Christianity 201

May 31, 2021

Part of the Most World-Changing Story Caught in Procedural Matters

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Earlier today I encountered the blog of Ben Wilder. His writing at Out of the Wilderness isn’t faith-focused every day, but this piece caught my attention. It’s a little shorter than what we run here, but it’s a holiday for our U.S. readers, so I didn’t want you wading through a 2000-word piece today. Ben has written two books for children, and worked in Nashville, where he still lives, in video production. I hope you’ll click through and read this at source. I loved the energy and emotion in this look at the final hours of Jesus before the crucifixion.

John 18:28 really annoys me

“Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They did not enter the headquarters themselves; otherwise they would be defiled and unable to eat the Passover.”

I think it would be easy to just take this verse and be annoyed or angry at the soldiers and temple police for putting Jesus through this charade. That, in itself, is worthy of anger as a reader. What really stood out to me, though, the last time I read this is about them not entering the headquarters because it would make them unclean.

Talk about following rules to their own detriment! Here they have the Son of God who takes away the sin of the world, the One who calls things into existence that do not exist, He gives life to the dead… and their focus is on following rules.

Here is where I unleash harsh judgement on them, right? Well, no. I can’t. Because their “rule following” isn’t really what annoys me. It’s MY rule following that annoys me. If the Bible is a mirror, then when I read this verse I’m looking at a great reflection of myself.

Sometimes, maybe a lot of the time, I find myself focusing on rules. I should do this or that because that’s what a good person does. Not only that, though, I also deal out judgement on people that don’t do as I do. It’s disheartening to be able to so closely identify with those who miss the forest for the trees.

With that said, I’m thankful John 13:38 – 14:1. Jesus is talking to Peter…

“Jesus replied, ‘Will you lay down your life for Me? I assure you: A rooster will not crow until you have denied Me three times. Your heart must not be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me.’”

The first two sentences are part of chapter 13, the last two are 14 but I see no separation in what Jesus is offering. Yes, you will deny me. Yes you will pretend you don’t know me. But when you realize your own faults and failures, don’t beat yourself up. After all, I am not beating you up and I’m the one you hurt.

I love that about Jesus. His anger is always directed at the right things– people and ideas that are intentionally against God. But the Bible still shows Jesus having compassion, even to those that don’t like him, up to his very last breath. His love is always overflowing towards the right things, too– people who love God and want to do the right things but still make mistakes.

December 4, 2020

Prayerful Preparation for Turbulent Times

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re introducing you to Mark Rowland who writes at A Faith Understanding (domain name: Rays-of-Light consulting). Mark is an ordained minister originally from Iowa who recently moved to Fort Worth, Texas. After discovering his blog earlier today, I read several good articles and we chose this one to share with you today. Send some “stats love” to our contributing writers by clicking headers like the one below and reading at their site.

Facing These Times

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”[a]

19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

1 Peter 4:7-19 (NIV)

Life can be difficult at various times. There are times when a person can wonder if the effort is worth it. Many who are engaged in work which benefits others can easily become discouraged. Challenges can seem to abound and meaningful results can seem impossible to obtain. Health care workers, teachers, pastors, non-profit workers, emergency responders and other service workers can relate many stories of times when they have felt like throwing up their arms and walking away.

In Peter’s letter, he writes about the end and about the experiences of those working to live out the Gospel through their lives. First, Peter tells the followers that they should use prayer to prepare themselves for the coming end. The early Christians lived in great anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s kingdom on earth. There was an urgency in their understanding of the timing. Since they were certain this fulfillment would occur in their lifetime, they were anxious about being prepared. Peter instructs there to use prayer to assist them in being prepared.

Peter then turns to the suffering which they have been experiencing while doing the work of the Gospel. The believers had been engaging in acts of compassion as a demonstration of the love encompassed in the Gospel. They had also been sharing the story of the Gospel and what it is about with others. While engaging in these actions, they experienced ridicule, condemnation, and even physical harm. Peter informs them that this suffering aligns them with the sufferings of Christ. Their suffering witnesses to their bearing of the name of Christ.

Peter’s words spoke to the early Christians who felt like foreigners in this world but they also speak to us today as well. We currently live in very turbulent times once again. Uncertainty quickly overcomes us due to events and conditions throughout the world. We, like those who Peter wrote to, can feel unprepared and anxious. Peter’s advice can benefit us, pray. Prayer can calm our souls and bring us comfort. Prayer can open to us ways to prepare for what is ahead, even if we have no idea what that is or when it might happen.

The other perspective which Peter presents, the concept of enduring suffering for bearing Christ’s name, provides guidance to us. Whenever we serve others or share our experience with the Gospel, we open ourselves to frustration, alienation, ridicule and judgment. Remembering that Christ understands suffering for God since he suffered for this reason, we can find strength to continue the work. Our purpose becomes higher than earthly benefits. By demonstrating the love found in the Gospel through our words, work, and actions, we can witness to others and build them up in life.


Church life: In an article from one year ago, Mark writes,

…[T]he church is not exempt from the realities of interpersonal relationships outside of the church. While there is a desire that inside the walls of a church there is safety and love instead of hatred and attacks, this desire is something still to strive for and not a reality. The human behaviors which we encounter in neighborhoods, workplaces, and social groups can all be found within the church…

Check out this piece on Church Bullies.

 

November 20, 2020

Know Any Sorcerers?

Have you ever met someone whose God-following seems motivated by self-interest? Or recognized mix motives in your own life?

This article is by Penny Gadd who is featured here for the first time. Her blog is Seeking the Light. Click the the title which follows to read this at her site.

Acts 8: 9 – 25 Simon the sorcerer

Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, ‘The man is rightly called the Great Power of God.’ They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; They had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’

Peter answered: ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.’

Then Simon answered, ‘Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.’

After they had further proclaimed the word of the Lord and testified about Jesus, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages.

Sorcery was strictly forbidden under Mosaic Law. Perhaps the most emphatic statement against it is this:

“A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads” (Leviticus 20: 27)

It would seem that Simon concealed the occult nature of his practices, for Luke reports that “all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, ‘The man is rightly called the Great Power of God.’ ”

Then Philip arrived in Samaria, chased out of Jerusalem when the church there was persecuted. He was one of the seven who had been appointed to oversee food distribution, and had been a co-worker with Stephen. He preached to the Samaritans about the kingdom of God and about Jesus, and his ministry was validated by many healings. People flocked to be baptized.

This must have had a bad effect on Simon’s prestige – and his income.

Nevertheless, Simon joined the congregation, and was himself baptized. Luke says “And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.”

I wonder if it was only the signs and miracles that attracted him? Maybe he was also drawn to Jesus by Philip’s witness to him?

Simon’s self-interest was threatened by the miracles worked by God through Philip. A threat to self-interest often prompted the violent rejection of Jesus, as we’ve just seen in the stoning of Stephen. Yet Simon became baptized and followed Philip everywhere.

News of Philip’s success in preaching the word to the Samaritans was reported to the apostles in Jerusalem, who sent Peter and John to Samaria. They found that Philip had simply baptized the new believers in the name of Jesus; the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them.

