Christianity 201

September 6, 2017

Sown Into The World

On the Wednesdays in September, we’re going to look at a few of the parables as interpreted by Charles Price, Minister at Large and former Pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto. Some of his takes on these may be just slightly different from what you’ve heard. Find more devotions like this at Living Truth.

Sown Into The World

“Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Matthew 13:8

The Shallow Seed: This seed is sown along the path and the birds come and snatch it away. This is the person who hears the Word of God but does not digest it, understand it or appropriate it. He or she is vulnerable to losing it all as “the evil one snatches away what was sown in their heart.” Truth has to be combined with faith in order to become experience, but this seed has never taken truth into the realm of experience. This person is shallow and their being planted in the world comes to nothing.

The Superficial Seed: This seed is sown among rocks and is the person who hears the Word of God and receives it with joy, but since they have no root, “they last only a short time.” When trouble or persecution comes because of the Word, they quickly fall away. In the right atmosphere they can coast along, but will blow with the prevailing wind. This person is superficial and their planting in the world comes to nothing.

The Secular Seed: This seed is sown among thorns that choke the plants. This is the person who hears the Word of God and starts off well, but “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” He or she has never been weaned from secular world views. They are deceived by wealth and seduced by worldly things. This person is secular and their planting in the world also comes to nothing.

The Successful Seed: This is the seed sown on good soil and is the person who “produces a crop yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Like the first seed, they hear the Word of God, like the second seed, get excited by it, and like the third seed, live in a secular world subject to all its temptations, but their roots are deep. They survive and are successful. Their planting in the world accomplishes its purpose.

The intention of this parable is not to show how some people respond to the Word of God and are converted while others are not, but it is to show how the kingdom of God is to be advanced. Each of us who belongs to Jesus Christ is planted by Him for the purpose of producing fruit. If we were to look over the fence to the fields in the first, second and third planting of seed, we would not be impressed. This is a true picture of the church of Christ, the physical manifestation of the kingdom on earth as seen from the vantage point of those yet outside of the kingdom.

PRAYER: : Dear Lord, I pray that I not only retain, digest and understand Your word, but that it grows and flourishes in me so that I may be used in producing fruit for You.

September 5, 2017

The Issue of Forgiving

by Russell Young

(scripture verses italics added for emphasis)

All of those who have come to know God have recognized their sinful state. They know that their wickedness has separated them from his holy nature and being. What a blessing it is to know that despite our rebellion, the Lord forgives the transgressions of those who call upon him and has paid the cost of sin through the offering of his life on the tree. “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him.”  (Ps 32:1─2 NIV) Not only did he forgive our sins, he forgot them. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Heb 8:12 NIV)

The writer of Hebrews has provided additional insight into the benefit of God’s forgiveness. “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God.” (Heb 9:14 NIV) The conscience of the believer has been cleansed. He or she does not have to carry the dark burden of guilt that beleaguers the conscience concerning the acts that would have brought about his or her death.  The conscience must be clear and clean since God uses it to direct his people in pursuit of righteous living. When the conscience is troubled by many things, the leading of the Spirit becomes obscured and difficult. It is through knowledge of the Lord’s will, his leading, that the living God may be served. It is only the clean heart, a holy person, that God can use for noble purposes. (2 Tim 2:20─21)

What does the Lord require of the believer concerning the practice of forgiveness? The familiar words in the Lord’s prayer read, “Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.” (Mt 6:12 NIV) That is, our sins will be forgiven according to the measure that we forgive those of others. A few verses later the Lord clarified, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Mt 6:14─15 NIV) Judgment will remain for those who maintain hard and unmalleable hearts concerning a wrong once suffered.

A lot has been written about forgiveness and yet few people seem to understand its demands. Experience has revealed that many suppose forgiveness has been granted by making a pronouncement to that effect. Proclaiming forgiveness is easy; forgiving is difficult and a challenge to a person’s soul.  The practice of forgiving requires a poor memory.  The LORD said that he “would remember their sins no more.” Willingness to forget an offence, to never allow it to come to memory or to allow others to bring it to memory, is very difficult. It is easy to claim that a wrong has been forgiven but much harder to refuse to let it enter the mind further. In fact, forgiveness is a process not an event. When the wrong that has been forgiven wants to rouse itself in the mind, it must be blocked and dismissed. Wrongs can be painful and their effects even long-lasting.  To forgive demands commitment and perseverance to that end. Victory must be gained through battle.  The proclamation of forgiveness to an offender should not be repeated or need repeating (It is to have been forgotten after all.); however, reliance on the Spirit to produce the heart that truly forgives may need to be repeatedly sought. It is not a person’s words that testify of true forgiveness, but his or her heart attitude concerning the issue and it is the heart that the LORD will consider.

If the “forgiven” offence is ever raised again, the proclamation of forgiveness has been false.  Hurts are easy to remember. They can be used and repeated to gain the favor and sympathy of others or to infer an obligation from the forgiven one. They can be used to promote an attitude of personal righteousness. When the offence is repeated to others the motivation for “forgiveness” has not been to release the other from his or her sin, or to humbly honor the Lord, but for personal and selfish gain. Once an offence is forgiven it should never be allowed to resurface in mind or in word.

True forgiveness leads to the cleansing of the offender’s conscience. In fact, failure to forgive requires the offender to carry and to be subject to the penalty of his or her transgression. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven, (Jn 20:23 NIV) but neither will yours be. A clean conscience is very valuable. As stated, the conscience is the instrument that Christ uses to guide a person in the path of righteousness.

