Christianity 201

June 24, 2022

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

I often wonder, when the New Testament uses the word mirror how sophisticated the manufacturing process was in Bible times. Did those mirrors create a high resolution picture or were their pigments, irregular surfaces, or curvatures which forced a distorted image? We might be surprised at how clear the image was.

What verse comes to mind for you? Perhaps it’s from James:

NIV.Jas.1.23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

Could a person look into a mirror and honestly forget what they look like? It’s hard to imagine in a selfie-infatuated world, but remember that in Bible times people didn’t have photo albums. Even a few centuries ago, if you were wealthy, you might have an artist do your portrait, but the degree to which it looked like you would depend on the skill of the painter.

James compares looking in a mirror to looking into the law and forgetting what you’ve heard. It’s part of his overall theme in this section which begins earlier in verse 22: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 

But a more creative preacher might argue that the law itself is a mirror. We hold ourselves up to the law to see how we compare. 2 Corinthians 13:5 tells us to “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (ESV) Romans 5:13 explains that, “Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. (NLT) The law sets the standard, we see ourselves as we look into it.

Another type of mirror in scripture is found in 1 Corinthians 3:12

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. (CSB)

This is the passage which, in the KJV talks about ‘seeing through a glass darkly.’ When teaching this years ago, I compared it to waking up in the morning and discovering someone has rubbed something greasy all over your glasses. But again, we have to think about the quality of mirrors they might have had when Paul wrote this verse. The CEV speaks of a “cloudy reflection in a mirror,” which suggests a mirror of inferior quality.  (The ISB uses “indistinct image.”) But other renderings of this verse leave me thinking the contrast is between “reflection” and ‘reality.’ That even the best mirror is not the real thing. (If you’ve studied it, Plato’s “Analogy of the Cave” might come to mind.)

Our best representation is really a shadow of what awaits us in the future. 2 Corinthians 2:9 reminds us that

9 But as it is written:
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (NKJV)

Before we move on, let me reiterate the verse from the NLT:

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

A third use of mirror is also from Corinthians, this time from 2 Corinthians 3:18

But we all, with unveiled faces, looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (NASB)

There’s a lot going on in this verse, so let’s get Eugene Peterson to flesh it out for us a bit more:

Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.

Just as Moses reflected (a mirror-word if ever there was one) God’s glory, we all, looking at God indirectly, cannot help but be changed, and cannot help but copy or duplicate (or mirror!) his glory.

Think about these three mirrors next time you look at one. Allow it to serve as a reminder.


What about that last phrase, “changed from glory to glory?” We looked at that here in this September devotional.

June 22, 2022

Caretakers of God’s Gifts | Doing God’s Will

A year ago we first shared the writing of Pastor Dick Woodward’s from the blog The Four Spiritual Secrets. His “about” page tells us that,

In 1980 Dick was diagnosed with a degenerative disease of the spinal cord that left him a quadriplegic. In spite of this disease he preached from his wheelchair until 1997, then remained active in his later years as a bedfast quadriplegic in small groups, mentoring, and writing Bible study materials and books through voice activated software until his death at the age of 83 in March of 2014. He often said, “The less I can do, the more the Lord does.”

Material is posted to his page regularly. Because these are shorter we have two devotional articles for you today, and the header for each is also a link to the blog.

God’s Business vs. Our Business

“Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful… And what do you have that you did not receive? (1 Corinthians 4:2,7)

The biblical word “steward” is not fully understood or appreciated. It is actually one of the most important words in the New Testament. A synonym for this word is “manager.” Many people believe this word primarily relates to a person’s money, but that application falls far short of the essential meaning of this word.

When Paul asks the probing question, “And what do you have that you did not receive?” he is telling us that our stewardship applies to everything we have received from God. This means our time, energy, gifts and talents, our health and all the things that make up the essence of our very lives, including all of our money and possessions.

At the age of 65 one of my best friends had what he refers to as a “halftime” experience when he came to fully appreciate this word “steward.” His regular custom was to draw a line down the middle of a legal pad page. On the left side of that line he wrote “My business” while on the right side of the line he wrote “God’s business.”

When he fully appreciated this word “steward” he erased that line because, as a wealthy businessman, he realized it was all God’s business.

Remember, the important thing about a steward is that we be found faithful. Do you realize there is nothing in your life you did not receive from God? Do you know that you are to faithfully manage everything you have received from God?

Are you willing to erase the line between what is yours and what is God’s?

Walking with Jesus: Doing & Knowing!

This is how we know we are in Him: whoever claims to live in Him must walk even as Jesus walked.” (1 John 2:5-6)

In the first sixteen verses of his short letter, the Apostle John gives us a prescription for fullness in seven parts: facts, faith, forgiveness, fellowship, follow-ship, fruitfulness, and fullness.

John’s facts are the death and resurrection of Jesus. When we have faith to believe the first fact we have forgiveness. When we believe the second the result is fellowship with the risen Christ. By changing one letter in the word “fellowship” to “follow-ship,” I have come up with the key to John’s prescription for fullness: you will know that you know when you walk as Jesus walked.

This word follow-ship is also a key to the fullness emphasized by Jesus. His covenant with the apostles was Follow Me and I will make you. (Matthew 4:19) The most important part of the Great Commission occurred when Jesus commissioned the disciples to make disciples. (Matthew 28:18-20) A synonym for discipleship is apprenticeship. Jesus apprenticed the apostles and He commissioned them to apprentice disciples.

The Gospel of John Chapter 7 records a great claim of Jesus when He declared that His teaching is the teaching of God. Jesus also proclaimed we prove that when we do what He teaches. (John 7:17) According to Jesus the doing leads to the knowing. Intellectuals have claimed for millenniums that the knowing will lead to the doing, but Jesus said “When you do you will know.”

Are you willing to do that you might know the Word of God?

June 20, 2022

June 16, 2022

When We Disagree

Today’s devotional columns — two, actually — were a real gift, because I was thinking about this topic, and also thinking about Romans 14…

We’re back again at Discovering the Bible, written by Deborah, a retired doctor in Wales. This month marks ten years she has been posting devotionals at that page. Clicking the headers below will take you to where each article first appeared.

