Christianity 201

May 13, 2017

Jesus Builds His Core Team

Sometimes I have been guilty of using terminology incorrectly. I know in my younger days this was true with disciples versus apostles. To be clear, Jesus chose 12 apostles, but had many disciples. In Luke 6 we see a turning point where he, to use a modern church term, chooses his board members. …Actually, that may not be a great analogy; make that Jesus chooses his ministry staff.

12 During that time, Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night long. 13 At daybreak, he called together his disciples. He chose twelve of them whom he called apostles

When did this take place in the overall chronology? Meyers N.T. Commentary states:

According to Matthew, the choice of the Twelve had not yet occurred before the Sermon on the Mount; nevertheless it is implied in Matthew, not, indeed, sooner than at Luke 10:1 [the sending out of the 72] but after the call of Matthew himself. Luke in substance follows Mark in what concerns the choice of the apostles. But he here assigns to the Sermon on the Mount—which Mark has not got at all—a position different from that in Matthew, following a tradition which attached itself to the locality of the choice of the apostles (τὸ ὄρος) as readily as to the description and the contents of the sermon.

The important takeaway from the passage is not chronology, however. The thing we’re meant to see with greatest clarity is that Jesus made the decision after much prayer. At Heartlight we read:

Few events were more important in Jesus’ ministry than his selection of apostles. How would Jesus select 12 from the mob that followed him? These men would have to change the world. Could he actually find 12 that could do that? Jesus knew what was in the hearts of people. Would anyone be able to stand up to the challenges that he would have to face as one of Jesus’ chosen 12? Jesus withdrew to the mountains to be alone with God and pray as he faced this momentous decision. He didn’t choose 12 and then ask God to bless his choice. No, he spent the night in prayer before he chose the 12. When faced with decisions, whether they appear important or not, we need to follow the example of our Lord!

At Redeeming God there is an excellent article — also on audio — on this passage. We can’t reproduce it all here, but I want to share some of it; click here to read it all (including a biography of each one).

We often think of the twelve apostles as the only disciples Jesus had. But that is simply not true. He had hundreds, if not thousands of other disciples. Out of them, He chose twelve to pour most of His time, energy and attention into. The twelve are named apostles, which means “sent ones.” The question though, is why did He pick twelve, and why these twelve? At that time, when a teacher wanted to focus his time and energy on a few specially selected students, the teacher would pick only one or two, at the most three students to train. If you have ever done any serious discipling, you know that adequately teaching and training even one person is almost a full time task. But Jesus picks twelve! Why twelve?

A. Rulers

The main reason is probably because Jesus was picking men to rule in His kingdom. He was, in a way, inaugurating a new Israel in Himself. Originally, the twelve tribes of Israel were to rule over the nations, and they will again one day, but with the twelve apostles ruling over the twelve tribes (Matt. 19:28). Before that happens, Jesus has something new to establish – the church. And the apostles will be the ones to help establish it. When Jesus picks twelve, he was indicating to them and everyone else, that these were the ones who would help Him rule when He came into His kingdom. They represented a whole new Israel.

This would be a great encouragement to them when they faced trials and tribulations later in life. It can be a great encouragement to you also. If you are a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, you also will rule. You cannot be an apostle, but you can be a disciple, and many passages in the Bible tell us that Jesus Christ is calling you to be His disciple. If you respond and follow Him, you will later be given the right to rule with him (Luke 19:11-27). Not to the same level as the apostles, but still in a very special and significant way. By picking twelve, Jesus was reminding the apostles that if they followed Him faithfully, they would rule and reign with Him in His Kingdom. We need to be reminded that if we follow Him faithfully, we too will rule and reign with Him in His Kingdom. There is great motivation and incentive in that Biblical truth.

You say, “Yeah, but I’m not disciple quality. Jesus wouldn’t pick me.” Guess what? These twelve Jesus picked weren’t quality either. We sometimes elevate them and put them on pedestals, but they were human just like us.

B. Ordinary Men

They were perfectly ordinary in every way. Not one was known for being scholarly or well trained in the Bible. Not one was a great speaker, writer or theologian. None of them had outstanding talents or abilities. To the contrary, they were all too prone to mistakes, misstatements, wrong attitudes, failures of faith, and bitter resentment toward others. Even the leader of the group, Peter, was forever sticking his foot in his mouth. In fact, at times, Jesus is amazed at how slow they are to learn and how spiritually dense they are (Luke 24:25).

Furthermore, we see from them that God loves variety. There is not one perfect mold that all Christians must fit into. Some of them were fishermen. Two of them, one a tax collector and the other a religious zealot, under any other circumstance, would have been trying to kill one another. Some of them were brothers to one another. Some of them were married, some single. Some were probably craftsmen and tradesmen, or maybe farmers. Don’t ever think that you don’t qualify to be a disciple of Christ. If these men qualify, you qualify. Though these men may not amount to much in the eyes of the world, they are exactly what God is looking for…

…God’s way of doing things is not man’s way. According to 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, God chooses the humble, the lowly, the weak and the meek. He doesn’t choose the strong and the talented, the powerful and the rich. He chooses those who would never be chosen so that when He works powerfully through them, everybody knows that only God could do such things. The people we would pick are not the ones God picks. If you feel like you are not qualified to be a follower of Jesus, then you are just right. If you feel, however, that you are just what God needs, then you may have some things to learn before God can start using you…

So Christ picked these twelve to show that He was choosing some rulers for His kingdom, and He also picked these twelve to show us that we don’t have to have great training or popularity to be one of His disciples.

C. Students

What is most curious about Christ’s choice is that at first, it seemed these apostles had nothing to do but follow Jesus around and listen to His teachings. They thought they were going to be put to some grand task, and given some great responsibility, but all they did was sit around, go to parties, watch Jesus interact with other people, and listen to Him teach.

Similarly, when you first become a follower of Jesus Christ, it may seem that God is giving you nothing significant to do. It may seem that Jesus has called you to be his disciple, but then He forgot about you, or doesn’t have any true purpose for you to fulfill. But this is because, frequently, God’s first will for your life is to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn. Before you can live like Jesus, you must learn from Jesus. Before you can do His will, you must know His will. If it seems like you are not being used by God, then you should take the opportunity to patiently learn from God. There is nothing wrong with sitting and learning, as long as you are willing and ready to go when Jesus says, “Go!” In fact, he will not send you, until you have learned what He wants you to know.

Even once they were trained, they were not perfect. After their training was complete, the first night on their own, they all deserted, betrayed and denied Jesus Christ. Afterwards, some of them even tried to go back to their original occupation of fishing, but they failed at that too…until Jesus showed up and got them back on course (John 21). To be a disciple means first and foremost to be a learner. A lot of people think that following Christ is all about doing what Christ would do. That is why we had that fad a few years back where everyone bracelets and T-shirts that said “What Would Jesus Do?”

The problem is that we cannot do what Jesus would do, unless we first become like Jesus, and we cannot become like Jesus until we know Jesus. Not “know” Jesus as in “I know about Jesus” but know Jesus as in “I know Him as if he were my best friend.” And the only way you can become the best friend of Jesus is by spending lots of time with Him. That’s what he wants from you. He doesn’t want you to do great things for Him. He wants to do great things for you and through you. But the only way that is going to happen is if you get to know Jesus. Listen to Him teach. Ask Him questions. Watch how He deals with people. Let Him encourage you, lovingly correct you, and patiently instruct you. As you go through this process, He will eventually give you an assignment. First a small one, then larger and larger until you will be amazed at the things God is doing through you. But it all begins with sitting at His feet and learning…

…continue reading here

 

May 12, 2017

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

We’ve linked to The Christian Examiner at Thinking Out Loud before, but never here at C201. We noted this devotional article and thought we would share it here. Better yet, read this at source — click the title below — and then navigate to their news pages for a Christian perspective on current events. Bookmark the site for frequent reference.

