Christianity 201

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?.

March 19, 2022

Can Any Christian Do Deliverance Ministry?

This question came up four years ago and I thought I’d revisit it, as this is a topic which, outside of Charismatic and Pentecostal environments, is not discussed among Evangelicals.

The issue is whether or not ‘the average Christian’ when in a situation of spiritual confrontation can move in the power of the Holy Spirit, or if they need to retreat and defer to ‘the experts’ in this area of ministry. An analogy to the movie Ghostbusters, while rather distracting, is not entirely out of place here. Who are you gonna call?

Before we begin, an important question to ask is, ‘Does the person seek healing and deliverance?’ If the person who needs Christ doesn’t particular want Christ’s help — and I’ve met people on both sides of this equation — then you’re possible going to proceed differently.

If this seems like a “Duh?” question, remember that Jesus first asked a man who had been sick for 38 years the same thing in John 5:1:

When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”

Another clarification needs to be made between deliverance ministry and spiritual warfare, something we looked at here in January, 2014:

The difference between deliverance and spiritual warfare is that deliverance is dealing with demonic bondages, and getting a person set free, whereas spiritual warfare is resisting, overcoming and defeating the enemy’s lies (in the form of deception, temptations and accusations) that he sends our way. Deliverance involves the breaking up of legal grounds, the tearing down of strongholds (offensive spiritual warfare), and the casting out of demons. Spiritual warfare on the other hand, is dealing with three key things the enemy sends at us: temptations, deception and accusations.

So we need to keep that distinction in mind.

Deliverance is certainly similar to the supernatural gifts of the spirit in 1 Cor. 12, yet it is not one of them; of the nine listed, see especially these:

The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. He gives one person the power to perform miracles… (12:9-10a)

This certainly gives the believer confidence that part of our ministry can include operating in the supernatural realm. Also, bringing relief to those in need was part of Christ’s mandate as shown in Luke 4:18 (AMP):

The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon Me, because He has anointed Me [the Anointed One, the Messiah] to preach the good news (the Gospel) to the poor; He has sent Me to announce release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to send forth as delivered those who are oppressed [who are downtrodden, bruised, crushed, and broken down by calamity]

and then he tells us (John 14:12-13)

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father.

In Luke chapter 10, Jesus sends out the 72 disciples and then we read in vs. 17:

When the seventy-two disciples returned, they joyfully reported to him, “Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!”

The tone suggests a bit of surprise on the part of these short-term missionaries, but also implies something which came naturally or organically because of their connection to Jesus. We get this sense two verses later in 19-20:

[Jesus:] “Look, I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy, and you can walk among snakes and scorpions and crush them. Nothing will injure you. But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven.”

While the last half of the 16th chapter of Mark has been disputed because of manuscript corroboration, it is there we find a ‘spiritual power package’ of instructions including verse 17:

These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe: They will cast out demons in my name, and they will speak in new languages.

You have the authority. So why have we relegated deliverance ministry to being a the purview of a very select few?

It might be that this passage brings with it the potential for deliverance ministry failure:

Mark 9.17 One of the men in the crowd spoke up and said, “Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk. 18 And whenever this spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.”

19a Jesus said to them, “You faithless people! How long must I be with you?…

25 When Jesus saw that the crowd of onlookers was growing, he rebuked the evil spirit. “Listen, you spirit that makes this boy unable to hear and speak,” he said. “I command you to come out of this child and never enter him again!”…

28 Afterward, when Jesus was alone in the house with his disciples, they asked him, “Why couldn’t we cast out that evil spirit?”

