Christianity 201

January 11, 2021

Why Won’t They Listen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 28, 2020

Paul the Apostle Needed People to Support Him

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

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

Paul and the Corbels of Member Care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, in Macedonia,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Photo: Wikipedia (Creative Commons)

November 26, 2020

Six Things to Do When Life Ain’t Perfect

A Reflection on Philippians 4

by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how do we handle the mess?

First, we do the best we can:

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

Philippians 4:2-3 (NRSV)

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

We celebrate God:

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

Philippians 4:4 (NRSV)

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

We grow in gentleness:

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

Philippians 4:5 (NRSV)

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

We give our anxiety to God through prayer:

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

Philippians 4:6-7 (NRSV)

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

We focus our minds on good things.

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

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

Philippians 4:8,9 (The Message)

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

We learn contentment with the reality of things:

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

Philippians 4:10-14 (NRSV)

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

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

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

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


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

November 19, 2020

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

by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

Philippians 3:12 (NRSV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philippians 3:13-14 (NRSV)

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

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

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

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

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

Philippians 3:12 (NRSV emphasis added)

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

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

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

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

Philippians 3:13-14 (NRSV)

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

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

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

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

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

Philippians 1:6 (NRSV)

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

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

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

Are you growing?


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

October 8, 2020

The Path to Unity (According to Paul)

by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

Philippians 2:1-2 (NIV)

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

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

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

Philippians 2:2-5 (NRSV)

The path to unity is humility.

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

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

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

Philippians 2:5-8 (NRSV)

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

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

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

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

Do we think like Romans or like Christ?


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

September 30, 2020

When Troubles Come and God Does Not Meet Our Expectations

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

by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philippians 1:12-13 (NLT)

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

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

Philippians 1:14 (NLT)

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

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

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

Philippians 1:18 (NLT)

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

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

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

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

Philippians 1:18-25 (NLT)

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

Are our expectations of God high enough?

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

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

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

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

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


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

September 19, 2020

Opening the Pressure Valve on Resentment

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

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

Pressure Cookers of Resentment

Pressure Cooker
image: Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

September 17, 2020

Thoughtful Love

by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

Philippians 1:9-11 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

September 16, 2020

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

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

One Prayer God Quickly Answers…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 10, 2020

Introducing Philippians

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

As we begin a series on Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we remember that the apostle Paul introduced the Christians in Philippi to Jesus. As we read this letter he sent them, we begin with some introductions.

First, we are introduced to Paul and Timothy.

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, . . .

Philippians 1:1a NIV

At the time of writing, Paul is a prisoner, likely either in Ephesus or in Rome. This fact was well know to the Christians in Philippi who had in fact sent him a financial gift. In that time and place your friends and family needed to supply you with provisions if you were a prisoner. What we now know of as “The Book of Philippians” is actually a thank you note!

Interestingly, Paul describes himself first off, not as “stuck in prison,” but as a servant of Christ Jesus. His relationship with Jesus was of greater note than his relationship with the state. Never mind being captive of the state, more importantly, Paul is a servant, or better, slave, to Jesus.

The Christians in Philippi knew all about slavery, many of them either being slaves themselves, or owning slaves. They would all know that it is better to be a free person than a slave. However, Paul sees it as a mark of distinction.

This was all part and parcel of a new way of thinking because of Jesus who himself modelled servanthood:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:25-28 NIV

Paul will go on in the letter to encourage the Christians in Philippi, and us also, to be a people who think different because of Jesus.

Paul includes Timothy in his opening greeting. Timothy was not really known to be an apostle, certainly not in the way the twelve disciples were, or Paul, all of who had met the risen Jesus. Paul brings no attention to that by saying something like “From Paul the apostle, and Timothy my assistant.” No attention is drawn to Timothy’s “rank,” the assistant is included on an equal footing, as a partner.

Whatever our role may be in service to Jesus, we are partners in the good work Jesus is doing in and for the world. Whether we are playing what people think to be a big role, like the apostle Paul, or we are are playing what people think to a smaller role, like the assistant Timothy, we are partners. Whatever the Lord calls us to do, we are necessary and valued. Again, because of Jesus, we are to think differently.

Second, we are introduced to ourselves:

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, . . .

Philippians 1:1b NRSV

We might wonder what subset of Christians qualify to be known as “saints.” Some translations use the words “God’s people” but the most literal translation is “holy ones.” We are introduced, therefore, to all Christians, we are introduced to ourselves as saints or “holy ones.”

