Christianity 201

April 7, 2018

Choosing to Set our Focus on Things Above

This is our fifth visit with Paul Steele at the blog Paul’s Ponderings. He doesn’t write frequently, but often deals with the issue of spiritual growth.

A Gift for Our Spiritual Formation

Almost everyone enjoys gift giving. We enjoy giving gifts, but we really enjoy receiving gifts.

When we give a gift we give it with the intention that the gift is used. If we give a gift of chocolate we want the person to eat the chocolate. If we give a gift of clothes we want those clothes to be worn. If we give a gift of toys we want those toys to be played with in imaginative ways.

God has given us a great gift to be used for our spiritual formation in Jesus Christ. That gift is the Bible. Christians believe that God has preserved the Holy Scriptures over the years to help guide us in following Jesus.

Since the Bible is a gift that God has given to us, it is a gift that He expects us to use. God will speak to us by the Holy Spirit through the words recorded in Scripture.

If we are interested in spiritual formation and following Jesus, then it is essential we spend time with the Bible.

The book of Colossians is a book of the Bible that God has used over the years to speak to my heart.  One of my favorite passages is Colossians 3:1-4:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (ESV)

Our salvation and transformation begins and ends with God. It began with God’s promise to bless all the nations of the world through Abraham and his descendant; it continued through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus (the promised descendant of Abraham); and ends when Jesus returns and makes all things new.

Without God’s initiative, without God’s promise, and without Christ’s faithfulness we would have no life, no purpose, and no hope. Our redemption and restoration are bound up in the actions of our loving heavenly Father.

With that being said, we still have a great responsibility when it comes to our spiritual formation.  We do not become like Jesus by accident.

Paul wrote in Colossians that there is a choice we must make. The choice we are to make is to set our minds on the things that are above.

To set our minds requires an act of the will.  We have the choice about what to focus our minds on, and if we  don’t choose to set our minds on the things of God, then our minds will be set on other things: sports, money, pleasure, politics.

What must we do if we are going to set our minds on the things that are above?

I believe there are at least three steps we need to take in order to set our minds on heavenly things.

  1. We must change what we feed our mind. This is a two part process. The first part of the process is to acknowledge the ways we are being distracted. I recently had to to do this when I realized that the political podcasts I was listening to were influencing the direction of the my thoughts, which were flowing out into my sermons. We need to be aware of what is influencing our thoughts, and whether that influence is positive or negative. The second part of the process is to fill our minds the truth. This means we intentionally use the gift of Scriptures to set the course of our thoughts. If we are not replacing our old negative thoughts with new positive thoughts then our minds will go back to the old ways of thinking.
  2. We must be guided by the Spirit. The best way for us to be guided by the Spirit is to practice spiritual disciplines. We need to make room for the Spirit to speak into our lives. This includes Bible study and reading (both private and group), prayer, fasting, generosity, service, hospitality, and even simplicity (living a simple life). It is crucial that we intentionally make room for the Spirit to guide our lives.
  3. We must speak about what God is doing. It is crucial that we don’t keep all that God is doing in our lives to ourselves. We need to share our experiences with God with other people. By sharing our stories we become better aware of the truth God is teaching us and the direction He wants us to go. By sharing we allow other people to discover what God is doing and open their hearts to God working in their lives.

God took the initiative to save us from sin and death.

To be good stewards of God’s initiative and His generosity we need to be intentional in our spiritual formation. This requires us to be intentional in setting our minds on the things of heaven, so our hearts and minds are focused one following Jesus. We do that by using the gift of Scripture to set the direction of our minds.

 

April 6, 2018

What Sort of Person Are You?

NIV 2 Peter 3:8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. 11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives.

Today we’re returning to the writing of popular Christian author Neil Anderson whose unique writing helps us focus on we are in Christ (positionally) and what manner of people we ought to be (in daily practice). This is his 5th time at C201, but the first in four years.

Living Today

I believe in setting goals and making plans. But biblical vision for the future and godly goals for ministry or work have no value if they don’t provide direction for our steps today. Goals for tomorrow that don’t prioritize present activities are nothing more than wishful thinking. We make plans for tomorrow in order to establish meaningful activities for today. We need to ask the Lord each day if we are still on target, and give Him the right to order mid-course changes in direction.

Some people don’t like to set goals because they feel goals only set them up for failure. But a goal should never be a god. It should be a target, not a whip. Other people become obsessed with goals for tomorrow. Biblically, the will of God is almost entirely directed at living responsibly today. Legitimate goal-setting should support that.

“Are you trying to tell us that we aren’t to make any plans for the future or establish any goals for our ministry or work?” No, I’m trying to say that the primary focus of God’s will is that we seek to establish His kingdom by becoming the person He wants us to be today .

Most people want to know what God has in store for them tomorrow. That’s why prophecy has always been a popular subject. Most prophecy teachers know that the critical issue concerning the Lord’s second coming is “What sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness(2 Peter 3:11). Jesus said, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow(Matthew 6:33, 34). Biblical prophecy is given to us as a hope (the present assurance of some future good) so we will have the courage to live righteously and confidently today.

Prayer: Father, help me live in the present and not worry about tomorrow, accepting only Your will and guidance for my future.

Seated With Christ

NIV Ephesians 2: 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.

The New Testament clearly reveals that Christ’s power and authority over Satan and his kingdom have been conferred to those of us who are in Christ. In Ephesians 2:4-6, Paul explains that when Christ was raised from the dead, those of us who have believed in Him were also resurrected from our condition of spiritual death and made alive “together with Christ.” It’s only logical that the head (Christ) and the body (His church) should be raised together.

Furthermore, when God seated Christ at His right hand and conferred on Him all authority (Ephesians 1:20, 21), He also seated us at His right hand and conferred on us through Christ all authority because we are “together with Christ.” The moment you receive Christ, you take possession of what God did for you 2000 years ago. Your identity as a child of God and your authority over spiritual powers are not things you are receiving or will receive at some time in the future; you have them right now. You are a spiritually-alive child of God right now . You are seated in the heavenlies with Christ right now . You have power and authority over the kingdom of darkness right now . We have the authority because of our position in Christ, and we have the power when we are filled with the Holy Spirit.

Paul also related this life-changing truth in his letter to the Colossians: “In Him [Christ] you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority” (Colossians 2:10). Notice again that the action is past: We have been made complete. When? At the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. And since Christ is the God-appointed head over all rule and authority, and since we are seated with Him in the heavenlies, we have the authority and power to live responsible lives.

