Christianity 201

December 12, 2018

Writing Out The Psalms in Your Own Words

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.  – Psalm 42:1 NIV

Today we’re returning to Aaron Smith, whose writing we featured here several years ago. His website is also the name of his new book, Cultural Savage. The publisher blurb describes it as “a collection of essays about mental illness and Christianity and where the two intersect. Sometimes they crash into each other, and other times they coexist peacefully. When the two collide, it manifests as the Church characterizing mental illness as a spiritual problem.

Have you ever written out a passage of scripture in your own words? It can be a tremendously helpful exercise, particularly as you question your own choices of interpretation and ask yourself, ‘Is that what the text actually says?’

In this exercise, Aaron also mentions Jesus, who the Psalmist did not know by name, though in the Messianic Psalms we have no doubt He was known prophetically.

Retelling Psalm 42

Something in me pants for you oh Jesus.
Somehow, just like a beast of the forest craving and clawing for water in the heat of drought, my innards thirst for you
the living God.

 So, someone, please tell me: when can I see this face of Jesus that I long for? Instead, I feast on tears, and sorrow fills my chest
as the refrain ” You have no God ” rings in my ears.

But I remember, even as my bone’s ache. 
I was with the congregation. Leading the music
bringing out songs of thankfulness for blessings 
and pure happiness at singing to you.

 So why, O heart, are you fallen?
Why this disturbance, this restlessness within?
Can I hope in Jesus? Can I again praise him?
Is Jesus my help? Is Jesus my God?

This restlessness brings remembrance though.
Remembrance for all the places you’ve led me, where we have walked.
Depth echo’s depth.
The echoes of wave after wave have swept me into the undertow.
See, love that can’t fail drips from Jesus’ hand
and songs carrying hope put me to sleep.

 Still, I say to this God, this foundation, this one stable thing in my life:
Why? Why? Why have you forgotten about me? Where are you?
Here I am weeping as I walk because all I see are injustices.
The rich getting richer, oppressing those under their feet.
And when I say God will overturn these tables, they laugh.
“Where’s your God? “

Oh, heart, why so fallen?
Why this disturbance, this restlessness within?
I will hope in Jesus, and I will again praise his justice.
He is the help of we the oppressed.
He is our God.
The living God.

 

December 11, 2018

The Holy Spirit: In Us, Helping Us, Glorifying Christ

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re returning to a website we visited in 2014, All About Reflections.

Who Is The Holy Spirit

Who is the Holy Spirit – God in Us
Who is the Holy Spirit? Consider these two verses:

“‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ — which means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23).

“Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:6-7).

The disciples of Jesus Christ, undoubtedly, never fully comprehended that it was actually God in human form who walked among them, taught them, communed with them, and loved them. Yes, they saw Him perform miracles, saw Him heal the sick, saw Him raise the dead. They even heard Him forgive the sins of many who came to Him, to the outrage of the Jewish leaders of His day. They saw the wind and the waves obeyed Him and that He spoke with eloquence, authority, and wisdom beyond that of the scribes. But God? How could they have understood the God who created the universe had actually come to fellowship with them and had called them into His service? As soon as they began to grasp this truth, however, He began to speak of leaving them, of suffering, and dying. They were filled with grief and sorrow at the thought of His departure.

Jesus comforted them by disclosing an even greater miracle. If it was an enormous thing that God should come in a body and walk among men, how much greater stretch of faith for the disciples to believe that God would actually and literally dwell in man?

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).

The promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit — the Spirit of truth — was a two-fold blessing. First, unlike Jesus, who would go back into heaven to return to the Father, the Holy Spirit would be with the disciples, forever. Secondly, He would be in them.

Who is the Holy Spirit – The Spirit glorifies Christ
The Holy Spirit was sent to earth when Jesus took his place at the right hand of the Father. He was manifested on the day of Pentecost.

“Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear” (Acts 2:33).

Jesus, God in the flesh, dwelt on the earth for thirty-three years, being intimately involved with the disciples for three years. Jesus Christ had come to manifest and glorify the Father, to make Him known to the disciples. Jesus Christ never spoke His own words or performed deeds of His own choosing. No. He only did what He was instructed to do by the Father.

“For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say” (John 12:49-50).

Jesus assured the disciples that the Holy Spirit would also interact with them in the same way, only the Spirit would bring glory to the Son. “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you” (John 16:13-15).

What a wonderful depiction of the three-fold yet inseparable manifestation of the Godhead; who can really comprehend it? But this was God’s plan, to bring many sons into fellowship with Himself. And so, as Christ came to earth to show mankind the personality and glory of God, the Holy Spirit was sent to dwell within man, making the things of Christ real and alive to him. When a person accepts Christ into their life, Christ enters into them in the person of the Holy Spirit. The body becomes the temple of the living God, now sanctified for the master’s use.

Who is the Holy Spirit – God as our Helper
The Holy Spirit is God, our Helper. This is the ultimate goal of His indwelling. In the ancient language the word for Holy Spirit which is alternately translated, ‘counselor’ or ‘comforter’ actually signifies “called to one’s side.” Therefore the Holy Spirit is He who was called along side of us, to help us. But the Holy Spirit is God, the Creator, the Sovereign; it is He, Himself, who is our helper. He does not simply give us help, He is our Help.

How does He help us? The Holy Spirit teaches us; the Holy Spirit guides and leads us; the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf according to the will of God. The Holy Spirit appropriates the righteousness, peace, and joy of the Lord to us. The Holy Spirit reveals to us the deep things of God, things previously hidden to man. We have power now that the Holy Spirit has come to us. He is the Spirit of God and Christ; He is made everything to us and His indwelling is the guarantee of our future inheritance which surpasses even the wonder of our relationship to God, today. Perhaps the greatest thing of all is that by the Spirit, we cry, “Our Father.” The Spirit makes us know instinctively that we are the children of God. Even in our weakest moments that cry cannot be stilled as we call to Him, “Oh, my Father, help me.”

“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:15-17).


Bonus article: We had another article from a new source we had hoped to bring you this week which we could not publish because another organization has first rights. It’s about finding the Advent story in the Book of Jonah. If that interests you, click here to read.

December 10, 2018

God Knows Us

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Paul reminds Timothy that the scriptures are living, and because they contain life, we have a trademark of putting everything from the Bible in bold face and green. That continues today, even though the verses have been somewhat fused together from different sources. I hope I haven’t overstepped the bounds by doing this, but the words are so strongly rooted in the texts indicated.

Author Rory Norland is best known for his thoughts on worship. At his blog, Heart of the Artist, he presents a very short scripture medley each day called Daily Praise Offering. I wanted to share several posts in which verses from Psalm 139 were seamlessly joined with New Testament references.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. I worship you, Jesus, for you are the good shepherd. You know your own and your own know you. (Psalm 139:1-6; John 10:14).

