Christianity 201

June 10, 2019

So That the World May Observe Our Contentment

I’m not sure how it happened, but sometime late last week we got connected to the blog Generosity Monk. Author and teacher Gary Hoag finds an excerpt from books and commentaries — including some classics I’m sure you and I have never heard of — and runs the excerpt followed by some observations on what makes this personal to him.

Like this blog, he’s been doing this faithfully on a daily basis since June, 2009. I can’t believe we’ve never seen this website before; it’s a goldmine of devotional and study resources.  Because of that, we’re going to feature it both today and tomorrow. This one — which is longer than some, but features Dallas Willard — is from a year ago, click the link in the header below to read it on his site. Tomorrow we’ll feature one more.

Dallas Willard: Anxiety vs. More or Less Crazy

If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. 1 Timothy 6:8

“If we do value “mammon” as normal people seem to think we should, our fate is fixed. Our fate is anxiety. It is worry. It is frustration. The words anxious and worry both have reference to strangling or being choked. Certainly that is how we feel when we are anxious. Things and events have us by the throat and seem to be cutting off our life. We are being harmed, or we fear what will come upon us, and all our efforts are insufficient to do anything about it.

Because we have the option, in reliance upon Jesus, of having abundant treasures in the realm of the heavens, Jesus gives us another of His “therefores.” “Therefore don’t be anxious for your physical existence, concerning what you will have to eat or drink, or how you will clothe your body” (Matt. 6:25). Life is not about food, He continues to say, nor the body about clothes. It is about a place in God’s immortal kingdom now. Eternity is, in part, what we are now living.

Jesus reminds us to look at living things around us in nature. In particular He refers us to birds and wildflowers. What is most relevant about the birds is that they do not “lay up treasures upon earth.” They receive from their world, under God, daily food for daily needs. When we watch them we are reminded of the phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us today the food we need for today.

And as for the birds, it is not so much that birds do not work. They are among the busiest citizens of our world. Some, such as domestic chickens, are observed to work very hard. We too should work, and sometimes work hard. But our feathered friends do not seem to worry about the physical supports of their life, such as food and water and shelter. They simply seek it as they need it and take what they find. And that is how we should be. Having our treasures in heaven frees us to live simply in the present so far as our vital needs are concerned. We work hard, of course, and we care for our loved ones. But we do not worry — not even about them. Having food and clothing and God, we can be content (1 Tim. 6:8)…

People who are ignorant of God — the ethne, or “nations,” who also pray, we have seen, with mechanical meaninglessness — live to eat and drink and dress. “For such things the ‘Gentiles’ seek” — and their lives are filled with corresponding anxiety and anger and depression about how they will look and how they will fare.

By contrast, those who understand Jesus and His Father know that provision has been made for them. Their confidence has been confirmed by their experience. Though they work, they do not worry about things “on earth.” Instead, they are always “seeking first the kingdom.” That is, they “place top priority on identifying and involving themselves in what God is doing and in the kind of rightness [dikaiosune] He has. All else needed is provided” (6:33). They soon enough have a track record to prove it…

The “Western” segment of the church today lives in a bubble of historical illusion about the meaning of discipleship and the gospel. We are dominated by the essentially Enlightenment values that rule American culture: pursuit of happiness, unrestricted freedom of choice, disdain of authority. The prosperity gospels, the gospels of liberation, and the comfortable sense of “what life is all about” that fills the minds of most devout Christians in our circles are the result. How different is the gritty realization of James: “Friends of the world (kosmou) are enemies of God” (James 4:4) And John: “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (2 John 2:15).

If we do not treasure earthly goods we must be prepared to be treated as more or less crazy. This is also true if we escape the delusions of respectability and so are not governable by the opinions of those around us, even though we respect them in love…”

Dallas Willard (1935-2013) in Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God (New York: HarperCollins, 1998) 209-14. Click the link to download and read this modern-day classic.

As I just read a chapter of it, I felt like Dallas was reading it to me, because I was reminded of a conversation with him about ten years ago at a conference in Long Beach, California. I asked, “How important is it to teach stewardship and generosity to seminary students?” After a long pause, he said, “It’s absolutely vital to share those truths because our world is filled with lies.” He continued. “On my drive here from my home today to this hotel, I read various billboards and most all of them told lies about who I am and what I need. People need to know the truth about those matters, and pastors must teach them, otherwise their focus will be consumed by the things of this world.”

It was one of those conversations I will never forget. And sure this is a long post, but nothing like the book, which is 466 pages. Don’t miss this point of my sharing of this excerpt.

If we follow the world’s wisdom, our focus becomes fixed on mammon. We will are consumed by what we eat, drink, what we wear, and where we live. The world’s messages bombard us with discontentment which breeds “anxiety” and hinders generosity! If, alternatively, we go against the flow and follow Jesus, people will treat us like we are “more or less crazy” but regardless, we take hold of life in the kingdom now, and we are positioned to be generous because we have found that we have everything we need in Christ so we can be content with basic food, clothing, and shelter.

In an increasingly consumeristic global economy, I am becoming convinced that our greatest everyday witness as followers of Jesus may be our contentment with basic needs.

Are you?


If you’re a regular reader online, or are a subscriber, please refer back to posts from the past weekend and look at the survey questions under the posts. We really want to hear from you; we’re looking for feedback that goes beyond just checking a few boxes on a form, so we’ve set up an email address where you can respond and a few topics to which you may react.

June 9, 2019

Jesus in the Psalms

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:48 pm
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John 5:39:

You pore over the Scriptures because you presume that by them you possess eternal life. These are the very words that testify about Me (BSB)

You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!   (NLT)

■ Worship liturgy by Ruth Wilkinson:

The Son of God
Comes in name of the Lord
Praised by children
Delights in God’s Word

Mocked by enemies
Accused by liars
Hated without cause
Betrayed by friend
Prays for enemies

Lots cast for clothes
Given vinegar & gall

Hands & feet pierced
Bones unbroken
Forsaken by God

His betrayer replaced
Rises from death
Ascends to heaven

A priest forever
The Chief Cornerstone
Ruler of all
The Eternal King
Rules over His enemies with justice

■ From Nick Batzig at The Place for Truth

Athanasius once made the following statement about the book of Psalms: “While the entire Holy Scripture is a teacher of virtues and of the truths of faith, the book of Psalms possesses somehow the perfect image for the soul’s course of life.” The Psalter has a unique place in Old Testament revelation in that it really is a sort of miniature Bible. Every systematic and biblical-theological truth of Scripture is found, in seed form, in the Psalms. It should not, therefore, surprise us that the New Testament writers cite the Psalms more than any other book of the Old Testament. Neither should it surprise us that, in each citation, Jesus and the Apostles teach us that the Psalms are Messianic in nature. In so doing, they teach us the principles that we must follow as we seek to discover Christ in all the rest of the Psalms.

■ Timothy Keller at Crosswalk

…Most of all the psalms, read in light of the entire Bible, bring us to Jesus. The psalms were Jesus’s songbook. The hymn that Jesus  sang at the Passover meal (Matthew  26:30; Mark 14:26) would have been the Great Hallel, Psalms 113–118. Indeed, there is every reason to assume that  Jesus  would have sung all the psalms, constantly, throughout  his life, so that he knew them by heart. It is the book of the Bible that he quotes more than any other. But the psalms were not simply sung by Jesus; they also are about him, as we will see throughout this volume.

