Christianity 201

January 7, 2018

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Matthew 2:9b After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11a And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.

Today’s thoughts for Epiphany Sunday were published earlier today by a writer who is new to us, David M. Wilmot, a Vicar in the Church of England in Troutbeck. Click the title below to read the full article, of which this is the second half.

To Recover Confidence: Right worship, Right praise is the most missional thing you can do

…I so often wonder, where on earth did we get the notion that worship is about `meeting needs`? No, worship is about God. Worship is its own reward. Right Worship, right praise is our calling… without one eye on what other people might think. No, if worship is for our benefit at all the only `need` it addresses is our need to be transformed into the likeness of Christ. And this happens in two ways….

Firstly, worship remind us of both who we are and whose we are. What I mean is that the very act of gathering in obedience to the Sabbath command is that we put down a marker as to where our true and ultimate loyalties lie. You see, I don`t think we have begun to appreciate how radical and thoroughly subversive a thing it is to worship. It is… or at least should be… regarded as absolute dynamite. Ask some of our many persecuted brothers and sisters what happens when day by day week by week you persist in reminding the world; anyone within earshot of its true king.

Because that`s what we learn of Jesus in that Epiphany Reading today isn’t it? (Matthew 2.1-12) The coming of the Christ; the world`s true King threw everyone (especially those who considered themselves to be someone) into an absolute panic. Why? Because his very presence exposes our real problem: idolatry. The attempt to live as if God is not God. In the birth of Jesus the Christ, the Kingdom of self… and the Kingdoms of the world are `on notice`. Because, the question is never `whether` we worship but `what or whom`. And to a world that seems obsessed with matters of identity and persists in attempting find their sense of who they are in things less than God, worship gets things the right way around.

And this is the second thing: You see worship `forms` us in our true identity, as sons and daughters of this King. We must not domesticate or turn passages such as the one we heard a moment ago, into little children’s stories. Remember, those visitors from the East `paid him homage ` but that act of worship changed them. They didn’t go `back to Herod`, to the recognized authority; because we`re told “they left for their own country by another road”. (Matthew 2.12) My point is that this is what we must learn to expect from our gathering here: Formation in Discipleship.

Jesus tells us, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. (Matthew 6.21) In our worship, just like the wise men, we hand over our treasures… our loves… the things which most drive, motivate and enthuse us. And here`s the thing… We offer them for trans-formation. We expect to leave here by another road… with our loves trans-formed. So, I`m calling us to a renewed confidence today and I`m suggesting that confidence will come as we re-engage with what it means to worship; as we kneel before the king of kings. It really does begin and end with God; the one Revelation calls the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

And if I were to offer one practical step I would suggest that you immerse yourself in the Book of Psalms. Not just because it`s the book which taught our Lord to pray… but because it has nurtured the Church in a true Vision of God from the very beginning. I was taught a long time ago that if you’re going to learn to pray, you need to read at least one Psalm every day. And what`s true for us individually is especially true of us as a Church. Place the Psalms at the heart of your worship….

You could do worse than begin with Psalm 115. Not least because the writer takes a well-aimed and comedic shot at the shallowness and stupidity of the world’s idolatry. He pokes fun at the nations by saying:

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk;
   they make no sound in their throats.

But then he ends by saying:

Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them. (Psalm 115 4-8)

Again, the writer`s point is that it is never a matter of `whether` we worship… but WHAT we worship. And in the end, we will always come to resemble the desire of our hearts…We become like the thing…the god we worship.

Dear friends, in times of change and uncertainty you will find the confidence to be faithful as you centre your lives in worship; the worship of the true and living God revealed in Jesus the Christ. Right worship, Right praise is the most Christ-like and therefore the most missional thing you can do. Our prayer is that in worship you should be transformed into the likeness of Christ… that you will bear his image to those with whom you live and work. It all begins here. You become what you worship…

January 6, 2018

The Steps to Decision (C201 Version)

If you confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from death, you will be saved. For it is by our faith that we are put right with God; it is by our confession that we are saved. (Romans 10:9-10)

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  (Romans 10:14)

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. (Psalm 37:5-6)

Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.  (2 Corinthians 5:14-15 NLT)

One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see! (John 9:25b)

…also…

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you…” (Matthew 7: 21-23a)

Earlier today at Thinking Out Loud I shared that at home we had been discussing the process by which people ‘cross the line of faith’ and identify as Christians. It reminded me of a graphic image I had in my files, but then discovered some people had improved on the one we posted there in March, 2014.

One of the challenges we face comes when we try to make things into a formula or try to over-analyze what God is doing by the Holy Spirit in human hearts. As someone once described it, “The problem of trying to figure out how a cat works is that once you dissect it, it no longer works.” Furthermore, God is working in different ways in different peoples’ lives.

So where did the graphic come from? Here’s what I wrote about this at the time,

A long time ago, a pre-internet generation of Christians were as excited about the latest books as today’s host of internet bloggers. While we might think the universe didn’t exist until we were born, there was the same mix of academic writers as well as popular writers.  One of the latter was Emory Griffin who wrote a paperback about evangelism called The Mind Changers, and in that book, he frequently quoted James F. Engel, who wrote the textbook Contemporary Christian Communications: Its Theory and Practice

Engel dissected the conversion process as only a late 20th Century academic could, breaking it down piece-by-piece. I’ve always kept a copy of this particular little chart handy, because it reminds me that making disciples (or what a previous generation called soul-winning) doesn’t happen overnight (though it can) but often involves the careful processing through of ideas and thoughts. Yes, some people encounter Jesus and the transformation can be instantaneous, but often it has to be reasoned through (or even emoted through; I don’t know if there’s a word for that) and it usually involves some other person whose gift is apologetics or just being there with love or perhaps some combination of the two.

Today, people still discuss whether or not salvation happens as a crisis experience (in a moment, in an instant) or whether it is a process experience (as C. S. Lewis defined so well in the train analogy in Mere Christianity) but if it’s a process, it might look something like Engel describes in the graphic.

Why does it matter?

I suspect that many of us, in our interactions with people expect them to move more rapidly to the point of decision. We’re aware of imperatives like “Choose today whom you will serve;” and “now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” We’ve heard the story of D. L. Moody opting not to give an invitation at the end of a message, only to have many hundreds who were there that day perish that week in the Chicago Fire. We long for instantaneous results.

