Christianity 201

February 28, 2020

Signs of a Healthy Church

Last Sunday, I attended the annual meeting of the church where my wife is employed, and where I’ve also been attending for nearly two years. It was my first such business meeting in a church of this denomination. Though required by law, the AGM (Annual General Meeting) is also a good opportunity for churches to step back and see the ‘big picture’ of church life, consider what God is doing through their efforts, thank God for His provision and look forward to the future.

The danger of course is to reduce meetings like this to statistics; to pie-chart and bar-graph church life to extremes. Often we rejoice in the reports of individual departments, but then the meeting really kicks into high gear when attendees are told to turn to the financial reports. Generally AGMs are all about numbers.

I doubt the first century church did this kind of record-keeping, and the Apostle Paul — who had a great mind when it came to understanding justification and atonement — was somewhat fuzzy on if or when he had baptized people.

Years ago we published an excerpt from an annual report from a UK church which began by reminding people of the marks of a healthy church. (The source blog is no longer online.) Check it out:

1. People are coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
2. Our missions program is expanding locally, nationally and globally.
3. People are making public professions of faith through baptism.
4. Attendance in worship services is increasing.
5. The worship experience is vibrant, enthusiastic and intergenerational.
6. There is broad participation in serving throughout the ministries.
7. New ministries are beginning as God imparts vision.
8. Guests are being connected to church life.
9. Covenant membership is increasing.
10. Our budgetary needs are being met.
11. Leaders are being developed and placed in ministry roles.
12. Scripture is central to our message.
13. Staff relationships are healthy.

That’s the kind of church I want to be a part of; though I think the eleven hour round trip would take its toll after a few Sundays. Although it represented a larger church, I believe these goals are viable at some level for churches of all shapes and sizes.

What else does a healthy church look like? I want to leave us with a look at how The Message translates two familiar passages describing the early church. Take your time with this:

Acts 2:38-39Peter said, “Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is targeted to you and your children, but also to all who are far away—whomever, in fact, our Master God invites.”

40He went on in this vein for a long time, urging them over and over, “Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture!”

41-42That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.

43-45Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.

46-47They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.

Acts 4:31While they were praying, the place where they were meeting trembled and shook. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God’s Word with fearless confidence.

32-33The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, “That’s mine; you can’t have it.” They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them.

34-35And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person’s need.

February 27, 2020

Be Perfect As God is Perfect: So, Are You a Perfectionist?

by Clarke Dixon

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48 (NRSV)

Be perfect, as God is perfect. So, are you a perfectionist, doing everything perfectly all the time? Do you keep the rules perfectly? Is that what Jesus means?

Perfectionism can affect the culture within a workplace, a family, a church family, an organization, or even within one’s own soul. Perfectionism can lead to a culture of excellence, with high standards coming from high expectations. However, perfectionism can also lead to a culture of judgement, a culture of fear, a culture of exclusion. We can be hard on others. We might be hardest on ourselves.

Is that what Jesus is calling us to? To be perfectionists? Let us look again at the words of Jesus in the context in which they are spoken.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48 (NRSV)

In the immediate context, Jesus is telling us to be perfect in love. Nowhere in the Old Testament does it actually say “love your neighbour and hate your enemy,” (verse 43) but some Jewish groups were indeed saying that. In contrast, Jesus tells us to love our enemies (verse 44), and in so doing we will demonstrate a family resemblance to God (verse 45). After all, God provides graciously for all people without distinction (verse 45). The original hearers could reflect on the fact that Roman, or “enemy,” farmers would receive the same amount of sun and rain as the Jewish farmer. Since God loves the enemy, we all should. In the immediate context, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” is not so much “follow all the rules perfectly, keeping a perfect spirituality, while being a perfect person,” as “love like God does.” To quote the Common English Bible translation:

Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.” Matthew 5:48 (CEB)

In the larger context of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is leading us to become the kind of people who reflect the goodness of God, in love, and in everything else. We looked last week at how the scribes and the Pharisees were meticulous in studying and keeping the rules, yet were not the kind of people God was calling them to be. Jesus said that we must have a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees (5:20). In pointing to a better kind of righteousness, Jesus was pointing out that those who were merely focused on the rules were no different from anyone else, no matter how perfectly they kept them:

46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:47-48 (NRSV)

As we pointed out last week, it is not about the rules, it is about you and me, the kind of people we are becoming in Christ, the kind of people who show a family resemblance with God in love, and in everything else.

In the even larger context of the whole Bible, Jesus is leading us toward a goal that God has brought within reach. God has a goal for us. What is that goal?

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. Romans 8:29 (NRSV emphasis added)

21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him. Colossians 1:21-22 (NRSV emphasis added)

Being just like Jesus, made holy, blameless, and irreproachable before God; these are lofty goals which we could never attain on our own. God makes it possible.

In speaking of the goal of perfection, there are two big theological words that are worth learning: justification & sanctification. To explain them, let me use an illustration. Suppose your driving instructor is the devil himself. You learn terrible driving habits, and indeed you rack up so many speeding and dangerous driving tickets, you cannot afford to pay them. You are to have your day in court, the evidence is overwhelming, you expect to be in jail for the rest of your life. Judgement day comes. The judge sets the fine, and indeed you cannot pay it. You are headed to jail for sure. The judge gets off his judgement seat, comes down to your level, gets out his chequebook and pays the fine on your behalf. That is justification. You are free to drive. There may be an accuser in the gallery shouting about how guilty you are, how strong the evidence is, and why you deserve to be in jail. However, while you could never justify why you belong on the roads, the judge who just paid your fine can. So what is sanctification? You get back into your car to drive off, and there sitting beside you in the passenger seat is your new driving instructor, the Holy Spirit. You begin driving, you become a better driver. You are not instantly a good driver, but you are improving with every mile. That is sanctification.

Bible scholar Michael Wilkins talks of a “restful dissatisfaction.” We rest in the fact of God’s love and what God has done for us in the death and resurrection of Christ to enable us to reach the goal of perfection. Yet, we are dissatisfied if we do not experience movement towards that goal in the here and now. We are not concerned with how our lingering imperfections might disqualify us from belonging to God as His children. We are concerned with how our lingering imperfections can have a negative impact on our children, or anyone in relationships with us.

Are you perfect? If that is a question on an entrance exam for eternal life, then the answer can be yes; God offers to make you perfect in Jesus Christ. If that is a question we ask the people in our lives based on their experience of us, then no, we can likely make some improvements.

Are you a perfectionist? If you are the kind of person who loves like God loves, then you will not be. You will walk with imperfect people along a journey, putting up with their imperfections along the way. You may even learn to put up with your own imperfections. If you are a perfectionist, you may be hard on other people. You may be hardest on yourself. Perfectionism is not a part of love. God walks alongside us, not as a perfectionist judging our imperfections, ready to ditch us when we stumble, but as a Heavenly Father Who helps us walk better on our way to a wonderful goal.


