Christianity 201

July 3, 2019

Paul’s Noble List of Qualities and Characteristics

The Voice.I Cor.6.9-10 Do you need reminding that the unjust have no share in the blessings of the kingdom of God? Do not be misled. A lot of people stand to inherit nothing of God’s coming kingdom, including those whose lives are defined by sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, sexual deviancy, theft, greed, drunkenness, slander, and swindling. 11 Some of you used to live in these ways, but you are different now; you have been washed clean, set apart, restored, and set on the right path in the name of the Lord Jesus, the Anointed, by the Spirit of our living God.

The Voice.Gal.5.19 It’s clear that our flesh entices us into practicing some of its most heinous acts: participating in corrupt sexual relationships, impurity, unbridled lust, 20 idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, arguing, jealousy, anger, selfishness, contentiousness, division, 21 envy of others’ good fortune, drunkenness, drunken revelry, and other shameful vices that plague humankind. I told you this clearly before, and I only tell you again so there is no room for confusion: those who give in to these ways will not inherit the kingdom of God.

This article has been shortened from its original form at the blog Jesus Unboxed, which we’re featuring here for the second time. Rev. David Eck is the pastor of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church, Fairview, North Carolina, and Chaplain PRN at Mission Hospital, Asheville, North Carolina. You are strongly encouraged to click the header below and read the article in its entirety.

Fruits of the Spirit

…Paul says that those of us who exhibit these behaviors [in the above verses] “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” This is a sobering statement, indeed… So, what’s a poor sinner to do? What’s a hostile, argumentative, jealous, angry, fractured world to do?

Thankfully, St.Paul does not leave us hanging. He gives us a list of fruits, of qualities those who wish to be citizens of the kingdom of God, ought to possess. This is one of the most beautiful lists in all of scripture. It’s right up there with Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthains 13. It’s right up there with Jesus’ dual commands to love God, and love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves…

First of all, if we’re going to contribute to the healing of the world instead of it’s destruction, LOVE is at the top of the list. But this kind of LOVE is not mushy or sentimental. It is not camouflage for lustful intentions. This kind of LOVE is described in 1 Corinthians 13 as “patient and kind. It is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude…

Next on the list is JOY which begs us to answer the question: “When was the last time you truly felt JOY in your life?” Some of us might find it hard to recall a time when we felt pure joy. And this is a sad state of affairs. JOY is an essential part of life. If we have no joy, it’s easy to slip into all the awful behaviors I read to you at the beginning of the sermon.

     Psalm 30 reminds us that “Weeping may linger for the night, but JOY comes with the morning.” In other words, sorrow should not last forever, Just in case we think this notion is an isolated incident in Scripture, Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.  [Ecc 3:4] …

Third on the list is PEACE. People pay good money to have PEACE in their lives. They take classes on meditation, yoga, and how to live a healthier lifestyle. They go on retreats in nature, to escape the stresses of day to day living.

PEACE is a precious commodity that, to be honest, is hard to obtain if you’re poor, if you’re trangendered, if you’re hungry and homeless. Peace is hard to obtain if you live in a place where war and violence are an every day occurrence.

If we have the first three present in our lives it’s easier to exhibit the rest.

Starting with PATIENT ENDURANCE, which the NRSV translates as simply “patience.” However, I think PATIENT ENDURANCE is closer to the truth. Patience is a lot tougher than some of us think. I scream inside when the person in front of me is driving too slow, or is ringing up 20 items in a “10 items or less line” at the grocery store. I would not consider myself to be a patient person. It is an endurance test for me because my natural instinct is to be less than patient. That being said, if I have enough love, joy and peace in my life, it makes it a lot easier to keep the screaming inside of my head instead of letting it spill out all over the place. This is the fruit I think I need to work on the most! I suspect some of you feel the same way as I do!

Then there’s KINDNESS which is something that takes little effort on our part. Yet, it’s something that in danger of becoming instinct in a world where mortal outrage is the default button when it comes to speaking with other people. Perhaps, we can set a goal of doing one kind thing for someone every day. Surely, we can pull this off.

GENEROSITY is next on the list. I believe we are generous when we are thankful for the blessings we already have in life. We are generous when we see that there are those around us who have far, far less than we do. We are generous when we are content with who we are and where we are in life.

FAITHFULNESS is a beautiful fruit of the Spirit. I don’t know if its the Ares in me or not, but I’m faithful to those who are faithful to me. It is a sacred, protective instinct. Perhaps you possess this fruit of the Spirit as well.

That being said, the good news is that God is more faithful to us, than we are to God. The aspect of FAITHFULNESS we all need to work on is when people disappoint or betray us. When they ask us for forgiveness, can we be faithful enough to them to accept it?

GENTLENESS goes hand in hand with kindness. I don’t believe we can have one without the other. If we are kind to others, we do so with gentleness. If we are gentle with others, we are being kind to them.

Then, the list comes to a screeching halt when we arrive at SELF-CONTROL. It’s not as glamorous as love, peace and joy, but we cannot grow any of these fruits in our lives if we do not possess a certain amount of self-control. Self-control keeps us from doing all the things I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon. Self-control is that little voice inside our head that quietly tell us, “You know, I don’t think you should be doing that. I don’t think you should be saying that.”

Perhaps Paul got the order wrong because if we exercise self-control we are more likely to grow love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faithfulness and gentleness in our lives. We are more likely to avoid some of the negative behaviors I mentioned such as hostility, arguments, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, and envy.

My dear friends, the challenge is set before us. Paul has given us a noble list of qualities and characteristics we should try to grow in our lives. If we want our world to be a better place. If we want our nation to heal its divides, these nine fruits of the Spirit seem like a fine place to start. AMEN.

June 28, 2019

When Jesus Gets Angry

In 1964 a man named Elton Trueblood wrote a book titled The Humor of Christ. I believe I was given a copy but can no longer place it. An artist once painted a picture called Jesus Laughing (see below), which I believe was intended to act as a contrast to Warner Sallman’s popular Head of Christ picture.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have a new book by Tim Harlow titled What Made Jesus Mad? Rediscover the Blunt, Sarcastic, Passionate Savior of the Bible. (Thomas Nelson, 2019) We often speak of “the wrath of God,” but we don’t usually focus on “the wrath of Jesus.”

I have not read the book, but I find the concept challenging. At the book’s website, we read:

Christians love to focus on the gentle and tender heart of Jesus.

We often don’t know what to do with the Bible’s stories of his righteous rage. Yet the truth is, while the Son of God was loving and tender, his words could be equally sharp and biting. The same man who said, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44) also said, “You snakes, how will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:33).

What if by coming to understand God’s holy anger, we come to know a savior we never knew before?

Yesterday, in the Pastor2Pastor newsletter I receive, there was an interview with the author. I hesitate to post it all — though it would fit here — because of the copyright notice, but I’ll share a few of the questions and part of the answers.

