in need is a remedy for unfruitfulness. Thus, Paul says it’s fruit.

So, could you go so far as to say that being devoted to good works might also be considered the tenth fruit of the Spirit? That when the Spirit illuminates truth to us (Jn. 16:13); when He reveals the deep things of God (1Cor. 2:9-10); when He conveys the mind of Christ to our minds (1Cor. 2:16b)–transforming us through our mind’s renewal (Rom. 12:2)–that in addition to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22), that He also works in us a devotion, a desire, a heightened attention towards good works?

I’m thinkin’ . . .

I can’t help but hear James say, “Amen!” to Paul’s exhortation to Titus and to our people.

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

(James 2:15-18 (ESV)

Eager to maintain good works. It’s evidence of faith, James says. It’s a remedy for a barren Christian life, Paul says. It might be thought of as the tenth fruit of the Spirit, I says.

To be sure, we have learned that we cannot rely on our good works FOR our salvation. But we also need to learn to devote ourselves to good works that come FROM our salvation.

We are saved by faith. But we are also saved for fruit. And being devoted to good works is fruit.

And, with such Spirit led, Spirit enabled, Spirit produced fruit, we will adorn, and trim with honor, the sound doctrine of God our Savior (Tit. 3:10b).

By His grace. For His glory.

Yeah, it’s been a good week.


If you want to read another recent article from the same writer, check out Training Grace. (No, I’d never considered this term before either!) This is another one of those cases where if someone who is a regular reader here decided to drop C201 to follow one of the writers we featured, I wouldn’t be upset. Peter has some great insights. But I hope you’ll stick with us as well!

August 17, 2019

The Offering: To Whom are We Giving?

Today we are again returning to Wes McAdams’ blog Radically Christian. If you’re reading this mid-August, 2019, Wes is currently in the middle of a series titled What is the Gospel? You might want to click through and check out those articles.

Secondly, it’s Saturday, so why did I put the “Sunday Worship” banner on this article? Simply because many people decide on Saturday night what they’re doing for the offering on Sunday morning. It’s one part of the weekend worship service that we indeed do as an act of worship, but only after we’ve often begun that process earlier by writing a check.

Are We Giving Money “to God” on Sundays?

For decades there have been countless church arguments and even splits over how “the Lord’s money” can and cannot be spent. But what if we’ve been working from some flawed assumptions? We typically assume that putting money in the collection plate is giving money “to God” and we assume the church’s bank account is a treasury of sacred funds belonging to the Lord. But are these biblical assumptions?

To Whom are We Giving?

I’ve always assumed that when the collection plate is passed on Sunday mornings that we are giving our money to God. In fact, I used to tell my children on Saturday evenings to set aside the money they would “give to God” the next morning. That’s actually a habit I am trying to break.

I’m trying to break that habit for a couple of reasons. The first is that it is inconsistent with the idea that God already owns all of our possessions. When we became followers of Jesus, we renounced all that we owned (Luke 14:33). Because of his mercies, we have given our whole selves to the Lord (Romans 12:1-2). We give money on Sundays not because we’re giving some of our money to the Lord, but because we’ve given our whole selves to him already (2 Corinthians 8:5)

But if we are not giving to God, when we put money in the collection plate, to whom are we giving? When we look at the examples of giving in the New Testament, it seems they were giving to “one another.” They were giving to support the poor, the elderly, and the spreading of the gospel.

To Whom Does the Church Treasury Belong?

The early church seems to have believed the collected funds were the shared property of the Christian community.

Acts 2:44-45 says:

And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.

And in Acts 4:32-35 it says:

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

The church is supposed to be a community where everyone believes, “mi casa es su casa” and when we give, we are simply proving the genuineness of our love for one another (2 Corinthians 8:8). The church leaders oversee the funds and distribute them to the people, ministries, and good works where they are needed. But the funds are simply the common property of the church community.

I know of no passage in the New Testament that justifies us treating the collected funds as some sort of sacred treasury. Should the church be good stewards of collected funds? Obviously so, but no more than you and I should be good stewards of the funds in our personal accounts. It all belongs to the Lord and we should be good stewards of whatever is entrusted to us.

What Are the Rules for Spending Church Money?

And there’s the rub, “How can church funds be spent?” This is where we have massive disagreements in the church. But it seems to me our disagreements are completely unnecessary when we read Scripture contextually.

Some will point to a passage like 1 Timothy 5:9-10, where Paul gives Timothy instructions about supporting widows, to prove there are strict rules for how church funds can and cannot be spent. However, a close look at 1 Timothy 5 will reveal that it is not really about rules for how church money is spent but about protecting people (specifically young widows) from “toxic charity.” In other words, it’s not about protecting church funds from unauthorized spending, but about protecting church people from becoming spiritually unhealthy (see also 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12).

The church is nothing more than a gathering, or a community, of individual Christians. The New Testament never lays out one set of rules for individual Christians and a different set for the community as a whole. The money that belongs to the community no more belongs to the Lord than the money that belongs to individual Christians. The same principles that govern how you spend the money in your wallet are the same rules that govern how church leaders oversee the spending of church funds.

Conclusions

It seems to me we need to stop being so critical about financial decisions church leaders make. We need to realize there is as much freedom for church leaders to spend shared money on good works they believe glorify God as there is for you and me to spend personal money on good works we believe glorify God.

We especially need to stop splitting churches over how funds are spent. The New Testament says little to nothing on this issue, but it says so much about love, unity, and peace within the church. The world will not recognize you as followers of Jesus because of your congregation’s frugality but because of your love for one another.