Clarke Dixon is a minister with the Canadian Baptists denomination. For a limited time, the full sermon can be heard at https://podpoint.com/calvary-baptist-church-cobourg-podcast)

February 26, 2020

You Can’t Have a Song Written Without a Life Lived

Yesterday at this time, I was reading the “musings” of songwriter and recording artist Lynn DeShazo who wrote the worship song, “More Precious Than Silver.” What follows are partial excerpts from four different articles she wrote last year about the 40th anniversary of that song, which you can locate at the link in the title below.

Note: Because the full original articles are also interwoven with insights into Lynn’s life which are key to the story, you are strongly encouraged to click the link and read all four parts of this reflection at source.

More Precious Than Silver

…Forty years! Sounds biblical, doesn’t it? Periods of forty years and forty days are found throughout the Scriptures. So when I realized that a significant milestone was approaching in my life, the fortieth anniversary of the creation of “More Precious Than Silver,” it got me thinking.

The Bible is full of instances where our fathers in the faith built altars of stone to mark life-changing encounters with God. In years to come, they would revisit these altars and recall to mind the faithfulness of the Almighty in their lives. They used these memorials to pass on their legacy of faith to their children. An anniversary is a bit like a memorial stone. It marks something significant and perhaps unique to you. It says, “Hey! This event happened here in this place, at that time, and it made a lasting impact on my life.” Here then is my memorial stone, my “Ebenezer raised,” as I reflect on what writing “More Precious Than Silver” has meant to me.

Every creative effort has a beginning. You sit down with your instrument and a pad of paper, or a laptop computer. You hum a melody, strum a chord, or pick out a tune on the piano. Sometimes a song takes shape effortlessly, but usually there’s a struggle involved in the creative process. Every baby born comes into the world with a degree of pain and struggle, some more than others. I think it’s the same with a song. I also think that long before there’s such a creative expression as a song written, there’s a life lived…

…God spoke very clearly to me one night following a powerful message preached at our campus church. He asked me to give up my guitar and, by implication, everything that went along with it – writing and performing my own songs. This was a difficult thing for me to hear and very painful to actually do, but thank God, I found the grace to obey Him. At the close of the meeting, I tearfully handed my guitar over to my pastor for safekeeping (something I freely chose to do), and I did not touch it again for months. As I cooperated with God’s work in me, my spiritual foundation repair began. I learned to trust in Jesus alone for my right standing with God. My striving to please began to give way to restful trust in His love for me. God had big plans for me, but the right foundation had to be in place for Him to build them upon.

Once a field is plowed sufficiently, the farmer stops plowing and starts sowing seed. In like manner, the difficult seasons of God’s dealings with us only go on until He accomplishes His intention. My season of not playing guitar and writing songs did not go on forever. It only lasted until God was satisfied that my spiritual foundation was solidly upon Christ alone. Now He was ready to build upon that foundation, and I began to walk into His purpose for my life…

…When God spoke to me about laying down my guitar, I had a decision to make. My music was very important to me – almost all the self-esteem I could muster up came from being able to play my music “for the Lord.” How could God possibly take that away from me? I chose to trust Him, but it was still difficult.

Putting selfish flesh to death is a hard business and, let’s face it, dying flesh stinks. In ancient times, fragrant spices were used to prepare bodies for burial in order to mask the stench of death as a body decomposed. When Jesus’s body was taken down from the cross, myrrh was one of the spices used to prepare His body for burial (see John 19:39-40). Myrrh is also one of the spices used in the anointing oil of the tabernacle worship. One of the blessings of the Holy Spirit coming into our lives is that He works to mask the stench of our dying flesh as we learn take up our cross and follow Jesus. We begin to produce the fragrance of the Christ within us, even in the midst of our “dying.” (See II Corinthians 2:14-16)

Jesus, speaking of His own imminent death, said, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Before a single grain of wheat can produce a stalk bearing multiple grains, it must first go into the ground where it dies. Its hard exterior is softened through a process hidden from view until the germ of life within is finally able to sprout up through the soil. The tender green shoot is the first sign of the harvest to come…

…Music has a natural power to lift your mood, but it’s the anointing* that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27). So how is it that some ministers have such an evident and consistent anointing flowing to people through what they do, whether it’s preaching, leading worship, counseling, or you name it? I believe it is because of a significant spiritual sacrifice made by that person before the Lord, and a firm commitment to obey Him in every season and circumstance of life.

God called Abraham to Mt. Moriah and required him to sacrifice that which was most precious to him, his son Isaac (See Genesis 22). Thankfully, it was only a test of Abraham’s faith. Isaac’s too, for that matter. But you must understand that Abraham’s test was a foreshadowing of what our Father in heaven would do in giving His only Son as a sacrifice for sin. Now, anywhere in the world that the Gospel is preached, there is an anointing upon the message for people to believe and be saved. Why? Because there’s an anointing at the place of sacrifice, and that place is the Cross of Jesus.

Every believer in Jesus Christ who desires to be a fruitful disciple must come to the Cross, to the place of total surrender to Him and be willing to be made a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). We are called to obedience, and God will test that in every one of us. Will we live by the strength of our own will, or out of obedience to His will for us?


*Read the entire (4th) section of the article where Lynn defines ‘anointing’ quite clearly at this link.

February 25, 2020

On the Lighting of Candles

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:22 pm
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But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
 – I Peter 2:9 NIV

I did not grow up with the liturgical calendar or anything close to it. In the last decade or so, I have learned so much from those for whom this is a bedrock of how their faith in Christ is expressed. In preparing Christianity 201, we draw from a wide variety of doctrinal streams. (If you missed yesterday’s post, by a Lutheran minister, it is a great example.)

Today someone asked me about the availability of “Lent candles.” I was familiar with Advent candles, but this one was new to me. A quick Google search revealed there are indeed such things, and “Pentecost candles” also, which got me wondering where candles appear in scripture.

In the KJV, Proverbs 20:27 reads,  The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly. The NASB renders this as, The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, Searching all the innermost parts of his being. The NLT seems to take a slightly different approach: The Lord’s light penetrates the human spirit, exposing every hidden motive. The Passion Translation best expresses the source of the light, The spirit God breathed into man is like a living lamp, a shining light searching into the innermost chamber of our being.

The candle reference to which more of you are familiar follows the statement of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount which begins, ‘You are the light of the world.’ Again, the KJV, Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Or, if you prefer, the ISV: People don’t light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

But why do we light candles today?