Where can I go from you Spirit, O Lord? Where can I flee from your presence? And wherever two or three are gathered in your name, O Christ, you are there. There is no place I could go and be out from under your loving gaze. (Psalm 139:7-12; Matthew 18:20).

You skillfully formed my inward parts, O Lord. You intricately knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they exist and were created. (Psalm 139:13-14; Revelation 4:11).

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I could count them, they are more than the sand. For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But praise God we have the mind of Christ. (Psalm 139:17-18; 1 Corinthians 2:16).


Michael W. Smith recites Psalm 139:


And the same text from The Message:

1-6 God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand.
I’m an open book to you;
even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
then up ahead and you’re there, too—
your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
I can’t take it all in!

7-12 Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.

13-16 Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.

17-18 Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful!
God, I’ll never comprehend them!
I couldn’t even begin to count them—
any more than I could count the sand of the sea.
Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you! …

23-24 Investigate my life, O God,
find out everything about me;
Cross-examine and test me,
get a clear picture of what I’m about;
See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—
then guide me on the road to eternal life.

 

 

December 9, 2018

Lay Participation in Sunday Worship

1 Corinthians 14:26 (NET)  What should you do then, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each one has a song, has a lesson, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all these things be done for the strengthening of the church.

1 Corinthains 12:4 (The Voice) Now there are many kinds of grace gifts, but they are all from the same Spirit. There are many different ways to serve, but they’re all directed by the same Lord. There are many amazing working gifts in the church, but it is the same God who energizes them all in all who have the gifts. 7a Each believer has received a gift that manifests the Spirit’s power and presence

This first verse above (from chapter 14) has resulted in many different expressions of spontaneous interjections to any given worship service. I’ve seen it expressed in the Brethren style of worship where there are often long silences before the next person will stand up and share something which blessed them through the week. I’ve seen it happen in the Pentecostal style of worship where people will suddenly start speaking in tongues and as soon as they are seated, someone else will suddenly offer the interpretation.

My favorite was an interdenominational meeting* which wasn’t entirely different from the apparent spontaneity of the Pentecostal service but seemed to also imply the preparation which might have gone into the Brethren service. The thing that made it different is that before speaking, people would first define the gift they were about to bring.

The people would simply jump to their feet — not unlike the figures in the arcade game Whack-a-Mole — and announce:

“I have a word of prophecy!”

“I have a Psalm!”

“I have a teaching!”

or whatever; followed by the short message itself. If my description sounds irreverent, you need to know this also a group that could be brought to complete silence for minutes at a time in what I later referred to as “a holy hush.”

I wrote about this experience on my other blog back in 2008. At the time I noted that with each participant clearly defining what it is they were going to say, nobody could jump up and say, “I have a cute story about my dog.” It was also not the time for prayer requests. It was a time for using spiritual gifts to build up the body.

Their motto was: “Everyone Gives, Everyone Receives.”

That should be the motto of every church…

…I realize writing this that lay participation in the service is perhaps quite uncommon where you worship. It certainly doesn’t fly in a megachurch environment, or where a church has bought into the idea that the people in the seats are an audience or spectators. I got thinking about this after reading an article by Ned Berube at the blog Lionshead Café. The article was titled, Thoughts on Evangelical Corporate Worship.

He first describes the worship pattern for a church where two friends attend:

Because they are quite clear that every believer is inhabited by the Holy Spirit and consequently hearing the word of the Lord hopefully on a very regular basis, they make room explicitly for individual members to share what the Lord may have put on their heart. Two or three may share for 5-10 minutes before an elder speaks for 30-40 minutes on a prepared text. The others might be more spontaneous or thought through earlier in the week. The value of this is apparent-the whole congregation is “on call” for sharing the word of God and they are quite clear that they are part of a gifted body of believers that are to bring forth God’s word to God’s people. They are central to the Liturgy (Greek liturgia– the work of the people). And it derives very clearly from Paul’s exhortations to the Corinthians in chapter 14 of the first letter: “When you come together, you all have a lesson, a revelation, a tongue etc”). They were led to believe that every time they came together they could expect the presence of the Spirit who would use the whole body of gifted believers to minister to the whole body.

Next he describes another church which he started himself:

A good 15-20 minutes was separated for “Sharing” from the congregation. We tried to have a 90 minute service but more often it was closer to 2 hours. Sometimes a bit beyond. And I’m sure that the length eliminated a few folks. Maybe a lot! But our thinking was built on what we perceived as a dearth of spiritual impartation by the body to each other. And many complained and thought that could be better met by a system of small groups. In fact, one couple that visited thought our service was more like a big small group, which they meant largely as a critique, but we felt that the trade-offs were worth it.

There’s one more paragraph I want to get to from Ned’s article — I realize I took most of the space myself today — but before doing so, I don’t want you to miss his description of Simon:

I would consider Simon the most skilled worship leader I have met in the world. The first time I watched and heard him lead worship was an amazing personal event. Simon is very small of stature and he took his guitar and turned his back to the congregation/audience and proceeded to lead us in music that was rich toward the Person of God and circumvented most of the “how I am feeling about God” lyrics that have dominated so much of modern evangelical worship.

Talk about avoiding a personality-driven church!

The timing on this is interesting because just this week, I remember reading someone saying that in a really well-run small-group, it’s not apparent who is in charge of the meeting. My personal longing would be to experience this in our weekend worship as well, on a more regular basis. (‘Who’s in charge? God’s in charge.’)

I’ll let Ned have the last word:

If we do not provide a venue for the general sharing of the body in a worship service or small group, we run the risk of creating an elite that alone can speak the word of the Lord. And that is not to dismiss gifted preachers who should indeed be handling the bulk of preaching and teaching, but there must be a place for the larger body to bring their unique perspective into the mix of a worship service. And as I share these sentiments, I am also personally aware of pastors and friends who would consider these thoughts anathema. And there are decent reasons for so thinking. There are a lot of ways for this to go off the rails. But if there is sufficient teaching and healthy leadership during the worship service that can be minimized. We did this for 18 years at Christ Community Church with far more blessing than weird off-key expressions.

…read the full article at this link.


*The meeting I referred to took place in Toronto under the name Reach Out. “Everyone Gives, Everyone Receives.”

 

 

December 8, 2018

Taking Responsibility for What You Read Here

This is an updated re-post of an article I wrote which appeared here in 2014.

Gal 6:11(NIV) See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if the Apostle Paul lived in a world that had our technology? Would he have a blog? It would definitely get his letters delivered faster to the various spiritual communities to whom he wrote.

