Christianity 201

January 14, 2022

What if No Faith was Required?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Can you imagine an alternative reality where there is zero doubt as the to core components of Christianity, and yet, inexplicably, people might still choose to walk away? That’s the subject of today’s devotional.

Today we’re highlighting another creative person who is new to us, Liam Sass, who is a writer, podcaster, musician, and online evangelist. You can connect with his various projects at his website. You’ll also find him on a number of social media platforms.

As always, you’re encouraged to click the header which follows to read today’s devotional there instead of here. Thanks to those of you who recommend writers for us to feature.

A Issue of the Heart

Unbelief in Jesus, for most, isn’t rooted in intellectual reasoning. “That’s a bold statement Liam.” Alright, ask an unbeliever this:

“If Christianity were true, would you be a Christian?”

Assuming you all have atheist friends to ask.

Notice, most will be unsure or even be as bold to say no! Why is this? Because mankind doesn’t WANT a God. They want to BE God. Denying the existence and resurrection of Jesus Christ is impossible. Yet we watch people come up with even more ridiculous theories then the miracle itself! Some big magic trick or everyone who witnessed Jesus after His resurrection was “on something”.

They can’t accept these truths because then they would need to submit to the truth! If they admit to Jesus, they also need to admit the teachings of Jesus. They would admit that physical relations outside of the marriage between a man and a woman is unholy, that worshiping any other God is idolization, that the murder of an unborn child is an abomination, and the list goes on! (I use those examples because those are prevalent things our culture holds onto)

Now we have come to the root of most peoples unbelief in Christ. It is not a intellectual issue but rather a heart issue. Their morals don’t align with Gods morals and so they deny His existence to ease their conscious. The crazy thing is, we were told people would react this way! Even at one point in your walk, before your heart was opened, you would react in the same likeness!

“-being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools-“
Romans 1:20-22

I know this is a hard topic. We need to realize as Christians that some cannot be reasoned with. Ultimately, a heart change happens between them and God alone. If you have tried reasoning with someone and the conversation is not fruitful, DO NOT PRESS THEM! Instead be in prayer and ask that God might open their heart to Him. God is sovereign and all that He wills will come to fruition.

Take rest in that.

December 24, 2021

The Time of Waiting Has Ended

Christmas Eve marks the end of the period of waiting known as Advent. For four weeks we join with those in times past who waited four hundred years for the coming of the Messiah.

I choose that number carefully — Israel obviously anticipated a deliverer for a longer period of time — to represent the period when it seemed the prophets fell silent and the word of God wasn’t heard; a period we as Christians call the “Inter-Testamental” period, falling as it does between the first and second Testaments of our scriptures.

The silence is broken by John the Baptist (who is a type of the prophet Elijah) as promised at the very end of the book of Malachi.

“Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the LORD arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse.”  (4:6 NLT)

The words that immediately follow in our Bibles are:

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham (Matt. 1:1 NIV)

For those of us who know this story, the final words of the prophet lead to a pause — there’s usually an extra two blank pages between Malachi and Matthew — and then we take a deep breath and something new is stirring. Matthew doesn’t build the drama slowly, he simply blurts it out, “Jesus the Messiah.”

But there was still some waiting, as the people of the day asked the question asked in our day by a popular Christian song, “Could He Be the Messiah?” (see video below)

Increasingly he leaves no doubt, culminating in his resurrection…

…As some read these words today, they are also in a season of waiting. Just as the birth of Jesus marked the breaking in to the world’s stage, they are looking to see God break in to the affairs and circumstances of their life; to intervene in some aspect of their life that is a cause of major concern.

For some, it seems like the heavens are silent; if you will allow me the use of the phrase, a feeling that they are in their own personal Inter-Testamental period.

15 months ago, I wrote a devotional based on a line from an old hymn, “Teach me the mystery of unanswered prayer.”

I remember not to long ago explaining to someone that the subjects under discussion before a person has crossed the line of faith are not the same issues talked about after. The apologetics questions about the creation account in Genesis, or whether the Red Sea could actually be divided a strong wind, or if the “texts of terror” in the book of Judges don’t depict a God given to extreme violence; these topics fade into obscurity once someone is on the inside.

Instead, in our churches we wrestle with the question, “Can God be trusted?” Part of that has to do with the times the heavens seem silent. Can we count on the promises of God?

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.” – John 14:1

At the same time as God seems absent or silent, we believe that he is working in that silence. I also posted an article here titled, “God is Always Up to Something.”

Yes, even in the silences, and even when, at the end of 2021, the world seems to be getting worse…

…Back to the macro story. After 400 years of seemingly divine inactivity God breaks onto the stage once more.

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. NIV Hebrews 1:1-2

But even in this, it does not have a spectacular beginning. Rather, the drama plays out in obscurity, in what one person has called a backwater village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The introduction of Jesus to the greater world has its ecclesiastic moment in the dedication presided over by an older man and a widowed woman; and its political moment is never quite realized as Herod is made aware of the potential importance of the birth but misses out on a personal connection.

But we know the end of the story.

We know the ramification of Christ’s birth, and it is that which we celebrate for all the right reasons, but also for the reason that it marks the end of the time of waiting; the end of Advent.


November 6, 2021

To Follow Jesus is to be Saturated in Forgiveness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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For we live by faith, not by sight.
For we live by believing and not by seeing. – 2 Cor. 5:7 NIV, NLT

They told [Thomas], “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”
… Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”
– John 20:25,29 NLT

Frequently we remind you that C201 contains devotional material from across the widest swath of Christian writers. Today’s piece features Justin Elwell, who is the Messianic Rabbi of a congregation in Montana. He holds two doctorates, one in Biblical Ethics and one in New Testament Studies. You can learn more about his congregation at this link.

Justin’s blog is called The Mountain Mench. You’re encouraged to look around there; starting with clicking the header which follows to read this at its origin.

“I’ll believe it …”

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” should not be an attitude we hold in faith. To do so would leave us in the realm of doubt, waiting for sensory confirmation in order to believe (II Cor. 5:7).

Forgiveness, is an elusive noun that is easy to define, but so much more difficult to do. In both Greek and Hebrew, forgiveness is derived from verbs; meaning to pardon, release, excuse, or send away.

Of all the concepts of faith that I have taught and counseled on, forgiveness is the most wrestled with, resisted, doubted, and dare I say, disbelieved. Why is that?

“I’ll believe it when I see it.” How hard it is for us to grasp forgiveness, and even harder to send away that which has been grasped: the offense.

The greatest obstacle to walking in forgiveness, is believing that the offender has really repented, was really sorry, or learned some type of lesson. Yet, that’s not what forgiveness is for. It is not for us to judge the efficacy of forgiveness in the life of the other, but to look deeply at how effective forgiveness has been in our heart. Have we let loose of the offense, and set the offender free in our heart?

