Christianity 201

January 6, 2019

Epiphany Sunday

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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by Ruth Wilkinson

Hands up if your Christmas tree is still vertical and decorated. Yes, I see those hands.

You’ll be glad to know that you’re not wrong – according to the worldwide Church calendar, Christmas isn’t over.

All around the globe, we observe this Sunday as Epiphany – a celebration of the arrival of the wise men from far beyond Israel’s borders.

They weren’t there on the night Jesus was born. They probably never met the shepherds or heard the angels. Their journey may have begun that night, and they arrived up to a couple of years later when Jesus was a toddler, running around getting into everything.

But their arrival marked some amazing good news for those outside the Jewish community. God had come for everyone. The borders of His Kingdom had shifted and expanded to include those of us who were, for so long, on the outside looking in.

So we find in the Scriptures this message:

The Lord led Abraham outside and said,
“Look at the sky. Count the stars, if you can.
Your family will be like that…

“I’ll make you into a great nation.

“I’ll bless you,
and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Until that promise was fulfilled
we Gentiles were without the Messiah,
foreigners to the promise,
without hope
and without God in the world.

But now in Christ Jesus, we who were far away have been brought near.

Through Him we are no longer outsiders and foreigners,
but partners of the promise,
and members of God’s household,
built on a foundation of Christ Jesus Himself.

This great news was first made known to the world through Gentile wise men
who arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is He? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

Now we are saved by grace through faith – God’s gift.

And even more –
As Abraham was blessed so he could become a blessing,
we are His creation, created for good works in Christ Jesus
which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.

Bold, and confident of more than we could ask or think.
His power. His riches.
Raised up by the fulfillment of one promise,
to be the embodiment of another.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

 


References: Genesis 12, Genesis 15, Ephesians 2, Ephesians 3, Matthew 2


Previous devotionals on Epiphany:

January 5, 2019

Relationship Imperfections Remind Us of What Only God Can Fill

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re back with Gary Henry at WordPoints. After a long internal debate as to which of these I should run, I decided to use both of them — Gary presented them both the same day — as I felt that the subjects were integrated. Click the title to read either at source and then navigate from there to check out the other great topics on the site.

Our Need for Relationship

“That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).

A NEED FOR RICH PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP IS DEEPLY EMBEDDED IN OUR CREATED NATURE

We owe our existence not to impersonal forces, but to a personal Creator, and it was the Creator Himself who said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). We are personal beings, and we were designed for full, vibrant relationship.

But sin destroys relationship. It severs us from God and from others, cutting us off from this thing that is so necessary to our na­ture. So there is perhaps no sy­mptom of sin any more obvious than the deep, gnawing pain of isolation. And in sin, there is no groaning more desperate than to be freed from our loneliness.

But however much we need relationship in general, our most vital need, the only one we can’t survive without, is our need for relationship with God.

“In every man there is a loneliness, an inner chamber of peculiar life into which God only can enter.”
(George MacDonald)

Our craving for God is a dependency we were meant to have. It is a profound need for perfect relationship, and to try to fill this need with our flawed connection to other human beings is not only wrong; it is hopeless.

If we fail to let God fill our need for love — if it is not in Him that our loneliness is taken away — then we will force an impossible mandate on the imperfect people around us. We will demand from others a satisfaction they aren’t capable of providing for us in this broken world. Only the infinite God is able to relate to us perfectly. And even with God, what we can have in this life is only a foretaste of the perfect union that heaven will provide.

When we find that even our most intimate earthly companions can’t provide the depth of relationship for which we were created, bitterness may be the tempting reaction. Yet there is a healthier response. We can see the imperfections in our own relationships as a salutary reminder. God alone is the One to whom we must look for life and unfailing love. To forget that is to lose the path that leads back home.

“Didst thou give me this inescapable loneliness so that it would be easier for me to give thee all?”
(Dag Hammarskjöld)

Refuge

“It was a dark and stormy night.”
(Edward Bulwer-Lytton)

TWO DIFFERENT TIMES COME AROUND SOONER OR LATER: (1) TIMES WHEN WE NEED A REFUGE, AND (2) TIMES WHEN SOMEONE ELSE NEEDS A REFUGE WE CAN PROVIDE

“Dark and stormy nights” are a fact of life, and when we find ourselves in the middle of one, our hearts need a safe place in which to shelter. It’s important to appreciate the shelter that others have given us in the past, and even more important to make our hearts a place where they’ll find a welcome when they’re the ones who are scared of the storm.

Having a heart that provides refuge for others takes some learning. Not many of us have such a heart naturally. Caring perhaps comes naturally, but showing compassion in ways that actually do some good is a skill that has to be learned. It’s not rocket science, maybe, but it does take a little education in the school of caregiving. We have to watch and listen. We have to apply good judgment. We have to learn from well-intentioned mistakes that we’ve made. In short, we have to grow in the quality of the mercy that we extend.

Men, especially, have to learn how to be a refuge to others. Since the simple gift of “nurturance” is not normally our strong suit, we have to exert extra effort to learn it. The strong masculine tendency to “fix” whatever’s wrong has to be reined in. To have hearts in which others find refuge, we must learn to see when a safe harbor is all that’s needed — and not a dry-dock facility for ship repair.

Who are those that need from you the gift of refuge? The answer would probably surprise you. If you knew the hurts that those around you carry with them every day, you would be astonished. You may never know those hurts. Your friends may never choose to confide in you about them. But you would do well to assume that most of the people you deal with are hurting. Be ready. Be prepared for the time when they might consider seeking some safety in their relationship with you. If that time ever comes, you will have bestowed on you one of life’s greatest privileges: the privilege of showing compassion.

