Christianity 201

November 24, 2020

Coming to God with Child-like Faith

The basic offer of Jesus to redeem us is so simple that even a child can understand it and act on it. But it’s part of a narrative that is so wonderfully, beautifully complex that theologians have never stopped marveling about it.

We come individually to God with a child-like faith; a child-like trust; but the good news of the gospel can never be considered childish. Notice how much this theme is repeated:

“Truly I tell you,” he said, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
 – Matthew 18:3 CSB

But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”
 – Matthew 19:14 NLT

Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
 – Mark 10:15 NIV

Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.”
– Luke 18:17 MSG

I wasn’t familiar with Lacey Strum until I tuned in for a live feed of one of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Celebration events. I was electrified as she started to share her personal testimony. She is a Christian musician who was in the band Flyleaf, and is the author of three books.

Her blog posts are no longer part of her website, but this one survives on GoodReads. This is a bit different than our usual devotionals here, but I felt there might be someone out there who needs this, or would benefit from her story, which I’ve included below.

Eyes of a child

My son is three. He is currently obsessed with taking pictures. The other night I was falling into a deep sleep in our dark hotel room when I heard his tiny voice from the other bed break the silence. “Daddy. Can I have da phone?” “No,” sighed my sleepy husband. “It’s not time to play.” “But daddy, I gotta take a peetchur!” As an artist himself, my husband sympathized with our sons urgency to seize a moment of inspiration and make it count. So he handed him the phone. My son slid off the bed, took the phone aimed it at the air conditioning unit and snapped. Satisfied he handed the phone back to his father, got back into bed and fell right to sleep.

It’s funny how many times I feel deeply about something right before I fall asleep or early in the morning before I’m ready to wake up. But instead of creating art to express those depths, like my soul is aching to, I turn over and fall back asleep. There are times when I know I should skip lunch to spend more time with my friend. Or times when I should skip working so I can help find dinosaur bones in the back yard like my imaginative boy keeps asking me to. Or times when I should turn off my phone cause I know I’m going to be with loved ones and they are a precious gift. But so often I know what I should do and I roll over and do the predictable, less heroic, self centered grown up thing.

But my beautiful little boy on the other hand… He will never willingly let sleepiness keep him from a moment of inspired creative exploration. His three year old heart would never willingly interrupt the laughter of playtime with friends in order to eat lunch! And when he is around the people he loves, they have his full attention and he is always competing for theirs. “Watch this Granna! Papa look what I can do!”

I love looking at the pictures my three year old takes. It reminds me to pay attention. And it reminds me to seize every moment for what’s most important. It challenges me to see the world with childlike wonder. I think we miss the “on earth as it is in heaven” perspective we need in order to experience life the way God intends for us to. But. I think children rarely miss it. Maybe we should pay more attention to them and learn what’s most important. And (Jesus) said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” -Matthew 18:3



I did an article about Lacey at Thinking Out Loud in October, 2014. Here’s the link.

November 12, 2020

What Makes Us God’s People?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
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A Look at Philippians 3:1-11

by Clarke Dixon

What makes me a Canadian? Is it being born in Canada? I wasn’t. Is it having a Canadian accent, eh? Many don’t. Is it living here in Canada? Many Canadians don’t even do that. So what makes me Canadian?

We can also ask, what makes us God’s people?

In the earliest days of Christianity, before there was something known as the New Testament, the answer to that question for some people was very simple; if you are part God’s people you will act like God’s people as laid out in the only Testament available, the Old Testament. You will therefore be found keeping the covenant, keeping all the customs and traditions including dietary restrictions, festivals, and of course the mark of belonging for the males, circumcision. In other words, to be part of God’s people in Christ you must become a Jew, though a Jesus-believing Jew of course.

After all, some would have said, as God’s old covenant people we are considered to be the righteous ones, the ones in right standing with God, while the rest are the unrighteous ones, the ones not in right standing with God. Through Jesus you can duck under our Jewish umbrella.

