Christianity 201

August 31, 2021

Remorse for Past Sin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Psalm 51, David writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have to be truly sorry for my sin.

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

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

 

 

July 1, 2021

Ready to Meet Your Maker?

Thinking Through 1st John 5:6-21

by Clarke Dixon

So you have become a Christian trusting in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. But are you sure you are ready to meet your Maker? Should I be bringing you a “Shrunk Sermon” right now on how you need to try harder and do better so that you will be okay on the day you meet your Maker?

In our day it seems there is an epidemic of doubt among Christians. Not doubt in God’s existence, but in our standing with God. In the apostle John’s day it seems there was an epidemic of doubt thanks to a certain group of false teachers.

So John wrote a letter. What John said to the Christians of his day in addressing their doubt is going to help us with ours in ours.

Here near the end of John’s letter we find the main point:

And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

1 John 5:11-13 (NRSV)

What is the main point? You can have confidence!

Since you have the Son, you have life! John does not say “Whoever has kept all the rules has life, or whoever has been religious enough, or knows enough, so that when you meet the Son, you will perhaps get life,” but “Whoever has the Son has life.” It is clear that John believes his readers have the Son. He says that he wrote the letter “so that you may know that you have eternal life.” Note the tone of confidence! John knows they have life, they should too!

The word “know” shows up a lot in the final paragraphs of John’s letter:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. . . . We know that we are God’s children, and that the whole world lies under the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

1 John 5:13,19-20 (NRSV emphasis added)

John did not say “you need to know,” but you know already. Note the confidence! Reading between the lines, and knowing that the false teachers were, according to Bible scholars, spreading an early form of Gnosticism where you are saved through increasing your knowledge, John was in effect saying “don’t let the false teachers tell you that you need something more, that you are lacking knowledge, that you need to learn from them.” Whoever has the Son has life.

In our day, many Christians have doubts, through false teaching, but also through incomplete teaching.

For example, God is thought of by many primarily, and sometimes only, as a judge. While that is to be taken seriously, Jesus taught us to also think of God as our Heavenly Father, as we see, for example, in the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus also said “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). Want to know what God looks like? Jesus is the best picture we have!

There are two very different kinds of relationships we can experience, egg shell relationships and solid rock relationships.

In egg shell relationships you are not sure where you stand. You think it could all fall apart at any moment. You start each day knowing that you need to be the right kind of person, doing the right things in order to be accepted, to be loved, to still be in the relationship at the end of the day. In this kind of relationship, the phrase “suffer the consequences” is important. You try, and try, and try harder, and keep trying. You live in fear.

In solid rock relationships you are sure where you stand. You have confidence that you are loved. You are able to lean into that love, you are able to live out of that love. You live in confidence.

People often portray God as the God of egg shell relationships. It is a “suffer the consequences of your actions, and even your thoughts,” kind of relationship.

In Jesus we see that God is the God of solid rock relationships. He suffered the consequences of what we have done so that we might enjoy the consequences of what He has done. God is faithful, not fickle. That solid ground allows us to lean into God’s love, to live out God’s love in all our relationships and in all of life. Yes, we can always be growing and doing better at living out the Christian life. But that is a walk of confidence, not fear.

So are you ready to meet your Maker? If you trust in Jesus, you already have.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario and articles here appear first at his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

June 27, 2021

Only God Can Satisfy Our Thirst for God

Today we return to Brothers of the Book, written by writer, speaker, entrepreneur and marketing consultant Bill Hood. His thoughts this month have come from the Book of Psalms. Click the header below to read this and find other parts of the series.

Turn Off The Noise

Text: Psalms 61-67

This world is full of distractions that keep us focused on the meaningless and leave us too exhausted to focus on the eternal. We’ve got to turn off the noise.

I love gadgets; I always have. I guess I live in the right time for gadgets, don’t I? I walk around with two cell phones, each of which receives e-mails; one of them receives e-mails from about seven different addresses. I have a Bluetooth headset for each phone; in fact, one of them is a stereo headset for listening to music I have loaded up on my iPhone. We have two desktop computers, one is a Mac and the other a PC. I have a work laptop and a personal laptop. I have a cordless headset for my office line, along with a cordless handset. All of our phones in the house are cordless. We have five TVs in a household of three people.

The best gift I ever got my wife was one of those single serving coffee makers where you put a little sealed package in the thing and it pops out the perfect cup of coffee quicker than I can fill a cup at the refrigerator’s filtered water dispenser. We have two Kindle e-readers, two iPads, and I have a hand held electronic organizer, or three, lying around here somewhere. We have a portable DVD player we can take in the car with us on long trips away from our other three DVD players in the house. I have an old but still powerful stereo system to which I have the Bonus Room TV hooked up. I could go on and on but I’m getting tired of the game.

You know what all of that stuff is? Distraction. I was talking with a brother in Christ Wednesday night about the fact that kids today talk through texting. The telephone is so “last century”. Texting is the thing. We went on to talk about how things were when we were kids; you were really upscale if your house had a microwave or a VCR. It’s funny; I’m all “gadgeted” out and I’m complaining about the kids these days. Go figure.

I didn’t give much thought to all of my gadgets or the distractions they provide until I read today’s Bible verses. They are so powerful in their praise. I become almost breathless as I contemplate the truth of these praises. I wonder; why does God’s greatness only seem to strike me when I take a moment to read His Word? Listen to this:

Psalm 61:1-8 ESV
“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.”

Does your soul thirst for God? Do you remember Him on your bed and meditate on Him in the watches of the night? Do you know what image came to me as I read that? I pictured David lying out in the fields with his sheep; he was a shepherd as a youth. Laying there with no TV or books or DVDs or CDs or Nintendos or cell phones; what did he have to occupy his mind? He had God. What do you and I have to occupy our minds? TV, books, DVDs, CDs, Xbox, and cell phones.

I drop into bed at night, exhausted from all the noise, in a pitch-dark room, and drop off to sleep, only to get up and start rushing first thing in the morning. David fell asleep under the stars with no sound of traffic or electronic clatter in the background. He could feel the grass beneath him and see the stars above him and God was self-evident in His majesty. Laying there, enveloped in the awesome reality of His power, how could David not meditate on God?

I don’t think I do enough of that, and I wonder if you’re in the same boat. The wonders of this age are significant but they are nothing compared to a solid, moment by moment relationship with the Father God. They are nothing compared to meditating on Him. I think we miss a lot of what God has for us simply because we are too busy with stuff and things. All that glitters is not gold, and this is never more true than when we compare the wonders of this world with the wonders of God.

I know I’m “preaching to the choir” here, but guys, we need to start turning off the noise and distractions. We have got to make time for ourselves. Surprised you there didn’t I? You probably thought I would have said we needed to make time for God. I almost did, but that would have been incorrect. God doesn’t need time with us; we need time with Him. It starts with this time we take every day to read the Bible, but it needs to be more than that. We need to spend time with Him in Prayer. We need to meditate on His Word, and on His character, and upon His ways. We need to lie down at night and meditate on Him in the watches of the night. To do this we are going to have to turn off the noise.

