Christianity 201

December 14, 2022

Being a Spiritual First Responder

NIV –  Gal. 6:1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Years ago, I was listening to a sermon by Kyle Idleman when my mind wandered just slightly — that’s not always a bad thing — and the phrase ‘Spiritual First Responder’ was suddenly uppermost, and I knew it was a descriptor I needed to explore. I hope you’ll take that phrase and file it away.

first to respondA first responder is someone who is primed to just ‘jump in’ in an emergency situation.  Dictionary.com:

a person who is certified to provide medical care in emergencies before more highly trained medical personnel arrive on the scene

What’s the spiritual equivalent?

In the western world, we elevate the clergy class and we tend to think that the ministry is something to be carried out by the professionals. Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes the best advice you can give someone is, “You need to speak to a pastor.” Especially when the need is spiritual, is due to spiritual causes, or has spiritual ramifications. Don’t miss the words in the definition “certified” and later “more highly trained.”

But there are also times when you need to be there until a full triage reveals exactly which type of specialized help is needed. Someone shouldn’t be opposite the desk of a counselor when what they really need is deliverance. That’s a specialty. But neither should they put through an intense spiritual exercise when what they really need is just someone trained to listen. Additionally, neither should someone be left waiting while the experts confer, or while someone is being summoned from a distance. A spiritual first responder is there, is on the scene, is lending assistance.

Go deeper — Matthew Henry writes about today’s text:

We are here taught to deal tenderly with those who are overtaken in a fault, Gal. 6:1. He puts a common case: If a man be overtaken in a fault, that is, be brought to sin by the surprise of temptation. It is one thing to overtake a fault by contrivance and deliberation, and a full resolution in sin, and another thing to be overtaken in a fault. The latter is the case here supposed, and herein the apostle shows that great tenderness should be used. Those who are spiritual, by whom is meant, not only the ministers (as if none but they were to be called spiritual persons), but other Christians too, especially those of the higher form in Christianity; these must restore such a one with the spirit of meekness.

  1. The duty we are directed to—to restore such; we should labour, by faithful reproofs, and pertinent and seasonable councils, to bring them to repentance. The original word, katartizete, signifies to set in joint, as a dislocated bone; accordingly we should endeavour to set them in joint again, to bring them to themselves, by convincing them of their sin and error, persuading them to return to their duty, comforting them in a sense of pardoning mercy thereupon, and having thus recovered them, confirming our love to them.

  2. The manner wherein this is to be done: With the spirit of meekness; not in wrath and passion, as those who triumph in a brother’s falls, but with meekness, as those who rather mourn for them. Many needful reproofs lose their efficacy by being given in wrath; but when they are managed with calmness and tenderness, and appear to proceed from sincere affection and concern for the welfare of those to whom they are given, they are likely to make a due impression.

  3. A very good reason why this should be done with meekness: Considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. We ought to deal very tenderly with those who are overtaken in sin, because we none of us know but it may some time or other be our own case. We also may be tempted, yea, and overcome by the temptation; and therefore, if we rightly consider ourselves, this will dispose us to do by others as we desire to be done by in such a case.

You’re encouraged to read more of Matthew Henry on vs. 2 and the rest of the first ten verses.

Responding to the needs of others is not something you want to run roughshod over; that’s why the text says, “restore them gently.” You also want to guard your motives and keep your own spiritual condition in check. While there are many other scriptures that deal with being a responder to the needs around us, I wanted to end this with the balance of this scripture:

NLT – Luke 6:41 “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? 42 How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

October 7, 2022

You Don’t Need to ‘Get More Faith,’ You Need to Trust God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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A year we shared briefly some content from the website Great Bible Study. Today we decided to present a full devotional highlighting their ministry. Their articles are smaller than we usually run, but they are indexed by theme, and in selecting the two we have today, I noticed that they both ended with the same scripture verse, somewhat confirming our choice. Click each of the titles below to read these individually where they first appeared.

Exposing False Faith

Many times, people are trying to ‘get more faith’, thinking that if they just believe they will be healed, then it will happen. I have news for you, that is new age faith, NOT Christian faith!

Did you know that Christian faith is merely knowing the promises of God, the provisions of the work of Christ on the cross, and the Word of God, and then accepting and believing those provisions? Let me put it another way, Christian faith is merely knowing the will of God (which is found in His Word), and believing it. Fear comes when (a) we don’t know the will of God or (b) when we don’t really believe that it is true. This is why the Bible tells us that faith comes by hearing the Word:

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Romans 10:17

If Jesus said that your healing was paid for on the cross, do you really believe that? Jesus asked Peter, “Why did you doubt me?” Why do you think He did that? Because Peter questioned the integrity of Jesus’ command to “Come!”

And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?

Matthew 14:28-31

In other words, Jesus was saying, “Peter, didn’t you believe me?” This is why it is so important to know what God is saying to us (get in His Word!), and believe it. Fear questions, casts doubt upon, and calls God’s Word a liar! The Bible even tells us that without faith, it is impossible to please Him:

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

Hebrews 11:6

The key is to get yourself to the point where you know the Word of God, then simply believe what He says… THEN you will have real genuine faith… anything else is just false faith.

Do You Trust God?

So many of us would like to think that we trust God, but how many of us really do when we face trying situations in our lives? I was talking with a friend of mine recently who was tempted to take revenge into his own hands against somebody who has done him much wrong. I told him to give place to wrath and let God repay them for what they’ve done. As the Bible tells us, we are to give place to wrath:

Romans 12:19, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”

Do you know that even when we become bitter and allow ourselves to brew over what somebody has done to us… that we are not trusting God to judge rightly in the matter on our behalf?

There are countless everyday experiences just like this that reflect the trust that we have in God. The fact is… if God’s Word gives us an assurance and we continue to ponder the matter… we don’t really believe God in that area of our life!

James 2:23, “And the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.”

It is time that we take God and His Word seriously and BELIEVE what He’s telling us! This sounds like a simple matter, and it is… but this one truth will separate a mature God-fearing and God-trusting believer from the rest of the church today. God is relying on you to believe what He tells you… for without faith it is impossible to please Him:

Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”

 

October 6, 2022

Growing in Jesus, Evolving in Faith

by Clarke Dixon

What does growing as a Christian look like?

We may think that we growth happens just by adding, so, for example, just add enough Bible knowledge and you will have a mature Christian. But is it as simple as that?

We can think of a child growing between grades one, two, three and so on. Just keep adding knowledge each year to what was learned last year and you have a growing child. Maybe so, but there is another kind of growth happening at the same time. That same child is growing taller, and heavier, and “brainier.” Growth is much more organic than simply adding knowledge as the child has an evolving body and mind. Likewise, when we speak of maturing in Christ, it is something more organic.

