Christianity 201

February 23, 2021

A Seriously Miscalculated Swap

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Once again, we’re back at the the blog My Morning Meal, written by Peter Corak. (For many of you, our blog would be called My Afternoon Snack!) I hope you’ll click the header which follows and read this on his blog. Because this was posted just hours ago, I’m going to close comments here to encourage you to encourage Peter there.

A Bad Deal

We made a bad deal. A poor trade. A seriously miscalculated swap. That’s what I’m taking away from one of the most depressing passages in all the New Testament, Romans 1:18-32.

Yesterday, I concluded my Romans 1 reading on a high — the good news of the power of God for salvation. A righteousness independent of our best efforts at trying to be righteous. Available for all who believe. Revealed “from faith for faith.” But there’s no need for such good news if there isn’t the reality of bad news. Cue the end of Romans 1, and Romans 2, and the first part of Romans 3. Heavy sigh.

In past years, it has been the repeated phrase, “God gave them up,” which caught my attention in this reading. It’s the response of God toward those who choose self-determination over God exaltation, He allows them to be more self-determined. For those who resolve to lean on their own understanding, who trust in their own wisdom above their Creator’s, God says, in effect, Go at it. Heavy sigh, again.

But this morning it’s another repeated word that catches my attention.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

(Romans 1:22-25 ESV)

All creation points to the Creator. All that’s been made, a testament to the invisible attributes of the Maker. Every person a walking indicator of His eternal power. All of nature pointing to His divine nature. Everything declared to be good in the beginning a conduit towards knowing His glory in the present (Rom. 1:19-20).

But the propensity of fallen men and women is to exchange the glory for goods. To disdain invisible attributes for more tangible aspirations. To not see creation as a means towards knowing about the Creator, but as an end in and of itself. As something worthy of worship. Choosing not to distinguish man from birds from animals or creeping things. All the same. All idol worthy. Exchanging the riches of a supernatural reality “for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand” (MSG).

It’s equated to exchanging the truth about God for a lie. That, instead of “In the beginning, God,” we think we should rewrite the story, “In the beginning, molecules and matter.” Instead of God creating men and women in His own image, men and women imagined into being God for their own purposes. Rather than living in the here and now with a view towards a there and then, there is no there and then so do what you gotta do to be happy here and now. And the exchange goes on . . . and on . . . and on. Lies supplanting truth, thus mankind becoming increasingly out of sync with reality, as God gives us over to our own “wisdom.”

What a bad deal. Exchanging immortal glory for immaterial gain. Exchanging a revealed reality for a narrative of our own making.

Bad news. But that’s what makes the good news so good!

. . . but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

(Romans 5:8 ESV)

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved . . .

(Ephesians 2:4-5 ESV)

But God. How I love those two words.

We refused His glory shown through creation, but God shows us His great love through His crucified Son.

We traded in His truth for our lies, but God offers to redeem our lives by His amazing grace.

Yeah, we made a bad deal. But praise God for a better deliverance!

February 11, 2021

Where is Our Allegiance? The Law of God or the Law of the Land?

by Clarke Dixon

Should we defy the law of the land and gather for worship even though it is illegal for us to do so right now? Some churches [here] have tried that, and are facing charges. Is our allegiance to the law of God, or the law and customs of the land? Of course this could apply to far more than just worship attendance.

Jesus was tested on this very question of allegiance:

As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

John 8:3-5 (NLT)

Normally the law of Moses was to be the law of the land for God’s people, but the Romans were in charge, and they expected their laws to be the law of the land. The law of Moses called for stoning in certain circumstances, evidently this was one of them. However, the Romans did not allow the Jews to put people to death. We see the religious leaders appeal to this fact when they call for the Romans to execute Jesus. Of course sometimes they got away with it as we see with the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7.

So with the woman caught in adultery, will Jesus follow the law of Moses, or the law of the land? Where is your allegiance, Jesus?

In his typical wise way Jesus turned the question right back onto the religious leaders:

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman.

John 8:6-9 (NLT)

The one without sin, the one with true allegiance to the law of Moses can cast the first stone. No one dared cast that stone. The religious leaders knew that they were caught in their own hypocrisy. Of course their allegiance should be to the law of Moses and not the law of the Romans. They knew that. But of course they were often operating according to the law of Romans. So one by one, they left.

The religious leaders left, but Jesus and the woman caught in adultery still remained. So too, does the question of whether the allegiance of Jesus was to the law of Moses or the law of Caesar.

Bear in mind that Jesus, being without sin, can cast first stone. In fact if the true allegiance of Jesus was to the law of Moses, perhaps he should cast all the stones?

Let us also keep in mind that Jesus also has the right to cast the first stone at us. After all, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and there “is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10 KJV). Because of our sin, Jesus can cast the first stone, he can cast all the stones.

Back to the woman caught in adultery. Where was the allegiance of Jesus?

Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

John 8:10-11 (NIV)

So the allegiance of Jesus was to the law of Caesar? No, the allegiance of Jesus was to neither the law of Caesar, nor the law of Moses, but to the law of love. Jesus was living out the new covenant which he was about to establish. The new covenant is not about following the law of Moses, or the law of the land, but following Jesus and the law of love. Our allegiance, as Christ followers, is not to Moses or Caesar, but to Jesus.

Jesus followed the law of love with the Samaritan woman and he follows the law of love with us. Remember, Jesus can cast the first stone at us, there is no hiding our sins from God. But rather than cast stones at us, he took the nails for us on the cross.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4 (NLT)

Jesus chose the nails over the stones. In Christ God does not treat us as our sins deserve. We therefore now live, not by the law of Moses, but by the Spirit. We are to follow Jesus in the law of love.

The law of love is the gentle way, “then neither do I condemn you.” The law of love is the challenging way, “Go and leave your life of sin.” This means being gentle with people, as Jesus was gentle with the woman caught in adultery. Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit. This also means we challenge people, just as Jesus challenged the woman caught in adultery. Faithfulness is also fruit of the Spirit.

When we feel like we face a decision between following the law of God and the law of the government, we follow Jesus and the law of love. We follow in the footsteps of our Lord. Right now we love our neighbour by doing our part to reduce the possibility of the COVID plague spreading. Of course, there are so many other ethical questions we face in life which would seem to put us at odds with the law or customs of the land. What does it look like when our allegiance is to Jesus and the way of love in each of those?

Where is our allegiance? The law of Moses or the law of the land? May our allegiance be to Jesus!


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. His church has not met in-person since March. The full sermon video can be seen as part of this “online worship expression

February 9, 2021

Miriam and Aaron Oppose Moses

Because many of you may not be familiar with this story, from Numbers 12, I’ve copied it here in full:

NIV.Numbers.12.1. Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this.

(Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)

At once the Lord said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Come out to the tent of meeting, all three of you.” So the three of them went out. Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When the two of them stepped forward, he said, “Listen to my words:

“When there is a prophet among you,
    I, the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions,
    I speak to them in dreams.
But this is not true of my servant Moses;
    he is faithful in all my house.
With him I speak face to face,
    clearly and not in riddles;
    he sees the form of the Lord.
Why then were you not afraid
    to speak against my servant Moses?”

The anger of the Lord burned against them, and he left them.