Peter and John prayed for the Holy Spirit to be given to the new believers, placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Luke doesn’t describe the scene, but it must have been quite dramatic. In fact, it was so powerful that Simon immediately identified it as the source of the signs done by Philip and the apostles.

“When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, ‘Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.’ ”

Peter’s reply bears close study.

“ ‘May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!’ ”

The gift of God is the forgiveness of sins. It is free; it can’t be bought, or earned, or in any way deserved. Belief in Jesus is all that you need.

“You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.”

Simon had seen that the presence of the Holy Spirit had brought power, and he desired that power. But he hadn’t realized that the real gift of God wasn’t the power, but the forgiveness of his sins. He didn’t believe in Jesus, he believed in the power he saw. Simon had not sought and received forgiveness; how, then, could he have any share in the ministry?

“Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.”

What was the sin that needed repentance? Well, it was actually a very common sin, the one that underlies most sin. Simon wanted to retain control of his life. He wanted God’s power, but not God’s direction. He had been through the ritual of baptism but had not surrendered his life to Jesus.

“For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.’ ”

Peter could see clearly that Simon wanted to retain control of his life and was therefore captive to sin.

Simon’s reply to Peter is intriguing

“ ‘Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.’ ”

He clearly trusts what Peter has told him. He fears the consequences of his sin. He’s some way short of repentance and belief, but he’s moving in the right direction, I think.

Meanwhile, Peter and John return to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages. The good news of Jesus has started to spread!

Prayer

Heavenly Father

Thank you that I can turn to you for guidance when I need to know your will. Please help me to allow you to direct my life.

In Jesus’ name, Amen

April 2, 2020

Help! I’m Sinking! (Like Peter)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

When I was a young lad of thirteen years of age or so, my parents bought me a sailboat. It was an old wooden boat that leaked like a sieve, but it did float, mostly, and was a lot of fun to sail. Initially my Dad helped me sail it, however he did not know how to sail a boat any more than I did! One thing I remember from my early days as a sailor was my growing disdain for “stink-pots.” That is how some sailors refer to motorboats. They are noisy, they pollute, they do not have the same sense of challenge as the sailboats. I did not like them. I was a sailor, and proud of it!

For the most part I did quite well in sailing, but one day strong winds caught my Dad and I off guard. Thinking we were being smart, we took one of the sails down. Except that in this particular boat, that was not very smart. We had trouble heading in the desired direction after that. We were headed toward the shore, the wrong shore, where rocks awaited. The boat leaked enough as it was without adding some new damage. Also, overhanging trees would not be good for the mast and rigging.

We made our next smart move. We threw out the anchor. This particular anchor came with the boat and was a homemade affair being made from what was likely a tin of beans with the beans replaced by cement and a hook for a rope. It may as well have just been a tin of beans on the end of a rope, for it was useless. Actually, we may as well have just thrown a tin of beans out of the boat with no rope. It was worse than useless. We were in trouble.

Except there was this awful noise. A friend in a stink-pot saw that we were in trouble and came to the rescue. A stink-pot never sounded so good. I quickly got over my disdain for powerboats and accepted the help. We were towed in.

Sometimes we need to get over our disdain of others, or institutions, and accept help. Sometimes we need to get over our pride, and accept help. Sometimes we need to get over our need to be independent, and accept help. Sometimes we need to get over ourselves. Sometimes we need help.

Peter was doing well, walking on water toward Jesus who was also walking on the water. But then he was in trouble:

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:28-31 (NRSV)

Peter had the humility to ask for help. He knew he was in over his head, or at least soon would be. He knew that there was nothing he could do. Whatever pride he may have felt for being the one disciple to walk on the water, he now needed the humility to admit that he was the one disciple who needed help!

Do we have the humility to ask for help? We may need help in these strange days brought about by a pandemic. Some may need help with something as simple as getting groceries. Of course you are capable of getting your own groceries. But maybe right now, you shouldn’t. Some may need help with facing loneliness. Some may need prayer. Some may need to talk through their thoughts and feelings. Do we have the humility to request and/or receive help?

In these strange and scary days, some will realize the need of help that only God can give. They may think to themselves, how hypocritical, to only go to God now when troubles come. Remember that Peter only cried out to Jesus for help when he started sinking. Jesus was willing to help.

If we were acting this story out for a movie, how would we say the words of Jesus; “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”? Would we say those words with scorn? “How could you be so foolish as to take your eyes off me, and start doubting?! Look at how that led you to sinking, you fool!” Or would we read them with compassion; “Peter, don’t you know how much I love you, and would not let you drown?”

It should be the latter. Why? Based on the story Jesus told of the prodigal son. A son asked his father for his inheritance and went off to a foreign place and blew it all on partying and the like. Coming upon hard times, he decided to go back:

But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. Luke 15:17-24 (NRSV)

If you sense that you should call to God for help, but are reticent because you have not been in a relationship before now, take courage from the prodigal son story. You may even have had disdain in your heart for God in the past. Do you have the humility to accept the help He offers now? He has the love and grace to help:

God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:9-10 (NRSV)

Here is how that story of Peter walking on the water ends;

When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Matthew 14:32-33 (NRSV)

May we have the humility to accept the help the Son of God offers us. We also will be able to say “truly you are the son of God.”


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced his regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. This worship expression can be seen hereFor a limited time, this reflection can also be heard here). Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

February 3, 2020

Who Gets the Credit Can Be a Test of Truthfulness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Several days ago I was struck by a verse I had previously skipped over, John 7:28. Jesus says,

“Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.”

He says this at the Festival of Tabernacles as the Jewish scholars are trying to get him to state, for the record, from where his teaching derives, since he did not sit under the tutoring of their rabbis. In context:

NIV.John.7.16-18 Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.

Some commentaries focus more on the idea that Jesus gives God the Father credit, rather than the particularities of verse 18, which makes a more general statement about how this is can be an example of a test for truth.

For example BibleRef.com:

Rather than being educated in some Rabbinic school, or generating knowledge on His own, Jesus credits His amazing wisdom to God (John 7:16). In context, this is what Jesus means by those speaking on “his own authority.” While Jesus is fully man, and fully God (Colossians 1:19), His earthly mission is to follow the will of God the Father. Since the message Jesus brings is that of God, God is to be given credit for it. Even further, Jesus claims that a person’s willingness to obey God is what determines his or her understanding—rather than the reverse, where understanding enables obedience.

Even Jesus’ critics were forced to take note of His honesty and moral perfection (John 8:46)…

Quoting The Biblical Illustrator commentary at StudyLight.com, there is a closer connection between truth and humility.

1. … The conceited man

(l) Speaks out of himself. He is known everywhere by his ostentatious parade of originality and infallibility. His own opinions evolved from his inner consciousness, in proud independence of other thinkers, are the standard of truth and untruth. His predecessors were all very well in their day; but their teaching is now obsolete. His contemporaries are right according to their light, but their light is only one remove from darkness. To raise the least objection against his ipse dixit is only an evidence of “knowing nothing about it.” How many such original geniuses afflict the Church, the state, halls of science and schools of philosophy!

2. Its aim–“his own glory.” This is the end which the conceited man never loses sight of, and everything he does has as its motive the gratification of his own personal vanity. He dresses and attitudinizes for the purpose of attracting attention; he talks to secure praise for his sagacity or adventures; he schemes and works that he may be talked about, or to obtain gain. And verily he has his reward.

