Christianity 201

January 14, 2023

The Sacrifice God Did, and Didn’t Require

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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“Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.” – Genesis 2:22 NLT

And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. – Genesis 2:28 KJV


Then Samuel said: Does the LORD take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? Look: to obey is better than sacrifice, to pay attention is better than the fat of rams. – 1 Samuel 15:22 CSB

Today we’re again drawing from the inspiration of Pastor Kevin Rogers, who writes at The Orphan Age. Click the title below to read where this first appeared earlier this week.

God Pays The Impossible Price

When Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his only son Isaac, we see a man that was following God without the advantage of the Scriptures. The nation of Israel was part of a dream that was birthed in Abraham but certainly undefined.

All he knew was that God had called him to leave his homeland and journey into the unknown where he would be blessed with more descendants than he could imagine. In fact, the story was so big that Abraham had to learn to trust the voice of God without much supporting evidence.

Child sacrifice was common practice and Abraham would certainly have a context of understanding this as a way to keep a god satisfied. It was not as far-fetched as we moderns might think.

But God took what everyone thought of as a way to please their god and set a new standard. Abraham had faith in this invisible voice that he was following and had already seen God’s power demonstrated in miraculous ways, including Isaac being born to his barren and old wife Sarah.

When Isaac unknowingly asks where the sacrifice was, Abraham replies that God will provide the sacrifice. Abraham is walking in dread and thinking about how he is going to have to kill Isaac, but he still has enough faith to believe that God is involved in this.

Was the birth of the promised son the sacrifice that God had provided? I would not want to have to think through this like Abraham did. I believe he was prepared to go all the way, and God wanted Abraham to process it fully. Was God just like the other gods or was he different somehow?

And then in the final moment, a ram is caught in the bushes and God shows Abraham that pleasing God did not require the most extreme sacrifice that a man can make. That which pleases God is restoring the broken relationship and lowering the price on what is required of us. God provides payment for the impossible price.

It was Abraham’s obedience that was being challenged, and the sacrificial ram becomes an act of gratitude and worship for God’s good nature. Abraham did not need to live under the standard of child sacrifice because it was not what God wanted. God wanted his love, not his sacrifice.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. – I Corinthians 13:3

December 25, 2022

After a Time of Silence, A Prophet Speaks

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Whether you prefer to think of the time leading up to John the Baptist as a period of absolute silence, or a period of relative silence, there is a ‘calm before the storm’ that ends when the prophet John announces the coming of the Messiah, and the day after directly points him out.

NIV.John.1.26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” …

…29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

But there’s a small microcosm of the time of silence vs. speaking when John’s father, Zechariah, goes mute for a period of several months, culminating in the naming of John. In December, 2019, Clarke Dixon wrote, “We might expect Zechariah to gush over this new baby boy, and he does gush, but not over his own child. He gushes over someone else’s, a child yet to be born.” These are his words:

NIV.Luke1.67b “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
71 salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
72 to show mercy to our ancestors
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation
    through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
    by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

This passage is often skipped over in our reading — some people just want to cut to chapter two, the birth of Jesus — and several times I’ve shown it to people without the chapter of verse references to see if they can guess what’s being cited. Try it some time, the answers you get are often interesting.

For me, the distillation of the gospel in this passage is clearest in verses 69 and 70

He has sent us a mighty Savior
from the royal line of his servant David,
 just as he promised
through his holy prophets long ago. (NLT)

The writer of Hebrews mentions the prophetic line as well:

The Message.Hebrews.1.1-3 Going through a long line of prophets, God has been addressing our ancestors in different ways for centuries. Recently he spoke to us directly through his Son. By his Son, God created the world in the beginning, and it will all belong to the Son at the end. This Son perfectly mirrors God, and is stamped with God’s nature. He holds everything together by what he says—powerful words! 4 After he finished the sacrifice for sins, the Son took his honored place high in the heavens right alongside God, far higher than any angel in rank and rule.

The wording of verse 4 is similar to one of my favorite scriptures, Hebrews 10: 11 and 12.

CSB.Hebrews.10.11-12 Every priest goes to work at the altar each day, offers the same old sacrifices year in, year out, and never makes a dent in the sin problem. As a priest, Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it! Then he sat down right beside God and waited for his enemies to cave in.

My point is that you don’t have the incarnation of Christ without a look forward to the atoning work of Christ that in our church calendar, we observe just a few months later.

I can’t think of these passages without leaving you with another of my favorites, also about the “fullness of time” when the Messiah appeared, from Titus:

NASB.Titus.3.4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior…

This is the message of Christmas, and of the gospel.

 

 

October 31, 2022

Desperate for the Gospel

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Through a roundabout series of adventures, I was directed this morning to a currently inactive blog site, Deny Yourself Daily, where this was written by Susan Yenser. I knew it was meant to be shared here.

CEB.Rom.7.21 So I find that, as a rule, when I want to do what is good, evil is right there with me. 22 I gladly agree with the Law on the inside, 23 but I see a different law at work in my body. It wages a war against the law of my mind and takes me prisoner with the law of sin that is in my body. 24 I’m a miserable human being. Who will deliver me from this dead corpse?

I Need the Gospel

There is nothing more terrifying in all of my imagination than being left to my flesh, to my natural self. The thought of the Lord turning me over to the sin that so deeply burns within me is the most disgusting, most disturbing thought I ever can imagine. And yet the Lord has every right to. He has no reason to save me from the depths of depravity that is called Susan Yenser. None. I deserve to be left in my sin to die and be punished eternally for my wicked heart that is set in enmity towards God and towards my neighbor. I fail so miserably in fulfilling the law. I don’t love God with all my heart, soul, and mind, and I don’t love my neighbor as myself.

The only time I remotely show progress in doing so, it is Christ doing it through me. Not very often does the Lord show us the true depths of our own sin. But woe be to the one whom He does. Every ounce of my being is tainted with the fall and with the inclination to dishonor my Lord. The reality of Romans 7 has me turning the very same direction that it had Paul and that is to cry out WHO CAN SAVE ME FROM THIS? Who can I turn to that will take me out of this miserable state of flailing around in sin and lawlessness even when the spirit in me does not want to?

Thanks be to Jesus Christ, my Lord, who can deliver me from this body of death! The moments when all of Christ’s love and grace and mercy seem to have been removed from you so that you can sit and burn a little in the sting of your own sin, to a Christian, is it not the most terrifying of states? To see sin and to know that you cannot fight it on your own strength, is there any more frustrating of a position? It certainly doesn’t feel like it. It certainly feels like the most hopeless of all situations. To be left to myself in my sins, oh Lord, I can think of nothing worse.

