Christianity 201

September 12, 2016

The Apostle Paul’s Two-Year Study Program

Someone peeking in the bookstore window!

Someone peeking in the bookstore window!

A few months ago, my wife was out for a walk near our oldest son’s house, and told me she noticed a Christian bookstore, Tyrannus Books. We returned several weeks later when the store was open and discovered it to be an Asian-languages store with a few English titles. Such is the diversity of Toronto, Canada.

I never asked them about the name. We tried to find it later and couldn’t remember it clearly. I kept wanting to call it Tyrannosaurus Books. But then last week I heard a radio preacher quote this passage:

Acts 19:8 Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.

So we see that:

  • He begins publicly, in the synagogue
  • He then separates his core group for a more intensive discipleship process
  • It’s no crash course, the commitment is for two years (or more, see below)
  • The result is the evangelization of both Jews and Greeks across a wide area.

Also:

  • Some translations use preached and reasoned; while many use discussed (or discussions), disputed, debated, and argued. Paul was a master of rhetoric, but I like to think that discussions is best, as it describes an interactive format. This is something lost in many of our modern churches, although small groups fill the void.

The NIV Study Bible fills us in on the name

Probably a school used regularly by Tyrannus, a philosopher or rhetorician. Instruction was probably given in the cooler, morning hours [although] one Greek manuscript of this verse adds that Paul did his instructing from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM. This would have been the hot time of the day, but the hall was available and people were not at their regular work.

The Reformation Study Bible adds that, “Nothing further is known about Tyrannus.”

This story takes place in Corinth. The NIV Study Bible also tells us:

Much longer than the three Sabbaths in Thessalonica (17:2), but the same approach: Jews first, then Greeks (see note on 13:14). kingdom of God. See notes on Mt 3:2; Lk 4:43.

Two years and three months (see v. 8) was the longest stay in one missionary location that Luke records. By Jewish reckoning, any part of a year is considered a year; so this period can be spoken of as three years… One of the elements of Paul’s missionary strategy is seen here. Many of the cities where Paul planted churches were strategic center that, when evangelized, served as  focal points from which the gospel radiated out to the surrounding areas…

The IVP Bible Commentary offers this, which leads into the more familiar verses which follow:

The Jews’ reaction—becoming obstinate (literally, “being hardened” or “hardening themselves”; compare Ex 8:15; 9:35; Ps 95:8; Acts 7:51) and refusing to believe (literally, “disobeying”; see comment at 14:2)—shows the negative effects of rejecting the gospel over a period of time. We cannot remain neutral; we are either softened toward or hardened against an oft-repeated message. Their rejection was expressed in a public maligning of Christianity (the Way). This may mean a formal rejection, since publicly translates a phrase that literally means “before the assembly.” Paul’s withdrawal is also described in semiformal terms. He took the disciples may present a type of self-excommunication (aphorizo; Lk 6:22).

As always, Paul’s withdrawal leads to further advance, for he now reasons daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus (either the teacher or the proprietor)…This gives us a picture of a tireless apostle and an eager audience. Each is willing to give up the normal time of rest in order to speak and hear of the kingdom.

Only where there is such commitment to teach and such hunger to receive the word of the Lord will there be advances like that portrayed in the next verse. [11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul…]


Read the full chapter at Bible Gateway

 

June 24, 2016

A Life Without Stress

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.  And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. Romans 5:4 NLT

We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair. 2 Cor 4:8 HCSB

That is why, for the sake of Christ, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Cor. 12:10 NIV

We usually dig into Bible exposition and related texts and somewhat avoid illustrations, but sometimes it occurs to me that God has built into nature many teachable lessons that we ignore at our peril.

Biosphere 2Recently a mailing from Brent Hackett at Our Daily Bread Canada* contained a story I simply could not forget:

A number of years ago I read about an experiment performed in Arizona
with an environmentally controlled climate that was maintained inside
a specially constructed dome. Called Biosphere 2, the ambition of the
project was to copy our planet’s life systems as a prototype for a future
colony on Mars.

However, one of the most profound discoveries had nothing to do with
a new way of farming land. Rather, the discovery brought to light how
important the role of wind is in a tree’s life. The trees in Biosphere 2
grew more rapidly than they did outside of the dome, but they toppled
before they reached maturation. After the scientists reviewed the root
systems and outer layers of bark, they realized that a lack of wind in
Biosphere 2 caused a deficiency of stress wood. Stress wood helps a tree
position itself for optimal sun absorption and helps trees grow more
solidly. Without stress wood, a tree can grow quickly, but it cannot
support itself fully. It can’t stand up to normal wear and tear and
survive. The trees needed some stress in order to thrive.

Similarly in our life, God allows us to experience stress for a reason. We
need to grow strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. If we
were to live our lives in a perfect environment, we might grow, but we
would have a spiritual deficiency. Thankfully, we are different than trees.
We do have the ability to grow, but we also have the ability to enjoy a
relationship with our eternal God.

One of the hardest things for me is to be able to accept stressful situations as a gift from God. I simply do not bear stress well.

In Phillipians 4, Paul writes,

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

The illustration of the stress wood in the trees really impact me this week. Paul learned the secret of contentment in the middle of those times the winds are blowing because he understood the principle he states so clearly in Romans 8:28, which J.B. Phillips translates as

Moreover we know that to those who love God, who are called according to his plan, everything that happens fits into a pattern for good.

This the promise we are given, that God, who sees the events in our lives beyond the constraints of linear time by which we measure things is orchestrating a beautiful symphony of goodness.

Not seeing that in your own life? I know. It’s difficult. We can give intellectual assent to God’s goodness, but not want the winds to blow.

But today’s illustration powerfully reminds us that given a life without stress, we would eventually just topple over.


Christianity 201 is mobile friendly; if you’re traveling bookmark the site and check us out on your phone or tablet.


Brent Hackett provided us with links to two articles from which he derived his information about stress wood, Discover Magazine and Wikipedia, from which we got the pic of Biosphere 2.


* For American readers, here’s the link to Our Daily Bread USA.

June 9, 2016

Believing in God, But Not Being Part of Any Particular Church

NASB Acts 17:17 So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.

