Christianity 201

April 28, 2021

Everyone Should Have Samaritan Friends

Four years ago we introduced you to Mel Wild who is senior pastor at Cornerstone Church and director of Radiant School of Ministry, both based in Wisconsin USA. He’s in the middle of a series of writings on Jesus and the Samaritan woman and the question of “Who is my neighbor?” Reading this on his site by clicking the header which follows gets you pictures and the opportunity to explore his other writing, and is greatly encouraged.

Loving our Samaritans

Jesus loves the people we hate. He also loves the people who hate us. As you probably can tell, I think that the neo-Marxist ideologies of the radical left are evil and cancerous. But I don’t feel that way at all about the people who embrace these ideologies.  I actually have a soft spot in my heart for them. Growing up, one of my best friends was a tree-hugging, card-carrying Marxist activist. I think everyone should have “Samaritan” friends.

My Marxist friend was older than me, so when he went to college, I got to visit him several times while I was still in high school. It was an exciting adventure for me. His dorm room was plastered with Che Guevara and Black Panther posters. I got to read the Communist Manifesto as a teenager for the first time because that was his “Bible.” I got to go some of his campus protests. I knew nothing about the dangers of this Western brand of neo-Marxism on college campuses at the time, and it didn’t matter.

Years later, when I became a born-again Christian, and he stayed a radical Marxist activist, we remained close friends. This was because our friendship was not based on ideology or politics; it was based on something much more important. When I became a pastor, he would ask me about God and Jesus, and he was always especially open to the love of Jesus. He passed away a few years ago, so I am grateful for those conversations.

And that brings me to the story about Jesus and the original Samaritans.

51 Jesus let nothing distract him from departing for Jerusalem because the time for him to be lifted up drew near, and he was full of passion to complete his mission there. 52 So he sent messengers ahead of him as envoys to a village of the Samaritans. 53 But as they approached the village, the people turned them away. They would not allow Jesus to enter, for he was on his way to worship in Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51-53 TPT*)

First, let’s think about how we would honestly respond to such rejection. Of course, no response happens in a vacuum. In this case, it’s in context of generations of prejudicial hatred between the Samaritans and the Jews.

I want us to think about this because I really do believe that Jesus is calling His church to go to Samaria, to those people who we think are our enemies. Because of all that’s gone on over the last year, I believe people are more ready to hear the message of the Kingdom of God than ever before. But the problem is…us. Before we can change the world, we may have to change.

We’re a lot like Jesus’ disciples in this story, not being able to heal people like Jesus, but jealous of others who weren’t even following Him but were doing the “stuff,”  and preoccupied with arguing over who’s the greatest (see Luke 9:37-43; 46-50). This is Jesus’ A-team! They were the ones He was investing in to change the world. But, like us, they still had a lot to learn. To see that, let’s continue the story…

54 When the disciples Jacob and John realized what was happening, they returned to Jesus and said, “Lord, if you wanted to, you could command fire to fall down from heaven, just as Elijah did and destroy all these wicked people.”

55 Jesus rebuked them sharply, saying, Don’t you realize what spews from your hearts when you say that? The Son of Man did not come to destroy life, but to bring life to the earth.” (Luke 9:54-55 TPT*)

If we’re going to learn anything at all from this passage, we  must first ask ourselves honestly, “Who are my Samaritans?” Who do I want God to rain fire down on? For me, because of my experience growing up, I actually have more grace for radical neo-Marxist leftists than I do obnoxiously legalistic Christians! That’s an area where I needed to change my heart.

What’s interesting about the disciple’s response was that they were using Scripture to justify their violent response to the Samaritan’s rejection of Jesus. Beloved, whenever we use the phrase, “But the Bible says…” when justifying hatred and revenge, you can be sure you need to realize what spews from your hearts when you say that?” Or, as the NKJV puts it,You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.” I hope you do understand that you could be biblically correct yet be on the wrong side of God.

Now, you and I may say we love those who hate us, persecute us, cancel us, lie about us, but do we? Here’s the passage we have a hard time believing:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? (Matt.5:43-46 NKJV*)

It makes me wonder, do I have a “tax-collector” kind of love, or Jesus’ kind of love?

You see, you and I will never learn to see people like God sees them until we learn to love our Samaritans. As I hope to show next time, seeing people the way Jesus sees them opens up something wonderful and amazing to behold.


Published on his site as licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 License.

April 25, 2021

He Formed Us and is Still Forming Us

For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.Psalm 139: 13, 14a

being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 1:6 NIV

And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. – 2 Corinthians 3:18b NLT

for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. – Philippians 2:13

Earlier today I had a sense that today’s devotional should center around the “fearfully and wonderfully made” phrase from Psalm 139. I knew that many are already familiar with the Psalm and was hoping to find some insight I had never considered before. I was very quickly and unexpectedly rewarded.

