Christianity 201

June 24, 2020

Help for the Journey

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Ps.121.1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

We’re often hear of people being told told that they need to “shelter in place.” David Jeremiah’s newest book, Shelter in God: Your Refuge in Times of Trouble (W Publishing Group) is a very timely reminder of where our refuge ought to be. This book is an amended, updated version of When Your World Falls Apart. Today’s devotional appeared in a slightly longer form at the website Devotions Daily at the link in the title which follows:

Lord — Help!

by David Jeremiah

Life often catches us short. It’s embarrassing to find ourselves needing help, but we all need all the help we can get, especially in times of crisis. We all need grace — grace that’s more than sufficient.

So many of the psalms are written for pilgrims needing help on the path of life. As we read Psalm 121, we can hear the psalmist crying out,

Lord, I need supplies for my journey. I need help. I need guidance. I’ve lost my way. Can’t You show me the right way to go? Can’t You meet my needs?

…In spite of all the perils we encounter, the mountainous crags and the desert wastelands, we can trust the Lord. Yes, He is awesome and we feel small and insignificant, but the psalmist assures us that God bridges the gap. He is never too great to care; we are never too small for His caring. The psalm reflects on a God who soothes us in our anxiety and watches over us as a shepherd with his sheep…

God’s Word reminds us that we are pilgrims and strangers in a foreign land whose roads are filled with hazards. The road is long, weary, and dangerous. It winds through veils of tears and acres of muck and mire; but the long and winding road finally comes to the City of God, the place of joy and feasting. Simply stated, that’s the biblical view of life in the world.

…The psalmist says, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills” (Psalm 121:1). He has prepared for his journey through the mountains to Jerusalem. As he enters the road, he takes a moment to gaze up to the horizon. He thinks of the miles ahead, the twists and turns and surprises, the old friends and new ones whose acquaintances he will make. He thinks of the dust and the heat, the darkness and the thirsty miles. He admires the graceful line where the mountains embrace the sky.

Listen to Isaiah 55:12:

For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you.

Psalm 125:1–2 captures the same idea:

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forever.

There are many passages in the Old Testament that describe the mountains as a place of blessing, but we know all too well that mountains can also be a place of danger. Rarely does a winter go by that we don’t hear of someone being lost in the mountain terrain. The snow cover cuts off the navigation of outdoorsmen, who cannot retrace their steps out of the wilderness.

In ancient times, mountains were sites of danger and hardship. Their rocks and caves hid wild animals and blood- thirsty bandits. Pagan cultures built their temples in the mountains. Godly pilgrims found a sense of majesty in the high country, but they also found a sense of danger and a fear of the unknown. It was a place of fear and of hope, of danger and of salvation. The Lord God could be sought there, but pagan gods were enshrined there as well.

The psalmist must have thought of these things, reflecting on the many meanings of mountains. He gazed upward at the outset of the journey and said, “I will look to the hills.”


► More information about the book is available at this link.

Taken from Shelter in God: Your Refuge in Times of Trouble by David Jeremiah Copyright © 2020 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. http://www.thomasnelson.com.

June 20, 2020

When Things Feel Hopeless

I’m currently reading The Gospel According to Satan: Eight Lies About God That Sound Like the Truth by Jared C. Wilson (Nelson books). For a formal review I’ve written, click this link.

The book is centered around eight statements which each of us at some time have heard voiced by people with a loose connection to Christianity. Perhaps you’ve even caught yourself echoing one of these yourself, hopefully at an earlier stage of your Christian pilgrimage vis-a-vis where you are today.

  • “God just wants you to be happy”
  • “You only live once”
  • “You need to live your truth”
  • “Your feelings are reality”
  • “Your life is what you make it”
  • “Let go and let God”
  • “The cross is not about wrath”
  • “God helps those who help themselves.”

This is an excerpt from chapter five which looks extensively at the Book of Job and the subject of hope, and how people are sometimes ruled by the apparent reality of what is actually subjective feelings. The link in the title below takes you to a page at the publisher’s website.

Your Feelings are Reality

In my days as a pastor, I would often find myself sitting across from people overcome with hurt. The most common question they all wanted answered was “Why?

“Why had God allowed this? Why is God doing this to me?”

As the designated religious professional, it was expected I might have an answer to that question. As it pertains to people’s specific trials and tribulations, I did not. But I would ask a question of my own, and it usually went something like this: “If you weren’t going through this would you be as close to God as you are right now?”

In all my years of asking that question, I never heard anyone say, “Yes.”…

…Christians don’t hope as the world hopes. When the world hopes, they are engaging in wishful thinking. “I hope this or that happens,” they think. They think that when a man dies, as Job says, he just fades away; he breathes his last. “You only live once.” That’s it. That’s all they can see.

But Christian hope is not like that. It defies what we can see and it is ripe with the promise of what cannot be seen.

  • We do not grieve as those who have no hope.“–1Thessalonians 4:13
  • And our hope for you is firm, because we know that as you share in the sufferings, so you will also share in the comfort.“–2Corinthians 1:7
  • There is hope reserved for you in heaven.“–Colossians 1:5
  • Christ in you, the hope of glory.“–Colossians 1:27
  • Christ Jesus is our hope.“–1 Timothy 1:1 (emphasis added)
  • We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure…“–Hebrews 6:19
  • Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.“–Hebrews 11:1 (emphasis added)

See, the world’s hope is hollow. The believer’s hope is firm. Because the believer’s hope is Jesus! And just because you can’t see him doesn’t mean he’s not real. Just because you don’t see him now, doesn’t mean you won’t see him then.

Satan wants you to believe that you are all alone, that when you are stripped down to your essence and left with only pain, that’s all you have. He does not want you to see the reality that Jesus will never leave you or abandon you (Heb. 13:5), that he will be with us all the way to the end (Matt. 28:20)…

…Everything may look bleak, our reality may be that we feel that all is lost, but if we have Christ, we defy what is visible. And we cling to hope, which demands what is invisible.


Taken from The Gospel According to Satan: Eight Lies about God that Sound Like Truth by: Jared C. Wilson Copyright © 2020 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. http://www.thomasnelson.com.