Wait Is a Four-Letter Word

by Elizabeth Laing Thompson

Wait is a four-letter word. Coincidence? I think not.

We’re all waiting on something from God: true love or a baby, a job or a cure. And the period between answers can feel like a place where dreams—and faith—go to die.

I have often thought to myself, The worst part of waiting is the uncertainty. I wish God would just give me a yes or no so I can move on with life.

Have you ever thought something like this:
  • If I knew I wasn’t going to find true love, maybe I could get busy building a fulfilling life as a single person.
  • If I knew I wasn’t going to have the career breakthrough I’ve longed for, maybe I could devote my time and energy to other things.

We tell ourselves the problem is the not knowing. Dealing with uncertainty. We tell ourselves we wouldn’t mind waiting so much if God just told us, “You’re going to get what you want in the end, but buckle up for a long ride—it’s going to take awhile.”

But who am I kidding? When I’m waiting, I want more than just a yes or no from God. It’s not enough to know if, I want to know when. I want a timeline. A fat red circle on the calendar.

I’m going to wait two years and nine months before I get pregnant, You say? Okay. I don’t love that timeline, but I can work with it. I’ll do the Pinterest thing and make a cute countdown calendar, and I’ll find a way to be happy the whole time I’m waiting.

But life doesn’t work that way, God doesn’t work that way. It is in the not knowing that God works on our heart, our faith, our character. It is in the not knowing that 2 Peter 1 and James 1 collide:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:5–8

Christians are meant to grow—to become godlier, more loving, more self-controlled, better at persevering—so we don’t stagnate spiritually. Spiritual growth doesn’t happen automatically, accidentally, or overnight. Spiritual growth is a lifetime process we never outgrow. It takes conscious effort—every effort, in fact. The perfectionist in me finds this both overwhelming and comforting—overwhelming because I want to be done growing (meaning perfect) yesterday; comforting because I realize I’m not supposed to be done growing yet. Character is built slowly: step-by-step, choice by choice, even mistake by mistake, one strength building on another over time. Smack in the middle of this character-building process we find the trait we desperately need when we are waiting: perseverance. Now let’s pair this passage with what James says about perseverance:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2–4

Did you catch that last phrase—”let perseverance finish its work”—as in it’s up to us to allow that work to happen so we can grow? As in trials produce perseverance, and perseverance can lead to spiritual maturity, but we have to let it happen, not fight the process? If we let Him, God can use our waiting journeys to shape us, to make us into the people He created us to be.

Knowing our weakness, knowing our need, God offers us many stories of godly people who have wrestled with waiting with varying success. People like Sarah, who received a definitive promise from God but then crumbled in the face of bleak fact: seventy-five-year-old women just don’t have babies. The good news for those of us (all of us) who wait imperfectly? Many of our fellow waiters in the Bible got second chances. (Remember Sarah’s miracle baby, Isaac?) And third and fourth and fifth chances, and on and on goes the grace of God.

Waiting seasons aren’t fun, but they are opportunities. Through our waiting seasons—yes, through the not knowing—we can build character one step at a time. Through our waiting seasons, perseverance can gradually “finish” its never-ending work in us. As waiting does its thing, and God does His, we get the chance to become our best selves, the people God designed us to be. So what are we waiting for? Let’s get started.

May 11, 2017

Investigating Jesus: Jury Duty

by Clarke Dixon

Let us return to the example of a crime we have been considering the last two weeks when you were called out as a detective to investigate the circumstances of my death. You have all the evidence, you have come to the best explanation, your prime suspect is now in custody and the prosecution is ready to go to trial. The evidence is overwhelming and the case is strong. You have determined that my neighbour murdered me for my chocolate. You are confidant that justice will be served. However, it could all go wrong. The jury could obstruct the search for truth!

We are continuing our journey of learning from cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace how to investigate the evidence with respect to the reality and resurrection of Jesus. While tracking along with the chapters of Cold-Case Christianity for Kids (keeping pace with the children of our Sunday School who are also on this journey), today we are leaving the script a wee bit to include some material gleaned from Wallace’s podcasts. Again, I refer you to J. Warner Wallace himself to dig deeper, and please be aware that not everything you read here in this adaptation necessarily reflects his opinions.

So how is it, that having built a strong case for the conviction of your prime suspect, the jury can get in the way of the search for truth? There is a process of jury selection which is very intentional to ensure that this does not happen. The defence and the prosecution alike want to select those jurors who will handle the search for truth well. Let us consider what kind of people you do not want on the jury.

You will not consider someone a very good seeker of truth and able to serve on the jury if they will only consider one kind of evidence. In the case of my death, what would happen if someone served on the jury who trusted no one, even the police and detectives working the case? However, perhaps they once worked at a coroner’s office and having learned to trust coroners will accept coroner’s reports as good evidence. If a juror only considered a coroner’s report as valid evidence, my murderer would go free. The jurors need to consider all kinds of evidence. J. Warner Wallace points out that in cold-cases jurors need to be able to consider circumstantial evidence and not just direct evidence.

Is this important in the search for truth in religious perspective? Yes! I have often heard said things like “only science can teach you anything.” If this were true then most of what we know about history is lost to us, not to mention that many bad people would go free instead of spending time in the justice system. You would not consider someone fit for jury duty if they will only consider one type of evidence. You do not want to be that kind of person when it comes to investigating Jesus.

You will not consider someone a very good seeker of truth and able to serve on the jury if they are fixated on only one piece of evidence. Returning to my death, suppose a juror was herself a recovering chocoholic and could only think of the empty chocolate wrappers on the table once it has been presented as evidence. She does not consider the gun or the gunshot wound. My murderer will go free. Convictions are most often dependent upon cumulative evidence, that is, jurors need to consider all the different pieces of evidence.

Is this important in the search for truth in religious perspective? Yes. Sometimes people can get fixated on one piece of evidence. Consider, for example, how some people think that if the process of evolution is proven to be correct, then Christianity is proven to be wrong. Conversely, others think that if evolution is proven to be wrong, then Christianity is proven to be correct. Thinking back over the last two Sundays, did you notice something as we considered evidence for the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus? Evolution was never mentioned! Pinning your evidence for God on evolution is like fixating on the empty chocolate wrappers. It may be that by fixating on the evolution debate people are making the case for a method of interpretation of Genesis rather than for the reality of God. The case for God is a cumulative case, there is much more evidence to consider. You would not consider someone fit for jury duty if they will only consider one piece of evidence. You do not want to be that kind of person when it comes to investigating Jesus.

You will not consider someone a very good seeker of truth and able to serve on the jury if they think they must be an expert on everything before they can have an opinion on anything. In the case of my death, a jury may hear testimony from an expert on guns who presents evidence that the bullet found in me was found moments before in my neighbour’s gun. If a juror thought something like “I don’t know enough about guns and bullets to trust that  the expert is correct,” my murderer would go free. Jurors need not be experts in everything, and in fact, having access to all the evidence are in a better place to come to a conclusion than the experts.

Is this important in the search for truth in religious perspective? Yes. Some people simply shrug and say “I can never know enough about cosmology or philosophy or anyotherology to be able to figure out if God exists and Jesus is alive, so I won’t bother to find out.” This is not rocket science. You don’t need to be an expert on everything to know something, or better, Someone. You would not consider someone fit for jury duty if they think they must be an expert on everything before they can have an opinion on anything. You do not want to be that kind of person when it comes to investigating Jesus.