The offender must repent to enjoy forgiveness. The Lord stated, “Unless you repent (of your sins) you will all perish,” (Lk 13:3, 5 NIV) and he still requires repentance for unrighteousness acts. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9 NIV) Concerning the practice of forgiveness towards our brothers, the Lord admonished, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” (Lk 17:3 NIV) The Lord demands those who offend to repent. He also demands something of the one sinned against. He or she is to rebuke the offender, to make known the offence. Sin is not permitted to fester and engender malice. An offence that is unknown cannot be treated. Repentance acknowledges that a hurt has occurred and the offender’s sorrow for it. Where there is acknowledgement there is hope of a changed attitude and altered soul.  The one who offends and whose heart is hard and inflexible must remain in his sin as must the one who will not forgive; God knows the heart of both. (Ps 139)

The acts of true repentance and forgiveness should leave all parties with a cleansed conscience so that the hurt might not lead to death and might allow for noble service for the kingdom of the Lord. The offence is to be forgotten and never allowed to surface again, nor permitted to surface through the mouths of others. Offering true forgiveness is never easy; forgetting can be difficult. True forgiveness may require a struggle and power through the Spirit of life to accomplish. Only in the manner that we forgive others will we be forgiven. It was easy for those in the world to sin against God; the forgiveness that he offered was not so easy; his pardon cost the life of his Son and as he has forgotten your sins, you are to forget those of others.


Russell Young’s column appears on alternate Tuesdays. He is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo. 9781512757514

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

September 4, 2017

God Explains Judgment and Punishment to Ezekiel

As we did last year at this time, we’re returning to the devotional page of the Southern Baptist Convention. Their devotionals don’t have titles, just a description of the passage under consideration and there are no links. Take in the truths of today’s reading, but also note the format; this is how to organize a thorough Bible study.

Highlights:

God warns leaders to repent (14:1-11). Each person clearly accountable for their own choice to be saved (14:12-23). A breathtaking, tragic account of the love and faithfulness of God to Judah and her callous attitude (chap. 13). Guard against spiritual adultery.

Ezekiel 14 to Ezekiel 16

Even so, there will be survivors left in it, sons and daughters who will be brought out. Indeed, they will come out to you, and you will observe their conduct and actions. Then you will be consoled about the devastation I have brought on Jerusalem, about all I have brought on it. 23 They will bring you consolation when you see their conduct and actions, and you will know that it was not without cause that I have done what I did to it.”  This is the declaration of the Lord God. (Ezek. 14:22-23).

The Lord had sent punishment to Israel because of her idolatrous ways. The nation had turned away from the Lord and chosen to walk in the ways of their heathen neighbors. The people had followed their own desires for their lives instead of the perfect desires of the Lord. We have also read how the prophets themselves had gone against the will of the Lord.

The Lord is not some strict taskmaster who imputes His will on people just for His satisfaction. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are the children of God. The Spirit itself testifies together with our spirit, that we are the children of God (Rom. 8:16).

God treats us the way any good father treats his children. The Lord gives us the Word of God as a guide to live our lives. These guidelines will direct us to the most fulfilling and abundant life available to us. God’s rules are not simply made for Him. They are made to protect us and to provide us with a way to live a godly life, rather than just a good life.

What happens when the inevitable time comes that God’s child strays from His Word? How should God respond? Should He just hope for the best and wait to see? Should He just mark them off and hope for better luck with the next human? We all know the answer to these questions is a resounding “no.”

The Lord responds just as any loving father would. He corrects His children by sending punishment our way. The goal of the punishment is to open our eyes to allow us to see where we went wrong and thereby to correct our paths. Once redirected, we should be able to get back on life’s correct track, the track of following the Lord.For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but He does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness (Heb. 12:10).

This process worked with Israel at times. They would rebel, so God would send a judgment against them. As a result they would return and fall back into line with the Law of God.

In these verses, God is explaining all this to Ezekiel. There is always a plan when the Lord sends judgment upon His people. The Lord is desiring to bring them back to the proper path.

If we live outside the will of God, we will find life is not so easy. He has said that His four worst punishments are war, famine, wild animals and diseases. The Word of God is given to us to make sure that we live under the provision and protection of the Lord. Our best case scenario will always be not to stray. But if we do, we need to let His correction get us back in line with His Word.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine,  for reproof,  for correction,  for instruction in righteousness (II Tim. 3:16).

Thought for Today:

At the end of the day, will the Lord say, Well done good and faithful servant (Matt. 25:23)?

Christ Revealed:

In the everlasting Covenant (Ezek. 16:60). He is the Mediator of a better Covenant (Agreement) (Heb. 8:6).

Word Study:

16:8 I spread My skirt over thee = symbolic of a covenant of marriage (Ruth 3:9; Deut. 22:30); 16:25 opened thy feet = offered yourself as a harlot; 16:30 imperious whorish oman = shameless prostitute; 16:31 eminent place = prominent public location; thou scornest hire = you refuse a fee; 16:43 fretted me = provoked me to anger.

Memory Verse:

John 15:1-5

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper. Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.

September 3, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The first reference to worship in the Bible does not end well. I’m willing to bet the worship wars your church may have experienced never ended quite like this.

Gen 4 (NLT) : 3 When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. 4 Abel also brought a gift—the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, 5 but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.

6 “Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? 7 You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”

8 One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.


Hebrews 11 (ESV) : 4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.

A few years ago our pastor referenced Genesis chapter 4, and as I considered the story of Cain and Abel, I thought it interesting that the first recorded act of worship in scripture ends in murder. It is easy to get caught up in tertiary interpretations of the text, and I don’t for a minute want to suggest that this ‘meat versus vegetables’ distinction is in any way related to our modern ‘hymns versus choruses’ worship wars; I only want to note in passing that the one of mankind’s darkest moments — that murder should enter the story so early on — was preceded by an act of worship.

I thought it best to bring in the heavy artillery here to look at what this passage does say, so I consulted several of my print commentaries.

