Christianity 201

April 10, 2021

Why Limiting the Role of Women Limits God Himself

An ongoing, front-burner debate among Evangelicals involves the role of women in the hierarchy of both families and churches. The article we’re presenting today obviously leans to one position over the other, but brings out an aspect of the discussion I had not considered before.,

Ernest Vance blogs at Sincere Son of the Sanctifier (say it fast ten times) where you’re invited to click the header which follows. The blog has been inactive for about a year now, but there are some great articles in the archives like this one!

When Bad Theology Mocks God

I have to say, I am not in a bad mood right now, so hopefully I can contain my angst enough to get my thoughts clearly on paper.

I am angry at the past leadership of the church for setting forth a theology that mocks God’s goodness in His creation as well as His goodness in His grace. What theology is this you might ask? It is the theology based upon two repugnant assumptions: Women, because of Eve are either easily deceived (flaw in God’s creation) or usurpers (cause of the fall of Adam).

How does this mock God? It mocks Him by saying that He created Women woefully flawed to the point that He supposedly had to lock her into a position of subservience, ‘aka submission to all male authority’ for all time. Never mind what He did on the cross that redeems us all, it wasn’t enough to keep women from usurping male authority or being easily deceived. Frankly we are humans and we are all easily deceived, so this one is just as weak an argument as any especially considering the logical follow-through as to why the daughters of Eve are supposed to remain in submission: Sons of Adam should know better. And isn’t it part of the curse against Eve that God ordained women would constantly covet man’s power? Seriously? Where does the ‘man’s power’, er, excuse me… authority, come from anyway? Did God tell Adam and Eve, ‘Now dear ones, please understand, Adam was made first, therefore Eve, you are in submission to him in all things. OK?’ No, God did not. The ONLY rule God set forth prior to the fall was that they absolutely NOT eat of ONE tree. An entire garden to choose from and the both find themselves staring at what is forbidden. The fall had already begun the moment they paused there. The fall continued as Adam did not remind Eve in that moment that they should go somewhere else. The fall continued further when neither one of them rebuked the evil one for mocking God and His one rule.

The fall had nothing to do with Eve usurping Adam’s authority. Eve was totally Adam’s equal. The Hebrew words, Helper Meet literally describe a word-picture of two equal beings face-to-face. God called them, ‘one flesh’. There wasn’t even a hidden message in how God talked with them. Yes, God addressed Adam first, but God did directly address Eve. He did not go through Adam as in a priest. Go ahead, read Genesis 2 and 3. It’s all there, no matter the version, though you will have to check an interlinear to see the Hebrew meaning of help meet, or the Septuagint which translates Helper comparable.

So in this bad theology where one might take meaning that men are somehow superior to women in that we somehow are less frequently deceived or usurpers of authority such that women must be ‘put in their place’ for all eternity, do we suppose that God is the one who set this up? Let us look at the wording of the curse in Gen 3. To the serpent God said,

“And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.”

It is absolutely clear what God is declaring as His action and proclamation toward the adversary.

But to Eve He said,

“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;
In pain you shall bring forth children;
Your desire shall be [e]for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.”

The first line is clearly God’s doing. Then the remaining three lines are simply statements of what will be. Leaving us to wonder, was this God’s intent, His doing? Or was this simply God saying, this is somehow the result of what happened. I am not doing this to you. Either one can fit. Thus it is not clear in the slightest whether God was forevermore putting Eve and all of her daughters in a place of submission. Nothing in all of the Old Testament clarifies this question. Indeed, Numbers 30 where we see that Fathers have veto power of oaths their unmarried daughters take as do husbands is the only hint at this. But it is further muddied by the fact that if there are women who have neither husband nor father, no one had veto power over her oaths. Widows, therefore, are fully autonomous according to the OT Law. There is no accommodation saying a brother or brother-in-law must take up the mantle of authority over her. Adding to this a Prophetess/Judge named Deborah in Judges 4,5 who had no one in authority over her as she administered these God-given duties.

Thus we get to the matter of Creation and Grace. Both male and females fell from the perfect state at the same time. Adam is clearly blamed for this throughout the NT by the same guy who arguably wrote 1 Tim 2. So why has much of history held women so responsible for the fall that they cannot even hold a position of teaching a Bible study with men present? It is not as clear as some would say and for more of that you can see my reasons for saying so here. But truly, as I have mentioned before, it is based upon two terribly misogynistic ideas that have been carefully couched in ‘holy speak’: women are easily deceived and inclined to be usurpers. The first I have shown to be weak, the second is even weaker. Eve has not shown up as a usurper in Genesis 3, at most she is curious and falls prey to the oily words of a good sales-man… er snake. But Adam has clearly not taken up a mantle of authority and simply allows the entire thing to go down without saying a word either to the snake, or to Eve. At best, in a complementarian view, we should be placing the blame squarely on Adam’s shoulders and by extension the sons of Adam and telling all men to not give into their laziness and apathy. That leadership is, therefore, man’s mantle to take up since Adam failed so miserably. But failing that, women should not be left to wonder which way to go if a man does not lead. In a complementarian society that is both loving and fair, the women should never be told to avoid stepping into a leadership role that needs to be filled when there is no man to take it up.

But I will take this one step further because there is no clearly defined passage that says women who do so are outside of God’s will. As such, there is not any valid, Godly reason for a governing body of a church to see a women with appropriate leadership qualities, well trained and suitable to teach yet avoid placing her in that position. It is just not there. Indeed, in Romans we see Paul greeting a female deaconess (Phoebe Romans 16:1) and many other women in leadership roles, yet we misrepresent him as saying in 1 Tim 3:12 that only married men can be a deacon. I could go on since there are so many women who Paul recognizes and then seems to later define women or even single men (except himself? Really?) out of positions of authority. But all we really need to recognize is that we have made a mistake and overly exegeticized (probably not a word, but I’m sure you get my meaning) certain things in accordance with some men’s presuppositions (giving them too much credit? Possibly).

It is past time we give up these notions that God meant what he didn’t clearly say, concepts that break both his creative goodness and his glorious satan-works-defeating grace, and therefore we must over-emphasize on his behalf and look the other way when someone brings up the fallacy of our too-long-held dogmatic belief in male superiority couched in holy-speak. I am done.

 

March 5, 2021

The Saddest Verses in the Bible

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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There are a number of narratives in the scripture which can only be described as unfortunate, sad, or perhaps even tragic. One of these will be quite familiar to all of you, the other two might not.

Close and Yet So Far

This is where the line “almost pursaded” which forms the title of a hymn of a generation past originates. Philip Bliss, who lived only from 1838 to 1876 would have used the Bible of his day, the KJV, as an inspiration; as Paul tries to reason with King Agrippa, defending himself in Acts 26:

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” (26:28)

Here is just part of the fuller context in the NIV:

22 But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

24 At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”

25 “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26 The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

The hymn in question is worth studying in full but we begin with verse one:

“Almost persuaded” now to believe;
“Almost persuaded” Christ to receive;
Seems now some soul to say,
“Go, Spirit, go Thy way,
Some more convenient day
on Thee I’ll call.”

The second and third verses implore the hearer to respond, but by verse four, it’s already too late.

“Almost persuaded,” harvest is past!
“Almost persuaded,” doom comes at last;
“Almost” cannot avail;
“Almost” is but to fail!
Sad, sad that bitter wail—
“Almost—but lost!”

On a personal note, my mother’s faith was nurtured as much by the hymnbook as by her Bible. she often sang hymn fragments — isolated lines from rather obscure hymns — apart from their full context. The line, “Sad, sad that bitter wail;” was permanently embedded in her brain as a picture of the state of the lost soul. On my father’s side, his mother (my grandmother) played this as piano solo in a style I have never heard since.

Why was Agrippa “almost” but not fully persuaded to become a follower of “The Way” right then and there? The Enduring Word Bible Commentary offers three reasons having to do with three people in the room:

i. One answer was the person sitting next to him – Bernice. She was a sinful, immoral companion, and he may have rightly realized that becoming a Christian would mean losing her and his other immoral friends. He was unwilling to make that sacrifice.

ii. On the other side of Agrippa sat Festus – a man’s man, a no-nonsense man, a man who thought Paul was crazy. Perhaps Agrippa thought, “I can’t become a Christian. Festus will think I’m also crazy.” Because he wanted the praise of men, he rejected Jesus…

iii. In front of Agrippa was Paul – a strong man, a noble man, and man of wisdom and character – but a man in chains. Did Agrippa say, “Well, if I became a Christian, I might end up in chains like Paul; or at the least, I would have to associate with him. We can’t have that – I’m an important person.”

