Christianity 201

October 10, 2019

Behold Your King! Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel and Power

by Clarke Dixon

“Behold your king!” This is how a cat would probably want to be introduced into a home. When we introduced a cat recentlyIMG_0281.jpeg, the dogs were terrified at first! Thankfully, they are now friends. People throughout history have clamored for power and authority. Unfortunately, many have been terrified and terrorized as a result. Perhaps you know someone who likes to be introduced with “behold your king.” Perhaps it is you.

We like power. We don’t like being at the losing end of power. We may feel that certain people have power over us in some way. We may feel like we have lost power due to situations, whether financial or health related. Cancer may seem to have all the control, for example. Power itself is neither good, nor bad. Power and influence can be a wonderful life-giving gift. Good things happen when influencers influence well. Power can also be a terribly destructive problem. How shall we deal with power, whether our influence over others, or their influence over us?

The concept of power is central to the Book of Daniel. The Babylonian empire has it all. God’s exiled people seem to have none. The Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, has it all. Daniel and his friends seem to have none. God speaks into this power arrangement through a dream to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel, chapter 2. Daniel is given the interpretation to share with the king.

Now imagine you are the king. Imagine how great you would feel when Daniel begins the interpretation of your dream like this:

37 Your Majesty, you are the greatest of kings. The God of heaven has given you sovereignty, power, strength, and honor. 38 He has made you the ruler over all the inhabited world and has put even the wild animals and birds under your control. You are the head of gold. Daniel 2:36-38 (NLT)

Wow! You are something else indeed! The top dog, the ruler, the “greatest of kings,” the “head of gold.” Yes, the king has great power. But do you notice something subtle within the interpretation? However powerful the king is, God is more powerful. The king only rules because God allows it. There are two things to note.

First, since God has given Nebuchadnezzar power, the king is accountable to God. Even the king is accountable to Someone in how he uses his power. King David of Israel knew this when he said “The LORD is my shepherd” in Psalm 23. David was not just referring to God’s care for him when he called God his shepherd. He was looking to God as his king, as the One he was accountable to, as the more powerful One.

Every person of influence is accountable to God. We all have influence of some sort. We do well to call upon God as our shepherd. Is our influence in line with God’s leading? Are we using power in ways, and towards ends, that are in line with God’s Kingdom? Is the Lord our shepherd as we influence? Look around at the current leaders of our world. Are they being led by the Shepherd?

Second, since there is Someone more powerful than the king, the king’s power is limited. This would have been a comforting thought to God’s people in exile as they lived under Nebuchadnezzar’s power. It will all turn out how God says, not Nebuchadnezzar. This is still a comforting thought in our day. Someone is in charge Who has greater power than anyone or anything exercising power over us. It will all turn out how God says it will, not how cancer says it will, or addiction, or any kind of disease or troubling situation in our lives. All powers are limited. God’s power is not.

There is something else worth noting in the interpretation:

39 “But after your kingdom comes to an end, another kingdom, inferior to yours, will rise to take your place. After that kingdom has fallen, yet a third kingdom, represented by bronze, will rise to rule the world. 40 Following that kingdom, there will be a fourth one, as strong as iron. That kingdom will smash and crush all previous empires, just as iron smashes and crushes everything it strikes. Daniel 2:39-40 (NLT)

The king’s power is only temporary. There will be other kingdoms. Nebuchadnezzar’s  rule will end up being really only a “blip” in the history of the world. All rulers, kingdoms, empires, and governments are only temporary.  All shall all give way someday. But there is a Kingdom that is everlasting:

44 “During the reigns of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed or conquered. It will crush all these kingdoms into nothingness, and it will stand forever. 45 That is the meaning of the rock cut from the mountain, though not by human hands, that crushed to pieces the statue of iron, bronze, clay, silver, and gold. The great God was showing the king what will happen in the future. The dream is true, and its meaning is certain.” Daniel 2:44-45 (NLT)

There is a Kingdom that is everlasting, because its King is eternal. The rock which smashes the statue is uncut by human hands, in contrast to the statue which is fashioned by human hands. It is God’s Kingdom. God sets up His Kingdom in contrast to the empires and kingdoms which people create.

There are differing interpretations around the identity of the empires represented in the statue of Nebuchandezzar’s dream. We can be quite certain, though, that the kingdom of God is to be identified with Jesus:

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:14-15 (NIV)

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” John 18:36 (NIV)

All empires and kingdoms are only temporary. Any destructive power that is over us, is only temporary. This would have been a hope filled message for God’s people in exile. This too, shall pass. This is still a hope filled message for us when our troubles seem unending. This too shall pass. All troubling powers overs us shall be replaced with God’s future for us.

We should also recognize that any influence we have is only temporary. Therefore, who’s kingdom is it better for us to invest in? Our own? Or God’s? There is a contrast in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream between what humans can accomplish, and what God can accomplish. When we build up an empire, it is something easily destroyed and replaced. When God builds a kingdom, it is eternal, and therefore worthy of our investment.

Like God’s people in exile, when someone else’s power and influence threatens our destruction, we look to the coming Kingdom. All earthly powers are limited and temporary. This, of course, also means that our own power is also limited and temporary. Therefore we do well to harness our influence for God’s Kingdom purposes.

(This “Shrunk Sermon” is from a series on The Book of Daniel which begins here)

September 20, 2019

That Pesky Parable: Jesus Asks His Hearers to Look Inside

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Although he is no longer writing we want to return to ForeWords written by Rich Brown for this excellent article. Click the title to read at source and learn about the author’s books.

God’s Grace Is Generous and Unconditional

The Story of the Crooked Manager

Luke 16 (The Message)1-2 Jesus said to his disciples, “There was once a rich man who had a manager. He got reports that the manager had been taking advantage of his position by running up huge personal expenses. So he called him in and said, ‘What’s this I hear about you? You’re fired. And I want a complete audit of your books.’

3-4 “The manager said to himself, ‘What am I going to do? I’ve lost my job as manager. I’m not strong enough for a laboring job, and I’m too proud to beg. . . . Ah, I’ve got a plan. Here’s what I’ll do . . . then when I’m turned out into the street, people will take me into their houses.’

“Then he went at it. One after another, he called in the people who were in debt to his master. He said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

“He replied, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’

“The manager said, ‘Here, take your bill, sit down here—quick now—write fifty.’

“To the next he said, ‘And you, what do you owe?’

“He answered, ‘A hundred sacks of wheat.’

“He said, ‘Take your bill, write in eighty.’

8-9 “Now here’s a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager! And why? Because he knew how to look after himself. Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.”

God Sees Behind Appearances

10-13 Jesus went on to make these comments:

If you’re honest in small things,
    you’ll be honest in big things;
If you’re a crook in small things,
    you’ll be a crook in big things.
If you’re not honest in small jobs,
    who will put you in charge of the store?
No worker can serve two bosses:
    He’ll either hate the first and love the second
Or adore the first and despise the second.
    You can’t serve both God and the Bank.

The parable of the unjust steward has baffled and perplexed preachers and readers of the Bible perhaps since it was first written down by Luke. To begin with, it’s difficult to understand because on the surface Jesus appears to be commending unscrupulous, deceitful activity by the manager (steward). The manager has just been fired by his wealthy master for cooking the books. Then he turns around and secretly goes to each of the people who owed money to his master and works out a deal to pad his own pocketbook as well as ingratiate himself to them for possible future business ventures.

The temptation with all parables is to rush to allegorize them. Obviously, the master must be God (after all, that’s the way it works in other of Jesus’ allegory parables). Put yourself in the manager/steward’s place (or perhaps give that role to Jesus). Allegories can be such great fun. Everything in its place. All very tidy. But I think that’s exactly the wrong thing to do here.

