Christianity 201

March 6, 2019

The Power Against Us vs. The Power Within Us

Today again we’re back with the writing of Don Merritt at The Life Project. He’s currently in the middle of a study of 1 John.

A Warning and a Helper

Text: 1 John 2:18-27

So far in this letter, John has given us a reminder of the supremacy of Jesus Christ; who He is, what He is and His nature. John gave us a comparison and contrast of what the “Light” is, and who is and who is not “in the light.” Then John reminded us of who we are in Christ and how amazing that is.  In the previous section, John warns us not to love this world, and now John is taking us to the front lines on a battlefield, where it becomes plain why he has taken us on this journey to show us just who we are, and just who “they” are.

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

1 John 2:18-19

This is the first mention of the term “antichrist” in the Bible. It means someone who is against or in place of the Messiah.  In these verses, John mentions twice that we are in the “last hour,” which is interesting when you consider that many will suggest today that there are more hours to come.  Whoever these antichrists were, or are, they appear to have been hanging around us, and then to have gone rogue. If nothing else, in these two verses, we can be sure that these rogues were hanging around, but they were never “in the light.”  Recall the descriptions of “in the light” and “in the darkness” in vv. 1:5-2:11… These characters were the ones in darkness.

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

1 John 2:20-23

Now we have a little more information: The rogues John is talking about deny that Jesus is the Messiah.  That is a bald-faced lie, and those who are in the truth would never make such an assertion, so these guys were not in the light. No person who denies that Jesus is the Messiah is in the Son, and if a person is not in the Son, they are also not in the Father:  They are antichrist, and there are many of those in the world.

As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—eternal life.

1 John 2:24-25

These two verses are the warming: Make sure that you hang on to what you know about Jesus Christ.  If you do, you will remain in Him and inherit eternal life. Do not listen to the rogues. By the way, this is why I said above that John has taken us to the front lines on a battlefield.  It is a spiritual battlefield in a spiritual war, where the antichrists in our midst will attempt to pry you away from the Truth.  Resist, and do not listen to their lies:

 I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

1 John 2:26-27

John invokes the anointing of the indwelling Holy Spirit in urging us to remain in Christ in these verses.  Consider this: Here is a warning that there are those who try to lead us astray, to turn our backs on our Lord.  They are fighting against us in a spiritual war, and this can sound really scary.  Oh it’s great in the movies, when their innocent victims are lured into evil by magical powers, having no way to resist.  Take heart! John is pointing out to you and me that we have within us, at our disposal greater firepower by tenfold!  He is the very Holy Spirit of God, the third Person of the Godhead; if we are focused on our relationship with our Lord, and we take these “battles” to Him, there isn’t even a contest, for “greater is He who is in me, than he who is in the world.”

One final thought and that’ll be it for now… You know all those stories and books and movies about evil forces that lead the righteous astray?  “The Exorcist” “The Omen” etc., etc…? They really freak people out, which is why they make so much money, right?  People become afraid, and being afraid becomes a distraction for some.  At the same time, you have in these verses a very simple way to discern who the liars and antichrists are; a third grader can understand it.  You also have a solution to defeat the lie that a third grader can understand: stand on the truth of the Word of God, and reject outright the lie.

As simple as this is, many will become so uncomfortable because of the stories and the idea of spiritual warfare, that it almost makes me wonder if these stories of myth, legend and popular fiction are actually part of the lie itself, so that we won’t fight back, and our superior firepower will never be brought to bear on our foe.  Hmmm… do you think we need to have a healthy relationship with the Lord?

I do!

 

March 5, 2019

Waiting Tests

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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The golden calf was constructed due to the Israelite’s disobedience in waiting as instructed. In our own lives we need to consider the peril of constructing golden calves when we fail the waiting test.

Today we’re back with Stephen & Brooksyne Weber at Daily Encouragement. They are in full time ministry writing this weekday devotional, and doing chaplaincy ministry in central Pennsylvania.

A Lesson From A Golden Calf

“He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt'” (Exodus 32:4).

“Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides You, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him” (Isaiah 64:4).

… The golden calf is what the people had made when they failed to patiently wait as instructed by Moses. In one way or another it seems we are all waiting for something in life. Realistically much of our waiting is trivial such as waiting for a traffic light to change or waiting in a long line at the grocery store.

But the wait periods of life are often hard. Like waiting for medical test results or news from a loved one we are anxious to hear from. It may be waiting for a specified change of direction in our life, perhaps in our work or ministry. Certainly for all of us it is waiting for the blessed hope. (Titus 2:13)

Obedience in waiting is one of the most important tests we have in life. Prior to going up to Mount Sinai, Moses gave a very specific command to the leaders of the children of Israel. He said to the elders, ‘Wait here for us until we come back to you’ (Exodus 24:14).

But the wait was long and the people grew impatient. Much to their shame they took matters into their own hands. When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow, Moses, who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him’ (Exodus 32:1). Soon they’re worshiping and carousing around a golden calf with Aaron as their leader! They miserably failed the “wait test” and grave consequences followed.

The Bible has many examples of waiting tests such as Abraham for the promised son, Jacob for Rachel, Saul for Samuel and others. Many of them failed the test of obedience in waiting which resulted in long-term, sometimes life-long consequences.

We also have many waiting tests in our lives. Even as you read this you’re likely considering a situation you’re praying about and waiting to see how God brings about His will in the matter. Trusting, praying and obeying during the wait can be very challenging, since we’re tempted to take things into our own hands rather than fully trusting God to work things out according to His will and His timing. In the wait process we may even hit rock bottom. But Tony Evans says that “When we hit rock bottom we discover that Jesus is the Rock at the bottom.”

Here’s a great truth to hide deep in your heart today based upon our second Bible text: God acts on behalf of those who wait for Him. This verse is a real treasure buried in a portion of the Bible not as familiar to many.  Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides You, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him. Today may this truth fill your life with peace as you trust in God, who always acts on behalf of those who wait for Him. God grant us grace to obediently wait.

Be encouraged today as we obediently wait on Him.

Daily prayer: Father, many times Scripture that speaks of waiting on You is followed by the directive of being courageous. Indeed it does take courage for me to trust You and not take matters into my own hands since that comes so naturally to my way of thinking and doing things. But as a loving, protecting and omnipotent Father You tenderly care for me as I commit my concerns to You. My unbelief and impatience leads to fearsome worry and unwise behavior. Getting ahead of Your divine plan and perfect timing only leads to more frustration and difficulty. Help me to remember that waiting coupled with prayer brings about growing courage and dependence on You rather than myself. Amen.

 

March 4, 2019

The Greed/Worry Connection

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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We’re back for a fifth time with Steven C. Mills at the website, Steve’s Bible Meditations. Click the header below to read at source and from there, browse other articles.

Worry is a Faith Matter – Luke 12:22-32

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing…. So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.” (Luke 12:22-23, 32, NLT).

Jesus told a parable about greed to a crowd of people (vs. 12:13-21). Then, in stark contrast to the greed story, Jesus turned to His disciples and proceeded to tell them not to worry about their daily needs for life, specifically food and clothing, because God will provide everything they need.