But is that it?

This became a very important question among the early Christians. There was a discernment process which we read about in Acts 15. Here is the conclusion of the matter as written in a letter to Christ followers of non-Jewish background:

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.

Acts 15:28-29 (NIV)

Short, sweet, and to the point! You don’t need to become Jewish to be part of God’s people. But neither can you worship who, what, and how you once worshipped before walking with Jesus. This is why food, blood, and sexual immortality are mentioned, these all being part and parcel of the worship of the gods commonly worshipped in that time and place.

The early Christians realized that in Jesus God was not inviting people to get under the Jewish umbrella, but that there was now a bigger umbrella that now included non-Jewish people, just as they are, but now focusing their lives and their worship on Jesus.

Paul, knowing that it would only be a matter of time before the non-Jewish Christ followers in Philippi would be under pressure by some to become more Jewish, warned them very strongly:

Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved. For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us.

Philippians 3:2-3 (NLT)

Paul is reiterating here very strongly what was already recognized: you don’t need to become Jewish in order to become part of the people of God. Whatever makes us God’s people, keeping the customs of God’s old covenant people isn’t it.

If it was it, Paul could boast of the things that marked him out as truly belonging to God’s people:

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Philippians 3:4-6 (NRSV)

If being Jewish is what makes you righteous, if it is what gives you right standing before God, then Paul can boast of his Jewishness. But that’s not it:

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.

Philippians 3:7-9 (NRSV)

Paul knows that God doesn’t relate to him on the basis of his fitting in with Jewish society. God relates to him through Christ. Being God’s people is about “knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord,” and being “found in him.” It is about “faith in Christ.”

There is a challenge in translating “faith in Christ.” Some Bible scholars point to the possible translation of “faith of Christ,” that is, the faithfulness of Christ. So we could paraphrase it like this: “Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through the faithfulness of Christ, the righteousness from God based on God’s faithfulness to us.”

The focus is on the faithfulness and obedience of Jesus

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

Philippians 2:6-8 (NRSV)

We should each ask, am I part of God’s people? Am I included? It is not by taking up religion. It is not by figuring out the right rules and keeping them really well. It is not by picking a Christian sub-culture and trying to fit in with what you wear and how you speak or what kind of music you listen to. It is by being “found in” Christ, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,” but one that comes through the faithfulness of Christ. It is by responding to the invitation of God and walking with Jesus. What makes us God’s people? God’s love and grace.


Clarke Dixon is, in case you missed the first paragraph, a Canadian pastor. His church is in a town with a latitude of 43.9667 (or 43.9598 depending on who you’re reading) which places it just a tad south of Eugene, Oregon; and Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The full sermon on which this devotional is based was shared on November 8th)

February 23, 2018

Billy Graham: Death is not The Grim Reaper

NCV John 3.2 One night Nicodemus came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we know you are a teacher sent from God, because no one can do the miracles you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot be in God’s kingdom.”

I thought it would be fitting today in light of the passing on Wednesday morning of Rev. Billy Graham to present part of an excerpt from his final book, Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity and Our Life Beyond the Now. Click the title below to read the full excerpt at BillyGraham.org.

Note: If you’re unfamiliar with the encounter Nicodemus has with Jesus, read John 3.1-21

Where I Am

by Billy Graham

…This term born again has fascinated people for centuries. It simply means “born from above”—born into the family of God. We are all God’s creation, but we are not all God’s children. Those who are born only once (physical birth) will experience physical and spiritual death, what the Bible calls the second death. But those who are born twice (physically and spiritually) will die only a physical death because they will be resurrected to life eternal. This is why Jesus came.

Nicodemus could only see human life; Jesus was speaking of spiritual life. What Nicodemus needed was a new heart. Surely he would have read the Scripture, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you” (Ezekiel 36:26). No matter how hard Nicodemus worked to live right, he fell short of being born again.