Q: This month your new book was released, called What Made Jesus Mad? What did make Jesus mad, would you say?
A: I think there was a theme to Jesus’ anger: Denied Access to the Father. 

Q: For you, what is the key story of Jesus getting mad? 

A:  I think the key story has to be what I call the Temple Tantrum.😊 At one point Jesus says: “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” Mark 11:17

There are three parts to that statement: a den of robbers, house of prayer, and for all nations...

Q: Was Jesus really mad a lot?
A:  To be clear, I can only really find three times when the Bible tells us Jesus is angry.  But listen to the language.  It’s hard to call someone a “brood of vipers” or a “child of hell” or tell someone they’d be better off with a “millstone” necklace and thrown into the sea – with a smile on your face.  There are more red, red letters than we like to admit.

Q:  What were the main issues Jesus got mad about?
A:  Four things caused Jesus to be angry, and all of them were directed at the “church” people: Legalism, Hypocrisy, Judgmentalism, and Indifference to need...

…I don’t think Christians are comfortable with grace; that’s the problem.  And when we’re not comfortable, we sure don’t want other people to be.

We are not comfortable with Jesus’ approach to the woman caught in adultery in John 8.  Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you, now go and leave your life of sin.”  We believe Jesus should have said, “go and leave your life of sin, and then I won’t condemn you.”…

Again, we cannot overlook to whom his anger is directed.

I think that any book which causes us to delve further into the person of the Son of God Incarnate is going to be helpful, even if it looks at themes in ways we may not have considered.

I want to add again, that this isn’t a review and neither was I compensated for promoting the book in this way.


Go Deeper:

We are more familiar with the idea of grieving the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 4:30 reads:

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (NIV)

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.
 (NLT)

Where would you begin your list of things which grieve the Holy Spirit?


* The Jesus Laughing painting

June 21, 2019

Basic Instructions Before Leaving Your Daily Devotional Time

Today we’re returning to the website, All About Reflections. The writer of this piece is C. Michelle Bryant, who is a freelance writer and the author of the devotional book “God, are You Listening?”

Rules to Live By

Rules to Live By – It’s so Elementary
Let’s take a trip back in time. For some of you it may be a further journey than others. Return with me to your younger days, when you stepped into your first elementary school classroom. You can probably envision all the desks strategically placed within sight of the teacher’s and can look back on exactly where the hooks were for hanging coats, gloves and so on. As you may also recall, your eyes glanced around the top of the blackboard to the alphabet with handwritten upper and lower case letters drawn beside a picture that started with the appropriate letter like an apple or a ball. You scanned the room with its bright colors and gasped at the joy of discovering all that was contained within these new four walls. Right now your heart is beating erratically from the reminiscent memories of your schooldays, as your mind seems to disconnect from reality, isn’t it?

But don’t stop there. Think even further. Close your eyes. Look off in the corner by the teacher’s desk, near the blackboard. There sits another desk for the one unruly student who simply can’t seem to get it together that day. Perhaps it is the daydreamer or the student who marches to the beat of a different drum. And right beside that small desk — a list. Do you recall the list? That’s right, every classroom has one…the list of classroom rules. Raise your hand. Be polite. Respect each other. Don’t talk when someone else is talking — things like that. As a substitute teacher I personally love to see this list when I walk into a classroom. Its posting serves as a reminder that this particular group of students are held accountable and made aware on a daily of what is expected of them. So, with that said, you can imagine how ecstatic I was when I found my “adult” list of rules for living.

Rules to Live By – Finding My Rules
One day, while doing my daily devotions, I ran across this scripture in a New Century Version Bible. It was so pure and simple it rocked my world in a way that I cannot explain except to take me back to my childhood days in elementary school. It is from Romans 12:9-21:

Your love must be real. Hate what is evil, and hold on to what is good. Love each other like brothers and sisters. Give each other more honor than you want for yourselves. Do not be lazy but work hard, serving the Lord with all your heart. Be joyful because you have hope. Be patient when trouble comes, and pray at all times. Share with God’s people who need help. Bring strangers in need into your homes. Wish good for those who harm you; wish them well and do not curse them. Be happy with those who are happy, and be sad with those who are sad. Live in peace with each other. Do not be proud, but make friends with those who seem unimportant. Do not think how smart you are. If someone does wrong to you, do not pay him back by doing wrong to him. Try to do what everyone thinks is right. Do your best to live in peace with everyone…If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink….Do not let evil defeat you, but defeat evil by doing good.

Can’t you just see those on posters around a classroom?

1). Hate what is evil!
2). Hold on to what is good!
3). Do not be lazy but work hard!
4). Serve the Lord with all your heart!
5). Be patient when trouble comes!
6). Pray at all times!…

…you get the idea.

This scripture has been that “rules for living” list for me. I’ve printed them out one by one and placed them around my house as a daily reminder of how God wants me to live. They are my mantra for my life. I need them like I need air. I believe we all do.

Rules to Live By – Will you join me?
I hope you read each one over and over again and really chew on its meaning and that they would move you as they have me. Perhaps you feel it is too overwhelming, too much to take in all at once. I challenge you to grab one or two and focus on that for one month. Then do that one and another one for the next month and so on. Imagine what kind of world we would live in if everyone followed these rules on a daily basis. I hope that you will join with me in the quest of not just “making” the world a better place but “leaving” the world a better place.

I think I should warn you though, that should you choose not to join me, I’m perfectly content to sit in the unruly desk all by myself- serving the Lord with all my heart.

June 19, 2019

Quotations: Paul the Apostle

Today we’re back with our quotations series, but for a change, I thought I’d try our various sources and see what they came up with if I typed “Paul the Apostle,” “Apostle Paul,” or “Paul of Tarsus.” (I’ve always wanted to see what the general, non-faith websites might come up with, many were quotations about the Apostle Paul.)

It was interesting that some of the sites made no attempt to cite the reference for the quote, and none of the sites indicated which translation of the Bible they were using. When you’re doing this, you start to get a few repeats, but the Guideposts site (see below) had a refreshing collection of ten key verses that the others had overlooked.

Also these were copied and pasted somewhat randomly. Slow down and take from these what God would have you be reminded of today, since the verses are quite familiar.

Remember also that if you want to know which are the most sought after verses for each of Paul’s epistles and letters, you should go to TopVerses.com and use the book-by-book links. (I didn’t use TopVerses for this collection; it might produce different results.)

I guess everything is in green today, because everything is a scripture verse. At least I don’t have to supply a biographic link this time, as I think you know who I’m referring to!


Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.


For when I am powerless, it is then that I am strong.


I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.


I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.


Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.


There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.


Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.


But God commended his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us


I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.
Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own [will], is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.


And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.


Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.


Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.


Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.


Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.


Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.


I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.


For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.


God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.


In whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the good news of the glory of the Messiah, who is the image of God.”



Sources:

Inspiring Quotes, AZ Quotes, BeliefNet, Quotes and Thoughts, Guideposts

June 3, 2019

Sinning Against Another, Sinning Against Yourself, Sinning Against God

NLT Ps. 51:3 For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.
4 Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight.