Or what if Paul were spreading his message through political advertising. Not all candidates in North America elections run to win, many are just trying to get a position in front of the greatest number of people, and an election campaign is a good way to do that. I can just hear the voice-over announcer finishing his script and then we hear words so common in the U.S. and Canada,

“My name is Paul and I approve this message.”

Paul’s “large letters” type of sign-off at the end of Galatians is repeated three other times in the New Testament…

Colossians 4:18
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

2 Thessalonians 3:17
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write.

Philemon 1:19
I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.

…but it’s the “large letters” comment that lend to the belief that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was his poor eyesight. Were his eyes always bad, or was this a leftover consequence of that moment on the Damascus Road?

However our focus today is the idea of Paul endorsing the message content that precedes his personal sign-off.

If Paul lived in our day and had a blog he wouldn’t simply be re-blogging other people’s content or having the scribe he employed finish off the epistle with ideas that were not Paul’s. No, his signature is not just a sign-off (in the sense of a signature) but he is personally signing off (in the sense of taking responsibility) on everything you’ve read up to that point.

I think it’s interesting that the first century Christ-followers were forging the doctrines we now follow. In a way, they were looking at the things Jesus taught and did, and then, in light of the resurrection and ascension, asked themselves the question that in our day was the title of a popular Christian book, “How shall we then live.” In other words, ‘Where do we go from here?’ Or, ‘What is the application of the Messiah’s teaching to our everyday lives, our work, our marriages, our parenting, our church-attending?’

With the technological metaphor still in view, Paul would definitely copy-and-paste parts of previous letters into future ones: We see many parallels in the epistles; two examples are his advice to husbands, wives, children and slaves; or his direction to put off the clothing of sin and clothe yourself (literally ‘put on’) in holiness and righteousness.

But wait a minute! I can hear some of you saying, “Isn’t this very blog one which borrows  content from other writers?” Yes, that is its very point. But while I probably don’t agree with every doctrinal/theological thing in every site to which this blog links, I do read and respect the quality of Biblical or doctrinal examination that takes place in the posts that are used here.

The problem, moving forward into a new year, is the proliferation of blogs that copy-and-paste material from other blogs because they feel it is expected of them to do so, or that they earn higher standing or greater acceptance with their blogging peers because of their perceived association with bloggers, writers or pastors of greater renown. They want to identify with some ideal they have of the Christian blogging community. Perhaps they get it from pastors who feel they add weight to their sermons by quoting from popular Christian sources.

And that’s just wrong.

And while we’ll include something every once in awhile from a pastor or author who is worth of name-dropping, most of what appears here is from people you’ve never heard of! People like you and me.

And so as I myself move forward into a new year, I want to be more forthright in terms of what I personally believe, while at the same time maintaining a forum here that is a melting pot for divergent doctrinal and theological positions. I want this to be a space that defies categories and classifications. I want this to be a taste of something deeper for those who have never experienced greater depth.

Not every day will hit the mark. And the blog post you feel is weak may be someone else’s personal favorite. But I will stand behind everything that appears here as being worthy of consideration. My hope is that like the Bereans, you’ll ‘search the scriptures’ to see if a writer’s take on a particular passage or topic is consistent with the rest of what scripture teaches.

I might not always pick the very best, but I’ll take responsibility for it, signing off on it just as the Apostle Paul put his stamp of approval on the communications that bore his name.

“My name is Paul and I approve this message.”

…well today, anyway.

December 7, 2018

What You Take In and What You Get Rid Of

NLT I Peter 2:1 So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech.Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment,3 now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

It’s been six months, and today we’re back at the website Live as If. (Part of StudyLight.org)

Today’s writer is Sandy Shaw. See below for his biography, and click the title which follows to read at source.

Keep One End Full and the Other Empty!

When we were ‘born again’ and came to believe in Jesus Christ and then learned that it was Jesus Christ Who took the initiative and called and chose us, we have that desire and motivation to serve loyally and lovingly and faithfully.

But even after receiving this wonderful new life – old habits can hang around.

Even as disciples of Jesus we are aware that old habits seem to cling to us – and we wonder if we will ever be rid of some of them. They can appear to have such a hold.

That is why Peter says – Now make the effort to get rid of certain things.

The new life will never die – but the old ways have to die.

We are in the concluding verses of I Peter Chapter 1.

When you are born again a seed is planted in us – verse 23 – the word used is “sperm” or “spore”. God planted His Sperm in us – it sounds very physical as well as spiritual – and it is – because just like a baby that seed has to grow, and develop and mature.

We are born again and after we have lived a number of years, we can discover that some habits and traits can be difficult to break.

It can be like men taking the hardest of granite.

In order to break that hard rock – they drill holes in it – a series of them – and then they break of pieces of a tree and place these pieces in each hole – and pour water in every day for two or three weeks. The cells of the wood grow – and the granite is split.

Life – new life – can crack and break that which is hard. The life of God in us and watered regularly through the Word and prayer and fellowship – can crack bad habits – and push other things out of the way – things that God does not want us to have in our lives.

We have to learn a new language as we speak to a new Father. We are a new baby growing – and we have to learn to walk and talk.

The physical life and spiritual life need the same kind of care.

One medical man said recently when asked by a new mother for one piece of advice as she was about to take the new five days old baby home – he said this – “Keep one end full and the other end empty and you won’t go far wrong”.

That is basically what Peter is saying here – Keep one part empty – and the other part full – and you disciples will not go far wrong.

Babies need washing and cleaning – and so do all growing Christians. As soon as the baby is born those present take away all the traces of that former existence in the womb. We too need to be washed and cleansed from our former existence – with all the traces being removed. That is why we have Baptism.

Peter mentions five things – which can cause spiritual disease if not dealt with. These five things can become a source of ill health.

1. Malice – that certainly can prevent or stunt or thwart your growth. Malice has been described as – a perverted joy in hurting someone else. Or it is a desire to bring a person down a peg or two. Peter says – now get rid of that.

2. Deceit – guile – being deceitful – being too clever by half. Peter says – now get all of that out of your life – have nothing to do with underhand methods – and don’t be a snake in the grass.

3. Hypocrisy – insincerity – play acting. Take off any mask – be real. Don’t be hiding behind some exterior – deal with that at the beginning of your Christian Life. Be what God would have you to be.

4. Envy – this was responsible for the first murder in history. Envy looks at someone and says – “They have more money than I have – they have more opportunities than me – they have more gifts than I have – they have more friends than I have. They have more – and I resent that!

Envy is a horrible thing – and Peter says don’t envy – get rid of all that. Get this side cleaned up – if you want to grow.

5. Slander of every kind – this can be so harmful if it is allowed to lurk around – gossip. It is like a beast of prey that does not wait for the death of the creature it devours.

These must be washed out of our lives – and then we are told to crave pure spiritual milk.

LUNGE at the very breast of God. We need more than just rooting out bad things – we need to be filled with good things.