He Walked Away Sad

This is the more familiar of the three passages, the narrative of the “rich young man,” “powerful young man,” or “rich young ruler.” The encounter with Jesus appears in both Mark 10 and Matthew 19.  If you’re unfamiliar with it, click here to read.

Teaching points on this text usually include:

  • the man’s opening address to Jesus as “Good teacher,” and how Jesus responds,
  • Jesus sets the bar low, asking the man how he relates to the “second tablet” commandments — the ones dealing with our interactions with other people — and not the “first tablet” dealing with our prioritizing of God. The man claims full, lifelong compliance, and Jesus does not argue the point;
  • the proposal that he sell everything to “come follow me;” the same offer given to the twelve that leads to our key verse:

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (10:22, NIV)

But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (19: also vs 22! NKJV)

Again, The Enduring Word Bible Commentary:

In this, the wealthy questioner failed utterly. Money was his god; he was guilty of idolatry. This is why Jesus, knowing the man’s heart, asked him to renounce his possessions… The principle remains: God may challenge and require an individual to give something up for the sake of His kingdom that He still allows to someone else. There are many who perish because they will not forsake what God tells them to.

The same commentary, on the Mark passage states,

This man, like all men by nature, had an orientation towards a works-righteousness; he asked, “what shall I do.” If we really want to do the works of God, it must begin with believing on Jesus, whom the Father has sent (John 6:29).

Jesus’ purpose wasn’t to make the man sad; yet he could only be happy by doing what Jesus told him to do. So, he went away sorrowful. Many people have almost everything, yet they are sorrowful.

A Generation of Walking in Circles

This one may be one you hadn’t considered. It’s the second verse in the book of Deuteronomy, and it seems like a piece of geographical trivia, to the point several of the translations include it in parenthesis:

It is eleven days from Horeb to Kadesh-barnea along the Mount Seir route. (CEB)

or consider this casual way of putting things:

Normally it takes only eleven days to travel from Mount Sinai to Kadesh-barnea, going by way of Mount Seir. (NLT)

But this is verse is included for reasons far from trivial. Since we’ve been with the same commentary throughout today, let’s see how Enduring Word handles this (emphasis added):

The journey from Mount Horeb to Kadesh Barnea only took eleven days. But from Kadesh Barnea (the threshold of the Promised Land) back to Kadesh Barnea (back to the threshold of the Promised Land) took forty years.  This was because it took forty years for the generation of unbelief – those who were adults when Israel left Egypt – it took forty years for that generation to die out in the wilderness, and for a generation of faith and trust in God to arise in place after them.

Did you catch that? 40 years to finish an 11-day road trip. All because of a lack of faith and trust in what God had promised them.

Conclusion

All three are sad endings which were preventable. Do you see yourself in any of these narratives? If so, choose to make yours a different story.

 

 

 

February 20, 2021

Sin and “Wet Paint” Signs and Your Neighbor’s BMW

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Some people can’t walk by a sign which says, “Wet Paint” without touching their finger to the paint to see if it’s true. This is well-documented. Some readers here may be able to provide their own anecdotal evidence of this. It does appear to give credence to our sinful nature, and even if you’re not a child of the 1960s, it also evidences our rebellious nature.

Romans 7:11 made me think of this.

For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. (NIV)

It’s a rather odd verse if you haven’t noted it previously. A basic commentary might give you something like is found at BibleRef.com:

Paul repeats an idea he introduced in verse 8 of this chapter. He was talking about his response to learning of God’s command not to covet (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21). The very existence of this command from God created an opportunity that sin pounced on. Suddenly, Paul was both aware of his own covetousness, and driven by a desire to covet!

Now he writes again about how sin seized the opportunity created by God’s commands in the law. This time, though, he describes sin as deceiving him or leading him astray. Sin lied to Paul, as it lies to all of us. How does sin lead us astray? It convinces us that acting on our own desires is better in some way than obeying God. As the serpent did with Eve in the garden, sin says to us, “God is not good” or “You will not surely die.”

The truth, though, is that God is good, and that sin always leads to death. Paul writes here that sin’s deception killed him, metaphorically speaking, describing his spiritual death and separation from God. Sin does the same to all of us, and the law makes us aware of our sinfulness.

Let’s pause and look at the context; first the NASB:

What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. (7-13)

Next, The Message:

Don’t you remember how it was? I do, perfectly well. The law code started out as an excellent piece of work. What happened, though, was that sin found a way to pervert the command into a temptation, making a piece of “forbidden fruit” out of it. The law code, instead of being used to guide me, was used to seduce me. Without all the paraphernalia of the law code, sin looked pretty dull and lifeless, and I went along without paying much attention to it. But once sin got its hands on the law code and decked itself out in all that finery, I was fooled, and fell for it. The very command that was supposed to guide me into life was cleverly used to trip me up, throwing me headlong. So sin was plenty alive, and I was stone dead. But the law code itself is God’s good and common sense, each command sane and holy counsel.

Finally, J.B. Phillips:

But the sin in me, finding in the commandment an opportunity to express itself, stimulated all my covetous desires. For sin, in the absence of the Law, has no chance to function technically as “sin”. As long, then, as I was without the Law I was, spiritually speaking, alive. But when the commandment arrived, sin sprang to life and I “died”. The commandment, which was meant to be a direction to life, I found was a sentence to death. The commandment gave sin an opportunity, and without my realising what was happening, it “killed” me.

(Italics added in all three versions.)

Warren Weirsbe writes,

…Something in human nature wants to rebel whenever a law is given. I was standing in Lincoln Park in Chicago, looking at the newly painted benches, and I noticed a sign on each bench: Do Not Touch. As I watched, I saw numbers of people deliberately reach out and touch the wet paint! Why? Because the sign told them not to! Instruct a child not to go near the water, and that is the very thing he will do. Why? “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7).

Believers who try to live by rules and regulations discover that their legalistic system only arouses more sin and creates more problems. The churches in Galatia were very legalistic, and they experienced all kinds of trouble. “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Gal. 5:15). Their legalism did not make them more spiritual; it made them more sinful. Why? Because the law arouses sin in our nature…

At Apologetics Index, David Kowalski writes,

…Paul does not blame the Mosaic Law for this provocation even though it is the occasion for the provocation. There was never anything wrong with saying what was wrong. Declaration of standards merely revealed what we already were — rebellious sinners by nature. Rebels chafe against restrictions and their rebellious hearts make them all the more inclined to do something they are forbidden to do — even if it is God Himself who prohibits the conduct in question.

At Spiritual Gold, Richard Strauss puts this in practical terms:

Paul chooses one of the Ten Commandments to illustrate his point–the last one, “You shall not covet.” To covet is to want something intensely that somebody else has, to long for it. The law says that we are not supposed to covet our neighbor’s house, his wife, his servants, his animals, or anything else that is his (Exodus 20:17). That would include his BMW, his boat, his camper, his cottage on the beach, or anything else he might have.

Let’s talk about his BMW. That’s reputed to be a very nice automobile, which costs considerably more than the average car. And I can’t afford one. So I look at my neighbor’s and I think, “It sure would be nice to have a car like that. Boy, I’d like to have that car. I’d give almost anything to be able to have one.” I could think that, and maybe even feel a little uneasy about it, but it isn’t until I read God’s law that I realize it is sin. The BMW itself is not sin, but my attitude is sin. To want that thing so intensely is to elevate me and my wishes to a supreme place, and that is the height of egotism and pride. Furthermore, it places my love for myself, my comfort and my pleasure, above my love for God, and that’s idolatry…

Go back to Paul’s experience. He thought he was doing fine. He may have wanted a few things, but he didn’t think that was any big deal. Until he read God’s law: “You shall not covet.” And then all of a sudden he realized how many things he wanted, and that exposed how sinful he was, how far short he fell of God’s holy standard…

…Isn’t that interesting? Paul here pictures sin not as something we do, but as something that itself acts. When Paul uses the word “sin” like this–a singular noun–he is often referring to our sinful human nature. And it does something. What does it do? It seizes the opportunity afforded it by the commandment not to covet, and produces in us all kinds of coveting. Everywhere Paul turns, he sees something he wants. See that word “opportunity.” It’s a military word that refers to a base of operations, a springboard for offensive action. Our sinful human nature is pictured as a powerful enemy who takes God’s holy law and uses it as a military base from which it launches powerful and devastating attacks on us that stir us up to sin…

I wouldn’t put much stock in Mark Twain’s theology, but he did have a good deal of insight into human nature. He insisted that one feature of the human make-up is plain mulishness. If a mule thinks he knows what you want him to do, he’ll do the very opposite. And Twain admitted that he was the same way, along with most others. “The point of it all is that until the command not to do an evil thing comes we may not feel much urge to do it, but when we hear the command our native mulishness takes over. But the fault is not in the command. It is in the mulishness, in the sinner.”