10 When the cloud lifted from above the tent, Miriam’s skin was leprous—it became as white as snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had a defiling skin disease, 11 and he said to Moses, “Please, my lord, I ask you not to hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. 12 Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother’s womb with its flesh half eaten away.”

13 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “Please, God, heal her!”

14 The Lord replied to Moses, “If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back.” 15 So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back.

16 After that, the people left Hazeroth and encamped in the Desert of Paran.

One of the free resources available on BibleGateway.com is the Asbury Bible Commentary.* On this passage, it provides this insight:

Moses was to learn that a man’s foes may be of his own household. His sister Miriam and brother Aaron took him to task both because of Moses’ choice of wife … and because it appeared to them that Moses was suggesting that he was God’s vicar, that God would speak only to Moses and only through Moses…

…God’s response, for he cannot allow nit-picking and backbiting to go unchallenged, was to strike Miriam with leprosy. The reason Aaron was not similarly punished is because of either a minor role he may have played or, more likely, because leprosy would have disqualified him from the priesthood.

Happily, God defended Moses (vv.6-8) rather than Moses defending Moses. What Moses did do was to intercede for the healing of his sister (v.13). Noteworthy is the absence of any attempt on Moses’ part to defend either his marriage or his unique role. Moses is a humble person (v.3), one who feels no need always to get in the last word or engage in shouting matches with character assassins.**

This passage was also the theme for Devotions Daily subscribers on Monday.

A Prayer for Healing

by Stacy Edwards, from 100 Favorite Bible Prayers

So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, “Please heal her, O God, I pray!” — Numbers 12:13

Miriam had dared to speak ill of Moses. But Moses was not only her brother, he was a prophet of the Lord. God took this offense so seriously that He caused Miriam to be covered in leprosy. It certainly wasn’t always the case, but in this instance her illness was a direct result of her sinful actions.

Moses’ immediate reaction was to cry out to God on her behalf. He prayed that Miriam would be healed of her affliction Moses expressed such humility in not only forgiving the original offense, but also pleading for the consequences of that offense to be removed from her.

How many of us have seen another individual dealing with the unpleasant ramifications of his or her behavior and failed to feel any compassion?

Perhaps we thought to ourselves, “Well, that’s what he gets,” or some such sentiment. Maybe we even fail to pray for our own healing because we feel that we deserve whatever it is that has happened to us.

There are two things that make all the difference when it comes to a seemingly undeserved healing.

First, God is a merciful God, and His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23).

Second, prayer is a powerful thing.

The prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much good (James 5:16). Let’s pray for the healing of those around us.

God of mercy, I pray for those around me, that they would know Your peace, healing, and love.

Excerpted with permission from 100 Favorite Bible Prayers by Stacy Edwards, © 2020 Thomas Nelson.


*Learn more about using Bible Gateway: Using this passage as an example, go to the page for Numbers 12, and check out all the various free resources and the large number of other reference works available with Bible Gateway Plus. (It’s in the right sidebar on a PC, not sure how it works with a mobile device.)

**Asbury Bible Commentary Copyright © 1992 by The Zondervan Corporation. Used as educational sample excerpt.

 

February 2, 2021

Living New Covenant Means Welcoming New People

The transition from Old Covenant to New Covenant involves the story of a man named Cornelius. If you’re unfamiliar with his story, click the link which appears at the beginning of today’s devotional.

A year ago we introduced you to Paul T. Reynolds who lives in the Cayman Islands, where he oversees Children’s Ministry at First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman. You can read more of his writing at his blog, where he’s currently working through the Book of Acts. He is the author of 66 Books, One Story.

Living for God for People

Acts 10:1-23a (AD 42)

Verse two is not a comprehensive statement of what it means to be a good Christian, but neither is it incidental.

The Roman Centurion Cornelius was a “devout and God-fearing” man (not just him, but also his family). Furthermore, he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly (v.2).

God repeated the point for emphasis, two verses later: Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.

James shared similar thoughts from God when decrying moral hypocrisy, stating that Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world(James 1:27).

In both instances, a point of emphasis is a dual perspective on what being a Christian looks like: holy living (involving personal relationship with God and behaviour) and caring for those in need.

Cornelius – a righteous Gentile and a man of authority – was then told by God to send for a nobody; a mere fisherman, a poor man with no-one under his command. Cornelius had no problem with what God said, and did as he was told.

Peter, on the other hand, did not immediately do as he was told. In his vision (v.11-16), God told him what Jesus told him – that the old civil and ritual codes were fulfilled and therefore no longer relevant. He needed to change his understand of right and wrong.

Does that mean that other aspects of God’s teaching might have reached their sell-by date and need to be traded in for more enlightened perspectives?

Well, that depends.

Is the teaching in question, part of the system of civil and ritual law that Jesus said was fulfilled and therefore ended? Or is it part of the moral law, the nature of God himself, reaffirmed by Jesus or the apostles?

Cornelius, with his upbringing surrounded by idol-worship and sexual immorality, knew that his culture didn’t change God’s nature. God’s nature must and did change him.

Peter, with his upbringing dominated by hypocritical leaders, was struggling to understand that his nature wasn’t exactly the same as God’s nature. God’s nature must, and would eventually, over time, change him.

Fight the part of you that doesn’t care about the eternal destiny of people you don’t like.

And hold firm to God’s calling on your life; pursuing your relationship with Him in prayer and holy living, and helping the needy.


What happened next? The continuation of the story in the rest of Acts 10 and Acts 11 is important. Click to read the next blog post in this series: Even to the Gentiles.


Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Two posts might appear on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives, or from different parts of the world. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading. Your suggestions of articles and websites to consider are always welcome.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

February 1, 2021

Moses Could Only Take the People So Far

Moses and Aaron summoned the assembly in front of the rock, and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels! Must we bring water out of this rock for you? Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff, so that abundant water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust me to demonstrate my holiness in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly into the land I have given them.”
– Numbers 20: 10-12 CSB

This is because both of you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites. Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.”
– Deuteronomy 32:51,52 NIV

After the death of Moses the LORD’s servant, the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant. He said, “Moses my servant is dead. Therefore, the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them.
– Joshua 1:1,2 NLT

Almost a year ago we introduced you to Alisa who has been writing at On the Housetops since November, 2014. As you consider the story referred to in the above scriptures, allow her thoughts to see ways in which there is application to your situation from the lives of Moses and Joshua. Click the header which follows.

Sometimes It’s Not About You

I was listening to music yesterday, and a song came on that made a reference to the fact that it was not Moses who brought Israel into the Promised Land, but Joshua.

I always felt sorry for Moses. I mean, here he put up with the Israelites for 40 years and faithfully obeyed the LORD – except for one mistake, which cost him entry into Canaan. It never did seem quite fair, and I’m pretty sure Moses felt the same way.

But all of a sudden the thought struck me out of nowhere: maybe Moses’ punishment wasn’t so much about him, as it was about a symbolic message to us!

Let me explain:

Moses is a symbol of the Old Testament Law. He was the one who received it from God on Mt. Sinai, and the one who taught it to the people.

He led Israel out of Egypt, but you could say that he couldn’t get Egypt out of the people. Even after receiving the law, they fell into idolatry and kept complaining that Egypt was better than the wilderness they were wandering in, and that its food was better than the manna God was providing.

Similarly, the Law could only bring people so far from the bondage of sin. It couldn’t change hearts.