While a crisis experience can definitely spark conversion, I think it’s more likely to be a process. Furthermore, we know statistically that guilt and fear may result in short-term decisions, it definitely is detrimental to the making of long-term converts. The attrition rate for those guilted in or scared in is quite high.

Discipleship is also a process involving much followup post-decision. There’s a second part to Engel’s graphic that we didn’t share this morning at Thinking Out Loud that I want to share here:

Today’s thoughts began with some verses on the subject of salvation. To my mind, they seem much more simple compared with the complexity of the upper graphic. But I am aware that as God is a work the lives of our friends, family members, neighbors and co-workers; it may be that a change in the heart needs to be accompanied by a change of mind on various aspects of the gospel, and this might move forward in stages, rather than all at once.

Read the verses again in the light of the chart, and read the chart again through the lens of the verses. Is there someone in your sphere of influence who God is telling you might want to progress on the journey to decision and discipleship?

 

January 5, 2018

God Intervenes in Our Circumstances

NIV Ps. 18.32 It is God who arms me with strength
    and keeps my way secure.
33 He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
    he causes me to stand on the heights.
34 He trains my hands for battle;
    my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

40 You made my enemies turn their backs in flight,
    and I destroyed my foes.
41 They cried for help, but there was no one to save them—
    to the Lord, but he did not answer.

43 You have delivered me from the attacks of the people;
    you have made me the head of nations.

47 He is the God who avenges me,
    who subdues nations under me,
48     who saves me from my enemies.
You exalted me above my foes;
    from a violent man you rescued me.

Once again, we’re back with the blog, Counseling One Another by author and pastor Paul Tautges. This has been a great source of excellent articles for us over the years. Please click the link below to read this at source.

Praise God for His Intervention

In Psalm 18:30-50, David praises God for intervening in his circumstances and coming to his aid when he needed it the most. Today, God wants you to give thanks and praise for three specific ways He intervenes on your behalf.

Praise God for renewing you with strength (vv. 30-42).

David gave clear testimony as to the source of his strength. His strength did not originate within himself, but it was from the Lord. It was from the Lord whom Isaiah would later direct Israel to: the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary…He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

God was a shield in battle (v. 30) and equipped David with strength (vv. 32-34). God defended the glory of His name through His servant David (think Goliath). And David was able to be this courageous because He knew the Lord was with him and the Lord was his strength. Therefore, he testified “your right hand supported me” (v. 35), “you gave me a firm footing” (v. 36), and “you equipped me with strength” (v. 39). This is more than military strength, though. God gave David spiritual strength (fortitude, endurance) to persevere.

Are you tired? Is your spirit worn down? Go to the Lord for your strength. Know that His strength is made perfect in your weakness. Pray Ephesians 3:16 for yourself, “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” Trust the Holy Spirit to give you strong courage when you need it most.

Praise God for restoring you from (after) strife (vv. 43-45).

David praised God because He “delivered [him] from strife” (v. 43). God delivered David, making him head of nations, giving him military superiority. God certainly gave him the victory. Near the end of his life—in the last letter he wrote—the apostle Paul gave the same testimony of God’s intervention in his troubles and conflicts (2 Tim. 4:14-17). What Paul experienced is what Jesus had predicted in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

When you have been through severe conflict you don’t necessarily bounce back right away. Healing takes time. But know this: God is your healer. He will restore you in His time and according to His perfect plan. Some of you, I am sure, have been through very painful conflicts in the past. Perhaps you still feel wounded. By His grace, and through the love of the brethren, God will heal your hurts and restore you. Lean on Him. Lean into Him. He heals through the ministry of others. Don’t try to do it alone. As you receive His means of grace, the Lord will heal and restore you. You will not be the same; that is true. But you will be more like Christ because of having fellowship in His sufferings.

Praise God for recovering you in (through) salvation (vv. 46-50).

Verse 46 is a triumphant declaration. “The Lord lives! He has intervened for me!” Why? Because He is “the God of my salvation.” Verses 47-48 summarize the saving deliverance of God. The Lord “rescued” David (v. 48). I could have used the word “rescued,” but intentionally chose “recovered” instead. Our world likes to speak of people as always being in recovery. The recovering alcoholic. The recovering drug addict, etc., as if to imply that a person is always in the process of recovering to the healthy state. It implies that one never truly becomes a new, changed person.

But the hope of the gospel is greater. Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave to fully recover us for God. If you know Jesus Christ then your life has been recovered for God’s purposes. Yes, you may continue to battle certain temptations for your remaining years on earth, but that is not what defines you. In Christ, God has redeemed you from the slave market of sin. You now belong to Him. He has recovered you from a life wasted on sin and given you victory in Christ.

In Christ, Romans 6:10-11 is true of you: For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. As believers, our sins and weaknesses do not make up our identity. Our identity is bound up with who Jesus is. We should enthusiastically praise God for this great salvation!

The Lord is worthy of this praise “among the nations” as, together, we “sing” His praises (v. 49). And this praise will go on forever. Why? Because of Jesus, the Son of God, is also the son of David. Therefore, David’s “offspring” will forever sing praise to God.

January 4, 2018

The Future. Not In Your Hands?

by Clarke Dixon

You may be facing 2018 with the thought that it will be yet another year of things being beyond your control. The future is not in your hands. Some will say that you have a fatalistic way of looking at things and will call you a pessimist. You may respond that you are a realist. Or you may be facing 2018 with the determination to make it a good year, because, after all, it is in your hands. You have an empowered way of thinking of the future. Some people will call you naive and wonder how you could be so overly-optimistic. They think you are in need of a reality check.

Is the future in our hands or not? The Book of Ecclesiastes can help us find think about our attitude toward the future. Consider these verses:

1 For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
2 A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
3 A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
4 A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
5 A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
6 A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
7 A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
8 A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NLT)

The tone in which we read these verses can tell us the kind of attitude we have toward the future. We should be aware that there is another way to look at it and read it. Let us take as an example the very last phrase; there is “a time for war and a time for peace”. If this were the Scripture Reading and Winston Churchill the reader for a Sunday worship service in 1940 following the return of British troops from France, would he have read it with a tone or resignation, or determination? Would his tone be dour, or defiant? Would he have read it in a way that says “we have no control over Hitler’s war machine which now stands poised to take on Britain, world events are not in our hands, and so unfortunately it is a time for war”? Or would he have read it in a manner that says “we have control over our destiny, the future is in our hands, so now is a time to buckle down and get ready for war”? We don’t need to guess. A famous speech delivered on 4th of June 1940 contained both a realistic assessment of what was out of British control, and a determination to take control of the situation. It contained a recognition of what was, and was not, in hand:

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, . . . (source: Wikipedia)

This was a time for war, meaning that, yes, things have happened which are out of our control, but also meaning that, yes, things will happen which are. We may have no control over Hitler’s war machine. But we have control over our response. You may have no control over a frightening health diagnosis, or a tragic event in a loved one’s life, or an unfortunate decision made by your partner, and the list can go on. There are so many things that are not in our hands, these are the brute facts of life. But we can always control our response to the brute facts. We can fight, adapt, pray, encourage, admonish, forgive, there are so many possibilities to choose from.