In the title of today’s article, the first two categories don’t exist. It’s a topic we’ve covered here several times, but all sin is sin against God. It’s his holy standards that we miss, not those of our neighbor or ourselves.

It’s easy to believe your own press, or as some would say today, believe the picture you paint on Facebook. You can buy into the image that people have of you. You can decide that nine-out-of-ten is good enough. You can rationalize that the ministry is still happening, people are still getting saved, money is still being raised, the teaching is still being distributed. You don’t admit weakness, that would be letting people down.

I can only imagine what it’s like when you’re the king, especially when your nation or state is somewhat theocratic in nature. Like King David.

Psalm 51 is his particular prayer of confession. In the KJV the words are iconic,

…my sin is ever before me.

David admits he can’t run and he can’t hide from the thing he has done, or the person he has become. It’s what he sees when looks in the mirror. He owns up to it. I believe that whatever sin we give into, no matter how private, no matter how secret; it will manifest itself at some point in some more open way. Bathsheba presented a tremendous opportunity — her husband was away at the time — but it wasn’t the first time David had looked at a woman. Or perhaps not even the first time David had hatched a scheme.

You don’t become an adulterer overnight. It happens when you have failed to pre-book your choices. It happens when you’ve never recognized your susceptibility. It happens when pride gives you spiritual over-confidence.

Then, again using the KJV, he says,

Against thee, thee only, have I sinned

Jerry Bridges says, “We never see sin aright unless we see it as against God.”

  • When you maligned your co-worker, you sinned not against them, but against God
  • When you cheated on that test, you sinned not against the school or the teacher, but against God
  • When you falsified that document, you sinned not against the organization or the government, but against God
  • When you flirted with the girl in the grocery store, you sinned not against them or against your wife, but against God

You get the pattern.

Some of the resolutions people made at the start of the year are long broken. If they carried with them moral or spiritual significance, it isn’t just a personal letdown, you don’t just fail yourself, but rather it’s sin against God.

A key verse on this topic is,

I Sam. 2:25a If one person sins against another, God may mediate for the offender; but if anyone sins against the Lord, who will intercede for them?”

The preceding verses provide the context; here’s how The Message expresses this:

22-25 By this time Eli was very old. He kept getting reports on how his sons were ripping off the people and sleeping with the women who helped out at the sanctuary. Eli took them to task: “What’s going on here? Why are you doing these things? I hear story after story of your corrupt and evil carrying on. Oh, my sons, this is not right! These are terrible reports I’m getting, stories spreading right and left among God’s people! If you sin against another person, there’s help—God’s help. But if you sin against God, who is around to help?”

Perhaps you find the meaning of this rather self-evident. Several of the study Bibles and commentaries I consulted seem to gloss over it without adding detail. The Reformation Study Bible says,

Eli’s point is that while there may be some mediation of disputes between people, when someone offends God there is no one who can intervene.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary noted:

When a man has a complaint against another, the matter can be decided by God through his representative, the judge (Ps. 82:3), or by the sacred lot in the hand of the priest. But in a case in which God is the plaintiff, there can be no reference to a disinterested party the crime incurs the direct vengeance of heaven.  (p.277)

Although the context is quite different, the language of that verse to me is always similar to Acts 5:39, “But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” What I get is there is a sense of God’s vested interest in certain affairs (though the verse means far more than that); it conveys the image of sitting across the table in direct confrontation with God.  You don’t want that.

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.

In Daniel 9, we see Daniel praying on behalf of the nation:

5 …But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. 6 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.

A pastor once 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.

I am not living toward Jerusalem 24/7. I am distracted by worldly ideas. If you’re a guy, are you tempted by the girl at the mall in the miniskirt? 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.


Psalm 51 – Worship Liturgy by Ruth Wilkinson

Show me your grace, Yahweh, according to Your faithful love;
erase my rebellion, according to Your overflowing compassion.

Wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin.

I know what I’ve done wrong.
I remember where I’ve missed the path.

I’ve done wrong against You – the only one who has the right to judge and to pass sentence.

But I’ve been going wrong my whole life, when what You want for me is integrity for my inner self.
And from within, You teach me deep wisdom.
You purify me.
You make me clean.

Fill my ears with gladness; fill my broken bones with joy.

Yahweh, create in me a willing heart,
an unwavering spirit,
the joy of Your salvation,
the presence of Your Spirit.

Open my mouth to teach the other rebels,
to sing Your righteousness
and to call the other sinners home to You.

Lord, break my heart and humble my spirit.
Because You don’t want just my stuff, or I’d give it.

What pleases You is the offering of a broken and humbled heart,
and what flows from there.

When my spirit is right with You, then You’ll delight in what I bring.
And You can have it all.


Today’s article includes excerpts from When You Hit Bottom, Jerry Bridges Quotations, Owning It, Sins Against Another; Against God,

May 23, 2019

A Compelling Life

How Christian Ethics Point to the Reality of God.

by Clarke Dixon

Is the kind of life Christianity leads to compelling? Is it a beautiful life, or is it ugly? If Christianity is compelling, and if God is good, then we would expect the way God would have us live should bring beauty and not ugliness. So does it?

Some would say no. In the Margaret Atwood novel, A Hand Maid’s Tale, everything is supposedly ordered according to the Bible. It does not take too long for the reader to figure out that this is a very ugly society. Many would say that even without such Christian state control, the Christian life is ugly. The Christian life is described as blindly following many, many rules without any thought as to whether they are good or not. So is the Christian life beautiful or ugly? People may portray the Christian life as ugly, or even live out a Christian life that is ugly, but the Bible points to a life that is beautiful for the following reasons.

First, the Christian life is a Jesus centred life. 

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV emphasis added)

The focus was not to be on the what the teachers of the law commanded in Jesus’ day. The focus is not to be on what the teachers of the law command in ours. The focus is on Jesus and what he commanded. It is not about powerful people or powerful traditions. It is about Jesus.

The focus is on Jesus, even when we are reading the letters of Paul, Peter, James, or John. The letters in the New Testament are not “here is something new, because Jesus did not say enough,” but, “here are the implications of Jesus on theology, and here is what the Jesus-focused life looks like for us.” What we have in the letters are the apostles working out the implications of Jesus for first century Rome, Corinth, Ephesus and so on.

This has important implications. Take slavery, for example. Some would say that the inclusion of slavery in the Bible demonstrates that the Christian life is ugly. Does the New Testament support the institution of slavery? Slavery was a part of life in that day, a fact which was not going to change anytime soon. Since slavery was a part of life, Paul offers how a Jesus-centred person should live when they happen to be a slave, or a slave holder. In fact, there are beautiful implications as we discover in Paul’s letter to Philemon where Philemon is encouraged to take back his runaway slave, Onesimus, “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother” (Philemon 16 NRSV). Philemon’s Jesus-focused life was to be a thing of beauty for Onesimus. Life is beautiful when it is impacted by Jesus.

