Christianity 201

September 28, 2022

The Bible: Reading it and Writing It

NIV Deut:1118 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.

NIV.Gal.6.11 See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

The picture above is of a scripture passage my oldest son chose to write out by hand eleven years ago and post on his bedroom wall.  It’s remarkable for two reasons, the first being that a few years before this his struggle with cursive writing would never have produced anything so legible, the second being the love that he has for the Word of God, evidenced by the time he spends in scripture each day.

Writing out Bible passages by hand has become somewhat archaic in a world of word processing.  But it’s just one of a number of subtle changes taking place in terms of our relationship with the printed word:

  • Many of us leave our Bibles at home on Sundays, finding it more convenient to use Bibles provided at weekend services
  • Many choose to use Bible apps on their smart phones instead of following from a print text
  • Many have their devotional and Bible study time driving to work using a an audio devotional downloaded, or a podcast
  • Scripture memorization has become less commonplace in our children’s and youth ministry programs
  • People like myself often ‘absorb’ scripture throughout the day through online articles and blogs but don’t directly read anything at source
  • Our worship music is ‘vertical’ which can derive from psalms and similar passages, but is therefore less reliant on the ‘Scripture in Song’ type of choruses that were based more directly on scripture
  • The giving out of tracts has died as a practice; many of these began with scripture and contained several Bible passages
  • The reading of Christian books has diminished in a screen-saturated world.
  • Scripture plaques, often seen in the living rooms and kitchens of homes have been deemed inadequate in a world of interior decorating and replaced by “inspirational” wall art with single word admonitions like “dream,” “believe,” “hope,” etc.
  • Where once people would add a scripture verse by hand to a greeting card, today — if we send cards at all — we purchase Christian cards with a verse already included

Combine all these, and the handwriting my son did might seem rather quaint. But I’ll bet that taking the time to do this means he knows this passage well.

Of course, more than writing scripture on the doorframes and gates of our houses, God desires for us to write his words on our heart. But how we do this if we don’t know the passages and precepts in the first place? God is revealed to us first and foremost in scripture; this is the primary revelation of God in our times.

So here’s the challenge.  Take a passage and write it out by hand today. Start with a short one, such as Titus 3: 3-8 or you might consider Colossians 1: 9-14 or the Galatians passage above, or a passage of your choosing.  (Those are just two of the first I did myself, so I’m not asking you to do anything I haven’t done.) Today my recommendation would include Philippians 2:5-11.

In 2019, before leaving for a one week intensive course on the book of Galatians, I copied the entire book from N.T. Wright’s Kingdom New Testament (since it was he who was teaching the course.) That took much longer than I expected. I now have a better understanding of what the scribes did. Consider doing this one of the epistles, or even hand-copying one of the gospels.

And then, having copied them on to paper, allow the words to be written on your heart.

September 13, 2022

Trumpeting vs. Illuminating

“You must understand that God has not sent his Son into the world to pass sentence upon it, but to save it—through him. Any man who believes in him is not judged at all. It is the one who will not believe who stands already condemned, because he will not believe in the character of God’s only Son. This is the judgment—that light has entered the world and men have preferred darkness to light because their deeds are evil. Anybody who does wrong hates the light and keeps away from it, for fear his deeds may be exposed. But anybody who is living by the truth will come to the light to make it plain that all he has done has been done through God.”  John 3: 17-21; J. B. Phillips translation.

The Bible makes a strong case that we’re not to “trumpet” our good works in order to get credit, or draw attention to ourselves. Nor, we are instructed, should we make a spectacle out of prayer, or giving. We are to approach God, and do acts of service with a humble spirit. We’re to take the back seat, though we might be asked to come forward.

But this passage, particularly vs. 21 “whoever lives by the truth comes into the light,” following on the heels of the popular John 3:16 text, tells us that we won’t stay hidden in the darkness such as those who do wrong (evil), but rather we will come into the light, because we are naturally drawn to be people of the light.

  • NASB: But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.
  • NCV: But those who follow the true way come to the light, and it shows that the things they do were done through God
  • The Message: But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.

One verse that comes to my mind in this context is in Acts 26 where Paul is speaking before Agrippa and Festus:

26 For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.

I deliberate chose the KJV for this one because I love the phrasing, “this thing was not done in a corner.”  But most of the translations — even the modern ones — keep this phrasing, with The Message rendering, “You must realize that this wasn’t done behind the scenes.” Just as ‘cream rises to the surface,’ so will the works of God be evident, even in an unbelieving world.

Here’s how the NLT and Amplified Bible render Matthew 5:15-16

NLT 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.

AMP 16 Let your light so shine before men that they may see your moral excellence and your praiseworthy, noble, and good deeds and recognize and honor and praise and glorify your Father Who is in heaven.

I can’t help but also think of the tension in 1 Peter 2:12 here as well. The world may on the one hand criticize and condemn us, but then on the other hand, they recognize the good that the presence of Spirit-filled Christians are doing in the world.

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (NLT)

Therefore:

  • We dwell in the light, not darkness
  • We reflect (or you could say, carry) The Light of God
  • We shine like light and are the light of the world

July 24, 2022

The Ministry of “Coming Alongside”

When my oldest son was doing a 4-month internship with Engineering Ministries International, he reminded us several times that they were “an adjunct ministry.” Their job was to work in the background for other Christian organizations (who they called the “client charities”) and it was those other organizations which received all the visibility. Engineering Ministries International has been involved in at least two thousand projects around the world, but you’ve probably never heard of them.

Another organization, Partners International, had some missions projects operating a few years ago that fell under the banner of “Alongside.” One was a water treatment plant in Africa started by my wife’s uncle. He had noticed that many organizations were raising money to install wells so Africans could have fresh water, but nobody was fixing the wells when they needed repairing. So he created his own “Alongside” project which led to the water treatment facility.

With that in mind, today I want to pick up where we left off yesterday. This devotional study originally appeared a decade ago under the title

Cooperating With What God is Already Doing

and has never been repeated here until now…

It’s possible that your work situation or family situation or neighborhood situation looks, from a spiritual perspective, fairly bleak. You may find yourself in what you consider to be a fairly pagan or secularized environment. But I believe that God is at work in hearts more than we realize.

As an aside, I am reminded of the story of Elijah who goes into hiding, despite winning a huge victory against the prophets of Baal. He cries to God that he is “the only one left,” rattling off some stats about the remaining prophets of Baal, and at that moment, God throws out his own statistic:

NCV.1 Kings.19.8 I have seven thousand people left in Israel who have never bowed down before Baal and whose mouths have never kissed his idol.”

You can read our February, 2021 devotional about this narrative at this link.

Okay…let’s go back to the idea of feeling like you’re in a broken place where God doesn’t seem to be working.

I want to continue where we left off yesterday, and look at our part in bringing people into an awareness of Jesus that leads to a desire for Jesus.  In that devotional, we looked at being the kind of person that God can use to be “sent,” that is to go out into a particular situation or people group or individual’s life and then tell them, so they can hear, believe and call out for salvation.

