Christianity 201

October 21, 2021

The Most Important Decision We Face

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Thinking Through Deuteronomy 30:15-20

by Clarke Dixon

We live in an era of seemingly unlimited choices. This means we are confronted with so many decisions, perhaps too many. There is such a thing as decision fatigue as we are bombarded with having to make a multitude of decisions daily. This might explain why I start each day with the exact same breakfast, porridge. That is one less decision on my plate!

The other, and greater, problem, is that with all the decisions we make in a day, a week, a year, a lifetime, the most important decision we face gets lost. What is that decision? Let us go to Deuteronomy 30:15-20 for a hint.

The Book of Deuteronomy captures what Moses said to God’s people as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. This was an important new beginning for the people who had spent the last forty years in the wilderness following their rescue from slavery in Egypt. As they stood at the edge of the Promised Land, Moses called the people to make a decision:

“Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster.

Deuteronomy 30:15 (NLT)

While it sounds like the people are to choose between life and good, or death and bad, that is not the real decision that is to be made. Those are the consequences of the decision that must be made:

For I command you this day to love the LORD your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy.
“But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, . . .

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life.

Deuteronomy 30:16-17,19,20 (NLT emphasis added)

The decision is whether to be in a love relationship with God, or not.

God had already called this one people into a special relationship through the call of Abraham. God brought them out of slavery in Egypt and provided for them in the wilderness. God gave them the law and made promises about the future. In other words, the people were called to decide whether or not to be in a love relationship with the God Who had already decided to be in a love relationship with them. God had already made his choice. He chose this people, Israel, to be a special people through whom He would work out His purposes for the world. Now it was their turn to commit to the relationship.

There were consequences to their decision. It was as if God was saying “I choose you, we can do this life together, or you can be on your own. Of course, being on your own will not go well, for there are big bad nations out there who will want your land for resources and security, and your people as slaves. But if you want to do life with me, I will be with you, and protect you.”

Today, God offers to be in a love relationship with each one of us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

We each face a decision on whether or not be in that love relationship God offers. God has already made His choice, and that choice was made clear at the cross. God chooses a love relationship with us. Do we choose to be in that love relationship? There are consequences to what we choose. God will either be in our future, or not. That is our decision to make. Has a lifetime of decision-making pushed this, the biggest decision of our lives, onto the back-burner?

This one big decision, to be in a love relationship with God, will be reflected in every little decision.

The call to love God was accompanied with a call to follow God’s ways: “love the LORD your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways” (verse 16). This would affect all of life’s decisions. God’s people could not be in a love relationship with God and live like the Egyptians, or the Assyrians, or the Canaanites, or anyone else. Choosing to be in a love relationship with God meant being different, marching to the beat of a different drummer.

Some may think of God’s law negatively, like it was a straight jacket and all about control. It was, however, really about becoming a better people and a more just society. We might read the Old Testament law and think, “what, they didn’t get to eat bacon?!” The Canaanites might think “what, they don’t need to set their children on fire?!”

Through the law, God’s people had the opportunity to be freed from foolish and evil practices, from the injustices that plague unjust societies. Reading the Old Testament prophets, the concept of justice comes up often. They often mention how the Israelites failed to follow God’s ways, failing to take care of the most vulnerable of their society. Through following God’s ways the people would be salt and light in a tasteless and dark world. In choosing to be in a love relationship with God, and in allowing that one decision to shape all their decisions, God’s people would be taking steps toward the Kingdom of God.

Today, a love relationship with God will be reflected in every choice we make.

Spirituality is not something we fit into a time slot each day. Spirituality is at the centre of our being, affecting every decision.

Let’s not assume that the way we allow our decision to be in a love relationship with God shape all our decisions is by listing every rule we find in the Bible. We are not old covenant people, so to blindly apply every rule we find in Deuteronomy would be to miss the moment that we live in, the love relationship with God that we are offered. We are new covenant people, with a focus on Jesus, his teaching and example. Through following Jesus we take steps toward the Kingdom of God.