The IVP Bible Commentary at BibleGateway.com continues this theme,

One either speaks from God or one speaks from self, no matter how many external authorities are appealed to. One seeking God, who is caring for God’s glory rather than one’s own, such as Jesus refers to, is able to believe (5:44). Jesus’, “humility and obedience allow him to speak with the authority of God” (Barrett 1978:318), and these are the same qualities that enable a person to recognize God’s word in Jesus’ teaching.

Eugene Peterson renders this verse in The Message as,

A person making things up tries to make himself look good. But someone trying to honor the one who sent him sticks to the facts and doesn’t tamper with reality.

This verse has been percolating in my thoughts for several days now, but it came back again in a service on the weekend, reading the story from Acts 3 of Jesus healing the lame man:

NIV.Acts.3.12b …“Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13a The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus.

The goal of The Incarnate One, and the aim of those First Century apostles was the same: To deflect the glory; the credit; the honor; etc., away from themselves and towards God the Father.

The principle of John 7:18 is to tell us that this can be a test for the veracity; the truthfulness of the one speaking.

 

 

November 9, 2019

Are We There Yet?

Christianity 201 has been blessed over the years to feature the writing of Elsie Montgomery at the blog Practical Faith. She is faithful in writing and consistent in terms of the content of what she posts. I’m breaking a rule here and re-posting some recent things from her blog both today and tomorrow. Visit the blog and click the headers for individual articles.

Is He here yet?

Children are noted for their impatience on a trip by continually asking, “Are we there yet?” In their minds, time has two characteristics: now and forever!

Some Christians have the same attitude toward the return of Christ. Every bad news story brings the hope that this signals His coming. We are continually looking for signs and indications. Scripture is searched, predictions are made, even though Jesus said no man knows the day or the hour.

Peter was close to Jesus. He had ideas about the Second Coming. First, he predicted the scoffers who mocked that it would never happen, He said to his readers:

You should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:2–4)

There are Christians that may not scoff but also desire that all things stay the same. Thoughts of the end of life here as we know it makes people uncomfortable. I’ve felt concern too, not wanting Jesus to come until He saves those who I pray for and thousands of others that have no faith and no hope for eternal life with Him.

Peter may have been thinking that children think of time as now/forever as he continued to explain the end to his readers. The scoffers need to realize that eternity is not about time. While the Bible gives no explicit explanation, it seems that God lives in the realm where everything is NOW. That is, in His mind, there is no beginning or end, no clocks, no deadlines. He is also not interested in a calendar but in the hearts of men and women. If He seems slow to return in our minds, it is only because He is patient with those who do not yet believe:

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3:8–10)

That fits with my heart too. Even though the end of evil and hardship appeals to me, I also want all to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. I don’t want anyone to forever be separated from God.

Peter gives an application for thinking about the Second Coming and the end of this life as we know it. He says:

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:11–13)

His words are simple. Be a holy, godly person who waits patiently for Jesus to come and for the promise of a renewed creation. Evil will be removed and those who choose evil will be separated from God’s presence. All who trust Jesus will be with Him. This is not a popular topic and this application seems too vague. How do I live a holy life? What does it mean to be godly today?

For me, the answers are to seek the Lord in study and prayer, to obey what I know, and to rely on His grace and Holy Spirit to do it. This is not a list of rules nor laying out a plan. I can plan, but if interrupted, must listen for His direction. He will let me know what calls to answer, what chores to do, who to contact, and when I am procrastinating. In other words, the application is about knowing and being guided by the voice of Jesus.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Lord, help me hear You today. You know how my head can be filled with ideas and plans. May You guide me, and if today turns out to be ‘ordinary’ then I know You will have a few unexpected assignments thrown into my to-do list. That is fine with me. Just help me listen and willing to do all that You ask and at the same time rejoice in Your promise to return, knowing it will be exactly at the right time.

Today’s thankful list . . .
– the certain promise of Jesus to come again.
– the ability to plan and His willingness to be interrupted.
– today’s major interruption was important.
– making it through my chore list anyway.
– tilapia in lemon-flavored olive oil, yum.
– fresh snow.

May 14, 2018

Having a Revival in the Parking Lot of Another Church

Today we’re back at Dust Off The Bible, a website I first introduced you to at the time last year and this entry features the writing of Justin and Lydia who are working their way through the Revised Common Lectionary.

Apostles Do Many Signs and Wonders

Text: Acts 5: 12-16

Apostles Do Many Signs and Wonders


12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.


Observations and Reflections


It appears that the apostles are continuing to preach and heal people and what’s even more impressive is that it’s happening in Solomon’s Portico, right inside of the Temple walls. This would be the equivalent of having a revival in the parking lot of another church. I would imagine that most pastors would not be impressed with people trying to steal the attention of church-goers as they entered into the church. It’s likely that this enraged the religious leaders and the temple guard even more so than before.

However, since Peter was healing people and displaying great signs, a renewed interest in traveling to the Temple in Jerusalem was revived, as people would travel from afar to seek healing. It would seems as though Peter’s ministry was mimicking Jesus’, right in the face of the Jewish leaders. But, many of those same people would have likely also participated in the temple services so there is a possibility that it was not all negative for the Jewish leaders. Is it possible that the ministry of Peter and the apostles could have provided a side benefit to the Jews? It’s is possible but the religious leaders would have still been bothered at the notion that Jesus was being preached and the narrative that the religious leaders killed the messiah. Any side benefits would have been negated by such preaching.

The only answer to this problem is to get rid of the apostles, which will be the subject of the next passage.

– Justin


The Church is on the move to spread the Gospel and serve others. Peter and the rest of the apostles are standing strong despite the previous attempts to stop them and scare them from speaking the name of Jesus Christ. It is a beautiful display we see of faith and devotion to doing God’s work. The Holy Spirit is pricking at the hearts of many believers and lost souls are being saved.

Preaching the Gospel is so much more then just using words. It is absolutely necessary to speak the truth and yet is still just as important to follow up with action. Peter and His apostles are putting their words of Jesus’s love on fully display. In healing the sick and freeing those of unclean spirits, they are showcasing the truth of God’s power and love at work.

Their actions are not of their own doing and accord. It is what God has called them to do and it is by His power alone that they are able to do these things.

Being bold for the name of Jesus Christ can create and amazing ripple affect. The healing of the crippled man in the previous chapter set off a widespread eagerness to many who sought to follow after Jesus Christ. It stirred up a hunger in those who were seeking to know more about Jesus and the price He paid on the cross for our sins.

The only way in which the disciples were able to do this successfully was through faith and prayer. As the Church it was their role to continually seek God’s hand in all that they do and here we are witnessing faith and prayer at work.

– Lydia


Apologies to subscribers for the confusion on the weekend. Saturday and Sunday’s devotions got posted 2-minutes apart. Not noticing this until Sunday morning, I re-released Sunday’s devotional at the regular time. I’m just curious if any of you received it twice. Let me know.

 

September 9, 2016

Jesus Rebukes Peter: An Insight

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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I wasn’t planning to return to Andy Elmes at Great Big Life so soon, but this one really stood out. If you can remember the title (below) you can remember the principle.