Prayer: Father, help me want to live responsibly, to claim my position as Your child, and to grow to full stature in You.


Related song: Seek Ye First, The Imperials

April 5, 2018

He is Risen! But Mark’s Ending is Strange Indeed

by Clarke Dixon

Mark has spent fifteen chapters telling us about Jesus, his life, his teaching, his miracles, his arrest and execution. If that were the end of the story we might consider it to be a great tragedy. But Mark goes on to tell us more:

1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Mark 16:1-8 (NRSV)

The strange thing is, most Biblical Scholars agree that this is all Mark tells us about the resurrection. Everything from verses 9 and following are considered to have been added later and so Mark’s Gospel ends here. This might make us wonder how confident we can be that we have the original accounts about Jesus. Has the Bible been changed so that we can not have confidence in it?

Actually, differences in ancient copies increase our confidence that what we have is close to the original. We have no original manuscripts of any ancient document, yet scholars in Classics departments have  great confidence that they are working with accurate copies of Greek and Roman writers. The manuscript evidence for the New Testament documents is far better than any ancient writer. We have way more copies, they date closer to the time, and we have many translations plus quotes from ancient teachers that match up to the manuscripts. Despite the variations, the manuscript evidence gives us great confidence in the Scriptures. They also, along with changes in language and style of writing, help us say with confidence that verses 9 and following were not in Mark’s original account. Thankfully, handling venomous snakes never caught on in our Canadian Baptist churches anyway.

But if Mark’s account of Jesus ends with chapter 16, verse 8, what are we to make of the ending?

7 “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Mark 16:7,8 (NRSV)

What are we to make of the lack of resolution? It ends with women frozen in fear and trembling rather than doing as the angel requested. Mark’s Gospel account seems to end on a note of failure. It is unresolved.

Perhaps the story of Jesus remains unresolved for you? You appreciate how Jesus is an inspiring figure in history, but when you hear that the tomb is empty and Jesus has been raised, well, you are not sure what to do with that. Many people have this experience of being unresolved in their thoughts about Jesus.

As we consider this lack of resolution, there are a few things for us to consider:

First, anyone who reads the Gospel of Mark knows that the story does not end with fearful women keeping the news of Jesus’ resurrection to themselves. Even without the other Gospel accounts of Matthew, Luke, and John, the fact that you can read Mark is evidence that the resurrection was not kept secret. It did not end in failure.

The original readers of Mark’s Gospel may have been acquainted with Peter or the other apostles, and would therefore know that people who seemed to fail in the pages of Mark’s account, are now on mission. They are now willing to be killed for their testimony that Jesus lives.

Even today, anyone reading Mark will generally be aware that the news of Jesus’ resurrection has spread far and wide. Christianity has stood the test of time, has weathered many storms, has attracted all kinds of people, and for those who do the research, has had an incredible and positive impact in the lives of individuals and upon societies alike. The silence and fear at the end of Mark’s Gospel account was not the end of the Gospel of Christ.

This is good news for us when we fail, when we have those moments where we seem to be stuck in silence and fear. God’s work will never be stuck, God will always deliver on His promises, even when we seem to get in the way.

But if you are unresolved in your thoughts about the resurrection of Jesus, then you need to know that your lack of resolution will not stop God from doing what God has said He will do. You may remain unresolved in your thoughts on what actually happened on that fist Easter morning, but God the Father remains resolved to rescue people through the death and resurrection of God the Son. You have the opportunity to respond. You have the opportunity to follow where the evidence leads.

Second, with Mark ending at 16:8 we can also note that the last words of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel are,

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:34 (NRSV)

The tragic death of Jesus takes centre stage in the Gospel of Mark. The resurrection of Jesus is not given near as much attention. But the resurrection of Jesus confirms that the death of Christ is effective. Without it, Mark’s Gospel would be a tragedy. But since Jesus has been raised, Mark’s Gospel is good news. There is forgiveness of sin. There is reconciliation with God. There is no resurrection Sunday without Good Friday and Good Friday is not Good without resurrection Sunday.

Finally, Mark’s Gospel ends abruptly because the story goes on. More important than finding out what the women do next now that they have discovered that Jesus is alive – what will you do next?


All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (26 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

April 4, 2018

Disrupting the Disruption

John 2 (The Passion Translation)

12 After this, Jesus, his mother and brothers and his disciples went to Capernaum and stayed there for a few days. 13 But the time was close for the Jewish Passover to begin, so Jesus walked to Jerusalem.  14 As he went into the temple courtyard, he noticed it was filled with merchants selling oxen, lambs, and doves for exorbitant prices, while others were overcharging as they exchanged currency behind their counters. 15 So Jesus found some rope and made it into a whip. Then he drove out every one of them and their animals from the courtyard of the temple, and he kicked over their tables filled with money, scattering it everywhere! 16 And he shouted at the merchants, “Get these things out of here! Don’t you dare make my Father’s house into a center for merchandise!” 17 That’s when his disciples remembered the Scripture: “I am consumed with a fiery passion to keep your house pure!”

18 But the Jewish religious leaders challenged Jesus, “What authorization do you have to do this sort of thing? If God gave you this kind of authority, what supernatural sign will you show us to prove it?”

19 Jesus answered, “After you’ve destroyed this temple,  I will raise it up again in three days.”

20 Then the Jewish leaders sneered, “This temple took forty-six years to build, and you mean to tell us that you will raise it up in three days?” 21 But they didn’t understand that Jesus was speaking of the “temple” of his body.  22 But the disciples remembered his prophecy after Jesus rose from the dead, and believed both the Scripture and what Jesus had said.

Today we’re again back with Jon Swanson at the website 300 Words a Day. Click the title to read at source, and also check out the link at the end to another post on the same scripture passage.

Three days later

One day at the temple, during the celebration of Passover, Jesus disrupted the disruption. In the space of the temple where gentiles could visit and worship, people were selling animals and exchanging money. It was work that had a right to be done, but it was disrupting the purpose of that space.

God had said, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations.” Jesus looked at what was happening and said, “That’s what my Father said this was supposed to be, but you are making it a den of thieves.”

And he turned the tables over. And he grabbed what he could and whipped at the people.

And he stopped for a moment when his work was done, when the disruption was fully disrupted. And some people approached him, with a mixture of hesitation, like you show to an angry person, and of anger of their own.