Speaking of things we have no control over, here is something else that we have no control over; the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. These are brute facts of history. And along with them comes the brute fact of God’s love. A rare person might take back a Christmas gift once given, but the gift of that first Christmas will never be taken back. God will never undo the events of Christmas, Easter, or Pentecost. Therefore, here is another brute fact that is not in our hands; 2018 will be a year of the LORD offering each day to walk in loving relationship with us. Our response is in our hands. There is a time for everything, including a time to resolve to walk more closely with our Lord and Saviour. You may feel like the future, and especially your future, is not in your hands, but it is in His.

I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him. Ecclesiastes 3:14 (NRSV)


Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

January 3, 2018

In Bible Times, Were Women Property?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The answer to today’s title question is important because it not only reflects on the value placed on women, but it’s a topic that is frequently an objection people raise in why they are not interested in reading the Bible or following Christ.

We’re returning to the apologetics blog Stand to Reason with Greg Koukl. This was their tenth most popular post in 2017. Clicking the title below will take you to the article and over 150 comments.

Did Old Testament Men Treat Their Wives Like Property?

Every once in a while, I’ll hear someone throw out the idea that men in the Old Testament treated their wives like property as if it’s an obvious, accepted fact. I’m not convinced it’s true. Granted, I’m sure there were some men who did, just as there are terrible husbands now; but in the main, the passages I read in the Bible about husbands and wives don’t look at all like men viewing their wives as property. Here are a few verses that come to mind.

The first is a law in Deuteronomy:

When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken. (Deut. 24:5)

By law, a newly married man had to be free for a year in order to “give happiness to his wife.” It seems significant that the stated goal is to make the wife happy. For a year. By law. If women were considered property, I could imagine a law saying the husband should be free to enjoy his wife for a year, but not one saying he should be free to make her happy for a year. And the fact that this was a law means it was a society-wide value. The whole society would have to be behind this in order for it to work—in order for a man to stay at home for a year, bringing happiness to his wife.

Next, look at Song of Solomon—an entire book of the Bible dedicated to a relationship between a man and a woman.

You have made my heart beat faster, my sister, my bride;
You have made my heart beat faster with a single glance of your eyes.
With a single strand of your necklace.
How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride!
How much better is your love than wine…. (4:9–10)

And the woman is given equal time in this book:

He has brought me to his banquet hall,
And his banner over me is love….
My beloved is mine, and I am his…. (2:4, 16)

I was asleep but my heart was awake.
A voice! My beloved was knocking;
Open to me, my sister, my darling,
My dove, my perfect one! …
I arose to open to my beloved;
And my hands dripped with myrrh,
And my fingers with liquid myrrh,
On the handles of the bolt…. (5:2–5)

Again, there’s no hint here that the man views the woman as his property. Neither do we find such a view in the description of the “excellent wife” in Proverbs 31; rather, we see respect, honor, and appreciation:

[H]er worth is far above jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
And he will have no lack of gain….
She considers a field and buys it;
From her earnings she plants a vineyard….
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
And she smiles at the future.
She opens her mouth in wisdom,
And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue….
Her children rise up and bless her;
Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:
“Many daughters have done nobly,
But you excel them all.”

It’s reasonable to expect that the literature and Law that served as the foundation of their society (i.e., the Old Testament) both shaped and reflected the values of that Old Testament society.

There are also examples of individual men who don’t fit the wives-as-property narrative. I often think of the kindness of Hannah’s husband towards her when she was unable to have children:

Elkanah her husband said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep and why do you not eat and why is your heart sad? Am I not better to you than ten sons?” (1 Sam. 1:8)

And listen to this interaction between Boaz and Ruth:

Boaz replied to her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and came to a people that you did not previously know. May the Lord reward your work, and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge…. Then he said [after Ruth expressed a desire for marriage], “May you be blessed of the Lord, my daughter. You have shown your last kindness to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich. Now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence.” (Ruth 2:11–12; 3:10–11)

One might object, “But men paid a ‘bride price’ for their wives!” True, but it certainly doesn’t follow that they believed they bought their wives and thought of them as property. The money paid by a man to a woman’s parents proved the man valued her and could take care of her (this seems similar to an engagement ring today), and it expressed indebtedness to the parents.

We see this practice when Jacob works for many years in order to earn the right to marry Rachel:

Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” … So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her. (Gen. 29:18–20)

It was his love for Rachel that compelled him to serve her father for seven years. This does not come across as a misogynistic business transaction. Consider, also, this interaction between Rebekah and her parents when Abraham’s servant sought to bring her home as a bride for Isaac:

[T]hey said, “We will call the girl and consult her wishes.” Then they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go.” Thus they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse with Abraham’s servant and his men…. [S]he became [Isaac’s] wife, and he loved her…. (Gen. 24:57–59)

Throughout the Bible, we see interactions like this as a rule, not as exceptions (though, of course, there are exceptions of bad behavior, just as there are today). All verses in the Old Testament (particularly in the Law), since they come from a culture unfamiliar to us, ought to be interpreted in light of passages like the ones quoted above. There’s a tendency for people to jump to the worst possible interpretation of everything, but that isn’t fair to the text. The sense I am left with after reading the Bible as a whole is that men loved and appreciated their wives, just as they do today.

 

January 2, 2018

A Baby Was Born

by Russell Young

Christmas celebrates the birth of a baby and hope for humankind. He was born into the humble circumstances of a young mother and a new father. For them the stability of place and position had not yet been established.