Of all the links here, I would encourage you to delve into this last commentary to  consider this passage further; again, just click here.

February 6, 2021

When There Were No “Mega” Churches, But Many “Super” Apostles

The construction of vast, cavernous auditoriums in which congregations could worship would be such a foreign concept to the people in the Apostle Paul’s day, where they met “from house to house” and everything was “small group” based. How ironic now that during the Covid-19 pandemic, so many of these same large buildings sit empty, which parishioners fellowship in their homes, or in Zoom groups.

The macro has become micro.

But while they didn’t have “megachurches” there is this interesting reference in 2nd Corinthians 11 to “super-apostles.” First, the context, and I’m using the CEB today:

If a person comes and preaches some other Jesus than the one we preached, or if you receive a different Spirit than the one you had received, or a different gospel than the one you embraced, you put up with it so easily!

So like so much of the content in the New Testament epistles, this is going to be about false teachers. This is a theme that runs through these letters to the point that you cannot escape noting the problem this was for the early church. Remember, you didn’t have to look back far to the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, so everything was in its infancy; there weren’t hundred of years of Christian tradition.

Then our key verse emerges:

I don’t consider myself as second-rate in any way compared to the “super-apostles.”

While knowing the Greek usually helps with literal translation, you could still miss the sarcasm. That the phrase is in quotation marks ought to give us a clue.  Some translations use “chiefest apostles,” or “most eminent…apostles,” or “superlative apostles;” but even there many add the quotation marks to help the reader get the intended snark. Paul is not impressed, not by the number of books they have published or the size of their television audience.

Okay, they didn’t have those metrics, but there’s no great imagination needed to picture there being teachers who were the most-talked-about “flavor of the month” with the people. They gravitated to these people in the same manner in which people today gravitate to the larger churches, the ones led by small-c charismatic personalities.

I must confess personally that in the days when we traveled to the United States, if we were seeking out a church for weekend worship, we always chose the well-known large congregations. Seeking out a medium-sized assembly where God is really doing great things through the congregation probably would have required some research.

Furthermore, such medium-sized congregations will attest to the truth that the megachurches, by their great influence, are setting the agenda for all churches in North America. The pressure to conform to the programs and ministry philosophy which is so obviously working is immense.

Additionally, these are often the churches and church leaders which fail spectacularly. A few weeks ago, on our other blog, I took the time to list all of the churches, pastors, authors and Christian leaders who had suffered damage to their brand in 2020. It’s a very long list.

Some of the translations for verse 5 are more obvious with Paul’s intended remarks: “big-shot ‘apostles,”'” or “grandiose apostles,” the latter which makes me wondering if they’ve spent too much time at the all-you-can-eat buffet; which is a suggestion that could be supported by empirical evidence.

Later in the chapter, Paul makes his use of satire completely obvious; not the phrase in parenthesis at the end:

20 You put up with it if someone enslaves you, if someone exploits you, if someone takes advantage of you, if someone places themselves over you, or if someone hits you in the face. 21 I’m ashamed to say that we have been weak in comparison! But in whatever they challenge me, I challenge them (I’m speaking foolishly).

What comes next? Paul defines his own “super apostleship” and it’s not a job description that would have prospective apostles lining up:

23 Are they ministers of Christ? I’m speaking like a crazy person. What I’ve done goes well beyond what they’ve done. I’ve worked much harder. I’ve been imprisoned much more often. I’ve been beaten more times than I can count. I’ve faced death many times. 24 I received the “forty lashes minus one” from the Jews five times. 25 I was beaten with rods three times. I was stoned once. I was shipwrecked three times. I spent a day and a night on the open sea. 26 I’ve been on many journeys. I faced dangers from rivers, robbers, my people, and Gentiles. I faced dangers in the city, in the desert, on the sea, and from false brothers and sisters. 27 I faced these dangers with hard work and heavy labor, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, and in the cold without enough clothes.

What led me to this passage, and the whole chapter today, is something that John Stackhouse wrote just a week ago in a piece titled Expectations for Christian Leadership:

Here, Paul says, is what genuine apostolic ministry entails. You can expect to be beaten—beaten hard, beaten often.

From Nigeria to China today, pastors are being beaten. Even rank-and-file believers live under the shadow of imminent physical danger of the worst sorts.

I wonder how many pretty-boy pastors would sign up for that job if instead of looking forward to affording excellent sneakers they could look forward to a beating. And then another. And another after that.

Likewise, I wonder how many students would aspire to become public teachers of Christianity—theologians and such—when such a position would require being punched, not just disagreed with or even maybe (horrors!) disrespected.

We live in crazy, mixed-up times, and while the people in Paul’s day didn’t have to deal with the dominance of enormous (and currently empty) megachurch buildings, they certainly faced the related cult of personality.


Dig Deeper: I encourage you today to take an extra few minutes to read the whole chapter.

February 3, 2021

Growth Through Conversion Means Welcoming New People

Yes, this article has a similar title to yesterday’s, because after reading about the church welcoming Cornelius yesterday, I found myself thinking similar things after reading a devotional based on a story that takes place earlier in Acts where the church welcomed one of its greatest foes, Saul of Tarsus. (Though this process took some people longer than others!)

But first I need to apologize. We do have a six month rule, and I see it’s only been eight weeks since we last borrowed some material from Stephen and Brooksyne Weber at Daily Encouragement (and that one followed another by only 3 months) but I felt this was well-written and worth our consideration today. So pleeeeze, click the title below and read this at Daily Encouragement.

The House Of Judas

Message summary: Are you willing to take risks when God leads? I find this a probing question that I’m very uncomfortable with!  I’m really not sure that I always am. (I would stumble over the thought, “Is this REALLY God leading?”)  If you were approached by a former ISIS member, newly converted to Christ, who needed a place to stay, would you open your home to him?

►►Listen to this message on your audio player.

“Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias’. And he said, ‘Here I am, Lord’. And the Lord said to him, ‘Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying'” (Acts 9:10,11).

Have you ever considered or studied about the “bad” people in the Bible? Brooksyne used to have a book called “Bad Girls of the Bible: And What We Can Learn from Them”.

Probably near the top of any list of “bad” people in the Bible would be Judas Iscariot who betrayed the Lord. That may tend to give the name Judas a bad ring. There are many Bible-based names commonly used such as David, Paul, John, Peter and my own, Stephen! But I don’t recall ever meeting anyone named Judas. However there were several men of good character in the Bible named Judas and today we want to consider the most obscure. In fact it wouldn’t be surprising if most of our readers have never even considered this particular Judas.

If we were to ask you to name the first named person Saul met after his dramatic conversion experience you would probably answer, Ananias, who had the special call to pray for Saul.

Well, as you can see from the text, the correct answer is a man by the name of Judas. “The Lord told him,Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying‘”.

Immediately following his conversion it appears that Saul stayed in Judas’ house. This must have been a strange call to Judas to provide hospitality to Saul. We have no idea how Saul got to his house or what depth of faith Judas had.

We are also not told how the message of Christ initially reached Damascus, but clearly God had a people in this city and Saul’s goal, when he journeyed there on the road to Damascus, had been to wipe them out.  Perhaps “the Way”, as Christ’s followers were then called, was a result of returning pilgrims who had been among those saved on the day of Pentecost. Or perhaps it was a result of the scattering of the believers following Stephen’s martyrdom (Acts 7,8).

Damascus is to this day the capital of Syria and, since the time of the New Testament, there has been a remnant of Christians in Damascus and throughout Syria as well as neighboring countries in the Middle East. Based on my understanding of history; Christians, Jews, Muslims and various other groups such as the Yasidi have lived in relative harmony up to the present time.