And just as Moses’ one failure prevented him from entering the Promised Land, so one instance of breaking God’s Law is enough to prevent us from entering Heaven.

I think this is why God punished Moses in the way He did. I don’t think it was so much about Moses as it was about painting a picture for us, that the Law and works can’t lead us into Heaven.

But who did lead Israel into the Promised Land? It was Joshua who took the lead and parted the Jordan River to bring the people into Canaan. They never looked back, and I’ve heard that generation of Israelites referred to as the Greatest Generation.

And this is significant too, because it is another Joshua – or Yeshua – who opened the way for us to cross over to the other side of death to eternal life. Jesus did what the Law could not: He paved the way for us to have a new heart. And it is not our righteousness that saves us, but His.

Seeing this picture for the first time, I can understand better why God chose to be so harsh with Moses.

At the time that it was happening, I’m sure Moses had no idea what the significance of his actions and God’s response was. I know it felt unfair to him at the time.

But from our vantage point thousands of years later, we can look back and understand, and appreciate the picture.

There are things going on in my life right now that I may not understand, but Moses’ story gives me comfort. Maybe these tough times are about me, maybe not. Maybe there’s much more to the picture than what meets the eye. And maybe, like Moses, I won’t ever understand the full plan in my lifetime, but someday it will become clear. And I will know what I’m already choosing to trust: that God knows what He’s doing.


Is this part of the story of Moses unfamiliar to you? Read more at Got Questions.

January 22, 2021

Another Plague Which Covered the Whole Earth

Today another new writer to introduce. Rolain Peterson is a writer who lives in Harare, Zimbabwe and currently is involved with children’s ministry. His blog, which he’s been writing since January, 2012, is called Kingspeech. He is the author of the 31-day digital devotional, Rise Above Fear. Send some love across the ocean to Rolain by reading this at his site, not here. Click the header which immediately follows…

In the darkness, God has a plan

I was encouraged today as I read the story of Joseph. With all that is going on with the pandemic, it’s easy to get discouraged but I was reminded that God is working in our lives in the midst of intense darkness.

So let’s get into it.

We all know the time Pharaoh had dreams and when no one could interpret the dreams someone remembered Joseph and he was summoned to interpret them. He told Pharaoh seven years of plenty would come followed by seven years of famine.

The seven years of plenty came and Joseph who had been promoted to second in charge stored away grain. He stored away so much that it became impossible to keep track of how much they were storing.

Then the seven years of famine arrived and this is what I want to focus on. The famine didn’t just affect Egypt but the whole world.

“And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe everywhere.”

Genesis 41:57

It was a difficult time for the world but in that dark time God had a plan. There were some very important and key things that God was doing in that seven year famine period. I want to highlight two things.

  1. Israel reunited with Joseph, who he presumed had died.

Since the famine affected the whole world, Israel was affected too and had to send his sons to buy grain which in turn led to the discovery of Joseph. That is important because it leads us to the next key thing that happened.

       2. Israel’s entire family relocated to Egypt because of Joseph.

Joseph made plans for his whole family to move to Egypt so they would be provided for during the famine. And that is also important because it was a fulfillment of what God told Abraham,

“Then the Lord said to him, know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.

But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.”

Genesis 15:13, 14

We know God was talking about Moses and the deliverance of Israel from Egypt.

So do you see?

In the seven year famine period, God was working and setting some big things up. And the famine had a part to play in the grand scheme of things.

God was setting pieces in place for Israel’s next chapter and that encouraged me because in this season of Covid-19, God has a plan too.

You may not see it or understand but He is working. You don’t need to stay discouraged or hopeless because He is in total control.

His plans and purposes for your life are working out in the midst of the darkness.

And that’s my encouragement to you. He will fulfill what He has promised you and this season will end.


Second Helping: About a month ago I bookmarked another article from Rolain; take a minute to read Patiently Endure, a short look at a verse in Numbers 21.

January 21, 2021

Genesis 3 and The End of a Golden Era

Ed. Note: Today we’re repeating the very first column we carried from Canadian Pastor and regular Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon, which appeared here on October 18, 2012.


by Clarke Dixon

A Golden Era is a time we look back upon with fondness, a time we think of as having something special about it. We might think of the golden era of cars, which for me would be the 1980s as I could still do my own oil changes on the cars I owned from that era. Since those cars I have not even been able to find the oil filters never mind change them. And we might think of the golden era for music. Eighties again with bands like U2, and REM, and other bands I could easily spell.

As for the Bible, there is no doubt that Genesis chapters 1 and 2 are a golden era. In those good ole days God “saw that it was good.” Also, Adam was over the moon about his new partner Eve and both of them could enjoy a full relationship with God. All is good. But it didn’t last very long. In fact in my edition of the Bible there are 1048 pages and the golden era is done by page 3! So what went wrong?

We might jump to the conclusion that everything went wrong when Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit and that this is primarily a matter of obedience. However things began to unravel before that and in fact the disobedience was a symptom of a bigger problem. What is the root problem? Let’s look at where it all starts going wrong:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” (Genesis 3:1,2 NIV)

You can’t hear the serpent’s tone but you can imagine it: “Did God really say . . ?” I imagine the tone to be one that sows ominous seeds. It is a bit like my Dad’s complaint about how the Irish (which includes my Mum, my brother and I) will ask a question while giving the answer they want to hear: “you don’t really want to do that, do you?” On the lips of the serpent to Eve, “Surely God didn’t say something as silly as that, did he?” The seeds of doubt are sown. Eve corrects the snake somewhat, but then comes the punchline:

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1-5 NIV)

The seeds of doubt give way to a blooming assault on trust. The serpent’s words may as well be “God is a liar, listen to me for I know better.” This is not merely a matter of obedience, this is primarily a matter of trust as Eve and Adam end up placing their trust in the serpent rather than God. Not only that but Eve trusts her own judgement, and Adam likewise, over God’s:

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:6)

We live in a time and place where the serpent’s words are like an echo that keeps coming back like a broken record (did I mention record players and the golden era of musical gadgets?); “God didn’t really say that, did he? God doesn’t really even exist, does he? You don’t really believe that, do you? Your religion is full of fools who are lying to you, trust us.” Seeds of doubt in previous generations have given way to a blooming assault on trust in our day. How must we cope as we see the core problem of the fall in Genesis 3, misplaced trust, replayed over and over again in our day? Two things:

  1. Training in apologetics.
    With Adam and Eve the problem was not merely that they stopped trusting God, but rather that they placed greater trust in the serpent and in their own ideas. And so today, I don’t think the problem is that people stop trusting God, or fail to place their trust in God, so much as they place greater trust elsewhere. Experts say this and that about such and such, and “we trust that, end of story”. However, there are many wonderful experts who have much to say about the same things from a Christian perspective and who evidence a wonderful trust in God. We do well to learn this stuff! There are many great resources for apologetics available, we might even call it a golden era of apologetics (email me for recommendations if you like).
  2. Follow Jesus.
    Just as there was a temptation at the beginning of humanity, there was a temptation at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. If you take a moment to read Luke 4:1-13 you will see something remarkable. With every temptation Jesus responds to the devil with “it is written” and a quotation from the Old Testament. “Actually, what God says is . . .” and Jesus begins his ministry with a complete trust and confidence in the Father.

