Christianity 201

September 22, 2022

Keeping the Sabbath – Part Two – Sabbath

by Clarke Dixon

Guess what I did last Sunday after telling the story about mowing the lawn on a Sunday. I mowed the lawn. A blatant disregard for the rules? Should I feel guilty? Is the Sabbath a day for going on a guilt trip whenever you do anything?

In reading the New Testament with fresh eyes we may be challenged in how we view the Sabbath. Let us take a look at what we do and do not find.

We do not find the apostles telling the Jesus followers who came from a non-Jewish background to keep the Jewish Sabbath when given the perfect opportunity to do so. At the Council of Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 15 the apostles came together to discern if people needed to become Jews in order to become Christians. Here is what they wrote:

For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements: You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell.

Acts 15:28-29 (NLT)

Each of the things listed to not do relates to worship practices that were common in the Roman world. You would expect that if keeping the Sabbath as the Jews did was to be a necessary religious practice of the non-Jewish Christian, it would have been listed as something to do.

We do not find Paul, who calls himself the apostle to the non-Jews, putting an emphasis on Sabbath keeping. In fact we find a hint of him doing quite the opposite in his letter to the Galatians:

You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing. Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things, for I have become like you Gentiles—free from those laws.

Galatians 4:10-12 (NLT)

Some think that “observing certain days” includes keeping the Sabbath in the strict manner as the Pharisees commended. Here Paul is commending freedom instead.

What we do find is Jesus appealing to the use of wisdom in keeping the Sabbath:

One Sabbath day Jesus went to eat dinner in the home of a leader of the Pharisees, and the people were watching him closely. There was a man there whose arms and legs were swollen. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in religious law, “Is it permitted in the law to heal people on the Sabbath day, or not?” When they refused to answer, Jesus touched the sick man and healed him and sent him away. Then he turned to them and said, “Which of you doesn’t work on the Sabbath? If your son or your cow falls into a pit, don’t you rush to get him out?” Again they could not answer.

Luke 14:1-6 (NLT emphasis added)

Jesus pointed out that even the Pharisees would break the commonly held rules around Sabbath when it was wise to do so!

We also find Jesus setting the record straight on why the Sabbath exists in the first place:

One Sabbath day as Jesus was walking through some grainfields, his disciples began breaking off heads of grain to eat. But the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look, why are they breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath?”
Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you ever read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He went into the house of God (during the days when Abiathar was high priest) and broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. He also gave some to his companions.”
Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath…”

Mark 2:23-27 (NLT emphasis added)

What we also find is Paul telling his protégé Timothy how to think of the writings of the Old Testament:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:14-17 (NIV emphasis added)

We Christians can become quite confused in how we use the Old Testament, especially since we are no longer living under the old covenant that is given so much attention in it. Paul calls these Scriptures “useful.” He does not call them binding rules, nor the covenant we are still under in addition to the new covenant, but rather they are “God breathed,” so yes God was involved in their writing, and they are “useful.” Nothing more, nothing less.

As Christians, we are not going to say “we are not under the old covenant, and we don’t need to become Jewish, so we are never going to rest!” Rather, the practice of a regular rhythm of rest is a wise thing to do. The Old Testament Scriptures are useful for teaching, just as Paul said. In a world that takes so much out of us, the practice of Sabbath is wise, in fact it is an act of love.

Let us be reminded, too, that the Old Testament commandments were an act of love toward others as well as oneself:

“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do.

Deuteronomy 5:12-14 (NIV)

Although the practice of a Sabbath day is not commanded for Jesus followers, practicing Sabbath is wise and is an act of love, toward oneself, and toward others.

So how do we Christians keep the Sabbath as a wise and loving thing to do? Should we set aside Sunday as a Sabbath, a day of rest? For some people that is very wise. Must we set aside Sunday as a Sabbath, a day of rest? For some of us that would be unwise, another day, or another rhythm of rest would be better.

When it comes to wisely practicing Sabbath, perhaps thinking of taking a day off work is too narrow. What would working too hard every day do to the ancient Israelites when the commandment to rest was first given? It could deplete their energy, cause injury, take away joy, destroy opportunities of connection and celebration, and likely lead to an early grave. Sometimes we need a break form the things that would deplete our energy, injure us, take away our joy, destroy opportunities for connection and celebration, and lead us to an early grave.

We might therefore need a break from hard work, but we may also need to take a break from bullies, expectations, people, loneliness, perfectionism, judgemental attitudes of others, or from being self-absorbed. There are many things that it may be wise to take a break from. Sabbath is an act of self-love.

But it is not just about us.

How might we give Sabbath to others? People might need a break from our expectations, our presence, our absence, our perfectionism, our judgement, our issues, and the things we do which trigger their anxiety.

Paul prayed for the believers in Philippi that their love might “abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight” (Phil 1:9 NIV). Loving people with wisdom includes concern for their need for Sabbath, discerning whatever kind of break they might need.

Given what we do and not find in the New Testament writings, Sabbath is not a strict day of obligation for the Christian, but it is an opportunity. It is an opportunity of practicing love toward oneself, giving ourselves permission to take a break. We may need a break, not just from work, but from whatever may be grinding us down. Sabbath is also an opportunity to love others, giving them a break, from work, or from whatever is grinding them down.

Notice how this can affect how we relate to those who are not church going Christians. When we think of Sabbath as a day of obligation we can have judgemental attitudes towards Sunday shoppers, Sunday mowers, or the like. Instead, in our super busy world where even retirees are worn out from having too much to do, Sabbath can be a point of commonality, and an invitation; “You need a break too, huh?”

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)

Sabbath is not an obligation that sends us on a guilt trip, but an opportunity for a journey in being wise in acts of love toward ourselves, and others.


This spring, Clarke Dixon announced the completion of a book. Read more about what’s inside Beautiful and Believable: The Reason for My Hope, by clicking this link. It’s a great book to give to someone who is considering Christianity but hasn’t made a decision. It contains material adapted from Clarke’s “Compelling” series which ran here a few years back. Available in print and e-book. For the rest of Clarke’s blog, click Thinking Through Scripture.

September 14, 2022

Remembrance

by Ruth Wilkinson

Exodus 20:8-11 (NIV)

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

________________ 

 Being a worship leader entails leading congregations in prayer, choosing songs and prayers and scriptures that we will sing and read together to help us in our gathered worship as we focus on and hear from the God who we serve. Over the years it has very much been the case that my favourite kind of service is a communion service, when we share the bread and we share the cup in remembrance of Jesus. 

As a worship leader, they’re my favourite services just for the music. Throughout the history of the church there’s a tremendous, wonderful body of powerful, rich music that has been written around the idea of Christ’s death and resurrection. Those songs and musical pieces are among the most creative and the most lyrical, the most skilled, beautiful music. 