The Evangelical Commentary on the Bible observes: “Abel is a shepherd and Cain is a farmer. Both brothers bring offerings to the Lord suitable to their vocations. There is no indication in the text that one offering is inferior to the other.” (p. 15)

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary notes: “No reason is given here for the rejection [by the Lord]. And the scripture does not tell us how God indicated his disapproval. It may be that fire fell from heaven and consumed the accepted offering but left the other untouched. Some have thought that Can’s offering was rejected because Cain failed to perform the proper ritual. Others have advanced the idea that the nature of the gifts made the difference — the one being flesh and involving death and bloodshed. (See Heb 9:22) …Because Abel was a man of faith, he came in the right spirit and presented worship that pleased God. We have reason to believe that Abel had some realization of his need for substitutionary atonement. To all appearances both offerings expressed gratitude, thanksgiving and devotion to God. But the man who lacked genuine faith in his heart could not please God even though the material gift was spotless. God did not look upon Cain because He had already looked at him and seen what was in his heart. Abel came to God in the right attitude of heart for worship and in the only way sinful men can approach a Holy God. Cain did not.” (p..9)

The International Bible Commentary states: “We are now introduced to a series of events showing us how quickly the results of The Fall were revealed. As was said in [chapter] 3 [verse] 7, the first effects of sin were seen in the family and it is entirely consistent with this that the first murder is fratricide… No suggestion of previous tension between the brothers is mentioned… [Both sacrifices] were the recognition of Yahweh’s lordship. Both gave of what they had, and so Leupold is certainly correct in saying, ‘Those who see the merit of Abel’s sacrifice in the fact that it was bloody certain do so without the least warrant from the text.'” (pp. 118-119)

The Evangelical Commentary on the Bible continues: “Cain is very angry and his face is downcast. Cain is the first angry and depressed man in the Bible. He should be able, however, to overcome those feelings before they overcome him…” Cain kills Abel in the field… First man fell out of relationship with God. Now he falls out of relationship with his brother. How can Cain love god whom he cannot see, when he cannot love Abel whom he can see?” (p. 15)

Again, I don’t want to get lost in secondary interpretations, but I hope the worship wars in your church never proceed to this level. I hope that what we bring and have to offer to God is brought with right attitudes, right motivation, and according to the standards God has set.

Remember, “Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.


Ps. 19 (CEB) : 14 Let the words of my mouth
and the meditations of my heart
be pleasing to you,
Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

 

September 2, 2017

“For This Purpose I Have Come”

Its time for our annual visit to Steven C. Mills of Steve’s Bible Meditations.  Click the title below to read this at source.

Why? – John 12:27

“Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came!” (John 12:27, NLT).

Recently, I’ve been reading Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why. The premise of the book is that successful leaders influence loyalty to a product, movement or idea because they communicate why their organizations exist. According to Sinek, knowing your why is more important than  knowing what you do or how you do it. And, knowing your why will help you know what to do and how to do it.

So, apply this on a personal level. What’s your why? Why do you exist? Why do you do what you do?

In a conversation in John 12 that Jesus had with some of His disciples concerning His impending death, He seemed to be very aware of His Why. He knew exactly why He existed and why He did what He did.

Some God-fearing Gentiles (Greeks) approached Philip and asked if he would introduce them to Jesus. Jesus had, heretofore, focused His ministry on the Jews and had only occasional interactions with Gentiles. Philip told Andrew about the Greeks’ request and Philip and Andrew went to Jesus to ask Jesus to meet with the Greeks.

It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t consent to meet with these Gentiles. Rather, He made it a teachable moment to announce to His disciples a change of direction in His ministry. Instead of continuing to heal the sick and teach and preach to the Jews about the coming kingdom of God, Jesus declared that His ministry will now become a matter of sacrificing His own life so all people, Jews and Gentiles, can enter into God’s coming Kingdom.

But, He seemed to express some hesitancy at first. Although He knew the reason He had come–to die for the sins of the world–maybe there was another way. Perhaps there was an easier way to save the world besides suffering a torturous death.

But, I don’t think He was really hesitant. I don’t think He believed there might be easier way. I think these expressions of doubt were really expressions of resolution.

Jesus absolutely knew what He had to do. Because He knew His Why!

He knew without a doubt His reason for living…and for dying.

The Apostle Paul also knew His why:

“Though I am the least deserving of all God’s people, he graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ. I was chosen to explain to everyone this mysterious plan that God, the Creator of all things, had kept secret from the beginning” (Ephesians 3:8-9, NLT).

So, what’s your why? Why did God create you? What did He call you to do? And, how are you going do it?

Find out your why. Ask God why He created you. Ask Him what is the purpose of your life.

Then, when you’re clear about the why, you can pursue the what and God will empower you to accomplish the how.

We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. (Colossians 1:9-10, NLT)

September 1, 2017

Working Out My Salvation

Philippians 2:12

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;  (NASB)

Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. (NLT)

We’re back with our annual visit to the blog Christians in Context by J. Mark Fox. Click the title below to read it on his blog, and then navigate from there to some other great articles. (We read several preparing this!)

Work out, not for, your own salvation

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. This command in Paul’s letter to the Philippians has caused many to stumble, to make an argument for works-righteousness, and even to believe that what Jesus did was not enough. That he needs my help to save me. We know that’s nonsense, and the plain meaning of this text makes perfect sense. Paul says work out your salvation. He doesn’t say work in your salvation. Or work up your salvation. Or work for your salvation! No, we are to work it out. In other words, what God has secured in you through His grace given on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice, work it out in every way and on every day. It’s what we do in our marriages, right? Were you done when you said, “I do”? No, you were just getting started. And for the rest of your life, you are working out your marriage in fear. And sometimes with trembling!