June 17, 2020

Drive In Service: Stuck Inside a Car, But Experiencing Freedom

Today another new author for you, and an unusual devotional format as well. Marjorie Wingert’s focus on her blog is Prayer Over Our Children. On her ‘About’ page she explains,

…As a new parent seeking to raise her child up in the Lord while recognizing the power of prayer in my family’s life, I hungered to proactively pray on behalf of my child. Oh, how my mother’s heart beat to pray against the temptations and struggles that will inevitably bombard our children as they grow. Moreover, I desired to pray in a way that would deepen my walk with our Heavenly Lord while feeding my soul with the meat of Scripture.

One evening as my husband and I were joined in prayer, the Holy Spirit whispered softly to my heart. Why not pray Scripture over her? Why not read a chapter a day from the Bible and use the content from each passage to form your prayer? My eyes popped open. What a great solution!…

So, for example, in its original formatting, following the scripture verse, today’s sample blog post begins,

Prayer Over Our Children
Call my child to You, oh Lord, and surround her with an abundance of Your joy and love. I pray that You will keep her from unbelief, sexual immorality, perversion, slander, and ungodliness. May she not grumble, boast, flatter, fault find, or follow evil desires. Instead, I pray that You will buildup in her a most holy faith and help her to learn to pray in the power of the Holy Spirit. Keep her in Your love, oh God, as she waits to be brought to glory. May You also help her show mercy and intercede for others. Oh Lord, keep my little one from falling but help her to stand before Your glorious presence without fault and with great joy. Amen.

Parents might want to read more prayers like this as a model for something you can do in your homes.

…Currently, Marjorie is in a series on Revelation. So I scrolled back to this post-Easter article to find you something that would work as a stand-alone devotional. Please, click the header below to read this at source, and consider subscribing to her blog, marjoriewingert.com


Jude

“But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”
Jude 1:20-21, NIV

Living Hope

The day dawned like any other. The sun rose, people slumbered in their beds, and quiet tip-toed through the neighborhoods. Birds chirped their greetings and winds rustled the leaves clinging to tree branches. Young children scrambled to start their day while their parents groaned for more sleep. Today, however, was different. It was Easter Sunday!

My own family tumbled out of bed for the early service. To a nearby fast food restaurant, we headed. Our special Easter breakfast comprised of egg, bacon, and cheese muffins. Hash browns rounded out the meal with small cups of orange juice. Armed with an arsenal for our growling bellies and music blaring from the radio, we nibbled our way to the Easter “drive in” service.

Having participated in sunrise Easter services, never did I dream that Easter “drive in” services would also be added to my repertoire. We sat in our vehicles with one parking spot in between each car to ensure social distancing. Everyone remained in their vehicles and each radio tuned into the same low frequency airwaves. Some engines idled while others remained off.

Here, in this unlikely gathering of dusty vehicles, the Holy Spirit fell strong and vibrant upon this unconventional Easter service. Surrounded by fast food wrappers, empty water bottles on the floor, and neighboring cars instead of people in pews, our souls feasted on a message of hope. In noisy procession, geese banked high above us, raining down their honks of hallelujahs. Even sun rays which crested above the rooftop painted the perfect backdrop to the morning.

Yet, while hearty “Amens” flashed by flickering car lights and hands clapped or raised in praise, two truths unfolded in my brain. The thoughts made my spirits soar and deepened my gratitude. For although our gathering today was far from the traditional Easter service, devoid of Easter lilies, decorative bows, and fancy dresses, something new and beautiful unfolded before me.

Clothed with anonymity within the privacy of our cars, a new freedom of the Spirit emerged. No longer was I hindered by the self-consciousness of what others would think. No longer did I suppress the joyful bubblings stirring for expression. Vibrant Amens frequented my lips. Even my husband flashed multiple Amens with his flickering car lights. A new freedom in worship washed over us.

Though surrounded by rows of cars, the seclusion which our individual vehicles afforded, produced a freedom in the Spirit I had never known. Freedom to dance in my seat. Freedom to wave my hands in praise. Freedom to shout jubilations. Freedom to whoop, holler, or yell agreements and affirmations. Freedom to raise a hallelujah!

Although many of us have felt the stirrings of the Holy Spirit prompt expression from the inside out, I suspect many of you are like me. We have tamped down the stirrings of the Spirit due to social etiquette and convention. We have opted not to give expression to our praise and adoration due to self-consciousness and worry of what others may think. However, here, in the privacy of my own car, I experienced the freedom to worship as the Spirit led. The freedom to dance as David danced. The freedom to let go of pride and self-restraint. The freedom to engage in authentic worship.

Interwoven amidst this dawning light, another truth spoke life. Hope. Yes, a hope that this virus will recede. A hope that someday soon we can emerge from our houses. A hope that a cure will be found. This is a good hope. This is a shared hope. However, what struck me is that we were hearing in the Easter message of a different kind of hope. This hope which bound us together and stirred in our very souls was not just hope. It was Living Hope.

A hope bound by earthly measures is not complete. It is like a cup that is half full. It awaits the richness of its potential, not fully blossomed into the abundance of its splendor. When this hope stands beside the crowning riches of eternal glory, it pales in the light of true Living Hope.

Living Hope is exactly that. It is living, it is breathing, it is palpable. It is firmed through the beatings, the blood, and the bruises. It is pounded through by nails driven deep into flesh. It was heard with the anguished yet triumphant cry, “It is finished.” It was seen in the darkness of the land and felt in the quaking of the ground. It was fulfilled with the veil torn top to bottom and the tombs of saints cracked open. It is marked by an empty tomb. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Oh death, where is your sting? Oh grave, where is your victory? No longer does death have a hold over us. No longer does death have the final word. It is conquered. It is defeated. It is overcome.

Unlike earthly hope, Living Hope is not grounded in the visages of this world nor is it an emotion, desire, or wish conjured from within. It is derived from the eternal truth of the sacrificial act of the One who came to save. Living Hope is found in the person of Jesus, the Son of God who clothed Himself in human flesh, was crucified, died, buried, and raised on the third day. Jesus is not dead. He is alive. He is the Living Hope. He is our Living Hope.

June 6, 2020

Times of Trouble

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Your devotional life in times of lockdown

For many of us, it’s coming up to the three-month mark of the world becoming something we’d never experienced before.