I met Syd Hielema once while he was chaplain of Redeemer University. He wrote the devotions which appear below for Today, a publication of the Christian Reformed Church in Canada and the United States. I don’t if he was thinking the same thing that I got from reading them, but these appeared on consecutive days, in the same order you see them below! (Click the headers below to read them at Today.)

Wonderfully Made—and Remade

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. . . . Search me, God. . . . See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. — Psalm 139:14, 23-24

These verses from Psalm 139 remind us that while each one of us is a beautiful creation of the Lord, there are also offensive ways inside us that need to be dealt with.

After the fall into sin (described in Genesis 3), we human beings continue to live as precious works of the Creator while also needing to be redeemed from sin and brokenness. So in his great and amazing love for us, God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the price for our sin and to give us new life forever with him. And now the Spirit of God lives in us, guiding us to become like Jesus. He leads us “in the way everlasting.”

The apostle Paul describes it this way: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20), giving us one of the clearest statements in the Bible about dying to live.

The fact that we are fearfully and wonderfully made—and remade—leads to some of the most glorious announcements in Scripture, like this one: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

Prayer

Thank you, Father, Son, and Spirit, for your gifts of creation and redemption. Continue to search us and to lead us in your way ever­lasting. Amen.

Refined Toward Wholeness

We know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. — 1 John 3:2

The word lavish doesn’t occur very often in the Bible, so its use here in 1 John 3 is striking: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us . . . !” This is where our salvation begins: with the overwhelming, overflowing love of God.

John then continues by contrasting what is now (“we are children of God!”) with what will be: “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” And this describes the finished project, the good work in us that God is bringing to completion (Philippians 1:6). Now we see “only a reflection as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12), but when we see Christ as he is, we shall be like him.

“All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure,” says John. Hope in Jesus is the bridge, the link between the love lavished on us now and becoming like him when he appears. This is love that is determined to bring us home. This hope is not wishful thinking; this is active hope, purifying hope—that is, hope that surrenders to the purifying fire of the Spirit of God as he burns away every part of us that is not pure and good.

It’s a good habit to look back over each day, give it up to God, and pray some words like these:

Prayer

Lord, use your purifying fire to burn away the parts of me that hurt and dishonor you and others. Help me to die to those things so that I can really live, filled with the wholeness of Jesus. Thank you, Lord, for the good work you have begun in me. Keep purifying me each day. Amen.

April 23, 2021

Some of Jesus’ Statements We Call Hyperbole Are Still Truth

Can you imagine the crowds listening to some of the more outrageous statements made by Jesus and saying, “Oh, there he goes again!” Despite the sensational nature of some of the things he said, the phrasing is also the reason we remember them, like the one in today’s devotional.

Our online travels today took us to For Christ’s Sake Fellowship which is run by Pastor Daniel Harlow. This online ministry describes their goal as: “We aren’t necessarily looking for a congregation as much as we are trying to help establish a strong, personal, and life long connection between you and Jesus Christ.”

Click the header which follows to read at their site.

Cast Off Your Hand

“And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” – Matthew 5:30

Temptations abound in this world. You can’t turn on the tv or even drive down the road without being bombarded by beckoning sin. Even the smart phones we hold in our hands create an open doorway for all kinds of evils. What is a good person to do?

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus said that if your eye or your hand causes you to stumble, it would be better for you to pluck the eye out or cut off your hand and cast them away rather than to have your souls to end up in Hell.

What Jesus is saying there is not about hurting yourself, it’s about being willing to do whatever it takes to keep your eyes and your mind on Heaven. Aim for your righteousness and it will help yourself and others.

I do say “yourself and others” because you have more power and affect on other people than you realize. There is truly no such thing as a personal sin. Sin hurts and people who think much of you will follow your lead. You will take many souls with you wherever you go, either to eternal peace in Heaven or to eternal death.

Jesus mentioned the right hand for a reason. It is an example of your strong side. For most people, you get the greatest benefit from using your strong hand. That being said, even if something is benefiting you, it may also be what is doing the most damage to you in the long run.

There are many things in this world that are OK to do, but are they leading you somewhere good? Has the Holy Spirit been knocking on your door recently about something? Do you pray? Do you spend time in the scriptures? Do you use your tone wisely to help others?

I like to fish and I enjoy watching TV now and then. A few little relaxing pursuits are OK, but not when they consume my time. Even OK things, lawful things that benefit us, can get in the way of our eternal salvation. Moderation is key in many cases, but some things, even small seemingly insignificant things can take you away from the life God has called you too.