Applying the Gospel: Disagreements (1)

NIV.Romans.14.1 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Every church fellowship has members with divergent opinions on how to put their faith into practice. Some of us are vegetarians, some are teetotal, some even refuse to celebrate Christmas (because of its ‘pagan’ associations). In the church at Rome, it’s likely that some Christians from a Jewish background were finding it difficult to shed the cultic requirements of the Law (they probably abstained from eating meat because they could not be certain that it was kosher).

As far as our salvation is concerned, these things really don’t matter one way or the other. So while our personal opinions may be held strongly, we mustn’t make them into ‘articles of faith’. If we do, even trivial matters can cause a church to split.

In every church there are believers who feel obliged to deny themselves certain legitimate activities in order to please God – and thus they fail to enter fully into their Christian freedom.They may appear to be more ‘spiritual’ than their more easy-going brothers and sisters, but actually they have a ‘weaker’ faith! And what should the rest of us (probably the majority) do? We must accept them as they are. Now this means more than just tolerating their presence; we are to give them an unreserved welcome!

Yet a degree of tension is inevitable. The strong in faith will be tempted to look down on the weak and consider them ‘legalistic’ because of their unnecessary scruples. And the weak will be tempted to despise the strong for having ‘low’ standards of personal piety. We need to remember that we are accountable to God, not to each other. Because these issues are contentious, it will never be possible for everyone to agree. So we shouldn’t insist that every other member of our fellowship should conform to our own personal standards (whether they are strict or lax).

Our relationship with God must be given priority. Then these peripheral matters will be where they ought to be – at the periphery.

Applying the Gospel: Disagreements (2)

NIV.Romans.14.5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”[Isaiah 45:23]

12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

There are many practical matters on which Scripture does not give us clear, unambiguous instructions. Christians who agree on the fundamental principles of the Gospel may therefore find themselves holding widely divergent opinions and doing radically different things. But whichever side of a particular argument we are on, it must be for good, well-thought-out reasons. “Each should be fully convinced in their own mind.” (Romans 14:5) It doesn’t matter if we can’t convince anyone else, but we must convince ourselves! If we don’t think these issues through, we may find ourselves absorbing attitudes from our culture or carrying over bad habits from our pre-Christian life.

Jesus is our Lord, and His honour should always be our very first consideration. So the essential question to ask is: will I bring glory to God by doing (or not doing) this? This applies just as much to the mundane choices of everyday life as to the big issues, because every aspect of our lifestyle should testify to the absolute authority of Christ. And very often, God can be glorified either way. For Jesus is Lord of all – and so He can be honoured even in the two most extreme opposites, in both life and death!

“You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister?” (Romans 14:10) As members of God’s family, we belong together, whether or not we see eye to eye. We must therefore be prepared to embrace those who see and do things differently from us; we certainly do not have the right to criticize them (either publicly or privately) or to condemn them for what we perceive as mistakes (Matthew 7:1,2). That would be to usurp God’s place – to set ourselves up as the arbiters of what is and is not acceptable. Such contempt for our brothers and sisters in Christ is actually a much more serious sin than their failure to meet our personal standards of holiness!

We need to remember that it is God – and God alone – who is the Judge. And it is to Him that we are ultimately accountable, not to each other!

June 9, 2022

Social Situations, Self-Importance, and Christian Humility

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.   ~Romans 12:3b NIV

At 6’0″ (that’s 183cm for much of the world) I usually find myself in conversation with people not as tall as myself, but in the last few months I’ve noticed that I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable carrying on conversations with people taller than myself, probably because it happens so seldom.  Yesterday we ran into Tim, the son of one of my mother’s best friends, and I again found myself registering the fact I had to keep looking up to make eye contact.

I can see how people like myself who are tall of stature might get confused and think that they are somehow ‘taller’ intellectually or emotionally; and there is always the danger of thinking oneself to be ‘taller’ spiritually. Of course, we all know our inward shortcomings and weaknesses, but when we’re out and about with members of the wider faith family, it’s easy to posture. In the key verse today, Paul says we should use ‘sober judgment’ of ourselves.

Another application of this principle is that we look up to God, who scripture tells us looks down on us. This is repeated in various passages; it’s important to remember who is where! One prayer pattern that I learned years ago contains the phrase, “You’re God and I’m not;” or “You’re God and we’re not.” When we come to Him in prayer, we need to remember who is ‘taller.’

Here’s a similar application of how we deal with our own estimation of ourselves from Luke 14.  Jesus is teaching…

When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!

10 “Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. 11 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  ~NLT

Ten years ago we attended a family funeral. My wife’s uncle passed away and we didn’t realize that some seats were being held for nieces and nephews, so we took a seat toward the back. Her cousin saw us and immediately told us that special seats were reserved for us, and invited us to “come up higher” in the seating plan. We appreciated this, but I couldn’t help but think of this passage as we were walking to the front, and also of the potential embarrassment that could occur if the situation were reversed.

The brand of Christ-following that is portrayed on television is centered on people with very strong personalities and — dare I say it? — very large egos. I think some of this is given away by the very fact these people want to be on television, though I don’t preclude the use of media to share the gospel.  But you and I, the average disciple, should be marked by humility; the type of humility that takes a back seat in a culture that wants to proclaim, “We’re number one.”

We serve the King of Kings. We have the hottest news on the rack. We are seated with Christ in heavenly places. But we approach this in a humble spirit, with gratitude that God chose to reach down and rescue us from our fallen state.

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. ~ James 4:10 NKJV

How tall do you feel?


Classic Worship Song: Humble Thyself in the Sight of the Lord

May 27, 2022

Your Friends are an Indicator of Your Future

One verse in Proverbs that has stayed with me over the past few years is Proverbs 13:20,

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.
(NIV)

Anywhere you see a verse which contrasts wise and foolish or wisdom and foolishness you are effectively seeing a microcosm of the entire book of Proverbs; this is the book’s overarching theme, seek wisdom. It echoes throughout the book in many places including the next chapter:

Stay away from fools, for you won’t find knowledge on their lips.
(14:7 NLT)

Years ago, my parents found me a “youth edition” of The Living Bible’s book of Proverbs called Get Smart. The title is rather pithy — and possibly alludes to a TV show of that era — but this is indeed the message of Proverbs: Seek wisdom. Get wisdom wherever you can find it. Treasure wisdom like a fine possession.

We sometimes use the expression “married up” to describe someone whose life was bettered by finding a companion who could lift them to greater experience and potential. I would argue the Bible is making a case here for “friending up.”