As we live in such a skeptical society as ours, assaulting trust on every side as if we are somehow stuck in Genesis 3, let us commit to being more knowledgeable Christians who follow Jesus closely. And remember, by the grace of God the golden era is ahead of us!

 

January 20, 2021

The Christian and Government

As I type this, on Wednesday morning, the inauguration of the 46th American President is playing out on a nearby television. As the citizen of another country — both literally and spiritually — I don’t always make a point of watching such things, but this year is very different.

Not even a month out of Christmas, the first scripture which came to mind was Isaiah 9:6

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  (NIV)

Biblehub.com notes an interesting related reference, Isaiah 21:22-22

I will dress him in your royal robes and will give him your title and your authority. And he will be a father to the people of Jerusalem and Judah. I will give him the key to the house of David—the highest position in the royal court. When he opens doors, no one will be able to close them; when he closes doors, no one will be able to open them. (NLT)

The context (v15) is that these words are spoken to Shebna the palace administrator, concerning his successor. Two verses later the warning is dire:

“Beware, the LORD is about to take firm hold of you and hurl you away, you mighty man.”

and then just another two verses later,

“I will depose you from your office, and you will be ousted from your position.”

Perhaps that’s a bit tangential, but those last two verses seem so timely…

…The last phrase of verse 22 is reminiscent of Jesus speaking Matthew 16:19

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (ESV)

which also represents a transfer of power, so to speak, as Jesus, who Revelation 1:18 tells us holds the keys grants to Peter, and therefore the Church, and therefore you and I, this power of binding and loosing. (We’ve discussed possible meanings of this in full at this post.) The term is ecclesiastic however, not referencing human government

Still, all things, whether spiritual authority or civil author come from God’s hand and under his ultimate sovereignty. Psalm 75:6-7 states

For exaltation comes neither from the east
Nor from the west nor from the south.
But God is the Judge:
He puts down one,
And exalts another. (NKJV)

You may be thinking of other passages which discuss civil authority. Best known perhaps is Romans 13:1-7

1 Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.

Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority. (NLT)

The next one which comes to mind is 1 Peter 2:13-17

13 Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the emperor as the supreme authority 14 or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. 15 For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. 16 Submit as free people, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but as God’s slaves. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brothers and sisters. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (CSB)

GotQuestions.org looks at this topic:

The Bible speaks very clearly about the relationship between the believer and the government. We are to obey governmental authorities, and the government is to treat us justly and fairly. Even when the government does not live up to its role, we are still to live up to ours. Finally, when the government asks us to do something that is in direct disobedience to God’s Word, we are to disobey the government in faithful confidence of the Lord’s power to protect us…

…The instructions to government “masters” are just as clear and just as numerous. Jesus modeled the behavior and attitude every leader or authority should take. “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’” (Matthew 20:25-28). A government or authority exists to serve those governed.

Many times, however, a government will stray from its purpose and become oppressive. When that happens, we are still to live in obedience. “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God” (1 Peter 2:18-19). Both Jesus and Paul used taxes as a way to illustrate this. The Roman government taxed the Jews unjustly and many of the tax collectors were thieves. When asked about this dilemma, Jesus took a coin and said, “‘Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. Then he said to them, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’” (Matthew 22:20-21). Evidently, the believers in Rome were still asking the same question because Paul instructed them on the matter. “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing” (Romans 13:6).

click here to read the article in full

I want to end with the first part of 1 Corinthians 3:21. Paul is speaking about leadership in the church, but I believe we can read the verse more broadly for today:

So then, no one is to be boasting in people.  (NASB)
So don’t be proud of your allegiance to any human leader. (TPT)

We are to obey the government, but we do not place our ultimate faith or our ultimate hope in them.

 

 

 

 

January 16, 2021

APEPT People: You May Have Them, You May Need Them

Ephesians 4:11-13

New International Version (NIV)

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

It’s sometimes called “The Five-Fold Ministry of the Church.” Sometimes it’s just abbreviated as APEPT: Apostle, Pastor, Evangelist, Prophet, Teacher. We mentioned it briefly yesterday and there was a link which possibly should have been to the content which follows, though the article linked is also interesting. This appeared here in 2012, and for some reason was never repeated.

The term APEPT is often applied as helping a church determine its vision and the particular models that church should utilize to fulfill the five-fold mission.

Many times it is presented in terms of “finding your spiritual gift” types of sermons. You are asked to look at your abilities and gifts and determine if you see yourself as an Apostle (literally ‘sent one,’ missionary, church planter) or Pastor (literally ‘shepherd,’ caregiver, prayer warrior, etc.) or Evangelist (or ‘proclaimer,’ one who spreads the ‘evangel’ or good news of salvation, or a Christian apologist) or Prophet (not one who ‘foretells’ but one who ‘forth-tells’ who speaks into peoples’ lives often utilizing gifts of knowledge and utterance) or Teacher (one who searches the scriptures and opens understanding of doctrine and application.)

You’ve been to places where this was explained, and perhaps you’ve tried to look at your own potential areas of Christian service in this context.

Some people, like Australia’s Michael Frost for example, believe that each church currently has all five of these giftings operating in different people. He would say it’s necessary to identify these people and then come alongside them and resource them and support them.

Today, I want to look at it differently.

I want to consider what your church needs.

I want to ask you what type of gifted person you need right now personally.

(Be sure to click the linked verses in each section.)

I/We Need an Apostle

This means, that we’re looking for a “sent one” to come into our community who wants to do ministry or just shake things up. Right now, where I live, I often speak about “watching the horizon for some young buck to appear over the horizon with a guitar slung over his shoulder, who is interested in doing a church plant, so that we can support them in what they want to accomplish.” Maybe you need someone to help you with an existing ministry project. Maybe you’re a pastor who needs help. Maybe you need someone with an expanded vision who can give you the extra kick you need to get something done for The Kingdom. (See Romans 10:14)

I/We Need a Pastor

I know this applies to so many of you reading this. You need someone to put their arm around your shoulder, or give you a good hug. Someone who will pray with you. Someone who will walk with you through a tough time. Maybe you’re in a church led by a rancher, but you really need a shepherd right now. Maybe you’re alone and just need to know that someone cares. In a megachurch world, we tend to focus on great preaching at the expense of great pastoring. You need someone to pray with you for help, for wholeness, for healing. (see I Peter 5:2)

I/We Need an Evangelist

Maybe someone you know hasn’t crossed the line of faith, and you’re praying for someone to step into the picture who can help close the sale. Maybe you’re having a tough time defending the faith with people who are closed or apathetic to the Christian message. Maybe it’s you, yourself, who isn’t clear on how salvation happens, or maybe you’re a seasoned veteran of this whole church thing, but suddenly riddled with doubts and needing assurance of salvation. You need to connect with someone with the heart of an evangelist. (See Romans 10:14)

I/We Need a Prophet

Either individually or as a church, you know you need someone who will speak into your life or the life of your congregation; someone not afraid to tell it like it is; someone possessing insights that can only come through supernatural words of knowledge and wisdom; someone willing to identify sin. (See I Corinthians 12: 7-11)

I/We Need a Teacher

You know when you’re hungry. You know when you’re thirsty. Sadly, many individuals and churches are dying of thirst and dying of hunger; ironically, at a time when more Bible study resources, courses and Christian colleges are available than have ever existed at any time in history. There are, to be sure, some great Bible teachers out there, but in many local churches, there has been a weakening in the richness and substance of Bible teaching. You know when you’re getting milk when your body craves meat. (See Hebrews 5:12-14 also Luke 24:27)

God gave these gifts to Christian leaders — and the rest of them — because he knew that we needed them individually and collectively. Seeing the available list of gifts can help us identify what particular needs should presently be met in the hours, days and weeks to come. Perhaps now, you’re clearer on what specifically to pray for.