But with the rise of militant Islam in the last 50 years this has all changed. In our own day ISIS is attempting to complete the same mission of persecuting and destroying followers of Christ that Saul had abandoned in exchange for preaching Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God (Acts 9:20) to the utter amazement of those who heard him. They responded, Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose that he might bring them bound to the chief priests? (9:21).

However, reports are coming out of situations similar to Saul’s conversion such as an ISIS member BEING converted to Christianity due to having dreams of a man who appeared to him in white who said, “You are killing my people”; remarkably similar to the message that Saul heard!!! (Acts 9:4).

Interestingly, God had a special job for this Judas and, although the Biblical record gives us very little information about him, we can be thankful for his willingness to invite Saul into his home; to partake of his food, to lodge in his sleeping quarters, and to be among his own family members.

Are you willing to take risks when God leads? I find this a probing question that I’m very uncomfortable with! I’m really not sure that I always am. (I would stumble over the thought, “Is this REALLY God leading?”)

The writer of Hebrews reminds us: Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2). To have some sense of what Judas’ choice was like, what would it be like for you to welcome Saul into your home? If you were approached by a former ISIS member, newly converted to Christ, who needed a place to stay, would you open your home to him?

Daily prayer: Father, You have a work for all of us to do, we, who claim to be Your followers. Sometimes it’s going, sometimes it’s doing, and sometimes it’s just making ourselves available to Your leading. However You choose to use us, it requires our faith and trust to be firmly rooted in who You are, in Your commands, and in our hearing Your voice, most especially in uncharted territory when we are asked to step out of our comfort zone. Help us to be among those with whom You could say to Your Son, Jesus, “This is my child with whom I am very pleased.” Your commendation is our incentive to be listening, obeying and trusting in You as we journey here below. Amen.

The other men named Judas in the New Testament:
Actually there are several other men named Judas in the New Testament:

1) A half brother to Jesus:Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?”  (Matthew 13:55).

2) Another disciple with the same name:Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” (John 14:22) This apparently was Judas, son of James (see Acts 1:13)

3) An early church leader:Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. (Acts 15:2). This may have been the same Judas as referenced in Matthew 13:55.

 

 

 

January 17, 2021

Riot in Washington; Riot in Thessalonica; Riot in Ephesus

NIV.Acts.17.1. When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.

But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.

“These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.
 (v. 6  NKJV)

Today we have another new writer to introduced to you. Jonathan E. Mills writes at Living in the Present Tense. We’ve introduced today’s thoughts with words from Acts 17 (in Thessalonica), but note it is a subsequent chapter, Acts 19 (in Ephesus) to which he refers.

NIV.Acts.19.32 [two chapters later]The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there.

You’re encouraged to send some link encouragement by clicking the header below and reading this at its source.

Jesus and the Mob

As the scores of images and video footage from the occupation of the US Capitol came in a fortnight ago, I started thinking about the power of mobs and the weakness of the individual. I’m not going to give a hot take on what happened, for far wiser people than I have already done that, but I want to explore for a moment the terror of The Crowd.

Mobs scare me, not the thought of facing them alone (though that is horrifying to contemplate) but the knowledge that I would most likely join them. The pictures of the mob scare us because they reveal that we as a species have a lot less autonomy than we’d like to think. The West has built her self-image upon the ideal of individualism, but too often that seems like a very shaky foundation.

I was in Year 11 when the Arab Spring began in 2010. I have such clear memories of following the various conflicts and the hoards of opinion writers who claimed democracy could now flourish in the Middle East. We’d just studied the French Revolution and I was fascinated by its contrasts and similarities with what was happening live. But one thing that puzzled me was how quickly protests could fall into violent riots. I couldn’t understand how a few leaders could utterly change the direction of a crowd and that everyone would go along with it. Perhaps I prided myself on my individuality, thinking I’d never succumb to the crowd.

I was walking around uni a few years later, just after a lecture on some obscure South American poet. I had no place to be, so I let myself wander. Soon I found myself headed in an unexpected direction, herded by a hoard of students exiting a building. I didn’t think where I was walking, I just followed.

It’s easy to follow the crowd. Or perhaps it’s easy to follow than to try to resist. At 27 I have a lot less confidence in my individuality than I did at 17, and a lot more awe in the power of The Crowd. Back then I imagined myself being a sole voice of reason in a riot, today I know I more likely would be just another sheep.

In his account of the early church, Luke, a follower of Jesus, records a riot that happened in the city of Ephesus. You can read the full story in Acts 19, but here’s the gist:

Ephesus was famous for its Temple of Artemis, and got a lot of its income from worshippers who’d flock from everywhere to purchase and to prostrate. You’d go there to worship the big shrine and then buy a little ‘silver shrine’ to take home (Acts 19:24). Paul’s ministry in Ephesus leads to many becoming Christians and then discarding their religious/witch-crafting scrolls and trinkets (see Acts 18). A successful silversmith named Demetrius realizes the threat Christianity might make to his business and so gives an impassioned speech to the traders, working them up into a religious frenzy. Soon the whole city is in an uproar.

Like most mobs, it’s a very confused one. Luke tells us ‘some were shouting one thing, some another. Most… did not even know why they were there’ (vs 32). The fearsome mob meets an abrupt anticlimax when a city clerk tells everyone to go home and appeal to the court system to meet their perceived injustices.

The crowd is confused, yet violent. The mob is powerful, yet easily dismissed. People are drawn into her without knowing what she’s arguing about. But does that excuse their behaviour? If individuals in a mob commit violent acts they’d never do if they were acting alone, does that excuse their behaviour?

Is there such thing as ‘good’ mob? Can Christians ever be part of one without compromising? And what does God think of it all?

I’m going to attempt to answer most of these questions over the next few posts.

[…at this point Jonathan invites readers to join the discussion; “but please keep it civil. Don’t give into the violence of the mob.” Because this was posted just a few hours ago, readers here are invited to go to his blog and comment, and I’ll close comments here…]

 

 

 

January 11, 2021

Why Won’t They Listen?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today’s thoughts are more personal, perhaps more pastoral.

My day began with an email from a friend. I’ve changed some of the wording just slightly.

Whenever I thought about the book of Revelation and end times things, I always thought that when the predicted events started to happen, people would turn to God in droves. Yet here we are, I sit in a bullpen of construction workers and they are ready to believe the most far out conspiracies, but wouldn’t consider for a moment that God is real. The enemy is blinding them. It’s sad.

I sent him two replies. One was from my phone and I don’t have the text of it nearby, but I simply suggested that his contribution to the discussion — his gift to his co-workers if you like — might not be statements or declarations, but some well-placed, well-considered questions.

Using this strategy might re-direct the conversation, and even if it is not well-received by everyone in the group, there’s always the possibility that there’s one person who the question or questions might continue to haunt them until they decide they need to pursue the subject — or pursue God — further.

I consider my friend wise enough to know how to navigate my advice.

An hour later though, I thought of some scriptures I could send him. One he already alluded to in his remarks.

First I looked at I Corinthians 1 in The Voice Bible:

17 The mission given to me by the Anointed One is… about preaching good news. The point is not to impress others by spinning an eloquent, intellectual argument; that type of rhetorical showboating would only nullify the cross of the Anointed.

18 For people who are stumbling toward ruin, the message of the cross is nothing but a tall tale for fools by a fool. But for those of us who are already experiencing the reality of being rescued and made right, it is nothing short of God’s power.

Verse 17 is interesting because if anyone could frame an intellectual argument, it would be the Apostle Paul. But we need to avoid jumping to the conclusion that if the world is “going to hell in a handbasket” we should just stop sharing the good news message altogether. Paul certainly doesn’t do that.

The next passage I shared was from II Timothy 3; this time from The Message. (I know the person to whom I was sending these well-enough that I thought he would benefit more from these more contemporary translations.)

1-5 Don’t be naive. There are difficult times ahead. As the end approaches, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God. They’ll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals. Stay clear of these people.

14-17 But don’t let it faze you. Stick with what you learned and believed, sure of the integrity of your teachers—why, you took in the sacred Scriptures with your mother’s milk! There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.

Peterson’s phrase “They’ll make a show of God;” is better know to many readers here as “Having a form of Godliness, but denying its power.” Is this a summation statement? Is Paul saying that all of the characteristics listed in the previous two verses apply to the outwardly religious, or is this just another category?

(You can do a translation comparison on the verse itself, but this question is more context-driven. Does the em-dash between verses 4 and 5 used by the NIV fit or does it imply something other translations don’t? A compromise solution might be that as the world goes so goes the church. We know that, for example, divorce rates among evangelicals are no longer significantly different than the general population.)