Likewise, it’s almost as easy to turn this parable into some sort of road map for Christian stewards who live within capitalistic societies. Shrewdness (the softer term for cunning) comes in quite handy in managing money, and it certainly appears Jesus commends the manager for his shrewdness not his dishonesty. Manage your money wisely and make it grow and thus help bring God’s kingdom on earth a little closer. There’s wisdom interspersed in there, but I just can’t bring myself to complete agreement that is the right or best approach to this parable.

Having been a writer/editor almost my entire adult life, I know the value of words (forget that “one picture is worth a thousand words” quote artists and photographers are always throwing in our faces), how they can express beauty and power and immense meaning, with both depth and breadth. Words on paper, at least.

What I try to do with a parable is imagine Jesus actually saying the words, in the context they occurred.

Here he’s been talking with “tax collectors and sinners” (code words for the seedier elements of society) while Pharisees (important and proper religious authorities) are listening in from a distance. Jesus has just told three stories of a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son (the Prodigal). And so he’s made the point that everybody is of great value to God (yeah, even you tax collectors, sinners, and Pharisees).

But then he tells this crazy story about a lying, despicable, cheating businessman who has conned his chief investor out of untold amounts of money, gets caught, turns around and does even more underhanded business deals which will help tide him over until his next job and ingratiate himself with an expanded network of other business people. And for all that chicanery, his “master” commends him for his shrewdness. He’s still fired, mind you…

What if there’s a little more to this story that’s not written in words. Something you had to be there for originally to truly appreciate. What if Jesus told his story with a wink and a nudge of his elbow to the ribs of the guy standing next to him? What if Jesus was being sarcastic?

Oh, no, you probably would say: “Not our Lord Jesus. The ‘perfect’ man. The holiest one ever to walk the face of the earth. God in the flesh.”

But, of course, that’s not the guy telling stories to this little gathering of society’s outcasts. People I’m pretty sure could recognize and appreciate a little (or a lot) of sarcasm when they hear it. I really like the thought of Jesus of Nazareth having a wicked sense of humor.

Maybe, just maybe Jesus isn’t counseling folks to go over to the dark side for the sake of the kingdom, to become the Bernie Madoffs of his day (or for my Canadian friends, first-century Conrad Blacks; Black, incidentally, owned the newspaper where I had my first job as a reporter–let’s just say I had a front-row seat in seeing how he was refining his “skills” back in the day).

Jesus is not saying the ends justify the means. And I don’t think he’s even telling folks to be good little capitalists so they can grow their money for the sake of the kingdom (or the church), although given the popularity of today’s “Prosperity Gospel,” apparently lots of people today do.

No, Jesus’ primary point, I think, is pretty much the same as what Bob Dylan sang about decades ago: “Gotta Serve Somebody.”

Look at it this way: There’s the children of darkness operating over here. And over there are the children of the light. Which group are you in?

Jesus may have been telling the story directly to tax collectors and other assorted “sinners,” but he knew the Pharisees were listening in, too. And so he wanted them to ask themselves the same question: Which children are you? And, just as importantly: Which children are you when you’re doing the “little things” as well as the “big things”? How faithful are you to God? Who are you/we serving?

 

September 19, 2019

Settling In as Christians to the New Normal of a Post-Christian Society

by Clarke Dixon

Should we, who are Christians in North America, still be bothered with Christianity when most North Americans are not? If so, should we be bothered by those who could not be bothered with it? There is a new normal in Western society, marked by a move away from traditional Christian beliefs and values. Should we just go with the flow and melt into the new normal of society? Or should we resist the changes, kicking and screaming all the way? How do we as Christians respond to the new normal?

Assimilate, or Be Different?

Daniel and his friends, from the Book of Daniel, would have faced similar questions. Daniel was facing a new normal:

3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief of staff, to bring to the palace some of the young men of Judah’s royal family and other noble families, who had been brought to Babylon as captives. 4 “Select only strong, healthy, and good-looking young men,” he said. “Make sure they are well versed in every branch of learning, are gifted with knowledge and good judgment, and are suited to serve in the royal palace. Train these young men in the language and literature of Babylon.” 5 The king assigned them a daily ration of food and wine from his own kitchens. They were to be trained for three years, and then they would enter the royal service.
6 Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were four of the young men chosen, all from the tribe of Judah. 7 The chief of staff renamed them with these Babylonian names:
Daniel was called Belteshazzar.
Hananiah was called Shadrach.
Mishael was called Meshach.
Azariah was called Abednego. Daniel 1:3-7 (NLT)

Daniel and friends were likely overachieving teenagers, perhaps as young as 14 when they were taken captive. They were born Jews in Judah, but now they are being educated in, or more accurately, indoctrinated into, Babylonian ways in Babylon. With three years training, which of course would include training in Babylonian religious ideas, and with name changes, they were facing a pressure to assimilate. They were to become model Babylonians. Should these teenagers even bother with trying to be Jewish? After all, their new normal seemed like a pretty good gig, including the finest food!

Daniel made a decision:

8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. Daniel 1:8 (NIV)

Biblical scholars are divided about what exactly was wrong with the king’s food, whether it was not “clean” or had been used in idolatry, but we need not be caught up in that discussion. What is important is that Daniel decided that he was not going to be assimilated, he would be different! He might be learning to speak like a Babylonian, but he will be Jewish.

Where did Daniel’s resolve to remain Jewish come from when becoming a Babylonian might seem to be an enticing and easy path? Daniel and his friends knew something very important. Despite everything, God is still God.

The opening verses of Daniel highlight this fact:

1 During the third year of King Jehoiakim’s reign in Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 The Lord gave him victory over King Jehoiakim of Judah and permitted him to take some of the sacred objects from the Temple of God. So Nebuchadnezzar took them back to the land of Babylonia and placed them in the treasure-house of his god. Daniel 1:1-2 (NLT emphasis added)

Due to circumstances, king Nebuchadnezzar, or the gods he worshipped, may appear to be in charge. However, it was God, described here as Adonai, meaning ‘lord,’ who was really sovereign over the situation. Since God is still God, Daniel resolves to be different.

God is still God today. Jesus is still Lord. Since God is still God, do we, who are Christians, have the same resolve as Daniel to be different? Is there something different about us that demonstrates that we have not wholly been assimilated into society around us? Perhaps church attendance is one thing, but is that it?

If we resolve to be different, then how will we relate to those who are different?

Since God is still God, and since Daniel resolves therefore to be a God-fearing Jew, what will that look like in Babylon? How will Daniel relate to the Babylonians? Will he fight them? Will he lead a movement against them? Will he be confrontational at every opportunity? Will he refuse to serve the king because he serves the King of kings?

We are told what Daniel does:

18 When the training period ordered by the king was completed, the chief of staff brought all the young men to King Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and no one impressed him as much as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they entered the royal service. Daniel 1:18-19 (NLT)

Jewish Daniel served the Babylonian king. In fact we will discover, as we keep reading, that Daniel will spend his whole life serving the current king, the next king, and even the king of the next empire to seize power. Daniel’s life is marked by serving people very different from himself. Daniel is different, but he also fits in. His attitude is not one of confrontation, but of servanthood. He does not come across as a warrior for God, but a servant of all.

How do we relate to the society we find ourselves in? How do we relate to people who may have quite different beliefs and values from us? God is still God, so we can be resolved to not be assimilated. But are we therefore to be warriors in a fight to the death? Or are we servants, like Daniel and his friends, and like Jesus? Are we to be confrontational at every opportunity? Or do we have an attitude of servanthood? Let us remember that Jesus came, “not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).