But the Bible also teaches a principle of “sowers and reapers” and raises the possibility of this being a team approach. In I Corinthians 3:

(NCV) 5b …We are only servants of God who helped you believe. Each one of us did the work God gave us to do.6 I planted the seed, and Apollos watered it. But God is the One who made it grow.7 So the one who plants is not important, and the one who waters is not important. Only God, who makes things grow, is important.8 The one who plants and the one who waters have the same purpose, and each will be rewarded for his own work.

My entire part-time work career during eight years of high school and college consisted of working in large department stores. In each area of the store I had to know what the products were, how the products worked, whether there were product warranties, and where the products were kept in the stockroom.  I also had to learn how to work the cash register.

So, my usefulness to my employer consisted of two things:

  • product knowledge
  • sales processing

In later years, when I owned my own business, I realized I had been taught nothing about how to sell. There was no sense in which I asked customers what they felt they needed, qualified what might meet that need, and then proceed to  “ask the question.” Asking means saying, “Do you think that this product can meet those needs?” Or, “Is there anything stopping from you buying today?” Or, “Can I wrap that up for you?”

The ingredient I was missing was what is called, “closing the sale.” My training should have been a three-pronged approach consisting of:

  • product knowledge
  • closing the sale
  • sales processing

Sometimes in the Christian journey we encounter people who are given to us so that we can plant seeds. And other times, we find people where God has been working in their lives already and they’re just waiting for someone to gently nudge them over the line of faith.

But sometimes we fall short of doing both when the opportunities are present. To switch analogies for a moment, it’s like a baseball game in which you’re up to bat and you get a perfect pitch, but instead of hitting a home run you decide to bunt. What holds us back from the hitting the ball out of the park?

I once heard a pastor tell the story of a friend with whom he had been planting seeds for a long time. One day, out of the blue, an associate asked the man if he would like to become a disciple and make Christ the Lord of his life, and the man said yes on the spot. This pastor often jokes that this was simply “not fair.” With a department store analogy, you could say that this man was “his customer;” though thankfully we’re not exactly on commission! More seriously, the pastor understood the distinction between sowing and reaping, and rejoiced that this man did indeed cross the line of faith.

(If we keep the analogy going, the pastor gave the friend all the product knowledge, but his associate was the one closing the sale.)

In Experiencing God, Richard Blackaby talks about coming alongside areas where the Holy Spirit is already working.** Perhaps there is a ministry organization or even a secular social service agency where people, whether consciously or unknowingly, are experiencing the fruit of God’s love and are ripe to respond. Could you be the missing ingredient?

  • In the lives of people you’ve been in contact with for the past few weeks or month, are you a sower or a reaper?
  • Do you know people right now who you’ve been gently sharing your faith with, but you’ve been afraid to ask the question?
  • Re-read today’s key verses. Maybe you find evangelism very difficult. Is there an area where you can be a “water-er” providing after-care for new disciples?

~ PW

**Experiencing God, pp. 54-55; p. 297

July 23, 2022

The Beautiful People Who Lay the Foundation for Evangelism

Could I have made that title any longer? Today and tomorrow I want to revisit some things we looked at here in 2012; two original devotional studies that have never, until now, been repeated. This devotional was originally titled

But Before That Can Happen, This Has to Happen

I know…equally long title!

NIV Romans 10:14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

From a purely literary standpoint, these verses in Romans use a rather unique form. It’s like Paul is deliberately saying everything in reverse, not unlike those comedies or dramas on television where they keep flashing back to progressively earlier and earlier scenes chronologically. In other words, before that can happen, this has to happen.

Having just proclaimed that, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” in verse 13, the sequence looks like this:

  • people are saved if they call on the Lord
  • can’t call on Him unless they first believe
  • can’t believe unless they hear
  • can’t hear unless someone delivers the message; the good news
  • can’t have the message delivered unless someone is sent

So before one thing can happen something else has to happen.  Let’s put things in chronological order:

  • someone is sent
  • the ‘sent person’ delivers the message
  • others hear the message
  • they believe the message
  • they call on the Lord to save them
  • they are saved

That in itself would be a sufficient meditation, but it leaves something else.  In every major English translation, one more verse is included in the same paragraph, which is a quotation from Isaiah 52.

Isaiah 52:How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    “Your God reigns!”

Repeated here in Romans:

As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

I love how the CEV put this:

The Scriptures say it is a beautiful sight to see even the feet of someone coming to preach the good news.

Now, I’m going to read something into the text here, but I want you to humor me by following along here.  I think the CEV accurately conveys the picture here of the beauty of the sight of someone coming to bring the good news. But let’s assume for just a moment the beauty of the person themselves who comes.  (Not, obviously physical beauty, but spiritual beauty.)

If everything in the text is in reverse order, and if every translator sees the quotation as very directly linked to the other phrases, then what appears in the original form,

  • people are saved if they call on the Lord
  • can’t call on Him unless they first believe
  • can’t believe unless they hear
  • can’t hear unless someone delivers the message; the good news
  • can’t have the message delivered unless someone is sent
  • that “sent someone” is a beautiful person!!

Then the adjusted order would be

  • the process described here begins with a beautiful person!!
  • someone is sent
  • the ‘sent person’ delivers the message
  • others hear the message
  • they believe the message
  • they call on the Lord to save them
  • they are saved

Again, I’ve done some “reading into” on the text here, but it does give you a different way of looking at the passage, and it is supported by further study of what it is to be the man or woman who God chooses.  Those of you who object strongly can leave a comment with the more traditional interpretations of the Isaiah passage’s presence here.

But I think God is looking for a “special someone” to relay the message to people in need, and he’s looking for that someone to have a beautiful spirit.  In other words, before we can assume a ministry, we need to cultivate the character of Christ within.

Someone once said there are two dimensions to a physical cross, and we can think of the vertical dimension as the depth of our relationship to God, and the horizontal as the breadth of expressing that relationship to the world around us. We are responsible for the depth of our ministry and God is responsible for the breadth of our ministry.

To get to be the sent one, to be the preacher, to see people respond and call out for salvation; all that has to begin with the formation of Christian character within.  You can’t expect to move in the gifts of the spirit until you have cultivated the fruit of the spirit.

~Paul Wilkinson

For some of you, the passage today reminded you of an older worship song; so here’s a link to Our God Reigns.

 

 

June 9, 2022

Social Situations, Self-Importance, and Christian Humility

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.   ~Romans 12:3b NIV

At 6’0″ (that’s 183cm for much of the world) I usually find myself in conversation with people not as tall as myself, but in the last few months I’ve noticed that I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable carrying on conversations with people taller than myself, probably because it happens so seldom.  Yesterday we ran into Tim, the son of one of my mother’s best friends, and I again found myself registering the fact I had to keep looking up to make eye contact.

I can see how people like myself who are tall of stature might get confused and think that they are somehow ‘taller’ intellectually or emotionally; and there is always the danger of thinking oneself to be ‘taller’ spiritually. Of course, we all know our inward shortcomings and weaknesses, but when we’re out and about with members of the wider faith family, it’s easy to posture. In the key verse today, Paul says we should use ‘sober judgment’ of ourselves.

Another application of this principle is that we look up to God, who scripture tells us looks down on us. This is repeated in various passages; it’s important to remember who is where! One prayer pattern that I learned years ago contains the phrase, “You’re God and I’m not;” or “You’re God and we’re not.” When we come to Him in prayer, we need to remember who is ‘taller.’