The website Schoenstatt comes up in web search results and begins with a reference to Hebrews 9:2 (NIV shown) A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand [KJV: candlestick] and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. The article begins noting the prevalence of candles in Catholic worship:

The custom and praxis of lighting candles is a significant convention in Catholic and Orthodox churches, communities and families, originating from Old Testament times where an oil lamp was lighted to ‘sustain a perpetual flame.’ In The New Testament they emphasize the sacredness of this light in Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews. ‘A first tent was prepared with the lamp stand, the table and the bread of the presence; this is called the Holy Place’.

In current Catholic tradition, this light has a precisely distinct status for it symbolizes Christ who said, ‘I am the Light of the world; the one who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have light and life,’ chronicled in (John 8:12). Most clergy however, relate the candle as representing Jesus as the Light of the world, but also the light and fire as representing the presence and power of God (similar to the pillar of fire that led the children of Israel in the exodus).

Many individuals light a candle prior to worship to symbolize their life as an offering, being burned up in service to God. All of these beliefs, and many more, exist forming elements of this symbolism. Christian faith is filled with symbolism, all of which is effective in teaching us to appreciate our faith in a way that goes beyond the intellectual level. Anything you do, like getting on your knees in prayer as an act of humility, can be very helpful and meaningful for communicating nuances of our faith which goes way beyond our available intellect…

The HolyArt blog adds,

Lighting up a candle in church is a tangible sign of faith. From the baptism candles to votive candles, light as a symbol of love towards God…

Light as manifestation of God then, as His first manifestation since that is the first thing He created in his endless benevolence and wisdom, and with it, He made all the Creation visible. Light as symbol of Christ, who said about himself: “I am the true light”, and that for us all embodies the Light of God that brightens the world, that defies death and forces darkness to withdraw…

…But there is also a more intimate dimension, tied to the practice of lighting up a candle in church, something that concerns every devotee and his silent dialog with God. A lit candle becomes the symbol of divine fire burning inside all of us, the expression of a flaming passion that warms us and makes us part of that Light that Jesus symbolizes, but that all Christians are part of…

Lighting up a candle in church, or holding one during a procession or a community ritual, has a deep unifying purpose. In such occasions, our love becomes unanimous, like a hymn sung by many joyful voices altogether. It is not just us, nor our swaying flame, but we become part of a union made of love and warmth, many fragments of light warming up in the passion of our faith, in the endlessly benevolent and shiny look of God…

These are obviously two very Catholic answers, especially if you click the links to read the selected quotes in context.

But what about Evangelical churches which are increasingly using candles, not to mention adopting the whole of the liturgical calendar? Reformed/Calvinist worship leader Bob Kauflin dealt with this in a 2006 response to a reader.

[C]andles might intentionally be used to illustrate Jesus coming as the Light of the world, or highlight that the Word of God is a light for our path. They could also be used to emphasize that we are God’s people who have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9). The atmosphere that multiple candles produce can also draw attention to the awe we should experience as we encounter the God of the universe. However that should be balanced by the fact that we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ and can enter God’s presence with freedom and boldness (Eph. 3:12).

We’re out of space for today. Are candles part of your church’s tradition?


We posted this song back in 2012, noting that it might be more familiar to Catholic readers. I hope you enjoy it.

 

 

 

 

February 24, 2020

Letting People See Heaven Mirrored In Earth

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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We are always scanning the internet looking for new sources of devotional material we can highlight and direct you towards. The blog A Simple Christian‘s author goes by ‘justified and sinner’ and is the pastor of a Lutheran Church in California and has been writing online since 2009. As always, click the header below to read this at source.

Is there anything on earth…like heaven?

What God has planned for people who love him is more than eyes have seen or ears have heard. It has never even entered our minds!”  1 Cor. 2:9 CEV

When Gideon looked, the angel was gone. Gideon realized that he had seen one of the LORD’s angels. “Oh!” he moaned. “Now I’m going to die.”  “Calm down!” the LORD told Gideon. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. You’re not going to die.” Gideon built an altar for worshiping the LORD and called it “The LORD Calms Our Fears.”  Judges 6:21-24 CEV


Even the atheistic philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, “There comes a time when you say even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, ‘Is that all there is?’ ” How can we understand anything of Heaven if there is nothing at all on earth to compare it to, nothing heavenly, nothing that never gets boring? Thus either Heaven is boring, or something on earth is not boring, or nothing on earth is like Heaven.

There are two parts to the answer: first, that everything on earth except agape is meant to be boring; and second, that agape is not.

– Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 88.


So let us take up this problem: genuine art is “esoteric in the best sense”, say Rahner and Vorgrimler; liturgy is simple; it must be possible for everyone, particularly the simple, to participate. Can liturgy accommodate real church music? Does it in fact demand it, or does it exclude it? In looking for an answer to these questions, we will not find much help in our theological inheritance. It seems that relations between theology and church music have always been somewhat cool.

– Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 100.


As I read Kreeft’s words in scripture today, I was amazed by their accuracy. We don’t understand heaven, we can’t conceive of it, even as the Apostle Paul says in the first quote.

I remember a professor quoting one of the early revivalists who said if he could give people a minute of hell, he would never have to convince them to repent.  My sarcastic comment was, “but what if we could give them a glance of heaven?”

Sarcastically said then, but I’ve thought of the wisdom of it – how can we give people a taste of heaven?  How can we help them know the joys of which we should sing?  That which is “beyond” theology, that which defies our explanation?

How can we show them the holiness, the glory, the pure love that we will experience in heaven? How can we help them experience love beyond love, as radical as the day is from the darkest, stormiest night?

The church’s liturgy aims to do so, revealing the love of God as we celebrate our forgiveness, the Lord dwelling among us, the actions He takes to bless and transform us into His holy people, and the feast of the broken bread and the wine, the Body and Blood of Jesus. The feast that celebrates the love, the feast that opens, for a few moments, a view for our souls of heaven.

I love the story of Gideon, especially the verses above. Here he is, somehow missing the miracles the Angel did, then realizing afterward the significance of being in the presence of a holy messenger.  He starts to freak out, the anxiety builds as he realizes his own sin and inadequacy. His glimpse of something holy, someone from heaven, causes enormous fear.

Then the Lord God tells him to chill.

Wait – where was he?

God does speak to us still, just as He did to Gideon.  One of the ways that should happen is in our church’s gathering.  Even as we receive the message we will struggle with, that kills of our sinful self, and raises us to life with the crucified Christ.  Even as we struggle with that, the Lord comes to us in His feast and tells us, don’t fear, I am with you…

That is why we have a dilemma about the art of leading liturgy and the art of leading songs and hymns that accompany it. The use of the term “art” makes us think it is a showcase for the best of our talents. It isn’t!

What the art is, is not found in the musician’s talent, or the pastor, in the charisma. It is found in the communion, the communication of revealing to people they dwell in the presence of God, and helping them to hear His voice. Therein is the art, there is our target, the goal we strive for, there is our art.