Daniel and his friends served the Babylonians, and quite well, we might add:

20 Whenever the king consulted them in any matter requiring wisdom and balanced judgment, he found them ten times more capable than any of the magicians and enchanters in his entire kingdom. Daniel 1:20 (NLT)

Daniel and his friends will be known as different, but not because they say they are, so much as because they really are. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak, not in the shouting out of the recipe.

In our being different, is the proof in the pudding, or the shouting out of the recipe? Are we different in ways that matter? Not in being overtly and overly religious, but in subtle and important ways, things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23), which are the fruit of the Spirit? If we are truly different, and genuinely serving others, people will ask about our faith. We will have opportunities to speak about it, there will be no need to shout about it.

Daniel resolved to be different, to not be assimilated, to not become a Babylonian. But then he did not live in a Jewish bubble either. He had no plan to destroy the Babylonians. Rather, he served the Babylonians as someone who feared God and loved people. Can we serve our fellow North Americans as God-fearing, people-loving people?

(This post is part of a series on Daniel which begins here.)

August 1, 2019

Take the Initiative, or Leave it To God?

Travel schedule forced me to have to interrupt this four part series on the Book of Ruth of which this is part three. To catch up, or read everything in continuity, visit Clarke’s blog at this link.

by Clarke Dixon

Do we trust God, or do we work things out for ourselves? Do we wait on God, or take the initiative? Do we leave everything in God’s hands, or do we take things into our own hands? Do we wait for a sign, or go ahead with a decision? The Book of Ruth gets at the heart of these questions. Right in the middle of the book Naomi takes a bold step:

 Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Ruth 3:1 (NRSV emphasis added)

Naomi then puts a plan into action which sees her daughter-in-law Ruth request marriage to Boaz, their “guardian-redeemer.”

We are not told if Naomi spent time in prayer in formulating this plan. The Book of Ruth does not tell us about Naomi’s prayers, her devotional times, or if she ever sought counsel from godly people, or God himself for that matter! It simply tells us that she took the initiative to solve a problem. She saw an opportunity to make a difference. She saw a practical solution to a practical problem.

While God is very involved in our lives, we have the opportunity to work out practical solutions to practical problems. God gives us the opportunity to grow in knowledge, skill, and wisdom. Finding solutions to problems is a thrill we get to share in. Some have the opportunity to share in finding a cure, a vaccine, a better way to help people, a more efficient car, or a faster motorcycle. Human ingenuity is something to celebrate. Being created in the image of God, we reflect the creativity of God.

Your ingenuity is something to be celebrated, and developed. God does not desire for us to be like infants forever, but to learn to walk on our own two feet. No parent wants their child to never take a first step. We celebrate the growth and development of children. However, no parent wants to come home to find their child has completely disassembled the car. There is a time to celebrate initiative, and there is a time to defer to God who knows best!

While Naomi could take the initiative, the closing verse of the Book of Ruth reminds us that God is sovereign. Only God could establish David’s reign. Only God could make and keep the promises that would lead to Jesus and salvation. Naomi’s initiative had potential impact on the DNA of Jesus, but only God could do what he did through Jesus. There are spiritual problems for which there are only God solutions.

Only God can bring salvation. There is no initiative you can take to reconcile yourself to God. No amount of effort, work, or deep thinking, can reconcile you to God. It is a gift from God. Our salvation is his initiative, his effort, his work on the cross. When it comes to salvation, we celebrate God’s initiative, not ours.

But when it came to finding security for Ruth, Naomi takes some credit. In fact, if Naomi had not taken the initiative, perhaps things may have not turned out as well. We don’t know, but perhaps Naomi might still be bitter by the end of chapter 4, just as we found her at the end of chapter 1. Instead, the Book of Ruth ends with joy and hope. This possibility is instructive. It is possible that looking for purely spiritual solutions to practical problems can lead to spiritual problems.

Many years ago I worked with some people in a Bible study specifically for those with mental illness. A well meaning church in town was willing to pick such folk up for programming they offered at their church. That was all very good, however, some were told that if they could find the sin that led to mental illness and repented of it, they would be healed from their mental illness. If anything, many of these people were much closer to Jesus than the “sound-minded” Christians in the churches! Perhaps some mental illness can be chalked up to spiritual problems, but much mental illness comes from practical problems, for which doctors continue to work on practical solutions. While we pray for miracle cures we also pray for those who work toward practical helps.

There is something else we can notice about Naomi’s initiative. She was keeping in step with God. Naomi saw an opportunity provided by the guardian-redeemer laws that God set up for His people of that time and place. We don’t live by those laws today as Christians, but we do live by the Spirit. We are to keep in step with God’s Spirit. Our initiatives and practical solutions should, and can, be in step with God. To give an example, our neighbour might find a practical solution to the problem of our barking dog. A well aimed bullet would do it. But that is not a good solution. There are better solutions that would keep in step with God!

So do we trust in God, or take initiative? Naomi devises a plan and advises Ruth to take a practical step, a step which lead to a positive outcome. However, in reading the whole book of Ruth, we understand that God is working everything out for good from beginning to end. It is not either/or, but both/and. We take initiative where it makes sense to do so, keeping in step with God, while always trusting in God. God, in his wisdom and power is able to accomplish his purposes despite, and often even through, our initiative. Perhaps this helps us take the initiative to pray. We don’t how our prayers could impact a sovereign God, but we have a wonderful opportunity to participate with God’s activity through our decisions in prayer. Mysterious, yet wonderful!

 

 

June 3, 2019

Sinning Against Another, Sinning Against Yourself, Sinning Against God

NLT Ps. 51:3 For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.
4 Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight.

In the title of today’s article, the first two categories don’t exist. It’s a topic we’ve covered here several times, but all sin is sin against God. It’s his holy standards that we miss, not those of our neighbor or ourselves.

It’s easy to believe your own press, or as some would say today, believe the picture you paint on Facebook. You can buy into the image that people have of you. You can decide that nine-out-of-ten is good enough. You can rationalize that the ministry is still happening, people are still getting saved, money is still being raised, the teaching is still being distributed. You don’t admit weakness, that would be letting people down.

I can only imagine what it’s like when you’re the king, especially when your nation or state is somewhat theocratic in nature. Like King David.

Psalm 51 is his particular prayer of confession. In the KJV the words are iconic,

…my sin is ever before me.

David admits he can’t run and he can’t hide from the thing he has done, or the person he has become. It’s what he sees when looks in the mirror. He owns up to it. I believe that whatever sin we give into, no matter how private, no matter how secret; it will manifest itself at some point in some more open way. Bathsheba presented a tremendous opportunity — her husband was away at the time — but it wasn’t the first time David had looked at a woman. Or perhaps not even the first time David had hatched a scheme.

You don’t become an adulterer overnight. It happens when you have failed to pre-book your choices. It happens when you’ve never recognized your susceptibility. It happens when pride gives you spiritual over-confidence.

Then, again using the KJV, he says,

Against thee, thee only, have I sinned

Jerry Bridges says, “We never see sin aright unless we see it as against God.”

  • When you maligned your co-worker, you sinned not against them, but against God
  • When you cheated on that test, you sinned not against the school or the teacher, but against God
  • When you falsified that document, you sinned not against the organization or the government, but against God
  • When you flirted with the girl in the grocery store, you sinned not against them or against your wife, but against God

You get the pattern.

Some of the resolutions people made at the start of the year are long broken. If they carried with them moral or spiritual significance, it isn’t just a personal letdown, you don’t just fail yourself, but rather it’s sin against God.

A key verse on this topic is,

I Sam. 2:25a If one person sins against another, God may mediate for the offender; but if anyone sins against the Lord, who will intercede for them?”