All of the New Testament letters are part of the Word of God, yes. However, we do not read Paul’s letters to find out how to become a Paul follower, or how to be more focused on Paul in our lives. We read Paul to discover how people were encouraged to be Jesus followers, to live Jesus-centred lives in the first century. This helps us discover how we can live Jesus-focused lives in our day.

A Jesus-centred life is a beautiful life. Of course this is so, Jesus was a beautiful man! Notice the way he related to people, his integrity, his reverence for the Father, his focus on the spirit of the law and not the letter, his ability to challenge and unravel the status quo, his living out of the Great Commandments, his good works. Notice how he gave his life to rescue you and I from sin. Jesus is beautiful. A Jesus-centred life is a beautiful life.

Second, the Christian life is a Spirit filled life.

22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-25 (NRSV emphasis added)

The “fruit of the Spirit” is all beautiful stuff! We would describe a person whose character is marked by such traits as being a beautiful person.

Fruit grows naturally. A beautiful character is the natural consequence of a relationship with God. Fruit naturally grows where the conditions are right. Our part is to see that the conditions are good by keeping our connection with God open through prayer, Bible reading, relationships with other Christians, and worship. But God is the One who makes fruit grow. A Spirit filled Life is a beautiful life.

Third, the Christian life is a life of wisdom.

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace. James 3:13-18 (NRSV emphasis added)

The letter of James has been described by some Biblical scholars as being like the “wisdom literature” from the Old Testament. It points to the good life and how to live well. Notice the focus on gentleness and peace. The wise person knows that being gentle and peaceable is a good thing. A wise person living in wisdom is a beautiful thing. A life of wisdom is a beautiful life.

Conclusion.

Some paint the Christian life as being ugly. It is portrayed as blindly following rules without any thought given as to whether those rules are helpful or not. It is portrayed as a very narrow life with no fun allowed at all. But that’s not it! The Christian is to be Jesus-centred, Spirit filled, and wise! The Christian life is a beautiful life, just as we should expect if Christianity is true, if God is good. While many world-views and religions can lead to ugly places, the beauty of the Christian life is yet another aspect of Christianity that is compelling.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

 

August 14, 2018

Enter the Most Holy Place

by Russell Young

The writer of Hebrews taught about the activities of the Most Holy Place. The heavenly system of worship was represented by the tabernacle practices. God had revealed to Moses that the sanctuary was “a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.” (Heb 8:5) Moses had been commanded to make everything according to the pattern that had been revealed to him on the mountain. Consequently, the functioning of heavenly operations is revealed in tabernacle worship.

Priests regularly entered the outer room to carry on ministry. They offered animal sacrifices to provide atonement for sin on behalf of the people as they came forth and made their needs known. “But only the high priest entered the inner room (the Most Holy Place), and that only once a year and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.” (Heb 9:7) Christ is the believer’s high priest.

Since we have been given confidence to enter the Most Holy Place through our dwelling in Christ availed by his body, we can draw near to God with a sincere heart and in the full assurance of our faith. Our hearts have been sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and we have had our bodies washed with pure water. Not only should we have the confidence to enter the Most Holy Place, we ought to enter. It is in the Most Holy Place that Christ ministers and believers have been invited into his presence. The writer has encouraged, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.” (Heb 5:16) He recorded these words after reminding his readers that nothing in creation is hidden from the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

The “time of need” is when we are facing or have given in to temptations; when we need strength for victory or when we have sinned. He is able to sympathize with our weakness (v 15) because he faced all the temptations to which we are subjected and did not sin. He knows all about the body that brings death and will be merciful to the contrite in heart because he understands the attractions of the flesh.

Christ is the believer’s helper and advocate; however, the one seeking him must “approach,” or be active in the pursuit of forgiveness. John has written, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9) Christ is for us but failure to confess and repent shows disregard for the holiness of God and deliberately continuing to sin is disrespect and defiance. Deliberate sinning will not be forgiven (Heb 10:26); it is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. (Num 15:30)

All sin is offensive to God. Paul taught, “For the wages of sin is death…” (Rom 6:23) Although many think that this does not apply to confessors, preceding this statement Paul addressed the need of those seeking holiness and eternal life (Rom 6:22) to be slaves to righteousness (Rom 6:18) and slaves to God. (Rom 6:22) Sinning is being a slave to sin (Jn 8:34) which leads to death. (Rom 6:16) John has written that, “no one who lives in him keeps on sinning,” and the Lord taught that being a slave to sin results in removal from the family. (Jn 8:35)

The encouraging truth is that sins committed in ignorance will be mediated by Christ as high priest. Just as in Jewish tabernacle worship, a person cannot offer a sacrifice or seek forgiveness regarding a sin about which he is unaware. The Most Holy Place can be entered by those needing to be cleansed from known sin. In relation to the need for continued cleansing, before his crucifixion the Lord washed the disciples’ feet. When Peter objected the Lord cautioned him that without feet washing Peter would have no part with him and further explained that “the person who has had a bath [been washed in the blood and cleansed] needs only to wash his feet. The whole body is clean.” (Jn 13:10) The feet are the part of the body that became dirty or soiled throughout the day; just as the feet become dirty, the body may give in to sinful temptations in the course of the day. The Most Holy Place can be entered to accomplish needed cleansing in the pursuit of holiness.

Christ is our mediator, he knows the weaknesses of the flesh, but he also knows the heart attitude of those who are “lukewarm” or rebellious and who are unwilling to engage the battle for righteousness. His mercy and grace will not apply to those who defiantly continue to sin and who defy his sovereignty and lordship. Everything that is needed for life and godliness has been provided (2 Pet 1:3) and a godly life is expected. The Lord who is the Spirit (2 Cor 3:17, 18) indwells believers and leads and empowers for righteousness. He also knows the commitment each has made to honor the one whom they had covenanted to be their Lord. (Rom 10:9) In the end, he holds the keys to death and Hades (Rev 1:18) and his judgments will prevail.

Those going before the throne of grace in the Most Holy Place need to appreciate that the only offering acceptable to God is one without blemish. Peter admonished, “So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to [a new heaven and a new earth], make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with [God].” (2 Pet 3:14) Peter was requiring something of believers. They were to walk circumspectly. They were also to confidently enter the Most Holy Place as needed for purification. Paul said that we are to “continue to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12) Believers are to walk humbly before the Lord and to pursue righteousness. Paul admonished his readers to “do everything without complaining or arguing, so that [they] may become blameless and pure children of God without fault…” (Phil 2:14)

Believers need to appreciate that Christ ministers in the Most Holy Place and that he desires for them to enter and to have their feet washed; however, they must humbly and confidently enter that most sacred realm. As he told Peter, those who reject the washing of their feet will have no part with him.


Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

(All Scriptures are from the NIV unless otherwise noted.)