Maturing is not just about addition, it is also about loss. Our boys will never be knee high to a daisy again. I mourn that. But I also celebrate the men they have become. Actual growth requires alteration, even loss and the destruction of what once was. When a seed grows into a plant, the seed is destroyed.

We can think of heart growth. We can think of growing in the fruit of the Spirit, for example. Growing in love may require the destruction of hatred, apathy, or inactivity. Growing in generosity may require the destruction of selfishness. Growing in gentleness may require the destruction of tendencies toward violence. True growth requires vulnerability, a capacity to be altered, a willingness to change, to evolve. Change, evolution, not by chance, but intention, is part and parcel of growing in Christ.

Evolution is not just a process that happens in our hearts. Sometimes we need to change our minds. Growth in our Christian thinking is not always accomplished in adding new knowledge to old, but replacing old knowledge with new. Just as with heart growth, we can talk of an evolving faith which, in our current series, brings us to our next “cultural statement” from Open Table Communities:

A Culture that Celebrates an Evolving Faith
We nurture questions, doubts and uncertainty because of where they lead us. We celebrate the movement of learning, un-learning and re-learning that takes place in all of life and specifically a life of faith.

Open Table Communities

Questions, doubts, and uncertainties can be a great catalyst for change, for growth. A change of heart, of growing in love, for example, is made possible when we question if we are really all that loving. A change of mind can happen when we are uncertain about what we think. Indeed certainty can stunt our growth terribly.

A church which “gets Jesus” will nurture questions, doubts and uncertainties because they lead us to maturity in our faith. Learning, un-learning and re-learning is part and parcel of what we call discipleship. If we are not questioning, doubting, and allowing uncertainty, then we are not growing in our faith, we are merely taking on someone else’s.

When we have an evolving faith we are in good company. We see evidence of evolving faith in the Bible.

The disciples had an evolving faith. They did not know anything about Jesus when called by Jesus. Three years later and they were still quite in the dark. It took the resurrection of Jesus for them to really clue in. Their faith evolved.

Peter had an evolving faith. He likely believed what every other Jew believed before meeting Jesus. Then he came to believe Jesus was the Messiah. Then he came to believe that Jesus was risen, and more than the Messiah, the Lord. Then because of a vision from the Lord and a visit from some people he questioned his whole Jewish understanding of how things are. Peter’s faith evolved.

Paul had an evolving faith. He went from being certain that he was serving God by persecuting Christians, to serving Jesus. At some point he had to have a massive amount of doubt to overcome his huge amount of certainty. It is no accident that blindness was part of his story, as if he had to come to a point of admitting, “I’m not seeing clearly.” Once Paul made that huge shift in thinking he had it all figured out, right? Well no, he spent some time in the desert, likely thinking it all through, rethinking everything in light of the fact that Jesus is risen. But after that he had it all figured out, right? Well no, years later Paul said,

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

1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT)

Paul had an evolving faith, and he knew there was yet room for growth, for further change in his thinking.

Looking at the entire scope of the Bible, God’s people as a whole have had an evolving faith. What was said about God and humanity in the earliest events recorded in the Bible are not nearly as filled out as what is said in the later events recorded in the Bible. Note the words of Jesus,

But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but they didn’t see it. And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn’t hear it.

Matthew 13:16-17 (NLT)

Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and many other heroes of the faith did not know what we now know. God has had great patience with humanity, revealing himself over time, and supremely through Jesus. Do we have patience with the humans around us, and with ourselves, when there is yet room for growth?

Do we celebrate an evolving faith? Do we allow people, and ourselves, the space to grow, to have an evolving faith?


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario and appears here most Thursdays. The sermon on which this is based here, and is also available for a limited time at this podcast.

September 30, 2022

A Message of Love and Acceptance

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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This is our ninth time with Mark McIntire who writes at Attempts at Honesty. There were a couple of more recent devotionals, but this one challenged me to consider the things that I “do” or do not “do” in light of the relationship with Christ based on love and grace.

To read this where it first appeared, click the title below.

Missing the point

I have heard it said from a few pulpits (and I’ve said it myself) that the longest measurable distance known to man is the 18 inches between the head and the heart. The point being that what we think and what has been internalized can be vastly different.

This morning as I walked, I thought of an example.

In John 8, we are provided with the beautiful story of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus, in response to her sin said, “neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

Jesus expressed his love for the woman with the words, “neither do I condemn you.” The whole point of the story is a demonstration of the love of Jesus.

Paul tells us in Romans 5:8, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (ESV)

The love of God is not dependent upon our behavior. It is not dependent on how well we follow His commands. It is not dependent upon espousing good theology. It is not dependent on anything that we do or say.

I have been a believer in Jesus for almost 60 years. But I now realize that for all of those 60 years, I have put Scripture, and what people say through a grid that is neither right, nor helpful.

Jesus expresses his love for sinners in the words, “neither do I condemn you.” But what I internalized growing up in the church is “go and sin no more.” To focus on the latter outside of the former is to develop some weird pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps spirituality that is contrary to the Gospel.

Jesus is not telling the woman, neither is he telling me, that more effort is needed, but that is the way I have responded to Jesus’ statement.

When someone has an unrealistic expectation of me that I am trying to fulfill, I hear “go and sin no more.”

When I read Scripture and it highlights my failure, I hear “go and sin no more.”

When someone unfairly criticizes me, I hear “go and sin no more.”

When someone fairly criticizes me, I hear “go and sin no more.”

The list goes on, but I realize that I have put everything through the grid of “go and sin no more.”

That is not the gospel that I believe. I fully understand that I am only saved by Grace. I fully understand that it is God’s love the prompted him to reveal Himself in Scripture. I fully understand that Jesus freely offers grace to all who believe in him and that grace is not earned or deserved.

But there is a broken piece of me that still seeks the illusion of perfection. There is a piece of me strives to be above criticism.

The biggest problem with this is that it shifts my focus to performance and away from relationship.

The two great commands* are all about relationship, not about doing. But the grid I’ve used to evaluate my life switches this around and makes it all about doing and I lose sight of the relationship.

Perhaps in a future post, I will explore some of the reasons why I got into this ditch, but for now, I share this for the benefit of those who have internalized the same message.

I now chose to view Scripture as a message of love and acceptance rather than an impetus to try harder. In the face of Jesus we see one who loves sinners like me. In the face of Jesus, we see the God who loves us more deeply than we can ever imagine.

Rather than try harder, I need to take a deep breath and bask in the love of God.