My words only fail me at this point. They don’t do this topic justice. I must turn outside of myself. I, like Paul, do not cry out to myself for the remedy. I must cry out to the only, perfect, redeeming Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fulfilled the Law. He has done it for me. If it wasn’t for His righteousness I would be the savage that my heart was enslaved to be. Even when the Lord lets me feel those chains of slavery that were mine, may it not let me lose heart. Though it may for the moment, may it never keep me so down that I forget to look back up to the righteousness of my Lord that has saved me from myself and from Himself and His wrath.

Don’t give me your bankrupt preaching. Don’t give me a gospel that points me to myself. Don’t even give me a gospel that points me somewhat to myself and somewhat to Christ. It makes me want to vomit right now just thinking about it. Yes, the taste of sin in my mouth and the thought of being preached a watered down message that is pseudo-orthodox mixed in with the latest celebrity pastor’s own thoughts and reason literally makes my stomach turn with nausea. The thought that you would even try to give me more law on top of sincere disgust for the sin within myself, makes me feel hopeless.

Don’t give me the message that “God smiles when you be you.” In this state of hatred for the burning of the sin that seems to be hijacking my body and ruining my soul, DO NOT tell me that God is giving me a mulligan to re-do my life. A second chance. Don’t you see??? With this sin that is festering…I will only make it worse the second time around! I need a Savior! I need someone who did it FOR ME in my place while I sit here hopeless and unable to even move right or left without a sinful thought or deed. I need a message that will make me fall down on my face. One that will make me fight like hell. One that rages war on this sin within me and conquers it, not because of my actions, but because of the actions of Another.

I am a Christian and I need the Gospel. So much so that right now it seems so desperate as if I could not breathe another breath without it.

October 5, 2022

Jesus is Very Near

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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CEB.Rom.5.1. Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

NLT.Col.1.20 and through him God reconciled
    everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
    by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

NKJV.Acts.2.38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

NIV.Heb.2.18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

NRSVue.1John.5.4 for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.

Once again today, a new devotional source to introduce to you, The Preacher’s Blog, which is one part of the website of Eastside Church of Christ in Morganton, Georgia. Clicking the title which follows will take you to where this first appeared. Because this article is based on an old gospel song, I’ve included it as well at the end. (Some of the referenced scriptures are cited above; you’re encouraged to look up the rest.) The author is pastor Robby Eversole.

Burdens Are Lifted At Calvary

“Days are filled with sorrow and care;
Hearts are lonely and drear.
Burdens are lifted at Calvary;
Jesus is very near”
– John M. Moore, 1952.

Calvary is the most pitiful, painful, prolific and powerful place on earth. No other place on this terrestrial ball comes close to the impact on history and humanity than “the place of the skull.” Places like Pearl Harbor, Normandy, and New York hold immense value in remembrance within the hearts and fibers of millions because of the awful things that transpired there. These places are forever etched into the lives of many because of the steep price that was paid. But, add them all up, they fall far short of Calvary.

Life here on earth is difficult. The devil is daily on the grind, grinding at the lives of men doing everything within his power to make one fall. Nothing makes the devil happier than successfully causing doubt or disgust within the hearts of the saints. See, children of God enjoy something the devil can never have… “Peace with God” (Romans 5:1).

It is through the blood of the cross of Jesus that peace is realized (Colossians 1:20). The heaviest burden man would ever bear is the burden of sin (Matthew 11:28; Romans 3:10, 23; 6:23). Jesus, at Calvary, lifted the burden of sin for the whole world (Hebrews 2:9; John 3:16). And while men “struggle through life with worry and strife, I’ve a glorious hope to give cheer on the way” (Noah White, Paradise Valley). Jesus offers reprieve from the chaos. While the days are evil- Jesus offers himself to guide through the valleys of life. While the seas are rough, Jesus offers to walk upon the waves of our troubles to offer a calming word, “Peace be still.” Those “waves” which trouble life are already under the feet of Jesus, and in the midst of the storm, Jesus is very near.

There are three distinct places this author wants to bring to your remembrance about the burdens that Calvary lifts. The past burdens, the present burdens, and the future burdens.

First, Calvary takes care of the past. When Jesus went to the cross of Calvary, He did so to offer men remission from their past sins (Acts 2:38; Hebrews 8:12). When a subject made whole by Christ comes up out of the watery grave of baptism, the old man with all the sins are done away (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12-13). The burden of the past is erased and forgotten and Jesus is very near.

Second, Calvary takes care of the present. In the giving of the great commission, Jesus said, “Lo, I will be with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20b). Jesus is very active on behalf of His brethren presently (Romans 8:34; Acts 7:56). As men walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Jesus is with them (Psalm 23:4). Jesus walks with men through their struggles, and He identifies with those struggles (Hebrews 2:18). Calvary takes the present struggles and gives them perspective and power to persevere. Jesus is very near.

Third, Calvary takes care of the future. Jesus, at Calvary, is able to take the Christian struggles and turn them in to the “Glory Land Way.” No matter what is manifested in the present, the faithful know because of Jesus, the victory is won (1 John 5:4). Thus, the wonderful anthem pierces the airwaves around the meeting places of the saved, “Oh, Victory! In Jesus, my Savior forever.” No matter how sore the trial here, the Christian knows, “I’ve a home prepared where the saints abide, just over in the glory land.” This reality demands that each of Gods children march onward into battle with confidence toward God (2 Corinthians 3:4; 1 John 3:21). Jesus paved the way and spoiled the ending! Now, saints know that God holds the future in His hands. Thus, the future burdens are lifted at Calvary. Jesus is very near.

These old songs should “rev the motor” of every saint as they ponder the teachings. The Christian really is never alone and never left to bear a load they cannot take. Praise God for His Son, and the “great love wherewith He loved us” (Ephesians 2:4).

Jesus is very near, and the Father is too (Acts 17:27).


 

 

 

 

October 1, 2022

Christians Giving Birth to Other Christians

alternative title: A Call to Reproduce

NIV Luke 15:7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

This is the verse that is indirectly responsible for the phrase:

“All the angels in heaven rejoice when there’s a soul saved.”

That particular phrase does not appear in scripture.

The principle does appear in scripture.

According to what I’ve heard from a significant number of missionaries, the reality of life on the mission field can be a slow, plodding process. Kyle Idleman, in his most recent book One at at Time points out that despite the scenes of Jesus with the crowds, there are an equal (if not more) number of scenes where he ministered to one person at a time.

And we certainly don’t hear reports of mass conversions.  Years ago a controversial pastor reported over 1,250 people saved in a single weekend, but even if this statistic were exaggerated by a factor of ten, this would still be reason to rejoice.

Meet your new brothers and sisters.

A Christian news story ten years ago told of 11,000 people — out of a crowd of 650,000 — were saved at a two day Evangelistic rally in the northwest of Brazil, conducted by a well-known televangelist there who most of us have never of heard before. Again, a rather round number; but why doubt that something extraordinary happened?

