Christianity 201

November 7, 2021

Praying for What We’ve Already Been Given

The decade from 2007 to 2016 was a golden age for Christian blogs. One of ones we visited three times year, and linked to many times at Thinking Out Loud was Parking Space 23. Today we went back for a visit and found that they were still active until this spring when this piece by Jason Vaughn appeared. Click the link below to read directly.

Pray for What We Own Already

Paul’s first prayer in Ephesians really intrigues me. Compare what he prays for with commonly heard prayer requests. When I say, how can I pray for you, what do we often respond with? We mention issues, situations, or desired outcomes. This isn’t wrong. To clarify please do not feel guilty for asking for specific issues you want others to pray for. Instead, I propose some additional content to be added to our prayers on behalf of your church family, family, coworkers, and ourselves. Paul’s prayer, inspired by the Holy Spirit, allows us a glimpse into the apostle’s concern.

As Paul writes to the church, he thanks the Lord for this congregation and records how he prays. He says,

ESV.Eph.1.15 “For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

The testimony of the church leads him to give thanks. This is a church exhibiting faith in Christ and love for one another. These two attributes only exist through the work of the Holy Spirit, so thanking our Lord proves appropriate and gives Him the honor He is due. But then he reveals how he constantly prays, “that [our Lord] would give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him . . . the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” (1:17-18). Emphatically Paul asks God for the church to understand the revelation our Lord gives to us. He wants believers to know God. He wants God to grant us understanding of Him.

It is not enough for Paul that we be empowered to just live rightfully, but that we think rightfully too. (Paul doesn’t pit these against each other, ever. Instead he sees them as a married couple holding hands walking together). But what is it we should know? He lists three facts he wants us to understand: 1. To know the hope of His calling 2. the riches of the glory of His inheritance and 3. His surpassing greatness of His power brought about in Christ! (His resurrection, ascension and sovereignty, and headship over the church).

The familiar reader of Ephesians will note Paul addressed the first two points in 1:3-14. Herein lies a key observation. Paul wants the church to know and understand what we already have in Christ. The opening paragraph explains what we have in Christ, “every spiritual blessing.” (1:3) He does not hope we gain these truths nor do these truths only exist if we know or understand them. Instead, whether we understand them or not, if you are a believer, these truth do exist! It’s like buying a used car and you made this choice because of make, model, engine, and reliability, then as you drive the car you start to discover all the cool features, secret cup holders, bluetooth, and other neat features. You already owned them, but you did not know you owned them. This is exactly what Paul prays for. He wants us to understand what is true about us in Christ! It is lamentable to think about how many people have passed away on earth to only discover in the presence of God what he or she really had in Christ. Paul wants us to know this today!

When he says, “You will know the hope of his calling” he really means, He wants us to know and understand what we have in Christ. “The hope of his calling” was already explained in 1:3-14 and should draw us back to remember that amazing introductory paragraph. What is the hope our calling we have in Christ? It can be summarized simply — that we are “in Christ!” But Paul mentions six blessings regarding what it means to be in Christ. These are “the hope of our calling” and the “spiritual blessings” every believer has — not earned!

  1. “That we would be holy and blameless before Him” (1:4) For every believer this is a relief! We know we are sinful, not holy, and cannot save myself. I know that God’s requirement for his children is that I would be holy as He is holy. But unfortunately I cannot do anything to earn or obtain that holiness. But enter God who chose us, His children, to be holy and blameless before the world was even founded!
  2. “Adopted as sons in Jesus Christ” (1:5) Not only have I been made holy, but God adopts me into His family. Believers are children of God, enjoying every promise from God, especially those found in the New Covenant: forgiveness, indwelling Holy Spirit, justified, to know God personally, the hope of the resurrection, and a seat at the banquet table with our Lord Jesus Christ.
  3. “In Him we have redemption” (1:7) God redeemed us, not based on our work, but based on Christ and His work on the cross where God is both just and the justifier. No longer are my sins remembered against me, instead God forgives us. Why? Again, not because we have something that God needs, but rather, “according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us!” (1:7-8). This is humbling, and rightfully so! Hopefully it causes us to give thanks to Him for his mercy and grace!
  4. “He made known to us the mystery of His will” (1:9). This is the right time for our Lord. We know the mystery the prophets looked into, but didn’t know what time Christ would be revealed. Well now, Christ has been revealed and we know the mystery of His will. We live in a great season where Christ has come in the flesh, died, buried, resurrected, and ascended to glory. We no longer have to ask, “When is the Messiah coming.” Instead we already know, He’s come (and will come back again). We walk with a confidence existing only because Christ has conquered death on the cross.
  5. “We were made an inheritance” (1:11). Looking at two sides of the coin. On one side, we are adopted as children. On the other side God made us His inheritance. The covenant keeping Lord made us New Covenant children. We are His chosen ones. We are precious to Him as any good father would be to His children. It’s this truth that allows us to confidently say, “God loves me!”
  6. “You were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise” (1:13). Every believer, each of his children, His inheritance has indwelling him or her, the Holy Spirit. This is a New Covenant promise true for everyone who believes (1:13). The true God, Holy Spirit, indwells us guaranteeing our place in God’s presence around the banquet table!