This is a really interesting article by Chelica Hiltunen from Bible Study Magazine, a source I don’t think we’ve visited before. It involves a word used in Acts that we could easily skip over, and it has application to us today in terms of where we might find people interested in being part of our local fellowships. Click the title to read at source.

Who were the God Fearers?

The meanings of English words change over time. For an older generation, a vampire was a demonic, predatory being that was to be feared and destroyed. But due to the Twilight book series and movies, for many people today a vampire is a handsome, affluent man who has the ability to be forever young—and, oh, he drinks some blood from time to time.

The same is true for ancient languages. This is why we need to consider the original historical, social and religious contexts of New Testament terms, like ‘Godfearer.’ We will utilize both the Dictionary of New Testament Background (DNTB) and the Dictionary of Deities and Demons (DDD) to decipher what ‘Godfearer’ meant to the author and the audience of Acts. These dictionaries will help us delve into the Graeco-Roman context.

The term ‘Godfearer’ is applied to diverse people in disparate localities: women of esteem in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:50), Greeks from Thessalonica (Acts 17:4), people found in synagogues in Athens (Acts 17:17), and a man from Corinth (Acts 18:7).1

Despite their dissimilarities, they have one thing in common: they were not ethnically Jewish but revered the Jewish God. Details about their standing and function in the Jewish community are nebulous. In DNTB the term Godfearer shares an entry with ‘proselytes.’ DNTB, though, maintains that Godfearers were distinctive from proselytes. Proselytes were those who had made a full commitment to the requirements of Judaism, especially the Law. Godfearers expressed enough interest in Judaism to attend synagogue and possibly give alms, but did not fully embrace the Law (Genesis-Deuteronomy).

Godfearers had a polytheistic background. DDD notes that the New Testament use of God/god (theos, θεος) primarily refers to the God of the Old Testament, Yahweh. However, “in pagan Greek literature the use of the word theos is markedly different from what we find in the Bible.”2 Throughout the wider Graeco-Roman world, theos was used to refer to divine figures and abstract concepts like love. An example of cultural confusion occurs in Acts 17:19. The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers misunderstood Paul’s teaching, believing him to be preaching two new deities: Jesus and Resurrection.

It is difficult to know what Godfearers thought of the God of Israel, Yahweh. Did they understand Him to be the only God/god, the chief God/god, or just one of many divine beings? The answer is not clear. However, we do know that Godfearers were passionate enough to come to the defense of the Jewish faith (Acts 13:50).

Socially, many of the Godfearers in Acts were among the wealthy class who donated money to Jewish communities (Acts 10:2). DNTB says that such statements in Acts have been corroborated by archaeological evidence, including the discovery of a stele dating to circa 200 AD in Aphrodisias (located in what is now Turkey). Upon this monument is a listing of those who gave to a local Jewish institution. One side of the stele lists 54 Jewish names, “after a break [is] a list of fifty Godfearers whose names are either Greek or Greco-Roman, suggesting a Gentile origin for the group.”3

Godfearers were among the first members of the early church. They were intricately involved in its growth, hosting house churches, and providing shelter for missionaries (Acts 16:40). Their acceptance of Jesus as the Christ and their subsequent receiving of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:33–34) radically altered the church’s mission—opening the way for the Gospel to be preached to Gentiles (like most of us).

A Godfearer, then, in the ancient Graeco-Roman world, was someone who sincerely revered the God of Israel, but was not necessarily a practicing Jew. Today, the analogy of someone who believes in a personal God, but who isn’t committed to any particular faith, would be on target.


1. Also see Acts 10:2, 22; 13:16, 26, 43; 17:17; 18:7.
2. McKnight, “Proselytism and Godfearers,” (DNTB): pgs. 840–47. Logos.com/DNTB
3. P. W. van der Horst, “God (II),” (ddd 2nd ed.): pgs. 365–69. Logos.com/DDD

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 2 No. 2

May 28, 2016

Paul, Silas and All the Other Prisoners

Acts 16:22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

[Click here for the full text from Acts 16:16-40]

This is from a sermon by Denver pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. You can read the entire text of the sermon and/or listen to it in full (only 12 minutes) at the link below.

Sermon on Paul, Silas, and the Prayers of My Mother

…Prayer plays an interesting role in the divine jailbreak story we just heard from Acts, because it sort of feels like something out of a comic book – as if Paul and Silas have obtained superhero levels of faith. Superman can leap tall buildings in a single bound and Spiderman has heightened senses but Paul and Silas can cause earthquakes that free them from prison just by praying and singing hymns.

I really really really want to see myself in Paul and Silas kind of in the same way that I realy really want to see myself in Wonder Woman. I want to think of myself as having that kind of super-hero faith. The kind that, were I falsely accused, stripped of my clothing, severely beaten with rods, thrown into the depths of a first century jail cell and shackled, that I too would respond not by crying like a baby or being immobilized with fear and hatred but like Paul and Silas I would respond in the dark of night by praying and singing hymns. I’ve not been in that particular situation or anything vaguely like it and maybe in true hardship I would surprise myself, but given how I respond to even minor irritations, that super hero response feels unlikely.

Because if I’m honest I have to admit that if I pull a muscle and can’t work out for two weeks or even if I just run out of coffee at home, I lose faith.

I’ve never known what to do with messages that tell me to “just pray and have more faith and everything will be fine”. Because those kinds of messages never make me have more faith. They make me have more guilt for not having more faith. And then I just feel more stuck in this feeling of spiritual inadequacy…

…So, as someone who is not unfamiliar with the feeling of spiritual inadequacy, which character do I really relate to in the story of Paul and Silas in prison? It’s not really Paul and Silas at all, it’s the other prisoners. Verses 25-26 tell us: About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.

Everyone’s chains were unfastened. Not just the ones praying and singing. But everyone.

I love that it was only Paul and Silas who prayed and sang hymns and yet it was all the prisoners who were freed. Like somehow the faith of two was sufficient for the whole group. And later the belief of the jailer was enough for his entire household to experience salvation.

I relate to being in the dark. I relate to feeling shackled to certain ways of thinking and feeling and acting. I relate to not being able to free myself and yet still experiencing freedom. In other words, I relate to relying on the faith of others, the songs of others, the prayers of others.