Vivere Victorem! (Live Victorious!)

Your brother and servant in Christ,
Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!

June 8, 2021

The Weight of Joy

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NIV.Romans.6  For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,that we should no longer be slaves to sin… 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness…22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.

So what does today’s title mean? Stay tuned!

Today we are highlighting a writer who is new to us, Victoria Moll. Her blog is titled, Notes About Glory. Before we get into today’s devotional, here’s a little introduction to her writing. In both cases, you’re encouraged to click the headers to read each piece at her site.

In Jesus Christ, For His Glory

In Jesus Christ.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

The phrase “in Jesus Christ” simply means to be a believer in Christ, having accepted him as your Lord and Savior.

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross paid the price for human sin by his blood, granting us forgiveness. Jesus is the reason that we are declared righteous when we stand before God, and are justified in His sight. Eternal life is not earned, but freely given to everybody who declares the name of Jesus because of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Anyone who is a believer is “in Christ”.

For His Glory.

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:9-11

We serve a God who is truly worthy of our praise! Giving praise to the Lord is more than singing songs during a praise and worship service. Worship is a lifestyle of obedience and working for the glory of God through our spiritual disciplines and missional mindset. Giving glory to God looks like thanking Him and recognizing Him as the source of everything good. The practice of giving glory to God is rewarding in that the more you practice a life of worship, the more you will see how worthy He is! This joy in realizing the fullness of God brings about celebration and adoration.

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31

Joy is Weighty

I have been thinking a lot about joy lately, and I’ve noticed that in order for there to be joy, there must always be a sacrifice.

As believers, we experience joy as a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) as a product of the continual transformation brought on by the Holy Spirit. This joy is free and accessible to us, but it came at the price of Christ’s death on the cross for our sake.

Because of the weight of sin in our fallen world and the perpetual death that comes with it, in order for us to feel the joy of the Lord, it comes at a cost. Yet God was so merciful that He paid it for is, giving us access to that joy.

What does all this mean?

That there is baggage in joy. Not necessarily the kind that we wallow in or the kind that keeps us from rejoicing, but the kind that convicts our hearts and draws us near to the Father in thankfulness and praise.

I believe that the glory of the Father can be found in our joy, as a product of what the spirit produces in us, because of the Son.

Joy is a lovely state of being, yet a necessary reminder that without Christ, there once was not.

I think about the year of Jubilee. The Year of Jubilee, which came every 50th year, was a time commanded by God for the releasing  of people from their debts, releasing all slaves, and returning property to those who originally owned it (Leviticus 25:1-13). The year of Jubilee was precisely its namesake: a season of celebration. There was so much joy that came from the lifting of the yoke of slavery and the shame that came with debt. Jubilee was joyous for those who could not find freedom by their own means- but the catch is that this joy is not so easily recognized until there is first the taint of slavery. For those who did not experience loss or debt, they had a much harder time rejoicing, because they had nothing to be returned to them.

In the same way, Paul says in Romans that although we should not continue sinning, the memory of sin should bring us joy in our salvation, and compel us to offer ourselves to the Father as instruments of righteousness. (Romans 6).

This is the Christian joy: to not live as though we were still dead in our sins, but to rejoice in the freedom we have found in Christ, using our knowledge of salvation and thankfulness to compel us to glorify the Father.

Yes friends, this is a weighty joy.


Keep going: Get to know Victoria better in this recent, heartfelt article about what Jesus means to her. Check out Why Jesus.

June 3, 2021

One Word to Capture the Essence of Christianity?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through 1st John 3:11-24

by Clarke Dixon

What one word would you use to convey the essence of Christianity?

■ For some it might be heaven, as in how to get to heaven when you die.

■ For some it might be law, as in how to live, what rules to follow.

■ For some it might be tradition, as in the Christian tradition is good for our society.

■ For some it might be theology, as in knowing all the right things about God.

■ For some it might be politics, meaning if you are a Christian, you will vote this way and not that.

■ For some it might be the word belief. Just believe in Jesus, and all will go well.

There is a word that John uses a lot in the letter we now know as 1st John. It was a word John knew the early Christian communities in his day needed to hear as they faced false teaching from a specific group of people. It is a word that maybe we need to hear in our day as we face all kinds of teaching from all kinds of people.

One Word to Describe the False Teaching, and the Word John Uses to Describe the True Teaching

Let us think first about what one word would capture the kind of Christianity the false teachers were trying to promote.

We have already seen how they were trying to change the facts about Jesus to fit their thinking rather than change their thinking to fit the facts about Jesus. We have also already seen that they missed the mark on what it means to follow Jesus, how to live as a Christians.

Bible scholars tend to agree that these false teachers were trying to advance an early form of Gnosticism. In this kind of thinking, anything spiritual is good, anything material is bad. For the Gnostics the one word that might sum up the essence of their thinking, and what they thought Christianity should be about, is escape, meaning an escape into the good spirit world while leaving the awful material world behind. And by the way, on your way there it doesn’t really matter what you do because the material world means nothing. So just do what you want while you are waiting for your escape from the body.

To this John says, and I paraphrase, “no, as Christ followers, as God’s children, we don’t just do what we want”:

For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

1 John 3:11 (NRSV)

There it is, the word, love. As John points out, this word was there from the beginning. As the apostles first taught people about Jesus, they didn’t tell them that Jesus was Lord, and that was all there was to know. Nope, loving one another was an integral part of the message from the beginnning too. It was not considered an option that might be nice to have at some point in the future. It was essential. It still is!

Love Explored

John goes on to say more about love, first, what it does not look like:

We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.

1 John 3:12 (NRSV)

Someone who loves, who is not self-centred and jealous, will be unlike Cain, and will not murder. John continues:

We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death.

1 John 3:14 (NRSV)

It turns out that love is so important that it is the test of whether we are following Jesus! Speaking of Jesus:

All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.

1 John 3:15 (NRSV)

In writing this John is echoing the teaching of Jesus who said:

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment . . .

Matthew 5:21-22 (NRSV)

Love is the better way as Jesus goes on to say in that Sermon on the Mount.

In addition to being reminded of the teaching of Jesus, We are also reminded of his example:

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

1 John 3:16 (NRSV)

Jesus is the opposite of Cain here. Instead of taking the life of another, he lays down his own. Cain is the first example of a life taker. Jesus is the first and best example of a life giver, and of love.

We have the teaching and example of Jesus on love. We are changed by the love of God:

How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action

1 John 3:17-18 (NRSV)

The Christian Faith is Grounded in Love.

This word ‘love’ was an important focus when facing the false teachers in John’s day. The false teachers wanted to change the facts about Jesus to fit their way of thinking. But the facts about Jesus speak of the love of God. The incarnation, the teaching, the example, the death and resurrection of Jesus, these all speak to the love of God. Change the facts about Jesus to suit yourself and you lose the greatest love that has ever been known.