I didn’t send this to my friend, but I consider II Timothy 3 in parallel. (I’ll revert to NIV for this one.)

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, 10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

Finally, I sent my friend I Corinthians 2 again using The Voice:

12 You must know that we have not received the spirit of this rebellious and broken world but the Spirit that comes from God, so that we may experience and comprehend the gifts that come from God. 13 We do not speak of these gifts of God in words shaped by human wisdom; we speak in words crafted by the Spirit because our collective judgment on spiritual matters is accessible to those who have the Spirit. 14 But a person who denies spiritual realities will not accept the things that come through the Spirit of God; they all sound like foolishness to him. He is incapable of grasping them because they are disseminated, discerned, and valued by the Spirit.

That doesn’t leave us room for much discussion here, but I think what my friend was expressing today was simply all these non-Revelation prophetic words playing out in front of him in real time.

I can only conclude as he did: “It’s sad.”

But again, we can work to make a difference even in those situations. I believe that a few well-placed questions could make the difference in someone’s life.

November 28, 2020

Paul the Apostle Needed People to Support Him

Periodically I check the website A Life Overseas which is written for MKs (Missionaries Kids) and TCKs (Third Culture Kids; people for whom the word home doesn’t mean the place on their passport.)  We’ve shared content from that site here and at Thinking Out Loud. That’s where I found today’s article.

Craig Thompson and his wife, Karen, along with their five children, served as missionaries in Taipei, Taiwan, for ten years before returning to the United States. His blog, Clearing Customs, is an interesting mix of poetry, embedded music videos, and good writing. Click the header below to read this at A Life Overseas, or click the link at the end of the article to read a shorter version at Clearing Customs.

Paul and the Corbels of Member Care

There’s something in architecture called a corbel. Even if you’ve never heard the name before, you’re probably familiar with what it is. A corbel is a bracket, sometimes ornamental, that projects out from a wall, providing support to a structure above. It allows that structure to extend out to where it couldn’t on its own.

Cross-cultural workers are the kinds of people who want to reach out far from home, who dream of going where no one has gone before. They’re often pioneering spirits who’d even go it alone, if that’s what it took—empowered only by their calling and their grit, gristle, and God-given abilities. That’s how the Apostle Paul did it, right? If I were more like Paul, I’d rely on God more and on people less . . . right?

Yes, at times, Paul stressed his independence. In his letter to the Galatian churches, he affirmed that his role as an apostle came directly from Jesus, not from his association with the other apostles:

But when the one who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I could preach him among the Gentiles, I did not go to ask advice from any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me, but right away I departed to Arabia, and then returned to Damascus.

But Paul wasn’t a loner. He took partners with him on his missionary trips, and he also recognized the need for flesh-and-blood corbels to hold him up as he reached out, bearing the gospel. He valued the encouragement and comfort of others. He understood the importance of member care (pastoral care, nurture and development, tender care, that one safe friend).

When Paul finally met with the apostles in Jerusalem, Barnabas helped him by being his advocate, vouching for his dedication to Jesus. Later, Barnabas sought out Paul for his help in working with the church in Antioch, and the two were sent out by the church on Paul’s first missionary journey. It was during his trips and while he was a prisoner that Paul wrote his New Testament letters, often mentioning those who served to encourage him.

Near the end of his first letter to the church in Corinth, he wrote about “the household of Stephanus” (or Stephanas), who “devoted themselves to ministry for the saints,” and added,

I was glad about the arrival of Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus because they have supplied the fellowship with you that I lacked. For they refreshed my spirit and yours. So then, recognize people like this.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul told about how he even turned away from a God-sent opening for ministry because he needed to hear from Titus:

Now when I arrived in Troas to proclaim the gospel of Christ, even though the Lord had opened a door of opportunity for me, I had no relief in my spirit, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-bye to them and set out for Macedonia.

Then, in Macedonia,

our body had no rest at all, but we were troubled in every way—struggles from the outside, fears from within, But God, who encourages the downhearted, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. We were encouraged not only by his arrival, but also by the encouragement you gave him, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your deep concern for me, so that I rejoiced more than ever.

While under house arrest in Rome, Paul wrote to Philemon, “I have had great joy and encouragement because of your love, for the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.” He went on to address the subject of Onesimus, Philemon’s slave who had run away, had come to Paul, and had become a Christian. Paul was sending him back to Philemon, not as a slave but as a brother in Christ, even though Paul wrote, “I wanted to keep him so that he could serve me in your place during my imprisonment for the sake of the gospel.” Paul also looked forward to spending time with Philemon in the future, telling him to “prepare a place for me to stay, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given back to you.

Still a prisoner, Paul wrote to the Colossians and the Philippians. He told those in Colossae that Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus (called Justus) were the only Jewish Christians still working with him, saying “they have been a comfort to me.” And to the Christians in Philippi, he told of his plans to send to them Epaphroditus, whom he described as

my brother, coworker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to me in my need. Indeed, he greatly missed all of you and was distressed because you heard that he had been ill. In fact he became so ill that he nearly died. But God showed mercy to him—and not to him only, but also to me—so that I would not have grief on top of grief. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you can rejoice and I can be free from anxiety. So welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, since it was because of the work of Christ that he almost died. He risked his life so that he could make up for your inability to serve me.

Later, imprisoned in a Roman dungeon, Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy, saying, “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy,” and then,

May the Lord grant mercy to the family of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my imprisonment. But when he arrived in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me. May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day! And you know very well all the ways he served me in Ephesus.

Alone, except for Luke, Paul told Timothy, “Make every effort to come to me soon,” requesting that he also bring Mark, because “he is a great help to me in ministry.” Paul even mentioned some items that he wanted (a care package?), asking Timothy to bring along a cloak that Paul had left in Troas, as well as his scrolls.

Even Paul needed member care, not just for the sake of his work, but also for his personal well-being. Or maybe we should say, given the hardships that he faced, especially Paul needed member care. He needed it, and he appreciated it. And if Paul needed it, so do today’s cross-cultural workers, every one.


A version of the post originally appeared in ClearingCustoms.net.

The Scriptures quoted are from the NET Bible® http://netbible.com copyright ©1996, 2019 used with permission from Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved)

Photo: Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

November 26, 2020

Six Things to Do When Life Ain’t Perfect

A Reflection on Philippians 4

by Clarke Dixon

There is sometimes an expectation that since God loves us, and since we have responded in faith, then life should be pretty much perfect from now on. But then what follows in our experience is, well, far from ideal. When we realize that things are far from perfect we might be surprised. We might even fall to pieces.

Life is a reality check. Paul’s concluding words to the Christians in Philippi are also a reality check. The reality is, that things are far from perfect.

In Philippians chapter 4 we are reminded that the apostle Paul’s life was far from perfect. Here we are given the reason for the letter. It is a thank you note from Paul for the gift the Christians in Philippians sent him because he was in prison. Yes, this encouraging letter was written while Paul was in troubling circumstances. He may even be executed! We have good reason to believe that he eventually was executed following another imprisonment. Paul’s life was far from the perfect experience we seem to expect Christians to have. His life was no picnic.

In Philippians chapter 4 we are also reminded that the Christian church is far from perfect, since Christian people are far from perfect. In verses 2 and 3 we discover that there are troubled relationships. Euodia and Syntcyche are two leaders who are evidently mature Christians. Yet they are not getting along. They are not the perfect people we seem to expect Christians to be. Getting along was no picnic.

As a side note, if you ever find a perfect church, where everyone is perfect, don’t bother telling me about it. I don’t want to wreck the perfection by showing up.

Here we have evidence, of less than than perfect people in less than perfect circumstances. In fact you could say, messy people in messy circumstances. Perhaps you can relate . . .

So how do we handle the mess?

First, we do the best we can:

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Philippians 4:2-3 (NRSV)

Euodia and Syntyche are to iron out their differences and be reconciled. We can wonder if Paul in our day would encourage the Anglicans and the Baptists among others to iron out our differences and be reconciled. At any rate, we are to just do the best we can as individuals and faith communities and to help each other out the best we can too.