I obviously know only a very small percentage of the people who read this devotional/Bible study page each day, but I do know that three things are true of most of you during this time of worldwide pandemic:

  • You have more time. While for some this time has been increasingly hectic — especially front-line medical workers and parents who suddenly found themselves homeschooling — most people have had activities greatly curtailed or suspended. This gives you more time for devotional studies, Christian books, Christian sermons online, and Christian podcasts. More time to consider eternal things. “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” (Mark 6v31a) “…I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself…” (Ps. 131v1)
  • You have a better understanding of human vulnerability. Who would have thought, even six months ago, that we would be living in a time of worldwide plague? Weren’t plagues something for Old Testament saints, or people who didn’t have our access to medical technology?  “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.” (Ps. 144v4 BSB)
  • You have increased dependency on God. Hand in hand with the above is recognizing our utter dependency on the one who made the stars above and the lakes and rivers below. Again, this is a time to consider eternity, but not just the vastness of it, our personal place in relationship to it. Where does our help come? From the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. “I lift my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Ps. 121v1-2 CSB)

A year ago we introduced you to Jack Garrott, a “Third Culture Kid” which describes someone who when they think of ‘home’ in terms of a country, it is not the same as the country on their passport!  His website is Virtual Vitamins. Click the header below to read today’s article there.

Trouble

Psalm 30:4-5 Sing to the Lord, you saints of his;
praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may remain for a night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning.

The last two lines of this passage are very famous, and have comforted and encouraged many down through the centuries. It is much like Jesus’ statement to His disciples just before His cross: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) David was indeed a poet, as well as a prophet, and the imagery here is very poetic. The Japanese has it as, “In the evening tears may come to spend the night, but in the morning there is a shout of joy.” Life on this fallen world is hardly an uninterrupted picnic, but by the grace of God it isn’t an uninterrupted slog, either. When it feels like an uninterrupted slog, we need to lift our eyes to the Lord!

Several friends of mine are dealing with the death of their spouse, and more than one are being very open about their journey as they write on Facebook. Others who have been through the same journey respond, and the interplay is very educational and edifying. I don’t like thinking about facing such a scenario myself, but I know it’s a real possibility. I have long considered Jesus’ words in John 16:33 to be something of a touchstone in my life, so that I am not surprised by the trouble I encounter. However, there are moments of joy in it all that overshadow all the trouble, and I am deeply grateful.

In balance, I enjoy life indeed, and people take notice. I think that is the sort of thing Peter was talking about when he said, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15) I need to be careful that people understand that I am eternally optimistic not because “I have a good personality,” but because I have a hope that lets me see in faith beyond the current trouble, whatever that is.

Right now the whole world is suffering because of the pandemic, and then on top of that the US is having riots that take advantage of protests over a horrific killing that was caught on camera. That is trouble indeed, and the racial animus behind the killing is very hard to erase. I am not to despair, but rather trust my God and look forward to the “shout of joy” that David wrote about. That may not come until Christ’s return, but it will most certainly come then!

Father, I do pray Your grace and mercy, not just for the US but for all mankind. We act out in ignorance, unbelief, and mistaken belief, and the result is a mess indeed. I pray that Your children would be bold and consistent in speaking out, and acting out, Your truth in love, so that Your name may be acknowledged as holy and Your kingdom come as Your will is done, as perfectly here as it is in heaven, for Your glory alone. Thank You. Hallelujah!


We ran this worship song in October, 2013. It came to mind as I prepared to today’s devotional:

 

May 30, 2020

God’s Sacrifice and What it Means to You

In the daily quest to highlight new devotional writers to you, I often find articles which are very well written but shorter than our usual format. For that reason, today I’m introducing two new websites. Click the headers to read the respective devotionals.

The first is from the website of CTCI, Christian Training Center International.

Does Jesus innocence allow for him to sacrifice himself for us?

I have missed God’s goal for my life (aka sin). A penalty must be paid. Jesus, the innocent lamb of God, takes my place as a sacrifice. Now that is some very good news.

When Jesus is called the Lamb of God in John 1:29 and John 1:36, it is referring to Him as the perfect and ultimate sacrifice for sin. In order to understand who The Messiah was and what He did, we must begin with the Old Testament, which contains prophecies concerning the coming of The Messiah as a “guilt offering” (Isaiah 53:10).

The whole sacrificial system established by God in the Old Testament set the stage for the coming of Jesus The Messiah, who is the perfect sacrifice God would provide as atonement for the sins of His people (Romans 8:3; Hebrews 10).

The sacrifice of lambs played a very important role in the Jewish religious life and sacrificial system. When John the Baptist referred to Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), the Jews who heard him might have immediately thought of any one of several important sacrifices.

With the time of the Passover feast being very near, the first thought might be the sacrifice of the Passover lamb. The Passover feast was one of the main Jewish holidays and a celebration in remembrance of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt.

The slaying of the Passover lamb and the applying of the blood to doorposts of the houses (Exodus 12:11-13) is a beautiful picture of The Messiah’s atoning work on the cross. Those for whom He died are covered by His blood, protecting us from the angel of (spiritual) death.

  • Luke 23:41 — And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
  • John 12:32 — And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.
  • Hebrews 4:15 —  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.
  • Hebrews 7:26 — For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens;
  • 1 Peter 2:22 — who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth;
  • Isaiah 53:9 — His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.

The second reading for today is from Dennis at the site Luke 252. (I love the analogy here!)

Is Your Life A Derailed Train?

Revelation 3:15-16 says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold or hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm-neither hot nor cold-I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

There are a couple of reasons why God would prefer Christians to be cold rather than lukewarm: First, it is important to realize how much God loves each of us as individuals. John 3:16 teaches us that God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die for me! When I live a lukewarm lifestyle, it hurts Him when I only want part of what He sent His Son to die for.

He came that we may have life more abundantly! But, there is even a greater reason why our lukewarmness bothers God enough that He would spew us out of His mouth. That reason is that He see a much larger picture of mankind and he sees the destruction caused by being halfhearted. Yes, Jesus dies for us individually, but He also died for all of us. 1 Timothy 2:4 says, “He desires all men to be saved.” The problem is that halfheartedness and inconsistency in our lives cause other people to fall away from God.

Let suppose we are in an area of the world where the main avenues for commerce are by rail. Suppose a train on a major railway were to halfway derail, part on the track and part off. In most cases it will take at least 3 days to get a crane to the area to clear away the wreckage, so that the track would be usable. But suppose this same train had completely derailed. Other trains could immediately continue on schedule. The first situation would probably not seem so bad, but it could cause 30 to 40 trains schedules to be cancelled and affect business all over the country. Hospitals could be waiting on blood or medications, and some waiting on food. In the second situation, although the train totally derailed, the only train affected was that one.