Every one of these truths is fully true whether we understand them or not. But Paul, with a pastor’s heart wants the church to understand each of these truths. Why? Because there is hope in them! Life can be difficult. Our trials can lead to despondency, despair, and all sorts of difficult emotions. But to live every day understanding these truths are not only true when we have good days, but bad days too, helps us praise and thank our Lord, joining Paul who opens Ephesians with “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” Nothing in this world compares to what I have in Christ. Remembering this spurs us on to honor, thank, and love others regardless of the context, trials, and hardships we deal with daily.

This hope should serve at the core of our thinking and therefore living. As we seek to love our church family, spouse, kids, and everyone God puts around us, we desire each person to know this same hope. Join Paul’s prayer and make sure you add this content to your prayers on behalf of yourself and others. God wants us to know His gifts given to us through Christ.

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October 30, 2021

When the World is Less Than Perfect

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.” – John 14:1

“Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
    but he will heal us;
he has injured us
    but he will bind up our wounds.
 After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will restore us,
    that we may live in his presence.” Hosea 6: 1-2

 

A friend wrote:

Do you think there was a back up plan? Considering free will and all – what if apostle Paul had stayed Saul? If you say that God knows the future and didn’t need a back up plan, then it follows that he always knows the future and would pick good for us. It’s hard to believe that this current state of affairs is the best possible scenario at this point in time. I’m curious to hear you’re thinking about this.

Here is my answer. Let me know how well you think I did, or if I left something important out.


First of all, what if you’re not a Christian? How do you explain such things? In philosophy, the view is called Determinism, the opposite of which is Libertarian free will. (Not to be confused with political libertianism.) That’s described in this video, or this Wikipedia article. Again, remember these aren’t Christian sources.

Okay, we got that out of the way.

In many respects, determinism might be a better explanation for the way the world is right now than blaming God’s presence (but inaction) in the mess the world is in in 2021. If you subscribe to the believe that the sovereignty of God implies that he is controlling everything, that is completely different from saying that God is in control. He is definitely in control. He is the place where the buck stops, so to speak. But is he tweaking and fine-tuning every single aspect of human life? This is why for me, I’m more comfortable dealing with a more open theology, though Ruth and I disagree as to how far that extends, plus open theology faces the extra burden of getting into the more thorny subject of how much does God choose to know about the future, apart from any action or inaction on His part.

Our world has been messed up by Covid. It’s a worldwide situation. But we or our parents also had to deal with Spanish Flu, World War I, World War II, etc. In some ways, this is better.

But your question isn’t “Why isn’t God doing something?” but is more like “Why doesn’t God do something about this, when he so clearly directly intervened in the life of Saul/Paul, knocking him off his high horse, as it were?” It would appear that God does jump into the picture (of which the incarnation is the greatest example) at some times and not so much at other times. We trust God’s will, but we pray for sick people to get well. We know that disease takes people, and often the natural course of events appears to lead to an impending worsening of the physical condition, but we ask God to do something special, and in fact, we do hear stories of recovery (healing) which seems to confound medical experts.