This doesn’t mean we simply toss friendships that don’t meet a certain standard, but at the very least, it demands an awareness of whether our friends are lifting us up or bringing us down. The reason is simple: Wisdom in contagious, but so is foolishness.

Many are the people who would have, at one point said, “I would never say that;” or “I would never go there;” or “I would never do that;” but got talked into something because an influential friend or group of friends was saying/going/doing that particular thing.

We tend to think of peer-pressure and conformity as something that needs to be taught in Sunday School or especially at youth group. We rarely consider how it continues to impact us as adults. It’s possible that some reading this have heard J. B. Phillips rendering of Romans 12:2 more often than the more traditional version:

Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.

I think it’s important to note that the verse doesn’t say,

  • Whoever walks with the wise is wise and
  • Whoever walks with the stupid is stupid!

No! It goes beyond that and “a companion of fools suffers harm.” We can say that sooner or later, foolish behavior leads to negative consequences. 1 Timothy 5:24 reads:

Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later. NKJV

The sins of some people are blatant and march them right into court. The sins of others don’t show up until much later. MSG

Time will tell. We see this also in Exodus 34:7b. I know this passage is interpreted many different ways, but I’ll simply toss it into the mix for you to consider:

“…Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

I can’t leave this without remembering the warning of Jesus in the Sermon on The Mount concerning the consequences of becoming foolish:

NIV Lk 7.24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

I think it’s also important to remember that to “walk with” or “journey with” people today may mean to journey with them online. Many of us have a great depth of relationship with people online which can affect our worldview or decision-making.

Here are some practical indicators something might be wrong:

  1. when you realize your core group is moving in a direction you want your life to move in
  2. when you find yourself pretending to be someone other than you are
  3. when you feel pressure to compromise (when something that was previously never a real temptation becomes a live option)

Our relationships can set the trajectory for our lives. Someone has put it this way:

Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.

Again, walk with the wise!

May 20, 2022

Everything is Temporary … Except for One Thing

NIV.Acts.19.23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. 25 He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”

28 When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together. 30 Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. 31 Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater.

[…continue reading here…]

Today we have another first time writer to highlight here. Alistair Chalmers who writes at Chalmers Blog. Clicking the link in the header below will take to where this first appeared.

You can build but it will crumble

A couple weeks ago my wife and I were on holiday and we did a day trip to the ancient city of Ephesus. We walked the streets where Paul and Timothy would have preached. We stood in the amphitheater where Paul probably spoke at times. One thing that you can’t help but notice in these ancient cities is the amount of shrines and temples to pagan gods that they had. Some big and some small, but all for the same purpose, worshipping a pagan false idol.

If you remember from Acts 19, Demetrius a silversmith of the shrines for Artemis began an uproar that lead to a riot. The riot continued and people gathered in the court and for 2 hours they shouted “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

Ephesus was the place of one of the biggest temples to Artemis, it’s actually one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. So what does it look like now? A temple that once housed thousands of worshippers on a daily basis. A city in its shadow that believed it was safe because the goddess looked over them. What happened?

Well this once prominent temple is now a pile of rubble. Stones lay strewn in a field, it’s marked by a tiny road sign that you could clearly miss and there remains one pillar standing (it’s actually just been out together to help visitors imagine the height of the temple).

Such a prominent pagan temple, reduced to nothing sand forgotten by most of the world, why? Because you can build, even the most grandiose things, but all things temporary will crumble. What was once a temple is nothing more than a pile of stones. Temporary trimmings paying homage to a fake god that didn’t last very long.

As I stood underneath that pillar and imagined what it would have originally looked like I remembered two things;

1. That the things of this world are temporary and will pass away (1 Cor. 7:31, etc.)

2. That nothing will defeat the Church (Matt. 16:18, etc.)

There will always be things that are built oppose the gospel. There will always be people, institutions and religions who set themselves against God and His people. It was be frightening at times, it may feel like the local church is insignificant and weak, it may even seem that there is no chance that Christianity can survive at some points.

But the truth is that all attempts to rob people of the knowledge of Jesus, all brick and mortar will fall and all the voices that mock Christ and His people will one day be silenced.

Everything that is build against God has the same ending, it is futile and it will fail. Investing time and energy in something that you know will ultimately fail and be reduced to crumble is pointless.

Like the temple of Artemis, you can build your structure (physical or not) but it will fail. God is the only one who has always been and will always be. Remember that as your pick up a stone to build your next idol.


Scriptures in today’s devotional:

NLT.1 Cor.7.30 Those who weep or who rejoice or who buy things should not be absorbed by their weeping or their joy or their possessions. 31 Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away.

The Voice. Matt.16.18 This is why I have called you Peter (rock): for on this rock I will build My church. The church will reign triumphant even at the gates of hell.

 

May 18, 2022

They Trusted in the Lord With All Their Hearts

Today we’re back for a second time with a writer we introduced to you in September. Beth Madison writes at Soul Scientist, and is also the author of the book Good Ground, Volume 1 from National Baptist Press. Clicking the header below will take you to today’s article where it first appeared.

Making Lists

■ This devotional is also available as a podcast. Click this link to listen.

Proverbs 3:5-8 Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do; and he will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom, instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. Then you will have healing for your body and strength for your bones.

Since I devoured books when I was growing up, Mother always made sure I had a good supply of good reading materials. She described my love for reading as “she’ll read anything that isn’t tied down” (similar to how my boys used to eat when they were teenagers!). I loved them all – be they periodicals like National Geographic or my father’s scientific academic journals or those Christian comic books popular in the late 1970’s to a plethora of books from Little House on the Prairie to Jane Austen to Nancy Drew and oh so many other friends who I dreamed with there on the page.

But Mother’s favorite choice for my reading material (other than Scripture, of course) was missionary biographies. I fell in love with them all – be they Lottie Moon to Elisabeth Elliot to Annie Armstrong or Hudson Taylor to Adoniram Judson to David Brainerd and oh so many other friends with whom I learned to trust God with there on the page. I can still remember dreaming about when I grew up and was living and working in Africa or China or whatever country I’d just read about.

Similarly, these verses from Proverbs 3:5-8 were some of the first verses I learned as a child. Mother and Daddy didn’t just let me sit in the corner and read after my chores were done. They were also very careful to teach me Bible verses at all times and in all ways just like we are commanded to do with our children in Deuteronomy 4:9-10.