■ Nicholas Davis at Core Christianity

…At first glance, Psalm 1 doesnt look like a Messianic psalm. Theres no mention of a king or of a kingdom like we see in Psalm 2 or Psalm 110. There is nothing that ties the psalm directly to the suffering work of Jesus Christ as in Psalm 22. Psalm 1 looks like its just about any Israelite who is given the basic instruction to follow the Torah (the Law). But if we look at it again, we see something else. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus taught his disciples how to read the Bible. In Luke 24:44, he claimed that the whole Bible is about himself. This means that even all of the Psalms are ultimately about him.

■ Jeffrey Kranz at Biblia (Noting that the connection runs both ways; the Psalms point to Jesus and Jesus points to the psalms.)

…People didn’t follow Jesus only because of his miracles—they also followed him because he knew how to handle the Old Testament…

…Psalms is the most-read book of the Bible, and it’s the one Jesus quotes most often.

The book of Psalms is a collection of 150 songs and poems written to God. David penned half of them, and the rest were written by temple worship leaders (like the sons of Asaph), wise men (like Solomon), and some unknown poets (like . . . well, I don’t know).

Jesus quotes the Psalms on 11 occasions:

 


Go Deeper: Click the individual links to read more of each article by each author.


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June 8, 2019

Falling Prey to the Lies that Lead to Failure to Trust

Today we’re making a return visit with Ted Gosard who blogs at Jesus Community.

leaving (instead of living) the lie

Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scoffers
who rule this people in Jerusalem.
You boast, “We have entered into a covenant with death,
with the realm of the dead we have made an agreement.
When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by,
it cannot touch us,
for we have made a lie our refuge
and falsehood our hiding place.”

So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it
will never be stricken with panic.
I will make justice the measuring line
and righteousness the plumb line;
hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie,
and water will overflow your hiding place.
Your covenant with death will be annulled;
your agreement with the realm of the dead will not stand.
When the overwhelming scourge sweeps by,
you will be beaten down by it.
As often as it comes it will carry you away;
morning after morning, by day and by night,
it will sweep through.”

Isaiah 28:14-19

I think it’s far more common than we imagine, just how we live in lies. And I’m thinking of Christians, too. Specifically I’m thinking of myself, included. Part of what got me thinking this way were two posts quoting Dallas Willard who says it quite eloquently in the details spelled out in Scripture (here and here).

We live lies in a multitude of ways. Essentially living in the truth is “truth in Jesus” and an important aspect of that is living in the Father’s care, so that we’re free to seek his kingdom and righteousness, not encumbered with any of the cares common to humanity, or part of our culture. That is so much more easier said than done.

When one is weighed down, maybe nearly stricken with panic, that’s a sure sign one is not living in the Father’s provision, or as it’s been called, his providential care. We’re failing to trust in God, at least not to the extent needed. We need to take our hands off so to speak, but through prayer, find our way into that peace that frees us up to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.

Patterns in our lives will have to be broken, and that can be hard. It will require effort by us, but an effort essentially to let go, and let God take over. We need to find his peace. Part of this is not just to be freed up to put first things first, but with the prior commitment to that.

As the text above tells us, life simply doesn’t work well when we make a lie our refuge. And God won’t let it work well for those who name his name, who profess faith in him.

This is something we need to strive to enter and remain, come what may. God has us, as we seek first of all to live in his care and love and will. Part and parcel of being followers of Jesus in and through him.


We want to hear from our subscribers. Copy and paste this address — searchlight@nexicom.net — into an email and let us know your reactions to these questions. (You can also then copy and paste what follows and react to each as applicable.)

If you’re an online reader only, let us know how often you drop by.

① Which of these types of articles do you find helpful:

■ General devotionals from various sources
■ Weekly (Thursday) articles by Clarke Dixon
■ Bi-Weekly (alt. Tuesdays) articles by Russell Young
■ Sunday Worship series
■ Original articles by Paul Wilkinson
■ Quotations series featuring various authors
■ Articles consisting of commentary on verses/passages from 3-4 different writers
■ Worship liturgies by Ruth Wilkinson
■ Articles featuring worship songs and hymns at the end
■ Scripture medleys (articles that are entirely Bible text)

② How do you feel about the length of the articles?

► Too long
► Too short
► Just about right (Admittedly this was a “Goldilocks” question!)

③ We draw on a number of authors from the widest variety of Christian denominations. Do you find the selection

► Too diverse
► Still not diverse enough

④ Our aim at Christianity 201 is to be “digging a little deeper.” In other words, to be more more than Christianity 101. Given that, would you say that,

► The articles go deeper than many devotionals
► The articles still don’t go deep enough
► Because there are different writers each day, the depth spiritually is inconsistent
► Because there are different writers each day, the variety of voices makes up for the inconsistencies in the depth

⑤ We didn’t want to make this too long, but if there’s anything else, this would be the place to mention it. For example:

► Time of day you receive the devotional. Most newsletters go out in the morning but we wanted to create something different when we started this.
► Use of a wide variety of Bible translations
► Use of a green font to highlight scripture selections (because the scriptures are alive!)
► Nothing to sell you. Other than anything WordPress ads (and a bi-weekly mention of Russell Young’s book) I wanted to this to be a commerce-free zone.

Two quick questions about your reading habits…

⑥ Do you ever forward your copy of the newsletter? It would help us out if you would help spread the word.

⑦ Do you click through to read the articles at source or simply read them on the email or at the website?

► Click through sometimes
► Click through frequently
► Simply read the articles on the email or at C201

We’re using searchlight@nexicom.net to collect responses as your comments won’t get lost in all the mail that Paul receives daily.

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June 7, 2019

Forgiving the Otherwise Unforgiveable

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

NIV.Matt.6.14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

We’re paying another return visit to Serving Grace Ministries. This time it’s an archived post from a different author, Kadie Rumby. The title below is the name of popular American household product. Click the header below to read this at source.

Today is also the first day we’re introducing our reader survey. Our first in nearly ten years. See below.

Miracle Grow

A pastor friend of mine once said, “If you want to grow in the things of God, you’ve got to pray the hard stuff.” He was speaking on harnessing the power of emotions, and at this point in his message he was talking about how he overcame the offenses he’d experienced when dealing with members of his congregation, and – yes – even fellow pastors. Even though many of us will never have to encounter those types of offenses, the power of offense is still very real. Without a counter attack to this especially insidious emotion, it can overtake us completely. Thankfully, there are things we can do to fight back.

“Pray the hard stuff” is praying for [ways to bless] your enemies. Jesus specifically instructs us to do this in Matthew 5:44,

“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

I can remember many times in my own life when I wish I’d known this verse and practiced it. I can tell you now that it would have saved me a lot of headache and heartache. Moreover, I wish I’d known that when I did pray for others, I had to do it with the right heart.

Too easily, we can develop a hardened heart or selfish motives when obeying this command. Such an attitude can do you more harm than the offense itself. It’s very important to forgive immediately, unselfishly, and with your whole heart. This, too, is a command found in Matthew 6:14. Satan would love nothing more than for you to hold on to an offense against someone else, since it is a sure way that God will judge you unworthy. Sadly, what many people fail to understand is that their lack of forgiveness, intense emotions, and irrational actions have nothing to do with others.

German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, is famous for his expression, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” Did you notice that statement does not mention the word ‘them’ even once; in fact, it mentions ‘us’ twice in the same sentence! That’s because our emotions have nothing to do with other people; it has everything to do with us! Don’t give the control of your destiny to an enemy that will never have the best intentions for you. Instead, give it to someone who will have only your best interests in mind. Give it to God.

So next time you are faced with an offensive situation, do not let it steal your peace – which was freely given to you and is rightfully yours. The next time, don’t embrace the unforgiving attitude that will cause your heavenly Father to not forgive you. The next time, close your eyes and thank God that you have a divine connection with Him that can change that person’s life. Once you learn how to repel offense, pray for your enemies with a forgiving heart, and love them with the love that God loves them, you will grow – personally, spiritually, and miraculously.