Jesus Christ suffered and died so that you can be free from sin. All of those bad things you’ve done are gone when you accept His payment on the cross. He died and rose again to give you an abundant life not only in Heaven for eternity, but here on Earth as well.

Use your abundance, whether it is food or money or strength or whatever, to help other people. Don’t use your time and earthly pursuits to chase sin. And make no mistake about it, if you are not actively chasing Heaven, you are slipping back down farther towards hell.

Jesus said there are only two roads. There is a wide one with a large gate that’s pointed in the wrong direction. Many people are on that road, heading for destruction. However, there is another road, a straight and narrow path that leads to an eternity of love and peace. Few find that road.

Which one are you on right now?

Once again, I’m not telling you to ACTUALLY cut off your hand. Please don’t! But I am telling you that we must be ready and willing to cut things out of our lives to gain God’s kingdom and blessings. Even if those things in our lives are OK and lawful, maybe they even benefit us sometimes, but if they harm us and cause others to stumble, then those things must be done away with in our lives.

If you do this, God has promised blessings and peace for now and forever. So stay on that straight and narrow path. It’s worth it.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” – Philippians 4:8-9

God’s blessings to you.


Bonus item: Here’s a short devotional from the same author/site. Check out “Refire!”

April 13, 2021

Assurance for Unprecedented Times

Yesterday we didn’t have a specific scripture focus, which is really rare here; so today we are more than making up for it! Plus, in finding these verses I knew that there would be those for whom these are needed today more than ever.

Isaiah 54: 17

Weapons made to attack you
won’t be successful;
words spoken against you
won’t hurt at all.

My servants, Jerusalem is yours!
I, the Lord, promise
to bless you with victory. (CEV)


“No weapon that is formed against you will prosper;
And every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
And their vindication is from Me,” declares the Lord. (NASB)


No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed,
and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord
and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.” (ESV)

God's Got My Back

Time and time again, scripture records instances where forces came against God’s people bent on their destruction, and the odds against them seemed incredible, but God’s people triumphed.
David and Goliath

I Samuel 17: 48-51 NLT: “As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground. So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him. David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword. When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran.

Samson Slays a Thousand Philistines

Judges 15: 14-17 CEB: “When Samson arrived at Lehi, the Philistines met him and came out shouting. The Lord’s spirit rushed over him, the ropes on his arms became like burned-up linen, and the ties melted right off his hands. He found a donkey’s fresh jawbone, picked it up, and used it to attack one thousand men. Samson said,

“With a donkey’s jawbone,
    stacks on stacks!
With a donkey’s jawbone,
    I’ve killed one thousand men.”

When he finished speaking, he tossed away the jawbone. So that place became known as Ramath-lehi

King Hezekiah and 185,000 Assyrians

II Kings 19: 35-37 NLT: “That night the angel of the Lord went out to the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. When the surviving Assyrians woke up the next morning, they found corpses everywhere. Then King Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and returned to his own land. He went home to his capital of Nineveh and stayed there. One day while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer killed him with their swords. They then escaped to the land of Ararat, and another son, Esarhaddon, became the next king of Assyria.

Mordecai and Haman

Esther 7: 9-10 NKJV: “Now Harbonah, one of the eunuchs, said to the king, “Look! The [a]gallows, fifty cubits high, which Haman made for Mordecai, who spoke good on the king’s behalf, is standing at the house of Haman.” Then the king said, “Hang him on it!” So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the king’s wrath subsided.

Elijah

II Kings 1: 9-10 The Message: “The king sent a captain with fifty men to Elijah. Meanwhile Elijah was sitting, big as life, on top of a hill. The captain said, “O Holy Man! King’s orders: Come down!” Elijah answered the captain of the fifty, “If it’s true that I’m a ‘holy man,’ lightning strike you and your fifty men!” Out of the blue lightning struck and incinerated the captain and his fifty.

Ahitophel

II Samuel 17: 21-23 CSB: “After they had gone, Ahimaaz and Jonathan climbed out of the well and went and informed King David. They told him, “Get up and immediately ford the river, for Ahithophel has given this advice against you.” So David and all the people with him got up and crossed the Jordan. By daybreak, there was no one who had not crossed the Jordan. When Ahithophel realized that his advice had not been followed, he saddled his donkey and set out for his house in his hometown. He set his house in order and hanged himself. So he died and was buried in his father’s tomb.