Keep one end empty – and the other end full – and you won’t go far wrong as you follow Jesus Christ.

“Gracious God, help us to be rid of those things which should have no place in our lives. We find this difficult at times. Enable us to grasp the truth of your Word in this part of Scripture – and as we feed upon Your Word day by day, may we grow and develop and mature. Risen and living Jesus, help us. Holy Spirit, help us.” Amen.

– Sandy Shaw


Word from Scotland‘ Copyright 2018 © Sandy Shaw; used by permission.

More devotions like this at Live As If.

Alexander “Sandy” Shaw is pastor of Nairn Christian Fellowship in Nairn, Scotland. Nairn is 17 miles east of Inverness – on the Moray Firth Coast – not far from the Loch Ness Monster! Gifted as a Biblical teacher, Sandy is firmly committed to making sure that his teachings are firmly grounded in the Word. Sandy has a weekly radio talk which can be heard via the Internet on Saturday at 11:40am, New Orleans time, at wsho.com.

December 6, 2018

Mary, Did You Know

Editor’s Note: During the next few days articles here will weave in and out of the Christmas theme.

by Clarke Dixon

How would you have responded to such surprising news? Or even the shock of an angel speaking to you in the first place? A baby will be on the way, a little baby, but a huge surprise! Even more surprising, a man will not be involved in conception! Keep in mind Mary was possibly somewhere between thirteen to fifteen years of age according to Bible scholars. How would you have responded to this news at that age? How would you have responded if you were her Mum or Dad? Perhaps there is a reason she “set out and went with haste” (Luke 1:39) to see Elizabeth. Perhaps she would understand. Who else could Mary turn to with such a big and crazy sounding surprise?

Did Mary even grasp grasp what was really going on? Did she really understand what the angel was saying to her?

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. Luke 1:30-31

No mention of a virgin conception just yet, however the name “Jesus” would have set off bells for Mary. The name “Jesus” is the equivalent of the Hebrew name “Joshua” which means “God rescues.” Perhaps this child will be involved in a rescue somehow. Perhaps this child will be like Moses. Would Mary have grasped how much greater a rescue would happen through Jesus than the rescue of Israel through Moses? The angel continues:

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, . . . Luke 1:32

Could Mary have known just how great Jesus would become? Would she have been able to guess the profound impact of Jesus? “He will be great” would turn out to be the understatement of the ages.

. . . and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Luke 1:32-33

This must have set Mary’s heart racing, although I’m sure it was beating fast enough by this point. God had been promising that someone would sit on the throne of David, the Messiah, the Christ to use the Greek term. Could it be that Mary has been chosen to give birth to the promised Messiah?! What a surprise!

But there is an even bigger surprise to come:

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Luke 1:34

“Joseph is on his way to marry you sooner than you thought” would be surprising but not unreasonable. But no, there is a much bigger surprise in store for Mary:

The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. Luke 1:34-35

This will be a virgin conception, in fact something better, a God-conception! This has never happened before! This child must be something, or rather, someOne special indeed. This is the idea behind “holy” which means “set apart, different.” Was Mary aware of just how holy her child would be?

We should note here that the people of God were expecting God to return, and for God to send them a messiah. They were expecting it to be much like God coming to rescue Israel from Egypt, using Moses. They were not expecting God Himself to be the Messiah. This, however, is what the God-conception was pointing to. This was a huge surprise for everyone! While Isaiah 7:14 seems to prophesy a virgin birth, Biblical scholars point out that the original Hebrew often simply means “young woman” and that no one was really expecting a virgin birth to occur based on this prophecy, certainly not Mary.

Did Mary really “get it”? Would Mary have been aware that “Son of the Most High” meant much more than that her baby would have a special relationship with God? That the “Son of God” she was to carry was actually “God the Son”? Keeping in mind the age and education of Mary, would she have been thinking “this must be what future theologians will call the incarnation”? Not likely.

You have likely heard the song “Mary, Did You Know?” written by Mark Lowry. Here is the final stanza:

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know
That your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding
Is the Great I Am

Oh Mary did you know?

Did Mary really know Who her son really was? Did she get it? Do we? Do we get the big surprise God has for us?

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

The Bible uses the same language here for the disciples receiving the Holy Spirit, as it does for Mary conceiving Jesus. Mary had the awesome privilege of carrying God the Son. We have the awesome privilege of carrying God the Holy Spirit:

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 1 Cor 3:16

Mary had the surprising privilege of being the mother of the Son of God. We have a surprise privilege too, of becoming the children of God:

And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:6

Do we really know? Do we really know the amazing wonderful and surprising privilege that is ours in Christ?

How did Mary respond to God’s little BIG surprise?

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1:38

Mary submitted and committed to the surprise from God. We can too.

This last verse has often been used to preach on obedience, which leads us to think of rules of course. But the focus here is on the promise of God. Mary’s obedience was to say “yes” to the promises of God. Are we obedient like Mary? Have you and are you saying “yes” to God’s promises? When we say “Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word” what we are submitting to is:

  • the promise of forgiveness and reconciliation with God.
  • the promise of the Holy Spirit coming upon us birthing something new in is!
  • the promise of God’s presence.
  • the promise that we will be God’s witnesses.
  • the promise of eternal life.

How would you have responded to the surprising news if you were in Mary’s shoes? How do you respond to the surprising news in your own?



Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. All scripture references are NRSV.

Check out Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. Portions of today’s devotional were pre-recorded! Listen to the original 23 minute sermon.

December 5, 2018

We Have Both a Sinful Nature and a Divine Nature

A few weeks ago I shared a conversation with someone on the very topic of today’s article. We live in the intersection of two worlds; this world and the world to come; and we possess both a fallen nature and an Imago dei nature. Keith Giles is an author, podcast host, house church pastor and blogger at Patheos.  This is our third time highlighting his writing here at C201.

Please click through to read articles here at source. We post them here as a matter of record and for email subscribers, but you are strongly encouraged to send some blog traffic to the original writers’ site of origin.

Our Divine Potential

The question usually gets framed as something like: “Do you believe that humans are all born in original sin?” or “Do humans have a sin nature?”

For me, the problem is in the question itself. It assumes the answer before anyone can really consider all the variables.

As an example, we could factually say that every human being goes to the bathroom on a regular basis. So, does that mean that humans are poopers by nature? Well, yes, but is that our identity? Is that who you are?

Of course not. The fact that everyone poops is not a reflection of their nature, or their character. It’s just a fact. People poop. But, who we are is so much more!

So, the fact that people have the potential for evil, or even that we all sometimes act in ways that are selfish, or unforgiving, or hateful, or harmful, does NOT mean that this is who we are by nature. Why? Because these same people – you and me – are also constantly doing things that are thoughtful, and kind, and selfless, and compassionate, and good.