You will not consider someone a very good seeker of truth and able to serve on the jury if they think that every question must be answered. Suppose all the jurors are ready with a guilty verdict against my neighbour except one who says “I can not commit to a conviction because I still have an unanswered question. How much chocolate did Clarke actually eat the day of his death?” A question goes unanswered and a murderer goes free. Not every question needs to be answered in the search for truth and a conviction.

Is this important in the search for truth in religious perspective? Yes. We can get hung up on one or two questions while the weight of the evidence goes unnoticed. This happens especially with the problem of evil and the question of how a good God could allow evil to persist. There are ways of dealing with this question, but even if we have trouble answering the question, we still have the weight of the evidence for God and the resurrection of Jesus to consider. You would not consider someone fit for jury duty if they think every question must be answered. You do not want to be that kind of person when it comes to investigating Jesus.

You will not consider someone a very good seeker of truth and able to serve on the jury if they are fixated on finding proof beyond every possible doubt. Suppose all the jurors are ready to deliver a guilty verdict on my neighbour except one. He says “I can not commit to the guilty verdict. It is possible that aliens stole the chocolate and set up the neighbour as the murderer so they would remain undetected.” And a murderer goes free. Jurors are instructed to bring a conviction, not when it is beyond every possible doubt, but beyond a reasonable doubt.

Is this important in the search for truth in religious perspective? Yes. For some people, when it comes to God no amount of evidence will be enough evidence. They are looking for proof beyond every possible doubt. If being beyond a reasonable doubt is enough to send someone to jail for a long time, then it should be enough to draw conclusions with regards to religious perspective. You would not consider someone fit for jury duty if they are looking proof beyond every possible doubt. You do not want to be that kind of person when it comes to investigating Jesus.

You will not consider someone a very good seeker of truth and able to serve on the jury if they really, really, really want a certain outcome to be true. You would not want my neighbour’s wife to serve on the jury. She may care more about having her husband home than where the evidence leads. Or perhaps she will be bent on ensuring a conviction!

Is this important in the search for truth in religious perspective? Yes. Some people do not want Christianity to be true and so do not want to hear about the evidence. Consider the story Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man asks Abraham to warn his brothers of what awaits them after death:

Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ” Luke 16:29-31 (NRSV)

They will not listen because their minds are already made up. You would not consider someone fit for jury duty if they really want a certain outcome to be true. You do not want to be that kind of person when it comes to investigating Jesus.

Would you be considered for jury duty? Are you a genuine seeker of truth open to considering where all the evidence leads? If not you may miss out on a very important conviction. The conviction that God loves you.

Read today’s and other articles by Clarke at ClarkeDixon.wordpress.com

May 10, 2017

From Belief That to Belief In

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.
 ~James 2:19 NLT

Right now one of the brightest additions to the field of Christian apologetics has been former cold case detective J. Warner Wallace. (I’m currently reading his newest, Forensic Faith.) We featured his writing here six months ago, and today we return with another installment from his blog. Click the title below to read at source. Note to subscribers: This is the same author/book that Clarke Dixon is using as the focus for his Thursday column here.

Believing the Gospels Is Different Than Trusting the Gospel

In the first chapter of Cold Case Christianity I illustrate the difference between “belief in” and “belief that”. It’s one thing to “believe that” your bullet proof vest can stop a ballistic round, but I’ve known officers who trusted their vests to stop a bullet when they were powerless to do anything in their own defense. In those moments, they moved from “belief that” the vest could save them to “belief in” the vest as a life saver; they transitioned from “belief” to “trust”. We need to do something similar with the claims of Christianity.

I remember my own journey from “belief that” to “belief in”. It began with an intensive investigation of the gospels as I examined them from the perspective of eyewitness accounts. I spent several months poring over the canonical gospels in an effort to mine out the red letters of Jesus. Along the way I employed the tools I learned as a detective and eventually decided the only thing preventing me from accepting the gospels as historically reliable eyewitness accounts was my presuppositional bias against anything supernatural. I eventually determined that the gospel writers were reliable eyewitnesses.

At this point in my journey, I believed “that” Jesus was who He said He was, but I was still much like Nicodemus; I had “belief that” but no “belief in”. Nicodemus visited Jesus late at night and told Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). Nicodemus had been investigating Jesus and, based on what he saw and heard, he believed “that” Jesus was a Godly teacher. Jesus told Nicodemus this was insufficient; Nicodemus needed to be born again and “believe in” Jesus for his salvation. He told Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:16-18).

Every one of us, at some point in our investigation of the claims of Christianity, has to move from “belief that” to “belief in”. I can remember telling my wife, Susie, that I had come to the conclusion the New Testament gospels were reliable; I believed they were telling me the truth about what Jesus said and did. But I still didn’t understand the Gospel of Salvation. I still didn’t know why Jesus had to go to the cross. So I asked her, “Do you understand it?” She didn’t have a good answer for me either. As a rebellious, self-reliant detective, I still denied my need for a Savior, even though I accepted what the gospels told me about that Savior. In order to take a step from “belief that” to “belief in”, I needed to move from an examination of Jesus to an examination of Jim.

As I read the gospels for a second and third time and explored all of the New Testament scripture, I began to focus more on what it said about me than what it said about Jesus. I didn’t like what I saw. Over and over again, I recognized the truth about my own character, behavior and need for forgiveness; I began to understand my need for repentance. The facts about Jesus confirmed that He was the Savior, the facts about me confirmed my need to trust in Him for forgiveness. I was now ready to move from “belief that” to “belief in”.

All of us need to be good Christian Case Makers so we can defend what we believe about God and make the case for the claims of Christianity. But we need to be careful to understand the proper role of evidence and the important distinction between believing the gospels and trusting the Gospel. I want to be more than someone who understands and accepts the evidence about Jesus. I want to be someone who understands and accepts the evidence about me. Only then will I begin to place my trust in the Savior that the New Testament reliably describes.

 

May 9, 2017

3 Wrong Ways to Judge

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment. – John 7:24 NASB

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.  – Col 3:14 NLT

[Love] bears up under everything;
believes the best in all;
there is no limit to her hope,
and never will she fall. I Cor 13:7 ISV italics added

Over the past eight years, this is our eleventh time returning to the writing of Paul Tautges at the website Counseling One Another. To learn more about his new book, Pray About Everything, click this link. To read today’s post at source and look around the rest of the site, click the title below. This article is also part of a series, other sections are linked at the end.

3 Ways We Judge Wrongly

Jesus instructed His disciples to judge righteous judgment (John 7:24), but He also said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matt. 7:1). Is this a contradiction? No. We are called to use biblical truth and wisdom to discern rightly, but we are foolish when we make judgments based upon appearance or only one side of the story. We are called to maintain a balance of grace and truth, but avoid a judgmental attitude. This bad attitude is, as Matt Mitchell defines it, “a heart disposition meant to be condemnatory and censorious.

So, where do we go wrong? When and how does judging become sinful? Mitchell explains three ways.

  1. Rush to Judgment – To form a conclusion about a person based upon hearsay, without going to him to hear the other side, is utterly foolish and destructive. It is folly and shame to answer before listening, to rush to judgment about another person without loving them enough to take the initiative to start a conversation (Proverbs 18:13). Instead we should believe the best about the other person, rather than assume the worst.
  2. Prideful Judgment – The deeper problem behind and beneath judgmentalism is pride. Pride is the elevation of oneself not only above other people, but above God’s law (James 4:11). But there “is only one Lawgiver and Judge,” and it’s not us. When we rush to judgment, we play God; “we act as if we are omniscient when we are not.”
  3. Unloving Judgment – The opposite of being judgmental is the virtue known as charitable judgment. “Charity” is the old word for love (1 Cor. 13:4-8), which compels us to believe the best about another person. Therefore, Mitchell counsels us well with these words: “If you and I are loving people with this kind of charity, we won’t sinfully judge or gossip about people. We won’t delight in the evil that we hear has befallen someone else. We won’t believe the worst about others. We will always hope for something better. Love is tenacious. Love does not pretend that all is well and sweep things under the carpet, but it does hang onto hope for others and believe the best.”