Deal with the hand, not the puppet

Matthew 16:22-23, NKJV
Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

This can seem a very strange thing for Jesus to do, if you don’t fully understand what was happening; especially as this very fierce rebuke came just seconds after Jesus had commended the same guy for having a revelation that He was the Christ. To fully understand what was happening, you need to see who Jesus was actually rebuking or dealing with. Many have interpreted this portion in different ways – I look at it this way: Peter was just the puppet, he was unknowingly being used to say something that was contrary to the heaven-sent plans that were directing the life of Jesus. He was not possessed by satan but was unknowingly allowing some suggestions or very subtle thoughts of satan to be voiced through his mouth, making him the puppet not the actual originator of the problem-induced words.

Notice Jesus does not say, “Get lost, Peter”. He says, “Get behind me, satan” – He was speaking to the voice of His enemy that was subtlety using one of His team to direct Him off course. Read on – directly after this encounter it is as if nothing had happened and He continues to teach His team more stuff, including Peter who must have still been in shock.

jesus-rebukes-peterThe lesson here is to always know and be spiritually discerning when it comes to the guiding voice of God in your life, and also to know when it is not the voice of God speaking words of direction to you. In the same way that Jesus experienced, it is amazing how people who are close to us can sometimes be the ones who, through lack of understanding or revelation, can say something that could potential take you off course or cause you to doubt something you should not.

What do we do when this happens? The same as Jesus: look beyond the (puppet) person and consider what spirit is actually in operation with an alternative agenda to that of God’s. Remember, the Bible says we wrestle not with flesh and blood but with principalities and powers (Ephesians 6:12), which means if we punch the person who is speaking we have so missed the point. We need to deal with what is going on beyond the person involved.

The devil is like a snake, he will always try and slip into the ear of people whose hearts are set on doing something for God. When it comes to who he will try and use he is no respecter of persons and will use those close to you to say the most destiny-disturbing things. The shock comes when they are really close, like Peter was to Jesus. When that happens you must remember not to fall out of love with the person but realize they do not know the weight of the statements and thoughts they are sharing. Equally, I would hold back from staring at them and telling them to “Get behind me, satan” – that’s never good for keeping friends! It worked for Jesus but it may not work so well for you.  I would deal with it spiritually, away from the person, around the corner. I would say, “satan, you filthy liar, get out of here, you are not knocking me off track.” I can’t say that I would never say it to the person, but would be very careful who it was if I did. I heard once of a man who used to say that to his wife – listen, that will never produce a happy home, be wise!

So the lesson today, be a sheep that knows the shepherd’s voice. When you hear another voice don’t always accept it because you recognize the puppet speaking. Take all things back to God’s word and wise council, and you will always walk in the right and God-designed direction.

August 8, 2016

Events Leading Up to Peter’s Denials of Christ

Today’s devotional is really, really different, and there was much long debate as to whether to include this; but as I kept reading I really felt I began to understand the heart of the Apostle Peter in those moments leading up to the point of his three times — and this author argues it was more like six times — denying Jesus. There were some very difficult moments leading up to the more familiar denial that took place around the courtyard fire. It was a turbulent and confusing several hours.

This is from Jeremy Myers at RedeemingGod.com. It’s a transcript of a dramatized sermon in which Peter is speaking. The excerpt below focuses on four events before the denials. You’ll need to click through to read the rest, or you might just click now at the title below. (The entire sermon is also there on audio.) There’s no overt scripture today, but as you’ll see below, the narrative is packed with Bible references.

Despite the variances that often exist in religious art, Images of the Apostle Peter, like this one at Wiki Commons, are surprisingly consistent.

Despite the variances that often exist in religious art, Images of the Apostle Peter, like this one at Wiki Commons, are surprisingly consistent.

The Six Denials of Peter

The First Prediction of Three Denials

…I should begin on the night of that last supper we had with Jesus in the upper room. I had always been known as the one who stuck his foot in his mouth, but that night, I was really on a roll.

Jesus came around and tried to wash all of our feet, but I told him he couldn’t wash mine. I was too embarrassed. We had been walking around in the mud and the animal droppings that day. My feet were filthy, and they stank. There was no way I was going to let Jesus wash my feet (John 13:1-17).

But he told me that if I didn’t let him wash my feet, I would have no part with him. I don’t know if the other disciples understood what Jesus was talking about, but I had no clue, and so I said to Jesus, “Well, in that case, wash all of me! Wash my head, and my hands, and my body as well!”

He kindly and patiently told me that I didn’t need to have all of me washed, for I was already clean. I only needed to have my feet washed. I understand now what he meant, but that’s a story for another time.

After he washed our feet, we all reclined at the table for our supper (John 13:18). He broke bread, and passed it out.

And part way through the meal, (John 13:19-35) Jesus gets this real troubled look on his face, and he looks around at all of us disciples sitting there, and says, “One of you will betray me tonight.”

This was quite a shock! We had all followed him faithfully for over three years! We had been listening to his teachings. We had been with him through thick and thin. When he was popular, we were with him. When he was unpopular, we were there too. Why would one of us betray him?

I looked around the table trying to figure out who it would be. I like to think I’m one of those analytical types, and so after thinking about it for a minute, I decided that if I had to pick someone, if one of us was going to betray him, it was going to be that Thomas.

He always was pretty critical of what Jesus said. He was always the last one to believe. He always needed proof. If any of us were going to betray Jesus, it would be Thomas.

But in the three years I had followed Jesus, I had learned to try to watch what I say. I was always the one to stick my foot in my mouth, and speak without thinking. But not tonight. I was going to watch what I say tonight.

I mean, if I wasn’t careful with what I said, I may find that I was the one who betrays Christ. And I certainly didn’t want that to happen. And besides, just a few days earlier, Jesus had called me Satan, and so I was kind of afraid that I might be the one to betray Jesus (Matt 16:23).

So rather than just blurt out my question, I decided to get John to ask it. John was the youngest of our group. He was only a teenager, and Jesus seemed to have a special connection for him.

I was sitting next to John, and he was sitting next to Jesus, so I whispered in John’s ear to ask Jesus who the betrayer was.

I could have just blurted it out myself, but I was trying to learn to control what I said.

So I asked John to ask Jesus, which he did. And Jesus, through a roundabout way of dipping bread in a bowl, indicated that it was Judas. Well, I breathed a sigh of relief. Whew! I was not the one who would betray him! I was in the clear!

So I decided to sit back, relax, and enjoy the rest of the meal.

After the meal, Jesus started talking about how he was going to go away for a while, and I relaxed a bit, and forgot to watch my mouth, so I said, “Jesus, where are you going?” And he said, “Where I am going, you cannot yet follow me.”

And then I stuck my foot in my mouth again. I started bragging. I said, “I would follow you anywhere. I would even die for you, if you asked me to.”

It’s funny, isn’t it? I told Jesus I would die for him… I never imagined that it would be he who died for me… But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Right after I told Jesus that I would follow him anywhere – even unto death – he smiled at me and said, “Well, Peter, actually, even though right now you think you would die for me, in reality, before the night is over, before the rooster crows once, you will deny me three times. You will deny me three times before the roost crows” (John 13:38).