There is our joy as well, for the connection is undeniable, and beautiful beyond words, as people come to know they are loved… as they feast with the Lord, knowing the joy that only comes from knowing you are loved.

February 23, 2020

Quotations: Andrew Murray

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Although we’ve featured excerpts of his writing several times here, Andrew Murray has never been part of our quotations series.

Andrew Murray was a native and pastor to many South African churches. He was raised by Dutch Reformed missionaries and was educated in Scotland with his brother. He and his brother went on to study Theology in the Netherlands. He lived to be nearly 89 years old. He was best known for his leadership in the South African Revival of 1860. He was an eloquent speaker and left many quotes before he went on to be with the Lord in 1917.

As always with these, don’t rush through them. Read one, pause, think about it, and then move on to the next.


Just as a servant knows that he must first obey his master in all things, so the surrender to an implicit and unquestionable obedience must become the essential characteristic of our lives.


Let it be your business every day, in the secrecy of the inner chamber, to meet the holy God. You will be repaid for the trouble it may cost you. The reward will be sure and rich.


One verse chosen to meet our needs, read ten times and then laid up in the heart, is better than ten verses read once. Only so much of the word as I actually receive and inwardly appropriate for myself, is food for my soul.


It is out of the grave of the flesh and the will of self that the Spirit of holiness breaks out in resurrection power.


There is no pride so dangerous, none so subtle and insidious, as the pride of holiness.


A congregation without a prayer meeting is essentially defective in its organization, and so must be limited in its efficiency.


Beware in your prayer, above everything, of limiting God, not only by unbelief, but by fancying that you know what he can do.


Time spent in prayer will yield more than that given to work. Prayer alone gives work its worth and its success. Prayer opens the way for God Himself to do His work in us and through us. Let our chief work as God’s messengers be intercession; in it we secure the presence and power of God to go with us.


We must begin to believe that God, in the mystery of prayer, has entrusted us with a force that can move the Heavenly world, and can bring its power down to earth.


A dead Christ I must do everything for; a living Christ does everything for me.


Answered prayer is the interchange of love between the Father and His child.


Do not confound work and fruit. There may be a good deal of work for Christ that is not the fruit of the heavenly Vine.


In linking holy and without blemish (or without blame) so closely, the Holy Spirit would have led us to seek for the embodiment of holiness as a spiritual power in the blamelessness of practice and of daily life.


Humility is simply acknowledging the truth of [our] position as creature and yielding to God His place.


However strong the branch becomes, however far away it reaches round the home, out of sight of the vine, all its beauty and all its fruitfulness ever depend upon that one point of contact where it grows out of the vine. So be it with us too.


Sources: GoodReads, Logos.com, PrayerQuotes, GraceQuotes, HeartStoneJourney, LiveAtTheWell, AZQuotes, FlowingFaith, WhatChristiansWantToKnow (biography, above); see also QuoteFancy and HippoQuotes for Andrew Murray quotations you can use on social media.

February 22, 2020

When Friends Walk Away

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:49 pm

Today’s devotional is four hours late.

It’s no wonder. I’ve been in a bit of a fog all day. It’s not that I’ve been away from my computer. I’ve been active online for the past several hours. But it just hit me that there was no devotional posted.

What has got me turned around is that some close friends, who we’ve had the pleasure of being part of their spiritual journey for several years, have made it clear they are done with church and going in a different direction. They’ve also indicated they’re done with seeing us socially also.

It hurts.

It’s hard not to feel rejected.

In John 15 we’re given some words from Jesus just for times like this:

18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.

The idea of rejection is even stronger in 1 Samuel 8: 4-20. The people are asking for a king and the prophet is downhearted that they want to follow the example of the surrounding nations. God does accommodate their request, but it’s not his plan ‘A’ at all.

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.” (italics added)

I have to remember not to take all this personally; “it is not you they have rejected.”

…It also disturbs me when couples make a spiritual decision like this unilaterally. At supper, I asked my wife, “I wonder which one is the engine and which one is the caboose?”

The point is, each of will stand before God some day and give a personal account. When I stand, my wife won’t be standing next to me, and when she stands before God, I won’t be there to act as her defender.

Except in rare cases, a couple can’t make decisions of this magnitude in perfect 50/50 harmony. Usually one has been more significant in influencing the other.

…So that’s why my homework is late today, so to speak.

Join us in praying for our friends.

 

February 21, 2020

Refusing Your Inheritance Would Be Sin

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today we’re introducing a new writer to you. Alisa has been writing at On the Housetops since 2014. As always, click the header below to read this at her blog.

Helping Others Obtain Their Inheritance

Finally, they were here. After centuries of holding onto God’s promises, the Israelites had reached the land that He had sworn to give them.

Actually, they had reached it 40 years prior, but their parents had felt intimidated by the task of conquering Canaan. They lost their faith in the LORD’s power, and He lost patience with them! The nation was sentenced to wandering in the wilderness for 40 long years, until all that generation had passed away, and a new one had grown up – wiser and more trusting of God’s provision.

And now the time had come for the children to succeed where their parents had failed. The long wait was over – it was time to step forward with boldness and claim what had already been promised to them!

The lots were cast. The inheritance lines were charted on the maps. The armies were mustered. A few skirmishes were won. And preparations began to cross the Jordan River and launch the major parts of their campaign.

During this time, a few of the tribes (Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh) sent their leaders to Moses with a request. See, their inheritance had fallen on this side of the Jordan. Could they take possession now and not cross over the River?

Moses was rather indignant. Would it be fair for Israel to go off to war while 2 1/2 tribes sat peacefully at home? That would be just as wrong for them to do, as it was for their parents to refuse to enter the land at all!

The tribes then clarified (or perhaps altered) their intent. They would like to take possession of their inheritance, get their families and flocks settled safely, and then all their soldiers would cross the Jordan with the rest of the Israelites to help them obtain their inheritance.

We will not return to our homes until every one of the children of Israel has received his inheritance,” they promised (Numbers 32:18, NKJV).

To this proposition, Moses agreed. “If you do this thing. . . then afterward you may return and be blameless before the LORD and before Israel; and this land shall be your possession before the LORD. But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:22-23, emphasis added).

Application

As Christians, we too have an inheritance that has been promised to us. Not land or money, but an inheritance that is “incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for [us]” (1 Pet. 1:4).

In a sense, we have already obtained this inheritance (Eph. 1:11), but in another sense, we won’t fully receive it until Christ returns to fully gather His people to Himself (Eph. 1:14).

So then we find ourselves in the shoes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. We have begun to inherit salvation, but there are many other people who haven’t yet.

So do we sit back and enjoy our inheritance without giving a thought to all those souls who have yet to obtain theirs? How selfish and sinful is that!

And yet most Christians. . . myself included . .  . are guilty of this very thing.

God has called us to a spiritual battle, not just for ourselves, but for those around us. He has sent us to “open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in [Jesus]” (Acts 26:18).