NIV.Matt.22.34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

  1. Deut. 6:5
  2. Lev. 19:18

August 2, 2022

The Love of Our Guide, Protector and Provider

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re back again with Devotions by Chris by Chris Hendrix and two shorter devotionals which he presented in the opposite order to the one which I decided we’re going to read them today. Click each of the title headers below to read these where they first appeared.

A Foundation Of Love

I was at a celebration of my aunt and uncle when a lady walked up to me. She said, “You don’t know me, but I know you. I grew up in your grandfather’s church.” She shared some stories with me about him, and then she said, “He gave that church a foundation of love.” That phrase resonated with me for many reasons. I couldn’t help but think of how you and I are the Church. It’s important that we build our faith and our lives on a foundation of God’s love. If we don’t do that, our lives can become full of meaningless rituals or a cold relationship with God. When that happens we must return to our first love.

In Luke 7:36-47, Jesus was dining at a Pharisee’s house. A lady who was a prostitute came in, bowed at Jesus’ feet, cried tears on His feet, then dried them with her hair and poured perfume on them. The Pharisee was stunned that Jesus allowed this to happen. Jesus told him a parable of two men who owed a debt to someone. One owed a little and the other a lot. The creditor forgave them both. Jesus then asked the Pharisee which person loved the creditor more. He replied that the one who was forgiven more. Jesus agreed. He then looked down at the lady and told the Pharisee that her many sins had been forgiven and this was a display of her love.

In Ephesians 3:19 Paul concluded a prayer by saying,

And [that you may come] to know [practically, through personal experience] the love of Christ which far surpasses [mere] knowledge [without experience], that you may be filled up [throughout your being] to all the fullness of God [so that you may have the richest experience of God’s presence in your lives, completely filled and flooded with God Himself]” (AMP).

You and I can’t just have a head knowledge of God. We must experience His love and forgiveness in our lives. When we do that, we will experience God’s presence and be filled with it. When we have the foundation of His love in our lives, we can make a greater impact on the people around us.

Being Shepherded

One of the things we lose context for in a modern society is the idea of being shepherded. We use the word sheep as a means to put someone down, yet the Bible constantly refers to us as sheep and God as the shepherd. There is great trust between the shepherd and the sheep. He makes sure the sheep are cared for, fed and protected. When one runs off, the shepherd goes after it. There is a unique relationship there that is incredible. It’s the same relationship God longs to have with us. He wants to watch over you, protect you and make sure you’re well fed, but you must submit to His shepherding in order to receive the benefits the Shepherd offers.

Here are some Bible verses on God as your shepherd.

1. There once was a shepherd with a hundred lambs, but one of his lambs wandered away and was lost. So the shepherd left the ninety-nine lambs out in the open field and searched in the wilderness for that one lost lamb. He didn’t stop until he finally found it. With exuberant joy, he raised it up, placed it on his shoulders, and carried it back with cheerful delight!

Luke 15:4-5 TPT

2. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep [the protector and provider].

John 10:2 AMP

3. I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me,

John 10:14 NLT

4. The Lord is my Shepherd [to feed, to guide and to shield me], I shall not want.

Psalms 23:1 AMP

5. You were like sheep that had lost their way, but now you have been brought back to follow the Shepherd and Keeper of your souls.

1 Peter 2:25 GNT

July 14, 2022

Hidden in the Religious Rubble

Five times, in the years 2015 to 2017, we featured the writing of John Myer at the blog Barenuckle Bible. I have no idea why that didn’t continue, but today we’re returning. Clicking the title which follows will take you there where you, along with us, can catch up on what we’ve missed.

The Mower Cometh

Find and address the things that lie within, before something else does. 

Like a lot of pre-teen boys back in the seventies, my brother and I got into lawn mowing to earn our summer candy and comics.  It wasn’t long before our gigs felt onerous under a blazing Louisiana sun.  We began trying to get done too fast, only giving the yard a cursory scan before starting the mower.  That led to running over items hidden in the tall grass while the blades were turning—a stump, a hose head, a brick, a clump of paper that exploded out from under the mower all over the rest of the yard.  Each of these yielded spectacularly unpleasant results.

And it all began with a rushed assumption that nothing needed to be picked up.

This is the mistake we Christians make on an almost daily basis.  Nothing resistant, it seems, lies concealed within the thick religious ground cover that fills our hearts.  And so skimping on internal development, we devalue the needs of our hidden regions while paying premium attention to behavioral, external issues others can see.  The apostle Paul warned that this type of avoidance ends up in Christian shipwreck (c.f. 1 Tim. 1:19) and useless ministry (“vain discussion”—v. 6).

Concern for our inward condition needs to remain central to our walk.

“Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” (1 Tim. 1:6-7).

According to Paul, some people swerve from the things of verse 5, which mentions a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith (see my last post).  In doing so, these folks not only neglect their inner life, but deliberately avoid it.

Dealing with internal issues tends to be more abstract than simpler, workbook style self-improvement.  We prefer the pragmatic strategies to Christian living rather than the rich, truth-based, faith-based relational approach.   Jesus warned of this habit, indicting the religious folks of the day:  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Mt. 23:26).

The teaching of behavioral legalism is, to some of us, tempting.  It offers short term results, bypassing the slow and steady work of grace.  That is why some people choose to try harder rather than to cry out, “wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24).

Even natural efforts that seem successful are never marked by the divine hand.  Truly, a person can attain praiseworthy standing in the religious community by the sweat of his brow.  But meanwhile, his heart can remain mixed with many motives, his conscience only as good as his sinful self-justification, and his faith little more than an object for public show.  Yet he has kept the “rules,” sometimes above and beyond his peers.

Although there are important practical uses for the principle of law giving and law keeping (we will see them in next week’s post), in the end, law does not grant the boon its practitioners think it will.   It might restrain people from doing certain things through shame and threat of punishment, but it does little to change the human heart.  The things that lie hidden, lie hidden still.

Avoidance of inner life issues frequently proves destructive.  Then why do we do it?  For one thing, it is easier to allow mixture in the heart than to face it.  It is easier to bribe our conscience than to exercise ourselves unto having a good one.  It is easier to follow rules than to interact with God in authentic ways.

Regardless though, in principle a situation allowed by God always ends up exposing these concealed things.  As King James might say, “Behold, the mower cometh.”

And it can get ugly.  Once while mowing a back pasture, we hit a nest of baby rabbits.  The bloody mess that resulted traumatized my young mind.

Okay, maybe some of these experiences will happen no matter what.  How often are we aware of everything lurking in the tall grass of our heart?  I’ve certainly been caught by surprise many times, shocked at what a momentary crisis seemed to flush out of me.  These things were humiliating because I had worked so hard to do and be the opposite.  In undetected ways, my moral energy had become my god.