Like a teacher who calls you Mr: “Mr. Swanson. What do you have to say for yourself?”

They asked Jesus, “What gave you the right to do this?”

Jesus says, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days.” I think they laughed. What else are you going to do?

Everyone walked away shaking their heads.

The people in the temple. AND the disciples.

The people in the temple resolved to keep their eyes on this passionately irrational young man. He went on the watch list. The temple security kept a picture of him.

But it’s worth noting that the people who knew him best didn’t know what he was doing or why he was doing it.

The people who had followed him to Jerusalem from Galilee resolving to stick close. They didn’t know why he was up to all this, but he had known their names back home. He had turned water into wine. He had come to Jerusalem and acted on behalf of the underdogs.

They wanted a part of whatever this was. But they didn’t understand. Yet.

Why do I say that?

Because of the way John writes this. “When he was raised from the dead, the disciples remembered what he had said.”

In the middle of our despair, we want a sign. In the middle of our frustration, we want something that makes sense, that is reasonable.

If we are going to trust him, we think we need to know why we should.

And Jesus looks at us quietly, gently, without judgment, and says, “Because they destroyed this temple,” and he holds out his hands, “And it was raised in three days.”

And the hands that knew excruciating pain reach out to hold ours. And the voice that was ignored still speaks.


► Related article by Jon Swanson based on a parallel passage in Mark 11.

April 3, 2018

The Value of What God Has Brought You Through

Today we’re paying another visit with Melissa Turner who writes at Tin Roof Sky. Click the title below to read at source.

No wasted stories

“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too.” 2 Cor. 1:3-5 (MSG)

There’s an old axiom that says “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” If that’s true, there are times I should be able to bench press a Buick.

One of the most important, and I think most effective, aspects to the Christian walk is sharing our experiences with others. It can be intimidating. It can be humbling. It can be downright humiliating.

It can also be life-changing – for you, and for the person you are sharing with.

Sometimes, we tell our stories from a pulpit, and sometimes we tell them from a park bench. Our pastor says God has things prepared for you, and you prepared for things. And you might not realize it yet, but everything you’ve gone through has been preparing you for the assignment that He has prepared, in advance for you!

Are you a “more experienced” parent, talking to a new mom or dad? Or have you battled the demons of addiction, made progress, and have the opportunity to give hope to someone still in the midst of the battle?

Have you had to forgive a spouse an infidelity, or are you the offending party who has had to ask forgiveness?

Have you walked through a season of spiritual dryness, or downright turning your back on God? Believe me, you aren’t the first, and you won’t be the last. Some parent needs to know that her wayward child isn’t hopeless. Some parched soul needs to know that there is a way back to the Father.

Some parts of our story are beautiful. Some, not so much. We can’t rewrite our history, but I’m here to tell you that none of it will be wasted. It might be sooner, or it might be later, but God will use what you’ve been through to help someone else. Every mile you’ve traveled matters. We have to be open to sharing with others what God has brought us through, even if it makes us look not-so-smart at the time. We’ve all made mistakes, and we can’t dwell on the past. But we can use it for God’s glory and for the benefit of others we travel alongside.

No matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, you can focus on using your pain to bring healing to others. You have cause to rejoice, fellow traveler. You have reason to lift your head high.

Life hasn’t killed you, and someone needs to see you bench pressing that Buick.

April 2, 2018

Judas!

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles
– Luke 6: 12-13 NIV

The name Judas is certainly evocative to Christians. Nobody names their kid that. Surely it would make a better swear word than that of Jesus, wouldn’t it?

But as Philip Yancey points out in The Jesus I Never Knew, in terms of the twelve disciples, Judas was incredibly ordinary.

Chosen by Jesus – Scripture tells us (see above) that Jesus chose his disciples after a long night of prayer. This wasn’t a random act. It was divine providence. At The Christian Courier, Wayne Jackson writes:

The book of Zechariah divides itself into two major portions. Chapters 1-8 deal principally with events contemporary with the prophet, while chapters 9-14 sweep across the centuries, and have a decidedly “messianic” thrust. With this brief word of explanation, we now focus on a most remarkable prophecy in chapter 11 of the prophet’s composition.

The chapter begins with an ominous prophecy of a coming destruction that would vanquish the nation of Israel. This devastation would be a judgment from God because of the Jewish people’s rejection of Jehovah’s royal King. The description previews the Roman invasion that would culminate in A.D. 70 (cf. Matthew 22:1-7).

Out of this background comes the following prophecy.

“And I said unto them, If you think good, give me my hire; and if not, forbear. So they weighed for my hire thirty pieces of silver. And Jehovah said unto me, Cast it unto the potter, the goodly price that I was prized at by them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them unto the potter, in the house of Jehovah” (Zechariah 11:12-13).

This is a stunning text; indeed, it is a powerful example of the minute details that characterize the prophetic literature of the Bible. Zechariah, speaking on behalf of the promised Messiah, makes the following points.

(To discover the detail of seven things predicted here, click this link.)

Trusted by all – At Desiring God, Jon Bloom writes:

Jesus could have given the moneybag to Nathaniel, “an Israelite indeed, in whom there [was] no deceit” (John 1:47), or to John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20), or to Levi, who had extensive financial experience (Luke 5:27). But he didn’t. Jesus chose Judas to be the treasurer of his itinerant nonprofit.

One is tempted to offer the Lord some consulting on good stewardship. Donors were supporting this ministry financially (Luke 8:3), and Jesus appointed the one guy he knew was a “devil” (John 6:70) to manage the money. But this was not poor judgment on Jesus’s part. It was deliberate; Jesus knew Judas was pilfering. Why did Jesus allow it?

(For his answer to that question, click here.)

Honored by Jesus – In a world where “sitting on someone’s right” or “sitting on someone’s left” was a place of prominence, Judas was sitting near Jesus. Ann Naffziger fills in some details including a prophetic word from the Psalms:

Throughout human history, the act of sharing food together has suggested a level of bondedness between the people sharing the meal. Some of the significance has been lost in this day and age of American drive-throughs and eating on the run, but certainly in the Jewish culture of the Middle East at the time of Jesus, a shared meal connoted a level of intimacy between eaters. (For this reason Jesus was consistently criticized for sharing food and drink with tax collectors and sinners.) The Passover ritual that Jesus celebrated as his Last Supper included the practice of sharing food from common bowls, not unlike in various cultures and ethnic restaurants still today. In this sense, Judas can be accused of betraying not just the bond of people who eat together but a bond which should have been stronger between those who celebrated a religious feast together. The text in Matthew which identifies Judas as the one who dipped his hand into the bowl with Jesus (Mt 26:23) might also be an allusion to Psalm 41:9: “Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted his heel against me.