April 28, 2018

Justly, Kindly, Humbly

Today we’re introducing you to a writer appearing for the first time here at C201. Martha Anderson has been writing devotions at Strengthened by Grace since January, 2014 and is the author of four books available on Lulu.com as she explains at her site:

One is “Food for the Soul,” and it takes you through forty-five Old Testament daily devotionals, complete with some explanation and application questions. The second was just finished, “More Food for the Soul,” with seventy-eight New Testament daily devotionals…There are also three books that take you chronologically through Jesus’ life, “Jesus Changes Everything and He is Changing Me.” The 4th one takes you through the book of Acts.

To learn more click this link. Click the title below to read today’s devotional at source. I’ve added a song at the end which is based on today’s key scripture.

How to please God

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:8

The prophet Micah was asking about how to please God in Micah 6.  He asked if he should come before God with thousands of animals for burnt offerings or ten thousands of rivers of oil to burn incense as a fragrant offering.   In today’s terms we might ask if we should go to church three times a week, become a missionary, or give all of your money to a good cause.

No, the answer is still the same.   God gives a picture of His true heart for how we should live in a way that pleases Him.  We should pursue justice, to love kindness and to be humble.  God’s answer to Israel and to us is today’s verse:  pursue justice, love kindness and be humble before God and others.

We find a similar response in Isaiah 58.  In that chapter, God told the people of Israel that even though they sought Him daily and even fasted to be religious, it didn’t amount to much.  God told them if they really wanted to please Him they should end wickedness, oppression, and injustice, to feed the hungry and take in the homeless.

The justice that we are to pursue isn’t just for ourselves; it is for those who have no voice.  It might be for those who don’t have the financial resources to get a good lawyer, or for children and the unborn.   God wants us to see others that are not as well off as we are and find ways to help them.

We are not to get confused and to think that ‘social justice’ is the Gospel, as some movements do.   But if I live a grace and truth filled, joyful and Jesus centered life–that should make me different. It should make me incredibly generous, and quick to embrace the messy people who have more needs than I can meet. I should be looking for ways to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

My eyes should always be looking outward, not in at my own safe little heterogeneous group or navel gazing at myself. One of my capstone verses is John 10:16 where Jesus says, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold, I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice.”

Micah 6:8 mentions both justice and kindness. Synonyms for kindness are: gentleness, affection, warmth, concern and care.   This is a fruit of the Spirit, so as I am walking in the Spirit, kindness should be front and center. That slogan about practicing ‘random acts of kindness’ is kind of funny. Really, we should be practicing ‘intentional and well thought out acts of kindness on a regular basis.’ But that doesn’t make for a good t-shirt slogan.

Finally, God wants us to be humble.  It is easier to think about the opposite trait, which is pride.  James 4:6 tells us, “God oppose the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  And in Philippians 2:3 Paul writes, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”  As Tim Keller said in The Art of Self Forgetfulness, “It’s not that you think less of yourself, it’s that you think of yourself less.” That’s what God is looking for. The thing about humility is that when you achieve it, no one will notice!

If you want to know how to please God, here it is: stand up for someone who can’t speak for him or herself, do an intentional and well thought out act of kindness daily, and make sure you don’t get the credit for it.

March 6, 2018

John Newton Quotations

Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Zion, city of our God!
He, whose Word cannot be broken,
Formed thee for His own abode;
On the Rock of Ages founded,
What can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded,
Thou mayst smile at all thy foes.

Blest inhabitants of Zion,
Washed in the Redeemer’s blood!
Jesus, whom their souls rely on,
Makes them kings and priests to God;
’Tis His love His people raises
Over self to reign as kings,
And as priests, His solemn praises
Each for a thank off’ring brings.

~ Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken – John Newton

Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God. (Psalm 87:3)

Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken. But there the glorious Lord will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby. (Isaiah 33: 21-22)

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King… As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God: God will establish it for ever. (Psalm 48: 1-2,8)

No doubt like many of you, we sang Amazing Grace in our church on Sunday. It’s author, John Newton said many other things too! First, Wikipedia reminds us that Newton “was an Anglican clergyman in England who served as a sailor in the Royal Navy for a period, and later as the captain of slave ships. He became ordained as an evangelical Anglican cleric, served Olney, Buckinghamshire for two decades, and also wrote hymns, known for “Amazing Grace” and “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” [see above]. Newton started his career at sea at a young age, and worked on slave ships in the slave trade for several years. After experiencing a period of Christian conversion Newton eventually renounced his trade and became a prominent supporter of abolitionism, living to see Britain’s abolition of the African slave trade in 1807.

Because his change of heart on the matter of slavery did not happen until much after his spiritual conversion, he marked the date of the latter annual but would say he was not a true believer until he became an abolitionist.


You will likewise find advantage, by attending as much as you can on those preachers whom God has blessed with much power, life, and success in their ministry. And in this you will do well not to confine yourself to any denomination or party for the Spirit of the Lord is not confined. Different men have different gifts and talents. I would not wish you to be a slavish admirer of any man. Christ alone is our Master and Teacher. But study the excellencies of each: and if you observe a fault in any (for no human models are perfect), you will see what you are yourself to avoid


Experience is the Lord’s school, and they who are taught by Him usually learn by the mistakes they make that in themselves they have no wisdom; and by their slips and falls, that they have no strength.”


Assurance grows by repeated conflict, by our repeated experimental proof of the Lord’s power and goodness to save; when we have been brought very low and helped, sorely wounded and healed, cast down and raised again, have given up all hope, and been suddenly snatched from danger, and placed in safety; and when these things have been repeated to us and in us a thousand times over, we begin to learn to trust simply to the word and power of God, beyond and against appearances: and this trust, when habitual and strong, bears the name of assurance; for even assurance has degrees.


Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.


I compare the troubles which we have to undergo in the course of the year to a great bundle of sticks, far too large for us to lift. But God does not require us to carry the whole at once. He mercifully unties the bundle, and gives us first one stick, which we are to carry today, and then another, which we are to carry tomorrow, and so on. This we might easily manage, if we would only take the burden appointed for us each day; but we choose to increase our troubles by carrying yesterday’s stick over again today, and adding tomorrow’s burden to our load, before we are required to bear it.


Your constitution, your situation, your temper, your distemper, all that is either comfortable or painful in your lot, is of his appointment. The hairs of your head are all numbered: the same power which produced the planet Jupiter is necessary to the production of a single hair, nor can one of them fall to the ground without his notice, any more than the stars can fall from their orbits. In providence, no less than in creation, he is Maximus in minimis. Therefore fear not; only believe. Our sea may sometimes be stormy, but we have an infallible Pilot, and shall infallibly gain our port.


Happy is that family where the worship of God is constantly and conscientiously maintained. Such houses are temples in which the Lord dwells, and castles garrisoned by a Divine power.


The Bible is the grand repository … It is the complete system of divine truth, to which nothing can be added, and from which nothing can be taken, with impunity. Every attempt to disguise or soften any branch of this truth, in order to accommodate it to the prevailing taste around us, either to avoid the displeasure, or to court the favour, of our fellow mortals, must be an affront to the majesty of God, and an act of treachery to men.