Jesus said that ravens don’t plant or harvest crops yet they have enough food (vs. 24). He said King Solomon was never dressed as beautifully as a lily (vs. 27).

Jesus concluded that if God takes care of both the birds and flowers, how much more will He take care of human beings (vs. 28).

What’s interesting is after Jesus admonishes His disciples to quit worrying about their basic needs for life, He indicts them for a lack of faith.

Jesus links worry to faith! In other words, when you worry you are demonstrating a lack of faith.

So, worry is a faith matter! And, the best way to reduce or eliminate worry from your life is to build your faith in God.

And the way to build your faith in God is to seek His Kingdom more than you seek the necessities of life.

As a result of seeking God’s Kingdom first each day, your daily needs (and more!) will be supplied as a result or benefit of seeking His Kingdom (vs. 31).

When your main priority is seeking the Kingdom of God, the other work you undertake each day will serve to supplement your main vocation of building God’s Kingdom.

And then you won’t have to worry about all your other needs because you belong to God and He takes care of you by blessing what you do.


And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. (Hebrews 11:6, NLT)

March 3, 2019

The Father of all Musicians

Today we’re combining two popular features into one: The devotional writing of Charles Price, and our weekly Sunday Worship article. After a fruitful season as the teaching pastor at The Peoples Church in Toronto, Charles is now Minister-at-Large which frees him to speak in locations around Canada and the world.

Jubal the Musician

“His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes.”  —Genesis 4:21

The second of Cain’s seventh-generation descendants was Jubal, the first to play stringed instruments and pipes. This makes him the father of the arts, and particularly music. Music is the language of the heart, and God loves when we praise Him in song. As Johann Sebastian Bach said, “All music should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the soul’s refreshment.”

Unfortunately, the Christian church has had a mixed relationship with the arts. There was a time when almost every piece of art and music in the west was inspired by or alluded to Christian themes, but as secularism grew, the arts began to fall into a category that most Christians called “worldly.” Worldliness is doing as the world does, and it became common for Christians to think that outside specific parameters within the church, art and music were to be avoided at all costs. For a long time, many Christians did not go to the theatre, cinema or concerts. Some were criticized for reading novels, and much music and art went unappreciated.

It has taken brave souls being willing to break the mould for certain musical trends to become accepted in the church. Charles Wesley, brother of the great seventeenth-century evangelist John Wesley, wrote numerous hymns, but his songs were initially controversial because they put Christian words to secular tunes. Ira Sankey, song leader for evangelist D.L. Moody, was also thought to be making a worldly compromise when he first introduced the wind organ to Christian worship. The irony is these once highly criticized hymns and instruments are now the standard to which some Christians wish modern worship would return.

We all have our own tastes for music, but in Scripture, all kinds of music are used to worship God. Psalm 150 is about how we are to praise God at all times in all places in all ways. The psalmist lists a series of instruments used to praise God. There are trumpets, the brass instruments; harps and lyres, the string instruments; tambourines and cymbals, the percussion instruments; and even dancing! The psalmist then concludes, “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD” (Psalm 150:6).

It is usually the heart, not the head, that connects with God. Propositional belief is important for knowing truths about Him, but the Christian life becomes a dull routine if that is all we have. This is why we should be deeply thankful for what Jubal’s discovery of music and the arts have contributed to our relationship with God. As we worship God in music and song, we stoke the fire of our love for Him.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for music and especially the way it enables me to worship. May my songs of praise be pleasing to You.

 

March 2, 2019

The God of All Comfort

Last year at this time we introduced a new devotional source. 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 series of articles on God’s Promises. The first time we featured just the text content, but this time around we’re going to give you a fuller experience of how each day is formatted; however please click the link and read there in order to visit other content on the website.

God Promises His Comfort

Scripture

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” 2 Corinthians 1:3

Worship

You Hold It All Together | All Sons & Daughters   (see below)

Devotional

2 Corinthians 1:3 tells us of a wonderful aspect of God’s character, that he is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” In a world wrought with depression and hurt, we have a Father who is the source of all comfort. We serve the God of compassion and love. Let’s allow the truth of God’s comfort to fill us today. Let’s rest in the goodness of God’s presence and let him minister to any areas in which we feel hurt or depressed.

David tells us in Psalm 34:18, The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34 comes in the context of David fleeing from Saul’s persecution. David, in this season of his life, knew all too well what it’s like to need comfort. His circumstances were anything but peaceful. But in this moment, God faithfully delivered him again from the hands of Saul. David writes, This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing (Psalm 34:6-10). David took refuge in his faithful God and found comfort. He placed his trust in the Father of all comfort and found deliverance.

It really is true that those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. The same God of David is your God. You are his child. Seek him today that you might taste and see that the Lord is good! All of us are broken. All of us are hurting. All of us need the love of our heavenly Father. Where in your life today do you feel hurt? Big or small, God cares about whatever pain you might be going through. Your Father longs to heal whatever is holding you back from fullness of life in him.

Deuteronomy 33:12 says, The beloved of the Lord dwells in safety. The High God surrounds him all day long, and dwells between his shoulders. You are God’s beloved. You were bought at an incredible price. He’s opening up his arms to you today, asking you to simply come and find refuge from all the hurt and pain of the world in him. He desires to hold your heart today and speak his healing love over any part of you wounded by the things of the world. Spend time in his presence today allowing the Spirit of God to mend you. Allow God to cry with you, hold you, speak to you, and draw you into his process of inner healing. God’s promised you his comfort, and he’s always faithful to deliver on his promises. All that he asks of you is to make space in your heart for him and receive. Spend time today talking with the Father of all mercies and God of all comfort,” and experience the power of being wrapped up in the powerful and loving arms of God.

Prayer

1. Ask God to make his nearness known to you today. Receive his presence and experience his profound, limitless peace.

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. Psalm 145:18

2. Open to God any part of your heart that is wounded or needs comfort. It could be the wound of a parent, spouse, friend, colleague, etc. Whatever you feel hurt by today, talk to your loving heavenly Father about it.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

3. Receive God’s comfort. So often healing comes simply by the compassionate love of God. As our Father, God suffers as we suffer. He hurts when we hurt. Let his nearness and love comfort you.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3

Go

Healing takes time, but it is time well worth spending. We are not meant to go without the love and comfort of our heavenly Father. Seek out his presence. Spend time at length simply being loved by him. Make space for God to work and find out how willing and able he is to bind up and heal any area of your heart that feels broken.

Extended Reading: Psalm 34

March 1, 2019

Pity vs. Compassion: What’s the Difference?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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This is actually our fifth time featuring resources from Seedbed, but each of the previous ones was the videos in their Seven Minute Seminary series. This time we join them in print for an excellent devotional by J. D. Walt.

On the Difference Between Pity and Compassion

Luke 7:11-17

Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

CONSIDER THIS

Jesus went to a town called Nain. Jesus was not just wandering around the countryside. Every step he made held significance beyond our ability to even comprehend. Everything he did had profound theological significance and yet it all was insanely practical. He turned water into wine, a mystery whose theological meaning we are still discerning. All the while he was solving a major problem at a wedding celebration– the wine ran out. Watch as this same dynamic unfolds in today’s text.

