Christianity 201

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.

 

 

August 23, 2017

Unsettling Times

Today I picked up a Christian periodical and discovered that Arnold Reimer, a retired pastor from a church I frequently attended — Bayview Glen Alliance Church in Toronto — had a blog titled Finishing Well. I read several articles, but this one from June jumped out at me as still being quite timely. Click the title to read it at source.

Unshaken?

It is hard to remember a time in world affairs more unsettling than this present one.  When the greatest economic and military power seethes with division, indecision, hateful accusations, political stagnation, worrisome threats, and moral decay,  then international angst soars.  It is possible that some foolish enemy might take advantage of the situation , when respect and confidence in authority are so confused, and leadership is so consistently distracted and defensive.

We are living in times Scripture describes as follows: See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking.  For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, (Noah, Moses, the prophets) much less shall we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.  And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.’  And this expression, ‘Yet once more,’ denotes the removing of things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. (God’s truth and righteousness)   Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”

I repeat what I have often said… the Church, its leadership and followers, must speak, live and demonstrate with awe and reverence, not just the love of a gracious God, but the wrath of a holy God, who is a consuming fire.  Yes, the Lord our God, Sovereign Ruler of the universe, Creator, Saviour, Healer, Sanctifier and coming King, is patient, loving, gracious and forgiving.  But, He hates sin and judges it.  Eventually, He withholds blessing from the disobedient and indifferent. That great and awesome God insists that we proclaim both His cursing and His blessing, whether they listen or not.

If the proverbial house on fire requires a daring saviour to disregard self in order to rescue the perishing, why, in heaven’s name, are we pampering the saints, watering
down prophetic truth, and coddling sin and sinners?  Do we not understand our times?  Do we not realize that the popular parading of evil, running rampant in our day, and generally approved, left unmentioned, unchallenged and un-rebuked will hasten the exercise of God’s wrath?   Is sin so obscure in Scripture that we can be ambivalent about it from our pulpits?  Are we not to hold governments, educational and religious institutions and the general population accountable for degenerate behaviour?  Is the applause and approval of men so important, or the fear of their response so great, we dare to please men rather than God?

These are sobering, heart-searching thoughts for which we who own His name shall stand accountable.   Surely, for those who know God and His Word, finishing well demands a bold, fearless acknowledgement and response to these things.  Those of us who are older have been given the perspective of time, duty and experience to see a bigger picture.   We know the value of love, prayer, lifestyle and sensitivity necessary to an acceptable presentation of truth and warning.   We also know what evil can do!   In a shaken world an unshakeable faith in a gracious, forgiving God will enable us to speak lovingly, wisely and clearly.

Rev. Arnold Reimer


You may also enjoy: Righteousness

August 14, 2017

Owning It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 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, 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.

About two and a half 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 3, 2017

Ezekiel and the Glory Days

by Clarke Dixon

We may feel like our glory days are well behind us. Some look back to when one hundred sit-ups were an easy thing, others look back to when they could simply sit up without help. Some look back to better paychecks. Some look back to when children were home and a spouse was still alive. Some look back to a time when loved ones were not suffering. When the aches and pains of life settle in, we can long for the “glory days” we see in the rear-view mirror.

God’s people in Ezekiel’s day would have felt that their glory days were behind them. They could look back to the days of David and Solomon, and see how things had never been quite as good as they were then. And now that they are in exile, Jerusalem is destroyed, and the temple lay in ruins, there would be a strong temptation to keep their eyes fixed on the rear-view mirror in search of the “glory days”.

The prophecies in Ezekiel chapters 36 through 39 spoke to God’s people about their glory days. They speak to us today about ours. Let’s take a bird’s eye view.

Chapter 36. The first prophecy is directed toward the land itself. For example,

. . . and I will multiply human beings and animals upon you. They shall increase and be fruitful; and I will cause you to be inhabited as in your former times, and will do more good to you than ever before. Then you shall know that I am the Lord. Ezekiel 36:11 (NRSV)

The wording of this alludes to “Be fruitful and multiply” from Genesis 1:28 which recalls Eden before the ground was cursed thanks to Adam (see Genesis 3:17). The promise is for a future even better than the glory days!

The second prophecy of chapter 36 is directed at the people. Among the promises are the following:

I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Ezekiel 36:24-27 (NRSV)

The promise goes well beyond a mere return to the land and the status quo. God promises to clean His people up and give them His Spirit. This is a far better situation than what they enjoyed in the “glory days” of David and Solomon.