That shut me up for a while. I though I was safe. Jesus had said that it was Judas who would betray Jesus. Not me.

But now, Jesus had just told me that I would deny him three times! How could that be? I would never deny Jesus! Never! I was willing to die for him! Why would I betray him? Why would I deny him?

I wanted to do everything I could to help him set up his kingdom – and denying him three times would certainly not be helping him. Well, this shut me up for the rest of the meal. I was thinking about what Jesus had said.

The Second Prediction of Three Denials

After supper, we left the upper room, and headed out to the Mount of Olives. It was a cool evening. The stars were out. They seemed especially bright.

While we walked there, my mind was racing. With each step, I got more and more angry at what Jesus had said. Hadn’t I followed him for over three years? Hadn’t I always been by his side? Hadn’t I always done everything he asked? Why would I deny him now when he was so close to receiving his throne? That would be insane!

But when we got to the Mount of Olives, Jesus turned around, and with great sadness in his eyes, told us that before the night was over, ALL of us would fall away from him.

Now, that should have made me feel a little better. I mean, before, Jesus had just said that Judas would betray him, and I would deny him, but now, Jesus was saying that all of us would deny him.

This should have made me feel better because now we were all in the same boat.

But rather than make me feel better, it made me more angry. Why was Jesus comparing me with the other disciples? I was stronger than any of them. I was more loyal than any of them.

Yes, I stuck my foot in my mouth sometimes, but that’s only because I was a man of action. I would rather speak before I act, or speak before I thought. I was not afraid to speak my mind. This was a strength as well. I always said what I thought. These other disciples were too timid and afraid to speak up, but not me.

And I told Jesus so. I said, “Hey Jesus, even though all of these others fall away from you, I never will.” He was wrong about what he said before, and I would prove it.

And then it was like déjà vu. Jesus looked at me, just as he had during the supper. But he changed what he said a little bit this time, and said, “Peter, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times” (Mark 14:30).

I determined right then and there that I would show Jesus. And I told him so. I said, “Even if I have to die for you tonight, I will not deny you.” No matter what happened the rest of the night, I would stick by Jesus’ side.

Falling Asleep Three Times

After this, Jesus went off to pray, and asked us to stay awake and pray also. I tried, but after a while, I dozed off and fell asleep. A short while later, Jesus came back, and found us all sleeping (Matt 26:36-46).

But for some reason, even though everybody was sleeping, Jesus singled me out again. We were all sleeping, but he singles me out and says, “Simon Peter, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for even one hour?”

At first I was a little upset. Why did he single me out? Everybody was sleeping. And besides, it had been a long day, and an even longer week, and if we believed just a little bit about what Jesus was saying, we were in for a long couple of days, and tomorrow would be the biggest day of our lives!

And yet Jesus wanted us to stay awake all night praying? Come on, Jesus, we need sleep!

But then I thought – “Wait…maybe by falling asleep when Jesus asked me to pray, I had just denied Christ for the first time. Could it be? Could Jesus really think that me falling asleep was denying him? I wouldn’t look at it that way, but does he?”

Well, whether he saw it that way or not, I resolved not to fall asleep again.

Jesus went off to pray again, and wouldn’t you know it, the next thing I knew was that Jesus was waking me up again. I had fallen asleep twice! So I resolved not to fall asleep a third time.

But the night was just too long, and I was just too tired, and before I knew it, Jesus was calmly and gently waking us all up again, for the third time.

For a second, I was scared! Jesus said I would deny him three times, and I had fallen asleep three times! Was this what Jesus meant? That just by falling asleep I would be denying him?

It couldn’t be – that is so insignificant. And besides, the rooster hadn’t crowed yet – not even once, and so that couldn’t be what Jesus meant.

But…I was beginning to see how weak my resolve really was. I was beginning to see how weak my flesh was. I had told him I would stay awake and pray with him, but I couldn’t do even that. I had told him I wouldn’t deny him, and now I was beginning to wonder if I would after all.

So I decided then and there to stay awake and stay by Jesus side for whatever came next, and that no matter what, I would not deny him. Whatever comes next.

The Betrayal by Judas

I didn’t have to wait long. Immediately, Jesus announced, “Look, the one who will betray me is coming!”

And we all looked, and Jesus was right. There came Judas, surrounded by the temple guard. This didn’t look good.

Slowly, I reached underneath my tunic for the sword I had strapped on there earlier. If they tried to do anything to Jesus, I was going to split a few heads. I was going to be the first one to defend him. I was ready to kill those soldiers, and kill Judas, and die for Jesus if necessary. Whatever happened, though, I would not deny him.

Well, Judas gives Jesus a kiss of greeting. Jesus and the soldiers exchanged some words, and then one of the soldiers stepped forward saying they were going to arrest Jesus! And Jesus said to them, “Look, you can take me, but let these others go their way. Let them go free. Don’t arrest them.”

What was Jesus talking about? Jesus was trying to give himself up to them? I was going to have none of this!

So with a shout, I pulled my sword from my side, and swung it in an overhand chop as hard as I could at the head of the High Priest’s servant. His name was Malchus, and I had seen him around the temple sneering at Jesus and mocking him and making fun of him in the temple, so I decided to take him out first!

But he was a bit quicker than I thought, he was sly and wily, and rather than split his head in two, he was able to get out of the way just enough so that instead, all I did was lop off his right ear (John 18:1-11).

So I swung back to take another chop, and by this time, the temple guard were pulling out their weapons, and I was just getting ready to take another swing at Malchus when…Jesus’ voice stopped everybody else in their tracks – especially me.

Jesus singles me out again, and says, “Peter! Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which my Father has given Me?”

I was flabbergasted. Jesus told me I would deny him, I said I wouldn’t. When they came to arrest Jesus, I tried to defend him just like I said I would, and now he is telling me to stop?

What was he doing? What was he thinking? I tried to defend him, and now he won’t let me?

But I had learned to obey Jesus no matter what, and so I put my sword away and stepped back to see what would happen. Maybe he was going to call down fire from heaven and incinerate the soldiers and he wanted me out of the way. This was going to be a sight to see.

But instead, he took Malchus’s head in his hands, and miraculously, healed the ear!

Here he was, healing his enemies! I remembered that Jesus had told us to love our enemies and do good to those who wish to hurt us, but wasn’t this going too far? Didn’t Jesus know they wanted to kill him, not just hurt him?

And if Jesus was killed, all of our hopes and dreams would be crushed.

But Jesus wasn’t dead yet. The soldiers came and bound Jesus and marched off with him. And just as Jesus had said, all of the other disciples fled. They ran away!

The cowards. But not me. I had promised Jesus I would not desert him, I would not deny him. I would not betray him. And I was going to keep my promise…

…continue reading, scroll down to The First Denial

March 31, 2016

Fishing, Failure and Reconciliation

Today we introduce a new writer, Dottie Parish who I discovered online and asked if she would submit some articles for us. You can read more of her writing at Faith Notes.

Often we spend the forty days before Easter focusing on Christ’s journey as he sets his face toward Jerusalem and crucifixion. What about the forty days after Easter? Scripture describes a number of Jesus’ resurrection appearances including the fact that he appeared to 500 people. (1 Cor. 15:6-7) His resurrection was no delusion by a few ardent disciples.