Also, you don’t just do what you want as the false teachers were claiming. You become a person of love. The word is not escape, but love.

This word ‘love’ is an important focus when we face all kinds of teaching in our day.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about getting to heaven. Are you becoming a person of love here on earth? In fact, merely becoming a Christian so that you can get to heaven someday can actually be a self-centred thing. It is all about me and what I get. It should also be about picking up our cross and following Jesus in the way of generous love.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about keeping law. We can keep the rules and yet somehow not become a person of love. Jesus has a lot to say about that in his teaching as found in the Gospels.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about tradition. We can keep the traditions and yet somehow not become a person of love.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about theology. We can know all the right things about God, yet not become a person of love.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about politics. Politics is so often about power. Jesus has a lot to say about serving others with love, giving the example of washing the disciples’ feet, giving the example of the cross. A Christian does not avoid politics. A Christian is to express love through politics, loving others through serving them.

■ For those for whom Christianity is all about belief:

And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.

1 John 3:23 (NRSV)

John just can’t help but mention love along with belief!

Conclusion

At the beginning I asked which one word you might use to describe the essence of Christianity. Of course, we should never just reduce Christianity to just one word. But perhaps Paul is onto something when in writing to the Christians in Corinth he says,

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13 (NRSV)


The full video of the sermon on which this is based can be seen as part of this “online worship expression Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada and appears here most Thursdays.

April 29, 2021

Walking in the Light, Right Here, Right Now

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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1st John 1:5-10

by Clarke Dixon

Bad things can happen when we walk in the dark. We don’t see the dangers around us, plus we can lose the path. Don’t we often think “if only I knew then what I know now, I would have done things differently”? We make decisions in the dark which come back to haunt us. We don’t know the path ahead.

In life and in relationships bad things happen when we are in the dark. We need light! There is good news:

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all.

1 John 1:5 (NLT)

First off, let us be sure to affirm that this is not about colour.

There are very clear reasons for anti-racism given in the Bible, starting at the beginning with all of us being created in the image of God. Jesus likely had darker skin, darker hair and darker eyes than we normally envision. The Holy Spirit is poured out upon all different kinds of peoples without discrimination. The vision for the future given in the Book of Revelation has all different kinds of peoples together as one, yet unique, in the presence of God.

“God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all” is not about colour. It is about illumination. It is about light that helps us see and appreciate colour, all colours including light and dark colours. It is the light that enables us to see where we are going. It is the light that enables us to see how things really are. It is the light that enables things to grow and gives life.

So if God is light, what difference does that make for us?

First, when God illuminates our way we see the better path to walk:

So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 1:6-7 (NLT)

We often talk about salvation in terms of past and future. You may have been asked “have you trusted in Jesus so that you can be with God when you die?” That is a good question, but it is not one John is asking here in his letter. That question is focused on the past and future. If we were to turn John’s words here into a question it would be, “are you walking with God now, and are you seeing the difference that makes now?”

If we are walking with God now, walking in his light now, that will play out in our relationships with one another. We will have “fellowship with each other.” The word “fellowship” if often used to translate the Greek term here “koinonia,” which no English term captures perfectly. It is the idea of true community, of authentic and good relationships among a group of people.

When we read John’s words, we may in our minds go to very ‘spiritualised’ understanding, that having trusted in Jesus, we will experience complete unity as Christians someday in the future. Again we are thinking of salvation as a past and future thing. John here, however, is focused on the present. If we are walking in the light now, if we walking with others the way God calls and enables us to walk with others now, then good things happen in our relationships in the here and now.

Consider the fruit of the Spirit;

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. . .

Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

As we grow in these “fruit of the Spirit” there is a significant impact or our relationships now! When we are walking in God’s light, our relationships are transformed, because we are being transformed. The path of God’s work within us is the better path to take.

Further, if we are walking with God now, walking in the light now, then “the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.”

Here again in our minds we might go to a highly theological past and future understanding, that having trusted in Jesus in the past, we will blameless on the day of judgement that is in our future. True, but here John is also speaking about practical matters in the present. There is a cleaning up that can happen in the here and now when we pay attention to “the blood of Jesus” and what it means.

If we live now according to the example of Jesus, in the way of the cross, of sacrificial and undeserved love, of forgiveness and grace rather than retaliation and violence, then our messes will start getting cleaned up. Everything plays out differently when we walk in the way of love as Jesus loved. Good things happen, in the here and now, when we walk in the light. When we see that path and walk in it, we see the difference God makes.

Second, when God illuminates our way we see things as they really are:

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.

1 John 1:8-10 (NLT)

Here is the way things really are: we each have sin, we each “miss the mark,” and that sin separates us from our Creator. But our Creator is also our Rescuer. God offers forgiveness through Jesus so that we can stand in right relationship with God, now and forevermore.

When we are walking with the Lord, and the Lord is shining a light on the way things really are, we will see our need for God’s love, and we will see God’s love in Jesus. That is how things really are.

What does our relationship with God look like? Do we look back to the past, to the moment that we trusted in Jesus and then turn our focus to the future, to the moment we meet Jesus in glory? In the meantime we might have the occasional dip into spirituality, sort of like the occasional Zoom call with family members during a pandemic. Or do we think of our walk with the Lord as a very present reality?

John calls us to walk in the light every day, moment by moment. When we do we will see God shaping our lives in the here and now. When we are walking with the Lord, it changes us, it changes all our relationships, it can begin to change the world around us.

God is light, when we walk in the light the path ahead comes clearer to see. God is light, when we walk in the light the way things really are comes into focus. God is light, His presence leads to life.

Let us walk in the light every day by pursuing God, pursuing Jesus every day. Let us watch for the difference that makes in us, and all around us.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario. The full sermon on which this is based can also be seen as part of this “online worship expression

April 28, 2021

Everyone Should Have Samaritan Friends

Four years ago we introduced you to Mel Wild who is senior pastor at Cornerstone Church and director of Radiant School of Ministry, both based in Wisconsin USA. He’s in the middle of a series of writings on Jesus and the Samaritan woman and the question of “Who is my neighbor?” Reading this on his site by clicking the header which follows gets you pictures and the opportunity to explore his other writing, and is greatly encouraged.

Loving our Samaritans

Jesus loves the people we hate. He also loves the people who hate us. As you probably can tell, I think that the neo-Marxist ideologies of the radical left are evil and cancerous. But I don’t feel that way at all about the people who embrace these ideologies.  I actually have a soft spot in my heart for them. Growing up, one of my best friends was a tree-hugging, card-carrying Marxist activist. I think everyone should have “Samaritan” friends.

My Marxist friend was older than me, so when he went to college, I got to visit him several times while I was still in high school. It was an exciting adventure for me. His dorm room was plastered with Che Guevara and Black Panther posters. I got to read the Communist Manifesto as a teenager for the first time because that was his “Bible.” I got to go some of his campus protests. I knew nothing about the dangers of this Western brand of neo-Marxism on college campuses at the time, and it didn’t matter.