Chapter 37. The first prophecy is the infamous “dry bones” vision where Ezekiel sees dry bones come together, and then come alive when life is breathed into them. This is another allusion to Genesis when God breathed life into Adam (see Genesis 2:7). There is a tension in this vision between a metaphorical interpretation, meaning a promise of return from exile, and a more literal interpretation, meaning an anticipated resurrection from the dead. We feel this tension in verse 12:

Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Ezekiel 37:12 (NRSV)

We should probably see both here, with a return from exile made even better by the fact that all past generations will be able to participate as well. This would be far better than the past glory days.

The second prophecy speaks of there being one king again, like the glory days of David and Solomon. But watch for what is repeated again and again in the following:

 I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms. 23 They shall never again defile themselves with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. I will save them from all the apostasies into which they have fallen, and will cleanse them. . . . They shall live in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, in which your ancestors lived; they and their children and their children’s children shall live there forever; and my servant David shall be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary among them forevermore Ezekiel 37:22-26 (NRSV)

Words like “never again” and “forever” are important, whereas in the glory days of the past, the big word was “if”. That is, “if you are faithful to me things will go well”. Here in Ezekiel’s prophecy there is no “if”, just God’s people enjoying God forevermore. This is much better than the glory days of the past.

Chapters 38 and 39. These are prophecies against a land called Gog. There has been much conjecture as to the identity of Gog. For now, let us notice that the enemies assemble to the north (see Ezekiel 38:1-6). The Assyrians invaded from the north when they destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel. The Babylonians invaded from the north when they destroyed the southern kingdom of Judah. The point is that such destruction will never happen again! The safety and security of God’s people will be much better than in the glory days of the past.

Concluding chapter 39, we can sum up Ezekiel 39:21-29 this way: “God hid His face from His people and they went into exile because they sinned against Him. But now God, for the sake of His glory, will be generous with His Spirit and never hide His face from them again.”

Then they shall know that I am the Lord their God because I sent them into exile among the nations, and then gathered them into their own land. I will leave none of them behind; 29 and I will never again hide my face from them, when I pour out my spirit upon the house of Israel, says the Lord God. Ezekiel 39:28-29 (NRSV)

This is not just restoration of the former status quo. This is restoration to God! This is much better than in the glory days of the past!

History records that God’s people did, in fact, return from exile in Babylon to their own land. However, there was a problem. Not only were things not better than the glory days of David and Solomon, they were not even as good. Roman occupation made sure that Israel’s glory days remained firmly in the past. However, this seeming lack of prophetic fulfillment points us to the the greater fulfillment in Christ. The fulfillment of these promises lies not in the flourishing of an empire-like kingdom called Israel, but in a greater Kingdom brought through Jesus Christ. There is a much bigger exile in view here; separation from the presence of God. Through Jesus we have:

  • Cleansing from sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit, as in Ezekiel 36.
  • Resurrection from the dead, and the inclusion of all generations in the promise, as in Ezekiel 37:1-14.
  • The Messiah as the Lord of a united and holy people, as in Ezekiel 37:15-28.
  • A future, safe and secure from every enemy, as in Ezekiel 38 and 39:1-20.
  • Restoration, not just to a land, but to God Himself, as in 39:21-29.

The days of David and Solomon never really were the glory days. The days of Adam and Eve before the fall are a better fit for the title “glory days”. According to Ezekiel chapters 36 through 39, the glory days are ahead. When we find ourselves wishing we could be restored to the so-called glory days of our past, in Christ we have something far better; restoration to God Himself. In Christ our glory days are ahead! As Randy Bachman famously sang “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”


Read more at Clarke’s sermon blog: clarkedixon.wordpress.com

July 19, 2017

Sharing Life

The last time we touched base with Charlie Garret at The Superior Word blog they were in Ephesians. Going one verse at a time they are now in 1 Thessalonians. After reading about 20 different verses, we decided to simply choose one since we couldn’t choose them all! So I really encourage you to click through in order to see the insights on different verses in this passage or bookmark this when you need a commentary on a Thessalonians or one of the other epistles available.

1 Thessalonians 2:8

So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.