He talked with them, ate and drank with them, showed them his nail scarred hands and wounded side. And he taught them, loved them, and prepared them for his Ascension. And He prepared them to be His Church on earth.

One of the most compelling resurrection appearances (John 21:1-17 NIV) describes a fishing excursion of Peter and six other disciples. They caught nothing after hours of fishing. Early in the morning Jesus greeted them from the shore asking if they have any fish. They reply, “No” and he tells them “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they do, they are unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

John (recognizing Jesus) says, “It is the Lord.” Peter jumps into the water and swims to shore. (So eager!) The other disciples follow in the boat, towing the net full of fish.

They have breakfast with Jesus on the shore and Scripture says, “None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord.” I think they knew it was Jesus, but they were ashamed of their failure – their abandonment of him after his arrest. And Peter was ashamed of denying him three times.

The Scripture continues (John 21:15-16 NIV)

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”

Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

          Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”   

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me.  

          He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

          The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

          Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” 

Jesus lovingly questions Peter’s commitment and he questions it three times to give Peter the opportunity to affirm his devotion three times – thus erasing the failure in Peter’s mind (already erased by the cross).

Peter is identified as the overseer of the church. Feed my lambs, feed my sheep, take care of my sheep – all refer to his being the shepherd entrusted to feed the Word to the sheep – to the Church.

Take time to read and study his Word today and teach it to those in your care.


Here’s another article by Dottie Parish which deals with post-resurrection appearances of Jesus: Resurrection Doubt? No, He’s Alive!

March 3, 2016

When Peter Gets It

Last month several churches in my area held their annual meetings. Part of this is required by law and is intended to include the election of officers. Because one church has a rather unique take on this, I looked into the choosing of Matthias (to replace Judas Iscariot) in Acts 1, but ended up with a completely different takeaway.

First, the text (all scriptures today are NLT)

20 Peter continued, “This was written in the book of Psalms, where it says, ‘Let his home become desolate, with no one living in it.’ It also says, ‘Let someone else take his position.’

21 “So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus— 22 from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection.”

23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they all prayed, “O Lord, you know every heart. Show us which of these men you have chosen 25 as an apostle to replace Judas in this ministry, for he has deserted us and gone where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and Matthias was selected to become an apostle with the other eleven.

Some commentaries believe that they cast lots because they had two equally viable candidates and there was no clear consensus for choosing one or the other.

But it was verse 20 that got my attention; and I left the other consideration aside. Sometimes that happens when you’re reading scripture; you’re looking for topic “A” and find topic “B” jumping out at you!

First, some background. In Matthew 16, Peter starts the chapter doing really well. As the lead follower of Rabbi Jesus, he’s got the right answer.

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being.

But then things fall apart for Peter a few verses later:

21 From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead.

22 But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!”

I think you know what happens next.

23 Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”

What I think is clearly stated here is that Peter is unaware that everything Jesus is doing is following a divine script. It’s “necessary for him to go to Jerusalem.” This is all part of God’s plan. But Peter doesn’t see it that way.

Now, flash forward to where we began, in Acts 1. Peter is invoking two prophetic passages from the Psalms foretelling of the replacement of Judas:

Ps. 69:25 Let their homes become desolate
    and their tents be deserted.

and

Ps. 109:8 Let his years be few;
    let someone else take his position.

Suddenly, Peter realizes that he and the other disciples are following a divine script. He sees it as equally necessary for them to appoint a 12th apostle. He gets it!

At first, I thought this was even more remarkable considering Pentecost had not happened. I mistakenly concluded they were not yet filled with the Holy Spirit. This is, after all Acts chapter one, not Acts chapter two where we read:

Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 4a And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit…

But in terms of The Twelve (and any others that were with them at the time) that’s not the case. If we backtrack to the time before Christ’s ascension, John 20 points out:

19 That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

The point is that Peter is now a changed person, and he recognizes the fulfillment of the Messianic Psalms in everything he is experiencing in his lifetime.

There is another example of the Psalm connection I want to end with. In Matthew 27, we see Jesus on the cross:

46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

This one verse is so rich and contains much we could discuss as to Jesus being abandoned by The Father. But one preacher I heard said that in saying what he did, it was like a giant, neon, flashing billboard saying “READ PSALM 22.” (The people of the day knew the Psalms by their first lines, the numbering system wasn’t around then.)

This is the clearest Psalm in terms of predicting the crucifixion which is taking place at that exact moment:

Everyone who sees me mocks me.
    They sneer and shake their heads, saying,
“Is this the one who relies on the Lord?
    Then let the Lord save him!
If the Lord loves him so much,
    let the Lord rescue him!”

14 My life is poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart is like wax,
    melting within me.
15 My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay.
    My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
    You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead.
16 My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs;
    an evil gang closes in on me.
    They have pierced my hands and feet.
17 I can count all my bones.
    My enemies stare at me and gloat.
18 They divide my garments among themselves
    and throw dice for my clothing.

Imaging being there and knowing you are right in the middle of everything spoken prophetically in the Psalms.

Peter figured that out, and from this point on his ministry moves on a new trajectory, with confidence and power.

November 6, 2014

When You Feel Like Quitting

This week regular columnist Clarke Dixon ran a more topical piece, Do Muslims and Christians Worship The Same God? which you’re invited to read.  For C201, we went into his archives from the summer and found a piece that actually deals with the verses immediately prior to the passage from Clarke we ran last week.  Click the title — note the alliteration! — to read this at source.

small__4804167810[1]Five Questions for Frustrated Fishers of Men

Frustrated with being a Christian? John 21 begins with a group of disciples who understand frustration as they have been out on the Sea all night with no fish to show for their efforts. But the darkness and frustration will soon give way to new possibilities when “early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore” (John 21:4 NIV). Has the Christian life become full of frustration for you? There are some questions lurking here which may help bring a new morning to your life and witness. Let’s take a look.

5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish (John 21:5-6 NRSV)

The miracle catch of fish is reminiscent of an earlier miraculous catch, which we can read about in Luke 5:1-11. What is significant about this earlier catch is that it leads directly to Jesus’ call of Simon Peter, James and John to be his disciples. Now remembering that all the disciples had proven that they were better at fleeing than following at the first hint of danger, here is a significant and symbolic moment of affirming the call. Despite everything, they are still called. Are you ready to affirm God’s call on your life, or are you about to call it quits? No matter the mess you may have made of it so far, He is still calling. You have not been uncalled. Its a new morning, hear again His call.

7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.  (John 21:7 NRSV)

We should look at Peter’s reaction to the miracle and the Miracle Worker in light of his previous reaction. The first time there was a miraculous catch Peter “fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man’” (Luke 5:8 NRSV). This time, he was so excited and in such a hurry to be with Jesus he “jumped into the sea” (John 21:7 NRSV). Clearly Peter has grown in his relationship with Jesus. Are you ready to jump ship to get to Jesus, or would rather Jesus walk the plank and leave you alone? Does your worship and prayer life give the answer away? It’s a new morning, a deeper relationship with Jesus awaits you.