So why Nain? Nain was a small town about six miles south of Nazareth in Galilee. We are about to see the clashing of movements. Jesus is followed by his disciples and a large crowd of people as they near the city gate. Just as they arrive, a funeral procession is leaving the city with a large crowd following a widow with her deceased and only son. The movement of Life is meeting up with the movement of death. Imagine the contrast between the joyfully astonished throng following Jesus and the mournfully broken crowd following the widow and the dead son. We are in for a cosmic confrontation.

When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

Far from easy sympathy, Jesus had compassion on this woman. I’ve heard charity described as giving someone the shirt you no longer want and compassion as giving someone the shirt off of your back. I love this translation. “His heart went out to her.” When I say, in response to some tragedy, “My heart goes out to them,” what I mean is I feel sorry for them. That’s about it. With Jesus, it’s more like his heart actually leaves his body and enters into the body of another person. This is precisely what God has done in Jesus and continues to do through Jesus in the strength of the Holy Spirit. This is what it means for one person to “be with” another person; to enter into their reality and experience so deeply that their presence cannot be distinguished from your own. In the midst of two large crowds converging at the narrow place of a city gate, Jesus “saw her.” God seeks out the brokenhearted. We know “his heart went out to her” not because he said something nice but because he made a bee line straight to her. He was not at this funeral. He didn’t know these people. He was doing something else entirely, but he went straight to her.

So many times I have been in a hospital to see a particular person. As I approach their room I walk past and see so many other people, most of whom are all alone. Something in me says just knock on their door and ask if you can help them, pray for them, get them some water. Too often, though, I reason to myself that I don’t know them, that they have “people”, that it would be an unwanted intrusion to do this and I just go on about my business. In retrospect, I think the Holy Spirit was bursting at the seams to release the heart of God in those hospital rooms but was coming up short on Jesus types to actually do it. Lesson learned.

It’s so rare for someone to “be with” us like this. It requires the kind of attention of which only Divine Love is capable and this is the amazing thing about Jesus. He naturalizes Divine Love as a fully human expression. This is how he wants us to “be with” each other and particularly the broken and hurting among us. This is who the Holy Spirit is and what the Holy Spirit does: He naturalizes and normalizes Divine Love in and through our ordinary lives in all our dealings with one another. It’s all at once miraculous and ordinary. And Daily Text readers, this is not just the pastor’s job. This is all of our shared privilege together. I would love to tell you a story about Brother Buddy Ratliff who does this as well as I’ve ever seen it done, and I’d love to tell you a story about a community of Africans who taught me what this kind of “being with others” looks like in the wake of tragic loss.

I need to close for the day. Jesus tells her not to cry and then he shows us all why. He walks over to the dead son and talks to him. Yes, he speaks to a corpse:

“Young man, I say to you, get up!”

And lo and behold the MIRACLE happened!

The dead man sat up and began to talk,

The life movement won out over the death movement. Sooner or later, it always does. You want to know the real miracle here? It’s in this last bit:

and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

You see, this widow had not only lost her son, she had essentially lost her life. She was completely disconnected from the community with no source of status or sustenance. She had truly joined the ranks of “the poor.” This act of Jesus giving the boy back to his mother was a profound Gospel move, restoring not only her son but her life as well. Profoundly theological. Insanely practical.

The people were awestruck. I love that they said this:

“God has come to help his people.”

That’s what we want to be said in the wake of our being with others in the midst of hardship, struggle, loss and pain: “God has come to help his people.”

Tomorrow, we’ve been invited to join Jesus for a meal in the home of a Pharisee. It will be interesting. Prepare yourself.

P.S. Some of you may have felt a little deja vu in today’s text. That wasn’t a glitch in the matrix. Jesus doesn’t miss a trick. To see what I’m talking about check out this Elijah story.

THE PRAYER

Father God, thank you for showing us what it looks like when the movement of Life overcomes the movement of Death. It’s who you are. Lord, I want to be in that number; part of that movement. Open my eyes and my heart and my faith to this awakening movement today. IN Jesus name, Amen.

THE QUESTION

What stands out to you about this story today? Why do you think it stands out to you? What does it awaken in you?


Get J. D. Walt’s latest book, THE FIRST REAL CHRISTIAN, or his new church-wide Lenten Study, LISTEN TO HIM. Subscribe to get devotionals like this in your email inbox here.

February 28, 2019

Jesus Measures Output, Not Input

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NIV.Matthew 15.10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” …

17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” [also found in Mark 7:17-23]

Once again we’re back with Arnold Reimer, for many years the pastor of Bayview Glen Alliance Church in Toronto, and his blog titled Finishing Well. These days my oldest son attends that church, making him the third generation in our family to have some connection there. The title which I gave this piece — not the one in the link below — just came to me as a very concise way of summing up what Jesus said in the above passage. Overall, Pastor Reimer goes beyond the often heard line of ‘having a purpose in life,’ and defines what’s needed as a “holy purpose.”

Purpose

A lawyer once asked Jesus to identify the “great commandment in the Law”. Jesus responded: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” The Old Testament statement, from which He was quoting, used the word “might” rather than “mind”. The point is we must love God with the totality of our being. The heart is fundamental to life itself. The soul is the fountain of emotion, passion and personality. The mind is the place of reason, understanding and will. And might combines the whole being into something active, strong and enduring.

Every faithful follower of Christ must purpose in his/her heart to love the Lord God with such determination and commitment. It is to be the very motive and focus of godly living. It is the foundation upon which life with its multiplicity of activities is to be built. Our relationships, thoughts, words, work, pleasure, learning, must all flow from, display and enhance our purpose to love God. That must be our unique and distinguishing feature.

Do not think for one minute that such a path is easy. Challenging such a holy purpose is the world, the flesh and the devil.

Never underestimate the impact and influence of the world upon us. Jesus’ great prayer for us is instructive. “But now I come to Thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Thy word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world even as I am not of the world. I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Beware of the subtle attraction, allure and demands that draw us away from God and into the ways of this world’s systems. The hugely enhanced communication of our day tends to flood our minds and hours with images and influences that are destructive.

Even more deadly than the world is the flesh. Hear our Lord’s assessment: “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness.” A poet explains: “God, harden me against myself, this coward with pathetic voice, who craves for ease and rest and joys. Myself, arch-traitor to myself, my hollowest friend, my deadliest foe, my clog whichever way I go. Yet one there is can cure myself, can roll the strangling load from me, break off the yolk and set me free.” Only the liberating work of Christ and a learned obedience to the gracious voice of the Holy Spirit can save us from self!

And then there is the devil. That roaring, devouring lion, that angel of deceptive light, wants his way with us. He is a liar, an accuser, a murderer, a god of darkness, despair, doom and death. He would ensnare us were it not that Jesus has defeated him, put him to open shame by the victory of Calvary. Praise God forever that “greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world.” Exult with the Apostle who said, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

If you would love God with your whole being, immerse yourself in His love- letter to us, the Bible. Cultivate the beauty of His presence by prayer, hymns, obedience, thoughts, fellowship and conversation. Let His Spirit pour out His love into your heart. He will control you, speak to you and lead you into paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. What a life-changing purpose by which to order our lives!