29 Jesus replied, “This kind can be cast out only by prayer.

The Pulpit Commentary elaborates:

Though all things are possible to faith, some works are more difficult of accomplishment than others. This kind can mean only this kind of evil spirit, or demons generally. But the latter interpretation is excluded by the fact that the apostles had already exercised successfully their power over devils without special prayer or fasting. The words point to a truth in the spiritual world, that there are different degrees in the Satanic hierarchy (comp. Matthew 12:45); some demons are more malignant than others, and have greater power over the souls of men. In the present case the possession was of long standing; it revolved a terrible bodily malady; it was of an intense and unusual character. The mere word of exorcism, or the name of Jesus, spoken with little spiritual faith, could net overcome the mighty enemy. The exorcist needed special preparation; he must inspire and augment his faith by prayer and self-discipline. Prayer invokes the aid of God, and puts one’s self unreservedly in his hands; fasting subdues the flesh, arouses the soul’s energies, brings into exercise the higher parts of man’s nature. Thus equipped, a man is open to receive power from on high, and can quell the assaults of the evil one. (emphasis added)

Elliott’s Commentary adds:

The disciples, we know, did not as yet fast (Matthew 9:14-15), and the facts imply that they had been weak and remiss in prayer. The words are noticeable as testifying to the real ground and motive for “fasting,” and to the gain for the higher life to be obtained, when it was accompanied by true prayer, by this act of conquest over the lower nature.

or perhaps this passage from Matthew is in the back of someone’s mind:

17.14b A man came and knelt before Jesus and said, 15 “Lord, have mercy on my son. He has seizures and suffers terribly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. 16 So I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him.”

17 Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” 18 Then Jesus rebuked the demon in the boy, and it left him. From that moment the boy was well.

19 Afterward the disciples asked Jesus privately, “Why couldn’t we cast out that demon?”

20 “You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.

We often refer to the website, GotQuestions.org. Some non-Pentecostals or non-Charismatics downplay the need for this as a specialized ministry. Since you’ll find this thinking online in various places, here is a sample from their site:

…The Gospels and Acts relate that Jesus and the disciples cast out demons. The teaching portions of the New Testament (Romans through Jude) refer to demonic activity yet do not discuss the method of casting them out, nor are believers exhorted to do so. We are told to put on the whole armor of God…

…The Gospels and Acts relate that Jesus and the disciples cast out demons. The teaching portions of the New Testament (Romans through Jude) refer to demonic activity yet do not discuss the method of casting them out, nor are believers exhorted to do so…

…It is interesting that we have no record of Jesus’ instructions to His disciples on how to cast out demons…[and then the commentary goes on to list a rather significant number of ‘exceptions.’ Hmmm…]

Did we answer the question at the top of the page?

I think the issue here is not the office or title of the person rebuking the evil spirits, but rather the preparation of the person entering into such a ministry.

Of course, some situations are extremely short notice. We don’t know exactly when we might find ourselves seeing or being part of a direct demonic confrontation. I believe in those situations, a person who has heard God’s word on this subject, and is thereby aware of the powers that exist should resolve to act in whatever timely opportunity is available. (But I also believe God will give you some foreknowledge to be prepared to do so.)

In other parts of the world, I’m told that demonic activity is much more acute; much more visible. People in those situations don’t need to be told what they’re dealing with, they see its effects.

So the answer is both: It is a ministry that is the specialty of some pastors and Christian leaders, but it is also within the reach of any Christ-follower who has prepared themselves for the task.

Do you want to take this on?

It’s definitely worth remembering that the seventy-two were sent out in pairs. That might be a better way to apprentice in this type of ministry.


In any deliverance situation, there’s also the issue of providing ‘filling’ to someone whose ‘casting out’ of something has created a void or a hole. In Matthew we read the words of Jesus,

12.43 “When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, seeking rest but finding none. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds its former home empty, swept, and in order. 45 Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before. That will be the experience of this evil generation.”

There are some good resources online on this topic, be discerning as you search however, and recognize that there are differences of opinion on this issues from different theological traditions.


Scriptures today were all NLT (just because) except where indicated.

 

 

 

 

 

January 16, 2022

Crucified in the Flesh

Gal.2.20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Gal.5.24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Rom.6.6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

Eph.4.22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Col.3.5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.