9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread (John 21:9 NRSV)

Another charcoal fire has been mentioned recently in John’s Gospel, but it is not one of warm friendship. It was the fire at which Peter was warming himself when questioned if he knew this Jesus who had just been arrested. He said he did not. This fire is different. This fire is Jesus’ invitation to breakfast, but more than that, it is Jesus’ invitation to experience grace. Going forward Peter, along with the other disciples, will serve Jesus as those who experienced deep grace. Is grace the fuel that feeds your service, or is your service a fire that consumes grace? Let’s not serve to earn favour or fame, that only leads to frustration. Let’s serve from our experience of forgiveness. It’s a new morning, you are not just a servant, but a forgiven child of the King.

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty- three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn (John 21:10-11 NRSV)

Does the presence of bread and fish, and the miracle of so much being abundantly supplied remind you any other miracles? Yes, Jesus has done this kind of thing before, many times actually and we are reminded of the miracle recorded in John 6:1-15 where Jesus takes what they have: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish” (John 6:9 NRSV), and makes it more than enough to fill the need. Here in John 21 God is going to take what is available, a band of fisherman, and use them to begin a movement that will change the world. Are you making yourself available to God, or are you making excuses to Him? Don’t worry if you not gifted like that wonderful Christian in the next pew. God will take what you have and make it more than enough. It’s a new morning, God will use what you make available to Him today.

12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast” (John 21:12 NRSV)

While there is so much to be done and so much to get doing, there is time to stop for meal. We sometimes hear loud and clear the call of Jesus to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19 NRSV). But we forget that he also said “Come and have breakfast.” Meals are wonderful things. Time to sit down without a goal to be accomplished, or a task to be done. Time to spend with loved ones. Time for nourishment for our bodies.  Are you taking time for meals? Are you resting? Are you having some downtime with your Christian family? Are you feeding on the Word of God? It’s a new morning. Stop fussing about and sit down for some breakfast!

October 30, 2014

You Are a Sheep-Feeder

So how many sheep could a sheep-keeper keep, if a sheep-keeper could keep sheep?

Of course the word is actually shepherd, and the line the way I originally wrote it a few years ago had to do with sheep-shearing. (Try saying it five times!) At any rate, it’s time for our weekly visit from pastor Clarke Dixon.  To read this at source, click on the title below.

Feed My Sheep! (John 21:15-19)

 

sheep in green pasture15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep (John 21:15-17 NRSV)

You may read the above passage and think: “I’m not Peter. I’m not a pastor. I’m not even a leader in our church, so why would this passage of scripture be important to me?” Here are three reasons.

1. All Christians need a dreadful reminder.

By the third time Peter is asked by Jesus “Do you love me?” he is frustrated and feeling hurt. The question is asked three times by a charcoal fire, not unlike the one by which Peter denied Jesus three times. It is a question designed to remind Peter that it was not that long ago that he was not acting like he loved Him. It is like Jesus is saying “are you really sure you love me? The way you acted back there would say otherwise.”

Here we do not have the “forgive and forget” that we might expect from Jesus. Instead we have “remind and forgive” which actually is much better. While “forgive and forget” might remove the penalty of our sin, “remind and forgive” removes the penalty of sin and spurs us on to remove the future potential of sin. Peter will go on to take care of the sheep, not just from a place of forgiveness, but also a place of repentance. The reminder of his offense is an invitation to do better. According to what we read in verses 18 and 19, Jesus knows that he will. Though you may not be Peter, or a pastor, or a leader, chances are good that you, like the rest of us, can truly benefit from our Lord’s “remind and forgive” approach.

2. All Christians want to express love for Jesus.

While we can and should express our love for Jesus through worship, prayer, and Bible study, we do well to remember what Jesus is asking of Peter: “If you truly love me Peter, you will take care of my sheep.” If we truly love Jesus, we will make His priorities, our priorities.

And His priority time and time again, and to the glory of God, is people. Jesus prayed in the Garden the night before his crucifixion “yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42 NRSV). And that will was to go through with the crucifixion, to bear sin of people. People are a priority for Jesus. We can commit ourselves to all manner of godly activities, but are we really about our Father’s will if people are not a huge part of our lives? You may not be Peter, or a pastor, or even a leader in your church, but if you really love Jesus, people will be a priority in your life.

3. All Christians have pastoral opportunities.

The word pastor comes from Latin where it means shepherd or feeder (Dictionary.com). Every Christian can think of people in their lives for whom they can be a shepherd.

There is a lot of emphasis these days within Christian circles on “leadership development.” That is good, yes, but sometimes I wonder if there are times we should use the word leader less often and use the word shepherd instead. Leaders get things done and that is good. But shepherds feed and tend the sheep and that is so important. Perhaps you do not feel like “leadership” material, but do you love and have concern for others? Then you are well on your way to being a shepherd. Whether you are a natural leader, or follower, watch for how the Lord calls and enables you through his Spirit to be shepherd to others. You may not be Peter, a pastor, or even a leader in your church, but are you developing a shepherd heart? Why not think and pray over who needs you to be, or better, for whom God is calling you to be, a shepherd.

“If you really love me, you will feed my sheep.” What a great insight for us all.

 

September 28, 2014

Apostle Peter Was One-of-a-Kind

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But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'”
 ~Mark 16:7

Tell the disciples and Peter? Why is Peter given separate treatment? Isn’t he a disciple? Did his denial make him an un-disciple?

…In a way, Peter always has special treatment in scripture. Even among The Twelve, he is unique…

…California pastor Greg Laurie contributes regularly to the WND (World Net Daily) website’s Faith section. Click the title below to read this at source, and find links to other columns and Greg’s books. (Yes, that’s the original title!)

How you’re like a Fender Stratocaster

Awhile ago I read about a Fender Stratocaster guitar that sold for nearly $1 million at a New York City auction. I don’t know how much this type of guitar would cost if you were to buy it at a guitar store, but I guarantee that you wouldn’t pay almost seven figures for it. The reason this particular guitar sold for nearly $1 million was because Bob Dylan played it at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island.

You Are UniqueAt the time, the folk music movement was all about acoustic guitar, and originally Dylan had started out playing an acoustic guitar. But at that festival he pulled out an electric Stratocaster and started playing, which was perceived by some as an act of treachery. Dylan’s guitar sold for such a high price because of its historical value.

Then I read another article about someone who paid $380,000 at a London auction for another Fender Stratocaster, but this one had been burned. Why would anyone pay $380,000 for a burned-out guitar? Because Jimi Hendrix had reportedly played it at the Monterey International Pop Festival and set fire to it during his performance.

You see, the value of a guitar depends on who plays it. If I played a Fender Stratocaster guitar, it would go down in value. But if Bob Dylan were to play one song on the same guitar, someone would pay a lot for the privilege of hanging it on his or her wall.

The same is true when God gets hold of a human life. When God works through a life, something wonderful happens. There probably was never a person with less potential to do anything for God than me. At the age of 17, I came to him with very little. Anything good that has come from my life has been something God has given and something God has done through me. It has been his blessing on my life.

Think about how different Jesus’ 12 disciples were from each other. There was Simon, a former zealot, who was dedicated to the violent overthrow of Rome. Then there was Matthew the tax collector, who was a Jew that worked for the Roman government and was perceived by his fellow Jews as a traitor. So Simon the zealot wanted to destroy Rome, and Matthew the tax collector was perceived as one who caved in to the power of Rome. They could not have been more opposite ideologically, philosophically and politically.

