Christianity 201

January 10, 2023

Prayer Prompts and Study Prompts

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom – Colossians 3:16a NIV

Most people are familiar with prayer prompts. Using a list is most common, but earlier today I was thinking of some people I went to high school with who have rather unusual names, and it occurred to me that instead of just thinking of those names, perhaps I should be praying for those people, wherever they are today.

Study prompts are another matter.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been using some of the verses on my NIV Bible app as a springboard for writing a longer article. I don’t write original devotionals here each day, so it’s something that happens only when a verse strikes me as worthy of further examination.

Which brings me to our opening verse.

The NLT breaks it up into three sentences, of which the first two are:

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives.

Note: The part I’ve omitted in both the NIV and NLT citation from Colossians is the “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” part of the verse. This is usually thought of as one of the “music verses” of the New Testament, but I wanted to focus on the first part today. However, I do want to note the connection between the other “psalms, hymns…” passage in Ephesians 5. In the former case, the word of God fills our minds and provides text for our singing, and in the latter case, being filled with the Spirit has the same effect; it causes us to sing.

I do prefer the older rendering, with its phrase “dwell in you richly.” We often speak of meditating on scripture. In Psalm 1, we are told of the upright, “But they delight in the law of the LORD, meditating on it day and night. (1:2 NLT)

Here I’m also reminded of Joshua 1:8, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (NIV)

Fine, you say; God’s word is important, but what about “study prompts?”

The website Holding on to Truth offers 8 Reasons to Let the Word of God Dwell in You. At the end of the article, the writer, Tom Smith provides four ways to accomplish this. If this section interests you, I encourage to read it in full, but his means of letting God’s word get embedded deeper into our souls are:

  1. Feed on it (see it as daily nourishment starting with key verses)
  2. Read it (i.e. have a plan to methodically read all of it)
  3. Sing it (Christianity is a singing faith. It’s part of our DNA)
  4. Speak it (find people with whom you can talk about scripture texts and share meaningful times in God’s Word.)

Well…that gets us closer, but it’s still not what I have in mind by the phrase “Study Prompts.”

A study prompt is where you really want to start, to use our tag line here at Christianity 201, “Digging a little bit deeper.”

■ If you use BibleHub, or have a reference Bible, it might mean checking out some of the related scriptures.

■ If you own a Study Bible, it might mean delving into the notes provided for the passage in question.

■ If you own a Bible Commentary, it might mean reading what others have written about the verse or chapter.

■ If you have internet (which you do, since you’re reading this) it might mean looking for articles explaining the verse. (Type the verse reference followed by the word commentary, like this “John 3:16 commentary.” Or ask a question like “Why did Paul ask the church to…?”)

■ If you’re in a small group and there’s free discussion time, it might mean asking the group. (“Have any of you ever wondered about this verse in Ecclesiastes?) (Answer: If it’s in Ecclesiastes, yes, someone else in your group has wondered about it!)

■ If you’re a visual learner, it might mean checking out The Bible Project to see a video on that Bible book or topic.

■ If you’re marooned on an island, it might mean clearing your head and asking the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth of the passage or theme to you. (That won’t be many of you, but the method is worth considering either way!)

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:11 NIV

Just as someone’s name comes to mind in a prayer prompt, so also allow a verse or a theme to come to mind in a study prompt, and don’t let go until you’ve learned more. With a study prompt — however it becomes front of mind — you do the thing that comes next.

You study.

 

 

January 5, 2023

How to Read the Bible (and How Not To)

by Clarke Dixon

The commitment to read the Bible daily may not be the biggest challenge of The OneYear Bible reading challenge I have set before our church family. The bigger challenge may be in understanding what we are reading, especially since we will be reading all of it and not just our favourite verses. We may be surprised to find within the New Testament things like “slaves, obey your masters,” and “women must be silent in the church.” What we find in the Old Testament may be even more surprising.

As we read through the Bible, let us keep in mind what the Bible is and what it is not. It is not one book dropped into our laps, pre-written in heaven. It is a compilation of many writings, written by many people at different times under different circumstances, and using different genres of writing. It is “God-breathed,” but it is not God-dictated.

We do well to understand how the various writings that make up the Scriptures came about. I am going to borrow from N.T. Wright here who in the book, The New Testament in Its World: An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians points to three words to keep in mind as we read the Bible, these being, not surprisingly, history, literature, and theology. Things happened in history (history). People had beliefs about what happened and what it meant (theology). People wrote about both the history and what it meant (literature).

Keeping in mind history, theology, and literature will help keep us from “adventures in missing the point” to borrow an expression from a book by Tony Campolo and Brian McClaren We can miss the point of the Scriptures when we fail to think through the context of their writing. We miss the point when we treat every word of the Bible as the very words of God for all people and all time rather than thinking of the writings as recording the response of people to what God was doing in their specific time and place, which does of course speak to us about what is true for all people and all times. There is a subtle and important difference there.

Let me give one example of missing the point, or of how not to read the Bible. Here is a quote I came across sometime ago, though I don’t remember the original source:

Since we cannot be absolutely certain that God finds the use of musical instruments an appropriate form of worship, then it seems quite foolish to risk His wrath by adding something which He did not clearly authorize us to do during collective worship. Our only assurance of practicing acceptable Christian worship is to disregard man-made creeds and turn to God’s Word as our only authoritative guide to worship. Unless we pattern our worship after the first century church, we can have no assurance that God approves of our assemblies

Source unknown

This makes God out to be a bit of a bully. Such a theology builds upon treating the Bible far too literally, and far too seriously as a bunch of God-dictated rules rather than a collection of God-breathed responses. Such a stringent view of the Bible, and God, messes with peoples heads, making understanding and living out every word of the Bible, neither of which can actually be done, the main goal. If that is our goal, we have missed the point. The key moment in history where God showed up was in Jesus, who took the nails. Bullies don’t get nailed to a cross and then given the chance to get even, offer forgiveness instead. God is not the bully we make him out to be when we don’t read the Bible well.

What does an adventure in getting the point look like instead? Let us consider the writing of someone who spent time with Jesus:

We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.

1 John 1:1-4 (NLT)

Something, or better, someone happened in history; Jesus. John experienced that and it was life changing, challenging and changing what John thought about God. Based on John’s interaction with Jesus what did John come to believe?

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us… Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world… God is love…

1 John 4:9-12,14,15 (NLT)

In reading the Bible, let us watch for how people responded to God who moved in history. This is more difficult in the Old Testament which spans a lot of rather complicated history. However, in the New Testament, there is one unique person who enters into history, Jesus. Because of Jesus, people changed what they were thinking about God and people changed. Then they wrote about it and because of it. Through their writings we discover the one who changes us. Reading the Bible well can change the world.


Before they appear here, Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon’s condensed sermons appear at his blog, Thinking Through Scripture.

January 3, 2023

Staying on Track: A Verse for the Year

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NLT.Ps.119.162 I rejoice in your word
    like one who discovers a great treasure.
163 I hate and abhor all falsehood,
    but I love your instructions.

CSB.Ps.40.8 I delight to do your will, my God, and your instruction is deep within me.”

NASB.Ps.32.8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.

We regularly draw material from the devotional website of The Presbyterian Church in Canada, which features a different writer each day, and although it’s only been six months, we’re back again. The writer today is Lynne Phipps. Clicking the header which follows also gets you an audio version of today’s thoughts.

The Goal

Psalm 34:8Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. (NIV)

When I was pastoring, at the end of the old year, God always gave me a Bible verse — or a thought that lined up with Scripture — that I could use to base my preaching on for the coming year. I would write out the verse or thought and then my goal would be to see if each Sunday’s message lined up with the year’s focus, according to what God had placed upon my mind and in my heart.

Since leaving the pastorate, I have discovered that every year, as the old one comes to an end, God still gives me a verse or thought for the new year. I always write it out and tape it to a windowsill in my kitchen where I have my baking and work station. This way, not a day goes by that I do not see and read it multiple times. Throughout the year, I am always amazed at how those words are exactly what I need to keep me on track with God’s will and ways as I struggle with issues, have decisions that I need to make, or am in need of encouragement.

The thought for 2022 came from a book that I was reading. As soon as I read those words, I knew immediately that they were to be my focus for this past year: Trust and know that the Lord is good.

Googling these words, the Scripture closest to them was today’s verse, where instead of “trust”, the word “taste” is found. To taste something if we have never tasted it before is always a bit of a risk. We may or may not like it. But the only way to find out is to take that risk. We usually do so, based on the experience of others whom we trust, who have already tasted and found it good.