It belongs to your calling of God as a minister, that you should have a taste of the various spiritual trials which are incident to the Lord’s people, that thereby you may know how to speak a word in season to them that are weary; and it is likewise needful to keep you perpetually attentive to that important admonition, “Without Me ye can do nothing.


I endeavored to renounce society, that I might avoid temptation. But it was a poor religion; so far as it prevailed, only tended to make me gloomy, stupid, unsociable, and useless.


And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility that they are willing in words to debase the creature, and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of. Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit. Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace.


The Word of God is not to be used as a lottery; nor is it designed to instruct us by shreds and scraps, which, detached from their proper places, have no determinate import; but it is to furnish us with just principles, right apprehensions to regulate our judgments and affections, and thereby to influence and direct our conduct.


When people are right with God, they are apt to be hard on themselves and easy on other people. But when they are not right with God, they are easy on themselves and hard on others.


How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
in a believer’s ear!
It soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds,
and drives away our fear.

It makes the wounded spirit whole
and calms the troubled breast;
’tis manna to the hungry soul,
and to the weary, rest.


If two angels were sent down from heaven,–one to conduct an empire, and the other to sweep a street,–they would feel no inclination to change employments.


Sources: Christian Quotes, A-Z Quotes, Inspiring Quotes, Timeless Truths,  Grace Quotes, Hail and Fire, Hymnary.org.

 

 

 

 

March 5, 2018

Vertical Devotionals

There’s a story here. My other blog runs a feature every week where we do a news and opinion roundup called Wednesday Link List. This week, we’re running edition #400, so we went looking to find #1. We located it in early January, 2010, and decided to try the links. One of them was to a blog called More Than Useless, written by Thom Fowler who pastors two churches and also works full-time in retail. There we found he has continued to be faithfully writing ever since, even though we’d lost contact over the years.

So we emailed him (which we don’t usually do) and told him how it all came about and asked if we could use his material here at C201 and asked him to select a few pieces. Today we present you with two of them which are vertical in orientation, in other words, prayer-like in their composition. He describes his process as, “Basically, my blogs are taken from my journal, typed just as I have written them. I open with a short prayer and then read a passage of scripture. After that I usually write whatever I feel the Lord saying to me about the passage.” Click the titles to read at source.

I Have a Tree

Father, thank You for getting me up this morning. It was very tempting to remain in bed but I cannot, my spiritual fitness suffers if I do not take time to regularly meet with You. Thank You for caring so much about my spiritual health, not just this morning but for everything You have done so I can find salvation in You.

20 Timothy, guard what God has entrusted to you. Avoid godless, foolish discussions with those who oppose you with their so-called knowledge. 21 Some people have wandered from the faith by following such foolishness.

1 Timothy 6:20-21

I would ask, Lord that you would help me to guard what You have entrusted to me. Please give me the strength and the courage and the wisdom and the love to proclaim Your Good News to everyone I can.

Our world is replete with “godless, foolish” notions and there is so much banter back and forth. Help me to invest my time, thoughts and efforts wisely – putting my efforts into things worthy of eternity and Your kingdom.

In my mind’s eye, I see an orchard. I have my tree and everyone else has a tree, too. Each of our trees bears a regular harvest and that harvest is impacted by those things with which we feed and nurture our tree. We water and fertilize our trees but we can also graft in branches from other trees as well. All of these contribute to the kind of fruit we will glean from our trees and for that matter, the kind of fruit others will glean as well from our trees.

Lord, my tree is a gift from You – it is my life. I have done good and bad things to my tree but it is what it is. I have freely chosen to do with it as I will. First of all, I am grateful that I have given my tree back to You. You know what is best for its growth. You have trimmed out dead and diseased patches. You have grafted in branches that strengthen me and help me to produce better fruit. I still, quite often, have to interject things that hinder my growth. But You are patient and help me little by little rid them from my life. Lord, help me to guard what You have entrusted to me. Help me to be very careful with what I nurture my tree. My greatest desire is for the Master Gardener to use my tree as He sees fit and that its fruit will nourish others for years to come.

Swept Up into Your Arms

When I call You, Father, that denotes that I am Your child…and there is no better place to be. Life is a big thing. It is full of good things. It is full of bad things. As a child needs a parent to navigate through all the good and the bad in life, I need You.

Prior to writing this morning, I have already processed many things, good and bad. I’ve read of people’s love for each other, the joy of welcoming children into this world and the anticipation of the same. I’ve also read of people’s disregard for the preciousness of life and the audacity they have of expressing that mentality to others…and unfortunately the pain that such words can bring.

As I sit here, I need You Father. Not to just to hold my hand or to pat me on the head but I feel the need to be swept up into Your arms and to bury my face in Your strong shoulder. To be held tight. To feel Your strength…and Your love…Your understanding…Your comfort. Those are the things we so often need. These are the things we crave.

So many of us go through life and we never experience these things. The last part of James 4:2 states,

“You do not have because you do not ask God.”

Father, I am asking and I want to encourage others to ask, as well. You are willing and You are more than able. You can meet every single one of our needs. You can strengthen us for the paths we must tread. And much of that strength is in knowing that You are by our side. May we never forget what a great and awesome Father we have. Amen.

March 3, 2018

Can Any Christian Do Deliverance Ministry or is it a Specialized Gifting?

This is a question which came up today and I thought I’d share it with you, 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.

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 as we proceed.

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 of the verse 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 whole. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

February 25, 2018

Sunday Worship

You are holy; you sit as king receiving the praises of Israel.
– Psalm 22:3 NET

Today we feature the writing of singer, composer, recording artist and worship leader Tommy Walker. Today’s writing is part testimony, part teaching.

Understanding the Breakthrough Power of Worship

I can’t remember how many times I have felt like God was a million miles away and then, in an instant, I recognized that He was closer than the air I breathe.

The Bible says in Psalm 22:3 that He actually lives and dwells in our praises. This is the mystery and the miracle of the breakthrough power and presence of God when we worship! When we worship, we affirm the truth of God’s Word, and it is being rooted deep in our hearts.

When I was 11 years old, the Jesus Movement was taking hold in my hometown of El Paso, Texas. The church I attended began to be filled with long-haired, barefoot hippies. We sang acapella songs like “Hallelujah” over and over again. It really was an authentic, powerful move of God, but I was very young, so most of the time I was bored and distracted. However, I do remember watching the Holy Spirit move on people’s lives in a special way. I remember seeing high school kids worshiping and weeping at the mention of God’s love. There was such an amazing sense of grace and unity among everyone.

One Friday night as a Christian band was playing “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know,” it happened – for the first time, while observing everyone worshiping God, I began to sense God’s presence. I’ve heard it said that worship is a picture of the Gospel in motion, and it certainly was for me that night. I saw people displaying a kind of personal, intimate relationship with God that I wanted and needed. A relationship that I knew was made possible only by the blood of Jesus.