We want to hear from our subscribers. Copy and paste this address — searchlight@nexicom.net — and let us know your reactions to these questions.

If you’re an online reader only, let us know how often you drop by.

① Which of these types of articles do you find helpful:

■ General devotionals from various sources
■ Weekly (Thursday) articles by Clarke Dixon
■ Bi-Weekly (alt. Tuesdays) articles by Russell Young
■ Sunday Worship series
■ Original articles by Paul Wilkinson
■ Quotations series featuring various authors
■ Articles consisting of commentary on verses/passages from 3-4 different writers
■ Worship liturgies by Ruth Wilkinson
■ Articles featuring worship songs and hymns at the end
■ Scripture medleys (articles that are entirely Bible text)

② How do you feel about the length of the articles?

► Too long
► Too short
► Just about right  (Admittedly this was a “Goldilocks” question!)

③ We draw on a number of authors from the widest variety of Christian denominations. Do you find the selection

► Too diverse
► Still not diverse enough

④ Our aim at Christianity 201 is to be “digging a little deeper.” In other words, to be more more than Christianity 101. Given that, would you say that,

► The articles go deeper than many devotionals
► The articles still don’t go deep enough
► Because there are different writers each day, the depth spiritually is inconsistent
► Because there are different writers each day, the variety of voices makes up for the inconsistencies in the depth

⑤ We didn’t want to make this too long, but if there’s anything else, this would be the place to mention it. For example:

► Time of day you receive the devotional. Most newsletters go out in the morning but we wanted to create something different when we started this.
► Use of a wide variety of Bible translations
► Use of a green font to highlight scripture selections (because the scriptures are alive!)
► Nothing to sell you. Other than anything WordPress ads (and a bi-weekly mention of Russell Young’s book) I wanted to this to be a commerce-free zone.

Two quick questions about your reading habits…

⑥ Do you ever forward your copy of the newsletter? It would help us out if you would help spread the word.

⑦ Do you click through to read the articles at source or simply read them on the email or at the website?

► Click through sometimes
► Click through frequently
► Simply read the articles on the email or at C201

We’re using searchlight@nexicom.net to collect responses as your comments won’t get lost in all the mail that Paul receives daily.

Leave a Comment

June 6, 2019

A Compelling Perspective on Humanity

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

How the Christian Perspective on Humanity Points to the Reality of God.

by Clarke Dixon

Does Christianity lead to a beautiful perspective on humanity? Or is it ugly? If the God of the Bible is real and is love, then we should expect beauty and not ugliness. Some would say it is ugly, setting up some people as better than the rest, creating a people who look down on others. It sets up a hierarchy of worth and value. There is no doubt, that we who are Christians, have sometimes acted or spoken like this is so. But is that accurate? What does the Bible teach that our perspective on humanity should be?

Let us turn first, to the beginning;

26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. . . . .
27 So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27 (NLT)

All people are created in the image of God, without exception. This fact unites us in our humanity.

It might be suggested that while this was true of Adam and Eve, it has not been true of anyone since the Fall, that we no longer bear the image of God because of sin. However, consider this early appeal to justice;

5 “And I will require the blood of anyone who takes another person’s life. If a wild animal kills a person, it must die. And anyone who murders a fellow human must die. 6 If anyone takes a human life, that person’s life will also be taken by human hands. For God made human beings in his own image. Genesis 9:5-6 (NLT)

To paraphrase, “how dare you lift a finger against another person in violence, for people were created in the image of God and that still matters.” Every person has worth and value, even with sin in the equation.

Now let us turn to the ending;

9 After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10 And they were shouting with a great roar,
“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne
and from the Lamb!” . . . .
14 Then he said to me, “These are the ones who died in the great tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.
15 “That is why they stand in front of God’s throne
and serve him day and night in his Temple.
And he who sits on the throne
will give them shelter.
16 They will never again be hungry or thirsty;
they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.
17 For the Lamb on the throne
will be their Shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of life-giving water.
And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:9,10,14-17 (NLT emphasis added)

The Book of Revelation speaks of an incredible diversity of peoples gathered together, redeemed by God through Christ. From this we learn that all people are redeemable, all people have the opportunity to wash their clothes in the blood of the Lamb.

To sum up what we learn at the beginning and at the end, we will never meet a person who was not created in the image of God, we will never meet a person for whom Jesus did not choose to bear the cross. All people bear the image of God without exception. Without exception, Jesus bore the cross for all people. That is the starting point point of relationship with God, though there is much we could say about where it goes from there and what allegiance to, and trust in, Christ looks like. It is also the perspective on humanity for the Christian and the starting point for our relationship with others.

We see this humanity valuing perspective in the Bible, not only at the beginning and the end, but also from beginning to end. For example,

  • When Abraham is called, that calling is ultimately for the sake of all nations, not just Abraham’s descendants.
  • In the Old Testament there are laws that provide for the well-being of the foreigner.
  • Foreigners were welcomed into the community, as exemplified with The Book of Ruth. We should note, however, that the community was to keep its worship pure from foreign religious influence. While foreign religion was unacceptable, foreign people were accepted.
  • God’s concern for the foreigner is explicitly made clear in The Book of Jonah. Jonah shrank back from God’s call to preach to the enemy, the people of Ninevah, knowing that God would be kind to them. God did indeed show His kindness to them.
  • Jesus loved all kinds of people, even touching “unclean” people, whom no one would touch, before healing them.
  • Jesus taught the importance of love for thy neighbour, then emphasized that the neighbour is anyone and everyone. Your neighbour could even be those dreaded Samaritans, who can act better than the religious elites by the way, as told in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
  • God called Phillip for a special mission to the Ethiopian eunuch, who was from a different land, likely had a different skin colour, and, being a eunuch, could be described as having a different sexuality.
  • God gave the Holy Spirit to all kinds of people beyond the Jewish people.

From beginning to end, the Bible promotes the value and worth of all people. This covers more than just race, it covers any kind of difference. Consider that in a very patriarchal time and place, there is an emphasis on the equality of the sexes;

27 So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27 (NLT)

Speaking of gender, there is a lot going on with gender in society these days.  Many of us may struggle to understand why a man identifies as a woman, or a woman as a man, or some don’t identify as either. The starting point for relationship, even when people are beyond our understanding, is this: they are created in the image of God and Jesus chose the cross for them. What will we choose to do for them?

All people bear the image of God without exception. Without exception, Jesus bore the cross for all people. This is true for people who are unique for any reason. With each of our pregnancies, my wife and I were offered the opportunity to test for Down syndrome. This would lead to an opportunity to have an abortion. In our minds people with Down syndrome have as much worth and value as any other person. They are created in the image of God. Jesus chose the cross for them. Therefore should a Christian carry on with such a test? Speaking of abortion, in my mind, people in the womb has as much value and worth as people outside. This is why Christians often tend to be pro-life. We should understand that nothing is as simple as it seems, that there is a great need for sensitivity on this topic, and people need reminding of the grace of God. Also we should understand that some people are pro-choice based on their Christian ethic, based on love and concern for Moms and women in difficult circumstances. Nevertheless, every person has value and the question is valid; is a fetus just “tissue,” or a person created in the image of God and for whom Jesus bore the cross?

Given that all humanity bears the image of God, the Christian cannot not look down on people as being worth less for any reason. Rather, we are called to love others with the love of Christ who bore the cross for them. The starting point is not “you are so different from me,” but “we are so much alike, in our creation in the image of God, in our need for grace, and in being given the invitation to a relationship with God.” All people bear the image of God without exception. Without exception, Jesus bore the cross for all people. This is Christian view of humanity, and it is beautiful.