John’s gospel is slightly different in that it indicates that Jesus dipped his bread in the bowl and then gave it to Judas. There is a tradition that the host gave the dipped bread to an honored guest as a sign of affection. So perhaps John highlights this detail to even further heighten the act of Judas’ betrayal.

So then why did he do it?

Why did he betray Jesus? In Chapter 10 of the book, Yancey offers five possibilities:

  1. He would do anything for money.
  2. He was looking out for himself, knowing Jesus enemies were closing in.
  3. He was disillusioned; Jesus should be taking on Rome not clearing the temple.
  4. He had “no patience for a slow, nonviolent revolution.”
  5. He was doing all this “to force Jesus’ hand. If Judas arranged an arrest, surely that would prompt Jesus to declare himself and install his kingdom.”

Yancey points out that the difference between Peter and Judas. Their responses are the same in kind but not the same in degree.

Have you or I ever betrayed a church leader? As someone who spends time each week documenting some of the transgressions of Christian pastors and authors as part of my tracking of news events in the Christian community (on my other blog) I am acutely aware of the responsibility of not stooping to gossip or reporting on events in an irresponsible way that could bring damage to the cause of Christ. If I do, I am betraying Jesus.

Furthermore, as we consider the Passion Week narrative, we need to keep in mind that Christ offered up his life. While his flesh had misgivings at one point, Jesus was in charge and in control of all that was unfolding.

 

 

April 1, 2018

When the Mountains Shake

Today we introduce a new writer to you, Darren Colwell whose site is called To See Jesus. Darren is a pastor in Ogden, Utah. Click the title below to read at source.

An Empty Tomb and Shaking Mountains

Mount Sinai

18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them.

 Heb 12:18–19*

When God met with Moses on Mt. Sinai the holiness of God descended and there was darkness, gloom, thunder, and earthquakes. The whole mountain shook under the weight of the glory of God. One man went up that mountain to meet with God and reveal him to his people. The result was the 10 commandments, God’s moral and perfect law, and the pattern for an earthly meeting place, the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was a design of sheer grace. God, the Most High, would meet with his people in a tent. But the Tabernacle also signaled complete separation. The Levites were encamped around it to ensure no one came close, and within it there was the outer court, the Holy place, and the Holy of Holies, and it was only in this last place that God would meet with his people. He would meet with one person, once per year (on the Day of Atonement), and only through blood. That blood would be poured out on the Mercy Seat and it was there that God would meet with his people (Ex. 25).

Mount Calvary

45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. 51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.

Mt 27:45, 50-51

Jesus, likewise, went up a mountain to meet with God on behalf of his people. As the holy wrath of God was poured out on Christ there was darkness and gloom and the earth shook. But this time God didn’t send our representative down the mountain with an earthly pattern for a meeting place. Jesus, himself, was the meeting place. He is the temple of God. And as Jesus entered into that Holy of Holies for us his blood was poured out upon the Mercy Seat (the word in Ex. 25 is the same word for propitiation–the wrath-absorbing sacrifice) so God could meet with us. Through Christ’s death the earthly temple and all of its separation was ripped in two by the very hand of God. Jesus met with God so we could meet with God face to face, covered in the blood of Christ. The God who dwells in unapproachable light became approachable! But this isn’t the last time the earth will shake.

Mount Zion

22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Heb 12:22–24

26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.

Heb 12:26–27

Jesus will shake the earth one more time. The first time he revealed his law and his holiness (this was grace that a people might know and worship him). The second time he destroyed the spiritual separation we have from God and made a way into the Holy of Holies for us. The third, and last, time he will shake the earth to remove all that is temporary and usher in the New Heavens and the New Earth where we will dwell with God forever.

When Jesus left the tomb that Easter morning so long ago there was another earthquake. Death was defeated and tomb was emptied. Jesus walked out victorious. His death on the cross, the empty tomb, the shaking of the earth, point us forward the last shaking when all will be removed except God and his people in his permanent kingdom. So let us draw near to him while we still have time, for, “Our God is a consuming fire!” (Heb. 12:29).


*All scriptures ESV

 

Today is Christianity 201’s 8th Birthday!
While Christ’s resurrection is the dominant theme in our thoughts today, Christianity 201 concluded its eighth year yesterday, and now begins year nine of providing devotional content and Bible study discussion material. Our motto continues to be “digging a little deeper.” My hope is that we’ve provided helpful resources for your devotional and Bible study reading and have introduced you to many new authors who are doing the same online.  ~Paul

March 31, 2018

Hating the Passing Things of This World

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
 ~John 8:12 NIV

Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.
 ~Ecclesiastes 1:8 NLT

Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away.
 ~I Cor. 7:31 NLT

And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
 ~I John 2:17 ESV

Today’s reading is drawn from a posting of seven chapters of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, posted by Random House at the link in the title below, where you can read all 7 chapters. This book is an all-time Christian classic if you haven’t read it.

Wikipedia fills in some information:

Thomas à Kempis,  (c. 1380 – 25 July 1471) was a German-Dutch canon regular of the late medieval period and the author of The Imitation of Christ, one of the most popular and best known Christian books on devotion. His name means Thomas “of Kempen”, his hometown, and in German he is known as Thomas von Kempen.  …Thomas spent his time between devotional exercises, composition, and copying. He copied the Bible no fewer than four times, one of the copies being preserved at Darmstadt, Germany in five volumes. In its teachings he was widely read and his works abound in Biblical quotations, especially from the New Testament.

I have made only one editing change, taking out the use of numbered paragraphs (which I believe cause readers to rush through the material) and substituting each new section with the first sentence in bold type.

The Imitation of Christ and Contempt for the Vanities of the World

“Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness,” says the Lord. These are Christ’s own words by which He exhorts us to imitate His life and His ways, if we truly desire to be enlightened and free of all blindness of heart. Let it then be our main concern to meditate on the life of Jesus Christ.

Christ’s teaching surpasses that of all the saints, and whoever has His spirit will find in His teaching hidden manna. But it happens that many are little affected, even after a frequent hearing of His Gospel. This is because they do not have the spirit of Christ. If you want to understand Christ’s words and relish them fully, you must strive to conform your entire life to His.