As a believer, as someone who just follows Jesus to the best of my ability, I love communion services because they help to bring me back. They help to bring me back to where my faith began: at the cross. 

And as a teacher, I love communion services and those scriptures that were written around those events of those days, those hours, those people: how everybody responded and everything that people said and what happened next. There’s so much there that is theologically rich, humanly relatable, and personally challenging. 

I want to start by reading together a passage that is read in conjunction with communion services.  

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you—the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed prayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks He broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  

In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this whenever you drink it in remembrance of me.” – 1 Corinthians 11:24-25 

These words, written by the apostle Paul, are spoken by pastors around the world, Sunday after Sunday, and in many languages, in many traditions by millions of people sharing communion.  

These words are powerful. They are important. And they are unifying. 

Earlier this year I was planning the worship for a Good Friday service and this idea of remembrance really jumped out at me off the page. This passage was written by the apostle Paul, and in it he is emphasizing the idea of remembrance–remembering Jesus—and I find that really interesting for a few different reasons.  

First of all, Paul is writing about an event at which he wasn’t present. He wasn’t in the room at the Last Supper. He personally can’t “remember” what happened, but he is urging us (who were not there either) to “remember.” Because Paul wasn’t there, he’s drawing from other sources, and the one source that we can identify is Luke 22:7-38. Luke is one of the gospel writers, and that’s where we find the idea of Remembrance connected to the Last Supper. 

The second thing that I find interesting is that the other gospels don’t make that connection. The other gospel writers don’t connect the idea of remembering to the Last Supper. Their focus is on other things that are happening, other important ideas, but not specifically remembrance. 

The last thing that’s interesting is that Luke himself only quotes Jesus as talking about remembrance once—in conjunction with the bread. He does not quote Jesus saying it in conjunction with the cup. 

So what’s happening in 1 Corinthians, as best I can understand it, is that Paul is identifying something in Luke’s writing that is really, really important and really, really big. And Paul is expanding on it. He’s running with it, and he’s turning it into something that we can recognize and use as a liturgy in our worship together. 

A liturgy is an established formula. It’s a set of words or actions that we can follow like a trail of bread-crumbs to help us walk together through Truth. 

Why was this idea of remembering so important for the apostle Paul? 

When you do a word search for the word “remember” in the Old Testament and in the New Testament what you find is that most of the remembering that happens in the Bible is the kind of remembering that is very relatable to us. It’s the kind of thing where we bring back to the present tense, bring back to the front of our mind something from the past, something that somebody said, something that happened, or a person. 

It is entirely right and good for us to bring back to the front of our minds the fact that Jesus willingly suffered. He willingly died and came back to share with us the power of resurrection and of eternal hope and of new life. When a family of believers come together at this table in an intentional and heartfelt way, it is the most beautiful exercise that a faith family can undertake: to cherish the shared memory of someone who means that much to us. 

But there’s another kind of remembering in the Bible.

In the above passage from Exodus Chapter 20, God expresses this other kind of remembering in a very effective way. He says, “Remember the Sabbath.” 

Remember the Sabbath. God is commanding his people–as part of his covenant, as part of their relationship together, as part of the journey that has just begun when these words are spoken—to remember the Sabbath. 

The Sabbath was the last day of the week. It was set aside as special.  

People were not to work. You worked six days, you rested on the Sabbath, and the Sabbath became a tremendously important, central, unique covenant characteristic of Israel. It was a part of their individual identities. It was a part of their corporate and national identity. They took it so seriously that a huge body of teaching rose up over the centuries about how to remember the Sabbath and the idea of “don’t work.” It sounds simple, but what does it mean? 

I did a little bit of research on this and it’s kind of amazing. 

There are 39 identified categories of work that are to be avoided on the Sabbath, and I have a list of a few of them here. The first one is carrying and then it goes on to burning, extinguishing, finishing, writing, erasing, cooking, washing, sewing (and all the women said Amen!), tearing, tying, untying, shaping, ploughing, planting, reaping and it goes on up to #39. 

As an interesting aside, I found this quote on a website called OU.org. It provides an insight into the observance of Sabbath and what it means. 

The definition of such work is of any act where man demonstrates his mastery over nature. 

But the first act by which men demonstrate such mastery is taking things from nature and carrying them where he needs them. In a sense, by not carrying, we also relinquish our ownership of everything in the world. 

A main sign of ownership is that we may take something where we please. On the Sabbath we give up something of this ownership, and nothing may be removed from the house. When a man leaves his house, he may carry nothing but the clothing on his back. It is G-d, not man, who owns all things. 

This is the kind of depth and sincerity and integrity that goes into understanding how to observe, and remember Sabbath. 

What I find most important–where I find the most significance–is that I would argue that by remembering Sabbath, Israel made Sabbath happen. 

By remembering Sabbath, that day became something new. Israel created what would become. 

By remembering Sabbath, they carved out space among themselves and among the nations around them, and they created a footprint where eternity could stand. 

That idea of remembering Sabbath is consistent with what it means when God himself remembers. There are a few places in Scripture where we are told, “Then God remembered…” 

Now, God doesn’t forget the way we do. He doesn’t have those couch cushions in the back of his head where he has to go rummaging for stuff, because ‘it’s got to be there somewhere.’ That’s not how God’s mind works. 

Rather, when God remembers in Scripture, it is an indication that something is about to happen. 

When God remembers, the world gets changed. 

  • In Genesis 8, God remembered Noah, and in that moment the destructive flood waters began to recede. And it was the beginning of the beginning of a new beginning. 
  • In Genesis 18, God remembers Abraham, and Lot is saved from the destruction of Sodom. 
  • In Genesis 30, God remembers Rachel. In 1 Samuel, God remembers Hannah and these women who had been unable to conceive a child give birth to children who become men who, for centuries affect the destiny of their people. 
  • In Judges 16, God is asked by Samson, “Please remember me.” And for that moment, Samson’s strength returns. And God’s enemies fall. 
  • In Exodus 2, God remembers Abraham and Jacob and Israel, and he begins to open the door for Israel to be freed. To become a nation. 
  • In Luke 23 (my favourite) God remembers a dying thief hanging on the cross beside him. And that dying thief is forgiven, and embraced into an eternity of life. “Today. With me. In Paradise.” 

When God remembers, things happen. When God remembers, the world is changed. 

My husband Paul and I were talking about this message and he asked me, “Do you have a ‘So What’?” Whenever either of us is preaching somewhere, we ask, “So what’s the ‘So What’?” The ‘So What’ is the moment in the sermon when the speaker ties together the loose ends and helps us get a big picture understanding of what we’ve been talking about and says, “This is an appropriate way to respond. This is something that we need to do.” 

But I don’t so much have a ‘So What?’ as a ‘What If?’ 

This is not the kind of thing where the loose ends neatly connect. It is the kind of thing where we can continue to debate and discuss and ask questions and to look things up and I hope you go for it! 