Your friends are watching and you cause the most harm to God’s kingdom when we are living a life that is partly on the track and partly off. In other words, are you keeping them from wanting to get closer to Christ? Live a life that would honor Jesus Christ. Reflect His glory and love to others today. God bless!

 

May 1, 2020

When Comparison is Healthy

It’s been six months already, so we’re back featuring Mark DuPré who is an associate pastor, a film professor, a writer and a musician. If you check out his devotional page you’ll see a number of 2-part and 3-part articles for those of you who want to go deeper on a particular subject. Another way to get there is to click the link in the title which follows.

Comparison Can be Good

I Corinthians 11:1 Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.
I Corinthians 4:16 Therefore I urge you, imitate me.

As long as there are people around, there will be comparison. Unfair comparisons can hurt, of course, and we need to be on guard about the damage they can do. But avoiding comparison is a futile task.

It’s a little like stress. Years ago there was a shift in training on the subject. In the beginning, there were sessions on “stress reduction.” Then reality hit and the sessions began to focus on “stress management,” which made a lot more sense to everyone.

Comparison is like that. We’re not going to get rid of it, but we can embrace it in God. How? By different thinking and by a new way of embracing it.

Comparison can be a learning moment for all of us. For example, we can begin to realize how much we can learn by properly observing others. For example, by comparing ourselves to others, we can learn how to be more loving, how to bring grace to difficult situations, and how to have godlier perspectives on any number of topics. If we think of ourselves as lifelong learners, and of everyone else as the source of life lessons, we can learn every day.

Of course the big thing to work out (notice I didn’t say “avoid,” because that’s impossible) is resisting the comparison that’s accompanied by the enemy’s attacks. Noticing that someone is perhaps more gracious than you, for instance, can offer us the negative choice of turning in on ourselves and listening to voices that generalize and condemn: “See—you’re a failure in this area.” Whether it sounds like the devil or like us, that talk is straight from our enemy. Let’s learn to resist those voices! The fault here isn’t comparison per se, it’s listening to the negative voices that can accompany it.

Let’s learn from Paul, and release the sanctifying power of comparison by redirecting our focus. Instead of deepening the rut of comparison that leads to listening to the enemy, let’s cut a new mental pathway and embrace the many learning opportunities out there provided by God through the people around us. It’s like nature—sometimes we just have to stop and take a good long look around us at the physical beauty of this world. There are many examples God is providing us to grow from.

When it comes to people, let’s free them and us by taking on the role of the continual learner, and grab all the lessons of love, grace and wisdom we can learn. Yes, a few folks may provide lessons of what not to do (“Wow—note to self: Don’t ever do that!”). But if we have the right perspective, and imitate others as they imitate Christ, we can grow every day.

Prayer: Lord, the enemy has robbed me of so many learning moments because of his accusations. Help me to submit to you first, and then resist the devil. Give me eyes to see and a heart to learn all the many lessons in the Spirit that you have out there for me.


When circumstances suddenly change

Here’s a timely example of the two-part articles Mark writes which I mentioned in today’s introduction. Both look at Joshua chapter one.

April 15, 2020

‘Nominal Christian’ is an Oxymoron

“The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christians but aren’t actually interested in following Christ. They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them.”
― Kyle Idleman, Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus


“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46 NASB)

The mechanism by which the hammers strikes the strings in an acoustic piano was, in its day, a revolutionary invention. To that point, no matter how softly or heavily one engaged the keys, the sound would always be heard at the same volume level. When this new keyboard action was created, the resulting instrument was called a pianoforte which literally (in Italian) means “quiet-loud.” An oxymoron.

This morning at Thinking Out Loud, we looked at the idea of a “nominal-Christian.” After I write an article, I usually come up with a sentence or two to promote the piece on Twitter, and sometimes those ‘teasers’ have an extra level of clarity. I said,

“I’m a Christian, but I’m non-observant.”
Theologically speaking, that makes no sense at all.
And yet… there are people for whom this fits.

Truly, Jesus doesn’t give us the option of half-hearted service.

I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! (Rev. 3:15-16NLT)

A pianoforte can be quiet or loud and even both at the same time, but the Christian has no such luxury of spiritual ambiguity. To push the analogy to its limits, we need to be loud all the time!

Mark Batterson posted this summary of his 2013 book All In on his website:

The Gospel costs nothing. You can’t earn it or buy it. It can only be received as a free gift compliments of God’s grace. It doesn’t cost anything, but it demands everything. It demands that we go “all in,” a term that simply means placing all that you have into God’s hands. Pushing it all in. And that’s where we get stuck―spiritual no man’s land. We’re afraid that if we go all in that we might miss out on what this life has to offer. It’s not true. The only thing you’ll miss out on is everything God has to offer…

…The message of All In is simple: if Jesus is not Lord of all then Jesus is not Lord at all.  It’s all or nothing. It’s now or never. Kneeling at the foot of cross of Christ and surrendering to His Lordship is a radical act of dethroning yourself and enthroning Christ as King.  It’s also an act of disowning yourself.  Nothing belongs to you. Not even you…

In the book he also writes,

We all want to spend eternity with God. We just don’t want to spend time with Him. We stand and stare from a distance, satisfied with superficiality. We Facebook more than we seek His face. We text more than we study The Text. And our eyes aren’t fixed on Jesus. They’re fixed on our iPhones and iPads – emphasis on “i.” Then we wonder why God feels so distant. It’s because we’re hugging the rim. We wonder why we’re bored with our faith. It’s because we’re holding out.

We want joy without sacrifice.
We want character without suffering.
We want success without failure.
We want gain without pain.
We want a testimony without the test.
We want it all without going all out for it.

and

There is a fine line between ‘Thy kingdom come’ and ‘my kingdom come.’ If you cross the line, your relationship with God is self-serving.

You aren’t serving God. You are using God.

You aren’t building altars to God. You are building monuments to yourself.