Let’s cross that Jordan River and help others to obtain their inheritance of salvation and glory. As Moses said, it would be sinful not to.

 

February 20, 2020

Extra Rules from Jesus?

by Clarke Dixon

Do you have the rules and commandments given by Jesus memorized yet? Jesus tells us we are to have a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 5:20. So on top of the Old Testament law we get extra rules as Jesus followers, right? For example, within the Old Testament there are rules about adultery, but now with Jesus we have a rule about lust as well:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28 (NRSV)

Is that what righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees looks like? Extra rules? Actually, no.

We can be meticulous in keeping the rules, yet still miss the mark. Let me give an example. Suppose my wife gives me plans to build a vehicle. Being an avid motorcyclist, I begin building a motorcycle. I pay careful attention to the instructions on making wheels, brakes, electrical components, and most importantly, engine components. Since the instructions are excellent, and I follow them meticulously, the motorcycle I build is excellent. However my wife is not happy. She tells me to look at the plans again, but this time take a step back and look at the big picture. I have been too focused on the little details to do that. Taking a step back, and taking in the big picture, I see my mistake. These were plans for a mini-van! We have a family to cart around. Oops, I missed the bus!

We can be super meticulous in keeping the rules, yet we don’t become the kind of people God is calling us to become. We ‘miss the mark,’ which is what one of the words used in the Bible for ‘sin’ literally means. We can become so mired in the details of religion, that we miss the big picture of what God has in mind, what is on God’s heart.

Jesus is not giving us new rules in his teaching, but rather is deepening our understanding of the kind of people God is looking for us to become. Continuing on in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, God is calling each of us to become . . .

  • the kind of person who does not blow their top at others. (See verses 21,22)
  • the kind of person who always seeks reconciliation, who seeks to have good relationships. (See verses 23-26)
  • the kind of person who gives their best to their spouse, in devotion and faithfulness. (see verses 27-32)
  • the kind of person who does not objectify others. (see again verses 27,28)
  • the kind of person who is honest and walks in integrity. (see verses 33-37)
  • the kind of person who handles offence with generosity. (see verses 38,39)
  • the kind of person who goes above and beyond in relationships, who goes above and beyond in making things right, who goes above and beyond in helping someone in need, who is generous, and who serves others. (See verses 40-42)
  • the kind of person who loves people like God loves people. (See verses 43-48)

Jesus is that kind of person! Jesus calls you to be that kind of person. It is not about the rules. It is about you and the kind of person you are.

Suppose you adopt a dog, and the adoption agency asks you to agree to a set of rules. You commit to walking the dog, feeding the dog, watering the dog, and keeping up with medications. You could keep all those rules, yet still be an awful dog owner. There is something lacking in the relationship, like; affection, time spent, and playfulness. Something is missing – you are! Your heart is not in it, and the dog knows that. That can happen with a strict rule-focused style of Christianity. Something is missing – you are! The rules are there because they will help the dog stay healthy. However, the dog needs more than your performance of the rules, the dog needs you. The dog needs you to be a certain kind of dog owner. My wife and children need more than my attention to the rules. They need me. They need me to be the kind of person who is an engaged husband and father. The people in our lives need more than scribes or Pharisees who can quote Scripture from memory. They need us! They need us to be the kind of people God is calling us to be, the kind of people God is helping us to become.

To change to an analogy from sports; God, the coach, is not looking for players who are fanatical about the rules. He is looking for players who score goals while being respectful of the rules. He wants people who are engaged in His Kingdom purposes in the world. The best way to keep the rules is live alone and stay at home. If we are followers of Jesus, we will follow him into the world where being the kind of person God is calling us to become will make a difference in the lives of others.

Our aim is to be Christ followers. Our aim is not to become Christian Pharisees. We want to be followers of Jesus, not scribes & Pharisees who have traded in Jewish rules for Christian ones, yet have still missed the mark. If we do that, then our righteousness has not surpassed that of the scribes and Pharisees, it is really no different.

We can be fanatical about the commands of Jesus yet miss the mark. When we lean into the teaching of Jesus, we see the kind of people God is calling us to become. When God leans into us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we become that kind of people.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Today’s article continues a series on The Sermon on the Mount. He appears here most Thursdays. You’ll also find these articles at his blog.

February 19, 2020

Waiting Is Not a Passive Act

The website Broken Believers “is all about serving through a message of Christian discipleship and helping Christians with mental illnesses and other issues. Bryan is a pastor who also suffers from clinical depression and now ministers to those in need.”

This is our seventh time with Bryan Lowe. An understanding of the Hebrew word used in a very familiar verse really enhances its meaning. As always, click the header below to read this at source.

Braided Up With God

Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.

Isaiah 40:31, NASB

The particular word “wait” is a vital force. It’s definitely not a passive word in the Scriptures. It does not mean to be apathetic or lazy. Sometimes we wait in line at the grocery store or maybe waiting on a phone call. We regularly wait all the time, and usually, we don’t even realize it.

The Hebrew word used in v. 31 is ‘kawvah’ which means, ‘to bind together by twisting.’ It sometimes will mean, ‘to braid.’

It’s an interesting word picture, isn’t it? Sometimes we only take the English idea of waiting and turn it turns into a frustrating delay. Often this is why we lose out on what ‘wait’ is really about. I have to believe the Holy Spirit wants to teach this idea of becoming ‘braided up with God.’ All too often we are limited by our definitions and not God’s Word.

For those of us who are ill— physically or mentally, just to be told simply, “wait on the Lord” is a real challenge. Often, we will end up resenting this counsel (and the counselor) because we misunderstand what it means to really ‘wait.’

Yet when I truly wait on God, I’m actually weaving myself into Him. He becomes my strength; He is now the strong cord I am braided into. (Perhaps this is how He imparts strength and might to His people?) We desperately need this and the Lord is eager to lead us into this new intimacy.

The promise in Isaiah 40:31 tells us about new strength, the eagle’s wings, and holy stamina. This verse is relevant to us today, and we need this kind of strength now. I only want to encourage you in your own prayer time, to see yourself intertwined to the Lord, and to recognize the good gift of the Holy Spirit freely given.

“Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!”

Psalm 27:14



Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading. Your suggestions of articles and websites to consider are always welcome.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

February 18, 2020

Biblical Writers Knew Economic Inequity

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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When I first started interacting with various Christian blogs, one of the first I was aware of was Andrew Jones aka Tall Skinny Kiwi. I still receive his newsletter and this week he quoted this Proverb:

There is abundant food in the field of the poor, but it is swept away by injustice.” Prov. 13:23

Contextually, the Proverb falls between two others I would consider unrelated, and BibleHub, which usually offers various cross-references to similar passages is somewhat sparse with this one.