Here’s a similar application of how we deal with our own estimation of ourselves from Luke 14.  Jesus is teaching…

When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!

10 “Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. 11 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  ~NLT

Ten years ago we attended a family funeral. My wife’s uncle passed away and we didn’t realize that some seats were being held for nieces and nephews, so we took a seat toward the back. Her cousin saw us and immediately told us that special seats were reserved for us, and invited us to “come up higher” in the seating plan. We appreciated this, but I couldn’t help but think of this passage as we were walking to the front, and also of the potential embarrassment that could occur if the situation were reversed.

The brand of Christ-following that is portrayed on television is centered on people with very strong personalities and — dare I say it? — very large egos. I think some of this is given away by the very fact these people want to be on television, though I don’t preclude the use of media to share the gospel.  But you and I, the average disciple, should be marked by humility; the type of humility that takes a back seat in a culture that wants to proclaim, “We’re number one.”

We serve the King of Kings. We have the hottest news on the rack. We are seated with Christ in heavenly places. But we approach this in a humble spirit, with gratitude that God chose to reach down and rescue us from our fallen state.

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. ~ James 4:10 NKJV

How tall do you feel?


Classic Worship Song: Humble Thyself in the Sight of the Lord

March 9, 2022

Living in the Intersection of Two Worlds

To be a Christian is to be following Christ in a world that is dominantly following other standards, other passions, other rules of engagement.  There are several different aspects to this.

The first has to do with location. Have you ever gone ‘state straddling?’ That’s where you stand with one foot in one state and one in another. There are parts of the Canada/US border (and probably more in Europe) where you can actually do ‘country straddling,’ with one foot in the USA and one in its northern neighbor (or more correctly in this case, neighbour with a ‘u.’) As believers, we straddle a fence between two realms.

The first Venn diagram I ever saw that talked about the Christian living in two worlds depicted the intersection of ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come.’ We live in that intersection, as part of earthly kingdoms, and part of a kingdom yet to be realized.

Christianity is simple enough that a child can understand the basics, in fact, we’re encouraged to come as a child.

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

However, as we press in to knowing God through Jesus, we discover that while the entry point is wonderfully simplistic, moving deeper involves beautiful complexity and the ability to think in abstract terms. Currently we’re aware of a family whose faith is stuck because they want to be able to express all of doctrine in literal, black-and-white terms.

But we need to be able to dig deeper. For example, fully grasping need for abstract thinking is fundamental to understanding salvation in terms like, ‘We were saved, we are saved, we will be saved.’ Such is the complexity and fullness of all Christ accomplished at the cross.

But there is also the dynamic of distinction. In this world, we are to be called out and set apart to live in the middle of a world that follows different marching orders. There are two forces wrestling for control of each and every one of us, the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness.

Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the LORD. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you. – 2 Cor. 6:17 NLT

We’re called to be in this situation, but not of it. We’re called to live in a world where all type of influence may come into us, but where what comes out of us is what matters. We’re called to be affected by all kinds of external stimuli, but to respond uniquely and unexpectedly as strangers and aliens by going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, giving the coat off our back, etc.

But there is a third intersection which takes place entirely within. It has nothing about it that would register externally. There is no behavioral component where person ‘X’ is seen struggling with wanting to do right but finding himself/herself doing wrong. It is completely unseen.

We were created with ego. That’s it. Pure and simple. We were created with a survivalist instinct that runs completely contrary to the idea of preferring others. In the NIV, the verse reads,

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves…  Phil 2:3

Try this sometime: Look up a dozen verses containing the word sin, and replace it with selfishness. You’ll find the verses all read somewhat normally; they make sense. And it’s the opposite of the way Kingdom-of-God people should be living.

Living to prefer others is not natural. It must be labored at, worked out with fear and trembling. But even then, it can only be fully attained if there is a model for us to follow, to imitate. If someone has gone before and shown us by example that it is possible to live in this time and this place under a law of love.

Feel free at this point to interject, ‘Oh, if only there was such a person who could show us how to live this life.’

It also has to do with keeping an internal consistency.

I know everything you have done, and you are not cold or hot. I wish you were either one or the other.  – Rev. 3:15 CEV

This third type of internal struggle is for many the most difficult at all. You may live in a mostly Christian culture — even if it’s nominal — where your Christian beliefs are widely held. You may live in a situation that is somewhat devoid of persecution compared to other parts of the world. But I guarantee you that you do not escape the conflict between your egotistical, self-focused nature and the type of others-focused servanthood that the New Testament teaches.

The greatest battlefield we face as Christ-followers is often the battlefield within.

November 13, 2021

The Bible’s Top 6 Verses Used as Random Maxims

In many respects, I’d like to think that regular readers here don’t need today’s post, but for each one of those, there are others I hope find this via a search engine, and do a reset on the misapplication of certain scripture passages. (If you’re in the “been there, done that, bought the t-shirt” category, then skip to today’s bonus article by the same author.

It’s been awhile (not sure why) since we last visited Driving Thought, the long-time blog of Scott McCown. Here’s one quoted article and two linked articles. Click the header below to read direct from the source.

What Does that Verse Say?

Everywhere I go, I hear Christians and Bible-minded people quoting passages of scripture or I see certain passages on signs, bumper stickers, or on personalized car plates (tags). At first glance these passages seem to be encouraging or seem to be full of promise. Yet, often, after a deeper look at the context of the passage, they do not say what the sign, sticker, or tag implies. I have selected three of the more popular of these scriptures from the Old Covenant and three from the New Covenant to share and explore.

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” People quote this verse implying that God has a plan of my welfare for a future for hope, He has a specific plan for my life. I just need to let go and let God take control. But that is not what that verse is about. It is not about you. It is not about me. Unless of course, I want to wait 70 years like the verse before says. Contextually, God is telling the nation of Judah, “You have abandoned me, I am going to send you into captivity for seventy years, then you will come back here and call on My name – returning to Me, Then I will lay out the plans I have for you.” The plan was to restore them so the Messiah – Christ could come.

2 Chronicles 7:14 “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Many use this verse as if to say that if the United States of America would just pray, God will make America great again. I hate to disappoint you, but The United States is NOT God’s chosen people. The USA is not God’s nation. To be honest, we are not really a Christian nation. We are a democratic-republic who elects leaders. In the context of 2 Chronicles 7, Solomon has finished construction of the temple and God is warning Israel about becoming unfaithful and telling them He will punish their unfaithfulness but will forgive when they repent. Any application today is not to the United States of America but to God’s chosen people today, His kingdom, His body – the CHURCH. If the church wants to grow, we need to be a people of prayer and reliance on God.

Isaiah 43:19 “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” I heard someone on the radio using this verse as a promise. Their statement was along this idea, “You are going through a tough time, but God is taking you through that on purpose. He has a plan. A plan to give you something new and better.” Then they explained how their first marriage broke apart and how devastated they felt, but God lead a new spouse into their life and it is the best that has ever happened to them. All that sounds fantastic. That is until you realize the Lord is making a comparison. He is comparing the Exodus of Israel from Egypt to a new way and a new covenant He will make through the Messiah. The new thing is salvation through Christ and the promise of eternal salvation in Him.