We might struggle to call ourselves saints or holy ones, but Paul can simply state it with confidence.

We may think, to be a saint I need to know more. Remember, the saints in Philippi don’t even have a full Bible yet. No doubt, some, perhaps many, would be illiterate. Yet they are saints, holy ones!

Of course digging into the Bible and growing in knowledge is part of growing in Christ, but not being well versed is not a hindrance to being a saint, a holy one.

I have a lot to learn as a bass player, especially scales and musical theory, but my lack of knowledge does not stop my bandmates from introducing me as their bass player. We are holy ones in Christ Jesus, not because we know a lot, but because Jesus makes it a reality.

We may think, to be a saint, I need to be better than I am. In Jesus we are on a journey of becoming better than we are, but we don’t need to wait for our arrival at the destination to be called “holy ones in Jesus.”

Though many would call me a decent bass player, I don’t play nearly as well as so many others, but that does not stop my bandmates from calling me their bass player. Being part of the band is not conditional on my achieving perfection, but on my bandmates saying I belong to the band.

We are holy ones in Christ Jesus, not because we have passed some sort of test for perfection, but because of the blood of Jesus, because of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, because God has included us, because God says we belong.

Third, we are introduced to church structure:

. . . together with the overseers and deacons:

Philippians 1:1c NIV

We see here the beginnings of organization. What we do not see is a complicated and complex organization. As I often half-jokingly say “I don’t like organized religion. That is why I am a Baptist, for we are the most disorganized group of people in the history of the world.”

There is a lot written in the writings of the New Testament about Jesus and how to be a follower of Jesus. There is very little written about organizations called “churches” and how to “do church.” The writings of the New Testament are far more interested in helping people grow in Jesus, than in setting up rules for organizations.

Let us keep it about Jesus and helping people grow in Jesus in our day. Let God call people to leadership. Let God call all of us to serve. Let’s not make it complicated.

Fourth, we are introduced to God:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:2 NIV

We are introduced to God as father.

Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we can now be included in the family of the one Creator God. Anyone and everyone has the opportunity to call God “father.”

Remember how the Lord’s prayer begins, a prayer the Christians in Philippi would have been instructed in; “Our father.” These would be meaningful words within a mainly non-Jewish city like Philippi. God is “our father,” and not just the father to the Jews.

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God

John 1:11-13 NIV

The other side of the coin, of course, was that the Creator God of the Jewish Scriptures is God, and the idols and gods of the Romans therefore, were not.

We are introduced to Jesus as Lord and Christ.

The primary creed of the early Christians was “Jesus is Lord.” This would be fitting for the non-Jewish believers in Philippi, many of whom were Roman citizens thanks to the city being a colony of Rome. While they may not know much about a Jewish messiah, or the Jewish Scriptures that point to the Messiah, they knew all about lords. Indeed they would be familiar with the idea that “Caesar is Lord.” Except, that he is not. Jesus rose from the dead showing that he is Lord, Caesar is not. Though being Roman is in their blood, they are now marching to the beat of a very different drummer. Again, in Jesus, it is time to think different.

Less familiar to the Romans in Philippi would be the notion of “Christ,” which is the Greek term for “Messiah” or “anointed one.” The Christians in Philippi were primarily non-Jewish, and they were not required to become Jewish, as we read about in Acts 15. The Jewish scriptures, however, were very important. The Hebrew Scriptures point to God fixing everything though his anointed one, the Christ, the Messiah. The term “Christ” may not have resonated with the Philippians as strongly as “Lord” did, but it was instructive. Though they were not becoming Jews, they were now to look to the Scriptures of the Jews as a source of truth.

We are also introduced to what happens when God comes to earth.

The Roman gods were known to be very fickle. But when the true God, the Creator God, and as it turns out, the only God, came to earth in Jesus, grace and peace became possible. “Grace and peace” was a common greeting in letters of the ancient world, but it is a loaded term on the lips of Paul, and a reality in Jesus Christ.

Do you need to be re-introduced?

  • To who Paul is, to what the New Testament is?
  • To yourself, who you are in Christ?
  • To God?

If so, join us in the weeks to come as we unpack Pauls’ letter to the Philippians, learning more about the impact of Jesus as we go.