“Discouraged people don’t need critics. They hurt enough already. They don’t need more guilt or piled-on distress. They need encouragement. They need a refuge. A willing, caring, available someone.”
(Charles R. Swindoll)


Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
  Colossians 3:12 NIV

We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love.
 2 Corinthians 6:6 NLT

January 4, 2019

The Help Someone Needs May Be You Sharing Your Story

Today’s devotional is from the website Partners in Hope Today, which we reconnected with six months ago. The devotionals posted there — in print and in audio — are especially focused for readers who are in a recovery program.  Click the title below to read at source.

Sharing the Message

Audio for SHARING THE MESSAGE

Within each personal story of the journey from bondage to freedom is the power of the Gospel to save those who are lost.  We are simply sinners saved by grace and kept clean and sober daily by God’s mercy.  When we tell our story, our lives give witness to God’s grace and mercy and we are fulfilling the great commission of spreading the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others.  We are pointing them to the pathway of their own healing journey with Jesus who said:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set at liberty those who are oppressed;” (Luke 4:18 NKJV)

The Bible tells us that if someone struggles we should be gentle and humble as we help them get back on the right path.  It’s important to remember how we were when we were slaves to our addiction, just as they are now.  We need to support the desire in a person’s spirit to carry out their new life choices, even while their flesh is weak.  We also need to respectfully warn others for whom we perceive ongoing danger.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  (Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV)

We are not the Saviour, but we can love others as God loves us.  Love goes beyond mere words.  Sometimes it is demonstrated in silence or in an understanding touch as we come alongside someone who has strayed from the path of recovery.  Love doesn’t accuse but encourages the person to get back on the path to healing and continue the journey.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, May my life reflect the joy of living life to the full so that others may believe in the power of the Gospel to save and transform lives.  Amen


Would you like to be able to share your testimony with others? It could be very helpful to someone you know or someone you don’t.

CRU — the organization once known as Campus Crusade — offers these tips in organizing your thoughts and the chronology of your personal story.


Although we don’t sing hymns in many of our churches anymore, I decided to include this contemporary version of “Love Lifted Me” as an example of how a story (testimony) can be a great encouragement to someone else.

(For a more rocking version, click this link.)

 

January 3, 2019

2018 “Bible Verse of the Year”

by Clarke Dixon

What was the most popular Bible verse of 2018? According to the popular Bible app YouVersion, the verse of the year was not John 3:16 or Romans 8:28 as you might expect. It was Isaiah 41:10.

Unfortunately, this verse is an indicator of what was on the hearts and minds of people around the world in 2018; fear and discouragement. We had many reasons for fear in 2018, such as changes in society and changes in our world with movements toward nationalism and various kinds of fundamentalism. We saw changes in relationships between nations, thinking especially of renewed trade wars. Most of us saw changes in ourselves. I am one year closer to the big five-O. Perhaps you are one year further away from it. Aging can be a great cause for fear. Then there are the things that stay the same; wars and rumours of wars, continuing oppression, natural disasters. There were reasons for fear in Isaiah’s day as well. Israel was a small nation surround by strong nations. That can be cause for fear in any age, but certainly back in the days when empires were eaten up by bigger empires.

What do we humans do when we are afraid? Isaiah tells us:

5 The lands beyond the sea watch in fear.
Remote lands tremble and mobilize for war.
6 The idol makers encourage one another,
saying to each other, “Be strong!”
7 The carver encourages the goldsmith,
and the molder helps at the anvil.
“Good,” they say. “It’s coming along fine.”
Carefully they join the parts together,
then fasten the thing in place so it won’t fall over. Isaiah 41:5-7

The New Living Translation makes clear what most other translations don’t. The artisans and goldsmiths are making idols. We have a tendency of turning to idolatry in the midst of fear. In Isaiah’s time people thought idols could control the future. Are we any different today? What do we think controls the future in our day? In answering this we tend to either run toward superstition, or away from it so far that we run from the supernatural altogether.

It amazes me when I check the news headlines using the Internet on my tablet as to how often the daily horoscope shows up among the headline news. Here we are as very sophisticated people with great technology in our hands, and yet people are still looking to the stars for their future.

Superstition can sneak into Christianity very easily. I have often used an app on my phone called IFTTT which means “if this, then that.” I program this app so that when I do the right “trigger,” it will automatically do the right action. So, for example, I can say “time to eat,” and text messages are sent to our boys that dinner is ready. People often treat God that way. If I do this, then God must do that. I can control the future by doing a certain “trigger” which will force God to do the right action. Problem is, God is not an app or a phone that he must operate according to our scripts. God is sovereign. I am reminded of a prominent Christian couple who walked away from Christianity in 2018. God had not responded to them as they thought He should have. People do not tend to walk away from Jesus. They do, however, walk away from superstitious expressions of Christianity. Unfortunately, people tend to walk towards superstitious expressions of Christianity in times of fear.

While some, in thinking of the future, rush headlong into superstition, others will go the opposite extreme and become anti-supernatural. Nothing controls the future, it just all unfolds according to mechanistic processes. Even the process of thinking is said to be just a matter of one thing causing another, like a line of dominoes falling. Anti-supernaturalism can be found in certain expression of Christianity where people appreciate the benefits of religion such as structure, morality, and community. However, they don’t really believe in a transcendent and immanent sovereign God. The world is what it is and the future will be what it will be.

According to Isaiah, neither superstition, nor anti-supernaturalism speaks to our future. Who really holds the future? We find out in Isaiah 41:8-10

8 “But as for you, Israel my servant,
Jacob my chosen one,
descended from Abraham my friend,
9 I have called you back from the ends of the earth,
saying, ‘You are my servant.’
For I have chosen you
and will not throw you away.
10 Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:8-10

God holds the future. Notice how Isaiah points to the past, present, and future. God’s people could look back and see a long standing relationship with God, “I have chosen you.” They have been his people for a long time. They can look to the present “I am with you, don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.” They can look to the future, “I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” Nothing could provide hope and help in times of fear like God Himself. In thinking of the future we do well to leave behind our superstitions and our anti-supernaturalism and turn to God. He holds the future as surely as He has held the past and now holds the present.