Mark.8.34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

Rom.8.13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

At the website, The Jesus Question, Victoria Emily Jones starts us off*:

… These…verses seem to suggest that self-execution is a one-time thing that happens when you first come to know Christ. But when read in light of other Bible passages, we see that dying to self is actually an ongoing task.

In 1 Corinthians 15:31, Paul says, “I die daily.” Although he was referring to the physical threats on his life, Christians often receive this verse as a reminder of the importance of daily self-denial. This application, however, is more accurately gleaned from exhortative passages like Matthew 5:29-30, in which Jesus tells his listeners in graphic metaphor to cut off any part of themselves that keeps them away from God. Or Ephesians 4:22-25, in which Paul counsels the Christians in Ephesus against sins such as lying, stealing, and bitterness by telling them to put off their old sinful habits and to put on new ones. 

Once you become a Christian, it doesn’t mean that all sin will automatically disappear from your life. It has to be excised, bit by bit. Then after you remove it, it often comes back, and you have to take out the scalpel again. It’s a painful process. That’s why Paul compares it to surgery. And to crucifixion…

…So how do we crucify the flesh? By living in the Spirit…

At the website, Daily Manna, it’s noted that in the KJV, the Romans passage (above) uses the phrase, “mortify the deeds of the body.”

…The word mortify means to kill or to make dead. Galatians chapter 5 list out the fruits, or characteristics,  of those who act upon the flesh, and the fruits of those that walk in the spirit. We can not walk in both, we are either being ruled by our flesh (the sin nature), or we are being ruled by our spirit (the God nature). So how then do we mortify the flesh? We crucify it…

Though death is assured in a crucifixion it is rarely instant. It’s a constant barrage of assaults that the body does not like, until it finally gives up. So how does this apply? It’s simple. If you are being ruled by your flesh (carnal wants and desires that oppose the will and word of God) you have to kill it, but it won’t usually die instantly or easily.

The best way to crucify the flesh is simply to starve it out. If you starve the flesh while feeding the spirit, the spirit will begin to overpower the flesh. This is the essence and power of fasting, you are literally starving the flash while feeding the spirit with prayer, Word, submission, humility, and obedience. You are training your spirit to tell the flesh, “no.” …

Click the link to explore more about the relationship between fasting and crucifying the flesh.

What about those who might say that various applications of crucifying the flesh is slowly drifting us toward a more works-based Christian life? BibleRef.com offers a concise response:

…Those who truly understand what it means to trust in Christ’s death on the cross to pay for their sins understand how destructive their sins truly are. After all, our sins were the reason we stood condemned to die by the curse of the law. That’s why Paul writes that those who belong to Christ gave up trying to defeat their sin on their own. Instead, with gratitude, we performed a kind an execution of our sinful desires when we trusted Christ to die for them. We gave up the right to keep holding on to our sin and indulging in it and enjoying it.

There’s a fine line here, though. In most cases, those who trust in Christ do not immediately and completely lose our desire or instinct to do sinful things. The “want” to sin is not entirely gone. Paul has written, though, that two significant things do change when we are saved. First, by definition, we recognize that sin is eternally fatal. By trusting in Christ, we reject sin as a path leading to death. Second, God gives us the power in His Spirit to win the battle against our sinful desires (Galatians 5:16–17)…


*You’re encouraged to click the three links in today’s devotional and read the articles in full.

 

 

 

January 8, 2022

Bible Imagery: Rock and Stars

Today we’re back with Nancy Ruegg who is now into her tenth year writing at From the Inside Out | Impressions Becoming Expressions. Please don’t read this here. Nancy has some photographic images which accompany this devotional, so click the header which follows immediately below.

