Christianity 201

June 17, 2021

When We Live in a Loveless World

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through 1st John 4:7-21

by Clarke Dixon

Does it ever seem like love is just a luxury? It would be nice to have, but . . . not happening. In buying a new car, you could have the heated and cooled leather seats, plus a high end sound system for just a few thousand dollars more. That would be nice, but . . . not happening. You are buying used anyway, so you settle for vinyl seats and am radio with 8-track. Yes, I’m old enough to remember those.

We settle for a loveless world.

Some settle for a loveless marriage, whether love is thought of as romance, commitment, or friendship. Some settle for a marriage where there is none of the above. Some settle for loveless family relationships, or work environments. Some settle for a loveless life.

Love can seem to be a luxury, nice to have, but . . . not happening. And we settle for a life without love. We settle for a loveless world.

When we follow Jesus, we don’t settle. We can’t settle. Here are a few things we do instead as found in 1st John 4:7-22.

First, we experience love from the original source of love.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins

1 John 4:7-10 (NRSV emphasis added)

With God, love comes standard, meaning God’s love for us. When we think we live in a loveless world, let us be aware of God’s love, let us be be loved by God. We will discover that this is not a loveless world after all.

Second, we love.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. . . . Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. . . . We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

1 John 4:7,8, 11,12,19-21 (NRSV)

With God, love comes standard, meaning our growing love for others. We think we live in a loveless world, but it won’t be loveless for long if we take the intuitive to love. If we find ourselves in a loveless marriage, a loveless family, or a loveless work environment, let’s bring the love. This cannot be a loveless world because, well, we are in it, and we are learning to love others as God loves us.

Third, we trade in our insecurities about being loved for confidence.

It is a human thing to be insecure, to think “nobody loves me.” In fact we can convince ourselves of that even when it is not true. We might think no one loves us when the truth is, we have no love for ourselves.

We have good reason to trade in our insecurities:

So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:16-19 (NRSV)

We have good reason to have confidence that God loves us. We are not really living the Christian life if we are constantly wondering if we will go to hell if we do this, that, or the other thing, or fail to do this, that, or the other thing. The Christian life is not a life of fear, but a life of confident living in Christ and serving in the world.

For many people, fear comes standard with religion. For the Christian, love comes standard with God. Let love be the standard, not fear.

We can be bold and fearless because God took the first step of love toward us:

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. . . . We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:10,19 (NRSV)

I remember well the fear I felt when I asked my wife out on our first date. I took the first step and was not sure it would go well, but she was (and is) super cute and there was no way I was not going to ask. I’m glad I did!

With God, we never take the first step. We are not the ones going to God looking for a relationship. God approached us first, we know his intentions and desire for a relationship. At the cross we see the lengths God is willing to go to for that relationship. We don’t go to God wondering, will God say yes? God has already asked you out, go ahead and give God your number already!

With God, love comes standard. When we think we live in a loveless world, let us open our eyes enough to see and experience the love God has for us. Let us trade in our insecurity and fear for confidence.

Conclusion

According to John, love is not an option in our relationship with God. Neither should we think of it as an option in our relationship with others, or ourselves.

In a world that seems so unloving, where love seems like a luxury we can’t ever have, let us love and be loved! With God, love comes standard.

(Video is available for the full sermon or it can be seen as part of this “online worship expression”)

June 10, 2021

Test the Spirits… Wait, What Spirits?

Thinking Through 1st John 4:1-3

by Clarke Dixon

Have you ever been in conversation with a spirit and asked “spirit, do you confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh?”

No, neither have I. What is John talking about then when he says “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God,” then goes on to give us the test?:

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.

1 John 4:1-3 (NRSV)

At first glance we might think we are to be asking spirit beings to clarify their theological positions for us. Perhaps in thinking through these verses we may hope to learn more about angels and demons. While I believe such exist, we won’t be talking about them here. Why? Because John is not talking about them here.

What is John talking about?

John is continuing to talk about what he has already been talking about in this letter, namely, the false teachers who were trying to influence the early Christian communities. Let us read what John has written again, and as we do so, let us recognize that he is not changing topics when he moves from ‘spirits’ to ‘prophets’:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.

1 John 4:1-3 (NRSV emphasis added)

John was giving the recipients of his letter a simple test, a question they could ask to discern if a someone was one of those false teachers who had hijacked Jesus to promote a more Gnostic way of thinking. In this way of thinking, anything spiritual is good, anything material is bad. Therefore the false teachers would have claimed that Jesus is from God, yes, but he just seemed to be in the flesh. Surely God would not become flesh and dwell among us, right? From a Gnostic way of thinking, God certainly would not. But John knew better.

John knew better because John knew Jesus. He spent time with him, and knew he was no phantom ghost, no mere spirit being. John saw Jesus die, in the flesh. John knew Jesus raised from the dead with a resurrection body. That resurrection body seemed to be a different kind of body, but was no mere spirit. John knew Jesus and could say,

. . . the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14 (NRSV)

Therefore in telling the early Christians to test the spirits, John was encouraging them to stick with what they had learned from the apostles who were with Jesus, including John himself. They should stay away from the false teachers who had the “spirit of error” (1 John 4:6).

So, what does this have to do with us now?

I can think of three things.

First, it gives us a foundation stone which is part of a robust foundation for our Christian thinking and belief.

If you think that Jesus was a spirit, and not a man, as many false teachers in John’s day thought, then you are lacking a key foundation stone for Christian thinking and belief. You are missing what John, and the other apostles who spent time with Jesus, knew about him. They knew that in Jesus “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

However, if you think, as is more common in our day, that Jesus was just a moral teacher, and nothing more, then you are lacking a key foundation stone for Christian thinking and belief. You are missing what John, and the other apostles who spent time with Jesus, knew about him. They knew that in Jesus “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

We are reminded of this foundation stone when we participate in The Lord’s Table. His flesh was broken for us, his blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins. He was no mere spirit being as the Gnostic teachers were claiming. But neither was he a mere teacher of morality as is more commonly held in our day, but rather Saviour, and Lord. The bread and the cup remind us of these things.

Second, it helps us sort out the foundation stones from the wallpaper, it helps us understand how to read the Bible.

As you read through 1st John 4:1-3 and following, you may hope to learn something about angels and demons, or even the antichrist. John mentions these, but not to satisfy our curiosity about them. Rather he mentions them to make a point. John is not really talking about spirits and demons here. He is speaking about Jesus, and an important fact about Jesus the false teachers were getting wrong.

As we read the Bible, let us not attempt to force it to answer our questions, to satisfy our curiosity. Let us allow the Bible writers to speak what needed to be said in their day. Let us wrestle with what it means for us in ours.

Third, we remember the importance of reading more than just a few verses of the Bible.

When we read 1st John 4:1-3 in the context of the entire letter of First John, the entire New Testament, and the entire Bible, we will realize that it just gives us just one foundation stone for Christian thinking and belief. Immediately before, and immediately after, we have another foundation stone, the life of love patterned after God’s love.

Recently the bodies of 215 children have been discovered in a residential school set up to educate indigenous children. These are not just unmarked graves, these have been unknown graves. How many others are there? What happened, and how? Who could have allowed this to happen? As we ask these questions, let us remember that this was not just a Canadian school, but a school representing Christianity.

If we could go back and ask those who were responsible if they believed that Jesus is the Messiah come in the flesh, they would likely have passed that test. That foundation stone was probably in place. But was the foundation stone of love in place? From where we stand, it sounds like “love” was not the word of the day, but “colonialism.”

Would we have done better if we were there at that time?

We must do better now. Being able to pass a theological exam from a few verses of the Bible is not enough.


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor who appears here most Thursdays. You can read more devotions like this by clicking the header which appears just above his name. Video of the full sermon on which this devotional is based can be seen on its own, or as part of this “online worship expression

June 6, 2021

Speaking Out

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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We were on a road trip with the kids and saw a record store and thought we’d pick up a new CD to listen to as we drove. I found an album which contained a song we’d grown to love on YouTube, but it turned out what we’d heard online was a remix, and when the track came up, it was quite different. Still, I always enjoyed the band, but then lost track of them somewhat.

Earlier this week the YouTube algorithm thought I might enjoy a song by them, and as much as I liked the music, I also appreciated that they were using their music industry platform to champion a cause that was important to them.

As I considered this earlier today, I thought of Queen Esther. At a key juncture in the history of her people, she finds herself with a unique platform, and wrestles with risking all to speak out. Mordecai tells her, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

The phrase “for such a time as this” is so strongly identified with this story that I hesitated to even quote it, and almost all translators are reluctant to change it, but here’s how some other translations render Esther 4:14:

  • who knows whether you have attained royalty for such a time as this [and for this very purpose]? (Amplified Bible)
  • Maybe it was for a moment like this (CEB)
  • Perhaps it was for a circumstance such as this (Segund 21 via Google translate)
  • Perhaps you have become queen precisely to help us in this situation! (Dios Habla Hoy via Google translate)

Esther’s unique placement in the king’s household meant that there was no plan B; no visible alternative that might effect the deliverance of her people.