1 Thessalonians 2:8

These words tie back to the simile of the mother nursing and caring for her children of the previous verse. The Greek word translated as “So” is even stronger in intent. It means, “Because of this,” or “Along with this.” What he says is following along in the same train of thought. In this state, and as a nursing mother to those at Thessalonica, Paul says he, and those with him, were “affectionately longing for you.”

They had come to Thessalonica and had developed such a closeness with them that there was a yearning to share in life with them. This was so much the case that, as he says, they “were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives.”

As nursing mothers, Paul and those with him not only imparted the spiritual milk of the word of life, the gospel, but they also were willing to expend themselves completely. Just as a mother would tirelessly give her all for her children, so were they also willing to do. They were prepared to exhaust themselves, or even lay down their lives, for their beloved church in Thessalonica. This was, as he continues, “because you had become dear to us.”

The bond of affection which had grown in their hearts was so close and personal that they were united as a family – parents caring for children and expending their lives for them. Paul will continue to explain this in the next verses.

Life application: When you lead someone to the Lord, do you consider it as something that is done and over with, or do you consider it as a first step in their new lives? It is good to offer your phone number or email address and to express to them that you will make the necessary time available to them to instruct them in this new life which they have received. In so doing, you will be ensuring that their life in Christ will develop properly. Try to remember to do this if you are honored enough to lead someone to acceptance of the gospel message.

Lord God, it’s a new day, and a new chance for us to go out and tell people about Your wonderful goodness. Help us to open our mouths and share the marvelous story of redemption which is found in the giving of Your Son. Help us not to be timid, but to be bold and willing to speak. Who cares if people are offended? Better offended in life than remorseful at the end of it. Grant us the fortitude to speak! Amen.

June 23, 2017

Being a Prophetic Church

NLT Jn. 4:19 “Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet…”

This is our second visit to Mystery of Faith. Glenn Packiam is the lead pastor of new life DOWNTOWN, a congregation of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Click the title below to read more articles.

What Does It Mean to Be a Prophetic Church?

What does it mean to be prophetic? The word is thrown around a lot, but depending on which circles you run in, it means something quite different. If you’re in the charismatic crowd, being prophetic means speaking the ‘now’ word of God— bringing ‘fresh revelation’, and possibly even doing it in a way that is spontaneous and disruptive to the plan or the schedule. But if you run with justice-oriented Christ-followers, being prophetic is being bold, confrontational, and possibly disruptive not to a plan but to an order, a societal framework. How could the same word have such different connotations? What can we recover from the Biblical roots of the prophetic role?

In the Old Testament, two words are used to describe the prophet. The earlier of the two is the word ro’eh, which roughly means, ‘the one who sees’. Later, the more common word used for a prophet is nabi, which can be loosely translated as, ‘the one who speaks’, particularly, on behalf of another.

A prophet is one who sees a different world, and says a different word.

Specifically, a prophet is able to speak a revealing word because he sees something others don’t, something hidden to others. This is why the woman at the well in John 4 called Jesus a prophet– he revealed the truth about the number of men who had married and abandoned her. And this is why Paul is a prophet– because the mystery of the Gospel has been revealed to him. If we bring all this together, we can outline a sketch of what it means to be a prophetic church.

A Prophetic Church…

1. Sees Jesus as King and His Kingdom arriving here and now.

One of the major themes in the Old Testament is that the Creator-God is the King of His Creation (many of the Psalms praise God in this way). When we read the first few chapters of the Bible through that lens, we begin to understand that human beings were created to reflect the wise and loving rule of God the Creator-King into His creation. This is what having ‘dominion’ means. Yet, the fall was a rebellion that forfeited that privilege.

Until…the True Adam came as the world’s True King. When Jesus announced His Kingdom mission in Luke 4, He quoted Isaiah 61, where the anointing of the Spirit is the empowerment to bring good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoner, and more. In Luke’s ‘Volume 2’— the Book of Acts— the Spirit is poured out on the Church so that this Kingdom mission can continue.

Paul argues through his letters in different ways that the Church participates in the Kingdom by confessing Jesus as ‘Lord’— the true sovereign of the world— and by living under His reign by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Church is at its prophetic best when it lives in a way the would make no sense unless Jesus is King, and His Kingdom really were arriving here and now. That is why a prophetic church does not divide up evangelism and miracles and justice. We see them as a threefold cord. A prophetic church announces the forgiveness of sins, healing for the sick, and justice for the oppressed in Jesus’ name.