Years later, when I became a born-again Christian, and he stayed a radical Marxist activist, we remained close friends. This was because our friendship was not based on ideology or politics; it was based on something much more important. When I became a pastor, he would ask me about God and Jesus, and he was always especially open to the love of Jesus. He passed away a few years ago, so I am grateful for those conversations.

And that brings me to the story about Jesus and the original Samaritans.

51 Jesus let nothing distract him from departing for Jerusalem because the time for him to be lifted up drew near, and he was full of passion to complete his mission there. 52 So he sent messengers ahead of him as envoys to a village of the Samaritans. 53 But as they approached the village, the people turned them away. They would not allow Jesus to enter, for he was on his way to worship in Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51-53 TPT*)

First, let’s think about how we would honestly respond to such rejection. Of course, no response happens in a vacuum. In this case, it’s in context of generations of prejudicial hatred between the Samaritans and the Jews.

I want us to think about this because I really do believe that Jesus is calling His church to go to Samaria, to those people who we think are our enemies. Because of all that’s gone on over the last year, I believe people are more ready to hear the message of the Kingdom of God than ever before. But the problem is…us. Before we can change the world, we may have to change.

We’re a lot like Jesus’ disciples in this story, not being able to heal people like Jesus, but jealous of others who weren’t even following Him but were doing the “stuff,”  and preoccupied with arguing over who’s the greatest (see Luke 9:37-43; 46-50). This is Jesus’ A-team! They were the ones He was investing in to change the world. But, like us, they still had a lot to learn. To see that, let’s continue the story…

54 When the disciples Jacob and John realized what was happening, they returned to Jesus and said, “Lord, if you wanted to, you could command fire to fall down from heaven, just as Elijah did and destroy all these wicked people.”

55 Jesus rebuked them sharply, saying, Don’t you realize what spews from your hearts when you say that? The Son of Man did not come to destroy life, but to bring life to the earth.” (Luke 9:54-55 TPT*)

If we’re going to learn anything at all from this passage, we  must first ask ourselves honestly, “Who are my Samaritans?” Who do I want God to rain fire down on? For me, because of my experience growing up, I actually have more grace for radical neo-Marxist leftists than I do obnoxiously legalistic Christians! That’s an area where I needed to change my heart.

What’s interesting about the disciple’s response was that they were using Scripture to justify their violent response to the Samaritan’s rejection of Jesus. Beloved, whenever we use the phrase, “But the Bible says…” when justifying hatred and revenge, you can be sure you need to realize what spews from your hearts when you say that?” Or, as the NKJV puts it,You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.” I hope you do understand that you could be biblically correct yet be on the wrong side of God.

Now, you and I may say we love those who hate us, persecute us, cancel us, lie about us, but do we? Here’s the passage we have a hard time believing:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? (Matt.5:43-46 NKJV*)

It makes me wonder, do I have a “tax-collector” kind of love, or Jesus’ kind of love?

You see, you and I will never learn to see people like God sees them until we learn to love our Samaritans. As I hope to show next time, seeing people the way Jesus sees them opens up something wonderful and amazing to behold.


Published on his site as licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 License.

April 8, 2021

What’s Included In Romans 8’s “All Things?”

Regular Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon will appear tomorrow.

Today we’re again back at the website Forward >> Progress, the personal website of Michael Kelley who is an in-house curriculum develolper for LifeWay. Because he does what he does as his vocation, you know his daily devotionals are going to be good, and the one we selected for today is no exception. Click the header below to read this at his site, and then take a few minutes to look around at his books and other writings.

What “All Things” Should We Expect from God?

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom. 8:31-32).

If you read these verses in isolation, there are a number of questions that ought to come to mind. You might, for example, ask, “What things?” Paul the apostle has some pretty audacious promises to make here, and he does so in response to “these things.” So what things lay the background for his rhetorical claims here?

Well, the “these things” are the weighty truths Paul has written about in the first 7 chapters of Romans. They’re the truths of sinful humanity’s desperate situation, whether Jew or Greek, from Romans 1-3. They’re the truths of the necessity of faith from Romans 4 and the peace we can have with God from Romans 5. They’re the truths of our ongoing battle with sin and the only power to overcome it from Romans 6-7. And they’re the truths of the indwelling Spirit, the fatherhood of God, and our adoption as sons and daughters from Romans 8. Those are “these things.”

In response to the ocean of grace given to us in Christ, Paul asked the rhetorical question, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” For surely God is for us. How could we conclude otherwise in light of everything we’ve just read? Yes, God is most certainly for us. But not stopping there, Paul asked another rhetorical question:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

And this is where we ought to ask a second question of our own. We know what “these things” are, but what about “all things?” What are the “all things” we can and should expect from God, in light of the fact that He has already given us so much?

This is a big question. It is, after all, a question that relates deeply to our expectations and our future. It has bearing on how equipped and fortified we will be through life. It matters to both what is happening right now and what will happen in the future. But it’s also a big question because, if we’re honest with ourselves, we know our tendency toward dissatisfaction.

Let’s face it – we are not a very content culture. If we order cheeseburger, we wonder if we could have a few strips of bacon. If we buy a new TV, we wonder just how big the screen could be and still fit on our wall. If we go on a vacation, we wonder what it would have been like if we had paid a little more for the hotel. We are always pushing for more. More food, more entertainment, more prosperity, more of everything.

So when we come to this promise in Romans 8 – that God will give us “all things”, there is at least a part of us that looks around at everything the world has to offer and rubs our hands together. Does “all things” mean money? Power? Prestige? Constant good health?

Interestingly, this is not the first time in Romans 8 a question like this comes up. If you look back just a few verses to one of the most widely quoted verses in the Bible, you find this:

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

Here, again, we find ourselves drifting into the same thought pattern. God works all things together for our good. So what exactly does that mean? Does it mean we will face no troubles? No difficulties? No sickness? And the answer here is no. You only have to keep reading in Romans 8 to find that there will be all kinds of things that might threaten to separate us from God’s love – things like tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword (v. 35). Clearly, then, Paul doesn’t mean that we won’t ever suffer in this life.

Back, then, to our question – what are the “all things” we can expect from God?

The answer to both of these issues is in God’s intent for us. His intent is emphatically not that we never have difficulty, but instead that we become more and more like Jesus. This is what God is moving us toward in this life – to be be conformed to the image of His Son. It is not a life without difficulty; it is a life that looks more and more like Jesus. The “all things” God will give us are those things which equip and form us in this pursuit.

Maybe a little illustration here – when our family goes camping, we go to the back of the garage and get two plastic tubs and put them in the car. Over the years, we have accumulated everything we need in those tubs. There are lanterns, cooking supplies, matches, s’more sticks, bug spray, flashlights – you name it. And when we run out of one of those things on the trip, we make it a point to refresh the supply before we put the tubs away. That way, when it’s time to go, we don’t have to do another inventory – we know we have “all things” we need.

