Christianity 201

January 6, 2019

Epiphany Sunday

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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by Ruth Wilkinson

Hands up if your Christmas tree is still vertical and decorated. Yes, I see those hands.

You’ll be glad to know that you’re not wrong – according to the worldwide Church calendar, Christmas isn’t over.

All around the globe, we observe this Sunday as Epiphany – a celebration of the arrival of the wise men from far beyond Israel’s borders.

They weren’t there on the night Jesus was born. They probably never met the shepherds or heard the angels. Their journey may have begun that night, and they arrived up to a couple of years later when Jesus was a toddler, running around getting into everything.

But their arrival marked some amazing good news for those outside the Jewish community. God had come for everyone. The borders of His Kingdom had shifted and expanded to include those of us who were, for so long, on the outside looking in.

So we find in the Scriptures this message:

The Lord led Abraham outside and said,
“Look at the sky. Count the stars, if you can.
Your family will be like that…

“I’ll make you into a great nation.

“I’ll bless you,
and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Until that promise was fulfilled
we Gentiles were without the Messiah,
foreigners to the promise,
without hope
and without God in the world.

But now in Christ Jesus, we who were far away have been brought near.

Through Him we are no longer outsiders and foreigners,
but partners of the promise,
and members of God’s household,
built on a foundation of Christ Jesus Himself.

This great news was first made known to the world through Gentile wise men
who arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is He? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

Now we are saved by grace through faith – God’s gift.

And even more –
As Abraham was blessed so he could become a blessing,
we are His creation, created for good works in Christ Jesus
which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.

Bold, and confident of more than we could ask or think.
His power. His riches.
Raised up by the fulfillment of one promise,
to be the embodiment of another.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

 


References: Genesis 12, Genesis 15, Ephesians 2, Ephesians 3, Matthew 2


Previous devotionals on Epiphany:

July 14, 2018

The Purpose of Patience

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Joanna Pierce writes for the blog of Apostolic Pentecostal Church in Bloomington, Illinois. This is her second time appearing here at C201. As with our last visit, the scriptures are embedded within the post as links. The links take you to a KJV version of the verses, but once there, you have an option to switch over to two Amplified Bible texts.

Patience is a Big Part of Your Journey

Endurance and Patience

Jesus encouraged the disciples to endure until the end to see their salvation (Matthew 10:22, 24:12–13). But, what did He mean? Endure means to suffer patiently, or to last. So, what’s patience? Patience is the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

Our salvation journey has a starting place and then continues until we reach Heaven. There’s a gate we enter and a way we follow once we start on our journey with God (Matthew 7:13–14). Patience makes up for a lot of our way!

Necessary for Salvation

How much is patience critical to our salvation experience? Is it as importance as repentance and baptism? Scripture tells us to add to our faith virtue, then knowledge, then temperance, then patience, then godliness, then brotherly kindness, and lastly, charity (II Peter 1:5–9). If we don’t have patience, we’ll be unfruitful in God’s Kingdom; we’re called to bear fruit! If we lack all of these things, we’ll be blind and forget we’ve been purged from our sins. When this occurs, there’s a strong likelihood we’ll follow false truth or be bound by condemnation—all because we’re missing patience in our life.

It is through our trials and tribulations will our patience flourish. It builds experience in us which leads to hope (Romans 5:3–5). We are called to glory in our tribulations and how it aids our spiritual development.

3 Men Who Demonstrated Patience

Abraham

Abraham began his life in an idolatrous society, was childless, and God called him to leave everything he knew and follow Him. Because he believed in God, it was credited to him as righteousness. After given the promise of a child and being the father of all nations, he waits 25 long years. Then, 12–13 years after the birth of Isaac, he’s instructed to sacrifice his son. What a journey of trials!

But, Abraham had learned through every trial to stand on the promises of the Word of God. He knew at the moment of sacrifice, God would raise up his son (Hebrews 11:19). Abraham is our example of a person who waited, endured tribulation, and struggled to develop patience in his life. We must learn to rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him no matter how long it takes and no matter what He tells us to do (Psalms 37:1–7).