I need not lay before you the scriptures on forgiveness, as that’s why the Bible contains them … go look them up … but suffice to say, forgiveness, like repentance, is a daily exercise in faith, rooted in God’s grace.

We do not deserve God’s grace. Furthermore, we do not deserve His forgiveness. Yet, both were freely given. Well, someone paid the price: Christ. Grace is costly, as is forgiveness. Yet it is a price you, and I, did not pay. Still, it is a debt we will carry when we do not release the offense; often in the form of bitterness, anger, resentment, and fear.

In teaching His disciples to pray, Yeshua/Jesus said, and I paraphrase, “Forgive us … as we forgive … “ To follow Yeshua is to be a person saturated in forgiveness: “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” For sure, not easy; but then, we are not to rely on our strength or capability to forgive.

Imagine if we set a standard of “I’ll believe it when I see it,” regarding God’s forgiveness toward us? We would be paralyzed; unable to approach Him, pray to Him, worship Him. We would be locked up in a cage called unforgiveness, even more strongly: death.

I remember reading a rabbinic story years ago of a rabbi who inquired of an old study partner as to whether or not he believed a particular teaching in the Talmud. The man replied, “Of course!” The rabbi said, “I did not; until I did it.”

Forgiveness is difficult, not because of the other; but rather, some part of us still wrestling with it, with believing it. Until we do it, it will be theoretical. Once we do it, freedom.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” may work for those in a condition of doubt; but, “I know it because He did it,” recognizes our continuing maturation in faith, a trusting Him that necessitates doing, especially the most difficult of His teachings, in order to know it personally.

We never graduate from the feeling of pain that accompanies forgiveness, as some part of us dies, each time, in the process. But, we find more freedom in what Messiah did for us, especially when we did not deserve it.

Forgiveness: “I believe it, because He said it.”

Be well. Shalom.

 

October 16, 2021

Rescued from a Life Apart from God to a Life With God

Eleven years ago, in 2010, many of us were glued to a live CNN feed from Copiapo, Chile; watching the rescue of the 33 miners who had been trapped underground for 69 days. That got me thinking at the time about what it means to be rescued.

In Psalm 18:17 we read:

He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.

In II Tim 3 10-11 Paul tells Timothy,

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.

And Paul again, speaking in a broader sense in Col. 1:13-14 writes;

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The experience of the Chilean miners is similar to our own experience.  Maybe you became a Christ follower at a young age and didn’t experience much in the way of sin and depravity, but positionally, all of us were once captive and now we are numbered among the rescued. We’ve been set free!

But do we truly appreciate it? Instead of focusing on what you were saved out of, think of what you were saved from.  Think of what might have been — the things you were kept from and even today are kept from — were it not for the Holy Spirit working on and working in your life.

Let’s think about someone who knew exactly what she’d been saved out of. Consider this passage from Luke 7 — especially the climax of verse 47 — in the light of the personal rescue that has taken place just for you…

36Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

While I believe we have a picture here of a woman who has been transformed, or at the very least is in the process of transformation. But note that her reputation has continued to follow her. It would take time (and an endorsement from the Teacher from Nazareth) before that reputation would start to change.

Additionally, the rest of the people there had every reason to be thankful as well because, by the grace of God, they had not succumbed to a life that would bring societal and community condemnation.

But wait, there’s more!

The dichotomy of what we’ve been saved from versus that what we’ve been saved out of, pales in comparison to what we’ve been saved to.

By this I mean that instead of letting sin set the standard, and focusing on whether we came from a dark background or if we dodged the proverbial bullet (and letting that identify us), we should instead focus on the idea that we’ve been saved to a life in Christ, which includes 24-hour access to his presence.

We’re no longer looking back, but we’re enjoying the present and looking forward to the future.

The Chilean miners lived each successive day in the blessing of having been rescued, but I’m sure that this doesn’t define their lives today, eleven years later. Rather they are living in the present and looking forward to the future, and for them, I hope this also includes the life in Christ we’ve discussed.

 

October 5, 2021

Fearing and Trembling

Over the past year, in the wake of differing opinions on everything from health issues to politics, I have seen a great proliferation of new books being published on how Christians should work out their differences with other believers.

It’s hard to do this, because the answers are not always black-and-white; not always crystal-clear. Two people can have different answers to the WWJD? question. (We’ll get to that in a minute!)

1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT) states,

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Philippians 2:12 advises us to “work out” our salvation “with fear and trembling.” As other translations make clearer, this references what was translated elsewhere as “fear of God.”

Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. (NLT)

…Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. (MSG)

But sometimes, you find yourself fearing and trembling your fellow believer, especially when the “working out” means that you walk away from certain scripture verses with a different take on them than that of a brother or sister. I know fear of your fellow man wasn’t what the verse intended; but sometimes life seems to be play out like that.

In the early days of my other blog, I would spend over an hour some days catching up with moderating and reading and responding to reader comments. With a few of them, I would reach a point where we clearly agreed to disagree. But hopefully neither of us were being disagreeable.

It’s hard not to be passionate about our pet doctrines. I can easily fall into that trap. But it becomes even more difficult when people have grown up without exposure to anyone who feels different about a particular element of theology than their own.

And then there are the people who shut everything down with, “Well, that’s not in the Bible;” expecting that the scripture would provide crystal-clear guidance on things that weren’t invented or didn’t exist back then.

Guess what? You’re right. It’s not in the Bible. But other things are, and we can interpolate where the dots connect by reading what the Bible does say about very similar things.

Especially one thing: The mind and heart of God.

The popular bracelets, buttons and bumper stickers from two years ago asked the question, What would Jesus do? Sometimes we have to (with fear and trembling) figure that out by asking the question, What did Jesus do? Knowing how he did respond (and teach us to respond) gives us an idea how he would respond to what we face today.

We’re so quick to say that “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship;” but many people fail to express their faith in relational terms. To which I would say maybe you are missing out on something. To know what God feels about things in our modern context, you need to first know God as a friend. I have friends who I haven’t seen physically in a long, long time; others who I haven’t so much as e-mailed; but I know how they would respond and react in certain situations because I know them.

At this point however, it can still be a standoff, because the other person may feel they have as deep a knowledge of God and His will as you do. We know that while we may all stand in personal relationship to God; or if you prefer, to Jesus; the dynamic of that relationship may be quite different for different people.

So work out your doctrine with fear and trembling.

Work out your personal ethics with fear and trembling.

Work out your systematic theology with fear and trembling.

Work out how you respond to others with fear and trembling.

But remember, that all around you are other Christ followers — seeing as through frosted (or fogged up) glass — who are doing the exact same thing. With the cross of Christ in view, we will eventually find ourselves drawing closer to each other. But it may take time.

Our closing words are from the next chapter of Philippians. Here’s what Paul says in 3:12-14 (NLT)

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.


So should we just clam up and say nothing ever? Tomorrow we’ll look at the idea of “preaching to the trees;” affirming our faith in declarations even when it seems nobody is listening.