The same is true of Nathan. He is another whose story is remembered for a very short phrase, “Thou art the man.” Okay, that’s a bit King Jamesey for some of you, but even with our modern translations, that’s how I remember it. The NIV has it as “Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!'” 2 Samuel 12:7.

I’m sure that in this situation, Nathan was the stereotypical reluctant prophet, though presenting his challenge/accusation to David through a parable certainly softened the impact. Initially, at least. Nathan uses his platform as prophet to arrest David in his tracks. Only then does he launch into more typical prophet-language and in the five verses which follow, spells out to David his transgression with Bathsheba, and we should add, his transgression with Uriah, her husband.

Has God placed you in a unique place in someone’s story or given you a unique platform?

Earlier this week someone tweeted this:

If God calls you to be a Nathan, and you don’t respond, then you need a Nathan.

Think about it.

Clarke Dixon wrote these words here in 2018 referencing Esther:

…Mordecai and Esther are not perfect Jews. Both have names reflecting pagan deities. You have likely heard the expression “Dare to be a Daniel”. We preachers love that story as we encourage people to have the courage to stand up and stick out for their faith. Esther does not dare to be a Daniel until it is nearly too late, preferring, on the advice of Mordecai, to keep her faith a secret, even from her husband! Where Daniel kept to a kosher diet, we see no such efforts from Esther. The Book of Esther is not a story of God rewarding a good Jew for her piety. It is a story of God keeping His covenant promises despite the imperfections of His people…

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is another example of God choosing to use someone uniquely situated in location and time. While she had no platform before the conception miracle, she breaks out into a powerful prophetic voice after being told of her place in God’s larger narrative, revealing the inner-life she had with God. It is only in hindsight we see her willingness to be used by God:

Galatians 4:4But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law.

and also Christ’s uniquely placement in location and time:

Romans 5:6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. (both NIV; italics added)

Sometimes we ourselves need to recognize or even enhance the “no plan B” circumstance. Writer Sharon Jaynes comments on the anointing of Elisha to replace Elijah:

…Elisha was just minding his own business and doing his job when Elijah walked up and threw his cloak over him. I’m sure it seemed very “out of the blue” to this young man. But I’ve learned that oftentimes what seems “out of the blue”, is right “out of God’s playbook.” God had had this in the works for quite some time.

We don’t know much about Elisha. He was just a working man. Every day, he got up out of bed, hooked up the oxen, and looked at their backsides. Nothing special. Nothing extraordinary. Just a working man.

But God had a plan; God chose a man.

Now, here’s what grabbed my heart. After Elijah threw his mantle over Elisha, which was a sign that he was passing his prophetic anointing to the younger man, Elisha went back to tell his family goodbye. He also had a giant barbeque celebration and sacrificed his oxen. He didn’t keep a few just in case this prophet gig didn’t work out. He even burned the plow.

He burned the symbol of his former life.

He burned the source of his former livelihood.

There was no turning back.

There was no plan B…

Who are those uniquely situated in your personal sphere of influence?


For some of you, the mention of Elisha burning the plow (or for our UK readers, plough) reminded you of the popular CCM song, Burn the Ships by King and Country. In 2018 we ran a devotional based on the original story.

 

 

June 3, 2021

One Word to Capture the Essence of Christianity?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through 1st John 3:11-24

by Clarke Dixon

What one word would you use to convey the essence of Christianity?

■ For some it might be heaven, as in how to get to heaven when you die.

■ For some it might be law, as in how to live, what rules to follow.

■ For some it might be tradition, as in the Christian tradition is good for our society.

■ For some it might be theology, as in knowing all the right things about God.

■ For some it might be politics, meaning if you are a Christian, you will vote this way and not that.

■ For some it might be the word belief. Just believe in Jesus, and all will go well.

There is a word that John uses a lot in the letter we now know as 1st John. It was a word John knew the early Christian communities in his day needed to hear as they faced false teaching from a specific group of people. It is a word that maybe we need to hear in our day as we face all kinds of teaching from all kinds of people.

One Word to Describe the False Teaching, and the Word John Uses to Describe the True Teaching

Let us think first about what one word would capture the kind of Christianity the false teachers were trying to promote.

We have already seen how they were trying to change the facts about Jesus to fit their thinking rather than change their thinking to fit the facts about Jesus. We have also already seen that they missed the mark on what it means to follow Jesus, how to live as a Christians.

Bible scholars tend to agree that these false teachers were trying to advance an early form of Gnosticism. In this kind of thinking, anything spiritual is good, anything material is bad. For the Gnostics the one word that might sum up the essence of their thinking, and what they thought Christianity should be about, is escape, meaning an escape into the good spirit world while leaving the awful material world behind. And by the way, on your way there it doesn’t really matter what you do because the material world means nothing. So just do what you want while you are waiting for your escape from the body.

To this John says, and I paraphrase, “no, as Christ followers, as God’s children, we don’t just do what we want”:

For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

1 John 3:11 (NRSV)

There it is, the word, love. As John points out, this word was there from the beginning. As the apostles first taught people about Jesus, they didn’t tell them that Jesus was Lord, and that was all there was to know. Nope, loving one another was an integral part of the message from the beginnning too. It was not considered an option that might be nice to have at some point in the future. It was essential. It still is!

Love Explored

John goes on to say more about love, first, what it does not look like:

We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.

1 John 3:12 (NRSV)

Someone who loves, who is not self-centred and jealous, will be unlike Cain, and will not murder. John continues:

We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death.

1 John 3:14 (NRSV)

It turns out that love is so important that it is the test of whether we are following Jesus! Speaking of Jesus:

All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.

1 John 3:15 (NRSV)

In writing this John is echoing the teaching of Jesus who said:

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment . . .

Matthew 5:21-22 (NRSV)

Love is the better way as Jesus goes on to say in that Sermon on the Mount.

In addition to being reminded of the teaching of Jesus, We are also reminded of his example:

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

1 John 3:16 (NRSV)

Jesus is the opposite of Cain here. Instead of taking the life of another, he lays down his own. Cain is the first example of a life taker. Jesus is the first and best example of a life giver, and of love.

We have the teaching and example of Jesus on love. We are changed by the love of God:

How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action

1 John 3:17-18 (NRSV)

The Christian Faith is Grounded in Love.

This word ‘love’ was an important focus when facing the false teachers in John’s day. The false teachers wanted to change the facts about Jesus to fit their way of thinking. But the facts about Jesus speak of the love of God. The incarnation, the teaching, the example, the death and resurrection of Jesus, these all speak to the love of God. Change the facts about Jesus to suit yourself and you lose the greatest love that has ever been known.

Also, you don’t just do what you want as the false teachers were claiming. You become a person of love. The word is not escape, but love.

This word ‘love’ is an important focus when we face all kinds of teaching in our day.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about getting to heaven. Are you becoming a person of love here on earth? In fact, merely becoming a Christian so that you can get to heaven someday can actually be a self-centred thing. It is all about me and what I get. It should also be about picking up our cross and following Jesus in the way of generous love.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about keeping law. We can keep the rules and yet somehow not become a person of love. Jesus has a lot to say about that in his teaching as found in the Gospels.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about tradition. We can keep the traditions and yet somehow not become a person of love.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about theology. We can know all the right things about God, yet not become a person of love.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about politics. Politics is so often about power. Jesus has a lot to say about serving others with love, giving the example of washing the disciples’ feet, giving the example of the cross. A Christian does not avoid politics. A Christian is to express love through politics, loving others through serving them.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about belief:

And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.

1 John 3:23 (NRSV)

John just can’t help but mention love along with belief!

Conclusion

At the beginning I asked which one word you might use to describe the essence of Christianity. Of course, we should never just reduce Christianity to just one word. But perhaps Paul is onto something when in writing to the Christians in Corinth he says,

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13 (NRSV)


The full video of the sermon on which this is based can be seen as part of this “online worship expression Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada and appears here most Thursdays.

May 27, 2021

Does Any and Every Sin Cancel You Out as a Christian?

Thinking Through 1st John 2:29-3:10

by Clarke Dixon

Have you ever felt like you just don’t measure up as a Christian? You believe in Jesus, but you don’t believe you have achieved the kind of sinless perfection you think a Christian should have?

Perhaps a church or a Christian has made you feel that way. I remember well having coffee with a student from a certain Bible college while I was at seminary. It felt like an interrogation and I’m not sure I passed the test of “good enough” to be a Christian in his mind.

Perhaps you don’t need any help in feeling you don’t measure up. You get there all on your own.

Perhaps the Bible sometimes makes you feel like you don’t measure up. For example,

2:29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him.

3:1-10 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him . . .  Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.  You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.  No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.

1 John 2:29 – 3:1,4-10 (NRSV emphasis added)

Discouraged yet? Actually, as we dig into what John has written here, we will find great encouragement.

Let us keep in mind what we learned last week, that John had been speaking about false teachers who tried to change the facts about Jesus to fit their thinking, when they should have changed their thinking to fit the facts about Jesus. They were missing the mark on their teaching on who Jesus was and is. But here is what is important for us to know in understanding our passage today; they were also missing the mark on what it looks like to follow Jesus.