The preceding verses provide the context; here’s how The Message expresses this:

22-25 By this time Eli was very old. He kept getting reports on how his sons were ripping off the people and sleeping with the women who helped out at the sanctuary. Eli took them to task: “What’s going on here? Why are you doing these things? I hear story after story of your corrupt and evil carrying on. Oh, my sons, this is not right! These are terrible reports I’m getting, stories spreading right and left among God’s people! If you sin against another person, there’s help—God’s help. But if you sin against God, who is around to help?”

Perhaps you find the meaning of this rather self-evident. Several of the study Bibles and commentaries I consulted seem to gloss over it without adding detail. The Reformation Study Bible says,

Eli’s point is that while there may be some mediation of disputes between people, when someone offends God there is no one who can intervene.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary noted:

When a man has a complaint against another, the matter can be decided by God through his representative, the judge (Ps. 82:3), or by the sacred lot in the hand of the priest. But in a case in which God is the plaintiff, there can be no reference to a disinterested party the crime incurs the direct vengeance of heaven.  (p.277)

Although the context is quite different, the language of that verse to me is always similar to Acts 5:39, “But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” What I get is there is a sense of God’s vested interest in certain affairs (though the verse means far more than that); it conveys the image of sitting across the table in direct confrontation with God.  You don’t want that.

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.

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

5 …But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. 6 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.

A pastor once 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.

I am not living toward Jerusalem 24/7. I am distracted by worldly ideas. If you’re a guy, are you tempted by the girl at the mall in the miniskirt? 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.


Psalm 51 – Worship Liturgy by Ruth Wilkinson

Show me your grace, Yahweh, according to Your faithful love;
erase my rebellion, according to Your overflowing compassion.

Wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin.

I know what I’ve done wrong.
I remember where I’ve missed the path.

I’ve done wrong against You – the only one who has the right to judge and to pass sentence.

But I’ve been going wrong my whole life, when what You want for me is integrity for my inner self.
And from within, You teach me deep wisdom.
You purify me.
You make me clean.

Fill my ears with gladness; fill my broken bones with joy.

Yahweh, create in me a willing heart,
an unwavering spirit,
the joy of Your salvation,
the presence of Your Spirit.

Open my mouth to teach the other rebels,
to sing Your righteousness
and to call the other sinners home to You.

Lord, break my heart and humble my spirit.
Because You don’t want just my stuff, or I’d give it.

What pleases You is the offering of a broken and humbled heart,
and what flows from there.

When my spirit is right with You, then You’ll delight in what I bring.
And You can have it all.


Today’s article includes excerpts from When You Hit Bottom, Jerry Bridges Quotations, Owning It, Sins Against Another; Against God,

May 13, 2019

Signs and Wonders: A Note of Caution

If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder,  and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,”you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death for inciting rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. That prophet or dreamer tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you. – Deuteronomy 13:1-5 NIV

I was really struck by this passage last week listening to a podcast.

So how could this happen?

What follows is from Matthew Henry. I’ve modernized the text in some places, and items in square brackets and lighter typeface are added by myself.

A Strange Premise

How is it possible that any who had so much knowledge of the methods of divine revelation as to be able to impersonate a prophet should yet have so little knowledge of the divine nature and will as to go himself and entice his neighbours after other gods? Could an Israelite ever be guilty of such impiety? Could a man of sense ever be guilty of such absurdity?

We see it in our own day, and therefore may think it the less strange; multitudes that profess both learning and religion yet exciting both themselves and others, not only to worship God by images, but to give divine honor to saints and angels, which is no better than going after other gods to serve them; such is the power of strong delusions.

It is yet more strange that the sign or wonder given for the confirmation of this false doctrine should come to pass. [i.e. that the prayer is answered, or the miracle takes place.] Can it be thought that God himself should give any countenance to such a vile proceeding? Did ever a false prophet work a true miracle?

It is only supposed here for two reasons:

1. To strengthen [could he mean exaggerate?] the warning here given against following such a person. “Though it were possible that he should work a true miracle, yet you must not believe him if he tell you that you must serve other gods, for the divine law against that is certainly perpetual and unalterable.’’ The supposition is like that in Gal. 1:8 , If we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you —which does not prove it possible that an angel should preach another gospel, but strongly expresses the certainty and perpetuity of that which we have received.

 2. It is to fortify them against the danger of impostures and lying wonders (2 Th. 2:9 ): “Suppose the credentials he produces be so artfully counterfeited that you cannot discern the cheat, nor disprove them, yet, if they are intended to draw you to the service of other gods, that alone is sufficient to disprove them; no evidence can be admitted against so clear a truth as that of the unity of the Godhead, and so plain a law as that of worshipping the one only living and true God.’’ We cannot suppose that the God of truth should set his seal of miracles to a lie, to so gross a lie as is supposed in that temptation, Let us go after other gods.

But if it be asked [and it must be asked]: Why is this false prophet permitted to counterfeit this sign/wonder? [why did the miracle work?] then it is answered here (v. 3): The Lord you God is testing you. He allows you to be faced by such a temptation to test the quality of  your faith, that both those that are perfect and those that are false and corrupt may be made made obvious. It is to test [and shape] you; therefore see that you pass the test, and stand your ground.’’

A Necessary Warning

1. Not to yield to the temptation: you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer.

Not only must you not do the thing he [or she] tempts you to, but you should not so much as patiently hear the temptation, but reject it with the utmost disdain and detestation. [i.e. walk away before they are finished talking!] Such a suggestion as this is not open to negotiation, but you should cover your ears! “Get thee behind me, Satan.” Some temptations are so grossly vile that they will not bear a debate, nor may we so much as give them the hearing. What follows (v. 4),

Some temptations are so grossly vile that a discussion isn’t necessary, nor may we so much as give them the time of day. What follows (v. 4), You shall walk after the Lord, may be looked upon,

(a) As prescribing a preservative from the temptation: “Stay focused on your work [sacred and secular], and you keep out of harm’s way. God never leaves us till we leave him.’’ Or,

(b) As providing us with answer to the temptation; by responding, “It is written, Thou shalt walk after the Lord, and cleave unto him; and therefore what have I to do with idols?’’

2. Not to spare the tempter, v. 5. That prophet shall be put to death, both to punish him for the attempt he has made (the seducer must die, though none were seduced by him—a design upon the crown is treason) and to prevent them from doing further mischief. This is called putting away the evil. There is no way of removing the guilt but by removing the guilty; if such a criminal be not punished, those that should punish him make themselves responsible. And you must purge the evil from among you [KJV: “mischief must be put away”] the infection must be kept from spreading by cutting off the gangrened limb, and putting away the mischief-makers. Such dangerous diseases as these must be taken in time.


Matthew Henry as sourced at BibleStudyTools.com

February 1, 2019

Never Say “The Bible Doesn’t Talk About Politics”

This is our second time featuring the writing of Craig Greenfield, founder and director of Alongsiders International and author of Subversive Jesus: An Adventure in Justice and Mercy in a Broken World.

Yes the Bible talks about politics. All the time.

You’ve heard it.  I’ve heard it.

We’ve all heard it.

“Jesus was never political. He was only interested in saving souls and building his church.”

The problem is, the Bible is a very political book. And the scriptures have a LOT to say about how we should organize ourselves as a society.

Remember all that stuff about orphans, widows and foreigners that Jesus emphasized? That’s deeply political. Because we vote for people who make decisions about the poor, on our behalf. That’s what our love looks like in public.

Now Jesus was no Republican. Nor was he a Democrat. And he wasn’t a capitalist OR a socialist.

As Jim Wallis says, “The right doesn’t get it. And the left gets it wrong.”

The way of Jesus is the Third Way.

And this Jesus-way of bringing his Kingdom, ON EARTH as it is in heaven – has a lot of political implications.