This starts a new series; Clarke continues to explore Philippians next week. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced regular church worship at Clarke’s church. The reflection alone can be seen here.

September 7, 2020

For Those Needing Encouragement

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A devotional website which has been a great inspiration to me, as well as the source of many articles here, is Daily Encouragement, written (and recorded on audio) weekdays by Stephen and Brooksyne Weber of Pennsylvania. Their devotional writing, combined with their workplace chaplaincy ministry is a full-time job.

Today’s post is in many respects a “signature” devotional, which covers the topic in their site’s name. I encourage you to click through and enjoy the flavor of what they post every day, including personal notes and video links. Click the title below to start.

Paying Encouragement Forward

Listen to this message on your audio player.

“But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. His presence was a joy, but so was the news he brought of the encouragement he received from you” (2 Corinthians 7:6,7).

What a surprise blessing to be the recipient of someone “paying it forward”. The simplest way to define “pay it forward” is that when someone does something for you, instead of paying that person back directly, you pass it on to another person instead. An example is buying a coffee for the person in line behind you at the coffee shop and then they buy a coffee for the person behind them and so on (which really seems to me “paying it backward”).

Today let us consider “paying encouragement forward”.

I have on my heart today those who may be in need of encouragement. It may be a painful loss resulting in difficult major adjustments ahead such as those who recently experienced a very damaging hurricane in the Gulf Coast. It may be the sense of despair many feel as we see the crumbling conditions around us. It may be the loneliness so many of our seniors and others feel as this covid season goes on and on. We all need a mighty dose of God’s encouragement. Many of you reading this know of similar situations and in fact some of you are now in that place of need.

Today’s verse reminds us again of the power of God to bring encouragement and encourage others. The verse before indicates Paul’s need, For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn–conflicts on the outside, fears within (7:5). Have you ever felt that way? I sure have. I believe we all have! And I thank God for people who refresh us like Titus.

He is one of the many ministry associates of Paul with whom we have little background information. He is referenced several times in 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 2 Timothy and most famously in the book written to him that bears his name. It seems his ministry spanned quite a few years indicating that he remained faithful.

The daily verse begins: But God, who encourages those who are discouraged“. Foundationally, God is the Ultimate Encourager. During a time of deep despair David felt strengthened and encouraged in the Lord his God (1 Samuel 30:6). What a blessing that we can get encouragement directly from God.

Encouraged us by the arrival of Titus“. The operative agent used by God to bring encouragement (Greek “parakaleo”, often translated “comfort”) to Paul was Titus. He was returning with news concerning the Corinthian believers who had been severely rebuked in an earlier letter. Titus’ report brought Paul joy because, he told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever (7:7b).

His presence was a joy, but so was the news he brought of the encouragement he received from you.” What does Paul mean by this?

1) It could be that he was heartened at the results of his teaching in the lives of the Corinthian believers, how that they had encouraged Titus. In ministry we are so blessed to see Christ-like fruit in the lives of those to whom we have ministered.

2) It could be in the sense that Titus would have been unable to bring encouragement to Paul if he himself had not been encouraged by the Corinthians believers.

We are all aware of people who may be downcast today, people who need their day brightened. Could our actions or words, or the combination of both be an encouragement to someone in need, just as Titus was used of God to bring encouragement to Paul. He had received encouragement from the Corinthian believers and in turn reciprocated by transmitting that encouragement to Paul. The encouragement we share might be in the form of a visit, a phone call, or a brief e-mail message or text assuring the recipient of our interest and prayer. Indeed, let us practice paying encouragement forward today!

Be encouraged today.

Daily prayer: Father, sometimes we are frustrated by what little we have to offer others when we compare ourselves with those who are greatly talented or have a special way with words, or even those who may have financial resources to bless others in ways that we cannot. But we are not limited in reaching out to one who may be looking for a reason to smile or to the one who simply needs a helping hand. Paul indicated that the comfort You dispensed to Titus, was then transmitted to him, and then he passed it onto the Corinthian church. We pray for the prompting of the Holy Spirit to show us ways that we can encourage those around us so that it will naturally be passed on to others as well. We pray for this through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

July 27, 2020

Driven

Sometimes I like to go back and visit sources from C201’s more distant past, and see what the writers are up to. In 2013, we quoted from Steven Ruff who is a Southern Baptist pastor in Florida. This article appeared five years later and I felt it was worth sharing here. Click the header below to read this at his blog, The Road Less Traveled.