That baby was as helpless as any new-born. He soiled himself, and required nursing and protection. He needed to be educated and allowed the right to develop and grow through play, discipline, and all forms of parental guidance. Although he was the Son of God, he was also the son of Mary. He was like you and me.  The writer of Hebrews states that “he [was] made like his brothers in every way.” (Heb 2:17 NIV) He had a body, soul, and spirit like all humankind.

The baby, Jesus, grew and became a man. He suffered the same bodily temptations as do all men. “[He] was tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” (Heb 5:15 NIV) His temptations were not easy to bear. He suffered through them. (Temptations are not temptations unless they have a draw and their resistance causes some form of suffering.) “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Heb2:18 NIV) He had come to earth as a baby to learn of the human condition and to provide victory over weaknesses and over the evil one.

The resoluteness and commitment of Jesus to his Father should not be underestimated. His heart was fully committed to overcoming the frailties of the flesh that cause destruction. To live without sin, to deny the temptations of the flesh and to resist the deceptions and lies of the evil one and all that the world allows requires a heart determined to live righteously. We have been told, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7 NIV) No escape had been provided from the consequence of sin even for Jesus, the Christ. Sin would have brought about his own death. His Father did not interfere to make his earthly passage any different from our own concerning the issues of life. It was the heart of Christ devoted to pleasing his Father that allowed him to overcome the world.

There was a savior. The sinless man, through obedience to his Father’s will, became the source of eternal salvation for all people who would obediently follow him. (Jn 10:27)  “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” (1 Jn 3:8 NIV) He was not sent to remove the consequences of the devil’s work, but to destroy it.

Confusion remains concerning the manner in which Jesus accomplished the provision of hope for a lost people. He bore the sin of the world and through his sinless life, “He entered the Most Holy Place once for all time by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption (for himself).” (Heb 9:12) His sinless life was the result of victory over Satan, over the flesh, and over the world. His propitiation for sin applies to those who “confess with [their] mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in [their] heart that God raised him from the dead.” (Rom 10:9 NIV) Those who would enjoy the hope offered by Christ must confess that “Jesus is Lord.” Confession is assenting to his lordship, promising it, covenanting it. “He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9 NIV) “He died as a ransom to set [people] free from the sins committed under the first covenant” (Heb 9:15 NIV), and to provide eternal salvation through his resurrected life. He requires that those who he has freed and who have made the pledge of his lordship, follow him.

The sacrifice of the sinless Christ on the cross does not provide eternal salvation but release from the consequence of the confessor’s past sins and those repented and confessed following confession. (1 Jn 1:9) Just as the Lord lived without sin in the body that the Father had given him in the womb of Mary, he is prepared to live that sinless life in the body of the believer. “Christ in you is your hope of glory.” (Col 1:27; see also Gal 2:20 and 4:6) The saving ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ was not completed at the cross; he is the Spirit — “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18 NIV, italics added.) The Lord must be permitted to live his life through the believer. “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6 NIV) “He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” (1 Jn 3:7─8 NIV) “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.” (1 Jn 3:6 NIV)

 There is a judge. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor 5:10 NIV) The baby who became a sinless man, made provision for the Holy Spirit, and will be the judge of all. He dwells in us and knows the degree of our commitment to him. He holds the keys (Rev 1:18) and will decide each person’s eternal fate.

The baby born of Mary experienced the world and the flesh and overcame all the temptations that would have defeated him, and which would have provided victory for Satan. This baby grown into man victoriously fought the fight which has defeated all humankind. He knows the struggles and temptations of people and desires to be their helper and the source of their eternal salvation, but they must repent and allow him lordship of their lives so that they can become an offering acceptable to God. (Rom 15:16) Jesus the baby has become the light and hope of the world.


Author Russell Young’s column appears on alternate Tuesdays. His book Eternal Salvation: Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

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


 

January 1, 2018

Why Does the Apostle Paul Say There’s Nothing Good Within Him?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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This fall, we ran eight articles in a weekly series of devotionals from Charles Price, Minister at Large for The Peoples Church in Toronto. We’re just doing one this season, but I encourage you to click this link if you wish to follow these teachings.

Nothing Good Within

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” Romans 7:18 ESV

We might be tempted to think there is not all that much in us Jesus needs to forgive. Even if we have recognized we are sinners and asked Jesus for forgiveness, we might still think we are fairly good people on the whole. We might even be excited for God to use some of the inherent goodness we think we have to do His work. This is what makes Paul’s words in the opening verse difficult for many to understand. We like to think our ability to love, our artistic talents, the charity work we do are good things God can use for His glory. How then can Paul say nothing good dwells within us?

As Paul reminds us in Philippians 3, if there was anyone who could boast about his goodness before coming to know Christ, it was him. Paul was a perfect Jew, “a Hebrew of Hebrews” who was so faithful to God’s commands and the sacrifices required of him that he could be considered “faultless” before the law (Philippians 3:5-6). But Paul goes on to say he considers all of these good things “loss” and “garbage” for the sake of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:7-8).

Despite our attempts at goodness, they will always be marred by sin. We grew up being taught there are certain things that are good and certain things that are bad, and our natural selves apart from God will always be drawn to the latter. No matter how hard we try, how many charities we support, or how many promises we make to God that we will be good, we are deluding ourselves if we think we are anything but corrupt people apart from Christ.

To flaunt our claims to goodness is to be like a brand new car with all the bells and whistles, but no engine. We might attract attention from the people around us, but there is nothing good within us to make us function the way we are supposed to. For that, we need Christ. Any good deeds we do on our own is like trying to push that car without an engine up a hill, but a relationship with Jesus Christ gives us exactly what we need to do God’s work: Jesus Himself.

One day, we will all stand before God and have to account for our deeds. When that day comes, our good deeds and character will mean nothing if we do not have Christ. He alone makes the forgiveness of our sins possible, and it is only through His work in our lives that we come to have something good dwell within us to accomplish good in this world.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, You alone are good. I give up my claims to any goodness of my own and depend instead on Your sufficiency to conform me to Your likeness. Thank You, Lord.