For camping.

We do not have “all things” we need to go another kind of vacation. Or the movies. Or to school or work. For the specific purpose of camping, though, we have everything we need.

Here is the answer to the question. God has outfitted us with “all things” we need for us to live His highest purpose for our lives, which is to become more like this. Of this we can be absolutely sure – no matter what else happens, He has given us all we need for this specific journey. For this specific purpose. In light of that, the new question is whether our purpose for our lives is the same as His.

April 5, 2021

The One Where You Tell God to Take the Easy Way Out

For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:29 NLT)

For years we’ve shared the writing of Jim Thornber, always pausing to remark at how our blogs have the same name. When it came time to revisit his page today, I was reminded that in 2020 he had suffered the loss of his wife due to complications from Coronavirus. He posted this item in November, and it’s timeliness to Easter cannot be overlooked. Click the header which follows to read at source.

Comfort Is Not The Agenda

One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!” (Luke 23:39)

One of the highlights of my week is meeting with pastors from other churches for coffee on Friday mornings. There is no plan or schedule to these meetings other than friendship, but we also gather knowing we have a unique position in our town and only other pastors will understand our victories and struggles.

A couple of weeks ago, one of the pastors referenced the thief on the cross who scoffed at Jesus, saying, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

After he quoted the thief I said, “And here we are today, still trying to tell God how to be God!”

As soon as I said this it struck me how often I have done the same thing as the thief. “If you were really THIS kind of God,” I would think, “then you would do THIS for me.” And, of course, this makes me a thief who is trying to steal the true character of God and replace it with a god of my making.

It’s a good thing our society no longer hangs thieves.

If anyone is wondering, I have plenty of suggestions on how God can make me comfortable and answer my prayers. But then, I think about Jesus. As He hung upon the cross, Jesus wasn’t concerned with His comfort. Instead, He was concerned with obeying God’s agenda for His life.

Furthermore, it’s easy for me to admit I’ve lived a comfortable life. I’ve never known the type of suffering that took place in Europe during World War II. I’ve never battled cancer or been kidnapped. I’ve never faced homelessness or starvation, never been in a car crash or lost a limb in an accident, and for those things I am grateful.

The worst pain I have ever experienced is the loss of my wife, Barbara, who died on September 12, 2020 from complications of COVID-19. I can find no words that adequately describe the pain of losing a soul mate, a best friend, the one God created to be my equal in life.

Still, I trust God will continue to work in my life as I go forward, the same way He worked in our life as I look back at the amazing twenty-six years I had with Barbara.

After years of wanting God to fulfill my will, I’ve finally come to accept that God’s agenda for my life is not to make me comfortable, but to help conform me into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). Therefore, I cannot honestly say, “LORD, your will be done in me,” then complain when His will makes me uncomfortable.

Losing a spouse is devastating, but losing my perspective on God’s magnificent goodness and love would be worse. Therefore, I’ve decided keep these words of Habakkuk constantly on my mind:

“Yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign LORD is my strength!” (Hab. 3:18-19).

February 26, 2021

Running to Spread the Word

Today another new author whose writing we’ve chosen to highlight for you. Bernie Lyle writes at Musings from an Idle Mind. I encourage you to click through and read some of his devotionals at their source, or click the header which follows to read today’s.

Run

“Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, both that you do and will do the things we command you.”
‭‭II Thessalonians‬ ‭3:1-4‬ ‭NKJV

Even in the time of the writing of this passage in II Thessalonians, Paul was dealing with people in the church who were not quite what they seemed. In that letter, Paul was cautioning the church, then and now, of things that were and things to come, as people were falling away. We are seeing this in our world today, as the evil one is attacking assemblies and driving wedges between people.

There are disrupters amongst us, people bent on drawing others after sin, and causing havoc to the faith. I have heard of pastors attacked over petty things, of people being accosted over matters of faith. There are families in turmoil, and marriages crumbling. People are enduring a multi-tiered assault.

It is tough being an intercessor in these perilous times, as I hear of the struggles of others, and am horrified by the attacks of the evil one on families. I pray fervently for many.

I have learned that prayer is the most needed thing today, as many of us are facing challenges to our ability to share the Gospel. We are often distracted by inner struggles, and the mission is put on the back burner.

Just as Paul called upon the Thessalonians to pray for him, I implore you to pray for me, and others who have taken on the ministry of prayer. We are dealing with supernatural pressures and there is no natural remedy.

Opposition is making it difficult to do the work, slowing the spread to a crawl. I pray over all those on my list, that they have opportunities to share the Good News, that they would do so with no inhibition, with boldness, that the message would indeed run swiftly to the ears of all who need to believe.

If ever there was a time to take up the full armor of God, it is now.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭6:12-13‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Often the opposition that we encounter comes from with in the church, and the family, as people whose god is the flesh have crept in and seek to disrupt the work of God. The attacks are personal and intimate.

Great care is needed in dealing with those in opposition, as we are on mission to lead people to Jesus, whether they be friend or foe. Most of those in opposition have no idea that they are pawns being used by the evil one. Great damage can be done with a single word.

“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.”
‭‭II Timothy‬ ‭2:24-26‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Brothers and sisters, pray that we keep our hearts open to those around us. The people who go against us have no idea of what the future holds, and no idea how much danger they are in. They are driven by raw emotions, and find themselves propelled to strike out against others they blame for damage brought on by their own sin.

I am willing to suffer all things if it means someone comes to know Jesus. God has built into me long suffering, as I have been chosen as one who prays. Pray for me. Pray for your pastors, for they are the essential, frontline workers in this rescue mission. Pray that we all remember that we are here to rescue people bound for hell.

My people, let us bear each others burdens, let us lift each other up, as the these times are draining. We all need endurance as time is short. We are nearing the end of a long, long race, and there is a great tendency to slow down, to ease up, to coast into the tape. We have so many saints who have gone before us, so many who gave of themselves with the fullest measure of devotion. Let us run, that the Gospel run swiftly and reach as many as possible.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭12:1-2‬ ‭NKJV‬‬


How to become a Christian:

Bernie ended his devotional with a link to a page called The Roman Road. (No, it’s not about the Catholic Church!) If you’d like to read more about following Jesus, click this link.

January 29, 2021

Situated in the Place of Blessing

Many if not most Christians know the name A. W. Tozer, but A. B. Simpson (1843-1919) is not always a household name. The two were instrumental in the founding of The Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination. (Two years ago we ran an article here which alternated between the two of them presenting a total of four devotions.)

Remember the AT&T commercial about “the power of ‘and'” which ran a few years ago? The “and” in the C&MA’s name refers to the history of the denomination as a merger of two groups, a mission agency and a group of like-minded people who desired to worship in local “branches” with mission work at the forefront of what they do. You can read more about Simpson as this Wikipedia entry.

Chosen and Ordained

Adapted from a sermon by A. B. Simpson on October 5, 1900

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (Jn. 15:16, NIV).