 

 

February 27, 2019

Will We Be Judged in Terms of The Ten Commandments?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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Back in January, Leighton Flowers at the website Soteriology 101 published a follow-up piece to a podcast he did with Andy Stanley, following Andy’s comments regarding the relationship we have as New Testament Christians with the Old Testament. This is just a small portion of a larger article; click the title below to read it all.

Not Accountable to the 10 Commandments?

…Do you think believers are going to be judged by whether or not we keep the Ten Commandments? I sure hope we aren’t, don’t you?  I’m not exactly sure what is controversial about Andy’s comment on this point? He just said believers in Christ aren’t held to account for breaking the 10 commandments. Jesus Himself said something quite similar,

“The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me.  I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. “If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken” (John 12:45-49).

What is Jesus saying? He is saying that we are not going to be held to account for how well we keep the law (with would include the 10 Commandments), but will be held accountable for what we do with the truth of Christ, His gospel. Paul put it like this,

“What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works” (Rom 9:30-32).

In other words, the Jews pursued righteousness by keeping the commandments (the Old) and did not attain it, but the Gentiles pursued righteousness by trusting in the truth of Christ (the New) and they have attained it. That means they were held to account for their faith, not their pursuit of the law. This is what Andy seems to be saying to me, am I wrong? Believers are not judged based on our adherence to the commandments, but rely instead on the grace of the New Covenant.

Believers who have been shown unconditional love and grace will desire to give, serve and follow God’s guidelines freely (without compulsion). But, by God’s grace we will not be held accountable for all the times we fail and break His commands. That is why we rejoice and celebrate His grace with such earnest. We all know that without it we would be doomed. What is the controversy exactly, I could have missed something?

February 26, 2019

Honoring the Father’s Call

by Russell Young

According to the parable of the two sons (Mt 21:18) a father needed work done in his vineyard and asked each to help. The first retorted that he would not, but later did. The second said that he would but didn’t. The question posed was: Which of the sons did what his father had wanted?

Since the Father had wanted help, the son who had originally denied his request but later complied is the one who did what the father had wanted. He had relented, repented, and obeyed.

The Lord was making a point. It is more important to obey than to utter an empty promise. He addressed this elsewhere: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Lk 6:46) Obedience to the Lord is serious; it is through it that the believer gains eternal salvation. Disobedience, defiance, or rebellion will bring his wrath. “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.” (Eph 5:6)

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command,” (Jn 14:15) and Paul has written that “everyone who loves God is known by God.” (1 Cor 8:3) God knows those who love him because they obey his commands; they go beyond promising to the point of obedience through their ‘doing’. A walk of obedience is a walk of humility before the Lord. It recognizes his sovereignty and right as master.

The confession (pledge, promise, or covenant) of the Lord’s sovereignty results in the confessor’s deliverance from the Law and from his or her past sins. (Heb 9:15; 2 Pet 1:9) Paul wrote, “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9) There are many who make the profession that “Christ is Lord” but who do not honor their pledge. His sovereign right to the life of the believer is proclaimed many times in the Scriptures and must be honored. Those who deny “the sovereign Lord” through the introduction of destructive heresies will bring swift destruction on themselves. (2 Pet 2:1; See also Jude 1:4)

God’s kingdom will not be entered through profession, but through exercised obedience. “Christ is the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9) The righteous life of Christ is accomplished through submission to his leadership as Spirit. The promise of commitment made to the Lord is to be lived.

Some might respond that such teaching makes eternal salvation a matter of “works” however, obedience is the practice of faith. All believers have heard of Paul’s teaching, “For it is by grace you are saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph 2:8−9) Both “grace” and “faith” need to be understood from a biblical perspective, however the essence of Paul’s thought is in the verse that follows, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) God’s grace is revealed as the product that the Lord is making of the believer, his “workmanship”, so that he or she might do good works (deeds, labor). The “product” is conformation to Christ’s own likeness (Rom 8:29) Only those who have been cleansed from “ignoble” practices will be used for noble purposes (2 Tim 2:21) or for the “works which God had prepared in advance for them to do.” Only the righteous will be used for “noble” purposes.

Those called to work in the Father’s vineyard are called “to do good works” which had been prepared in advance. The Lord has referred to these as hearing his words and putting them into practice. (Mt 7:24−27; Lk 6:46−49) His words must be put into practice both for righteousness’ sake, and for kingdom building with each bringing their just rewards.

Those seeking God’s heavenly kingdom are not to be passive in their commitment but have been called to put forth effort. When asked if only a few people were going to be saved, the Lord responded, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many I tell you will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24) They will plead that they ate and drank with him and that he had taught in their streets, but he will reply, “I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me you evildoers.” (Lk 13:27) In the end it will not be their profession to work in his vineyard that matters, but their actual work; not their promise of commitment, but their practice of obedience. Entrance rests in “effort” not fruitless “confession”. Matthew has recorded the Lord’s prophesy, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 2:21) His complaint was that he had never known them. Entrance will be based on a person’s doing.

A promise made must be kept; God will not be mocked. (Gal 6:7) Those, like the son who have promised to work and don’t, are hypocrites. They want to appear submissive and God-honoring through their proclamations, but do not live according to their words. The unfaithful servant will be cut into pieces and assigned a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Mt 24:51) Faith is more than a possession; it is revealed through a person’s practices and is demonstrated, not through what a person says, but by what he or she does. Faith is revealed in the lives of the vineyard workers, those who work when the Father calls, who are obedient to his will, not in those who utter empty promises.



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also a feature-length article at this link.

February 25, 2019

The Blind Leading the Blind

The blog of K.W. Leslie never ceases to captivate me. I’ve been reading it for the past half hour; there is so much to choose from. Click the title below, read this at source, and then click the header to navigate to other pieces. (Translations are his own.)

Can’t see? Pretty Sure They Can

Matthew 15.12-14 • Luke 6.39-40 • John 9.39-41.

Jesus’s saying about “the blind leading the blind” is pretty famous. So much so, people don’t remember who originally said it. I once had someone tell me it comes from the Upanishads. And it is actually in there; Yama the death god compares the foolish to the blind leading the blind. Katha Upanishad 2.6 But ancient, medieval, and modern westerners didn’t read the Upanishads! They read the gospels. They got it from Jesus.

But Jesus didn’t use the idea only once, in only one context. We see it thrice in the gospels. It appears in Matthew after Jesus critiqued Pharisees for their loopholes; it appears in Luke as part of Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain; and in John it appropriate comes after the story where Jesus cures a blind man.

So let’s deal with the context of each instance. Matthew first.

Matthew 15.12-14 KWL

12 Coming to Jesus, his students then told him, “You know the Pharisees who heard the word are outraged?”
13 In reply Jesus said, “Every plant will be uprooted which my heavenly Father didn’t plant.
14 Forgive them; they’re blind guides.
When blind people guide the blind, the both fall into a hole.”

Not every Jew in Jesus’s day was religious. Of the few who were, one sect was the Pharisees—and Jesus taught in their schools, or synagogues. Problem is, Pharisee teachers had created customs which permitted them to bend God’s commands, or even break them outright. And after one Pharisee objected when Jesus and his students skipped their handwashing custom. first Jesus brought up how their customs were frequently hypocrisy… then he went outside and told everyone that being ritually clean or unclean comes from within, not without.