This study of the idea of remembering leaves me with a question, not with an answer. It is a question that I am not in a position to even try to answer. But it is one that I will humbly ask myself more than anyone else. 

My question is this: 

What if Paul (who understood the old covenant, who understood Sabbath and its impact on the consciousness of the nation of Israel, a highly educated Jewish scholar, zealous for the God of Israel);

What if Paul (who, even though they never met in the flesh, came to a passionate understanding of who Jesus was—that he was in very nature God, who chose to humble himself, but who will ultimately be raised up when we acknowledge that he is Lord);

What if, when that Paul encountered those words of Jesus, “Remember me,” the voice that Paul heard saying that phrase was not simply the voice of a man who was leaving his friends behind and wanted to not be forgotten, a human being who wanted to be remembered? 

What if, in addition to that human voice, Paul also heard the voice of Yahweh in Israel’s history of Covenant? 

What if, Paul heard an echo in those words of a Sabbath kind of remembering?

The kind of remembering that becomes a unique, indelible characteristic of Christ’s Church on Earth. 

The kind of remembering that is an inseparable part of our individual and corporate identities. 

A kind of remembering that carves out a footprint among us and among the nations around us, shaping a space where eternity can stand?  

What if, by taking that one mention in Luke’s writing and turning it into something greater for us all to share, Paul is pointing us towards a remembrance of Jesus—the Christ, the Lord—the kind of remembrance that makes things happen? 

The kind of remembrance that changes the world. 

In John 14 the apostle John writes a record of Jesus final sermon, his final message to his followers, which includes us. John records Jesus commanding them,  

  • Believe in God,  
  • If you can’t believe in God because of what I’ve said, believe because of what I’ve done. 
  • Trust that there is a place prepared for you and that you will see me again there. 
  • If you love me, obey me.  
  • Don’t look to the world for your approval, because you’re not going to find it there. Find your identity in me. 
  • Live in the peace that I leave, the peace that no one can take away. 
  • You are not slaves anymore. I chose you. 
  • You will have suffering, but I have conquered. 

This is the Jesus who commands us to remember him. 

He is commanding us to live him into the world: to act, to speak, to live him, to share him, to give him, to forgive the way he forgave. 

To be perfect as he is perfect, to love as he loved, to serve as he served, to take up the cross as he took up the cross. 

To be one as he and the father were one. 

This is the Jesus we are commanded to remember, and (I would argue) to remember in a way that changes the world. 

So, my question is… 

What if Jesus is calling us to remember, as God remembers?
To make things happen. To change the world.
And what if we actually did?

 

 

September 8, 2022

Long Live the King!

One of my goals for the past 12+ years has been to create a body of devotional literature that is somewhat timeless; not influenced by current events or topics. As I write this however, the world has learned of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, and it got me thinking about what the Bible says about government, rulers, and monarchs.

For those of us who follow Christ, we are citizens of another world; an eternal place not appearing on earthly maps. The Bible plainly says we are “not of this world.” “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world (John 15:19a NASB) and again, “But our citizenship is in heaven…” (Phil. 3:20a NET)

This is spelled out again in Peter’s epistle:

CEB.1Peter.2.9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession. You have become this people so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. 10 Once you weren’t a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you hadn’t received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

We often use the word “theocracy” to describe a place where the rule of God is law, and the word “sovereignty” to demonstrate the ‘rulership’ (which we call Lordship) of Christ. This was also God’s ‘Plan A’ for the people of Israel, but they wanted what other nations had, a king. (Wasn’t there a commandment about coveting the things belonging to others?)

NIV.1Samuel.8.1 When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

And that is exactly what happened. “Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years.” (Acts 13:21 CSB)

And there we see, in Israel’s history at least, the beginning of kings.

But we believe that all these things take place under the sovereignty of God.  God then inspires Paul through the Holy Spirit to write these words to Timothy:

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior (1 Timothy 2: 1-3 NLT)

To the church at Rome, Paul writes,

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God [granted by His permission and sanction], and those which exist have been put in place by God. Therefore whoever resists [governmental] authority resists the ordinance of God. And those who have resisted it will bring judgment (civil penalty) on themselves. (Romans 13:1-2 AMP)

Especially note the phrase “for there is no authority except that which God has established.” (v1 NIV)

Writing to leaders, Paul tells Titus,

Remind your people to submit to rulers and authorities, to obey them, and to be ready to do good in every way. They are not to insult anyone or be argumentative. Instead, they are to be gentle and perfectly courteous to everyone.  (Titus 3:1 GNT, 3:2 ISV)

So our ultimate submission is to Christ, but Christ compels us to submit to earthly rulers who have been placed over us. Before his death, Jesus affirms,  “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom.” (NLT) or “My kingdom is not from this world.”

We are ultimately citizens of two worlds, this one and the world to come.

Where good, God-fearing, faith-honoring leadership has been given by earthly kings and queens, we give thanks, as we do today.

And we pray for King Charles III, that this may continue.

July 30, 2022

Being a Vessel

Today we celebrate having posted 4500 consecutive devotions at Christianity 201.

This is our fourth time at the “daily writing” page at

Acts 9:15

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. Acts 9:15

Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)

You can also read this commentary, with music, courtesy of our friends at “Discern the Bible” on YouTube. (Click Here to listen), or at Rumble (Click Here to listen).

The previous verse stated the words of Ananias, “And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” With his words complete, we read, “But the Lord said to him.”

Jesus responds to Ananias’ protestations with a direct and unambiguous command, saying, “Go.” It is an imperative verb. Ananias probably was a bit confused at this point. He had just clearly explained to the Lord that Saul (Paul) was not a good guy, but the Lord directs him to go anyway. Jesus explains why he is to do this, saying, “for he is a chosen vessel of Mine.”

The Greek literally says, “he is a choice vessel to Me.” Jesus looked beyond Saul’s current state and saw the value in him. Calling Saul a vessel is a Hebraism that is used in various ways in the Old Testament. For example, it is used a couple times in Jeremiah –

“Is this man Coniah a despised, broken idol—
A vessel in which is no pleasure?
Why are they cast out, he and his descendants,
And cast into a land which they do not know?” Jeremiah 22:28

&

“Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon
Has devoured me, he has crushed me;
He has made me an empty vessel,
He has swallowed me up like a monster;
He has filled his stomach with my delicacies,
He has spit me out.” Jeremiah 51:34

In the New Testament, it is also used when referring to people –

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7

&

“that each of you know his own vessel to possess in sanctification and honour,” 1 Thessalonians 4:4 (YLT)

Unlike the king of Israel in Jeremiah 22 (above) who was a vessel in which the Lord had no pleasure, He knew Saul’s potential and his determined attitude. With a correction of his thinking about who Jesus is, it was clear that Paul was the very best possible choice to, as He says, “bear My name.”