From Earth and Sky

The psalmists of old seemed to have a favorite metaphor for God: Rock. You’ll find the imagery used twenty-nine times.  Sometimes the writers included reasons why this was a meaningful comparison for them; sometimes they included synonyms:

  • “The Lord is my rock, my fortress” (18:2)
  • “My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield . . . my  stronghold” (also 18:2)
  • “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (61:2)
  • “God alone is the mighty rock that keeps me safe” (62:2 CEV)
  • “Be to me a rock of habitation to which I may continually come” (71:3 NASB)

Later when he became king, David composed Psalm 18, probably after the numerous battle victories summarized in 2 Samuel 8.  Four times in that psalm he extolled God as his Rock.

In the New Testament we find Jesus’ parable about a foolish man building his house on sand, and a wise man building his house on rock. The point is clear: God is a reliable foundation-Rock on which to build our lives.  He provides:

  • solid, trustworthy wisdom for decisions
  • strength and power for life’s challenges
  • protection from our arch enemy, Satan
  • unchanging reliability, faithfulness, and love—to name a few unfailing attributes

One of my favorite examples of Bible imagery is found in Philippians 2:15.  To understand the context though, we have to start reading at verse fourteen:

Do everything without grumbling or arguing,
so that you may become blameless and pure,
children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.
Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky
as you hold firmly to the word of life.

–Philippians 2:14-15 NIV

Isn’t that a glorious statement in the fourth line above?  We can shine into the darkness of the world like stars as we allow the Spirit to foster purity within us!

Now why would letter-writer Paul choose stars to make his point? Perhaps their beauty reminded him: with kindness, patience, joy, and more we can bring beauty to the world around us–a world darkened by selfishness, greed, and hatred.

Paul would also have known about using stars for navigation. As far back as 3000 B.C. ancient Minoans were using constellations to navigate the Mediterranean Sea (1). Perhaps Paul connected the starlight to God’s wisdom shining in mature believers, enabling them to provide guidance to those around them.

But now, centuries later, we know more about stars than Paul did and further comparisons can be drawn:

Stars shine by burning hydrogen into helium in their cores. We shine as the Holy Spirit burns away the dross in our lives—those unbecoming traits like pride, negativity, and ingratitude. That’s when we can become radiant.

NIV.2.Cor.3.18 And we all,
who with unveiled faces
contemplate the Lord’s glory,
are being transformed into his image
with ever-increasing glory,
which comes from the Lord,
who is the Spirit.

One prominent star in the evening sky of Fall and Winter is Deneb in the constellation Cygnus (the Swan), which is 19 quadrillion miles from earth.  The gleam we see left Deneb about 1500 light years ago in 521 A.D (2). The gleam of our lives can also achieve far-reaching effect as one life touches another which touches another, and then another . . . ad infinitum.

Stars not only create beauty but fulfill function.  They manufacture and distribute into the universe such elements as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen (3). As we shine like stars in our circles of influence, we too fulfill function, manufacturing and distributing such elements as goodness, encouragement, and helpfulness.

From earth and sky come these two insightful examples of biblical imagery:  rock and stars.

Do you see the connection between the two? As you plant yourself on the firm Rock of Almighty God and shine for him like a star . . .

. . . YOU are a Rock star!


Notes:

  1. https://nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/navigation/
  2. https://earthsky.org/space/ten-things-you-may-not-know-about-stars/
  3. https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/how-do-stars-from-and-evolve

By the same author:

God of the Unexpected

 

 

November 16, 2021

Being a Living Sacrifice: 5 Characteristics

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.
  – Romans 12:1

“The problem with a living sacrifice is that it tends to crawl off the altar.” – source unknown

Hopefully the opening verse of Romans 12 is a recurring theme in your reading and study. It reminds us that worship is something we do, but rather worship is something we are. Years ago, Christian musician Chris Christian wrote lyrics which offer a physical posture to indicate a surrendered heart and will:

We lift our voices
We lift our hands
We lift our lives up to You
We are an offering1

I really try to eschew pithy illustrations and stories here at C201, but I always find this one most appropriate:

A chicken and a pig were discussing how they could do something for the farmer. Finally the chicken said, “He loves a good breakfast; why don’t we give him bacon and eggs?”