Tasting and trusting God are similar. They involve risk. But the more that we choose to trust God by remembering previous experiences of trusting Him or by seeing the evidence of it in the lives of other Christians, the more that we are able to taste and know His goodness and His love, His presence and His wisdom, and all the other wondrous things that make Him Who He is. Tasting and trusting go together. The more that we trust God, the more that we partake of Him. The more that we partake of Him through Scripture, prayer, fellowship, and embracing the beauty of His revelation through nature, the more that we trust Him.

Once again, I plan to choose a verse for the coming year. How about you? As this new year unfolds, though I do not know what it shall bring, I do know that as I choose to trust God, the more that I will know Him, which is a goal that I believe is truly worth pursuing.

Prayer: Father, thank You that the more that we step out in faith to trust You, the more that we are able to taste or experience how awesome that You really are. Help us each to taste and know that You are good in each and every circumstance of our lives, that our trust in Your faithfulness may abound, no matter what may come our way. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.


NIV.Jeremiah.17.7-8 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

November 3, 2022

Lessons We Can Learn

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.Romans 15:4 NIV

NLT.Heb.11.32 How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. 33 By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35 Women received their loved ones back again from death.

But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.

39a All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith…

Scripture offers a wealth of examples of those who trusted God through difficult circumstances, including those recorded in the First Testament, who never lived to see all of the fruition of their faith, which only arrived with the appearing of Jesus Christ.

It’s important, I believe, to use the term narrative to describe their exploits, because in our time, the word stories conveys a fictional or mythical “once upon a time” sense.

These narratives need to be rehearsed periodically because we live in a time in history when Biblical literacy is on the decline, and familiarity with these Bible personalities is ebbing away.

There is a term used among professional classical musicians, “knowing the literature,” or having “knowledge of the literature.” It refers to the situation that there are certain piano concertos which every great pianist knows by heart; there are symphonies that every clarinet player can play without printed music. A lifetime of interaction with those compositions means that the mere mention of those pieces starts an internal audio file playing.

Are we as familiar with the Bible’s literature?

Years ago an acquaintance was describing his ordination exam. This is where a candidate is tested by a body of senior pastors and denominational leaders to see if they are fit for the term, “Reverend.” The chairperson started out by asking, “Tell us about John’s gospel, chapter one.” The next question was “Tell us about John’s Gospel, chapter two.” And so on. You get the pattern.

I don’t know if he had been given any warning that the ordination council would take that route, but that day he needed to have that level of familiarity with John’s Gospel.

Sometimes the Bible narratives — and here you might want to compare not just the Hebrews passage cited above, but all of Hebrews 11 — are written with a concision or brevity that requires us to interpolate details not provided.

A month ago I listened to a sermon wherein the account in Mark’s gospel was very stark. The pastor speculated as to the circumstances surrounding an encounter with Jesus, even to the point of giving the key character in the narrative a name.

A friend who was there objected strenuously to this speculative manner of presenting the encounter. When I told him that this is called narrative preaching, he very much condemned the entire genre.

But I believe it’s important to do whatever we can — within limits, of course — to spark these Bible snapshots to life. If the Bible teacher pictures an overcast day, it doesn’t threaten the integrity of the story to add that. What matters is that the core elements of the narrative remain intact.

We do this to help people remember the scene presented.

We do this to help people be able to apply the principles waiting to be extracted from the Bible text.

Our key verse in Romans (above) reminds us that all these narratives were written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

The best narrative preaching I’ve ever witnessed is that which invites the listener to through the use of their imagination, place themselves in the middle of the scene. That’s when the genre is being utilized at its best, where the hearer finds themselves immersed in the unfolding drama.

In Christian Education, one approach is to read the text like the one we heard preached that day (a) from the point of view of the person having the encounter with Jesus, (b) from the viewpoint of the disciples, (c) from the vantage point of the crowd and (d) from the perspective of the person having the encounter with Jesus.

If you wish to try this exercise, a great text is Jesus healing the man born blind, because you’ve also got (e) the man’s parents, and (f) the Pharisees.

Again, the goal is to remember and then to apply.


Related reading:

Several years ago we shared this quotation:

“A spiritual community that does not transmit its sacred writings to its children is one generation away from extinction.”

Read more at Generation Lost from 2014.

also, consider this quotation:

Of all the major religions of the world, Christians are the least acquainted with their own sacred writings.

Read more at Jesus Began with Text from 2012


Our roving Thursday devotional correspondent, Clarke Dixon is on assignment and will be back next week.

 

September 5, 2022

The Opposite of Sola Scriptura

Today’s devotional study is going to be interesting, to say the least. Far more so now than when much of it was posted in March, 2017. And the title I gave today’s thoughts was chosen to be deliberately provocative.

So first let’s deal with that title. In offering the opposite of sola scriptura (the word of God alone) I realize that some, especially if you are from a tradition which holds high “the five solas,” are going to be thinking that anything that opposes this view is heretical.

Years ago, someone challenged me with the question, “Are there things we know about God that we don’t know from the Bible?” I thought about my university philosophy studies and how some of the characteristics of God were intuited or deduced based on other information we have about God. In other words, we could say ‘If God is all-knowing, but he’s also just, then _________.’ (I don’t have a particular answer in mind there, but I wanted you to see the form such reasoning might follow.)

If we were to ask, “Are there things we know about Jesus we don’t know from the Bible?’ then the answer is more clear. Even the most conservative Christians are content to draw from the writings of Josephus and others to get a fuller picture of Christ’s impact, and the life of the Early Church. The Bible tells us even as much itself, The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. John 20:30 NLT and “There are many other things that Jesus did. If every one of them were written down, I suppose the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” – John 21:25 NET

Instead, I want to propose that there is a different type of opposite to sola scriptura, one that is not to be condemned, but rather to be considered, and perhaps adopted in your own Biblical studies.

It’s usually referred to today as “The Wesleyan Quadrilateral.”

This week we visited another church, as Ruth Wilkinson (who you’ve read here regularly) was preaching. The pastor chairing the service mentioned that the week before, he had spoken about this quadrilateral, and I checked and we’d only really mentioned it here once.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. In November, 2012 it briefly was part of a devotional by we ran by Scott Lencke.

Now, while some might loathe the idea of utilizing our experience to understand Scripture, I wouldn’t say it’s completely terrible. I’m an advocate of something like the Wesleyan quadrilateral that recognizes we have more than Scripture alone in helping us understand God’s revelation. Rather this perspective takes a more holistic approach, identifying a) Scripture, b) tradition (there is such things as good tradition), c) reason (not ‘objective rationalism’) and d) experience as important in grasping the revelation of God.

So, my point is that understanding Scripture is not completely devoid of our human experience and encounter with God and his truth.

But we got ahead of ourselves. What is the quadrilateral?

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral, or Methodist Quadrilateral, is a methodology for theological reflection that is credited to John Wesley, leader of the Methodist movement in the late 18th Century. The term itself was coined by 20th century American Methodist scholar Albert C. Outler.

This method based its teaching on four sources as the basis of theological and doctrinal development. These four sources are scripture, tradition, reason, and Christian experience.

Upon examination of Wesley’s work, Outler theorized that Wesley used four different sources in coming to theological conclusions. Wesley believed, first of all, that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in “scripture” as the sole foundational source. The centrality of scripture was so important for Wesley that he called himself “a man of one book”. However, doctrine had to be in keeping with Christian orthodox “tradition.” So, tradition became in his view the second aspect of the so-called Quadrilateral. Furthermore, believing, as he did, that faith is more than merely an acknowledgment of ideas, Wesley as a practical theologian, contended that a part of the theological method would involve “experiential” faith. In other words, truth would be vivified in personal experience of Christians (overall, not individually), if it were really truth. And every doctrine must be able to be defended “rationally.” He did not divorce faith from reason. Tradition, experience, and reason, however, are subject always to scripture, which is primary.

Each of the “legs” of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral must be taken in balance, and none of the other three apart from scripture should be viewed as being of equal value or authority with scripture. None of these should be taken in isolation without the balancing effect of the others, and always Scripture should have the central place of authority.

Here are some images from various places online, where people tried to illustrate the concept graphically:

Do an image search for Wesleyan Quadrilateral and you’ll find various attempts to explain it.