Paul on the Island of Melita

Acts 28: 3-6 NASB: “But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand.  When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they began saying to one another, “Undoubtedly this man is a murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.” However, Paul shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm Now they were expecting that he was going to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had waited a long time and had seen nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god.

King Saul

I Samuel 31: 1-6 NET: “Now the Philistines were fighting against Israel. The men of Israel fled from the Philistines and many of them fell dead on Mount Gilboa. The Philistines stayed right on the heels of Saul and his sons. They struck down Saul’s sons Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malki-Shua. Saul himself was in the thick of the battle; the archers spotted him and wounded him severely. Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and stab me with it! Otherwise these uncircumcised people will come, stab me, and torture me.” But his armor-bearer refused to do it, because he was very afraid. So Saul took his sword and fell on it. When his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell on his own sword and died with him. So Saul, his three sons, his armor-bearer, and all his men died together that day.

Daniel in the Lion’s Den

Daniel 6: 22-24 NLT: My God sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, for I have been found innocent in his sight. And I have not wronged you, Your Majesty.” The king was overjoyed and ordered that Daniel be lifted from the den. Not a scratch was found on him, for he had trusted in his God. Then the king gave orders to arrest the men who had maliciously accused Daniel. He had them thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. The lions leaped on them and tore them apart before they even hit the floor of the den.

The Cross at Calvary

Luke 24: 6-8 NIV: “He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee:‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’Then they remembered his words.

Be Strong in the Lord

A few years Chris Tomlin wrote the song Whom Shall I Fear but it is also known as God of Angel Armies. This is a faith-building song that is really easy to learn. We are not promised protection from every hard thing a fallen world can bring, but when forces arise to destroy us we have the promise that greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. (I John 4:4)

April 8, 2021

What’s Included In Romans 8’s “All Things?”

Regular Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon will appear tomorrow.

Today we’re again back at the website Forward >> Progress, the personal website of Michael Kelley who is an in-house curriculum develolper for LifeWay. Because he does what he does as his vocation, you know his daily devotionals are going to be good, and the one we selected for today is no exception. Click the header below to read this at his site, and then take a few minutes to look around at his books and other writings.

What “All Things” Should We Expect from God?

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom. 8:31-32).

If you read these verses in isolation, there are a number of questions that ought to come to mind. You might, for example, ask, “What things?” Paul the apostle has some pretty audacious promises to make here, and he does so in response to “these things.” So what things lay the background for his rhetorical claims here?

Well, the “these things” are the weighty truths Paul has written about in the first 7 chapters of Romans. They’re the truths of sinful humanity’s desperate situation, whether Jew or Greek, from Romans 1-3. They’re the truths of the necessity of faith from Romans 4 and the peace we can have with God from Romans 5. They’re the truths of our ongoing battle with sin and the only power to overcome it from Romans 6-7. And they’re the truths of the indwelling Spirit, the fatherhood of God, and our adoption as sons and daughters from Romans 8. Those are “these things.”

In response to the ocean of grace given to us in Christ, Paul asked the rhetorical question, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” For surely God is for us. How could we conclude otherwise in light of everything we’ve just read? Yes, God is most certainly for us. But not stopping there, Paul asked another rhetorical question:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

And this is where we ought to ask a second question of our own. We know what “these things” are, but what about “all things?” What are the “all things” we can and should expect from God, in light of the fact that He has already given us so much?

This is a big question. It is, after all, a question that relates deeply to our expectations and our future. It has bearing on how equipped and fortified we will be through life. It matters to both what is happening right now and what will happen in the future. But it’s also a big question because, if we’re honest with ourselves, we know our tendency toward dissatisfaction.

Let’s face it – we are not a very content culture. If we order cheeseburger, we wonder if we could have a few strips of bacon. If we buy a new TV, we wonder just how big the screen could be and still fit on our wall. If we go on a vacation, we wonder what it would have been like if we had paid a little more for the hotel. We are always pushing for more. More food, more entertainment, more prosperity, more of everything.

So when we come to this promise in Romans 8 – that God will give us “all things”, there is at least a part of us that looks around at everything the world has to offer and rubs our hands together. Does “all things” mean money? Power? Prestige? Constant good health?

Interestingly, this is not the first time in Romans 8 a question like this comes up. If you look back just a few verses to one of the most widely quoted verses in the Bible, you find this:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).

Here, again, we find ourselves drifting into the same thought pattern. God works all things together for our good. So what exactly does that mean? Does it mean we will face no troubles? No difficulties? No sickness? And the answer here is no. You only have to keep reading in Romans 8 to find that there will be all kinds of things that might threaten to separate us from God’s love – things like tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword (v. 35). Clearly, then, Paul doesn’t mean that we won’t ever suffer in this life.