You think this behavior might offend Pharisees? You’d be correct. That’s what Jesus’s kids came to tell him about. In response he called ’em blind guides. Well they were.

Most interpreters of Matthew 15.14 tend to treat ἄφετε αὐτούς/áfete aftús, “forgive them,” as “dismiss them” (or KJV “let them be”) —when we’re being kind. More often than we oughta, we’re not. Too often we interpret it as “To hell with them.” As if Jesus had all he could stand of Pharisees and their nitpicking, Law-bending, phoniness, intolerance, you name it. Screw grace; Jesus doesn’t have infinite patience and compassion for just anyone.

Yeah, it’s an interpretation which violates Jesus’s character. Sounds more like a typical grace-deficient Christian than Christ.

Yes, Judgment Day is our deadline for getting our respective acts together. And we don’t know whether our individual judgment days will fall at the End, or in the next several seconds once that runaway truck plows into us. But Jesus didn’t come to earth to judge, but save. Jn 3.17 The Pharisees still had time to repent. Many did.

Blind Pharisees.

The bit where Jesus used the adjective τυφλοί/tyflí, “blind [people],” a lot is in Matthew 23, when he denounced Pharisees who couldn’t fathom how their loophole-ridden teachings were ruining their relationships with God. If you wanna see what a blind guide looks like, this would be the passage which explains just what Jesus is thinking.

Matthew 23.13-24 KWL
13 “Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, how awful for you: You shut off heaven’s kingdom to your people.
You don’t go in—nor permit others to enter.
[14 Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, how awful for you: You eat up single mothers’ homes.
And while praying huge prayers? This is why you’ll receive an extreme judgment.]
15 Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, how awful for you: You travel sea and land to make one proselyte—
and whenever you can, make them twice a child of ge-Henna as you.
16 How awful for you blind guides, who say,
‘Swearing by the temple is nothing. Swearing by the temple gold is binding.’
17 Stupid and blind. What’s greater, the gold? Or the temple sanctifying the gold?
18 And ‘Swearing by the altar is nothing. Swearing by the gift on it is binding.’
19 Blind. What’s greater, the gift? Or the altar sanctifying the gift?
20 Swearing by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it.
21 Swearing by the temple, swears by it and by the Spirit who dwells in it.
22 Swearing by heaven, swears by God’s throne and by the One sitting on it.
23 Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites, how awful for you: You tithe mint, dill, and cumin.
You dismiss the Law’s central ideas: Justice, mercy, and faith.
You should do the one—and not dismiss the other!
24 Blind guides. You’re filtering out gnats and swallowing camels.”

“Filtering out gnats and swallowing camels” describes Pharisees perfectly. Either they were nitpicking fine details in the Law, much as one would try to make absolutely sure there were no bugs in their tea; or they found a loophole which let ’em break the Law altogether, much as one would gorge oneself on a ritually unclean animal if it were tasty enough.

Yet the Pharisees imagined themselves experts in the Law. Experts on God. Experts on how to have a proper, righteous relationship with him. People who could pressure others—for their own good!—into following God exactly the same as they; hence the proselytism instead of simply sharing. Mt 23.15 But once they get their hooks into such a person… well, they made ’em Pharisee. Their brand of Pharisee. Hillel’s disciples would make Hillelites; Shammai’s disciples would make Shammaites. And each would bend, fold, spindle, or mutilate the Law same as their teachers. “Once fully trained,” Jesus said, “everyone is like their teacher.” Lk 6.40

So in other words… just as bullheaded, fruitless, heretic, and so unfit for God’s kingdom they’ll never inherit it. Hence Jesus’s “child of ge-Henna” statement. Mt 23.15

Let’s be fair. Not all Pharisees were this type of dense hypocrite. The ones Jesus addressed in Matthew 23 were, but others studied with the Pharisees because they really did seek God—and knew the Sadducees weren’t gonna be any help. Pharisees like Nicodemus and Paul, who sought God with all their hearts (even though Paul made a lousy start of it); Pharisees who went to synagogue just to hear Jesus, who chased Jesus to the far side of the Galilee’s lake to hear him, who realized Jesus is Messiah: Some of ’em were earnest.

Those Pharisees harassing Jesus definitely weren’t. Because they should’ve quickly realized who Jesus is, and followed him. But they were blind.

And a blind guide isn’t on the path to God. Isn’t on any path. Basically they’re going nowhere. Round in circles; round like a loophole. Maybe they know it, but they really don’t appreciate you saying so. ’Cause they’re pretty sure they can see enough. Better than you, anyway.

Blind teachers.

In Luke the saying is right in the middle of Jesus’s lesson about judging by double standards. ’Cause if you have one standard for yourself, and another for others, what kind of standards are you demonstrating? You certainly aren’t teaching consistency. Or you’re teaching hypocrisy. Either way, you’re a bit of a blind guide.

Luke 6.39-40 KWL

39 Jesus also said this analogy to them: “Can a blind person guide the blind
without the both falling into a hole?”
40 A student doesn’t exceed the teacher;
once fully trained, everyone is like their teacher.”

To a degree, the idea of one blind person guiding another is ridiculous. Like Jesus said, they’ll both fall into a βόθυνον/vóthynon, “hole.” We don’t know if Jesus had a specific depth in mind for this hole, which is why some bibles go with “ditch” and others with “pit”; it depends on how badly the interpreter wants retribution on people. Still, tripping over or into any hole might seriously injure people.

Thing is, blind people are often the best guides for other blind people. They know how to advise ’em on how to get around, and do things despite their impaired vision or sightlessness. They know from experience. No, they can’t always navigate others around holes. But if they’re particularly good with their canes, they can. Commonsense will tell you whose guidance to trust. Much like commonsense makes it clear Jesus’s comment is generally true: Blind guides aren’t ideal when you’re trying to walk unfamiliar ground… full of holes.

Blind judges.

Now John 9. First Jesus cured a blind man on Sabbath, ’cause he does that. No, this doesn’t mean Jesus changed the Law and now we can work on Sabbath. We’re still meant to stop and rest. But Jesus points out doing good deeds is a totally valid exception. Mt 12.11-12 Problem was, Pharisees didn’t agree. Most insisted there were fewer exceptions than Jesus permitted; some graceless Pharisees might go so far as to say there were no exceptions at all.

Either way, Pharisees were so hidebound in their insistence Jesus was sinning, Jn 9.24 they refused to recognize him as a valid prophet, and wouldn’t listen to a thing he taught. And tossed this poor formerly-blind guy out of their synagogue because he dared state the obvious: “If this man isn’t from God, he hasn’t the power to do anything!” Jn 9.33 KWL

Jesus’s response to the whole sorry mess:

John 9.39-41 KWL

39 Jesus said, “I came into this world to provoke judgment.
Thus those who can’t see may see—and those who see may become blind.”
40 Some of the Pharisees with Jesus heard this and told him, “Surely we’re not also blind?”
41 Jesus told them, “If you’re blind, you didn’t sin!
But now you say ‘We see!’—so your sin stays on you.”