Matthew 7:1 “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Many times, this verse is used when you or I do not want someone saying what we are doing or are about to do is wrong (dangerous, immoral, sinful, etc.) But that is NOT what Jesus is saying. Contextually, Jesus is saying before you tell someone about their sin, know that you will be judged by the same standard. So, make sure you are aware of and admit your own weaknesses before you condemn others for theirs (Matthew 7:1-5). Other passages us teach Christians to watch out for, edify, encourage, and even to judge one another (1 Corinthians 5:12). I want you to help me become more righteous, so please judge what I am doing and offer correction when I am in the wrong. Just realize that you do not have the ability to know my motives. You can judge my actions but only God can judge my heart.

Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Many times, we apply this verse to tasks, education, tests, sports and more. We use it to say we are invincible in this life and communicate that we will always come out on top when we rely on the strength of Christ. In Phil 4:10-14, Paul is thanking the Philippians for assisting him in his time of need. He shares that he is able to endure the hardships of persecution, need, hunger, as well as the joy of acclamation, abundance, and feasts. He has learned to take life in stride because his life is about Christ not about himself. If we apply this to sports, then I can win graciously because my life is in Christ and I can also lose graciously because my life is about Christ not about my ability (or lack thereof) on the basketball court.

John 13:7 “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Many use this verse in connection with Isaiah 43:19 (Behold I am doing a new thing) and claim that what hardship we are going through is from God and that although we do not understand it, we will when He gives us a new blessing afterwards. So we say, “God, I don’t know why you caused my house to burn down, but I know you have something new and better planned for me. I don’t understand what you are doing, but I have faith that everything happens for a reason.” That is not what this verse is about. This verse is about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and coming to Peter who tells Jesus, don’t wash my feet. Jesus replies, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” A few verses later he explains so that Peter and the rest would know what He was doing, “. . . Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 13:12-17). Jesus is teaching them about humble service and servant leadership. If He, Jesus the Christ, stooped to wash feet like a lowly house servant, then His followers and the leaders of His people (the Church) are servants not tyrants. That is what Peter and we are to understand from John 13:7.

My challenge to each and every one of us is to not use the Bible as a book of maxims to be randomly applied to make us feel better about life. That we not look at the Word of God as a book of various promises to demand (claim) from God. We need to take time to learn the context of a passage, take time to learn the over-riding message of the Bible – God’s plan for redeeming man back to Himself for eternity.


Second Helping:

By the same author, check out Break the Chains and/or Grace is Grace (a scripture medley).

 

October 15, 2021

If It’s All Greek to You…

Matthew 25:31 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.

Today’s article is less devotional and more about Bible study methods. Good and thorough study methods. The page Christ’s Words – The Mysteries of Jesus’s Greek Revealed is probably the most detailed verse-by-verse analysis of the New Testament in the original language that I’ve come across in years of sourcing material online. I searched for an author name, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and credit this to Gary Gagliardi, who describes himself as a “techno-linguist” who started his work studying ancient Chinese.

In the general introduction to the site he says,

Jesus’ words are unique for three reasons.

  1. His words were spoken, not written. Spoken language is inherently different than written language.
  2. His words changed the meaning of words, determining even how later NT authors’ used the Greek.
  3. His words were the basis of a unique historical revolution in the way people think.

What you’re about to see is only about 20% of the entire analysis of the verse in question, just to whet your appetite. And if you know someone who is a seminary student, you need to alert them to this website.

Matthew 25:31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory,

Spoken to:

Apostles

Context:

A parable about the final judgment of the sheep and the goats.

Greek :

Literal Verse:

When, however, he comes, this son of the man, in that acclaim of his, and all those messengers of his with him, then he will seat himself on a judge’s bench of his acclaim.

My Takeaway:

When it comes to a final judgment, Jesus chairs the meeting.

KJV :

Matthew 25:31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

NIV :

Matthew 25:31 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.

Interesting and Hidden Aspects:

“Glory” is a word that means “recognition” and “reputation”. Translations as “glory” or “splendor” are found primarily in translating the Bible. The word “acclaim” comes closest to capturing the way Jesus uses the word.

“Throne” is from an untranslated Greek word that means “chair” but came to means “throne” (as the Greek source of our word). It also means the “chair” of a teacher, the “chair” of a state official, or the “chair” of a judge. Our English word “chair” is used in all of these ways as well. Jesus almost always uses it in the context of acting as a judge, so “judge’s bench.”. This is certainly its use in this story.

Related Verses:

Matthew 16:27 For the Son of man shall come

Mark 8:38 Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me…

Luke 9:26 For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words,


The article then continues with an analysis of all the Greek words used, an analysis of the English words used in the KJV, and an analysis of the English words used in the NIV.

Remember that what you just read is done for each verse.

Again, this is the link: Click here.

August 31, 2021

Remorse for Past Sin

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

In Daniel 9, we see Daniel praying on behalf of the nation:

“O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands. But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land.

I can’t help but think as I read this that what he prays collectively has to begin individually, it has to begin with me. This is often contrary to our nature. We think ourselves righteous. It’s harder to pray:

But I have sinned and done wrong. I have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. I have refused to listen to your servants…

And yet, each time I ignore the commands of God, or rationalize some behavior, or allow myself some license in some area of thought or action, I am scorning God’s commands.

When our pastor spoke on this on Sunday he said you can’t always choose the place you live in, but you can decide where you are going to live toward. He contrasted living toward Jerusalem with living toward Babylon.

Our service ended in a time of confession, and then I sought someone to pray with me individually. I admitted that I am not living toward Jerusalem 24/7. I am distracted by worldly ideas.

If you’re a guy, maybe you are tempted by the girl at the mall in the miniskirt. That’s now how my brain operates. For me it’s ideas and concepts. One single phrase or sentence in an online article can be as devastating to me as the girl at the mall is to you. My worldview warps; my mindset skews.

Psalm 139 ends with the type of mind inventory I need constantly:

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

About six years ago we looked at a quotation by Jerry Bridges where he says, “We never see sin aright until we see it as against God.”

In Psalm 51, David writes:

Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
    I have done what is evil in your sight. (v.4a)

but he realizes he needs help to get back to the standard:

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and make me willing to obey you. (v.12)

If I were truly, truly sorry for past sins, I would never repeat them.

In the linked piece above, we included this graphic image:

We have to be truly sorry for our sin. Not the collective our, but the individual our.

I have to be truly sorry for my sin.

Heb. 10:25 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.

Prov. 15:10 There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; whoever hates reproof will die.

 

 

August 1, 2021

Is There a Connection Between Illness and Demon Possession?

A friend asked this question on Friday afternoon. He had some good, scripture-based reasons why we might see a link, but I decided to dig into the topic on my own. I picked a search engine that I don’t use as often, selected six page-one results that seemed on-topic, and chose two of them for my response. I decided to share them here with you. One was apologist J. Warner Wallace, whose books I have excerpted here before. (There’s a new one coming soon!) The other was a more Charismatic/Pentecostal perspective from Eric Hill.