This was a lot for Nicodemus to take in. Imagine what must have been going through his mind when he heard Jesus say,

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).

The Bible does not record what happened after their meeting; and if the Book of John ended there, we might not know what became of Nicodemus. But John 7 tells of a debate that later arose among the Jewish leaders about Jesus, for He had told them also that He was going away, and “where I am you cannot come” (John 7:33-34). Jesus knew the chief priests were planning to seize Him, but He spoke of returning to His heavenly home. Then the Pharisees asked one another if any of them believed Jesus, and Scripture says that Nicodemus spoke up for Him (John 7:47-51). Jesus’ words had illuminated Nicodemus’ darkened heart.

We don’t see Nicodemus again until he appears after Christ’s death on the cross, bringing a mixture of spices to use in preparing Jesus’ body for burial (John 19:39). Most of Christ’s followers had fled, but here we see Nicodemus caring for Him. It seems that even in death’s shadow, Nicodemus had eternity on his mind.

But as we’ve seen, many people never think of eternity. As a Christian and a preacher of the Gospel, I am always grieved to have to interrupt a marvelous picture, such as eternal life in Heaven, to talk about another eternal place that Jesus calls Hell. It has no similarities to what is typically called home, nor is Hell a resting place, a holding place, or a graveyard. Hell is a burning inferno.

More than the description, I want to point out the greatest darkness of Hell—it is a place where Jesus is not. Jesus said, “I am going away. You will search for me but will die in your sin. You cannot come where I am going” (John 8:21, NLT). This is the great anguishing nightmare—to be eternally separated from the Son of God. It is unimaginable. For this reason alone, to be in Hell is the most terrible of all judgments.

There are some people who actually believe that if they end up in Hell, they’ll get used to it. After all, they say, the devil has provided a great deal of pleasure for them while on earth, so how bad can it be?

Let me tell you; the devil is not in charge of Hell, nor is it his headquarters. Satan is the “prince of this world” (John 16:11, KJV) and has taken up residence in many hearts. But He knows what the end is for him. He made his choice long ago and wants to take a world of people with him to Hell, where he will serve out his eternal sentence.

The Bible says that the everlasting fire was created for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). Jesus said, “I have the keys of Hades and of Death” (Revelation 1:18). The devil does not own Hell. It is not his home—it is his judgment.

A mother and son once lived in a miserable attic. Years before, she had married against her parents’ wishes and had gone with her husband to live in a strange land. But her husband soon died, and she managed with great difficulty to secure the bare necessities. The boy’s happiest times were when his mother told of her father’s house in the old country, a place with grassy lawns, enormous trees, wide porches, and delicious meals. The child longed to live there.

One day the postman knocked at the door with a letter. The woman recognized her father’s handwriting and with trembling fingers opened the envelope that held a check and a slip of paper with two words: “Come home.”

A similar experience will come to all who know Christ. Someday you will receive this brief message: “The Father says come home.”

Those who know Christ are not afraid to die. Death is not the grim reaper. Death to the Christian is “going home.” No one who has died in the Lord would ever want to come back to this life. To depart and be with Christ, Paul said, “is far better” (Philippians 1:23). The Bible says that we are strangers and pilgrims on earth, seeking a homeland, a place prepared for us by God (Hebrews 11:16) where the Lord will receive us into “an everlasting home” (Luke 16:9). I have never known a man or woman to receive Christ and ever regret it.

Perhaps you have never bent your will to God’s will and been born again. You can do that now, for He desires that all be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). Right now you can make your decision for Christ and start on the road that leads to a heavenly home.

Jesus said in essence, “You can be where I am, or you can be where I am not.” I pray you settle life’s most important question: Where will you spend eternity?

My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going (John 8:14).

July 30, 2014

Repentance is not an Option

I know that many of you often use the internet to search out Biblical themes. Sometimes the answers you get are perplexing. You don’t know the source of the articles and unless you have extensive background in the faith, it’s easy to get sidetracked if your discernment filters aren’t turned up high!