One of my earliest memories is of my parents gathering us around my mom’s baby grand piano and having us sing the old hymns of the church for what felt like hours. At 5, I would end up lying under the piano and eventually falling asleep. I didn’t think much about Jesus and the Gospel then, but on that Friday night as the Christian band performed, the God we had sung about became my own personal God. I sensed Him saying to me for the first time “Tommy, I love you and I have called you to do great things for Me.” I wept at the thought that the God of heaven wanted to save and use a young boy like me. I surrendered my life to Jesus that night. One of my life verses has been Psalm 40:3, “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord” (NIV).

Every person is created to be a worshiper. God dwells and, I believe, manifests Himself in the praises of His people. It has always been my prayer when I write songs and lead worship that the breakthrough power of God would bring the lost to Him–just like it happened for me.

After graduating from high school, I went to Bible college, and one of the areas I learned about was spiritual warfare. At first I resisted the training because I met people who spent so much time rebuking the devil. I thought they were giving the devil too much attention. To this day, I don’t agree with everything I saw there, but over time I have recognized that we are in a battle and there truly is an enemy that is out to destroy us.

Several years ago when I was doing a worship event in a poor neighborhood in Zambia, I sensed a darkness all around us–poverty, violence, abuse, hopelessness, hunger. We worshiped the Lord every night for more than an hour before we felt we could even begin to present the Gospel. Only then did we sense a real breakthrough in the spirit, and we saw hundreds come to Christ.

Through that event and others like it, I came to realize that worship is how we allow God to fight our battles for us. You may be familiar with the story of Jehoshaphat. Second Chronicles 20:22 says, “As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated” (NIV). What a strange battle plan–but the result was that the Lord won the battle for them! There is something inherent in the act of worship that enables us to encounter the power of God like nothing else. It is not effective to simply tell someone to stop worrying; stop being proud; stop being self-consumed, distracted, insecure, bound and materialistic. But it is effective to tell them to start worshiping. When we make that decision to fix our eyes on Jesus, we quickly realize that God has already begun to release the grip these tendencies can have on our lives.

Worship is a declaration of our weakness and God’s strength. I challenge you in your next point of need to make that hard choice to be a worshiper and let the breakthrough God fight your battle for you.

When we worship, the invisible God is at work doing invisible and powerful things. We get realigned, refreshed and refueled; we find unspeakable joy and indescribable peace. We discover the breakthrough strength of God, which enables us to walk in the truth, live in His presence and see Him fight our battles for us. It is how we can put the beauty of the Gospel on display, receive His many blessings and at the same time be a blessing to the world.


If you’re not familiar with Tommy Walker’s music, here is one of his best-known songs, He Knows My Name

 

January 1, 2018

Why Does the Apostle Paul Say There’s Nothing Good Within Him?

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This fall, we ran eight articles in a weekly series of devotionals from Charles Price, Minister at Large for The Peoples Church in Toronto. We’re just doing one this season, but I encourage you to click this link if you wish to follow these teachings.

Nothing Good Within

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” Romans 7:18 ESV

We might be tempted to think there is not all that much in us Jesus needs to forgive. Even if we have recognized we are sinners and asked Jesus for forgiveness, we might still think we are fairly good people on the whole. We might even be excited for God to use some of the inherent goodness we think we have to do His work. This is what makes Paul’s words in the opening verse difficult for many to understand. We like to think our ability to love, our artistic talents, the charity work we do are good things God can use for His glory. How then can Paul say nothing good dwells within us?

As Paul reminds us in Philippians 3, if there was anyone who could boast about his goodness before coming to know Christ, it was him. Paul was a perfect Jew, “a Hebrew of Hebrews” who was so faithful to God’s commands and the sacrifices required of him that he could be considered “faultless” before the law (Philippians 3:5-6). But Paul goes on to say he considers all of these good things “loss” and “garbage” for the sake of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:7-8).

Despite our attempts at goodness, they will always be marred by sin. We grew up being taught there are certain things that are good and certain things that are bad, and our natural selves apart from God will always be drawn to the latter. No matter how hard we try, how many charities we support, or how many promises we make to God that we will be good, we are deluding ourselves if we think we are anything but corrupt people apart from Christ.

To flaunt our claims to goodness is to be like a brand new car with all the bells and whistles, but no engine. We might attract attention from the people around us, but there is nothing good within us to make us function the way we are supposed to. For that, we need Christ. Any good deeds we do on our own is like trying to push that car without an engine up a hill, but a relationship with Jesus Christ gives us exactly what we need to do God’s work: Jesus Himself.

One day, we will all stand before God and have to account for our deeds. When that day comes, our good deeds and character will mean nothing if we do not have Christ. He alone makes the forgiveness of our sins possible, and it is only through His work in our lives that we come to have something good dwell within us to accomplish good in this world.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, You alone are good. I give up my claims to any goodness of my own and depend instead on Your sufficiency to conform me to Your likeness. Thank You, Lord.


It’s the start of a new year, and a good time to review the basics:

  • 201 means a little deeper than what’s found in many devotional books; and we tend to skip illustrations and go directly to the text. But we do appreciate the ministry of the organizations which distribute those resources.
  • On first time author appearances we try to check website statements about reuse, or send an email for permission to include material. Then we often repeat authors after six months or after one year. As of today, 2830 posts and only two take-down requests.
  • When you break a twig or branch off a tree, if it’s green inside the tree is alive. (I know you’re thinking, ‘Isn’t that an illustration?’ Oops) For that reason we print scripture verses in green to show that while all the content is helpful, the scriptures quotations contain life.
  • Not everyone presented here agrees with everybody else on everything. The site is a devotional mosaic; or if you prefer, a devotional potpourri. We do however try to check the compendium of a writer’s thoughts so we’re not steering you to any blog or website that might be problematic.
  • Submissions are welcomed. Click the submission page and use the form there to make contact. If you’ve never written devotional or study material before, here’s your opportunity. Start with a passage about which you’re passionate, but please, nothing deliberately provocative or controversial.
  • Christian music videos are often added if they relate to the theme of the devotional. There’s an index (see under ‘Pages’) listing all of the songs if that helps you locate a particular piece of writing.
  • Regular contributors aren’t bound by the six month rule; Clarke Dixon, Russell Young, and myself, Paul Wilkinson appear more frequently.
  • Topical articles, humor pieces, short stories, Christian news and current issues relating to faith are covered at our associate blog, Thinking Out Loud (see button in upper right).

December 29, 2017

When is it Right to Judge?

I mentioned on December 20th that I was so impressed by the material by Colin Sedgwick at Welcome to Sedgonline, that we now return for an extra visit this month (plus a link to a third article) before our “six month rule” kicks in!  Click the title to read the first one at source.

Is it ever right to judge?

Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”. Matthew 7:1

The minister stood at the church door to greet people after the service. The sermon hadn’t been an easy one to preach. He had spoken about sexual morality, and had stressed particularly the biblical ideal of marriage – one man and one woman, for life – and he knew that not everyone would take it kindly.