In a 2011 book, Not a Fan, Kyle Idleman emphasized that Jesus is looking followers not fans. Many who heard him teach were fans, but when the going got tough, the tough got going. Scripture tells us that many walked away. The ominously verse-referenced John 6:66 says, From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (NIV)

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. (James 1:22 NLT)

Yet many of those people could have been said to have a fairly good knowledge of what Jesus was teaching. (In fact that was the issue, some of them knew exactly what he was teaching, and exactly what this was going to cost them.)  Kyle writes,

Fans have a tendency to confuse their knowledge for intimacy. They don’t recognize the difference between knowing about Jesus and following Jesus. In Church we’ve got this confused. We have established systems of learning that result in knowledge, but not necessarily intimacy…

…Now don’t get me wrong, studying and learning from God’s word is invaluable. Jesus referenced, read and quoted all kinds of passages from the Old Testament, ample proof that he had studied God’s Word with great care and diligence. The problem isn’t knowledge. The problem is that you can have knowledge without having intimacy. In fact, knowledge can be a false indicator of intimacy. clearly where there is intimacy there should be growing knowledge, but too often there is knowledge without a growing intimacy. …Knowledge is part of intimacy, but just because there is knowledge doesn’t mean there is intimacy.

And of course intimacy is developed over time and time involves an investment. Kyle also notes,

For many Christians the concept of denying themselves was not part of the deal. They grew up with the message that such a radical decision really isn’t necessary. So they signed up to follow Jesus, but if denying themselves was part of the explanation, it was definitely the fine print. That’s especially true of American Christians. In part, this due to the collision of Christianity with American capitalism. It has created a culture of consumers in our churches. Instead of approaching their faith with a spirit of denial that says, “What can do for Jesus?” they have a consumer mentality that says, “What can Jesus do for me?”

…One of the reasons it’s so hard for us to deny ourselves is because the whole idea seems to go against our greatest desire in life. Most everyone would say that what they want more than anything else is to be happy. We’re convinced that the path to happiness means saying yes to ourselves. Indulgence is the path to happiness, so to deny ourselves seems to go in the opposite direction of what will make us happy. The right to pursue happiness seems to be in direct conflict with the call to deny.

…That’s what the story of the Rich Young Ruler is really all about. It’s not just about giving up money and the things that money can buy; it’s about giving up, period. That’s what it means to deny yourself and follow Christ.

 

 

 

 

March 10, 2020

Those Early Church Descriptions in Acts 2 and Acts 4

Acts 2.42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

You’re read them.

I’ve read them.

Those classic descriptions of the early church that we find first in a section at the end of Acts 2, and then repeated more concisely at the end of Acts 4.

The early Christians would have trouble relating to so much of what preoccupies us, particularly in North America: Multimedia, megachurches, massive programs for children and youth. They simply met from house to house.

It was what Catholics might term, “the parish system,” but not because you were expected to go to the church closest to you (or the church in your parish) but because you couldn’t realistically go anywhere else in a world without mass transit.

Your churches were in homes because you were a small upstart group of rebels who followed something called “The Way” and believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the long awaited Anointed One, the long awaited Messiah.

At our parent blog, Thinking Out Loud, I recently wrote about how a thing so simple as the automobile sets us apart from the modus operandi of the church we visited in Cuba.

But here at C201, there’s something else in that description I discovered on the weekend in the shorter passage in Acts 4.

Acts.4.32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34a that there were no needy persons among them.

The verse numbering system is unfortunate here because it breaks up a phrase, in verses 33b and 34a, but on the other hand, that’s what drew me to the phrase,

And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.

Listen to how some of the other translations render this…

Phillips: a wonderful spirit of generosity pervaded the whole fellowship
The Living Bible: there was warm fellowship among all the believers
NASB: abundant grace was upon them all
The Passion Translation: great measures of grace rested upon them all
God’s Word Translation: God’s abundant good will was with all of them
NLT: God’s great blessing was upon them all.

Despite the variety shown here, the word grace is most often repeated among the English translations.

The overall picture is painted of a people who are recipients of grace, but are also issuers of grace. Grace flows through them.

Years ago I attended a fellowship in Toronto called “Reach Out.” The motto: “Everyone Gives, Everyone Receives.” Reach Out was based in I Cor. 14:26 which says, “When you gather together everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.” (My paraphrase.) So people would jump up — sometimes suddenly — and say, “I have a Psalm;” and then read it; and other would jump up and say, “I have a teaching;” and would give a 60-second teaching; etc. They always said at the outset what it was they were going to say.

But their motto extended into being involved with their community as givers of grace. A place where you received grace and then extended it to the people in your own world; your personal sphere of influence.

At Thinking Out Loud last October, I also shared about the idea of being part of a chain of grace and offered three different models of what this phrase might describe.

Is the place where you worship a place people go to be the beneficiaries of grace and to be equipped to be distributors of grace? I hope so.

 


Postscript: Acts 4 also has another two of my favorite verses:

13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

 

March 9, 2020

Finding Joy in Everything

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Recently a devotional that I’m subscribed to, Devotions Daily offered an excerpt from the David Jeremiah book A Life Beyond Amazing. It was too long to print here but I wanted to offer you some excerpts from the excerpt!

Infusing life with joy!

…In Luke 15, Jesus told three stories of precious things that are lost and then found, and each is an occasion for joy: the shepherd who left ninety-nine sheep to search for and find one lost lamb; the woman who lost a valuable coin and found it; and the prodigal son, who was lost but finds his way home. In each story Jesus spoke of the rejoicing that surrounds the saving of one soul, and He described the joy that results:

I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.Luke 15:7

After the Ethiopian eunuch was saved, he went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:39). Luke recorded the conversion of the Gentiles “caused great joy to all the brethren” (Acts 15:3). The Philippian jailer and his family were filled with joy when they became believers in God (Acts 16:34). Never doubt that salvation, the most profound of new beginnings, is also infused with joy beyond description…

…Christian joy shows up not only in the happy times but also in times of trial and discouragement. Jesus’ joy survived troubles and even flourished in the midst of them. He told His followers:

Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy!” — Luke 6:22-23

The writers of the epistles followed Jesus’ lead:

You received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you.1 Thessalonians 1:6 NLT

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.
— James 1:2

One of my favorite Bible stories is the story of Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail. They were beaten; they were imprisoned; and who knew what would happen to them the next day?

But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Acts 16:25

The kind of joy that gets you singing in jail at midnight with your back bleeding and your life hanging by a thread — that’s joy worth cultivating!