Joseph

At the age of 17, God gave Joseph a dream of his future. From that moment on, he faced trial after trial. He was cast into a pit by his brothers, sold into slavery, accused of rape and thrown into prison, and left to abide there, forgotten for years. However, through these experiences God was grooming Joseph into a vessel who could glorify Him.

At times, Joseph may have struggled to see God’s purpose in patience because he was in the midst of a 20-year long trial. But, at age 37, he winds up in the second most powerful seat in all of Egypt and it all becomes crystal clear. God never promised we’d have an easy life; our promise is that we will see a lot of trouble. But, God has also promised to give strength to the weary if we wait upon Him and not give up (Isaiah 40:28–31).

David

David was 12 years old when the most powerful prophet in Israel anoints him with oil as the future king. Even with this promise, David faces trial after trial in his life. He fights a giant, spends most of his reign running for his life from the murderous Saul, commits adultery and devises a plot to kill the woman’s husband, numbers Israel and causes the death of 70,000 people in the process, and the list goes on and on.

At the death of his child, the product of his adulterous relationship, David still gets up and goes to the house of the Lord to worship. In his trials (and mistakes) David was in the process of learning patience. God was shaping him into being a man after His own heart.

Purpose of Patience

Every trial we experience is for our good (Romans 8:28); it’s working patience in us! Scripture tells us we need patience to complete the will of God (Hebrews 10:36). Ultimately, we sill be saved if we have patience (Luke 21:19)—patience is part of the way, not the gate to Heaven.

As in the examples of Abraham, Joseph, and David, we are put through trials so our lives can bring God glory (I Peter 1:3–7). What an example we can show to others of God’s goodness, grace, mercy, and transformative power. What God can do in us can be done in someone else!

God pushes patience so we will have 1) reduced stress, 2) fewer times we hurt others, 3) more joy, and 4) help to keep us on our journey with Him. We need to allow patience to have its perfect work in us (James 1:2–4). It’s all to get us ready (and patient) for the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (James 5:7–8).

 

April 5, 2017

Giving Our Very Best

Jim Thornber writes at what we always call “the other Thinking Out Loud blog” and he’s been featured here many times previously. Click the title below to read at source. There’s also a link to another one of his pieces in today’s link list at what Jim probably calls “the other Thinking Out Loud blog.”

Presenting My Best

“So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, ‘Hurry . . . and bake some bread.’ Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. When the food was ready . . . he served it to the men. ” – Genesis 18:6-8

After reading this passage about Abraham’s hospitality to the Lord and the two angels, it occurred to me that sometimes I am either too lazy or too impatient to give to the Lord in the manner of this marvelous man.

As it happens, one day Abe is sitting in front of his tent during the hottest part of the afternoon, sipping sweet tea and listening to the tree frogs, when he looks up and notices three men standing nearby. He must have figured they weren’t normal beings since one moment no one is there and the next moment they’re standing nearby. Since he didn’t see them approaching from the distance, their appearance is Abe’s first clue to be nice.

Realizing he has heavenly guests in his front yard, Abraham goes into high gear and asks if he may treat them to a chair in the shade, a foot bath and a fresh meal. They say “Okay,” and Abraham rushes off to arrange a nice lunch for his guests.

As I was reading this, I wondered why Abraham would go to all this trouble. Undoubtedly, Abraham and Sarah had food in the tent. They weren’t poor and lacking. With all the people Abraham had in his company, it is inconceivable that there wasn’t some meat and bread in the pantry left over from last night’s dinner.

But that isn’t the way of Abraham. Instead, he makes sure to prepare the freshest food for the Lord.  He didn’t give his guests day-old bread and yesterday’s meat, but warm bread and a tender calf. It was a lot of effort and time, but the Lord is gracious to Abraham and allows him the time necessary to make the arrangements.

I wonder: How often does God get my leftovers because I’m too stingy, lazy, preoccupied or even self-conscious to arrange to give Him my best? Sure, I may be thinking I don’t want to try the Lord’s patience by making Him wait until I’ve prepared, but this scene with Abraham tells me that the Lord is already prepared to wait for me to give my best. I’m the only one who is in a hurry.

I also see that giving my best means I may impose upon others in order to give the best, the way Abe got Sarah and the servant involved in the meal. It means that in order for me to give God the best I have to give, I sometimes need the help of other people. Abraham never hesitated to ask for help in giving to the Lord. That is something I need to learn.