Only be on your guard and diligently watch yourselves, so that you don’t forget the things your eyes have seen and so that they don’t slip from your mind as long as you live. Teach them to your children and your grandchildren. The day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, the LORD said to me, ‘Assemble the people before me, and I will let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days they live on the earth and may instruct their children.’ (CSB)

And now, these stories and verses are still shaping my life in the dust of today.

Yet even now, my faith needs a lot more growing up to reflect the truth found in the stories and especially in the verses…

For example, a few weeks ago, when an unimagined opportunity popped into my email, my first thought was “no way, I can’t do this, because I don’t have ________”. Then my next thought was “just how can I make this work anyway?”. (note the emphasis on the “I” in that sentence) And there I went – straight into the quicksand of searching, calculating, and all the things (without any praying) until I ended up frustrated, disappointed, and exhausted without any progress towards my goal (note the emphasis on the “my” in that sentence).

Oh yes, I ran that gopher wheel to nowhere a few more times until two days ago when I told God, “I’m done!” and “if You want this to happen, here’s what I need for this opportunity”. I wrote out the full list with all the details and put the list away in my office. And then I started praying those verses from Proverbs and meaning it.

Well, here am I in tears watching as my triumphal God is checking off every piece of that list in ways that show me He not only heard my cry, He put the pieces into motion before the words came out of my mouth and heart. And just like God, He’s using other people to bring the resources for that list and increasing their faith along with mine in the details and directions of how He’s providing for them.

As I’m marveling in His working today, I am reminded of those missionary biographies from my childhood. Those missionaries modeled faith in their prayers and their lists. Their pages-long lists of known needs that exceeded available resources were checked off one by one in ways that only God could and did engineer for His plans to be completed. And He did it so that these plans would be completed in ways that not only increased the faith of those missionaries but the faith of those in their world who didn’t know or want to know God. No one who knew the stories or saw the results could deny God’s unmistakable, unshakable, unstoppable power at work.

That power that raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at God’s right hand is the same power available to us as Christians today (see Ephesians 1:19-20). Nothing has changed with God. His power is still unstoppable like it was with waters, lions, giants, and fire in the Old Testament; with famine, persecution, deserts, and orphans in missionary stories; and with us in the details, dust, disease, and doubts of today.

So if you’re tired of your gopher wheel of trying to figure out all the things or you’re up to your neck in a quicksand of exhaustion, stress, denial, or disappointment, now is the time to stop fighting and simply tell our powerful God all about it (dear friend, please don’t be afraid. God already knows the ins and outs, of all of it, even better than you do). Then, make that list with all the things and all their details. Next, put the list away, start praying Proverbs 3:5-8, and pull up a chair to watch things happen. Trust me, the story’s gonna be far bigger and more beautiful than you can imagine!

The fulfillment of your story may take far longer than two days and might not happen in ways that you’d choose, but trust me, that story will be good. Because good is what our Good God promises to those who love Him and are called according to His promise (see Romans 8:38). And He always keeps all of His promises, all of the time.

Ephesians 1:19-20 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms

May 12, 2022

When Fear of Life After Death Scares the Life Out of a Christian

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Thinking Through John 10:22-30

by Clarke Dixon

Does the fear of death scare the life out of you? Or perhaps the question is, does the fear of life after death scare the life out of you?

There is plenty to worry about in our day, but this nagging worry about the afterlife has plagued people across generations and societies. Will we be okay when we die?

Some say there is no God, and so therefore no afterlife, so don’t worry about it. Indeed there are those who have embraced that line of thinking and have come to peace with the idea of not existing forever. Others who think death is the final end fight it tooth and nail.

Some say there may be a God or spiritual realities we know nothing about, but who knows? Many would say that not only do they not know, but that they believe no one can really know. So as for the afterlife, don’t worry about it, because who can know anything about it? Some are at peace with not knowing, some are scared to death of the great unknown.

Now we come to the Christian who of course believes there is a God, and the best way to know God is through Jesus and the Bible. So no Christian fears death, right? Actually, many do. Many Christians have a nagging worry about not being okay when they die. It is tragic that many atheists and agnostics worry less about death and life after death than many Christians.

The nagging worry that we will not be okay when we die often comes down to one of three thoughts:

  • I’m worried I don’t have enough faith.
    • “The person on the other end of the pew is a shining example of faith, while I struggle with doubts.”
    • “Sometimes I think I trust what scientists tell me more than what Bible teachers tell me.”
  • I’m worried I don’t know enough.
    • “I don’t have God and the Bible all figured out.”
    • “Some people know so much about God and the Bible, and I don’t. They are so much more deserving of a place in heaven than I am.”
  • I’m worried I’m not good enough.
    • “Some people are so such better than me. God will be pleased with them, but not me.”
    • “I’ve tried, and failed, at being better in this one area of my life. God must be greatly disappointed with me.”

There is a problem with each of these lines of thought, a problem easy to miss. In each case the focus is on ourselves, our our faith, our knowledge, our goodness, or rather our lack of each.

Worry takes centre stage when we take centre stage.

The solution, of course, is to get out of the spotlight. Instead of being focused on ourselves, and ourselves in relation to others, let’s focus on God and where we stand in relation to God, according to God:

My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Fatherʼs hand. The Father and I are one.”

John 10:27-30 (NET emphasis added)

Notice where we are; in the hand of Jesus, secure in the hand of God.

Okay, but how do we know if we are one of the “sheep” secure in God’s hand? Jesus said “My sheep listen to my voice, I know them, and they follow me.” Jesus did not say “My sheep have superlative faith, deep knowledge, and are shining examples of perfect people.” We can listen to the voice of Jesus, follow him, yet still have doubts, gaps in our knowledge, and messy flaws.

Jesus also said,

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven

Matthew 18:3 (NRSV)

A young child is dependent on someone loving them. The Christian knows their dependence on God loving them.

We can become stuck in thinking of God as loving us, but not really loving us. We can paint the picture of God being totally disgusted with us, of harboring a disdain for us. Then even when we talk about God’s forgiveness of us, we think of God as merely tolerating us. We know God loves us but we can not bring ourselves to think that God might actually like us.