The theme of “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you” will sound familiar to the Christian. We can think of the angels announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds:

9 They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! – Luke 2:9-11

That God had become present through Jesus was good news, and so “do not be afraid”! We are also reminded of the last words of Jesus to the disciples in the Gospel of Matthew:

And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:20

Like the people of Isaiah’s day, we can look to the past to see the relationship God has been pursuing with us. We can look to Christmas, we can look to Easter and the reconciliation that He has offered at the cross. We can also look to God’s presence in our lives now. We can look forward to God keeping His promises in the future.

2018 may have been a year marked by fear and discouragement for you. Perhaps Isaiah 41:10 is a verse you want to memorize for 2019.

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. – Isaiah 41:10

May your New Year be blessed and happy!


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

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

…or, if you prefer, all his articles here at C201 can be seen at this link.

Scripture references today are taken from the NLT

January 2, 2019

God’s Loving Empathy

We have four women in our lives who lost their mothers in the weeks leading up to, and during the Christmas holidays. In a couple of those cases, I mentioned to them a book which released a few years ago, A Decembered Grief. The premise is that it’s hard to mourn at a time of year when everyone is programmed for celebration. There are bright lights and gifts and you start to wonder how people can offer sympathy when they’re caught up in all the “joy-to-the-world” of the holidays. Or to put it another way, it’s hard to mourn when everybody around wants to party.

That’s why we chose this devotional. It’s been six months since our last visit, and we’re back at Before the Cross. The writer this time is .

God Sees You And Hears You

Sometimes when we are going through a difficult trial in life we are tempted to believe God isn’t with us. Maybe He just really isn’t good? Maybe He is blind to what is really going on in our lives? Maybe He really doesn’t care? Maybe He doesn’t understand just how hard things are for us?

This is incredibly challenging for those of us who follow Christ and this is exactly where faith comes in.

Everything in us wants to be delivered out of the trials we find ourselves in.

  • We don’t want to lose a family member.
  • We don’t want to have to stay in our jobs that we don’t like.
  • We don’t want to have to deal with relational conflicts around us.
  • We don’t want to have to handle money problems.
  • We don’t want to have physical or mental health issues.

I was recently reading through Exodus and noticed something for the first time when reading over Exodus 4. I’ve read through this countless times and I love when God always shows me something new in Scripture.

The Israelites were enslaved in Egypt for over 400 years…..400 years! Imagine going through a trial that lasted 400 years. You, your children, their children, and so on…all suffered under the same trial. To the point that if you were living in this time period, you would believe that is all that existed. You would believe you were intended to be a slave. Imagine how hard to it would be to have hope that God would deliver you when you know it hasn’t happened in over 400 years?!

So long story short, as Moses and Aaron are going along and telling the people what God wanted them to say as He was preparing to deliver them out of captivity, I stumbled upon this:

“And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.”Exodus 4:31

Noticed the people’s reaction. They bowed their heads and worshiped. Why? Because God had seen them. Because God had heard them. The reality hit them that this same God, creator of the heavens and the earth, had heard their cries and seen their tears.


By His Stripes We Are Healed

 

I found this image in our files and decided to use it again. Originally, it was used in the context of a discussion as to whether or not healing is provided for in the atonement. You can read that devotional at this link. We know that the cross made our salvation possible and demonstrated victory over death. The debate is over whether physical healing is healing is included, because of the phrase, “by his stripes we are healed.”

Unfortunately, I think that in this context we lose sight of the first few words, “He has carried our griefs and carried our sorrows.” We covered that a few days ago in this devotional, and also at this article. While translators have sometimes used ‘griefs’ to be sicknesses and infirmities, there is the whole category of ‘pain’ included in this prophetic description of God’s atoning work.

January 1, 2019

The First Month of Your Year

by Russell Young

A new year! The first day of the year is often considered as a new beginning. Reflection is given to the things in life that could be improved by change or by greater commitment. The LORD spoke of a new year to the Israelites. On the day they were redeemed (2 Sam 7:23; 1 Chr 17:21) from bondage in Egypt the LORD said, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.” (Ex 12:2) They had been given a new beginning with great promise. The LORD was to lead them through his servant Moses into a new life and into the Land of Promise, a land flowing with “milk and honey”.

Gentiles who have committed themselves to God through faith have been offered a similar promise and a similar hope. Although believers have not been set free from earthly kings, they do enjoy the hope of an eternal city and the presence of their God.

A new calendar year can provide opportunity for those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb to reflect on the progress of their own spiritual journey. We might do well to remember that although 600,000 men plus all the women and children left Egypt, only Caleb and Joshua made it into that promised land. All had begun their journey with hope but after forty years of testing most died in the wilderness. “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (Deut 8:2) Following redemption comes testing!

Contrary to the teaching of some, not all the redeemed will find a presence in God’s eternal kingdom. Perhaps the new year is a good time to reflect on the Lord’s admonition: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21 Italics added) God’s righteous requirements (Rom 8:4) must be met through obedience to the Holy Spirit.

The journey of the committed, of believers, is not easy and is not without testing (1 Thess 2:4) and trials. (Mt 24:9) Like Caleb and Joshua, the person who would enter the Promised Land must be found authentic when confronted with faith challenges (Mt 10:22) and must pursue a walk of obedience. (Heb 5:9) Satan would tempt believers to coast along the road of life and to appease their own desires and interests. As Satan said to Eve, “Did God really say…?” (Gen 3:1) and like Eve many will be led astray. He will tempt those in the Lord to trust that the fruit of the world is desirable and to be enjoyed without cost. Confessors have been admonished concerning the need to die to self (2 Cor 4:11; Col 3:5; Lk 9:24) and to live for Christ, however.