The false teachers got the identity of Jesus wrong, but they also missed the teaching of Jesus on loving God, neighbour, and one’s enemies. In getting the identity of Jesus wrong, they also missed the example of Jesus on loving God, neighbour, and one’s enemies, namely, the incarnation, death and resurrection.

John’s point here in 1st John 2:29-3:10 is that these false teachers are easy to spot. Not only do they try to change Jesus, they don’t live Jesus focused lives:

  • They don’t do what is right (see 2:29 and 3:7 above).
  • They have no concern for sin (see 3:4-6 above).
  • They have no concern for destroying the works of the devil, for overturning evil (see 3:8 above).
  • They have no conscience (see 3:9 above).

The false teachers were easy to spot, and in our passage John gave the early readers the way to notice them easily:

Here’s how you tell the difference between God’s children and the Devil’s children: The one who won’t practice righteous ways isn’t from God, nor is the one who won’t love brother or sister. A simple test.

1 John 3:10 (The Message)

John’s intention was not to discourage the Christians he was writing to. He was not writing to make them doubt their salvation over each and every sin they might commit. Nor was he writing to discourage us today. He was writing to discourage them, and us, from following false teachers, who were, and are, easy to spot by their lack of Jesus-focused lives. In fact he is very encouraging when he highlights the identity of the readers:

What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are.

1st John 3:1 (The Message)

There is no hint here of “be sure to never, ever, ever sin, and if you do, then you are a child of the devil!” No, rather you are the children of God, but watch out for the false teachers who are the children of the devil.

Jesus spends quite some time teaching us to think of ourselves as God’s children. He teaches us to pray “Our Father” in the Lord’s Prayer. In fact Jesus gives many references to thinking of God as our father throughout the Sermon on the Mount where we find that prayer in Matthew’s Gospel.

John had also highlighted the opportunity to become children of God in his Gospel account:

He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

John 1:11-13 (NLT)

As children of God, we are those whose lives are being transformed by Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit. We may not be perfect, but we live Jesus-focused lives:

  • We have a concern for righteousness (see 2:29 and 3:7 above).
  • we have joined and are actively playing for “Team Jesus” (see 3:4-6 above, plus an eariler “Shrunk Sermon” on 1st John 2:1-6. Yes, we make mistakes and the other team may score because of those mistakes, but there is forgiveness, we are still on the team, and the other team scoring is never what we want).
  • We are those who participate apte in God’s plan of destroying the works of the devil, of dealing with evil (see 3:8 above).
  • We have a conscience (see 3:9 above).

Though John does not mention the Holy Spirit in our passage, the Holy Spirit is here, the Holy Spirit is involved:

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.

Romans 8:15-16 (NLT)

There is a spiritual rebirth that happens, a transformation as we begin to show a family resemblance to our heavenly Father, even though we are still children.

Jesus teaches us to come to God like a small child:

I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”

Mark 10:15 (NLT)

When a small child is called to the dinner table, does the child ask “do I deserve dinner tonight?” When we are sitting at dinner with God, we are not worried about our standing before God. But we will have a natural desire to be “just like Dad.”

We belong, we are a children of God. Let us not fret about whether we measure up, anxious that any and every sin will cancel us out as Christians, but instead let us continue to take our place at God’s table, growing into this beautiful relationship with our heavenly Father.


The full message on which this is based may be viewed on its own, or as part of this “online worship expression

May 20, 2021

With So Many Opinions About Jesus

Thinking Through 1st John 2:18-28

by Clarke Dixon

With so many opinions about Jesus, whom do we trust?

We live in days of opinions on everything. Masks, or no masks? Vaccines, or no vaccines? Jesus, or no Jesus? There is no shortage of opinions on politics, hockey, religion, the weather, anything and everything.

The internet has only made things worse, or better, depending on your perspective. It is said that thanks to the internet we live in the Information Age. It may be more correct to say that thanks to the internet, we live in the age of opinions.

Anyone can now share their opinion with the world, no matter how ridiculous the opinion may actually end up being. Nothing needs to be reasonable, or sensible, to be published.

This might be fine when the opinion does not matter much. Which hockey team will win the Stanley cup? I may have an opinion on that, in fact I do. You may not care. It may matter to some of us now, in fact there is a whole industry devoted to sharing opinions on sports. But will I care in 100 years? Will any of us?

There is something that matters now, that can make a big difference in our lives now, and will matter to each and every one of us 100 years from now; What, or better, who, is God?

What, or better, who is God? This is the most important question ever asked. This is the most important question ever avoided on a regular basis. When it is asked, there are so many opinions.

Even if we narrow it down to thinking about Jesus, asking, ‘is Jesus the best representation of God the world has ever seen?’, even then, there are so many opinions.

Some are of the opinion that Jesus is just a mythical figure. Some are of the opinion that Jesus was a man who lived, but the early devotees, or rather ‘inventors’, of Christianity, made him bigger than he is, turning the man Jesus into a God following his death. Some of us are of the opinion that Jesus rose from the dead and is, in fact, Lord and Saviour.

How do we ever find our way in a sea of opinions about Jesus?

John, in his letter known to us as 1st John, responds to an opinion some were promoting about Jesus. What John has to say in helping the early Christians navigate a different opinion about Jesus will help us navigate different opinions about Jesus in our day. So let’s take a look:

Dear children, the last hour is here. You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared. From this we know that the last hour has come. These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us.

11 John 2:18-19 (NLT)

With our fascination with the end of the world, we may want to know more about the Antichrist. However, John here is not wanting to talk about one figure, but rather some people who were sharing opinions about Jesus that were new and different. They are “anti,” meaning “instead of” Christ. They were promoting their own conception of Jesus instead of receiving the teaching about Jesus already given by the apostles. John is careful to point out that these people may have hung out with the Christian community, but they were never really Christians.

Who are these people?

In John’s day there was a way of looking at things which developed more fully into what is now called Gnosticism. There is much to say, but to keep it simple, anything “spiritual” and “otherworldly” was good, anything “material” and “this-wordly” was bad. Interestingly, many Christians today are somewhat gnostic in their thinking!

Given such a view, you can well imagine how certain teachings of Jesus would resonate, things like “I am the light of the world.” Since some of the teachings would resonate, they basically highjacked Jesus. They tried to change Jesus to fit their way of understanding instead of changing their understanding to fit Jesus.

They denied the humanity of Jesus, his death, and his bodily resurrection, and the logical conclusions from those facts. These things were all too “worldly” to fit with their way of thinking.

What is important for us to understand here is that the apostles, including John, were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life, death, and life after death. They were with Jesus, heard his teaching, knew him to be a man like any other, yet a man unlike any other, saw him killed, and saw him alive again, not as some ghost, but as he was, in the body, yet different somehow. The disciples of Jesus adjusted their thinking to fit the facts before them. So when some people come along giving their opinions on how Jesus fits their way of thinking if you just think differently about Jesus, John is eager to set the record straight.

To this, John says,

But you are not like that, for the Holy One has given you his Spirit, and all of you know the truth. So I am writing to you not because you don’t know the truth but because you know the difference between truth and lies. And who is a liar? Anyone who says that Jesus is not the Christ. Anyone who denies the Father and the Son is an antichrist.

1 John 2:20-22 (NLT)

John is saying, you know the truth! And you know that these opinions from the false teachers are not it! You have heard about Jesus, his life, teaching, death, and resurrection, from the eyewitnesses. That’s it! Plus there is a presence through the Holy Spirit that brings you to a place of hearing about Jesus and saying “that’s it.” And “it” is the best news ever!

You know it and in fact you don’t need these false teachers to teach you anything anything extra:

I am writing these things to warn you about those who want to lead you astray. But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ.

1 John 2:26-27 (NLT)

Hearing the false teachers would be like being on a jury, hearing all the evidence that has been carefully collected and presented, then picking up a tabloid with the headline “the shocking truth” about the case you are working on. So John is saying, don’t trade facts for opinions!

So remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father. And in this fellowship we enjoy the eternal life he promised us.

1 John 2:24-25 (NLT)

So how does this help us navigate the many opinions being shared about Jesus today? Is Jesus just a mythical figure? Is Jesus just a mere man that other mere men conferred divinity upon later?

Just as the false teachers in John’s day were trying to change Jesus to fit their way of thinking instead of changing their thinking to fit the facts about Jesus, there are those today, who having already made up their minds that miracles do not happen, that the supernatural is not real, or that Christianity is a bad religion, try to change Jesus to fit their thinking rather than change their thinking to fit Jesus.

We do well to do as the early followers of Jesus did and follow the evidence.

The early Christians had heard about Jesus, his life, teaching, death, and resurrection from the eyewitnesses, the apostles who had experienced the reality of Jesus, his life, teaching, death, and resurrection. With the testimony of the Holy Spirit, the news rang true, that Jesus is Lord. And the news was the best news ever.

Today we still follow the evidence. We still have the testimony of those who knew Jesus, witnesses of his life, teaching, death and resurrection. It is found in the writings we now call the New Testament. The case for Jesus as Lord and Saviour is compelling. It is both beautiful and believable. (See my sermon series called “Compelling” which is summarized here.)