Now consider what can happen when we take God out of the picture. Without the Biblical perspective on humanity, we can easily fall into racism, sexism, or looking down on people because they are different.  If we are indeed evolved, if there is no God, then what is to stop us from thinking that one race has greater value than another? The rat has had just as much time to evolve as the human. We naturally give the human more value and will call exterminators to deal with rat infestations so as to protect humans from disease. What is to stop us from giving greater value to one type of human, even going as far as exterminating other types of humans to protect the more valuable? Indeed this kind of thing happened with Nazi Germany. It was not Bible study and a hunger for God that led the Nazi machine to commit atrocities against the Jews. It was philosophical thinking that applied evolution to society. “We are more highly evolved than you” is ugly. In contrast, “You bear the image of God, Christ bore the cross for you,” is beautiful.

Every single person bears the image of God, regardless of colour, culture, medical conditions, gender, sexuality, or anything else. Jesus bore the cross for every person regardless of colour, culture, medical conditions, gender, sexuality, or anything else. We share this same starting point with every other person without exception. This is a beautiful perspective on humanity which is also helpful to humanity. This is what we should expect if the God the Bible points to, the God the Bible portrays as love, is real. This is yet another reason that Christianity it compelling.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada and is featured here each Thursday. This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

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June 5, 2019

On People Coming and Going from Death

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A year ago we introduced you to Graham and Amaryllis, a retired couple living in Trimsaran, West Wales, UK who have worked in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Yesterday I revisited their blog and found this article on a topic we had been discussing the day before. Click the title below to read this at their site.

Once to Die!

There is a most interesting verse in Matt 27:52, 53 – The earth shook, and rocks split apart.  Graves opened, and many of God’s people were raised to life. Then after Jesus had risen to life, they came out of their graves and went into the holy city, where they were seen by many people – but I have never heard anyone explain this satisfactorily.

The sequence is important, at the Friday earthquake when Jesus died and the veil was torn in half, these ‘many’ Old Testament saints were raised up and must have been with Jesus in spirit until Sunday.  On Sunday, these people were seen in Jerusalem by many people, so, we must assume that they then were united with their bodies.  But what happened to them afterwards?

This is a fascinating and again we can assume that the purpose of it was two-fold, encouragement for God’s people in Jerusalem and also a demonstration of power against the Dark Kingdom – death, hell and the grave were thoroughly defeated.  But was there something more?

Now, another interesting verse – As the Scriptures say, “When he went up to the highest place, he led away many prisoners and gave gifts to people. Eph 4:8 – who were the prisoners Jesus ‘led away’ at the ascension?  Can we put these verses together?  We cannot be dogmatic about this, for there is too little information given, but we can read between the lines, as long as we don’t contradict any other verses.

So, were the prisoners that were ‘led away’, the risen Old Testament saints of Matt 27:52?  Their bodies had been prisoners in the grave and the spirits had been ‘in heaven’ waiting for resurrection, [Abraham’s bosom, paradise, sheol, where-ever!  There’s no need to get into a debate over those terms, they all suggest shades of meaning of the same thing for various people.  Every righteous person in any age who dies, goes to be with God in spirit!  They had passed their test and God would reward them, with His presence at the very least].

It is unthinkable to me that these raised people could die again, in any circumstances, besides the important verse – it is appointed to man once to die, after that the judgment, Heb 9:27 – those saints had been at the Judgment Seat of Christ as one cannot be in God’s presence without that; I’m sure there was something similar for Old Testament saints.  So, is it impossible that any one should go through death twice?  Certainly not judgment twice!

If this blessedness was for those Old Testament saints of being with Jesus as He ascended back to heaven, could it also be the same for Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter and the widow of Nain’s son?  Surely, God would not want them to go through the horrors of death twice?  Could Heb 9:27 refer to them as well as the Old Testament saints?

There might be one difference, especially for Jairus’ daughter who had not long died, perhaps her spirit had been held ‘in limbo’; even science is now aware of ‘out of body experiences’ where people were clinically dead, but revived once their spirit returned to the body.  American doctors researched this and are convinced these experiences are real and that the term ‘clinically dead’ has limitations!  Even the widow’s son, it might be reasonable to think that his spirit could be in limbo for a few hours, but surely it is stretching it for 4 days, for Lazarus.  These 3 are rather speculative, so I would be inclined to discount it, but it remains a problem, does God really want people to die twice which is contrary to Heb 9:27?

There is one more possible ‘candidate’ for this ‘captive ascension’, the dying Thief, who was told by Jesus – today, you will be with me in paradise – it is possible that he too enjoyed being one of the ‘prisoners led away’, a border line case?

Now, with Eph 4:8, also think of Col 2:15 – having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them – we assume this to be the Ascension of Jesus.  Now imagine the Risen and glorified Christ taking that band of risen Old Testament saints, at least, and going up slowly through the skies, right through Satan’s new sphere of authority.  Remember, in the Old Testament, he was the Ruler of this World, but Calvary’s victory demoted him to be Prince and Power of the Air and ex-occultists state that there is a dark spiritual cloud completely encircling the world like a mantle.  Jesus and His ‘new’ friends broke right through that mantle and -the Ascension was the final scene of Satan’s defeat!

Some claim that it was defeated demons that were ‘led away captive’, but I don’t think that is the sense.  Why should only some be led away, and where to, and what about the gifts distributed?  All demons were defeated along with Satan and they all still await their final judgment; dreading it.

Can you imagine the great joy of those saints as they rose up through Satan’s territory?  I’m sure the demons slunk away as far as possible!  It was yet another reminder for Satan that he is a defeated foe and the day is surely coming when the full harvest that those ‘firstfruits’ are a promise of, will be completely gathered in, the Rapture!

There is another ponderable, fascinating issue – the risen saints in Jerusalem the 50 days up the resurrection!  Amazing what God will do!

I hope this is helpful for you; to me it is very encouraging.  We must always remember that God always seeks ways to bless people and to demonstrate to Satan that he is a defeated foe, think of Job 1&2; after all – Jesus Christ was manifest to defeat the works of Satan, 1Jn 3:8 – this is our challenge today, the Dark Kingdom is rampant and causing so much suffering, globally; our hospitals can’t cope, in most areas of life are now, there is much angst, stress and pressure that are intolerable so that mental health is the huge problem and doctors cannot deal with it; for it is a spiritual problem.  Many preachers also appear not to have the answers, they can’t even help themselves so how can they help others?  We need to understand that, even for God’s people, even we are perishing if we are not in the enjoyment of the abundant life, not walking that Narrow Way.

So, the Kingdom of God is diminished for want of more Overcomers to walk that wonderful pathway; these few are the disciples of Jesus, the worshippers Father seeks; the problem being is that there are very few that find that Straight Gate to the Narrow Way that is the Life Abundant, Mat 7:13,14, Jn 10:10.

Pray dear friends that our churches will be led, by faithful men, real overseers, elders full of the Spirit, into great fruitfulness so that the Dark Kingdom can be set back until after the Rapture; that is what God wants to do!  Yes, that pre-Rapture Revival is coming, let’s hasten it with our passionate intercession.


Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian sites and blogs. 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.

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June 4, 2019

Knowing God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Russell Young

The importance of “knowing” God, and of being known by God, is revealed in the Scriptures. In his condemnation of “many” who thought that their hope was secure, the Lord claimed that he did not know them. “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers.’” (Mt 7:22−23) He is not presenting that he wasn’t aware of them; he knows the heart of all people and he was aware that these had ministered in his name. The issue is that he was never sure of their commitment. Although they had claimed to represent him, he classified them as “evil-doers” who had not followed his commandments and who had not conformed to his moral standards; they did not characterize him. They were hypocrites or were ignorant of his nature. He could not identify with them, did not know them. Christ’s knowledge of a person’s commitment comes from an intimate relationship with him or her through his indwelling Spirit. (In this passage “know” is translated from the Greek ginosko which means ‘to know with certainty.’)