In other words, we all have the potential for both good and evil. We are no less born with a sinful nature than we are with a righteous nature. Everyone has the potential for either, or both, at any given time.

The Good News is that we also have the potential to share in the Divine Nature of Christ:

“His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:3-4; NRSV)

This is the other reason I reject the notion of Original Sin, because it keeps us in a pre-Christian state of mind where we are hopeless and helpless to overcome our darker tendencies. The Good News is that Christ empowers us to live (abide) in the life of Christ and learn to participate in his Divine nature.

In other words: We all have the potential for both good and bad thoughts/actions, but if we abide in Christ we can start to experience our Divine Potential.

The emphasis, then, is not on our sinfulness, or our tendency to fail, but on our awesome ability to be like Christ (which is the whole point of the Gospel of the Kingdom).

We are not only called to walk as Jesus did, we are empowered to do so, and have been given “everything we need for life and godliness.”

So, rather than fixate on our sinful potential, the shift we need to make is to focus on our divine potential.

You are not a sinner, even if once in a while you sin. You are a child of God who is made in this Divine image, and you have been given everything you need to grow into this new nature today.

You have a Divine Potential. Start living in that reality as soon as possible.

Why not right now?



Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian sources. 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. Please click through on titles to read articles at the site where they originally appeared.

December 4, 2018

Repentance Must Be Proven

by Russell Young

Concerning his ministry Paul wrote: “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20) The Lord also told some Pharisees and Sadducees who had come to be baptized, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Mt 3:7─8) He further taught, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch in me that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful,” (Jn 15:1─2) and added, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit, apart from me he can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) Producing good fruit is the proof of a person’s repentance.

The need to repent of sins and to prove that repentance through deeds, is vital to understanding the fullness of the gospel. It is the part that has been excluded from modern teaching. Paul was instructive about the need for more to take place than justification through the blood of Christ. “Since we have been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Rom 5:9─10 Italics added) It needs to be appreciated that reconciliation with God is not the full need of those who will dwell eternally with him. Reconciliation restores relationship with God so that he or she can get the Spirit. (Gal 3:14) In his letter to the Colossians Paul wrote, “To the [saints] he has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27) The “life” of Christ that is “the more” is Christ in the believer, the Spirit, and he is to be obeyed. (Heb 5:9)

Modern philosophical constructs have twisted the Word to offer eternal salvation as a “gift” of God. (Salvation or deliverance from past sins and from the requirements of the Old Covenant is a gift; however, eternal salvation which provides freedom from judgment is not a direct gift.) Surely, they would argue, if eternal salvation is a “gift,” there can be no “more” required. By making such an assertion, they deny the “more” and the need to prove repentance by deeds. Those who live so boldly before God by rejecting the Lord’s leadership as Spirit (Rom 8:4, 14; Gal 5:18; Jn 10:27), will have to suffer his wrath.

The gospel as taught by Paul, and the teaching of Christ, is that the saints are to prove their repentance by their deeds. Proving it requires living a life that is consistent with repentance and does not rest on an utterance once made. Paul wrote that believers are to work out (finish, complete) their own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12), and the Lord admonished his listeners, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24 Italics added) Although philosopher-theologians have protected believers through the cloak of Christ’s great love and mercy, neither Paul nor the Lord have allowed such freedom. Repentance must be proven. Only the holy will see the Lord. (Heb 12:14)

When have you last heard teaching on the need for obedience, or on judgment for disobedience? Have you been told that having to endure God’s wrath is still a possibility? God’s love is expansive but not unconditional; it does not cover defiance and disobedience. He is building a kingdom of love and respect for his sovereignty. God gave his Son as propitiation for the sins of humankind and he gifted the Spirit so that his righteous requirements might be met. (Rom 8:4) The Spirit was given so that those who believe the Lord’s testimony and by their will submit in obedience to him are able to prove their repentance and avoid God’s wrath. “For we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor 5:10) As Malachi prophesied, “And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” (Mal 3:18)

Those who fail to prove their repentance will find themselves separated from the Lord. “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) The separation will be based on their “doing” and willingness to submit to their Lord or whether or not they have truly repented for their rebellion and defiance.


Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His 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 a feature-length article at this link.

December 3, 2018

What Controls Your Mind?

Today we’re back with Colin Sedgwick at Welcome to Sedgonline, and in the course of preparing today’s item, I read several more of his devotionals, every one of which would be a good fit here. In his bio, Colin mentions that he is a Baptist minister and then adds, ” My wife is a teacher and I have two large sons.” Hmmm. Be sure to click the title below to read this at source and then take a few minutes to look around at other recent articles.

Something to have in mind…

The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:6

What sort of mind do you have?

I don’t mean by that, Are you a really high-powered intellectual – someone who can speak fifteen languages fluently, or understand Einstein’s Theory of Relativity? (Or even understand Brexit?)

No. I’m not asking how clever you are; I’m asking about what we might call the shape, the basic character or essence, of your mind. Lazy or active? Open or closed? Teachable or dull? Selective or gullible? Stubborn or flexible? That sort of thing…

As Christians we often talk about our “hearts” – as in “giving our heart to Jesus”, perhaps, or “loving God with all our heart”. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But do we tend to relegate our mind to a back seat, and treat it as if it doesn’t really matter? When did you last consciously think about your mind? Do you value it? Do you do everything you can to keep it, so to speak, in a good state of repair?

Sorry to bombard you with questions. But in the Bible the mind is treated as extremely important. Indeed, when Jesus speaks about the “heart”, often it’s what today we would call the mind that he is really talking about.

Paul too has some very challenging things to say: for example, that we are to be “transformed by the renewal of our minds” (Romans 12:2), and to “set our minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2). Perhaps most striking of all: We have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16).

In Romans 8:5-7 – just three verses – he refers to the mind five times. Verse 6 sums up well what he is driving at: “the mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace”. (By “the flesh” he doesn’t simply mean our physical bodies, and sex in particular, but the whole of our human nature which has been poisoned and corrupted by sin.)

It seems that having a new, strong, clean, efficiently functioning mind matters!

So we can add to that earlier list of opposites – lazy or active, stubborn or flexible and the rest – another pair: “according to the flesh” or “according to the Spirit”? Are our minds still groping about in the darkness of this fallen world’s values? Or are they indeed being “renewed” through the power and purity of the Holy Spirit?

This wonderful “renewal of the mind” is the work of the Holy Spirit. But that doesn’t mean we can leave it all up to him. No: we too have a part to play, and it can be hard work. Above all, it involves that most difficult task of all: resisting temptation.

You will almost certainly know people who strike you as being particularly gracious and Christlike. There is, well, something about them that impresses you; you can’t quite put your finger on it or put it into words, but it’s just there.