When we put money in the collection plate we are doing it to honor God and in response to God’s love for us. In this way, you can certainly say we are worshiping when we give. But we are doing it because we have already given everything to him, because we are part of something bigger than ourselves, and because we belong to our church family and our church family belongs to us.


I want to recommend another article from the same writer which I considered for today: The Sexual Ethics of Jesus and His People.

August 16, 2019

A Blank Check from God

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. – James 4:1-3 NIV


In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. – Romans 8:26


That night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon answered God, “You have shown great kindness to David my father and have made me king in his place. Now, Lord God, let your promise to my father David be confirmed, for you have made me king over a people who are as numerous as the dust of the earth. 10 Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

11 God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possessions or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, 12 therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, possessions and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.” 2 Chronicles 2:7-12

Today we’re back with Jim Grant at, Preach Between the Lines where he is now working his way through the OT History books. He’s currently in 2 Chronicles.

God is not a Genie

2 Chronicles 1-3; the focus of this blog post is the request from Solomon and the fulfillment by Yahweh. Too often we look at the Father as a “grant all” genie. Our prayer requests are similar to what James 4:1-3 talk about. They are requests for God to do for us, that which we cannot obtain on our own. They are selfish requests for our comfort and satisfaction. Prayer is much more than asking God to “grant a wish” exercise. I remember watching I Dream of Jeanie on TV while growing up. At the time I didn’t think much about what the show was trying to say to a self-consuming audience. The worldview alone is a narcissistic and consumer oriented one. I have been in the Gospel ministry for 22 years. There have been a constant flow of people who have come to me [and other pastors] wanting to know why God had not answered their prayer for whatever; fill in the blank. SO many times we have put a stipulation on our prayers expecting the magical wording will guarantee the request. Does “In Jesus Name” or “If it be thy will” ring true to any of us? Romans 8:26 tells us that we don’t know how to pray, but the Holy Spirit makes utterances for us before the Father.

In our passage God tells Solomon he has one request to be answered; “Ask what I shall give you?” Pretty opened blank check from God. Now all of us could think of what we would have asked for from God. We have a long list of things we’d like to have Him do for us. Solomon didn’t find God in a bottle anywhere and rub it then God popped out. God is the originator of the blessing. Solomon had done nothing to garner the blank check request. God was honoring King David and the covenant He made with David. Solomon is the benefactor of King David’s walk with the LORD. At this point, how many of us actually think of how God blesses us and think to ourselves that we deserved God’s blessing; all the while the blessing was from our faithful ancestors relationship with God!

Solomon asks for Wisdom, this may sound strange, but remember Solomon is already King and has a storehouse full of earthly treasures. Why did he ask for wisdom? Solomon is a young man, obviously he was ill equipped to lead the people of Israel and asked for wisdom to rule over God’s people. Solomon’s request indicates the kind of relationship he had at the beginning of his reign; sad to say it didn’t remain as faithful through the years. God hears the request, and because Solomon asked for wisdom, God granted him all the riches of the known world. The Wisdom request was granted along with receiving riches, wealth and honor. If we read Song of Solomon, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes we quickly note his wisdom about earth, heaven and people.

Because of David, Solomon was recipient of God’s blessings. When Solomon becomes wayward and engrossed in 1000 women and earthly covenants and peace treaties with neighboring countries, God does not remove the kingdom from him. Rehoboam in his own faults and God’s judgment loses the united kingdom. Solomon builds a great and ornate Temple for God; it remains to be an icon to Israel and the surrounding nations. It appears that no expense was spared in its construction. However, we find that Solomon’s own house is greater in size and grandeur. Solomon also begins to amass unnumbered horse, chariots and riches. Do we find fault in this or see it as the blessings of God based on the one request for wisdom? It is easy to compare ourselves to one another and make the judgment that one is blessed because they have vast amount of earthly riches; while another is in poverty and despair. We make the judgement that one is walking with God, while the poor must be living in sin. Prosperity Gospel at its roots.

Are we content to live with what God would grant us? Or do we find ourselves wanting more just for the sake of satisfying our own earthly desires and achieved status? Solomon early on did not trust in a genie, but trusted in the Lord God Almighty. Scripture tells us that God raise up one to power and puts another one down out of power.

Our pray life will be much more of a blessing if we come to God with a contentment for His poured out blessings on us; instead of running to God and complaining about why we don’t have more.

1 Timothy 6:6-12, “godliness with contentment I great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

August 15, 2019

A Good Witness is a Witness to Jesus

Clarke Dixon is away this week, so we’re diving deep into his blog archives for this article from September, 2013, before we started carrying his articles here on a weekly basis.

The Good Sense of a Witness and 1st Peter 3:15

by Clarke Dixon

You get past your anxiety, step out of your comfort zone and share your faith with someone. Then come the objections: “But how can you know that you are right and everyone else is wrong? But doesn’t science show that we don’t need a Creator? Aren’t the stories in the Bible just myths? How can you be sure the Bible is reliable?” and on and on we could go (and on and on some do!). So now what?