Satan would encourage people to pursue their own worldly desires, comforts, and carnal pleasures and this world has bought into his deceptions; however, the goal of believers is to be much different. It is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” (Lk 10:27) (Such a statement should be taken as a requirement, and not accepted as an exaggerated proclamation.) Losing a few pounds might make a person feel better and the pursuit of other carnal interests might result in gaining compliments, approval and pleasure, but they will not further the believer in his or her journey to the kingdom of God. Time passes quickly and with it opportunity to prove repentance (Acts 26:20) and to reveal to God the confessor’s conformity to the likeness of Christ. (Rom 8:29)

The new year gives opportunity to honestly examine the nature of the confessor’s love for God. It may even stir the heart and mind to examine that which God truly requires of his people so that they will not suffer his condemnation as “evil-doers” and be commanded to depart from him because he had never known them (Mt 7:23)—known for certain their faith commitment. There are many false teachings prevalent in the Christian community. Each person will enjoy or suffer the consequences of their own spiritual convictions and practices. “Did God really say…?” Believers need to be certain of what God did say because there are a variety of “truths” being presented, even though there is only one truth.

Does your Biblical understanding satisfy the following questions: Do you know and understand the New Covenant? Do you appreciate that you will face the judgment seat of Christ for things done in the flesh, whether good or bad? Do you appreciate the consequences of a negative judgment? Is your love for God complete or have you been pretending and perhaps playing church? Are you producing fruit in your own life and for the kingdom? To what extent have you been making use of the gift(s) given you at your confession of faith?

A new year is beginning, and it offers opportunity for reflection and introspection. God told the Israelites that the Passover was the beginning of the year for them, perhaps it should be considered as an opportunity to honestly reflect on your spiritual journey and the progress being made. Believers are to be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Rom 8:29) and are expected to walk as he did. (1 Jn 2:6) The confessor’s redemption gives new hope with both promises and requirements, but these can be lost. Use this occasion to set your path straight and make your hope secure by following the Lord’s call upon your life. (Jn 10:27; Rom 8:4, 14; Gal 5:18, 6:7─8)


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 31, 2018

Starting Another Chapter

Col 4: 5 KJVWalk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.

Eph 516 KJVRedeeming the time, because the days are evil.

The KJV uses the term “redeeming the time” in these two verses.   The second verse appears in the NASB as,

making the most of your time, because the days are evil.

The other verse appears in the NASB as

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.

The question I ask myself is this:  Did I make the most of my time and my opportunities in 2018?   And then:  Will I endeavor to make the most of my time and my opportunities in 2019?

While some current Christian writers emphasize the importance of rest, others talk about the “stewardship of our time.”   Time management is considered enough in scripture that it is not a stretch to say that scripture introduces a “doctrine of time usage.”

But like everything else in scripture, there is a place for balance in doctrine.   Think of a pendulum swinging back and forth.   Only when it stops swinging does it find the place of balance in the middle. There are two aspects to the Bible’s teaching on time management; time stewardship.

There is a time for action — The one who knows to do something right and doesn’t do it; that’s a sin.   But there’s a time for restBe still and know that He is God.

Time management by Biblical standards involves more than a simple “resting” or “action” theory.   It requires skill and wisdom to find the balance.

So more questions:   Did I learn to rest in God in 2018?   Will I learn more about resting in God in 2019?

Nobody said this was easy.


Each of us is about to write another chapter of our lives. The turning of the pages of the calendar may be more significant to some people than it is to others, but the start of a new year is always a time to both look back and look forward. For that reason, I think Steve Green’s song is such a great way to end 2018.

This isn’t my all-time favorite song, or style, but when Steve Green or anyone else is taking their lyrics directly from scripture it creates something bigger than the song itself. When they were much younger I asked my kids if they can tell when, in the middle of devotional book we’re reading, the paragraph moves into a Bible quotation, and they both understood exactly where I was going with this question. There’s something about the power of God’s word that is so easily identified; it stands out from what the devotional writer is saying as though it was underlined, in bold face type, in giant print, or printed in bright orange.

The song’s key verse source is Philippians 1:6, but I’ll give you the verses that precede and follow for full context:

Phil 1:5(NIV) because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.

I don’t what you or I are facing in 2019, but we are each, in God’s eyes, a work in progress. And he doesn’t abandon his projects.

All God’s best for the new year.


Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of the Christian blogosphere. An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and 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.

December 30, 2018

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord

For He alone is worthy,
For He alone is worthy,
For He alone is worthy, Christ the Lord

by Ruth Wilkinson

He alone is Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

We find ourselves in this in-between week —
Between the fulfillment and the promises kept of Christmas,
and the better-or-worse, could-be-good-could-be-bad possibilities of the future.

The month of January is named after a character in mythology called Janus, who had two faces.
One on the front and one on the back.
One forever looking forward, and one forever looking behind.

And sometimes it seems that we can best move forward once we have, just for a moment, looked back.
To see where we’ve come from and how far we’ve travelled.

To know that we can grow, because we see how we’ve grown.
To know that we can learn, because we see what we’ve learned.
To know that we can become stronger, because we see that we’re stronger than we used to be.
To know that we can trust God, because we see that he’s proved himself trustworthy.

To be ready when, like the Psalm writer:

There are days when
my spirit is weak within me;
Days when
dismay overcomes my heart.
Days when
my spirit fails.
Days when
I feel I’m at the end of myself.

So I choose to I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all You have done;
I reflect on the work of Your hands.

I trust that
when I spread out my hands to You,
You will see that I’m parched.

I trust that you’ll answer me quickly.