Now if those things can happen by “accident,” how about the objects we intentionally swerve around?  And what blessings might occur if we decided to face them in a non-compromising way, probing hidden regions more carefully?  What if we made our heart, conscience, and faith more germane to our consideration of the Christian life?

Now there’s a thought.

But these things take time to cultivate.  Maybe years.  Maybe all your life.  However, the changes that are made will prove genuine.  Grace, the redemptive work of God, builds spiritual experiences and truth into a human being, turning a person into what God requires.

June 27, 2022

Being Perfect? You Can Do It!

One year ago we introduced you to the writing of Dr. Ron Braley, who is the pastor of NorthView Christian Church in Tyler, Texas, and writes at Equipping Believers and is Pastor and Director of the organization Finding Discipleship. To read today’s devotional where it first appeared, click the headline which follows.

There’s also a bonus item today about cross references in Bibles.

Perfectly Complete!

We are to be perfect as God is perfect! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard things like, “Ron! There’s no way I can be perfect—right?” almost as a badge of honor . . . or excuse. But what does the word mean? What should it mean, especially in our context as broken humans trying to figure out what God desires so we can follow suit?

Like many other words or concepts in the Bible, such as predestination, foreknowledge, love, or sin, perfection is often misunderstood or misapplied. Our minimal English modern dictionary tends to represent perfection as flawlessness (thank you, Merriam-Webster!). However, the original language and context teach us that biblical perfection is completeness. Remember the Jerry McGuire movie? In it, Tom Cruise utters the infamous phrase, “You complete me!” The concept is the perfection God desires and is what the ancient language teaches us.

We see this use in the Old Testament texts such as 1Chronicals 29:19: “and give to my son Solomon a “perfect” heart to keep Your commandments . . .” Alright: let’s start you on your journey to be Koine (biblical) Greek scholars. The original New Testament word is teleios, which means to be complete, full, whole. In 1Corinthians 13:10, we see that perfection completes the incomplete: “but when the perfect comes, the incomplete will be done away.” The unfinished things of today, even in our worship or knowledge, will be completed when God moves creation to the perfection (completion in Him) it once enjoyed.

An example of the unifying property of perfection can be seen in Colossians 3:14: “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” Anyway, my point is that perfection is meant to be completion in a relationship with God through Christ, not flawlessness. Trying to be flawless is futile, especially today with so much immorality ruling the day (and night). Here are a few biblical references by Jesus, Paul, and Jesus’ half-brother James that support the point that God seeks partners who ‘complete Him’ and whom He completes in a relationship:

Jesus (Matthew 5:48): “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Paul (Colossians 4:12): “Epaphras . . . sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.”

James (1:4): “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

So, be perfect because God desires it! “But, Ron! How on earth can we be perfect—I mean, complete—with God??” Excellent question! The following article will explore character traits that can keep our fellowship with God perfect in “Perfect Characteristics.”


Bonus Item from Paul:

I wrote this in connection with some other work I do, but I thought we’d run this for people who want to know more about cross references in Bibles.

A word about Reference Bibles

You’ve looked at an older double-column Bible and seen that third column running down the centre and asked yourself, ‘Why are all these verses listed here?’

They may have been chosen because the lead you to a parallel account of the narrative you are reading. They might provide background information on a key individual or place mentioned in the verse. They might relate to a practice or the doctrinal foundation for a statement or Biblical principle in the verse. Of there may be a key word in the verse and the reference is taking you to another place where that word is used (which may take you to yet another.)

Traditionally, these notations were included in a third (centre) column. But as demand increased for large print and giant print Bibles, it was found to save more space if an end-of-verse system was used, with the cross references usually set in smaller type. Some Bibles incorporate a bottom-of-page system but this can sometimes get confusing because of footnotes.

Footnotes are usually included to show that there was another English language direction the translators could have taken (or that different manuscripts for that verse offer what is called a textual variant.) These footnotes are part of that translation’s core text, and must appear in all editions of that translations, regardless of publisher, and regardless if it’s a plain-text, reference Bible, devotional Bible or study Bible.Some translations use them more than others. But they can easily be confused if cross references are also placed at the bottom of the page.

Not every cross reference look-up is productive. We’ve had times where we turned to the second verse, double-checked the reference, and asked ourselves, ‘What are we doing here?’ That’s okay. The reference was included for a reason, and sometimes it only dawns on us later what it was!

 

 

 

June 15, 2022

The Value You Place on Worship

So the original header, which didn’t fit, was going to be:

The Value You Place on Worship is Reflected in Your Attitude When You’re Prevented From Doing So

Long enough title?

I originally wrote some of what follows in 2017. I gave three examples of things I thought might prevent people from participating fully in corporate worship, never dreaming that a few years later, a global pandemic would cause churches to lock their doors.

There were, I believe, people who truly mourned the loss of gathering with God’s family, coming together under the teaching of God’s word, engaging in sung worship with everything from just-voices to bands and choirs, joining others in giving to support God’s work locally and around the world, sharing needs and prayer requests, and certainly not least, partaking of the bread and wine around the Lord’s table.

But there were others who might have viewed this as a minor inconvenience. Or worse, a few weeks off.

I have a number of pastor friends. I know that for some of them, a week off means, “I don’t have to preach this weekend.” But I’ve also heard the sentiment, “I don’t get to preach this weekend.” While I recognize that sermon preparation is arduous task, and also realize that we all have tough weeks, nonetheless the difference in attitudes is worth noting. Have you or people who know ever experienced

  • missing being able to give as you’d like because money is tight?
  • missing being able to serve as you’d like because the family is on vacation?
  • missing being able to preach, or sing, or teach because of illness?

The Psalmist wrote,

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.”    Psalm 122:1 NLT

For the Psalmist, being able to spend time in God’s house, was the high point of the week. Sadly, for many, the trip to God’s house is done out of a sense of obligation, not joy. This should not be the case.

In a verse many of you have sung, a reminder:

Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing. – Psalm 100:2 NASB

If you see giving as an act of worship, you’ll immediately think of this verse:

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  – 2 Corinthians 9:7 NIV

Under the new covenant that we might refer to as The New Testament, nobody is being compelled to give except out of a desire to offer back to God a portion of the blessings we have received.

But in Deuteronomy 28, we see the opposite situation where a number of curses are promised in the event of disobedience, and one of these is:

Because you didn’t serve the LORD your God with joy and a cheerful heart, even though you had an abundance of everything, you will serve your enemies the LORD will send against you, in famine, thirst, nakedness, and a lack of everything.   – Deuteronomy 28:47-48a HCSB

Notice that it isn’t about not singing (or not doing so energetically.) It isn’t about not giving, (or not giving enough.) It’s about underlying attitudes.