To this the pig replied, “That’s easy for you to say. All it demands of you is an offering, but for me it demands total sacrifice.” 2

Here are some things I think will help us remember what it means to live our lives as a living sacrifice. Each starts with the letter ‘s’ followed by a different vowel.

Sacrifice

If we are to judge it, the measure of a sacrifice is not the size of what is given, but the size of what is left over.

A sacrifice will cost us and it will be consumed. There is no taking back the investment of our energies, gifts or material possessions given up in the service and pleasing of God. The last distinction is important. In service we see tangible results. But God is sometimes pleased by our giving up of things. Ask yourself: How much cash would you put on the offering plate if, as it was in Old Testament times, what was giving was then burned? That’s what our Old Testament predecessors did with the best of their grain and animals.

Set-Apartness

If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

You have been set apart as holy to the LORD your God, and he has chosen you from all the nations of the earth to be his own special treasure. – Deuteronomy 14:2 NLT

He gave himself to rescue us from everything evil and to make our hearts pure. He wanted us to be his own people and to be eager to do right. – Titus 2:14 CEV

In a world that values conformity, no one wants to be the odd duck. Yet the book of Leviticus is essentially God wanting to insure that his people could maintain a distinct identity. It was all about showing yourself to be different.3

Sinlessness

Jerry Bridges has written,

Jesus said, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). We must honestly face the question, “Am I willing to give up a certain practice or habit that is keeping me from holiness?” It is at this point of commitment that most of us fail. We prefer to dally with sin, to try to play with it a little without getting too deeply involved. 4

Sovereignty

“There is a God. You are not Him,”

Many plans are in a person’s heart, but the LORD’s decree will prevail. – Proverbs 19:21 CSB

Jesus himself deferred to his Father on many occasions; providing us a reminder of who is in charge.

Surrender

When Abraham is asked to sacrifice is only son, we have the advantage that Abraham and Sarah didn’t; we know how the story ends. They did not, and yet Abraham is willing to do whatever it takes to obey God.5

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” – Genesis 22:2

Although we speak very different languages, two symbols are universal throughout the worldwide church. One is the word “Hallelujah” which I’m told is rendered the same in most languages. The other is lifted hands as a sign of surrender.

A writer at Charisma points out that our fingers, hands and arms are also most associated with human strength, power, creativity; both in a human sense and if we examine the Biblical record of God’s actions presented in a way we can best understand them. 6

 


1 Full video at YouTube.

2 This story is often used by leadership coaches as well. Here’s a longer version with the punchline contrasting contribution and commitment.

3 We looked at maintaining a distinct identity in this March, 2017 article.

4 We included more quotes from Jerry Bridges on this topic in this article.

5 This is excerpted from a fuller look at Abraham’s trip up the mountain with Isaac at this link.

6 See the full article about lifting hands at this link.

October 19, 2021

Deep Roots

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV.Col.2.6-7 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

NIV.Ps.1.3. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.

NIV.Jer.17.8. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.

This is our fifth time visiting the website Preacher Pollard but only the first time it has dawned on me that the Pollards are a bit of a dynasty, with five sharing writing responsibilities. This is our first time with Carl Pollard.

Clicking the header below will take you direct to today’s devotional on their page. You can then navigate around (click the blog banner at the top) and read other articles by each of them. They are shorter devotionals so you can read a half dozen of them, as I just did, in quick time.

Tap Root

There’s a tree in the Sonoran Desert called the Mesquite. This is a very hardy, drought-tolerant tree. It survives the harsh climate by drawing water up from the water table through its taproot. This root has been measured to reach upwards of 190 feet long.

How does a desert tree with a tap root apply to us? In Colossians 2:6, 7 there is a command to walk in Christ. How do we walk in Christ? Paul through inspiration explains that the one who walks in Christ is:

  • Firmly rooted
  • Built up in Him
  • Established in faith
  • Overflowing with gratitude, and
  • Rejects false doctrine

Being firmly rooted (I’m talking a super-long taproot) in what you believe is an important part of how to walk in Christ. How would we know how to walk in Christ if we didn’t believe in what we…believe?