I’m not sure the one on the bottom left is what Wesley had in mind. This is how stereotyping leads to divisiveness. And as I said earlier, the headline I chose would immediately cause some readers to think that the opposite to “scripture alone” would be something bad, or fringe, or not Christian at all.

Personally, I think it is another way forward. It gets us past the notion “The Bible says…” and also the resistance that we’re going to meet in the broader world when we start with “The Bible says…” The pastor we spoke with this morning mentioned that one of the people he’s read says our interactions should begin with experience.

Would that make scripture interpretation subjective? Perhaps, but the truth about God and the narratives about Jesus are subjective in the sense they are going to impact lives in a very personal, very individual sense.

Besides, as Michael Simpson informed us in the same article linked above:

This is a methodology for theological reflection that is credited to John Wesley, leader of the Methodist movement in the late 18th Century. In this method, tradition, experience, and reason are employed, while being subject always to scripture, when forming and applying our theology. Each of the “legs” of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral must be taken in balance, and none of the other three apart from scripture should be viewed as being of equal value or authority with scripture. None of these should be taken in isolation without the balancing effect of the others, and always Scripture should have the central place of authority. (italics added)

In an article posted in October, 2020, Matthew Marino reminded us that:

New folk are often struck by how much Anglicans talk about “the tradition.” People sometimes assume we mean, “That’s just how we’ve always done it.” But that is not what we are talking about at all. Refusal to change is not “the tradition,” just stasis. Jaroslav Pelikan, called that, “Traditionalism, the dead faith of the living.” The Great Tradition is the living faith of the dead. What we mean by “tradition” is robust and life-altering. The Apostle Paul commended the Corinthians because they, maintain the traditions as I delivered them to you.” (1 Cor 11:2) and, “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter (2 Thes. 2:15). So while Jesus criticized the traditions of the elders (Matt 15:3), the traditions of the Christian faith passed along both verbally and in scripture are applauded…

…Why not just go with the Bible? Because heresy after heresy and schism after schism arose in those first five centuries. The early church dealt with them and told us how to deal with them. St. Vincent of Lerins referred to the tradition as, “That which has been taught always, everywhere, and by all.” In our era many claim God giving them new revelation. Yet these “new ideas” are always remarkably similar to ideas resoundingly rejected by the Church as novelty centuries ago. “The Tradition” is Mere Christianity, the core of the faith, that which has been passed from generation to generation.

The verb form of the Greek word for tradition, “paradosis” is “handed off” or “delivered.” When Paul said in 1 Cor 11:2, “maintain the traditions as I delivered them to you.” Paul literally said, “maintain the traditions as I traditioned you.”

He used the same word when he said, For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:3). Jude called it, the faith once for all delivered.The tradition” is nothing less than the core of the faith that is handed from generation to generation. It is the baton that must be passed, the irreducible minimum.

And so, tradition. We could also look in detail at the other two “legs” of the Wesleyan hermeneutical tool in a similar fashion.

Again, the way I framed this may upset the preconditioning of some readers, but I hope you’ll at least file it away and perhaps, a situation will cross your path sometime soon where this interpretive tool is useful.

 

 

 

 

July 4, 2022

The Case for a Literal Reading of Genesis 1

This is a topic which arises constantly, in fact I referred to it in conversation yesterday. This is our fourth time at Awakened to Grace, and the author of today’s piece is again Joy Bollinger. Clicking the title which follows will take you to where this first appeared.

Were Adam & Eve Real People?

Adam and Eve’s existence has been argued since the beginning of time. A Gallup poll determined that only 24 percent of Americans believe the Bible to be the literal Word of God. The other 76 percent believe the Bible is a book of myths, legends, teachings, and that Adam and Eve were nothing more than an allegorical representation of humanity. However, there is enough proof throughout the Bible to legitimize the reality of Adam and Eve being the first parents of mankind.

We learn in Genesis 1:1-28 that after God spoke all things into existence, God said,

“Let Us (Son and Father) make mankind in Our image, in Our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So, God created mankind in His own image; He created them male and female and blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” “And God saw everything that He had made and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

Adam’s name means “man from the red earth” and Eve’s name means “living one and source of life.”

The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and he became a living soul (Genesis 2:7). The Lord God then caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam and took one of Adam’s ribs, and made a woman, and brought her to the man. Then He gave them all authority over creation (Genesis 2:21-23).

God had lavishly provided for their every need, yet Satan, the great deceiver, would come to tempt and cause doubt to form within their hearts and minds. So it happened that Satan appeared to Eve with his trickery and convinced her that God was a withholder of good things. When Eve saw that the fruit of the forbidden tree was good for food, pleasing to the eye, and desirable for gaining wisdom, she took the fruit and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it (Genesis 3:6).

Adam disobeyed God’s command to not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, so he followed his wife’s lead, and together they yielded to temptation. Sin filled their hearts, bringing death and destruction to all mankind.

Satan continues to perpetuate that same deceptive lie, causing many people to believe that God withholds good things and that in serving Him, they are prevented from enjoying life. The truth is that those who fully surrender and commit their hearts and minds to the lordship of Jesus Christ, will experience peace, joy, and God’s provision that surpasses all understanding.

Job, a righteous man, referred to Adam when he made his case of innocence to his friends and said, “If I have covered my transgressions as Adam…” (Job 31:33). Adam tried and failed to cover his sin of disobedience when he said, “The woman You put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12-13).

Adam blamed God for giving him Eve; therefore, he reasoned that she was the cause for his rebellion and disobedience. He took no responsibility for his sin and failure in preventing them both from making that fatal choice.

We find a reference to Adam in Deuteronomy 32:8: “When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations, when He separated the sons of Adam, He [God] set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel.”

The entire genealogy of Adam to Abraham and eventually to David can be found in Chronicles 1 and 2, beginning with Adam and his sons. Again, we see a reference to the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham, whose lineage came from Adam (Matthew 1:1).

A significant account regarding Adam and Eve is found in Paul’s letters to the Roman and Corinthian churches. Paul, who walked with Jesus and sat under His teaching, was educated in the eternal truths regarding Jesus and Adam. He fully understood Adam to have been just as real as Jesus. Had Adam never existed, then Paul’s entire case for the Gospel would have been pointless.

Paul details how sin and death entered the world through Adam and spread by inheritance to the entire human race. He presents Adam and Jesus as the two representative heads of humanity. “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man (Adam), and death through sin, and in this way, death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). “Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act (Jesus’ death and resurrection) resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one Man (Jesus Christ) the many will be made righteous” (Romans 18:21).

Jesus Christ came in the form of a man, yet fully God, to redeem and bring salvation to those who confess with their mouth that “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in their heart that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9).

The Apostle Paul strongly affirms, “Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man (Adam) came death, by Man (Jesus) also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the first fruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming (I Corinthians 15:20-23).

It is written that “The first man, Adam, became a living being—the last Adam, (Christ), a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second Man (Christ) is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly Man” (I Corinthians 15:45-49).

Those who discount the authenticity of Adam and Eve, dismiss the whole counsel of God and might as well toss out the entire Bible. For everything rests on the foundation of God’s creation of man and woman, because it was their sin and fall that required Jesus Christ coming to earth to bring restoration and redemption to a fallen world.

PRAYER: LORD, all scripture is given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God and is valuable for doctrine, admonishment, correction, and instruction in righteousness, so that I may be complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17) Help me, by the power of Your Holy Spirit, to believe and accept in faith that Your God-breathed Word is true and accurate. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

June 11, 2022

People Who Trust and Respect the Bible, But Selectively

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A few days ago my son was reading the book of Joel, and in verse 4 of the first chapter came across these words:

What the locust swarm has left the great locusts have eaten; what the great locusts have left the young locusts have eaten; what the young locusts have left other locusts have eaten. (NIV)

That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpiller eaten. (KJV)

The scientist in him wasn’t about to leave the word “cankerworm” just sitting there, so he looked it up, finding this listing in Wikipedia:

Alsophila pometaria, the fall cankerworm, is a moth of the family Geometridae. The species was first described by the KJV Bible. It is found in North America from Nova Scotia west to Alberta, south to Colorado and California.

He found it interesting that the first citation of such a species was in the Bible, and that the Wikipedia contributors recognized that it was the Bible where it first appears. His email to us had the subject heading, “The KJV is a nature journal.”

This of course stands in stark contrast to the many who think the Bible is out to lunch where it tries to tackle matters of science; people who would not grant it authority in any subject area. The scientific community has a hard time taking the first few chapters of Genesis seriously, and many volumes have been written trying to resolve the issues of the Bible versus science.