The Christian walk is more about heart work than keeping a set of rules. Developing character is hard work and takes a lifetime. It also takes God’s Spirit.

To choose a love relationship with God is to choose God every time over everything else that would want our allegiance.

But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and if you are drawn away to serve and worship other gods, then I warn you now that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live a long, good life in the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy.

Deuteronomy 30:17-18 (NLT emphasis added)

When we read the Old Testament prophets, we discover that God’s people were often likened to a faithless spouse. Sometimes they did worship other gods, which meant that sometimes they did live according to the lifestyles and standards of other nations. Sometimes they did end up sacrificing their children. Seemingly the Canaanite god Molech liked that kind of thing. The God Who led the people out of Egypt did not. GOD offered them a love relationship, but GOD must be their only God.

Today, there are many gods looking for our allegiance.

Money can accomplish great things. However the love of money can turn it into a god, the worship of which affects so many other decisions. Sex is a wonderful gift of God. However the love of sex can turn it into a god, the worship of which affects other decisions. Similar things can be said of power, image, fame, family, celebrity, alcohol, influence, politics and so much more. These things and more can become like gods to us, negatively impacting our capacity to make godly and wise decisions. For a society that has largely rejected God and the supernatural, we sure do have many gods.

In conclusion.

We live in an era of seemingly unlimited choices, we are therefore confronted with so many decisions. There is one decision we face that is greater than any other. It is making a choice that is more important than choosing vocation, location, or even marriage partner: What are we going to do with God’s offer of a love relationship?

If we choose to be in a love relationship with God, all our decisions will be shaped by that one decision. If we choose to be in a love relationship with God, we will make the effort to identity and cease the worship of any gods that may be affecting our decisions.

GOD has already made His choice. Have you?

February 18, 2021

With So Many Saying So Much With Such Confidence…

My Mum often used an expression when playing the piano: “I’m playing the wrong notes with confidence!” Hearing so many Christian leaders say so many different, even contradictory, things, is it possible that many of us are “saying the wrong things with confidence”? Speaking with confidence doesn’t make things so.

Of course the internet is only making things worse. You don’t need too many clicks to hear differing voices on so many issues; do this, don’t do that, vote this way, vote that way, think this, thank that, and on it goes.

With so many confident, competing, and often less than complimentary voices, how do we know to whom we can listen with confidence?

In the days of Jesus there was no shortage of voices clamoring for people’s attention, leaders speaking with great confidence. There were the Pharisees, “listen to us, and let us become better than everybody else.” There were the Zealots, “listen to us, we are better than the Romans so help us kick these Romans out.” There were the Saducees, “listen to us, life is better with the Romans, so lets just get along with them.” There were the Romans, “listen to us, our Caesar is divine, we build great roads, and besides, if you don’t listen to us, we will crucify you.”

Among all these voices, another speaks up, it is the voice of Jesus:

Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won’t follow a stranger’s voice but will scatter because they aren’t used to the sound of it. . . . I myself am the shepherd.

John 10:1-5,11 (MSG)

There is one true shepherd we can follow with great confidence; Jesus.

In this passage Jesus is not just speaking about himself as the good shepherd, he is also speaking about the other leaders of the people. They were saying the wrong things with confidence. Even though they thought they had it right, they were so far off that Jesus called them sheep stealers and hired-men. We should note here that all these religious leaders thought that they were honouring God, and that by following them people would be honouring God. Even people who think they are honouring God may say the wrong things with confidence. Perhaps that sometimes includes you and me?

In fact, let us consider the Christian teacher, living or dead, that we hold in the highest regard, for whom we have the greatest respect. You likely have someone in mind, it’s probably not me. We have great confidence in what they tell us. Yet they likely got some things wrong and at some point have said the wrong things with confidence. Every Christian leader will stand before our Lord someday and have their theology corrected. That includes me, of course.