2. Speaks the truth to power.

Our image of the prophet has to be shaped by the Old Testament’s regard for Moses as the greatest prophet in Israel. We don’t usually think of Moses as a prophet, but when we do, we understand that part of the prophetic call is speaking truth to power. In that light, Nathan’s rebuke of David and Elijah’s confrontation with Ahab and Jezebel all begin to make sense. Sometimes the prophet does the truth-telling through the voice of lament, as Jeremiah did.

Thus Jesus is prophetic not only because of His revealing the marriage history of the woman at the well, but also because of His confrontations with power. When Jesus overturned the tables of money-changers in the Temple, and when He defied Pilate— by reshaping his questions, refuting his claims to power, and even by refusing to answer— He was living out the prophetic vocation by speaking the truth to both religious and political powers. (Paul echoes these behaviors in his conversations with various religious and political rulers in the latter half of the Book of Acts.)

The early Christians were not killed because Christianity was a religion Rome did not like. Rome welcomed any and all religions, but they were particularly threatened by Christianity. Why? Because Christianity made a radical, new and exclusive claim: Jesus alone is the Lord of all, worthy of worship; all other gods must be renounced as false. Rome viewed this as a dangerous belief. And every time the Church gathered to worship, there were speaking the truth to power by confessing Jesus as the True Lord– using terms Caesar had applied to himself as political propaganda– and thus declaring the gods of Empire as false.

Every time we show the gods of our age to be false, and expose their claims as a lie, we are speaking the truth to power. We denounce the lie that economic prosperity is the source of joy, that sexual pleasure is the highest end of every relationship, that violence is the path to peace, that a people-group or nation matters more than another. Sometimes our voice is the voice of proclamation and confession; others it is the voice of lament. Both are forms of prophetic truth-telling.

3. Signposts toward the future.

Activism has many appealing qualities. It is better than doing nothing; it unites and mobilizes people toward a common cause. It can raise awareness and even adjust a widely-held cultural paradigm.

And yet, activism is not the same thing as being prophetic. The Church does not care for the poor or feed the hungry or speak for the marginalized for the same reason an activist does. They may be in the same march or use the same hashtag, but the Christian is motivated by something different than the activist. The Christian is not in this— ultimately— to create change or to solve problems. If this were so, then a Christian may weigh the odds of actually changing a situation before speaking up or acting. A Christian is driven to act and speak because she has seen a different future. Remember: a prophet says a different word because he sees a different world.

Every time the Church ‘welcomes the stranger’, forgives an enemy, shows mercy to the offender, or protects the vulnerable, we are a signpost to the future. We don’t do these things to be a good humanitarian or to solve a global crisis. We do it to point toward the day when the Kingdom comes in fullness, on earth as it is in heaven, when every tear will be wiped away, when suffering is no more.

Now more than ever, we need the Holy Spirit to help us live as a witness in the world of a different kind of King and a different kind of Kingdom, arriving on earth as it is in heaven. May God give us the grace to live as a prophetic Church.

June 20, 2017

June 6, 2017

Seek Wisdom, Understanding, Insight

“My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” Proverbs 2:1-5

Let’s bullet point the first part of the verse:

  • making your ear attentive to wisdom
  • inclining your heart to understanding
  • calling out for insight

The two payoffs are in the last part of the verse:

  • you will understand the fear of the Lord
  • find the knowledge of God.

How would you evaluate yourself in terms of these two criteria?

As you can imagine, on some days I read several devotions before selecting one to include here. This week I was reading a longer piece by a woman who moved from being a former Mormon to Evangelical Christianity. She described her Bible study method. You can click this link to see this section with illustrations (it makes more sense if you can see her examples):