So many of us have felt tortured by not knowing if we have enough faith or the right kind of faith. I’ve said this before but perhaps it bears repeating: faith is never given in sufficient quantities to individuals…it’s given in sufficient quantities to communities. Because this thing isn’t an individual competition, it’s a team sport.

God has provided in us all the faith sufficient for our freedom. We just have to take turns being the ones being lowered through the roof to Jesus and being the ones doing the lowering.

There’s enough. There’s enough faith. There’s enough love. There’s enough hymn singing. There’s enough freedom.

And for we who bear the name Christian prayer and love and faith and hymns are our birthright. Even if we don’t always know how to pray and we love poorly and have little faith and don’t like all the hymns…even then all of this is ours just as it has been the birthright of all the people I’d God for millennia. Even when we don’t have enough of our own, there is enough…

…There is just so much prayer and faith surrounding us all the time and affecting us in ways we don’t even know and for this abundance in the face of my own insufficiency, for your faith and prayer and song which unshackles me over and over and for the God who made it all possible, I give thanks. Amen.

 

May 27, 2016

How Do You Like Your Eggs?

CEV Luke 11:11 “Which father among you would give a snake to your child if the child asked for a fish? 12  If a child asked for an egg, what father would give the child a scorpion? 13  If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Luke 11 12So is your answer scrambled? Over easy? Sunny side up? Omelette? Hard boiled? Poached?

A few days ago we ran an excerpt from the book Why Pray by Dr. Spiros Zodhiates, published in 1982. Today I want to quote from several sections of the book dealing with verse 12 above, starting with an observation:

Though Matthew and Luke mention the bread and the fish, Luke alone adds the third section of the questions which asks for an egg to eat with the bread, and mentions a dead scorpion as the evil substitute — a poisonous creature, curled up, that was never eaten after it had been killed. (124)

There are undoubtedly people reading this who feel that at times they’ve asked God for something they felt was desirable, and were given something quite undesirable. There are examples of this in scripture also.

The Egg the Disciples Wanted

You remember that the disciples came one day to Jesus and asked for the establishment of His literal Kingdom on earth. They also said, “Master, we would like some special positions in Your Kingdom.” …

…Did the Lord disappoint them? Very much so. They probably felt that He had given them a “scorpion,” a deceptive fulfillment of His promise. Christ crucified on the cross was not what they had envisioned at all. The egg of hope that their fond imagination had been hatching brought fort the scorpion of the cross to their Master, and shame and persecution to themselves. But afterwards, when their eyes were opened by the Holy Spirit, they saw that all that Christ had promised them had been fulfilled, that God had indeed given them what they had asked, and in a higher and more lasting form than that which they had expected.  (131)

The Egg that Jesus Asked For

Our Savior Himself prayed three times for what could not be given to Him. And when he asked for an “egg,” a seeming scorpion was offered — the cup from which He shrank with dread in Gethsemane. But He got God’s best answer He yielded His will, saying “Father…not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22:42) and an angel came an strengthened him (v. 43.) (137-138)

The Egg Paul Asked For

When the Apostle Paul prayed three times that the thorn in his flesh might be removed, and it was not, don’t you think the answer he got, “My grace is sufficient for you” (II Cor 12:9) was a far better thing than if the thorn had been actually taken away? Of course it was; for the removal of the thorn would have been a temporary relief, leaving behind no abiding results, and would have been a blessing to Paul alone… (137)

The Wrong Type of Egg

Our “asks” to God are often misplaced. The KJV version of James 4:3 says we “ask amiss.” The NASB clarifies, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.”

Very often people ask for a serpent’s egg thinking it to be a hen’s egg. They ask for health and prosperity, but that may only drive them away from God. Rather than helping them it might harm them…People are often mistaking what is good for them, and asking God for things which, if they were granted, they would curse Him. (132, emphasis added)

The Egg that Multiplies

Sometimes if we want an egg, we have to strive for it. The egg in that case would most surely hatch, and, if it is well taken care of, will mostly likely produced a hen that will multiply eggs from which to feed our hunger…

…Prayer is not always effective at once… the egg has to grow, to be formed from the smallest beginning to have its materials collected and prepared, before it can be given to us. And we ourselves must be prepared to enjoy and digest the egg so that it may become part of our being and build up our life.  (139)


I was also reminded of a few other texts:

…your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!. (Matthew 6:8 NLT)

These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. (Matthew 6:32 NLT)

The takeaway today is that your heavenly Father loves you and whatever he gives you and whatever it looks like, it’s not a scorpion.

 

 

April 25, 2016

God Won’t Give You More Than You Handle?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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I’ve linked and reblogged material from Stephen Altrogge many times at Thinking Out Loud, but this is the first time we’ve borrowed his material here. He is one of my favorite bloggers, even though we come from rather different doctrinal tribes, and I think this is the best refutation of a popular Christian belief (mostly based on a misreading of I Cor. 10:13) that I’ve seen. To read this at source, click the title below:

There’s A Good Chance God Will Almost Kill You

When someone is going through a tough time we like to say, “Don’t worry, God won’t give you more than you can handle.” It sounds nice and is semi-inspirational, kind of like saying, “Whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger!” Kind of a Christian bootcamp, I’m in the Lord’s army, suck it up fella you’re gonna make it, saying. God won’t give you more than you can handle! You’re going to get through this! Bite the bullet, buckle down, suck it up, push through, dig deep, unleash your animal, huzzah, hip hip hooray.

One slight problem with this line of thinking: God will often give us more than we can handle. In fact, there will be times when God practically kills us.

In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 Paul said:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

God nearly crushed Paul and his apostolic companions. He allowed them to be so afflicted, so burdened, so overrun, so overwhelmed, so beaten down that death seemed like a real possibility. He brought them to the end of their resources and then kept pushing and crushing and grinding until Paul and his friends felt they were under a sentence of death. Did God give Paul more than he could handle? Yeah, I guess you could say that. God nearly killed Paul, and there will be times when he does the same thing to us.