The meaning is that Saul would be an ambassador of Christ Jesus, a function where a person bears the name – meaning one to communicate the intent and words – of the one who sends him. Saul twice specifically states that he is an ambassador of the Lord. In 2 Corinthians 5:20, he cites it in connection with the other apostles, saying, “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” Also, in Ephesians 6:20, he says, “for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”

As you can see, in both of those instances, the idea of bearing the name of Jesus is evident. The apostle spoke on behalf of the Lord, conveying His intents and purposes for those they encountered. In Saul’s case, that was to include writing out epistles on behalf of the Lord. Jesus next notes that Saul’s authority extended to representing Him “before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.”

Speaking to Ananias, the Lord clearly indicates what the primary function of Saul would be. It was not to speak to Israel so much as it was – first and foremost – to speak to the Gentiles. This explains the term “apostle to the Gentiles” that Paul states several times (Romans 11:13, Galatians 2:8, 1 Timothy 2:7, 2 Timothy 1:11, and implied many times elsewhere).

Despite this being his main calling, it was not his only calling. He was to speak on Christ’s behalf before Kings, something he did before Agrippa and Caesar, and he was to also carry the Lord’s words to the children of Israel, something he always did prior to then going to the Gentiles. In each new city or district that he traveled to, he would present himself and his doctrine to the synagogue first.

As can be seen here, the ministry of Saul to the Gentiles was to be one of primary focus, but not sole focus. The same is true with Peter. His primary focus was to the circumcision (meaning the Jews), but it was not to be his sole focus, as will be clearly evidenced in the coming chapter. The lie that there are two gospels and that the church began with Paul (hyperdispensationalism) is clearly refuted by a simple read through Acts and the epistles.

Life application: Jesus’ words to Ananias clearly tell us that the church did not replace Israel (replacement theology). Jesus was commissioning Saul to go “before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.” He specifically states Israel as a separate category to be witnessed to. At no future time does the Bible ever call the church “Israel,” nor do the promises to national Israel ever transfer to the church while leaving Israel out.

Rather, the church joins into the spiritual blessings (the commonwealth) of Israel (Ephesians 2:12). Such points of doctrine as this are not difficult to determine, but once someone accepts faulty doctrine, it becomes solidified in the mind. From that point on, no matter how much evidence of what is correct is presented, unless the person is willing to say, “Maybe I am wrong,” nothing will change his mind.

This is why trying to convey one’s personal doctrine to another person, even if it is absolutely correct, can be so maddening. What is accurate is plainly evident, but the other person’s mind simply refuses to accept the truth. This is mostly because pride steps in and refuses to admit error has taken over. It is also why we are admonished to not argue with people over such things. State your case, show what is correct, and then let it be. Until they are willing to accept what Scripture actually teaches, they are vessels of obstruction and are of no value in discussing proper doctrine.

Lord God, help us to know when to walk away from someone who is unwilling to accept sound doctrine. In the end, our constant attempts to correct them will fall on deaf ears, and they often only cause the person to even further set his feet on the path of falsity. May we know when to state our case and when it is time to no longer argue. Help us to be discerning in this. Amen.

July 20, 2022

Seeing Ourselves Through the Lens of Jesus

Today we’re introducing you to the blog at Annville, Pennsylvania’s Bridge Faith Community, the author of this devotional is Pastor Chad Slabach. Click the title below to read this where it appeared there; then explore other items on the site.

Not Better…

“I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.” Rom. 12:3 MSG

This is from the Eugene Peterson’s Message translation, and before we go one step further, let’s just take a quick second to think about what a gigantic undertaking it would be to write your own translation of the Bible!!! He’s writing his own translation of the Bible, and for me, some days the sink is so full of dishes, it’s hard to know where to start.

Anyway. Romans 12 begins with offering ourselves, our bodies, as a living sacrifice, not conforming to the world but being transformed by the renewing of our minds, then moving into “understanding ourselves.”

I have been sitting for the last few months thinking on the universal struggle between pleasing people and pleasing God, or just how big the audience is: either One or a million. The crazy thing with this ‘pleasing’ confusion is that it always circles back to that old familiar space, where I am “not good enough.” If the thing I want most is to please my neighbor and my boys and the Angel and you and the guy next to me at the gym and the driver in the car next to me and on and on, at some point, I won’t and then I’m forced to face the shocking fact that I am not, in fact, perfect at all. And if I’m not perfect, if I let them (anyone) down, if I am not good enough, then what am I? What is my value? What am I worth?

That’s when the rotten tapes begin to roll, deafening in my head, like they have a billion times before, with the answers. “You are worthless. You are nothing, pathetic. You will never be enough. (Repeat with different words, examples, tones, different levels of urgency.)” These answers very nearly irreparably broke middle school me. I still hear them from time to time, the difference is that I now see them as the lies they are. But if they aren’t true, then what is?

The NIV states verse 3 as: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” It was that “but rather think of yourself as…” that hooked me and kept me from thinking of anything else.

How am I to think of myself? That is exactly the question. The verse begins, “not too highly,” and that’s not a problem usually. Maybe some of us fight that battle, but mostly, I think we remain mired in the sludge of contempt. (I do recognize that this is another facet of idolatry – to think that we are the exception to God’s love/redemption/acceptance is awfully arrogant. Different sides of the same ugly coin.) But to be honest, I don’t understand the rest of the verse. I immediately thought it meant that maybe we should think of ourselves the way God does – but is that actually what this verse says?

That’s how I found myself in the Message, and as it turns out, I was sort of right. Generally, I think that is exactly how we should see that beautiful child of God in the mirror.

But this verse says, “by what God is and what He does for us.” As if we are covered with His skin, and it is no longer possible to see ourselves without the lens of Jesus Christ. And if we follow this line of thinking, we arrive at a surprising destination where all of the questions we’ve been asking have done nothing but prove how misguided we’ve been.

Is our goal to please God or to please our co-workers?

Either way, we then “misinterpret ourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God,” seeing ourselves as “what we are and what we do for Him.”

The passage continues with a cool body analogy, where we bring our gifts to the table for Our God and each other – and why? Because we have been set free from all of our have-to’s, all of our questions, where all that’s left is Him and His infinite grace. We are His and they are His gifts with which to bless us all.

Asking questions about worth and value, wasting time on perfection, seems to just keep us trapped in the old skins that simply don’t fit anymore. We are not better, we’re brand new.

July 11, 2022

Temptation is Rooted Within Ourselves, Not God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today’s devotional study was submitted by a writer we’d featured once previously. Luke Wagner who serves as Next Steps Pastor at The Anchor Church in Lawrence, Kansas. You are invited to check out his blog, An Eternal Viewpoint. Clicking the title below will take you to where this devotional first appeared.