People can share their opinions about the lake I go windsurfing in. They might be of the opinion that the lake is teeming with great white sharks and that since I fall off a lot I had better not windsurf there. They would be correct about my falling off a lot, but what about the presence of great white sharks? I can do the research and look up what kinds of fish are found in Ontario’s lakes. I can do the research and find out what kind of water great white sharks live in. I can ask those who regularly swim in the lake. I can learn from my own experience of swimming in the lake.

Let us follow the evidence, then walk with Jesus:

And now, dear children, remain in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns, you will be full of courage and not shrink back from him in shame.

1 John 2:28 (NLT)

There are many opinions about Jesus, but it really matters that we get it right.

Sorting out the identity of Jesus affects life now, it matters now, it makes a big difference, not just for us, but for everyone around us.

Sorting out the identity of Jesus will still matter to us 100 years from now and beyond, when God’s grace, God’s gift of eternal life will matter more to us than anything.

Let us not settle for opinions about Jesus, Let us pursue Jesus.

With so many opinions about Jesus being shared in our day, whom do we trust? Let us trust Jesus!


The full sermon on video can also be seen as part of this “online worship expression

May 13, 2021

Imagine If We Loved Like Jesus

1st John 2:7-11

by Clarke Dixon

Imagine if Cain had walked a path of love. Imagine if Cain had loved Abel instead of hating him. Imagine how things would have been different, for Abel, for Cain, and for Adam and Eve.

Imagine if the people of Noah’s day had walked a path of love. They were known for their violence and that violence led to the flood. Imagine if they had love for each other instead of hatred. Imagine how things would have turned out different.

Imagine if Pharaoh had walked a path of love, loving the Hebrew people instead of making them slaves. Imagine how the exodus story may have turned out differently.

Imagine if the inhabitants of the promised land had walked a path of love. They were in the habit of sacrificing their children among other atrocities. Imagine if they had more love for their children than their false gods.

Imagine if the people of God in the Old Testament had walked the path of love, loving God and each other. They were called to be a light shining in darkness. Imagine if they had kept God’s commandments and had taken care of the poor, sought justice for the oppressed, and had refrained from following the practices of the former inhabitants, like worshipping other gods by sacrificing their children. Imagine how things would have have turned out differently in so many ways including the avoidance of the consequence of their behaviour, the fall of Jerusalem and the exile.

Imagine if Herod had walked the path of love. Imagine if he had love instead of fear and hatred when he had the infants of Bethlehem killed in an attempt to delete Jesus. Imagine the difference that would have made.

Imagine if the religious leaders who sought to destroy Jesus, had walked in the path of love and loved him rather than hated him. Now imagine if Jesus had practiced hatred instead of love! Imagine if Jesus had lashed out in vengeance rather than reach out in love at the cross. Imagine the darkness.

In his letter, John speaks of love, light and darkness:

Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment for you; rather it is an old one you have had from the very beginning. This old commandment—to love one another—is the same message you heard before. Yet it is also new. Jesus lived the truth of this commandment, and you also are living it. For the darkness is disappearing, and the true light is already shining.

If anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is still living in darkness. Anyone who loves a fellow believer is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble. But anyone who hates a fellow believer is still living and walking in darkness. Such a person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by the darkness.

1 John 2:7-11 (NLT)

The commandment to love is old, in that it goes back farther than even the Ten Commandments. Let’s go back much further than the Ten Commandments and visit Cain:

“Why are you so angry?” the LORD asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? 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.”

Genesis 4:6-7 (NLT)

We think of sin as disobedience to God, and that is part of it. But if Cain had loved his brother, he would not have killed him, and he would not have had a disobedience problem. In fact if Adam and Eve had loved God, they would not have had a disobedience problem either. As Jesus tells us, the commandments are all summed up in love:

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:37-40 (NLT)

Jesus goes beyond calling us to love God, each other, and ourselves:

You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies!

Matthew 5:43-44 (NLT)

Jesus not only told us to love our enemies, he set the example! And so now John, in reminding us of this really old commandment, made new in Jesus, is inviting us to walk as Jesus walked:

Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.

1 John 2:6 (NLT)

We began by considering how things would have been different if the people we meet in the Bible had walked in the way of love. Now let us imagine how things could be different now, if we all walk as Jesus walked, in the way of love. . . with friends, and within families . . . within churches . . . within communities . . . and across the world.

If we commit this day to walking as Jesus walked, in a path of love, is there anything we need to change about our day?


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. Clicking the header above his name at the top of the page will take you to his collection of Sunday’s Shrunk Sermons.

May 6, 2021

Team Jesus

1st John 2:1-6

by Clarke Dixon

If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9 (NRSV)

Good news! Our sins are forgiven!

But then, if we read ahead in John’s letter, we may feel like we encounter bad news, especially when we get to statements like these:

No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. . . . Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil;. . . Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God.

Selections from 1 John 3:6-9 (NRSV)

What if the good news is that our past sins are forgiven and only our past sins? What if we are given a fresh start, but we had better not ever sin after that? Maybe we will be relieved to know that God’s Spirit indwells us and will keep us from sin? Most of us, however, would still have great anxiety since we know from experience that we still sin. Or am I the only one? In fact our anxiety may grow if we think that perhaps we have chased God’s Holy Spirit away somehow.

As a way to think through this, let us think of ourselves as being hockey players, perhaps we can think of ourselves as playing for the Boston Bruins. Now let us think of God as having a hockey team, that our Lord is the owner, general manager, and coach. Of course we can think of the Toronto Maple Leafs as being that team!

Given this analogy, what would forgiveness from God look like? We may think that God comes to us and says that any goal we have ever scored, or helped our team to score against his team is forgiven. We might say “well thank you for letting bygones be bygones.” But then we keep playing for the Bruins, and keep trying to score on the Leafs. John is telling us in his letter that this is not how faith in Jesus works. It is not just about the forgiveness of sins.

The words of Jesus were really important to John, they should be to us too. So let us take a moment to look at the last words of Jesus recorded for us in the Gospel of Luke:

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Luke 24:45-49 (NRSV emphasis added)

Let us note here that it is not just forgiveness of sins that is to be proclaimed, but also repentance, meaning a change of mind, a change of path.

Now let us consider the last words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Matthew:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV emphasis added)

Forgiveness of sins is not even mentioned here in Matthew! Following Jesus is, paying attention to the commandments of Jesus is.

Jesus would have said a lot of things once risen form the dead, so Luke and John are not recording the very last words of Jesus so much as emphasizing the elements of Jesus’ teaching they thought they should pass on to us. Where we might emphasize forgiveness, they both emphasize a new life in Jesus.

Now let us go back to John’s letter:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.

1 John 2:1-6 (NRSV)

John is pushing us to think of a much bigger change in our lives than just experiencing forgivenesses. We are not just forgiven, we are set on a new path. To go back to the hockey analogy, God is not just offering forgiveness for the goals we have scored against his team, God is offering us a place on the team!

We don’t deserve it, we don’t play like the star players on his team. We might not even know how to skate yet. But we are invited to join the team!

Now just because we join the team, this does not mean we instantly become great players. Hockey players sometimes make mistakes. A bad pass can be intercepted and lead to the other team scoring. This does not lead to an instant expulsion from the team. This is a problem we often have as Christians. We assume that we should instantly become the Wayne Gretzky of Christians. But we still miss the mark. When we do,

. . . if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins

1 John 2:1 (NRSV)

We are not booted off the team. Everything that is necessary for us to be on the team has been accomplished.

What if, however, having moved from the Bruins to the Maple Leafs, during a playoff series against the Bruins, we continually pass the puck to the Bruins, and sometimes we even take a shot on our own net? The natural conclusion reached by the coach and fans alike, is that we have not really changed teams. We are still playing for the Bruins, we want the Bruins to win. This is what John is getting at in verses 3-6:

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.

1 John 2:3-6 (NRSV)

If we really are in Jesus, then it will be evident that we are on team Jesus. When John says later in 3:6-9, that we will not sin, that we cannot sin, it is like a coach saying to a hockey player, “you will not pass to a player on the opposing team, indeed you cannot.” Well the hockey player might have a bad pass that goes to a member on the other team, which might lead them to score a goal. But the player will not pass it with the hope, “oh boy, I hope the other team wins.” He will not do that, and given his desire to win the Stanley Cup, he cannot do that.

If hockey players never wore a jersey, you would still be able to know who is playing for what team. When John says we don’t sin as Christ followers, what he means is that it should be obvious that we are on team Jesus, that we don’t play for the opposing team. We might still be learning to skate, and we might be awful at handling the puck, which might lead the other team to score from time to time, nevertheless, it is evident we are are on team Jesus.

As we read through 1st John, and especially here in 1:3-6 and later 3:6-9, we might ask, am I in deep trouble if I commit even one sin after coming to faith in Jesus? That is not a question that would have come to John’s mind. The question John is asking is: does your life show that you are on team Jesus? That you are in Christ?

Yes, we are going to mess up, there are forgivenesses when we do. But if we are on team Jesus, it will be obvious that we are on team Jesus, jerseys and Jesus fish not required. Those who are on team Jesus are easy to spot, even if they are not spotless. We may may not be superstar players, at least not yet, but let us commit to being on team Jesus! And let us enjoy that honor.