One thing I sometimes do is to use the Yahoo or Google image searches. For example, yesterday’s piece was about repentance and I needed an image to go alongside the article. I found many that were interesting and that in turn led me to another article on the same topic that I want to share today. Alfred Shannon, Jr. is a member of the Church of Christ. He writes, “I preach, and teach the Gospel of Christ, and I adhere to the principle of speaking where the bible speaks, and remaining silent where the bible is silent.” That’s good advice!

His very popular website is called Biblical Proof. To read today’s article at source — always encouraged — click the title below:

Repentance is not an Option—It’s a Commandment of God!

repentance 2How often do preachers teach the gospel of Christ when someone desires to be baptized. This is a glorious occasion no doubt, but in our zeal to baptize, have we forgotten a missing step? Seriously, when was the last time you heard a preacher call for repentance before one is to be baptized into Christ? It’s something many preachers are taking for granted before one is to be baptized into Christ.

I actually heard a preacher say, “I never instruct any potential convert to repent. They can repent after they have been baptized.” Shocking doctrine coming from a gospel preacher. Shocking because without repentance, we have no remission of sins. Sins can’t be washed away if they haven’t first been repented of. Repentance: it’s not optional, but a requirement before our sins can be removed.

Though its elementary in the first principles of the oracles of God, let us reexamine this too often missing step of salvation.

What is Repentance?

Repentance fully defined is a change of will or mind. This change is preceded by godly sorrow, and followed by a transformation of life. Repentance has been called our proverbial U-Turn from sin to righteousness. We see this definition of the word taught in many instances in the Bible.

Repentance Illustrated

Jesus defined repentance for us as He said,

“A man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work today in my vineyard. And he answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented himself, and went” (Matt. 21:28, 29).

The young man at first refused to go work in the vineyard in compliance with the command of his father, but later he repented and went. What did he do? He changed his mind about his will toward his father’s command. As a result of his change of mind, his action also changed, but the change of action was not the repentance, but it was the product of the changed will.

Why Refuse Repentance?

The Bible plainly teaches, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk. 16:15); and “Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38). Why do so many refuse to be baptized for the remission of sins? I believe that the answer lies in their refusal to repent. A refusal to repent of their past and present practice of sin is a rejection of God’s simple counsel. The problem is not that the gospel is difficult to understand, but that they do not desire to repent (i.e. change) and live the life God has commanded.

A local musician was baptized long ago by my dad when I was only 13 years old. He was asked if he believed Jesus was the Christ, and upon his confession he was baptized. Six months later he was seen in a tavern drinking whiskey, and playing his music to a crowd filled with drunks and half naked women. When confronted the next Sunday about his actions he said with boldness, “I was never asked or commanded to repent of my sins. I was only asked if I believed Jesus was the Christ, and I said yes, and I was baptized. If I had been told I had to forsake my sins I would have never been baptized!”

Sadly, this is not uncommon, but more common than not. We have forgotten to teach repentance, and command such before we baptize anyone into Christ. The scriptures instruct us that remission of sins requires two things, and not just one, and that being repentance and baptism. Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19

Conclusion:

Brethren, we need to preach, and teach repentance before one is baptized. To do less is not teaching the full gospel of Christ. Repentance is not something that can be assumed. If we don’t teach it, and command it, how can those hearing the gospel ever turn from their sins? Is it any wonder why so many are baptized, and continue in their sinful lifestyles.

If you are not a Christian, and you have faith in Jesus Christ, repentance for you will result in your being immersed for the remission of your sins. Christians who subsequently sin must likewise repent, and pray to God for His forgiveness. (Acts 2:37-38,41; 8:22; Rev. 2:10).

If you didn’t repent before you were baptized, who can proclaim scripturally that your baptism is right before God? There’s only two who actually know if you repented or not. God knows, and so do you. After-all, repentance is not an option, but a commandment of God.