What good does it do you to be able to give a learned discourse on the Trinity, while you are without humility and, thus, are displeasing to the Trinity? Esoteric words neither make us holy nor righteous; only a virtuous life makes us beloved of God. I would rather experience repentance in my soul than know how to define it.

If you knew the entire Bible inside out and all the maxims of the philosophers, what good would it do you if you were, at the same time, without God’s love and grace? Vanity of vanities! All is vanity, except our loving God and serving only Him. This is the highest wisdom: to despise the world and seek the kingdom of heaven.

It is vanity to seek riches that are sure to perish and to put your hope in them.

It is vanity to pursue honors and to set yourself up on a pedestal.

It is vanity to follow the desires of the flesh and to crave the things which will eventually bring you heavy punishment.

It is vanity to wish for a long life and to care little about leading a good life.

It is vanity to give thought only to this present life and not to think of the one that is to come.

It is vanity to love what is transitory and not to hasten to where everlasting joy abides.

Keep this proverb often in mind: The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. Therefore, withdraw your heart from the love of things visible and turn yourself to things invisible. Those who yield to their sensual nature dishonor their conscience and forfeit God’s grace.

 

April 1st is Christianity 201’s 8th Birthday!
While Christ’s resurrection is the dominant theme in our thoughts tomorrow, Christianity 201 concluded its eighth year this evening, and now begins year nine of providing devotional content and Bible study discussion material. Our motto continues to be “digging a little deeper.” My hope is that we’ve provided helpful resources for your devotional and Bible study reading and have introduced you to many new authors who are doing the same online.    ~Paul

March 30, 2018

The Time When Even Jesus Said, “Darkness Reigns”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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This is today’s reading from the devotional that I read, Daily Encouragement.

When Darkness Reigned

This is your hour–when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53).

Today we, who hold to the Christian faith, look back nearly 2,000 years ago to the ultimate Sacrifice. On this Good Friday we solemnly remember that our Savior breathed His last at the hands of wicked men. We also realize this day is good because God showed us the full extent of His love by making restitution for our redemption.

When He was arrested Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, “This is your hour–when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53).  This hour of darkness, which we believe included the period of time between His arrest and resurrection, appeared to be a hopeless situation, an excruciating time in the cosmos. Again consider, this was the period when our Lord Himself declared, “darkness reigns”!

Pastor Grant Gunnink observes, “It must have been agonizing for Jesus – the Word of God made flesh – to acknowledge that in what was about to happen – the powers of darkness, which He could have no doubt thrown back with a single word – had been given free reign.”

Although we believe Jesus was primarily speaking of spiritual darkness a physical darkness was demonstrated at His death during His final three hours on the cross when “darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining” (Luke 23:44,45).

However, of vital importance is that although darkness reigned, God ultimately reigns. (It’s so important to also realize this during the seasons in our own life when darkness seems to reign.)

In a much earlier time period evil was also present in the dark deeds inflicted upon Joseph by his eleven brothers when they plotted his death. Consider the merciful perspective expressed in Joseph’s response to his wicked brothers after many years, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

This took on much greater fulfillment, in the person and work of Christ, as Christ poured out His goodness on those who sought to do Him evil. Yes, surely God intended the cross for good. He even used evil hearts to bring about His set purpose. He was not overcome by evil, but He overcame evil with good. God’s plan of salvation was divine in nature, but He also helps us every day to overcome evil with good. We walk in newness of life and in the power of His resurrection.

We were blessed yesterday when we saw the message on the sign … “Only A Living Savior Can Rescue A Dying World”.

This Good Friday let be very intentional in praising God from whom all blessings flow as we remember the greatest Sacrifice of all time. Let us give deep, heartfelt thanks to God for His incomparable love and the demonstration of His love as seen in the One impaled on a bloody cross.

Amazing love, O what sacrifice,
The Son of God, given for me;
My debt He pays and my death He dies,
That I might live, that I might live.

Be encouraged today,
Stephen & Brooksyne Weber.

March 29, 2018

Can a Dead Messiah Be the Real Messiah?

by Clarke Dixon

We may be surprised to discover that not everyone was wondering if Jesus could be the Messiah as he went around teaching and working miracles. When Jesus asks the disciples who people think he is, notice what does not make the list:

27 Jesus and his disciples left Galilee and went up to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. As they were walking along, he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
28 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other prophets.”
29 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”
Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.”
30 But Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. Mark 8:27-30 (NLT emphasis added)

Why did “Messiah” not make the list of who people thought Jesus might be? Jesus was not fitting their expectations for a Messiah. Jesus was going around teaching and doing amazing love focused things. But he was not building an army. A Messiah was expected to prepare for and lead a revolution, a rebellion against Rome, not a revolution of the heart.

Expectations also come into play during the week before Jesus’ execution. The week begins with Jesus clearly and loudly declaring that he is the Messiah by the way he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. And Jesus could not be more clear before the high priest:

61 Then the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”
62 Jesus said, “I AM. And you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Mark 14:61-62 (NLT)

The high priest, of course, does not agree that Jesus could be the Messiah, and neither do the crowds shouting “crucify him” at the instigation of the religious leaders (Mark 15:9-14). The people are expecting a revolution and some kind of shock and awe from the Messiah. Wasn’t that what the Old Testament promises were pointing to? Shouldn’t the Messiah be like Moses and the splitting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the enemy armies? Never mind destroying the enemy, standing before them was a seemingly weak and pitiful man in the custody of the enemy. Then he was executed. The suffering and death of Jesus seemed to be a contradiction of the what the Messiah was expected to be about.

Who was right? Jesus, or the religious leaders and crowd?