(He knew too, of course, that the ideal is exactly that: an ideal. And that God is compassionate and forgiving towards those who may have failed to achieve it.)

One woman had just a very brief comment to make: “I prefer to live my life according to Matthew 7:1. Goodbye.” By which she meant, of course: “I believe in not making judgments on the way other people live their lives.”

Was her frosty comment right?

In one sense, of course, yes. We should not judge others in the sense of condemning them. We are all sinners, so the sins we should take most seriously are… our own. Jesus goes on to make this clear in his words about the speck of sawdust and the plank: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?… You hypocrite…” Point taken!  Ultimately, God alone is qualified to judge.

But in another sense she was wrong. Taking Matthew 7:1 as a stand-alone text – treating it as if it says everything that needs to be said – simply creates chaos.

Somebody has calculated that the Bible as a whole contains 31,102 verses (depending on which version you use), so if that minister had had the chance he could well have replied to the woman, “Er, yes, of course, Matthew 7:1 is great verse – but what about the Bible’s other 31,101 verses? What about verses that put a different angle on the matter – shouldn’t they be taken into account as well?”

For if you take Matthew 7:1 as the only word on the subject of judging, it implies that there are no rights and wrongs at all. Somebody commits murder? Oh dear, that’s bad – but, of course, Jesus says I mustn’t judge them. Somebody operates an internet scam and robs people of millions of pounds? Mmm, that sounds pretty dodgy as well. But of course Jesus says I mustn’t judge them…

Fact: some things are right and some things are wrong. And we shouldn’t shy away from saying so.

Jesus himself wasn’t afraid to point this out: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” (Matthew 23:13) Not exactly non-judgmental, that, eh?

In the early days of the church Simon Peter had to deal with a case of gross dishonesty by a couple called Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). So what did he say: “Ananias and Sapphira, you have done a seriously bad thing – but of course I am forbidden by the Lord Jesus to judge you”? Er, no. No: he spoke some quite frightening words: “… how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit…?” Non-judgmental?

A little later Saul (before he became known as Paul) was confronted on the island of Cyprus by “a sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus” (Acts 13:6-12). This man comes in for similar rough treatment: “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right!” Again, non-judgmental?

The fact is that when we see evil and wickedness, whether in others or mainly in ourselves, something is wrong if we don’t recognize it as such.

But, having said that, shouldn’t our main reaction be one of sorrow?

This, I think, is what Jesus meant in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4). He wasn’t talking about bereaved people or people attending a funeral; he was talking about people who shake their heads in sadness as they look into the darkness in their own hearts, and as they survey the sorry state of our world – the lies, the corruption, the greed, the vice and immorality, the violence.

Such people aren’t self-righteous or “holier-than-thou”; no, they are people who have looked a little into the heart of God, who have been moved by the beauty and purity they have seen there, and who long for things to be different. They are people who pray, as Jesus taught us: “May your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) – and who add “including in my heart”.

Is that a prayer you can pray with sincerity? If it is, I think that means you can stand up for what is right, and denounce what is wrong, without being guilty of judging others where you shouldn’t.

Lord God, save me from fault-finding, criticizing and condemning others. Help me to see clearly my own sins and failings – but at the same time not to be afraid to uphold what is good, right and true. Amen.


This topic raises another important issue – how easy it is, like that woman at the church door, to misuse the Bible. It might be helpful to have a think about that next. See this article by the same author.

November 14, 2017

“I Have Lost Everything!”

by Russell Young

I recently heard a committed believer lament, “I have lost everything!”  Perhaps as someone endeavoring to walk “in the light,” as John puts it (1 Jn1: 5─7), you are struggling through a valley experience; you feel that you are being attacked from all sides. The committed believer does not need be overwhelmed with loss, the only things that those “in Christ” can lose are sin, sin’s practices, right to self-determination, and your status “in Christ.”

The greatest fear that any believer can have is his or her failure to remain “in Christ.” Many teach that such a fear is unbiblical, that a person cannot lose his or her position in Christ. However, Christ presents this change in status as a very clear possibility. “[My Father] cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit.” (Jn 15:1; Italics added.) Further, the Lord spoke about the blessings that arise “If [a person] remains in him” (Jn 15:5, 7, 10), and promises that he will remain in the person who remains in him. (Jn 15:4) A person remains in him if he or she obeys his commands. (Jn 15:10) The believer—a believer is one who obeys him—need not fear loss, but all who claim his name need to be believing–belief must be ongoing. In another place Christ also spoke of the possibility of impermanence in the family. (Jn 8:35)

It is important for the believer, the person “in Christ,” to understand the reality of what is transpiring in his or her life. Valley experiences require that time be committed to prayer and meditation. Truth must be separated from feelings and losses from gains. Certainly, disappointment, the thwarting of dreams, and even the loss of “friends” or financial security can weigh down a sensitive spirit, but these may not be losses from the Lord’s perspective; consequently, they should not be considered losses from the believer’s perspective. This is easy to say for someone not involved, but reflection will reveal that losses, in fact, may not have been losses at all.  “Losses” bring a person up short. They greatly impact the progress of life and call for an alteration in some sense. However, the Lord is looking out for the good of those “in him.”  Paul encouraged, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28 NIV) It is easy to become distracted and to stray from the Lord’s will and it can hurt to become re-oriented, to have ungodly interests chipped away, and to be maintained on the narrow path.

The Word never taught that all things would go painlessly for the believer. In fact, he promised persecution (2 Tim 3:12) and trials (1 Thess 3:3; 1 Pet 1:6) and even discipline (1 Cor 11:32; Heb 12:5-7; Rev 3:19) and punishment. (Heb 12:6) Discipline and punishment apply to those he loves.  (Heb 12:5) “God disciplines us for our good that we might share in his holiness.” (Heb 12:10 NIV)

God tests hearts. He did it for the Israelites in the wilderness (Ex 12:25, 16:4, 20:20; Deut 8:2, 16, 13:3;) He tested Abraham (Gen 22:1), Job (Job 23:10), and Jeremiah (Jer 12:3). He even tested the heart of his Son (Mt 4:1; Mk 1:13; Lk 4:1) Those who claim the name of Christ will be tested also. (Job 7:18; 1 Chr 29:17; 1 Thess 2:4; Jas 1:12) God tests hearts and the faithful will be found walking obediently with him.

The only way a believer can “lose everything” is for him or her to abandon the Lord and the position that was provided for them. Trials must be faced for what they are…trials. This life is not easy. Imperfections must be cut away; holiness must be built through righteousness practices. (Rom 6: 19, 22) All those who want to remain in Christ and attain to the resurrection must live as he did. “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6)

When you are counting your loses, it is important to consider them from an eternal perspective.  Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Mt 16:25 NIV) Loss is often a very good thing.


Russell Young’s column appears on alternate Tuesdays. He is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo. 9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

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