11,000! The Christian world should stop and party.

To those newest members of the faith family, our response should always be: Welcome!

I once heard someone say that each Christ followers should — at the very, very least — ‘reproduce themselves’ spiritually by leading one person to Christ in their lifetime.

Have you led someone to Christ? I know at this point many will want to cite this verse:

NIV I Cor. 3:6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.

This verse is used to justify the idea that some people plant seeds while others are ‘harvesters;’ the people who get down to asking the question that brings someone to a point of decision. In many cases that’s how it works. But I think this dodges responsibility and makes bringing someone to faith someone else’s job.

At the end of the day, the end of the month, the end of a life; we are being changed through Word and sacrament and encounter with the risen Christ.

It does not stop there however; we are changed to bring change to the lives of others. We’re part of a “thread of grace,” or what others call a “chain of grace.” It begins in our own lives with “taste and see” and it continues with “go and tell.”

If you haven’t had the joy of being in the spiritual delivery room — of witnessing a new birth take place — let me challenge you. Not 11,000 people, not 1,250… one person… and here’s the extra impetus: Before this year is through.

… This is a song by Aaron Niequist that I’ve shared here a few times at C201. We have been changed to bring change.

In Jesus’ name I’ve been changed, I’ve been filled,
I’ve been found, I’ve been freed, I’ve been saved!
In Jesus’ blood I’ve been loved, I’ve been cleansed,
And redeemed, and released, rearranged

But how can I show You that I’m grateful?
You’ve been so generous to me.
How can I worship more than singing?
And live out Redemption’s melody.

I have been blessed – now I want to be a blessing
I have been loved – now I want to bring love
I’ve been invited – I want to share the invitation
I have been changed – to bring change, to bring change

In Jesus’ name we are changed, we are called,
We are chosen, adopted, and named!
In Jesus’ blood we are loved, we are healed,
We’re forgiven and free of our shame!

We want to show You that we’re thankful
Flooding Your world with hope and peace
Help us to worship more than singing
Giving Redemption hands and feet

We have been blessed – now we’re going to be a blessing
We have been loved – now we’re going to bring love
We’ve been invited – we’re going to share the invitation
We have been changed – to bring change, to bring change
We have been changed – to bring change, to bring change

Thank You for this new life, thank You for the invitation!
God, we want to live it loud enough to shake the nations in Your name!

We have been saved – we’re going to shout about the Savior
We have been found – we’re going to turn over every stone
We’ve been empowered – to love the world to Heaven
We have been changed – to bring change, to bring change
We have been changed – to bring change, to bring change
We have been changed – to bring change, to bring change

September 19, 2022

Legalism Leads with the Law, Rather Than the Gospel

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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We’re back for a third time with author K.K. Hodge, who writes devotions at Inspirations from the Funny Farm and you can read this one at source by clicking the title which follows.

Legalism vs. Grace

Galations 2:16-21 (NLT) Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law. But suppose we seek to be made right with God through faith in Christ and then we are found guilty because we have abandoned the law.

Would that mean Christ has led us into sin? Absolutely not! Rather, I am a sinner if I rebuild the old system of law I already tore down. For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.

My daddy is a wonderful Christian man. We know that there was only one perfect Man who walked this earth, and His name was Jesus. Daddy isn’t perfect, but I know that my daddy has been made right through the blood of Jesus Christ. He loves to tell others about Christ. He helped to build the foundation for me to become the believer that I am today, and I want to be a witness like he is to others. He told me once that his goal is to share the plan of salvation with someone at least once every single day. When he told me that, I thought, “Wow, I want to be just like him!”

I remember a situation a couple of years ago in which a pastor caused my daddy to have a bit of a spiritual battle, and it had to do with legalism. I’m not a pastor. I don’t have a theological degree. I’m just a nurse practitioner and a farmer who has a heart for Christ and for sharing His word with others, but it is my opinion from studying God’s word that grace defeats legalism every time!

My daddy was raised in a Landmark Missionary Baptist Church. Actually, the church formed in my grandparents’, his parents’, home. They were charter members. It is still a wonderful church, and we have visited from time to time. They preach the word, no doubt. As young children, we attended a Southern Baptist Church, and in our teen years, we attended another Missionary Baptist Church. We were fed the gospel at both churches. I loved both churches. I grew in my faith at both churches. The church ordinances may have differed, but the fact remains that the gospel was being preached at both churches.

Did difference in ordinances make one church wrong and one church right? I’m not here to determine that. My belief is that if a pastor/preacher is preaching and teaching the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ, then that church is doing the right thing. How do we determine that the truth is being preached? Well, we have to study the word of God ourselves.

Back to my story, this man told Daddy that the women at the church Daddy attends wear lipstick, cut their hair, wear pants, and sometimes even wear shorts, and therefore, it is wrong for him to attend that church. Y’all don’t pull out your stones or torches just yet, but I’m going to tell you about me. This girl right here wears lipstick, cuts her hair, wears pants, and yes, on a hot summer day in south Mississippi, this girl even wears shorts! BUT, BIG BUT, not little but, this girl also loves Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior more than anything else in this world. Am I going to die and go to hell because “the rules” of my church are different than “the rules” of another church? I must answer emphatically–NO! I know that my eternal home is in heaven. There is not even a shadow of a doubt in my mind!

I prayed a lot before I wrote this today. I don’t want anyone to think that I am making light of the choice of church in which one chooses to be a member. I merely want to point out that Baptists won’t be the only ones in heaven, y’all. There will be Baptists, Methodists, Non-denominationals, and Pentecostals there too (to name a few)! God isn’t going to just call one church home. He is going to call THE CHURCH. You don’t get to heaven by attending a certain church on Sunday and following the ordinances of that church. You get to heaven by placing faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. It’s a free gift of grace that was given to each of us when His blood poured out on the cross.

Legalism leads with the law rather than the gospel. The gospel stands on it’s own. It doesn’t need any help from us to give it strength. Paul reminds us of this in Ephesians 2:8-9 , “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” We can’t work our way into heaven, but we work for the gospel and Christ because of the gracious gift of salvation.

But if works are taking the lead over the gospel of Jesus Christ, this is legalism. It’s human nature to distort the glorious truths of God, and I think we have all been guilty of trying to misuse that free gift of grace. God has given us all that we need for godliness. We desire to live for Christ, and we have deep convictions that the sins in our life dishonor God. But sometimes, in the midst of our pursuit for godliness, we forget that it is only by the grace of God that we can live for Him. Unfortunately, we sometimes tend to forget that any and all godliness comes from the Father. We become all puffed up and start projecting our standards on others. We soon begin to judge people and pressure them to conform to our “God lifestyle.” We forget about the principles that the word of God reveal to us, and we teach our own preferences and practices of the law.