Let me feel Your faithful love in the morning,
because I trust in You.
Let me understand the way I should go,
because I long for You.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
because I need your protection.
Teach me to do Your will,
because You are my God.

May Your gracious Spirit lead me on level ground.

Because of Your name, Yahweh,
let me live!
~Psalm 143



Subscribers: Yesterday’s post has been off, then on, then off, then on the blog. If you missed it, you should be able to locate it at this link. (If one or two of you could email me and let me know what you’ve been getting in your email, it would be interesting to know!)

December 29, 2018

Thunder! Lightning! Shaking!

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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This is our fourth time featuring the writing of David Kitz at I Love the Psalms. David has served as an ordained minister with the Foursquare Gospel Church of Canada. For several years now, he has toured across Canada and into the United States with a variety of one man plays for both children and adults. For further information visit: http://www.davidkitz.ca/

LORD of the Storm

Reading: Psalm 29
A psalm of David.
Ascribe to the LORD, you heavenly beings,
ascribe to the L
ORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
worship the L
ORD in the splendor of his holiness.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders,
the L
ORD thunders over the mighty waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic.
The voice of the L
ORD breaks the cedars;
the L
ORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon leap like a calf, Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the LORD strikes with flashes of lightning.
The voice of the L
ORD shakes the desert;
the L
ORD shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
The voice of the L
ORD twists the oaks and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD is enthroned as King forever.
The L
ORD gives strength to his people; the LORD
blesses his people with peace (NIV).

Reflection
In Psalm 29 we see and hear the LORD, the God of the storm. There is an evocative poetic style to this psalm that helps the reader to picture the fury of the approaching tempest. But we not only see the flashes of lightning and the power of the wind, we also hear the booming thunder as it shakes the desert. The voice of the LORD twists the oaks and strips the forests bare. And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

Nine times the psalmist repeats the phrase the voice of the LORD. In this psalm, the voice of the LORD is a very active force. The voice of the LORD thunders, breaks, strikes, shakes, twists and strips. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic.

The voice of the LORD spoke the world into existence, set the planets in their orbits, and scattered the starry hosts across the heavens. A thunderstorm sweeping down from Lebanon is as nothing to Him.

But the LORD of the storm is also the LORD of peace. One day on the Sea of Galilee Jesus our Lord brought peace to the storm.

A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm (Mark 4:37-39).

Response: You are the LORD of the storm and the LORD of peace. When storms arise in my life help me to trust you completely. Lord Jesus, grant me peace in the midst of the storm. Amen.

Your Turn: Jesus says to us, Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith? (Mark 4:40). Are you hearing him?

December 28, 2018

Recurring Fulfillment: A Virgin Shall Conceive

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Today’s post is new, but first I want to refer back to something we covered in 2012. At the time — as we will also consider today — the question was, “How can a prophecy which was so clearly fulfilled at ‘Point A’ in time, be considered to be one which will be fulfilled at ‘Point B’? Or to put it the other way around, “How can something which is so clearly speaking about something which will be fulfilled at ‘Point B’ be said to have already been fulfilled at ‘Point A’?

At the time I shared this:

I asked an old friend of mine and former seminary student about this, because it happens in the prophetic writings and also in the Psalms. He shared with me how the prophets see across a line of time, with the vision of someone following stones skipping across the water. So we find prophecies having fulfillment at various junctures in history; and while the a text in Luke [21] would seem to have its primary fulfillment in the destruction of the temple, it could also be argued that this is actually a secondary fulfillment because it is a mere foreshadowing of the main events to come.

When you’re in the moment however, things are different. In 2011, we shared this:

Bruxy Cavey is a pastor and author who maintains the prophecy should be read ‘backwards’ to see how God was in control all along, not ‘forward’ to try to predict the future. We can’t read forward. On the other hand, author and pastor Rob Bell teaches that every Jewish girl envisioned the possibility of herself being “the one” who would give birth to the Savior.

That brings us to today’s thoughts, our second visit to the site Discovering the Bible, written by Deborah, a retired doctor now living in Swansea, Wales.

The virgin shall conceive…?

Isaiah 7:1-17 [click here to read the whole passage]

King Ahaz has a problem: enemies are marching on Jerusalem, and he needs help urgently. The prophet Isaiah goes to meet him and declares that God will intervene. God even offers the king a sign of his own choosing, to bolster his faith. But Ahaz refuses – faith plays no part in either his religion or his politics. He has already made up his mind what to do – which is to entrust the fate of his people to the Assyrian empire (II Kings 16:7,8) – and he doesn’t want to be proved wrong.

But God doesn’t take ‘No’ for an answer! David’s family cannot treat David’s God in such a cavalier fashion; so instead of being given a clear sign of God’s favour, they will be given an enigmatic one that they cannot understand…

“Therefore the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14)

In its immediate context, this prophecy refers to a certain young woman (the Hebrew word literally means ‘young unmarried woman’, but those who translated the Old Testament into Greek chose to use the Greek word for ‘virgin’). She is known to the king (the virgin), and there is no suggestion that her child will not be conceived in the normal way, in due course, when she has a husband. Her son’s name is a statement of faith, echoed in the following chapter: “God is with us” (Isaiah 8:10). So the kingdom of Judah will not fall. In fact, the crisis will be over (because Judah’s enemies will have been crushed by Assyria) before the boy has even had time to grow up (Isaiah 7:15,16).

On the face of it, this prophecy was a straightforward one, fulfilled within a few years of its pronouncement. Why should it have anything to do with Jesus? Certainly the Jews never expected their Messiah to be born of a virgin…

And yet… there is nothing particularly unusual about a young woman having a baby (those of us who work in contraceptive clinics know that it happens all the time)! And after the solemnity of Isaiah’s preamble (“Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights”), this is surely something of an anticlimax! Perhaps this is one reason why the old translators used the word ‘virgin’. It was an interpretation rather than a literal translation; nevertheless, their instinct was sound.