We’re All Driven By Something

Have you ever thought about the things that drive you? Have you ever considered what motivates you to do what you do? The need for shelter motivates and drives us to seek a place to live. The need for financial income motivates and drives us to find a job. The need for higher education motivates and drives us to spend extra years in school beyond the required. The need for a healthier body motivates and drives us to exercise and diet. The need for companionship motivates and drives us to the do hard work building and maintaining relationships.

 For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. (2 Cor 5:14-15)

Paul deals with motivation in his letter to the church at Corinth. He was a driven and focused man. Paul tells us the reason for his drive and what motivation, “For the love of Christ compels us”The love of Christ kept him preaching when no one seemed to be listening. The love of Christ pushed him forward after being beaten and run out of town. The love of Christ kept the churches on his mind while facing his own death.

What motivated Paul motivates us today. The love of Christ compels the believer to tell others of a life-changing Savior. The love of Christ compels us to grant and extend forgiveness when the rest of the world simply says, “get even.” The love of Christ compels us to love our fellow man beyond what we can see on the outside. The love of Christ compels us to reach into the darkness of the nations and shine the light of the gospel. This love of Christ looked beyond us while we were lost, rebellious, and indifferent towards God.

Jesus demonstrated what true love looks like. Paul said, “and He died for all, that those who lives should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” Paul alludes to his previous motivation. At one time Paul was motivated by pride, hate, and religious tradition. He was living for himself. However, when the love of Christ spilled onto his life and it became personal to him, he quit living for himself.

We are no different. At one time we lived for ourselves and did everything that we thought was right and good. The day Jesus stepped into our lives and made us whole, everything changed. We are now under new management. The driving force that compels, urges, prompts, and pushes us to love, witness, preach, teach, and care is the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.


Unrelated: Last week I published an article at Thinking Out Loud which does not meet the criteria to be included here, but I thought some of you might be interested in it, especially if you enjoy hearing about new Bible translations. Well… this one isn’t new, and it’s not a translation that many of you would have on your shelves, but recently I learned that a very high-profile Christian sect updated their signature Bible edition back in 2013, so I decided to pay a close-up visit.

July 22, 2020

A Word About Caution

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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A year ago this month, we discovered that Air1, the Christian radio network with stations across the U.S., had a devotional blog. Today we’re back again for another visit. If you listen to Air1, check out their devotional. And if you enjoy the devotional, check out the music play through a broadcast station near you or streaming the station live. Click the header below to read this at source.

Safety or Surrender?

by Scott Savage

Jesus isn’t primarily concerned with your safety.

I know this might seem surprising or maybe even offensive to some. Many of us were raised in environments where we heard the cliché “the safest place in the whole world is the center of God’s will.” We were raised with prayers about hedges of protection, traveling mercies, and “God, please keep them safe.”

Once I picked up on this theme, I started listening to other people’s prayers more intentionally and my own prayers more reflectively, because our prayers are windows into our values and our mindsets.

Safety isn’t a bad thing to pray for occasionally, but it’s a sad thing to live for perpetually. When I stand before Jesus on judgment day, “I was really safe” is not the phrase I want to share with my Creator. Safety makes for a good wish, but a terrible life goal.

We get confused into thinking that our primary concern, safety, is God’s primary concern when it’s not. Jesus isn’t primarily concerned with yours or my safety; He’s concerned with our surrender and the advancement of His Kingdom.

The men and women whose stories are showcased in the Bible embraced risks and accepted dangers in their pursuit of God’s will in their lives.

One of the best examples of this is the Apostle Paul. Paul pulled no punches in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 when he described what following God’s calling led him into throughout his ministry. He tells the church at Corinth,

“I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. 

I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches.” 

Paul treated his adversity as a badge of honor and a sign that he was a genuine apostle, while those who were “false apostles” had not endured what he had.

Another incredible account of this kind of boldness comes in 1 Samuel 14. Jonathan and his armor-bearer were scouting out an outpost of their enemies, the Philistines. In verse 9, we read that Jonathan set up a way of discerning God’s will that positioned the more dangerous path as the one God ordained. Jonathan tells his armor-bearer, “If they say to us, ‘Stay where you are or we’ll kill you,’ then we will stop and not go up to them. But if they say, ‘Come on up and fight,’ then we will go up. That will be the Lord’s sign that he will help us defeat them.”