This reminded me of a tract — small folded piece of paper containing a 500-600 word evangelistic message — from years ago with a title like, “What if Noah’s Ark Were True?” The premise of the tract was that there are people in our world who remain ever vigilant about discrediting the story of the global flood because they feel that in doing so, they are discrediting the entire Bible. That done, if they don’t have to trust it in historical or scientific matters, they don’t have to do what it says. They don’t need make any lifestyle changes. Think about it: If the narrative of Noah and the Ark never happened, then I don’t have to respond to the rest of the Bible’s prescriptive advice for my life.

First of all, full marks to them for getting that principle. James 1:22 tells us, But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. (NLT) On each and every page, the scriptures that we have been given invite a response. What are we going to do with what we are reading on the page? Essentially every chapter invites us to ask, “So what?” Every story has an application. In The Jesus Storybook Bible, Sally Lloyd-Jones takes this even further and says, “Every story whispers His name;” in other words, each of the major Old Testament narratives not only has much to speak to our current condition, but each is foreshadowing the coming of a Savior, and why it was humanity needed a Savior.

Back to applying the words of scripture, in related passages listed at BibleHub.com, we hear Jesus saying, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24 NIV) and earlier, Jeremiah wrote “The LORD said to me, ‘Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: ‘Obey the words of this covenant and carry them out.’

Most readers here respect the scriptures, and you may want to check the boxes for today’s devotional and consider this done, but even within the church there may be those who practice “the form of godliness” but “deny its power.” This is a reference to 2 Timothy 3:5 “They will maintain the outward appearance of religion but will have repudiated its power. So avoid people like these.” (NET)

…So the Wikipedia contributors conceded that the Bible contains the first reference to cankerworms. I suppose that it simply a statement of fact. On the plus side, it shows that the Bible is still visible in our post-Christian world. On the minus side, that’s really about all that it says.

But the skeptics — atheists and agnostics — shouldn’t be too quick to condemn the Bible’s attempts at science to be antiquated. Where the scriptures say “From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same the LORD’S name is to be praised;” (Psalm 113:3 KJV) it would be easy to say, ‘Well we know that it’s the earth that revolves around the sun, it doesn’t really rise at all.’

However, the weather app on my phone clearly indicates times for “sunrise” and “sunset.” If we can continue to tolerate that in the 2020s, we should equally be willing to permit the Bible some latitude when it comes to matters of science.

And we shouldn’t be surprised when the Bible, even if read only as “a nature journal” gets it right more often that some expect.

Is it possible there are many who could use a change in their lifestyle right now?

 

April 29, 2022

A Thing About “All Things”

Having spent the better part of my lifetime in close proximity to the Christian giftware industry, I’ve seen my share of Bible texts plastered on mugs, key chains and picture frames which have been presented without proper context. The most often referenced is Jeremiah 29:11 (“For I know the plans I have for you…”) I am certain that God does want to give us a hope and a future, but when people read that God wants to “prosper” them, it can send their thoughts down a doctrinal rabbit hole.

There’s also the issue of “the plans” God has for us. People rail against “open theology,” but decades ago in the book Decision Making in the Will of God, Garry Freisen argued that being “in God’s will” doesn’t mean there is only one place you are to live, one vocation you are to pursue, and one coffee order you are to place today at Starbucks. (Or to rephrase it, God’s will is a circle not a dot.)

But today we want to look at “all things.”

The first “all things”

The first is Philippians 4:13. The familiar King James rendering of this is, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Perhaps you memorized that as a child, or it appeared on a plaque in the home in which you were raised.

Before moving forward, the post-Charismatic in me wants to remind you that there are no limits with God. Empowered by his Holy Spirit, there are stories of people who accomplished things which would normally have been physically or intellectually impossible. The “God of miracles” about which the TV preachers testify is, literally, a God of miracles.

But the immediate context in the prior verse (4:12) is, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (NIV)

Think about that. Being booked in a luxury hotel one night, and spending the next night sleeping in a tent. Eating at a five-star restaurant one day, and the next day subsisting on peanut butter sandwiches. Having had a huge bank balance one year, and the next year struggling with how to make the month-end rent payment.

The NIV forces us to consider the verse in context by responding, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (emphasis added). But most of the other translations perpetuate the KJV’s take on the verse, perhaps in the interest of not tampering with a text that is extremely familiar. We do however see,

  • I can do all things [which He has called me to do] through Him (AMP)
  • Christ gives me the strength to face anything. (CEV)
  • Christ is the one who gives me the strength I need to do whatever I must do. (ERV)
  • I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. (GNT)
  • I am ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives within me. (Phillips)
  • I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. (Message)
  • I can be content in any and every situation through the Anointed One who is my power and strength. (The Voice Bible, which combines the two thoughts into a single verse)

If you’ve ever heard of real estate agents saying, “Location, location, location;” then think of scripture this way: “Context, context, context.”

As I said above, I think you can read the verse more broadly, but you shouldn’t try to force the verse into situations where you’re being presumptuous. A good verse to read in parallel to this one — again with a unique context, as Paul considers his “thorn in the flesh” — is 2 Corinthians 12:9 “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

The other “all things”

By now you’ve figured out that the other verse we’re thinking of is Romans 8:28. Again, we’ll start with the familiar KJV, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

The NIV states, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

This verse has led to the maxim, “Everything happens for a reason,” a saying which doesn’t allow for the possibility of some things happening by virtue of random chance but consistent with keeping the idea of God’s sovereignty.

The opposite situation however can be equally distressing. If some things are a product of random of chance, this may not bring comfort to someone who has lost a loved one through an act of mass gun violence, or an earthquake, or in the case of a woman I follow on Twitter, a rogue wave at the beach.

However within the random events of life, God can still be working; or to say it differently, given what has already happened, God can work to form good out of those circumstances.

Again, the question will follow, ‘If God can orchestrate the events of life so that the good shines through tragic events, why could he not have orchestrated things so that the situation never happened in the first place?’ It is a fair question, but it says more about the problem of evil and suffering in the world than it does about the ability of God to shape present realities for good.

A parallel perspective is found in Philippians 1:6, And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (NLT)

If you want to go even deeper on this, the prophet Jeremiah, in chapter 18, tells a story — a beautiful analogy to how God is working — in the section headed in the NIV as At the Potter’s House.

If ‘I can do all things’ is about getting the context from the previous verse, ‘All things work together’ is more about the tense of the verb. Some commentators have suggested that a better translation might be “In all things God is already at work…” or “is working” which creates the visual image of God coming alongside us.

Also, before you start to send me an email, yes, it must be said that if you are claiming the promise of this verse, you must remember that it is a conditional promise, the conditions being met by those who

  • love god and
  • are called according to his purpose

We tend to lean in to the first part of the verse, and gloss over the conditional part.

Finally, here’s how Eugene Peterson renders the passage in The Message:

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

March 15, 2022

Thoughts for 3:16 Day

Wednesday is “3:16 Day.” I could have waited to post this, but as we post in the afternoon, I thought I’d release this the day before. The reference is to one of the Bible’s most quoted verses. The day’s revival this year is because a publishing company saw a tie-in with the re-release of the book of the same name by Max Lucado.

That usually makes me skeptical, but apparently an earlier iteration of the day also had its roots in a marketing program. The press release from Faith Gateway states,

The origin of the celebration is unknown, but some media outlets trace it as far back to 2011 when a K-LOVE radio station listener suggested that the day, March 16, should be “John 3:16 Day,” in honor of the biblical verse that affirms the hope we have because of Jesus.

I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that their motivation was to draw attention to the verse in a cultural moment where Christianity and the Bible have to fight harder to be heard.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16 (NIV)

So join us on a tour of past John 3:16 references here at C201.

Clarke Dixon writes,

If God so loved the world that He sent His son to die for it, then it is reasonable that He will make sure the record of that loving act is trustworthy. If God has gone to such extraordinary lengths for us through Jesus, we should expect him to go to extraordinary lengths to ensure we have a valid record of what He has done, and what it means.

This echoed something Clarke wrote a year earlier,

Because God so loved the world that he would come to it in Jesus, it is reasonable to expect that he also so loves the world that he is not going to let the record of his love be false or lost.