We celebrate God:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

Philippians 4:4 (NRSV)

Most translations go with “rejoice” or “be glad,” but I like those that say “celebrate.” It can be hard to just switch our emotions, to suddenly just go from grumpy to joyful. It is not like our emotions respond like a light to the flick of a switch. Think of going home grumpy from a hard day at work. We may still be grumpy when we get home, which is no fun for our loved ones. But if you go home to a celebration, a birthday celebration for example, your emotions may well catch up to your celebrations. When we regularly celebrate Jesus, celebrating all that is real and true in Jesus, then our awful emotions will eventually catch up with the awesome facts.

We grow in gentleness:

Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.

Philippians 4:5 (NRSV)

How often have you heard a sermon on gentleness? If you attend my church, not very often, for I have not often preached on it. I suspect that across our land there are many sermons on holiness, and very few on gentleness. Yet gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit. Gentleness is an important mark of following Jesus. I promise to speak about it more often. Perhaps we should all promise to grow into it more.

We give our anxiety to God through prayer:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7 (NRSV)

Simply turning off worry can feel like an impossible thing to do. It likely is. Thankfully, we are not so much encouraged to simply turn it off, but rather to trade it in. Through prayer we trade it in for peace.

We focus our minds on good things.

I like Eugene Peterson’s rendition of the next few verses:

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

Philippians 4:8,9 (The Message)

We are so good at being focused. Unfortunately we focus on the dirt. We focus on the negative. We focus on what is worst about others, and ourselves. News and social media often doesn’t help in this regard. Let us learn to focus on all that is good, in God, in life, in our world, in our church, in others, and yes, even in ourselves.

We learn contentment with the reality of things:

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

Philippians 4:10-14 (NRSV)

Here we are, back to a reminder that Paul’s situation was from from ideal as he sits in prison, dependent on others for the basic necessities of life. Yet Paul could speak of being content. Yes, things could be better. But yes, things will be better. The reality is that being a Christian is no guarantee of a perfect life. The reality is that in Jesus there is the guarantee of God’s perfect love. As bad as things could get, they can’t do anything but get better yet.

Things are less than ideal in our day. We have been living through an incredibly messy year. We should not act surprised. In fact we have been sheltered. Messiness is nothing new. One of the books I read this summer was “A Journal of the Plague Year, written by a citizen who continued all the while in London,” by Daniel Dafoe. This book is a memoir about a plague that hit London, England, in the 1600’s. It puts our current plague into perspective. Thanks to advances in society, we are in a much better situation now than then.

The first Christians knew what Paul knew; life gets messy. Following Jesus does not excuse us from the mess. In fact, as Paul also knew, following Jesus could get you into a bigger mess. Sadly, many believers around the world today know that all too well as persecution continues to plague many Christ followers.

Let us not fall to pieces when life is less than ideal, when the people around us, including ourselves, are less than perfect. Let us do the best we can, celebrate Jesus, grow in gentleness, trade anxiety for peace through prayer, focus on the good, and learn contentment. May we not fall to pieces, but as we walk with Jesus, let us watch how God picks up the pieces.


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor and his weekly devotional here is taken from his blog Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, which in turn are derived from his weekly sermons. With the pandemic, he’s been preaching shorter messages; each one he calls a full reflection and the shorter services he calls an online worship expression(Use the links provided to see other content from previous weeks.)

November 19, 2020

Christian Maturity: Arrived, or Just Way Too Far Behind?

by Clarke Dixon

Have you ever thought, “I’m just not where I am want to be, or feel I am supposed to be as a Christian”? The most dominant feelings in your life may be of guilt, a feeling of dissatisfaction with yourself, of feeling stuck.

Or perhaps quite the opposite you think “I have arrived.” You have a dominant feeling of satisfaction, of being satisfied with yourself as a person, and as a Christ follower.

Whether we are feeling satisfied or dissatisfied with ourselves, something Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi will help us:

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

Philippians 3:12 (NRSV)

Paul is well aware that despite his extensive experience of walking with Jesus, he has not arrived. This speaks to us when we think we have arrived.

There are two different ways that we may think we have arrived.

First, we may think we have progressed so far in Christian maturity, that there is nowhere left to grow. There are no changes left to be made. There is nothing more to learn about God, or ourselves. When we think that, let Paul’s words come as a challenge. If the apostle Paul knew that he had not yet arrived, how much more should we realise the need, and opportunity, for further growth?

Second, we may think that the only goal of Christianity is to get people to heaven and since we know that we are saved by the love of God and not our own righteousness, well the goal has been reached. We have been saved. We will go to heaven when we die. All is good.

However, is that the only goal? It may sound like the only goal in certain variations of Christianity, but we won’t find that it is in Biblical Christianity. Consider what Paul goes on to say:

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:13-14 (NRSV)

The Christian life is described here as a race. There is motion, there is direction, there is an effort expended in reaching toward a goal, there is a sense of progression, of movement. We could sum it up with “yes, by God’s grace you will reach the finish line, but you are now in the race, so get running!”

The goal of Christianity is not just getting people to heaven instead of hell, of ensuring life forevermore as opposed to separation from God at the end. The goal is experiencing God’s presence in our lives forevermore, beginning now, and affecting us now. The goal is not just resurrection to eternal life when Christ returns, but new life now made possible through the Holy Spirit’s presence within us now. There is a maturing process, touching our character, our motives, our ethics, our attitudes, affecting everything about us. This race is not a sprint, but a marathon, a long journey. Of course we have not arrived.

This brings us to those times we beat ourselves up because we have not yet arrived. If that describes us today, there are three things to take note of from Paul’s words.

First, be comforted by the fact that God’s got this, even if we don’t:

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

Philippians 3:12 (NRSV emphasis added)

We belong, even though we have not arrived. We belong because of the faithfulness of Jesus, because of the love and grace of God. Our Christian maturity does not make God love us more. So be comforted by the fact that you belong.

Second, if you feel you have some distance to go, you are not alone. Paul makes no claim on being the perfect Christian either. None of the heroes of the faith that we find in the Bible were perfect. None of the heroes of the faith we find through the history of Christianity were perfect. Why do we beat ourselves up for not being perfect? So let us be comforted by the fact that we are not alone in our imperfection. God is not surprised.

Third, let us be challenged. There is a road to travel, there is a race to run:

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:13-14 (NRSV)

Are we challenged by those verbs of action: “straining forward,” “I press on.” Do we hear the challenge to put some effort in?

To run a race, it is best we not spend all our time looking behind us. When we spend a lot of time looking back we might end up thinking things like “I experienced this, my family of origin was like that, I have never been able to . . . , I have always . . . ” If we look at how things have been, why would we expect anything to ever be different? But if we look forward . . .

In an effort to more healthy I have lost 50 lbs. If I only looked back I would see nothing but a steady rise in weight. An app forced me to look forward. At the close of each day it would say “if every day was like today, in five weeks you will weigh . . .” Looking back I would always feel defeated. Looking forward I felt inspired.

If we feel stuck, let us hear the challenge to look forward. In motorcycle safety courses they teach you that where you look, you go. So don’t spend all your time looking back, and don’t look down! In life, if we keep looking back we will continue to get hung up over the same old things. Let’s not keep looking back at events and decisions we think define us. Instead let’s look forward to what God has for us. Let the future God has in store for us define us.

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:6 (NRSV)

Let us not look back at a history of failures, whether our own or how others have failed us, but let us look forward to where God is leading us, to what kind of character we will have, what kind of people we will be.

Growth is possible, especially given the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and the upward calling in Christ. We can grow in our character. We can grow in our depth of relationship with God in Christ. We can grow in our awareness and knowledge of God. We can grow in our awareness and knowledge of ourselves, where we have come from, but more importantly, where we are going.

Whether we feel we have far to go, or nowhere left to go in the journey of Christian maturity, God will help get us moving on our way.

Are you growing?


The full reflection can be seen as part of this “online worship expression.Read more from Clarke at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

October 8, 2020

The Path to Unity (According to Paul)

by Clarke Dixon

This is a time of incredible division. Though we are Canadians, we cannot help but hear all the shouting to the South of us, especially with an election in the near future. America seems to be coming apart at the seams.

As a Christian I can’t talk. Church communities have faced divisive issues from the get-go. In New Testament times it was the eating of meat sacrificed to animals. In our day it is the response to the LGBTQ+ community.

Division is not limited to nations and churches. We are told that divorce rates are at an all time high. It is a time of division, and it looks like it is only going to get worse. How can we break through to unity?

The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi about unity in his day, which will help us in our day. In fact it will help avoid it in the first place.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

Philippians 2:1-2 (NIV)

In other words, if you are a Christ follower, then be “of one mind.” But how do we do that? Unity is the goal, but what is the path?