In Galatians 2, Paul brought up an example of when Peter went to Antioch. When Peter first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians who were not circumcised. But later on, when some of the friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles any longer. He was afraid of the criticism that he would receive because the other people insisted on the necessity of circumcision.

Paul later says, “Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.” Those uncircumcised believers were believers too, and they have receive the gracious gift of salvation and eternal life just like their fellow circumcised believers.

We have to learn to balance the reality that our faith is through grace alone and by faith alone. We are called to glorify God, and we are called to follow His word. Grace teaches us to separate ourselves from cultural sin, but it never teaches us to use ourselves as the standard for grace. We must look to Christ as the standard, not ourselves! The important questions to ask yourself are, “Have I received the gift of salvation? Am I a child of God?”

If you know that the answer is yes, then you know. We aren’t perfect. We are perfectly imperfect children of a perfect God, and it is through Him that we are made right. We can’t do this thing called life on our own accord, but with God we can. We were created to glorify God. If what you are doing is sharing the gospel and bringing honor and glory to our Father, then keep on doing that! That is His desire for each of us. I leave you with this a word from 2 Corinthians 12:9 that assures us, ““Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” Alone, we are weak, but the power of the Father works best in our weakness.

His grace is all we need!

 

September 18, 2022

Our Faithfulness vs. God’s Faithfulness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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When I ramble on about how we’ve been producing fresh devotional content here every day since April 1st, 2010, it’s humbling to realize that Elsie Montgomery has us beat by over four years! She started in January, 2006. It’s no surprise then that she is one of the longest-running and most-quoted devotional writers here at C201. Her website is Practical Faith.

Speaking of faithfulness, God is faithful to “forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness;” which is her theme today. Click the title which follows to read this at source.

God’s faithfulness

READ Psalm 51–55

Yesterday I discovered a forgotten file while purging my computer. It lists the contrasting behavior of a person filled with the Holy Spirit and a person filled with himself. Anyone who seriously follows the Lord Jesus Christ realizes this is not an either/or but a both/and description. Christians still sin. We are growing in grace and more able to overcome our bad attitudes and actions, but the learning curve remains — and that list was convicting.

King David knew this. He was called “a man after God’s own heart” yet one day stayed home instead of going to war with his army. He was up on his rooftop and saw a beautiful woman bathing on her rooftop. Most of us know the story. He not only took her, made her pregnant, but had her husband killed to cover what he had done. I could say that most Christians would not go that far, but I’d likely be wrong. Besides, sin is sin, regardless of its extent or who it harms.

David was confronted by a prophet and deeply convicted. He pleaded with God for mercy, forgiveness and cleansing:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart . . . . Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me . . . . Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. (Psalm 51:1–13)

Last Sunday our pastor said that one thing that keeps people from fellowship with other Christians is holding the standards higher than the reality. In other words, don’t expect perfection from others when the Bible clearly says God’s people need to keep confessing our sin. Sinless perfection belongs to Jesus Christ and while we are being transformed into His likeness, none of us will get there this side of heaven. In other words, don’t be disappointed at anyone’s imperfections!

As I read that list, whoever wrote it knew another truth and included this in the ‘good’ list: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (51:17)

The contrast on other side of the page said this, condensed yet plainly the opposite:

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good. God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. (53:1–3)

That is, being a person devoted to God, I must be able to see and confess sin in humility and repentance. The following verse from the psalms is another way of saying the same truth in the next verse from the NT. Both are vital to spiritual growth and well-being, and both honor God and His grace and goodness:

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. (55:22)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Sometimes I pop into the selfish side of the list, yet God is faithful. It might take me awhile to ‘get it’ but when that sin is confessed, He is faithful to do His saving work and sustain me as His child. This promise is the wonder of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

 

August 9, 2022

How Do We Get People to See God’s Love?

Today we’re back again at the site A Simple Christian. The author is unnamed, but is a pastor at Concordia Lutheran Church in Cerritos. Ca. Even there, I exhausted some time looking for his name on the website. You have to respect that level of humility in a world where some pastors have their pictures so prominent.

You may click the title below to read where we located it. The format of A Simple Question presents quotations that are not annotated until the endnotes. I was going to exercise some editorial liberty and provide the sources within the body of the article, but I decided it was done for reasons of flow, and used footnotes instead.

Do We Dare Ask This Question?

Thoughts which draw (or drag me) to Jesus… and His cross:

1  “Look at my servant, whom I strengthen. He is my chosen one, who pleases me. I have put my Spirit upon him. He will bring justice to the nations. 2  He will not shout or raise his voice in public. 3  He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. He will bring justice to all who have been wronged. 4  He will not falter or lose heart until justice prevails throughout the earth. Even distant lands beyond the sea will wait for his instruction.” Isaiah 42:1-4 (NLT2)

How does this come to pass? Surely, it comes to pass when you hear that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, has by his most holy touch consecrated and hallowed all sufferings, even death itself, has blessed the curse, and has glorified shame and enriched poverty so that death is now a door to life, the curse a fount of blessing, and shame the mother of glory. How, then, can you be so hardhearted and ungrateful as not to long for and love all manner of sufferings now that these have been touched and bathed by Christ’s pure and holy flesh and blood and thus have become holy, harmless, wholesome, blessed, and full of joy for you? 1

Oh, how can we get men and women around us to realize that God Almighty, before the beginning of the world, loved them, and thought about them, planning redemption and salvation and forgiveness? 2

When divine love overflows from the interior life of the Trinity into our hearts, it immediately confronts our false selves, and we experience conflict. A struggle arises between this pure goodness—sheer giving—and the ingrained possessiveness, aggressiveness, and self-seeking which are so characteristic of us in our present condition. Thus, at the very heart of life is the challenge of sacrifice; of dying to our present condition in order to move to a higher level of life. This can only happen by letting go of the false self. Suffering and death are not enemies, but doors leading to new levels of knowledge and of love. 3

Tozer’s question (second quotation) annoys me.

Primarily because the church today, including me and mine, does not ask it enough. There are days I am not sure we care enough to ask it.

We need to ask it—and we need to find the answer.

My thought is that we need to find the answer first. We see signs of it in both Luther’s and Keating’s writings from my devotions this morning. They both talk about the impact of Christ’s presence and love in our lives. That as Jesus touches our wounds, our brokenness, they take on the same rich holiness that His wounds did on the cross, and at the resurrection.

And seeing His glory all of life and even those pains and torments become blessings.

For through them, we reach out to Him in our despair, and He lifts us up, and heals us. They become contacts points for His knowing His presence, for we don’t look for it at other times. This allows us to sacrifice our pain, our resentment, our thirst for justice, all that which feeds our basic desires for self-preservation.