In our culture of instant gratification and constant amusement, it’s hard to understand the suffering the apostles endured for the sake of the gospel. We’ll do anything to avoid trials and tribulations. But often, in an attempt to keep anything uncomfortable from touching us, we miss the very thing God wants to use to lead us to the joy in Him. We can’t avoid difficulties, but in the midst of all our troubles — there is God and His effervescent love.

This doesn’t mean we deny or disguise our feelings. It doesn’t mean we can or should shrug off pain or disappointment, or try not to feel sorrow when we have good cause. It means we place our trust in God, and He opens the door to a joy beyond anything we can know on our own: the joy of knowing we are in His hands forever.

Commenting on the New Testament’s command that we’re to rejoice and be glad when undergoing trials, Philip Yancey said:

By using words like “Rejoice!” the apostles were not advocating a spirit of grin-and-bear-it or act-tough-like-nothing-happened. No trace of those attitudes can be found in Christ’s response to suffering, or in Paul’s…

Nor is there any masochistic hint of enjoying pain. “Rejoicing in suffering” does not mean that Christians should act happy about tragedy and pain when they feel like crying. Rather, the Bible aims the spotlight on the end result, the productive use God can make of suffering in our lives. To achieve that result, however, He first needs our commitment of trust, and the process of giving Him that commitment can be described as rejoicing…

…As Paul contemplated the conclusion of his life and ministry, he anticipated the joy that would be his at the end:

But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy. — Acts 20:24

According to the apostle Peter, this joy is “inexpressible” (1 Peter 1:8). From his captivity on the Isle of Patmos, John the apostle affirmed this dying joy:

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.Revelation 14:13

 

March 7, 2020

‘Spiritual Pursuits Cannot Be Reward-Driven’ – True or False?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we are again highlighting the writing of Ben Nelson at Another Red Letter Day, who is wrote in November this while considering The Sermon on the Mount.

Let me also mention that Ben has an excellent piece from the end of December which I would have loved to include here, but it is quite lengthy. However, as we’re nearing the season of Passion Week / Easter, I strongly recommend you take the time to read ‘I Don’t Even Know the Man;’ a dramatized story of Peter having, as Ben puts it, “one of those days.”

You Can Take it With You!

Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:12

As I come to the end of this beginning (the Beatitudes) I can’t help but notice once again the upside-down nature of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus tells us that the proper reaction to persecution, insults, and harm done to us in His name is rejoicing!

I feel like–OK Lord, it is one thing for me to expect it, and be prepared for it, but rejoice? WOW–HOW?

As I mull this, I think how did Jesus demonstrate this? Check this out.

“…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

It says He endured the cross with His eye on the prize, and that is what He tells us to do. Rejoice because of the “Great Reward.” Let’s think about this a bit.

Somehow Christians have in their collective heads (please forgive the broad brush stroke) the idea that spiritual pursuits cannot be reward-driven. It’s like, somehow, if we are doing something with a reward in view, it is unspiritual at best, or at worst sinful and selfish. Not so!

Think about this for a minute. Why were the disciples always arguing about who would be the greatest? Was it just testosterone-driven machismo? Or could it be that Jesus often taught about how to be great? He would say stuff like “He who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven…” or “…your reward in heaven is great.”

It may seem paradoxical, but Jesus actually encourages us to strive for greatness, as He defines greatness. That definition is for another post.

Again, the writer of Hebrews tells us:

And without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.  Hebrews 11:6

Have you read what David said before he decided to go after that Philistine Champion, Goliath. He asked, “What do I get if I take this bozo down? No more taxes and a beautiful wife! I’m in!” (my paraphrase)

So why is it OK–wait–let me fix that–why is it imperative for a Christian to pursue reward? Think of the snapshots we get of heaven. What is going on? People, saints, God’s children, assembled before His throne. Those who have received rewards have the privilege of laying them at His feet. The more you have received from Him, the more you can give back.

So what will you have to present to the Lord? If you sit back and fall through your life, you will have nothing to present to your King. We pursue spiritual reward so that we have a tangible way to honor our King when we stand before Him. This is the stuff that will make it through the fire. This is the stuff that you can take with you!

Excellence in your walk before the Lord will net you persecution, but with that is great reward.

January 25, 2020

Not in Valleys, Not on Mountaintops: Formation in the Middle

… Therefore we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, yet our inner self is being renewed day by day. For our light and temporary affliction is producing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs our troubles. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.… I Cor 4:16-18 Berean Study Bible

A year ago our sister blog linked to the writing of Phylicia Masonheimer. I decided this week to look back and she what she was writing more recently and came across a piece I thought would be useful to readers here. Click the header below to read this on her site and then from there, look around at other articles.

Ten Years with God

Ten years passed in a blink and I almost missed it.

I didn’t realize it was a turning of the page, a gentle leaning into a new decade, until an Instagram post stopped me mid-scroll. Ten years. In 2010, I was turning twenty years old, just returned home from residential college and a stint in New Mexico, unsure what the future held. I was particularly annoyed at my lack of romantic prospects. The ripe old age of twenty was pressing heavy on my mind.

I believed God was taking me somewhere, but my twentieth year seemed like a regression. I went away; I came back. I had a boyfriend; I had one no longer. I didn’t even know what job to take next, so I worked two, back in my childhood bedroom like a baby bird kerplunked back in its nest. It was a new season, but it felt so much like the old one.

It was mornings at one job and evenings at the other.

It was letters to old friends and awkward attempts at making new ones.

It was tiny raises and job transitions, wearing scrubs instead of heels and sorting medical files in the office basement.

It was phone call interviews on my lunch break.

It was the catch-and-release of an almost romance.

And then it was over. A little less than two years later, I moved away again. The season ended, with all of the hard and good it held, over before I had fully embraced it.

That’s how seasons tend to go. We fight them for so long, wishing they were different, thinking it will be better when they’re over – then they are. We stand there between what was and what is about to be, unsure how to make the most of waning things. There’s a frantic urgency to fully live now that the end is in sight. But what if we did it in the middle?

Ten years with God have taught me that the middle is what He’s most interested in. I am sure He loves the mountaintop moments, but we are formed in the valleys. We are formed in the dirt, made from dust and getting rather dusty in the making. I think there’s significance in the richness of valley soil, too, because fields don’t grow on mountaintops. Harvests aren’t taken from rocks and crags.