The law court may be our go to image of our relationship with God. We are on trial, guilty, while God is the judge. The good news is that the judge grants a pardon, that Jesus paid the debt. The difficulty is that we have trouble thinking that the judge will want to have anything to do with the accused following the trial. Sure, I might be forgiven, but given my doubt, my gaps in knowledge, and how imperfect I am, surely I am on the fringes of the Kingdom, kept at a distance from the King. The good news is better than that. Jesus challenged us to think of God as our Heavenly Father. We can think of God as loving us so much that he has us in his hand, and wants us there!

You can be in the hand of God and still have doubts. Doubt may not always be a lack of faith, but of faith seeking understanding. In fact sometimes our doubts may not be a lack of faith in God, but a lack of faith in those who tell us about God. That is not always a bad thing. No Bible teacher or preacher is perfect, including me of course.

You can be in the hand of God and still have much to learn. While Christianity is not anti-intellectual, it is also not about our ability to figure it all out. It is simply about trust. When we were young, too young to know much at all about anything, all we could do is trust our parents or those who took a parental role in our lives to make sure we were okay. In Christ we trust God.

You can be in the hand of God and still have room for growth in character, thinking, and behaviour. A common theme for those of us who are motorcyclists is that it is not about the destination, but the journey. To make Christianity about the destination of heaven and how you get there is missing the point. The Christian life is a journey of growing as a Kingdom person, all the while being secure in the hand of God.

Are you a Christian but you have a nagging worry that you won’t be okay when you die? If you focus on yourself and how good you are, especially in where you stack up against other Christians, your worry may continue. If you focus on God and where you stand with God in Christ, then no worries! In Christ you are in the hand of God, and will be. Instead of stressing about life after death, let’s concern ourselves with life, with our next best step in our relationship with God right here, right now.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, about one hour east of Toronto. Read more at Thinking Through Scripture.

May 11, 2022

Hate What is Evil, Hold Tightly The Good

We are — once again — breaking the six-month rule to share an extra devotion with you from our online friends at DailyEncouragement.net. I would hold up Stephen and Brooksyne Weber as an example to anyone who wants to create a devotional/Bible-study blog. Click the header below to read this where it first appeared.

Calling Good An Abomination

Listen to this message on your audio player.

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20).

“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

Today’s message is written concerning current events here in the USA but the teaching is applicable wherever you may live.

For nearly 50 years among the most contested cultural and moral issues here in America has been the legalization of abortion, more specifically the killing of innocent life. In 1973 the Supreme Court decision asserted that abortion is a “constitutional right”. Two days ago a leaked report indicated that this decision may be overturned which has reignited simmering coals to a blazing hot fire in what has been called the culture war.

The report resulted in an emotionally strong reaction from both sides reinforcing the reality that there is a deep, deep division on this subject matter. But I was especially struck each time a statement played over and over on the news made by a prominent senator. He used a word from the Bible that describes what God strongly hates and abhors when he asserted that the decision to overturn Roe V. Wade would be “an abomination” (see here).

That immediately caught my attention since one of the abominations mentioned in the Bible is child sacrifice. “They built the high places of Baal that are in the Valley of Ben-hinnom to make their sons and their daughters pass through the fire to Molech, which I had not commanded them, nor had it entered My mind that they should do this abomination, to mislead Judah to sin” (Jeremiah 32:35). Essentially he was calling an abomination the opposite of what God calls an abomination!

“An abomination is something that causes hate or disgust. In biblical usage, an abomination is something that God loathes or hates because it is offensive to Him and His character.”(gotquestions.com)

Today let us examine timeless truths from the Holy Scriptures that address this matter as we seek insight and needed discernment.

We have used the first daily text many times in the course of writing these messages over the last 25 years, especially the first part, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil”. Evil is increasingly called good and good is increasingly called evil. Evil has existed during every generation after the fall but there are certain periods of time it increases and other periods, such as revival, when it’s tamped down a bit. You can see this in Israel’s history during the period of the Judges with the ebb and flow of good kings and evil kings.

In the 1960’s the church, whether liberal or conservative branches, was practically unanimous in its understanding of life, marriage, family and sexuality:

1) Life begins at conception.
2) Marriage is a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman.
3) The family is the fundamental unit in society.
4) The moral understanding that sexual relations were reserved for marriage.
5) God created male and female.

For that matter even society at large had these moral underpinnings. Hollywood used to have Biblical standards which was reflected in the Hays Code in the 1930’s regarding the movies they produced to be viewed by the public!

But throughout my lifetime there’s been a steady erosion of morality and subsequently so much “calling evil good”. This has brought about the inevitable corollary; good is called evil, even abominable. And with a deep fog of spiritual blindness enveloping our country (and many other countries) people are frustrated and confused. There seems to be a huge lack of discernment.

Several years ago a nationally known preacher made a statement concerning our present moral condition that is imminently Biblical and sensible regarding the obvious consequences to children being raised without a father’s influence. He was excoriated by the national media with the typical charges of being intolerant, narrow-minded and of course hateful.

Among the signs of our culture’s moral downfall is the failure to uphold the Creator’s standards, which has led to great confusion as to what even constitutes evil.

What a powerful message in our first daily text. “Woe” is a literal transliteration of the Hebrew. In other words it’s an expression that sounds the same in Hebrew, English or any language (similar to the word, “hallelujah”). Woe is also an onomatopoeia, which is when the formation of a word imitates the natural sound associated with the object or action involved. Consider the sounds of deep, painful wailing. Isaiah’s “woe” is timeless.

“Woe” is an exclamation of pain and grief. As our culture drifts farther and farther from its Biblical moorings we see the truth of Isaiah’s proclamation. Do we also feel his exclamation of woe as well?

What is the subject of this woe? Three are listed in the daily text.

Those:

1) who call evil good and good evil,
2) who put darkness for light and light for darkness,
3) who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

Biblical morality is being turned on its head, not only in Isaiah’s cultural setting but also in our own lifetime. Sometimes I am stunned by that which is so contrary to the right and wrong I was taught as a child now being accepted by non-believers and sadly even some professed believers. Today much of what is evil is called good and what is good is called evil.

The second daily text is a zinger of truth that we all need to hearken: “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

Today let us remain faithful to the perspective that God gives us through the inspiration of Scripture. As unpopular, “intolerant”, socially insensitive, and politically incorrect as it may be described, let us continue to call evil “evil” and to call good “good”. For sure, let us not call a good decision an abomination!