In Psalm 31:15, David says, “I trust you…my times are in your hands;” but that only comes after asking, “Turn your ear to listen to me; rescue me quickly. Be my rock of protection, a fortress where I will be safe.” (vs. 2 NLT)  He acknowledges God’s authority over the whole world, but asks for special intervention.

So is Saul/Paul an exception? Especially when the world seems to be such a broken place? I read your question out loud to Ruth last night, and she started saying some things that I asked her to write out.

My view is that most of life and history is based in free will, with some clear exceptions like John the Baptist and Samuel – people who are tapped by God at or before birth to do what God has for them to do. Paul may have been one of those. But if he had dug in his heels and said no to God, He would have worked through someone else. Maybe a bunch of people would each have taken on part of what Paul accomplished. Interesting thing to think about, but Paul would have been the only loser, long term.

The phrase “He would have worked through someone else.” That’s the exact message of the Book of Esther. Her uncle is confident that God is going to deliver the Jewish people, but perhaps a bit more fuzzy as to the how. He tells her,  In fact, if you don’t speak up at this very important time, relief and rescue will appear for the Jews from another place, but you and your family will die. But who knows? Maybe it was for a moment like this that you came to be part of the royal family.” (4:14 CEB)

In other words, the larger, big-picture, master-story-arc plans and purposes of God are not going to be thwarted. He has ways we can’t imagine, and his route to get there is often one we didn’t consider.  He tells Jeremiah, Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (33:3) In other words, God specializes in outside-the-box solutions.  Speaking through Isaiah he says,
“For as the sky soars high above earth,
    so the way I work surpasses the way you work,
    and the way I think is beyond the way you think.” (55: 8-9, The Message)

Which brings us back to one sentence in your question, “It’s hard to believe that this current state of affairs is the best possible scenario at this point in time.” Yes. Agreed. It’s hard for us to imagine. But in light of the aforementioned world wars and previous plagues, perhaps we’re actually getting off easy. The political polarization in the U.S. and elsewhere? We need to remember that many, many Christians in Germany actively supported Hitler and his political platform. It does serve as a foreshadowing of what Jesus warned about in Matthew, “For false christs and false prophets will arise and will provide great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. (24:24, NASB)

A former pastor of ours used the phrase, “God is positively disposed and favorably inclined” to hear and answer our prayers. Many are praying right now for the world to be set right (or as N.T. Wright phrases it, “set to rights.”) It might appear that God is not answering. I believe that’s why we’re told to be tenacious about our praying. Keep on asking. Keep on seeking. Keep on knocking. (Matthew 7:7 even spells out the acronym ASK!) But it doesn’t say that if we ask enough times we’ll get a ‘yes.’  Even as many are praying, we would appear to be living in what a songwriter called, “the mystery of unanswered prayer.” I wrote about that in this article.

The best scenario? I’ll let Ruth describe that:

The best possible scenario would have been if Adam and Eve would have stayed where they were put, but they didn’t. So God is working us toward the restoration of that – the happy ending :-) The best scenario for humanity in a broken world is a life following Jesus, filled with the Spirit, and doing what we can to build that Kingdom.

In other words, if these are the realities of our present circumstances, what are we going to do with what we’ve been handed? I think we need to, in the words of Richard Niebuhr, “accept the things we cannot change, change the things we can, and have the wisdom to know the difference.” We need to work out our backup plan, when life is less than perfect.

August 16, 2021

Philippians: Packed with Strong Doctrine and Theology

NIV.Phil.2.6 Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

We’re back for our fifth annual visit highlighting the writing of Jim Grant at Preach Between the Lines.  Jim is Executive Director of the Galveston Baptist Association, a conference speaker and contributing writer for the National Revitalization organization called Renovate. Clicking the header which follows will take you to his site and other articles, some written for pastors and leaders.

As preparation for today’s thoughts, take a few minutes to read Philippians 1-4.

Philippians 1-4; The Koinonia Church

I think the book of Philippians may be the most often quoted book. I think of this because it has so many uplifting verses. In Paul’s other epistles he always has a nice opening paragraph then he dives into the issues the particular church has. This is not the case with the Philippians.