No, it’s in the valleys we are planted and grown and harvested. It’s in the middle seasons of commute, long winters, singleness, on-call hours, and schoolwork that God does His shaping work. In the seasons that feel old and rote, the jobs that are uninspiring, the singleness that seems perpetual God invites us to stop waiting around for the ending and start living from the middle.

Those two years of “not my plan” tumbled into everything for which I’d hoped. I met a man. We married. I finished my degree. We made a home, I became a writer, we had two beautiful babies, we moved to a farm in Michigan. But those were the mountaintop moments. Those were the grace everyone else could see, the monuments built on months of slowly trusting, days of “long obedience” with no particular end in sight.

Ten years with God took me from a light and momentary existence to considering hardship a “light momentary affliction” (2 Cor. 4:17).

Loss of friends, jobs, money, and health were as much a part of my ten years with God as were His blessings, and in both I have learned that strong faith lives from the middle. The more I know Christ, the more I understand deliverance; the more I understand that the presence of the Deliverer is sufficient while we wait.

Ten years with God took me from wondering if He was good because I didn’t have what I wanted… to knowing He is good whether I get what I want or not.

In 2010, at the end of a prayer journal, I wrote:

Everyone lives for something… I’ve been living for my dreams, plans, and pursuits. But no more. I place You on the throne of my life… You are the guide of my journey…That which I do not have, I do not seek… my heart is lost to You.

I asked for what I didn’t understand. I committed to what I couldn’t handle. The grace of God carries us forward in that kind of weakness, and how grateful we should be for it! I didn’t know what ten years would hold, or how hard-won those sweet blessings would be. But I have seen the goodness of God in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13). I have seen the goodness of God in middle places, in the valleys and the dirtiness of an average day.

And I can say, after ten more years with God, “How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you.” (Psalm 31:19)

 

December 13, 2019

Good Habits

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NLT.Luke.4.14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. 15 He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures.

Today we are back again at the blog with the unusual name, More than Useless, written by Thom Fowler. Click the title below to read this at source.

He Went as Usual

Father, it is much later than I like but I just couldn’t stop what I was doing. You and I were working on this coming Sunday’s sermon and You were speaking and guiding me so clearly that I just couldn’t stop! May it be a blessing to those that hear. May our time be a blessing, as well. Amen.

Luke 4:14-16 (<<see above or click to read the passage)

Frequently, I see and hear excuses for why people don’t attend church. Let me share one from a slightly different angle.

12 Reasons Why I, as a Pastor, Have Decided to Quit Attending Sporting Events

1. The coach never came to visit me.
2. Every time I went, they asked for money.
3. The people sitting in my row didn’t seem very friendly.
4. The seats were very hard.
5. The referees made a decision I didn’t agree with.
6. I was sitting with hypocrites – they only came to see what others were wearing!
7. Some games went into overtime and I was late getting home.
8. The band played some songs I had never heard before.
9. The games are scheduled on my only day to sleep in and run errands.
10. My parents took me to too many games when I was growing up.
11. Since I read a book on sports, I feel that I know more than the coaches, anyway.
12. I don’t want to take my children because I want them to choose for themselves what sport they like best.

Now this list is shared with a little tongue in cheek on my part but as I read through today’s passage something important was pointed out. At the beginning of verse 16, it says of Jesus,

When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath…

First of all, my Life Application Bible states, “During the exile when the Jews no longer had their Temple, synagogues were established as places of worship on the Sabbath and as schools for young boys during the week. [They] continued to exist even after the Temple was rebuilt.”

So, verse 16 states that Jesus “went as usual”.

Just for review, who is Jesus? He is fully God and fully man. Do you think that God needed to go to worship? And if you really give it some thought, wouldn’t His local synagogue had been a little sub-par, especially when compared to the majesty of heaven? But He went “as usual”.

Hebrews 10:25 encourages us by saying

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. NLT

Sunday is coming – and if Sunday doesn’t work others meet on Saturday night. Find yourself a place to set down the burdens you carry every day. Jesus will welcome you with open arms! Don’t miss out!

November 30, 2019

Blameless and Pressing On

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today’s writer is appearing here for the first time. Tina Clark “a children’s minister and writer with a passion for seeing kids and their families grow in their faith and finding their purpose in the world.” Her blog is titled The Kidmin Journey.

Weekend Word: The Fear of Falling Short

Read: 1 Corinthians 1:4-9

Today’s Scripture: He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:8)

During the announcements at church the last few weeks, we’ve watched a video about a man running a race. In the video, the man injures his leg. Instead of giving up all hope of finishing the race, he gets back up and limps toward the finish.

With still a long way to go, another man notices the injured runner and jogs to his side. With the help of the uninjured man, our runner makes it to the finish line.

The video was an illustration about helping missionaries by giving to missions, but when I saw it, it also reminded me of Christ. When we fail, fall short, or struggle through difficulty, Jesus is by our side to help us push through.

In the Bible, the apostle Paul often describes life as a race (1 Cor. 9:24, 2 Tim. 4:7). He talks about pressing on toward eternity with Christ.

But it can sometimes feel like a long race, and there are plenty of chances along the way to stumble and fall. Plenty of opportunities to sin and fall short. How can we remain blameless to the end? That seems like a tall order.

It’s easy for me to fall into this train of thought. Maybe it is for you, too. But it’s not helpful or true, and we can thankfully challenge this line of thinking.

You see, we know that salvation is by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8). It’s a gift of God, not of works. But even though we know this, we can still battle fears of coming up short. Because we live in this imperfect world and still sin despite our best intentions, our sin can lead us to believe that we don’t belong in God’s presence.

Be honest with yourself for a minute and ask yourself if you harbor these fears. If you don’t, that’s great. But if you do, even though you know you’ve been saved by grace, you’re not the only one to feel that way. Perhaps more of us feel that way than we let on.

Take a look at 1 Corinthians 1:8 again. Running the race isn’t about you keeping yourself blameless. It’s about God keeping you blameless.

The word “blameless” here means “not to be called to account.” It doesn’t mean that you haven’t sinned. It means that you aren’t “convictable” for your sin. If you belong to Jesus, your sin won’t be held against you when you stand before God in the end. His death and resurrection already has it covered.