It’s the start of a new year, and a good time to review the basics:

  • 201 means a little deeper than what’s found in many devotional books; and we tend to skip illustrations and go directly to the text. But we do appreciate the ministry of the organizations which distribute those resources.
  • On first time author appearances we try to check website statements about reuse, or send an email for permission to include material. Then we often repeat authors after six months or after one year. As of today, 2830 posts and only two take-down requests.
  • When you break a twig or branch off a tree, if it’s green inside the tree is alive. (I know you’re thinking, ‘Isn’t that an illustration?’ Oops) For that reason we print scripture verses in green to show that while all the content is helpful, the scriptures quotations contain life.
  • Not everyone presented here agrees with everybody else on everything. The site is a devotional mosaic; or if you prefer, a devotional potpourri. We do however try to check the compendium of a writer’s thoughts so we’re not steering you to any blog or website that might be problematic.
  • Submissions are welcomed. Click the submission page and use the form there to make contact. If you’ve never written devotional or study material before, here’s your opportunity. Start with a passage about which you’re passionate, but please, nothing deliberately provocative or controversial.
  • Christian music videos are often added if they relate to the theme of the devotional. There’s an index (see under ‘Pages’) listing all of the songs if that helps you locate a particular piece of writing.
  • Regular contributors aren’t bound by the six month rule; Clarke Dixon, Russell Young, and myself, Paul Wilkinson appear more frequently.
  • Topical articles, humor pieces, short stories, Christian news and current issues relating to faith are covered at our associate blog, Thinking Out Loud (see button in upper right).

December 31, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Last day of the year; first day of the week…

…An ending and a beginning all at the same time. If that’s not a metaphor for the Christian faith in terms of living and dying, then I don’t know a better one! The idea that strikes me is that the end of this life is the beginning of the next chapter; the chapter we call eternity.

As a generation raised on Science Fiction, we’re probably more attuned than previous generations to the dimension of time. Biblical scholars tell us that the New Testament scriptures are less preoccupied about future concerns and more focused on living the Christ-follower life in their here and now.

Paul was a bi-vocational pastor, teacher and missionary. His “day job” if you want to call it that, was making tents. So when he does look at afterlife, he uses a work analogy to express the end of life:

Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing.

2 Cor 4:16b – 2 Cor 5:2 (NLT)

I was also thinking of this in terms of prayer. God exists outside of linear time as we know it, but when we pray, we have an inter-dimensional communication channel from the constraints of time to a creator who exists in eternity. Each time you pray, the one you are speaking to is in a entirely different world (to put it mildly) and yet, although in Jesus “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens;” at the same time, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are…” (Hebrews 4:14b – 15a; HCSB)

We launch our prayers into eternity, but as we pray in Jesus’ name we have an intermediary who has lived under the same temporal and spatial limitations as we.

That eternity will soon be our home.

How would Paul say it if he were a contemporary writer? Perhaps he’d think in terms of a video game where you move on to the next level. Or maybe a rocket ship. When we jettison this space capsule, we will have arrived at a destination where we will breathe new air and have a new body. (It needs work, but you get the idea, right?)

‘Last day of the year; first day of the week?’ He might say, ‘Last day on earth, first day in eternity.’ (I would have liked it better if had been, ‘Last day of the week, first day of the year;’ but we’ll have to wait and see if a future calendar arrangement permits that one.)

When we keep eternity in view — and when we pray into eternity — I think we have a reason to worship.

 

 

 

December 30, 2017

The Things God Hates

We wrapped up the year in 2015 with a visit to the blog, Pilgrim’s Rock by Craig Biehl. We decided to return there as we’re a day away from 2017 ending. Craig holds a ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary, and PhD in Systematic Theology from Westminster Theological Seminary…

Most of you know about a rather infamous church which got national headlines for their picketing of the type of events people shouldn’t picket. Their signs boldly proclaimed that God hates a certain type of people. As a reaction to that, many of us responded with the theologically correct assertion that God is love and he doesn’t hate people. But make no mistake, he does hate sin.

That’s the subject of today’s thoughts…

God Is Love and He Hates Things

Several years ago, a nearby township designated itself a “No Hate” zone. More recently, “Hate Has No Home Here” signs have been popping up throughout the area. While the intent behind the messages may or may not be well-meaning, it seems a difficult thing to require and enforce. But beyond these difficulties, hate remains a necessary part of a healthy view of a life and world full of evil. And in a bit of irony, many bent on eliminating hate display a fair amount towards anyone who would question their viewpoint or appeal to Scripture as the ultimate authority concerning right and wrong. Campaigns against hate often disguise opposition to the Gospel (but I digress).

Objects of God’s Enmity
I was recently told that hate cannot exist in a God of love, that the idea of God hating anything was repulsive. When I pointed out that Scripture says God hates many things, he replied that the Old Testament God of hate cannot be the New Testament God. Of course, the God of the Old and New Testament are one and the same. God’s strict standards of justice revealed in the Old Testament, including the need for a mediator, sacrifice, and substitute for sinners, were fulfilled by Christ on our behalf and explained in the New (but I digress again). What about God, then, does He hate?

In short, God hates many things. For instance, He hates idolatry and the murder of innocents as sacrifices to false Gods: “You shall not behave thus toward the LORD your God, for every abominable act which the LORD hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:31). “Neither shall you set up for yourself a sacred pillar which the LORD your God hates” (Deuteronomy 16:22). In speaking of the wicked who prosper at the expense of the righteous, “Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when aroused, Thou wilt despise their form” (Psalm 73:20). God also hates the denial of the obvious display of His power in what He has created: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them” (Romans 1:18-19).

Moreover, God will repay His enemies and the enemies of His children: “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). God hates those who spurn Christ: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26-27). God is the source and standard of good; He fights all that oppose it.

God Is Love
At the same time, God is perfect love, most clearly displayed in Christ dying for His despisers. “For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8). Indeed, “While we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10). Believers in Christ are the greatest beneficiaries of that love: “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). “And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16).

Love Hates
Love and hate exist in God in perfect harmony. Why? A God of perfect holiness must hate evil, its enemy. A God of infinite love must hate that which destroys the object of His love. Here lies the simple explanation of why God pronounces such a harsh curse on all who would pervert the Gospel: “But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9). A false Gospel dishonors the person and work of Christ, the supreme object of God’s love, the supreme display of His infinite goodness, and the One who accomplishes God’s ultimate purpose to display His glory. A false Gospel leads people away from Christ and the Gospel by which they may be saved and enjoy forgiveness of sin, new life, and eternal happiness with God. God’s love for people hates that which leads them astray and destroys them. Thus, God hates sin. In addition to its ugliness and opposition to the beauty of His holiness, sin ruins people. True love hates that which hurts the object of God’s love.