The church at Philippi was started in Acts 16. Paul wanting to go to other regions but was directed by the Holy Spirit to wait. While he was waiting, the Macedonian Vision came to him. As was Paul’s custom he goes to the Jewish synagogues and seeks out God-fearers. I must have been such a joy to minister to the people of the Macedonian region. We find that they are a loving church and a giving church. When Paul asks the gentile churches to give an offering to the Jerusalem church in harsh persecution and a deep famine; the Philippian church not only gave generously, but first gave themselves to the call. They were probably the very opposite of the Corinthian Church, who seemed to be very self-centered, childish, and carnal. Yes, the great Apostle Paul had to deal with bad churches!

This short book if filled with strong doctrine and theology. Looking at the “Kenotic passage” Philippians 2:5-11; we are confronted with the humanity and deity of Jesus. Now there have been Councils in the Early Church to debate whether Jesus was human and/or deity. Our minds cannot conceive how someone can be fully both. Jesus never ceases to be God. It took me a long time to understand how this could be. Jesus being God, “Set aside” His deity so as to be fully obedient to the Father, not on the basis of His own power, but the power of the Father working in and through him. I believe that Jesus is the perfect man. As we know from 1 Corinthians 15:45, the second Adam was a living spirit. Jesus was what the original Adam was supposed to be had sin not entered in him.

There is several verses that admonish the believers to conduct themselves as the Children of God that they are called to be. Particularly Philippians 1:27-30. Unity comes out of this book; which Paul has repeated before in Ephesians 4:1-6.

When we think about Paul writing this letter while in prison, I am amazed at his upbeat tone. Obviously, the Philippian church is very dear to him. Of course, they have ministered to him directly. Even though Paul is in a Roman prison, awaiting sentencing – he can speak joyfully “for him to live is Christ and to die is gain.” [Phil. 1:21]

Paul knows that death is near, yet he is so intense about serving and being found faithful with his remaining days. In chapter 3, we find the wonderful testimony of Paul. He could have boasted about both of his lives, his pre-salvation and apostleship. Paul was already a successful man in the Jewish religion. He had the right schooling and blood lines. He has ascended the “success ladder.” But when Jesus comes to him on the Damascus road – Paul considered everything prior to his salvation worthless!

Paul had known pain and agony. He did have an unknown “thorn in the flesh” that kept him humbled. Yet, in his last days, he says that he is a “drink offering” already being poured out before God. He had an amazing missionary ministry, yet his desire is to “know Christ and the fellowship if His suffering, being conformed to His death.” [Phil. 3:7-10]

Paul is writing this heart-felt letter to his dear friends in Macedonia. They have supported him when no other church would even identify with him. [Phil. 4:15-18] Paul, it seems is reliving his life through the letter. He does not know his future, yet still he is encouraging and complimenting the Philippian church. I have always thought the Philippian church was sort of a church that lived “in the trenches” of culture. It was not like Rome or Ephesus or even Corinth. Yet it was a strong, mature church.

I wonder how we would write our memoirs. What would we focus on? If this were our last will and testament, what would we think was most important to say to those we love? Paul pours his heart out to this group of believers. Yet his focus was not “oh, look at me, pity me for being in prison.” No, Paul energizes and encourages the church to “Press On to the high calling in Christ” as he has.

Oh, that pastors and congregations would have this mutual loving relationship. No struggle for who is in authority, but a clear focus of Kingdom building and living. May it be so!

 

June 5, 2021

A Prayer Life Which “Commends the Gospel”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Again today we’re back with Melody at In Pleasant Places and this is visit number seven! You’re strongly encouraged to visit her site to see more devotional material like the one we’re featuring today.

Prayer that Changes Us – 1 Timothy 2:1-6

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”
1 Timothy 2:1-6

These verses highlight prayer as essentially connected both to the salvation of others and to how we live. My pastor focused [recently] on its vital role in our sharing of the gospel; this morning, I am drawn also to prayer as a vital element in our leading “a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

The study notes in my Bible connect the two pieces, stating, “This sort of living commends the gospel.”

Our sharing of the gospel, then, is inseparably impacted by the manner in which we live. Because with our whole lives, including those moments when we are alone, we are witnesses to the truth of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and salvation of us, and witnesses to His power to change us at our very core. We speak and we live the truth, and this shows those around us that what we declare is real and life-changing.