~Paul Wilkinson


I want to invite our Christianity 201 readers to share in a 97-minute livestream presentation from The Jesus Collective which happened earlier this week with Andy Stanley and Bruxy Cavey discussing How Centering on Jesus Changes Everything. To watch on YouTube: Click this link.

January 12, 2021

Overflowing with Words, Truths, Blessings, Insights

Luke 6:45b

The inner self overflows with words that are spoken. (CEB)

The things people say come from inside them. (GNT)

For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (GW)

Matthew 12:34b

For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. (NLT)

For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (NRSV)

This is a theme that turns up frequently in my conversations with people about sharing their faith and passion for Christ, His church, the Bible, and so many other aspects of Christian living. That’s probably why I felt it was recorded here.

A few years ago some Christian leaders shared verses which have been central to their ministries. One mentioned Jeremiah 20:9

But if I say, “I will not mention his word
or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
indeed, I cannot.

Eugene Peterson renders this in The Message:

But if I say, “Forget it! No more God-Messages from me!” The words are fire in my belly, a burning in my bones. I’m worn out trying to hold it in. I can’t do it any longer!

The NIV Study Bible notes that this one verse indicates two seemingly contradictory inclinations: a prophetic reluctance that is overcome by a divine compulsion. (For more on prophetic reluctance check out this devotional.) They simply can’t not speak.

Amos 3:8b reiterates this:

The Eternal Lord has been heard; His prophets can’t help but prophesy. (The Voice)

We see this also in Acts 4:20

As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (NIV)

And Paul reiterates this in 1 Cor. 9:16

Yet preaching the Good News is not something I can boast about. I am compelled by God to do it. How terrible for me if I didn’t preach the Good News!

I like the CEB on this:

…I’m in trouble if I don’t preach the gospel.

Many years ago I attended a church where it was common for people to stand up and give messages (prophecy, teaching, knowledge, wisdom, etc.) spontaneously. As a person who is always thinking, always pondering the scriptures, I once asked a friend, “How do you know that this is something you’re supposed to stand up and speak out loud to everyone?”

He — and notice it was a guy not a woman — said, “It’s like you’re pregnant with it. It has to come out. It has to be delivered. It has to be shared.”

Later, I began to hear people speak about ministry which comes out of the overflow of the heart. There is simply so much contained inside that it spills outside.

This reminded me of another analogy — this one I might have used before — of what it means to be filled with the Spirit. If you open the top of a can of soda pop, you can look inside and say that it’s filled. The contents fill the entire can. There is no room for any more.

But what it means to be filled changes if you put your thumb over the opening and then shake up the contents. What was filled spills out. It overflows.

So it is with our verbal proclamation. Whether evangelism, encouragement, or even rebuke, it has to come from somewhere. There needs to have been some point where content was poured into our lives. But then, when shaken, the contents overflow.

Matthew Henry says of the Amos passage:

They [the prophets] are so full of those things themselves, so well assured concerning them, and so much affected with them, that they cannot but speak of them; for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth will speak.

Their prophetic reluctance is overcome…

…Another one of the leaders key verses was 1 Cor. 15:58, which relates to our efforts in ministry; the times we are reluctant prophets, and the times we’re just overflowing or bursting with words to share:

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (NIV)



And now for something completely different:

Sometimes while re-visiting past sources we find an article that we think might be of great interest to readers here, but it’s too long for our format, and it’s difficult to share an excerpt out of context. This one starts out:

A number of cases of mass killings of people, apparently at God’s behest, are recorded in the Old Testament:

1. The Flood (Genesis 6-8)
2. The cities of the plain, including Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19)
3. The Egyptian firstborn sons during the Passover (Exodus 11-12)
4. The Canaanites under Moses and Joshua (Numbers 21:2-3; Deuteronomy 20:17; Joshua 6:17, 21)
5. The Amalekites annihilated by Saul (1 Samuel 15)

If this subject is of interest to you for further exhaustive study, click this link.

 

December 28, 2020

A Quiet Place

We often end the devotional with a related music video, but today we want to the song to be the springboard for what follows…

For most readers here, the content would be described as devotionals or devotional readings. I have always taken the meaning to refer to this practice or spiritual discipline that we do out of devotion to God.

Working in the world of Christian publishing however, I frequently encounter people — a large number from a Catholic background or people who have had exposure to recovery programs — who refer to devotional books as meditations or meditational readings. I do like the idea that one doesn’t just read the words and close the book and walk away. Rather one ruminates or chews the text in their mind.

There is however a third term which, although I am very familiar with it, isn’t something we’ve used here: quiet time.

This song, written by Ralph Carmichael, was part of a collection* that for many people mark the beginning of what we call Contemporary Christian Music. But we’re here to look at the lyrics.

There is a quiet place
Far from the rapid pace
Where God can soothe my troubled mind

Sheltered by tree and flower
There in that quiet hour
With him my cares are left behind

Whether a garden small
Or on a mountain tall
New strength and courage there I find

Then from this quiet place
I go prepared to face
A new day with love for all mankind

A search for scripture verses about having a quiet time takes us to these:

…he delights in the teachings of the LORD and reflects on his teachings day and night. – Psalm 1:2 GW

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. – Matthew 6:6 NIV

…Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. – Mathew 14:22-23 NLT

Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. – Mark 1:35 CEB

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. – Joshua 1:8a NLT

and finally

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. – Luke 5:16 NIV

UK writer Daisy Logan has offered sixteen different ways we can improve our quiet time. Not all of these may work for you, but I encourage you to click here to read her suggestions.

The website for CRU (formerly Campus Crusade) looks at several different elements your quiet time can contain, including opening your Bible and methodically studying a section of text, followed by four types of prayer. Click here to read their template for quiet times.

The website GotQuestions.org reminds us that,

Every believer needs a quiet time with the Lord. If Jesus Himself needed it, how much more do we? Jesus frequently moved away from the others in order to commune with His Father regularly…

The length of the quiet time does not matter, but it should be enough time to meditate on what was read and then pray about it or anything else that comes to mind. Drawing near to God is a rewarding experience, and once a regular habit of quiet time is created, a specific time for study and prayer is eagerly looked forward to. If our schedules are so full and pressing that we feel we cannot carve out some time daily to meet with our heavenly Father, then a revision of our schedules to weed out the “busyness” is in order.

I realize that for some people, the thought of pausing at a certain time each day, or even the use of the word meditation triggers thoughts of Eastern religions. Got Questions addresses this:

A note of caution: some Eastern religions that teach the principles of meditation include instructions on “emptying the mind” by concentrating on repeating a sound or a particular word over and over. Doing so leaves room for Satan to enter and to wreak havoc in our minds. Instead, Christians should follow the advice of the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Filling one’s mind with these beautiful thoughts cannot help but bring peace and please God. Our quiet time should be a time of transformation through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2), not through the emptying of them.