All people have acquaintances, those about whom they are aware but don’t really “know.” They also have relationships with a few others whom they know more intimately, with whom they share their heart and life’s blessings and trials. The meaning ascribed to “know” has great significance when it comes to relationship with God. Paul taught that God requires absolute assurance of the confessor’s commitment to righteousness and to him. God’s children are to be holy and blameless in his sight (Eph 1:4) and they “must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6) This requires knowing his heart.

In his epistle to Titus, Paul wrote that even though some claimed to know him their actions denied that knowledge, consequently their disobedience made them unfit for doing anything good (Titus 1:16); they lacked awareness of his holiness and of his sovereignty.

John has written, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 Jn 4:8) He is presenting that knowing God compels loving him and others. He is not suggesting an “acquaintance” relationship, but an understanding and appreciation of the nature of God–his heart and the things that please and hurt him and others. Knowing God is evidenced by a heart fully given to him.

The parable of the twelve virgins reveals that those who know Christ and who love him are fixed on anticipating his return. They wait anxiously. Six of the virgins were not anticipating his call to the feast and their indifference left them unprepared when the call came. The door was closed when they had finally made themselves ready. He also admonished all to “make every effort to enter through the narrow door” (Lk 13:24) by avoiding any “evil-doing.” because “many” will claim to have fellowshipped with him and that he had taught in their streets but they would be cast away. He did not know them and apparently, they did not know him.

The Lord knows “his sheep” and they know him. Their knowledge will be like that which existed in the relationship between Christ and his Father. His sheep listen to his voice and they follow just as he listened to and obeyed his Father. (Jn 10:14…27)

The knowledge about which the Lord speaks is absolute certainty of commitment and is evidenced through a person’s actions. Knowledge develops as the Lord observes those who hear his voice and obediently follow. He is not talking about the sheep that have heard his call and who go their own way. These will become lost.

The man who loves God is known by God.” (1 Cor 8:3) The Lord knows his own because their love for him is revealed through honor, respect, and obedience.

What a person thinks about another dictates his or her feelings. Knowing God and his expansive love and provision will compel love. The most important commandment is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mk 12:30) Knowing God will result in loving him with all that a person has. When knowledge is lacking or when truth is distorted, so may be knowledge of God’s holiness, of his heart and of his love commitment to them. Love must be learned and earned.

The Lord is more than a worldly friend; he indwells confessors as Holy Spirit enabling the obedient to gain victory over temptations and unrighteousness, making them acceptable offerings. The “one who searches our hearts” (Rom 8:27) knows our needs and enables the obedient to be conformed to Christ’s likeness, assisting the Spirit to accomplish God’s will in the transformation of souls. Knowing God means appreciating the fullness of his commitment, provision, and heart.

Some teach that God’s love is “unconditional.” Implying no need for the appreciation of his nature, but Christ said, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (Jn 15:10) The confessor’s knowledge of God will dictate how he or she feels about him, and how they feel about him will determine how they respond to him and to his call upon their life.

Paul’s admonition should be taken to heart. “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” (2 Thess 1:8−9) Those who desire to dwell with him must understand his heart. His complaint from the beginning was that the constant evil imaginations of people brought pain to his heart. (Gen 6:5−6).



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 an extended article at this link

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June 3, 2019

Sinning Against Another, Sinning Against Yourself, Sinning Against God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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NLT Ps. 51:3 For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.
4 Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight.

In the title of today’s article, the first two categories don’t exist. It’s a topic we’ve covered here several times, but all sin is sin against God. It’s his holy standards that we miss, not those of our neighbor or ourselves.

It’s easy to believe your own press, or as some would say today, believe the picture you paint on Facebook. You can buy into the image that people have of you. You can decide that nine-out-of-ten is good enough. You can rationalize that the ministry is still happening, people are still getting saved, money is still being raised, the teaching is still being distributed. You don’t admit weakness, that would be letting people down.

I can only imagine what it’s like when you’re the king, especially when your nation or state is somewhat theocratic in nature. Like King David.

Psalm 51 is his particular prayer of confession. In the KJV the words are iconic,

…my sin is ever before me.

David admits he can’t run and he can’t hide from the thing he has done, or the person he has become. It’s what he sees when looks in the mirror. He owns up to it. I believe that whatever sin we give into, no matter how private, no matter how secret; it will manifest itself at some point in some more open way. Bathsheba presented a tremendous opportunity — her husband was away at the time — but it wasn’t the first time David had looked at a woman. Or perhaps not even the first time David had hatched a scheme.

You don’t become an adulterer overnight. It happens when you have failed to pre-book your choices. It happens when you’ve never recognized your susceptibility. It happens when pride gives you spiritual over-confidence.

Then, again using the KJV, he says,

Against thee, thee only, have I sinned

Jerry Bridges says, “We never see sin aright unless we see it as against God.”

You get the pattern.

Some of the resolutions people made at the start of the year are long broken. If they carried with them moral or spiritual significance, it isn’t just a personal letdown, you don’t just fail yourself, but rather it’s sin against God.

A key verse on this topic is,

I Sam. 2:25a If one person sins against another, God may mediate for the offender; but if anyone sins against the Lord, who will intercede for them?”

The preceding verses provide the context; here’s how The Message expresses this:

22-25 By this time Eli was very old. He kept getting reports on how his sons were ripping off the people and sleeping with the women who helped out at the sanctuary. Eli took them to task: “What’s going on here? Why are you doing these things? I hear story after story of your corrupt and evil carrying on. Oh, my sons, this is not right! These are terrible reports I’m getting, stories spreading right and left among God’s people! If you sin against another person, there’s help—God’s help. But if you sin against God, who is around to help?”

Perhaps you find the meaning of this rather self-evident. Several of the study Bibles and commentaries I consulted seem to gloss over it without adding detail. The Reformation Study Bible says,

Eli’s point is that while there may be some mediation of disputes between people, when someone offends God there is no one who can intervene.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary noted:

When a man has a complaint against another, the matter can be decided by God through his representative, the judge (Ps. 82:3), or by the sacred lot in the hand of the priest. But in a case in which God is the plaintiff, there can be no reference to a disinterested party the crime incurs the direct vengeance of heaven.  (p.277)

Although the context is quite different, the language of that verse to me is always similar to Acts 5:39, “But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” What I get is there is a sense of God’s vested interest in certain affairs (though the verse means far more than that); it conveys the image of sitting across the table in direct confrontation with God.  You don’t want that.

Heb. 10:25 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.

Prov. 15:10 There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; whoever hates reproof will die.

In Daniel 9, we see Daniel praying on behalf of the nation:

5 …But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. 6 We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land.

I can’t help but think as I read this that what he prays collectively has to begin individually, it has to begin with me. This is often contrary to our nature. We think ourselves righteous. It’s harder to pray:

But I have sinned and done wrong. I have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. I have refused to listen to your servants…

And yet, each time I ignore the commands of God, or rationalize some behavior, or allow myself some license in some area of thought or action, I am scorning God’s commands.

A pastor once said “you can’t always choose the place you live in, but you can decide where you are going to live toward.” He contrasted living toward Jerusalem with living toward Babylon.