I find from this beautiful text that the element and the process by which our life is to be brought out and tell of God is chiefly through the ministry of prayer. That is the principal service, the principal fruit, and the main thing for which He has chosen and ordained us. There is an emphasis in this text that I did not always see. Leave out the middle of the verse and just join the first and last clause: “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you [or ordained you] that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”

It is one of the things for which He has chosen you and ordained you. He does not say He has chosen you to pray or to be on your knees all the time, but He has chosen you to get your prayers answered; He has chosen you always to be efficient in this ministry of prayer. As I read it that way it becomes not only a pledge of answered prayer, but a tremendous responsibility to have my prayers answered.

A Place of Blessing and Power

God has placed each one of us in some vital place of service and power. He has left us with people and surroundings that we touch and nobody else can accomplish what we may do, and God expects us to be effective where He has placed us.

In the Book of Zechariah, the prophet gives you the beautiful vision of the golden candlesticks with the seven branches and the great central bowl, and there, without any effort of man, automatically, the oil just pours from the trees down to the bowl and down to the lamps, and they are filled without the touch of human hand. And that, we are told, is the process in the spiritual world.

You and I and our brethren are thus linked together. Each of us is a golden pipe put there to bring power, first to our own souls and then to the souls around us. But if we are not free, if we do not bring the power, then our work is a failure. God has put us there for that purpose; He has ordained us. He says that we are to get things from Him by prayer.

Therefore, God has ordained us; He has put us in the place of blessing and power that He might use us, and that down through us from the Heavenly Head might flow His life and fullness to the Church and the world.

I believe the Holy Spirit will always pray in us if recognized in this way. I have an idea that every bit of our life—from morning to night, from Sabbath to Sabbath, from June to December, from year to year, from cradle to glory—ought to be the working out of the Holy Spirit’s prayer. I believe somehow that God wants to put into me everything that comes out of Him, that the Holy Ghost wants somehow to breathe in my heart the whole story of my life and then let me pray it out.

The Flood of Prayer

I have an idea that the Holy Ghost puts in our heart a divine prayer, and as we meet it, understand it, and turn it back to Him, it unfolds into a thousand things as the day goes by. That holy desire becomes first a blessing to our soul—it brings rest, comfort, joy, healing, and as the hours go by it works out into life. It was just a little seed, but lo, it unfolds into a tree of life. And I think that is the way God wants us to live our lives—to be so in touch with Him, so instant in prayer, that He will just put His thought into us and we will pray it back until all His will is wrought out in our life.

I go to my room at night. The burdens of the day are gathered up by the Spirit into a ministry of prayer that I do not understand. It may be just a cry, just a longing to pour it out to Him, but I find that there comes to me as I thus wait upon Him, a sweet tranquility of mind, a rest of nerve and brain and body, hope and confidence for the trials of the coming day. And I lie down and rest, bathed in His presence and blessing.

And then there is your morning prayer, and then you go out in the business of the day. Perhaps there is a temptation which strikes you, but it turns Heavenward and is quenched in the flood of prayer. Perhaps you have some service to do, some word to speak, some sufferer to relieve, some message for Christ. Another prayer. As the day goes on, from morning to night, each moment just links you with God, and you say, “Lord, I have met you a thousand times today, and truly there has not been a moment that has not been Divine”; for the commonest things become sacred when they lead us up to Him.

I believe that is the way the Holy Spirit wants us to live out our lives. Sometimes you will find, as you have begun the day in close communion with Him, that you will marvel greatly as things meet you in life, so Divine, so simple, so beautiful, that you will wonder and say, “O, Lord, this is what You were praying out in me last night! This is something You were thinking of for me, and when this burden was on my heart, Lord, I believe you were preparing this blessing for me.”

Beloved, the Holy Ghost has ordained us to a priesthood that is greater than any other service. Let us keep in such perfect touch with Him that at any moment of our lives His prayer may be wrought in us and then wrought out according to His purpose which works in us mightily. Remember that you have not chosen Him, but He has ordained you for this blessing, that it is for His glory to do it for you, and it is not asking a special favor, but rising up to your Heavenly right in the Name of Jesus.


The center of the mission of the Christian and Missionary Alliance is to know Jesus as our:

January 28, 2021

Stuck As We Are? (Starting Over with Jesus)

by Clarke Dixon

We can feel quite stuck, with ourselves, as ourselves. We may lament our personality quirks, our habits and addictions, and our situations. Of course some of us may feel quite happy with ourselves, and perhaps we shouldn’t. What are we like to live with, be friends with, be married to, be a child of, or be a parent of? Whether our own self-perception, or how others perceive us, we may be stuck.

We often blame it on our past. “If you only knew what I have been through you would understand why I am the way I am!” We look to the past and we see events, and people, who have had a big influence on what we have become and what we are like. Having had such big influences and influencers on our lives, is there any hope for change?

There is good news. Jesus speaks of a change in us, a change so big he uses the idea of birth to refer to it:

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

John 3:3 (NLT)

In speaking with Nicodemus Jesus speaks about being “born again,” or as the phrase also means, “born from above.” Whichever way you translate it, and I think both meanings are in view here, Jesus is speaking of being in relationship with God in terms of being born. In other words, it is a big change. It is like a night and day difference. It is like coming out into the light having been stuck in the dark. It is like seeing things for the first time. It is like starting over.

Let’s take a look at what this means for us.

First, there is a big change in what influences us.

The family we grow up in, the society we grow up in, and the experiences we live through, all have a huge influence on us. In being a relationship with God through Jesus, in being a member of His Kingdom, we are born again, born from above. We start over, but this time God is to be our main influence and Influencer. It is starting over with God’s nurture.

We can think of some examples of how this can make a difference:

  • If growing up you were constantly put down, now you start over with God telling you that you are created in His image, that he went to the cross for you in Jesus, that He has called, and is calling you, to follow Him.
  • If you grew up with parents who were not there for you, you start over with God who is always there and always just a prayer away.
  • If you grew up learning that you respond to the hatred with even more hatred, you now start over with a God who responds to hatred with love and grace in Jesus and calls us to do the same.
  • If you grew up learning that it is every man, woman, and child for themselves, you now start over with a God who is for us and not against us, a Saviour who came “not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).
  • If you grew up with an alcoholic parent, now you start over with God Who is always level-headed, always responsible, always wise.

These are just some examples of what it looks like to have a fresh start, I’m sure you can think of others.

Who we have been is not who we are becoming in Jesus. We have been born again. We have a new influence that is forming us. We are born from above. We are under the influence of the teaching and example of Jesus, we are under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Second, while there is a big change, there is more change to come.

When a baby is born, there is a big change for the baby. None of us can remember the day of our birth and personally, I am glad for that. I’m sure the experience was traumatic! But if we could experience birth and think about it, we might think, “wow this is all new! I can see!” Except that it is not all new. “These wee arms and legs still don’t work that great, and I’m so small compared to everyone else in the room.” There is a lot of growth to come.