■ Wallace stated:

Although there are several examples of demon possession in the Bible, the Scripture does not attribute all illness to demons. Skeptics often characterize Christians as superstitious people who attribute all physical ailments to the existence and influence of demons. But this is neither the Biblical record, nor what Christians believe. There are several New Testament passages describing the demon possessed and the sick as two different groups (joined by the word “and”):

Luke 13:31-32
Just at that time some Pharisees came up, saying to Him, “Go away and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill You.” And He said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach My goal.

Luke 9:1-2
When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

Acts 5:15-16
Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.

In addition, Jesus healed many people who were sick and the Scriptures describe these healings clearly. None of the following illnesses were attributed to demons:

The Healing of the Centurion’s Servant (Matthew 8:5-13)
The Healing of the Woman Bleeding (Matthew 9:19-20)
The Healing of the Blind Men (Matthew 9:27-30)
The Healing of the Man with the Withered Hand (Matthew 12:9-14)
The Healing of Peter’s Mother-in-Law (Luke 4:38, 39)
The Healing of the Leper (Luke 5:12-16)
The Healing of the Paralyzed Man (Luke 5:17-26)
The Healing of the Immobile Man (John 5:1-16)
The Healing of Daughter of the Phoenician Woman (Mark 7:24-30)
The Healing of the Ten Lepers (Luke 17:11-19)
The Healing of the Woman with the Spirit of Infirmity (Luke 13:10-17)

Christians do not attribute all illnesses to demon possession, but it is clear demons are continually doing what they can to keep God’s chosen from a relationship with Him, and this often takes the form of some sort of bodily attack. Demons are focused. They are trying to stop God’s work, stop the growth of the Kingdom, and stop men and women from hearing the Good News. One thing is certain, however. Those of us who have already placed our trust in Christ (and have been filled with God’s Spirit) cannot be demon possessed. Demons are mere creations of God, and as such, they do not possess His power. God is strong enough to reach us, transform us and keep us:

2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

1 Peter 1:18–19
knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

2 Corinthians 6:15-16
What harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people”

Romans 8:38-39
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Are demons the cause of all human illness? No. we live in a fallen, imperfect world suffering the consequence of sin and rebellion. We experience moral evil, natural evil and pain for a variety of reasons. The influence of angelic beings is certainly a part of the equation, but we cannot attribute all evil (nor all illnesses) to the activity of demons.

■ Eric Hill wrote,

Demons Cause Some Sickness, But Not All Sickness

The Bible is explicit in its examples of Satan or his demons directly causing sickness and disease. But I think it is also clear in Scripture and human experience that not all sickness and disease is caused by Satan.

We are presently in the Covid-19 pandemic. There is nothing necessarily demonic about one person being infected by another with the virus. I could say the same of the flu, a sexually transmitted disease, or smoking one’s self into lung cancer.

These physical bodies are born dying and susceptible to degraded physical and mental conditions. Of course, there are many variables that may make one more susceptible than another to any particular condition.

So, we have a coin with two different sides. One side is the reality that demons can and do cause sickness and disease. The other is the reality that demons do not cause all sickness and disease.

This means we must see sickness and disease as possible attacks by Satan. Consequently, we should vigorously resist him in faith with the word of God. Perhaps our earliest response in prayer should be to command the attack on our body or mind to stop.

Commanding a condition to leave our body, however, is not an admission that all sickness is caused by Satan. It is not even certain that when we rebuke a “demon of sickness” from our body that a demon is even present. I know how this sounds. So let me explain.

The Scripture says, we know in part and we prophesy in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9). This truth can be applied to our lives across the board to include our prayers and warfare against Satan.

None of us knows everything. Unless the Holy Spirit reveals to us the deepest source of our trouble, we can only respond to it with the knowledge we have.

One fact we know is demons can cause sickness. Knowing this, it would be wise to initially and routinely resist the sickness as though it were a demon even though we know it may not be one.

This is not dissimilar to what is often done when we employ the services of an automotive mechanic or a doctor.

You hear an odd sound from your car. You take it to a mechanic and he tries this and that until, hopefully, he finds the source of the odd sound.

You feel something odd in your body. You go to a doctor and explain what happened. The doctor asks a bunch of questions, poke and prod here and there, draws blood, and has tests done.

Why doesn’t the mechanic or doctor simply perform or prescribe a fix after thirty seconds? It’s because they “know in part.” So they use their experience to track down the source of the problem.

This is the same process I use when I’m ministering deliverance and healing to people. It often produces startling answers to prayer as demons are exposed as the problem and cast out.


Links to article excerpts in opening paragraph.

As I researched this further, I realized that in the Body of Christ, opinions on this topic vary greatly; scriptures are interpreted through the particular lens of the other doctrines to which a person might hold.

If you find yourself in a related situation, the gift you need in the moment is not the gift of healing (though that may come into play shortly) but rather the gift of discernment to know what’s really taking place in the physical body.

June 9, 2021

The Three Identities of Christ

I want to say at the outset that this is not about “the names of Jesus,” or “the names of Christ,” though it certainly overlaps that discussion greatly. Furthermore, it’s not so much about specific titles or names at all, as two of the three categories here offers multiple options.

The two times I attended Young Life meetings, the speaker said it’s quite important when looking at the Jesus narrative to see the different people taking place in each scene; even to imagine yourself as part of the action. In one story, there’s a blind man, his parents, the Pharisees, Jesus, the disciples, the crowd, etc. You can read the story through the eyes of the crowd, and then go back to the beginning reading the story through the eyes (no pun intended) of the blind man.

We see that even generalizations about ‘the crowd’ are difficult. In one scene they are throwing down palm branches to welcome his unusual entrance into Jerusalem; in the next scene they are shouting, “Crucify, Crucify.” But is the ‘they’ the same in both cases? Many a sermon has been preached about how fickle the masses can be, and how when the tide of opinion about Jesus shifted after his arrest, they turned against him. However, this is important: Were those the same people?

There’s a lot more going on in that story. Why did the people just happen to be lined up along the road? Why did they just happen to be carrying palm branches? Do you see the problem? The complexities in the Jesus narrative are huge and this is what makes his life so captivating, and why, if you’re willing to put some effort into it, you can never stop studying him without learning something new each time.

So what are the identities referred to in today’s title?

Last night I watched a short education video about how the 50 American states got their names. There, I learned two new terms: endonym and exonym. The first term is the insider name that a particular place, group, or linguistic community uses as their self-designated name for themselves, their homeland, or their language. Insider terminology. The second is the designation that everyone outside the group or place uses. Wikipedia’s example is that “Deutschland is the endonym for the country that is also known by the exonym Germany in English and Allemagne in French.” The differences aren’t always simply translation. In these racially sensitive times, one would be advised to carefully consider the terms their using for people of a specific ethnicity. In reference to one term, I once heard someone say, “We can say that to each other, but you can’t say that about us.” That’s the endonym/exonym distinction.

I mentioned this to my youngest son in an email last night, and he quickly came back with the terms emic and etic. The former refers to research done on a particular group (their norms, folklore, opinions) from the perspective of someone within the group, or a behaviorist or social scientist who has embedded themself within the group. The latter term is a perspective or conclusions based on research conducted among people outside the group as to how they perceive the group or the group’s involvement in a particular situation.

So naturally, I couldn’t help think of this exchange.

NLT.Matt.16.13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

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

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

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

So first, Jesus asks his closest followers, ‘What’s the word on the street about me?’