If you are working out your salvation as a father, it means you are learning to bring up your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. You cannot learn that without starting to do it badly. But you have to start. When my children were very young, they each had trouble learning to ride a bike. They fell. They scraped their knees. They cried. But they kept getting back on the bike until it became second nature to them. Get back on the bike, Dad, and lead your family in the things that are most important. If you are working out your salvation as a student, it means you study. You work hard. If you are working out your salvation as a brother or sister in Christ in your church family, it means that when you are offended, you don’t hold onto that. You let it go quickly, and if you can’t let it go, you go to the one who offended you and you work it out. And yes, it will require work, sacrifice, and discipline. Tim Challies had a good word on this recently:

“I want to have 10 percent body fat. I set that goal a while ago and even managed to get really close to reaching it. But eventually I found out that I want to have 10 percent body fat just a bit less than I want to have 13 percent. There’s a key difference between the two: While 13 percent requires moderate effort to gain and retain, 10 percent requires strict discipline. I soon learned I just didn’t want the goal enough to put in the effort to achieve it. I didn’t meet my desire with discipline.” Then he adds, “I often consider the people I’ve known who set an example of unusual godliness. I think of well-known Christian men who lived godly lives in the public eye and who carried out unblemished ministries. I think of unknown and unnoticed women who lived equally godly lives far outside the public eye. What did they have in common? What was the key to their holiness? I believe it was their discipline. They disciplined themselves for the highest godliness. They were spiritual athletes who ensured their highest desires supplanted their baser desires. They achieved godliness because they aimed at godliness.”

We all have work to do if we are to aim at God’s best for us. Thankfully, we are never alone. Paul adds, “for it is God who works in us both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” That is the gift that keeps on giving.

August 31, 2017

The Story of Us

by Clarke Dixon

Now suppose you were to ask me to tell you about my marriage. I might say something like “well, it is my task to put out the garbage on a Sunday night ready for Monday morning, and Sandra’s tasks are to keep the pantry and fridge stocked, buy the clothes for the boys (yes, that includes me), take the lead on the medical concerns of our children, . . . well, pretty much everything but get the garbage out. Now of course I am exaggerating but I hope that you find it odd that a question about my marriage would end up with a list of duties and expectations. Yet we do this all the time with matters of faith. A question about our faith may well lead us to speak about our duties and expectations as a Christian. Or as I fear, many in trying to pass on the faith to the next generation will focus almost solely on passing on that list of duties and expectations. This can be described as the “it is good for you” kind of faith.

Problem is, the next generation normally has no problem coming up with a set of values and ethics on their own, especially with culture and society so eager to help. If that is all the Christian faith is about, then why bother, especially as Christian duties and expectations will seem quite a bit more bothersome than what might come up with ourselves. I needn’t tell you that many in the next generations (including my own) haven’t bothered.

The Psalmist in Psalm 78 has a heart for the coming generations and is eager to pass on the faith:

My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will utter hidden things, things from of old— things we have heard and known,
things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
his power, and the wonders he has done. (Psalm 78:1-4 NIV)

We will want to notice right from the start that the Psalmist has a much bigger sense of faith than the duties and expectations. Yes, the Psalmist will go on to speak of God’s law as part of the “praiseworthy deeds” of the Lord, but there is something greater here than being grateful for a mere list of ethics. The Psalmist wants to pass on the knowledge of the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. He wants to pass on, not just the rules of a religion, but better the knowledge of the living, interacting, and intervening God.

This of course assumes that the Psalmist knows the praiseworthy deeds, the might, and wonders of the Lord. If we are to be effective in passing the faith on to a new generation (and this is a key desire of mine within my own family!), step one is to be sure we know it and enjoy it well ourselves first!! Do you know the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord? Have you seen his power at work? Are you able to articulate the wonders he has done? Can you point to where these can be found in the Bible? Can you point to where these can be found in your own life story?

Furthermore, in the rest of the Psalm (and it is a long one, rather like some of my sermons!), the Psalmist tells us a story, or better, stories. These focus on God’s people, their rebellion, God’s covering them with grace and forgiveness, God’s drawing them forward with discipline and instruction, and finally God’s preparation for the future. The story ends with Israel’s final rebellion against God, his purposes being carried forward with Judah and King David. In fact the ending has kind of an ‘unfinished’ feel to it as one suspects the story will go on. And we know it does. But the thing for us to notice is this: the Psalmist in having a heart for the next generation, spends much of his time telling the stories of God’s relationship with God’s people, or the story of us. This is more like what you might expect to hear if you asked about my marriage. How we met. How we fell in love with each other. How we fell in love with our children. You don’t expect a list of duties and expectations, but the story of us. Can you articulate the story of God’s love for his creation and humanity?

Can you tell the story of how you fell in love with God? Will you? The story goes on . . .

Read more from Clarke Dixon at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

August 30, 2017

Lessons from a Text Sung More Than Studied

We’re paying a return visit to Jack Levison at the Patheos blog Spirit Chatter. Click the title below to read at source.

Jacob’s Ladder and Esau’s Tragedy

Every year, without fail, we sang the chorus Jacob’s Ladder at church camp. Sung by a hundred Long Island high schoolers, it was interminable. (It never sounded like this. Wow!) We certainly had no idea this was a Negro Spiritual with a history that stretched back 150 years or so.

So we sang it. We sang the life out of it.

We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,
Soldiers of the cross.

We sang the next verse.

Every rung goes higher, higher,
Every rung goes higher, higher,
Every rung goes higher, higher,
Soldiers of the cross.

And the next, which began, “Sinner, do you love my Jesus?” You can figure out by now how it continued.

We ended with the last stanza, which was a little more rousing because it had a dollop of guilt loaded onto it:

If you love him, why not serve him?

The problem is not the song (though the way we sang it was a problem) but that it’s often all we know about the story of Jacob’s ladder, in Genesis 28:10-19, this week’s lectionary text.

The story is so much bigger, better. Another stunner in a long line of stunners in the book of Genesis.

Here, with his head on a stone, Jacob has a dream in which God reiterates a promise first made to Abraham and Sarah, then to Isaac and Rebekah, and now, finally, to Abraham and Sarah’s grandson.