Look at the context. Almost the entire Bible is written by people living in the shadow of one political Empire or another. The first readers of our scriptures were slaves and fugitives, fishermen and fools. They were the oppressed of Egypt, the exiled in Babylon, and the peasants under Roman occupation.

And so, it made perfect sense that Jesus would choose to come as one of those underdogs of a political Empire—a vulnerable child with nowhere to go, his parents shuffled about by the Roman demand for a census.

But here’s what we miss about Jesus’ birth. There are really only two goals in carrying out a major census – the kind that framed his entry into the world. Just two reasons to go to all that extra expense and bureaucratic hassle to count every single head in the entire Roman world (Lk 2:1).

The first reason is to determine the number of people who can pay taxes.

And the second, is to figure out the number of men who can fight in an army.

Tax and War.  Money and Power. Politics.

In other words, the birth of Christ took place in the shadow of the twin pillars of a typical political Empire: economic power and military might.

Isn’t it interesting then, that when Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist is asked what it means to repent, he directly addresses the representatives of those two pillars of Empire by calling on the tax collectors (representing economic power) and the soldiers (representing military might) to act with justice (Lk 3:12-14).

Then, Jesus comes along preaching a radical alternative to this type of Empire. Something he called the Kingdom of God (or as Matthew calls it, the Kingdom of Heaven).

Jesus’ subversive Upside-Down Kingdom stands in stark contrast to the way we like to do politics. It’s something that will come on earth as it is in heaven.

Whereas Empire comes on a white military horse wielding weapons of shock and awe, the Upside-Down Kingdom comes on a donkey’s back and says love your enemy, even if he crucifies you. That’s a deeply political stance.

Whereas Empire consolidates power and says let’s make our nation great, the Upside-Down Kingdom kneels with a towel and washes feet, saying I come to serve – even those of other tribes. That’s a deeply political stance.

Whereas Empire honors the influential and celebrates the celebrity, the Upside-Down Kingdom welcomes little refugee children and gives food to the hungry. That’s a deeply political stance.

Whereas Empire is about power and status and tax breaks for the rich, the Upside-Down Kingdom is led by a handful of unemployed fishermen, rejected bureaucrats, a prostitute and some failed revolutionaries. That’s a deeply political stance.

Whereas Empire is a rat race to the top, the Upside-Down Kingdom says the last should be first, losers are winners, and the most important among us will do the dishes. That’s a deeply political stance.

Such a radical alternative to the Empire could only lead to one outcome – the leader being silenced and murdered by the State. And that’s exactly what happened.

The fake divide between our personal morality and political morality is a lie. We vote for the kind of society Jesus wants – or we don’t.

The Bible is deeply concerned about how a nation treats its poor, which is a political issue (though you might argue about how a government can do this most effectively).

The nation of Israel was punished for its disobedience in this regard:

“‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.” (Ezekiel 16:48-50)

Here’s the problem. Many of us live lives that are comfortable enough to be untouched by politics.

We’re not affected by refugee quotas, or welfare systems, or how much money is put into inner city schools.

We can do what we want, go where we want, and educate our kids in whatever damn school we want.

We can wash our hands of politics, and turn away from our poor neighbors. We can insulate ourselves from the needs of the world and make our faith a private, individual affair..

And our hyper-personalized theology reflects that privilege.

But instead, I’d like to invite you to consider a different path. I invite you to walk amongst the poor… Read Mary’s Song (Lk 1:46-55)… Visit a refugee holding center… Stay overnight in a slum… Find some way, somehow, to overlap with those on the margins.

And then tell me government policies don’t matter for the orphan, the widow and the foreigner – and that Jesus doesn’t care about all that.

Cos our faith is always personal, but never private.

January 28, 2019

God in Your Life Losses

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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We’re returning today — for the 14th time — to the site, Counseling One Another by author and pastor Paul Tautges. This has been a great source of excellent articles for us and I hope you’ve taken an opportunity to visit the page and read more. Please click the link below to read this one at source.

God Speaks Life Into Your Loss

This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. (Psalm 119:150)

Scripture heals. It ministers grace to your deepest hurts, since it is the voice of the one who created and redeemed you.

In the beginning, the voice of God brought the universe into existence—brought life out of nothing. “God said” and it was so (Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26). Now the voice of God revives your soul. The writer of Psalm 119 experienced this inner rejuvenation. In the midst of his “affliction,” the warmest comfort came from the words of God which give “life.” Earlier in the psalm, he affirmed the same:

“Your testimonies also are my delight; they are my counselors. My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” (Psalm 119:24-25)

Loss brings sadness. In turn, sadness sometimes stalls and cracks open the door to depression. Sometimes suddenly. Most often it’s gradual, even unnoticed. Either way, you need help from God. In the middle of your thick fog you need the piercing light of divine truth to break through and speak words of grace and comfort to your hurting soul. So, you can pray something like this:

“Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight.” (Psalm 119:77)

Or this:

“Trouble and anguish have found me out, but your commandments are my delight.” (Psalm 119:143)

When the trials of life drain every ounce of spiritual, physical, and emotional energy from you, God’s Word will be your strength. It ministers to your deepest agonies, and helps you gain eternal perspective.

You can receive strength by appreciating the testimony of others, like Paul: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” is a healing balm (Romans 8:18). Or, again, David: “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction” is a testimony of persevering grace (Psalm 119:92).

Scripture heals because God has spoken. But Scripture still speaks. It is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12). In Scripture, the living Word of God—Jesus, the Man of Sorrows—speaks. As you meditate on the Bible, the Spirit speaks life-giving words into that part of you that feels like it died along with your loss.

How about opening your Bible, and inviting the Lord to speak healing truth?

October 4, 2018

Genesis 4: How Not to Celebrate Thanksgiving

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Clarke Dixon took a break from writing this week, but we found this 2012 article which had never been published here. This week is Thanksgiving Weekend in Canada and it’s not that many weeks away in the U.S…

by Clarke Dixon

Thanksgiving is often thought of as a time to focus on family but it is especially also thought of as a time to come before God with special gratitude for the fall harvest. Being a big fan of family and food this is something I am keen on doing. I was a bit concerned, however, that Thanksgiving would interrupt the flow of our sermon series on Genesis. Not to worry, turns out that Genesis chapter 4 brings together the themes of family and a harvest offering quite nicely. However, Cain kinda threw a spanner into the works with a murder on this first ever Thanksgiving, so I decided I had better entitle this “How Not to Celebrate Thanksgiving.”

So where did it all go wrong? Two brothers take the time to celebrate God’s goodness with offerings from their work; grain from Cain and a lamb from Abel. How does a seemingly good thing turn so sour? Some might blame God voicing his favor and disfavor toward the brothers. Had God just kept his thoughts to himself perhaps Abel would have lived to see a second Thanksgiving and beyond. But God didn’t keep his remarks to himself, there must have been something remarkable.

So the question becomes what is so remarkable about Cain’s offering that God had to express his displeasure? Was it that God prefers animal sacrifice to grain offerings? Was it that blood needed to be spilled for it to be a true offering? Was Cain’s offering not up to snuff in being of lesser value, being either not of sufficient amount or of quality? Each of these possibilities have been suggested, but I think the passage speaks to the what the problem is, it lets us in on what God found remarkable.