Back, then, to our question – what are the “all things” we can expect from God?

The answer to both of these issues is in God’s intent for us. His intent is emphatically not that we never have difficulty, but instead that we become more and more like Jesus. This is what God is moving us toward in this life – to be be conformed to the image of His Son. It is not a life without difficulty; it is a life that looks more and more like Jesus. The “all things” God will give us are those things which equip and form us in this pursuit.

Maybe a little illustration here – when our family goes camping, we go to the back of the garage and get two plastic tubs and put them in the car. Over the years, we have accumulated everything we need in those tubs. There are lanterns, cooking supplies, matches, s’more sticks, bug spray, flashlights – you name it. And when we run out of one of those things on the trip, we make it a point to refresh the supply before we put the tubs away. That way, when it’s time to go, we don’t have to do another inventory – we know we have “all things” we need.

For camping.

We do not have “all things” we need to go another kind of vacation. Or the movies. Or to school or work. For the specific purpose of camping, though, we have everything we need.

Here is the answer to the question. God has outfitted us with “all things” we need for us to live His highest purpose for our lives, which is to become more like this. Of this we can be absolutely sure – no matter what else happens, He has given us all we need for this specific journey. For this specific purpose. In light of that, the new question is whether our purpose for our lives is the same as His.

April 5, 2021

The One Where You Tell God to Take the Easy Way Out

For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:29 NLT)

For years we’ve shared the writing of Jim Thornber, always pausing to remark at how our blogs have the same name. When it came time to revisit his page today, I was reminded that in 2020 he had suffered the loss of his wife due to complications from Coronavirus. He posted this item in November, and it’s timeliness to Easter cannot be overlooked. Click the header which follows to read at source.

Comfort Is Not The Agenda

One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!” (Luke 23:39)

One of the highlights of my week is meeting with pastors from other churches for coffee on Friday mornings. There is no plan or schedule to these meetings other than friendship, but we also gather knowing we have a unique position in our town and only other pastors will understand our victories and struggles.

A couple of weeks ago, one of the pastors referenced the thief on the cross who scoffed at Jesus, saying, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

After he quoted the thief I said, “And here we are today, still trying to tell God how to be God!”

As soon as I said this it struck me how often I have done the same thing as the thief. “If you were really THIS kind of God,” I would think, “then you would do THIS for me.” And, of course, this makes me a thief who is trying to steal the true character of God and replace it with a god of my making.

It’s a good thing our society no longer hangs thieves.

If anyone is wondering, I have plenty of suggestions on how God can make me comfortable and answer my prayers. But then, I think about Jesus. As He hung upon the cross, Jesus wasn’t concerned with His comfort. Instead, He was concerned with obeying God’s agenda for His life.

Furthermore, it’s easy for me to admit I’ve lived a comfortable life. I’ve never known the type of suffering that took place in Europe during World War II. I’ve never battled cancer or been kidnapped. I’ve never faced homelessness or starvation, never been in a car crash or lost a limb in an accident, and for those things I am grateful.

The worst pain I have ever experienced is the loss of my wife, Barbara, who died on September 12, 2020 from complications of COVID-19. I can find no words that adequately describe the pain of losing a soul mate, a best friend, the one God created to be my equal in life.

Still, I trust God will continue to work in my life as I go forward, the same way He worked in our life as I look back at the amazing twenty-six years I had with Barbara.

After years of wanting God to fulfill my will, I’ve finally come to accept that God’s agenda for my life is not to make me comfortable, but to help conform me into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). Therefore, I cannot honestly say, “LORD, your will be done in me,” then complain when His will makes me uncomfortable.

Losing a spouse is devastating, but losing my perspective on God’s magnificent goodness and love would be worse. Therefore, I’ve decided keep these words of Habakkuk constantly on my mind:

“Yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign LORD is my strength!” (Hab. 3:18-19).

March 14, 2021

“Set Apartness”

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  (Romans 12:2 TNIV)

For the grammatical purists out there, “Apartness” is not a word, but it’s a better choice than what I really wanted to use, “Apartedness.”

…When this life ends, I don’t picture the next one including having casual conversations with the maker of the universe, but I can indulge my imagination for a moment, I can imagine someone walking up to God and saying, “Did you really care if people wore garments weaved from two different types of fabric?”

And of course God will answer, “Why would you want to mix a checkered pattern with plaid?”

No, seriously, in my imagination God answers as you might expect, “I was simply giving my people rules that would set them apart from the surrounding nations; I was helping them to learn to live with a unique identity.”

In the Brian Doerksen worship song, Refiner’s Fire*, holiness is equated with separating oneself from the world.