If you ask, “How did he/she come to be like this?”, the answer is that it isn’t just a matter of luck, or upbringing, or good genes, but that, probably for many years, that person has been taking the character of their mind seriously and making a conscious effort to mould it to a Christlike shape.

They’re tempted to be gossipy or bitchy? – then they will clamp their mouths shut as quickly as possible. They find themselves feeling jealous? – all right, they will give themselves a telling-off. They do something good which stirs up in them feelings of pride? – they will immediately remind themselves that, no, it is God alone who deserves any credit or praise. They hear something a bit questionable or doubtful? – all right, they will set their mind to think about it, not just swallow it whole. And if they feel their temper beginning to flare up because of somebody’s stupidity or selfishness, they will breathe a silent prayer under their breath.

All of which involves putting their mind to work.

Always before their eyes they will hold a mental picture of Jesus, and remember that it is he, and not some passing fashion or opinion, who is to dictate the workings of their mind.

Putting it simply, such a person will develop the discipline of censoring their own mind in order to keep it “according to the Spirit.” They will always remember that just as we need to watch the kind of food we feed our bodies with, even more do we need to watch the kind of “food” we feed our minds with. Rubbish in, rubbish out, remember…

They won’t always succeed, of course; no, there will be times when they fail. But when that happens, instead of letting themselves feel crushed and useless, they will claim from God the forgiveness which he promises  to those who are truly sorry (1 John 1:9).

There’s a lot more that could be said. But perhaps it’s time to go back to the question we started with: What kind of mind do I have…?

May the mind of Christ my Saviour
Live in me from day to day.
By his love and power controlling
All I do or say. Amen.

~ Kate B Wilkinson (1859-1928)


Read more: In this article, Colin Shares his experiences with his Muslim barber.

December 2, 2018

The Other, Wrong Type of Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:06 pm
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“Two kinds of religion exist in our world: Religion A and Religion B. The first is “faith” in name only (2 Timothy 3:5). It’s the outward practice of Christianity without genuine faith in the living Lord.

Religion B, on the other hand, is a life-transforming, destiny-changing experience. It’s a definite commitment to the crucified and risen Savior, which establishes an ongoing personal relationship between a forgiven sinner and a gracious God.

Are you bogged down in the empty ritual of Religion A? If so, you must receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Then make sure your relationship with Christ is growing deeper and more vital every day.” – Vernon C. Grounds.

Due to an unforeseen hospital trip, this item arrived online about 90 minutes late. Nothing had been scheduled so I went to the one website that is always a rich storehouse of material, DailyEncouragement.net by Stephen and Brooksyne Weber. Click the title below to read at source and then, if your unfamiliar with the work, click on some current devotionals. This was originally published on their site in 2013 and is appearing here for the first time.

Serving The Living And True God

You turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:9,10).

We often visit a blog that chronicles the persecution scores of Christians presently face, especially in the Muslim countries. It keeps before us the reality of hardship that many live with as they hold on to their Christian faith. It’s a powerful antidote to keep us from whining about those matters which are often rather miniscule problems and also provides perspective about the importance of religious freedom.

The Thessalonian believers had “turned to God from idols.” Likely the idols that Paul referred to are our stereotype image of idols; figures fashioned with wood, metal or stone. But in turning to God the Thessalonian believers turned from worthless, lifeless and powerless idols “to serve a living and true God”. That’s the healthy norm in genuine conversion!

Essentially an idol is an object of worship, or that which we attribute worth to. Worship is derived from the Old English worthscipe, meaning worthiness or worth-ship — to give, at its simplest, worth to something.

The Apostle John ended his first epistle by calling on his readers to “keep yourselves from idols.” Today in our modern western world idols may be fashioned differently than the idols mentioned in the Bible but they’re still very much present. We have them in abundance and in such variety that, should I begin to list them, it would result in too lengthy a message. In addition, an object that might be an idol to me may not be so for you, and vice versa.

An article on worship states: “In modern society and sociology, some writers have commented on the ways that people no longer simply worship organized religions, but many now also worship consumer brands, sports teams, and other people (celebrities).” (I would add; some worship political figures.)

Genuine conversion involves turning away from any idol that competes with or robs our heart’s affections from the one true and living God. We make this turn “to serve the living and true God.” Everybody is serving someone or something.  Genuine conversion involves devoting ourselves fully to the living and true God consistently and faithfully.  Are you doing so?

And to wait for His Son from heaven.” Clearly at the heart of Paul’s preaching was a reminder that, as we serve God during our earthly journey, we wait expectantly for the return of His Son, Jesus Christ. The Precept commentary states,

“To wait for the Lord’s return is a sure characteristic of a true believer. The present tense can be rendered ‘keep on waiting’. Waiting for the return of their Lord and King was their lifestyle, the habit of their life, the truth that colored all their daily activities and afflictions.”

Whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus.” In our daily encouragement messages this week we are studying texts that reference the resurrection of Jesus Christ. A careful reading of the entire New Testament following Christ’s resurrection reveals how often the Scripture writers refer to the resurrection thus teaching and reinforcing it. On the whole we may not consider the focus of our daily Scripture portion to be on the resurrection but it certainly is foundational.

Who rescues us from the wrath to come” I am giving a lot of consideration to this phrase “the wrath to come”. Some commentators feel it is the general wrath in the sense of eternal punishment, others consider it a specific period of wrath in the tribulation period. As I watch events taking place right before my eyes I really wonder if we are entering into a period known as the Great Apostasy as expressed in 2 Thessalonians 2. There is such a rapid hastening in discarding time honored Biblical teaching.

Genuine conversion involves expectant waiting for Christ’s return as our heart’s affections are heightened to things above instead of being bound to things below. Are you looking up expectantly as you live out your Christian life down here below?

Daily prayerFather, we’re reminded through the writings of the Apostle Paul that our lives are observed by those who see us day in and day out. What a wonderful change comes into our lives as we surrender our hearts to You, the living and true God. And yet we must be on guard so that worthless idols do not win our affections; otherwise the light of Your Son Jesus will be diminished in our hearts and thereby, our witness. No person or object is of greater worth than that of Your Holy Spirit Who resides in our hearts and prompts us to lift our eyes toward our heavenly redemption that is drawing closer every hour. Thank You for saving us from the coming wrath when Your judgment is poured out on those who do not believe. In the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

 


 

December 1, 2018

Slaughter in the Name of Holy War

Every once in awhile we discover a blog which is new to us that we really, really liked; only to return six months later and find it has become inactive. So it was with the devotional blog called Comfort and Challenge. I really resonated with the unique format and writing by Joseph Schultz, so in addition to clicking the title below, take a moment to see what God might speak to you through the backlist of some of the older devotions. This particular article deals with an area of the Old Testament which can become a barrier to faith for seekers and skeptics; namely, the violence. Note that the opening link takes you to a medley of four scripture passages.