I want to invite you to listen to the short song one more time. This time think about what ought to be the result of our quiet time with God:

Then from this quiet place
I go prepared to face
A new day with love for all mankind

The fruit or benefit of time spent in study and prayer will come out in our lives in ways that will affect others as well as ourselves.


The original version of the song was posted at this link. (There’s also a “big band” version for those who like that style at this link.)

*Listen to the full album at this link.

 

 

 

 

October 30, 2020

The Necessary Benefit of Funerals

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This morning, while waiting for someone to finish an appointment, I walked through our local cemetery, where I took these pictures. I couldn’t help but think of this verse:

Ecclesiastes 7:2

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.
We looked at this subject here back in 2013:
The writer of Ecclesiastes is offering some advice that is hard to take, but life is not all about laughter and hilarity. Elsewhere, he wrote that there is
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
Eugene Peterson renders Eccl. 7:2 as
You learn more at a funeral than at a feast—
After all, that’s where we’ll end up. We might discover
    something from it.

As to the first verse above, at StudyLight.org, we read that classic writer and Bible commentator John Gill wrote,

It is better to go to the house of mourning,…. For deceased relations or friends, who either lie unburied, or have been lately inferred; for the Jews kept their mourning for their dead several days afterwards, when their friends visited them in order to comfort them, as the Jews did Martha and Mary, John 11:31. So the Targum [Aramaic Bible] here,

“it is better to go to a mourning man to comfort him;’

for at such times and places the conversation was serious and interesting, and turned upon the subjects of mortality and a future state, and preparation for it; from whence useful and instructive lessons are learned; and so it was much better to be there

than to go to the house of feasting: the Targum is,

“than to the house of a feast of wine of scorners;’

where there is nothing but noise and clamour, luxury and intemperance, carnal mirth and gaiety, vain and frothy conversation, idle talk and impure songs, and a jest made of true religion and godliness, death and another world…

At the same link there is quotation from Matthew Poole, who noted,

…it brings men to the serious consideration of their last end, which is their greatest wisdom and interest.

Also there, this from Daniel Whedon,

To gain a good name one must cultivate a noble character. First of all is needed a large sympathy with one’s fellow-men. To share their joy in the house of feasting is good, but to share their grief in the house of mourning is better, as a test…

I wonder if the Evangelical penchant for “celebrating the homegoing of Brother [or Sister] __________” is to sacrifice or bypass the period of lament.

Spurgeon said that, “Some of the old Romish monks always read their Bibles with a candle stuck in a skull. The light from a death’s head may be an awful one, but it is a very profitable one.”

Many years ago Tim Archer wrote,

Part of what the Bible seeks to teach us is how to cry. How to be sad. Much time is spent showing us how God’s people mourn after a tragedy.

Little time is spent explaining the existence of evil or why bad things happen to good people. More time, much more, is showing how God’s people cry and how they cry out to him.

Much lament is also a confession of sin, but that’s not true of all lament. Sometimes the speaker is crying out to God after suffering unjustly, at least from their point of view.

Of course this is really the entire book of Lamentations, not to mention the various laments we find in Psalms.  There’s also this example in the book of Joel:

Joel 1:13 Put on sackcloth, you priests, and mourn; wail, you who minister before the altar. Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before my God; for the grain offerings and drink offerings are withheld from the house of your God.

Many writers today are noting that we lack a theology of lament, and that our worship times tend to avoid the minor keys insofar as we want our weekend services to be positive and upbeat.

A related New Testament verse would be this one:

Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  James 4:9

We covered this verse twice in 2013. The other time we quoted Daily Encouragement, where Stephen and Brooksyne Weber wrote,

Solomon, writer of Ecclesiastes, states, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting.”  This begs the question, in what sense is it better?

…The reasons that mourning is even more essential than feasting is listed in the following two phrases in the text. In retrospect as I consider the times we have experienced the “house of mourning” I fully understand the writer’s premise.

1) “For death is the destiny of every man.” In other words, death is inevitable. It’s part of the grand plan of how things work as a result of the original fall. Each time we go to the house of mourning this universal reality confronts us. We are reminded that life on this earth is temporary and that we all have an expiration date. Otherwise we might get so caught up in the “here and now” that we don’t make adequate plans for the “there and later”.

2) “The living should take this to heart” The “house of mourning” helps us to consider our heart’s condition and the state of our soul. Of course most of us have been to a variety of house of mournings, yet the tone of the memorial service and the variety of people who gather can make the setting as different as night and day…

The Webers ended with a reference to a related text, Hebrews 9:27-28:

Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.

Modern worship leader Paul Baloche writes,

In our fast-paced culture, funerals give us the rare occasion to reflect on the brevity of life and how each of our days are numbered. There is a sense of “coming to terms” with reality that our life on this earth will end. As Christians we find assurance in the promise of God’s Word that Jesus Christ did indeed die for the remission of our sins and rose again with the invitation to live forever through Him and with Him.

At Daily Encouragement, the Webers added this prayer:

Father, we rejoice in the feasting periods and reflect in the mourning periods of our life. The richest experiences that shape our character are from the great highs and the deep lows we encounter over a lifetime. Not only do we spend time reflecting, studying, and learning from these experiences, but they speak to us of the importance of who we are in the midst of those circumstances. In the house of feasting we rejoice in our accomplishments and those of others from year to year. But in the house of mourning we consider the lives of those who go before us, seeking to mirror the good we witnessed or experienced from their lives. It prompts us to assess our own hearts. Are we ready should You call us to our eternal destiny? We know that planning for this life is important, but planning for the next life is absolutely essential. We want to be ready by receiving Jesus into our life and living according to Your plan as revealed in the Bible. By Your grace we can do so through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

October 23, 2020

When You’ve Heard That Bible Passage Before

If you’ve lived a certain number of years as a follower of Christ, you’ve probably been in worship services enough times to have heard some popular narratives repeated many times. The speaker or teacher says, “Turn to Luke 15…” and before they can say “Verse 11,” you know it’s going to be The Prodigal Son parable, which, in all fairness, you’ve heard before.

At this point you might one of two possible reactions.

First, you can say to yourself, “I’ve heard this story before dozens and dozens of times. There’s nothing more you can do with this passage.” (The slightly more spiritual among you might add, with some resignation, “but maybe there’s someone else here today who needs to hear this.”)

Or you can breathe a quiet prayer and say, “Lord, reveal to me something in this narrative I haven’t seen before; something fresh you want to speak to me this day.”

I heard a Bible teacher once begin with a prayer that included, “…and if there’s anyone here who thinks they’ve heard all this before, help them to know that your desire is to imprint this indelibly on the tablets of their hearts.” (I actually have used that myself; see also footnote below.)

In Acts 8:26-40 Philip encounters a situation that looks like this:

NLT.26 As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia.* The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah.

29 The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and walk along beside the carriage.”

30 Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

31 The man replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” And he urged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him.

…if you don’t know the story continue reading here.

* The Voice Bible renders this, “a dignitary from Ethiopia (the treasurer for Queen Candace), an African man who had been castrated.”[italicized words supplemented]

Had the person in the carriage/chariot read this section of Isaiah before or was this a first reading? (That’s your homework question for today!) Either way, further illumination was needed.