October 1, 2021

Whose Name Is Slandered? Translations Vary

This is an amended version of one of the devotions posted here eleven years ago, when C201 was just starting out. It’s also one where we see clearly that not all Bible translations read the same on all verses, and a quick reading will leave readers walking away with different impressions as to what the verse refers.

James 2: 5-7 (New International Version)

5 Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?

Verse seven of this passage says it is the rich who drag you into court and slander… well, who do they slander? Is it the name of (a) God, (b) Jesus, (c) your family name, i.e. surname (d) your name?

I got curious after reading the new CEB, Common English Bible:

Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name spoken over you at your baptism?

I guess I read this in the context of certain cultures where the baptism of an infant is also a “naming ceremony.” With John the Baptist, this took place when he was circumcised at eight days old. (Luke 1:57ff)

The NASB has James 2:7 as:

Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?

The Message has:

Aren’t they the ones who scorn the new name—”Christian”—used in your baptisms?

The NLT reads:

Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?

The ESV renders this:

Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

The NKJV has:

Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?

The NCV puts it:

And they are the ones who speak against Jesus, who owns you.

The TNIV says:

Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

The Louis Segond reads:

Ne sont-ce pas eux qui outragent le beau nom que vous portez? [name you are called]

The Amplified Bible blends the two aspects of this:

Is it not they who slander and blaspheme that precious name by which you are distinguished and called [the name of Christ invoked in baptism]?

I have to admit, I like that last one. The Amplified Bible seems to cover all the bases.

So what’s in a name?

The context of the passage is the rich exploiting the poor. That this is an insult to the character of the poor man so exploited.

Our name embodies who we are; our character is embedded in that name. And in addition to blending the two dynamics of this, The Amplified Bible (which I don’t use a whole lot) introduces the phrase, “name by which you are distinguished.” Your name marks you as different from everybody else. (Unless, I suppose, your name is John Smith…)

But we also bear another name, the name of Christ.

Any insult to us; any exploitation of you or me is an insult to Christ. I think the answer to the question I asked here is truly (e) all of the above.

But James isn’t just saying that we poor people are exploited. The earlier context (including verses 1-4) say that in the larger equation we are the ‘rich’ person in the story when we show favoritism, or when we marginalize those poorer than ourselves. (I wonder if some of the translations quoted take those earlier four verses into account?)

It’s easy to miss verse 6, sandwiched between verses 5 and 7. We’re actually the rich person in the story; it is us who are slandering the character of the poor; and thereby slandering the name of Christ by which they are called.


Here’s a different take on the subject of names from 2017; click here.

September 18, 2021

Ever Been Called, “Spiritual?”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today we are highlighting and featuring the writing of Michael Pircio who is appearing here for the first time. Michael’s life took a strange turn about two years ago, and while he doesn’t give us all the details, you can read a quick summary here. His blog is named Something Extraordinary. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Christian Apologetics.

The article we chose was the first of two (so far) in a series called “Society’s Assumptions.” Send some traffic his way by clicking the header which follows and reading today’s devotional there.

Society’s Assumptions: Christianity = Spiritualism?

NIV.Eph.2.8a For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith

I was sitting with a friend the other day, whom many may define as a good person.  He told me “You know Mike, I’m not sure I could have gone through what you’ve gone through without your Spirituality, It’s a good thing you have it.” This is interesting, simply because I don’t consider myself a spiritual person. I don’t consider Christianity, God, Christ, good or evil spiritual things. I consider them just as tangible as you or I. The reason I believe in God is the same reason I believe in trees, or water, or the sky, no I can’t touch him, but I can see His work. I can’t hear Him, yet I can read His words. I can’t see him, but He knows where I go.

Likewise, Christ was a real man. He is still God. Many of historians from antiquity have written about Christ and the Christians or “followers of Christ”, so I know He isn’t just a myth. The same can be said for good and evil. Human beings, since the beginning of time, have considered whether there is good and evil, and what that looks like. They question such things as “Are humans substantially more evil than good?”, “Can people choose good without a benefit?”, or my favorite “Why is there evil if there is a benevolent, all-powerful, deity?”.

Dictionary.com gives us more modern interpretations of words and how they are used colloquially or in other words, as common words in  conversation. The site defines “Spiritual” in definition 6 as “of or relating to the spirit as the seat of the moral or religious nature.” And I would have to agree in this use of the word, as many people, especially my age may define themselves as “Spiritual, but not religious”. As a Christian, I should be neither spiritual nor religious in my beliefs. If I define Christianity as a tangible faith, then how could either of those (religious or spiritual) bring me closer to my Creator?

Neither of them can. Religion, is a system made of rituals and practices associated with worship. Christians should not practice religion. God doesn’t require us to sing or do anything except love him. As I went over in my love series, that means being the best ambassador of Heaven on Earth. We are to study about Him and read His word. We are to pray and talk to Him, just like any relationship, and we can embark on artistic ventures about Him if we want to, in order to worship him, such as music or artwork; however, if we aren’t talented like that, we should worship Him with diligence in doing “all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10:13)

God doesn’t even require us to have corporate worship, we however are commanded to gather with like-minded believers as that encourages us in our faith, but that doesn’t mean we have to go to church. God requires a personal relationship with us first, and then by that relationship we will want to spend time worshipping and fellowshipping with other like minded individuals.

So what’s the issue with someone calling us Spiritual? It seems harmless doesn’t it? It’s all about pluralism. Pluralism allows someone to serve two masters. It separates innate curiosity of the divine from the animalistic instincts that keep us from perfection. It allows us to follow man-made principles in satisfactory fashion allowing for our superficial concern over eternity to be quenched, but also allows for humanity to continue indulging in vices, questionable morals, and blatant rebellion without much consequence if any. People who are spiritual may believe in “God” as a higher power, but also subject themselves to eastern ideas such as karma and nirvana. They may even call themselves Christian, but when tasked with explaining their faith they can’t expound on it much more than being raised in a church.

People who are Spiritual consider themselves good people, and they have a morality that they believe to be right; Christians on the other hand cannot consider themselves to be good people, because we know we aren’t deserving of the title as sinners.

The whole point of this blog is to pierce right through what the church has neglected in so many years. Churches have gotten hung up on being “Spiritual” focusing on music, worship teams, and nice messages about how being good will please God, and following God’s rules make you a good Christian. As Christians we really need to take a stand against what society thinks of us and correct them. We are not spiritual, we simply serve a very real being who cannot be seen because of His holiness, who cannot be touched but can change lives in a very real way, and cannot be heard but has written down His word in a guidebook for our lives.

We are Christians, because we follow the Son of the being, known as God, who was sent to tell us exactly how His Father thinks, as He and the Father are one. We don’t follow Him because of His good ideas, or His compassion, or His Death. We follow Him because He is God.

Out of all this, the takeaway is Christianity isn’t spiritual, it’s not religious, it’s faith; a faith that is very real based on personal experience with a divine being who reached out to choose us to love Him and follow His plan on this Earth. While other religions espouse that they received their words from angels or men, we and our Jewish brethren are the only ones who can say we’ve received word directly from God himself.