Alien

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 5; 145, Joshua 2:1-14, Romans 11:1-12, Matthew 25:1-13


The book of Joshua jars modern Christian sensibilities – or at least it should.

Full of slaughter committed in the name of holy war, the Hebrew text frequently refers to kherem, a word meaning “to utterly destroy.” Try as we might, can we imagine Jesus commanding a group of Christians to annihilate not just one town but several down to the last woman, child, goat, and shed? Even for those who believe Jesus will return as a conqueror, that image should be disturbing. However we struggle with and maybe resist such ideas, grappling with them helps us grow in our understanding of human and divine nature.

When I was a kid, I watched Star Trek reruns every Saturday. I especially loved episodes that introduced new alien races. As I grew older, I noticed a disturbing trend. Each race seemed homogenous. They didn’t just have identical uniforms – they had uniform values, opinions, and attitudes. When we did meet aliens who were exceptions, what set them apart was almost always an embrace of familiar human values. Despite the intentional diversity given to the Enterprise crew by its creative team, the human tendency to stereotype the unfamiliar and exalt the familiar emerged.

When Joshua’s spies encounter Rahab in today’s reading, she is the exceptional alien. When she protects them – that is, when she embraces their values – she becomes sympathetic, so she and her family will be spared from the coming destruction. Even though she explicitly tells the spies there are other Canaanites who share her beliefs, those people are not even considered for mercy. If Joshua or his people had come to know other Canaanites as they had Rahab, how eager would they have been to embrace kherem? How does the narrative in Joshua compare with God’s earlier instruction in Exodus 22:21 – “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt?

Clearly genocide is not an acceptable notion for modern Christians or Jews. While it is true God’s justice is beyond our understanding, any comfort – or even eagerness – some of us find in the notion of slaughtering God’s (which usually means our) enemies requires some serious reflection on our own hearts and motives. When reading Joshua, we must account for cultural context and seek out the theological themes underlying the story itself. Our reaction to its violence is an opportunity to reflect on how God wants us to relate to the alien today.

Comfort: No one is an alien to God.

Challenge: Who is your Rahab? On a bookmark-sized piece of paper, make a list of people who have defied your cultural preconceptions. Use it to mark your place as we read through the book of Joshua over the next couple weeks.

Prayer: God of the Known and Unkown, temper my judgments and cultivate my mercy. Amen.

Discussion: Who is your Rahab? Who has defied your cultural preconceptions? Did they influence your view of only themselves, or of many people?

November 30, 2018

Delighting in the Way God Works

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Back in May we introduced you to the writing of Melody who has been writing devotions at In Pleasant Places for almost six years. Her blog started from correspondence she was sharing with a friend, as she explained in her story. To read today’s article at her blog, click the title below.

To See More of Our God – Psalm 119:16

“I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.”

Psalm 119:16

This verse compelled a specific prayer of my heart: Lord, may I delight in Your statutes.

Not just obeying them because I know I’m supposed to – although we are to exercise discipline to obey even when we don’t “feel” like it – but seeking to delight in them.

Including the very difficult ones. Those we don’t understand. Those that seem impossible. Those that quite honestly can hurt to follow.

Like forgiving someone who appears unapologetic and unrepentant, with no indication of turning. Who has cut so deeply. May I delight to forgive, even under these circumstances.

Delight not because it is fun or easy, and not because of pride or self-righteousness (which would be sin on my part) – but because it shows me more of the Lord.

Delight because as I feel the deep hurt and wrestle with the decision to forgive, to love, I gain a deeper understanding of my God’s character.

Because this is who our God is. And isn’t that amazing? This is what the Living God, Creator and Ruler of all things – this is what He does. This is what He chooses.

He forgives. He loves. Even at great personal cost. He went through such pain, such suffering, to forgive sinners who had rejected Him and given Him no reason to show mercy. Let alone to show favor, to offer to bring them in as beloved children.

When I am hurt and offended, when I am faced with the command to forgive, to bless, to show compassion, I gain a glimpse of my Savior. Of His choice. Of His greatness and the greatness of His love. The power of it to overcome any desire for retaliation. That He would desire forgiveness and restoration, that He would choose patience in order to give so many the choice to reconcile instead of delivering the justice so rightfully due to them – so rightfully due to me (2 Peter 3:9, 15).

What great, powerful love. What astounding character. What strength to choose forgiveness when it demands so much. This is our God. This is the Savior by whose name we are called. The name above all names, because of what He accomplished on the cross.

We grasp that more deeply when we walk through a situation that brings us even an inkling of His suffering.

This is the delight I see within the statutes of our God, within the commands of how we are to walk through this life…it isn’t just some list of rules. He didn’t outline them in order to make our life difficult. It is insight into who our God is. There is purpose in each command, and it is all for our good and to display His goodness and glory and salvation to the world. So they will see Him.

O Lord, may I delight in Your statutes, delight to follow them, because they show me more of who You are. More of Your character, which is holy, righteous, blameless, faithful, pure, steadfast, and filled with powerful love. May I delight to see You here, and delight to know more deeply how holy and wonderful You are as I follow in Your footsteps. Requiring Your strength to walk in Your ways, because they are so far above my broken, fallen capabilities. Highlighting the great beauty of You and stirring renewed wonder at how You are molding me into Your character, to reflect that beauty in this vessel of clay. So may I delight. Delight to see You. Delight to walk with You in the light, experiencing You in the process, realizing the choices Jesus made as one who was fully human and fully God, and delight to know You more as a result.

November 29, 2018

Who’s In Charge Down Here?

Today marks the 20th anniversary of Clarke Dixon’s ordination. Congratulations on two decades of faithful service!


by Clarke Dixon

Who is in charge down here? Life can make us wonder. Is God in charge? Are we ever in charge? It might feel like the battle goes to the strong and the bullies are in charge. World history reads like a list of bullies giving way to bigger bullies. Personal relationships are marked by bullies taking charge. This past Sunday marked the International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women. How long has humanity been around and women are still being bullied by men? Perhaps disease is in charge, or finances, or whatever we might be addicted to. Who is in charge down here?

It is a question the people of God in Daniel’s day could ask. They were well acquainted with big, brutal empires. If it is not the Egyptians, it is the Assyrians, and if not them it is the Persians. The first part of Daniel chapter seven affirms that this has been and will be the experience of God’s people. Daniel was given a vision of four terrible beasts arising out of the Sea. This is symbolic of the rise of four successive empires that are brutal. Bible scholars have seen these as symbolic of a mix of the Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Greeks and Romans. Whichever empires they refer to, the bullies are in charge. This is an affirmation of what God’s people were experiencing; yes, it seems that bullies are in control down here.