Do we worship God out of a sense that we have to, or are we thrilled that we get to?

Worship should be wholehearted. Notice the multiple iterations of the following verse:

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” –  Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27; see also Deuteronomy 30:6, 13:3, 10:12.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us of our chief goal. I’ve added emphasis:

Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

It is certainly our duty to do so, but this should be done with delight, with joy, with pleasure. It should flow out of us organically; not as something which seems forced.

Recently, someone expressed to me their concern (a healthy concern, I might add) that their spiritual life doesn’t have the vitality as it did at the start. Today, I found this quotation from mainstream author Carols Fuentes in his book This I Believe:

The most ardent romantic passion can languish and fall into habit or irritation with the passage of time. A couple begin to know each other because, first and foremost, they know so little of each other. Everything is surprise. When there are no surprises left, love can die.

Our worship of God should be formed in community, described in terms of relationship, and defined in terms of our love for God.

Worship never takes a week off, or even a day; nor wishes to.

June 5, 2022

The Blessing and the Gift: Sabbath and Communion

In many of our churches today was Communion Sunday. In the church where I grew up, it was the 2nd Sunday of the month, but increasingly it’s the first Sunday. And if your church observes The Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis, all the better!

There is so much to commend Susan Barnes’ blog, who we feature here for the fifth time. It’s a mix of shorter devotionals, longer ones, and, even though she is a writer herself, a review of books by other authors.

Without trying to be analytical, another thing that struck me today was that many devotional writers end each piece with a short prayer, but here the prayer she leads us in is much longer compared to the balance of the article. Maybe it’s because I read and edit such things daily, but it gave me pause for thought. Could my thoughts be better expressed if, instead of teaching them to my readers, I simply guided us in a more extended time of thoughts offered to God instead? Or, if someone comes to me for help, instead of spending words on trying to fix the situation, I simply spent the time pouring out my heart to God on their behalf? [Okay, end of analytical section!]

Clicking the header below will take you to where this one first appeared.

Communion : A gift of rest

One day the elders of Israel came to see Ezekiel to inquire of the Lord. Amongst other things, the Lord gave this message to his people. “I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the Lord, made them holy” (Ezekiel 20:12).

In the Old Testament God gave his people the Sabbath as a gift. It was meant to be a blessing—a whole day to do whatever was restful. God gave his people the Sabbath so they would know it wasn’t their work that made them holy, rather it was the Lord. Every week, on the Sabbath, God was reminding them salvation wasn’t achieved by their works. In the New Testament, the Pharisees complicated the Sabbath with a whole bunch of rules, and it became a burden, but this was never God’s intention. It was always meant to be a gift of rest.

Likewise, every time we gather for communion, we remember salvation isn’t by our work. Maybe that’s why God told us to share communion regularly because it reminds us salvation is a gift. It’s a gift of rest because we don’t work for our salvation. We partake often because we so quickly forget. We fall into the trap of the Pharisees and turn the gift of salvation into a burden or a way of catching up because we have been too busy.

The writer to the Hebrews tells us, “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).

This “once for all” sacrifice means that Jesus’ one-time sacrifice of his life on the cross was sufficient to deal with all sin, past, present and future. It is an all-sufficient sacrifice. Once was enough because Jesus was the perfect sacrifice.

We are made holy because of the work Jesus did on the cross … not by our efforts.

Let’s pray …

Thank you Lord that you give us the gift of rest. Thank you that we don’t work for our salvation but rather we rest in the finished work of Christ on the cross.

Thank you for the bread, a reminder of your body broken for us, the sacrifice for our sin. No matter how hard we work, we cannot repay the debt of our sin so you took it all upon yourself and gave us the gift of rest. May we truly enter into your rest and know we have peace with God.

Thank you for the cup, a reminder of your spilt blood, shed for us so we could live a life of rest, without having to strive to please you, since you are pleased when we accept your gift of rest.

Thank you, Lord.

In Jesus’ Name,
Amen


Bonus link:

Wondering what Susan might have written about a verse or short passage for which you know the reference? Click on this link, then scroll down and click the applicable passage.

June 2, 2022

The People We Christians Have the Hardest Time Loving

Longtime regular Thursday devotional columnist Clarke Dixon has been granted a sabbatical by his church this summer. We look forward to his return in September.

Thinking Through John 13:34-35

by Clarke Dixon

There is a group of people that throughout history Christians have had great difficulty loving. We Christians have shunned them, demonized them, jailed them, and have even put them to death. In our day common notions of decency do not keep us from being on the attack, in books and over the internet, through social media, in blogs, podcasts, and in chat forums.

What is that one group? It is the group Jesus speaks about in John 13:34,35:

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

John 13:34-35 (NLT)

The group we Christians have the hardest time loving? Other Christians.

We have a long history of not treating Christians who think differently from us well. We have hated, feared, mistreated, maligned, and tried to destroy one another.

Loving one another is super-important!

Jesus gave the disciples a kind of “pep talk” at the Last Supper. Jesus had spent three years with his disciples and was now preparing them to be a Jesus following community without him, at least without him in the way they had become accustomed to. First thing out of the gate? Love each other!

Why is loving one another so important?

If we can’t love one another, then how can we expect people to take seriously our good news message of love? Jesus said love for each other would prove that the disciples really were his followers. It is interesting that though Jesus taught and modeled love for all people, including those on the fringes of society, and even including one’s enemies, it is love for one another that is evidence of being a Jesus follower.

A watching world will not be impressed by our lack of love for each other. We Christians can do all kinds of loving things in the world and for the world, but when we don’t love one another, our message that God’s love changes everything, is lost.

What does loving one another look like in our day?

There is the idea that if you love someone you will rescue them from their wrong thinking. Loving one another therefore means fixing other Christians, pointing out their errors.

There are two problems with this.

First, Christians are not cars that can simply be fixed. They are people, with history, experiences, and reasons why they think the way they do.

Second, the Bible is not like the Haynes repair manual I have for my motorcycle, with step-by-step instructions and photographs to make everything as clear as possible. The Bible is brilliant, but convoluted. The Bible is sometimes hard to understand, and it is sometimes easy to misunderstand.

There is a better path forward than trying to fix one another.

Loving one another means having conversations with one another.

Conversation means talking with and to one another rafter than talking about one another. In our day there is so much talking about one another in books, on social media, podcasts, blogs, and perhaps worst of all, online comments.

Conversation means listening as well as speaking. Listening is an important part of love. We each have our blind spots that others may be able to speak to. We each believe things and hold to things that may cause harm if we are not aware. Blind spots are nasty that way.