September 10, 2021

An Anniversary: A Time to Remember

Thinking about the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack in the United States got me wondering what we posted ten years ago on the 10th anniversary. Here’s what we talked about that day.

September 11, 2011

Seen enough of the TV specials? Tired of hearing of “9/11?” You should know there’s a good reason why we need those programs and magazine features and internet tributes:

People Tend to Forget

Jesus understood this. Scripture tells us that on the night he was betrayed he took bread and broke it and said, “This is my body, broken for you; this do in remembrance of me.”

But you already know that. Those words from I Cor. 11 are often the most-repeated words in most churches during the course of a church calendar year. “For I received from the Lord that which also I delivered unto you;” is somewhat how I think the KJV renders it. The section from verse 23 to approx. verse 30 forms what is called “The Words of Institution” for the communion service aka Lord’s Supper aka the Eucharist. Even if you attend a church where things are decidedly non-liturgical, these verses probably get read each time your church observes “the breaking of bread;” and even if your pastor leans toward the New Living Translation or The Message, it’s possible that he lapses into King James for this one.

Why did Jesus institute this New Covenant, Second Testament version of the Passover meal?

Because people tend to forget.

Want proof?

Let’s look at the section we almost never read when we gather around the communion table, Luke 22. In verse 19 and 20 he tells them to remember. He tells them his life is about to be poured out for them. What a solemn moment. A holy moment. But unfortunately, a very brief moment.

In verse 24, Luke makes it clear that he’s trying to capture an accurate picture of what happened that night. Even if it makes the disciples look bad. It’s the kind of stuff that you would never include in your report to Theophilus if you were merely trying to make Christianity look good. If you were writing propaganda.

24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.

I don’t want to be disrespectful here, but Luke might as well have written, “At this point, one of the disciples looked out the window of the upper room and announced, ‘Guys, you gotta come here for a minute; there’s a girl out there that is totally hot.’”

I’m serious. It’s that much out of place with what’s just happened. Jesus is telling them — trying to tell them — all that he is about to suffer in order that a plan laid out from before the foundations of the world will be fulfilled. And they’re arguing about who is Disciple of the Month. How could they go from one extreme to the other so quickly? In a matter of seconds?

Easily.

People tend to forget.

Whether it’s what happened in New York City, Washington, and that Pennsylvania field ten years ago; or whether it’s what happened in Roman occupied territory in the middle east two thousand years ago; we need to continually rehearse these stories in our hearts and pass them on to our children.

This is a day that is about remembering and like the upper room disciples, we can get so totally distracted. September 12th comes and everyone moves on to the next topic or news story. We must not let ourselves lose focus so easily. We must not forget.

Deuteronomy 4:9
Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.

Tomorrow, in another flashback to an earlier post here at C201, we’ll look at the idea of creating memorials to remember times of both hardship and blessing in our lives.


Read more about the cross at Ground Zero in this special-edition article we ran in August, 2011.

April 27, 2021

When Your Faith is a Spiritual Mix Tape

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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While the use of cassettes is now quite rare, people still make personalized mix tapes consisting of their favorite songs on other formats. I think a phrase better understood now is personal playlist.

Spiritually, some people do this as well. The whole ends up being a bit of this and a bit of that, often fusing elements that have little in common. I’ve heard this called by different names, one of which is cafeteria Christianity.

I’m currently reading a 2002 book called And Beginning With Moses: Teaching Those Who Know Little or Nothing about the Bible by John R. Cross (Goodseed*). It begins with a horror story of a tribe which had gladly received the message of Christianity from missionaries, but had simply added it to their tribal beliefs.

In religious studies parlance, when this happens, it’s called syncretism. You don’t even have to go overseas to find it, in North America and Western Europe it’s possible to find people who are simply looking to add a dash of Christianity to their previously held beliefs the way a chef adds spices and mystery ingredients to an entree.

Here’s a short excerpt from the book. It begins with a horrific story of supposedly converted people reverting to pagan practices much to the shock of the missionaries present.

Syncretism in the Bible

Syncretism is not new. The ancient Israelites en route from Egypt to the Promised Land had problems in this area. God asked them a rhetorical question.

“Did you present Me with sacrifices and grain offerings in the wilderness for forty years, O house of Israel?”  Amos 5:25 NASB

The answer was, “Yes, they did.” They could make a legitimate claim to be following the true God. But there was something more. The next verse explains what they carried in their bags. God said…

“You also carried along Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves.”  Amos 5:26 NASB

These were pagan Assyrian gods. Israel was trying to worship God and idols at the same time. They were mixing two belief systems.

This problem of “mixing” seems innate to the human heart. When centuries ago, Gentiles settled in the heartland of Israel, the Bible says,

They worshipped the LORD, but they also appointed all sorts of their own people to officiate for them as priests in the shrines at the high places.  2 Kings 17:32

Visiting the Middle East, I remember pondering those ancient high place altars, recalling God’s grief with the immorality and child sacrifice that was often part of idolatrous worship. The Lord said,

“They have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as offerings to Baal–something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.”  Jeremiah 19:5

Rightly so, such decadence had not entered God’s mind, but man’s mind seemed quite agile at mixing this evil and God’s good. The Bible says, ”

They worshipped the LORD, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.  2 Kings 17:33

This is syncretism. Syncretism’s tenacity is illustrated in that, even after the Gentile “settlers” were instructed in true worship,

They would not listen, however, but persisted in their former practices. Even while these people were worshipping the LORD, they were serving their idols. 2 Kings 17:40-41

Centuries later God had the Apostle Paul write…

“…I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.”  1 Corinthians 10:20-21

Syncretism has plagued the church since its earliest days. Paul wrote the book of Galatians to sort out the confusion caused by those who were trying to mix religious legalism with the truth. The book of Colossians and the First Epistle of John were written for a similar purpose, this time having to do with a mixing of Gnosticism and the Bible.

In the following centuries, people syncretized true Christianity with ancient Roman, Egyptian and Babylonian paganism, creating various “mixes” dominated by error. Mohammed syncretized Arab tribal beliefs with Judaism and a Christian cult to form Islam. These religions in turn have syncretized to form others. The list is long. It seems very human to believe a mangled and mixed message.


*Goodseed is an organization I first encountered at a missions conference. Their signature book is actually four books, with the same material covered for four different audiences:

  • The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus – written for people who grew up with a Christian or Catholic perspective
  • All That the Prophets Have Spoken – written for those with an Islamic background
  • By the Name – written for readers with a Middle Eastern worldview
  • No Ordinary Story – written for non-religious people approaching with a secular worldview

You give someone the version that is right for them. I like the idea that they realized they couldn’t do a “one size fits all” book and did some radical re-writing of large sections of the material. You can learn more at goodseed.com

 

April 26, 2021

From Faith to Doubt to Faith Again

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Every pastor has a Bible character for whom they are able to tell his story in exceptional ways.  For Andy Stanley it’s Nehemiah. For the young preacher you’re about to meet it’s Thomas. Yesterday I listened to two full-length sermons by Tyler Staton. The first was sent to me in a link by a friend who wanted me to know that Tyler is replacing John Mark Comer as teaching pastor at Bridgetown. He’s moving cross-country from Brooklyn, New York to Portland, Oregon.