I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.

This promise, in one form or another, pops up at various places in the book of Genesis, just in case we thought that God, who is otherwise pretty invisible—there are very few thunderbolts thrown—had backed out of the human drama. (Who could blame God for that?!) It’s like the Cascade Mountains after a takeoff from Seattle; peeking through the clouds, you see Mount Baker, Mount Rainer, Mount Hood, Mount Saint Helens, and Mount Adams. They pop through the clouds, a line of them, the way these promises punctuate the human drama in Genesis.

In this story, the cushion for the promise is a dream: a ladder between earth and heaven. What’s so important about this dream? I’ve got five things for you to think about.

  • A sad son. What precedes this dream is really pathetic—and it’s about Esau. Esau saw that his father “Isaac had blessed Jacob” and sent him to find a wife not from the Canaanites (the inhabitants of the land). So what did Esau do? He imitated Isaac by taking a(nother) wife, Mahalath, Abraham’s granddaughter. We talked last week about sibling rivalry. It’s pathetic. Esau wants Isaac’s approval, so, like Jacob, he too marries a woman not from the Canaanites.
  • A brother blowing it. Esau doesn’t pick a granddaughter through the line of Isaac but through Ishmael, the bastard son of Abraham and Hagar. If he did it on purpose, he was a screwup. If he did it without realizing it, he was a loser. Either way, Jacob is still the pretty boy.
  • A divine snub. Jacob gets the dream, wouldn’t you know? Not Esau. The rich get richer. Why can’t Esau have his own dream? Why can’t Esau spend a night at the Gate of Heaven?
  • An uncommon adventure. Jacob was scared poo-less. It says as much: “And he was afraid.” I think it’s better to translate this, “He was scared poo-less (more or less)” because he then says, “This place is frightening!” (It’s the same Hebrew root.) Don’t be tricked by a translation like “This place is awesome.” That’s too tidy and trendy. And let this be a lesson to us. We sometimes think people in Bible-times had lots of visions, boatloads (like Noah) of God-experiences. They didn’t. Nope. This was a big-time exception–and Jacob knew it.
  • A useless oath. Jacob didn’t let the promise sink in. He had a vision, a very active one, by the way, of angels going up and down, but the main point, that God would be with him, just didn’t sink in. So afterwards, he made a vow: if God would be with him and take him home, he’d make the stone pillow a shrine and call it God’s House and, more important, give a tenth of his stuff to God. You see? Jacob didn’t get it at all. He bargained for what he already had, what God had already said.

For a bunch of mostly white, teenaged Long Islanders, the chorus, Jacob’s Ladder, was boring. Atonal, too. But its real problem is that it’s all many of us know about the real story and what comes before and after it. Not any more. Read this week’s lectionary—the whole of Genesis 28—and listen to this podcast to discover some other things you’ve missed in this profound story of how you can meet God.


The podcast is available at the website of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Houston.

 

August 29, 2017

Precept Upon Precept

When I wrote this article for Thinking Out Loud, I was expecting to write about three paragraphs. When I was finished it was much longer, and something that I felt would have been a good of not better fit here…

It began with a  conversation I had last week at the local Christian bookstore concerning Bible features. As the guy was looking at one in particular, he said, “Oh good, it’s got the precepts.”

The first time, it didn’t really register. Then he looked at another and said something like, “Does it have the precepts?”

Huh?

It turned out he was talking about what most of us would call cross references; the notations of other passages either in a center column or at the end of the verse where something related may be found.

The idea of ‘line upon line, precept upon precept’ is taken from Isaiah 28:, 9-10 in the KJV. The NASB has:

To whom would He teach knowledge, And to whom would He interpret the message? Those just weaned from milk? Those just taken from the breast?  “For He says, ‘Order on order, order on order, Line on line, line on line, A little here, a little there.’”

The NLT is really contradictory to this idea on its rendering of this:

He tells us everything over and over–one line at a time, one line at a time, a little here, and a little there!”

implying that the learning or teaching or knowledge is linear, but not necessarily cumulative. In other words, one line at a time, doesn’t mean that line B is necessarily building on line A, but to say upon is to imply that it is or does.

(In case you’re wondering if there’s any irony to be found, you’re wrong; the verse itself is reiterated in scripture, albeit 3 verses later in verse 13.)

As we discussed this the idea of “Out of the mouth of two [or three] witnesses was brought into the conversation. This is found in the Old Testament twice.

The one condemned to die is to be executed on the testimony of two or three witnesses. No one is to be executed on the testimony of a single witness. (Deuteronomy 17:6, Holman)

A solitary witness against someone in any crime, wrongdoing, or in any sort of misdeed that might be done is not sufficient. The decision must stand by two or three witnesses. (Deuteronomy 19:15, CEB)

Those OT passages are cited in the NT by Jesus and by Paul.

But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Matthew 18:16, NIV)

This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  (2 Corinthians 13:1, ESV)

In the Corinthian example, you have to go back to the previous chapter to get the context. Paul is speaking about sorting out matters concerning people who have been found in sinful practices.

Capital crime. Wrongdoing. Sin. Denial of Sin. Nowhere do these passages suggest something related to “the establishing of doctrine.” But don’t get me wrong:

I believe the Bible always corroborates itself on matters of important doctrine.

In other words, it’s internally consistent. I’m just not sure that we need to force it [scripture] into a situation where everything has to be said twice or three times in order to establish a doctrinal pattern, or make it conform to an overarching systematic theology. Or, to come at it differently, it may reinforce something but in an entirely different way than our Western way of thinking can process too simply.

I think to do so is to doubt the value of what we read the first time. It’s saying to God, ‘Now, if you’ll just show me one more time where you say this, then I’ll obey.’ I think that undermines the text somehow. That doesn’t mean to imply that at a crossroads of life we don’t ask God for confirmation of what we are to do. There is the example of Gideon, who put out a second fleece.