In the Midst of Temptation

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

The world we live in is filled with opportunities to surrender our integrity. No matter what age, demographic, culture you come from, or upbringing, the reality of temptation is something every person faces. And with every instance of temptation knocking at our door comes the challenge to wrestle with it mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Paul was no stranger to temptation. Neither were the people he ministered to, who were part of the churches he wrote his letters to. That’s why he reminds us that we are not in this struggle alone. More than that, there is no temptation you or I could face that someone hasn’t faced before. I don’t know about you, but I find comfort in that. What I face doesn’t catch God by surprise, and I’m not the only one who has wrestled with it either.

Paul makes an interesting statement next that I think requires us to explore more. There is often times the thought, whether it be conscious or not, that God orchestrates temptation in our life. That when we face temptation it’s because God brought it into our life. The problem is that this thinking contradicts Scripture and God’s very nature. As a Holy God, He cannot commit or cause sin. To do so would be contradictory to who He is. James emphasized this point in his letter when he wrote the following.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.

James 1:13-14

Temptation is rooted within ourselves, not God. It is the effect of our own desires, rooted in our flesh. God does not tempt, but rather tests us.

That’s an important distinction to understand. Paul is however indicating that God allows us to be tempted. Allowing something to happen is very different from being the cause, and this is the distinction Paul makes. But even with God allowing temptation to take place, Paul makes it clear that He will never allow it to be stronger than my ability to not give in.

Now, this is an interesting point. It’s common for us as people to find excuses for giving into temptation. And the excuse is always rooted in a lack of escape. Paul however makes it very clear that God always provides a way out. The ability to turn away from the temptation is always there, and thus failure to do so is not because we couldn’t.

We fail to turn from temptation because we choose to give in.

When I give into the temptations I face it’s simply because I decided to give in. The reality and truth is that God never allows me to face a challenge I can’t overcome, He always provides a means of escape and endurance. When I fail in my integrity and allow my character to be jeopardized by giving into temptation, I have no one but myself to blame.

But this reality brings to light another truth. My independence will always lead to giving into the temptations I face! If I continue to try and survive on my own, apart from God, I will fail every time. Paul wasn’t saying I have the strength to escape temptation. The fact that God provides the way means the ability to do so rests in Him alone.

God’s strength is the means in which I am able to walk away when I want to look at that site.

God’s strength is the means in which I am able to walk away when I want to steal that item.

God’s strength is the means in which I am able to walk away when I want to tell that lie.

God’s strength is the means in which I can keep my integrity and character intact.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

2 Corinthians 12:9

Maybe that’s why Paul said these words too. He understood that it was literally in the moments he didn’t have the strength to maintain his integrity that God’s grace and power shined through most. Paul recognized his weakness, and understood where his true strength came from.

Not himself, but God.

What’s your response to temptation when you face it? Do you have a tendency to blame God, especially when you give in? Paul’s words present a challenge to how we view temptation, and calls us to not only see it differently but to act accordingly.

What will you do?

 

July 9, 2022

Knowing Christ Intimately

Once gain we’re featuring the writing of Art Toombs at Art Toombs Ministries. Art is ” apermanent member of Theta Kappa Alpha, the National Honor Society for Religious Studies/Theology.”Clicking the title which follows lets you read this where it first appeared and can be encouraging to their ministry.

Truly Knowing Christ

Colossians 2:1-5 For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words. For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ. (NKJV)

The Apostle Paul continues his letter to the Christians at the church in Colosse. Here he also includes those at the nearby church in Laodicia. He is under house arrest in Rome and has not met any of these believers, since the churches in the area were started by Epaphras.

Paul begins this passage by telling them of his struggle for them. He writes “For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh” (v.1).

The nature of his struggle refers back to the previous two verses in chapter one which is so that they will be presented “perfect in Christ.” He can not be with them and so he worries that they will be misled into false teaching, specifically Gnosticism, which was present in the area.

He continues “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ,” (v. 2). The literal interpretation of the Greek in verse two is: “that may be comforted the hearts of them, being joined together in love, and to all riches of the full assurance of the understanding, to the full knowledge of the mystery of God and of Father and of Christ.”

Paul wants their hearts to be comforted, joined together in love, and rich in the understanding and knowledge of “the mystery of God.” This mystery was revealed previously (Col. 1:27) as “Christ in you” applies to all who believe, Jews and Gentiles alike.

In other words, he wants them to have the strength and joy that comes from truly knowing Christ. He wants them to know that they have the power of Christ living within them, so that they can draw on His power for discernment.

This power is the Holy Spirit. Paul continues “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (v. 3). The Holy Spirit reveals all wisdom and knowledge to Christians.

Paul writes “Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words.” (v. 4). Christians have the wisdom and knowledge of Christ to keep them from being deceived by “persuasive words”.

Paul completes this passage with a word of encouragement, He writes “For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ.” (v. 5).

Paul is “rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness” they are in the faith. Order and steadfastness are military terms. He is commending them in their fight against false teaching.

False teaching has always existed in the church and always will. It is a matter of degree.

As Christians, though, we are given the Holy Spirit who gives us discernment. The Holy Spirit interprets the Bible for us as we read it. He helps us to truly know God, so that we are not misled by false teaching. As we read and study the Bible our ability to discern becomes greater as we understand more of who God is.

For example, if we know the Bible we know that certain behaviors are sin and that God punishes sin. So, we know that if we partake of certain sins we can expect punishment, most often the consequences that we bring upon ourselves.

We also know that sins are chosen behaviors, otherwise a Holy God could not punish us for them. God is not a killjoy. He just knows that certain behaviors will result in unwanted results and so He tries to save us from ourselves.

The Bible also tells us what sin is not. False teachers will come along and try to convince us that certain behaviors are sins that are not.

If we know the Bible and we are tuned into the Holy Spirit we will, again, be able to discern the truth. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin in our lives. If a certain behavior is not listed in the Bible as a sin and if we are not under the conviction of the Holy Spirit., it is not a sin.

Christians should always be discerning of any teaching. Some teaching is too liberal and some teaching is legalistic. We see both in the world today.

We have everything we need if we have a Bible and the Holy Spirit. All we need to do is to spend time in reading that Bible. Then we will truly know Christ.

June 16, 2022

When We Disagree

Today’s devotional columns — two, actually — were a real gift, because I was thinking about this topic, and also thinking about Romans 14…

We’re back again at Discovering the Bible, written by Deborah, a retired doctor in Wales. This month marks ten years she has been posting devotionals at that page. Clicking the headers below will take you to where each article first appeared.

Applying the Gospel: Disagreements (1)

NIV.Romans.14.1 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Every church fellowship has members with divergent opinions on how to put their faith into practice. Some of us are vegetarians, some are teetotal, some even refuse to celebrate Christmas (because of its ‘pagan’ associations). In the church at Rome, it’s likely that some Christians from a Jewish background were finding it difficult to shed the cultic requirements of the Law (they probably abstained from eating meat because they could not be certain that it was kosher).

As far as our salvation is concerned, these things really don’t matter one way or the other. So while our personal opinions may be held strongly, we mustn’t make them into ‘articles of faith’. If we do, even trivial matters can cause a church to split.