But there’s a better example which for some of you is probably coming to mind. Post-resurrection (don’t you love that word!), Jesus encounters two people on the road to Emmaus, though only one of them is named.

NIV.14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

These two were not first-timers. They knew the scripture. They new the issue of the day. They, like so many, were looking forward to the coming of the anointed one, the Christ, the anointed one.

21 ... we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.

There hadn’t been a breakthrough.

There hadn’t been that “Ah-ha!” moment.

Until…

27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

…if you don’t know that story, continue reading here.

Can you imagine also being there and seeing the wheels start to turn in their heads? Or experiencing that along with them?

I’ve had many times when a book, a sermon video, a podcast, a Bible study group, or an in-person teaching has caused the wheels to turn, the light bulb to go off, and the… okay I ran out of analogies.

Some of these applications don’t stand the test of context, the test of the meaning of the original languages, or the test of consistency with the rest of scripture.

But most add to my understanding.

I may have heard it all before, but I need to hear it again.

Or hear it differently.


The idea of something “written on our hearts” can be found in these verses:

Hebrews 8:10  This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (NIV)

Jeremiah 31:33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (NIV)

Hebrews 10:16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them, after those days, says the Lord, putting My Laws into their hearts, and I will inscribe them into their mind” (BSB)

 

 

September 29, 2020

The Mystery of Unanswered Prayer

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

Every once in awhile, my mother speaks to me from the grave.

Before you change channels, let me explain.

In her later years — and even some not so later ones — she had a habit of writing fragments of hymn lyrics on scraps of paper. Her thing wasn’t Amazing Grace or How Great Thou Art, but those older, richer hymns that nobody bothers with anymore unless Chris Tomlin ‘discovers’ them.

The green piece of scrap paper read,

Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

It’s a line from “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart” (full lyrics below) and it somewhat captures one of the things I’ve been wrestling with since the pandemic began. I’m convinced that what keeps people from crossing the line of faith, and what causes others to wander from the fold, is not the allegiance of Evangelicals with a particular political party, the injustice of police interactions with people of color, or the tornadoes, floods and brush fires.

I think it’s more personal. I think it’s unanswered prayer. The time they reached out to God and God didn’t appear to come through for them in the desired time-frame. (Click the date-links in each to read in full.)

It’s been a recurring theme here at C201.

In December, 2011, we quoted from Steven Furtick’s book, Sun Stand Still:

…I’ve seen couples who had been labeled infertile give birth to healthy boys and girls. I’ve seen people lose their job, pray, and quickly land a new job that paid twice as much and required a fraction of the travel as the last job.

Sometimes—a lot of times—it goes that way. Faith works. Prayers produce. Praise God. There’s nothing better.

But sometimes—a lot of times, honestly—it goes the other way. Sometimes the sun doesn’t stand still. Sometimes the sun goes down.

Sometimes you pray your best, most honest, heartfelt prayers—and there is no answer. Or the answer is no. Sometimes, even though your motives are pure, your desire is good, and your need is urgent, the breakthrough doesn’t come. The turnaround moment doesn’t occur. The cancer spreads. The finances get tighter. The marriage feels more lonely. The kids grow more distant…

Also in December, 2011, we borrowed from Jon Swanson:

Jairus had a dying daughter. He went to Jesus. Jesus started coming to his house. Jesus was distracted by a different miracle. And then someone says, “never mind, she’s dead. Leave him alone.”

Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid; just believe and she will be healed.” The next thing we read is that Jesus arrives at the house.

Between those sentences, between “she will be healed” and Jesus arriving was a very long walk for Jairus.

…“Just believe” was all that Jesus told Jarius to do. We often turn that into some kind of measure, and we think that if we believe enough amazing things will happen. If they don’t happen, it’s our fault, because we didn’t believe enough. In this case, believing was simple. It just meant walking with Jesus all the way home…

…Jairus walked home with Jesus, ignoring the apparent certainty of her death.

Not every child is raised. But every promise is kept.

In January, 2012, our guest author was Robert Moon:

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

There are many things that hinder answered prayer, one of which is praying prayers we shouldn’t pray. Some prayers involve other people, and we forget that GOD deals with each of us individually, and it is not our place to control other people. There are myriads of reasons for seemingly unanswered prayer, and one of the most difficult one is time, waiting until the time is right in GOD’S eyes and not ours.

It is good to have a scripture in mind with a promise of answered prayer before I pray, and yet the answer is not always apparent. When this happens I never allow this to affect my relationship with the Father for faith in HIM comes far ahead of faith for things. Learn this secret when praying whether successful or not, allow your faith to grow exceedingly in GOD for this is what James 1:3 was talking about “You know that such testing of your faith produces endurance” and that is truly important.

I have heard of mothers who prayed for their children for many years and some have died before their prayer was answered. It would have seemed to have been an ineffective prayer effort but in reality it was victory.

In March, 2012, some powerful thoughts from an anonymous writer:

“I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Philippians 3:13, NKJV)

We all go through disappointments, setbacks and things that we don’t understand. Maybe you prayed for a loved one, but they didn’t get well. Or maybe you worked hard for a promotion, but you didn’t get it. You stood in faith for a relationship, but it didn’t work out. One of the best things you can do is release it. Let it go. Don’t dwell on it anymore. If you go around wondering why things didn’t work out, all that’s going to do is lead to bitterness, resentment and self-pity. Before long, you’ll be blaming others, blaming yourself, or even God. You may not have understood what happened. It may not have been fair. But when you release it, it’s an act of your faith. You’re saying, “God, I trust You. I know You’re in control. And even though it didn’t work out my way, You said, ‘All things are going to work together for my good.’ So I believe You still have something good in my future.”

Finally (for today) from August, 2012 from Kevin White:

…God can seem alien to us at times, even cruel. His understanding exceeds our own far more than a human father’s exceeds that of the youngest child. His ways are infinitely more unsearchable than that of a dad who holds his kid down to receive a shot. Indeed, we would know hardly a thing about God unless he revealed it to us.

So sometimes, it is hard to see the goodness in what Cowper described as “a frowning Providence.” And yet, a key part of God’s self-revelation is that he watches his people, neither slumbering nor sleeping. Like a nesting hen, sheltering the hatchlings. He is a loving Father who gives good gifts. And yet the world is full of snakes.

This difficulty is made worse when we just don’t understand what is happening. When friends and family suffer. When natural goods, rightly desired, are placed out of reach. When we see that one of the greatest impediments to our flourishing is staring at us in the mirror. It is hard to see how a loving Father can be watching over all of that.

Instead, it is easy to covet, easy to resent. It is easy to say that it is all wrong, and should not be happening. Not in the sense of, “it is a fallen world and I long for paradise,” but in the sense of “what kind of God could allow this?” Or to wonder if our concerns are too small for God to notice. For the Christian, that attitude is doubly false, since Jesus Christ himself, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” says that God pays mind even to the fall of a sparrow.

And yet, there is an odd thing about invoking God’s providence in difficult times. It is a classic piece of bad comforting to simply tell someone, “God is in control.” Even so, recognizing, resting in, and/or wrestling with God’s control over circumstances can be a powerful form of reassurance. Why the disconnect?

I think it is because the trite statement is a shortcut. In some ways, it merely restates part of the presenting problem. How is this bread and not a stone? Too easily, it skips all the messy business of “rejoice with those who are rejoicing, mourn with those who are mourning.” It skips straight to the pithy takeaway and moves on.