When the moment came, the Philistines challenged Jonathan and his armor-bearer to come up to them. So they did! They killed 20 Philistines and instilled a great panic in the rest of the Philistine army…

…Wait! There’s more! Click here to read the ending of Safety or Surrender?

 

July 21, 2020

Grace for People We Disagree With

Today we’re letting Eugene Peterson have the last word. And the first word. If you’re not a fan of The Message you can review the passage in a Bible translation with which you are more comfortable.

Earlier today someone wrote,

How would you respond to Christians who truly believe that the vaccine, masks, etc., are from the devil, and are end time prophecies? Would like your insight on this?

I very quickly wrote back,

It’s part of the larger question as to why Christians (especially conservative Christians; Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Charismatics; etc.) are driven to accept conspiracy theories [rather than accepting the science]. But arguing for science is seen as a slippery slope, if (as an example) the science points to evolutionary theory and the person is a young-earth creationist.

There’s some good teaching in scripture on the idea of “the brother who is weak in faith.” That one person’s faith compels them to believe/act one way while another believes/acts differently. And then Romans 14v4 says “To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”

Believe me, I get to hear all the conspiracies. The NIV removed the deity of Christ. Rick Warren is trying to merge Christianity and Islam. Hilary Clinton is a reincarnation of Jezebel. Etc. Etc. You have to ignore a certain percentage of these. But with grace.

As I considered my own advice, I decided that the Romans 14 passage is very applicable for our times. Since some of you know sections of it from memory, I thought I’d let a very different translation arrest us in our tracks!

MSG.Rom.14.1 Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.

2-4 For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.

Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.

6-9 What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.

10-12 So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit. Read it for yourself in Scripture:

“As I live and breathe,” God says,
    “every knee will bow before me;
Every tongue will tell the honest truth
    that I and only I am God.”

So tend to your knitting. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.

13-14 Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.

15-16 If you confuse others by making a big issue over what they eat or don’t eat, you’re no longer a companion with them in love, are you? These, remember, are persons for whom Christ died. Would you risk sending them to hell over an item in their diet? Don’t you dare let a piece of God-blessed food become an occasion of soul-poisoning!

17-18 God’s kingdom isn’t a matter of what you put in your stomach, for goodness’ sake. It’s what God does with your life as he sets it right, puts it together, and completes it with joy. Your task is to single-mindedly serve Christ. Do that and you’ll kill two birds with one stone: pleasing the God above you and proving your worth to the people around you.

19-21 So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault. You’re certainly not going to permit an argument over what is served or not served at supper to wreck God’s work among you, are you? I said it before and I’ll say it again: All food is good, but it can turn bad if you use it badly, if you use it to trip others up and send them sprawling. When you sit down to a meal, your primary concern should not be to feed your own face but to share the life of Jesus. So be sensitive and courteous to the others who are eating. Don’t eat or say or do things that might interfere with the free exchange of love.

22-23 Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don’t impose it on others. You’re fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent. But if you’re not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe—some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them—then you know that you’re out of line. If the way you live isn’t consistent with what you believe, then it’s wrong.



Friday’s devotional here has been amended. It contained a link to a fundraising platform for one of our related ministries, but as the campaign reached its goal of $4,000 — for which are thankful — the information is no longer relevant.

Are you a giver? Many ministries are sustained by the generous and loving financial gifts of those whose ears are attuned to God when He prompts them to give. But the last several months have disrupted so many of our routines. Let me suggest that, if you are able during these unusual times, to consider how and who you might be able to help and encourage.

Do your giving
While you’re living
So you’re knowing
Where it’s going

July 6, 2020

Found Naked: Paul’s Meaning in 2 Cor. 5:3

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:39 pm
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Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.
2 Corinthians 5: 2-3

Just hours before our 5:30 PM deadline, I received a letter from a cousin asking about a particular Bible passage. I don’t claim that this is the best answer you’ll ever find on the internet concerning this verse, but I also wanted to share my process with her when delving into difficult-to-understand verses.

Hi Paul,

I’ve been reading 2nd Corinthians chapter five, verse three and I have a question, so I thought I’d turn to you to get your take on this. In this verse it says “if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.”

This is not the first place in scripture that I’ve read a fear of being found to be a “naked or unclothed” spirit. My question is, what is so fearful about being found to be a spirit without covering? I think of spirit as being a kind of pure energy or light.  Not necessarily in human form. Genesis has some really interesting things to say about this as regards the condition of Adam and Eve after the fall, such that God covered them in skin (not skins).