When looking at expectations, we should recognize that Jesus himself, on several occasions, tells clearly and also insinuates that he is to suffer and die. (See 8:31, 9:30-32; 10:32-34; 12:1-12; 14:8; 14:17-25; 14:27-31). At his arrest, Jesus makes an important observation about this suffering and death:

48 Jesus asked them, “Am I some dangerous revolutionary, that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? 49 Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there among you teaching every day. But these things are happening to fulfill what the Scriptures say about me.” Mark 14:48-49 (NLT emphasis added)

As we read about the death of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, we begin to see how much a suffering Messiah is intricately connected with the Old Testament. There are quite a number of references and allusions which help us make the connection between the death of Jesus and the promises of the Old Testament Scriptures:

  1. In Mark 15:24 there is an allusion to Psalm 22:18: “they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
  2. In verse 26 the inscription “King of the Jews”points us to the prophecies of a coming king.
  3. Bible scholars teach that verse 33 and the darkness coming over the land points us to “the Day of the Lord” spoken of in Joel 2:10; Amos 8:9; and Zephaniah 1:15.
  4. In verse 34 Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1.
  5. In verse 38, immediately following the last breath of Jesus which is the most significant moment in Mark up to this point, the curtain of the temple tears from top to bottom. This is symbolic of the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise of a New Covenant and a new way of relating to God.
  6. In verse 42, the mention of the Day of Preparation reminds us that all this is happening on a significant Jewish holiday, the Passover. We can think of the words “when I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Exodus 12:13). A just and holy God must bring judgement against sin. However, Jesus is the sacrificial lamb. The whole sacrificial system of the Old Testament therefore points to the Messiah.

All this goes to show that the suffering and death of Jesus is not a contradiction of the Old Testament promises, but part of the fulfillment of them.

Following Easter the disciples were very certain that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, and that the Old Testament Scriptures were pointing to him as Lord and Saviour. How were they so sure? And how can we be sure? One simple reason: Jesus rose from the dead. Had Jesus not risen from the dead, they would most likely have admitted that the religious leaders and the crowds were correct. Instead, they were willing to die for what they knew to be true. While we do not have time to unpack it all here, from a historical perspective there are good reasons for us today to believe Jesus rose from the dead. We do not just hope it is true despite the evidence. We can have hope, knowing that it is true based on the evidence.

Further, Jesus reinforced to the disciples following his resurrection how he is the fulfillment of the OT promises:

25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. 26 Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” 27 Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Luke 24:25-27 (NLT emphasis added)

No doubt Isaiah 53 would have been a part of that, and I encourage you to read it.

Who was right? Jesus, who said he was the Messiah? Or the high priest, religious leaders, and crowd shouting for his execution? Could a suffering and dead Messiah be the real Messiah? Here is our answer: only a suffering, dead, and risen Messiah could be the real Messiah.


All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (24 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

March 28, 2018

“Open Your Bibles as We Read from the Book of…”

With the 8th anniversary of Christianity 201 happening on Easter Sunday, we’ve been looking at some of the older articles on file; this one is from March, 2012…

I believe the most powerful words with which a preacher can begin any sermon is to say, “Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of…” I love analogies, I love to hear about the context in which the writers wrote, I love it when a preacher quotes contemporary and classic writers, and I need to hear the suggested application of the passage to my life…

…but it all has to begin with scripture.

2 Peter 1:16-NIV For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

19 We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Verse 21 in the above is key to this discussion. No matter what my will would desire to say, my words must, first and foremost, be guided by the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Eugene Peterson translates the concluding section of the passage:

The main thing to keep in mind here is that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of private opinion. And why? Because it’s not something concocted in the human heart. Prophecy resulted when the Holy Spirit prompted men and women to speak God’s Word.

The problem we face in the Christian media, including Christian radio and television, and in Christian books, is that you’re hearing a lot of what Peter would call “private opinion.”

Any blogger or pastor or author has to be continually running a check: Is this my opinion or is this what God is saying? Is this my pet peeve or favorite subject or am I letting the passage speak?

In the U.S., there was (and probably still is) a network of radio stations that operated under the corporate name Clear Channel. That’s a radio term originally referring to certain powerful AM-frequency signals that broadcast over a wide area — especially at night — without interference from local stations that were assigned the same frequency.

Being a clear channel of what God means speaking with the power of His Word and not allowing the message to be fuzzy or subject to interference.

Continuing this theme in the next chapter — and remember the chapter divisions don’t exist in the original — Peter goes on to describe those whose signal is “interfered with” as false teachers.

Years ago, I asked a friend of mine who was doing research into cults to explain to our church exactly how does a cult get started. I used the analogy, “How does a rocket, properly aimed and positioned start to veer off course?”

I think it’s not a stretch to look at chapter two of Peter’s epistle as having some origins in what he says in chapter one: It began with someone’s “own interpretation” (NIV) or “private opinion” (Peterson).

A crowd can be wrong. Just because hundreds of people are jumping off a cliff doesn’t mean you should also. But there is a security in both (a) the way the ‘church fathers’ have traditionally dealt with a passage of scripture; established through study Bible notes and commentaries, and (b) the confirmation that comes through the reading of other passages.

In preparing today’s thoughts, I was somewhat astounded by the large percentage of commentary and writing in the Christian quarter of the internet that begins with opinions and stores, compared with the very tiny percentage that begins with a verse or chapter of the Bible. (And yes, my other blog was trending that way so I created this one to give my own life and writing some balance.)

When it’s your turn to be the speaker, make the first words out of your mouth, “Take your Bible and turn to…”

~PW

 

March 27, 2018

Salvation through the Resurrection of Christ

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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by Russell Young

Salvation into God’s eternal kingdom is accomplished through the death and resurrection of Christ. Concerning baptism, Peter wrote, “the resurrection of Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him” (1 Pet 3:22) saves you or delivers you from danger and possible death through your response to your cleansing with a good conscience or the maintenance of a good conscience.

The struggle for eternal salvation is not completed by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Paul has stated that he–the main expositor of God’s truths on the matter–had to continue to work out or to finish his perfection to gain the hope of resurrection (Phil 2:12), and acknowledged that he had not yet been made perfect (Phil 3:12). The writer of Hebrews has stated that perfection applies to “those who are being made holy.” (Heb 10:14 NIV) In his letter to the Ephesians Paul cautioned that believers were to put on the armor of God and to stand against the devil’s schemes. He reminded Christ-followers, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12) A struggle remains simply because life and opportunity for sinning remains follow the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

Although the confessor may have been rescued from the consequences of past sins through the Lord’s blood offering, he or she must still contend with the devil for victory over the demons, powers, and evil authorities in the heavenly realms that could devour them. It is through Christ’s resurrection that such victory can be gained. Christ has not defeated the devil to the point that he cannot and does not influence, and even destroy, lives. That will not happen until the era of the millennial years when he has been bound and is unable to deceive any longer. Peter admonished, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Pet 5:8 NIV) The fight has not been finished, nor has the victory been won. The keys to death and Hades have been taken from Satan and belong to Christ (Rev 1:18); the allocation for death and Hades has become Christ’s determination. Satan has not yet been prevented from exercising his evil schemes and from devouring the unwary. Through his death and resurrection Christ has gained authority over angels, authorities, and powers in the heavenly realms. That is, he can use them according to his own desires for the accomplishment of God’s eternal purpose. (Eph 3: 1011) He is in charge.