Why does God do this? Is he some sort of sick sadist who enjoys tormenting helpless men and women? No, not at all. God burdens us beyond our strength so that we will be forced to utterly and completely depend on him. God gives us way more than we can handle so that we’ll stop trying to live a self-sufficient life apart from God. He brings us to the brink of death so that we’ll rely on the One who can raise the dead.

When we’re overwhelmed, beaten down, and worn out, we’re in a good place. We’re finally seeing ourselves as we truly are: weak, helpless creatures who desperately need God. When we acknowledge our pervasive weakness we can then receive the overwhelming, sustaining, empowering, conquering grace of God. When we put our face in the dirt before God we’ll discover the spring of His grace running just under the surface.

If you feel overwhelmed don’t take comfort in your ability to handle it all. Don’t try to figure out how you’re going to make it through the darkness. On your own you won’t make it. You can’t handle life. It’s too hard and too heavy and too oppressive. But we serve a God who causes old women to give birth and gives life to dry bones and raises the dead. Run to God in your weakness and bone-tiredness and despair. Rely wholly on him. Throw aside any foolish confidence you have in yourself. Drink deeply of his overwhelming, overflowing grace.

Will God give you more than you can handle? You better believe it. In fact, he might almost kill you. But he brings us to the brink of death so that we’ll trust in his ability to raise the dead.

 

April 9, 2016

A Sure Foundation

Today we’re paying a return visit to the daily devotional section of the online Bible resource Blue Letter Bible. If you click the title below, you can navigate to posts indexed by date or by a particular verse of scripture.

Jesus Christ, Our Only Foundation

According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:10-11)

by Bob Hoekstra

Another wonderful blessing in Christ is the foundation that He provides for all who live by His grace. As with buildings, lives also need solid foundations. Our foundation is a person, Jesus. “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” By the grace of God enabling him, Paul ministered the gospel of Jesus Christ. “According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation.” In doing this, he was laying the only reliable spiritual ground for living as God intended. So many people attempt to lay other foundations for their lives. Some turn to earthly riches. Others hope in human wisdom. Others put their confidence in personal power and influence. Such vain pursuits are like attempting to construct a building upon shifting, sinking sand.

Our lives need a rock foundation. It has always been the Father’s purpose to provide such for His people. David experienced this through his pilgrimage, as he trusted in the Lord. “From the end of the earth I will cry to You, When my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2). In the most extreme situations on earth, when circumstances were overwhelming him, David cried out to His God. He looked to the Lord to be to him a rock upon which he could stand above the rolling waves of impossibility. “He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved (Psalm 62:6). David stood on the Lord alone as his solid spiritual ground. Standing by faith he would not be destroyed.

Of course, the ultimate expression of God being a rock to His people would be in the coming of the Son of God to earth as a man. This great plan the Lord promised through Isaiah. “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; whoever believes will not act hastily” (Isaiah 28:16). Jesus is that proven, priceless, secure foundation. Now, all who stand on Him by faith will not be driven about frantically, searching for solid ground on which to plant their feet.

O Lord my rock, You are the only foundation that I will ever need for my life. I have tried to stand on so many things that proved to be sinking sand. Lord, I want to place all of my hope for spiritual stability in You. When circumstances threaten to inundate me, be to me my rock of refuge in the storm, Amen.



C201Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Authors chosen for inclusion here represent a variety of doctrinal viewpoints and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading. Be sure to click through and read more of their material, not just the single item posted here. Your suggestions for articles and websites to consider are always welcome.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

April 6, 2016

Resurrection Fact: From Sinner to Saint

•••by Clarke Dixon

Do you feel worthy of the title “saint”? You may be thinking of a saint as someone recognized as special within the Roman Catholic tradition. Or you may be thinking of the word as used of someone who is known to be a very good person. We are thinking more of the word as we find it in many English translations of the Bible where it usually translates a word meaning “holy one.” It is used to refer to every Christian. So do you feel worthy of the title? Do you feel like you fit the description of a saint, a “holy one?”

Though “Saint Clarke” has a nice ring to it, I often do not feel the title is fitting for me. This is especially true during renovations. I am not too handy but my wife thinks I am, and so I sometimes get in over my head during renovations. If you are around me when I am you will discover that I can be far from what you might call a saint. So what are we to do when the Bible calls every Christian  a “saint” but we do not feel worthy? We are not alone in being uncomfortable with a title. Watch for the apostle Paul’s discomfort with his calling and title as he describes Jesus’ resurrection appearances:

Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1 Corinthians 15:8-9)

So how did the Apostle Paul deal with this title that did not fit comfortably? The first thing Paul does is admit the truth. Indeed, he is not worthy of the title: “I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle.” Paul does not point to anything about himself that would make him a fine candidate for the job. He points to Jesus: “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” This was God’s choice. This was God’s grace. Paul who blew it, knew it:

For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am. (1 Corinthians 15:9-10)

This is far from “I was born this way, so leave me to remain what I am” that we often hear today. This is “by the grace of God I am now something I do not deserve to be and would never be able to become on my own.” When the title of “saint” feels uncomfortable, it is a reminder that  “by the grace of God I am what I am.” Though a sinner from birth, by the grace of God we become saints.

But how is that possible? Paul has already pointed out the answer:

3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received:that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3,4)

“Christ died for our sins.” That is what enables us to become saints. It is our sin that makes the title of saint uncomfortable, if not impossible to wear. But “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.” Which scriptures? They include the prophecies of Isaiah 53. The whole chapter is worth reading, but here is a selection to ponder:

4 Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. . . .
8 By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people. . .
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; . . .
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities . . . .
because he poured out himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors
(Selected from Isaiah 53)

Just as the apostle Paul could not point to himself for his apostleship, but only point to Jesus, so we can only point to Jesus for our sainthood. He is the One who clears away the sin standing in the way of becoming a holy one.

But since Jesus makes our sainthood possible, does this mean sin does not matter, and that we can therefore go on sinning all the while calling attention to our sainthood? First off, notice how different Paul’s activity was from before meeting Jesus to after. He went from persecuting the saints to trying to convince everyone he met that they should become one. There was a big change in Paul’s life. There was repentance.