Birth is a great analogy for the change God brings to us. There is a huge change, yet there is so much more change to come. Some people experience big changes in very specific ways. I can think of a friend who lost all desire to drink or do drugs the very day he turned to Jesus. Others still struggle. This should lead us to have patience with ourselves, and with others. Do we expect everyone to become a mature Christian the day of their rebirth? I’ve been born again for many years now and still have much growing up to do!

Third, the change in us will make us stand out as different.

When we are born again, we start over with a different upbringing in a very different culture. I grew up in British and Canadian culture, but in being born again, I’m now growing up in the Kingdom of God.

Where we grow up can cause us to; speak with a different accent, have different habits, customs, and tastes, plus hold a different perspective.

I spent my the first 6 years of my life in Scotland, but even when we came to Canada, we were still a very British family. That made me stick out like a sore thumb in grade 2. I was quite a bit more Canadianish by grade 3, but in grade 2 I was a wee bit different from everyone else.

If we have a fresh start with God as the main influence on us, we will end up being different. But where I was glad to change over the years to become more and more like a typical Canadian, in being born again we want to become more and more like a typical Kingdom person, to stand out as being odd in this world. While Canada was to become my home, likely for the rest of my life, the Kingdom of God is to become my home forevermore. That is were we want to fit in!

Which brings us to our last point.

Fourth, there is, and will be, a big change in our situation.

We may think, great, so far all the change spoken of is in me, but look at my situation. Yes, I have a fresh start in many ways, but I’m still facing financial ruin, or a difficult marriage, or loneliness, or mental illness or whatever challenge we might be living with. Perhaps we feel like we are changing, but our situation isn’t. We are still stuck.

Consider again a newborn baby. There are big changes upon birth, yes. But very often when that baby leaves the hospital they go back to the same home, to be with with the same people the baby has been with for the last nine months or so. The situation has changed drastically, except that it hasn’t. But it will. Usually, and eventually, the baby grows up and moves on.

So too with us. We may be born again, but we still face the same situations. We do grow. And as we do, some situations will begin to change because we are learning to handle things in a different manner. For example big changes may come to our relationships, beginning with small steps in learning to forgive, or developing a servant heart. But not only do our current circumstances often change while we grow, some day we will move on. Even if the immediate situation is dire, and getting worse each day, the prevailing situation is not. We are sitting pretty. We live as Kingdom people now, as family of the king. The Kingdom is our future. Big changes are on the way.

There is something else we should note here. For some people the current situation is life with mental illness. We might assume that when we are born from above, with a fresh start, that mental illness is cleared away. We might put it in the same category as something we have picked up growing up, something learned from our experiences in the past. So a fresh start clears it, right? So, for example, if someone struggles with depression, being born again makes it go away, right?

Not necessarily. And this is important, because it might lead us to look down on those with mental illness as somehow failing at following Jesus. Perhaps we may think of ourselves as failures. Paul speaks about a “thorn in the flesh” that God would not take away:

So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.
Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (NLT)

Thistles in the mind are no different than thorns in the flesh. When we speak of a fresh start we are talking about growth in our character, not a perfection of our health.

Mental illness may be the reality on the ground for many Christians. If that is you, be patient with yourself and seek the appropriate help. There will be healing for all illness, including mental illness. In the meantime, we do the best we can with the level of health we’ve got.

In conclusion.

If we find ourselves really stuck, that “I am the way I am because of my upbringing or early experiences in life,” perhaps we have not let the words of Jesus sink in. Jesus uses the strongest possible language to describe what happens to us when we are in relationship with him. We are born again, we get a fresh start with a much better influence and the greatest possible Influencer in our lives. We are born from above, God is working in us through His Holy Spirit.

Let’s not let the past dictate who we are and what we are like. Let’s let the One Who is Lord over the past, present and future shape us into who we are becoming.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. You can watch the video for this message or watch it in the context of this online service presentation. This was our second devotional from Clarke this week, if you missed it, the other appeared yesterday.

January 18, 2021

The Heavens are Telling

Don’t you wonder why
The stars are in the sky?
They’re telling you and I
Of the glory of God

And every flower and tree
Is there for folks to see
So that there no doubt can be
Of the glory of God

So let the words of my mouth
And the meditation of my heart
Do the same thing for Thee
And a witness be
To the glory of God
To the glory of God

In my younger days, I could name four different songs that were all based on Psalm 19, and as I consider it now, I can think of a few others which have lines which allude to it. There is something to be said for the theory that scripture verses are trending for a few decades and then are replaced by others. These days there is much repetition of

  • Be still and know
  • “For I know the plans I have for you”
  • I can do all things

Readers here will recognize that while these verses have brought much comfort to many people, each has a very specific context which is either not known or ignored by most of the people doing the quoting. (I may claim to be able to all things, but I can’t fly an airplane, dismantle a bomb, or perform brain surgery. I can’t even get the jar of apricot jam open, and I need to ask my wife for help finding the last place the roll of packing tape was cut.)

On the other hand, rediscovering a passage of scripture which had fallen off your radar is somewhat akin to meeting up with an old friend. (I don’t remember the title of the song I quoted above, but feel free to leave its name in the comments.)

Psalm 19 begins:

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
    The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
    night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
    their voice is never heard
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
    and their words to all the world.

God has made a home in the heavens for the sun.
It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding.
    It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race.
The sun rises at one end of the heavens
    and follows its course to the other end.
    Nothing can hide from its heat. (NLT)

David wrote this one, and in these first six verses he’s talking about what theologians call the general revelation of God. This is the evidence of God’s being in nature, what scientists who are Christians call the unveiling of intelligent design in the universe. And it’s a non-stop broadcast; verse 2 (NASB) says “Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge” and this giving of speech is anthropomorphizing either the heavens and skies, or the entire general revelation itself.

Have you ever had a friend who looked at a beautiful scene and said, “It speaks to me.” Well according to verse 2, it really does!

The general revelation can introduce someone to deism, but of course Jesus is not named. Is it sufficient for someone unevangelized to respond to; someone who has never heard the name of Jesus? Objectively, I want to say no, there is no salvation apart from His name, but there have been a few anecdotal accounts of people who decided that not only did there need to be a God behind the skies and heavens, but that this God would want to make himself known; and then they started connecting the dots. These are however, the exception, not the rule; but never rule out anything in terms of God’s ability to get through to human hearts.

The rest of the Psalm — and you could easily try to argue this is a mash-up of two Psalms — concerns God’s law.

The Law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
10 They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much pure gold;
Sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, Your servant is warned by them;
In keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults.
13 Also keep Your servant back from presumptuous sins;
Let them not rule over me;
Then I will be innocent,
And I will be blameless of great wrongdoing.
14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
Lord, my rock and my Redeemer. (NLT)

Look at the words used: Law, precepts, commandment. It echoes the conveniently numbered Psalm 119. (I don’t want go down the rabbit trail of verse and chapter numbering — a system which sometimes breaks up our reading and can be more harmful than helpful — but there are some interesting things which occur as you study the Bible. I remember in our youth group looking at the interesting collection of “3:16” verse which one finds, but I wouldn’t look to start a new church based such numerical anomalies.)