However, it was only after the Messiah was born of a virgin mother that the full significance of this prophecy was realised (Matthew 1:20,21). ‘Immanuel’ turned out to be not a prediction of His name but an accurate description of His nature: Jesus is not a symbol of God’s presence with us, but its reality (John 1:14).

December 27, 2018

Herod and a Ruined Christmas

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

You may have the kind of Christmas that is not Christmas-card-perfect. There are a great many things that can be the “ruin” of Christmas. We fret over things like finding that perfect gift, or having the perfect family gathering around the perfect Christmas dinner enjoying perfect relationships. Reality may stay from those ideals. For others, Christmas is ruined by grief. There is one less setting at the table. Christmas may not be Christmas-card-perfect for you this year.

You would not be the first to have a ruined Christmas. Herod ruins a perfect first Christmas for Mary, Joseph, and many others as we discover from a Bible passage we often associate with Christmas:

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:16–18 NRSV)*

Christmas is ruined. However, was it even a Christmas-card-perfect Christmas before Herod’s killing spree? Rumours would have been swirling about Mary and the legitimacy of this child. Remember that Jospeh needed an angel visitation to be convinced. Bethlehem was an ancestral home, but Mary and Joseph were hardly home for the holidays. There was no room at the inn. There was no family gathering, in fact the first to show up were complete strangers. Meanwhile Mary and Joseph were bringing a child into a rather unsettled world. Roman power is in the background, indeed it is why they end up in Bethlehem. When Rome spoke, Jews jumped. At least, according to the Romans. Jewish people-power is in the foreground. Herod was stuck between Roman leaders, for the Romans said he could be king, and the Jewish people, many of whom were saying he ought not to be king. These were dangerous times and revolution hung in the air. Thanks to Herod the Christmas story ends with Mary and Joseph forced to flee to Egypt as refugees with their baby. Thanks to Herod the Christmas story ends with the grief of many mums and dads who lost their babies. The first Christmas was anything but Christmas-card-perfect. Herod made sure of that.

How do you define the perfect Christmas? Is it the perfect family with perfect people with perfect lives gathering for the perfect dinner, carrying out the the perfect family traditions, enjoying perfect Christmas baking while opening perfect Christmas gifts fetched from under a perfectly decorated tree? A lot of that stuff doesn’t happen for a lot of people at all, never mind perfectly. For some people, “Merry Christmas” is met with “I think I’d rather give it a pass this year.” For many people Christmas is a hot mess. Life itself just gets too messy for Christmas.

What really makes for the perfect Christmas? Christmas is not the celebration of sentimental moments that are free of mess. Christmas is the celebration of the moment God stepped into our mess. Every year around Christmas we mention Herod. Herod reminds us of the mess God stepped into through Jesus. So if your Christmas is messy and less that Christmas-card-perfect, celebrate God who steps into our mess. Let’s focus, not on the celebrations themselves, but on Him Whom we celebrate.

Herod ruined Christmas for himself. Look again at Herod. How was his first Christmas? Herod was self-focused. Herod was paranoid of losing a throne he did not belong on. Indeed historians tell us that Herod was so paranoid he had his favourite wife and some of his own children killed. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Herod was troubled by the news from the magi and indeed sought to destroy the one “born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2). Herod knew he was king of the Jews thanks to Roman benevolence, but not by birth. It is no surprise that such a self focused person as Herod would have trouble celebrating the birth of Jesus. Nothing ruins Christmas like a focus on oneself, and one’s own power. Such a self-focus causes us to reject, rather than celebrate, Jesus.

God stepped into a messy world that first Christmas. But Herod was too self-focused to notice. God steps into our mess, but if we insist on being front and centre, if we insist on being the hero of our story, we won’t notice. We try to be the hero when we try to fix every problem. We try to be the hero when we act as if life can go on without God in it. We put ourselves front and centre by trying to put God in our debt, as if He owes us something. When we think of Santa Claus, we may think we are owed not a lump of coal, but a good gift, for we have not been naughty, but nice. However, the original Saint Nicholas gave gifts, not because he owed the help to anyone but because people needed help. His inspiration was Jesus. God will never be in our debt, but He will give us the gift of eternal life, not because we are owed it, but because we are in need of reconciliation with Him. Christmas could have turned out very differently for Herod had he thought about himself less, and thought about God more.

If we are really focused on the birth of Jesus, rather than on the celebrations themselves, or on ourselves, then Christmas can never be ruined. No one can ever take away God’s Christmas gift to us.


*The magi were most likely not included in the manger scene we envision in Christmas scenes. They likely arrived later. However, they are very much part of Jesus’ infancy so we traditionally associate them with Christmas.


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

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

December 26, 2018

Did the Birth of Christ Commence a New Dispensation?

For today’s thoughts, we’re turning to two different articles at a site we’ve visited before, The Christian Courier. Click the individual titles to read each in full. Both articles are by Wayne Jackson.

What is the difference between Bible dispensations and the doctrine of dispensationalism?

What Is a Bible Dispensation?

The Greek word oikonomia is rendered “dispensation” several times in the New Testament (see 1 Cor. 9:17; Eph. 1:10; 3:2, 9; Col. 1:25).

Sometimes the word suggests the idea of managing a household and is rendered as “stewardship” (Lk. 16:2, 3, 4; 1 Cor. 9:17). On other occasions, the word implies a plan that has been arranged (Eph. 1:10; 3:9). The term may suggest appropriate training in divine instruction (1 Tim. 1:4).

In popular usage, the word dispensation often refers to a period of time. In Bible parlance, it frequently refers to the major epochs of time in which God has operated in implementing the plan of redemption.