Quoting GotQuestions.org, a year ago, we noted,

The Bible is clear that God pardons sin by His grace based on Christ’s work on the cross alone, not on man’s actions. Our right standing before Him is established on one thing only—the finished work of Christ,

Quoting an unnamed author at Theist Thug Life (that’s the title) we’re reminded,

While Christianity is exclusive in that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation it must be said that Christianity is perhaps the most inclusive faith. No matter your skin color, creed, where you were born, or social status you are able to come to Jesus. No one is turned away as long as they repent and believe the Gospel.

Ron Harris is, like Clarke Dixon, someone who lives locally to me in Canada. In a book excerpt he expands this further, writing,

I would like to amplify the word “world” to include; “every living person ever been born or even aborted; every weak, suffering, sickly soul, every Down’s Syndrome person, every child with cleft lip, every person regardless of age that is abandoned, abused, beaten, sexually or verbally assaulted and every soul ravaged by sin or tormented by Satan. Despite all of this, God still sees something in us because we were created in His image.

Morgan Murphy said something similar in 2015, emphasizing,

I believe that our God is global. John 3:16 says that God so loved this world. It does not say that God so loved the United States of America. We tend to be really ethnocentric, but the love Jesus has for all of us transcends any and all borders. It reminds me of the children’s Bible song that says red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight…it really is true. I am aware that there are people in America that need help. There are people in our own backyards that need Jesus, and we should treat these people no different than Haitians or Ugandans or Indians or whoever. We can’t get so caught up in the ethnicity or geographical location that we neglect the status of the heart or knowledge of the Gospel.

Back in 2015, Clarke Dixon restated this in the light of the Bible’s concluding book, Revelation. He wrote,

…There is the entire trajectory of the New Testament, where Jesus dies not just for the Jew; “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16); where the Holy Spirit is given to people from any background; where looking forward “there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9) One cannot read the entire Bible without getting the impression that God’s love stretches far and wide.

Before you dismiss inclusion as self-evident, or feel it’s being over-emphasized today, consider these words from the NIV Application Commentary which notes:

Judaism rarely (or never) spoke of God’s loving the world outside of Israel. God desires to reach this world through Israel, his child. It is a uniquely Christian idea to say that God’s love extends beyond the limits of race and nation.

In 2018, Clarke reminded us that as wide-reaching as this salvation offer is, not everyone opts in. He says,

John 3:16 is a favourite verse for many, but implicit there is the fact that eternal life can be refused. Further Scriptures confirm that there are those who refuse and so are perishing:

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

The same year, an excerpt from Billy Graham fills in the context of the Bible’s famous verse, which was a late-night conversation I sometimes label “Nick at Night.” Graham wrote,

This was a lot for Nicodemus to take in. Imagine what must have been going through his mind when he heard Jesus say,

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).

The Bible does not record what happened after their meeting; and if the Book of John ended there, we might not know what became of Nicodemus. But John 7 tells of a debate that later arose among the Jewish leaders about Jesus, for He had told them also that He was going away, and “where I am you cannot come” (John 7:33-34). Jesus knew the chief priests were planning to seize Him, but He spoke of returning to His heavenly home. Then the Pharisees asked one another if any of them believed Jesus, and Scripture says that Nicodemus spoke up for Him (John 7:47-51). Jesus’ words had illuminated Nicodemus’ darkened heart.

Dennis from Luke252 made the application very personal, stating,

John 3:16 teaches us that God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die for me! When I live a lukewarm lifestyle, it hurts Him when I only want part of what He sent His Son to die for.

Indeed what does it truly mean to believe? Russell Young, who wrote for us here for several years dug into this in 2016, explaining,

Since “belief” is the means of gaining everlasting life one should be sure of its meaning.  “Believe” is translated from the Greek pisteuo which is defined as “to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing), i.e. credit; by implication, to entrust (especially one’s spiritual well-being to Christ): -believe (-r), commit (to trust), put in trust with.” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary #4100)

Belief in the context of salvation goes beyond understanding that something is true; it means that one has sufficient faith in Christ or is sufficiently persuaded concerning the being and mission of Christ that he is willing to entrust his well-being to the Lord.  One’s conception of “belief” should not be limited to the understanding that his well-being can be assured by absenting himself of all responsibility for it by allowing Christ to do all that is necessary.  He cannot abrogate his obligations unless the Lord has allowed him to do so, and He hasn’t.  The writer of Hebrews has recorded that eternal salvation comes through obedience. (Hebrews 5:9) “Belief” means accepting the Lord’s teachings in the gospel with the commitment to honouring them with his total being…all his mind, soul, and heart. (Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27)

As early as 2015, Steven and Brooksyne Weber were discussing the “red-letter” status of the verse, which is an ongoing discussion today regarding the need for Bibles with this feature. They said,

The understandable grandeur of John 3:16 may tend to diminish the rich, instructive material that follows. Bible students differ as to whether John 3:16-21 are the words of Jesus following His discourse with Nicodemus or whether these are the interpretive words of John when he wrote his gospel late in the 1st century. Either way they are God’s inspired Word!

It’s also important to state that despite all the common ground we have with this passage, our churches do vary in their expression of its truth. As early as 2013 I was writing,

Despite the familiarity of John 3:16 and the partial familiarity of successive verses, the concepts are not as easily processed as might first seem. Great doctrinal distinctions and differences exist from denomination to denomination over God’s over-arching love for us versus God’s justice and judgment. Ultimately, you can’t get close to this truth from the text or commentaries; you have to pause, think these things through and work them out in your own heart and mind. That’s why we’re told to meditate on scripture; I personally like the idea that we need to chew on it. Getting to know and understand the ways of God can take a lifetime.

Finally, here’s The Message rendering of the passage:

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life” (John 3:16,17, MSG).

Enjoy 3:16 Day and share it with others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 8, 2022

The Debt Christians Owe to Atheists and Skeptical Critics

Today’s another one of those, “How did we not discover this writer earlier?” moments. Barton Jahn was at one time a competitive surfer in Southern California and knew almost nothing about Jesus. Today he’s the author of seven books on Christianity and 18 books about construction, and his blog is an interesting mix of construction and faith-focused posts. Some of his more recent posts are longer than what we run here, but this one, from two years ago, caught my eye when he approached apologetics from a different perspective. His blog is titled, The Cross in the Christian Life, and clicking the header which follows will take to this article from March, 2020.

Thoughts on Apologetics and Journeys of Faith 1

“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentile, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.”                                             (Jas. 3:17)

In the contemporary Christian apologetics debate…about the reasonableness of faith and the existence of God…the questions raised and the answers given in response…are both equally brilliant and well-articulated.  They represent the highest and the best of human thinking, knowledge, research, reasoning, and argumentation.

But the program of Christian apologetics…as brilliantly persuasive as it is…is partially the product of responses to criticisms and objections originating out of philosophical atheism over the past four to five-hundred years…coming up to current issues in today’s modern times…as we should expect.

The formulation of the systematic Christian apologetics argument has been partially reactive…ably constructed piece-by-piece in response to criticisms about the existence of God and the truthfulness of the Bible…criticisms originating naturally and historically from the atheist viewpoint out of the Scientific Revolution, the Doctrine of Progress stemming from the two Industrial Revolutions, and the enormous,  thought-provoking, beneficially progressive advances that have been made in the political, economic, social, and cultural structures of modern societies.

Modern Christians actually owe a debt of gratitude to atheists and skeptical critics of the Bible…in a counter-intuitive sort of way…like Joseph might owe a debt of gratitude in the big-picture graciousness of hindsight…toward his half-brothers selling him to slave-traders bound for Egypt…adverse starting circumstances which God then used to turn around the story originally meant for evil…into a brilliant new story shaped and channeled over time by God…into the life of Joseph the ruling governor of Egypt…for the highest good (Gen. 45:3-8).

Atheists and skeptical critics have raised the issues that have forced Christian theologians, Christian scholars, and Christian experts in other fields like science, philosophy, and history…over the past recent centuries…to focus and think hard about the credibility, reliability, and authority of the Bible and its message.

But the subtle problem here is that in the reactive mode…in the defensive position of responding to criticisms and objections raised by atheists and skeptics…the starting point of many of the issues debated within this context…land within what I call in this book the realm of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…confined within the large zone of normal human experience, inquiry, and investigative research…thereby limited by definition to the normalcy of worldly conventional thinking.

When placed on a vertical, graduated graph-line of goodness and light…these limited topics of inquiry and analysis coming from the zone of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…position themselves lower in elevation on the vertical graph-line of goodness and light…compared to the goodness and light entailed within the biblical narrative stories of faith.