The second sermon I watched was focused on Thomas, so I was thrilled to discover that Thomas takes up a good one-third of Tyler’s book, Searching for Enough: The High Wire Walk Between Doubt and Faith.

This devotional is adapted by the book and was first published by the Bible Gateway Blog, and appeared later at Devotions Daily. Click the title below to read at source, and click the link at the end to learn more about the book. Clicking the header below will also lead you to an audio reading of the book’s first chapter.

Stuck Between Two Unsatisfying Stories

Thomas is my favorite. He’s always been my favorite. I know Thomas. I am Thomas.

Thomas wasn’t a fiercely rational cynic. To think of him that way would be to minimize a whole life down to one single moment, which is always a mistake. This is a man who left everything behind to follow a self-proclaimed Nazarene rabbi. He risked everything for Jesus. He witnessed miracles that left him rubbing his eyes in wonder, but he also faced rejection, confusion, and public disgrace for associating so closely with one who was called a criminal.

The very week of Jesus’ crucifixion, Thomas steps forward in a critical moment to say he’s ready to die with Jesus. He was ready to die with his rabbi, but he wasn’t ready to live without him. And that’s exactly what Jesus asked Thomas to do when he wouldn’t say a word at his own defense hearing and took the death penalty like he was planning it all along.

Thomas isn’t a cynic or even a skeptic. It’s so much more personal than that. He’s disappointed. He’s hurt. Imagine pushing in all your chips, like he did on Jesus, and then the story ends in the kind of heartbreak so far outside of the realm of possibility that it blindsides you completely, leaving you in the kind of daze you never want to feel again. That’s the Thomas we meet in his famous declaration of doubt.

He’s hurting. He’s confused. He’s guarded. Life on his own terms wasn’t enough; that’s why he risked everything on Jesus in the first place, but how can he be the King of the everlasting kingdom from within a casket? Thomas isn’t a doubter; he’s a realist—calling it like he sees it.

“So the grave’s empty, huh? Well, that’s great, but I’m gonna need a lot more than that. If the rest of you are so desperate to believe, then go ahead, but I’m gonna piece together my actual life in the actual world. And if laughter, beer, and sex is as good as it gets . . . and if suffering is senseless and death is final and none of it amounts to anything more . . . then at least I had the courage to face it.”

Thomas’s resurrection reaction reads like God picked up a thirty-something from San Francisco or Berlin or Melbourne or Brooklyn and sat them down in first-century Jerusalem on that defining Sunday morning.

I’m not sure I understand the experience of seeing someone alive on Sunday who was definitely dead on Friday, but I certainly understand the skepticism of hearing other people spread a holy rumor like that one and categorizing it as religious well-wishing at best. I see myself in Thomas. I see my friends in Thomas. I see my city in Thomas. Stuck between two unsatisfying stories.

Now Thomas . . . was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” John 20:24–25

In essence, Thomas is saying, “If God wants me, he can come get me. I’m not hiding.” Thomas was a realist—a strong-willed, fiercely logical realist—and that earned him a nickname: Doubting Thomas. That’s a modern invention though.

His given name was Didymus, but everyone who really knew him called him by his Aramaic name—Thomas, which translates to “twin.” The Twin—that’s what all the other disciples called him, and it suits him . . . because, in a way, he’s all of our twin.

Thomas is modern Western culture personified. A whole hemisphere is stuck between two unsatisfying stories. The citizens of the industrialized Western world enjoy more personal freedom, leisure time, career options, and entertaining distractions than anyone at any other time in human history, and yet the increase in personal autonomy and freedom hasn’t led to increased happiness and fulfillment. Diagnosed and medicated mental illness has grown almost exactly parallel to these factors. The world’s freest, wealthiest, most autonomous people are also the world’s most anxious and depressed people.

Is there anyone you can identify with more in the Gospels than Thomas? Regardless of how you’d categorize your particular brand of belief or unbelief at this particular moment, plenty of us could say right along with Thomas, “It’s not enough. The meaning I’ve tried to drum up for myself in this life is not enough to still my restlessness, but to be honest, I’m starting to think an empty tomb is not enough either.”

Two Stories Caught in a Single Frame

Early on a hot summer morning in the mid-1970s, Philippe Petit walked across a wire suspended between the iconic Twin Towers dotting the Lower Manhattan skyline. It was a spectacle.

Almost exactly 27 years later, two commercial flights were hijacked and steered directly into those same Twin Towers, bringing them to the ground with thousands of casualties. It was also a spectacle—of the very worst kind.

A photo was snapped during Petit’s jaunt across the wire that was meaningless for nearly three decades but then became iconic: a commercial plane caught behind the balancing man on the wire appears to be flying much too low, almost like it will hit the towers. Two moments that seem logically a lifetime apart are caught in a single frame. The stories overlap for just a moment.

That’s what happened to Thomas. The story of the world and the story of Jesus seemed incompatible on resurrection morning. It was wishful thinking for any true realist. Then, for just a moment, the stories overlapped in a small upper room hideaway in central Jerusalem. Thomas, disenchanted by an empty tomb, encountered the presence of the living God.

That’s the invitation for you.


Learn more about the book at zondervan.com

Thanks to HarperCollins Christian Publishing for the opportunity to reprint these excerpts. Books is ©2021 Zondervan Publishing. Used by permission.

April 7, 2021

A Morning Like That

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Last year we introduced you to The Cove, a multi-site church in Mooresville, NC (Greater Charlotte) which posts weekday devotions on their website. This time around, the writer we’re featuring is Noelle McDermott. This was the Tuesday devotional in a series on the resurrection. Please support and encourage the writers we feature by reading these devotionals at the source site where we found them. Click the header which follows.

As the Sun Breaks Through

Today’s Scripture: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” 1 Peter 1:3, ESV

Theme: The Resurrection gives us hope for today and for eternity.

AS THE SUN BREAKS THROUGH…

Growing up in North Carolina, with its predominately sunny weather, I have come to strongly dislike the rain. When clouds roll over and begin to drizzle, I immediately miss the sun. I’ll complain about how sad I feel or how I can’t wait until the sun comes back. During a persistent period of rain, I was surprised—not because the sky finally cleared up—but because the sun was out, though it was still raining.

I stepped outside and marveled at two different types of weather colliding. I felt the warmth of the sun as the rain drizzled down and watched puddles of water slowly transforming into steam that the wind swept away. The sun eventually withdrew behind the clouds once more, but that brief moment of sunshine, even while standing in the rain, had lifted my spirits.