The Patriarchal Dispensation

The Patriarchal Dispensation extended from the creation to the commencement of the Mosaic period, at which point God selected the Hebrews as a special people through whom he would send the Christ (Gen. 12:1ff; Dt. 7:6).

In the patriarchal age, God spoke to man through select prophets. Worship was administered by the fathers of each family (cf. Job 1).

The Mosaic Dispensation

The Mosaic Dispensation began at Sinai, when Jehovah gave the law of Moses to the Hebrews. By doing so, he separated them from the other nations of the world as his own special people. They would be a redemptive tool preliminary to the sending of his Son (Gal. 3:24-25; 4:4).

Only Israel was under this code. The balance of humanity remained under the patriarchal system. The Mosaic religion was terminated at the cross (Col. 2:14ff). It ended in a political sense with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

The Christian Dispensation

The Christian Dispensation began on the day of Pentecost and will be terminated at the return of Christ (Isa. 2:2-4; Dan. 2:44; Joel 2:28-30; 1 Cor. 15:24-26). At that point, the eternal order of all things will be set.

Note that the author asserts that The Christian Dispensation is beginning at Pentecost, not at Christ’s Birth.

at this point the article continues to address the issue in its title, concerning the doctrine of Dispensationalism. Since that’s not part of our discussion today, let’s look at the second article.

Are the Gospels a Part of the New Testament?

“The law and the prophets were until John …”

The New Testament is perfectly clear in its teaching that, commencing with the ministry of John the Immerser, a new era of instruction was being progressively implemented by divine authority. This time frame constituted a transitional period. During these days, certain instructions pertaining to the coming kingdom of Christ were taught by the Lord and his apostles. Of course, the formalities of the Mosaic regime were still in force technically, and would remain so until the Law was finally “nailed to the cross” (Col. 2:14; cf. Eph. 2:14-15).

For example, Jesus declared: “The law and the prophets were until John: from that time the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and every man enters violently into it” (Lk. 16:16)…

The New Birth: Old Testament or New Testament?

To contend that the teaching within the Gospel accounts is not applicable to those of the Christian age would reflect a manifest absurdity. Christ taught, for example, that men must satisfy the conditions of the “born again” operation in order to enter the kingdom (Jn. 3:3-5).

That this process had an after-Pentecost application is obvious from the following facts. The Lord’s kingdom did not arrive until Pentecost (Mk. 9:1; Acts 1:8; 2:4), and the saints of the post-Mosaic period throughout the Middle East had undergone this “birth” procedure in obtaining their salvation (cf. 1 Pet. 1:1-2).

Hence, the “new birth” procedure taught by Christ in the “Gospels” had a post-Gospels application.

“Tell it to the church”

Then consider the following admonition from the Son of God.

“And if your brother sins against you, go, show him his fault between you and him alone: if he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he hears you not, take with you one or two more, that at the mouth of two witnesses or three every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church: and if he refuses to hear the church also, let him be unto you as the Gentile and the publican (emphasis added).”

Here is a context that can have no application until the day of Pentecost and the establishment of the church. This fact alone destroys the baseless assertion that nothing in the Gospel narratives is applicable after the advent of the Christian age (unless repeated in Acts through Revelation)…

Again note the terms “progressive” and “transitional.” With the birth of Christ, something new is stirring, but it has yet to be revealed until Jesus begins his earthly ministry, and it comes to fruition at Pentecost, the birth of the Church.

 

 

December 25, 2018

The Message of the Angels

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Hebrews 1:1 NIV In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

by Ruth Wilkinson

In the nativity story we see over and over angels doing what angels do best.

They speak. They bring messages from God; particular information to particular people for a particular time.

It must be an amazing thing to receive one of these messengers. Because almost every time one shows up, the conversation begins, “Don’t be afraid!”

Don’t freak out. Don’t melt down. Don’t worship. Just listen.

So maybe it’s just as well that God has other ways that he chooses to speak to us.

Through prophecy and poetry – courageous and creative.
Through the mystery of dreams – ineffable and personal.
Through the beauty and power and transcendence of nature – silently eloquent and impossible to ignore.
Through the whispering and pricking of our consciences – the Holy Spirit and our own God-likeness.

Through His own human voice – the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of His nature. Creator and heir of all things.

More often than not, though, he speaks to us through the written words that have been preserved in the Bible, or through other people in the power given us by the Holy Spirit.

He pours out His Spirit on all humanity – so that sons and daughters will prophesy.

He gives us psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to speak and sing to each other. The capacity for expression through singing and making music. The ability to give thanks always, for everything.

He gives us each other to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, so we can
train each other,
build each other,
speak truth to each other,
speak love to each other.

To speak tell each other, over and over – and to never let each other forget – the story the angels sang and declared.
The story of Jesus and His love.


 

December 24, 2018

Despite the Festivity, Many are Suffering; Many are Broken

This is a shorter excerpt from a longer piece at the site Lake Ridge Student Ministries, which we are featuring here for the first time. Click the title below to read the full article.

Christ Our Comforter at Christmas

During Christmas time we all seem to become even more sensitive to the suffering of others around us. It is a lesson in contrasts. Christmas is a time set aside for joy and gladness, light and spectacle, celebration and community, laughter and gift-giving, peace and goodwill. Yet because of the nature of our world, we quickly see all the ways that the season does not live up to its promise. Instead of gladness we see sorrow, instead of joy we see despair, instead of light, darkness; instead of spectacle, poverty; instead of celebration, mourning; instead of community, division; instead of laughter, tears; instead of gift-giving, selfishness, instead of goodwill, bitterness; instead of peace, suffering.