Let’s look at the passage and I’ll ask you to focus in on the character of Cain for a moment;

3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD.  4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering,  5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.  6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”

8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.  9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  10 The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.  11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”  13 Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear.  14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (Genesis 4:3-14 NIV)

So what can we say about Cain? He has anger issues (verse 4), he does not listen or heed instruction (as given in verse 7), He is deceitful (verse 8), He is violent to the point of murder (verse 8), he is apathetic to the concerns of another, especially one he should take responsibility for (verse 9), he is snarky towards One who commands respect (verse 9), and finally he is self-centered in showing no remorse but only concern for his own future (verse 13). In short, his character is just plain pathetic. We might be tempted to assume that the brothers were alike until Cain’s anger was aroused, but we should think rather of Cain’s actions as being rooted in the kind of man he had become.

The problem is not with Cain’s offering, the problem is with Cain. Notice that God does not just look at the offering the brothers are bringing, he looks at the brothers also: “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor” (Genesis 4:4b-5a NIV my italics). If Adam and Eve sinned by trying too hard to be like God, then Cain sinned by not trying hard enough. God is love, Cain is filled with hatred. God is gracious, Cain is selfish. God serves, Cain is self-serving. God is honest, Cain is a liar. Though created in the image of the Creator, Cain fails to live up to that image in any way.

What a contrast Cain is to Jesus. The offering at the cross goes far beyond what any other offering ever could. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15 NIV). But more than the perfect and supreme offering, Jesus is the one who bears the image of God like no one else. “This is my Son . . . with Him I am well pleased” (2 Peter 1:17 NIV and elsewhere). We might say that God looked upon Jesus and his offering with favor.

How does God look upon you and your offering this Thanksgiving? We’ve already seen how not to celebrate Thanksgiving; as one with a character that displeases God, a character that will lead to all kinds of behaviors that displease God and make life miserable for others at the same time. Of course we are grateful for the grace of God, and the gift of forgiveness in Christ. But that grace does not stop us from taking a good solid look at our character.

Wherever we may be in our character formation, are we moving in the right direction? Are we becoming more and more like Jesus, or more and more like Cain? I trust that you and I are moving in the right direction with the power of the Holy Spirit. And for that opportunity there can be much thanksgiving.

To be forgiven, and to be growing in Christian maturity, now that’s a great way to celebrate Thanksgiving.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Read Clarke Dixon’s blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

July 20, 2018

The Father of Fake News

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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In exploring the idea of “the father of lies,” I came across Awakened to Grace, a website which we’re featuring here for the first time. The author of today’s piece is Joy Bollinger.

The Father of Lies

Keep the door bolted against lying.      

My formative years were shaped around the philosophy that lying had its place, especially if a little “white lie” was told to avoid hurting someone. However, lying is part of our old fallen nature that existed before we surrendered our hearts and lives to Jesus Christ.

We see that old sinful nature exposed in very young children with a similar scenario played out in many homes. A child stands covered in chocolate—the perfect billboard for Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. You ask them if they ate the chocolate bar that you had hidden in the pantry. Their guilty, chocolate covered-face betrays them as they answer, “No.” If lying weren’t so serious, it would be funny.

Children are told to tell the truth, but then, with all good and loving intentions, a parent might create elaborate, false stories or false explanations to answer their child’s inquisitiveness. They might make false promises or ironically, as my parents did, tell an outright lie to insure compliance, “If you lie, your nose will grow like Pinocchio’s.” Of course, my parents were not Christians at that time, so they did not know the Word’s position on lying; therefore, they couldn’t pass that truth to us.

Students lie to their teachers. Employees lie to their bosses. Patients conceal the truth from their doctors. Spouses lie to spouses. Friends lie to friends. Parents lie to children. Children lie to parents. People lie about their age and weight. People conceal and lie about their past. People lie to themselves. The list of lies is endless.

The Lord tells us that there are seven things that are an abomination to Him: haughtiness, lyingmurdering, plotting evil, eagerness to do wrong, a false witness, and sowing discord among the brethren (Proverbs 6:16-19). The harsh reality is that “all liars will have their part in the lake, which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8 NKJV).

Why is hell punishment for lying to those who do not repent? Jesus said this about those who lie, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44 NIV). 

What is a lie? The dictionary defines a lie as an untruth, falsehood, white lie, perjury, fabrication, falsification, deception, betrayal, made-up story, tale, half-truth, pretense, crookedness, exaggeration, fiction, evasiveness, and concealment. The verb form is to misinform, mislead, stretch the truth; hedge, evade, trick, conceal, or cheat. Even a “white” lie is a deception that invalidates a person’s integrity. According to those definitions, at one time or another, we have all lied; therefore, we must repent.

The Word tells us, Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator (Colossians 3:9-10). We are created in the image of God, who does not lie. If we have a relationship with all Truth (Jesus Christ), how can we justify lying in any form?

When I became a Christian, God revealed the importance of truthfulness. Truthfulness was relevant to me, because I had experienced pain and disappointment from those who had called themselves Christians, yet they had lied, broken promises, betrayed confidences, stolen from me, and had harbored hidden sin. What they had really stolen was my ability to trust God. After all, if I couldn’t trust God’s representatives, how could I trust Him? As a fledgling Christian, those betrayals and lies by fellow Christians were heartbreaking and painful. Today, it is not any less painful to be at the receiving end of a betrayal or lie.

We know the spiritual aspect of why we lie, but why do humans give into the temptation to lie? Dr. Robert S. Feldman, a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science, examined lying and deception for over 25 years and said, “People lie because they can get away with it; because it works for them. It’s a way to get along with other people. It’s a way to control [their] world, and it’s a way that [they] can use to make people do what [they] want them to do.” He went on to say that men usually lie to make themselves look better and to build themselves up, and women tend to lie to make others and themselves, feel good.

We are daily inundated with false statements made by various people, ads, politicians, and the news media, that manipulate and distort the truth to promote their deceptive agendas. The enemy is relentless in using people and anything of this world to entice and draw us to his deceptions. Even false christs and false prophets will arise (currently present in many churches) and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect (Matthew 24:24).

Adam and Eve had every good gift from God, yet Satan was able to cleverly craft a lie, which they believed and then disobeyed God. We too are vulnerable to Satan’s clever and enticing deceptions. Therefore, we must be prayerful and vigilant to discern and distinguish the truth from the lie. We must be sober-minded and watchful, for our adversary, the devil, prowls like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (I Peter 5:8).

The reality is that as human beings, we have all fallen for a lie. But we have also, lied and embellished the truth. Romans 3:23-24 tell us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Praise God that He is quick to forgive us of our sins when we repent (Matthew 3:8).

“Finally, brothers and sisters, 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 (meditate) about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

PRAYER: Lord, I come to You with a repentant heart. I realize that any form of lying is sin. Please forgive me for any and all lies, exaggerations, evasiveness, concealments, half-truths, deceptions, and betrayals, whether intentional or unintentional. Help me each day to be aware of all untruth that might be poised on my tongue or any behaviors or thoughts that are not in keeping with Your will. I want to live a truthful and authentic life before You and others. In Jesus name, amen.

God is not human, that He should lie, not a human being, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19)

June 23, 2018

When the Thief’s Heart Begins to Melt

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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We had a much longer post yesterday, so today, something shorter…

We’re paying a return visit to Patrick Hawthorne who writes at Serving Grace Ministries. This is an article that he’s used more than once, and we hope you’ll enjoy it here.

The Thief

The pain was excruciating! Like bolts of lightning, nerve endings screamed in a rhythmic tone as one wave of pain followed another.  Still, the thief pushed through the pain as he forced his body upright.  The need to breath was greater than the agony of the steel spike that had been thrust through his feet.  Pulling against the two other spikes, one through each wrist, he was able to fill his lungs with a fresh supply of air.

The sky was becoming darker, the wind picking up.  Although the steady gusts should have brought a modicum of relief, the air itself seemed to add more weight to his already weary body.  It felt as if heaven itself was crying.

