Christianity 201

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.

August 16, 2021

Philippians: Packed with Strong Doctrine and Theology

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

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

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

Philippians 1-4; The Koinonia Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

June 5, 2021

A Prayer Life Which “Commends the Gospel”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

May 28, 2021

Cultural Differences Can Lead to Lack of Unity

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

Cross + Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joni Eareckson Tada

What are the reasons that causes divisions in a community?

Is church unity possible in a multi-cultural world?

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

Bible Reading: Amos 8

 

April 21, 2021

Absolutely Convinced

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

I Am Persuaded

Listen to this message on your audio player.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be encouraged today.

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


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

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

April 10, 2021

Why Limiting the Role of Women Limits God Himself

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

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

When Bad Theology Mocks God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But to Eve He said,

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

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

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

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

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

 

March 5, 2021

The Saddest Verses in the Bible

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

Close and Yet So Far

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He Walked Away Sad

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

Teaching points on this text usually include:

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

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

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

Again, The Enduring Word Bible Commentary:

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

The same commentary, on the Mark passage states,

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

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

A Generation of Walking in Circles

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

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

or consider this casual way of putting things:

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

 

 

 

February 20, 2021

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

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

Romans 7:11 made me think of this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next, The Message:

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

Finally, J.B. Phillips:

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

(Italics added in all three versions.)

Warren Weirsbe writes,

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

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

At Apologetics Index, David Kowalski writes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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