The full sermon can also be seen as part of this longer “online worship expressionClarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays and doesn’t get the usual 1-2 paragraph intro! He’s a pastor in Ontario, Canada; and a good friend to have. Clarke and his wife have three boys, but I don’t know if any of them share his love of motorcycles.

April 29, 2021

Walking in the Light, Right Here, Right Now

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

1st John 1:5-10

by Clarke Dixon

Bad things can happen when we walk in the dark. We don’t see the dangers around us, plus we can lose the path. Don’t we often think “if only I knew then what I know now, I would have done things differently”? We make decisions in the dark which come back to haunt us. We don’t know the path ahead.

In life and in relationships bad things happen when we are in the dark. We need light! There is good news:

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.

1 John 1:5 (NLT)

First off, let us be sure to affirm that this is not about colour.

There are very clear reasons for anti-racism given in the Bible, starting at the beginning with all of us being created in the image of God. Jesus likely had darker skin, darker hair and darker eyes than we normally envision. The Holy Spirit is poured out upon all different kinds of peoples without discrimination. The vision for the future given in the Book of Revelation has all different kinds of peoples together as one, yet unique, in the presence of God.

“God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all” is not about colour. It is about illumination. It is about light that helps us see and appreciate colour, all colours including light and dark colours. It is the light that enables us to see where we are going. It is the light that enables us to see how things really are. It is the light that enables things to grow and gives life.

So if God is light, what difference does that make for us?

First, when God illuminates our way we see the better path to walk:

So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 1:6-7 (NLT)

We often talk about salvation in terms of past and future. You may have been asked “have you trusted in Jesus so that you can be with God when you die?” That is a good question, but it is not one John is asking here in his letter. That question is focused on the past and future. If we were to turn John’s words here into a question it would be, “are you walking with God now, and are you seeing the difference that makes now?”

If we are walking with God now, walking in his light now, that will play out in our relationships with one another. We will have “fellowship with each other.” The word “fellowship” if often used to translate the Greek term here “koinonia,” which no English term captures perfectly. It is the idea of true community, of authentic and good relationships among a group of people.

When we read John’s words, we may in our minds go to very ‘spiritualised’ understanding, that having trusted in Jesus, we will experience complete unity as Christians someday in the future. Again we are thinking of salvation as a past and future thing. John here, however, is focused on the present. If we are walking in the light now, if we walking with others the way God calls and enables us to walk with others now, then good things happen in our relationships in the here and now.

Consider the fruit of the Spirit;

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. . .

Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

As we grow in these “fruit of the Spirit” there is a significant impact or our relationships now! When we are walking in God’s light, our relationships are transformed, because we are being transformed. The path of God’s work within us is the better path to take.

Further, if we are walking with God now, walking in the light now, then “the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.”

Here again in our minds we might go to a highly theological past and future understanding, that having trusted in Jesus in the past, we will blameless on the day of judgement that is in our future. True, but here John is also speaking about practical matters in the present. There is a cleaning up that can happen in the here and now when we pay attention to “the blood of Jesus” and what it means.

If we live now according to the example of Jesus, in the way of the cross, of sacrificial and undeserved love, of forgiveness and grace rather than retaliation and violence, then our messes will start getting cleaned up. Everything plays out differently when we walk in the way of love as Jesus loved. Good things happen, in the here and now, when we walk in the light. When we see that path and walk in it, we see the difference God makes.

Second, when God illuminates our way we see things as they really are:

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.

1 John 1:8-10 (NLT)

Here is the way things really are: we each have sin, we each “miss the mark,” and that sin separates us from our Creator. But our Creator is also our Rescuer. God offers forgiveness through Jesus so that we can stand in right relationship with God, now and forevermore.

When we are walking with the Lord, and the Lord is shining a light on the way things really are, we will see our need for God’s love, and we will see God’s love in Jesus. That is how things really are.

What does our relationship with God look like? Do we look back to the past, to the moment that we trusted in Jesus and then turn our focus to the future, to the moment we meet Jesus in glory? In the meantime we might have the occasional dip into spirituality, sort of like the occasional Zoom call with family members during a pandemic. Or do we think of our walk with the Lord as a very present reality?

John calls us to walk in the light every day, moment by moment. When we do we will see God shaping our lives in the here and now. When we are walking with the Lord, it changes us, it changes all our relationships, it can begin to change the world around us.

God is light, when we walk in the light the path ahead comes clearer to see. God is light, when we walk in the light the way things really are comes into focus. God is light, His presence leads to life.

Let us walk in the light every day by pursuing God, pursuing Jesus every day. Let us watch for the difference that makes in us, and all around us.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario. The full sermon on which this is based can also be seen as part of this “online worship expression

April 22, 2021

No Other Gods

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Yesterday morning, the wife of an American journalist tweeted this scripture:

Joshua 23:16 “if you violate the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.”

I was immediately struck by the principle — which we’ve shared here before — that while God’s dealings with people have changed between the First Covenant and the New Covenant, his essential nature; his character have not changed. He is, as scripture reminds us, the same.

While he may not drive us off our land — at least in a literal sense — he is angered; he is grieved when he are tempted and distracted by other lifestyles; other worldviews; other voices telling us how we should live. The times we wander off from his plan “A” are the times we are sinning. We’ve missed the mark; we’ve accepted less than his perfect way; we’ve trusted our own instincts or desires above his stated will for our lives.

The verse is part of the concluding two chapters of Joshua, his famous last words to the people of Israel. Chapter 23 in particular contains three exhortations. The first one:

2b [Joshua:]“I am very old. You yourselves have seen everything the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake; it was the Lord your God who fought for you. Remember how I have allotted as an inheritance for your tribes all the land of the nations that remain—the nations I conquered—between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea in the west. The Lord your God himself will push them out for your sake. He will drive them out before you, and you will take possession of their land, as the Lord your God promised you.

“Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. Do not associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them. But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now.

The second follows immediately after:

“The Lord has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day no one has been able to withstand you. 10 One of you routs a thousand, because the Lord your God fights for you, just as he promised. 11 So be very careful to love the Lord your God.

12 “But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, 13 then you may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you.

And the third and last, immediately after that:

14 “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. 15 But just as all the good things the Lord your God has promised you have come to you, so he will bring on you all the evil things he has threatened, until the Lord your God has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. 16 If you violate the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.”

While commentators divide these accordingly, there is a common theme throughout: Don’t chase after (follow) other Gods.

It is a reiteration of the first of a set of commandments given by God to Moses to give to the people that we call “The Ten…” though some scholars see as many as 14 instructions.

Joshua says some other final things in chapter 24, and while that chapter is beyond the scope of this devotional, I do want to remind us of a verse 15, where not one, but two well-known sections of scripture are found in a single verse:

24.15 (italics added) But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

The website Precept Austin offers an insight into our key passage today which it calls “To Chase or Be Chased.” Pause and consider that for a moment. The battle in which we find ourselves doesn’t offer moments of neutrality in the action. (For my Canadian readers, think of a hockey game as the play quickly moves from one end of the rink to another.)

The Lord has also equipped His children so we can be courageous in a hostile world. Although the foes we face may seem to be more powerful, we can resist them because of God’s special provision. This doesn’t mean He always protects His children from physical injury or even death. But when a child of God works together with God and does His will, he is unconquerable until his work on earth is done.

How do we find the protection that helps us “chase away” the enemy? By trusting and obeying God. Joshua told God’s people that if they would obey the Lord, no one could stand against them (Josh. 23:10). The same God who fought for them will also fight for us. He will strengthen us to meet any challenge when we are doing what He wants us to do in the way He wants us to do it (Phil. 4:13).

Yes, the Lord will give us courage as we draw strength from Him each day.

In a sermon on this passage, Canadian pastor Hilmer Jagersma reminds us where the courage comes from in a New Covenant sense; quoting Acts 4:13

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

Returning to the covenant aspect of this passage, Hilmer adds that,

Whether you’re young or whether you’re old, God has called you has and set you apart for service, and you have promises that are extended to you and you enjoy the good things of the Lord… If you think about it… we grow up in a community that worships the Lord, and we part of a community where the word of God is preached, and many of you grew up in homes where the word of God is taught.

And that’s how God works. Through his Spirit. By his Word. God is working. We sing the promises of God. We teach the promises of God. As parents you’re trying to demonstrate and live out the promises of God.

But the warning that Joshua gives stands: Don’t take God’s grace for granted. The promises must be received in faith. And they have always needed to be received in faith.


Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon returns next week.

All scriptures today taken from the NIV.

Watch the complete sermon on Joshua 23 by Hilmer Jagersma at this link.

 

 

April 15, 2021

What is the Bible and Can it Be Trusted?

What is First John and Can it Be Trusted?

by Clarke Dixon

What is the Bible, and can it be trusted? Your answer to that may lie somewhere between two extremes.

At one extreme, as I once heard it described, the Bible was dropped into our laps by God one day, already leather bound and including maps and a ribbon. The Bible is purely the work of God, people need not be involved. Therefore, of course it is to be trusted. Don’t question it!