In every church there are believers who feel obliged to deny themselves certain legitimate activities in order to please God – and thus they fail to enter fully into their Christian freedom.They may appear to be more ‘spiritual’ than their more easy-going brothers and sisters, but actually they have a ‘weaker’ faith! And what should the rest of us (probably the majority) do? We must accept them as they are. Now this means more than just tolerating their presence; we are to give them an unreserved welcome!

Yet a degree of tension is inevitable. The strong in faith will be tempted to look down on the weak and consider them ‘legalistic’ because of their unnecessary scruples. And the weak will be tempted to despise the strong for having ‘low’ standards of personal piety. We need to remember that we are accountable to God, not to each other. Because these issues are contentious, it will never be possible for everyone to agree. So we shouldn’t insist that every other member of our fellowship should conform to our own personal standards (whether they are strict or lax).

Our relationship with God must be given priority. Then these peripheral matters will be where they ought to be – at the periphery.

Applying the Gospel: Disagreements (2)

NIV.Romans.14.5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”[Isaiah 45:23]

12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

There are many practical matters on which Scripture does not give us clear, unambiguous instructions. Christians who agree on the fundamental principles of the Gospel may therefore find themselves holding widely divergent opinions and doing radically different things. But whichever side of a particular argument we are on, it must be for good, well-thought-out reasons. “Each should be fully convinced in their own mind.” (Romans 14:5) It doesn’t matter if we can’t convince anyone else, but we must convince ourselves! If we don’t think these issues through, we may find ourselves absorbing attitudes from our culture or carrying over bad habits from our pre-Christian life.

Jesus is our Lord, and His honour should always be our very first consideration. So the essential question to ask is: will I bring glory to God by doing (or not doing) this? This applies just as much to the mundane choices of everyday life as to the big issues, because every aspect of our lifestyle should testify to the absolute authority of Christ. And very often, God can be glorified either way. For Jesus is Lord of all – and so He can be honoured even in the two most extreme opposites, in both life and death!

“You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister?” (Romans 14:10) As members of God’s family, we belong together, whether or not we see eye to eye. We must therefore be prepared to embrace those who see and do things differently from us; we certainly do not have the right to criticize them (either publicly or privately) or to condemn them for what we perceive as mistakes (Matthew 7:1,2). That would be to usurp God’s place – to set ourselves up as the arbiters of what is and is not acceptable. Such contempt for our brothers and sisters in Christ is actually a much more serious sin than their failure to meet our personal standards of holiness!

We need to remember that it is God – and God alone – who is the Judge. And it is to Him that we are ultimately accountable, not to each other!

May 6, 2022

The Love Chapter in Romans

Earlier today I noticed that while we tend to think of the Apostle Paul’s treatise on love occurring in the thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians, he has much to say in the thirteenth chapter of Romans. And because chapter divisions are artificial, we see see the basis of his teaching starting in chapter twelve.

But just as in I Corinthians the teaching falls in the middle of a discourse on spiritual gifts, in Romans it’s the opposite. There’s a bit of a surprise teaching sandwiched between two passages on love; a teaching that’s really timely and relevant for us today.

But first let’s look at love.

The basic teaching

Love must be purely motivated

12.9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Love must be other-centered

10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves

Love must incorporate hospitality

13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Love is counter-intuitive

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Love is empathetic

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

Love works for peace

18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Love is a continuous imperative; ongoing

13.8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

Love is the summation of the commandments

The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.

10b … love is the fulfillment of the law.

Love never causes hurt or pain

10a Love does no harm to a neighbor.

The in-between teaching

In the first part of chapter 13, we encounter a section on obedience to the ruling authorities. Paul clearly sees this as an extension of what he has said in chapter 12, and what he will offer as a conclusion.

13.1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

In the verses which follow, although he doesn’t use the phrase “the sovereignty of God,” he appears convinced that God has ordained for certain people to be in authority. This would be a difficult pill to swallow for people living in Roman-occupied Palestine, although it was the church in Rome to which he is particularly speaking here.

For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

His last point on this matter is one which may have been another cause of discontent, the remission of taxes. He sees tax payment and submission as being the mark of respect for the government.

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

It’s interesting that Paul goes this route. With the Corinthians, when he wants to speak about spiritual gifts, it is often the gift of speaking in tongues he uses as his example. Here in Romans, when he wants to speak about love, it is our relationship to authority that he pinpoints as his best example of whether or not we’re expressing the principles of love listed earlier in chapter 12.

If you live in a country where the democratic political system is partisan in nature, and elections are often close, it means that 50% of the people may not be satisfied with their government at any particular time. The command to honor and respect becomes difficult when emotional attachments run high.

This is certainly our challenge as well in this cultural moment.

 

 

May 2, 2022

Paul’s Encouragement: A Reforming Process

This is our fourth time with , who writes at Our Living Hope. We often think of Paul’s letters as being encouraging, but in this article he uses the language that they are part of a reformation process for the churches which heard them read and applied them in the situation they were facing or would face. Click the link which follows to visit the site in person.

A Letter of Encouragement

“For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you….” 1 Thessalonians 1:4.

Recently I was reading an interesting article on reformation, and it was the story of English reformer William Tyndale but with a fresh insight, and it was good to know how God used him in his time in a unique way. The Holyspirit is the greatest reformer of the Church, time and again he raises and inspires people to voice out his reform whenever it is needed. Apostle Paul who was once persecuting the Church became the torch bearer of the Gospel, he not only planted churches but also reformed the churches time and again through his letters. His letters spoke reform to the upcoming churches in the Greco-Roman world and still speaks reform and transformation even in our times. This is one such letter to a growing Thessalonian Church which was influenced by many issues. He carefully lays out his heart and his burden with all humility to strengthen them in the truth.

Apostle Paul writes to the Church at Thessaloniki encouraging them in their faith to face challenges, reminding them about the acts God performed among them when Paul and his team approached and preached them the Gospel of Jesus for the first time and how they received it with great joy. Apostle Paul takes them on a journey back to remind them of their strong faith in the Lord, God’s faithfulness in their lives and their own ministry among them. Reformation means growth and change towards the truth, and Paul sought growth in them by speaking out the truth in various dimensions.

In Power and of the Holyspirit :

“Because our Gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction”. 1 Thessalonians 1:4.

First and foremost A. Paul reminds them that their message didn’t come with just words but was attested by the power of God. It came with the conviction of the Holy Spirit which transformed their lives and made them believe in the midst of suffering. The Holyspirit acted powerfully through their ministry and the heart of the Thessalonians got convicted by the Gospel and there were signs and miracles resulting in people being delivered and coming to the knowledge of God. The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16), the kingdom of God is not just talk but of power (1 Corinthians 4:20) and the Holyspirit brings conviction in people’s lives through the Gospel (John 16:8). A. Paul underscores in authenticity that their message was accompanied by God’s power, which was evident by their changed lives and that a community of faithful was raised among them.