“If you are the Christ, why don’t you come down off the cross and save us,” spat his companion mockingly.  Like the thief, he too was nailed to a wooden cross.  They both were paying for their crimes.  Thieves with no regard for human lives, taking and killing…leaches on society.  Now they were being crucified.  One to the left and one to the right of this man named Jesus.

Shut up!” The thief spat back at his companion.  “Do you not fear God?  We are getting what we deserve, but not Him.  He did nothing wrong!”  Looking to Jesus, their eyes met.

The thief’s mantra had always been, “An eye for an eye.” Not so with this man named Jesus.  Jesus was showing love where there should have been hate; forgiveness where there should have been cursing.  Surely his ears must have deceived him.  Was Jesus really asking God to forgive those who had beat Him beyond all recognition?  Yes!  He was.

Somehow, someway, the hardness of the thief’s heart had begun to melt.  He did not deserve forgiveness, nor was he asking for it.  Yet, each time he looked into the eyes of Jesus, he felt an inward calling…an unction that Jesus could grant him a future beyond the confines of this miserable life he had made for himself.

Jesus, my Lord, remember me when You enter into Your Kingdom.” At his words, the Roman soldiers laughed.  The thief did not care.  He felt a sudden release as the cords that once bound his cold heart were cut loose.  Eternal life had just flooded his spirit.

Through blood stained lips, Jesus smiled a weak smile.  “Verily I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.

Be Blessed.


 

June 7, 2018

Is God a Cosmic Tyrant?

by Clarke Dixon

Is God a cosmic tyrant?
Is God in control of absolutely everything?
Are natural disasters a matter of his choice for the world?
Are your personal disasters a result of his decisions for your life?
Are our own decisions merely illusion, that in fact, God has foreordained even what we think we have decided, even when we choose actions that are sinful and cause incredible harm to ourselves and others?

Or perhaps God is not in control at all and just set everything going? All that happens is a matter of our free choice and what happens naturally.

The Bible pushes us toward belief in the sovereignty of God. Consider, for example Psalm 139 especially the latter part of verse 16:

In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed. (Psalm 139:16 NRSV)

So then God is a cosmic tyrant? Our favourite prayer might become that of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane: “yet not my will but yours” (Mark 14:36), prayed with a tone of resignation: “Whatever you come up with, Lord, I will put up with.”

There are problems with this line of thinking:

First; the Bible does not present the sovereignty of God as something to be resigned to, but something to be excited about and find encouragement in. If you were an actor tasked with portraying Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, how would you perform his prayer as he faces arrest and execution? Would it be with resignation, or with determination? Would you say the lines in a way that communicates “I think Your will is terrible, but I will if I must”, or “I know Your will is best, and yes, let’s do this”? Whatever the tone of Jesus as he prayed it, the hours that followed were not moments of resignation, but of determination and decisions that reflected his knowledge that good things were truly ahead. And good things did come! Jesus was raised from the dead and our sins were dealt with. Knowing that God’s will is good we can find encouragement that our future is not determined by chance, or even by our own poor choices, but by the good purposes of God:

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (NRSV)

“All things” includes things that happen naturally within Creation and human decision. We can be excited about how God is shaping things that would otherwise cause fear and panic.

Second; The sovereignty of God is not a cold philosophical proposition, but rather a comforting reality. Sometimes we take something written for our encouragement and imagine it is written for our theological curiosity. The Psalmist in Psalm 139 is not a professor trying to work out the details of life from the comfort of a Lazyboy in preparation for a lecture. The Psalmist is someone going through real life struggles. We might summarize the whole of Psalm 139 like this: “I can hide nothing from you, nor flee from your presence. See that I am innocent, and the person threatening my life is not. I need justice to prevail and for you to reward the innocent party (me), not the guilty (them).” Perhaps we can relate to this Psalm. Yes, we all sin, but sometimes there really is nothing we have done to deserve this cancer, or that Parkinson’s, or that ill treatment from someone we thought was a friend. We can relate to the Psalmist and say something very similar, “Lord, I am your child, yet I am under siege by people or circumstances”. In those moments, we don’t need a theology textbook. We need God and we need the outcome to be in His hands.

Third: The sovereignty of God is not something we can fully grasp. Sometimes we take something that is true and try to turn in into something that is understandable. No professor or Bible teacher, no matter how smart and knowledgeable, could ever really understand everything there is to know about God anyway.

While we often might long for the “patience of Job”, the Book of Job is really about humility in the face of deep questions. After so many words were spilled on trying to make sense of Job’s suffering, God finally speaks near the end of the book. But in speaking he does not give answers. He only asks questions. And what was Job supposed to learn from that? That he, Job himself, is not God, neither are his friends, and that God’s ways may be beyond understanding.

We are not always going to have the answers. We learn to live with the questions. We learn to trust God despite our lack of understanding. God has the future in His hands, even if we cannot understand how.

So what do we mean by saying that God is sovereign? Has he already decided what all our decisions will be? I am reminded of the expression, “when I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you”. Or, does God in his sovereignty allow things to unfold, naturally, and as consequences of our decisions, but only according to his purposes. Let us consider Psalm 139:16 again:

In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed. (Psalm 139:16 NRSV)

This verse does not tell us if what is written is prescriptive or descriptive, or somehow, both. Is God’s “book” a to do list as God unfolds history? Or, is it a book in which God writes down how history unfolds as he foresees it, as a historian might, but before the events rather than after?  Or does God in his omniscience and omnipotence see what unfolds, but makes the necessary adjustments to ensure the story turns out well?

We can think of a manager of a hockey team who might like the ability to see ahead of time which players will excel in the future, then being able to adjust the rosters based on that foreknowledge. The team could be massaged into a Stanley Cup win.

Perhaps sometimes we think of God as a thing to be studied and understood, rather than a Father, to be in relationship with and enjoyed. As parents, we sometimes allow our boys to experience the consequences of their own decisions. And sometimes we make the decisions that will help them flourish. None of this is done according to a formula, and our boys may never understand us. It is done in relationship, it is a matter of love.

So is God a tyrant? No, God is a loving Heavenly Father. But what if I cannot figure out how the Bible’s teaching on God’s sovereignty squares with my experience of free-will? You can trust God in real life circumstances much sooner than you will be able to fully comprehend Him in a classroom. That is much better anyway!


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (35 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

May 29, 2018

The Chastisement of Our Peace

Sometimes a reader will leave a comment at very old post here, and it will remind me that the article might be worth sharing again. This one is from January, 2011…


He was wounded for our transgressions.

Those words, from the KJV of Isaiah 53:5 are probably among the scripture verses most known by heart.

By his stripes we are healed.

If you grew up Pentecostal or Charismatic, there is no escaping teaching on that part of the verse; no escaping the connect-the-dots between the scourging Christ suffered and the healing that is available to us today, in the 21st century.

But what about the third of the four clauses in that verse? Here’s the whole verse in the new NIV:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah, in this Messianic prophecy is saying that Christ’s suffering has brought us forgiveness for our transgressions and iniquities as well as (if you’re not dispensationalist) healing of mind and body.

But there it is, in the second-to-last, a reference to peace.

I mention all this because of a post I did this morning at Thinking Out Loud, where a U.S. pastor had his congregation complete an index card indicating the trials they were facing and the burdens they were carrying. If Isaiah 53 applies, then it must apply to the point of bringing peace to the very doubts, anxieties, fears, angers, jealousies, anger, pride, insecurities, addictions, pain, disappointments, attitudes… and everything else that people mentioned on those little 3-by-5 cards.