At the other extreme, the Bible is a library of works written by men long after the events they speak about or purely based on their own religious speculations. The Bible is merely the work of humans, no God need be involved. Therefore, of course the Bible is not to be trusted. Don’t question your doubt!

Because we are beginning a series in 1st John, and because thinking of the whole Bible would make for a very long post, we are going to focus in on 1st John; what is it, and can it be trusted as a source of truth? Did God drop 1st John into our laps, or was it written by a mere man? The first four verses will help us sort this out:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched —this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

1 John 1:1-4 (NIV)

We might notice that the words “we” and “our” come up a lot. Who is represented in this “we”? Specifically, this letter is traditionally thought to be written by John, a disciple Jesus called to follow him very early on in his public ministry. By saying “we,” John is including all the disciples who were with Jesus during the events related to us in the Gospels.

Having been followers of Jesus from the beginning, having seen him, heard him, been with him, and having seen him risen from the dead, the disciples were sent out by Jesus to teach people about him, all that he taught, and that he died and rose again, and what that all meant. The disciples, meaning ‘students’, became ‘apostles,’ meaning ‘sent-ones’. They were sent out to tell people what they knew to be true according to all they had witnessed. They were eyewitnesses. They were called to tell people what they had seen:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Acts 1:8 (NIV)

We might think of the disciples receiving a call to be “witnesses” in a religious sense, just as I am a Christian “witness” today. But really the were called by Jesus to be eyewitnesses, like in a court of law.

It was important that these apostles were eyewitnesses, able to speak from personal experience. We can consider the qualifications Peter set out in replacing Judas:

So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus—from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection.

Acts 1:21,22 (NLT)

So what is 1st John? It is a letter written by an eyewitness, John, who was a follower of Jesus based on his personal experience of Jesus, sent to Christians in various communities to encourage them.

As we read 1st John, we can be aware that John, as an eyewitness, was not making stuff up, but living life out of what he had seen and experienced. This is a real letter from a real person speaking from real experience. Therefore, before we even start talking about the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in John’s writing, there is already good reason to consider that John knows what he is talking about.

We often think of people like John as being primarily religious leaders, people who just loved to think of philosophy and religion. Let us keep in mind that John was a fisherman, and not someone who was seeking a career in spiritual leadership. He was a fisherman whose life was changed by Jesus. If John were still alive today, he may feel more at home in a witness stand in a court of law, than in a pulpit of a Baptist church.

The apostles were not sharing religious ideas they cooked up, in fact they would not have come up with this stuff anyway. Rather they were simply sharing what they had seen and experienced. Let us again consider the opening words of John, being sure to think of “we,” not as “we representing all humanity,” but as “we who were there with Jesus, who know what we are talking about”:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched —this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.

1 John 1:1-3 (NIV emphasis added)

Someone may object, how can we trust John to tell the truth when John is obviously a Christian and therefore biased in what he says. That is like asking if you can admit as evidence in a court of law, the testimony of someone who has seen someone commit a crime. You can accuse a witness of being biased to thinking that a criminal is guilty. But if they saw the criminal commit the crime, you want to hear their testimony and weigh it along with all the other evidence. So of course John is biased. He is a Christian precisely because of what he has seen, heard, and experienced. Of course John is biased, he has spent time with Jesus, before his death and after his resurrection. It would be odd if he were not a follower of Jesus!

Let us recognize that in his letter, John does not just simply report on the fact that Jesus is risen. He unpacks what that means and how it applies to life and faith. We will be looking at that in the weeks ahead, but even in the first four verses we can see how John can speak of the identity of Jesus, as being from God in a significant way, being the source of eternal life, and being the Messiah, the rightful King of the Kingdom of God. In other words, John doesn’t just want to share that Jesus is risen, but that the resurrection of Jesus has meaning, it confirms Who He really is.

We have not yet spoken of the inspiration of Scripture. In what way can we speak of this letter of John as being “God-breathed” or “inspired”? Let us be reminded of what God is like:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (NIV)

If God so loved the world that He sent His son to die for it, then it is reasonable that He will make sure the record of that loving act is trustworthy. If God has gone to such extraordinary lengths for us through Jesus, we should expect him to go to extraordinary lengths to ensure we have a valid record of what He has done, and what it means.

When we speak of the inspiration of Scripture we can recognize that God would want to be involved, not just in the writing of Scripture, but any editing that has happened, and also the collecting together of the Scriptures into what we now call the Old and New Testaments. With regard to the New Testament, the early Christians were very intentional in limiting the writings they revered as Scripture to ones they knew were connected with the apostles, the eyewitnesses. Therefore John’s three letters are included.

The events of the Bible cover a long span of history because God had been relating to us in a special way for a long time before Jesus came. It took a long time, and a lot of people involved, to get to the point of being able to say we have “a Bible”. The Bible was not a book dropped in our laps by God. Rather it is a library of writings written by many different people for many different reasons at many different times. They are each a response to God’s real work in our world and in the lives of real people. This makes the Bible a very exciting read!

The Bible was neither dropped into our laps by God, nor written up by religious types who wanted to fool us. The Bible is a collection of writings by real people experiencing God in a real way. They are a real response of real people to God’s very real presence. God showed up. People wrote about it. God was involved in the shaping of the those writings then, so that He can show up in the shaping of our lives today.

(Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor. The full sermon can be seen as part of this online worship expression”)

April 9, 2021

The New Normal, the Status Quo, and Jesus

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV.Matt.21.33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

by Clarke Dixon

A year ago at this time we were talking about a new normal. That new normal now feels like the status quo with masks, social distancing, outbreaks, and lockdowns. Even as vaccines are rolled out, it feels like life under a pandemic is now the status quo, that these changes will be with us forever. At least that how it feels. The new normal has become the status quo and we are stuck with it.

This is eerily reminiscent of another great disruption.

We go back to the early chapters of Genesis when Adam and Eve were in the garden of Eden, in perfect relationship with God Who gave them life. The expectation was that they would live forevermore. This is a picture of what humanity could have been.

All that is life-giving was theirs, except for one condition, they were not to eat from one particular tree. I think you know what happened next.

Adam and Eve ate the fruit and plunged us into a new normal. They were kicked out of the garden, barred access to the tree of life, and death was now the expectation. Rebellion against God and God’s ways became the status quo. We can think of Cain killing Abel. The expectation of death became the status quo. We can think of Abel being killed by Cain. The picture of what humanity could have been became a picture of what humanity is; a people who are in rebellion against the Giver of life, a people who could always expect death because of separation from God. The new normal became the status quo.

Yet God gave us signs of hope, signs that this new status quo would not last forever.

We can think of a fresh start with Noah, a new beginning. Yet shortly after hitting the reset button, there was a return to the status quo of rebellion against God Who gives us life, and the expectation of death.

We can think of the promise God made to Abraham, to create from him a nation through whom all nations would be blessed, a promise reiterated to Isaac, and Jacob. We see progress on that promise through the rescue of Jacob’s descendants from Egypt. This will be a different kind of people, a people in relationship with God. Yet in the wilderness we see these rescued people living according to the status quo of rebellion against God Who gives life, and the experience of death.

We can think of the giving of the law as sign of hope, so that God’s people could be a different kind of people who, far from rebelling against God, would walk according to his law. They would operate according to a good sense of justice. For example, it was to be an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, instead of an arm and a leg plus an eye for an eye, and a head for a tooth. They would not sacrifice their children. They would take care of the vulnerable. They were to be a light to the other nations as they lived according to God’s law. Yet they did not have a very good track record of keeping the law. They succumbed to the status quo of rebellion against God Who gives life, and the expectation of death.

We can think of the sending of prophets as a sign of hope, so that God’s people could get back on track. Yet the response to the prophets pointed to the status quo of rebellion against the God Who gives life, and the experience of death.

There were many signs of hope. Yet the status quo persisted. The new normal, from the great disruption at the Garden of Eden, remained the status quo. It was like the discovery of a vaccine during a pandemic, and yet nothing seems to change.

But there was one more sign of hope. God sent His Son.

Jesus told a parable of a landowner who sent messengers to the farmers who were working his land. They kept beating up and killing the messengers. In the story of Jesus it was symbolic of God’s people ignoring and sometimes killing the prophets that God sent. In the story the landowner finally sent his own son. They killed him too. That points to Jesus. For God so loved the world that he sent His only begotten son, and we killed him! Rebellion against God and the expectation of death had become so normal, that we even killed Immanuel, “God with us.”

On Good Friday we recognize the status quo of rebellion against God and the experience of death made so visible at the cross.

But on Sunday there was a true sign of hope, of change, of the status quo being disrupted and the possibility of something new. The stone was rolled away, there was no body, for Jesus had risen from the dead. That is the greatest disruption to the status quo the world has ever seen. Jesus was obedient. Jesus is alive. This was different!

Our rebellion was no match for God’s love. In a world where rebellion was normally dealt with through power, through armies, and violence, God did not respond to our violence with his. Jesus took the nails.

One would expect that to be the end of it, the expectation of death is the status quo, correct? But Jesus rose from the dead, then told the disciples to go invite anyone and everyone to the Kingdom of God, to be part of His royal family.