Next he gets a rather diplomatic answer. “Some say…” (italics added). Were the Pharisees and Saducees included in that opinion poll? Or were they out when the pollster called? What about those who had been followers in the past, but left after the “hard sayings” or were earlier part of the “he is out of his mind” persuasion? (John 6:60 and Mark 3:31 respectively.) Verse 14b, if it existed might say something like, ‘…and others say your teaching is too stringent, your standards are impossible; and some think you’re either deceived or plain nuts; and the Pharisees are writing blog posts about how they are sure you’re a false teacher.’

So if we look at the crowd identity that Jesus has, there are multiple answers.

Then he asks them, ‘So what about you guys?’

I would expect there might have been some silence between verse 15 and verse 16. They’d seen the miracles, they’d heard the teaching. If the timeline in Matthew is correct, none of them had witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus. That happens one chapter and six days later. But we know from the fuller story that Judas isn’t all in and Thomas has a bent to skepticism.

Peter’s response reminds me of the kid in Sunday School who always knows the right answer. In the days that follow, Peter’s declaration will be put to the ultimate stress test. If Peter really believes Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, then what does that mean when the heat is on him personally and the opportunity to distance himself from that messiah presents itself?

So with the crowd and with the disciples we see the potential for a variety of answers.

But what’s the third identity, if we’re saying there are three?

Well, we’ve already covered it. It’s the identity that Jesus has when he speaks of himself. Who do people say that the Son of Man is?

The dichotomy of endonym and exonym or emic and etic breaks down here because there is another party to this analysis, Jesus himself; the one who is so “other;” which leads to a discussion of how he is so holy; what he knows about himself, who he is, how he was with God and was God, how he is before all things and in him all things hold together, and how he is about to show three of them some of his glory in the mountain transfiguration which follows in the next chapter.

But instead of titles and names that might terrify those first century followers, he chooses a less threatening-sounding and prophetically significant reference to the Book of Daniel, the Son of Man.

For more on that, you need to check out this 5½ minute video from The Bible Project. (See below.)

So who do you say Jesus is?

The Son of Man


Make it personal: About an hour after creating this, I realized its similarity to another teaching I heard when I was younger. Each of us also has three identities. There is how we see ourselves; how others sees us; and how God sees us. What God thinks of us is singular, but our self-analysis and that of our friends may include a multiple of adjectives depending on how we present ourselves in different situations to different people.

 

June 2, 2021

Equip Yourself in Order to Equip Others

Today we have a brand new writer to highlight. Ron Braley is the pastor of NorthView Christian Church in Tyler, Texas, and writes at both Equipping Believers and Finding Discipleship. This is adapted from parts III and IV of a series on Loving Your Neighbor. You need to love yourself before you can spread that love to others and so as we prepared to post the fourth part as our sample of Ron’s writing today, we realized we needed to reach back to the previous message where he defined some of these elements more fully. Pleeeze encourage the writers we feature by reading their work at their pages, not ours. Click the headers which follow.

Love Yourself… How??

…[B]eing Christian carries the responsibility of remaining healthy in body, mind, spirit, etc., to the best of our ability in obedience to the Father and Son so that we can honor them and help bring the Kingdom of God to others. The good news is that the Bible gives us much of what we need to figure this out in two distinct areas: spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines.

Spiritual formation. Once we say, “I do!” in response to God’s call through Jesus, we’re to embark on a journey of transformation—in all areas of life, which is possible with the Spirit of God. Our change matures and forms several areas:

  • Relationships. If we remember that we’re to treat others with the love of Christ and consider them better than ourselves, our relationships will likely flourish (Philippians 2:3-4). Don’t go to bed angry (Ephesians 4:26) and be sure to ‘turn the other cheek’ to allow reconciliation (Luke 6:29). Finally, remember the ‘golden rule’ (Matthew 7:12).
  • Finances. The Bible has a LOT to say about sound money management. Be cautious about borrowing money and be content with what you have (Hebrews 3:5).
  • Physical health. Eat and drink (if applicable) in moderation. Get off the couch and put your body to work, even if just a bit at first. Remember that God desires to move you to action in His plans.
  • Intellect. Stimulate the brain by reading, studying something interesting, playing games, or assembling puzzles, etc. Say “No!” to the electronic stuff more often!
  • Emotional and mental health. Do what you can to keep your emotions and mind healthy by tending to the body, relationships, finances, and intellect. But, again, do what’s within your control.

Spiritual disciplines.

  • Prayer. It is our communications with (not just at!) God. Use Jesus’ model (Matthew 5:6-13) and Adore God, Confess sins, offer Thanksgiving, and Intercede for others (healing, finances, salvation, etc.).
  • Study. Engage God’s words in the Bible and meditate on them—it’s how we ‘put on Christ’ and become spiritually mature.
  • Accountability. We must bear each other’s burdens and confess sins, at least to one person we trust.
  • Giving (money, time, talents, etc.). The Bible demands it (e.g., Matthew 6:1-4 and 25:31-40; 2 Corinthians 9:6-7). Not only is it a necessary outcome of the Christian faith, but it can also help emotional health too. Giving stimulates the brain and makes us feel better physically and emotionally. It’s also a great way to take our eyes and minds off our troubles.

So, move toward emotional, physical, relational, financial, and spiritual health one baby step at a time in God’s direction as you love yourself. Next… we’ll put self-love to work as we dive into how to love our ‘neighbor.’

Love Yourself, Love Your Neighbor

…As we’ve learned, loving yourself positions you to love others. With healthy relationships (especially with God), finances, mind, emotions, and spirit, you’re armed to help others do the same. But, how does that look? We’ll learn that our love falls into similar categories as the spiritual formation I recently addressed. So, let’s frame my input like that.

Relationships. Our connections are vital! The Bible says much about interacting with others in a godly way to maintain and deepen those connections used to present God’s Kingdom to others. Here are several biblical tips for keeping those connections alive:

  • … be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to angerJames 1:19.
  • BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger Ephesians 4:26.
  • … but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:39-42.

Finances. You cannot help others financially without money! But, once you get your finances under control, you may have resources with which to help clothe, feed, or house others—things on which Jesus said He’ll judge us (Matthew 25:31-46).

Physical health. Jesus told us to ‘go.’ The ‘going’ is necessary to establish new relationships with which to be and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). Our healthy relationships also allow us to ‘go’ and help others.

Emotional and mental health. This area affects relationships. When we’re healthy emotionally and mentally, we’ll be positioned to mentor others, listen to them in their pain, aid in healing, etc.

Spiritual. Once healthy, we can be godly models of spiritual practices, including Bible study, prayer, accountability, and discipleship. That’s how others can grow spiritually; spiritual growth positively affects all others!

In summary, loving your neighbor can happen when we love ourselves. Being healthy relationally, spiritually, financially, etc., sets us up to aid others by being godly models, helping physically, ‘being there’ emotionally, and assisting in feeding, housing, and clothing the less fortunate. Here’s the good news: you can still love others even while you’re becoming healthy. Just do what you can, give to others as you can.