Conversation means seeking truth together. Author Soong-Chan Rah has written an article about the difference between truth possessed and truth pursued. Truth possessed can be summed up as “I know the truth and everyone should listen to me.” Truth pursued can be summed up as “there is such a thing as truth and let’s work together on finding it.”

Loving one another means learning the skill of disagreeing with one another without dismissing or demonizing one another.

It means learning to disagree with others while honouring them for doing their best to honor God. Those who think differently than we do may never have been exposed to reasons to think otherwise. They might be doing the best they can. Maybe the blind spot is ours and we are the ones who need to rethink things. Humble people are listeners.

Loving one another means taking a posture of gentleness toward one another.

Gentleness might be the most neglected fruit of the Spirit in our day.

If everyone around the world learned gentleness, wars would cease, and wars would cease to begin. Imagine too, if people would be gentle with themselves. Therapists may find they have more free time.

We can not, of course, make that happen, but we can model gentleness in our own lives, in the life of our our own church family, and in our own family of churches.

You may think differently about many issues and theological ideas than I do. I will be gentle with you. Will you be gentle with me?

But isn’t diversity of thinking among Christians a problem? Don’t we need to get everyone on the same page?

I have heard it said that we have a diversity problem in our day in the convention of churches within which I serve. It has been said that our tent is too big as a Baptist Convention.

I don’t think we have a diversity problem. We have a diversity opportunity.

We have the opportunity to demonstrate to a polarized world, how to live in a polarized world. It is through loving one another. It is through conversation, speaking and listening, talking with and to rather than about, disagreeing without dismissing or demonizing, and through being gentle.

When we allow our differences to become reasons for erecting walls and starting wars we are reflecting the world’s ways, not the way of Jesus.

We Christians have had a hard time loving one another. Jesus said we must do it. So let’s do it.

 

May 15, 2022

Approaching God: Awe, Obedience, Reverence, Fear, Caution

One of the most frequently appearing writers here is Elsie Montgomery who writes at Practical Faith. For this year, she is following readings in a book called Daily Treasures from the Word of God by Leona and Nicolas Venditti, published in 2012. She says, “I will read what they have to say listening to what the Lord is saying to me, write my thoughts here, and pray for His enabling to apply them to my life.”

To read this where it first appeared, click the header which follows.

Power of Reverence

READ Hebrews 5–8

Experience and the Word of God tells me that answered prayer is not a simple matter. It rarely happens unless I keep my communion with Him clear through confessing known sins. It never happens when I pray selfishly or plainly outside of His will. Today’s reading offers another thought; God hears the prayers of those who deeply reverence Him . . .

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. (Hebrews 5:7)

Bible dictionaries say that the words translated reverence mean “a feeling of profound respect” yet also a “certain element of awe, which may be interpreted in some instances as implying even fear.” The implication of such reverent fear or awe is, of course, obedience. Some scholars prefer to interpret these terms as ‘to obey.’ One dictionary says this word is properly understood as “caution” with religiously reverence or piety yet implying dread or fear. An English dictionary says reverence is profound respect and love and a reverent attitude toward God means honoring Him, expressing gratitude to Him, and obeying His commandments.

Another says common synonyms of reverence are adore, revere, venerate, and worship. While all these words mean “to honor and admire profoundly and respectfully,” reverence presupposes an intrinsic merit and sacredness in the one honored with a similar depth of feeling in the one honoring.

In other words, reverence is about my response but it is more about God. The idea of fear comes with the realization that I do not pull God’s strings. He IS in charge and every breath that I take is by His grace. Knowing His power and other qualities should produce in me total cessation of ‘doing my own thing’ and a deep desire to fit in with His plans. Jesus did that. He knew the Father could save Him from death and knew He heard His cries, yet said, “Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” Prayer is not about getting my own way but yielding to God’s way, sometimes in holy fear. This is being like Jesus.

The New Testament also talks about patience being the mark of maturity or being like Jesus. He was always emotionally calm in the face of provocation or misfortune and without complaint or irritation. It comes to us through trials and is also a huge part of reverence. Respecting God and not taking matters into my own hands requires patience and total faith. Hebrews 6:12 & 15 says it is “through faith and patience” that God’s people inherit God’s promises.

Maturity also involves discernment. This reading speaks of having my senses trained to rightly understand the visible realm of reality and the equally real realm of the unseen. God gives Scripture and the Holy Spirit so I can sense the unseen and not be swayed by the constant pull of the world and evil forces to pull me away from following Jesus and instead resorting to sinful self-effort.

Discernment also combats false doctrine and gives an accurate perception of what is really from God and what is not. Scripture warns believers about the devil appearing to be an angel of light. I need to discern fully the powers of darkness and realize how patience and discernment are both tied to spiritual maturity. Both have a strong relationship to effective prayer and to “holding fast to the hope set before us.” (Hebrews 6:18)

The marvel is that even if I pray incorrectly or fail to pray at all, Jesus still “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25) Jesus prays for me, protecting me from the evil one and from destruction. He is my Savior; I am not.

Another beautiful thought from this reading is the power of the gospel that begins a life of knowing God and growing in that patience that marks maturity and that ensures God’s ear to our prayers:

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:10–12)

The bottom line for all this is three-fold. Discernment is a gift that enables me to know the Christ of Scripture and not be distracted from Him as my source of all that is godly. Being like Him means reverence, not mere ‘joyful worship’ but the awe that is mixed with fear and obedience that considers His power and ownership of all that concerns me. If my prayers are to be heard and answered, then I must discern all that distracts me from Christ and know all He desires from me so I can yield all of my life to this amazing God of glory.

May 7, 2022

Eliminating Hinderances

I’m breaking our six month rule here, because I was already committed to introducing a new author here, only to be reminded we did this in January. However, that post was one that Pastor Will wrote in October of last year, and this one is from May, so in my convoluted logic, it does represent a gap of more than six months.

Besides, I think someone needs this today. He’s in a series in Hebrews and if you want more just click: Today’s Scripture. If you check the sidebar, you’ll discover that he’s been writing online longer than we’ve been here. Clicking the header below takes you today’s reading.

When We Listen

Hebrews 12:1-3 (HCSB)
Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.

For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that you won’t grow weary and lose heart.

The greatest danger that the Jewish Christians faced was giving up in the midst of the struggles they were going through and in the face of the disapproval of their family, and turning away from Jesus and back to the rituals of Judaism. The writer of Hebrews had already pointed out the mortal dangers of such turning back (3:12-19; 6:4-8; 10:26-39). And in the Hall of Faith, he gave us a long list of those who did not turn back, but who persevered even when their goal was far off and seeming unattainable.