IN THE MIDST OF STORMS…

Mary Magdalene is initially introduced to us in Luke 8 in a list of women “who provided for [Jesus and the twelve disciples] out of their means” (Luke 8:2-3). The passage specifically notes that seven demons had been cast out of her. She also witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion (Mark 15:40) and visited His tomb on the day of His Resurrection (John 20:1). Although other Gospels mention two other women accompanying her and telling the disciples of the open tomb with her, Scripture does not mention their staying afterwards. Even Peter and John, who visited the empty tomb at the women’s urging, left almost immediately also. Mary Magdalene is the only one who remained at the tomb.

Overwhelmed by her grief, she wept. I cannot imagine what went through her head as she sat in the garden, nor the hopelessness she must have felt. Not only had her Savior died, but she could not even find Him and anoint His body. What would have been next for Mary? How else could she serve Him if she could not even find Him? As she wept, she encountered two angels and a Man she did not recognize, even after speaking to Him. But as soon as He simply said her name, Mary realized that Jesus was standing before her. Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Jesus resurrected and was entrusted to tell the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”

SO DOES HOPE!

The Resurrection renewed hope within Mary Magdalene and it can renew hope within us. How often do we weep and search for answers as Mary did? Distracted with questions and doubt, we sometimes fail to realize that the Lord stands before us until the very moment He calls us by name. We succumb to hopelessness and discouragement because we forget the “living hope” granted to us thorough Jesus’ Resurrection. He has already overcome, and in light of that truth, we have the assurance of hope. This living hope gives us the strength to keep the faith and persevere in difficult seasons, for we are being prepared for “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17) in this life and in eternity.

Make It Personal: As you reflect upon the Resurrection this week, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal where you have lost hope in the Lord’s promises. Where have you begun to doubt and despair? Let Him renew hope in you.

Pray: God, thank You that You sent Your Son and resurrected Him. Thank You for the confident hope given to us by Jesus’ Resurrection. Through each season, remind me of the hope I have in You through the Resurrection. Amen.

Weekly Memory Verse: “I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 1:19-20, NLT

Read: John 20:1-18; Luke 8:2-3; Mark 15:40; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

January 2, 2021

Moving People Toward Belief

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. – John 20:30,31 NIV

I just finished reading (in one day!) the history of InterVarsity Press (IVP). I would hope that anyone reading a blog called Christianity 201 would have at some point in their life consumed several of their books and have them still on their shelves. They produce thoughtful books for Christians who think.

J. I. Packer said of the organization, “Some publishers tell you what to believe. Other publishers tell you what you already believe. But InterVarsity Press helps you to believe.”

It’s easy to tell people what to believe: ‘Here’s what you need to know.’ In the medium you’re reading (blogging) a popular type of article is a genre called listicles. These lists begin with phrases like “7 Things About…;” or “5 Reasons You Should…;” or “8 Most Important Lessons…” As someone who likes systematically organized information, I need to confess that I tend to gravitate to articles like this. It’s so easy to tell people the bullet points, or the talking points. And there is some value in informing people that the death and resurrection of Christ is key to beginning a faith journey.

But the Apostle Paul famously says in 1 Corinthians 8:1 that knowledge puffs up. It’s amazing how many modern translations retain that phrase with the runner-up being makes people arrogant. The context is about eating meat which has been offered to idols. I often wondered how someone could do this, but after learning more about the intricacies surrounding the interconnectedness of what I’ve called elsewhere “the sacrifice industry” with the manner of food distribution at the time, it’s easier to see why this is a moral, ethical and spiritual issue that would resonate with people and actually have more practical application than we realize.

Eugene Peterson goes well beyond translation into commentary rendering this passage:

The question keeps coming up regarding meat that has been offered up to an idol: Should you attend meals where such meat is served, or not? We sometimes tend to think we know all we need to know to answer these kinds of questions—but sometimes our humble hearts can help us more than our proud minds. We never really know enough until we recognize that God alone knows it all.

We can also, as Packer noted, tell people what they already believe. Again, in this (blogging) medium, we’ve seen over the years that online Christian community can become a vast echo chamber with people imagining they receive more points by quoting or re-publishing the most recent columns by prominent Bible teachers. It is often called, preaching to the choir. In yesterday’s look at an extremely popular passage, I tried to state at the outset that we would be taking a fresh approach, mapping the positive character qualities Paul was listing to negative character traits which show up in our modern world.

Some truths are profound however and cannot be stated enough. For example, God is love; but that reality often doesn’t challenge the intellect of some readers who immediately tune out. But when you go beyond the surface, you find that:

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.*

But what our aim should be is to help people believe; to inspire them to come to know Jesus in a personal way which makes their faith their own and isn’t just an adoption of our beliefs, our positions, our doctrine, our systematic theology.

A phrase you don’t hear often anymore — and one that only produced a mere eight results on Google — is “Making Jesus Mine.” I’ve often told my own salvation story in these terms, “Taking ownership of my faith.” It’s not hereditary. It’s not something you do as a community. It’s definitely not something you do with your spouse.** Rather, the Bible teaches a personal accountability for salvation (in an eternal sense) and stewardship of the life we’ve been given (in the present tense.)

In our opening verse John states that the purpose of his gospel all along has been, But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

In other words, John isn’t saying ‘Here’s what you need to know.’ Rather, he’s creating a spark and trusting that the fire will spread.

Similarly, we can play a role in pointing others to a belief that they own. We can disciple people, but we’re not the arbiters of their faith. Nor is any church body. Everyone needs their own direct line to God. We simply point them to Jesus and allow the Holy Spirit to work on their hearts.

 


*Frederick M. Lehman (1868-1953) “The Love of God” vs. 3 quoted
**There are many passages that apply to community, to actions taken by a community, and even the concept of household salvation; but we do eventually stand before God alone. In the past year, I’ve observed several cases where married couples have acted as though spiritual decisions are taken collectively, but this is an area where marital disagreement (i.e. on the deity and lordship of Christ) is not only healthy, but it’s positionally necessary.

 

December 10, 2020

A Messy Faith, But a Merry Christmas

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:27 pm
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How do you believe something when everyone around around you says that what you believe is ridiculous? How do you question anything when everyone around you says that your doubts are ridiculous? Faith can get messy. Should we believe? Can we believe?

This Christmas especially, many people may be questioning their faith. God sent baby Jesus. Can he not send a vaccine? Science seems to be doing well on that front.

As the Christmas story unfolds in the Gospel of Luke we encounter someone whose faith gets messy. I will let you read the story for yourself:

When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying.

While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”

Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”

Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”

Luke 1:5-20 (NLT)

Zechariah had all the credentials of a good religious man, he was as a priest, he was mature, he was righteous, yet he wavered in his faith. It is clear that when the angel appeared, he was not prepared for an experience of the supernatural!

Perhaps there are many good religious people today, who are not prepared for an experience of the supernatural.