 

May 26, 2021

God is Sovereign over Popularity, Status, Platform, and Likes

Years ago, for Christian bands and solo artists, getting radio airplay was everything. Since most stations were programmed locally, it represented a concerted effort each time there was a new single, or a new album.  I attended a seminar for Christian musicians on the subject of promotion, taught by veteran CCM artist Scott Wesley Brown. He began with, “Did you know promotion is mentioned in the Bible?” Then he proceded to read Psalm 75:6,7 in the KJV:

6For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.

7But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.

A few years later I sat in a camp staff training seminar where the speaker said,

“If you see a turtle on a fence-post, you know it didn’t get there by itself.”

That little phrase is used to cover a wide range of applications, but certainly we’ve all met people who have “achieved” but only through the guidance and support of many others, and certainly some by the grace of God Himself. (Though the analogy breaks down quickly… What does the turtle do next?)

We often have the tendency to look at someone who has — for the time being — earned the attention and accolades of a large number of people, and say, “Why him?” Perhaps we compare that person’s talents to our own and say, “Why her?”

Psalm 75 seems to basically be saying that no one advances but that God has allowed it. Theololgically, people wrestle with things they think that God caused, but while God may not be directly causing everything he gets blamed for, he is definitely permitting things to happen, and I believe, he is constantly orchestrating things in our lives and the lives of others which we often do not realize.

This sovereignty (rule) is certainly reinforced by the appearance of Jesus before Pilate in John 19 (NIV).

10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above…

But the Psalm passage has an entirely different spin in the NLT:

6 For no one on earth—from east or west,
or even from the wilderness—
should raise a defiant fist.
7 It is God alone who judges;
he decides who will rise and who will fall.

And also in The Message:

He’s the One from east to west;
from desert to mountains, he’s the One.

God rules: he brings this one down to his knees,
pulls that one up on her feet.

The NASB is closer to the King James:

6 For not from the east, nor from the west,
Nor from the desert comes exaltation;
7 But God is the Judge;
He puts down one and exalts another.

So I’m not sure why the translations seem to differ in emphasis in verse six, though they both resolve the same way in verse seven. Perhaps the key is found in the verse which precedes six and seven, verse five, best represented by the NIV:

Do not lift your horns against heaven;
do not speak so defiantly.’”

It’s possible that when I question God’s decision to use someone who I might not have chosen, I am in fact speaking defiantly. Or in arrogance (NLT). Perhaps questioning why him or her is a road I should not want to go down. Have you ever questioned why God allows a certain author’s books to sell so well; a certain pastor to become so widely known; a certain individual in your church to gain such a key position of leadership? That might be speaking defiantly.

Now this is where it gets interesting: The “rock stars” of David’s time were kings. We might not hold politicians in the same regard today, but back then it was a different story. Recently, in our time, people questioned why God allowed a certain leader to come to power. I don’t wish to debate that here, but it’s important to say, regardless of which side of that issue you find yourself, that God is sovereign. He never stopped being God.

The same could be said for the pandemic. We can’t assert the sovereignty of God in some areas and suppress its applicability in other areas of life. If Psalm 75 is true in terms of leaders, it has to be true in terms of other aspects of life.

In his commentary on this package, Matthew Henry suggests that we, to put it in modern language, don’t try to be over analytical over why someone has come to power, prestige, popularity, etc.  Our objective should be to live in the present, not try to dissect the past.

I originally wrote these thoughts down ten years ago. What follows helps you understand why.

That weekend I watched an interview with an individual about whom I might have, at one time awhile back, asked the “Why him?” question. But as I watched him taking live questions I realized four things were present: (a) natural intellectual gifts; (b) natural speaking gifts; (c) an obvious command of scripture or what we sometimes call Bible knowledge; and (d) an understanding of the ways of God, which is different from the third point. While I never had major questions, some of my minor misgivings were alleviated.

God knows what He’s doing. He is the judge. He promotes some and holds back others. Richard Ritenbaugh points out that verse 6 mentions the east, the west, the south, but not the north. Why not the north? Because, he says, that’s where God’s throne is; that’s the truth of the next verse; that he loves everyone equally, and may have a “promotion” in some other arena of life just waiting for you.

~Paul

May 5, 2021

He Could Have Spoken Complex Theology; He Chose Parables

If I had been planning more carefully, I would have posted this yesterday, which marked the two year anniversary of the passing of Rachel Held Evans. While Rachel graciously endured having a number of critics, for those of us who knew her spirit, she was a beautiful person and an insightful, realistic, gifted writer, who helped so many people who felt they were outside the family of God see that Christ had saved a place for them at the table.

To read at source, click the header which follows. (Yes, thankfully her blog posts are still there for all to enjoy.)

“Without a parable, he told them nothing…”

I’m blogging with the lectionary this year and this week’s reading comes from Matthew 13:24-43:

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’

Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.’

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!’

In the Gospel reading for this week, we learn that in the time between Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and the events leading to his death and resurrection, the travelling teacher communicated through stories. Matthew goes so far as to say “without a parable he told them nothing.”

It is an astounding detail when you think about it: The God of all creation, the One who knows every corner of the cosmos and fathoms every mystery, the One who could answer every theological riddle and who, I suspect, chuckles at our volumes of guesses, our centuries of pompous philosophical tomes debating His nature, when present in the person of Jesus Christ, told stories.

  • Stories about farming.
  • Stories about kneading bread.
  • Stories about seeds and trees and birds.
  • Stories that somehow, in their ordinary profundity, “proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.”

Jesus, who certainly could have filled volumes, favored riddles to lectures, metaphors to propositions, everyday language, images, and humor to stiff religious pontification. In a strange burst of joy, Jesus even exclaimed, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”

Religious education is good and important, certainly. But it’s not as important as paying attention. It’s not as important as seeking the Kingdom in the quotidian rhythms of the everyday. It’s not as important as obedience.

After all, Jesus didn’t come for the rich, the educated, or the right. Jesus came for those with listening ears and open eyes, those who are hungry for righteousness and thirsty for God, those comfortable with metaphors and similes and “almosts” and “not yets,” those content to understand without knowing fully, those with dirt in their fingernails and flour in their hair.

In Matthew 13, we encounter several parables all packed in together, each one worthy of a thousand different reflections. (The one about the seed that grows into a tree is one of my personal favorites.) Each of these parables features Jesus’ very favorite subject, the thing he spoke about more than any other: The Kingdom.

The Kingdom is like a tiny mustard seed, Jesus said, that grows into an enormous tree with branches wide and strong enough to make a home for all the birds. It is like a buried treasure, a delicious feast, or a net that catches an abundance of fish. The Kingdom is right here, Jesus said. It is present and yet hidden, immanent yet transcendent. The Kingdom isn’t some far off place you go where you die, the Kingdom is at hand—among us and beyond us, now and not-yet. It is the wheat growing in the midst of weeds, the yeast working its magic in the dough, the pearl germinating in a sepulchral shell. It can come and go in the twinkling of an eye, Jesus said. So pay attention; don’t miss it.

This Kingdom knows no geographic boundaries, no political parties, no single language or culture. It advances not through power and might, but through acts of love and joy and peace, missions of mercy and kindness and humility. This Kingdom has arrived, not with a trumpet’s sound but with a baby’s cries, not with the vanquishing of enemies but with the forgiving of them, not on the back of a war horse but on the back of a donkey, not with triumph and a conquest but with a death and a resurrection.