Still, economic inequity is well known to all of us and it can appear in various forms. In its plain form, the verse is talking about a situation where the land produces food in abundance, but people are going hungry.

More recently, we’ve heard stories where developed nations have sent containers of food following a natural disaster, only to learn later that the supplies were being hoarded in warehouses to which the common people did not have access.

But is this proverb saying something more, or something entirely different? The website LetGodBeTrue.com offers what follows. To better understand the commentary, here’s the verse in the KJV as they are using it:

Much food is in the tillage of the poor: but there is that is destroyed for want of judgment.

Hard work brings profit, but it can be lost by foolish decisions. The poor may labor hard at farming, with much increase from their Creator. Their focused labor on a small plot of land bears good reward for their table. But other poor men, even with some advantages, may squander greater gain by following harebrained schemes that take it away.

Tillage is the tilling and cultivating of ground for raising crops. Farming was the first profession in the world, and it is a good work. It is the most basic business or investment, providing a clear view of capital, labor, and profit. Depending directly on God’s blessing, seeds are placed in the ground to wait for His increase. And He does give increase!

The average return for wheat is 200. One wheat seed planted results in 200 new ones. One bushel planted results in 200 new bushels. That is a return of 20,000%! The average return for field corn is 800 times, or 80,000%! The average return for rice is 2000 times, or 200,000%! There is much food in the tillage of the poor. You have never seen this kind of return in any investment portfolio of the rich and famous, for the world’s best hedge fund managers or investors can only sustain about 30% per year over time.

Want of judgment is the lack of good sense. It is foolish vulnerability to ideas that will not work. It is listening to vain persons and their schemes. It is a lack of discretion and prudent management. It is the rejection of critical thinking and cautious pessimism. It is wishful thinking instead, trusting more in hopes and dreams than careful analysis.

Want of judgment is hasty decisions, poor choices, lack of foresight, and risky presumption. It believes everything it hears. It is frustration with the old way of doing things and impatience to experiment with something new. It is the desire for a free lunch, no matter how many times it has heard there is no such thing. It is the dream that there are shortcuts that can lead to wealth, though the wealthiest, Solomon, denies the idea.

The proverb deals with poor farmers. They have plenty of food, for they labor at a godly trade day after day, year after year. But there are other men who may not even have enough to eat. What happened? They gave away their increase by foolish decisions. The lesson here is the value of hard work and the importance of wise financial management.

continue reading here

Dake’s commentary also places the onus on the poor farmers themselves:

The poor may sow enough to have plenty of food, but lack of management often keeps them in poverty. They have very little foresight. When they get something they quickly spend it or have a big feast and then go without for a long time.

Again, I go back to the commentary at LetGodBeTrue:

When the government approves a lottery, who lines up first for tickets? The man tired of farming! He dreams of how he will spend his millions. He can list how he will use his riches. He eagerly takes the “much food” from his tillage and gives it to the state in a no-win deal designed for the foolish and naïve. The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.

So again…what about the example I used at the beginning and the way in which I interpreted the verse for today’s headline? Does the translation Andrew Jones is using put the wrong spin on this?

I think that either way, we see that the ecosystem — to be clear, with this word I mean climate and agriculture — is able to sustain life on Planet Earth, but human intervention, whether individual or collective, is what spoils the harmony of that system. As God designed it, there is food for all.

February 17, 2020

When Did Judas Go (Really) Bad?

He [Judas] did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
(John 12:6)

As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.”
(John 13:27)

Judas is an interesting character, to say the very least. Like the thief on the cross, he is one of a number of exceptions to the rule, and many speculate as to what might have been if his betrayal had worked out like Peter’s denial and he had been restored. One writer suggests:

I do think that Judas was one of the very few in the Bible who did not have a free will, and was destined to betray Jesus actually from before the foundation of the world.

Another writes,

To summarize, be careful where you place Judas. He did the will of the Father and fulfilled the Scriptures. Peter, who we all love, tried to prevent Jesus’ crucifixion and was called “Satan” by our Lord. Peter, who was not mindful of the will of God, was restored. Was it not Jesus who said, “”For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:50) Be careful about placing Jesus’s brother, Judas, in Christendom’s “hell.” One day you may have to look up to Judas, instead of looking down on him. Peter denied him three times in one night while Judas declared Jesus innocent in front of the High Priesthood. Judas had a very important job in the Kingdom of God. For three and one half years, as a Priest he inspected the Lamb of God as an unbiased man. He was not “one of them” a Galilean. He was the outsider. He did his job perfectly. If Judas really wanted to mess things up, he could have agreed with the High Priesthood and called Him a “blasphemer” who claimed to be the Son of God when He really wasn’t. But Judas declared the Lamb spotless and unblemished*, the Perfect Passover.

*“I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” (Matthew 27:4a)

Where I wanted us to look today however is when did Judas go bad? The second of our opening verses suggests a particular time when “Satan entered into him.” It’s interesting that there is absolutely no variance on this phrase in any English Bible translations, though the AMP adds, “and took possession.”

The first verse however shows him to be embezzling money from the funds used to support Jesus and The Twelve in their ministry. (We know that many of the contributors and supporters were women, along with men.)

So if we look at a continuum of Jesus ministry, with one end beginning with the calling of the disciples, the scripture reading in the temple, and the turning of water into wine; and the other end consisting of the Passover meal, the arrest and betrayal; we see some rather bad behavior on Judas’ part long before Satan ‘entered’ him. There is evidence of something wrong before we would place an “X” on that continuum to mark what happened in the upper room.

Question: If it was found that the treasurer of your church was helping himself to money from the offerings or church bank account, would you necessarily say that Satan had entered into him?

Judas’ petty thievery is used to show that he was bad from the beginning, and is used to justify the position that he was never fully committed to Christ, but the scripture indicates that something especially significant happened as he exited that Passover meal to carry out his plan.

Again, it’s pointed out that:

[Acts 1] affirms that Judas was one of theirs in number and fellowship with ministration.* In other words, Judas worked cooperatively and in concert with the other disciples. There is no mention of his not being a good and faithful member of the group.

*v. 17 “…he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.

I John 2:19 paints a broader picture of people who ‘share in the ministry’ but then do not continue in the faith:

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

The Reformation Study Bible says of this:

Paul too warns against false teachers who will arise from among the believers (Acts 20:29–31). As in the case of Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:9–24), visible membership in the church does not guarantee salvation. Inward apathy or hostility to the gospel may be masked by outward conformity. The false teachers revealed their hostility not just by leaving, but by the way they left. Because they went out to oppose the word of the gospel, their departure was as much a renunciation of the church and its message as was Judas’s departure from the Last Supper (John 13:30).

Some say this is also a picture of the Antichrist.