Instead of sinfully judging others, and then tearing them apart through gossip, the gospel obligates us to put on love, which bonds everything together perfectly in harmony (Col. 3:14).

As we continue to work through the book, Resisting Gossip, please consider reading and growing along with us. Previous posts include:


Here’s a song from 40 years ago. The lyrics are really relevant to today’s post. “Lord I want to cut him down to size / Help me see that brother through your eyes…”

May 8, 2017

Preaching for Change

CEB Acts 2:36 “Therefore, let all Israel know beyond question that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

37 When the crowd heard this, they were deeply troubled. They said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”

38 Peter replied, “Change your hearts and lives. Each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Earlier today I wrote these words at my other blog, or perhaps I should say these words wrote themselves:

I have been noticing a recurring theme lately in sermons I have listened to online and books I have been reading. Perhaps it’s personal conviction about this subject.

The idea is very simple: Many of us read the Bible and Christian books, and many of us listen to sermons in order to gain information when God is wanting to see our transformation. Perhaps you even are in a position where you give leadership or mentoring to others, or simply have occasion to speak into the lives of friends, and what you’re imparting is more informative than transformative.

I know I’m a guilty of this. Do you ever track your spiritual progress by the month, or by the year? Each day I have more knowledge and a better understanding of the ways of God and the history of his dealings with his people. But am I a different person than I was last month or last year? To ask the question bluntly, what good is all this information doing for me? What good is all that Bible knowledge and understanding of systematic theology doing for you?

Spiritual formation is not simply about building up the mind’s knowledge base. It’s about forming the character of the heart. It leads to different speech, different choices, a different mindset, and different actions.

The Word of God should bring change. As I write this now, later in the day, I realize that there are people for whom God’s truth needs to be rediscovered. They don’t even have the basic Bible knowledge that was once common among people in North America and Western Europe, regardless of their personal beliefs. It reminds me of Nehemiah (see chapter 8) bringing the scrolls to be read to a people who had not heard this word in a long, long time.

At the blog Clergy Stuff I read this:

In this information age, where any piece of information can be accessed at our fingertips at any time, it might be hard to believe that God’s people had lost touch with their God. But they had been exiled – ripped from their homes, families, and faith practices. After so many years of living apart from the community of faith, it is possible to see how easily the faith practices of a broken people could unravel.

But after they returned, a scroll was found. The scroll contained God’s word lost long ago. When Ezra read it to the people, it brought up many emotions for them. It was a word of hope and promise to a people that had nearly lost all hope of ever being a united people again. But the promise of restoration had been fulfilled, and on this day, the word of God spoke loudly throughout their gathering.

At the Our Daily Bread archives, I found this in reference to our key text today:

In 1738, an Englishman named John Wesley entered a church service where someone was preaching from the book of Romans. As he listened to the message of the gospel that night, Wesley wrote that he felt his heart “strangely warmed,” and he knew deep within that Jesus had died to save him from his sins. John Wesley would go on to found Methodism, an approach to living out Christian faith that continues today.

In today’s world, the message of the gospel can sound strange to some who don’t yet know God. The idea of receiving salvation can seem like a foreign concept.

We can be encouraged, however, for a person’s heart being transformed by the gospel takes place through the work of the Holy Spirit—a work we trace back to that first day of the early church.

So today we have both situations: People who have great quantities of Bible knowledge at their fingertips but have not allowed themselves to be changed by it; and people for whom the Bible narrative has gotten lost and they need to hear it as if it were the first time.

Because we’ve posted this song before, here’s a different version of it.

God, help us all in this information age when we have so many Biblical resources so easily accessible; help us that we don’t track our progress simply in terms of knowledge gained but in terms of hearts and lives changed. For those who lead, help them to lead with change in view. Amen.

 

May 7, 2017

Satan’s Great Deception

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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By Russell Young

Satan is known as a liar. “[The devil] was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (Jn 8:44 NIV) Believers need to understand that they, like the rest of the world, can be deceived and trapped in the lies of the evil one. The Word cautions against being deceived. (1 Cor 6:9; Gal 6:7; 2 Tim 3:13; Jas 1:16) There are many Christian “myths,” deceptions, that by repetition have come to be accepted as truths. The evil one has not left the body of Christ free of attack.

Consider the following:

1. Being redeemed means that a person has been eternally saved. Redemption is for gaining the Holy Spirit (Gal 3:14) who accomplishes the believer’s eternal salvation. (2 Thess 2:13; Titus 3:5─6; Jn 6:63)

2. Christ has won the victory for you. Victory over Satan comes through Christ ((1 Cor 15:57) and requires obedience to him. (Heb 5:9) Only those who “overcome” will gain a presence in the New Jerusalem. (Rev 21:7) The Lord’s victory over the devil gave him the keys to death and Hades and the right, through possession of the keys, to determine a person’s eternal destiny. (Rev 1:18)

3. No judgment befalls those who have confessed faith. All will be judged by God. (2 Cor 5:10; Heb 9:27, 10:30; 1 Pet 1:17, 4:17)

4. All believers will be rewarded equally. Rewards will be based on a person’s righteousness and ‘labour.’ (1 Cor 3:8; Rom 2:7; 1 Sam 26:23)

5. God’s heavenly kingdom will be ‘in heaven.’ His kingdom will be on earth. (Rev 21:2)

6. Confessing faith in Christ is all that God requires. Faith must be proven. (Acts 26:20; 1 Cor 4:2; 1 Pet 1:7; 1 Thess 2:4; Rev 3:10, 6:9)

7. Eternal salvation is all of Christ. The believer must obey Christ if he or she is to gain eternal salvation. (Heb 5:9; Rom 8:4, 14, 6:16; Gal 5:18; Jn 8:51; 2 Thess 1:8)

8. All sin has been forgiven. Sin committed before confession of faith (past sin) has been forgiven (Heb 9:15), and sins following which have been confessed. (1 Jn 1:7)

9. Being pardoned for sin is all that a person requires. A person must be a new creation (Gal 6:15) Believers need to be transformed into the Lord’s likeness. (2 Cor 3:18; Rom 8:29; Eph 4:24)

10. God’s grace covers all your needs. God’s grace gives the believer all that he or she needs for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3), but not life and righteousness. Believers must obey the Lord. (Heb 5:9; Mt 7:21) Everything that causes sin and all who do evil will be separated from God. (Mt 13:41)

11. The believer’s eternal salvation was accomplished by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Forgiveness for sins committed under the first or Old Covenant’s jurisdiction were forgiven and the New Covenant was made available by his sacrifice, following which the Holy Spirit was given to enable a person’s eternal salvation. (Heb 9:15; Phil 2:12)

12. The law does not have to be kept. The Law of Moses does not have to be kept for those obeying the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:18); however, the law of the Spirit needs to be obeyed. (Rom 8:2)

13. “Freedom” means freedom to do as the believer wishes. “Freedom” is from the death all warrant for breaking the Old Covenant’s righteous requirements (Rpm 6:23), freedom from the Covenant of the Law (Heb 9:15), and freedom from the weaknesses of the sinful nature. (Rom 8:2)

14. All confessors are permanent members of the family of God. Only “believers” or those who “are believing” as demonstrated through their righteous practices and obedience to Christ throughout their lives remain “in Christ” and “in the family.” (Jn 8: 34─35; 15:1, 10; Mt 10:22, 24:13, Mk 13:13; Heb 3:14; Rev 2:26)

Warnings that have been given not to fall prey to deception and to Satan’s lies should be taken to heart. The evil one has not completed his work. In fact, it is because of the refusal of humankind to keep God’s eternal Covenant, to obey his laws and to honour his statutes that he is going to bring destruction to the earth. (Isa 24:5) The Lord prophesied that gaining his kingdom required a walk on the narrow road and that such a walk required diligence. “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because man, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24 NIV)

Believers have been cautioned not to fall into temptations and the evil one is constantly offering those things that are attractive to a person’s sinful nature and is still trying to deceive and lead many to his side and to destruction.


Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

May 6, 2017

The One Who Never Sinned, Became Sin

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Cor. 5:21

Six months ago we introduced you to bestselling author and teacher Richard Rohr. His writing is posted at The Center for Action and Contemplation.

Jesus as Scapegoat

Practice: Standing at the Cross

Picture yourself before the crucified Jesus; recognize that he became what you fear: nakedness, exposure, vulnerability, and failure. He became sin to free you from sin. (See 2 Corinthians 5:21.) He became what we do to one another in order to free us from the lie of punishing and scapegoating each other. He became the crucified so we would stop crucifying. He refused to transmit his pain onto others.

In your imagination, receive these words as Jesus’ invitation to you from the cross:

My beloved, I am your self. I am your beauty. I am your goodness, which you are destroying. I am what you do to what you should love. I am what you are afraid of: your deepest and best and most naked self—your soul. Your sin largely consists in what you do to harm goodness—your own and others’. You are afraid of the good; you are afraid of me. You kill what you should love; you hate what could transform you. I am Jesus crucified. I am yourself, and I am all of humanity.

And now respond to Jesus on the cross, hanging at the center of human history, turning history around:

Jesus, Crucified, you are my life and you are also my death. You are my beauty, you are my possibility, and you are my full self. You are everything I want, and you are everything I am afraid of. You are everything I desire, and you are everything I deny. You are my outrageously ignored and neglected soul.

Jesus, your love is what I most fear. I can’t let anybody love me for nothing. Intimacy with you or anyone terrifies me.

I am beginning to see that I, in my own body, am an image of what is happening everywhere, and I want it to stop today. I want to stop the violence toward myself, toward the world, toward you. I don’t need ever again to create any victim, even in my mind.

You alone, Jesus, refused to be crucifier, even at the cost of being crucified. You never asked for sympathy. You never played the victim or asked for vengeance. You breathed forgiveness.

We humans mistrust, murder, attack. Now I see that it is not you that humanity hates. We hate ourselves, but we mistakenly kill you. I must stop crucifying your blessed flesh on this earth and in my brothers and sisters.

Now I see that you live in me and I live in you. You are inviting me out of this endless cycle of illusion and violence. You are Jesus crucified. You are saving me. In your perfect love, you have chosen to enter into union with me, and I am slowly learning to trust that this could be true.

Gateway to Silence:
Father, forgive them.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Jesus: Forgiving Victim, Transforming Savior,” Richard Rohr on Transformation, Collected Talks, Vol. 1, disc 1 (Franciscan Media: 1997).

May 5, 2017

Gardening With God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to the ministry of Mustard Seed Associates and the website Godspace, but this time a different writer. Click the title below to enjoy this at source.

Life as a Gardener

by Andy Wade

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed… The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Genesis 2:8,15

God was the first gardener. Creating and establishing the first trees, shrubs, and other forms of vegetation, then placing humankind into the garden, God establishes what a healthy relationship between humankind and the rest of creation is to look like. The most literal translations have God charging us not to exploit, but to care for and tend the creation God called “very good”.

Jump forward to Resurrection Day. Mary mistakes the risen Jesus for a gardener and that, he was! All those references he made to seed and death and life are now embodied in his resurrection.

Of course, none of this is new, but it did get me thinking. As I plan for this year’s garden, start seeds in our little sunroom, and prepare the garden beds for planting, I can’t help but reflect on how these simple acts relate to God’s profound acts of love and grace as God walks with creation throughout history.

Take a moment to reflect on Genesis chapter 2:

  • Do you see your relationship with creation as one of a caretaker?
  • Are there ways you might change how you live to better reflect God’s command to nurture and care for creation?
    • List three practices to begin this week to move closer to God’s design for us as caretakers.

Now imagine all of your life experiences and actions as those of a gardener:

  • What are your favorite things to “plant”?
  • What things do you spend most of your time “tending and nurturing”?
  • When looking at your life-garden, what do you “water”?
    • What things could benefit from more water?
  • Are there things that need “pruning”?
    • What are they, and how might you begin this week to approach them?
  • Are there “plants” that are invasive, taking over, and need to be eliminated?

Finally, imagine your garden as a place of hospitality and sharing:

  • How do you share your “harvest”?
    • Are there things you just make available for others to glean?
  • Are there “garden beds” you help prepare for others to plant in?
    • What are they, and how do you nurture the best soil possible for others?

Using the language of gardening is a thought-provoking way to look at our lives and the choices we make. For me, the metaphor gives me a creative way to evaluate my choices and actions and frees me to see new ways of approaching areas where I’ve previously been stuck. It also helps to expose attitudes and actions I hadn’t even considered, blind spots that really don’t line up with the faith I profess.

[At this point Andy invites comments; this is a recent article; click the title above to add yours]

May 4, 2017

Investigating Jesus: Evidence and Explanations

by Clarke Dixon

What explanation best fits the evidence? We are continuing the journey we began last week of learning from cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace how to investigate the evidence with respect to the resurrection of Jesus. We are looking today at how to infer to the most reasonable explanation from the evidence.

Let us return to the example of a crime we considered last week when you were called out to investigate the circumstances of my death. Let us review the evidence:

  • My love for chocolate is well known.
  • I was found slumped over a table covered with empty Easter chocolate wrappers.
  • The coroner’s report indicated elevated levels of chocolate in my blood.

Based on the evidence thus far you figure your hunch was correct. This is not a murder scene and I died from chocolate poisoning. However, you discover a new piece of evidence:

  • I have a gunshot wound which the coroner confirmed was the cause of death.

You quickly drop your first explanation knowing that it can not adequately explain the new evidence. Perhaps the best explanation now, is that my wife murdered me for eating her chocolate. However, more new evidence is found:

  • Witnesses confirm that my wife was at a quilting show the day of my death.
  • A gun was found nearby the house with the finger prints of a man known to be a very angry and unstable man who had recently refused treatment for a sever case of chocoholism.
  • Witnesses reported seeing that same man leave my house shortly after shots were heard.

Now let us review the possible explanations that you have come up with at various points along the investigation:

  1. I died from chocolate poisoning.
  2. My wife was mad at me for eating her chocolate and shot me.
  3. I was murdered by my neighbor who wanted my chocolate.

Now which is the best explanation?  Unlike the first two explanations, your third explanation, fits with all the evidence. It has the best explanatory power, and therefore my neighbour is now the prime suspect. What you have just done is infer the most reasonable explanation from the evidence, or what is technically known as “abductive reasoning.”

We do this quite naturally, in fact the disciple known as “Doubting Thomas” likely did this:

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” John 20:24-25

When the disciples tell Thomas that they saw Jesus risen from the dead, he likely considered the evidence standing in front of him, the disciples saying they saw Jesus alive, and considered the best explanation was that they had all lost their marbles. But given some new evidence, being able to see and touch Jesus for himself, a different explanation came to be the best one:

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” John 20:26-28

Based on all the evidence, Thomas comes to believe a different explanation of the facts; Jesus is risen!

So how does this apply to us today as we investigate the evidence for Jesus two millennia later? Let us begin by looking at the evidence, then we will go on to think about the explanations.