So what are precepts? Yourdictionary.com says

precept pre·cept. … The definition of a precept is a guiding principle or rule that is used to control, influence or regulate conduct. An example of a precept is a commandment found in the Ten Commandments.

At that we would need to get into the differences between a rule and a principle. Principles are timeless, never location-specific, widely applicable. Rules apply to one group of people in one particular situation at one unique point in time. The rest of that we need to save for another day.

A cross-reference is simply:

•noun: cross reference; plural noun: cross references
–a reference to another text or part of a text, typically given in order to elaborate on a point.

Anyone who has been reading the Bible for any length of time knows that sometimes the Bible editors have chosen to take us to a reference to a rather obscure part of the verse, not something which indicates its overall meaning. There are times when I have been completely mystified as to the inclusion of a particular reference. Many of you know the danger of over-spiritualizing things, and I don’t want to be guilty of under-spiritualizing something, but… They’re. Just. Cross-references.

Here’s my concluding statements on this:

We read scripture not so much because we’re trying to learn precepts as we are recognizing the importance of understanding the ways of God.

and

If God is saying something to us with unmistakable clarity through a scripture passage, we don’t need to start hunting around looking for a second verse.

August 28, 2017

A Different Gospel

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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In yesterday’s Sunday Worship column, I commented on a detail of The Prodigal Son story that I had not noticed before. I am constantly amazed at the depth of the parables, how many different lessons there are to be gained from what is always just a few short verses.

But we need to be careful when he hear something new that it conforms to everything else we have been taught. Someone has said, “If it’s new it’s not true.” I am not comfortable with such a sweeping generalization, but obviously in the course of Christian history, there have been many people who have come along with new ideas; some helpful and instructive; others rather off base.

In 2 Corinthians 3-4 Paul writes,

I am afraid, however, that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may be led astray from your simple and pure devotion to Christ.  For if someone comes and proclaims a Jesus other than the One we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit than the One you received, or a different gospel than the one you accepted, you put up with it way too easily.

Paul says this twice in the same paragraph in Galatians 1:7b-8

Evidently some people are troubling you and trying to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be under a divine curse! As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you embraced, let him be under a divine curse!

Years ago, I had the responsibility of coordinating two completely different Sunday morning services at our church. The first service was meant for believers, and I asked a friend, who specializes in cult research to do a message for which I gave him the title, “How Does a Rocket Go Off-Course?” In other words, I wanted him to share not so much how groups come along with something completely out of left field (i.e. The Book of Mormon) but rather how orthodox groups suddenly seem to take a turn down a road of questionable theology.

I suspect it starts out with one small particular point of doctrine. Perhaps it’s something a reader wishes was in the text. Perhaps it’s a word that has been less than perfectly rendered in one of our translations. Perhaps it’s a lack of attention to the context of a particular verse. Perhaps it’s just a lack of sleep the night before due to bad pizza!

The problem is once you start undoing a working systematic theology, because of the inter-relatedness of the parts, you can end up undermining the very nature of God, or the essential plan of salvation. Some may find the study of theology boring, but there is a real beauty in how the various doctrines can fit together, if the theology makes sense.

I also want to point out what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:2

By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  (NIV)

It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you–unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place. (NLT)

The second rendering, in the NLT suggests something that is true far too often, and that is many people have come into the faith family believing things that “were never true in the first place.” Again, using the analogy of a rocket that has gone off course, we need to apply what rocket scientists call “a mid-course correction.” We need to gently steer that person away from the false understanding which, left unchecked, will lead to other errors or perhaps lead to great frustration in their Christian growth and life.

 

 

August 27, 2017

Sunday Worship

Romans 12: 1

So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. (CEB)

 Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies [dedicating all of yourselves, set apart] as a living sacrifice, holy and well-pleasing to God, which is your rational (logical, intelligent) act of worship. (AMP)

 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.  (NLT)

James 1:27

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  (NASB)

 Pure and unblemished religion [as it is expressed in outward acts] in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit and look after the fatherless and the widows in their distress, and to keep oneself uncontaminated by the [secular] world.  (AMP)

Religion that pleases God the Father must be pure and spotless. You must help needy orphans and widows and not let this world make you evil.  (CEV)

In the church service we attended this morning, the message was based on the parable we call The Good Samaritan recorded in Luke 10: 25-37.  Like many of you I can probably say, quite literally, that I’ve heard this passage spoken on “a hundred times” but there are always new insights awaiting.

The first of these has to do with the priest who is the first person in the parable to come upon the man who has been robbed. We often hear that his reason for non-involvement had to do with the fact that a priest would be ceremonially unclean if he touched a dead body. But the man was not dead, though he could be considered half-dead. The Zondervan NIV Study Bible notes that half dead might be considered as good as dead in some interpretation of their laws. But again, the man was not dead.

The unique insight this morning though had to do with the direction the priest was traveling, which the text seems to imply was the same direction as the man robbed:

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  (v.31)

If this is true, that he was moving away from and not towards Jerusalem; then he had completed his priestly duties for the day. It would not have mattered if he were unclean or not at this point in the day.

The speaker then said something I found very profound:

“Going by the letter of the law will never help heal a broken person.”

…The two lead verses I chose for today — each from 3 different translations — may seem a bit unrelated. The first is an overarching verse which I hope forms a theme for this series of articles, especially since we want to avoid a mentality where when we say the word worship, people hear “worship = music.” Worship involves the giving of our whole lives.

The second set of verses deal with “religion,” one of the few times we actually encounter this word in all of scripture. (The NIV has 5 such New Testament references.)  While the man in the story of The Good Samaritan is not in the “widows and orphans” category, he is certainly not, at least in that moment, in an equal amount of need. Our “reasonable service” is to help him.