Christianity exists as a response to the supernatural, as an outcome of God’s direct involvement in our world. Though there are many examples, let us focus on three occasions:

  • The creation. Everything we consider to be “natural” is a result of the supernatural.
  • The incarnation of God in Jesus through the virgin conception.
  • The resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

When Christmas comes along, while some children begin to question if Santa Claus is for real, some adults and youth begin to question if a virgin conception is for real. Faith wavers. If we believe there is any possibility that God exists, that God conceived the universe then brought it into being, then for God to be involved in the conception of a child is no problem at all, especially if there was good reason to do so.

And there was good reason.

It is often said that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” That is not true, extraordinary claims require good evidence. There are many books and resources available regarding that evidence for the reality of God and Jesus.

Let us try this statement instead; “God’s extraordinary love provides extraordinary evidence.” The story of Christmas with the miracle of the incarnation is extraordinary evidence of God’s love. The story of Easter with the miracle of the resurrection is extraordinary evidence of God’s love.

Zechariah did all the godly things, yet he doubted the power of God. Do we? Faith gets messy when we doubt the power of God. Faith gets especially messy when we doubt the love of God.

There is another side to this coin. Zechariah had his moment of doubt, of asking a question. Since the angel seemed to scold Zechariah for his doubt, we might be tempted to scold anyone, including ourselves, for ever doubting or questioning. However, to do so is to miss the bigger story here.

Zechariah’s doubt did not disqualify him from being part of God’s people, from being a priest, or from the wonderful calling of being John the Baptist’s Dad.

You will not be disqualified for asking a question, for sharing a doubt. As messy as our faith gets, it does not mess up God’s love.

Questions and doubts can sometimes be a necessary part of faith. Wouldn’t the world have been a safer place if the men that took control of planes to fly them into the Wold Trade Centre had less certainty and more doubt? While we might claim that their faith was different, for they were Muslims of a fundamentalist variety, does it sometimes happen that we as Christians cause harm by our certainty on things where perhaps room for doubt or questions would be better?

A friend shared a video with me of a woman dealing with panic attacks and depression. Turning to Christian friends and professionals she was told to look for whatever sin was hindering her, or to have more faith. She eventually got better help beyond the Christian circles she was moving in. We can bring harm into people’s lives by our certitude.

We have questions and doubts. Questions and doubts are part of a growing faith, a growing relationship with God. We want to be careful that we are not acting like we know everything when the Bible does not tell us everything. While faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit, certitude is not.

Zechariah was not disqualified because he expressed doubt. On the contrary, just imagine how his faith must have grown when he saw the power of God at work. Perhaps our questions and doubts can be an important part of the journey of faith.

We may feel a pressure from society to never believe anything the Bible says. We may feel a pressure from our faith community to never doubt anything the faith community says about what the Bible says. As a father seeking a miracle from Jesus for his child said:

“I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”

Mark 9:24 (NLT)

Is it time to take a step toward trusting the power and love of God, of trusting Jesus? Is it time to give yourself permission to have questions and doubts? When our faith is messy, it does not mess up God’s love. Zechariah’s faith was messy. It didn’t ruin Christmas.


Clarke Dixon is a Baptist pastor — not that Baptist, the other one — in Southern Ontario. He writes at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. Today’s thoughts alone on video are at this link or may be seen as part of this “online worship expression

November 27, 2020

Following Jesus, but with Reservations, Pessimism and Doubts

In one of the original pieces here six months ago, I re-classified the twelve apostles into some different categories, including “final week disappointments” consisting of “Peter’s denial, Judas’ betrayal, and Thomas’ doubt.” We often hear sermons on the similarities and contrasts between the first two, but Thomas usually doesn’t get included in this grouping.

You know the story. Thomas misses out on that initial resurrection celebration because he just can’t take in the possibility.

At Joyful Heart Renewal Ministries, Dr. Ralph Wilson notes

…Thomas is a pessimist. Some people rejoice to see a glass half full, but Thomas sees it half empty. Oh, he’s full courage, but also possesses a streak of fatalism. Once, when Jesus and his disciples hear about their friend Lazarus’s death near Jerusalem, the center of Jesus’ opposition, Thomas comments darkly, “Yes, let’s go there that we might die with him.” His words are almost prophetic.

Soon, his world falls apart. Thomas sees his Master arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and he flees for his life. On Good Friday he watches at a distance as they spike his Friend to a cross on the Roman killing grounds of Golgotha. As Jesus’ life drains away, so does Thomas’s hope.

On Saturday he is in shock. On Sunday he is so disillusioned that he doesn’t gather with his fellow disciples for an evening meal. Thomas is dazed, hurt, bitter — and lashing out. Monday morning, the disciples go looking for Thomas and tell him what has happened in his absence…

Thomas, at least in this moment in the narrative, is both a follower and a skeptic. And it’s safe to say his skepticism is winning the day on that Monday.

NIV.Jn.20.24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

He is basically saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Does that remind you of a verse of scripture?

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
 – Hebrews 11:1 NASB

or perhaps

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?
 – Romans 8:24 NIV

We have to recognize that some of this is just the way Thomas is wired. It’s his temperament; his default setting; his basic character. The website for the Jesus Film Project notes that:

…At one point Jesus tells the disciples:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1–4, NIV)

Naturally, the disciples don’t necessarily understand what He’s talking about. And it’s Thomas that asks Him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way” (John 14:5, NIV)?…

So was Thomas a “doubting Thomas?” The Enduring Word Bible Commentary says no. You’re thinking, wait? No?

…Thomas is often known as Doubting Thomas, a title that misstates his error and ignores what became of him. Here we could say that Thomas didn’t doubt; he plainly and strongly refused to believe.

· Thomas refused the believe the testimony of many witnesses and reliable witnesses.

· Thomas made an extreme demand for evidence; evidence of not only sight but of touch, and to repeatedly touch the multiple wounds of Jesus.

The same commentary, quoting McLaren’s Commentary notes:

Thomas did the very worst thing that a melancholy man can do, went away to brood in a corner by himself, and so to exaggerate all his idiosyncrasies, to distort the proportion of the truth, and hug his despair, by separating himself from his fellows. Therefore he lost what they got, the sight of the Lord.

And as a result, he misses out. He misses out on the “Peace be with you” blessing noted earlier in John 20, and he misses out on that moment when something bigger happens:

He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Thomas imposes a lot of conditions on what it would take to believe. Enduring Word quotes Leon Morris:

[A]nother possibility should not be overlooked, namely that he was so shocked by the tragedy of the crucifixion that he did not find it easy to think of its consequences as being annulled.

As we’ve seen above (vs. 26) he does see the risen Jesus. Eight. Days. Later.

Finally!

Then follows his confession; his affirmation; the statement that has major impact because it’s the words of someone who formerly did not believe:

NIV.Jn.20.28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Dr. Wilson says,

“Doubting Thomas” utters the greatest confession of faith recorded anywhere in the Bible.