There is one true voice for the sheep to listen to, and that is the true shepherd. Am I as a pastor helping people hear his voice, or are people under my care only ever hearing my voice? I sometimes say the wrong things with confidence. We can always have confidence in Jesus.

We can listen to Jesus with confidence because he is the true shepherd, but also because he is the good shepherd:

“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary. A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He’s only in it for the money. The sheep don’t matter to him.

John 10:11-13 (MSG)

Even good religious leaders will try to protect themselves. We can imagine many pastors who, if they were pastors today, would be highly revered, yet in Germany in their day did not raise a voice against the Nazi regime. Perhaps some were blind to what was going on. No doubt some were quiet out of fear. Or we can imagine those who today would be known as great pastors and leaders, yet in their day they did not speak out against slavery. Perhaps some were blind to the sin of it, but we can be sure some kept quiet out of fear.

Jesus is the fearless shepherd, willing to lay down his life for the sheep. Jesus is the fearless shepherd, willing to speak the true things that would get himself killed. He did put our well being before his own, he did lay down his life for us, for the forgiveness of sin and our reconciliation to God. He did fearlessly speak the truth and he did get killed for it. He is the Good Shepherd. We can listen to his voice with confidence.

Jesus is the true shepherd, Jesus is the good shepherd, Jesus is also the God-shepherd. What do we mean by that?

Let us consider these words from the prophet Ezekiel:

Then this message came to me from the LORD: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign LORD: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty.

Ezekiel 34:1-4 (NLT)

The leaders, both religious and political, had done an awful job. They were supposed to be taking care of the people, but were taking care of themselves. Perhaps, sadly, that sounds like some religious or political leaders we can think of today?

Let us go on to consider the promise of God:

For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD

Ezekiel 34:11-15 (NRSV emphasis added)

It is in Jesus that the prophecy of Ezekiel 34 finds its greatest fulfillment. God has come to us, in Jesus. The LORD is our Shepherd and Jesus is the Shepherd. God, Who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, takes care of the sheep like no one else can.

Since Jesus is the true shepherd, the good shepherd, and the God-shepherd, are we tuned into His voice? Or have we become too dependent on certain voices claiming to speak for him? There are many who help us hear the voice of Jesus, but there are none who can take his place.

The best way to learn someone’s voice is to spend a lot of time listening to them. Therefore we can seek to grow in prayerfulness. We can commit to attentive and thoughtful reading of the Scriptures, especially spending time with Jesus in the Gospels, paying attention to his teaching, but also the example of his life.

With so many saying the wrong things with confidence, let us tune in to the voice of Jesus.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. The full sermon video for today’s devotional can be seen as part of this longer “online worship expression”)

August 7, 2018

Avoiding Ambush

Proverbs 11:17-18:

If a bird sees a trap being set, it knows to stay away. But these people set an ambush for themselves; they are trying to get themselves killed. NLT

Indeed, it is useless to spread the baited net In the sight of any bird; But they lie in wait for their own blood; They ambush their own lives. But they lie in wait for their own blood; They ambush their own lives. NASB

Last year at this time I introduced you to Arnold Reimer, a retired pastor from a church I frequently attended — Bayview Glen Alliance Church in Toronto — and his blog titled Finishing Well. Today’s thoughts are from two consecutive posts there.

Ambushed

A downside of being a news junkie is the gloomy reports of tragedy and violence one hears nightly.  Accidents, shootings bombings, floods, hurricanes, sickness, death, deceit, fires, political strife and corruption – the list is almost endless!  Worst of all are the stories of man’s inhumanity to man – the acts of violence due to anger, revenge, lust, greed, drunkenness, rebellion – the whole gamut of consequences brought about by bad choices.  Too often a damaging environment in home, school, society, even religion or its absence, have shaped and twisted thinking and personality.