The freedom that follows is that which Isaiah prophesied would happen because of God’s chosen Servant, whom we know is Jesus. That prophesy’s subject is what Tozer wants to know how to communicate.

I think the only way is to make the church so aware of what it has… for a church that knows God thinks about them, cares for them and loves them.

If we know that, we can’t stop talking about Him, trying to help others receive the blessings of seeing His presence revealed to them.


1 Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 141–142.

2 A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).

3 Thomas Keating, The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings, ed. S. Stephanie Iachetta (New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2009), 218.

July 25, 2022

More Than a Line Sung at Christmas

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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This is our fourth visit with the writing of Jake Hunt at his blog Wiser Time. Though the blog is currently dormant, we thought this devotional study was absolutely perfect for what readers here expect. Jake writes from Prague in the Czech Republic.

Don’t rush this one. There is a lot of value in what’s written here, but you might need to go a little slower (as is often the case when reading Hebrews.)

Born to raise the sons of earth

At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:8-9)

…Humanity is capable of incredible things. Of course, we’re capable of terrible things too. “Heaven have mercy on us all– Presbyterians and pagans alike– for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.”

Since the Garden, this is what it means to be human. We bear the image of God, every single one of us. And yet, we also bear the unmistakable marks of sin and disease and death. So much potential for good, so much depravity. Not in different types of people, but in each one of us.

Hebrews 2 is at points a little tricky, because it’s not always clear who the pronouns are about. The author quotes Psalm 8, which praises God’s work in creation and marvels at the privileged place mankind has at its apex, and then by verse 9 we’re clearly talking about Jesus. Between the two, it’s a little unclear. “He [God?] left nothing outside his [man’s? Jesus’?] control.” “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to [man? Jesus?].”

The answer, I suggest (following smarter people), is to see the significance of Jesus as the second Adam, the true representative Man. As I said yesterday, he became human in order to experience everything we experience. But in becoming human, he also suffered what he did, and accomplished what he did, for us. He redeems our humanity, raises us back to our proper place. “In him the tribes of Adam boast / More blessings than their father lost.”

The consummation of our redemption is not yet complete. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to mankind. The earth still bears thistles and thorns. Vaccines are still needed because disease is still present. “Man, at war with man, hears not / the love song which they bring.”

Yet what do we see? We see Jesus, the True Man, the representative Man, the second Adam, who reinstates us in our Father’s love, who shows us what it means to be truly human, who gives his Spirit to perfect us more and more in his image. This is what Advent tells us: He came to redeem our fallen humanity, by taking it upon himself. He has redeemed us, he is redeeming us, and as we look to the second Advent, we know that he will redeem us.

He is “born to raise the sons of earth,” that we may become once more the sons of God as he intended. Because he is crowned with glory and honor, we will rule over the beautiful renewed creation as we were made to do. “We know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

 

July 19, 2022

Our Passport was Issued in Heaven

A year ago we introduced you to Nathan Nass who writes at Upside-Down Savior. Nathan and is a Lutheran Pastor in Oklahoma. We have two devotionals for you from Nathan, both based on the same chapter in Philippians. Clicking the title for each will take you to where they first appeared.

Our Citizenship Is in Heaven

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:18-20)

You’re an alien. Did you know that? It’s true, as long as you’re a Christian. The Bible from beginning to end reminds God’s people over and over again that we are aliens and strangers on earth. This isn’t our permanent home. Our true home—our true citizenship—is in heaven.

We need that reminder often, especially if we’re proud of the earthly country we live in. I thank God for the blessing of being an American. Many other people dream of American citizenship but don’t have that option or opportunity. That makes it tempting to base our identity on the country that we’re from.

Too many people live that way. Too many people live as if this world is all there is. Too many people live as if this life is all there is. Their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” When you forget your heavenly citizenship, you naturally focus your attention on the pleasures and desires of this world. That’s okay, isn’t it? No! “Their destiny is destruction!” If we think this world is our home, we miss the whole message of Christianity, and we’re on the highway to hell.

But you’re an alien, remember? But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” When you believe in Jesus, your passport changes. Our citizenship is in heaven! If that’s the case, then it only makes sense that our hope is in heaven too. Our Savior isn’t a certain president or political party. It’s our Lord Jesus Christ! Don’t look to Washington for solutions to life’s troubles. Look up. To the cross of Jesus. To heaven. That’s your home.

So don’t let your stomach become your god. Don’t set your mind on earthly things, and watch out for those who do. Don’t set your heart on building an earthly country. Our citizenship is in heaven.

Dear Lord God, by your grace, you call me a citizen of heaven. How could I ever deserve that? Thank you for sending Jesus to open up eternal life to me. Help me to live each day as a citizen of heaven. Amen.

The Goal

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:10-12)

What’s your goal in life? What’s the burning desire that you want to be fulfilled more than anything else? It is success on the athletic field? A job title? A certain dollar amount? ____ kids? Whether you know it or not, that goal is reflected in your priorities and in how you spend your time and money.

Here was Paul’s goal: “I want to know Christ.” That sounds pretty simplistic, doesn’t it? Don’t you want to say to Paul: “All you want is to know Christ? Is that it? Don’t you know Jesus already?”

And Paul would say, “I want to know Christ so, so, so much more. To know how much he suffered for me to save me from my sins. To know the power of his resurrection and the eternal life it brings. To know the purpose God laid out for me even before the beginning of the world. To know the glory of heaven that awaits all who trust in Jesus. I want to know Christ and his resurrection so, so, so much more!”

Can I be honest? I don’t think that’s our goal. Just look at the way that you and your family spend your time. Is your schedule filled with “knowing Christ?” How about your thoughts? Think about all the ideas and daydreams that pass through your mind each day. How many of those thoughts are focused on Christ? I’m afraid we sinfully put “knowing Christ” way down at the bottom of our lists of goals.

But not Jesus. He didn’t put you at the bottom of his list. You are his goal! Jesus suffered and died and rose to win you back to God. Through his Word, Jesus has taken hold of you and made you the child of God. Right now, Jesus is in heaven preparing a room for you and me. What goal could possibly be better than this: To know Christ and his resurrection? To know Christ, even as we are fully known by him.

Dear Jesus, you know me and everything about me. Yet, even with all my sins, you came and died and rose to save me. Thanks for your love! Make it my desire to know you and your amazing grace. Amen.

June 17, 2022

Christ’s Sufferings Were for the Benefit of Others

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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A year ago we introduced you to Esau Moraes, a Brazilian currently who has served with Youth With A Mission. He writes in Portuguese and then produces an English translation of each devotional. Click the header which follows to see where this first appeared, and if you have friends who speak Portuguese, tell them about his website.

[For this devotional in Portuguese, click here.]

Stand Firm!

Longsuffering.