Paul is the one we often quote when we speak of salvation being by faith and not works. And yet Paul worked hard:

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me (1 Corinthians 15:10)

This is not a work to ensure salvation. This is work to ensure salvation is not in vain. This is work God called and enabled Paul to do. Even our works are a sign of God’s grace.

I have a remarkable watch. It is a Pebble smartwatch which does many things including counting steps and tracking sleep. Mind you I was surprised to find out that according to it I slept through an important meeting one day. I can take no credit for this remarkable watch. I did not think of it. I did not invent it. I did not get involved in the engineering of it. I was not involved in the manufacturing of it. I was not involved in the distribution of it. I did not even pay for it. Well I might have paid for it but I did not buy it for it was a Christmas gift. But what I do is wear it. In fact the watch is not very useful if I don’t. This is what salvation is like. We can take no credit for it. It is purely by the grace of God that we are what we are; saints. But we must wear it. We will want to wear it. And at times the clothes of salvation may seem too big for us, but as we keep going and growing in the Spirit, we will grow into them. Salvation is by God’s grace alone, but we are involved, we must wear it.

So you are a Christian and you don’t feel like a saint today? By the grace of God you are what you are, and what you are as a Christian person is a saint. By the grace of God and the help of the Holy Spirit, you will grow into the title, just like Paul did his.

So you are not a Christian and you don’t think the title “saint” could ever apply to you? God has a history of calling the most unlikely of people to become saints. Perhaps that most unlikely person today is you?

by the grace of God


Check out Clarke’s writing at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon; today’s article is located at this link

April 1, 2016

Don’t Build a Wall, Build a Bridge

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The header that I chose today was meant to be deliberately provocative, as the idea of building a wall has been in the U.S. news a lot over the past winter. I was reminded it of it as I previewed today’s devotional. We’re paying a return visit to David McGee who writes at Cross the Bridge which is carried on his own website as well as at Lightsource.com  The title and subject of today’s piece is a microcosm of his overall devotional theme, Cross The Bridge. Click the original title below to read at source.

Build Bridges

Acts 17:22-23

Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the one whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you.”
NKJV

It is easy to throw stones. It takes more effort to build something and costs much more to restore it. What then, is the price to redeem? Well, that price is far greater than we could ever pay. Only Jesus could pay that fine. Jesus died on the cross. He bore the penalty for our sins. It is by grace that we are saved and not by works (Ephesians 2:8, 9).

As Christians, we possess this knowledge. What should we be doing with it? Should we be using it as a crowbar to pry people apart? Should we use it as a wrecking ball to tear people down? Should we strike hard with this tool pinning nail to wood with one mighty blow? Certainly not! What a horrible misuse of God’s grace toward us that would be!

How we love to nest ourselves in the grace we have been given, and then, thinking ourselves to be on a higher branch, we drop stones on everyone else. We didn’t have to earn our grace, but everyone else had better get to work! How hypocritical! When we are unwilling to show grace to others, we are misrepresenting God.

Jesus humbled Himself and dwelt with sinners.

Luke 5:31-32 Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor–sick people do. I have come to call sinners to turn from their sins, not to spend my time with those who think they are already good enough.” NLT

In Acts 17:22-23, it would have been easy for Paul to start throwing verbal stones. Instead, he demonstrated God’s grace by seeking to build a bridge of understanding so that the great news of the Gospel could be communicated. Instead of pointing out differences, he used a bridge to present the Gospel message to the people. Are you a bridge builder?

Life Lesson: We should build bridges with people who don’t understand the good news about Jesus, not just stand back and throw stones at them.

Dear God,
Thank You that it’s not by any works of my own, but by Your grace that I’m saved. Please forgive me for times when I have torn down bridges instead of building bridges to tell people about Your Son, Jesus Christ. Please give me the fortitude to speak out of love instead of boasting. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Living to tell what He died to say,
Pastor David McGee
Cross the Bridge
crossthebridge.com


Scripture quotations marked ‘NKJV™’ are taken from the New King James Version®.
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

 

November 28, 2015

Go. Serve. Love.

Today we look at another blog that is indexed with Faithful Bloggers. Morgan Murphy blogs at Look Upon The Light, and posted this in September. To read more click the title below, and then click the “home” button at the top to look around at other articles.

Why I Believe in Going to Haiti (or Wherever)

I leave in a couple of days for a trip to Haiti. I have been out of the country a couple of other times for mission trips, and every time before I go the responses I get about my upcoming plans are generally the same:

A) “That’s cool, but I could never do that.”
B) “That’s good and all, but there’s people here that need help, too.”
C) “Why would you want to go there?”
D) All of the above.

So here’s why I believe in going to Haiti (or wherever)…

I believe with all my heart in the Great Commission. Jesus’s last words should be our first priority. In Matthew 28, He says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age.” There is plenty of work yet to be done, and not enough willing to just go. We have to start taking Jesus for his word.

I believe that someone can’t do everything, but everyone can do something. It is impossible for a single person to go to every place that needs the Gospel. As followers of Christ, we are all called to do something. Every person’s calling won’t take them across the country or around the world, but we all have a mission field. It might be the classroom, hospital, football field, study group, office, gym, wherever…the opportunities are endless. The important thing is to discover what you love and use your passion to fulfill your potential and God-given purpose.

I would rather be in dangerI believe in being dangerous to the kingdom of darkness. In 2 Corinthians 11 and 12, Paul talks about things he has suffered for the sake of the Gospel. He was stoned, beaten, imprisoned, and shipwrecked. He was in danger from rivers, robbers, his own people, Gentiles, the city, the wilderness, the sea, sleepless nights, and more (see verses 23-28). Let me tell you…I would rather be in danger while chasing Jesus than safe while chasing the American Dream. I don’t believe in playing it safe when something as serious as eternity is on the line.

I believe that our God is global. John 3:16 says that God so loved this world. It does not say that God so loved the United States of America. We tend to be really ethnocentric, but the love Jesus has for all of us transcends any and all borders. It reminds me of the children’s Bible song that says red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight…it really is true. I am aware that there are people in America that need help. There are people in our own backyards that need Jesus, and we should treat these people no different than Haitians or Ugandans or Indians or whoever. We can’t get so caught up in the ethnicity or geographical location that we neglect the status of the heart or knowledge of the Gospel.