Even those who were involved in the crucifixion of Jesus could respond to his invitation. It would be up to the enemies of Jesus whether they would stick with the status quo of rebellion against God and the expectation of death, or step into a new normal, a new normal of intimate relationship with God, walking with Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, a new normal of living in Jesus, a Kingdom life that challenges the status quo of a world gone mad, a new normal of the fear of death giving way to the anticipation of everlasting life, a new normal made possible by the grace of God, forgiveness in and though Jesus.

It would be up to the enemies of Jesus, those who crucified him, whether to stick with the status quo of rebellion against God and the expectation of separation from God in death, or to step into a new normal.

And it is up to us.

Will it be status quo? Or will we enter into the new normal Jesus brings?

When Adam and Eve sinned, they ushered in a new normal. That new normal become the status quo. That status quo made the events of Good Friday predictable. There was rebellion against God. There was death. The events of Easter Sunday were not as predictable. The stone was rolled away, Jesus was not in the tomb, he had risen! This is the greatest disruption to the status quo there has ever been in the history of the world. There is a new normal, a new way of life, a new expectation of life.

It is brilliant!

You are invited to step into it.


Watch message in context of the entire online worship expression (26 minutes) from Clarke Dixon’s church in Ontario, Canada or watch just the sermon (15 minutes).

April 8, 2021

What’s Included In Romans 8’s “All Things?”

Regular Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon will appear tomorrow.

Today we’re again back at the website Forward >> Progress, the personal website of Michael Kelley who is an in-house curriculum develolper for LifeWay. Because he does what he does as his vocation, you know his daily devotionals are going to be good, and the one we selected for today is no exception. Click the header below to read this at his site, and then take a few minutes to look around at his books and other writings.

What “All Things” Should We Expect from God?

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom. 8:31-32).

If you read these verses in isolation, there are a number of questions that ought to come to mind. You might, for example, ask, “What things?” Paul the apostle has some pretty audacious promises to make here, and he does so in response to “these things.” So what things lay the background for his rhetorical claims here?

Well, the “these things” are the weighty truths Paul has written about in the first 7 chapters of Romans. They’re the truths of sinful humanity’s desperate situation, whether Jew or Greek, from Romans 1-3. They’re the truths of the necessity of faith from Romans 4 and the peace we can have with God from Romans 5. They’re the truths of our ongoing battle with sin and the only power to overcome it from Romans 6-7. And they’re the truths of the indwelling Spirit, the fatherhood of God, and our adoption as sons and daughters from Romans 8. Those are “these things.”

In response to the ocean of grace given to us in Christ, Paul asked the rhetorical question, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” For surely God is for us. How could we conclude otherwise in light of everything we’ve just read? Yes, God is most certainly for us. But not stopping there, Paul asked another rhetorical question:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

And this is where we ought to ask a second question of our own. We know what “these things” are, but what about “all things?” What are the “all things” we can and should expect from God, in light of the fact that He has already given us so much?

This is a big question. It is, after all, a question that relates deeply to our expectations and our future. It has bearing on how equipped and fortified we will be through life. It matters to both what is happening right now and what will happen in the future. But it’s also a big question because, if we’re honest with ourselves, we know our tendency toward dissatisfaction.

Let’s face it – we are not a very content culture. If we order cheeseburger, we wonder if we could have a few strips of bacon. If we buy a new TV, we wonder just how big the screen could be and still fit on our wall. If we go on a vacation, we wonder what it would have been like if we had paid a little more for the hotel. We are always pushing for more. More food, more entertainment, more prosperity, more of everything.

So when we come to this promise in Romans 8 – that God will give us “all things”, there is at least a part of us that looks around at everything the world has to offer and rubs our hands together. Does “all things” mean money? Power? Prestige? Constant good health?

Interestingly, this is not the first time in Romans 8 a question like this comes up. If you look back just a few verses to one of the most widely quoted verses in the Bible, you find this:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).

Here, again, we find ourselves drifting into the same thought pattern. God works all things together for our good. So what exactly does that mean? Does it mean we will face no troubles? No difficulties? No sickness? And the answer here is no. You only have to keep reading in Romans 8 to find that there will be all kinds of things that might threaten to separate us from God’s love – things like tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword (v. 35). Clearly, then, Paul doesn’t mean that we won’t ever suffer in this life.

Back, then, to our question – what are the “all things” we can expect from God?

The answer to both of these issues is in God’s intent for us. His intent is emphatically not that we never have difficulty, but instead that we become more and more like Jesus. This is what God is moving us toward in this life – to be be conformed to the image of His Son. It is not a life without difficulty; it is a life that looks more and more like Jesus. The “all things” God will give us are those things which equip and form us in this pursuit.

Maybe a little illustration here – when our family goes camping, we go to the back of the garage and get two plastic tubs and put them in the car. Over the years, we have accumulated everything we need in those tubs. There are lanterns, cooking supplies, matches, s’more sticks, bug spray, flashlights – you name it. And when we run out of one of those things on the trip, we make it a point to refresh the supply before we put the tubs away. That way, when it’s time to go, we don’t have to do another inventory – we know we have “all things” we need.

For camping.

We do not have “all things” we need to go another kind of vacation. Or the movies. Or to school or work. For the specific purpose of camping, though, we have everything we need.

Here is the answer to the question. God has outfitted us with “all things” we need for us to live His highest purpose for our lives, which is to become more like this. Of this we can be absolutely sure – no matter what else happens, He has given us all we need for this specific journey. For this specific purpose. In light of that, the new question is whether our purpose for our lives is the same as His.

April 1, 2021

The Sin of Power: The Deadliest of the 7 Deadly Sins

by Clarke Dixon

Of all the 7 deadly sins, the sin of power must be the worst. It has brought greater destruction into our world than the other seven which are listed as pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth. Wait, the sin of power is not one of the 7 deadly sins?! People with power must have came up with the list. That is one of the problems; people in power don’t see the sin in their power.

We often talk about the power of sin, today we are thinking about the sin of power.

In the events of Holy Week, between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, between the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and his crucifixion, we see the sin of power.

In the background there is a constant power struggle between Rome and the Judeans. When Jesus comes along, all the powers-that-be gang up against Jesus.

It begins with the religious leaders who want to overpower Jesus. All along they have been speaking against Jesus, trying to keep the people from following him. Jesus teaches with authority, much better than they do. Jesus does really good, helpful things, like heal people. They don’t seem to be as helpful.

Already you can imagine the jealousy. Jesus is a carpenter, what does he know compared to the educated religious elites? According to his teaching, quite a lot!

Worse, Jesus doesn’t obey the religious leaders. They say “no healing on a Sabbath.” Jesus heals on a Sabbath, and not just once.

Worst of all, Jesus goes around claiming to do what only God can do; forgive people. Who does he think he is?

This is what happens to us when we commit the sin of power, we become blinded to God. The religious leaders could not see in Jesus what many people were seeing in Jesus, namely; God is with us, or at least with Jesus, in some remarkable way.

It gets worse. As a power play to get Pilate to do their bidding, the religious leaders claim their greatest allegiance:

They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.”

John 19:15 (NRSV)

This is the lowest point a leader of God’s people could sink to, shouting “we have no king but Caesar.” What happened to God’s promise of a king? What happened to the Scriptural witness that God was the true king?

That is what happens to us when we commit the sin of power, we forget God.

We may wonder, how can a Christian ever become abusive? The people of God can become abusive because power blinds us to God and makes us forget Him.

If it begins with the religious leaders, the sin of power continues with Pilate:

He took Jesus back into the headquarters again and asked him, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave no answer. “Why don’t you talk to me?” Pilate demanded. “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?”

John 19:9-10 (NLT)

Pilate is claiming to have significant power over Jesus here, the power of life and death. Jesus sets the record straight:

Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above.

John 19:11 (NLT)

This is what happens when we commit the sin of power, we overstep our God-given authority. When we overstep our God given authority we move from taking responsibility for people, to becoming abusive against them. Authority can be a beautiful, life-giving thing. It can also get ugly.

In the game of chess between the Romans and the Jews, the King becomes a pawn:

The soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they put a purple robe on him. “Hail! King of the Jews!” they mocked, as they slapped him across the face.

Pilate went outside again and said to the people, “I am going to bring him out to you now, but understand clearly that I find him not guilty.” Then Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said, “Look, here is the man!”

John 19:2-5 (NLT)

We easily get the idea that the Romans are mocking Jesus here with the crown of thorns, the purple robe, and the mock worship. What we can easily miss is how they are also mocking the Jewish people. In mocking Jesus as a most pathetic king, they are really mocking the Jewish people as a most pathetic nation. This continues through to the crucifixion with Pilate posting the charge against Jesus “the king of the Jews.” That was a slam against the Jews and the religious leaders knew it, and hated it.

This is what happens to us when we commit the sin of power, we belittle others. We mock them, we find ways of making them appear pathetic, of making ourselves look superior. We win. Of course we win, for they are losers. The sin of power puts us in that mindset, it clouds our perception of others.

Perhaps the most powerful of all are the soldiers who pull the trigger, or in this case, hammer the nails. They are the ones trained in the art of enforcing power.