Pressing on until the end can be difficult. But when you feel weak, when you stumble and fall, or when you’re weighed down by guilt, Jesus comes alongside you to give you the strength to keep running the race.

And when He brings you to the end, you’ll stand blameless before Him. Not by your own merit, but by the grace given to you by Jesus’ sacrificial gift. Whenever guilt tries to condemn you, remind yourself of this simple truth.

Today’s Thoughts: Do you still harbor fears about being in God’s presence even though you know your sin is forgiven? Are you afraid that by the time you stand before God, you’ll come up short? How can knowing that God can keep you blameless and strengthen you to the end help you release that burden?


[Today’s devotion about running the race is a part of the Weekend Word devotional series. Check Tina’s blog every Saturday for fresh insights from God’s Word, or follow via email or WordPress to have content sent straight to your inbox.]

November 29, 2019

Bad Behavior: An Embarrassing Fashion Choice

This is our sixth time with a writer who we haven’t included in several years: Blake Coffee at Church Whisperer (churchwhisperer.com). Click the header below to read at source.

Christians Behaving Badly

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Colossians 3:8-10

Another week and lots of new opportunities to see social media lit up with examples of Christians behaving badly, saying hateful things…about other Christians. You know what’s sad? This blog post can stay up for years and that opening sentence will still be perfectly timely and relevant. Oh, how we make embarrassing choices over and over again. And social media seems perfectly designed to help us shine the brightest of lights on those embarrassing choices. Is it just me, or has social media become the newest highway for our road rage? The temptation to make embarrassing choices is just too great for many of us.

Embarrassing Fashion Choices

I’ve lost track of how many reality TV shows there are about fashion makeovers. Well, that’s not true. I’m certain I never did have any handle on that count. But you know the formula for them: some unsuspecting soul is suddenly put into what amounts to a fashion intervention by well-meaning friends or family. The fashion “experts” come in and go through the person’s closet and ridicule them for all the horrible fashions represented there. A miraculous transformation ensues, and that person is a new person as a result. May it never happen to you or to me.

But the truth is, we all have worn things in the past which we would be thoroughly embarrassed to wear today (e.g., take a look at the wedding pictures of anyone married in the 70s or 80s). To put those things on today and be seen in them would be, well, pretty horrible. I’m not going to admit anything here, but let’s just say that, in matters of fashion choices, I’m familiar with sentiments like: “Dad! No! We’ve talked about this!”

This, I believe, is a near-perfect illustration for the discipline of living “in the Spirit”.

Life in the Spirit

In his writing, the Apostle Paul talks often about the discipline of living in the Spirit. He sometimes compares it to what we might call making embarrassing fashion choices. In his letter to the Colossians, he takes a stroll through our spiritual closets filled with “old stuff” and says, “throw this away”, “get rid of that”, and “never wear that again”. He is talking about Christians behaving badly. Paul recognizes that there are some old ways about us, some things that fit our old nature just fine but that look completely ridiculous on us now, and we need to just get rid of them. In their place, we need to don the clothes that fit our new nature. We need to “wear” things that allow the Spirit Who lives in us to shine through. It is not changing our behavior in order to be a Christ follower, it is changing our behavior because we are a Christ follower. It is simply putting away our old ways and taking on the look that the Spirit of God portrays through us.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12-14

A Better Look, a Better Way of Being

In typical Paul fashion, he moves from the big theological picture down to the blatantly practical pretty quickly. He hits Christians behaving badly right between the eyes. Paul, in a few words, writes the Christian’s social media policy for us. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love. In a typically grueling way, God’s Word peeks into our closets and calls us out. As embarrassing as the process can be sometimes, you have to admit, the new look is worth pursuing. It suits you. It is a great look for you and for me…and for Christians everywhere.

© Christian Unity Ministries; used by permission

 

 

November 26, 2019

Being Christ-Like May Involve More Than You Imagine

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7, ESV)

I urge you, then, be imitators of me. (1 Cor 4:16, ESV)

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ… (1 Cor 11:16, ESV)

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. (Ephesians 5:1, ESV)

Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19, NIV)

This is our eighth time at the blog with the inauspicious title, Done With Religion. This time the author is Jim Gordon. Click the header below to read at source.

Being Christ-like

We often talk about being like Jesus, or living a Christ-like life. What does that really entail?

My first thought is being like Jesus does not necessarily mean imitating Jesus. I think that is something that is close but a little different. Imitating, according to the dictionary means to mimic; impersonate; to make a copy of; to have or assume the appearance of. Some of this can be understood to be good, but I feel it takes away from our own identity and the way we were made as individuals.

I do not think being Christ-like means we are going to do everything we read in the gospels just like Jesus. It may mean we do things that are not popular or accepted by everyone, but we do them as the Spirit leads us, not because we are imitating exactly what Jesus did.

Most of us probably will not go to a Jewish synagogue and overturn tables. We may not walk all over the country healing people and raising the dead. We may never face being stoned and we may not have to deal directly with the spiritual or political leaders of our day.

What it might mean is, some of us may leave the church system because it is man-controlled with its doctrines and various interpretations of the bible. This will cause us to walk in the wilderness outside the walls of religion. It may mean being shunned by those still within the system. Yet we still have the Spirit living within us and who will never leave us.

Some of us may disassociate ourselves from politics. In the U.S.A. many people think being Christian means being republican. Jesus did not seem to associate himself with any political party of his time. He respected them by saying give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. Yet, Jesus goals and purposes were far beyond anything political.

Some may join an LGBTQ organization to show support, or work with race, gender or nationality relations. It may mean participating with and helping people that others would rather ignore. We want to help provide understanding and acceptance among people no matter what label they wear. Doing so may be misunderstood by others and may cause us to be cut off from friends or family who see things differently.

No matter how the Spirit leads us, I believe being like Jesus will be going about the Father’s business. That is to show love and not judgment and condemnation. It is encouraging, loving, building up and accepting people just as they are. Jesus came to our world to show us that God is not a God of hate, condemnation, murder and exclusiveness. God is love and a god of acceptance, inclusiveness and a god that walks side by side with us through everything we go through in this world.

We are all different. We each have our own personality, interests and special ways of living life. I think being like Jesus will be different as God works in the uniqueness of us. Being like Jesus will be different things to different people, but it will all be done by following the Spirit of Christ from within us. It will be a life of love for God and love for people each and every day.

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