But it also says to keep oneself unstained by the world. There’s the opt-out the priest would be looking for (had he had this text from James, which, if we ignore that this is a parable, he would not have at this point in time.) His desire to be ceremonially clean would have kept him from being stained by the man’s impurities.

At this point I’m tempted to digress into the idea that many of us today want to be ceremonially clean, but we do so to the neglect of what God wants us to do. Like the people Jesus mentioned who were keeping the Corban laws, we can easily be seen as being religious, but it’s to the detriment of those around us with real needs. (In that case, they were neglecting the care of their own parents.)

To this, I can only repeat what the speaker said this morning:

“Going by the letter of the law will never help heal a broken person.”

August 26, 2017

OMG: Hearing it and Saying It

Romans 12:2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.NLT

Romans 12:2 Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.The Message

This week I had a discussion with someone on the topic of knowing God by his name. At one very brief point in the conversation, this person surprised me by saying they were not particularly offended by people saying “Oh, my God” or using the printed form, “OMG,” because unless identified or qualified, the God we serve is not necessarily the one being referenced. It may be the third of the Ten Commandments being broken if the reference is to something else.

Exodus 20:7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

It’s easy to take offense at the use of this phrase, because we are often taking it personally, but there’s no guarantee that it’s our God they’re talking about. For example, I have often lamented the general nature the term “god” (lower case) has and in so doing I appeal to this quotation by E. Stanley Jones, which regular readers here have seen before:

“When we say we begin with God, we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God. Instead, we ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ”

In other words, while the Old Testament points to “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (see Exodus 3:6, 3:15, 3:16, 4:5 for the specific phrase in the KJV; and also look at these references) in the New Testament we speak of “the God as revealed in Jesus Christ.” That’s our God.

So on the one hand, I despair over the need to so clearly define who the God is of which we speak, and yet on the other hand I also find the “OMG” phrase to totally grate on me; but I’ve never really held the two situations in tension. The result I suppose is to be able relax a little and grant the non-churched person (or the non-Jesus-follower, or the secularist) using the phrase some grace.

…Unless…

The problem comes when believers use such phrases. (See our first key verse above.) Has that happened to you?

We covered this topic here before in a 2012 article called Exemplary Speech. In it, the writer quoted these key verses; notice the references to speech:

Command and teach these things.  Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. 1 Tim 4:11-13

In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. Titus 2:7-8

“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from deceitful speech. 1 Peter 3:10

Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? James 3:5-11

As I’ve written previously, “OMG” and it’s equivalent are a line I simply will not cross, but it’s become increasingly common to hear believers lapse into using the phrase or typing the acronym.  For us, “God” is the God of Abraham; is the God revealed in Jesus. It should hurt us when we hear another Christian fall into the cultural speech pattern of using this and we ought to gently correct them.

With a non-believer, we actually have an Evangelistic opportunity presented to us. Like the Apostle Paul’s speech at Mars Hill in Acts 17:22ff, we can say, to paraphrase him, ‘This God who you make reference to without really knowing him…allow me to introduce you!’


Postscript: The person with whom I had the discussion skirts the problem entirely; when reading a passage of scripture together this week, he glossed over the word God in the text, substituting “The Most High.”

August 25, 2017

Even the Weather Obeys Him

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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We’re paying a return visit today to Bryan Lowe and his blog, Broken Believers. Click the title below to read this at source. We had several good articles to choose from, so click through and look around.

Here Be Giants!

Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”  Deuteronomy 31:8, NLT

There is an ancient map in London, England dated from 1525, that has some interesting notations written on it. At one edge someone wrote, “From this point there are fiery scorpions.’  And also written, was “Here be dragons.” On the other margin somebody else noted, ‘Here be giants.” But a believer named Sir John Franklin wrote on this same map, “Here is God.”

Certainly cartographic scorpions, dragons and giants seem to be bit quaint. We certainly don’t really believe in such things anymore. Yet the presence of God is true and quite real. He is present, and is quite active in the lives of everyone who has ever used a map of any sort.

35 “As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” 36 So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). 37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.

38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

39 When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”  Mark 4:25-41, NLT

The Sea of Galilee actually has four names, and it actually isn’t a sea, but a lake with sweet and good water. The lake is over 13 miles long and 7 miles at its widest point. The way the hills surround the lake can produce waves over 20 feet, due to unique weather pattern that exists today.

The disciples were seasoned fishermen. They had each seen tough times, but what is going to be unleashed on them is far and above anything they have ever seen. They were frightened.

Jesus was pretty much exhausted. He had been ministering for several days. This was a stretch. A trip across the lake would give Him a definite break. He is so tired, He falls asleep, using a “boat cushion” as a pillow. He is soon sound asleep.

The disciples seem to respect Jesus’ need for rest. But it all gets chaotic and confused quite quickly. None of them had experienced such a terrible storm. They woke Jesus up, and strongly suggested that He do something decisive. Otherwise, they would all be lost.

Jesus was awakened to another need. My guess is that He needed more sleep, but the present moment He needed to speak boldly into this ugly storm. The waves are quite nasty, but at His Word spoken, everything becomes quite serene.

His disciples are undone. They simply draw different conclusions. What they have just seen strips them down to a basic level. The deep presence of Him takes apart of all they understand. God takes them apart, and they end up in a very interesting position.

Our perceptions shouldn’t alter the presence of God. He is our steady rock in our ‘quicksand world.’ He shuts down our storms. You can truly rest with Him in your boat, controlling the storms.


Related: If you grew up in your church you know the song which follows, which is based on today’s scripture text. But if you didn’t give this a listen even if it’s not your usual musical genre.