However, there is a crucial moment spoken of in Daniel 7:

As I watched,
thrones were set in place,
and an Ancient One took his throne,
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames,
and its wheels were burning fire.
A stream of fire issued
and flowed out from his presence.
A thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him.
The court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened. Daniel 7:9-10 (NRSV)

Brutal empires seem to be charge down here, but that is only until we are reminded Who really sits on the throne in the heavens. The imagery used in the passage above speaks to the wisdom of God and to judgement. Indeed, judgement comes next:

I watched then because of the noise of the arrogant words that the horn was speaking. And as I watched, the beast was put to death, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. Daniel 7:11-12 (NRSV)

The Kingdoms are stripped of power.  So who is in charge?

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. Daniel 7:13-14 (NIV)

The Son of Man is in charge. In other words, the beast-like empires give way to someone who knows how to rule like a real gentleman. According to some Bible scholars, the original readers would have focused on this as a promise to the whole people of God rather than to the Messiah. That is, Israel will someday rule instead of these empires. However, Jesus did something remarkable. At various times he referred to himself as “son of man.” He goes on to explicitly make himself the focus of Daniel 7:

Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” 61 But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”
Jesus said, “I am; and
‘you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power,’
and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! Mark 14:60-64 (NRSV emphasis added)

Looking back to Daniel 7, Jesus is the one who “approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence” (Daniel 7:13). We see elements of this is what we call the ascension of Jesus:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.  They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:6-11 (NRSV)

While the disciples were asking about the kingdom of Israel as a political entity, fact is, Jesus is now the king. As per Daniel 7, Jesus has taken his rightful place as the one in charge, now all nations are to worship him. His disciples are to be members of His kingdom, calling others to trust and worship the true king:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV)

Jesus is the rightful ruler, the better ruler, the one who reigns as a good and humane king unlike the empires that were described as beasts in Daniel 7. Jesus is a better ruler than anyone or anything else that tries to take charge in our world or in our lives. The awful things in life can make us wonder who is in charge. It might not feel like God is. It certainly might not feel like we are. Part of trusting Jesus, is to trust that Jesus is the king,  the good king, the coming king, and we are already his kingdom people.

Though the bullies may take charge and we may be victimized by life circumstances, when all is said and done we are not victims, but victors in Christ. Let the bullies do their worst, the true king has done and will do his best!

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 (NIV)


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.

Check out Clarke’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

November 28, 2018

The Life We’ve Been Given

We’re returning to a writer we introduced to you six months ago at one of our Sunday Worship columns. John R. Shuman writes at Truth Fully Spoken. This was part of a post for the U.S. Thanksgiving, so we’ve modified the introduction, but if you prefer, click the (revised non-seasonal) title below to read this article in full at the original site.

I Am Thankful for Life

Everyday IS A Gift

Nothing is ever promised, we are never guaranteed anything beyond this moment…

The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:31-32

31 I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,

“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die.”

And James 4:13-14 says:

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

We are nothing more than a “mist”, something that hangs around for a moment and then disappears.  And we are not promised anything beyond this moment.  Today is a day to reflect on the gift we were given, the gift of life.

Life IS A Gift

Every breath we have is a gift.  Every heartbeat (as stated in the song, thank you Randy) is a gift from God.  And Jesus tells us that in John 10:7-10

Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.10 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

Jesus came to us to save us, yes, but more than that, he came to Give us LIFE, more life than we ever knew existed, more life than we deserve, more life than we can handle on our own.  And the life we get is freely given by Jesus because….

Jesus IS Life

John 1:1-5 talks about Jesus in this way…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

Jesus is (according to this passage)

  1. The word (vs 1)
  2. God (vs 1)
  3. Eternal (vs 2)
  4. Creator (vs 3)
  5. ESSENTIAL (vs 3)
  6. Life (vs 4)
  7. Light (vs 4)
  8. Not understood by those not in the light.  (vs 5)

And those things are important to living.  Everyone of those things are needed for us to live.  we must…

  1. read God’s word- we can not know God without knowing His word.
  2. accept God into our life- we can not accept God before we Know His word.
  3. Follow God for eternity- life does not cease here, we are told that we have an eternity beyond this lifespan.
  4. create a new lifestyle. Once we follow God we must be dead to our old life and be born again a new creation.
  5. We must BE Essential, we must be a shining example for all to see so that others will see God in us.
  6. We MUST LIVE- we can not hide away once we follow God, laws do not stop just because we follow God.  So we still need to work, and live a life here.
  7. We must shine for the world, we NEED to be the light of man.  we need to be the flame that draws moths in.
  8. We must PROVIDE understanding to the world, so that they will no longer be in darkness.

Jesus is our life, and we must give that life to the world just as Jesus gave us life.  John 3:16-17 (my favorite verses) tells us

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

God freely gives us this life, life EVERLASTING, and He gave it to us so that we might spend eternity WITH HIM.  He does not want us to perish, he does not want us to walk in the darkness, he does not want us to die without knowing Him.  What God wants is for us to HAVE LIFE, and have life MORE ABUNDANTLY!

Give Thanks

So, I am thankful for LIFE, because this moment is more than I was promised, this moment is a gift from God, and this moment is a time to celebrate.  The life I have is not mine, it is God’s, and I am thankful for that.  This life was given to me by God, and I am thankful for that.  The people around me (family and friends) get to share in this life with me, and I am thankful for that.  My job is an extension of my life, part of who I am, and I am thankful for that.  My life is full of mercy, grace, forgiveness, love, and compassion… Not mine but God’s, and I am thankful for that.

So, if you ask me “What are you thankful for?” And I reply “Life!” you now know that there is more to life than meets the eye.  I am overflowing with thanksgiving, and to limit that thankfulness to people or things does an injustice to the very life I have that makes it so I can enjoy those other things.

Prayer Time

God, THANK YOU for this life, thank you for giving me more life than I knew existed, thank you for giving ME anything at all, but especially this life.  Thank you, Jesus, for providing me the life needed to spread you light throughout the world, I pray that the moths are drawn to this flame so that they might gather the understanding of the light and they too can spread it wherever they may go.  Lord, I know that this is not always a time of celebration, but in some lives a time of sadness, I pray that you provide comfort to us that grieve now be with us as we go on through life.  Sadness is fleeting, pain heals, emotions will change, and emptiness will be filled, but these do take time, Lord be with those people that need it and let them know you are there for the ENTIRE time.  I lift up your children, Lord, for we are always in need of reminders of your love, grant us your love and mercy every moment of every day and help us to remember that you are there and that you are freely giving us all we need.  THANK YOU GOD FOR GIVING ME THIS ABUNDANT LIFE!

 

 

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