According to the dictionary, it is the virtue of firmly supporting setbacks for the benefit of others. Patience and resignation with which the difficulties of life are endured.

The Bible narrates, in Luke 23, the painful process of condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus. He was falsely accused, ridiculed, mocked, punished, surrendered to the will of men, insulted, and finally executed.

It is impressive, however, the longsuffering with which Christ endured all these sufferings. Being innocent, he patiently went through each stage with firmness for the benefit of others. And who were these others? You and I!

I wonder where Jesus got the strength to endure such adversity. I find the answer in the very words of the crucified Christ.

When they came to the place called Skull, there they crucified him with the criminals, one on his right hand and the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:33,34)

In the hour of agony, Jesus cried out to the Father to forgive His executors. And the same He did in His last breath on the cross, when He no longer had human strength.

Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”. When he had said this, he expired. (Luke 23:46)

Until the last moment, we see Christ turning to the Father. What, then, will be our response to the setbacks and difficulties of life?

I invite you today to look to the example of Jesus and cry out to the Father to love and forgive those who have hurt you; to overcome the challenges in your marriage; to pursue that job that seems to require more than you are able to do.

In the midst of hardship, stand firm! Exercise longsuffering, which is also part of the fruit of the spirit. And, remember, you don’t have to do it alone. You have a Father ready to hear your cry, you just need to call Him!

June 10, 2022

“The Savior of All… Especially Believers”

For many months now I’ve tried to be extremely faithful in making the NIV Bible App on my phone the first thing my eyes read each morning. Yesterday morning however, the wording in 1 Timothy 4:10 stopped me in my tracks.

That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.

In my waking state, I thought perhaps that this was a verse that shows preference to the members of God’s family. For example consider, Galatians 6:10.

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

In our business, which deals more than most with Christian commercial enterprises — in this case Christian publishers and book distributors — this is been the guiding policy of our bill-paying (accounts payable) strategy. We try to prioritize our brothers and sisters based on the above words in Galatians.

But clearly the verse in 1 Timothy was more loaded than that. Comparing the many English translations of this verse on BibleGateway.com there was an almost 100% consistency.

  • God is the savior of all people
  • Especially those who believe

I’m sure this verse is in the toolkit of those who believe in unlimited atonement, which is the doctrine that when Jesus died, his sacrifice was high enough, wide enough, deep enough, big enough, etc., to cover the sin of all the world, including those who might not ultimately choose to accept his offer of salvation. This doctrine stands in contrast to limited atonement which is the doctrine that the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary was sufficient only for those who are ultimately chosen, or who are called the elect and who, presented with the offer of salvation, cannot refuse.

The difference in those two doctrines is like a cord which runs down the center of Christianity placing people in one of the two tribes, although, as I type this, I realize there might be readers who are thinking, ‘What’s the big deal.’ If that’s you, God bless you!

Only one translation on Bible Gateway offered a significantly different rendering, and that was the classic Living Bible (not to be confused with the NLT) which reads,

…for our hope is in the living God who died for all, and particularly for those who have accepted his salvation.

Different wording (in a verse where all others are so uniform) but the same impact, and the same implications regarding unlimited atonement.

The website BibleRef.com offers two important insights. Rather than quote it directly, I’ll just highlight:

  • Paul’s words to Timothy are not promoting the idea of what we today call universalism. This is the idea that in the end, everyone inherits eternal life.
  • Rather, he might be said to be contrasting those redeemed under the Old Covenant (or simply “the law”) and those receiving atonement through Christ’s death on the cross (and the resurrection). But having made the distinction, he draws the two groups together.

The website KnowingJesus.com offers this:

…Because God provided adequate provision for the salvation of every single man, woman and child, by faith.. Paul can legitimately call the Lord Jesus Christ, “the Saviour of all men.’ Christ’s death on the cross paid the redemption price for the sin of the whole of humanity – so that whosoever believes on Him will not perish but have everlasting life…

…Paul tells us that: Jesus is the Saviour of all men – especially those who believe. But how sobering to realise that although His death had the capability to save everyone, not all will accept His offer of free salvation. Although Christ is the POTENTIAL Saviour for all men, He is the ACTUAL Saviour for those who truly trust in Him alone, by grace through faith…

[You’re encouraged to click the above link and read the full article.]

That’s two commentaries. I should say that there was another one, which we have actually used here on previous occasions, which dared to say that the phrase, “Savior of all…” was simply not true in practice. Yes, they used the phrase, “not true.” Another one suggested that it meant that he is the Savior of all people in the sense of people of all nations. I’m not sure how they arrived at that.

Curiously, The NET Bible with Notes seems to prefer the idea that “Savior of all” simply means “both men and women,” an idea I did not see expressed in the other commentaries I examined…

…This verse is challenging, and the lack of alternative renderings in other English translations suggest that we must accept it and, with fear and trembling, try to work out its meaning. I make no declaration that we’ve resolved this today, but encourage you to “search the scriptures” for yourself, and if you have any thoughts, feel free to leave a comment on the blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 10, 2022

The Underlying Tensions of Palm Sunday

First, before we begin, as we were discussing possible “call to worship” or as some call it “opening sentence” material for Palm Sunday, I found myself reading the original prophecy in Zachariah 9:9 which is fulfilled on this day in the life of Jesus.

Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is righteous and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

That’s the NASB. In The Message, Eugene Peterson renders it as,

“Shout and cheer, Daughter Zion! Raise your voice, Daughter Jerusalem! Your king is coming! a good king who makes all things right, a humble king riding a donkey, a mere colt of a donkey.”

Second, the original material that I write here is occasionally prone to be repeated after four years, but the guest writers are never repeated. In looking for some thoughts for yesterday, I also considered, but didn’t use, excerpts from previous C201 devotions, but in the 24 hours that followed I kept thinking I wanted to repeat something we’d used previously — exactly five years ago — from Clarke Dixon. And Clarke is like family. So here, for the first (or possibly second) time is an encore performance from a pastor who practically lives in my backyard. (It’s an expression; he really lives about 20 miles away.) The direct link is in the title below.

Feeling Nervous? Romans 8:31-39

by Clarke Dixon

Feeling nervous? If you are one of the disciples entering into Jerusalem with Jesus then you probably should be. Yes there is the excitement of the crowds waving their palm branches and shouting “Hosanna,” but there is also the danger that exists when revolution is in the air. Jerusalem at the time is the home of powerful people with powerful ideas. Some have the idea that Rome should get lost and the occupying Roman army should take a hike. Others think that every hint of revolution should be squashed. These are dangerous times. Within a few decades there will be a revolution and Jerusalem will be destroyed. But right now, revolution is in the air and there’s a miracle worker entering Jerusalem on a donkey, which means he may as well wave a banner saying “I am the Messiah, I will rescue you.” To most minds this means “I will kick the Romans out.” Revolution is in the air, blood will be spilled. If you are one of the disciples entering Jerusalem with Jesus, you should be nervous.