There are two roads open before us in the face of objections:

  1. Say something like, “don’t overthink it, just believe.”
  2. Say something like, “Good question, one I have thought about too, can I share with you some thoughts on that?” or “Good question, one I have not thought about before, perhaps you will allow me some time to think that through”

What would the New Testament apostles do in the face of objections, would they discourage thinking, or encourage it? The following passage gives us a good indication of what they did:

Paul went to the Jews in the synagogue, as he customarily did, and on three Sabbath days he addressed them from the scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and to rise from the dead, saying, “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” (Acts 17:2,3 NET)

There are quite a number of similar passages where Paul ’explains and demonstrates’ the truths of the Jesus and his Kingdom. There is one Greek word behind ’explains and demonstrates’ which according to standard lexicons could be translated with ’discuss, contend, argue, address, reason with.’ We do not get the impression that Paul or any of the other apostles would say anything like “do not think about it, just believe.” Instead they helped people think it through, they appealed to good sense. To the Jewish audience they would argue from the Scriptures (the Old Testament at this point), that the resurrection of Jesus makes good sense. To the Gentile audience they would argue that the Jewish hope and the resurrection of Jesus make good sense, far better sense in fact than pagan myths or Gentile philosophies. When the apostles proclaimed the Gospel, they appealed to good sense.

But doesn’t the Bible teach us to be leery of worldly wisdom, so ought we not to be careful in appealing to ’good sense’. We might quote Colossians 2:8 with this objection: “Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ”(Colossians 2:8 NET). However, this verse and others like it refer more to philosophical systems that could be named and were popular at the time, such as Stoicism, Hedonism, Epicureanism,and the like. It is not referring to logic and reason which are gifts of God, indeed part of what it means to be created in his image. That two plus two equals four is true for the atheist, the Buddhist, the Muslim, and the Christian alike, it is a logical statement without reference to any system of thought. In our day the Christian will want to be wary of naturalism, existentialism, communism, and many other isms, but we will always want to appeal to good sense, using the Godly gifts of logic and reason. In fact the Bible teaches us to appeal to good sense:

But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you. (1 Peter 3:15, 16 NET)

Being ready with an answer means being ready to share why it makes sense to you to hold the Christian hope. Are we ready to share the reason we are Christians?

We should note here that saying something like “I am a Christian because my parents were Christians and their parents were Christians, and so on” will do nothing to help someone come to faith in Jesus. This is not being a witness to what is true about Jesus, it is being a witness to what is true about your family. If we were brought up in the Christian faith, can we go further and explain why we have chosen to accept and affirm the tradition handed down to us? I once heard a story about a woman who in cooking her first turkey put the turkey in the sink and put the dish rack upside down over it. Her mother asked why she did that and with the response “because you always did,” said “don’t be silly dear, you don’t have a cat.” A tradition can begin for a reason, but when the reason for its existence vanishes does it make sense to carry the tradition into our generation?

It has made sense for me to carry faith in Christ into my generation and endeavour to pass it on to the next. I can point to the experience of Christ in my life, I can point to looking more deeply into Christianity through the lenses of ethics, history, literature, science and so forth. Whatever angle I have come at it, it has always ended up making sense. I have thought it through and am happy when I can help others think it through too.

When you witness to someone and the objections to Christianity start flying, are you ready to walk with them on a thoughtful path? They are worth the effort! To do so just makes sense.

August 14, 2019

Temptation, Humility and God’s Open Invitation

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we have a trio of short devotionals for you from The Bare Soul Daily Devotional by Rick Roeber (aka The Barefoot Runner) which we first linked to back in 2014. I hope you’ll read them all, and then focus on one of them in particular for something personal from God today for you. Or link through to read more; these are all from August, 2019. Each title is a link to the reading.

Temptation is Optional

Matthew 26:41 “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 

God knows we are weak. Truly, we are but dust. That is why it is of paramount importance to continually be watchful over our hearts since we are but mortal flesh while upon earth. Temptations can and should be avoided as Jesus warns. He tells His disciples (and us) that watching and praying safeguards us against temptation. Jesus also tells us in The Lord’s Prayer that temptation is not necessary. We must ask God not to lead us in a direction where we would wrestle with the possibility of sinning (Matthew 6:13). This is one of the outworkings of the fear of the Lord and His wisdom.

The Holy Spirit within will always speak wisdom within if we are listening. We often no longer listen when the flesh begins to rule and we allow temptation to tantalize and woo us by its siren call. However, when we feel that devilish wooing, we must quickly turn to God and repent, allowing the willingness of His Spirit to once again lead us away from the destruction that seeks to overwhelm us.

Right-sized

Matthew 23:12 – “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”

In context with this verse, we must constantly be on guard against all forms of self-righteous Phariseeism. When we judge others without humility, not first looking to ourselves and our faults and failures, we exalt ourselves. This is a setup for a fall. Instead of doing someone good, we have done or spoke evil into their lives and also ours. Humility – the understanding of who we are in God — ensures that when we do speak into another’s life, it is with both grace and truth.

Self-righteousness is not only a deception, but it can become an addiction not unlike any other substance. It feeds the need of the flesh to feel empowered and significant. We should all heed James’ words when he states that where there is jealousy and selfish ambition, every evil thing exists (James 3:16). May we all understand who we are in God and “right size” ourselves in humility so God can exalt us in due season.

God’s Welcome

Acts 10:34-35 – “Opening his mouth, Peter said: ‘I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.'”

God’s welcome is to anyone who will observe His criteria to accept Him. The first criterion is the fear of the Lord which means to look to God in reverence and humility, knowing ultimately we are not God. Too often people attempt to come to the Lord by just doing “what is right.” This is the trick of the enemy to lull us into believing we are gods and merely good works will save us.

There is salvation in no other than Jesus Christ, as Peter proclaimed to Cornelius in this passage. The centurion was a God-fearing man which allowed Him the rudimentary basics for God to welcome him into His kingdom (Acts 10:2). We must likewise understand that without our surrender of self and thinking that God is lucky to have our “good works,” that God cannot welcome us. Instead, we make Him our enemy. May we all surrender in the fear of the Lord and seek to do what is right in His eyes so we may all one day hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master.” (Matthew 25:23)
 

August 13, 2019

The Flesh, The Flesh!

by Russell Young

Much of the Word deals with the flesh. Although its power for good is limited, it’s attraction to evil is great. To live in the flesh is to live according to its persuasions and interests. Those who honor its demands are appeasing a dying animal since life is in the spirit, not in the flesh which will go to the destruction of the grave.