What is the point of studying Judas in such detail and what can we learn? This is just my opinion, but I believe that even though the Biblical picture is of a more dramatic turn taking place during that Last Supper meal, the events in Judas’ life compounded, one on top of the other.

Another commentator puts it this way:

Somewhere in Judas’ life, he took an evil turn that eventually resulted in rejection of Jesus Christ as His Lord and Savior and eventual suicide. One bad attitude toward Jesus led to another, and a pattern of rejection and bitterness must have led to the ultimate rejection of Jesus.

and later writes,

Judas confessed his sin without repentance. There was no radical change in his mind that resulted in a change from spiritual death to spiritual life through faith in Jesus Christ. True repentance would have turned him to Jesus for forgiveness.

Does any of this resonate with you because of a person or situation you know? Let’s end with some encouragement from Galatians 6: 1

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.


I want to again acknowledge Michael Card’s book, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement, for getting me thinking about this topic.


Go Deeper: Here’s The Message translation of I John 5:16-17 to get you thinking further along this topic. Use online Bible resources to help unpack this passage:

16-17 For instance, if we see a Christian believer sinning (clearly I’m not talking about those who make a practice of sin in a way that is “fatal,” leading to eternal death), we ask for God’s help and he gladly gives it, gives life to the sinner whose sin is not fatal. There is such a thing as a fatal sin, and I’m not urging you to pray about that. Everything we do wrong is sin, but not all sin is fatal.

Go Deeper Still: Some of today’s passages bear on issues dealing with free will and predestination, as well as the eternal security of the believer (perseverance of the saints). The verse in I John often is used to support the semantic idea that such people were “never saved in the first place.” How do you see that verse fitting in?

February 16, 2020

What is the Mystery of Godliness?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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A year ago our search process took us to Pembrokeshire, Wales; and to a congregation — Penuel Baptist Chapel, Roch. — where a large number of the leaders take turns giving the weekly sermon. This article was written by Thomas Kitchen. Click the header below to read this at its source, and then take some time to explore other articles.

Something Unknown Unless God Reveals It

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
    vindicated by the Spirit,
        seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
    believed on in the world,
        taken up in glory.

1 Timothy 3:16

There are lots of mysteries in the world, for example the Bermuda Triangle; lots of aircraft have flown into this space only to disappear. The Antikythera was an analogue computer of 100 BC used to determine the position of the stars and planets, yet it is a mystery why it would be about another 1000 years before this technology was found and used again. Turning to this passage to day (1 Timothy 3:14-16) we are going to focus on verse 16. What is the mystery of godliness?

This is a verse short verse yet it is packed with such a lot of truth. The gospel, the good news, is explained here, and the importance of the church is explained.

He was manifested in the flesh.” This is evidence that Jesus really is God. He didn’t start life as a man, He has always been around, “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14). It is wonderful to hear this gospel. This wonderful news doesn’t begin with one of us. This is someone who became flesh, this is Jesus, who created everything we see, know, hear, taste and feel.  Jesus comes into this world He created and lives among humans, the ones He created. So many have no idea He is the creator of their own soul and body. He is the one who is above all, God incarnate. We see glimpses of this across the Old Testament – with Adam and Eve. Moses, the prophets. Then Jesus comes, God in the flesh. He showed Himself to us completely. In Isaiah 40:12-15 we see humanity’s worthlessness against the King of Kings.

It is utterly astounding what Christ did for us in coming into the world. There is lots of build-up in the Old Testament, glimpses and clues, but now Jesus has come salvation is put into action, the plan worked out before time itself. Jesus – fully God, fully human.

He was vindicated by the Spirit.” He was justified by the Spirit. The Spirit is the Holy Spirit – the third person of the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. This speaks of Jesus being blessed. God is pleased it is His Son carrying out this work of salvation for us. He is pleased with His Son, who is without sin, who is justified and perfect to carry out this task. It had to be Jesus, the Son of God. He was willing to do His Father’s will even though it was hard for Him. But He knew what it would accomplish – the saving of His people.

Seen by angels.” This is an odd sentence at first glance. You would have thought it would have been seen by men and women next. But this phrase is important. It is talking about God the Father’s hand in guiding Jesus. Angels were there at His birth, ministered to Him in the wilderness, at the Garden of Gethsemane, when He rose from the dead and went back into heaven. Angels were with Him every step of the way.

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world,  taken up in glory (1 Timothy 3:16).

God is there in the entire process, working in us, through us and for us.

Proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world.” The nations refer to Gentiles and Jews. The Gentiles are everyone other than Jews. Jews considered themselves to be very different and holier than others. Jesus Himself was Jewish and was brought up with Jewish customs. This matters because Jews considered themselves to be a chosen people which brought them above and beyond other nations. But Jesus wasn’t like that, He knew that no person in the nations was holy. We are all sinful, we are all a drop in the bucket (Isaiah 40:15). But one of the best things about the gospel is it is for all. There are certain blessings in the Old Testament for Jews, but the New Testament is opened up for all. The gospel is proclaimed to all, not just the Jews. It is an invite for all to come to Jesus Christ – and only Jesus Christ. The gospel is for all languages, all peoples, all nations and all tribes. That is how heaven is described.

God had made Jesus Christ salvation for all. This message for us is ‘Come to Jesus Christ.’ He is not just an example for us, He not only bore our sins and we start with a clean slate, He took all our sins and gave us His robe of righteousness. He takes our filthy rags and He gives us our royal robes. One day, if we are trusting in Him, we will be with Him, worshipping Him face to face. We will be perfect, with a new body, eternally with our God. What a day that will be!

Taken up in glory.” This, of course, refers to Jesus going up into heaven. He rose from the dead, showed Himself to many people, to many witnesses, and ascended into heaven. Jesus was taken up into glory to be at the right hand of His Father where He prays for those who trust in Him. Jesus also had His trials, His difficulties. He can empathise with us. He is now praying to the Father for you. This is the glorious message which can never be destroyed. He gives you the faith you need. God does it all, He is the one who raises us from our deadness in sin, He is the one who opens our blind eyes. It is God who brings us back to life (Ephesians 2:1).

What is the mystery of godliness? Looking back to the original language, the Greek word for mystery is mystírio. This is something that is unknown unless God reveals it. What has been revealed to us? The person of the Lord Jesus Christ – who He is, what He has done on the cross. He has been revealed to us. It is unknowable unless it is revealed by God. We can know Jesus for ourselves because God has revealed this to us through His word, the Bible. Of course, there are mysteries we can’t fully understand – for example our Creator God being nailed to a cross, bleeding and dying. This is fact we can’t understand completely. We know this happened but we have to decide if we are going to submit to Him and worship Him forever.