Refiner’s fire
My heart’s one desire
Is to be holy
Set apart for You Lord
I choose to be holy
Set apart for You My Master
Ready to do Your will

God wants us to be different, but different in a good way. Some people struggle to fit in. Brant Hansen wrote a book titled Blessed are the Misfits, and while it’s true that those who, like Hansen, are somewhere on the autism spectrum, or have some other mitigating physical or mental challenge; that they have a place in God’s Kingdom, we shouldn’t go out of our way to be odd or quirky, while at the same time we should go out of our way to stand out from the crowd; to have that distinct identity that God yearned for Israel to have.

I guess a lot depends on what you mean by distinct identity. I Peter 2:9 in the KJV rendering many learned states,

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (Italics added)

For many, personal holiness is measured by the things we don’t do. By the outward conformity to certain behavioral metrics. Sounds easy, right? It’s effortless to not do things. But in fact it involves great effort.

A 2013 devotional here quoted Charles Price,

The alternative to holiness is that we are available to anything that happens to attract our attention at the time. To be available to whatever is convenient, comfortable and compatible with our own selfishness is to live an unholy life. We are called to holiness, called to live in step with Jesus, called to unite our interests with His and our agendas with His. As Peter wrote, ‘In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord’(1 Peter 3:15).

In a 2010 devotional, I considered the Amish as an example of a people set apart:

While everybody else in Christendom has suffered the fate of slowly being dominated and shaped by the spirit and culture of the world, these people have managed to truly understand what it means to be “set apart;” what it means to not ‘give in’ to the dominant culture and its ways of seeing the world,

What got my thoughts going in this direction is waking up this morning and realizing the extent to which my thought processes have been slowly shaped and conformed to the ‘spirit of the age;’ the world’s way of looking at everything. I’ve been absorbed into the dominant culture’s way of seeing the world.

Instead of simply staring at the Amish, we should be engaging them; asking them, “Hey, what’s the secret to all this?” “How do you manage not to be trapped into the contemporary mindset?”

In a devotional which appeared twice in both 2014 and 2017 I wrote that God’s revelation to Moses, and in turn his declaration to Pharoah as to what was planned for the final plague that will bring about their release from captivity goes dramatically and radically beyond not mixing fabrics or not eating pork. In Exodus 11:6-7 we read:

There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. (italics added)

On the surface, this is saying that the morning after, it will be clear that while the firstborn of all of Egypt’s families will have perished, the firstborn of all of Israel’s families will have survived. It demonstrates a difference that has always been despite the years of assimilation that have come before Moses’ mission to liberate those people.

In Matthew 13:30 we read how it is possible for there to be a people of God existing in the greater world but how God knows who is who:

Let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest time. At harvest time I will tell the workers, “First gather the weeds and tie them together to be burned. Then gather the wheat and bring it to my barn.” (NCV)

In Romans 1:1, Paul’s very first words introduce the letter by saying he has been set apart.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God (NIV, italics added)

In Hebrews 7:26, Jesus, our great High Priest, is described in similar terms:

Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. (NIV, italics added)

So the question to ask yourself is: How do you rank in terms of “set apartness?” Or as one person said it, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”


*The song, Refiner’s Fire with Brian Doerksen and the Toronto Worship Project:


Tomorrow marks devotional #4000 here at C201. Still not sure what it will look like!

 

 

 

March 11, 2021

There Must Be a Better Way (There Is and Jesus Modeled It)

by Clarke Dixon

Relationship meltdowns are nothing new. They happen between nations, within nations, and among family and friends. Battles rage and some families may feel like the starting point for WWIII. Is there any hope for peace, harmony, and healing?

It is no surprise that war and strife are normal. Life is often seen as a competitive struggle, a fight for space, land, resources, or just a voice. People push themselves ahead of others, or force their agendas on them. In the rat race of life, the first person to the finish line wins. I forget who first pointed it out, but unfortunately the winners also end up looking quite like rats.

As followers of Christ, we are supposed to be like sheep following the Good Shepherd. In life we might rather feel like we are sheep on a hamster wheel in a rat race.

Is there a better way?

There is a better way and Jesus models it for us in John, chapter 13. Here we find the twelve disciples in the upper room, not long before the first Lord’s Supper, not many hours before the arrest of Jesus, and just one day before the crucifixion of Jesus.

Looking around the upper room, Jesus knows that all the disciples will scatter and abandon him at the first hint of trouble. Jesus knows Peter will deny him. Jesus knows that Judas will betray him. I think many of us, in the same situation, would have launched into a war of words, or we would have ditched the disciples and went looking for better friends. But not Jesus:

Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end.