Being built up in Christ, is like finishing a building that already has a foundation. If we are firmly rooted, then we must continue to build. It’s like buying a night at a hotel, and trying to stay a week. You can’t do that. We either keep paying the fee, or we’re kicked out. Or, applying it to Colossians two, keep studying and growing closer to Christ.

Being established in faith, we have the faith that the sacrifice of Jesus will keep us holy and blameless before God.

Overflowing with gratitude is a very important part of this. There is a saying that goes, “Some Christians don’t want to pray in the cafe. Dogs wag their tails when they get food, and pigs grunt. But what does man do?” Are we showing gratitude for what God has done for us? Can people see it in us?

Making sure no one takes you captive with false doctrine can be very hard. 2 Peter 3:17 warns, “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness.” False doctrines can be tempting because they appeal to what we want, and not what God wants. Rejecting these teachings takes a knowledge of the word, and a desire to do what God wills.

Today and every day, let’s practice walking in Christ using these principles from God’s inspired word.

 

October 8, 2021

Filling our Lives with Good

A year ago we introduced you to Michael Wilson who writes at Jesus Quotes and God Thoughts. Clicking the header which follows will take you there to read this, and then take some extra time to explore other articles.

Do We Want to See Good Days?

I must embrace life. I want to see my days fill up with good stuff.

God’s goal for us is to be honest. So, here is what I must do. I must say nothing evil or hurtful. Oh, the times I have said something and at once wished I could take it back. The better way is to not say evil and hurtful things.

I must cultivate discipline in my speech. I must be uplifting and encouraging. Then my days will fill with good.

For whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Master [Lord] are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Master [Lord] is against those who do evil.
English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Peter 3:10–12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Peter quoted these statements from Psalm 34:12–15, so it would be profitable for you to read the entire psalm. It describes what God means by “good days.”

  • They are not necessarily days free from problems, for the psalmist wrote about fears, troubles, afflictions, and even a broken heart.
  • A “good day” for the believer who “loves life” is not one in which he is pampered and sheltered, but one in which he experiences God’s help and blessing because of life’s problems and trials.
  • It is a day in which he magnifies the Master Jesus, experiences answers to prayer, tastes the goodness of God, and senses the nearness of God.

We must deliberately decide to love life. This is an act of the will: “He who wills to love life.” It is an attitude of faith that sees the best in every situation. It is the opposite of the pessimistic attitude expressed in Ecclesiastes 2:17: “Therefore I hated life … for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.”

  • We can decide to endure life and make it a burden, escape life as though we were running from a battle or enjoy life because we know God is in control.
  • Peter was not suggesting unrealistic psychological gymnastics that refused to face facts.
  • Rather, he was urging his readers to take a positive approach to life and by faith make the most of every situation.

We must control our tongues. Many of the problems of life are caused by the wrong words, spoken in the wrong spirit. Every disciple of Jesus should read James 3 regularly and pray Psalm 141:3 daily. How well Peter knew the sad consequences of hasty speech! There is no place for lies in the life of a saint.

We must do good and hate evil. We need both the positive and the negative. The Old English word “eschew” means more than just “avoid.” It means “to avoid something because you despise and loathe it.” It is not enough for us to avoid sin because sin is wrong; we ought to shun it because we hate it.

We must look for and pursue peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9).

  • If we go out and seek trouble, we will find it; but if we seek peace, we can find it as well. This does not mean “peace at any price,” because righteousness must always be the basis for peace.
  • It simply means that a disciple of Jesus exercises moderation as he relates to people and does not create problems because he wants to have his own way.
  • “If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18). Sometimes it is not possible! We are also admonished to work hard to achieve peace. It does not come automatically.