He was raised to glory. One day He is coming again. Every knee will bow. The mystery of His glory will be revealed. Then it’s heaven or hell. Knowing about the gospel is all well and good but it has to go to our hearts. Knowledge without repentance is just a torch to light you to hell, “Knowledge without repentance will be but a torch to light men to hell” (Thomas Watson). If we know the gospel but do nothing about it, then all that knowledge is lighting our way to hell. There are many reasons why sinners go to hell, but there is only one reason sinners go to heaven – they have been washed by the blood of Jesus.

There are Christians who say they know everything they need to know, but we need to be reminded of the gospel every day. We need to hear God’s word, to pray and to preach to ourselves out loud, on our own, reminding ourselves what the He has done for us, what the gospel has done. Say to yourself, “He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world,  taken up in glory,” (1 Timothy 3:16). No matter what happens, that is our hope. Our identity is in Christ. If our identity is in marriage and our marriage breaks down, we lose our identity. If our identity is in our job and we lose our job, we have lost our identity. Preach to yourself and you will be encouraged and helped by the Spirit.

Living, He loved me
Dying, He saved me
Buried, He carried my sins far away
Rising, He justified freely forever
One day He’s coming
Oh glorious day, oh glorious day

February 15, 2020

Jesus Shows His Authority

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NIV.Matt.4.18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Today meet another writer who is new to us. Paul T. Reynolds lives in the Cayman Islands, and you can read more of his writing (and his recipes) at his blog. Click the header below for this one to read at source.

Jesus flexes his authority

Matthew 4:13-22 (AD 27)

…Jesus walked through a crowd of people who were trying to throw him off a cliff…with them failing miserably to throw him off the cliff. That scene has always blown my mind. What did it look like? What did it sound like? Did God paralize the would-be murderers? Blind them? Force a temporary change of mind? Chalk that up as another of those ‘God isn’t telling you because you don’t need to know’ passages.

Whatever the reason, that was it for Jesus in Nazareth (just as he prophesied in Luke 4:24). He moved to Capernaum (just as Isaiah prophesied); further north and on the shores of  the Sea of Galilee.

Once there, Jesus began his preaching ministry (v.17), which is summarized in precisely the same words as John the Baptist’s ministry (John 3:2): “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near”. In John 3:6 it is further noted that the people responded to that message by “Confessing their sins” and being baptized.

Jesus then called his first disciples, Peter and Andrew, with nothing more than a cryptic message about making them fishers not merely of fish, but of people. As we know, Jesus had gained a certain notoriety by this point, but he was by no means a celebrity. And with his recent past including a failed murder attempt against him, rejection by his entire local religious community and having to forge a new life away from his home town…he wasn’t in a good place to be attracting followers.

It was his authority, and Holy Spirit, who inspired these men to follow him. Busy men with families and mouths to feed, who knew that they had to be where he was, and to listen to what he said, and to learn from what he did. That authority came from the same place as the authority to walk through a murderous crowd unmolested.

Same deal with James and John. No explanation. Just a command. And they obeyed.

Jesus’ commands to us are the same:

Repent and believe the good news.

Follow Jesus.

That’s it.

February 14, 2020

Moses’ Reasons Why He Was the Wrong Choice

NIV.Exodus.3.11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

Today we’re introducing you to Chris Miller at the blog Get Encouraged. There are some other articles here we considered, so take the time to look around the site. Click the header below to read at source.

3 Responses to Procrastination

I don’t know about you, but I procrastinate sometimes, particularly when I need to do something I am dreading. It seems our natural response to dreaded life change is procrastinating if possible.

This may be especially true when we believe the Lord is calling us to a life change, we do not understand or a project for which we feel ill-equipped. The good news is we are not alone. Moses shared in this experience.

“The good news is we are not alone. Moses shared in this experience.”

Moses was tending sheep one day when a nearby bush was ablaze but not consumed by the flames. Moses’ curiosity got the best of him, so he walked over to see what was happening. Moses walked over to see a burning bush but had an encounter with the Lord. The Lord revealed his plan, and Moses made every attempt to tell the Lord why it would not work.

When I arrive at my “burning bush,” I often procrastinate by telling the Lord I am not the right person. What about you?

Moses tried to convince the Lord he was not the right person, but for every reason Moses offered, God provided a response. It seems we offer the same reasons, and God offers the same responses. Here are 3.

No one’s listening.

Moses said no one would listen to him. They would just accuse him of being in the sun too long. God dismisses this reason by obvious work in Moses’ life.

Do you ever feel like you are talking, and no one is listening, so you just stop talking? Maybe you ask yourself, “Why do I even say anything? It is like talking to a brick wall.” Like Moses, the Lord’s work in our lives is obvious. And, while it may seem no one is listening, it turns out they are paying attention.

Reimaging Faith Formation for the 21st Century cites studies showing our family members are listening. For those of you who are grandparents, you are the second most influential person in your grandkids’ life. You follow only their parents, and in some cases, you are in the number one slot. You sit in a position to speak a lot of wisdom into their lives as they witness the Lord’s obvious work in your life. Just when you think no one is listening, it turns out they pay much attention.

The work the Lord is doing in our lives is obvious. It stands as a testimony to the words we say.

I can’t.

Moses tells the Lord he is not a good speaker, so how can he stand before Pharaoh and say anything. God responds by saying, “I gave you the abilities you have, so go, and I will help you.”

We may feel we are inadequate for God’s calling. We know we should do something, but we try to convince ourselves and the Lord we are not capable. We identify a barrier that could cause us to fail, and instead of jumping it, we hide behind it.

Moses identified a barrier of speech. What is your barrier? It could be any number of things. No matter the barrier, the Lord’s response is the same. “I gave your abilities and I will help you, so go.”

Not me, please.

After other reasoning failed, Moses simply asks the Lord to send somebody else. The Lord tells Moses to stop procrastinating. He has already put provisions for him in place. Moses is the one God called for this purpose, and the Lord will help Moses accomplish it. He began a good work in Moses, and he will bring it to completion.

Can you relate to Moses? “Lord, I just don’t want to,” you say. Perhaps we can all relate to Moses. The Lord’s response is always the same; he has called us each to a unique spot in his plan. Therefore, he will help us accomplish the purpose. He, who began a good work in our lives, is bringing it to completion.

Moses was in a special place in time to perform a special task for the Lord. His biography records Moses leading God’s people out of Egyptian bondage and guiding them to the border of the Promised Land. He may have felt inadequate, but God used him in a mighty way. God completed a good work in Moses’ life.

Acting

We are in a special place in time to perform a special task for the Lord. Each of our biographies will record how we served in the Kingdom. What is the Lord calling you to do? You may feel inadequate, but the action step you can take is growing in the Lord. Paul tells the Philippians to grow.

  • Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13).
  • Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me…. I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).

Continue to walk with the Lord and fulfilling your purpose. Again, what is the Lord calling you to do? How have you responded to your “burning bush?” Share in the comments below, and remember, he, who has begun a good work in you, will bring it through to completion.

 

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