Amidst Persecution and challenges:

“We had previously suffered in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his Gospel inspite of strong opposition”. 1 Thessalonians 2:2.

A. Paul then reminds them of the manner in which they brought the message of truth to them. It was not an easy journey to them, they had to go through suffering and opposition in order to reach them. It tested their faith and commitment to their call but it also became a witness and testament to the church at Thessaloniki that they were indeed servants of God. Truth will be tested but it has the power to remain till the end ( 1 Thessalonians 3: 3-4, 2 Timothy 3:11-12, John 15:19-20, Revelation 2:10-11, 1 Peter 4:12). As Paul reminds them of his sufferings, the Church were reminded them about their responsibility to care for those who serve them and be an encouragement to them by growing in faith and commitment to the Lord who suffered for their salvation.

With Authority and Good intentions:

“On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness”. 1 Thessalonians 2:4-5.

The Gospel preached by Apostle Paul came with authority as the one approved by God. Their intent was to please God than men, they called upon God as their witness and their accountability partner. They didn’t deceive them with carefully constructed stories but their motives were true, and they sought the wellbeing and growth of the Church at Thessaloniki. They served God with pure hearts and clean hands for the Glory of his Holy Name ( Psalm 2:11-12, Matthew 3:17, 25:23). They didn’t do anything to exploit them but their intention was to fulfill God’s plan for them.

In Love and Care :

“..But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us”. 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8.

Like Christ gave himself to the Church, A. Paul reminds and encourages the Church at Thessaloniki that their message came with care and love that they shared themselves with them. He carefully shows them that they not only shared the message, but they have a relationship with them in the Lord. ‘We were gentle to care for you as a mother cares for her own children’ he states (Isaiah 44:3, 66:13). He lived among them and fed them with spiritual milk so that they may be nourished and grow in the Lord. It was out of love and care the ministry was built among them (Philippians 1:8, Galatians 4:19, Philippians 2:1-2). Paul taught that the spirituality of our Faith hinges not only on the divinity of God but also from the support of the community of God.

In Example and in Truth :

“You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children….”. 1 Thessalonians 2:10-11.

If Apostle Paul’s work for the Lord can face criticism then it’s a gurantee that everyone else’s will be. But he also patiently reminds them about the exemplary life he lived before them (2 Corinthians 3:2-3). He was like a Father to them without any partiality teaching them the truth and disciplined them in the ways of the Lord ( Hebrews 12:6). He lived a life of such faith when he lived among them which made the Gospel message relevant to the fellowship there, his life became the most important message. He was able to say follow me as I follow Christ, and that he is a father to the Lord’s flock (1 Corinthians 4:15). His life itself became an encouragement to the Church at Thessaloniki.

One of the early letters of A.Paul to the church in Macedonian province serves as an encouragement even now. It was a letter of mutual encouragement and reformation. A. Paul was encouraged looking back at his own ministry in Thessaloniki and the believers were encouraged and refreshed by being reminded of their commitment to the Lord and was comforted to stay firm in their faith. The steadfast work of A.Paul for the Lord not only comes because of his call, anointing and the grace over his life but also his willingness to learn and grow (Philippians 3:12). In Paul’s appeal to the Church at Thessaloniki we behold one of the finest and powerful torch bearers of the Gospel.

There is always refreshing when your spirit flows
There is power as it overflows
May it reform us to incessantly grow
By the light of your gentle glow…

April 12, 2022

Bearing the Marks of Christ

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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In some Roman Catholic communities, it believed to be possible for someone today to bear the “Stigmata” which Wikipedia defines as, “the appearance of bodily wounds, scars and pain in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ, such as the hands, wrists, and feet.”

So a person reading the title of today’s devotional might be forgiven for thinking that’s what we’re looking at today; or that Stigmata was what the Apostle Paul had in mind in today’s key verse. To complicate things, some translations have Paul saying that he bears “branding marks,” and removing the context from his remarks, and taking the passage too literally could result in creating a church ritual which makes foot-washing seem rather tame.

Rather, he’s talking about the physical scars resulting from hardship, imprisonment and beatings for the sake of the gospel…

…Today we’re introducing a new author, who posts weekly at Grace of the King. You can continue here, but you’re encouraged to click the header which follows and read this at its source.

Do We Bear the Marks of Christ?

From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
Galatians 6:17 ESV

This verse struck my cords deep with in me. I have read it over and over again pondering my life, while looking at the life of Paul. Now I am no means the Apostle Paul, none of us are or ever will be. As in scripture when we study it, we are to look at it in different perspectives. Who and when is God speaking to in this passage, then what does it mean to us today.

Paul at this time was in prison. He had years of traveling and evangelism. He also had years of beatings, stoning, hardships that you and I could not imagine. The good thing and by the grace of God we don’t have to. Saints before us have paved the way, they were hung on crosses and burned as candles so we can live the life we have. We are blessed beyond reasoning, but yet so we bear the marks of Christ?

I look at this and I am undone. I am nowhere deserving of the marks of Christ as Paul had. I am not sure I could take the lashings, or the beatings as Paul did. My faith I believe lacks in that department. God knows though I will die for him, I will not fail in this race.

I look at Paul who preached the Gospel everywhere he went, and was hunted down. Paul was hated by the gentiles and the Jews. The cross is offensive to the world, and Paul knew the cost he would bear. He knew chains awaited him in Jerusalem but yet he still went. This to me is a mark many of us here in the West will soon bear. As the church’s voice gets louder and more pure in its boldness persecution will come. Will we be sought out by authorities?

Paul was known to be argumentative at times. He pressed into the worldly views and man made religious laws. But he did it with love and grace. Paul started in the synagogue then worked his was to the streets. His life was marked by the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was the name he preached that made Paul the enemy. Christ crucified was it, and the cross that Paul bore everyday.

The marks of Christ in our lives, should be seen by all. When we have scars those scars have stories. And we tell those stories with passion and vigor. But yet we hold back on the cross and the redemption he has done in our lives. Oh how beautiful is the healing of those scars. How glorious is the hearts made whole, the marriages renewed, the shattered minds pieced back together. These are the marks of Christ. This is the mark of Jesus in out lives that people see.

Let us bear the marks of Christ proudly and boldly. For the Apostle Paul said it best,

“far be it for me to boast except in the cross of Jesus Christ”. (Galatians 6:14)


BibleHub.com cross-references for today’s key verse:

Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. – 2 Cor. 11:23 NLT

always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our body. – 2 Cor. 4:10 NET

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, – Phil. 3:10 NIV


Second Helping: By the same author, Are We Living Two Lives.


We want to remind you again about a YouTube playlist which is very appropriate for this week leading to Good Friday and Easter. There are 29 songs. This time, we’ve embedded the playlist here as part of today’s devotional. It will continue playing as long as you keep the email open (subscribers) or keep this page on screen (website visitors).