“But what if our enemies take advantage of us?” a persecuted disciple of Jesus might ask. “We may be seeking peace, but they are seeking war!” Peter gave them the assurance that God’s eyes are on His people and His ears open to their prayers. Peter learned that lesson when he tried to walk on the water without looking to Jesus. We must trust God to protect and provide, for He alone can defeat our enemies.

The next time you think you are having a “bad day,” and you hate life, read Psalm 34 and you may discover you are really having a “good day” to the glory of God!

September 23, 2021

Always Onward and Upward for the Christian, Right?

Thinking Through Abraham’s New Beginning

by Clarke Dixon

Everything is always upward and onward for the Christian, right?

We experience a new beginning with Jesus, a new life with God! So everything in life will always work out better, right? We have God’s presence to direct in every decision, so no more bad decisions. We have God’s power to help with every struggle, so no more struggles. We have God’s provision to provide for every need, so no more needs. So it is always onward and upward, right?

Well maybe not.

Today we will think through the life of Abraham who was arguably one of the most God-connected persons on the planet in his day. He had the privilege of a great new beginning when God called him with an incredible calling. So let us see how life worked out for Abraham and if it was always onward and upward. Here are a few things of note:

First, Abraham’s call to go was also a call to leave.

The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.

Genesis 12:1,2 (NLT emphasis added)

Abraham was called to live out a big, unsettling change. There would have been the experience of grief and loss. There was not even a clear vision of what is coming up.

God’s call to a new beginning with Him is often a call to experience change, loss, and upheaval.

We may be called to let go of some old habits, some old ways of thinking, including favourite “security blankets.” We will soon discover that these were better left behind anyway. However, it can mean upheaval for a season of one’s life. For some, that may be a long season.

We may be called to let go of relationships. I remember a fellow seminarian sharing how receiving Jesus meant leaving his family, or rather being disowned by his family. While that happened to him in another culture in another place, even here in Canada following Jesus might mean losing respect from peers.

The experience of change, including loss, can be part of walking with God, and that can get messy and be difficult. In fact if we are never experiencing any kind of change, maybe we are not walking with Jesus, but just sitting with religion.

For Abraham, responding to God’s call did not mean that life was always upward and onward, indeed it began with loss, grief, and upheaval. It may not always be onward and upward for us either.

Second, Abraham waffled his way through life, quite a lot.

Geographically, Abraham did a lot of wandering about between Genesis chapter 12, where we first meet him, and chapter 25 where we learn of his death. He went to the promised land, but then he also did a stint in Egypt and upon return seemed to live here, there, and everywhere. Life was anything but straightforward.

Abraham also waffled about in life decisions. Twice Abraham got his wife to say she was his sister. Perhaps not the best thing to do? Abraham and his wife Sarah also tried to ensure a descendant through Sarah’s maidservant, Hagar. While such arrangements were accepted within society in those days, that decision later led to great family dysfunction. Again, not the smartest idea, especially when God had a better plan.

If we feel like we are waffling about in life decisions, we are in good company. Abraham waffled about terribly also.

The Christian life is sometimes spoken of as if every day we can expect clear direction from the Lord in every decision. We are led to believe that there is always a clear path forward, a right path, and if you are a good Christian, you will see it, you will hear clearly from the Lord about it.

Reality is, life gets messy, even with God in it. We might need to adjust our expectations of ourselves and our ability to discern God’s will moment by moment. Abraham did not seem to have moment by moment direction from God. We might need to adjust our expectations of God.

If God made every decision for us, we would never learn to make a decision. We would never learn wisdom.

God, in his providence, worked it out for Abraham and his family despite the messiness of it all. God can work it out for us too. In the meantime it is not always onward and upward. Sometimes we waffle about.

Third, Abraham had questions for God.