No Hate Without Absolutes
The idea that love and hate are incompatible in God appears related to a worldview that denies absolute standards of good and evil. But, the love of good implies the hatred of evil, its opposite. Who would deny that we should abhor the wickedness of genocide? Who would claim that hating the cancer killing your dearest friend is incompatible with love? Indeed, to not detest some things contradicts true love. But, if nothing is morally wrong or sinful, nothing deserves our hate. Of course, even the most hardened relativists that deny an absolute moral authority affirm a boatload of moral standards for themselves and others, even while they hate a good many things. People often invoke pure relativism to justify a particular sin or lifestyle, but it is bankrupt as a philosophy of life. In fact, one must contradict it to affirm it when claiming absolutely no absolutes. No one lives according to pure moral relativism. Everyone hates something.

Infinite Love
Therefore, because God loves and hates, so will we as we grow in our love and knowledge of Him through Christ. “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way, and the perverted mouth, I hate” (Proverbs 8:13). For those alienated from God’s love by unbelief and the love of sin, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). And though many are the objects of God’s wrath, “‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die…?’” (Ezekiel 33:11). Yes, God hates things, but only because He is a God of infinite and perfect love.


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, © Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1988, 1995. Used by permission.

December 29, 2017

When is it Right to Judge?

I mentioned on December 20th that I was so impressed by the material by Colin Sedgwick at Welcome to Sedgonline, that we now return for an extra visit this month (plus a link to a third article) before our “six month rule” kicks in!  Click the title to read the first one at source.

Is it ever right to judge?

Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”. Matthew 7:1

The minister stood at the church door to greet people after the service. The sermon hadn’t been an easy one to preach. He had spoken about sexual morality, and had stressed particularly the biblical ideal of marriage – one man and one woman, for life – and he knew that not everyone would take it kindly.

(He knew too, of course, that the ideal is exactly that: an ideal. And that God is compassionate and forgiving towards those who may have failed to achieve it.)

One woman had just a very brief comment to make: “I prefer to live my life according to Matthew 7:1. Goodbye.” By which she meant, of course: “I believe in not making judgments on the way other people live their lives.”

Was her frosty comment right?

In one sense, of course, yes. We should not judge others in the sense of condemning them. We are all sinners, so the sins we should take most seriously are… our own. Jesus goes on to make this clear in his words about the speck of sawdust and the plank: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?… You hypocrite…” Point taken!  Ultimately, God alone is qualified to judge.

But in another sense she was wrong. Taking Matthew 7:1 as a stand-alone text – treating it as if it says everything that needs to be said – simply creates chaos.

Somebody has calculated that the Bible as a whole contains 31,102 verses (depending on which version you use), so if that minister had had the chance he could well have replied to the woman, “Er, yes, of course, Matthew 7:1 is great verse – but what about the Bible’s other 31,101 verses? What about verses that put a different angle on the matter – shouldn’t they be taken into account as well?”

For if you take Matthew 7:1 as the only word on the subject of judging, it implies that there are no rights and wrongs at all. Somebody commits murder? Oh dear, that’s bad – but, of course, Jesus says I mustn’t judge them. Somebody operates an internet scam and robs people of millions of pounds? Mmm, that sounds pretty dodgy as well. But of course Jesus says I mustn’t judge them…

Fact: some things are right and some things are wrong. And we shouldn’t shy away from saying so.

Jesus himself wasn’t afraid to point this out: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” (Matthew 23:13) Not exactly non-judgmental, that, eh?

In the early days of the church Simon Peter had to deal with a case of gross dishonesty by a couple called Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). So what did he say: “Ananias and Sapphira, you have done a seriously bad thing – but of course I am forbidden by the Lord Jesus to judge you”? Er, no. No: he spoke some quite frightening words: “… how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit…?” Non-judgmental?

A little later Saul (before he became known as Paul) was confronted on the island of Cyprus by “a sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus” (Acts 13:6-12). This man comes in for similar rough treatment: “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right!” Again, non-judgmental?

The fact is that when we see evil and wickedness, whether in others or mainly in ourselves, something is wrong if we don’t recognize it as such.

But, having said that, shouldn’t our main reaction be one of sorrow?

This, I think, is what Jesus meant in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4). He wasn’t talking about bereaved people or people attending a funeral; he was talking about people who shake their heads in sadness as they look into the darkness in their own hearts, and as they survey the sorry state of our world – the lies, the corruption, the greed, the vice and immorality, the violence.

Such people aren’t self-righteous or “holier-than-thou”; no, they are people who have looked a little into the heart of God, who have been moved by the beauty and purity they have seen there, and who long for things to be different. They are people who pray, as Jesus taught us: “May your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) – and who add “including in my heart”.

Is that a prayer you can pray with sincerity? If it is, I think that means you can stand up for what is right, and denounce what is wrong, without being guilty of judging others where you shouldn’t.

Lord God, save me from fault-finding, criticizing and condemning others. Help me to see clearly my own sins and failings – but at the same time not to be afraid to uphold what is good, right and true. Amen.


This topic raises another important issue – how easy it is, like that woman at the church door, to misuse the Bible. It might be helpful to have a think about that next. See this article by the same author.

December 28, 2017

Herod’s Messed Up Christmas

by Clarke Dixon

The Christmas Story as told by Matthew does not end like it does in the more sentimental telling of it we are used to. It ends in tragedy.

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Matthew 2:16

Technically speaking, the magi were likely not present with Jesus along with the shepherds as commonly portrayed in manger scenes. They arrived later. In fact the Church calendar encourages us to reflect on the arrival of the magi at the end of Christmas, on January 6th, with a celebration called Epiphany. Nevertheless, in the popular and sentimental celebrations of Christmas the magi are there at the manger scene and everyone is happy but Herod. However, in the Biblical account Christmas ends up going horribly wrong. What are we to make of Herod’s messy Christmas?

First, the unhappy ending of the Christmas story is a reminder from the get-go that we need a rescue.  While we tend to think Herod was a particularly evil person, the fact is that any one of us could have ended up being a Herod. People we think of as evil are usually ordinary people who have been swept up in evil. It could have been us. Hitler may have been particularly evil, but many regular folk committed evil deeds because they were too easily swept up with his evil. Charles Manson may have been particularly evil, but those who committed murder for him would likely have had very different lives had they become involved with a better crowd. That could have been us and not them being swept up in evil. Humanity has a sin problem. Even the most “naturally nice” of us have the potential for great evil. Therefore the sad ending of the Christmas story found at the beginning of the New Testament is a reminder of something we learned from the Old Testament, namely that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The massacre at Bethlehem reminds us that we need a rescue.