The Enduring Word commentary notes that the final part of verse 29, which begins “blessed are” is a beatitude, but then quotes Spurgeon on ways we can miss that blessing:

· When we demand for a voice, a vision, a revelation to prove our faith.
· When we demand for some special circumstances to prove our faith.
· When we demand for some ecstatic experience.
· When we demand for an answer to every difficult question or objection.
· When we demand what men think of as success in our work of Jesus.
· When we demand that others support us in our faith.

Are you a doubting Thomas? You may not think so, but if we’re honest, most of us, even on our best days, harbor misgivings about some aspect of the faith, or its relevance to our personal situation. We’re like parent who comes to Jesus with concern for a gravely ill son:

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
 – Mark 9:24 NKJV

At those times our prayer should be

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
 – Luke 17:5 NIV

or in the NLT

The apostles said to the Lord, “Show us how to increase our faith.”

 

 

 

June 1, 2020

Just One Way: Through Jesus

Today we’re introducing a new website to you with the unusual title, Theist Thug Life. (I really wish there was an about page for this one!) Click the header below to read at source, then click the page header there to look at other articles.

The Exclusivity of Christ V. Religious Pluralism

“I am a Christian who believes that there are certainly many more paths to God other than Christianity”. – Oprah Winfrey

Immediately one may see the problem in Oprah’s statement above: A blatant contradiction.  Claiming to be a Christian she states that there is more than one path to God aside from Christianity. So what is she doing here? Oprah is advocating religious pluralism. Religious pluralism is generally the belief that two or more religious worldviews are equally valid or acceptable. This goes beyond simple tolerance (disagreeing but living peaceably together) but rather the very real acceptance of multiple paths to God (or gods) as a possibility. This is in stark contrast to those views that are exclusive, which is the idea that there is only one true religion or way to know God. Christianity is one such view that is exclusive. Immediately it becomes clear that her belief that there is more than one way to God is in opposition to her professed belief in Christ. In fact it is in blatant opposition to Jesus Christ himself. What do I mean? Christianity isn’t exclusive because Christians want it that way or because we are trying to come from a position of superiority of belief. No, Christian exclusivism just is because God has made it plainly known that he alone is God and there is only one way to him. One of the most prominent verses towards this end is found in John 14:6,

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The claim here made by Jesus is distinct and purposely narrow. It’s exclusive in that it leaves no room for another way.  In a world that has hundreds, if not thousands, of worldviews proposing the way to God (or gods or not gods) we must apply the law non-contradiction. This law essentially states that contradictory propositions cannot both be true ‘at the same time and in the same sense. Ravi Zacharias helps us understand this point here,

“Truth by definition is exclusive. Everything cannot be true. If everything is true, then nothing is false. And if nothing is false then it would also be true to say everything is false. We cannot have it both ways. One should not be surprised at the claims of exclusivity. The reality is that even those who deny truth’s exclusivity, in effect, exclude those who do not deny it. The truth quickly emerges. The law of non-contradiction does apply to reality: Two contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense. Thus, to deny the law of non-contradiction is to affirm it at the same time. You may as well talk about a one-ended stick as talk about truth being all-inclusive.”

Every worldview about God or how to get to God can’t be correct. Either Jesus is the WAY, TRUTH, or LIFE or he isn’t.

Now some may object here by saying that various religious views share certain values and agree on some social issues. Isn’t this religious pluralism? No it isn’t. While, for example, Buddhists and Christians both agree that helping the poor is important, such limited concord is not pluralism per se. Again pluralism has to do with lending credence to competing truth claims. It is a position that advocates the acceptance of diverse beliefs regarding God and salvation as being just as true as any other. However, worldviews contradict each other on a fundamental level. This doesn’t mean some religions can’t share some doctrinal beliefs (like there being only one God) but that the fundamental positions that each hold are irreconcilable. One or the other is true, not both.

Christian Core Beliefs

Christians are those individuals who have been forgiven of their sins. They are individuals who have entered into a close personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8–9Romans 10:9–10). Within the faith there are those beliefs that are essential and those that are non-essential. The non-essentials are those things that do not affect the salvation of an individual. Such things as dancing, head dressing, alcohol consumption, and so forth are not salvific issues. They are those issues that different Christians can disagree on but not divide over. Essential beliefs are those that are the core foundational beliefs that are paramount. These beliefs are something a person must fully accept as part of his or her own personal worldview to be called a Christian. The following are core beliefs:

• Jesus is the Son of God and is equal with God (John 1:149Luke 22:70Mark 3:11Philippians 2:5–11)
• Jesus was born of a virgin (Matthew 1:18Luke 1:26–35)
• Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life (Hebrews 4:15John 8:29)
• Jesus was crucified to pay the penalty for our sins (Matthew 26:281 Corinthians 15:2–4)
• Jesus rose from the dead (Luke 24:46Mark 16:6)
• We are saved by the grace of God; that is, we cannot add to or take away from Christ’s finished work on the cross as full payment for our sin (Ephesians 2:8–9)

Notice that these core beliefs of Christianity fly in the face of Oprah’s statement. While she claims to profess Christ she believes differently from what the core beliefs of Christianity are. Many people may indeed be ‘Christian’ in name but ignore or outright reject core beliefs that define who a Christian is. Truly if Christ is our only hope…our sole way of forgiveness of our sins and gaining redemption…then belief that we or others can go outside of Christ for hope and redemption is simply anathema. It does not follow. Such a person who advocates that there are other ways to God aside from Christ is someone who either doesn’t know what they are talking about, deceiving themselves, or they are outright lying and do not believe the truth.

Summary

Ravi Zacharias perfectly finishes off this article below with these last words,

“So where does that leave us? We must not be surprised at truth claims but we must test them before we believe them. If the test demonstrates truth then we are morally compelled to believe it. And this is precisely the point from which many are trying to run. As G.K. Chesterton said, the problem with Christianity is not that it has been tried and found wanting, but that it has been found difficult and left untried.

Christ is either the immeasurable God or one dreadfully lost. Apply the tests of truth to the person and the message of Jesus Christ. You see not only his exclusivity, but also his uniqueness.”

Note: While Christianity is exclusive in that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation it must be said that Christianity is perhaps the most inclusive faith. No matter your skin color, creed, where you were born, or social status you are able to come to Jesus. No one is turned away as long as they repent and believe the Gospel. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” -John 3:16

Further Reading and Citations

https://www.rzim.org/read/a-slice-of-infinity/point-of-exclusion

Here are 10 verses that speak to the exclusivity of Jesus.

  1. John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
  2. Acts 4:12 – And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
  3. John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
  4. Romans 10:9 – Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
  5. 2 Corinthians 4:4 – In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
  6. John 3:36 – Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
  7. Acts 10:43 – To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
  8. 1 Timothy 2:5 – For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
  9. Romans 3:22 – The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:
  10. John 17:3 – And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
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