I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Lk 13:3

Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, Acts 17:30

February 4, 2014

The Christian Life is More Than Simple Salvation

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:01 pm
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getoutofhellfreecard

As I considered the transactional element to salvation yesterday, I went searching for a graphic that would be helpful (even though yesterday’s article already had one) and noticed a humorous “Get Out of Hell” card parodying Monopoly’s “Get Out of Jail” card. As I read the article that went with it, I was reminded of a recent theology lecture which pointed out that while having a doctrine of salvation — what is called soteriology — is important, there is far more to be gained by realizing that eternal life is not something that begins when this life ends, but something that we enter into right now. Jesus promises us an abundant life, not an abundant death (though, in freeing us from eternal punishment and the wrath of God, we get that, too.)

The article is from a blog called Between the Times. The author is Ken Keathley a Professor of Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Click here to read at source.

The Sinner’s Prayer–A “Get Out of Hell Free Card”?

A great deal of ink has been spilled and Internet bandwidth expended over the controversy of whether or not it is appropriate to use “the sinner’s prayer” in evangelism (i.e., is it proper to tell someone to ask Jesus into his heart when leading him to Christ).  At the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans this last June, messengers overwhelmingly approved a resolution supporting its use.  I have to confess that I think the whole dispute is misguided.  In my opinion, what is driving the concern of many is the paltry results of much of our evangelistic efforts.  Whether it’s one-on-one soulwinning (through Evangelism Explosion, Continuing Witness Training, or FAITH) or mass evangelistic meetings (such as crusades, youth camps, or VBS) the outcome is too often the same.  Scores make “professions of faith” who afterward demonstrate little or no interest in Christ, the church, or the walk of faith.

The problem, however, is not with the use of any particular prayer.  Rather, I would contend, that the difficulty lies in the way we present salvation.  Most evangelistic methods present salvation as a commodity that Jesus purchased and now offers.  Christ is presented as having bought salvation by His death on the Cross, and if you ask Him then He will give it to you.  Salvation, redemption, and forgiveness are understood entirely as a purchase, a business deal, or a transaction.  Salvation is reduced to the offer of a “Get Out of Hell Free” card.

But one can do business with someone he really doesn’t care for.  In fact, one can receive a gift from someone he positively dislikes (just think of how much foreign aid has gone to countries that don’t like the USA).  Here’s the important point: salvation is not something Jesus gives; salvation is something He is.  One does not receive salvation from Jesus.  You and I receive Him–the Lord Jesus Christ–for Who He is, and in receiving Him we receive salvation, redemption, and eternal life.  We are not simply being offered a really great bargain; we are called to enter into a covenant relationship with Christ.

We affirm the penal substitution of Christ upon the Cross, and gladly use the language of “purchase,” “redemption,” and even “transaction.”  But to see salvation only in those terms runs the danger of viewing salvation merely as a commercial contract.  A saving relationship with Jesus Christ is more than just a contractual agreement–it’s a covenantal relationship.  Scripture describes a saving relationship with Christ in terms of marriage (Eph 5:23-27). Marriage is indeed a contract (as least, as far as the state is concerned), but it’s not merely that.  Who wants a relationship with his or her spouse that is entirely or only legal in nature? Marriage is a rich and effective metaphor for describing our salvation because it teaches us, that above all else, salvation is a proper relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ and us.

I suspect that we tend to emphasize only the transactional aspects of redemption because such an objective understanding seemingly provides certainty.  Relationships, in contrast, are subjective by their very nature, and therefore more complicated, maybe even messy.  Yet you and I are called to be in vital union with Christ, and it is in this relationship we are saved.  “He who has the Son, has life.” – 1 John 5:12

So yes, when we are leading people to Christ we should encourage them to pray the sinner’s prayer.  Let’s just make sure we are leading them to Christ, and not just selling them on a really great deal.