I am not living toward Jerusalem 24/7. I am distracted by worldly ideas. If you’re a guy, are you tempted by the girl at the mall in the miniskirt? For me it’s ideas and concepts. One single phrase or sentence in an online article can be as devastating to me as the girl at the mall is to you. My worldview warps; my mindset skews.

Psalm 139 ends with the type of mind inventory I need constantly:

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.


Psalm 51 – Worship Liturgy by Ruth Wilkinson

Show me your grace, Yahweh, according to Your faithful love;
erase my rebellion, according to Your overflowing compassion.

Wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin.

I know what I’ve done wrong.
I remember where I’ve missed the path.

I’ve done wrong against You – the only one who has the right to judge and to pass sentence.

But I’ve been going wrong my whole life, when what You want for me is integrity for my inner self.
And from within, You teach me deep wisdom.
You purify me.
You make me clean.

Fill my ears with gladness; fill my broken bones with joy.

Yahweh, create in me a willing heart,
an unwavering spirit,
the joy of Your salvation,
the presence of Your Spirit.

Open my mouth to teach the other rebels,
to sing Your righteousness
and to call the other sinners home to You.

Lord, break my heart and humble my spirit.
Because You don’t want just my stuff, or I’d give it.

What pleases You is the offering of a broken and humbled heart,
and what flows from there.

When my spirit is right with You, then You’ll delight in what I bring.
And You can have it all.


Today’s article includes excerpts from When You Hit Bottom, Jerry Bridges Quotations, Owning It, Sins Against Another; Against God,

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June 2, 2019

Excerpts from the Program and Funeral Liturgy for Rachel Held Evans

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This is something rather different today. Please bear with us as we offer a different type of content for our Sunday Worship feature. The funeral for author Rachel Held Evans took place on Saturday, June 1st at First-Centenary United Methodist Church. For a link to the full text of the Requiem Eucharist or a link to the full video, click here. Because so much of this is either direct quotation or allusion to familiar scripture texts, we are foregoing our usual practice of place Bible quotations in a different color.


I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord.
Whoever has faith in me shall have life,
even though she die.
And everyone who has life,
and has committed herself to me in faith,
shall not die for ever.

As for me,
I know that my Redeemer lives
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.
After my awaking,
he will raise me up;
and in my body I shall see God.

I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him
who is my friend and not a stranger.
For none of us has life in himself,
and none becomes her own master when she dies.
For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord, and if we die, we die in the Lord.
So, then, whether we live or die,we are the Lord’s possession.


Isaiah 2:2-5

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.
”For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more


CONFESSION AND ABSOLUTION

Leader: Let us in the presence of God and one another confess our brokenness and strife. Holy One who makes all things new:

People: We confess that we have sinned against you and one another. We have thought better of ourselves than others. We have told lies, said hurtful things, acted in ways we wish we could take back, and looked the other way when action was needed. We cannot live up to even our own values and ideals. But you make all things new. In your infinite compassion, set us free from the bondage of sin and shame and lead us to the new life in Christ that you have prepared for us. Amen.

Leader: God, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, loves you as you are. As a called and ordained minister of the Church of Christ and by his authority, I declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

People: Amen.

THE PEACE

Leader: When the disciples were locked in a room mourning the death of Jesus, he appeared to them and said, “Peace be with you”; and then, Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit upon them.

Leader: The Peace of the Lord be always with you.

People: And also with you.


BENEDICTION

Blessed are the agnostics. Blessed are they who doubt. Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are the preschoolers who cut in line at communion. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are those whom no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex workers and the night-shift street sweepers. The closeted. The teens who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms. Blessed are the meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like. Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried. Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else. Blessed are those who “still aren’t over it yet.” Blessed are those who mourn.You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

I imagine Jesus standing here blessing us because that is our Lord’s nature. This Jesus cried at his friend’s tomb, turned the other cheek, and forgave those who hung him on a cross. He was God’s Beatitude— God’s blessing to the weak in a world that admires only the strong.

Jesus invites us into a story bigger than ourselves and our imaginations, yet we all get to tell that story with the scandalous particularity of this moment and this place. We are storytelling creatures because we are fashioned in the image of a storytelling God. May we never neglect that gift. May we never lose our love for telling the story. Amen.

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June 1, 2019

Declaring Christ as Lord

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Phil.2.9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Today we are back at re|knew the blog of Woodland Hills Church pastor, author and theologian Greg Boyd.

“Christ is Lord”: What Does it Mean?

We enter the domain of God’s reign when we enthrone Christ as Lord of our life. This seems simple enough. But actually, I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding of what this means.

The Bible says that if we “declare with our mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,” we “will be saved” (Rom.10:9). To the thinking of many consumeristic-minded people today, this is simply a cheap deal that is too good to pass up.

What does it mean to confess that “Jesus is Lord”? According to Wester’s Dictionary, a “lord” is one who “has power and authority over others.” I don’t think the Greek concept of “lord” (kurios) as applied to Jesus Christ is very far from this.

So, when a person confesses that “Jesus is Lord, ” they are confessing that Jesus “has power and authority” or them. And for a person to confess that someone “has power and authority” over them means they submit to them. What else could it possibly mean for someone to have “power and authority” over another?

If someone confesses “Jesus is Lord” but doesn’t actually submit to his “power and authority,” they are contradicting themselves. Their confession is meaningless. It’s like confessing “milk flats tire poke” or “round square” or “nikbo jip slupe” – or (better), just remaining silent.

No wonder Jesus asked, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not the things that I say?” He’s pointing out that people who do this are simply saying “nikbo jip slupe.”

The simple truth is that when Paul tells us that if we confess “Jesus is Lord “ we will be saved, he’s not giving us a magical salvation verbal formula. Rather, he’s stipulating what kind of relationship we need to have with Jesus to be “saved.” This relationship, by definition, must be one of submission. We are saved when we authentically surrender our life over to Christ. This not only changes our eternal destiny, but it begins to bring wholeness into our life, as the Jewish concept of salvation (shalom, soteria) implies.

This leads to a rather sobering conclusion. Folks who confess “Jesus is Lord “ as a magical formula to invoke a supposed legal transaction in heaven without actually submitting their lives to Christ are kidding themselves. I know that may sound harsh. But I don’t see any way of avoiding this conclusion.

Now, I can immediately hear someone wondering, “Well, how submitted do I have to be to be saved?” When I first became a Christian, I belonged to a church that basically said any and every sin un-saves you. You’re only as saved as your last sinless moment. So, they would say only 100% submission saves you.

I didn’t last long in that church.

But the funny thing was, the people of this congregation seemed to me to be serious sinners. They didn’t smoke or drink or go to movies or dance or a million other things. But they were packed full of religious self-righteousness, gossiped like it was nobody’s business, and didn’t share much of what they had with the poor (though most seemed pretty well off).

Now, this meant to be a slam on my first church, because the truth is that all churches are packed full of sinners – because we’re in them. So if 100% submission is required, then we’re all lost.

So then, what percentage “gets us in”?

May I suggest that this is the exact wrong question to be asking?   It’s still operating with a legal-transaction mentality, treating God like a cosmic attorney who relates to us in a court of law rather than a cosmic lover who simply wants our hearts so he can dance with us throughout eternity.

It’d be a pretty sick marriage if one spouse were to ask the other spouse, “What’s the minimal level I can be committed to my marriage vows without you divorcing me?” Well, this is basically what we’re doing when we ask, “How submitted do I have to be to the Lord to be saved?”

To confess Christ as Lord isn’t a pledge that one will at all times be perfectly submitted to Christ. But it is a pledge of commitment that one will seek to cultivate a life of submission to Christ. And if this pledge isn’t present, the confession is devoid of meaning.