Whoever rejects the concept of sin, or the depravity afflicting humanity, is either blind or detached from reality.  The biblical explanation is, “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?”  Truly, the “god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”  Our nation’s increasing rejection of God’s authority over what is, and is not, sin is determining the decline and bleakness of our future.  The high cost of rejecting God and His commandments cannot be avoided.  We reap what we sow.

Who of us has not experienced, or observed, how easy it is to ambush one’s own life?   A wrong choice or decision, carelessly made, can reek havoc to one’s future, marriage, finances, relationships, reputation, health, career or whatever.   How grievous it is to see youth making choices about behaviour, morality, appearance, companions, habits, work ethics and attitudes that can only result in limitations and hurt, if not disaster.

For years our family devotions included reading a chapter from the Proverbs.  The first chapter contains a vital motive to pay attention to the whole book.  It warns the reader of those who “ambush their own lives,” by rejecting wisdom, knowledge and the fear of God.  They do not accept counsel and spurn reproof.  “They eat the fruit of their own way.

Oh, that young and old alike would seek the forgiveness of God that leads to salvation; and the wisdom of God that leads to wise choices, good decisions and true blessing.  Another proverb admonishes: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  From my youth, I have held on to that promise.  I can report with conviction that deviation from it hurts, but obedience benefits.  God is faithful to His Word and Ways.

Thank God, most ambushes to which we victimize ourselves, though often hurtful, are not fatal.  That allows us time, the wisdom of understanding, the grace of repentance, the kindness of forgiveness and the blessing of renewal.  “Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your heart, for the night comes when no one can work.”   “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  What a wonderful, healing promise – a way to avoid an ambush!

Ambushed – Part Two

The Proverbial statement, “They ambush their own lives,” is a sad description of the self-hurt most of us have experienced at one time or another.  Wrong choices, bad behaviour and foolish rebellion result in wounds, dysfunction, crippling limitations, grief and the judgment of hurtful consequences – sometimes life-long and beyond.

The list of things that ambush one’s life can be found in the Ten Commandments.  Most of the disruption to family life, social chaos and corruption can be traced back to our disregard or violation of the divine will and order.  Because our government, educational system and courts of law have often chosen to reject God’s counsel for a noble society, our country is increasingly losing its way and stumbling in darkness.  The individual or family who rejects God’s way misses the pathway to a happy home and a safe environment.  The evidence of this is most everywhere one cares to look.  Our stubborn refusal to admit to our national rebellion against God and His ways, and thus to correct it, condemns us to devastating hurt!  We are literally ambushing our own lives!

Is there a solution?  What can we, who care, do about this before it is too late?

  • Proclaim faithfully the saving grace of our Lord Jesus.  Respond to the convicting, convincing work of the Holy Spirit who bears witness to all who will believe that they are children of God.  He guides into all truth those who listen.
  • Demonstrate and teach the fear of God, the value of obedience to absolute truth, and the beauty of holiness.   Sin must be named and forsaken.  Guilt must be understood rather than be disregarded or shoved under a rug.  The way of cleansing, purchased by the blood of Christ Jesus on the cross, must be applied.
  • Search the Scriptures daily to advance your knowledge of God.  Draw upon the sufficiency of Christ.   Find and own the promises of God which cleanse and shape thoughts and behaviour.   These actions build discernment and wisdom.
  • Learn to recognize the deceitfulness of the devil, the lust of the flesh, the nature of idolatry and the lure of the world and its ways.  Distrust yourself, but trust God.  He satisfies the hungry soul.
  • Put on the whole armor of God.  Practice using both the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit.  Expect to be attacked, and prepare for it.
  • Rejoice that greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.
  • Worship God in spirit and in truth.  Praise Him with a whole heart.  Pray to Him without ceasing, rejoicing in the Lord always.

As long as we walk this earth we will face things that ambush faith, hope, love, holiness, body, soul, spirit and our very lives.  So be it!  But our protection and victory are assured in Christ Jesus who has promised never to leave nor forsake us.  Having done all, stand – and keep standing for victory in Christ Jesus is sure and His coming is near.