John 13:1 (NLT)

Jesus, knowing how the disciples were about to fail him spectacularly, neither rejected them, nor fought them. Instead,

. . . he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.

John 13:4-5 (NLT)

Jesus loved them spectacularly.

Jesus walked the better path of love by serving. Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. Jesus was different, not at all like a rat trying to win the race, but instead taking the role of a servant, helping the disciples to walk a new path as truly human humans.

Jesus walked the path of love by taking the time, and putting in the effort. This was not just an act of service, but an act of service that required time and effort. In the upper room, the pace of life was allowed to grind to a halt. Taking time to serve the disciples meant taking a break from everything else that might seem important. There were so many people who still needed to hear Jesus’ teaching, so many people who still needed his healing touch, and so little time left. Yet here is Jesus, spending his time and effort, pouring out his love for the very ones he knew would abandon him, deny him, and betray him. I think I’d be saying “wash your own feet.” Jesus modeled the better way.

Jesus walked the path of love by serving people who did not earn his time or effort. Even after spending three years with Jesus, the disciples were caught up in a competitive spirit. Not long before this moment they were jostling for position, questioning who was the greatest among them. Had they not learned anything? Their feet were dirty from joining in the rat race. Yet here is Jesus washing the feet of those who would abandon him, deny him, and betray him. Jesus did not demand perfection from the disciples before washing their feet. He demanded love for them, from himself.

Jesus walked the path of love by choosing the path of the cross. Jesus had earlier said,

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Matthew 20:28 (NLT)

Not long after washing the feet of the disciples he said:

This is my body, which is given for you. . .

1 Corinthians 11:24-25 (NLT)

Given for you,” which at that moment meant the disciples who would abandon him, Peter who would deny him, and Judas who would betray him. Walking the path of love, the path of the cross which brought potential healing and life. That is the better way.

When we take the Lord’s Supper we are reminded that Jesus walks that better way of love with us as well. Despite our failings, as with the disciples, God shows his love for us to the very end.

When we take the Lord’s Supper we are also reminded that Jesus calls us to walk that same path of love. Are we picking up our cross and following? Are we walking in the ways that bring healing and life?

After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.

John 13:12-15 (NLT)

We do as Jesus did; we walk the path of love by serving others. We walk the path of love by taking the time, making the time, putting in the effort. We walk the path of love serving people who have not earned our love. We love by picking up our cross and serving others through offering forgiveness and reconciliation. That is the better way.

It is significant that the early Christians referred to the Christian movement as “The Way.” By this they were not referring to ‘the way to get to heaven’. Rather they were referring to the better way of life, the way of love which shows that we walk with the One from heaven. It is the way of participating in the answer to the prayer “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 5:10).

Jesus loved the disciples to the end. What is it referring to? It refers to Jesus loving the disciples by washing their feet, and loving them by dying on the cross for their reconciliation. But it also refers to how he loved them by teaching them. Jesus loved them by showing them the better way, the way of not turning his back on those who will turn their backs on him, the way of not returning violence for violence at the cross:

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

Luke 23:34 (NLT)

John experienced the love of Jesus. John experienced the love of God. He was there, his feet were washed. Then he was not there, he fled with the others. Then he was there at the cross, too late to do anything about it. There he experienced love, God’s love. He learned a better way. He wrote about it:

But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

1 John 4:8 (NLT)

People in our day may not be aware for their need for Jesus, for God. But many people are quite aware that there must be a better way. Many people are well aware that we need more love in this world. They may not be aware that Jesus showed us that better way of love two thousand years ago. They may not be aware that Jesus is willing to walk that better way of love with them, right now.

Are we ready to get off the hamster wheel and out of the rat race? There is a better way. It is walking with Jesus in the way of love.


The video for the sermon on which this is based can also be seen as part of this larger “online worship expression.Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada and appears here most Thursdays.

February 27, 2021

Our Actions and Activity Count

Last year at this time we introduced Paul O’Brien is in pastoral ministry in Ohio. His blog is New Creation in X. Click the headers which follow — this a mash-up of a two-part article — to read these on his site.

The Bible teaches that what we do matters

The Bible teaches that what we do matters.

“For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:27).

“The Son of Man is going to come.” That’s going to happen. Just as surely as Jesus came, He’s coming back. And He’s coming in glory.

No stable, no mere star. All of the world will see His utter glory. That’s going to happen. And Scripture repeatedly reminds us to be ready because it’s going to happen soon.

The One who took His cross and beckons us to take up ours will soon take His full rightful glory. All the world will be awed by His power. All the world will bow and acknowledge the reality that He is Lord (Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:10-11).