Now the writer encourages his readers to use those examples as models for their own lives, to persevere and stay faithful and thus stay on the path that leads to the promised reward. This perseverance includes two negative actions, things to be eliminated, and two positive actions, things to be done and embraced.

The negative actions are first to throw off everything that could hinder us in our spiritual journey. This is not talking about sin, which is next on the list. Instead, the focus of this negative action is on things that could pull us away from single-hearted devotion to God and single-minded pursuit of His calling and mission. This includes associations and partnerships that weaken our resolve or our faith, distractions that draw our minds and hearts away from God and His priorities, and any other focuses that take time and energy away from us becoming the person God has called each of us to become and from the job that He has called each of us to do.

The second negative action is to eliminate from our life sin. To many this has been deemed impossible, unattainable by human effort, and it is. However, through the presence and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, reshaping and transforming our hearts, it is possible and essential for the man or woman of God to live without being entangled in sin which saps our spiritual vitality, and which cuts us off from God’s power to do through us all that He has called us to do. But to get to that place of victory requires acceptance of both the need to eliminate sin from our lives and faith in God’s ability to do it. It then requires focused effort on our part to ruthlessly eliminate from our lives everything that drags us down into sin, and to conscientiously avoid those situations in which we tend to compromise.

The two positive actions we are encouraged to take are both closely related. The first is to persevere in running the race, to not give up, to not allow ourselves to be sidelined by troubles, trials and persecutions, but to keep pressing forward toward the goal. In doing this, we must do the second positive action and keep our focus, not on the trials, but on Jesus, who is both our model, and our goal. Jesus Himself endured great suffering for us, and He stayed on track by keeping His focus on the goal at all times, on the prize of salvation for all humanity, and on His ultimate goal of returning to God’s side and the glory He had had with the Father when everything was accomplished.

Father, it does seem a bit strange how so many of us think about our walk with You. We believe that since You love us, we can simply breeze through our days compromising, sinning, and not giving Your agenda any but the most casual attention, and that it will all work out in the end. But the writer of Hebrews shows that for the lie that it is. You are passionate about Your agenda to save not just us, but all humanity. And our calling is not simply to get to heaven, but to live out the mission of Jesus and to pursue You agenda every waking moment with the help of the Holy Spirit and in His power. It is only as we actively pursue Your agenda that we can be empowered to run the course successfully. And it is only as we keep our focus on the goal, and on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, that we will be able to shed the distractions that cluster around us and the sins that try to weigh us down and entangle us, and to live victoriously all the way to the finish line. Thank you, Lord, for helping me to see this all so clearly. Amen.

April 6, 2022

We Practice Christian Living in Community, or Several Communities

We have a new writer for you today, Gary Moore, who blogs at Rock Excavation Service. The blog’s theme verse is “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.” Isaiah 26:4. Gary has served in missions in Eastern Europe, and has some history writing devotionals himself. He is the author of a book on Christ in the Old Testament, with another book on the way. Clicking the header which follows will take you the place where we found it.

Love In Communities

I was reminded today about the three loves each believer has by the power of the Holy Spirit in us. These loves are the love of God, love of us, and love of people. Today, I would like us to focus on our love within communities.

Of course, love of us includes love of self; this is Biblically correct. However, love of self extends beyond us as individuals. We find in the New Testament God’s guidance to make us “individuals” into us as a community. We all need others, even introverts like me. For everyone, Jesus expects us to bond together. We should know and be known by our Christian brothers and sisters. We should find solace in them during times of tragedy, strength during hardships, and shared joy in our blessings.

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

1 Peter 4:8-11

Essential Attribute

The essential attribute we find in a community of believers is the consistent, holy lives of adults that love and invest in the children of their community. Kids need safety, and they desperately need to see and experience the broad spectrum of personalities, ethnic diversities, and professions of our communities of God-fearing brothers and sisters.

Kids need to see how we settle disagreements (Colossians 3:13) and build Christ-centered communities. We need to live what the apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). We should learn from what Paul wrote to the church at Corinth,

That there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

1 Corinthians 12:25-27

Our kids need to see and experience how to contribute to the community. Kids need to learn how to give without the expectation of receiving, strengthen the brokenhearted, and weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. We all need this, no matter how long we have served Jesus.

Communities of Believers

The phrase “It takes a village” has become common vernacular. I’m not sure about the village metaphor. Still, I do know that to raise children to be contributors to the kingdom of God, a Christ-centered community is needed, a community abounding in good works and steadfast dedication to living our new lives in Jesus. The local church should be the center and facilitator of a Christian community, but that’s not always the case.

A community of believers can spring up from a common cause, such as a mission to the homeless, a food pantry, prayer meetings, and any overt expressions of “God’s will” can cause a community to be birthed. There are countless communities of international believers that still avoid the “bigness” of their community; they remain personal. After all, it’s not a community if we can’t speak, pray, teach, worship, and work together.

Live in Several Communities

We are not limited to a single community of believers. God has not called us to be gadflies, but there is no command that I’m aware of that constrains us to a single Christian community. The local church should always be and remain our first community. Still, there are others to which God may guide us. Two that come to mind are Faith Driven Entrepreneurs. If you are a Christian small business owner, this is a great community to join and Prison Fellowship (i.e., angel tree).

Good News

So, the good news is that God does not expect you or me to be disconnected from fellow believers. We must pray and seek communities where God has created a place for us. And we should never forget that our local church is our preeminent community in which God desires us to fellowship and grow. And we must commit to what God’s Word says in Romans 12:16, Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

That’s it. Someday, I hope to join you in a believers’ community!

April 3, 2022

His Mission, Your Mission

This is our third time with Mel Wild, senior pastor at Cornerstone Church and director of Radiant School of Ministry, both based in Wisconsin USA. Clicking the header which follows takes you to where we sourced it, along with pictures and the opportunity to explore other articles.

The Mission

What has always struck me when I first encountered God is that, in those life-changing interactions, my sins never came up. This was long before I knew Him as a Father. I found that He never deals in shame or condemnation. Now, He is a father, so He has corrected me many times, to help me mature as a son. But never with shame or by rubbing my sin in my face.

Then, after these encounters with God, I began to understand the theology behind what I was experiencing in real time. Apparently, God does not count our sins against us.

that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Cor.5:19 NIV*)

This is remarkable when I think about how much Christians seem to obsess over sin…. especially everybody else’s sin.

What I’ve found is that to encounter God is to encounter Love—pure, unadulterated, other-centered, self-giving love—for God IS love. If we simply replace the word “love” with God in the following familiar passage, we can see what God’s love looks like:

GOD is patient, GOD is kind. GOD does not envy, HE does not boast, GOD is not proud. GOD does not dishonor others, HE is not self-seeking, HE is not easily angered, GOD keeps no record of wrongs. GOD does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. GOD always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Cor.13:4-7 NIV*)

The Passion Translations renders the first part of verse 5, Love does not traffic in shame….”