As God’s children let us hear the words of the apostle Paul and “hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9).

 

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.

May 4, 2022

Our Hope of Glory

NIV.Colossians.1.25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Today we have a new writer to feature. Darrell Koop is the Lead Pastor of Upwards Church (which is also the name of their blog) with two locations in Texas. He has been posting faithfully since January, 2011, and there is a wealth of Bible commentary available at this page. To read today’s — which we always encourage — click the header which follows.

Supreme Hope – Colossians 1:25-27

In the Survival Journal.com they state, “One of the common rules we have amongst survivalists and preppers is called the Rule of Threes.”

The Survival Rule of 3’s States That You Can:

  • Survive Three Weeks Without Food
  • Survive Three Days Without Water
  • Survive Three Hours Without Shelter
  • Survive Three Minutes Without Oxygen
  • Survive Three Seconds Without Hope

Wow, three seconds without hope.  I find it interesting that among survivalists that they would put such a high priority on hope.   Here’s what they say,

“The Survival Rules Explained: Let’s break down this rule of survival piece by piece so you best understand it and why it’s important for us to remember ‘3 Seconds Without Hope’  A big part of why preparation is so crucial is so that you don’t panic! If you panic, you’re done. The first part of the rule of 3’s in survival states that you can only survive three seconds without hope. So be prepared for emergencies before they happen so you’re prepared.” They explain that preparation brings confidence and hope which is vital.

To survive in today’s hostile environment to our faith, our passage shows us the hope we have in Jesus! We see that we can grow in our confidence and be prepared against doubt, false teaching and keep our hope alive in Christ.

The key verse in this passage is verse 27“…Christ in you the HOPE of Glory.”

Let’s break it down from the beginning staring with verse 25 with Paul explaining how we get prepared with the hope we have in Christ.

Paul had referred to himself as “a servant of this gospel.” Paul’s service came because of God’s commission. No human had commissioned Paul; no human authority had called him; instead, Jesus Christ himself had spoken to him (Acts 9:4-6). Paul’s credentials as an apostle need never be questioned. Although Paul was called after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, he and the other apostles were called by Jesus Christ and God the Father, and they answered to God as their final authority.

Paul explained that this commission was given to him for you, that is, for Gentile congregations such as the one in Colosse. When Paul was commissioned by God, the focus of his ministry was made clear. God said of Paul, This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles” (Acts 9:15 NIV). Paul was keenly aware of who had commissioned him, to whom he had been commissioned, and what he had been called to do.

He was commissioned to make the word of God fully known.NRSV The heresy in Colosse drained hope from Christ followers by claiming the need for mystical knowledge, and that only a few could find it.  When Paul wrote of making God’s word fully known to all the believers, he was pointing out once again that God’s word is for all people. They could have all the wisdom they needed to be saved and to grow in Christ.

1:26 The MYSTERY which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but NOW has been revealed to His saints.NKJV

What is this mystery?  There are some things God reveals to no one. Deuteronomy 29:29 says, The Lord our God has secrets known to no one. Still other things were hidden in the Old Testament but have now been revealed in the New. The New Testament calls them mysteries (mustērion). Paul’s use of this word is not to indicate a secret teaching, rite, or ceremony revealed only to some elite initiates (as in the mystery religions), but truth revealed to all believers in the New Testament. This truth, that has now been revealed to His saints, is that which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, namely the Old Testament era and people. Now refers to the time of the writing of the New Testament.

27 For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. 

One of the greatest scientists of our time was Albert Einstein. He was a man who was so focused on his scientific theories. He was so focused, he often neglected even the simplest things of life, such as personal appearance (as evidenced by his hair). One time, Albert Einstein was taking a train out of town for a speaking engagement. As he sat in his seat engrossed in his work, the conductor stopped by to punch his ticket. Looking up in shock, Einstein realized he didn’t know what he had done with his ticket. Frantically, he began to search his coat pockets, and then his briefcase.  Gently, the conductor said, “We all know who you are, Dr. Einstein. I’m sure you bought ticket. Don’t worry about it.”

But, as the conductor moved along, he looked back to see Einstein on his hands and knees searching under the seats for his ticket. The conductor walked back, “Dr. Einstein, please, don’t worry about it. I know who you are.”   Exasperated, Einstein looked up and said, “I, too, know who I am. What I don’t know is where I’m going.”

The Christians at Colossae had gotten to the point that they weren’t sure where they were going because somebody had begun to convince them that they weren’t going to heaven. Somebody had slipped into their midst and begun to tell them they weren’t acceptable to God

They weren’t even sure who they were. To understand what was going on here, it helps to realize that back in the days of this letter – behind the scenes – there was a spiritual battle taking place

The congregation at Colossae was composed of Gentile believers. A Gentile was anyone who was not of Jewish descent. (I asked the audience on Sunday how many of them had “Jewish blood” in their veins? Only one raised their hand. “The rest of you are all Gentiles”)

Gentiles had always been despised by God’s people. The Jews referred to them as dogs, and perhaps had even worse names for them. Jews refused to spend any time with them if they could avoid it. Jews wouldn’t eat with them, work for them, play with them. If a Jew purchased anything from a Gentile, the product was washed to cleanse it the filth of those who had no part in God’s covenant.

So when the church early got started it is no surprise that there were no Gentiles in the church. After the church had established itself in Jerusalem, God moved Philip to share the Good News with an Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8 who believed and was baptized.  In Acts 9 God called Paul to “take my message to the Gentiles.” In Acts 10 God led the Apostle Peter to he household of a Roman Centurion named Cornelius to preach the Gospel to him and his family who all believed and were baptized.

As more and more Gentiles came to Christ, the apostles and church leaders met together to decide what to do about all the gentiles coming to faith in Chris in Acts 15: They agreed that God was drawing them and giving them the Holy Spirit as they believed (Acts 15:8) that they were acceptable just as they were – no circumcision required, no need to follow Jewish laws, or customs.

What Paul was telling the Colossians that there was something these false teachers didn’t understand.  “The mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery,”

And, what was that mystery? It’s…Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:26-27

Of all the mysteries God has revealed in the New Testament, the most profound is Christ in you, the hope of glory. The Old Testament predicted the coming of the Messiah. But the idea that He would actually live in His redeemed church, made up mostly of Gentiles, was new and mind-blowing!  The New Testament is clear that Christ, by the Holy Spirit, takes up permanent residence in all believers (cf. Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 6:19, 20). The revelation of the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles awaited the New Testament (Eph. 3:3-6).