The flesh is the greatest weakness of humanity. To accommodate its desires, people steal, live in sexual immorality, are pretentious, exhibit anger and hatred, and are enticed to lie, to cheat, and to take advantage of the weak. Paul calls it “the body of (that brings about) death,” (Rom 7:24)

The attractions of the flesh caused Adam and Eve to fall into sin according to the appeal of the forbidden fruit and the flesh is the sole cause of the ruination of those who live on this earth. John has written, “For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 Jn 2:16) Those who have a worldly interest and a desire for its things, have fallen prey to the demands and temptations of the flesh and, from God’s perspective, are idolatrous (Col 3:5) and his love for them has departed. “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 Jn 2:15) God will not be mocked!

People interact with their surroundings through the senses of the flesh—taste, touch, smell, hearing, and sight. The Lord taught that it was better to cut off a hand or a foot, or to pluck out an eye if they cause a person to sin than to go into hell. (Mk 5:43−47) Trying to appease the flesh, as tempted through the senses, produces sin. As understanding that pleasure can be derived through the senses develops, that knowledge feeds the soul and stimulates the mind and the natural spirit to submit to temptations and to seek the unlawful pleasures before them.

The flesh, if allowed to be gratified, will destroy the soul and with it a person’s hope of glory. The “evil inclination” of the thoughts of the human heart grieves God and pain his heart. (Gen 6:5−6) Because of this pain he has determined to eliminate humankind except for those who would, through the leading and power of the Spirit, be conformed to the likeness of his Son. The Lord taught, “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (mt 13:41) Sin should remain an issue of concern.

Paul taught that salvation could not be gained by the works of the law because the law had been weakened by the sinful nature that plagued humankind. God’s righteous requirements had to be accomplished in another way if his creation was to be preserved.

God has provided an effective solution; the presence and help of the Holy Spirit. “[God] condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met by those who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3−4) Paul had agonized about his wretched state which his body produced and found that the solution to righteousness came through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:17, 18)

The interests of the flesh have destroyed God’s creation. They have caused wars that pit nation against nation, and anger that destroys relationships among neighbors, acquaintances, and family members, but when the soul has been transformed and the perishable has become imperishable righteousness will reign forever bringing peace, love, and the absence of pain.

We have not been left without a caution. “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Pet 5:8) Believers have been told to put on the full armour of God so that Satan might be defeated. (Eph 6:10−18) Where the flesh is weak and will bring about the confessor’s downfall, the Word and the Spirit provide all that is necessary to gain victory over the flesh and over Satan’s tactics to bring destruction through it. Faith in Christ, obedience to his leading, will allow the believer to overcome all that can be hurled at him or her.

Paul’s encouragement that “there is no condemnation for those in Christ,” (Rom 8:1) is often misrepresented. Freedom from condemnation applies to those “in Christ” and it is dependent on their willingness to live according to the Spirit. (Rom 8:4) Accordingly, Paul remained conscious of his need. He wrote, “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Cor 9:27) While the flesh is weak, the Spirit is strong. Justification through the blood of Christ frees the believer from slavery to the law of sin by giving him or her the promised Spirit (Gal 3:14) who can provide victory over all that Satan can entice through the flesh. Victory is not a gift of the Spirit, however; the believer must live in obedience to him (Heb 5:9) and must choose to contend for victory. Be on guard! The flesh is your enemy when its interests prevail over the convictions of the Spirit. Believers have been called to “count” themselves dead to the flesh as pledged through baptism and they have been reminded to carry their cross so they can commit the body to death when it takes on life and its interests re-emerge.



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His first book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link.

August 12, 2019

On Sanctification, Holiness and Goodness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Twice a year we visit the blog of K.W. Leslie and I always know I’m going to end up reading four or five articles and then having to make a hard choice as to which to include. In the end I chose the one below, but was equally torn between this one and this one. References to KWL are the author’s own translation.

Holiness… versus goodness

SANCTIFY ‘sæŋ(k).tə.faɪ verb. Set apart as holy.
2. Have blessed, made legitimate through a religious sanction, or made to seem legitimate through custom and tradition.
3. Purify from sin.
[Sanctification sæŋ(k).tə.fə’keɪ.ʃən noun, sanctifier ‘sæŋ(k).tə.faɪ(.ə)r noun.]

I bring up the popular definition of sanctify because I wanna point out what we English-speakers mean by sanctification, is not what the scriptures mean.

I’ve read loads of Christian books about sanctification. Been reading one in particular lately. The author goes on and on and on about sin, and how it taints humanity, and how Christians ought not do it. (And, well, duh.) But the more he writes on the subject, the more obvious it becomes he’s addressing his own particular hangups. Certain sins he finds really nasty, so he spends a lot of time really pounding away at those sins like a carpenter trying to put thin nails into thick wood: Stop doing those things! You’re making baby Jesus cry.

Thing is, he’s not actually talking about sanctification. He’s talking about goodness.

Christians mix the two ideas up all the time. Seriously, all the time. I challenge you to find a writing where the author recognizes there’s a difference between the two. And there is a difference. Holiness is about being set apart for God’s purposes. Holy means we’re not like anything else. It’s definition #1, and only definition #1. The other definitions are the product of Christian popular culture… which is perfectly happy to settle for mere goodness.