Paul has revealed that Christ “disarmed” the powers and authorities making a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col 2:15) Although Christ triumphed over them, confessors have not. His triumph through the cross completed the law and removed the power of death that Satan had used to accomplish his own purposes. His power rested in lies and deceits enticing people to defy God’s laws since breaking the law brought death and destruction and would have brought humankind to an end. The termination of the law robbed Satan of his instrument of death. However, terminating the law does not accomplish God’s righteous requirements either; the needed righteousness must be accomplished through the Holy Spirit. (Rom 8:4; Gal 5:5)

Satan is very much alive and active but the angels, powers, and authorities in the heavens are under Christ’s administration. Believers will be tested to discern their commitment and to reveal their heart-state. Certainly, eternal salvation can be gained, but it requires the believer to walk humbly in obedience to Christ. (Heb 5:9) He will discern those who love him as evidenced through their submission to him, as opposed to those who claim to love him but who are willing to live under the influence and control of the evil one. Paul wrote, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience which leads to righteousness?” (Rom 6:15─16 NIV) The Lord has said, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son (those led by the Spirit, Rom 8:14) belongs to it forever.” (Jn 8:35 NIV) The evil one can still bring about destruction, but God’s eternal purpose can and will be fulfilled through the Lord’s intervention in lives to the extent that he chooses, in those who have been called according to his purpose.

A mere pardon for sin does not provide for the accomplishment of God’s purpose for creation. He desires a kingdom of priests, a holy nation with inhabitants conformed to the likeness of his Son. The Lord’s authority over the heavenly beings is available to the called according to his purpose to enable them to live righteously and to fit them for his eternal kingdom. (Rom 15:16) Those who will dwell with him will have freely and committedly chosen to listen to his voice and to follow. His grace is available to those with a humble heart, those who are “poor in spirit” (Mt 5:3 NIV; Ps 34:18), and who recognize the need for his help and seek to gain it. The Lord (the Holy Spirit) works with the Father (the one who searches our hearts) (Rom 8:2627) to accomplish God’s purpose and he uses his authority over the heavenly beings for that purpose.

It is often presented that having been pardoned for sin provides eternal salvation, but the pardon does not provide for the accomplishment of God’s purpose. He desires a kingdom of priest, a holy nation with inhabitants conformed to the likeness of his Son. His authority is available to enable all confessors to accomplish his desired state, but not all will listen and follow. The Lord always allows the expression of free-will because that is also his desired state for humankind. He works with those who truly believe to accomplish their eternal salvation. He will provide a place in the kingdom of heaven After all, he has authority and possession of the keys of death and Hades. His authority over the heavenly powers as enabled through his resurrected life can accomplish God’s eternal purpose and fit believers (Rom 15:16) for his holy kingdom.

 


Author Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

March 26, 2018

Earthly Desires vs. Abiding Forever

Today we’re introducing a new source which I’m hoping we’ll be using more frequently than some. First 15 is designed for the first 15 minutes of your day, and can be delivered direct to your phone or tablet. The devotional’s main partners are: All Shores Wesleyan Church, First Baptist Church Universal City and Mississippi College.

Each day’s devotional is divided into six parts including a worship music video. The one that follows is also part of a renewal series of articles. Today we’re featuring just the text content, so you’re strongly encouraged to click the title below for the full experience.

Renewal of Perspective

by Craig Denison

One of the best aspects of spending time alone with God is being renewed daily by his word and presence. When we make space for God in our lives, especially at the beginning of the day, he is faithful to renew and prepare us for all we will face out in the world. Scripture says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). Where do you need renewal? How greatly do you need God’s mercies in your life? He has a plan this week to both teach and guide you into an encounter with him that will renew you with his overwhelming goodness and love. Make space for God. Make time to encounter him. And experience the refreshing spring rain he longs to bring to heal the dry and weary places of your heart.

“And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” 1 John 2:17

This life is like a gust of wind, strong and tangible, but as fleeting as it is real. Tragically, most of us spend the majority of our lives just trying to find out why we’re here. We ask, “What’s our purpose? What’s the point of all this? What’s the meaning of life?” While Scripture is clear that this life is fleeting, God also makes it abundantly clear that what we do with our lives here is of eternal significance. We have incredibly important things to do and little time to do them. So, to truly live life to the fullest as God desires for us, to make the impact we alone can make in this life, we need a clear understanding of how fleeting and important our lives are. We need a renewal of perspective.

1 John 2:17 says, The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. God has a plan for you and a will for your life. Your abilities, mind, heart, and hands are of incredible importance to him. Ephesians 2:10 says, For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Your heavenly Father has works prepared for you that only you can accomplish. He has plans for you that he does not have for anybody else. But he has also given you the ability to lead your own life. Every day you have the choice to surrender your life to the lordship of Jesus and follow the guidance of his Spirit. Or, you can choose to go through life being your own boss, making decisions and plans on your own without his guidance. Only one choice will lead you to a life spent co-laboring with God and making an eternal impact. Only one choice will lead you to the joy and purpose you were created for. Only one choice will assure you at the end of your days that you made a deep and lasting impact with your life.

You see, there isn’t enough time to waste any part of your life pursuing the things of the world. There aren’t enough days to spend even a single one building your kingdom instead of God’s. And your life will be measured by the way in which you loved God and others, not by the weight of your possessions, accolades, or status. Jesus commands us in Matthew 6:19-21, Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Jesus illustrates an often missed point here: the value of your life is your heart. God is the Creator of all treasure, of everything beautiful, but his prized possession is your heart. His deepest longing is for your affections. He knows that when you give your heart to the world, to pursuing earthly objectives, you will miss out on the peace and purpose of living your life with a constant eternal perspective. Scripture tells us that though we are here on earth, this is not our home. We are called to live here with urgency, maintaining a renewed perspective of our time. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:15-17, Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Will you live your life in light of God’s will for you or your own? Will you surrender your heart to the Lord every day or keep one foot in the world and one foot in the kingdom of God?