 

August 24, 2017

How Inclusive Should We Be?

by Clarke Dixon

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household”  Ephesians 2:19 NIV

This is a wonderful verse that fills us with joy at the thought we are considered part of God’s family, members of His household.  Yet this verse also may create sour feelings within us as we consider just how large, or perhaps small, this household is.  We may look at loved ones in our family or to good friends and wonder, perhaps worry is the better word, if they too are part of this family of God. Of course it is our desire that they be such and the thought they may not be fills us with dread.  We want to feel inclusive.

In my personal Bible reading I am again introduced to the many tribes of Bible times; Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites among others. In our day within Christianity has sprung up two new tribes, which are really quite old: the inclusivites and exclusivites.

Inclusivites don’t handle well the thought of anyone not being found in God’s family and so they will make it as big as they possibly can.  There are two ways to do this.  One is to declare that all roads lead to God.  The second is to declare that the only road to God is through Jesus, but that God will ultimately put those on another road on a detour that will get them on the right road.  Hence, your fears over the journeys of your loved ones are put to ease.  And you get a pat on the back by society for being inclusive.

Then there are the exclusivites.  They tend to think that God’s family is very small indeed, in fact it is made up of only people who think and act just like them.  Like the old joke that God will separate the Baptists from everyone else in heaven because He just can’t bring Himself to break it to them that they are not the only ones there.*  Mind you, I have not met very many exclusivites in my travels, even among Baptists.  It is far more common in our day to meet an inclusivite.

How do we deal with our anguish over God’s family and the thought it is not big enough to include our loved ones?  Should we join a tribe?  Perhaps the inclusivites so that can think our loved ones are okay and that our fears are much ado about nothing?  Or the exclusivites who sometimes end up redefining loved ones as those in the ‘club’?

Ephesians 2 suggests a way forward.  Here is the short route:

  1. Be solid on Biblical theology:  Which in this case means being solid on who the “you” refers to in our verse above.  See verses 1,2, and 11.
  2. Recognize our default position, yes, even ours: See verses 1,3, and 12.
  3. Recognize the amazing grace of God in our passage: See verses 4-8.  And then recognize that this grace is not just a theological term that pastors like to use, but a reference to the amazing generosity of God.
  4. Recognize how fences and walls between peoples are destroyed in the Kingdom and family of God.  See verses 14-18 and Galatians 3:28.  It is like John Lennon’s “Imagine” only it is not left to the imagination as a pipe dream, but to the will of God as a sure thing.
  5. Recognize that God’s family is not primarily about destiny, but about identity.  See verses 15,19-22.  We tend to only look to the future, fretting about who God will “let into heaven” and then we get annoyed with Him when we think our loved ones, or anyone else for that matter, will not be there (and we may even insinuate that we are more generous than God). We should look instead to who is recognizing the Father and demonstrating a ‘family likeness’ to God’s family right here and now and consider who’s will is at work in that.  And while we are at it, let us consider our own family resemblance.

Finally, we do well to follow the example of Jesus who was inclusive in His invitation to the Kingdom and inclusive in His service to others.  But Jesus did not throw open the gates of heaven by denying the truth of sin and the damage done to our relationship with God, rather He became that gate. That feeling of tension that we may feel over the household of God is a good thing.  It inspires us to the noble task of evangelism, being inclusive in our invitation and service, and always ready to point to the gate.


Read more at www.clarkedixon.wordpress.com

*Clarke is a Baptist so he’s allowed to say that!

August 23, 2017

Unsettling Times

Today I picked up a Christian periodical and discovered that Arnold Reimer, a retired pastor from a church I frequently attended — Bayview Glen Alliance Church in Toronto — had a blog titled Finishing Well. I read several articles, but this one from June jumped out at me as still being quite timely. Click the title to read it at source.

Unshaken?

It is hard to remember a time in world affairs more unsettling than this present one.  When the greatest economic and military power seethes with division, indecision, hateful accusations, political stagnation, worrisome threats, and moral decay,  then international angst soars.  It is possible that some foolish enemy might take advantage of the situation , when respect and confidence in authority are so confused, and leadership is so consistently distracted and defensive.

We are living in times Scripture describes as follows: See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking.  For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, (Noah, Moses, the prophets) much less shall we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.  And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.’  And this expression, ‘Yet once more,’ denotes the removing of things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. (God’s truth and righteousness)   Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”

I repeat what I have often said… the Church, its leadership and followers, must speak, live and demonstrate with awe and reverence, not just the love of a gracious God, but the wrath of a holy God, who is a consuming fire.  Yes, the Lord our God, Sovereign Ruler of the universe, Creator, Saviour, Healer, Sanctifier and coming King, is patient, loving, gracious and forgiving.  But, He hates sin and judges it.  Eventually, He withholds blessing from the disobedient and indifferent. That great and awesome God insists that we proclaim both His cursing and His blessing, whether they listen or not.

If the proverbial house on fire requires a daring saviour to disregard self in order to rescue the perishing, why, in heaven’s name, are we pampering the saints, watering
down prophetic truth, and coddling sin and sinners?  Do we not understand our times?  Do we not realize that the popular parading of evil, running rampant in our day, and generally approved, left unmentioned, unchallenged and un-rebuked will hasten the exercise of God’s wrath?   Is sin so obscure in Scripture that we can be ambivalent about it from our pulpits?  Are we not to hold governments, educational and religious institutions and the general population accountable for degenerate behaviour?  Is the applause and approval of men so important, or the fear of their response so great, we dare to please men rather than God?

These are sobering, heart-searching thoughts for which we who own His name shall stand accountable.   Surely, for those who know God and His Word, finishing well demands a bold, fearless acknowledgement and response to these things.  Those of us who are older have been given the perspective of time, duty and experience to see a bigger picture.   We know the value of love, prayer, lifestyle and sensitivity necessary to an acceptable presentation of truth and warning.   We also know what evil can do!   In a shaken world an unshakeable faith in a gracious, forgiving God will enable us to speak lovingly, wisely and clearly.

Rev. Arnold Reimer


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