God tells his kids, “Be holy because I’m holy.” Lv 11.44-45, 1Pe 1.16 God’s different from everything else, and if we’re following him, the natural consequence is we should be different from everything else. But when the LORD said this in the scriptures, he wasn’t talking about goodness! Check out the context:

Leviticus 11.43-47 KWL
43 “Don’t pollute your lives with any swarming vermin.
Don’t be ritually unclean with them, or be made unclean by them.
44 For I’m your LORD God. So sanctify yourselves! Be holy because I’m holy.
Don’t make your lives ritually unclean with any vermin which swarms the earth.
45 For I’m the LORD who brought you out of Egypt’s land to be God to you:
Be holy because I’m holy.
46 This law is about animals and birds,
every living soul in the waters, every soul swarming the earth:
47 Separate between the ritually unclean and the clean,
between living things to eat, and living things you don’t eat.”

Yeah: He was talking about the kosher rules. About ritual cleanliness. Not goodness, not sins: Food animals versus vermin. Because people of other nations eat any animals they please, with no thought to anything but their taste buds. And God doesn’t want his people to be like any other nation. He wanted ’em unique. He still wants us unique. Holy.

Christians who teach on sanctification, zero in on being good. That’s not nothing. We oughta be good. God is good, so we should be good like he is, and when we’re not, we clearly aren’t following him. I’m certainly not saying God’s okay with evil! But goodness is only a fruit of sanctification. It’s not the same thing.

So if we’re gonna be holy, we have to be more than merely good. We gotta be different.

Nazirites.

The reason Christians focus on goodness so much, is for much the same reason as this author I wrote about. Sin offends us. It offends God too, but God’s way more patient and forgiving than we are. God wants everybody to repent and be saved, 2Pe 3.9 and is willing to put off judgment so he can save as many as he can. Whereas we humans, especially those Christians who write popular books on sanctification, wouldn’t mind so much if God judged and smited away. Right now.

Hence their books on goodness. And in order to not sound like crazy legalists who threaten everybody with hell unless they behave themselves, Christians insist it’s not about legalism: It’s about holiness. We’re not threatening anyone with hell; we’re just reminding people God hates sin and expects better of his kids. So stop sinning, dammit!

Once again, there’s nothing wrong with telling Christians to be good. Nothing wrong with telling everyone to be good. But when the scriptures describe people getting holy, it talks about stuff like this:

Numbers 6.1-8 KWL
1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to Israel’s sons.
Tell them when a man or woman makes an exceptional vow, a separation vow, to separate themselves for the LORD:
3 They separate from wine, liquor, wine vinegar, malt vinegar;
no drinking any grape juice, no eating fresh grapes or raisins.
4 All the days of their separation, they don’t eat anything made of grapevine—seeds to skin.
5 All the days of their separation vow, no blade comes to their head till the days of separation to the LORD are complete.
They’re holy: They let the hair on their head grow.
6 All the days of their separation to the LORD, they don’t approach a soul who dies.
7 Their father, their mother, their brother, their sister:
They don’t make themselves ritually unclean for them when they die,
for the separation to their God is on their head.
8 All the days of their separation, they’re holy to the LORD.”

The word for “separate” is נָזַר/nazár, which technically means “unprune,” like a grapevine grown wild… or like someone who doesn’t cut their hair, groom their mustache or beard, or keep their eyebrows from growing together. Unpruned, in ancient Hebrew, became a synonym for “unlike everybody else,” or separate. And a person who took this vow of separation was called a נָזיִר/nazír, or in English, a Nazirite. Notice the conditions of this vow, the way you made yourself particularly holy to God… was by swearing off four things which aren’t sins. In fact it’s really inconvenient when you do abstain from them:

  1. No alcohol.
  2. No grapes.
  3. No haircuts or shaving.
  4. No coming near dead bodies.

If you broke your vow ’cause somebody died (and the way the LORD phrases it, it likely wasn’t by accident), you had to wash yourself as part of your usual ritual purification from touching a dead person, but now you also had to shave your head, shave your head again a week later, perform a ritual offering, then start your vow all over again. Lv 6.9-12 All the time you abstained till then, didn’t count.

These vows were temporary. When the time was up, you went to temple, brought ritual offerings for sacrifice, shaved your head at the temple door, and burnt your hair in the sacrifice. Nu 6.13-20 That way, commentators figure, you can’t keep your hair as a souvenir, and show off how you were once really dedicated to God. The hair growing at this very moment out of your head was the only token you got.

Apparently Paul participated in this ritual too, Ac 21.23-26 to demonstrate he still followed the Law, rumors to the contrary aside.

And certain people in the scriptures appear to have been lifelong Nazirites. Like Samson, Samuel, and John the baptist: They never cut their hair, never shaved, never touched grapes or alcohol or dead bodies. (Samson broke a few of these, but he was a sucky Nazirite.) Again, none of these practices are, ordinarily, sin. But if you promise God not to do something, breaking your promise is sin, so these things become sin to you. Jm 4.17

Still, y’notice what made a person Nazirite, and holy, wasn’t simply being good. Nazirites were expected to be good, but everybody was expected to be good. Being specially dedicated to God involved more than goodness. It was being unique. Nazirites were different from anyone else. Couldn’t drink what everyone else did. Couldn’t deal with death, even though everybody must deal with death at some point. Couldn’t trim their hair; they had to look weird. Nazirites had to stand out.

And that’s what true sanctification entails: Standing out. Not just being good; of course we’re to be good. But if you wanna be holy, you have to stand out. Can’t be like everyone else. Can’t just be good.