So the LORD told Abraham, “I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, because their sin is so flagrant. I am going down to see if their actions are as wicked as I have heard. If not, I want to know.”
The other men turned and headed toward Sodom, but the LORD remained with Abraham. Abraham approached him and said, “Will you sweep away both the righteous and the wicked? Suppose you find fifty righteous people living there in the city—will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes? Surely you wouldn’t do such a thing, destroying the righteous along with the wicked. Why, you would be treating the righteous and the wicked exactly the same! Surely you wouldn’t do that! Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?”

Genesis 18:20-25 (NLT)

Abraham was not afraid to question God when God’s ways seemed, well, . . . questionable. And it was entirely appropriate. A relationship with God is exactly that, a relationship, which can include conversation and questions.

So when life gets messy and God’s ways seem questionable to us, shouldn’t our prayers get messy and honest? With God, life is not always onward and upward, with God’s ways always appearing to be crystal clear. Sometimes we have questions.

Fourth, it was never really about Abraham.

The call of God disrupted Abraham’s life. But Abraham was not the one who would receive the greatest blessing from his obedience:

The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.

Genesis 12:1-3 (NLT emphasis added)

Are we aware that the call of God is not really about us? Christianity can become quite self-centered, especially as it often starts out centered on ourselves, beginning with “how do I get to heaven?” This is often the starting point, then the next question becomes “how can I get God’s power to work in my life, for my benefit?”

Ironically, Jesus calls us to deny ourselves!

Are we willing to respond to that call, to make our connection with God through Jesus and His Spirit, be for the benefit of others? Are we leaving space for the generosity of God toward others in how our call plays out?

When we grow in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, others are blessed. When I respond to God’s call to be a good husband, my wife is blessed. When I respond to the call of God to be a good father, our sons are blessed.

If it was all about us, might we expect the perfect life? Now if God handed us the perfect life on a silver platter, would we grow? Would we ever really learn empathy and compassion? Might we not instead become even more self-centered?

The Christian life is not always onward and upward with respect to our feeling blessed. Sometimes it is about others being blessed through us and the changes God is bringing to us. Sometimes those changes come about precisely because it is not always onwards and upwards.

Fifth, Abraham was not in the driver’s seat.

There are moments where Abraham shows initiative and living with purpose. He did get up and move, he did show his willingness to do what God asked of him. But as for building a great nation through whom all nations of the earth would be blessed, only God could accomplish that! And it could only be done in God’s timing. There is no way Abraham could make it happen, no amount of effort, passion, or talent on Abraham’s part could bring it about.

We are called to walk with Jesus, not just now, but forevermore. Only God can make that happen, through Jesus, his death for our reconciliation, and through His Spirit.

The question is not “are we bringing about the call of God in our lives?”, as if it is something we can accomplish, but “are we cooperating with God in His call on our lives?”.

The Christian life is not always onward and upward as we do this, that, or the other brilliant thing, but sometimes it is resting in God, in His brilliance.

Conclusion

As we read through Genesis chapters 12-25, it becomes clear that for Abraham, life was not always onwards and upwards. However, it was a life of being faithful, and of depending on God to be faithful. Abraham is lifted up in Hebrews chapter 11 as an example of faith and faithfulness. The Book of Hebrews was originally written for a group of Christians facing persecution. Despite their new beginning with Jesus, life was not always onward and upward for them either! But it was a life of learning faithfulness to the God Who is faithful.

Let us remain faithful to and hopeful in the call of God, even when the path is anything but straightforward, even when life feels far from always onward and upward.

You can watch the preaching of this sermon here.

August 31, 2021

Remorse for Past Sin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Psalm 51, David writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have to be truly sorry for my sin.

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

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

 

 

July 1, 2021

Ready to Meet Your Maker?

Thinking Through 1st John 5:6-21

by Clarke Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

1 John 5:11-13 (NRSV)

What is the main point? You can have confidence!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

June 27, 2021

Only God Can Satisfy Our Thirst for God

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

Turn Off The Noise

Text: Psalms 61-67

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vivere Victorem! (Live Victorious!)

Your brother and servant in Christ,
Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!

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