We may think that the path to unity is uniformity. We just need to get everyone thinking the exact same things. Before we move forward on that assumption, let us keep reading what Paul has to say, let us follow the path he points us toward:

. . . be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

Philippians 2:2-5 (NRSV)

The path to unity is humility.

Why is humility the path to unity where we might expect uniformity? When uniformity is seen as the path to unity, it is not always the voice that is most correct that wins the day. Often it is the voice that speaks the loudest. Sometimes the voice that is heeded belongs to the one whose arm is the strongest.

That is how things worked in the Roman Empire. Step out of line and you could be crucified. Paul encourages the Christians in Philippi, a colony of Rome, to no longer have the mind of Roman, but instead:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8 (NRSV)

Don’t think like Romans, for whom the cross, as a means of terrible execution, was a symbol of power. Instead think like Jesus, for whom the cross is a means of grace and forgiveness.

Don’t think like Romans, who exploit their position of power in the world, but think like God, who did not take advantage of his own position of power for his own sake, but came to us in Jesus for our sake.

If God was thinking like a Roman and had resorted to brute power to put things right, he would have wiped us all out and started over without us. Instead, God came to us as one of us and experienced the worst of us, for us. We were divided from God, a huge chasm existing between ourselves and God because of sin. We also became divided from each other. Through His humility, God brought has brought unity.

Power is the path to unity in empire thinking. Humility is the path to unity in Kingdom thinking.

Do we think like Romans or like Christ?


Rev. Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. The full sermon on which this is based can be seen as part of an “online worship expression” from October 4th.

September 30, 2020

When Troubles Come and God Does Not Meet Our Expectations

Because we were unable to connect with Clarke Dixon last week, we have two posts this week; today and tomorrow.

by Clarke Dixon

When our circumstances don’t seem to match what we expect from God, do we need to lower our expectations?

Imagine you were in the apostle Paul’s shoes, having worked so diligently and passionately for so long and having demonstrated such a high commitment to God, wouldn’t you expect God to reward that?

Yet you find yourself in prison, waiting to hear if you will be released, or executed. Today may actually be your last day. What would go through your mind if that were you? Perhaps “what have I done to deserve this?” or “perhaps I should have had less confidence in God all along?”

To be honest, I hear Christians express things in the good times, that make me wonder what will happen when the bad times come. The belief, for example, that because they have a relationship with God, bad times won’t come.

How did Paul respond to his difficult circumstance? Does he respond with “poor me,” and “God is not that great”? Consider his words from prison:

And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ.

Philippians 1:12-13 (NLT)

Paul had a very positive attitude, firstly, because he was not just focused on himself. Paul’s focus was not on his own difficult circumstance, but on what God was doing in the lives of others through that circumstance. Because Paul was in prison, everyone was talking about Jesus. That was a great thing!

And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.

Philippians 1:14 (NLT)

The believers in the city were speaking about Jesus with greater confidence, perhaps knowing that with Paul in prison, they would need to take up the slack.

The next few verses are tricky to understand but Bible scholar N.T. Wright has an interesting proposal: even the Roman non-believers were speaking about Jesus. Perhaps some were saying that Paul was dangerous with his insistence that some man named Jesus had risen from the dead and was therefore now Lord, and therefore Caesar was not. Perhaps others were saying these followers of Christ are actually very good citizens. Either way, the fact that people were talking about Jesus and curiosity was piqued was a positive thing in Paul’s mind:

. . . the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice.

Philippians 1:18 (NLT)

Paul did not dwell on the potential of losing his life, but on the possibility of others finding life in Christ. They had the opportunity to hear the good news about Jesus Christ. Do we recognize how exciting that is?

Paul’s focus was not on himself and his own troubles, but on others and what God might do for them through his troubles. We do well to remember this when our circumstances are difficult to bear. Without denying the pain that may be ours for a season, perhaps we might take our focus off ourselves for a moment and ask the Lord to help us see the big picture. Can we see what God is doing and can do in the lives of others through, our circumstances?

Did Paul lower his expectations of what God might do for him as he sat in prison waiting to hear if he would be released or executed?

And I will continue to rejoice. For I know that as you pray for me and the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will lead to my deliverance. For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith.

Philippians 1:18-25 (NLT)

Paul’s expectations of God were very high! He would either be released, so that he could continue to pursue God’s call on his life in helping others as an apostle. Or he would be executed and find himself fully in the presence of Christ. Either way he will be released! Either way he will experience the goodness of God!

Are our expectations of God high enough?

We might have low expectations of God if we only consider what he can do for us in our immediate situation. Do we also consider what God can do for others, through us?

Do we have the bigger picture of what is ahead for us in Christ if worse comes to worst and death is staring us in the face. It is when worse comes to worst that we will experience God’s best.

Do we have high enough expectations of God? Do we expect that God will be good whether he uses the difficulties in the present chapter of our lives to bear fruit in the lives of others, or death ushers us into a new chapter of our everlasting lives?

Does the thought of dying, of going to be with the Lord, feel like going to a job interview for a job you don’t think you deserve, or travelling to an exam you expect to fail? Or does going to be with Lord feel like finally being with a loved one after only being able to meet over Zoom?

If we are in Jesus Christ, if we trust him, and if we are concerned that God will not accept us and welcome us, then our expectations of God and his love are not high enough.


Clarke is a Canadian pastor. Watch a video version of this message at the “online worship expression” from September 20th.

September 19, 2020

Opening the Pressure Valve on Resentment

NIV.2Tim.3.23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

This is our fourth time back with J. Mark Fox who is one of a number of writers at Christians in Context. This piece was written shortly after the world was plunged into lockdown due to coronavirus, and some of the dynamics mentioned haven’t really changed, in fact, some countries are heading back into lockdown as I type this. Click the title to read this at its site of origin.

Pressure Cookers of Resentment

Pressure Cooker
image: Wikipedia

The coronavirus has forced many of us to stay home more than we are used to, and that can lead to wonderful or not-so-terrific outcomes. People can tend to get a little touchy, slightly more irritable than normal. Reminds me of a peculiar habit camels seem to have. Read on…

William Barclay said, “There may be greater sins than touchiness, but there is none that does greater damage to the Christian church.” I found that quote as I was reading what Paul wrote 2 Timothy, instructing the young pastor that leadership requires thick skin, someone who is not easily offended. In fact, a leader is one who “patiently endures evil.” It could also be translated, “Bearing evil from others without resentment.” This is a rare quality, isn’t it? Let’s face it. There are lots of people who cannot bear anything without resentment, much less evil. They get resentful at the stoplight for staying red longer than they think is just. Look at them the wrong way and you are off their party-invitation list forever. Others will allow you a wrong look or a cross word or two, but they are adding your missteps to an invisible scale that they keep in their memory. Whoa to you when you finally tip the scale in the wrong direction.

This is illustrated in nature, I discovered, with camels. Who knew? In his book, Zoo Vet, David Taylor writes, “Camels may build up a pressure cooker of resentment toward human beings until the lid suddenly blows off and they go berserk. In Asia, when a camel driver senses trouble, he gives his coat to the animal. Rather like Japanese workers who are reported to work off frustrations by beating up models of their executives, the camel gives the garment (a fit)—jumping on it, biting it, tearing it to pieces. When the camel feels it has blown its top enough, man and animal can live together in harmony again.”

Talk about getting your hump in a wad. And, just wondering, how many coats does a camel driver have to keep on hand? The problem with that whole scenario is obvious. If Carlos the camel owner is off his game by just a little, and doesn’t correctly read the signs that Carl the Camel is subtly sending him, it may be that Carlos, not his coat, is torn to pieces. Same way with you, as you face the wrath of Ken or Kara the church members. You may never know when you say the very thing that sends them into orbit. Or out the door. They won’t even give you a chance to offer them your coat or your hat to jump up and down and spit on. They just bolt. You may hear some reasons why they exploded later, as a friend of a friend of theirs tells you what they said about you on Facebook. Or, you may never know.

Paul’s instruction to young Timothy is clear: don’t be a pressure cooker of resentment yourself. When the camels are spitting and stomping all around, you are to remain calm. You are to be quick to forgive and slow to take offense, not the other way around. That doesn’t mean a leader is as silent as a post. No, he is to be skilled in “correcting his opponents with gentleness.” This is part of the problem: leaders who are unable or unwilling to gently correct evil behavior.