Believers, both Jew and Gentile, now possess the surpassing riches of the indwelling Christ (John 14:23; Gal. 2:20)! The church is described as “the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people’ (2 Cor. 6:16).

That Christ indwells all believers is the source for their hope of glory and is the subject or theme of the gospel ministry. What makes the gospel attractive is not just that it promises present joy and help, but that it promises eternal honor, blessing, and glory. When Christ comes to live in a believer, His presence is the anchor of the promise of heaven—the guarantee of future bliss eternally. In the reality that Christ is living in the Christian is the experience of new life and hope of eternal glory!

  • The Gentile believers in Colossae were already saved
  • The Gentile believers were already acceptable before God.
  • And the Gentile believers there already had the hope of living in Glory.

Why, because Christ was living inside of them. They were acceptable just as they were!

The hope was this: That God would let anybody be acceptable to Him through faith in Christ.

The hope was that God would allow those who had been His enemies to now be called His friends

Now that’s a supreme hope!

April 30, 2022

The Common Condition

Years ago, a Christian musician introduced a song with these words: “Here we are in the human sitch and such a sitch it is.” At least that’s what it sounded like. What he was meaning was, “Here we are in the human situation…”

When we speak of such things there are two ways of looking it. First, there are things which are part of the human condition which are common to everyone. We sometimes speak of the “common grace” or “common graces” given to everyone, regardless of their standing before God. The heavens declare the glory of God. Everyone enjoys the light of the sun, and on days when it’s less visible, “the rain falls on the just and the unjust.”

Within the body of Christ, there are many blessings for the child of God, and much has been written about our identity in Christ, what it means to be joint heirs with Christ, and how, like Abraham, we can be considered a “friend of God.”

But for those of us who are believers, there are some things we need to be aware of; some pitfalls to avoid.

We don’t get it right every time

In a chapter primarily focused on our speech (literally, ‘the tongue’) James states what I believe is a larger principle,

We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. (NLT, 3:2, emphasis added)

In so saying, James reiterates a principle from Proverbs 24:6, which also holds out a promise of recovery:

For a righteous person falls seven times and rises again, But the wicked stumble in time of disaster. (NASB)

This is reminiscent of Psalms 37:23-4

The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, And He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; For the LORD upholds him with His hand. (NKJV, emphasis added)

There can be various reasons why we fall. We know that Peter fell (so to speak) while walking on water when he took his eyes off Jesus. What can cause us to equally lose our way?

Distractions are part of the common experience

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 tells us that,

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. (NLT, emphasis added)

Temptation can arise from “within” and from “without.” But the promise of verse 13 is that God has equipped us with the means to withstand it, provided that we choose to avail ourselves of the defenses he has provided. Resistance is never futile!

Maybe you think it little comfort that the verse states that such temptation is “common to man” (KJV) but there is great assurance that we walk a road that many have walked before us, and many are walking even now.

Granted, your temptation and my temptation may be completely different things. One person lusts after their neighbor’s house. Another lusts after an attractive individual they work with. Another lusts after a second slice of Black Forest cake. The commonality is found in wanting what we do not have or should not have. It’s no accident that in the “second tablet” of the ten commandments, most have to do with actions (killing, fornicating, stealing, lying) while one has to do simply with desire (literally, ‘coveting’) for the things that our not ours; that are not ours to possess.

The source of temptation

While temptation can arise from within and without, temptation can also be the direct effort of our enemy, our accuser. This last key verse is what got me thinking about the common condition when I read it this morning on the NIV Bible App that I use:

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (I Peter 5:8-9, NIV, emphasis added)

There are three key elements to this verse and we tend to focus on the first two:
(a) the idea of Satan prowling like a lion
(b) the idea of resisting the devil
(c) the knowledge that this is common to “the family of believers” worldwide.

This, too is part of our common condition. The strongest Christian “superstar” you ever met faces the same temptations as you. (Perhaps even more so.)

This is why the community of faith is so important. We can help and encourage and support each other.

 

April 29, 2022

A Thing About “All Things”

Having spent the better part of my lifetime in close proximity to the Christian giftware industry, I’ve seen my share of Bible texts plastered on mugs, key chains and picture frames which have been presented without proper context. The most often referenced is Jeremiah 29:11 (“For I know the plans I have for you…”) I am certain that God does want to give us a hope and a future, but when people read that God wants to “prosper” them, it can send their thoughts down a doctrinal rabbit hole.

There’s also the issue of “the plans” God has for us. People rail against “open theology,” but decades ago in the book Decision Making in the Will of God, Garry Freisen argued that being “in God’s will” doesn’t mean there is only one place you are to live, one vocation you are to pursue, and one coffee order you are to place today at Starbucks. (Or to rephrase it, God’s will is a circle not a dot.)

But today we want to look at “all things.”

The first “all things”

The first is Philippians 4:13. The familiar King James rendering of this is, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Perhaps you memorized that as a child, or it appeared on a plaque in the home in which you were raised.

Before moving forward, the post-Charismatic in me wants to remind you that there are no limits with God. Empowered by his Holy Spirit, there are stories of people who accomplished things which would normally have been physically or intellectually impossible. The “God of miracles” about which the TV preachers testify is, literally, a God of miracles.

But the immediate context in the prior verse (4:12) is, “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.” (NIV)

Think about that. Being booked in a luxury hotel one night, and spending the next night sleeping in a tent. Eating at a five-star restaurant one day, and the next day subsisting on peanut butter sandwiches. Having had a huge bank balance one year, and the next year struggling with how to make the month-end rent payment.

The NIV forces us to consider the verse in context by responding, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (emphasis added). But most of the other translations perpetuate the KJV’s take on the verse, perhaps in the interest of not tampering with a text that is extremely familiar. We do however see,

  • I can do all things [which He has called me to do] through Him (AMP)
  • Christ gives me the strength to face anything. (CEV)
  • Christ is the one who gives me the strength I need to do whatever I must do. (ERV)
  • I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. (GNT)
  • I am ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives within me. (Phillips)
  • I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. (Message)
  • I can be content in any and every situation through the Anointed One who is my power and strength. (The Voice Bible, which combines the two thoughts into a single verse)

If you’ve ever heard of real estate agents saying, “Location, location, location;” then think of scripture this way: “Context, context, context.”