The choice is entirely up to you. You have both the Holy Spirit and the world vying for your heart. But only God will reward your affections with his own. Only God gave up his life entirely out of his unending devotion and love for you. All you have to do to live fully for God is encounter the love of your heavenly Father each day and live in response to that love by loving him and others. When you are faithful to listen, God is faithful to guide you day to day and season to season. His kingship demands our obedience, and his love stirs our hearts until obedience to him is natural. Experience both the majesty and love of your King today. Let the Holy Spirit lead you to a life of radical, loving obedience. Allow the Spirit and the word to renew your perspective on the purpose of your life. And choose today to live with eternal perspective by loving your heavenly Father and others.

Prayer:

1. Meditate on both the fleeting nature and importance of this life.

Remember how short my time is! For what vanity you have created all the children of man! What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? Psalm 89:47-48

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

2. Reflect on your own life. In what areas have you been pursuing the world instead of God? Where have you chosen to rule your own life? What decisions have you made apart from the leadership of God? Confess those sins to the Lord, and receive his forgiveness. He longs to restore you totally to himself. He will daily forgive your sins and lead you fully to the life he has in store for you.

3. Commit yourself to live for the kingdom of God instead of your own. Pray to the Lord, and tell him your desire to live for his kingdom. Submit your will and live for him instead of yourself. Ask for the help of the Spirit as you go through your day. Listen for his voice and follow his leading as you pray.

This life requires a daily process of confession, forgiveness, and commitment. Daily we need to gain fresh perspective on what really matters. Constantly throughout our day we need to remind ourselves of why we were created. Engage in this process, encounter the grace of God as you make mistakes, and live your life pursuing all that God has in store for you. You can never experience the same peace, purpose, and grace-filled love anywhere else as you will living fully surrendered to God. God will never forsake you or reject you. He has only love for you. Choose him over the world today and experience the life you’ve been longing for.

Extended Reading: Matthew 6

March 25, 2018

Amazing Love!

Yesterday and today we’re reintroducing you to Canadian Presbyterian pastor Jeff Loach who writes at Passionately His. Both of these are great to share with someone who has not yet crossed the line of faith. Click the title below to read this on his blog.

My Chains Fell Off

Most of us, from time to time, get a song stuck in our heads.  I don’t know about you, but for me, this is an almost daily occurrence, and sometimes, it persists beyond the day.  Since Tuesday evening this week, I have had the same song in my head.  So today, I thought I’d put it in your head, too!

It is a hymn, a piece of poetry put to music, that dates back to the 1730s.  The accompanying tune is called SAGINA, which is the name of a spring plant common in the Roman Empire; it can also mean “nourishment”.  It was written in 1825.  But the text and the tune were not put together popularly until well into the twentieth century.

The text was written by the great Methodist leader Charles Wesley (1707-1788).  No one knows for sure, but it is thought that this text came to him at the point of his conversion.

Wesley had been trained for ministry and had attempted to serve in ministry, failing miserably as a missionary (alongside his brother, John) in the new-found colony of Georgia, now part of the United States.  It was only following his return to Britain that he experienced new birth, at which time he is thought to have written these words:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night:
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray;
I woke; the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

These lyrics certainly allude to the story of the earthquake that occurred when Paul and Silas were in prison:  All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off!” (Acts 16.26b, NLT).

But Wesley had experienced this in his own heart, too.

The good news is that any of us can have the same experience.  By God’s grace, our chains can fall off, too.  If you feel as though your spirit is lying in some sort of prison – enslaved to sin, locked in old ways, tied down by guilt – then Jesus longs to free you.

If you’ve not been set free from sin, think of what song might come from your mouth when your chains fall off!

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
    and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
    out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
    and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
    They will put their trust in the Lord.
 (Psalm 40.1-3, NLT)


March 24, 2018

Damascus Road, or Emmaus Road: You Need to Have the Experience

This is our fourth time with Canadian Presbyterian pastor Jeff Loach who writes at Passionately His. Because Jeff has been a longtime friend of Thinking Out Loud, I’m taking the liberty of running back-to-back articles from him today and tomorrow.  His title below for this article emphasizes a different aspect of his article than the title we chose, but both are things to consider as you read. Click the title below to read this at source.

Don’t be ashamed of the Name

I’m going to talk about a term that gets tossed around a lot – often with scorn attached – in the church and in the world.  It’s the term “born again”.

In the sense in which Christians use it, the term appears just in one place in the New Testament:  the story of Jesus’ encounter at night with Nicodemus in John 3.  Nicodemus confides that everybody who has been eyeing his ministry knows he has come from God.  Then Jesus tells him,

I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3.3, NLT).

Well, that kind of came out of left field, didn’t it, Jesus?  After receiving such a high compliment from such a high-ranking Jewish official, one would think he would demurely blush and say, “Aw, shucks” or something.  But not Jesus.  He jumps right into the challenge of the Kingdom:  to see it, you must be born again.

What did he mean by that?

As I noted, the term is fraught with baggage both inside and outside the church, and it’s often negative.  But the term that John uses for “again” in John 3.3 – anōthen – has a couple of similar meanings.  It can mean ‘again’, ‘from the very beginning’, or ‘for a long time’; or, as John tends to use it most, ‘from above’.  Some translations of the Bible have started using ‘from above’, because it is a correct translation, and perhaps also to try to steer away from the negative baggage that ‘again’ has caused over the year.

But they really all point to the same thing:

There must be some sort of new, supernatural birth that takes place in our lives before we can see the Kingdom of God.

Many well-meaning followers of Jesus have hammered away at this verse over the years as an antidote to the milquetoast teaching (or lack thereof) that suggests, “All you have to do is be good, and God will have you.”

I’m still not sure, after 30 years in this business, where people came up with that notion, but it sure wasn’t from the Bible, that’s for sure.

No, at some point in our lives – and it’s never too late! – each of us needs to come to terms with the reality that Jesus’ death and resurrection were not just historical events, but that they were accomplished for me.  For each of us.  And when God pours down his grace on us to enable us to make that confession of faith, something new happens inside us, and we experience new birth.  We are born from above.  We are born again.

It doesn’t have to have a dramatic testimony attached to it.  Instead of a Damascus Road experience, it can be an Emmaus Road experience.  Each must lead to the same conclusion, though:  at some point, we ceased living under our own strength and gave over the throne of our hearts to Jesus.  When you do, some people will label you as “one of those born again Christians.”  And when they do, you can give humble praise to the One who died and rose again for you, and who changes you within by the Holy Spirit.

It’s not about pride – far from it.  But you don’t need to be ashamed of the Name.

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