Prayer is crucial to this – to all of it. As we intentionally and consistently lean our hearts toward the gospel in prayer, God’s heart and His truth strengthen within us. And perhaps we will begin to live with the focus of Paul: “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them…I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:19, 22-23); “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10).

Prayer like this changes us. It changes our focus. It rights our perspective and priorities, and helps protect us from being carried through our days without intention or purposeful thought.

Prayer that is focused on the gospel and grounded in the Word of God, as we abide in His words and truth, fixes our eyes on Jesus. And in beholding Him, we become like Him (2 Corinthians 3:18). The more we become like Jesus, the more our prayers are characterized by His heart and His personhood – and we experience what it truly means to pray in His name and His will, rather than in our own faulty perspective and desires.

As my pastor stated… it is through purposeful, devoted, unhindered, united prayer that we can experience the power of God: His power around us, mighty to save, changing hearts and bringing those lost in darkness to salvation; and His power within us, giving us His heart and leading us on the paths of righteousness and truth for His name’s sake.

That we may lead peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way.

Pouring ourselves out and enduring all for the sake of the elect.

Beholding the power of the cross to save all those whom God draws to Himself, all who take hold of His promise in faith and are changed to join with us as witnesses to His truth, hope, light, and everlasting love.


Write for Christianity 201: This is an invitation to our regular readers and subscribers to consider submitting some writing for others to read and consider. Guidelines are posted at Submissions and Questions and Contact.

May 28, 2021

Cultural Differences Can Lead to Lack of Unity

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Six months ago we introduced you to who writes at Our Living Hope and today we’re back for a return visit. Click the header below to read or leave a comment there.

Cross + Culture

“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought” 1 Corinthians 1:10.

An appeal by Apostle Paul to the church at Corinth, he talks about the need for unity among the believers. Ancient Corinth is a very important city, it was known for its harbors connecting Judea, Asia Minor, Greece and Rome. A melting pot of many cultures, especially it had a mixed population of Jews, Greeks and Romans, and one can understand how complex the Church would be. Even though they believed in one Lord, they had so much of differences culturally which made it difficult for them to overcome and be united. To a cross-cultural community Paul introduces a solution called Cross+Culture. He explains to them the need to overcome their differences and be united in Christ.

In a world full of conflicts, and a church which is influenced by those conflicts, Apostle Paul appeals the Church to stand out and make a difference, and he shows his pastoral heart going deep in to the issues in order to find suitable solutions based on truth. And in that process we get a beautiful Epistle to address the conflicts of our times.

The conflicts included the issue of leadership, race, culture, ministries, gifts, gender roles and doctrinal understanding. I think Paul’s strategy here in the Epistle was to point all of the issues to an higher call, which is Love! As well, he reminds them of the cross which meets their culture. The peak of his teaching was found in 1 Corinthians 13, a chapter dedicated to emphasis Love in a God filled community. He seeks growth and maturity in the mindset and guides everyone to the leadership of Christ and the order he would expect.

“Follow the way of Love”. 1 Corinthians 14:1.

What happened in Corinth is not irrelevant to us today. We too have issues based on conflicts that we have to continuously deal with, there can be controversies and divisions arising out of those conflicts, yet it is important to see the reality of those issues, and bringing them to the cross where all are united. This cross+culture is a culture of Love, the Love of God was displayed on the cross to unite all men under one head to live a life filled with Love.

Apostle Paul didn’t lose hope because of these conflicts, instead he admonishes and encourages the community to crucify the ‘self’ so to be perfectly united. Community is possible through commitment and mutual respect. He teaches them on how the ‘Cross of Christ’ opens a new way for everyone to travel together and grow out of each other. They were told to focus on things that would enable them to grow together, which is by serving one another and encouraging each other for the good.

Above all the cross teaches us about the Glory in God’s will, and the Apostle encourages the church at Corinth to put their differences out and seek God’s will. A community which seeks, knows and understands God’s will and his good purposes will always be willing to let go of the differences and unite. To the church at Rome he writes this,

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will”. Romans 12:2

Even though the cross cultural world influences the church with its patterns, and even though conflicts arise, our purposes in the Lord are far greater than the differences that divides. The cross+ culture has the power to go across our cultures to bring transformation.