I believe in the sovereignty of the Lord. With Him, I have everything. Without Him, I have nothing. He will never misguide or mislead me. They say that the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will, and I so believe that. If Haiti is where I am supposed to be, then I am safer there than here. People die in motor vehicles accidents every day, but that doesn’t keep us from getting in our cars every morning. We have to stop letting fear dictate how we live our lives. Fear is not of the Lord. I trust the Lord with every bit of my heart, so I can rest assured that He is always with me…whatever happens will be okay as long as I know I am following the Lord. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).

All of this and more is why I believe in going to Haiti. Thomazeau, Haiti will be my mission field. When I get home, things will be different. My mission field is usually the intensive care unit where I am a nurse. The key is to go with the flow and serve wherever the Lord leads you. Be the hands and feet of Jesus however and whenever possible. Let someone know that they are loved and chosen and accepted. Step up and do your part because we are living in critical times…the possibilities and opportunities are endless. Whatever your calling, let others see the wonder of Christ in you. That is what will make all the difference.

So wherever the Lord may lead you…in your neighborhood or around the world…

Go.
Serve.
Love.

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send our laborers into his harvest.” Matthew 9:37-38

 

October 6, 2015

Retelling the Story: Paul in Prison

Acts 24.5 “We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him.  By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him.”

A few weeks ago at Thinking Out Loud, I looked at a book which retells many of the well known gospel narratives in modern language. This is type of exercise that can be really effective or go rather badly. I guess much depends on the audience.

From the point of view of the writer, however, this is an excellent way to study scripture. Forget lectio divina or the inductive study method; if you really want to lock into a passage, either be a scribe and copy it out, or be a translator and attempt to pass on the information to a different group of people. You have to really slow down and read the text in a way that people often don’t read in a busy world.

The latter is what our friends at Flagrant Regard did this week with two chapters from Acts. Click the title below to read this at source.

“PROMINENT GOVERNOR TERRORIZED BY CHRISTIAN PREACHER”

Excerpted from THE TIMES ROMAN, circa A.D. 60.

* “In a shocking series of events this week, a Jew and former member of the religious sect known as the Pharisees, laid into Caesarea’s most esteemed overseer, Felix of Arcadia, with a diatribe about ‘justice, self-control and the supposed ‘coming judgement”, causing the governor great consternation.

As has been provided to us through his transcriptions of all the goings on with respect to the movement known as ‘The Way’, Luke – a Jewish doctor – recorded that Paul, who is also a Roman citizen, has been accused of causing a disturbance in Jerusalem for both Romans and Jews in the area. Though Paul was to stand on trial in Jerusalem before authorities there, an assassination plot was uncovered to take out the Nazarene cult-leader and it was then he was secretly escorted by no less than 270 members of the Roman guard to Caesarea, where he would appear before Antonius Felix, the area governor.

Governor Felix, apparently well acquainted with ‘The Way’, a new religion that combines Jewish beliefs with the understanding that Jesus, a putative healer, self-proclaimed king and savior of all of mankind, would also have known about the alleged resurrection of this ‘Christ’. (Members of ‘The Way’ continue to claim this resurrection event as being true despite the fact that their Christ was crucified under Roman decree for crimes of insurrection.)

In the Caesarean court at Paul’s preliminary hearing, a representative of the Pharisees, Tertullus, stated that in Jerusalem, Paul had been causing a disturbance. “He agitates trouble in Jewish communities throughout our empire as a ringleader of the heretical sect known as the Nazarenes. He even tried to desecrate the temple!”

Paul, a weary looking man with poor eyesight – hardly an imposing figure – was then brought before the respected governor and allowed to represent himself in his own defense.

The Tarsus native proceeded to detail his account of events: that he went to ‘worship’ in Jerusalem just twelve days before and while in Jerusalem did not argue publicly, stir up crowds or cause civil disorder within the city. He then summarized what he believed was the reason his accusers became aggressive toward him:

“I have a hope in God that there will be a resurrection of both the just and unjust, which my opponents also share. … Perhaps my crime is that I spoke this one sentence in my testimony before them: “I am on trial here today because I have hope that the dead are raised.””

After hearing this, the most noble governor dismissed the hearing, promising a decision on the issue when the commandant of Jerusalem arrived to provide his evidence on the matter.

But it was a few days later, when Paul was graciously allowed to enjoy the company of the felicitous governor Felix, that things went south for the radical preacher.

Given an opportunity to speak freely of his faith in the Christ and possibly persuade the governor of the supposed ‘Good News’ message being taught by members of the infant religion, he made a grave error in judgment. Rather than pay homage to the esteemed Felix by complimenting him on his education and knowledge of The Way, Paul expanded on his beliefs by addressing the extreme importance of ‘justice, self-control and the coming judgment’.

Our revered governor was made to feel extremely uncomfortable – fearful, in fact! – due to Paul’s choice of subject matter. How dare this Jew turned Nazarene-follower address a most noble judge and Roman overseer in such a manner! It would have been far more prudent to secure the governor’s interest in (or possible conversion to) the new faith by stating how forgiving of sins the Christ was. Or that if one were to just believe in the Christ, pray a particular set of prayers or offer a specific type of offering, they would be guaranteed a place of honor in the afterlife.

Had Paul remained somewhat reserved with respect to his more incendiary beliefs, he very likely could have secured a shorter stint in Roman custody; the estimable Felix would surely have responded favorably toward Paul had the more positive aspects of the Nazarene faith been furnished during their time together and if Paul had thought to offer a generous donation to Rome’s interests via the fiduciarily responsible governor.

But such was not to be. Paul remains in prison and most likely will stay there until the esteemed governor Felix steps down and retires with his family to his beautiful summer home in Pompeii, near Herculaneum, in two short years.”

Correspondent for The Times Roman, Martinus Chrestus

© Flagrant Regard, 2015

*Acts of the Apostles, Chapters 23 thru 24

August 26, 2015

Why Choose Christianity?