Now since Jesus was speaking with Pharisees, and suggesting they might possibly be blind, Christians tend to leap to the conclusion he was condemning them same as he did the Pharisees who opposed him in Matthew 23. Is that valid? Yes.

We don’t know if these were the same Pharisees as went to the formerly-blind guy’s synagogue. Maybe so. Maybe they’re the ones who told Jesus what had happened, and provoked Jesus to go find the blind guy. Jn 9.35 Since they assumed Jesus’s statement might apply to them, it’s a good bet they identified with the Pharisees in synagogue.

This blind guy hadn’t even seen Jesus. Couldn’t identify Jesus by sight till Jesus identified himself. Jn 9.37 But he knew since Jesus cured him, Jesus must be from God, and believed in him. Whereas the Pharisees in synagogue had seen Jesus, but because their customs identified Jesus as a sinner, they couldn’t imagine he was from God. Their eyes might work just fine, or not. But their ability to interpret spiritual things—their “vision,” so to speak—was kaput.

That’s what Jesus’s answer means. “If you’re blind”—like this man—“you didn’t sin!” You used your noggin; you figured Jesus out. “But now you say ‘We see!’ ”—like the Pharisees in synagogue—“your sin stays,” because you’re just as stubborn. Just as grace-deficient.

Blind means you can’t see past yourself to follow Jesus. And if you think you’re following God without Jesus, it’s not possible. Jn 14.6

Blindness doesn’t just apply to Pharisees, of course. It’s true of any person, Christian or not, who figure “We see!”—that they’re right and Jesus isn’t. That they know best, and Jesus… well, he can’t mean what he appears to mean, and they’re gonna have to reinterpret him till he means what they prefer he mean. Jesus gets in their way sometimes. Keeps closing their loopholes, or kicking down their legalism.

What to do? Well, realize we’re wrong and Jesus is right, and follow him. It’s not that complicated.

February 24, 2019

Worship Should be the Moment-to-Moment Practice of our Life

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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We’ve introduced well over a thousand different writers here, but our Sunday Worship feature has helped me personally to keep finding so many great writers online. Michael Wilson, who writes at Mustard Seed Faith is originally from Virginia, and now lives in Changchun, China. I encourage you to click the title below and read this at source, complete with pictures. Then take some time to look around the rest of the blog.

How do You Worship God?

Is worship learned or is it something that you just do naturally? Does it require a certain feeling or emotional state? How do you worship God?

By worship, we assume you are referring to the practice of Christians singing praise music during a church service. Obviously, worship is a much broader concept than this narrow definition, but many Christians have come to see worship in this limited context.

Scripture, on the other hand, defines worship as obedience. For example, Paul defines worship this way:

Romans 12:1 (NKJV)

Living Sacrifices to God

12 I beseech (urge) you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable (rational & Spiritual) service.

Notice that Paul doesn’t define worship as having anything to do with a mood or a feeling. It certainly isn’t focused on singing or music at all. These types of “worship” are merely outward expressions of our faith and love for God, and though they may have some value, they are not the substance of true worship. True worship is obedience to God through His Spirit and His word.  How do You Worship God

Furthermore, our feelings and mood are counterproductive when trying to establish appropriate worship practices. Instead, we are called to praise and worship the Lord despite our circumstances. For example, Paul praised the Lord for hours after receiving a beating and while chained in a dark jail cell (see Acts 16). If worship were conditioned on emotion and feelings, Paul would never have found a reason to praise God. Similarly, the writer of Hebrews instructed:

Hebrews 13:15 (NKJV)

15 Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.

Our understanding of praise or worship shouldn’t be merely a form of musical celebration contingent on having the right mood or emotion. The Bible says true worship and praise is rooted in a life of obedience and is a continual activity.

We can find a good example of this distinction in the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel. The prophet Samuel admonished King Saul with these words:

1 Samuel 15:22 (NKJV)

22 So Samuel said:

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
As in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.

Worship in that day took the form of burnt offerings and sacrifices given in the temple, and Samuel asks the King is it better to perform worship (i.e., to offer the sin sacrifices in the temple) or to obey the Lord? The answer is clear: it is better to obey God than to offer Him sacrifices. God’s first and highest desire for His people is that we obey Him. If we fail to obey Him but come to “praise” Him in “worship,” we are hypocrites.

Israel was once guilty of approaching God in worship with hearts that did not obey Him, and about those people, the Lord said through Isaiah:

Isaiah 29:13-14 (NKJV)

13 Therefore the Lord said:

“Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths
And honor Me with their lips,
But have removed their hearts far from Me,
And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men,
14 Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work
Among this people,
A marvelous work and a wonder;
For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
And the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.”

God promises a great judgment against Israel for their conceit and hypocrisy.

Likewise, we today must be aware that how we spend our time singing or praising God’s name in a worship service is important only if it is preceded by a life of obedience and service to Him.

If a believer is living a holy and sanctified life in obedience to the Spirit and the word of God, then such a person is also likely to find it easy to express their love and praise for God in a worship service, just as they do on a continual basis outside the church building. Their praise will come naturally from the Spirit’s leading.

Conversely, if a Christian is not accustomed to walking with the Spirit and seeking God’s counsel in His word and if they don’t make a practice of worshipping as a daily (if not hourly) activity, then they will find any expression of worship difficult, including the kind that takes place on Sunday morning.

There is nothing magical about worship (setting aside supernatural manifestations of Spirit) because it should be the moment-to-moment practice of our life. When we attend a church service, we don’t come to “worship.” According to Scripture, we gather together for the purpose of serving and encouraging one another, learning God’s word, and lending our voices to public confession, prayer and praise of God. These activities are made meaningful to God when they are done in a true heart that desires to know and obey God through His word. Taken together, this is true worship.


“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”

 

February 23, 2019

When You Are Falsely Accused

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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And now, my lord, as surely as the LORD your God lives and as you live, since the LORD has kept you from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, may your enemies and all who are intent on harming my lord be like Nabal. I Samuel 25:26

But David thought to himself, “One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel, and I will slip out of his hand.” I Samuel 27:1

A year ago we introduced you to Jim Grant and his blog, Preach Between the Lines where he was working his way through the poetic/wisdom books. Now he’s moved on to I Samuel. There is no specific reference in the devotional today; if you have the time you might want to read all five chapters indicated below. Also, if you can, I urge you to read the devotional which preceded this one; the story of King Saul and David characterized as The Hunter and The Hunted.

Click the title which follows to read at source.

Through it All

1 Samuel 24-29

The greatest struggles in life have to be when we are attacked or accused falsely. We can think of Job and his trials or even Joseph and his jail times. When thinking of David, many times we overlook the character he displayed during those hunted years by King Saul. I know, and so do you the encouragement to endure hardship, to count it all joy when trials and tribulations come – but that is so much easier said than done. The “why” always seems to dominate our thinking. It fact we are so stressed out and emotionally charged it prevents us from understanding and rationally responding to all that is happening.

David has been anointed as the heir apparent for the throne, there are some 13 years before that happens. King Saul is no longer anointed with the “Spirit upon him” so he can only react in a fleshly out of control, paranoid person. Saul repeated tries to kill David, in the process he is filled with guile and cause his son, Jonathan to be severed in their relationship. Jonathan, what a blessing to have for David. The covenant he and David make has been the text of countless sermons. Everyone needs a “Barnabas or Jonathan” surrounding them during severe trials. This is a problem for Pastors especially, why because they are fearful to take people into their confidence – afraid that anything they say will be used against them.