And yet there is more to this Kingdom that is still to come, Jesus said, and so we await a day when every tear will be wiped from every eye, when swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears shaped into a pruning hooks, when justice will cascade like a river down a mountain and righteousness like a never-ending stream, when people from every tribe and tongue and nation will live together in peace, when there will be no more death.

On this week when our newspapers reveal the ugly reality that evil and good grow alongside one another—in the world and even in our own hearts—the parable of the wheat and the weeds seems especially weighty. As reports of civilian casualties mount, we see that, just as Jesus warned, human attempts to “root out evil” on our own, by force, result in the destruction of innocent lives.

Every. Single. Time.

Like it or not, this parable challenges, (perhaps even mocks), our notion of “precision airstrikes,” of getting rid of the “bad guys” without hurting the “good guys.” The fact is, we don’t see the world as God sees it. We are not equipped to call the shots on who deserves to live and who deserves to die, who is evil and who is good—especially when, if we’re honest, we can feel both impulses coursing through our own bloodstreams.

While we could certainly digress into an eschatological conversation about exactly what Jesus means when he talks about throwing evildoers into the fire, the instructive call of this parable remains the same: to let God do the farming. God is the judge—not you, not me, not kings, not presidents.

“Without a parable, he told them nothing.”

Yet still we struggle to understand. Still we struggle to obey.

Two-thousand years after Matthew recorded these parables about seeds and wheat and yeast, we’re still combing our theology books for answers. We’re still talking about airstrikes and minimizing civilian casualties. We’re still seeking power and vengeance, knowledge and stuff.

In Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle tells of a young woman who told the author, “I read A Wrinkle in Time when I was eight or nine. I didn’t understand it, but I knew what it was about.”

That’s often how I feel about the parables of Jesus. I don’t understand them exactly, but I know what they’re about.

L’Engle concludes: “…One does not have to understand to be obedient. Instead of understanding—that intellectual understanding which we are so fond of—there is a feeling of rightness, of knowing, knowing things which you are not yet able to understand…As long as we know what it’s about, then we can have the courage to go wherever we are asked to go, even if we fear that the road may take us through danger and pain.”

The God of the universe has beckoned us into His lap to tell us a story, to teach us to pay attention.

Let those with ears hear.

April 7, 2021

Who are you looking to in the middle of the storm?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Today I skimmed about 50 devotional posts from previous years, but only investigated one site further because its name, 1014 Experience Street, caught my eye and I didn’t remember that we had sourced material there before. Writer Phillip Pratt covers various subjects — he’s currently doing a series of quotations from U.S. Presidents — but I found this article from October that I wanted to share with you today. Click the header below to read this at source.

“But We See Jesus”

I’ve been meditating on vision lately: physical, spiritual, prophetic, all that good stuff. When I was younger we were admonished to be very careful to guard our ear gates and especially our eye gates: we are visual-centric people, it’s a major portion our genetic makeup. What we see, what we focus on, determines our perceptions, our decisions, our faith.

Growing up, my folks used to have two vision-related sayings on their fridge:

“What you focus on becomes magnified”
and
“How you see Him is how you serve Him”.

When you focus on imperfections (your own or others), whether that’s a mole, a scar, a lisp, a limp or other things like weight, height… it can become so magnified that it affects behavior, self image, relationships, etc. Same as when you focus on circumstances, on lack, on empty bank accounts, on sickness and infirmities, on fear-based news, on what could happen; all of these things never lead to peace.

However, when you focus on the Lord; on His goodness; His greatness; His majesty; His love; His grace and mercy; His provision; His healing power; His plans and purposes; you walk in a peace that others covet. Spend a minute with a person or read their posts/tweets and you can always tell what they’ve been focusing on and magnifying. This is not an indictment on anyone, we’re all human, but so many are focusing on and being distracted by, the storm.

There’s prophetic insight to:

– see what’s going on in the storm
– look through the storm
– look ahead of the storm

We need to be people of God who look through the storm and are able to see the form of Jesus & what God is doing.

Here are some Scriptures on seeing [the form of] the Lord:

Numbers 12:8

“With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees (nabat = to regard with pleasure) the form of the Lord…”

Hebrews 2:9 “but we see (blepō = with the bodily eye, to discern mentally) Jesus…”

John 12:21 “…we wish to see (eidō = to turn the eyes, the mind, the attention) Jesus”

Luke 23:8 “When Herod saw (eidō) Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see (eidō) Him…”

Luke 19:3 “And he sought to see (eidō) Jesus…”

Hebrews 12:2 “Looking (aphoraō = to turn the eyes away from other things and fix them on something) unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith”

Matthew 14:22-31

“But the boat [by this time] was already a long distance from land, tossed and battered by the waves; for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night (3:00-6:00 a.m.) Jesus came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw (eidō) Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately He spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I! Do not be afraid!”

Peter replied to Him, “Lord, if it is [really] You, command me to come to You on the water.” He said, “Come!” So Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw (blepō) [the effects of] the wind, he was frightened, and he began to sink, and he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus extended His hand and caught him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 

This passage perfectly highlights the importance of focus: You can be aware of the storm but stop looking at the storm and magnifying it, keep your eyes on Jesus. There’s so much going on in this world and going on around us, so much fear, so many people looking at the storm but as people of God, “we see Jesus”.

What’s in your heart right now? What are your thoughts?

If it causes fear  = you’re looking at the storm.

If it causes peace = you’re looking at Jesus.

All the news reports, prophetic words, predictions, dreams, etc; do they cause fear or faith? Do they point you toward the storm or toward Jesus?

John 14:26 “let not your heart troubled, nor be afraid”

Philippians 4:8 “…think (logizomai = meditate) on these things”

I want to highlight two Scriptures that go hand in hand:

Isaiah 26:3

“You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed (camak = to lean or lay upon, rest upon, lean against) on Thee, because he trusts Thee”

John 13:23

“Now there was leaning (anakeimai = to lie at a table, eat together, comes from two root words, ana = in the midst, among + keimai = laid down, destined) on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.”

In that room, the noise of the city, the blaring sounds of commerce, crime and community were tuned out, even the room itself was loud with conversation and fellowship; during all of this a lone disciple managed to lay his head on the chest of the Prince of Peace, of Love Incarnate and listened to the heartbeat of Life Himself. There he was safe, there he found peace in the port of the storm of life.

“but we see Jesus…”

The author and finisher of your faith will not be found in the form of the storm, only in the form of Jesus. We see in part, we may not see everything that Jesus has done for us, given to us and happening around us “but we see Jesus”.

Interesting note on Matthew 14: the sea was not calm where Jesus walked, He could have easily had a 20 foot perimeter where it was calm, like glass, but He chose not to calm the sea immediately around Him. He walked on top of the waves, He could have walked a few hundred feet and perhaps even rode a few waves with some foot surfing, who knows?

Some storms we can rebuke, some we ride out, others we sleep through, but we are never utterly cast down nor destroyed.

Your faith is founded on the Rock, the Rock is not moved by the storm.

Our focus determines our direction, our decisions, whether we are paralyzed by fear or propelled by faith. It impacts not only us but everyone around us. It’s imperative in the storms of life that “we see Jesus” and our focus is Him and Him alone.

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