What does the “triumphal entry” of Jesus and the events we celebrate on Palm Sunday have to do with Romans chapter 8? The connection is found in Paul’s quotation from Psalm 44:

As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” Romans 8:36

Psalm 44 is a “Psalm of complaint” where the Psalmist complains that God’s righteous people are suffering and need to be rescued. Implied in the appeal for a rescue is also, of course, that God would deal with the enemy. This is an appeal to the justice of God, that He would do the right thing and rescue His people. In Jesus’ day you could think of the Jews of Jerusalem being the righteous sufferers while the Gentiles from Rome are the evil oppressors. Surely when the Messiah comes he will rescue Jerusalem and destroy the Romans! However, the facts are set straight at the cross.

By the end of the week, blood has been spilled. It is not the blood of Jewish revolutionaries, nor of occupying Roman forces. It is the blood of one man, Jesus. He is the one accounted as a sheep to be slaughtered. He is the one who can appeal to innocence and the injustice of his death as the righteous sufferer of Psalm 44. He is the one who can appeal to God the Father for a rescue, and the destruction of the enemy.

Therein lies the problem. Everyone is included in that enemy; the Roman authorities granting the final word, the Roman army carrying out the deed, the Jewish authorities instigating the whole rotten affair, and the Jewish crowds shouting “crucify him, crucify him.” The saying is spot on: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10) Well almost, there is one who is righteous, the one being crucified on trumped up charges, the one experiencing the culmination of hatred, the one experiencing injustice.

This is the moment in which God the Son, as the innocent sufferer, could call upon God the Father to do “the right thing,” to rescue him and destroy the enemy. Problem is, of course, that destroying the enemy would mean destroying everyone. If there is ever one moment that stands out as the moment for God to unleash his righteous anger at the world, this is it; at the cross. If there is ever a moment proving God’s righteousness in sending a flood, this is it. The flood in Noah’s day was due to man’s violence against humanity. Now at the cross humanity’s violence is turned to God Himself. Rebellion against Rome hung in the air, but we sank to our lowest low when, in our rebellion against God, Jesus hung on a cross.

Perhaps we should be nervous? The blood of Jesus is on our hands too. Would we have acted any different than the disciples in abandoning Jesus? Than Peter in denying Jesus? Than the religious leaders in seeking the death of Jesus? Than the crowds in demanding the crucifixion of Jesus? Than Pilate in acquiescing? Than the Roman solider in carrying out orders? We are no different.

So should we be nervous knowing that we are complicit in crimes against God Himself? Let us turn again to Romans 8:

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? Romans 8:31

But is God for us?

When we ask if God is for us, we may think of the crucifixion as overwhelming evidence of our rebellion against God. However the cross was not just our great act of rebellion, it was also God’s great act of love. Consider:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. Colossians 1:19-20

But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

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 4:10

Satan, the accuser, may have a lot of dirt on us. Actually, not just may, he does have a lot of dirt on us. We have given him a long list of things to choose from as to why we do not deserve to be in the presence of God. However:

If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Romans 8:31-34

Satan may argue forcefully about all the reasons we do not deserve to be in the presence of God. God says in effect “I already know about all that, in fact I already paid for it.” When we are in Christ, the dirt does not stick.

When we ask if God is for us, some may point to our own suffering as evidence that maybe He is not. Paul brings us back to the facts. We measure God’s love for us, not on our suffering, but on His. We suffer because we are humans living in a broken world. He suffered because of His love for broken people.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35-39

Our suffering is not evidence that God does not love us. The suffering of Jesus is evidence that He does.

Feeling nervous? Because of sin, you should be. Many a person in this world should be quaking in their boots right now. However, in Christ, you needn’t. Which brings us back to where we began in Romans 8:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV


Read more at Clarke’s blog: Thinking Through Scripture

November 11, 2021

The Greatest New Beginning Ever

Thinking Through Acts 1:1-5

What is the biggest new beginning the world has ever seen?

Some might point to the conclusion of WWII, ushering in a post-war era, or the the dropping of atomic bombs, ushering in the nuclear age and a nuclear arms race. Some might point to the Reformation, or the Enlightenment, or of course, the current pandemic. Has anyone in the world been immune to the changes it has brought?

Whatever we might think has been the biggest “new beginning” humanity has experienced, let me suggest that the biggest and greatest new beginning ever can be found summed up in the first few verses of the book of Acts:

In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven . . .

Acts 1:1-2 (NLT)

The writer, in speaking of a first book, is referring here to the Gospel of Luke in which he wrote about the birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. The biggest new beginning the world has ever seen is Jesus!

You don’t need to be a Christian to appreciate how Jesus has had a great impact on world history. Yes, Christians have sometimes had a negative impact, but there can be no doubt Jesus has changed the course of world history. Of course we can also think about the impact Jesus has had in many, many individual lives.

As the book of Acts opens, we learn about how Jesus has been the greatest new beginning ever seen:

During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles . . .

Acts 1:3 (NLT)

Central to this new beginning is the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. There are different ways of looking at how the death and resurrection of Jesus works, of how the events of that first Easter have brought a new beginning. Though there are others, here are three keys ways:

First, Jesus took our place, suffering the consequence of our sin, so that we may have eternal life.

Second, Jesus had victory over evil, sin, and death. Though it looked like the powers of evil had won at the crucifixion, actually it turned out that God had the victory. As Bible scholar N.T. Wright often points out, Jesus is not a failed messiah, but the true king. Good triumphs over evil in the end because God triumphs, and God is good. Love wins in the end because God wins, and God is love.

Third, Jesus is the example of what love looks like. God came to us in Jesus, we killed Jesus, God loves us anyway and offers reconciliation. If everyone responded to offence the way that God responded to the offence of humanity at the cross, what a different world this would be!

When we hold these three perspectives together we see a wonderful new beginning with the expectant hope of eternal life though we have not earned it, the knowledge that Jesus is Lord though we don’t always perceive it, and the example of the better way of love though we don’t always live it. The suffering and resurrection of Jesus has changed everything.

Let us continue in Acts:

. . . and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive.

Acts 1:3 (NLT)

It was obvious to the disciples and everyone else in Jerusalem that Jesus was killed. It likely took a wee bit more convincing that he was alive. However they were convinced, not that they had seen a ghost, nor that Jesus was simply resuscitated to life in the here and now, but that Jesus was raised to new life with a new kind of body. The disciples and many others were convinced enough to change their whole perspective, and convinced enough to suffer and die for what they knew to be true. The resurrection changed the disciples. The resurrection changed everything. It was a wonderful new beginning.

Let us continue,

And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.