There is power in the life that refuses to drink in bitterness when others attack. It is the power that Christ Himself displayed as He was mocked and beaten and spat upon and finally crucified. There is no more beautiful picture of Christ than that of suffering servant. “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearers is silent, so he opens not his mouth.”

Two things, then. When pressure at home builds up, go outside. Exercise! And, be very careful around your camel.


J. Mark Fox is the author of A Faithful Man and the pastor of Antioch Community Church in Elon, North Carolina. You can follow him on Twitter at @jmarkfox.

September 17, 2020

Thoughtful Love

by Clarke Dixon

Jesus told us to love our neighbours, and even our enemies, so basically to love everyone. What does that even look like? Does that mean just having warm, fuzzy feelings for everyone? Does it mean just being polite?

Loving people can sound like a nice platitude, but what does it look like on the ground, when the rubber meets the road?

In Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi we read a prayer of Paul’s, which if it were to be answered in our lives, will help us love others well. So what is it?

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11 (NIV)

Notice that Paul is not simply praying for more and more love, as if more and more warm fuzzy feelings toward each other would make a difference. He is praying for love that grows in knowledge and full insight, so that they will know what is best. Translations use various words here including knowledge, discernment, understanding, insight, perception, and even intelligence.

So what does it mean for our love to grow in knowledge and depth of insight? What does it look like to love someone with intelligence and thoughtfulness?

First, love that grows in knowledge and full insight is love that grows in knowledge of, and insight into, the love of God. This would mean love that perceives what generosity looks like, love that has insight into what grace looks like, love that knows what reconciliation feels like, and love that knows what it feels like to be forgiven. This is love that has learned the art of love from God.

When we have experienced the love of God in our lives through Jesus, we learn what love looks like between people. Our love for others grows in generosity, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, and all such things.

The knowledge and full insight Paul speaks of is not limited to Biblical knowledge. It can include knowledge and insight gained from other sources.

When our love is growing in knowledge, it can be knowledge we gain from science and the world of medicine. As an example, we might feel quite justified for being miffed if someone in our family forgets our name. Knowing something about Altzheimer’s disease, I do not get angry when my Mum forgets mine. I have adjusted my expectations. Love that is growing in knowledge makes such adjustments.

Likewise, if we in a relationship with someone with a mental illness, learning something about that illness will help us know what love looks like in that particular relationship.

When our love is growing in knowledge, it can be knowledge we gain from wise people who have learned how the world works. We can give as an example the knowledge we gain from Gary Chapman in his series on “The 5 Love Languages.” Gary lists these love languages as,

  • words of affirmation
  • physical touch
  • the giving and receiving of gifts
  • quality time
  • acts of service

How does it work? Consider, for example, a father who gives many gifts to his daughter, but never spends time with her. Now suppose his primary love language, the way he expresses love, and feels loved, is through the giving and receiving of gifts. And suppose the daughter’s primary love language, the way she expresses love, and feels loved in return, is through spending time with people. This daughter may sit someday on a therapist’s couch lamenting that her father never loved her. In fact he did, and expressed it in the way he knew how. But he was not speaking her language.

There is so much more that can be said about all this, so I will encourage you to look into Gary Chapman’s books and resources. The point here is that knowing how people express and receive love in different ways can really help us love with knowledge and insight. This is another way by which our love can grow in knowledge and depth of insight, so that we will know what is best.

When our love is growing in insight, it can be insight from the experience. As an example, if you think same-sex attraction is a choice rather than something that just is for some people, it can really affect what you think love looks like toward a gay person. Consider if one’s child comes out as gay in the teen years. If you take the traditional viewpoint, you may think that the most loving thing you can do is get your child to change his or her mind, to fix them. The experience of many gay people, however, is that, a) they did not choose it, and b) it can be a very difficult journey, a journey which goes down a path of self-harm for some.

What, therefore, does love that is growing in knowledge and insight look like when one’s child comes out as gay? If I could go back to the moment one of my son’s came out as gay, I would now say “What has that journey been like for you? How are you?” I didn’t say anything really bad, but I didn’t say anything particularly thoughtful either. At that moment I did not love with knowledge and insight and say what was best. There is no doubt that Christian parents, while being so often motivated by love, can seem quite unloving due to a lack of knowledge and insight.

When our love is growing in knowledge, it can be knowledge we gain from studying history. As an example, we might think that once slavery was abolished in the United States, that was the end of racism. History records otherwise. When we study the history of how people of colour have been treated differently ever since, then we are in a better position to discern what love looks like in these days of racial tensions. Let those of us who are white, commit to a journey of learning.

When our love is growing in perception, it can be knowledge we gain from having open eyes to see the needs around us. Then we need the discernment to know what can be done about the needs around us. To give an example, while pastoring in Ottawa I had the opportunity to begin building a relationship with a homeless man. He explained that he would get off the alcohol in an institution, then would be set up in a room in a dwelling with people who were hooked on drugs and alcohol. Of course he went back to such things himself. He found living on the street to be far better. If we as society have a love growing in knowledge and depth of insight, we will figure out a better solution.

Loving people goes way beyond having affection for them, warm feelings, or wishing them the best. We can think we are doing the most loving thing, but when our love lacks discernment, it may not be the best thing. As I’ve often heard said, love is a verb. Since love is an activity, love requires action. Action requires decision. Decisions are always best when made with discernment, understanding, insight, and knowledge.

If Paul’s prayer for love that is growing in knowledge and insight is answered in our lives, it can make a huge difference in our capacity to love. If we love with discernment, it will make a huge difference in the lives of others, indeed it can change the world. God’s discerning love is the prime example of a thoughtful love that changes everything!


This reflection can be seen as part of the “online worship expressionat the Ontario church where Clarke is the pastor from September 13, 2020.

September 16, 2020

We Fail; He Helps us Back Up… Each and Every Time

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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One writer in our frequent-flyer club here at C201 is Elsie Montgomery who has appeared here more than 20 times.  This very personal reflection appeared yesterday at her blog, Practical Faith. Click the header below to read and find more great devotionals like this one.

One Prayer God Quickly Answers…

2 Samuel 11; Psalms 62–63; Ezekiel 18; 2 Corinthians 4

Reading the familiar story of David and Bathsheba reminds me again of one hard truth: strong desires blind my eyes to reality and truth. David wanted this woman and went against all that he knew was right. He seduced her, used his power to manipulate the death of her husband and tried to cover up his sinfulness with lies.

His actions beg the question: How can a person overcome strong desires? These include lust, desire for power, popularity and fame, even the desire to eat too much or drink too much alcohol. The list is long. David loved the Lord but his desire for a woman ruined his desire for doing the will of God. I don’t want that.

The Apostle Paul was also a man who loved the Lord. He lived with a strong determination to turn away from sin and live a godly life. What made the difference? These verses explain:

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:1–6)

Paul knew that blindness caused by sin is also blindness from the evil one whose goal is to keep people from seeing the glory of God in Jesus Christ. It is in knowing who Jesus is that changes everything. Paul was given that vision while on his way to persecute and destroy Christians. When he saw the risen Christ, he called that amazing experience “light shining out of darkness” and from that moment on, his life changed.

I understand Paul’s experience. Mine was similar. I read the Bible for nearly two decades but it was darkness to me; I didn’t understand any of it. Then one fall day, while reading another book that had a Scripture verse in it, Jesus shone into my life. I instantly knew that He was God in human flesh and that He came to save me from my sin. He shone in my heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

The biggest difference is that my life didn’t change as rapidly as Paul’s life! He was zealous for God before that great event, but I was zealous for me, with many strong desires for what I wanted. God keeps shining light into my life and is amazingly patient with me yet I am slow and forgetful, stubborn and selfish.

However, the Lord does give me an understanding of how Satan works. I know that I can be in the dark with those I-wants and that all of them must be yielded to Him. The more I give up the more I gain. That is, when I refuse to act in disgraceful or underhanded ways, or to be cunning or try to mess with what the Bible says or run my own life, then seeing the glory of God is easier and desirable. This battle against sin is won by losing.

APPLY: Every day I need to ask Jesus what the psalmist asked: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24) This is one prayer that God is so faithful to answer quickly that I’ve often said if you pray it, you better duck!

Later: This application is proven once again. Today God gave me a test . . . which I flunked! It happened a very short time after writing the above words. Again, if you pray those verses and mean it, He will answer quickly.

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