How? Well, you could become a Nazirite of course. But the scriptures don’t offer Naziritism as our only option. God ordered various people to make themselves holy to him in various ways. Basically he customized each individual’s relationship with him. He still does. So if you’re talking with God on a regular basis (as all of us oughta be), it makes sense to ask him how he wants you to stand out. How should you be holy to the LORD? He’ll tell you.

Holiness can take all sorts of forms, and I’ll discuss a few of ’em in other articles. But mere goodness isn’t one of these forms. Goodness is the bare minimum of how we as humans oughta live, and if all our sights are set on is goodness, we’ve set them far too low.

August 11, 2019

Marriage Secret: Making the Lord Your Shepherd

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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CEB.Gen.2.23-24 The human said,

“This one finally is bone from my bones
        and flesh from my flesh.
She will be called a woman
        because from a man she was taken.”

This is the reason that a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife, and they become one flesh.

CEB.Mark 10.8 and the two will be one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh.

CEB.Eph.5.31 This is why a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two of them will be one body


The Voice.Ps.23.3 He makes me whole again,
    steering me off worn, hard paths
    to roads where truth and righteousness echo His name.

Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,
    I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
    near with Your protection and guidance,
    I am comforted.

Today we’re back with Arnold Reimer, for many years the pastor of Bayview Glen Alliance Church in Toronto, and his blog titled Finishing Well.

Togetherness

In a month’s time, my wife and I will have completed 65 years of marriage. We have good reason to own Psalm 23, for the Lord has been our Shepherd. He has abundantly taken care of our needs; we have rested and been fed in green pastures. Quiet waters have often restored our souls, and His leading has been by paths of righteousness. We have been nourished at His table by the cup of salvation, the bread of His Word and the overflowing oil of His Holy Spirit. Every day we experience His goodness and lovingkindness, even in our twilight years. He gives joy as our strength.

Our anticipation is a final dwelling place in His heavenly home being prepared for us by a loving Father. In the meantime, though surrounded by the shadows of death, we have nothing to fear because of God’s protective, providing presence. Our hearts are filled with praise and adoration for the multitude of His tender mercies!

How did all this happen? Were we such deserving people that God had no choice but to bless us? I will not insult you with a feeble response, other than to say: “Grace, grace, God’s grace! Grace that is greater than all our sin.”

But, that “grace” bears fruit. God put into our hearts a desire to serve Him. He led us to each other in Bible School. He filled our hearts with a longing to avoid sin in dating, and enabled us to practise the necessary disciplines we had been taught by the Scriptures. Our love for, and understanding of, each other blossomed over the three years until marriage was possible.

We are not sure if we truly understood at the time the powerful significance of God’s purpose for marriage, but it was surely there: “The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. And the man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.

That togetherness is so true, important and essential that no marriage can be whole or truly happy without it. Is it easy? Does it just happen? No, indeed! It starts with the mutual ownership of the divine purpose for the union. It involves learning, humility, forgiveness, death to self, a growing desire for genuine love, time together where sharing is deep and honest, and giving to each other is constant, knowledgeable, pure and satisfying.

Whoever said it is dead right: “Fifty-fifty marriages won’t work! It must be one hundred-one hundred.” That controls selfishness, builds oneness, corrects and heals relational cracks and flaws. It makes submission to each other practical and sanctifies the promise, “Till death do us part!” Others observe with sincerity, “Behold how they love one another.”


 

August 10, 2019

Are We All-In or Just Part-Time?

A year ago we introduced you to John Rothra’s website which contains many great articles. Click the header below to read this one at its source.

August 9, 2019

So Easily Drawn Away

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Today we’re again returning to “freelance writer, wife, and mom,” author of the website My Way Home. To read this at source (with graphic images) click the header which follows.

Illogical Idols

In the books of Kings and Chronicles, the kings of Israel and Judah are often described in one of two ways: those who “did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord” and those who “did that which was right in the sight of the Lord.”

A few kings started out with good intentions, but later fell into sin.

But one king, Amaziah, is uniquely described in this way:

And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, but not with a perfect heart. – 2 Chronicles 25:2

Amaziah is recorded as performing many good and godly acts. He was merciful, wise, and obedient to the words of the prophets of God.

But one day, he began to worship the gods of his defeated enemies.

Now it came to pass, after that Amaziah was come from the slaughter of the Edomites, that he brought the gods of the children of Seir, and set them up to be his gods, and bowed down himself before them, and burned incense unto them. Wherefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against Amaziah, and he sent unto him a prophet, which said unto him, Why hast thou sought after the gods of the people, which could not deliver their own people out of thine hand? – 2 Chronicles 25:14-15

God had just helped Amaziah defeat the Edomites, yet Amaziah brought their man-made gods home and worshiped them.

To those reading the account, Amaziah’s decision makes no sense. God had proven himself abundantly good to Amaziah, and yet Amaziah suddenly shifted his loyalties to the losing team.

But don’t we do the same thing at times?

We know we are on the winning team, so to speak. We belong to a God who has freely given us new life, grace, strength, victory, hope, and so much more.

It’s clear where our unwavering loyalties should lie.

O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. – Psalm 95:6-7a

But we can be so easily, though illogically, drawn away from God, putting other things ahead of him, or in place of him.

I sometimes bow to the fear of what others think of me. Even being busy with good activities can become an idol to me, if that busyness excludes him, or becomes all about me and my pride.

After considering all that, I understand Amaziah’s actions a bit better. Though it makes no sense, it can be just as easy to set up idols in our own lives as it was for him.


Have you ever struggled with putting an idol in place of God?