Something else happens in our readings: Samuel dies. The grand and glorious old man is no longer able to run interference for David. I found it appalling that David was hunted by over 3,000 man army under the skewed leadership of Saul. Scripture tells us to pray for our enemies and do good to those who hurt us. It sounds good, but going through great vexing of our spirit, it is difficult to do. But even through the most difficult times of life, there comes a ray of hope: The Abigail and Nabal story finds its way into our hearts. Here is a woman/wife who is under the tyranny of an abusive and egocentric husband. Nabal by all estimation is not a God-fearing man. Abigail, is an intelligent and beautiful woman, God uses the story to deliver both David and Abigail. It’s a unique love story for sure. Sometimes we have to look beyond ourselves to find the good that God is doing. Of course we know that Nabal is killed and David and Abigail marry later.

There are times when an opportunity avails itself for us to take matters into our own hands. David gets an opportunity to kill Saul, even his men compel David to reach out and kill Saul, but cuts a piece of his robe off and shows Saul how that David could have taken advantage of the situation. Again, with Abner supposedly watching Saul, David is able to sneak into camp and take Saul’s spear and a jug of water. Again, David calls to Saul and shows him how he had opportunity but would not “touch the LORD’s anointed.” How we go through trials and tribulations is just as important as getting through them. Our character is on display for others to see if Jesus Christ really makes a difference in ALL of LIFE.

Of course King Saul repents and weeps over his actions, yet it is not a repentance unto godliness. Saul had been exposed, or better yet his heart. Saul doesn’t get it – God is done with Him. Saul’s final act of going to a witch/soothsayers/medium for advice is the last straw. Calling up Samuel through a séance King Saul gets an answer he didn’t want. Samuel tells Saul the reality that Saul would not admit to; the Lord has left you and has become your adversary. A person without the SPIRIT of God in him cannot be pleasing to God – it could have been so different, but Saul would not acknowledge the work of God in David. It all the attempts and attacks on David – Saul lost.

We will be vexed in our spirits, but let the HOLY SPIRIT do the choosing for you. When we think we should take matters into our own hands, know that we are rebelling against God and what He has brought us to. Trust in the LORD – let HIM finish the work he started in you!

Phil 1:6. being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

February 22, 2019

Themes in James are Relatable Today

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.  (5:16)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds. (1:2)

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (1:5)

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (1:17)

Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. (5:14)

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if people claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save them? (2:14)

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (1:27)

Today again we’re back with Wes McAdams’ blog Radically Christian. He’s nearing the end of a series posting overall impressions from reading entire books. Click the title below to read at its original source.

Stop Talking and Start Doing: What I Noticed Reading James

The book of James might be one of the easiest books for Christians to understand, regardless of time and culture. It deals with the sort of issues and behaviors that are common to religious people of every era, and there is really no misunderstanding what James is telling his audience to do and not to do. I always end up feeling incredibly convicted by this short little book.

The Audience

James simply addresses this book to, “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.” This could mean he is writing to Jewish Christians, or he could be referring to all Christians as part of the new Israel. The book doesn’t seem to be a letter intended for a specific church. In fact, it doesn’t really seem to be a letter at all, because there is no formal greeting in the beginning or the end.

James seems to be writing to the kind of Christians who think very highly of themselves; the kind of people who consider themselves to be wise, religious, and capable teachers. They are critical and judgmental. They want to live comfortable lives. They envy wealth and scorn poverty. They believe themselves to have a lot of faith and a lot of wisdom, but what they really have is a lot of words.

Be Quiet and Listen

It’s interesting to me how often James’ words, “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” are taken out of context. People typically quote these words as a strategy for interpersonal relationships. They say things like, “God gave us two ears and one mouth, so we should always do twice as much listening as we do talking.” Certainly, it’s good advice to listen more than you talk, but James has a specific kind of listening in mind.

In the same context, James writes, “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” Too often, when someone is trying to share a word which is able to save our souls, we get angry and defensive. James tells his audience to “receive with meekness the implanted word.” It is almost always a good idea to be quiet and listen, but especially when someone is trying to correct our “filthiness” and “wickedness.”

How often do we get defensive when someone shares the word of truth with us? How often do we get angry at those who are trying to help us? How often do we say, “I disagree,” when we ought to say, “You might be right, let me think about that”?

Faith, Religion, and Wisdom Can Be Seen

James touches on various issues throughout this short book, but they all seem to revolve around the idea that it is not enough to say we are religious people, people of faith, or people with wisdom. We must prove our faith, religion, and wisdom by what we do. Words do not prove what is in our hearts, action proves what is in our hearts.

James tells his audience to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” He tells them that real religion is about helping widows and orphans. He tells them faith without works is as useless as wishing someone well who has no clothes or food.

To those who think they are wise, James says that their “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” prove their wisdom is “earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” Real wisdom isn’t about the ability to conjure up the right words to put opponents in their place. Real wisdom is proven by good conduct and meekness. Real wisdom, wisdom from God, is:

  • pure
  • peaceable
  • gentle
  • open to reason
  • full of mercy
  • full of good fruits
  • impartial
  • sincere

In all of these areas, James invites his readers to prove they are wise, religious, and faithful by living lives of humble and loving service to others.

Poverty and Suffering

Like his brother Jesus, James warns about the dangers of comfort and wealth. He encourages his audience to be content with poverty and trials. The book begins by encouraging people to, “Count it all joy,” when they, “meet trials of various kinds.” He promises that patiently enduring trials will result in being, “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

He warns them not to give preference to rich people, above poor people, who visit their assemblies. He implies that riches do not make someone admirable, reminding that the rich are the ones who “oppress you,” the ones who “drag you into court,” and the ones who “blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called.”

James includes one of the strongest warnings and condemnations of those who live their lives in self-indulgence, taking advantage of others:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you

James closes the book by encouraging his readers to think of themselves as farmers. As farmers wait patiently for the harvest, Christians wait patiently, “for the coming of the Lord.” We live our lives not based on what we can see, but in confident expectation about what is to come.


Selected verses located at TopVerses.com

February 21, 2019

Compelling Evidence

Science and Christianity

by Clarke Dixon

Should Christians be afraid of science? Should scientists be afraid of Christianity? We Canadians can tend to be more science-focused than Bible-focused, including those of us who call ourselves Christians. When we fall ill, do we follow James 5:14 and call the elders of the church, or do we call the doctor? As a pastor, I would be pleased to come and pray with you, but I will likely also encourage you to call the doctor if you have not already done so!

There can be a sense of conflict for a Christian. Do we learn from the Bible or science? Do we lean on the Bible or science? Do we lean into the Bible or science? Are we to choose between Christianity and science?

With this apparent conflict, what are we to think?

First, we should be aware that Christianity has provided a good foundation for science to flourish. Belief in a God Who has ordered the universe, creating laws that govern how things work, inspires the investigation of how it all works. Christians were, and still very much are, involved in science.