As we consider the evidence, let us narrow it down to those pieces of evidence that both the prosecution and the defence can agree upon. In other words, let us consider the facts about the Easter story which both Christian and non-Christian historians can agree upon so that we can begin without bias. J. Warner Wallace makes mention in Cold-Case Christianity of the “minimal facts” approach of Gary Habermas and Mike Licona. Remembering that Wallace began his journey as an atheist, consider:

“As I skeptic myself, I formed a list of New Testament claims as I first investigated the resurrection. When I was an unbeliever, I found four of Habermas and Licona’s minimal facts to be the most substantiated by both friends and foes of Christianity” J.Warner Wallace Cold-Case Christianity

So what are these pieces of evidence that must be explained? Wallace lists four:

  1. Jesus died on a cross and was buried.
  2. Jesus’ tomb was found empty and no one ever produced His body.
  3. Jesus’ disciples said they saw and interacted with Jesus – alive (resurrected, not just resuscitated).
  4. Jesus’ disciples were so committed to their testimony that they were willing to die for it. They never changed their story.

Now let us turn to the possible explanations that have been proposed. Again, please refer to Wallace himself in Cold-Case Christianity for deeper discussions, I cannot do them justice here:

Perhaps Jesus did not really die. But:

  • Jesus’ body would have been handled quite a bit, being taken down from the cross, wrapped for burial, and placed in the tomb. The people of antiquity were not stupid and knew a dead body when they saw one.
  • The Romans soldiers in charge of executions were very good at their jobs. In fact their own lives depended on it.
  • The water and blood that flowed from Jesus with the spear thrust is consistent with medical knowledge today about dead bodies.
  • If Jesus had recovered, he would have been very weak, and also would have died again at some point, earning the name “fraud” from the very people that put their lives in danger by calling him “Lord.”

Perhaps the disciples stole the body and lied about the resurrection. But:

  • This explanation does not account for the fourth piece of evidence, that the disciples, were changed people willing to die for their claim. To quote Wallace:

This theory requires us to believe that the apostles were transformed and emboldened not by the miraculous appearance of the resurrected Jesus but by elaborate lies created without any benefit to those who were perpetuating the hoax (J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity)

  • Why would the disciples, being Jews of deep conviction, deny their faith by saying that a dead man was the messiah rather than stick to waiting for the true messiah?
  • Paul speaks of over 500 people seeing Jesus alive, most of whom were still alive at the time Paul wrote. Are we to believe all these were in on a lie?
  • The tomb was guarded, and the disciples had already proven their cowardice.

Perhaps the disciples were delusional, being so upset about the death of Jesus that they imagined seeing Jesus alive. But:

  • This explanation fails to account for the tomb being empty and the body not being produced to squash the “Jesus movement.”
  • The disciples did not just claim to see Jesus, but interact with him. This level of interaction by so many people on different occasions cannot be explained by hallucinations.
  • The disciples clearly understood Jesus to have risen bodily to a new kind of “resurrection life” than that they had seen visions or a ghost.

Perhaps the disciples were fooled by an imposter. But:

  • This explanation fails to account for the tomb being empty and the body not being produced to squash the “Jesus movement.”
  • What imposter could convince so many people, especially sceptics like Thomas, not to mention James and Paul?
  • What would have been the motivation for someone to pull off such a hoax?

Perhaps the disciples were influenced by one or two of the group who has some sort of “vision.” But:

  • This explanation fails to account for the tomb being empty and the body not being produced to squash the “Jesus movement.”
  • This explanation would only work if the writings of the New Testament were written a long time after the events as such an explanation contradicts the New Testament accounts.

Perhaps the story of the resurrection was added many years following the death of Jesus and so is a legendary fable. But:

  • Even if there were a lengthy passage of time, this explanation still fails to account for the body not being produced to squash the “Jesus movement.”
  • The documents that make up the New Testament were written too close to the events for legend to develop.
  • the Christian creed from the beginning was “Jesus is Lord, and we know this because he is risen.” There is no evidence of development from “Jesus was a great teacher” to “Jesus was really great teacher and miracle worker” to “Jesus is Lord.” There appears in history, quickly following Jesus’ crucifixion (and claimed resurrection), a sudden new way of thinking about God, rather than a period of developing thought.

Perhaps Jesus rose from the dead. 

This last explanation, far more than any other fits all the evidence the best. If we are open to the possibility of the supernatural, and last week we looked at reasons why we should be, then this explanation is the best inference from the evidence. This explanation has the greatest explanatory power for all the “minimal facts” about the resurrection, but so much more evidence also. It explains why the theology developed the way it did and why Jews who were so solid in their Jewish expectations would see all their expectations as fulfilled in Jesus rather than shying away from him as a failed messiah wannabe. It explains, also, why sceptics like James, and especially Paul, did a 180. It explains why the writers of the documents of the New Testament said the kinds of things they did. As I’ve heard Frank Turek say via podcast “the New Testament writers did not create the resurrection, the resurrection created the New Testament writers.”

The disciple known as “Doubting Thomas” should rather be known as “Trusting Thomas.” He trusted the explanation “Jesus is risen” as the best explanation of the  evidence standing in front of him. Many sermons have been preached on how we ought to trust in Jesus without any evidence based on this verse:

Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” John 20:29 (emphases mine)

However, to stop reading there is to stop reading in the wrong place! Consider the next two verses:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. John 20:30-31 (emphases mine)

The Gospel of John, along with all the documents that make up the New Testament, are, like all documents from ancient times, evidence upon which we can determine the events of history. The best explanation of the facts deduced from those documents is that Jesus rose from the dead. Don’t wait until you stand before Jesus to make a decision. You have enough evidence now to trust in the truth of the best explanation; Jesus is risen. John points out the significance of following where the evidence leads: “ . . . and that through believing you may have life in his name.” The explanation of the evidence is not just true, it is very good news!

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

Link for this article at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

May 3, 2017

Alive in a New Way

Luke 24: On the Emmaus Road

…As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” …

Luke 24: The appearance to the disciples

…They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement…

John 20: The appearance to Thomas

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Today we feature a new writer. Rev. Jesse Parker is the Incumbent at St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church in Port Hope, Ontario. I saw this article when it appeared in a local newspaper there and asked if we could share it with you here.

Alive in a New Way

In Japan when a piece of pottery breaks it might go to a craftsman who specializes in the art of Kintsugi, which translates to “golden binding.” This is the art of mending broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with precious metal. Kintsugi treats breakage as part of the history of an object, as something beautiful to be displayed rather than something to be disguised.

In all of the resurrection stories in the gospels there is something different about the risen Jesus, something has changed. It is still him, but he is different. At the seashore, his disciples do not know him right away. On the road to Emmaus, Cleopas and his companion do not know their Lord until he breaks bread with them. In the upper room, Thomas is incredulous until Jesus invites him to touch the wounds of his crucifixion. There is something different, something has changed. The encounter with Thomas tells us something important, the risen Lord still bears the wounds of the cross. The risen Lord, whose body was broken on the cross, still bears the marks of that brokenness, and makes no attempt to disguise them, indeed he displays them for all to see. There’s no missing them.

The resurrection does not make the crucifixion moot, it does not mean that Jesus’s body wasn’t broken on the cross, it certainly does not mean that Jesus never really died. Instead the resurrection means that death did not have the last say. The resurrection restored Jesus to life, but to a new kind of life. Something had changed. Like a badly broken vessel repaired with precious metal, Jesus was given new life, but in a new way, not hiding that his body had been broken, not disguising his wounds, but displaying them.