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May 31, 2019

Keep on Asking Means, Keep Up the Prayer Process

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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If you grew up in church, this KJV verse from the Sermon on the Mount is quite ingrained:

Matt. 7:7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

However, we’ve all heard sermons where preachers have stressed that this is a continuous imperative.

We previously looked at what that means:

Our pastor used the example of running a race or two versus being in regular training for running races that earn podium positions at the end. The example I’ve always used is a little simpler. Consider these two sentences:

  • “Shut the door.”
  • “Answer the phone.”

The first one is easy. Once you shut the door, it’s shut. Work done. But the second one has an implication that’s deeper; it really means:

  • “Answer the phone if it rings and take a message; and then, if it rings again, answer it and take a message; and then if it rings again, answer it…”

While translators are certainly aware of this, most of the newer ones seem inclined to continue to keep the verse in its more familiar form. But a few venture out to give us more of the sense of the original meaning:

7 “Keep asking, and it will be given to you; keep seeking, and you will find; keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. (CJB – Complete Jewish Bible)

7 “Be asking, and it will be given to you; be seeking, and you will find; be knocking, and it will be opened to you. (DNLT – Disciples Literal New Testament)

7 Keep on asking and it will be given you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking [reverently] and [the door] will be opened to you. (AMP – Amplified Bible; NLT is similar)

7 “Continue to ask, and God will give to you. Continue to search, and you will find. Continue to knock, and the door will open for you. (ERV – Everyday Reading Version)

7 Just ask and it will be given to you; seek after it and you will find. Continue to knock and the door will be opened for you. (The Voice)

The reason for examining this topic today is that I have to confess that over the past 24 hours I’ve been realizing that my whole perspective on this verse has had to do with tenacity in prayer over a specific request. In other words, I’ve always felt the verse is telling us that if you’re in a situation, even if you don’t see the answer, keep bringing it before God.

While I think that’s a perfectly acceptable way of looking at things, I believe the verse offers us even more. I would suggest looking at it:

If you’re consistently in prayer over (a), (b), and (c) and not seeing results, and then situations (d) and (e) arise, don’t let this discourage you from bringing (d) and (e) before God.

In other words, I believe that God is telling us through this text, don’t lose heart and give up on the prayer process over what you see as a lack of past results. I know that’s something that I need to be reminded of. It’s easy to fall into pessimism, or to ask, but with what James 1:6 calls wavering.

Some of us grew up with a plaque in our homes that simply said, Prayer Changes Things, but then as we grew older we heard teaching that as we draw close to God the key thing about being in his presence is that prayer changes us. That is true, 100% of the time.

But I think we also need to have the perspective that God is positive disposed and favorably inclined to intervene in the affairs of his children, if he deems that best. He can and does step into the scene to orchestrate things “in ways thou knowest not.” (Jer. 33:3)

So today’s conclusion is don’t give up praying in whatever situation you find yourself, but also don’t give up on prayer.


More on today’s topic at C201:

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May 30, 2019

Compelling Society

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:27 pm
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How the Christian Vision for Society Points to the Reality of God.

by Clarke Dixon

Are Christians to rebel against governments? Are Christians to submit to governments? Are Christians to take over governments? Does the Christian vision for society lead to a theocracy, where God’s law is the law of the land? Does Christianity promote a beautiful vision for society? If God is real, and Christianity is true, then we should expect beauty and not ugliness. What is the vision?

Are Christians to rebel?

8 So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.
19 But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? 20 We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:18-20 (NLT emphasis added)

26 The captain went with his Temple guards and arrested the apostles, but without violence, for they were afraid the people would stone them. 27 Then they brought the apostles before the high council, where the high priest confronted them. 28 “We gave you strict orders never again to teach in this man’s name!” he said. “Instead, you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about him, and you want to make us responsible for his death!”
29 But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. Acts 5:26-29 (NLT emphasis added)

In the New Testament we find rebellion against the authorities in order to be obedient to God. We can think of the many Christians around the world who disobey the authorities by gathering together as the Church, by telling others about Jesus, sometimes simply by owning a Bible. Let us not just think of the underground Church, let us pray. So yes, we are encouraged to rebel and break the laws when necessary.

Are Christians to submit?

1 Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. 2 So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. 3 For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. 4 The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. 5 So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.
6 Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority. Romans 13:1-7 (NLT)

Keep in mind that these words are taken from Paul’s letter to Rome, the seat of power in the ancient world. While the Christians in Rome recognized that “Jesus is Lord” meant  therefore that Caesar is not, there was still a call to respect the authorities. There is an impulse to be good citizens of the land, to be good Romans, or Canadians, as well as good Christians.

We therefore find in the New Testament a balance between respect for the authorities, but also disobedience when necessary.

Are Christians to take over the government, to aim for a “Christian Nation,” to establish a theocracy?

Reading through the entire New Testament we find no encouragement to take over the government, to establish a theocracy. Christianity began as a minority movement and therefore a takeover was not even entertained as a possibility. Even so, neither do we find a longing to do so at some point in the future. What we find is a focus on individuals having a life changing encounter with Christ. We find disciples making disciples. We find the recognition that Jesus already reigns without the need for a coup. There is no need to take over the government, for Jesus is already Lord. There is no need to set up a theocracy, for God is already sovereign.

15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices shouting in heaven:
“The world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,
and he will reign forever and ever.” Revelation 11:15 (NLT)

The place of the Christian is not to enforce laws that make the land look like God’s kingdom. The place of the Christian is to live kingdom focused lives while watching and waiting for God to bring His kingdom.

We find something similar in Old Testament. While there was a call for the establishment of a theocracy, known as Israel, there was no impulse for that theocracy to take over the world. Israel was to be salt and light to the world. Christians today are to be salt and light within the world.

We can have influence on society, but we are to be salt and light, not a hammer and gun. We are to carry a cross, not a sword. Helping people know Jesus is the priority of the Christian, not enforcing non-Christian people to live like Christians, especially not our own vision of what a Christian looks like. Our own idea of a “theocracy” might better be termed a “meocracy.” We are not kings over the land but kingdom people in the land, leading kingdom lives, looking forward to the Kingdom to come. We are disciples making disciples.

As lives are changed, society is changed. Christianity has brought good and beautiful changes to society, yet without a vision for totalitarian control. As an interesting example, consider the nations that are best, and worst, to live in if you are gay. According to one source, here are the ten best in ascending order; Argentina, Belgium, Malta, Germany, Iceland, Portugal, Sweden, The Netherlands, Spain, and Canada takes the top spot as the best. From another source, here are the worst in descending order; Afghanistan, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somaliland, Nigeria, Russia, United Arab Emirates, and Mauritania. Notice anything about these two lists? The nations that are considered best have all had Christianity working in the background for a long time, helping to shape the culture, helping to develop a societal vision of love for one’s neighbour. The nations that are considered worst share a history of either Sharia law or communism, Islam or atheism. Rights and freedoms have flourished in lands that have been marinating in Christianity. This speaks positively about Christianity.