The biblical narrative stories of faith actualize from God’s perspective the whole point of true religion: a personal, joint-venture relationship with Him…by definition a supernaturally composed and initiated relationshipby divine intention and rational necessity positioned higher-up on the graph-line continuum of goodness and light…above commonplace, everyday experiences of conventionally normal life.  

The biblical narrative stories of faith define the real truth about God.

The biblical narrative stories of faith distinguish and separate themselves from the human invented fertility faiths of ancient religious practices and rituals…named after the “gods” of the forces of nature that ancient people aimed to appease and to placate…in their precarious struggle for survival…in an attempt to understand and to control these mysterious and unpredictable natural forces that affected their material and economic destinies.

This is a fundamental area where the biblical narrative stories of faith differentiate themselves as having a divine origin from God-ward to humans…rather than man-invented from us-ward to God.

Because the biblical narrative stories of faith do not incorporate the materialistic goals and aspirations of the American Dream…ancient or modern…they distance themselves at the outset by the worldly unconventional concept of highly specific and detailed life-scripts that displace our ways with God’s higher ways and thoughts…transcending above the everyday concerns of survival and reproduction (Mt. 6:31-33).

This is the diametric opposite of petitioning and appealing to the deities of wind, rain, storms, and mountains for protection, stability, and fertility in farming, raising herds of cattle and sheep, and producing large families of sons and daughters.

The idea that the Canaanite goddess of fertility Astarte…known to the ancient Jews as Ashtoreth (1 Ki. 11:5), or Baal (Nu. 22:41)…chief of the fertility gods in ancient Canaan, or Marduk…chief god of the ancient Babylonian religion, or Diana of Ephesus (Acts 19:35) in the New Testament first-century…would live perfect moral lives to qualify themselves to be the atoning, substitutional sacrifice for the sins of mankind…and enter into a human body to accomplish this…is outside of human contemplation.

The biblical narrative stories of faith hit the center of the bulls-eye target of purpose and meaning in life…precisely because they radically cut-across-the-grain of the basic human motivation to appease the gods of nature for self-survival…through the control of the natural environment…storms, floods, agricultural crops, marauding beasts, birds, and insects, and invading armies of enemy peoples.

This is a timeless, universal motivation that fuels the attempt to appeal to and to appease the gods of the forces of nature…for our success and well-being.

That this same motivational drive permeates the modern Christian church should come as no great surprise.

Many people attend Christian churches today with the express purpose of petitioning the God of the Bible for His help in the very similar and common pursuit of the ancient religionists…to control their environment and secure stability in their lives.

This is evidenced in the modern phenomenon of the “prosperity gospel” of “name-it and claim-it” regarding materialistic covetousness…that has invaded Christendom in recent years…being a corruption of the commendable Protestant ethic of the virtue of hard-work in our chosen profession (1 Th. 4:11-12).

What this all tells me is that there is an unbridgeable gulf between human-invented fertility religions from us-ward toward God…aimed at securing our goals and aspirations according to self-sovereignty…crafted through ignorance and guesswork…in contrast to the biblical narrative stories of faith…clearly exhibiting the directional origin from God-ward to us…having the inconceivably unconventional trajectory of innovative life-scripts that displace our ways with the transcendent, higher ways and thoughts of God (Isa. 55:8-9).


As you may have guessed from the title, there’s more to this article.

January 28, 2022

Bible Fatigue

MSG.Josh.1.8 And don’t for a minute let this Book of The Revelation be out of mind. Ponder and meditate on it day and night, making sure you practice everything written in it. Then you’ll get where you’re going; then you’ll succeed.

CEB.Josh.1.8a Never stop speaking about this Instruction scroll. Recite it day and night so you can carefully obey everything written in it.

NLT.Psalm.119.44 I will keep on obeying your instructions
    forever and ever.
45 I will walk in freedom,
    for I have devoted myself to your commandments.
46 I will speak to kings about your laws,
    and I will not be ashamed.
47 How I delight in your commands!
    How I love them!
48 I honor and love your commands.
    I meditate on your decrees.

…97 Oh, how I love your instructions!
    I think about them all day long.
98 Your commands make me wiser than my enemies,
    for they are my constant guide.
99 Yes, I have more insight than my teachers,
    for I am always thinking of your laws.
100 I am even wiser than my elders,
    for I have kept your commandments.

…113 I hate those with divided loyalties,
    but I love your instructions.
114 You are my refuge and my shield;
    your word is my source of hope.

…127 Truly, I love your commands
    more than gold, even the finest gold.
128 Each of your commandments is right.
    That is why I hate every false way.

…162 I rejoice in your word
    like one who discovers a great treasure.
163 I hate and abhor all falsehood,
    but I love your instructions.

I think it’s rather ironic that Psalm 119 has become associated with the weariness some people have with Bible reading. Its 176 verses are simply either too lengthy or too repetitive for some people, and yet, it is a Psalm that is all about having a love of God’s word.

In David’s time, the “scriptures” would refer primarily to the books of the law. Many people reading this feel about Leviticus the way they feel about Psalm 119; it epitomizes something that seems to just go on and on and on.

And yet, these books, Leviticus included, are what David says he loves. He talks about his love of — depending on the translation you use — God’s laws, statutes, instructions, precepts, decrees, commands. Ask people their favorite Bible book and see how many name Leviticus.

Is David the kind of guy who gets excited reading the complete federal tax codes? Does he enjoy studying the Motor Vehicle Act? Would he actually study the instruction manual that come with most consumer electronics? Read the software terms and conditions?

I don’t think so. He had bigger fish to fry. (Okay, maybe lions and bears and giants.) But I think he really sees the character of God expressed in the laws he gave.  And he believes that they were written for his good.

I say all that to tell a story.

Over a decade ago we were in a Goodwill donation processing center, a place, we are told, where merchandise is returned from various stores for final sale prior to being destroyed.  These are the shoes no one wanted, the t-shirts that didn’t sell, and the books that were picked over.

Yes, books. And among those books were three New Testaments.

Now you need to know four things about me:

  • At the time we weren’t loaded with money; the 50-cents a copy they were asking for these was a bit of a stretch, especially after my wife had already selected some other items.
  • Our house is already full of books; we didn’t need three more; there truly is no place to put them.
  • I didn’t have anyone in mind who I was going to give them to.
  • I sell Bibles for a living.  I have a vested interested in selling new books, not used books.

But I bought them.

They were in reasonable condition, and I couldn’t handle the idea of them being pulped for recycling into other books.

I could spiritualize this and say that it was because I have ‘such a great love for God’s word.’  I could say, ‘The Bible is so precious to me, I couldn’t bear to see one thrown out.’ I won’t do that here. It was simply my WWDD — What Would David Do? — moment.

My Psalm 119 moment, perhaps.

Maybe we’d feel differently if we were part of a faith where they don’t leave their sacred texts lying on the floor of a room. Maybe we’d feel differently if we were in one of the 50-or-so countries where owning a Bible is illegal. Maybe we’d feel differently if we lived in poverty and simply couldn’t afford to purchase a Bible.

While we don’t want to be guilty of bibliolatry — worshiping the book instead of the One to whom the book points — we need to value and treasure and God’s word. That becomes a challenge when most Christians in North American and Western Europe have, on average, ten copies of the Bibles in their home.

We need a Psalm 199 moment.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your love of scripture; your love for God’s word?

 

January 26, 2022

Only by God’s Spirit is Truth Revealed; Error Countered

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This devotional blog operates on the premise that, while some of the original material is occasionally re-purposed, the book excerpts and work of other writers only appears once. But as I looked back at old posts, I realized I wanted to bring more visibility to this book which the publisher, Harvest House, has continued to keep in print.

The gift that I felt Bob George brought to the table was illustrations, in fact, closer to the time of printing, a companion volume was released containing illustrations and analogies which could be used with Classic Christianity.

This is excerpted from an early chapter about separating truth from error. The full title is Classic Christianity: Life’s Too Short to Miss the Real Thing.