  1. Write down the date at the top of the page. Simple step, but it will help you see what days you studied (or didn’t) and how your understanding progresses over the coming weeks and months.
  2. Write the chapter(s) you’re in and/or the topic you’re focusing on.  If you haven’t been reading regularly and need help getting started, there are reading plans on www.biblehub.com.  I highly recommend the fantastic app Read Scripture www.readscripture.org put out by Francis Chan and The Bible Project.  It has given me a hunger for the scriptures that I never had before using it.  I must note here that its important to be flexible.  Don’t be totally stuck on chronological reading.  I read chronologically sometimes and other times I feel like there’s a specific topic I want to study.  Sometimes I have no impression at all and those are the best times because then God tells me what to study.  Which brings me to the next step…
  3. Pray before you begin your study.  A week ago, I was feeling so scattered and had no idea what to read.  I had been in the Old Testament in the Read Scripture app but didn’t feel like that’s where I was supposed to study that day.  I prayed a heartfelt prayer and asked God to calm my mind and show me what He wanted me to focus on.  Almost instantly, he answered by putting five distinct topics in my mind.  I wrote them in my notebook with blank lines underneath.  I felt like each one of these topics deserved a dedicated study so each day this week I have spent searching for references containing these topics.  Sometimes I do a simple word search inside one of the bible apps I use, other times I Google a phrase and find entire pages full of references dealing with that topic. I write down the ones that seem to stand out to me and once I have them all jotted down I read and ponder them.  Sometimes, I’ll feel like one of the references deserves another day of dedicated study so I’ll write it down on a the next blank page in my notebook.  By doing this God has already started to outline my future study sessions for me.
  4. Write down “random” thoughts, phrases and cross references you come across as you’re reading.  They’re not random at all.  Once you write it down you can keep going and not worry you’ll forget about it later.   God will reveal many side topics that are related to the one you’re focused on.  I find it important to follow a chapter or set of verses through or I would be constantly distracted by all the ideas coming in my mind.  Once I started jotting thoughts down and moving along I have felt amazed that I never run out of topics to study.  Here’s an example of some thoughts I had when skimming through Romans 12 that I plan to study in depth once I’m done finding scriptures related to the five topics God gave me.  I felt impressed to write out the entire verse and as I did, I noticed a few key words that might be important to study so I underlined them. A few questions came to mind so I jotted them down.  Normally I would’ve wanted to go research those questions right away which would’ve totally gotten me off track.  There’s nothing wrong with being all over the place in the Bible, because the fact you’re reading is great, but having a game plan will help your study connect to your spirit and will improve your relationship with God.  May sound simple for some of you but for someone with a busy mind, it is a game changer.

But then I was really struck by her section on “Deliberation.”

Deliberation is defined as “long and careful consideration”.  I would add “prayerful”.  The most important thing here is to be prayerful and to talk with God about what you’re studying, to listen to how He wants you to understand it and what meaning it has for your current situation.  Without deliberation, we are only reading to be reading, not to gain understanding.  Keep going back to what you write down and see what else God wants you to notice about what you’ve been studying.  The five topics God gave me last week are very specific to me personally and to what’s been on my mind.  A couple of them I recognized right away as answers to my prayer asking Him what I was lacking.  He hasn’t revealed yet how the other topics relate but as I keep going deeper into them I am positive I will understand what He’s teaching me.

In so many ways, this deliberate study is growing my relationship with my Father.  I am learning to hear Him better, I am learning to trust Him more as he shows me He is very aware of my specific needs, and I am finding greater joy in His word.  These are all things I had prayed for numerous times.  The answer to all of them was to spend more time in study and prayer.

Although it’s not on the same level as our opening scripture, let’s unpack the payoffs listed in the above paragraph:

  • I am learning to hear Him better,
  • I am learning to trust Him more
  • He shows me He is very aware of my specific needs
  • I am finding greater joy in His word.

How would you evaluate yourself by these four criteria?

 

 

 

 

May 31, 2017

When Christians Make a Habit of Wielding Power

Luke 9:51When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56Then they went on to another village.

About a month ago, someone recommended a devotional blog to us called Comfort and Challenge. We had originally bookmarked a particular column titled Ax to the Roots which is also good reading. Today we caught up with the same website and decided to share a more recent piece with you. Click the title below to read this at source.

Fire From Heaven

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 97; 145, Ezekiel 4:1-17, Hebrews 6:1-12, Luke 9:51-62


When a Samaritan town refused to receive Jesus, the disciples James and John asked, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”  Luke says Jesus rebuked them. They simply moved on to the next town.

Could “rebuked” have been an understatement? After Jesus had taught them about peace, love, and reserving judgment for God, what made a consuming fire seem like a reasonable option?

James and John were just being human: even a little authority and power seems like it’s there to be used. Since Jesus isn’t physically present today to stay our hands, it’s good we can’t summon heavenly fire at will. Yet here in the west, particularly in the United States, many Christians seem to make a habit of wielding power. We take the commandment to make disciples of all nations and twist it into coercion. Never did Jesus force anyone to follow him – or even to respect him. Rather, he let some potential followers know they might not be ready. Have someone to bury someone? Want to finish up a few things? Maybe this isn’t for you yet. This was neither coercion nor rejection, but a free choice. Jesus moved on his way, and they move on theirs.