November 25, 2015

Choose Life

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

•••click here to read at source

Decisions. Decisions. What to choose? I am always glad when my wife is close at hand when I get dressed. How I knew what ties went with what shirts before I was married, I do not know. Decisions, decisions. Yet while I stress over ties, the world unravels. Decisions must be made by world leaders on how to deal with terrorism. Our current conundrum has arisen due to a complex interweaving of history, politics, economics, and yes, religion. Such complexity makes rocket science seem like a grade school project. I am glad I am not a world leader. You should be glad I am not a world leader too. Thankfully, not every decision in life is so hard to make or so mired in complexity. Let’s take a moment to think on one from Deuteronomy 30.

As God’s people stand ready to enter the Promised Land, and as Moses gets ready to say his final goodbyes, he makes a call to commitment to the Lord. He begins with this:

Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe. Deuteronomy 30:11-14

Bible scholars tell us that the expression translated “not too hard,” could be translated as “not too mysterious,” “hard to understand,” or “incomprehensible.” In other words: this is not rocket science. Nor is it kept hidden. God’s people need not go on a search in heaven or across the sea for the answers to big questions like “who is God?”, “who are we?”, and “what is expected of us?”. God has revealed it. In fact “the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart” if indeed they were listening back in Deuteronomy 6:6-7 when He said “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them.” God has revealed enough of Himself, His purposes, His covenant, and His expectations that His people ought not to be confused. As they stand ready to enter the Promised Land, it is crystal clear who God is, who they are, and what is required of them.

Moses goes on lay out the possible consequences of the decision he is calling them to:

15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Deuteronomy 30:15-19a

This ought to be an easy decision to make. Life, or death? Again, this is not rocket science. And so comes the call to make a decision:

Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Deuteronomy 30:19-20

While some translations have “for that,” i.e. the act of choosing God, loving and obeying Him, “means life to you”, another possible translation is “For the Lord is your life”, as the NIV has it. Either way, God’s people are called upon to choose the Lord, to choose to obey His law, to choose life. All these go together. Given the consequences this was an easy decision to make.

People sometimes refer to the afterlife as “The Promised Land” and of death as “crossing the river” which of course alludes back to the Jordan river which lay between God’s people and the Promised Land. There is a decision that needs to be made by every person before making that journey, before crossing that river, crossing over from this life to the next. Just as God’s revelation was clear to His people in Deuteronomy, so too it is clear today. There is a clarity to the Gospel, of the good news of right relationship with God. In fact this is part of what Paul is getting at when he refers to our passage from Deuteronomy:

. . . the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven? ’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss? ’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:5-9

In other words, salvation is not something impossible for us to attain, like going up “into heaven . . .to bring Christ down” or going down “into the abyss . . .to bring Christ up from the dead.” Those are examples of things we of course can not do. In fact salvation is not even something we do. It is something God does for us in and through Jesus Christ. God “is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” (Romans 10:12-13 NRSV) Our part is to call upon God, to trust Him, to repent from our sins and turn to Him in Christ. It was for us that Jesus chose death. Our part is to choose life.

The consequence of our decision is clear:

11 Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. 13 And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; 15 and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:11-15

It is not hard to figure out what to do when confronted with the consequence of God. It is not hard to figure out what to do when confronted with the love of God. It is not hard to figure out what to do when confronted with the grace of God, the holiness of God, the justice of God, the power of God, the reality of God, the evidence for God, the Word of God, the Son of God, the Spirit of God. We have the opportunity, one we don’t even deserve, to make a decision: to choose life.

Did you notice when the call to decision was made for God’s people in the days of Moses? It was before they crossed over the Jordan. Did you notice from God’s Word in Revelation that the book of life is opened to be read from rather than written in? No angel will stand with pen in hand waiting for you to make your choice. Now is the time to make that decision. Now is the time to choose life.

Unless stated otherwise all scripture references are taken from the NRSV


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian Baptist pastor who blogs a sermon summary weekly at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.