To conclude, the New Testament does not promote a vision for society that is to be fought for, that is to be enforced. That could get ugly quite quickly. Unfortunately, being all too human, we Christians have made things get ugly at times. What the New Testament promotes is a vision for how Christians engage with and interact within society, any society. We are to be individuals reaching individuals with the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are to be disciples making disciples. We are to do good, to love our neighbours. We are to lead Jesus-centred, Spirit-filled, wisdom seeking lives. We are to be kingdom people living kingdom lives, while watching and waiting for the kingdom to come. We are to be good citizens of whatever land we live in. We are to rebel when necessary. Overall, the Bible promotes a beautiful vision for how Christians engage with and live within society. This is another reason Christianity is compelling.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

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May 29, 2019

Misreading Paul’s “Keeping of Special Days”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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I have a birthday coming up in the next few days. Over the years I have had discussions with people who feel very strongly that we’re not to celebrate birthdays. Much of this is based on a passage in Galatians:

8 Before you Gentiles knew God, you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist. 9 So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? 10 You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. 11 I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing.
NLT – emphasis added

Two things are evident here:

Happy BirthdayBut clearly, Paul is not speaking of wishing someone a happy birthday. In celebrating my birthday over the years, I trust that my family had these aims:

Some of the same people also do not believe in celebrating Christmas or Easter. While this needs to be the subject of a different discussion, my short answer would be that our family does not celebrate Christmas or Easter, we recognize and stand in awe of incarnation and atonement.

I don’t like birthdays. The thought of another year passing scares me, but only because I realize that there are things I have wanted to accomplish that have not happened, and in fact may not happen. But I don’t want to over-spiritualize this and make it seem that I am being pious or devout by asking my family to skip this year’s birthday observance. We should never let tastes and preferences appear to be deeply spiritual principles.

Including birthdays and anniversaries in the “special days” category Paul is referring to here is to miss the context of the passage, and really amounts to poor Biblical interpretation (hermeneutics).

When your turn rolls around, I do, with all sincerity and with all intention, wish you a Happy Birthday!

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May 28, 2019

Three Years With Jesus… and He Still Didn’t Get It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Six months ago we featured an article which had appeared on the website The Ministry Wire. We went back this week to see what else is there. This article is by Will Berry who the site describes as passionate about ministry to children and teens. He’s one of three regular contributors to the site. Click the title to read at source.

Growing Pains

Have you ever been embarrassed by how little you know about someone that you should know a lot about? Maybe you forgot a church members name, and have been calling them “sir” or “brother” for years now, and you’re too caught up in the charade to come clean and just ask for their name? Maybe you’ve forgotten an important date like an anniversary or birthday and felt the wrath thereby incurred by your forgetfulness? It probably wasn’t as bad as Phillip’s blunder in John 14:8.

Jesus had more patience and temperance than I can fathom. He spent years with the disciples and, though He was the greatest teacher to ever walk the earth, they did not seem to “get it.” He taught them over and over again what His purpose on earth was, and they still assumed He was there to overthrow the Romans in a blaze of glory. He taught and taught about humility and service to others and yet, up until the last supper, they still viciously bickered about who would sit at Jesus’ right hand. He told them bluntly and often that He would die and rise again, but when the day came, His disciples were hiding, confused, scared, and doubting. They just did not seem to be the best listeners.

One prime example of this being played out is in John 14:1-9. Jesus is trying to comfort the disciples and explain to them that He is not only the Messiah but God incarnate. In verse seven, Jesus practically spells it out for them and basically said “I am God, the Father and I are one and the same”. I can just imagine Him pointing to Himself when He said, “and have seen Him”.

But Phillip proved for all time that there are indeed stupid questions when, in verse eight, he said, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” He wanted Jesus to show them the Father because he did not understand what Jesus had been teaching them for ages. It hadn’t clicked. He had not been able to see who Jesus actually was, because he was too busy seeing Jesus as who he wanted Jesus to be.

Verse nine has got to be one of the most stinging rebukes of the entire Bible.

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

Basically Jesus is asking, “After all this time you have still don’t understood this?” Despite years of walking with Jesus, Phillip had not grown to the level he should have. He still had the same view of Christ as before. He had not matured in his faith like you would imagine a disciple sitting at the feet of Christ would have.

Now it can be easy to make fun of Phillip and point out his flaws because they are spelled out for us. But the thought that really took hold of my heart was, “Would Jesus ask me the same question?” I have been saved for eleven years, but have I grown as much as I should have in that time? Are there lessons that I still have not gotten down despite numerous sermons, devotions, trials, and tests? Do I have greater faith in Jesus and His grace than I did last year? Am I closer to Him now than before? Or have I grown complacent in my walk with Christ? Am I content with where I am?

This thought really gripped me, because I think we often lose sight of who Jesus really is and only see Him as what we desire Him to be. Like Phillip, we try to fit Him into a box so that He matches our narrative. But He should be our friend and God who we walk with daily and learn from constantly.

My simple question for you, reader, is this: are you growing in your walk with God? Or are you stuck in a rut of failing tests over and over again where you are not experiencing the joys and benefits of yielding to God and growing? I have known plenty of Christians over the years who have not experienced the joy of having faith in God in every area, because they refuse to trust Him in areas like finances or with the lives of those around them. I have known Christians who have not experienced the peace of God because they still let little things offend them greatly. God wants to use the time we have and experiences we go through to teach and sanctify us. Is there an area of your life that you are not letting Him use?

Would Jesus have to ask you the same question He asked Phillip? Maybe you’ve been saved a year or maybe 50 years. Have you grown to the level God wants you to be at? Are you still growing? Strive for “Well done” not “Yet hast thou not known me?”

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May 27, 2019

Samson Was Not Akin to a Greek or Roman God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today we return to the writing of Mark DuPré who is an associate pastor, a film professor, a writer and a musician. There are more good articles on his devotional page.

Samson: The Lord, the Man, and the Myth

Judges 13:4-5 [God to Samson’s mother] “Now therefore, please be careful not to drink wine or similar drink, and not to eat anything unclean. For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.”

Judges 16:17 [Samson to Delilah] “No razor has ever come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If I am shaven, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.”

Judges 16:19-20 Then [Delilah] lulled [Samson] to sleep on her knees, and called for a man and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. Then she began to torment him, and his strength left him. And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” So he awoke from his sleep, and said, “I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!” But he did not know that the LORD had departed from him.

The story of Samson has somehow slipped from out of the Bible and into legend. Samson has become a kind of ancient Greek or Roman god, who has super-human strength and abilities, and gets defeated by his own hubris. Part of the “myth” of Samson (as opposed to the Bible story about him] is that his strength was in his hair. If we believe that, we’re making the same mistake Delilah and the Philistines made.

Numbers 6:1-20 tells about the Nazarite vow. In brief, it says no wine, no cutting of hair, no contamination through contact with dead things, and a call to holy living. If we read Samson’s story in Judges 13-16, we see that Samson did the opposite of all these things, breaking every last condition of the vow and more.

Yet as with most stories about Bible characters, the story is really more about the Lord. First, it was the Lord’s strength and the Lord’s presence with Samson that accounted for his strength, not something as random as the follicles on his head. Notice Judges 16:20, when Delilah cut his hair and the Philistines captured him: “But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him.” How regrettable for Samson that he didn’t realize this, and how foolish for us not to see that the arm of the Lord is greater than any aspect of a person’s physical body.

Secondly, a wrong understanding of where Samson’s strength came from can make God seem arbitrary, or the story like a fairy tale. Let’s not be confused. God didn’t invest Samson’s hair with anything. The Lord “left him” when he broke the last condition of his vow. God still gave Samson strength when he drank, caroused with prostitutes, and touched dead things, contaminating himself spiritually. No, the Lord waited until every condition was broken before taking His strength away. And then we see how gracious the Lord is to restore His strength when nature simply took its course, and Samson’s life began to reverse the pattern of his sin.

How patient God is! How slow to anger! How gracious He is to keep working with us, demonstrating His faithfulness to us by His mercies toward Samson. Let’s leave the myth of Samson behind, and embrace the story of God’s great faithfulness, patience and love that we find there.

Prayer: You were so patient with Samson, not bringing any kind of judgment against him until he violated the last part of the covenant. Help me to be encouraged to keep loyal to my covenant with You, thanking you with my obedience to Your word.

 

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