Second, the unhappy ending of the Christmas story is not the end of the story. Matthew goes on to tell us about the teaching of Jesus, pointing us toward a righteousness that is far better than that of the rule-focused Pharisees. There is a God-given and Spirit-driven righteousness ahead. Matthew goes on to tell us about the miracles of Jesus, reversing the effects of sin and curse we know about from Genesis chapter three. Matthew goes on to tell us about the death of Jesus. We learn early on that Mary “will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) The death of Jesus deals with sin in a way neither we, nor anything nor anyone else, ever could. God Himself brought His grace and justice together in rescuing us from the end result of sin. Matthew goes on to tell us about the resurrection of Jesus. Where Herod failed, the religious and political leaders finally seemed to succeed when Jesus was put to death at the cross. Only that didn’t last very long. Death could not hold him and the story goes on! Matthew goes on to tell us about the great commission of Jesus:

18 All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. Matthew 28:18-20

Here is a new beginning, a revolution! The implication is that the Herods of the world, if they become obedient disciples of Jesus, could not commit the kind of atrocities that we find in the Christmas story. Instead of being people who are swept up in evil, we are to become people swept up in goodness and godliness, a people swept up in God Himself.

Matthew goes on to tell us, in the final words of his book, some final words of Jesus before his ascension: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) There is an age to come after this age. In other words the ending of the Christmas story is not the end of the story. Far from it! The Christmas story is the beginning of a new beginning which will lead to a new beginning. The story goes on and it ends well! While Christmas has a sad ending, the story of Jesus ends well. In Christ your story can have a happy ending too!

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

December 27, 2017

Did Simeon’s Blessing Leave Mary Feeling Blessed?

As I’ve mentioned before, I had the privilege of sitting under Gordon Rumford‘s teaching during the many visits he paid to a church I attended in Toronto. Click the title to read this at source, and then check out the other fine articles at his site.

Good News And Bad News

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon,
who was righteous and devout.
He was waiting for the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit was on him.
Luke 2:25 (NIV)

It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 

Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.

For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”  Luke 2:26-32 (NIV)

In the time of Jesus the law of Moses required that the first child be dedicated as holy to the Lord (Exodus 13:2, 12, 15; Numbers 18:15). As they went about their business in the temple, a man named Simeon came up to the couple and asked to hold the baby.

Simeon was described as “righteous”—meaning he behaved himself well in respect to others—and “devout” in respect to the laws of Moses. God had revealed to him that he would live to see “the consolation of Israel”—meaning he would see the Messiah.

Perhaps Mary was a little anxious handing her precious baby into the arms of a perfect stranger. But she did, and when she did she heard wonderful prophetic words from the man. The man prayed to the Lord and rejoiced that he was holding the Saviour of God’s people Israel—also the Gentiles “light”—in his arms. Because the man told the Lord he was now ready to die, having seen the Messiah, some people conjecture that he was old. Scripture does not tell his age and so we must leave that notion to the area of speculation.

What a Christmas it was for Simeon! God had promised he would be alive when the Messiah appeared and God’s word was fulfilled. Simeon knew in his mind that God’s word was always fulfilled but to experience the fulfillment in real life was very wonderful for him.

The joyful parents of Jesus must have been very encouraged to hear the man’s words as it once again confirmed to them that Jesus was extraordinary. That was the good news.

But then Simeon went on to say some bad news that upset the young couple greatly. Luke 2:34-35 (NIV)

“Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother:
‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be spoken against,
so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.
And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’”

Of course the man spoke of the suffering of Jesus through being rejected by His own people Israel, and by the Gentile world as well. Only when Mary stood at the foot of Jesus’ cross did these words come home to her heart. She was learning that there is no Christmas without the cross. So as we draw near to the day we mark Advent, let us remember the cross—while thinking of the manger. Only then shall we have the full celebration of Christmas in our hearts.


We’ve posted this before, but it’s one of my favorite songs.

 

December 26, 2017

“Go and Buy Swords”

I thought it was interesting that yesterday’s post was titled The Gift of Peace, and today we’re looking at the scripture where Jesus talks about buying weapons.

Keith Giles is an author, podcast host, Patheos blogger, and house church pastor. This is the first time we’ve featured his writing at Christianity 201. Click the title below to read at source and leave comments.

Why We Misunderstand Verses Like “Go And Buy A Sword”

In the dialog between Christians about whether or not following Jesus entails embracing a non-violent lifestyle, there are certain verses in the New Testament that have to be addressed.

For example, whenever non-violent Christians quote Jesus saying, “Put your sword back in its place…for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26: 52), there are pro-war Christians who will respond by saying, “[Jesus] said to them, ‘But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.’” (Luke 22:36)

In other words, some Christians believe that Jesus fully endorsed owning and using weapons for self-defense (or for use in war), and other Christians believe that Jesus categorically prohibited His followers from using violence. What’s the real story?

Well, those verses where Jesus forbid violence are numerous and they are not difficult to understand. In addition to the one quoted above, we also hear Jesus declare that we should love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, turn the other cheek, and forgive those who seek to harm us. These are not figurative passages and taken together they paint (in my mind at least) a pretty straightforward picture of Jesus’ expectation that his disciples would not do violence.

In addition to Jesus’ commands we also have His example of forgiving those who crucified him, healing the ear of the soldier who came to arrest him in the Garden, restraining the Legions of angel soldiers at his command, and telling Pontius Pilate that his Kingdom was not of this Earth, and if it was his disciples would fight, begging the question, “If His disciples do fight then are they not part of Christ’s Kingdom?” (see John 18:36)

But this one verse where Jesus tells his disciples to go out and buy a sword is right there in the Bible, isn’t it? What’s it there for? If Jesus didn’t intend for us to own or use swords then why did he say this? Especially if, later on, he was going to contradict himself and rebuke Peter for using the sword he told him to go out and buy?

Well, here’s what I think is going on. First of all we need to look closely at this passage in Luke. Notice that right after Jesus tells his disciples to buy a sword he goes on to say, “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:36-38 ESV)

Right away we can see that Jesus’ statement about the swords is directly related to prophecy (“…this Scripture must be fulfilled in me”) and what is the prophecy that must be fulfilled? The one in Isaiah that says, “And he was numbered with the transgressors”.

