Christianity 201

October 15, 2021

If It’s All Greek to You…

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

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

In the general introduction to the site he says,

Jesus’ words are unique for three reasons.

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

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

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

Spoken to:

Apostles

Context:

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

Greek :

Literal Verse:

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

My Takeaway:

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

KJV :

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

NIV :

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

Interesting and Hidden Aspects:

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

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

Related Verses:

Matthew 16:27 For the Son of man shall come

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

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


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

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

Again, this is the link: Click here.

August 31, 2021

Remorse for Past Sin

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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In Daniel 9, we see Daniel praying on behalf of the nation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Psalm 51, David writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have to be truly sorry for my sin.

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

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

 

 

August 1, 2021

Is There a Connection Between Illness and Demon Possession?

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

■ Wallace stated:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

■ Eric Hill wrote,

Demons Cause Some Sickness, But Not All Sickness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Links to article excerpts in opening paragraph.

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

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

June 9, 2021

The Three Identities of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So who do you say Jesus is?

The Son of Man


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

 

June 2, 2021

Equip Yourself in Order to Equip Others

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

Love Yourself… How??

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

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

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

Spiritual disciplines.

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

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

Love Yourself, Love Your Neighbor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

May 26, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And also in The Message:

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

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

The NASB is closer to the King James:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Paul

May 5, 2021

He Could Have Spoken Complex Theology; He Chose Parables

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

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

“Without a parable, he told them nothing…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every. Single. Time.

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

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

“Without a parable, he told them nothing.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let those with ears hear.

April 7, 2021

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

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

“But We See Jesus”

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

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

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

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

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

There’s prophetic insight to:

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

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

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

Numbers 12:8

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 14:22-31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 26:3

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

John 13:23

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

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

“but we see Jesus…”

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

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

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

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

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

March 24, 2021

Scripture Medley: The General Epistles

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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It’s been a long time since we’ve done anything like this, so today we’re back using the services of TopVerses.com to check out some of the most sought-after verses in the general epistles, those books lying between Paul’s writing to Philemon and the book of Revelation. The number which appears next to “Bible Rank” is its overall position in searches. Note that I did skip some verses in order to select others, so refer to TopVerses for actual ranking. All quotations are NIV.

This may seem like such a random exercise. Why do this? Don’t treat this a throwaway devotional. My hope is that something will jump off the page for application to your situation today. Or that you’ll be reminded of a scripture that has settled in the recesses of your memory and now returns to the foreground. Or that you’ll see something which perhaps you’re meant to share with someone in the hours or days to follow.

See also the notes at the bottom for more ways to engage with today’s verses.

Hebrews:

Hebrews 11:1
Bible Rank: 44
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Hebrews 4:12
Bible Rank: 58
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Hebrews 12:1
Bible Rank: 67
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us

Hebrews 11:6
Bible Rank: 87
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Hebrews 4:15
Bible Rank: 251
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.

Hebrews 1:3
Bible Rank: 252
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

James

James 5:16
Bible Rank: 59
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

James 1:2
Bible Rank: 92
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds

James 1:5
Bible Rank: 111
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

James 1:17
Bible Rank: 149
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows

I Peter

1 Peter 3:15
Bible Rank: 122
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect

1 Peter 2:9
Bible Rank: 131
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

1 Peter 3:18
Bible Rank: 213
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

II Peter

2 Peter 3:9
Bible Rank: 153
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance

2 Peter 3:4
Bible Rank: 189
They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”

2 Peter 1:21
Bible Rank: 276
For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

2 Peter 3:18
Bible Rank: 677
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

I John

1 John 1:9
Bible Rank: 41
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 4:1
Bible Rank: 148
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

1 John 1:7
Bible Rank: 194
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

II John

2 John 1:6
Bible Rank: 1,757
And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.

III John

3 John 1:4
Bible Rank: 1,192
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

3 John 1:11
Bible Rank: 1,436
Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.

Jude

Jude 1:3
Bible Rank: 1,228
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that the Lord has once for all entrusted to us, his people.

Jude 1:5
Bible Rank: 1,352
Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe

Jude 1:24
Bible Rank: 2,474
To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy –

[a verse to which we have to add the 2nd half]

Jude 1:25
Bible Rank: 17,451
To the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.


What’s next? – I remember when The Navigator’s scripture memory system was more popular, you might see people on public transit with index cards memorizing key verses, or what we might call rehearsing these truths. I encourage you to do the same here. Choose one or two verses on which to meditate, or simply start at the top again and, more slowly, read through the list one more time.

Option 2 – Go back to TopVerses.com, and instead of working your way through particular Bible books, use the topical index — it appears first — to explore texts which resonate with where you are today.

With both options – Find a Bible or Bible online and read beyond individual verses to get the full context of what’s being said.

February 23, 2021

A Seriously Miscalculated Swap

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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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.

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