There’s a big difference between knowing what something says and knowing what it means. Millions of Christians know what the Bible says, but many do not know what it means, because that can only be revealed by the Spirit. Man’s pride rebels against the idea that he cannot understand spiritual truth on his own but this is what the Bible clearly says:

The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (I Cor 2:14)

The reason why is very simple, there is no human alive who can read another man’s mind and if we cannot know what another human being is thinking how much less can we ever know what God is thinking? I Cor 2:11 reminds us of this:

For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

How then can God teach us his thoughts? “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God that we may understand what God has freely given us.” (v. 12) Man does not need the enlightening ministry of the Holy Spirit to understand the law; the law was given specifically for the natural man. We need the Holy Spirit to open our minds to the things having to do with the unfathomable riches of His love and grace, those things that “God has freely given us.” Those truths are described in I Cor. 2:9 this way:

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.

In order to understand the things that God wants to teach us regarding His grace we must have a humble, teachable attitude for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6) Just as the same sun that melts wax hardens clay, the same message of God’s grace that softens the heart of the humble hardens the proud. The proud cannot receive grace because the proud will not receive grace…

That is why an uneducated but humble person will receive far more genuine and intimate knowledge of God Himself than a highly educated but arrogant theologian…

Bob George, Classic Christianity


Publishers usually impose word limits for book excerpts, and so far we’re well within that, but as I thought more about this book, I remembered a section which greatly impacted me many years ago. If we have to take this down from the website for over-excerpting that’s fine, but at least subscribers will get to see it.

Making it practical

I sometimes wonder how often a story like the one which follows is the case in the lives of people we know.


Late one night as I was drifting off to sleep, I was jolted by the harsh ring of the telephone. It was a neighbor, apologizing for the late hour, but asking for help. “What’s the matter, Sue” I asked

“It’s Stan,” she answered in a low and tired voice, “he’s drunk again please come over and talk to him.”

Wearily I climbed out of the bed and dressed. Stan again! I wondered what I could say to him tonight when, quite frankly I had already told him everything I know.

In my first two years as a Christian I became quickly involved in all kinds of ministries, from evangelism to teaching to counseling. I saw God do wonderful things in people’s lives, but Stan was a mystery to me. Sixty-five years old, Stan had been an alcoholic since his college days. He was always open to hearing about Jesus Christ and about his offer of forgiveness of sins and a new way of life. Stan had even walked the aisle of a local church to profess his personal faith in Christ. But nothing seemed to happen to him. It was as if something was keeping the message was from getting through. The drinking continued just as before, with all its degrading results.

In those days I had the tremendous experience of sharing the gospel with hundreds of people, and it seemed that most of them experienced an immediate turnaround. In the case of someone like Stan, someone who accepted the message without being changed afterwards, I didn’t really know what to do next except share the same message again and hope that it would take this time…

“Lord,” I prayed… “If I’m going to help him tonight you’ve got to put some words in my mouth… give me direction… something.”

On that night though, I knocked on the door without a clue is what to what I was going to say… There was Stan, a heartbreaking sight in his drunken condition, with the familiar empty expression, lurching movements, and slurred speech. With an attitude of total dependency upon the Lord to guide me, I sat down to talk to him.

For a long time we covered the same territory that we had discussed many times before, making no apparent progress.

Suddenly without any premeditation whatsoever, I asked Stan a question I’d never asked before. It went like this: “Stan when you accepted Christ which Jesus did you believe in?”

He looked at me with a puzzled expression. “What do you mean?”

“Did you have in mind an honorable man named Jesus of Nazareth who lived 2000 years ago in a place called Palestine? The historical man who performed miracles, made the blind to see, and the deaf to hear? The man who taught people to love one another, and eventually died on a cross? In other words, Stan, did you accept Jesus the man? Or did you accept Jesus the God who became a man who was raised again from the dead? He who is Lord and is alive today? The Lord Jesus Christ who offers to come and live inside you and gave his very life to you?”

Stan’s eyes seem to clear a little as he looked up at me intently.  He said, “I received the Jesus who was a man 2000 years ago.”

“Then the question is, Stan, are you willing tonight to put your full trust in Jesus the God? Not just accept the fact that there was once a good man who walked on the face of the earth, we are trying to imitate, but to accept the fact that this is the Lord God Himself who is alive today and wants to live in you? Are you willing to get on your knees with me right now, Stan, and accept the living Christ the One who has the power to change your life from within?”

Stan immediately responded, “Yes.” We knelt together and in his half drunken state, he trusted in the Living Christ. I looked into his face and saw a new man! After being an alcoholic for more than 40 years, Stan was totally free of his dependency that night.

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January 2, 2022

Doctrinal Humility

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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I have to confess I’ve not read John Stackhouse’s book Humble Apologetics, but I do resonate with the title. The publisher blurb in 2006 seemed to indicate that he was writing more about evangelistic, or conversion-focused discussions.

Stackhouse argues that the crucial experience of conversion cannot be compelled; all the apologist can do is lead another to the point where an actual encounter with Jesus can take place. Finally, he shows how displaying an attitude of humility, instead of merely trying to win religious arguments, will help believers offer their neighbors the gift of Christ’s love.

Sometimes the discussions we have are with fellow-Christians, a first-time confession of faith is not the focus, and the topics can become rather thorny.

Last week I stood in a light rain in a grocery store parking lot speaking with two people who had left their church when both the number and degree of differences became too much for them to bear. Much of it focused on a single issue, a second one contributed to it, and a third was mentioned in passing, though I know it’s high on their list of concerns.

The thing is, when it was all said and done, all I really took away from it was their cockiness; their arrogance. They were not at all impressed that the weight of church history is not on their side. Neither is the support of present-day churches in our community. You can only get to their position through misunderstanding the context of certain scriptural passages; through proof-texting; and through a belief that some poor translation work done in the past on key words outranks Biblical scholarship.

The Apostle Paul would be the first to admit that the waters are sometimes muddy. In the oft-quoted “Love Chapter” of his first letter to the church at Corinth he writes,

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.  (13:12 NLT)

Two chapters later, as he speaks of the resurrection of the church, he says something with great clarity, but it’s still, to him at least, part of the realm of what he calls mystery:

Listen, I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, (15:51 CSB)

At other times there is no doubt at all in his mind or the readers’ minds:

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. (Phil. 3:13 NLT)

In other words, he hadn’t mastered this in his own life, but there was absolute conviction about the spiritual destination in front of him.

If the phrase “one thing I do” sounds familiar, it’s a lot like, “one thing I know,” the phrase uttered by the man born blind after receiving sight. Referring first to their charges against Jesus,

He then answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”  (John 9:25 NASB)

It was, quite literally, black and white; and today we use the blind man’s confession as a model for the conversion experience

I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see.

This type of certainty stands in contrast to “seeing through a glass darkly” (KJV) or “seeing things imperfectly” (NLT, as above). But here’s a truth

We don’t have to know and understand everything to know and understand the things that count.

Paul writing to the Philippians said,

I am convinced and confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will [continue to] perfect and complete it until the day of Christ Jesus [the time of His return]. (1:6 Amplified Bible)

Other translations use the word confident. Obviously, some things were not seen imperfectly to Paul. He could say some things with confidence.

There is a book by Peter Enns called The Sin of Certainty. Having followed Enns online for years and read several of his books, I have no doubt (ironic use of phrase here, don’t you think?) that he is certain when it comes to the deity of Christ and the fact of the resurrection.

Rather, the book was a response to what was a growing body of people who expressed their intransigence online; the type of people who will defend to the death some sacred pet doctrine on social media. Unintentionally — and I am being gracious here, perhaps it was intentional — they are modeling for new believers a stance where one must be absolutely certain of everything. That’s just not possible when you haven’t had time to work out your salvation and it forces people to simply parrot rote responses or take ownership of parts of a catechism not through life experiences, or Holy Spirit leading, but because of their ability to call up key words and phrases.

Eventually, this can lead to a spiritual arrogance. When reviewing Enns’ 2016 book, I wrote;

Peter Enns basically catalogs some of the various less-certain elements one might find in the sphere of Christianity, and rather than resolve all of these necessarily, creates a climate where the reader can say, ‘Oh yeah! That’s me! At last someone who gets it.’ Some of the book draws from his personal experiences of dealing with the doubt/certainty continuum, either internally or in his family or academic life.

There is however value in creeds. When we remind ourselves that Christ was

…conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried.

and that

He descended into hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
and sits on the right hand of God the Father almighty…

Those times, we are discussing the things that are non-negotiable and these are things which the body of Christ around the world should agree.

But what if your faith is in that creed and not in the one to whom the creed points?