Was the statement about buying a sword about self-defense? Probably not. Why? Because first of all, two swords are not “enough” to defend 13 guys against a legion of Roman soldiers. Also, because when Peter uses his sword in self-defense (or to protect Jesus from the soldiers) he is harshly rebuked with the verse we’ve already looked at, “Put it away! Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword”.

Clearly, Jesus is not a fan of self-defense here. At least, not according to the overall context in this passage. However, he does tell the disciples that he wants them to have those two swords with them so that the prophecy about the Messiah being numbered with the transgressors may be fulfilled in Him. That’s why two swords are “enough” for Jesus; to fulfill the scriptures, not to endorse war or physical violence.

Are we sure that Jesus only meant this in light of fulfilling the prophecies about Himself? Yes. How? Because after Peter cuts off the soldiers ear, listen to what Jesus has to say, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:53-54)

See? Jesus tells them to get a few swords so that the prophecy in Isaiah will be fulfilled. Then, once it’s fulfilled in the Garden he makes a point of saying that this is what he had in mind in the first place. So, it’s all about fulfilling the prophecies, not a statement from Jesus endorsing violence.

As sincere followers of Jesus we must take into account all the many other teachings of Jesus regarding turning the other cheek, loving our enemies, and not resisting an evil man. We must also be careful to interpret the Old Testament scriptures in light of Jesus, not the other way around (i.e. – trying to fit Jesus into the Old Testament context).

Jesus came to fulfill the Old Covenant, and He accomplished this in full. The Old Covenant is obsolete. (see Hebrews 8:13) We don’t need to refer back to it again when it comes to guiding our daily lives. We have Christ. We have the Living Word of God who has come to make His home in us. Jesus gave us a New Covenant and He lived a better example for us to follow.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6.27-28)

December 25, 2017

The Gift of Peace

Like many of you, I was sitting at a Christmas Eve service thinking about Jesus as the Prince of Peace, no doubt inspired by a reading of Isaiah 9:6

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

I started thinking about the chorus of the song below. The song has an entirely different purpose, I doubt William D. Cornell had Christmas in view at the time of its composition. Nonetheless, the coming of Christ ushered in the opportunity for all of us to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit who brings us the peace the songs speaks about.

Peace! peace! wonderful peace,
Coming down from the Father above;
Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray,
In fathomless billows of love.

On a day where we focus on the beginning of the account of Christ incarnate, we tend not to focus on the end of the story. In my early 20s, I had a poster in my room with these words,

The Father gave authority to the Son to send the Holy Spirit, with the results you are now seeing.

This a paraphrase of Acts 2:33.

At the very, very end; when atonement had been purchased and death had been conquered, we see Jesus in his final moments with his disciples in John 20:21 and 22 and there again is a reference to peace.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

For many of us this has not been a peaceful year. Many of you would echo the words of the carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

For you and for me I would wish the words of the song that follows.

Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray,
In fathomless billows of love.

December 24, 2017

Sunday Worship

Despite the glaring omission of a key sign of God’s blessing, these two were “careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God.” In other words, they worshiped God in the middle of personal trial.

For some, Christmas is like this. It’s hard to suffer, to undergo trials, to grieve, etc. when everybody around you is pre-programmed for celebration…

One time our pastor considered the familiar story from Luke 1 of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Zachariah:

(MSG) 5-7 During the rule of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest assigned service in the regiment of Abijah. His name was Zachariah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron. Her name was Elizabeth. Together they lived honorably before God, careful in keeping to the ways of the commandments and enjoying a clear conscience before God. But they were childless because Elizabeth could never conceive, and now they were quite old.

Our pastor mentioned that for a woman, being married to a Levite (a descendent of Aaron) was enough to elevate your status in that community. And needless to say, being a Levitical priest was the equivalent of being a doctor or lawyer or senator/congressman/member of parliament. They had the pedigree. They had the position.

So in terms of status they had it all. But on top of that,

“They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (vs. 6 NASB)

But one thing was missing. There was one thing they lacked.

Having a child was a sign of God’s blessing. And they were childless, and they were very, very old; too old for that situation to change. A rather odd incongruity, don’t you think? People back then did, though they probably whispered it, not wanting Z. and E. to hear.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught

(AMP) Matt 5: 45b …He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers [alike].

I get two things from this story-within-a-story.

First of all, everybody you know has some thing or things in their lives that are less than perfect. Less than complete. Less than fulfilling. You may see an individual or couple or family that appears to have it all together, but in fact, there are circumstances in their lives that break their heart(s). Financial challenges. Marital frustrations. Physical health problems that you don’t see. Children (or parents) or are estranged. A demoralizing job. Depression. Past regrets. Constantly comparing their situation to other peoples’ lives. (Maybe even yours!)

Elizabeth and Zachariah had it all, except for one obvious, glaring thing; something that in their case wasn’t hidden.

Everyone has something they live with.

You know what? Even when things are going relative well, everybody has something that humbles them. Everyone has something about which they are hypersensitive. Everybody experiences what it’s like to covet someone else’s gifts and abilities.

Maybe you can’t cook anything beyond making toast.
Maybe you can’t do your own tax returns.
Maybe you can’t land a basket when shooting hoops to save your life.
Maybe you’re short.
Maybe you’re short on cash all the time.
Maybe you are tone deaf and church services serve as a constant reminder.
Maybe you suck at open heart surgery.

We’re all terribly aware of our inadequacies. Maybe they aren’t as big a deal as some of the more serious challenges others face, but they haunt our prayer life and cause us to approach life with pessimism, cynicism, fatalism, resignation and defeat. In other words, the challenge to worship God through our circumstances and situations applies to everyone, not just the people facing the more frequently discussed giant mountains.

Secondly — and this is similar but different — living righteously and blamelessly is no guarantee that circumstances are going to change. It did for this couple, but that’s why we call it a miracle. Couples of advanced age don’t usually experience a pregnancy.

And I don’t for a minute believe that they were walking uprightly in the hope that God was going to do what He in fact did. That option had expired. They were both past their sell-by / best-before date when it came to progeny. They weren’t ‘giving to get.’

They were “careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations” (NLT) or “statutes” (ESV) because it was the right thing to do. It was who they were. It was their response to who God is. Their lives were lives of worship to God despite personal setbacks and frustrations.

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