I think this is one reason why the character of Tiny Tim shines forth so brightly in everyone’s minds when we think of Charles Dickens’ classic story, A Christmas Carol. He stands in stark contrast to the festive nature of the season. With his wooden crutch and metal braces on his legs, he is a hard reminder that all is not right in the world, that despite the festivity of the season, sin, brokenness, and suffering remain. They do not disappear at the stroke of midnight after Thanksgiving, nor should we act as though they have. In fact, Tiny Tim himself meditates well on the necessity of acknowledging suffering during the Christmas season, telling his father as he carried him home from church, “he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.”

Tiny Tim, like all those who face various challenges in life are more than their disability, but his perspective is instructive. So we will take the time, on his recommendation, not only to acknowledge the presence of suffering during this festive season, but more importantly to see how Jesus uniquely ministers to us in our suffering.

We begin in Hebrews 4:14, Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. (Heb 4:14) Here the author of Hebrews reminds us that since Jesus has now ascended (passed through the heavens) to the very presence of God the Father, we can hold on tight to the confession of faith that he taught us to believe, specifically that by belief and repentance, we have forgiveness of sins and new eternal life in his name. But often Christians struggle in holding fast to the faith exactly because of Jesus’ current position. We know that it is good that Christ is in heaven now before the Father because he is able to act as our High Priest, always interceding on our behalf and pleading our cause (Heb 7:25). But somehow the remoteness is discouraging. We fear that this high and exalted Jesus might be disconnected from us, might see our world, so full of suffering with the indifference that comes from distance. Yet this fear is quickly pushed away.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:15-16) Jesus is not a remote heavenly being, utterly detached from our human experience. This is Jesus we are talking about! This is the fully God, fully man, incarnate God. This is the guy who ate with tax collectors and sinners. This is the guy who hung out with fishermen, and preached the gospel among the poor. This is the guy who made the lame walk, the blind see, and raised widow’s sons back to life. This Jesus suffered in agony in the Garden as he submitted himself to the will of his Father even when it meant death on a cross and the weight of the sins of the world. Jesus is thoroughly aware of our sufferings and weaknesses.

Not only is he aware, but he experienced them. He was tempted in the wilderness by the devil to misuse his divine power when he was really hungry, and his belly ached after forty days without food. He was tempted to display his Messianic identity by throwing himself off the temple to be caught by angels. That would certainly silence those nagging Pharisees! Yet he knew that God was not one to be tested, and that the way to show himself to the world would take a different path. He was tempted with power, prestige, and even a chance to gain the whole world without having to go to the cross (Matt 4:8). If anyone knows anything about being truly tempted, it is Jesus…

…[The book of Hebrews] continues, In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Heb 5:7-10)

When you see “made perfect” think “brought to completion”. Jesus had to go through what he did in order to be for us what he is. Jesus went through his suffering so that he might save us from our suffering. He experienced the consequences of our sinfulness so that we might not experience them. Jesus became a human being for the purpose of suffering, so that he could walk alongside us in our own suffering, and one day deliver us from it forever. Because the good news is when he “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death”, “he was heard”. His grave was borrowed, he needed it only for a little while. Since Christ has experienced our suffering, he is able to offer us the grace and strength we need in the midst of it, and the hope we need for the day our suffering will be brought to an end.

Starting in verse three of 2 Corinthians 1, Paul gives us a way to understand what Christ does for us as our High Priest, and how we should respond.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Cor 1:3-4)

click here to read the entire article

 

 

December 23, 2018

Christmas: When Seekers are Hiders

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re also featuring a writer who is new to us. (Again, thanks for the recommendations.) Rebecca LuElla Miller is a freelance writer and editor who has appeared in too many publications to list here. This article has appeared three times on her blog, A Christian Worldview of Fiction. Click the title below to read at source.

Wise Men And The Seeking Thing

“Wise men still seek Him,” the signs say. I saw one the night my friend and I cruised through a community lavishly decorated with lights and Santas and candy canes and an occasional nativity scene. Years past when I was a teacher, I even had those words as the title of a Christmas bulletin board in my classroom.

The phrase, layered with meaning as it is, sounds sort of profound. And Christ centered.

But here’s the thing. In my experience, it doesn’t seem like we seek God so much as God seeks us.

First, God isn’t hiding. He has purposefully and dramatically made Himself known. That’s what the first Christmas and the ensuing thirty-tree years were all about. Jesus came to show humankind the Father.

Secondly, people seem to be more interested in dodging and ducking and hiding from God than in seeking Him. Of course many flat out deny and reject Him. C. S. Lewis wrote of his reluctance, his fight, actually, against God. He called Him his adversary once and wrote this of his conversion:

That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. (Surprised by Joy)

It seems to me, the people who fall into the category of “seeker” are more apt to be hiders, ducking behind the quest for the spiritual in order to avoid God and His claim on their lives. Scripture says clearly that anyone who truly seeks, finds.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! (Matt. 7:7-11)

Consequently, it seems to me the seeking process isn’t some protracted, drawn out, involved study of world religions or long nights of deep meditation. Those kinds of things are hiding tactics, more likely to obfuscate than to reveal. God has told us what we need to do to find Him: look at His Son Jesus.

Jesus said to [Thomas], “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”

So there’s Christmas in a nutshell. When we look at Jesus come down from Heaven, we are seeing the Father: His love for the lost, His sacrificial heart, His generosity, His mercy and grace, His forgiveness, His humility, His desire for reconciliation and peace, His goodness.

Do wise men seek Him today as they once did over two thousand years ago? Those ancient magi thought they were going to find the King of the Jews, and they did. But they also found the Creator of the world, the Redeemer of Mankind, the Friend of sinners.

Whoever seeks Jesus on those terms is bound to find Him.


Here’s the Christmas lyric version of Offering by Paul Baloche…

…and the Christmas lyric version of Your Name, also by Paul Baloche.

 

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