Jesus shows us that resurrection means being alive in a new way. And in this is the full weight and measure of the Christian hope, that resurrection is something that we have a share in. At the last day, yes, when God will establish his Kingdom fully among us, we have hope of new life. But we also have hope to live as resurrection people right now. We have the hope of new life right now. In Christ’s resurrection is the hope that God can and will take all of the brokenness of our lives and redeem it.

That does not mean that our brokenness, our wounds, our cracks, will be gone as though they had never been there in the first place, but rather, that they will be changed into something new, something different, something beautiful even, a part of our history, not to be disguised, but to be displayed as the exquisite beauty of God’s own craftsmanship, working to make something new where previously there had only been fragments. Resurrection is possible for us right now, and it is the Risen Christ, still bearing the wounds of the cross even today, who shows us this.

May 2, 2017

The Cup of Sorrows and The Worth of a Soul

It’s been a year since we last visited with Jack Wellman at the website Rhetorical Jesus. His devotional posts are shorter than what we normally do here, so we’re giving you a double feature. Titles for each are also links back to his site, and there you’ll also find a graphic for each day which you can use to introduce a link to one of his articles on your own social media. (I haven’t borrowed those here to give you another reason to click through.) The topics are most engaging, so choose one that you think might apply to the people in your online social circle.

Can you drink from the same cup that I am going to drink from?

Matthew 20:22

Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.

Who Is the Greatest?

The mother of the sons of Zebedee, James and John, came up to Jesus, knelt before Him, and asked Him if her two sons could sit at Jesus’ right hand (Matt 22:20-21). Can you imagine that? The disciples’ mother came up to Jesus asking Him if her sons could be chief rulers in the kingdom, which is what is meant by sitting at Jesus’ right hand. Jesus then asked the men if they’re able to drink from the same cup that He was about to drink from, and with no hesitation, James and John said, “Yes.” (Matt 20:22). Jesus did agree about their eventually drinking from His cup, but as for whether or not they would sit at Jesus’ right hand is up to the Father (Matt 20:23).

What Is the Cup?

This cup that Jesus was about to partake in was Calvary, and this included His drinking the cup of all the sins of all humanity of all time: past, present, and future. This the disciples could not do, nor could they drink of the cup of His illegal trial, His scourging by the Roman guards, or His torture on the cross. However, they would eventually go through suffering for their faith, but, of course, not to the same extent and measure that Christ did. Indeed, no one has (Isaiah 53). All believers, if they are living out their faith in public, such as at home, school, or work, will suffer at least some degree of persecution for what they believe. It might be behind their back, but they, too, will have a cup of persecution that they’ll drink from, at least if they are living out their faith publically and are bearing fruit of the Holy Spirit (John 15).

Anger and Jealousy

When the other disciples heard what James’ and John’s mother had asked, they were angry (Matt 20:24). Maybe they were angry because they didn’t think of it first or that James’ and John’s mother was trying to cull some favor from Jesus, which made them mad. Jesus saw their anger and called them over to speak with them. He said that the Gentile kings love to sit in places of power and rule over others and to be served (Matt 20:25-28). Jesus said that this is not how believers are to operate. We are to be servants, and just as Jesus said, He came to be a servant and die, giving His life as a ransom for others (like you and me). He came to serve and not be served, and He gave more than all by His dying for us (Matt 20:28).

A Closing Prayer

Father God, You are so kind to me and patient with me for the many times that I try to place myself above others. Please forgive me when I do that, and help me to realize that the greatest of Your people are not striving to sit at Your right hand, but to serve people in humility. I ask for Your help in this area, and in the name above all names, Jesus Christ, I pray.

What is your own soul worth?

Matthew 16:26

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

Denying the Self but Not Christ

For much of my Christian walk, I did just the opposite. Instead of denying myself but not Christ, I denied Christ and didn’t deny myself much of anything. This, of course, is not walking with Christ as a disciple. Instead of dying to self, I put Christ to death in my life. I have tried to do better and not deny Christ in public before others, but deny myself before others and not Christ. Jesus said one little powerful word, and it was “if.” If we want to follow Christ, we must deny ourselves (Matt 16:24). If we want to save our life, ironically, we’ll lose it. If we desire to lose our life, we will find it (Matt 16:25). Once more, I tend to do just the opposite.

What Does It Profit?

If we can gain all that we can for a temporary life that is like a vapor (James 4:14), we have gained nothing because life is short, but eternity is a very, very long time. Can you put a value on a soul that is lost for all eternity? A man and a woman’s soul is priceless, and nothing can compare to its worth, but how worthless will it be if that life is forever banished from the presence of God with no hope of ever being reconciled (Rev 20:12-15)? The soul’s value cannot be estimated. Jesus’ point is that we can gain all that there is, but lose or forfeit our very soul for this life. If we do that, then we’ve lost everything because you can’t take anything in this life into the next, unless it is done for Christ. Those rewards that are done in His name are going with us to heaven. You can’t take it with you, but you can send it ahead and have it waiting there for you. In other words, the good we do for Jesus and for God’s glory will remain. Nothing else really matters.

Take Up Your Cross

If we are to take up our cross as Jesus said, what does that mean? Today’s equivalent would be to take up the electric chair or take up the lethal injection and die to ourselves. We must crucify the flesh in order to please God, Who is Spirit (Gal 5:24). That basically means nailing our desires and passions–that sinful nature of ours–to the cross, slaying our own desires for the desire to serve Christ and others, and doing it with the express purpose of glorifying God (Gal 2:20). If we are walking by the Holy Spirit’s leading, we’ll be putting to death earthly desires and passions (Gal 5:16). It is only those being led by God’s Spirit who are the children of God (Rom 8:14), and to live by the flesh will be dying in the flesh, but the Spirit will put the deeds of the flesh to death (Rom 8:12-13). In this way, your own soul will have infinite value, but if you’re living only in the flesh, you forfeit everything.

A Closing Prayer

Great God in heaven, I am so far short of Your glory (Rom 3:23), and there is nothing good in me (Rom 3:10) except your Spirit. Please help me yield to Your Spirit and to slay the flesh so that I might strive to not gain the whole world and lose my soul, but rather help me deny myself, take up my cross, die to self, and live for you. In Jesus’ name I pray.

 

May 1, 2017

Devotional Potpourri

Three parts today. One a comparison of two similar Biblical texts. The second from the liturgy my wife wrote for our Sunday worship yesterday with particular emphasis to how we were created in God’s image. The third some advice to pastors and church leaders, or anyone else who finds themselves so very busy.


Sitting in church yesterday, I was struck by the ways in which Paul’s opening words to the Ephesians in chapter one were similar to his opening words to the Colossians. Here’s Ephesians in the NLT:

15 Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere,16 I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, 17 asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. 18 I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.  19 I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him…

And Colossians in the CEB:

9 Because of this, since the day we heard about you, we haven’t stopped praying for you and asking for you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding. 10 We’re praying this so that you can live lives that are worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way: by producing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God; 11 by being strengthened through his glorious might so that you endure everything and have patience…

For deeper study, print off this section and underline the specifics of his requests for both churches and their spiritual maturity. It’s also interesting to note that his sentences — where we’ve cut off the last verses in the middle — run on as he switches from the quoted sections to the basis on which they can place their confidence in Christ.

  • He made it so you could take part in the inheritance
  • He rescued us from the control of darkness
  • He transferred us into the kingdom of the Son
  • We can trust in the incredible greatness of God’s power
  • We can trust in the power that raised Christ from the dead

If you want to read the full chapters click here for Col. 1 and Eph. 1 in the translations quoted.


Creation Meditation

by Ruth Wilkinson

Heavenly Father, Creator, Sustainer, World Filler –
You created us with eyes because
You see beauty and joy, pain and brokenness
And so must we.

You created us with ears because
You hear words of faithfulness, promises of love and cries of need
And so must we.