 Acts 26:1 ESV So Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense:

“I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently…

Why Choose Christianity and Not Something Else? Or Nothing Else?

2295355354_e65354babd_nby Clarke Dixon

Why would we choose to be a Christian and not something else? Why follow Jesus when there are so many other options including an attempt at following no one? With so many religions, how can we settle on one, or should we even settle on one? One answer appeals to the tension that exists between naturalistic explanations and supernatural explanations.

There are perfectly good explanations for how the vast majority of religions arose, explanations which make no appeal to the supernatural. For example, it is not hard to see how ancient myths involving a pantheon of gods arose out of need to understand things beyond understanding. Bad things happen because the gods are angry, sometimes at humans, sometimes at each other. As understanding increased, the gods were pushed out as being not a very good explanation of the facts. The naturalistic explanation, saying “men came up with myths about Zeus and others” fits all the data we have available much better than an appeal to a supernatural explanation; “men spoke about Zeus and the rest because those gods were real.” Similarly, to say “Islam arose because Muhammad was impressed with neither the people nor theology of Jews and Christians and so founded his own religion” fits all the data available better than “Islam exists because Allah revealed himself to Muhammad.”  We can follow similar lines of reasoning for 99% of all the world’s religions. In this sense, atheism is a powerful ally to Christianity for the atheists help us make the case for why we reject the vast majority of religions. We should note that in fact the early Christians were accused of spreading atheism! They were going around saying that all idols and myths were human invention.

However, for Christianity, the supernatural explanation provides a better explanation of all the available facts than the naturalist explanation. To give some examples:

  • The supernatural explanation accounts for the amazing consistency of the Biblical message despite the many authors writing over many, many years, from different contexts, writing for different purposes. There is a simple explanation of this: the scriptures are “God breathed.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
  • The supernatural explanation accounts for why people in the days following the death of Jesus were going around saying “Jesus is risen, I have seen him” and were willing to die for that claim. Appeals to hallucinations and/or fabrications do not account for the facts very well.
  • The supernatural explanation accounts for sudden birth and rise of an unexpected Christianity theology. The theology of Christianity is not what you would expect from Jewish scriptures and expectations, but it is what you would expect from Jewish scriptures and expectations plus the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
  • The supernatural explanation accounts for the staying power of Christianity and why so many people over so many years have some claim of a personal relationship with God through Jesus. The Christian message was not popular to either Jews or non-Jews from the get go. And yet it caught fire and continues to do so today despite still being unpopular to the point of persecution throughout the world. Yes, other religions have had staying power also, but you can come up with naturalistic explanations for this. Christianity would have died out ages ago if God were not in it.
  • The supernatural explanation accounts for the big questions like “Why is there something rather than nothing? Why is there life when the odds are against there being such? How did the universe get started? Why is there something startlingly different about humans compared with other animals? Why is there such a strong yearning for purpose among humans? Why do humans reflect on morality so much? Why is there evil and what can be done about it?” Naturalism struggles to explain what Christianity simply and  profoundly answers.

Within the Bible itself we find an example of this tension between a natural and supernatural explanation. In Acts 26 Paul shares with King Agrippa, the local governor Festus, and many others how he came to be a Christ follower including his experience of the risen Jesus. But at some point Festus has had enough: “And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.’” (Acts 26:24) With that Paul says “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words.” (Acts 26:25) Here we have a tension between a naturalistic explanation given by Festus; ”Paul, you are mad, no gods here,” and a supernatural explanation from Paul: ”Jesus appeared to and spoke with me.” Paul could have gone for a naturalistic explanation himself “perhaps the stress is getting to me and so I had some sort of hallucination.” However any naturalistic explanation could not fit all the facts, including the fact that his companions experienced something also, “we had all fallen to the ground,” (Acts 26:14) not to mention Paul’s further experience of regaining sight through the ministry of a Christian (Acts 9:10-19). No naturalistic view could account for these things.

So why Christianity and not another religion, or no religion? Why follow Jesus and not someone else, or no one else? Because Jesus rose from the dead, because Christianity is true. That Jesus rose from the dead and that Christianity is true makes the best sense of the all the facts we have. Yes there are naturalistic explanations offered for the rise and spread of Christianity and they are many, diverse, and complicated. But there is a simple explanation that covers all the facts, the supernatural one; Jesus rose from the dead. How should we respond when people say we are crazy for believing in the supernatural? Just like Paul did with Festus: “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words.” (Acts 26:25)

There is one more thing we should mention about all this. There is no religious perspective that if found to be true could offer more hope, both for this life and the next, for more people, than Christianity. That Jesus rose from the dead and Christianity is true is not just a rational conclusion, it provides for an amazing hope in God’s amazing grace.

All Bible references are taken from the ESV.
photo credit: Interfaith Banner via photopin (license)

June 29, 2015

Redefining What it Means to be ‘Spiritually Deep’

People who read a blog with a title like Christianity 201 crave spiritual depth. A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard. A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment. An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.” An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths. A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of the shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today. Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.

February 25, 2015

Everybody’s Got a Troubled Heart

Our post title alludes to Bruce Springsteen’s song Hungry Heart. Some have written about the spirituality that people feel at his concerts. But the truth of the lyrics of this song is certainly appropriate to today’s devotional. People think that some of their friends or people in their church have everything so together, but if they were to peel back the layers, they would see that everybody’s got a hungry heart, a hurting heart, a troubled heart.


 

It’s Wednesday which means today’s post is by Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon. Click the link in the title below to read at source, or better yet, if you have the time, listen to the audio of the full sermon at this link. (Choose the sermon titled “Trouble.”)

Trouble!

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” John 14:1 NRSV

This is a verse with no relevance to any of us as we all have perfect lives, right? We all have perfect health, perfect relationships, and perfect families, and so no troubles, and no troubled hearts. Well truth be told there are many things that can cause our hearts to be troubled. In fact, even if the situations of our lives are not troubling, we can still experience a troubled heart as we fret over situations that may never happen. Troubled hearts are a relevant topic for us all.