So why do many Christians today find it difficult, when someone rejects Christ, to move on? We boycott (which may seem like moving on, but is decidedly aggressive), legislate against, picket, and ban people who don’t share our values, then wonder why our ranks dwindle. Such behavior doesn’t just fail to win people to Christ; it distorts the message of the Gospel into something repellent. Jesus warned us we’d be rejected, but now we have the numbers and influence to reject, condemn, and oppress … and too many times we choose to.

As we enter the week before Pentecost, let’s remember the last fire God sent from heaven was the Holy Spirit. Its flame rested visibly on each disciple’s head, and made it possible for all to understand them. Let’s choose our flame more wisely than James and John. Or move on.

Comfort: You aren’t bound by the law of rejection, but freed by the law of love.

Challenge: When fellow Christians speak in terms of rejection, speak up for love.

Prayer: Lord, light a fire in my heart to spread your good news to all. Amen.

Discussion: What’s a memorable example you know of Christians responding in love when they could have chosen rejection?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group.

May 30, 2017

It’s More Than a Word

Today we’re paying a return visit to Elsie Montgomery who, as I’ve said before, is one of the most faithful devotional writers I’ve encountered here.  The topic I chose from the many great articles I skimmed is a topic that is covered here by other writers, but there are different interpretations out there as to how sanctification takes place in the life of the believer. Since C201 is a “devotional potpourri” I decided to add Elsie’s voice to the many other articles here dealing with righteousness, holiness and sanctification.  Click the title below to read at her blog, Practical Faith.

Sanctification is more than a lofty theological word…

Today’s devotional reading tells of three errors concerning the doctrine of sanctification. Boring? Not at all when I explored the meaning of this term and studied the biblical definition.

One of my dictionaries says that sanctification means “the state of proper functioning” or to set a person or thing apart for the use intended by its designer. If I made a pen, I’ve set it apart to write. In the theological sense, God designed me for His purposes, and He set me apart to live accordingly.

Another dictionary links sanctification to active trust and obedience, citing 2 Corinthians 7:1 which tells me to perfect holiness out of reverence for God, and be diligent to be what He has called me to be. (See 2 Peter 1:10)

However, neither the devotional or the dictionaries bring out an even more amazing truth. While no one can set themselves apart for God and no one can keep themselves in that place apart from the presence and work of Jesus Christ, yet because Christ lives in me, I am already sanctified . . .

“God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” (1 Corinthians 1:28–31, italics mine)

God has already set me apart, declared me holy. The issue is learning how to act like it, to behave according to what I already am! This is something like enlisting in the armed forces. When a person ‘signs up’ they become a soldier, but it takes months of training before they act like it. In the case of Christians, we are set apart by God right from the start, then spend the rest of our lives learning how to behave as a sanctified person.

This is God’s grace, yet is often a struggle. Paul describes the struggle and the grace . . .

“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:14–25)

Those three errors in the devotional include

  • mixing works and grace in a human effort to become sanctified,
  • becoming sinless by a ‘second work of grace’ which is totally contrary to Scripture (see 1 John 1:8), and
  • trying to separate oneself from sin using rules.

All three errors happen to those who do not realize or accept that in Christ Jesus, Christians are already sanctified. Again, we just need to learn how to act like what we already are.

Perhaps this doctrine is too outrageous. Perhaps it is dismissed because we tend to evaluate ourselves by our performance rather than by what God says. Perhaps we humans want to contribute to our holiness so add works and rules to what is needed for spiritual growth. Whatever the reasons, none of those errors bring us closer to what God intends. He wants me to trust and obey Him — and He supplies everything I need to do that. A walk of faith with obedience does not make me more ‘set apart’ for God; it simply declares that I already am!

 

Jesus, just as Your kingdom is already here but not yet, so also is my sanctification. You are it! You live in me and You are my perfect holiness right now. In You, I am all that the Father intended. The process of shedding the stuff that is not like You is a challenge, often painful, and yet You are the One who bursts forth in my life. I can no more make it happen than a caterpillar can will itself into a butterfly. All I can do is trust and obey, and You do the wonderful work. What a glory. What a future hope! Thank You!

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