You created us with mouths because
You sing joy, shout truth and whisper comfort
And so must we.

You created us with hands because
You create and build, reach out and touch and embrace
And so must we.

You created us with feet because
You are the God who goes where You are needed,
who walks alongside those who need you
And so must we.

Heavenly Father, Creator, Sustainer, World Filler –
You are the God who named us because
You have a name.
You gave us our true name.
You know who we are.

We are yours.


A Word for Weary Pastors

by Mark O. Wilson
(click here to read at source)

Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

As pastors, our calling is to be be with Jesus, as his beloved children, rather than slaving away as his hired servants. Our work for Christ must flow from his overwhelming love for us. Otherwise, we’re living in frantic illusion.

Souls require breathing space to be healthy.

Consider these words from veteran pastor, William C. Martin:

If you fill your calendar with important appointments
you will have no time for God.
If you fill your spare time with essential reading
you will starve your soul.
If you fill your mind with worry
about budgets and offerings,
the pains in your chest and the ache in your shoulders
will betray you.
If you try to conform to the expectations
of those around you
you will forever be their slave.

Work a modest day
then step back and rest.
This will keep you close to God.

April 30, 2017

Joy in Testing

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Russell Young

James taught that believers should “consider it pure joy” when they face trials. (James 1:2 NIV) “Trials” in this passage is derived from the Greek peirasmos which means “a putting to proof (by experiment (of good), experience (of evil), solicitation, discipline or provocation); by implication, adversity: -temptation, X try.” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary) In essence he is saying that Christ-followers are to take calm delight in the opportunity given to prove their faith because through proving their faith they develop perseverance and perseverance produces maturity. That is, working through trials engenders maturity.

At first glance the thought of having to face testing is something that is not welcome. Who wants their peace and comfort removed, even temporarily? The truth is, however, that testing develops spiritual strength and confidence in the Lord. It also refines the skills needed to gain victory over temptations, provided that the one being tested perseveres to the end.

There is a challenge to the concept of eternal salvation present in James’ proclamation. That is, if a person’s eternal salvation was accomplished at confession of faith, how could faithfully persevering through trials benefit him or her, and if benefit could not be derived, how can joy be found in needless discomfort or pain?

Jesus taught that you must be born again if you are to have any hope of gaining God’s eternal Kingdom. (Jn 3:3) New birth is the production of a baby, not a mature adult. Being “born again” means a new beginning with the indwelling presence of Christ as the Holy Spirit. It is Christ in the believer that is his hope of glory (Col 1:27), but the born-again believer is still a spiritual baby. There are many basic or foundational teachings (Heb 6:1─2) that are needed to nourish the infant, however the writer of Hebrews has recorded: “Anyone who lives on milk (the foundational teachings) is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5: 13─14 NIV) Teachings about righteousness are the ‘meat’ of the gospel and strengthen those who use them because they help believers learn to distinguish good from evil and through perseverance prove, demonstrate, or reveal their faith through righteous practices.

Why are trials considered to be “pure joy”? Why should the person undergoing trials accept them with an attitude of calm delight? Faith is not proven to God or to oneself through easy living. It is not developed in times of peace and comfort. Peter spoke of the inheritance to come for the faithful but states that “though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come to prove your faith-of greater value than gold, which even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Pet 1:6─7 NIV) Faithfulness, having been proven, will result in a person’s glorification. Those who do not faithfully persevere will not be found in God’s eternal kingdom. (Mt 10:22)

“Faith” means ‘persuasion’ and although most come to Christ having been persuaded of God’s reality, their need, and his life-saving ministry for them, their persuasion is often not sufficient to enable perseverance through difficult trials and the proving of his faithfulness. Persuasion in these regards is gradually built or put on through experience and trials.

After releasing the Israelites from captivity in Egypt, the LORD took them on a circuitous route to the Promised Land through the desert “to test their faithfulness to him.” (Ex 15:25 NLT) Given their inexperience with him the Lord was not about to put them under trial or testing early in their journey. He said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” (Ex 13:17 NIV) They needed to be victorious in trials and to learn of him if they were to become strong and committed to honoring him. The journey to the Promised Land could have been completed in eleven days but took forty years. Moses reminded his people, “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 hearts, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (Deut 8:2 NIV) The life journey of the believer, even today, is a testing of his or her faith so that the Lord might know what is in their hearts. The reader is reminded of Jesus’ proclamation as recorded by Matthew: “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. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name and drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you (was not sure of, you had not proven faithful) Away from me you evildoers!’” (Mt 7:21-23 NIV)

A life lived free of concern for evil and lacking repentance concerning its practice will have eternal consequences regardless of deceptive teachings that promote otherwise. God will not be mocked! The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament and the believer’s understanding needs to reflect that reality. It is through his mercy and grace that the Father through his Son has provided means for accomplishing his righteous requirements. (2 Pet 1:3) The believer should count perseverance through tribulations as opportunity to prove his or her faithfulness and commitment and should find joy as they gain victory through the trial of the moment by relying on the enlightenment, leading and power of their Savior. So, count it all joy when you face trials of many kinds.



Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

April 29, 2017

Praying for Those Who Lead Us

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
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Today a new writer recommended to us, who posts under the banner Life Lessons from an Imperfect Lady. (Aren’t we all?) I love the idea of thinking of leaders as not just people in government. That it could apply to whoever is leading us; the idea of praying for the people who have input into the lives of ourselves and our community. And while I’ve provided an alternative scripture reading, the vocabulary in verse 9 of the KJV below is not to be missed!

Click the title below to read this at source and look around; there is some very good devotional writing happening on her blog.  (For today’s scripture in a more modern text, click this link.)

The ‘Bridge’ of Prayer

There are days when we find it difficult to pray.

Maybe, we aren’t in a ‘thankful’ state of mind. Maybe, are hearts are heavy with physical or mental pain. Maybe we are burdened by guilt. Whatever the reason, Jesus gave us our instructions on how to approach His Father in the Lord’s prayer. Most people recognize that prayer with no trouble but there are other instructions on prayer.

Paul gives us another example of things to be included when conversing with God and we would do well to attempt to practice these…although they may seem hard.

1 Timothy 2: 1-9–I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity. I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array.

Okay…my first thought is OUCH!!

We are to pray for everyone, especially our leaders.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not altogether happy with how our so-called ‘leaders’ have been leading us lately.

But wait. Maybe we don’t get the entire picture when we think about that word.

A leader is defined as a person who ‘directs or guides’. One immediately puts kings, presidents, and CEO’s in mind of leaders but a conductor is a leader of an orchestra. And a counselor is one who leads us to understand things about ourselves and/or the paths we undertake in life.

As hard as it may be, we should all pray for those who are ‘leading’ whether it be a politician or a pastor. God wants us all to come to him. Those in authority are under a greater burden as they are sometimes elevated to higher standard when we look at them.

Paul also goes on to remind us that Jesus is our leader. His blood is our bridge between sin and perfection which leads us back to fellowship with God. Paul is eager to establish his credentials that Christ appointed him a leader and given him a mission to minister to the Gentiles.

We are to live our heads and hands to God. Paul reminds us that we need not act as if we are better than others–wringing our hands, crying out to be noticed, dressing as if we are special, or touting our earthly goods. We are to come to Him simply, in honesty and humility to pray for those who are in positions of leadership and all others who accompany us to the feet of Christ who remember His grace and mercy.

When we pray for those in leadership, even when we don’t like or respect them, God is charging us to come honestly. Those that don’t do this will be judged by The One who is far greater that we are to have them answer for their actions.

The world may be in turmoil…but the bridge of life built for us built for all humanity by Jesus Christ is eternal and open to all.

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