Second, we appreciate science for what it is, and what it is not. Science is the expectation that things operate according to patterns and laws which are predictable and discoverable. There is no argument with Christianity there. Science is therefore done without explicit reference to God, even by Christian scientists. Let us consider a simple example of how science works. In this past week my youngest son baked a rather large batch of very good peanut-butter cookies. I could run an experiment where I eat twenty cookies a day until they are all eaten, then step on the scales to observe the effect of eating the cookies. If the rest of my eating patterns remained unchanged, we could predict a weight gain. What we will not do is ask how God will intervene in my life based on my cookie consumption. To do so would be to hold a “God of the gaps” kind of theology. The experiment is not about finding God, but finding out how things work.

Science is the belief things operate according to laws, however, it is not the belief that there is no God. As Christians we would say that science is the discovery of how God made things to work. A Christian doing science does the same thing as an atheist doing science. Both are discovering how things operate, but one thinks of the laws of nature, however they came about, the other of God’s Creation operating according to His design. Science is a methodology which does not seek God in the workings. However, to say there is no God is not science, but scientism.

Third, we appreciate what the Bible for what it is, and what it is not. The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself within history with each part written to different people at different times using different genres. The Bible is not a science textbook written to science-minded westerners. Of the many genres used in the Bible, one genre you will not find is a lab report.

It is helpful to remember that the Bible was written for you, but it was not written to you. In Bible studies I often ask “what do you find striking in this passage?” We really should ask how the passage would have struck the first readers and hearers. What were the original readers meant to learn, or what were they likely to learn? To give an example, the prevalent worldview when the Book of Genesis was taking shape held that there were multiple gods who had complicated relationships with each other, the world, and humanity. The original hearers/keepers of the passages in Genesis would have been struck by the fact there is only one God worthy of consideration, that He is a God of order, He is the Creator of everything, and He wants a relationship with all people, which will be worked out in some way through one particular group of people, the people descendant from Israel. No one would have questioned whether the universe really did come into existence fully formed in six literal 24 hour periods. That is a question we ask today when we fail to appreciate the theological poetry of Genesis 1.

Fourth, we learn to navigate the relationship between science and Christianity as we follow the evidence. If our science and theology do not fit together, then our understanding of theology is correct and our understanding of science is wrong, or, our understanding of science is correct and our understanding of theology is wrong, or a wee bit of both. Scientists are not infallible, their interpretations of, and inferences from, the data can be off. We believe the Bible to be infallible, meaning it is exactly what God wanted it to be. However, our interpretations of the Bible are not infallible. With humility in our understanding of both science and theology we follow the evidence.

Consider John chapter 9. A blind man healed by Jesus is willing to follow the evidence. He was blind but is healed, therefore the evidence leads him to the conclusion that Jesus is someone special. The Pharisees are also trying to follow the evidence in figuring out how the blind man was healed. However, they have prior assumptions which affect their conclusions:

The Jews didn’t believe it, didn’t believe the man was blind to begin with. So they called the parents of the man now bright-eyed with sight.  They asked them, “Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?”
His parents said, “We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind.   But we don’t know how he came to see—haven’t a clue about who opened his eyes. Why don’t you ask him? He’s a grown man and can speak for himself.”   (His parents were talking like this because they were intimidated by the Jewish leaders, who had already decided that anyone who took a stand that this was the Messiah would be kicked out of the meeting place.   That’s why his parents said, “Ask him. He’s a grown man.”)
They called the man back a second time—the man who had been blind—and told him, “Give credit to God. We know this man is an impostor.

John 9:18-24 (The Message, emphasis added)

The blind man does not begin with assumptions:

He replied, “I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . I now see.”

John 9:25 (The Message)

Operating with different assumptions, the healed man comes to a very different conclusion about the identity of Jesus!

Science-minded people may come to an investigation of Jesus and the Bible with assumptions, and so miss the truth. They may have already decided that miracles cannot happen and therefore they have already concluded, before their investigation, like the Pharisees did, who they think Jesus is. In doing so they can miss an amazing opportunity for relationship with God.

The shoe can be on the other foot, however. Notice that in John 9, it is the religious leaders who are the ones with the assumptions. The Christian may also hold assumptions about science and/or the Bible and miss truth. In doing so we can miss opportunities for growth, and importantly, opportunities for witness. The man born-blind follows the evidence and it leads him to worship Jesus:

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and went and found him. He asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
The man said, “Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him.”
 Jesus said, “You’re looking right at him. Don’t you recognize my voice?”
 “Master, I believe,” the man said, and worshiped him.

John 9:35-38 (The Message)

One of our goals as Christians is to help others come to know Jesus. If we hold to the view that science and the Bible are at odds, then we may be creating a stumbling block for others. Are we willing to follow the evidence? Do we give the freedom to others to do the same? I believe that if we send our youth off to university with the belief that they need to choose between science and Christianity, we have failed them. Do we give them the tools to follow the evidence?

Do we need to pick between Christianity and science? Far from being in conflict, there is a good relationship between science and Christianity. One can follow the scientific evidence and still be a Christian. In fact many people come to Christianity because of the evidence provided by science. Many religions have fallen by the wayside, some would say thanks to science. However, the fact that science and Christianity can enjoy a good relationship is another reason Christianity is compelling!


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

February 20, 2019

God’s Plan and Purpose

About a year ago I noticed that one of the most frequent post tags here was “trials and tribulation.” I went back through past posts and created a scripture medley of all the verses which appeared in the various articles.

Another one which occurs in various forms is “God’s Plans and Purposes” or “God’s Plan and Purpose.” This can include God’s overall plan; the master story arc that he is writing. This can also include the purpose for which Christ came. Or we can also think of it in terms of what God is doing in my life; his plan for my life; his purpose for my life. Remember though, that his will for each of us individually must conform to that broader, master plan.

Today we’re doing the same thing as we did with “trials and tribulations” but this one is tagged several different ways, plus I wanted to be able to limit the number of verses.

As yourself, (a) what is specifically being referenced and (b) how do I live my life in the light of God’s greater plan; God’s master plan.


God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation. Hebrews 2:10


But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir  Galatians 4:4-7


For who has known or understood the mind (the counsels and purposes) of the Lord, so as to guide and instruct (Him) and give Him knowledge? But we have the mind of Christ, the Messiah, and do hold the thoughts (feelings and purposes) of His heart. 1 Corinthians 2:16 Amp.


But he said to them, “It is necessary for me to proclaim the good news about the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because I was sent for this purpose.”
 – Luke 4:43  Christian Standard Bible


In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. Heb. 1:1-2 NIV


For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:18-25 ESV


Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because he makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
Romans 8:26 27 KJV


But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter, and we all are the work of thy hand. Isaiah 64:8  KJV


When David had served God’s purpose in his own generation he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. Acts 13:36


I pray with great faith for you, because I’m fully convinced that the One who began this glorious work in you will faithfully continue the process of maturing you and will put his finishing touches to it until the unveiling of our Lord Jesus Christ! Phil. 1:6 The Passion Translation


…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Philippians 2:13


For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:9 NLT


But as it is written, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 ISV


And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. ESV Rev 21:3

 

 

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