They would not have carried through with their grim sin of power if it had not all begun in the minds of the Jewish religious leaders. If the religious leaders wanted to keep their power, they had better deal with their Jesus problem. The religious leaders would not have been able to carry out their sin of power without Pilate. If Pilate wanted to keep his power, he had better deal with this Jesus problem who had now become his problem. Then the soldiers carried out the sin of power when they hammered in the nails and raised the cross. If the soldiers wanted to keep their privileged positions of power, they had better deal with this Jesus problem who had now become their problem.

This is what happens to us when we commit the sin of power, we become complicit in killing.

When we commit the sin of power, we become complicit in the killing of people’s dignity, freedom, innocence, dreams, aspirations, mental health, and faith. Sometimes it really does become deadly.

Jesus, in entering Jerusalem on a donkey the way he did, enters Jerusalem in a way that says “I am the rightful king here. I am the one in charge.” Publicly he has been quiet about his all along. Evil demons who knew his identity better than anyone were told to keep quiet. When Peter expressed that Jesus is the Messiah, the disciples were told to be quiet. Little wonder, when Jesus is public about his identity as the Messiah, as the rightful king, he is killed in less than a week.

Yet here he is, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. Jesus is a different kind of king of a different kind of kingdom. And being the rightful king he took his place, not on a throne, but on a cross.

The religious leaders together with the Roman leaders committed the sin of power. Jesus was different, he broke the power of sin. 

Jesus could have overpowered all who opposed him. As a famous song points out, he could have called 10,000 angels, not just to rescue him, but to destroy his enemies.

Instead he took the nails.

Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

Luke 23:34 (KJV)

Instead of destroying his enemies, Jesus loved them, giving them the opportunity to be reconciled. Are we learning to love our enemies the way Jesus loved his? Are we learning to love our enemies the way Jesus loves us?

Are we stuck in our all-too-human ways of committing the sin of power against others, or has the power of sin been undone by the power of God’s love?

Perhaps we might even be committing the deadliest of the deadly sins by trying to rid ourselves of God. That is a sin of power. A desire to rid ourselves of God leads to separation from God, now and especially into eternity. That is the power of sin. But we can be forgiven through Jesus, reconciled to God. We can go from enemy to family. That is the power of God’s love.


The full sermon can be watched on its own or as part of this “online worship expression Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.


Today Christianity 201 begins year twelve! Thank you for joining us each day.

March 25, 2021

What is the Greatest Threat Facing the Church in Our Day?

A Shrunk Sermon from John 15

by Clarke Dixon

What is the greatest threat to the Christian Church moving forward in our land in our day?

Is it the pandemic? Some churches have really struggled, but most have been doing okay, we at our church are guardedly hopeful and also thankful for faithfulness among our people.

Is it changing values in society? Values certainly are changing, but the early Christians thrived in a world where people had very different values. Should we be forcing our values on everyone else anyway? The early Christians did not, they lived their lives in honour of Christ, and invited others to do likewise. There was no thought of forcing non-Christians to behave like Christians.

Is it the Internet? Now that people have become used to attending church from home while wearing pyjamas and drinking coffee, will people want to gather? Besides, on the internet people can tune into the exact style of Christianity they want, with the exact style of preaching and teaching they enjoy. On the positive side, people do like to gather, and many will find that what is lost by not gathering is greater than the convenience of online-only worship.

Perhaps the greatest threat is none of the above. Perhaps we find it in the words of Jesus:

If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.

John 15:18-19 (NLT) 18

Is the greatest threat to the Church, to Christianity, hatred from those who hate God?

Let us keep in mind the context of these words. Jesus is speaking to the twelve disciples here. Jesus goes on to tell them what to expect:

I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith. For you will be expelled from the synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God. This is because they have never known the Father or me. Yes, I’m telling you these things now, so that when they happen, you will remember my warning. I didn’t tell you earlier because I was going to be with you for a while longer.

John 16:1-4 (NLT)

The religious leaders did indeed think they were serving God by opposing the disciples and their message that Jesus was risen from the dead. Saul, who came to be known as the apostle Paul was a prime example of that. The disciples really did face opposition, as described by Jesus, in a way that I have not faced in my lifetime.

Some Christians do face that same kind of persecution today. For them the hatred is real. Thankfully, so are the promises of God. People are dying for living for Jesus.

But we are not facing that level or kind of opposition today here in Canada. No one [where we live] wants us dead for being believers. There are those in Canada who would be happy to see Christianity stamped out, but they are probably an even smaller minority group than those who attend church regularly. Outright hatred of God, of Christianity, of Christians, doesn’t seem to be big problem here in Canada.

Perhaps there is a bigger problem facing churches in Canada than hatred, a problem Taylor Swift sings about in a song

I forgot that you existed
And I thought that it would kill me, but it didn’t
And it was so nice
So peaceful and quiet
I forgot that you existed
It isn’t love, it isn’t hate
It’s just indifference

Taylor Swift • Louis Bell • Adam King Feeney (emphasis added)

Christianity was not likely on Taylor Swift’s mind when she wrote this song, but rather an ex. However, the song does point to a challenge facing the Church in Canada; indifference. People don’t hate us because we are Christians. They just don’t care that we are.

So is apathy toward God, expressed through indifference toward Christianity the biggest threat?

Over this past year I have heard many people say how they can’t imagine how people face these trying times without God in their lives. But some of the words of Taylor Swift’s song ring true for some people who may have been raised Christian but who have now rejected Christianity.

I forgot that you existed
And I thought that it would kill me, but it didn’t
And it was so nice
So peaceful and quiet

I forgot that you existed

Taylor Swift • Louis Bell • Adam King Feeney (emphasis added)

Some people have ditched Christianity and reported having a sense of relief. They have experienced a kind of freedom. But have they experienced freedom from God, or freedom from a kind of religion that didn’t help them experience God?

That brings us to one other possibility.

Maybe the greatest challenge facing the church today isn’t hatred, or indifference, or maybe it isn’t what is happening to the Church from outside, maybe it is what has happened to the Church on the inside.

Let us go back to the words Jesus spoke on the night before he was crucified:

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:1-5 (NLT)

Perhaps the greatest threat facing the Church in Canada is a group of people known as Christians. Perhaps we are the greatest threat when we don’t remain in the vine, when our faith is not centred on, and focused on, Jesus.

Jesus said “Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit” (v.5 ). Note that Jesus did not say
“If you double down on being religious, you will bear much fruit.” Doubling down on religion is what we sometimes do, especially when we feel threatened,

Doubling down on religion was the very thing the religious leaders were telling people to do in the days they were plotting the death of Jesus. Doubling down on religion was what the religious leaders thought they were doing when they were looking to kill the apostles. Needless to say, they were not bearing good fruit.

Jesus said “Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit” (v.5 ). Note that Jesus did not say “if you double down on your own understanding of the Scriptures, you will bear much fruit.” There were plenty of differing interpretations of the Scriptures in that day. Jesus did not say “if you double down on this particular interpretation, or that particular interpretation,” but rather “if you abide in me.”

The Scriptures are super important. They point us to Jesus. But they cannot replace Jesus.

I don’t talk often enough about our Baptist distinctives, and I’m pleased that our church family is made up of people from different backgrounds. Two are the distinctives are the “Jesus is Lord” and “The Bible is our authority.” Jesus is Lord, and not the emperor, Queen, or Prime Minister. The Bible is the authority for understanding faith and how we live out the Christian life, not church tradition, nor church hierarchy.

Having my ear to the ground in Baptist circles it seems to me that sometimes we have replaced “Jesus is Lord” and “The Bible is our authority” with “The Bible is Lord” and “Our tradition of how we understand the Bible is the authority,” or worse, “my interpretation of the Bible is the authority.” When we focus on our tradition, our interpretation of the Bible in all its details, we begin to divide. Not long after Jesus told the disciples to abide in him, he prayed for unity. Unity is found when we abide in the vine. Unity is threatened when we abide in our own understanding.

I love the Bible. In fact for years now I have been putting in the extra effort to read it in the original languages. But I don’t want to be known as someone who spends a lot of time in the Bible, though that is something I do. I want to be known as someone who spends a lot of time with Jesus.

The Bible can help us break through to beauty in our lives and in all our relationships, if we read it as people who are Christ-centered. But the Bible can also lead to ugliness if we are not Christ-centered.

Not long before Baptists, there were Anabaptists, a movement of Christians who in searching the Scriptures came to believe that baptism should be of believers, by immersion. They were persecuted by fellow Christians, who sometimes in a cruel joke would tie them to rocks and throw them off bridges into rivers, sending them to death by drowning, claiming that now they really had experienced baptism by immersion.

Now how is that kind of behaviour consistent with people who are abiding in Jesus? It is consistent with people who are abiding in religion, or abiding in a specific interpretation of the Scriptures that is divorced from Jesus.

When people who are not Christians hear about that kind of thing happening, they say “who would want to have anything to do with that?”

The biggest threat to the Church moving forward in Canada today is the same threat that the Church has faced in every time and place – we Christians who are not focused and centered on Christ.


You can watch a full video of the sermon on which this is based, or can see it in the full context of this “online worship expression

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