Christianity 201

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?.

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

 

 

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