“Believers are never told to become one; we already are one and are expected to act like it”.

Joni Eareckson Tada

What are the reasons that causes divisions in a community?

Is church unity possible in a multi-cultural world?

Prayer : Heavenly Father, may we be one as you are one. Help us to come to the higher ground, and seek your good purposes together. Amen.

Bible Reading: Amos 8

 

April 21, 2021

Absolutely Convinced

Once again we’re back with our online friends Stephen and Brooksyne Weber who faithfully write devotions at DailyEncouragement.net … click the header below to read this at source.

I Am Persuaded

Listen to this message on your audio player.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35,37-39).

The apostle Paul is expressing his supreme confidence in God’s master plan for his own life and for His Kingdom in our daily Scripture portion. Due to it being a part of the Holy Scriptures we can make it our confidence as well!

He begins the section by asking a vitally important question, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

He then lists a number of adverse situations in life that may seem to separate: Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Romans 8:35).

Now as I prepare this message for April 14, 2021 at 66 years of age I’ve certainly had some heartaches and disappointments in life. Certainly things have not always turned out the way that I had planned or desired so I’ve known distress at times. However, I have not experienced tribulation, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or sword anywhere near like Paul or like many others who have lived for Christ over the 2,000 year history of the church.

Paul responds to his own questions with this glorious verse of assurance: No, in all these things (the adverse conditions described in verse 35) we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

“We are more than conquerors” translates the single Greek word hupernikomen, which is used only here in the entire NT. *

Hupernikomen literally means we are “hyper-overcomers” or “preeminently victorious”.  It is actually a combination of two more familiar words; “huper” from whence we get “hyper” and nikao from whence “Nike” gets its name. I’m most blessed by the rendering in the NASV which states we overwhelmingly conquer. Now let that bless your soul today, fellow overcomer! Note that the basis of this overcoming is through Him who loved us.

The words I am persuaded are a great source of strength and assurance for the believer. Other versions use the word “convinced”. Living in a state of being persuaded and convinced is an essential part of living the God-ordained life of spiritual assurance and abundance. If we are really convinced of God’s love and care we are blessed indeed!

This conviction is an internal, personal appropriation of a constant, unchanging spiritual reality. You see, the reality is that God loves and cares for His own, whether we are persuaded of it or not. The Amplified Version conveys a strong sense of the meaning when it translates: I am persuaded beyond doubt.

We are dealing with many troubling issues in our day leaving tremendous impact on the personal, nationwide, and worldwide levels. Error is not creeping but rather charging into the church in a way that our forefathers could not have imagined. New sources of fear abound. Uncertainty permeates. We shake our heads in wonder as to what this world is coming to?

Therefore we need to be persuaded like Paul, don’t we? “Nothing shall separate us from the love of God.” May I suggest you say this verse aloud throughout the day, or perhaps you’ll want to put it to a musical tune so that you can joyfully remind yourself.   Perhaps you will choose to personalize it by filling in any adverse circumstances you’re presently dealing with that would otherwise lead you to doubt this powerful and reassuring promise from God’s Word.

Be encouraged today.

Daily prayer: Father, I know that doubt and uncertainty impose fear while faith and assurance develops a calm, trusting spirit. I do not look to the unstable world for strength or encouragement but I look to Your unchanging Word where You fully assure me that nothing shall separate me from Your love. It is in Your strength and through Your power that I will remain faithful though tested by adverse circumstances. These come so that my faith is purified, proven genuine, and becomes sweeter than honey from the honeycomb. May my life bring praise, glory and honor to Jesus my Lord and Savior. Amen.


* For Greek Students: I found this comment so edifying as I studied this text. Hupernikomen is in the present active and the prepositional compound intensifies the verb “we are winning a most glorious victory” (from Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament).

* Hapax legomenon is a term used for words that occur only once in a body of literature (in this case the New Testament). In fact it’s so rare that it’s possible that Paul originated the word to express his thought!  I’ve been accused of that on more than one occasion (by my wife) of making up words as I preach!

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.)

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