First, let’s do some translation hopping:

  • He took the punishment, and that made us whole (Message)
  • The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him (NASB)
  • the chastisement [needful to obtain] peace and well-being for us was upon Him (Amplified)
  • He was beaten so we could be whole. (NLT)
  • The punishment which gives us the peace has fallen on him (tr. of French – Louis Segond)

Clearly, the intent of this verse is that our peace is part of the finished work of Christ on the cross.

The New International Bible Commentary says:

Peace and healing view sin in terms of the estrangement from God and the marring of sinners themselves that it causes.

The ESV Study Bible notes on this verse concur:

His sufferings went to the root of all human vice.

Lack of peace as sin? Worry and anxiety as sin? That’s what both of these commentators seem to say.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary makes clear however that the peace that is brought is a general well-being, not simply addressing the consequences of sin.

But in the Evangelical Bible Commentary, something else is suggested, that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is bringing a peace that represents the restoration between God and man.

Many of the other commentaries and study Bibles I own do not directly address this phrase. A broader study of the chapter reveals a Messiah suffering for all of the burdens we bear, such as the ones listed above in the pastor’s survey. (“Oh, what peace we often forfeit; oh, what needless pain we bear…”)

I’d be interested if any of you can find any blog posts or online articles where this particular phrase is addressed apart from the wider consideration of the verse as a whole.

At this point, let’s conclude by saying that the finished work of Christ on the cross is sufficient for all manner of needs we face; all types of burdens we carry.

May 13, 2018

You Have a Heart Condition

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we have a new writer (to us), John R. Shuman writes at Truth Fully Spoken. Click the title below to read this article in full at the original site.

Worship In The Heart

True Worship

I have done lots of reading, and all the theologians have there theories on worship…. true worship, and how it is to be done, but I look to the truth to find out what it is, because it is usually a lot simpler than they make it out to be.  So first I look to what The truth said, (Jesus Said “I am the truth…”)  and John 4:21-24 tells what Jesus said about how God wants his children to worship.

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

We must worship in spirit and in truth… The truth is easy, look around you, everywhere you go there is God, everything you see was created by God, all the joy you have was given by God.  These are the truths of the matter, there is no denying it.  But what about worshipping in the spirit?  Well, that is where the heart comes into play.

Modifying The Heart

Isaiah 29:13 reads:

13 The Lord says:

“These people come near to me with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
    is based on merely human rules they have been taught.

God says, people come and worship Him, but only from the rules they were taught, it is not in their hearts.  God knows what is in their hearts, and He knows that is where the true worship comes from.  We can go to church all of our lives, be taught to pray, be shown the love of God, even preach the good news to all we see…. But without a heart focused on God, without the “fear” of God in our soul, we are just going through the motions.

And, we read in Romans 12:1-2 what we need to do to make sure our worship is true…

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

We need to renew our minds to go against those of this world, we need to offer our lives as a sacrifice to God, we MUST renew our hearts, (the lifeblood of all we are) to the ways of God and His perfect will.

You Have a Heart Condition

We, all of us, have a heart condition.  Good or bad, we have one.  And we need to determine what our heart condition is, is our heart good and strong, or is it weak and in need of attention.  Our physical heart goes unnoticed most of our lives, but it is a huge part of what keeps us alive.  The same can be said for our spiritual heart… We go most of our lives not really paying attention to it, but it is the primary part of what keeps our spiritual life going.

Matthew 25:31-46 shows us exactly how God feels about our condition of the heart…

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Are you a sheep?  Following the shepherd, listening to his voice? Or are you a goat?  following your own ways and not listening to the one leading and just doing what the world wants?  I know it sounds like an easy question, but it really isn’t…. because to truly answer the question you need to examine your heart and most of us really do not want to know what is located there.

Heart Surgery

So, we know we want a proper heart, so we can worship God the way we are supposed to, what do we need to do?  Well, after we have answered the question dealing with the condition of our heart, we must decide if we need to correct the issues we find.  And I happen to know someone that can take care of it.  The greatest heart surgeon to ever walk this planet.  Jesus… If you want your heart to be healed, if you want to worship God as He wants you to, then all you need to do is talk to Jesus, He has a miraculous way of healing heart conditions, and any other issues you might have…

Prayer Time

God, thank you for helping me to look at my heart’s condition.  I pray that you work on my heart accordingly… making it strong and healthy, repairing the areas that require your attention.   And that also goes for the other aspects of my life.  Thank you God for fixing the broken me, and for being the great physician that you are.  I praise you for all you have done for me, and for all you are doing to keep me focused on you.  I pray for your guidance in every aspect of my daily journey, allowing me to stay focused on you.

 

October 1, 2017

Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices, They shout joyfully together. – Isaiah 52:18a, NASB

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. – I Corinthians 12:12 NIV

As someone who has been part of music ministry in many different churches, I don’t know how I missed today’s analogy before. (I’ve added italics and bold type for emphasis!) We begin with a return visit to Christward Collective and a piece by author Gary Wilbur. Click the title below to read the article in full at source.

Singing in Parts

I love plainsong chant and the power of unison singing. This type of singing fulfills particular roles in worship that part-singing cannot. However, I would suggest that the current status of congregational singing is not lacking in unison options but is in fact neglecting the benefits of singing in parts.

One reason that people do not sing in church is the lack of opportunities to do so with a voice part or a melody that fits into their vocal range. Altos and basses were not physically made to sing in the same range as sopranos and tenors. When faced with a high melody line and no opportunity (or training) to sing anything else, basses and altos either stop singing or strain their voices. If they are able to hit the higher notes, they do so in a different part of their voice that makes them stick out of the blend.

Singing in parts allows for different voice ranges to have vocal parts that fit their voice. This allows them the opportunity to participate more fully in congregational singing—which is, of course, a significant reason for singing together in the first place.

In addition, when people sing in harmony the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Literally. Notes sung together cause sound frequencies to resonate together in such a way that “sounds” other notes that are not physically being sung. The combination of voices creates the opportunity for additional notes and harmonies to fill out the music with greater richness.

Singing in parts is a reflection of the Body of Christ that serves one another with different functions. The melody is supported by the harmony, the inner voices contribute tension and release, color, and enriched harmonic textures. The sopranos need the basses who need the altos and tenors…

He then moves on to talk about some of the practicalities of music ministry that aren’t applicable to all readers here.

It’s import to note that the idea of the capital “C” Church as a body is itself an analogy; so that when we noted that part singing is analogous to the notion of that body, we’re actually proposing an analogy to an analogy. We can get quite carried away doing this.

But we wouldn’t be the first to propose that the music of the church can be a microcosm of something taking place on a larger scale. For example, most of the basic chords in music are comprised of three notes, and writers in past centuries saw this as analogous to The Trinity.

Augustine wrote, “In that supreme triad is the source of all things, and the most perfect beauty, and wholly blissful delight.”

That quotation was sourced at the article “A Perfect Chord: Trinity in Music, Music in the Trinity” by Chiara Bertoglio (link here; opens as a .pdf) where we also see this:

In Greek theory and philosophy, since music is an expression of order and harmony, it is analogous with the harmony of nature, and is sympathetic with it. For Christians, the harmony of creation mirrors the Creator.  (p488)

But music can be highly complex. How far do we take such analogies?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer significantly used the musical image of the counterpoint between cantus firmus and higher parts as a metaphor of our love for creation and Creator: our love for God is the basic melody, ‘to which the other melodies of life provide the counterpoint.’ (p491)

And what do we say of polyphony? Or poly-tonality? Or the place of unresolved chords or even discords? It gets complicated when we try to impose too much on an analogy or metaphor; when we run too far down the rabbit trail!

So let’s leave it where we started, namely that Singing in parts is a reflection of the Body of Christ that serves one another with different functions.

That’s an image I believe we all can embrace, and can remember the next time we hear four-part harmony sung in worship to God.

 

 

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