April 2, 2022

Compassion in a People-First Culture

I wanted to share some of my experience reading the book, A Church Called TOV: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing by Scot McKnight with Laura Barringer (Tyndale House Publishers). The short word tov is a Hebrew word that means good. The second half (two thirds, really) of the book are about creating a culture in the local church that fosters goodness, and having a “people first” culture is the third of seven elements in what the writers call the “circle of TOV.”

A short excerpt follows.

Develop Jesus-Like Eyes for People

How did the Gospel writers and apostles know that Jesus was filled with compassion? There are only three options: he told them, his face showed it, or his tears flowed. Two and three are the most likely. However, Jesus’ emotional response to those in need was not simply to “feel bad” about their circumstances; it was an emotional response that prompted action. Each time the Gospel writers describe the compassion of Jesus, the also tell us what he did: he healed, he cured, he cleansed, he taught, he pastored.

The apostle Paul had a similar heart for people–though many people today get him wrong on this one. They think of Paul as a power-mongering, workaholic, money-grubbing, anti-woman, proslavery authoritarian who gathered together groups of new Christians and set up some rules for them before pushing off for the next shore, and who heard some stories about nonsense in those gatherings and dashed off angry letters telling everyone how to live. Okay, that’s an overstatement, but not by much, if you’ve ever heard the critiques of Christianity offered by some people today. Now read 2 Corinthians 2:12-13 and ask yourself if it lines up with the critical view of Paul mentioned above.

When I came to the city of Troas to preach the Good News of Christ, the Lord opened a door of opportunity for me. But I had no peace of mind because my dear brother Titus hadn’t yet arrived with a report from you. So I said good-bye and went on to Macedonia to find him.

Here’s a man who had such an intense love for the Corinthians (who, at least in Paul’s mind, lacked that same love for him) and concern for his protege Titus that he stopped in his tracks and couldn’t go on until he saw Titus and heard about the welfare of the Corinthians. Paula Gooder, chancellor of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, puts it this way: “Paul–the greatest evangelist of all time–passed up an opportunity to preach the gospel because his friend Titus was not there.” And not just “his friend,” but his “dear brother.” People first.

Notice now the focus of Paul’s mission to the church in Colossae–which was almost entirely a group of people he’d never met. We’ve italicized the people-oriented words:

We tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me. I want you to know how much I have agonized for you and for the church at Laodicea, and for many other believers who have never met me personally. I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself.  [Col 1:28-2:2 NLT]

Agonizing, encouraging, knitting together with “strong ties of love.” Paul was nothing if not compassionate and people-first. It was the foundation of his entire ministry.

pp 132-33, A Church Called TOV


The fine print: Usually, buried here at the bottom is the publisher information and the little phrase “used by permission” but Tyndale no longer has a publisher’s representative in the country where we originate, and review copies of their books are now equally elusive, even though our readership is 78% American. So I could have ignored the book altogether, but I really think it’s something that is important reading in this cultural moment. Plus, I wanted to create my own little “culture of goodness” by sharing it. So… excerpt is ©2020 by the authors, and used without permission.

January 19, 2022

Resumé: The Apostle Paul

We again feature the writing of someone who appears here for the first time. Pastor Will has spent his life on the U.S. west coast, in California, Oregon and Washington. If you have time, check out his testimony. His blog posts are all titled the same as the blog itself, Today’s Scripture. We reached back to last October for this one, while he was in a series on 2 Corinthians. (He’s currently in Hebrews.)

Click the header which follows to read this where it first appeared.

Today’s Scripture

2 Corinthians 11:16-32 (HCSB)

I repeat: No one should consider me a fool. But if you do, at least accept me as a fool, so I too may boast a little. What I say in this matter of boasting, I don’t speak as the Lord would, but foolishly. Since many boast in an unspiritual way, I will also boast. For you, being so wise, gladly put up with fools! In fact, you put up with it if someone enslaves you, if someone devours you, if someone captures you, if someone dominates you, or if someone hits you in the face. I say this to our shame: We have been weak.

But in whatever anyone dares to boast—I am talking foolishly—I also dare: Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I’m talking like a madman—I’m a better one: with far more labors, many more imprisonments, far worse beatings, near death many times.

Five times I received 39 lashes from Jews. Three times I was beaten with rods by the Romans. Once I was stoned by my enemies. Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the open sea. On frequent journeys, I faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from the Gentiles dangers in the city, dangers in the open country, dangers on the sea, and dangers among false brothers; labor and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and lacking clothing.

Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my care for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? If boasting is necessary, I will boast about my weaknesses. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is praised forever, knows I am not lying. In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of the Damascenes in order to arrest me, so I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.

The “super apostles” that had followed Paul into Corinth built themselves up by boasting of their credentials, and by tearing down Paul. Many of them had impressive educational credentials, having studied under one famous rabbi or another. They had traveled miles spreading the good news, and even had letters of commendation from elders in Churches in other communities who appreciated their ministry. What did Paul have that could possibly compete?

Paul didn’t actually have to compete, especially in the church in Corinth which he had founded. But he is willing to play the game, even though it was a foolish game.

He begins with his human credentials, his birth as a Jew, and his credentials as a follower Jesus. In these Paul is in no way inferior to those who are striving to displace him.

Then Paul goes on to list an impressive catalogue of sufferings he had undergone for the gospel. Many of the “super apostles” had done their ministry quite comfortably, being given the best available accommodations in every community they had visited. But they had traveled on trails that had been blazed by Paul, making a comfortable living from structures that Paul had built over years of suffering, privation, and loss.

Paul also pointed out that while those “super apostles” might care for the Corinthians while they were in Corinth, Paul cared about them, wrestled in prayer for them, even when he was ministering in other communities. They were his spiritual children, not just a project he had embraced while he was with them, and then forgot after he had moved on.

Paul has no motive to share only the positive things he has experienced in his ministry, painting a picture of a charmed life. From his beginnings as an apostle in Damascus, his life had been anything but charmed. But all his sufferings, all the persecutions and privations he had experienced, testified to the goodness and power of God the Father and of Jesus. And Paul’s whole focus was not to lift himself up, but to glorify them.

Father, it is easy for us to be swayed by impressive credentials and by people who seem to have had nothing but ever-increasing success in their ministries. Not many congregations today would hire Paul to be their pastor with his history of persecution and conflict. The pastor who has faithfully led a small congregation, often staying put in the face of opposition and outright persecution, is not much appreciated today. It was the same in Paul’s day. But Lord, I am thankful, not only for Paul, but for the unsung heroes of our own day, who faithfully lead small congregations into the deeper life in your kingdom, and who work, and sweat, and persevere until they show up at Your heavenly gates, beaten, and bruised, and exhausted, to hear your words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Amen.

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.

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