Acts 1:3 (NLT)

We can take note that during the forty days between resurrection and ascension, the Kingdom of God was a special focus for Jesus as he taught his disciples. Therefore the Kingdom of God really ought to be a focus for Jesus followers today.

We may think the focus of Christianity is “how to get to heaven when I die.” We think, therefore, that the new beginning will be when we die. True, that will be a wonderful new beginning, but there is much more to it than that.

We are reminded of how Jesus taught us to pray “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What are we praying for when we pray that? Are we praying for the end of the world?

Here is one way to imagine “Thy kingdom come.” What do you imagine that future will look like, when we are with God in the age of resurrection?

Will there be poverty then?
No, so let us deal with poverty now.
Will there be racism then?
No, so let us deal with racism now.
Will there be abuse, sexism, discrimination, bullying, war or…?
No, so let us deal with these kinds of things now.

Will people be suffering from mental health and depression then?
No, so let us help people who suffer from these things now.
Will people battle addictions or other kinds of inner battles then?
No, so let us help people who are facing these kinds of battles now.

Will there be a concern for truth then?
Yes, so let us pursue truth now.
Will there be justice then?
Yes, so let us pursue justice now.
Will people feel free to be honest then?
Yes, so let us make space for people to be honest now.
Will there be a love for reconciliation, then?
Yes, so let us pursue reconciliation now.

Will we be a people of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and things like these then? (See Galatians 5:22,23)
Yes, so let us open our lives to the Holy Spirit to be nurtured in these qualities now.

Are we waiting to die before things can get better, before we experience a true new beginning? There is no need to wait, Jesus is already king, we are his kingdom people now.

It has often been said that there are two gospels, an evangelical gospel (you get to heaven when you die) and a social gospel (we can make this earth a little more heavenly before we die). In fact there is is just one gospel, the good news that Jesus is king, the Kingdom of God is here and near, and we are invited and enabled to be a Kingdom person forevermore, beginning here and now.

We are not done yet,

Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 1:4-5 (NLT)

This new beginning brought about a new normal which persists even today; the Holy Spirit is now running rampant in the world. This new beginning, this Kingdom, is not happening without God. It is not going to happen without us either.

In Conclusion.

With Jesus came a massive new beginning for the world. In Jesus God’s kingdom is both here and near. It is a massive new beginning that God is doing in the here and now, which will lead to something bigger in the there and then. It is a massive new beginning that we are invited to participate in. It changes the world, it changes our communities, it changes us, it changes everything.

Are you ready for a new beginning?


Regular Thursday contributor and Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon initially posts the devotions here at his own site, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. To watch the full sermon on which today’s message is based, click this YouTube link.

October 24, 2021

Conviction vs. Condemnation

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. – Romans 8:1 NLT

If anyone hears My teachings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. – John 12:47 NASB

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. – John 3:17 NET

When he comes, he will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment – John 16:8 CSB

For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. – 2 Corinthians 7:10 NLT

This morning our pastor made this observation on the difference between guilt and shame:

Guilt leads to conviction while shame leads to condemnation.

Over lunch, I told him that I thought there was a whole sermon in that thought alone, and decided to see what others have written on this. Here are some page-one search results:

The website Campus Ministry Today offered this distinction:

Conviction and condemnation can feel similar for a Christian. Conviction is from God and is necessary for joy. It should be cultivated. Condemnation is from Satan. It is a lie and should be resisted and thrown off.

The definition there actually contrasted shame with condemnation:

Condemnation is usually hazy, hateful and hopeless. Usually when Satan brings feelings of condemnation to a Christian they are vague. There is a general thought that “Something is wrong with me!” It often has to do with shame. Some say shame means feeling bad about who I am. Guilt means feeling bad about what I did. I wouldn’t die on a hill for that definition, but it can be a helpful distinction. Condemnation often traffics in hazy, vague shame.

Conviction in most ways is the opposite of condemnation. Conviction is high-definition clarity, helpful and hopeful. Condemnation can feel like a cloud of shame hanging over your whole being that you can’t even explain. Conviction is usually very specific. It may be a precise thought in your mind…

Conviction is rooted in love not hate. God loves you and wants the best for you. He brings conviction in your life to convince you of a better way.

The website Great Bible Study continues this

Condemnation comes from Satan and is meant to tear you down. Condemnation continually points out what a failure you are, and how badly you’ve messed up. Condemnation is showing you the problem, but avoiding the solution.

Jesus did NOT come to condemn the world (John 12:47). There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)…

…Conviction is known in the Bible as Godly sorrow. God’s Word tells us that Godly sorrow is what leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4)

On conviction specifically Charles Stanley writes:

Conviction is God’s loving hand steering us back to the path that leads to life…

Conviction begins even before salvation. The Holy Spirit reveals our wrongs to help us recognize that we need forgiveness. When we accept Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf and choose to follow Him, we are born again. Only then are we free from the penalty of sin. At the same time, we are still human and will make some poor choices. So, even after we are His children, God continues to redirect us.

Conviction is different from condemnation…

The website Healing Streams places the distinctions in a chart form, and also offers two questions you can ask to determine the difference:

Finally, there is an excellent article at the site of Mark Ballenger. I encourage you to click through to read this in full. I’ve included his three main points and a very brief excerpt from each [note the second section may appear at first to disagree with some of the above authors]:

Condemnation Leads to Death. Conviction Leads to Life

…In love, God makes Christians aware of sin (conviction) without giving us the sentence (condemnation) for that sin. He sent his Holy Spirit to bring conviction and to allow humans to escape condemnation…

Condemnation Is for the Unbeliever. Conviction Is for the Believer

…While God is love and desires every human to repent of sin to be saved… and while God does save people from condemnation when they put their faith in Jesus Christ and repent of sin, God does actually condemn people. God is a loving God. But God is also a condemning God. If God did not condemn people for their sin, there would be no reason for him to have sent Christ…

…What is true is that once you become a Christian you will never be condemned by God ever again…

All Christians Will Experience Regular, Healthy Times of Conviction

One of the primary jobs of the Holy Spirit is to bring conviction to the Christian. When we are veering from God’s path, our conscience will convict us because the Holy Spirit now lives within our hearts…

…[C]onviction focuses on your behavior while condemnation focuses on your identity. Conviction leads you towards repentance and a stronger relationship with God. Condemnation leads you towards hiding, shame, and a weaker relationship with God…

Humans Bring Condemnation. The Holy Spirit Brings Conviction

We must leave the work of the Holy Spirit to him…

…Often times the harder you try to convict someone, the more condemning you will be.

Again this article is best read in full. He concludes:

…In short, conviction differs from condemnation because it leads to life for the believer. We must never ignore the Holy Spirits loving discipline. Conviction may hurt in the moment, but unlike condemnation, it will lead to more joy in the end.

 

 

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