Troubled hearts are a relevant topic for the disciples in our passage. He has already told them that one of them would betray him, one of them would deny him, and all of them would fall away from him. Oh, and he would be killed. One can only imagine the kind of thoughts that would be troubling the hearts of the disciples as Jesus is arrested, falsely accused, beat up, mocked, and executed. They might obsess over how they had failed Jesus. They might obsess over the possibility that Jesus had failed them. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”

But that is Friday and Saturday. Sunday comes and Jesus rises from the dead. That should be the end of all troubles, right? Wrong, following Jesus’ ascension to the Father, persecution breaks out against the Jesus followers and it does not go well for them. Study history and you will find much suffering for many Christians. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” Or as one Bible scholar translates it: “Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.”

But shouldn’t things always go well for those who worship God? Should not their prayers be answered? Isn’t God fixing things? Many well meaning Christians believe that yes, God does fix everything for the true believer, and yes, God does answer every prayer of a good Christian. So if things are broken in your life, or prayers are not being answered; confess more, pray more, be a better Christian.

But what does Jesus say? What did Jesus say to the disciples when thing were about to go oh, so wrong? “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God, keep trusting also in me.” He does not say “now that you are following me, your life will be pain free,” but “do not let your hearts be troubled.” You do not say such a thing unless you know trouble is coming. He does not say “I have now fixed everything,” but “keep trusting in God, keep trusting in me.” You do not call for trust unless you know someone needs to wait. He does not say “today you will be with me in paradise,” but “I am going to prepare a place for you.” Well he did tell one believer that paradise would be his lot that very day, but we all know what came next.

Truth is, we are still living in a messy world. No matter how good a Jesus follower we are, no matter how deep our prayer lives are, no matter how all-encompassing our confession of sin is, we still live in a messy world.

Genesis chapter three outlines the result of the fall. The last time I checked, a Christian woman is as likely to experience pain in childbirth as any other. A Christian farmer needs to work just as hard as any other farmer to produce a potato. And all through history, Christians have been as likely to die as anyone else. This is the mess we live in. As we live in this mess we sometimes would rather treat the symptoms than seek the cure. Jesus does not promise to be a pill that will take away pain. He promises to be the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus meets our greatest need. He fills our biggest hole. He cures our greatest illness. He lifts us up from our hardest fall. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.” Every pain we feel as a Jesus follower is temporary. Jesus dealt with our eternal problem.

But someone will object: “God does fix every problem in our lives in the here and now. If you are experiencing trouble, it is because you are not a good enough Christian.” But are you willing to say that to the apostle Paul?

with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. 24 Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. 28 And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:23-28 NRSV)

Paul responded to all these troubles, not by blaming himself or God, but with trust: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 NRSV)

Someone else will object: “God answers prayers with miracles, and if you are not receiving them, that is because you are not good enough.” I believe God does miracles today. But I also believe that miracles today serve the same purpose as the miracles of Jesus recorded for us in the New Testament. They point people to the fact that the Kingdom of God is near. They point to the fact that Jesus is the One through whom the Kingdom comes. Notice that in the New Testament, Jesus did not fix every problem of every person in every place. He still doesn’t. God does miracles, but He does not hand them out like candy. The Christian, no matter how devout or righteous, still lives in a messy world. A miracle is not the cure for a troubled heart. Trust is. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.”

I once took a girl sailing on Chemong Lake. Not being very windy we decided to drop the anchor and go for a swim. If you know Chemong Lake you will know that the middle of the lake is the best place to go swimming for all along the shores are icky, slimy, gross weeds. It came time to head in, and so I got back into the boat. My friend tried to do likewise, but failed. I tried to get her in, but to no avail. So she swam for a bit while I sailed alongside, until she became too tired. With my friend being too tired and my being too weak I had to do something. So I threw a line from the back of the boat and I towed her in. Now do you remember those weeds all along the shoreline? If you could have heard the screams of this poor girl as I pulled her through the weeds! The point is this. Don’t be surprised by the weeds. Trouble will come, even upon the very best Christian. But when they do, don’t let go of the rope. That God in His grace and love will get us to the shore is a sure thing.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.”

November 28, 2014

Was Paul a Do-er or a Pray-er?

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This is Post #1700 at Christianity 201.


Today’s devotional thoughts really challenged me. I am by nature an action person who has to confess that at times I have jumped into things which should have been bathed in greater measures of prayer.  This is taken from Andrew Murray’s book The Secret of Intercession, chapter 15. I have replaced the texts in the original with NIV, except the one asterisked passage which is NLT.

Paul as an Intercessor

For this reason I kneel before the Fatherthat out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.  Ephesians 3:14, 16

We think of Paul as the great missionary, the great preacher, the great writer, the great apostle “in labours more abundant” (2 Cor. 11:23).

23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.

We do not sufficiently think of him as the intercessor who sought and obtained, by his supplication, the power that rested upon all his other activities and brought down the blessing that rested on the churches that he served.

We see above what he wrote to the Ephesians.  Think of what he said to the Thessalonians,

Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith...so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. (1 Thess.  3:10, 13). 

To the Romans,

God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you  (Rom 1:9).

To the Philippians,

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy. (Phil. 1:4).

And to the Colossians,

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you.… I want you to know how much I have agonized for you and for the church  (Col. 1:9, 2:1*).

Day and night he cried to God in his intercession for them, that the light and the power of the Holy Spirit might be in them.  As earnestly as he believed in the power of his intercession for them so also did he believe in the blessing that theirs would bring upon him.

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.  (Rom. 15:30). 

…he will continue to deliver us,  as you help us by your prayers  (2 Cor. 1:10b-11a).

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests…keep on praying for all the Lord’s people...Pray also for me (Eph. 6:18-19a; complete).

for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance (Phil. 1:19).

The whole relationship between pastor and people depends on their united, continual prayerfulness.  Their whole relationship to each other is a heavenly one, spiritual and divine, and can be maintained only by unceasing prayer.  It is when ministers and people waken to the consciousness that the power and blessing of the Holy Spirit is waiting for their united and unceasing prayer that the church will begin to know something of what apostolic Christianity is.

Ever blessed Father, we do most humbly ask You, restore again graciously to your church the spirit of supplication and intercession – for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

Andrew Murray, The Secret of Intercession, Whittaker House edition, pp 60-62

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