Then there was Simon Peter. Apart from Jesus himself, no name is mentioned more in the New Testament than Simon Peter. He was a central figure in Jesus’ three years of ministry and in the first three years of the early church. Jesus spent more time with Simon Peter than with anyone else. No other person speaks as often or is spoken to as often as Simon Peter, and no other disciple was as reproved and corrected as often as Simon Peter.

The thing with Simon Peter was that he said what he thought. You probably know people like that. They don’t know the difference between inside thoughts and outside thoughts. They verbalize everything. That was Simon Peter. If he was thinking it, it only would be a few moments until he was saying it. Of course, this got him into trouble on more than one occasion. For instance, when he was concerned about the reward he and his fellow disciples would get because they left all and followed Jesus, he did not hesitate to ask about it. We read of him saying to Christ, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (Matthew 19:27 NIV) That is a bold thing to say to Jesus: “We’ve given up everything. What’s in it for us?”

Then there was that famous occasion when Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration. Peter, James and John were there, and they all fell asleep. When they woke up, there was Jesus, shining like the sun. Two of the greatest prophets of the Bible stood on each side of him. Talk about a holy moment. But Peter decided it would be a good time to say a few words, so he actually spoke up and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Mark 9:5). There was Peter, speaking his mind. And I love how Mark’s Gospel adds this little commentary: “He said this because he didn’t really know what else to say” (verse 6 NLT).

We can laugh at what Peter did and be critical of what Peter said, but no other apostle tried to walk on water. He was a commendable man. He was a courageous man. And church tradition tells us that when it was all said and done, he died a cruel death. Before he was crucified, he is said to have been forced to watch the crucifixion of his wife. Peter stood at the foot of her cross and repeated the words, “Remember the Lord.” After she died, he pleaded to be crucified upside down because he felt that he was unworthy to die in the same way his Lord did. This was a hero of the faith.

And although his given name was Simon, Jesus gave him a new name: Cephas, or Peter, which means “rock.” I wonder if the other disciples chuckled a little at that. A rock speaks of stability and dependability, but Peter was a little on the impulsive side. Yet Jesus gave him a new name because he knew what Peter would become.

When God looks at you, he doesn’t see you for what you are; he sees you for what you will be. You might see a blank canvas, but God sees a finished painting. He sees what you can be.

We all have different personalities, but God can use each of us. He can change each of us and make us into the people he wants us to be. And God can do a lot with a little.

September 22, 2014

Peter’s Sensory Overload at the Transfiguration

(Mark 9, HCSB) 

The Transfiguration

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up on a high mountain by themselves to be alone. He was transformed in front of them, and His clothes became dazzling—extremely white as no launderer on earth could whiten them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.

Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good for us to be here! Let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”— because he did not know what he should say, since they were terrified.

A cloud appeared, overshadowing them, and a voice came from the cloud:

This is My beloved Son;
listen to Him!

Then suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus alone.

As they were coming down from the mountain, He ordered them to tell no one what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept this word to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.

11 Then they began to question Him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”

12 “Elijah does come first and restores everything,” He replied. “How then is it written about the Son of Man that He must suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 But I tell you that Elijah really has come, and they did whatever they pleased to him, just as it is written about him.”

I’m currently most of the way through Michael Card’s 2012 book on the gospel of Mark titled Mark: The Gospel of Passion (InterVarsity Press). The series of four books on each gospel is called Biblical Imagination, and he certainly brings that gift to this look at the transfiguration of Jesus in Mark chapter 9.


 

Of all Peter experienced with Jesus, the transfiguration is the only event he refers to in his writings.  He understood that he had witnessed a picture of the coming kingdom:

For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, a voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory:

This is My beloved Son.
I take delight in Him!

And we heard this voice when it came from heaven while we were with Him on the holy mountain.  (2 Pet 1:17-18)

It is absolutely vital to understand that the transfiguration took place after Peter’s confession.  It was not proof of Jesus identity.  Petr and the others had begun to grasp the truth the only way it can be grasped:  by faith.

After the four have made their way up the unidentified mountain, we are told with typical Markan abruptness that Jesus was “transfigured” (metamorphoo).  Paul uses the same word twice in his writings to describe the process by which the Holy Spirit works in us to transform and renew our minds (Rom 12:2; 2 Cor 3:18).  Strictly speaking, Jesus is not transformed but transfigured.  A veil is momentarily lifted and the three disciples see who Jesus has been all along.  It is a continuation of the progressive opening of their eyes.

Michael Card - Biblical Imagination Series - IVPPeter’s somewhat homespun description, that Jesus’ clothes appeared whiter than any launderer could wash them, appears only in Mark’s account.  With Jesus in the brilliant light appear Moses and Elijah, the only two prophets who ascended Sinai and met with God (Ex 19:1-3; 1 Kings 19:8-18 – Sinai is referred to as “Horeb” in the 1 Kings passage).  The two patriarchs represent the Law and the Prophets.  They represent all those who have suffered because of their obedience to the Father.  They represent the two categories of citizens of the kingdom of God:  those who die and those who will be taken up before they die.  Moses and Elijah are talking with Jesus.  Only Luke hints at the content of their conversation.  He says they are talking about Jesus’ death (Lk 9:31).

Only Peter speaks.  This account is his remembrance.  In order to best understand this moment, we must remember the context.  Mark says the disciples are terrified.  Panic is behind each of Peter’s confused words.  His statement is better understood as a question:  “Rabbi, is it good for us to be here?”  As far as Peter is concerned, it is not a good thing for him to be there.  If this radiance is the light of God’s glory, he thinks he is about to taste the death Jesus has spoken of in Mark 9:1 (see Ex 33:20).  Perhaps he thinks this is the final coming itself.

Engage with your imagination for a moment.  Here is an observant Jewish man facing Moses and Elijah, bathed in a radiant light that all his life he has been told will kill him.  Perhaps he is dying.  Perhaps the kingdom is breaking in at that very moment!  The parenthetical statement in Mark 9:6, that Peter did not know what to say, is a sure indication that what he does eventually say will be the wrong thing.

Peter asks if they might erect three “tabernacles” (Mk 9:5).  The Greek word, which appears in all three accounts of the transfiguration, is skene.  It simply means “tent” and is sometimes translated as “shelter.”  Might Peter in his moment of terror have been asking to build tents for the three luminous characters in order that he and his companions be “sheltered” from their potentially lethal light?  It does not make perfect sense, but Peter confesses that he might not have been making perfect sense at the moment.  The context is Sinai, terror, impending doom and radiant splendor.

Peter needn’t have worried about shelter.  At that moment God shelters them all with a cloud, and the same voice that echoed at Sinai speaks the words both Peter and Jesus need to hear.  The progressive opening of Peter’s eyes and ears leaps ahead light years as God’s voice identifies Jesus as his “beloved Son.”  Then God, perhaps as frustrated with the disciples as Jesus has been, urges, “Listen to him!” (Mk 9:7).

~Michael Card; Mark: The Gospel of Passion; pp 115-117; IVP Books

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