A book similar to The Sin of Certainty released three years earlier. About that one I wrote,

With… Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty (Baker Books), Gregory Boyd presents the thesis that far too many Christians — at least in North America and western Europe — are committed to a set of spiritual propositions more than they are committed to Christ; and that in fact the thing they worship and place their faith in are these ‘certainties,’ far more than they worship and have their faith secured in “Christ, and Him crucified.”

…While the book clearly intends to shatter the idol of theological over-confidence, its equal purpose is to give some peace and comfort to people who, although they are long on the journey with Jesus, still don’t feel they have all the details of the contract worked out. He is writing to those of us who perhaps know people for whom all doctrinal and theological matters are settled once and for all…

What is the ultimate expression of God’s position and power? What words does he say? What doctrine does he clear up for all time?

Nothing. Just as the orchestra builds to a crescendo we get this:

John 13:3-5Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him… … 12-14 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.

Utter, absolute humility.

Six months before reading the Boyd book I wrote,

…each one of us needs to be developing a personal, systematic theology so that we can respond when asked what we believe. We should know the ways of God; truly know what Jesus would do. But we should write our theology in pencil, not pen; remaining open to the possibility that what we see as through frosted glass will become clearer over time and therefore subject to change…

This devotional is messy because our attempts to do theology are often messy. There is a balance between the things on which we can place our trust — think of the hymn “Standing on the Promises” if that helps — and the things which we will never see with perfect clarity.

To the person in the parking lot last week, I would say, “You lack a humble apologetic, and that may be your spiritual downfall.”


“…it is a mark of imbecility of mind, rather than of strength; of folly, rather than of wisdom; for any one to dogmatize with an air of infallibility, or to assume the attitude of perfect intelligence on any one subject of human thought, without an intimate knowledge of the whole universe...”

– Alexander Campbell in The Christian System

 

 

 

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December 29, 2021

Persons Claiming They Don’t Have Need for Bible Teaching

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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This is our fifth full-length post from Bill Muehlenberg at the website Culture Watch and it’s only the first part of a longer article. You’ll need to click through to continue reading some of the reactions he had when he posted this. It’s a very timely topic right now, especially as people have used Covid-19 as an excuse to sever themselves from local churches. Click the header which follows.

Difficult Bible Passages: 1 John 2:27

This is another passage that is so often abused and misused. That is the main reason it can be so difficult or problematic. A subtitle to this article might be: “This Is How Cults Arise”. That is because those who mangle this verse are prime candidates for the cults or may well already be in one.

The verse says this:

“As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.”

This verse, and John 14:16-17, 26 and John 16:13, are so often wrongly appropriated by some believers. The texts in John’s gospel are a bit different: they refer to the fact that Jesus will soon be leaving his disciples, and he wants to assure them that he is not abandoning them, but he is leaving the Holy Spirit with them to assist and guide them.

These verses are often used by those who claim that they have no need of “human” anything: human learning, human teaching, human counsel, human books, human study, etc. They imply that they have a direct pipeline to God, so are totally self-sufficient in and of themselves. They have no need of anyone else.

I just wrote about these “Holy Spirit-only” believers. At the end of the day what we have are not super-spiritual believers, but usually arrogant and fleshly Christians: billmuehlenberg.com/2019/01/26/holy-spirit-only-christians/

In a moment I will give a concrete example of this sort of twisted thinking. But first, how might we answer this? It is quite easy actually. If we simply run with the two most basic rules of biblical interpretation, we will have no problems here at all:
1) study every text in its context
2) compare scripture with scripture

As to the first, the context shows that John is dealing with some heretical, Gnostic, and/or secessionist teachers who were claiming special spiritual insights and revelations. It is THOSE sorts of false teachers that these Christians have no need of, and need to avoid.

Concerning the second, it is clear from numerous biblical passages that we DO need teachers, counsellors, advisors, overseers, etc. – all of them “mere” humans. The New Testament everywhere speaks of how God has given teachers and others to the Body of Christ to help it grow and develop.

Simply based on all these other texts, there is absolutely NO way anyone could believe that John is saying we should not have teachers. Indeed, the letters of John are ALL ABOUT teaching, instruction and helpful information to believers. Throughout the New Testament human teaching – properly understood – is NOT being downplayed, but extolled and encouraged.

I realize that these hyper-spiritual types especially dislike things like biblical commentaries, but let me quote from just a few of them anyway. While they may despise and look down upon these godly biblical teachers, I am happy to run with their Spirit-directed wisdom and insights.

One of these great Spirit-endowed men of God was John Stott. He said this about the passage in his commentary:

True, in the last resort the Holy Spirit is our absolutely adequate Teacher, and we maintain our right of private judgment by His illumination of the Word of God. But we must see this verse in the context of an Epistle in which John is, in fact, teaching those who, he says, have no need of human teachers! And other passages of the New Testament refer not only to the general ministry of teaching in the Church (e.g. Acts 4:18, 5:28, 42; 2 Tim. 2:24) but also to specially gifted ‘teachers’ (1 Cor. 12:29; Eph 4:11).

Obviously John’s epistles are full of teaching and instruction. As James Montgomery Boice puts it:

When John says that the Christians of his day “do not need anyone to teach” them, the statement must be understood in its context. It does not mean, for instance, that there is no value at all in teaching or that there is no such thing as a teaching ministry in the church. In fact, as Bruce observes, “What is John himself doing in this letter if he is not ‘teaching’ his readers?

Or as Marianne Meye Thompson comments:

While ultimately the Spirit “will teach you all things” (Jn 14:26), the Spirit does so through human beings. Thus, when the Elder writes you do not need anyone to teach you, he does not mean that they have never needed any teachers—for he himself was and continues to be their teacher! But they do not now suddenly need new teaching about Jesus, such as the secessionists are offering.

Let me now turn to some recent remarks that came my way on all this…

[…continue reading here]

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November 24, 2021

How Did They Miss That Sermon Reference?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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The Voice – II Cor. 3:18 Now all of us, with our faces unveiled, reflect the glory of the Lord as if we are mirrors; and so we are being transformed, metamorphosed, into His same image from one radiance of glory to another, just as the Spirit of the Lord accomplishes it.

The Amplified Bible – II Cor. 3:18 And all of us, as with unveiled face, [because we] continued to behold [in the Word of God] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord [Who is] the Spirit.

With the pandemic, it’s been awhile since some readers here have been physically present in a worship service, but for a moment, imagine you there and the pastor is preaching and after awhile it occurs to you that the whole sermon seems to be directed at one particular person’s situation. It’s almost embarrassing. It’s like everyone knows the minister is referring to Derek or Sylvia or Maggie or Justin, so why doesn’t he just go all the way and use their names?

But then, imagine that mysteriously, you’re drawn into a long conversation with Derek or Sylvia or Maggie or Justin a few weeks later, and you get the distinct impression that the sermon hasn’t changed a thing in their life; that whatever it was that made it so blatant to you and everyone else that it was about them, seems to have misfired or otherwise not taken root.

I suppose there could be a number of possibilities here, of which four are:

The Bible tells us we’re not simply to be hearers of the word, but doers of the word; but sometimes we mess up the hearing part which cancels out the rest.

James 1:22-24 (The Message) Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think… Romans 12: 3a NASB

Imagine not knowing what you look like.

People do this everyday however. The middle aged man steps into his souped up sports car, turns the music on the sound system up high, and believes he is still 18. He starts flirting with his assistant at work and with the receptionist at the dentist’s office, and forgets he’s graying; that he has a wife and kids.

He needs a mirror.

The woman who goes out to lunch to with four friends and then spontaneously offers to pick the tab for everyone’s meal before they embark on an afternoon of shopping, slapping down the credit card at store after store, forgetting that the bank has already canceled her other credit card because of too many missed payments, and her income prospects for the foreseeable future are rather dim.

She needs a mirror.

We all need a mirror. An accurate one. One that doesn’t distort the truth. The clearest, most focused mirror is God’s word. It shows us what right living looks like. It tells us where we’ve messed up. What we can do to get back on track. What it will take for us to stay on track. You can read more about this four-fold purpose of scripture by clicking here.

…Sometimes however, the sermon is about you. It’s like there’s no one else there. Imagine the same scenario, but it’s more like a bad dream. The pastor preaches a similar sermon, but everyone turns around stares directly at you.

But weeks later your life is unchanged. That would be a bigger nightmare.

What would your excuse be?


Want to further wrestle with the issue of how we see ourselves vs. how we really are? Consider the book by Brant Hansen, The Truth About Us. Here’s a link to a review of the book.

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