August 8, 2019

When People Hear Your Name

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

When people hear your name, what is their first response? Is it a negative reaction like “ewww,” or “uck,” or something better, like “yay!”? Another way of asking it, is “how will your name be remembered?” Names are a big part of the Book of Ruth which begins and ends with names. Thanks to the Book of Ruth the names of Naomi and Ruth have been remembered for generations. Will your name be remembered? For the right reasons?

Let us consider Naomi whose name literally means “pleasant.” However, Naomi herself asked to be renamed “Mara” in chapter one which means “bitter.” However, by the end of the book, Naomi can be known as pleasant again. This change for Naomi is something available to us as well. We don’t need to be saddled with an identity we started with, or one we picked up along the way. What our names bring to mind can be changed.

Let us also consider Ruth. People might immediately think of Ruth as being a Moabite. She therefore bore the label “disliked-foreigner,” since Moabites were not particularly liked in that day and place. However, by chapter two, we find that Ruth has a different reputation:

Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.”

“Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. Ruth 2:10-11 (NLT)

Boaz saw in Ruth something more than a Moabite!

By the end of the book the women of Bethlehem know Ruth, not as a Moabite, but as “your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!” (Ruth 4:15 NLT). She has also come to be known as the great-grandmother of David, and ancestor of Jesus. Not only is she welcomed into the people of God as a foreigner, she is part of the family tree of God-the-Son! The label “Moabite” still fits, but there are other labels.

What your name brings to mind can be challenged, like Ruth. For Ruth, the first thing, and only thing coming to someone’s mind might be “ug, a Moabite.” But later it is a kind and good woman, who happens to be a Moabite. Moabite would always be part of her identity, appropriately so. However, “disliked foreigner” does not become the main part of her identity. It does not define how people relate to her.

Have you had a label stuck on you? Might it be something that may always be true? Like Ruth, you can open minds to a different perception, a different starting place for relationship. Whatever happens to be true about us need not be the only thing others perceive. For the early part of my life I wore the label “extremely shy.” I may as well have had that label on my forehead, or worse, on the inside of my glasses, where I would be reminded constantly of my shy identity. However, over the years I have been able to move that label. It still fits me, and I still wear it, but not on my forehead, or on the inside of my glasses. If you are an alcoholic or addict, that label may stick with you the rest of your life. But it need not be the first thing people see you as. Our labels can be moved. People’s perception of our identity can be challenged. What labels might we be wearing that need to move?

Now let us consider the genealogies of the the Book of Ruth which begins with the names of Elimelech, Naomi, Mahlon, Kilion, Orpah, and Ruth. It begins with names that had little significance as the story begins. However, their names become associated later in the book with Obed, Jessie, David, and eventually later in the Bible, Jesus. The Book ends with names that evoke fame and fond remembrance for many generations.

Your name may not bring to mind a great and famous family. There are rumours within our family that my great-grandfather was a quite-famous English nobleman, a very accomplished and well known individual. However, if true, then he was not very noble! I’ll stick with the not-at-all-famous “Dixon” name thank you very much. However our names can bring to mind a great family, with a great inheritance:

But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. John 1:12-13 (NLT)

In Jesus we are given the right to be children of God, to be in God’s family. What a family!

What does your name bring to mind? Whatever your name evokes right now, it can be a name which is honourable and honoured. You can be God’s child and so become marked and moved by the Holy Spirit, maturing into a family resemblance:

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. . . Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

When people hear your name, is their first response “I know him, he is loving!”?  Or, “I know her, she is joyful!”? Or, “That person is peaceable, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, or self-controlled.”? When people hear your name, what is their first response?


Travel schedule forced me to have to interrupt this four part series on the Book of Ruth of which this is part four. To read everything in continuity, visit Clarke’s blog at this link.

August 7, 2019

Praying for God to Open Doors

The Voice.Col.4.2 Pray, and keep praying. Be alert and thankful when you pray. And while you are at it, add us to your prayers. Pray that God would open doors and windows and minds and eyes and hearts for the word so we can go on telling the mystery of the Anointed, for this is exactly why I am currently imprisoned. Pray that I will proclaim this message clearly and fearlessly as I should.

Dilgence and Inclusivity

Ray Stedman writes:

…The apostle has two things to say about prayer. The first is: “Keep at it” — “continue steadfastly in prayer.” The reason, obviously, is that prayer is essential to your Christian life. Prayer is dependence on God, and that is the name of the game! If you don’t pray, then you are not expressing any dependence on him at all.But, though it may seem so at first glance, he doesn’t mean, “Now, set aside a certain part of your day for prayer; set a schedule, and be sure to keep it.” I am not demeaning that; some people are able to do it, and it is an excellent practice, but that is not what he is really saying.

The Greek word the apostle chooses for steadfastly means “to be ready at all times.” In Mark’s Gospel, there is an incident which illustrates this. In the third chapter, Verse 9, we read that Jesus told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they should crush him. The word for ready is the same word translated steadfastly in Colossians. That is, “Always be ready to pray, because prayer is such a vital link with the Heavenly Father, whose life is available to us continually, that in every circumstance you need to pray.” That is what Paul is saying. “Be ready to break into prayer — in your thought life — instantaneously, at all times, because that is the way we ought to live.”…

…The second thing Paul says about prayer is, “Include others in it.” “Keep at it, and include others in it — especially me,” he says. “Pray for us also that God may open to us a door for the word.” Here he recognizes the body of Christ and the fact that we are members one of another. We need each other. This great apostle says that the opportunity for him to declare the message of Christ will be given to him by others: “You pray for me,” he says, “and that will open a door. God will open a door when you pray for me.” The opportunity of opening doors for each others’ ministry is given to every one of us. You can open a door for me; I can open a door for you — if we pray for one another…

Setting Aside the Time

Charles Stanley writes,

No matter where we are in our Christian walk, most of us will admit that our prayer life isn’t what we’d like it to be. Our attempts to make room for prayer in our busy schedules are often short-lived. And when we do manage to spend time with the Lord, we find ourselves easily distracted by random thoughts, our own desires, and the demands of the day.