As I said above, I think you can read the verse more broadly, but you shouldn’t try to force the verse into situations where you’re being presumptuous. A good verse to read in parallel to this one — again with a unique context, as Paul considers his “thorn in the flesh” — is 2 Corinthians 12:9 “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

The other “all things”

By now you’ve figured out that the other verse we’re thinking of is Romans 8:28. Again, we’ll start with the familiar KJV, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

The NIV states, “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.”

This verse has led to the maxim, “Everything happens for a reason,” a saying which doesn’t allow for the possibility of some things happening by virtue of random chance but consistent with keeping the idea of God’s sovereignty.

The opposite situation however can be equally distressing. If some things are a product of random of chance, this may not bring comfort to someone who has lost a loved one through an act of mass gun violence, or an earthquake, or in the case of a woman I follow on Twitter, a rogue wave at the beach.

However within the random events of life, God can still be working; or to say it differently, given what has already happened, God can work to form good out of those circumstances.

Again, the question will follow, ‘If God can orchestrate the events of life so that the good shines through tragic events, why could he not have orchestrated things so that the situation never happened in the first place?’ It is a fair question, but it says more about the problem of evil and suffering in the world than it does about the ability of God to shape present realities for good.

A parallel perspective is found in Philippians 1:6, And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (NLT)

If you want to go even deeper on this, the prophet Jeremiah, in chapter 18, tells a story — a beautiful analogy to how God is working — in the section headed in the NIV as At the Potter’s House.

If ‘I can do all things’ is about getting the context from the previous verse, ‘All things work together’ is more about the tense of the verb. Some commentators have suggested that a better translation might be “In all things God is already at work…” or “is working” which creates the visual image of God coming alongside us.

Also, before you start to send me an email, yes, it must be said that if you are claiming the promise of this verse, you must remember that it is a conditional promise, the conditions being met by those who

  • love god and
  • are called according to his purpose

We tend to lean in to the first part of the verse, and gloss over the conditional part.

Finally, here’s how Eugene Peterson renders the passage in The Message:

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

April 28, 2022

Has Fear or Fighting Stolen Your Peace?

Thinking Through John 20:19-23

by Clarke Dixon

Has either fear or fighting stolen your peace? You might wonder how you could have peace right now with this scary situation, or that horrible relationship. It might be a nasty virus or a nasty war that is stealing your peace. Jesus speaks to themes of fear, fighting, and peace.

Let us begin with how fear steals our peace

That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said.

John 20:19 (NLT)

The disciples knew all about fear. They were holed up in a room with the doors locked out of the fear that they would end up crucified and dead like their leader. They knew they had targets on their backs, so locked doors it was. Until Jesus showed up.

Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”

John 20:21 (NLT)

While there was rejoicing over seeing Jesus alive, the fear was still real, if not heightened by what Jesus had just said. No more hiding behind locked doors, go out into that scary world where you may well get killed! According to tradition, most of them were.

Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

John 20:22 (NLT)

Breathing on the disciples might seem odd, but as often happens the odd things in the Bible are a clue that something symbolic is happening. Here the breathing on the disciples points back to Genesis:

Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.

Genesis 2:7 (NLT)

God breathed life into humanity at Creation. Now here in Jesus God was doing it again. The Giver of life is with you, even in the face of death. Even though the fear of death was real for the disciples, their peace about life, death, and life after death could be real also.

Our fears can be legitimate. We may well end up wounded, emotionally from relationships, or physically from disease. We will likely face death at some point. Fear helps us seek wisdom, on how to stay alive and healthy. Fear is not all bad. But while fear may be helpful, even necessary at times, fear need not steal our peace. While the worst thing that we imagine might happen, could happen, in Christ the best thing that could happen, even beyond our imagination, shall definitely happen.

Let us continue with how fighting steals our peace

When Jesus says “peace be with you,” it is important that we recognize the word used for peace. Jesus would have spoken mostly in Aramaic and used a word related to the Hebrew word for peace; shalom. While our word peace may be used to describe situations where there is no fighting, the word shalom goes deeper to describe a situation where there is harmony. Two nations may be said to be at peace if they are not lobbing bombs as each other, but they may not be experiencing shalom if the relationship is not good. Likewise, you may experience peace in your relationships, but not shalom.

When Jesus told the disciples he was sending them out, he was sending them out among people with whom they did not have shalom. Their enemies were real, the enmity was real.

Jesus said, “as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” How did the Father send Jesus?

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17 (NLT)

The Father sent the son with the agenda of offering forgiveness, of bringing love in the face of hatred. The disciples were to go out among their enemies with the intention of bringing love in the face of hatred.

As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side.

John 20:20 (NLT)

When Jesus showed the disciples his wounds he could have said “where were you when this happened? Why didn’t you stand by me?” But instead he said “Peace be with you.” Jesus showed them his wounds, not as evidence of their wrongdoing, or anyone else’s wrongdoing, but as a sign that he was real, and that his love for them and his forgiveness of them was real. Having experienced that love, they were now sent out to live it. So are we.

If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.

John 20:23 (NLT)

We might automatically think Jesus is speaking of the forgiveness from God that leads to eternal life here. We might therefore smell power, our power. But is that necessary? I like Eugene Peterson’s take on what Jesus said:

If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?

John 20:23 (MSG)

Good question! If we don’t forgive people’s sins against us, we will let those sins fester in our lives and in our relationships. We will let them steal our peace, our shalom.

Jesus is speaking here about the opportunity of experiencing peace in our relationships, and of bringing shalom to others. In breathing on the disciples, Jesus breathed a breath of fresh air into their relationship with him. Gone was any thought of experiencing judgement and condemnation. We can breathe new life into our relationships through forgiveness.

We enjoy shalom with God because God in Jesus has taken the path of the cross with us. Jesus said “As the father has sent me, I’m sending you,” meaning we are now sent on that same path of the cross, of love and forgiveness.

In Conclusion

Has fear stolen your peace? Jesus stands before us today and says “peace be with you.” Our fears may be real, but they need not steal our peace.

Has fighting stolen your peace? Jesus stands before us today and says “as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Fighting can end in peace and enmity in friendship when we follow Jesus in the way of the cross.

“Peace be with you.”


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario and appears here most Thursdays.

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