Not the easiest question.

The IVP Bible Commentary notes:

Second Corinthians 5:1-10 is one of the most researched and written-about passages in Paul’s writings–and for a good reason. Paul is tackling the topic of the Christian hope beyond the grave, and more specifically, what happens to the believer at the point of death. In our culture the subject of death holds a certain fascination as well as repulsion. On the one hand, we try to mask the fact of death with euphemisms such as “he passed on” and “she went to a better place” and with funeral rites such as viewing the body, remarking how well someone looks and placing flowers on the grave. On the other hand, our culture, especially in recent years, has displayed an attraction to the topic of death in the form of accounts of near-death experiences, a resurgence of spiritism, the growing popularity of the New Age movement and the like… [continue reading here]

First of all, I don’t think on a basic reading of this verse I would go to the Genesis passage in parallel with this, for reasons too long to get into here.

There are some things you can do when you encounter a tough passage…

Step One: Establish the context.

With the possible exception of verse 3 (!) most people know this passage well as the one where Paul is describing — as only someone can who worked in canvas as he did — our bodies as a tent. So “when this tent is taken down” is talking about death. But here it gets tricky early on, because the word tent is reminiscent of ‘tabernacle’ so is this analogy just intended for believers? (See below.) Writing to the Corinthian church, this is a reasonable assumption. He’s talking about that covering or tent being removed, but then longing for a covering which is far better — a heavenly dwelling as the NIV puts it in verse 4. So it’s not that the metaphor is mixed, it’s just that it’s complicated; namely we do have a covering — and we are the tabernacle or dwelling place of the Holy Spirit — but we have a far better one coming. So we want to (at God’s appointed time) shed the former to put on the latter, we don’t want to be found without either. (More on what that would look like in step 3.)

Step Two: Let the translators do the work for you.

I think it’s interesting how the ‘freer’ translations are set up so the individual verses don’t show on BibleGateway.  You`re forced to read in a larger context. Eugene Peterson doesn’t (in my opinion) directly address the naked thing, but looks at the passage as a whole:

For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.

JB Phillips echoes what I said looking at the passage contextually:

We know, for instance, that if our earthly dwelling were taken down, like a tent, we have a permanent house in Heaven, made, not by man, but by God. In this present frame we sigh with deep longing for the heavenly house, for we do not want to face utter nakedness when death destroys our present dwelling—these bodies of ours. So long as we are clothed in this temporary dwelling we have a painful longing, not because we want just to get rid of these “clothes” but because we want to know the full cover of the permanent house that will be ours. We want our transitory life to be absorbed into the life that is eternal.

So what does this nakedness look like? I could see how it could be used as a pretext for annihilation; an entry into a period when the soul ceases to exist. That provides comfort for people who don’t believe in a ECT hell – eternal conscious torment – but it could just as easily describe other forms of an eternity without God. Again, see what follows.

Step Three: Study Bibles and Bible Commentaries:

Space is limited so I’ll just deal with one here. I’m very fortunate to have in my collection To Corinth With Love by the U.K.’s Michael Green, published in 1988. He deals with this on pages 139-160.

► First, he points out that the Corinthians were “resurrection” people. Each doctrine we stress is often at the expense of another doctrine. So death was a topic that was less-discussed and the Corinthians were less well-versed on what we might call a doctrinal position on death itself.

► But they were very much celebratory concerning the resurrection. Therefore, to get the bigger picture, 2 Corinthians 5 needs to be read in context with a parallel passage in 1 Corinthians 15. (Space prevents a longer exposition.)

► There is a sense — gathered from Green’s writing but not expressed directly as I would like — that the danger might be in leaving this earth without making appropriate consideration for the next. In other words, the passage has an Evangelical urgency to it.

► However, nakedness is not the only metaphor. In writing to the Thessalonians, he describes the in-between stage as sleep rather than nakedness. See, for example, verse 16 of chapter 4. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. Again though notice the words in him. This echoes for me what I suggested in Step One, that these words are being spoken, if not to believers, to both followers and not-yet-followers gathered in the assembled congregation at Corinth or Thessalonica.

So there is the present age, an age to come, but also an in-between stage for those who die in Christ.

…I hope that points everyone toward the right direction on this one!

 

 

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