Abraham’s reaction to the Lord’s presence in his home is a reminder that: 1) God knows who I am, 2) God’s knows where I live, and 3) God is prepared to wait for my best. I may be impatient to “get on with it,” but the Lord is not in a hurry to receive my leftovers. If the Lord is willing to wait for me, I should be willing to give Him my best.


Behind the scenes at C201 is my wife, Ruth Wilkinson who is often involved in the preparation of this daily devotional study through discussions about a particular writer’s perspective or additional research into the context or meaning of verses. Also, on the days you see a longer excerpt from a print source, it’s probably Ruth who typed it out. So today I wanted to do something I’ve never done here, which is to say thanks and wish her a Happy Birthday.

January 16, 2017

On Speaking Things into Existence

As I grow older, one of the striking things about the distinctions between denominations is not the doctrinal beliefs per se, but rather the terminology used which differs from church to church. For many of you as well, the phrase speaking things into existence probably sounds like something you would hear in a Charismatic or Pentecostal context. The implied message in these congregations is that this is something we can do.

The origin of the phrase begins in Romans 4:17

As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed–the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. (NIV)

On a forum at Biblical Hermenuetics the challenge is spelled out:

Rom 4:16-17:

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring — not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations” — in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. (ESV)

This last part reads, in NA-28:

καλοῦντος τὰ μὴ ὄντα ὡς ὄντα

I’m having a hard time arriving at the English given above (which is consistent with most translations [but see below]), which seems to entail a reference to creation ex nihilo. The phrase is literally something like:

calling that which is not being as being

Unclear to me are both the meaning of καλέω (to call) is this context and the meaning of the ὡς + participle construction, which seems most often to indicate “as [if] being/doing X”.2 Interestingly, the KJV gives:

and calleth those things which be not as though they were.

While this English isn’t exceptionally clear, I at least understand how it relates to the Greek…

I decided to investigate this verse in various commentaries.

  • The NIV Study Bible reminds us that the context in Romans 4 is Abraham, and notes that the birth of Isaac is an example of God creating out of nothing.
  • The Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (p. 934) continues this theme. Paul “introduces the historical fact that God in his mysterious providence and testing kept Abraham and Sarah waiting for the fulfillment of the promise of a son until long after human conception and birth was physical possibility, thereby heightening the miracle of the event and the absolute necessity of faith. It was Abraham’s trust in God as true to his word in spite of appearances and the fact that he “was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God.”
  • The Eerdman’s Bible Commentary (p. 1024) notes that the speaking things into existence is a divine attribute and that actually two are listed, the other being giving life to the dead. Clearly, this isn’t necessarily something we can do.
  • The International Bible Commentary (p. 1325) reminds us that God “can both renew life and issue his creative call.” There is a reference to Isaiah 41:4 “Who has performed and accomplished it, Calling forth the generations from the beginning? ‘I, the LORD, am the first, and with the last. I am He.'” (NASB)
  • The Wycliffe Bible Commentary (p. 1125) spends a little longer with this verse: “This is the Lord’s power to create. It could also easily be translated: God calls into being what does not exist as (easily as he calls) that which does exist. No mortal can comprehend the divine creative power. The bringing of animate and inanimate objects into existence and their maintenance is God’s activity . The nature of the objects may be discussed — mind, matter, energy — but the why and how of their existence can be known accurately only to the extent that the Lord reveals them.

At the website Heartland, we’re presented with a much longer Bible study on the subject of God speaking things into existence which focuses on three examples:

  1. Creation
  2. Sin (an interesting concept to consider; I had to read this one twice)
  3. Salvation

…So can we speak things into existence?

I started out by saying this verse gives birth to certain phrases commonly in use in certain types of churches. Please don’t get me wrong, I believe we are to ask God to increase our faith. I believe we are to pray in faith. I believe in a God of miracles. But I’m not sure its right to import particular words or expressions into situations they were never meant to address. It certainly sounds spiritual to speak of “speaking it into existence” but it might be misappropriation of that particular verse.

In a sermon this fall, Willow Creek Discipleship Director Rick Shurtz said, “If you have to speak it into existence you’re not trusting God, you’re playing God.”