David loves God’s precepts. He’s got them on his fridge, in posters and plaques on his wall, on bumper stickers on his car.

David loves the law. It’s as simple as that. We groan inwardly when the speaker says, “Turn with me to the book of Leviticus;” but not so David. When I did a consecutive reading of scripture a few years back and came to Leviticus, I remember very specifically praying that God would help me to see the reasoning behind the rules; an understanding of the purpose behind the many intricate details by which Israel would form a distinct identity and be set apart from neighboring nations.

It’s like David is saying, ‘I love traffic lights. I love speed limits.’ (One wonders if in our day he would say, ‘I love having to wear a mask. I love social distancing.’ If he felt that all these things were for our good, he might indeed say those things.) (Please don’t comment on this paragraph. Thank you.)

Then there what I see as a benediction for readers like us. I’ve already shown it here as the translation I used included it with the previous verse, but it could also stand alone.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. (v14, NIV)

While David ends with this, I’ve used it before as part of prayer of invocation at the start of a worship service, or at the beginning of a sermon. You can use this personally as you start your day; as you go into your school or workplace; as you prepare for a Zoom meeting with family members; or as you are about to type that reply on Facebook or Twitter!

I’ll leave us with the first part of the verse in The Voice Bible:

May the words that come out of my mouth and the musings of my heart meet with Your gracious approval

 

December 28, 2020

A Quiet Place

We often end the devotional with a related music video, but today we want to the song to be the springboard for what follows…

For most readers here, the content would be described as devotionals or devotional readings. I have always taken the meaning to refer to this practice or spiritual discipline that we do out of devotion to God.

Working in the world of Christian publishing however, I frequently encounter people — a large number from a Catholic background or people who have had exposure to recovery programs — who refer to devotional books as meditations or meditational readings. I do like the idea that one doesn’t just read the words and close the book and walk away. Rather one ruminates or chews the text in their mind.

There is however a third term which, although I am very familiar with it, isn’t something we’ve used here: quiet time.

This song, written by Ralph Carmichael, was part of a collection* that for many people mark the beginning of what we call Contemporary Christian Music. But we’re here to look at the lyrics.

There is a quiet place
Far from the rapid pace
Where God can soothe my troubled mind

Sheltered by tree and flower
There in that quiet hour
With him my cares are left behind

Whether a garden small
Or on a mountain tall
New strength and courage there I find

Then from this quiet place
I go prepared to face
A new day with love for all mankind

A search for scripture verses about having a quiet time takes us to these:

…he delights in the teachings of the LORD and reflects on his teachings day and night. – Psalm 1:2 GW

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. – Matthew 6:6 NIV

…Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. – Mathew 14:22-23 NLT

Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. – Mark 1:35 CEB

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. – Joshua 1:8a NLT

and finally

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. – Luke 5:16 NIV

UK writer Daisy Logan has offered sixteen different ways we can improve our quiet time. Not all of these may work for you, but I encourage you to click here to read her suggestions.

The website for CRU (formerly Campus Crusade) looks at several different elements your quiet time can contain, including opening your Bible and methodically studying a section of text, followed by four types of prayer. Click here to read their template for quiet times.

The website GotQuestions.org reminds us that,

Every believer needs a quiet time with the Lord. If Jesus Himself needed it, how much more do we? Jesus frequently moved away from the others in order to commune with His Father regularly…

The length of the quiet time does not matter, but it should be enough time to meditate on what was read and then pray about it or anything else that comes to mind. Drawing near to God is a rewarding experience, and once a regular habit of quiet time is created, a specific time for study and prayer is eagerly looked forward to. If our schedules are so full and pressing that we feel we cannot carve out some time daily to meet with our heavenly Father, then a revision of our schedules to weed out the “busyness” is in order.

I realize that for some people, the thought of pausing at a certain time each day, or even the use of the word meditation triggers thoughts of Eastern religions. Got Questions addresses this:

A note of caution: some Eastern religions that teach the principles of meditation include instructions on “emptying the mind” by concentrating on repeating a sound or a particular word over and over. Doing so leaves room for Satan to enter and to wreak havoc in our minds. Instead, Christians should follow the advice of the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Filling one’s mind with these beautiful thoughts cannot help but bring peace and please God. Our quiet time should be a time of transformation through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2), not through the emptying of them.

I want to invite you to listen to the short song one more time. This time think about what ought to be the result of our quiet time with God:

Then from this quiet place
I go prepared to face
A new day with love for all mankind

The fruit or benefit of time spent in study and prayer will come out in our lives in ways that will affect others as well as ourselves.


The original version of the song was posted at this link. (There’s also a “big band” version for those who like that style at this link.)

*Listen to the full album at this link.

 

 

 

 

November 21, 2020

Our Highest Desire for Our Children … and for Ourselves

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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If you’re a parent, grandparent, godparent or aunt/uncle, the spiritual aspirations you have for the children in your sphere of influence should also be the same spiritual aspirations you set for yourself.

Today for the first time we’re featuring the writing of Luke Wagner who serves as a volunteer pastor in Lawrence, Kansas, and writes at An Eternal Viewpoint.

Called To Influence

There is a prayer I have for all of my kids, and I think it’s one most parents who are followers of Jesus have for their kids as well.

God, empower them be the influence.

It’s simple. But it could change the world.

And honestly, being influential in the life of my kid’s beyond just being the parent is something I am still learning. Speaking life isn’t always the tendency I have, but it needs to be. Jesus gave the instruction,

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

Matthew 28:19-20

In essence, get out there and influence others for Me. Live a life that points others to Me. Tell them about Me with your words AND actions. When I see my daughter interacting with her friends and peers, I pray that she would be the influence in the group that points towards Jesus.

She doesn’t always get it right. But then, perfection isn’t the expectation.

Really, that’s the same position God takes with us. He knows perfection isn’t a reality for us in this life. But are we striving to be the influence in our circles? When guidance is sought, direction is needed; are you the one who steps up and points those around you in the right direction?

I love how Jesus begins this directive. In the verse before He says,

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

Matthew 28:18

His basis for giving this directive is rooted in His ultimate and explicit authority over everything. And He doesn’t kind of suggest we do this, He commands it. This is what gut punches me, as a follower of Him, being a person of influence for the Kingdom isn’t an option. It’s not a task get to decide when and where I want to engage in.

It’s implied that this is an ongoing, constant expectation as a follower of Jesus. I mean, look at how He ends this command:

And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:20

I’m pretty confident that my time on earth will end before the “end of the age” comes to pass. That leads me to conclude the expectation is to live a life of influence for Jesus. To strive every day to make an impact for His Kingdom through the interactions I have. To speak life.

That’s what I want to see in the lives of my kids.

But it has to start with me.

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