So, it’s true. God does not traffic in shame.

This is the true character of God, not the religious nonsense we make up about Him. God looks like Jesus, and Jesus looks like love.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us of the following New Covenant promise that Jesus fulfilled on the Cross:

“Their sins and lawless acts
    I will remember no more.” (Heb.10:17 NIV)

Beloved, if God is remembering our sins no more, why are we?

Still, to this day, I have trouble convincing people—especially believers—that when we personally encounter God, our sins will not be the subject of our conversation. If it is, we are probably projecting our own guilt and shame on God.

This may be the biggest reason why people, including believers, hide from Him.

We tend to prefer hiding behind religious activity instead letting God love us, which is quite sad when you think about it.

Beloved, our sin is not the problem; it’s that we put more faith in the power of our sin than in the power of the Cross.

I bring all this up because our inability to accept this reality ourselves may be one big reason why we’re not very effective at convincing others to accept it.

We don’t seem to understand the mission.

On that subject, just this week I was reading about our mission in 2 Corinthians from the Passion Translation:

And God has made all things new,  and reconciled  us to himself, and given us the ministry of reconciling others to God. In other words, it was through the Anointed One that God was shepherding the world, not even keeping records of their transgressions, and he has entrusted to us the ministry of opening the door of reconciliation to God.  (2 Cor. 5:18-19 TPT*)

What first struck me here was the Aramaic rendering of the Greek “reconciliation” as “shepherding.” God was shepherding the world through Christ on the cross.

A shepherd is one who herds sheep. And he doesn’t turn his back on his sheep, or ever abandon them; he protects them, even laying his life down for them.

And, likewise, our heavenly Father is a good shepherd. He doesn’t do abandonment either. He didn’t turn His back on His Son on the cross. He was shepherding US through His Son.

This is why the Cross was not about an angry God having to kill His Son so He could forgive us. That’s absurd when you think it through.

No, the Cross was a rescue mission. It was the loving act of a Shepherd.

Think about it. Jesus was the Good Shepherd because His Father was a Good Shepherd.

Then Paul goes on to say….

We are ambassadors  of the Anointed One who carry the message of Christ to the world, as though God were tenderly pleading  with them directly through our lips. So we tenderly plead with you on Christ’s behalf, “Turn back to God and be reconciled to him.”  (2 Cor 5:20 TPT*)

Looking at the last line first, you could say that God is pleading with us all to “be shepherded by Him.”

But also notice that He’s now pleading through us, which describes OUR mission. Which, save dying on the Cross, is the same mission as Jesus’ mission.

In light of all these things, my question is this: what kind of God are we projecting to those who don’t know Him? Are we like good Pharisees, rubbing people’s sin in their faces? Or, are we offering our lips to be used by Him to “shepherd” them, so that they can finally know Him as He truly is?

It’s not that sin isn’t important. It’s just that God seems to think He nailed it to the cross and buried it with Jesus’ death 2,000 years ago. And He also seems to have forgotten about our sins ever since.

What God IS remembering is that His Son removed EVERYTHING that would hinder us from knowing Him, so that we could know and experience Love.

And Love wants to use our lips, if we’re willing, to proclaim this crazy good news that brings great joy, to everyone we know.

That’s our mission….if WE decide to accept it. And if we accept it, they may too.

* All emphasis added.

 

March 25, 2022

Chasing Achieving the Wrong Things

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Matt.7.21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

CSB.Mark.6.36 For what does it benefit someone to gain the whole world and yet lose his life?

Today we have a new author’s writing to highlight. Rachel doesn’t have an “about” page so far, but her blog, In Rachel’s Words is very well-written. In this devotional she talks about the secondary doctrines that often block our focus from the things that matter.

Clicking the header which follows will take you to read this directly where we found it, and then check out some of her other writing.

Does It Matter?

Does “X” Matter?

I had a conversation with a friend, and I said, “X doesn’t really matter. It’s not a requirement for salvation.” I don’t know if offended her when I said that, and at the same time, I wasn’t sure I should have made that statement. “X” is something that really matters to a lot of people. It’s something that matters to me.

What “X” represents in the statement above is not critical for this dialogue. In fact, you can insert whatever it is that you value most in this life as the substitute for “X.” The only substitute you cannot use is God (i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ) because that would be heresy.

So, “X” could be not being poor, never getting sick with a life-altering disease, starting your own business, having a good education, buying a house, having a family, or traveling to as many countries as possible.

Do these things matter? Certainly. Arguably, we might say some of these things matter more than the others. But, what if none of these is greater than the other? What if none of these things matters the most?

I am not confident that it ultimately matters that we are able to achieve or receive what we most value in life, whether it be not to be poor, to be self-sufficient, or have the most epic family. I think what matters is what we did with the life that we were given.

For example, you have a life in which you were born into poverty, and for whatever reason(s), you were unable to escape poverty, your socioeconomic status is not held against you when you stand before the Judgement Seat. What really matters is what you did with the life you had.

Will the Lord say He knows you (Matthew 7:21–23)? That’s what matters.

The answer to that question depends on what you did with the life He selected for you. You can’t pick the family you are born into, nor do you have authority over a lot of other things that do or do not happen to you. But, you can control how you respond to and navigate the life that you have.

How did you treat the other people the Lord placed in your life? How did you treat your spouse and your kids? How did you treat your siblings and your parents? Were you a witness in your spheres of influence? Did you stand for what was true and right when no one else did? Did you suffer for Christ? Did you lay down your life and follow Him (John 13:8)? Was your life a testimony?

Did you say, “Not my will, but your will be done?” (Luke 22:42).

Or, did you go out into the world, dissatisfied with the life you have and manipulate people and finagle situations to get what you want? Did your lack of “X,” even if it severely impacts your quality of life, such as having a terrible cancer, transform you into someone bitter and ungrateful and hateful? I think that attitude of dissatisfaction, disgust and hate for what Lord intended, and/or intentional manipulation of life to get what you want matter far more than “X.”

How did you spend the life you have? How did you use what the Lord has given you—even if it’s difficult or not what you want—for His glory?

What is the point of achieving “X” if, in some cases, you gain the world and lose your soul (Mark 8:36)? One day, both the world and you and “X” will disappear, and only one thing will matter.

Did He know you?


Second Helping: By the same author, here’s a piece where although she didn’t actually use the word, “Deconstruction,” it’s a word making the rounds currently in many of our church discussions, and the first thing I thought of while reading. Check out Demolition or Renovation?.

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