Part of the answer is that we live in a sinful and fallen world. The restoration of all things is not here yet. All accounts will be settled, but we have at best a foretaste of that reality. Some of our suffering comes from our own bad decisions, or from our own weakness and limitation. And much more comes with living in a world that is systemically corrupted and distorted by sin and the curse that it brought…


Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.

Hast Thou not bid me love Thee, God and King?
All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see Thy cross; there teach my heart to cling:
Oh, let me seek Thee, and, oh, let me find!

Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The kindling of the heav’n-descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.

September 8, 2020

Looking for Lepers

Today we’re highlighting a new author, Lydia Shearin, who writes at Soli Deo Gloria. Because this was slightly edited for length, you’re encouraged to click the title below and read this excellent article at her site.

Just one Touch

I have heard people say that the COVID-19 pandemic has been the hardest on extroverts, who have been forced into social isolation by quarantine, and I know many introverts who would debate that statement, but I think we can all agree that there is one group of people who have been hit especially hard by all of the social distancing and safety measures:

Huggers.

We all know at least one of these people who thrive off of physical touch, and will hug anyone and everyone, from their friends and family to the grocery store clerk. To these people, hugs are the best way to communicate greeting, farewell, joy, empathy, sadness, and many more emotions…

…I can’t deny that there is something special about our sense of touch. Have you ever noticed how many different emotions we can communicate through a simple touch on the arm, or a squeeze of the hand? As humans, I don’t think that God intended for us to live 6ft apart from each other. We were meant to be spiritually, emotionally, and physically connected to one another.

As I was pondering these things this morning, I was reminded of a powerful story found in three of the Gospels (Mark 1:40-45, Matthew 8:1-4, and Luke 5:12-16); The story of a leper that Jesus healed. Here is Luke’s version of the story:

While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him. Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Luke 5:12-16

I believe this is such a powerful story because it shows us the character of Jesus, and gives us insight into how he reacts to us when we bring him our brokenness.

At first glance, this my seem like just one of the many healing stories in the Bible, but for the Jews, Jesus’ response to the leper carries a whole different meaning. For him to reach out and touch a leper would have been shocking, to say the least, and ungodly, to say the worst. To understand this, we have to understand how serious having leprosy was in Jewish times. In those days, leprosy had no cure. You could not just grab some prescription anti-itch cream and put it on. People did not realize that the disease was caused by a bacterial infection that could be easily spread, but they did know that it was very contagious, and so lepers were avoided at all costs. Because leprosy seemed to appear out of the blue, a person who had leprosy was often considered to be stricken and punished by God himself.

If you go back to the Old Testament and read Leviticus 13, you will see that there was a rigorous process to figure out if someone had leprosy, and the chapter lists some of the symptoms to watch out for. I will spare you the nauseating details in case some of you are eating lunch, but trust me when I say that it was bad. Regardless, at the end of that chapter, we get a picture of what life would have been like for a leper:

 “Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.”

Leviticus 13:45-46

If a person was found to have a skin disease, they were to be isolated outside of normal society. They couldn’t work, no one could visit them, and no one could touch them. Because of the nature of the disease, they were either in pain or in an unbearable state of numbness all the time, and they had to depend on the generosity of others for their daily food and money. Not only that, their appearance was a badge of shame, as they were required to tear their clothes, wear their hair unkempt and call out that they were ill so that no one would come near them. Imagine if we did that today with other ailments. Imagine having to walk into a grocery store shouting, “Move everybody, lady with cancer coming through!” or “Don’t come near me, I have Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicavolcanoconiosis!” (yes, that is a real disease)   Imagine not being able to see your loved ones or hug your children for years.

In this context, Jesus’ choice to touch the leper was unimaginably shocking, but also so loving. Imagine, after not being able to touch anyone for years, the first touch you feel is that of your savior. that’s powerful. You can be sure that that leper never forgot Jesus’s touch.

But that is not all. There is another deeper, spiritual level to the story. Not only did Jesus heal the man’s body, I believe he forgave the man’s sin and healed his soul as well. That’s a big statement; let me explain. You may have noticed that after Jesus proclaimed the words, “Be clean” over the leper, he commanded the man to go and offer the sacrifices commanded by Moses for cleansing. Why? Not to receive spiritual or physical cleansing (he had already received that), but as “a testimony to them [the priests, scribes and pharisees]”…

…So when Jesus touched the man, he brought him ceremonial cleansing as well as physical cleansing. Yay! But there is one caveat: Anyone who touched a leper was considered to be defiled. In Leviticus 5:3-6 it says:

3 or if they touch human uncleanness (anything that would make them unclean) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt; 4 or if anyone thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil (in any matter one might carelessly swear about) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt— 5 when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned. 6 As a penalty for the sin they have committed, they must bring to the Lord a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for them for their sin.” 

According to the law of Moses, If a Jew touches someone who is unclean, he defiles himself and must offer a sin offering to the Lord to be right with him. So when Jesus touched this leper, he literally took upon himself the man’s uncleanliness. Now, although the man has become ceremonially clean from Jesus’ healing touch, Jesus would be considered by the priests and other Jews to be ceremonially unclean. He would not be able to have full communion with God in the temple until he had made the correct sacrifices for sin. But we know something that the Jews of that time didn’t know: Jesus didn’t need to make sacrifices to be reconciled with God after touching the man’s uncleanliness, because he was the sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world! Nevertheless, bearing all these factors in mind, it was a deliberate and conscious choice by Jesus to touch this man!

How easy would it have been for Jesus to simply call out to the man from a distance, “You are healed”? He had healed people from a distance before; he would later heal the centurion’s slave from a different part of the city. No one would have thought anything if Jesus stood back at a safe distance and spoke healing over him. The man would have still rejoiced, and the people would have still been amazed. But for this man, love meant reaching out and touching him. Love meant taking the man’s filth onto himself.

How often does God treat us the same way? When we bring ourselves to him, with all of our filth and sin and shame, does God turn away in horror? Does he stand at a safe distance from us and shout “Be Clean”? No. When we fall before his feet with nothing but lust, pride, envy and all the other infectious sins that we bear, he reaches out and pulls us close. He touches us, and takes all of our uncleanliness upon himself so that we can be clean before God.

Praise God we have a savior who is not afraid to get his hands dirty!

Yet we as Christians are often so unlike our Savior. We are quick to judge, but loath to lift a finger to help. When we encounter broken people with messy lives we say, “I don’t want to get into all of that.” We hide behind the walls of our church buildings and proclaim a gospel of radical love that we don’t live, while outside our doors there are hurting people who need the touch of a Savior. When God brings hurting, messy, unbeleivers into our lives, we try to love them from a distance, secretly worrying that their ways will rub off on us and our children.

Well guess what, Christians: Real love is messy.

If you want the Lord to use you to touch people, you must first get close enough to them to touch them yourself. And I don’t mean just physically close enough- I’m talking about removing some of the emotional “protection” barriers we put up and really loving people. And yes, they might curse a lot. And yes, they might have a drinking problem. And yes, you might loose some money, or “waste” some time, or get a little hurt, but love always costs something and if we want to be like Jesus we need to learn to accept the cost.

So my question for you today is this: Who is the leper in your life?

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