Instead of giving up in frustration and settling for a sporadic devotional experience, we need to realize that prayer was essential to Christ and should be to us also. The road to a deepening prayer life begins with a commitment to make it a top priority in our day.

We follow through by setting aside a daily time to pray and read from God’s Word. Then we need to find a location that minimizes interruptions. Since we’re already busy, sacrifice may be necessary to make this happen. We might have to wake up earlier, give up a favorite activity, or use our lunch hour.

Scripture is a key factor because it teaches us about our Father’s character, promises, and priorities. The Word of God shifts our thoughts from worldly cares and pleasures to a focus on Him. Through it, we are reminded of His importance to us and our desire to please Him. Then we become ready to ask in accordance with His will and hear what He has to say.

Developing a habit of prayer may require sacrifice, but it’s worth the cost and effort. Spending time in the Lord’s presence is the best way for us to know Him better and love Him more.

Paul Prays for Quality of His Delivery

Warren Berkley notes a specific aspect of Paul’s request,

…But observe further this meaningful phrase: “as I ought to speak.” Paul wanted them to pray to God that he would speak effectively. In addition to content, Paul wanted God’s help in delivery. It is one thing to give the facts as they are. It is another to give them in good order, with appropriate passion and with challenge to the hearer to act. Paul had an interests in everything about the process of preaching. He wanted God’s help to open the door, and he wanted God’s help in effectively delivering the gospel.

Everything in this passage highlights the value of prayer in association with preaching the gospel. If we ask God to help us in various earth-limited endeavors, how much more should we ask Him to guide and direct our efforts to get the gospel into the doors around the world…

 

August 6, 2019

“Just Believe In Yourself” — Really?

Today I returned to visit the website title Biblical Diagnosis and while it’s been inactive since April, this article, the most recent posted, resonated with much of what we often hear these days.

No Confidence in the Flesh

…Friends, it is astonishing to see just how anti-biblical some of the deeply held beliefs in our societies are. And it is even more troubling when we see that they are deeply held even by our own Christian brothers.

Take for instance, the notion that we need to believe in ourselves.

This commonly accepted belief takes many forms: We need to have faith in ourselves. We can do anything that we put our minds to. We have amazing potential that just needs to be unleashed. These are just some of the ways this belief is expressed.

We see this belief applied in every domain of our lives, all geared toward some “betterment” of ourselves, our loved ones or our community, whether it be physical fitness, career advancement, or wealth generation.

But look at how the Apostle Paul expresses one of the defining characteristics of Christ’s followers:

Philippians 3:3 – we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, boast in Christ Jesus, and do not put confidence in the flesh

The statement…do not put confidence in the flesh…refers to the fact that Christians should believe that they are incapable of doing anything worthy of anything by themselves, through some form of inner ability that – as being widely believed today – all of us may possess (what the Scripture calls the flesh).

Romans 7:18For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it.

This statement is perhaps even more troubling and echoes the sentiment of Philippians 3. Paul said that nothing good lives in him. It is incongruent to both believe that nothing good lives in you and at the same time believe that you have within you what it takes to accomplish anything worthy.

Now, you may at this point read these and call to mind the countless stories of success (your own, or of others) which attest to the contrary: Evidences which prove that indeed we have within ourselves the ability to accomplish whatever we put our minds into.

Romans 3:4…Let God be true, even though everyone is a liar

Man does indeed have an inner ability, but it is not to do anything good

How we do reconcile what the scripture says with the countless evidences which seem to affirm the opposite of what God says?

I submit to you that one may find the answer – among other places – in Romans 7:18 we just read.

Romans 7:18For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it.

Whatever we can accomplish through the strength of our will, our inner strength (however that ability is labeled) is not good.

But what is “good”?

GOD defines what is good (unless we want to define for ourselves what is good, at which point we have made of ourselves our own God). And only things that can be accomplished through Him and Him alone are considered good. Everything else is not good.

Hence we may say, that if one desires to satisfy the passions of his flesh, he indeed has the ability to do so within himself, for his flesh is inside him. But the one who desires to do anything that is good – and hence, pleasing to God – is incapable to do so but with the help of God Himself.

Should we therefore hold onto the belief that we can do anything we put our minds to?

No, we run away from it, for that mentality only promotes the flesh, and its sinful desires, no matter how holy those desires may portray themselves. Just think of the Galatians who thought it a good thing to circumcise themselves (Galatians 3:1-5).

And this applies to ALL of our aspirations in life. No matter how noble and right they might appear. If we are able to attain to them through our own strength, then we ought to know that they were nothing more than the sinful desires of our flesh.

In me dwells no good thing. I place no confidence in my flesh. I am incapable of doing anything that is good, for myself, my children or my community. I am wretched and miserable, destitute.  

Romans 7:24What a wretched man I am!

We should truly believe in our utter destitution so that we may truly believe in our utter dependence on God.

Only with the profound belief that we are destitute and incapable of doing anything good for ourselves or anyone will we cherish and hold onto our dependence on GOD, THROUGH WHOM WE CAN DO EVERYTHING THAT IS GOOD.

Philippians 4:13I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me.

May the Spirit of Christ ministers to you the Word of Truth, for the glory of His own Name.

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