And as the Lord, He will dish out what’s deserved. The Just One will measure out justice. All will meet their deserved fate. There will be grace and wrath in abundance. And there will be peace.

A takeaway for all Christians: we must see the utter importance of our actions. Just because one is saved by grace through faith does not at all mean that what one does doesn’t matter.* Christians should be people of faith-filled sacrificial love. Because…

The Lord Jesus will repay each person according to what they have done.

What we do and don’t do matters. It matters a lot. Our lives and our actions have significance. They have significance because there is a Savior who reigns who will enforce His loving rule.

*Christians are saved by faith alone but the faith that saves is never alone. Those who are made new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), are to live as new creations in Christ. They are to live holy lives because they are holy (1 Cor. 1:2).

What we do matters: And that’s good news

Matthew 16:27 which says “the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done.”

For a lot of people that may seem very heavy and discouraging. For me, it’s good news. It’s good news because it means there’s meaning. What we do matters.

It makes me think of Albert Camus’s “The Myth of Sisyphus.” In “The Myth of Sisyphus,” Sisyphus has to carry a huge rock up a hill and you know what happens once he does? It rolls right back down the hill… And again and again and again… Basically, Camus is saying life is meaningless and absurd.

And that reminds me of another philosophical work, the book of Ecclesiastes from the Bible. One of the reoccurring phrases in that book is “vanity of vanities.” Is all meaningless? Does what we do matter?

The Bible answers with a resounding “Yes!”

For someone who has wrestled with depression because of perceived purposelessness, it’s good news that what we do matters. It adds pep and purpose to my life… Even if it’s a heavy truth, I’ll take it because it means our lives have weight.

The fact that Jesus will repay each person according to what they have done adds huge significance to our lives. “We’re playing for keeps,” so to speak. Life is the real thing. We should live and enjoy it and we should love God and others. That’s what Ecclesiastes concludes with.

So, I’m thankful for the good news that what we do in life matters. I’m especially mindful of that on the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Martin and the Million Man March mattered. It mattered and racism matters.

It matters that MLK was killed. It matters that MLK peacefully fought for the sanctity of blacks and all people. It matters for a lot of reasons. But for one, it matters because people will give an account for their racism, acts of violence, and even every careless word (Matthew 12:36).

So, as I said, this is heavy and hard. It’s not an easy pill to swallow but it is the medicine we need. We can’t lash out and attack and think it doesn’t matter. Our every action is riddled with significance. That truth, however, shouldn’t cripple us, it should cause us to fly to Jesus who is both our Savior and Sanctifier.

When the options are laid out in front of me, I’ll take actual meaning and significance every time. I don’t want the poisoned sugar pill that says what we do doesn’t really matter. I’ll take the truth even if it’s bitter.

What we do totally matters. It’s hard in some ways to hear that but the alternative is to say it doesn’t matter. And that would be saying nothing matters, there is no meaning.

To close, it seems there are three options:

1) Be crushed by the utter meaninglessness of life (e.g. give up, don’t care) or…

2) Be crushed by the utter meaning of life (e.g. try to own everything, try to be the great rescue yourself) or…

3) Trust Christ. Christ says there’s meaning and He says there’s hope. What we do matters and we’ve all failed. He, however, didn’t throw in the towel on us. He took up a towel and lived as a servant. He did all the good we should’ve done and didn’t do the bad. And yet He was crushed for us but not under the weight of meaning or meaninglessness but on a cross.

Jesus finished where we bailed, He succeeded where we failed. He’s always right and we’re often wrong. He has a perfect record and He offers it to us.

February 26, 2021

Running to Spread the Word

Today another new author whose writing we’ve chosen to highlight for you. Bernie Lyle writes at Musings from an Idle Mind. I encourage you to click through and read some of his devotionals at their source, or click the header which follows to read today’s.

Run

“Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, both that you do and will do the things we command you.”
‭‭II Thessalonians‬ ‭3:1-4‬ ‭NKJV

Even in the time of the writing of this passage in II Thessalonians, Paul was dealing with people in the church who were not quite what they seemed. In that letter, Paul was cautioning the church, then and now, of things that were and things to come, as people were falling away. We are seeing this in our world today, as the evil one is attacking assemblies and driving wedges between people.

There are disrupters amongst us, people bent on drawing others after sin, and causing havoc to the faith. I have heard of pastors attacked over petty things, of people being accosted over matters of faith. There are families in turmoil, and marriages crumbling. People are enduring a multi-tiered assault.

It is tough being an intercessor in these perilous times, as I hear of the struggles of others, and am horrified by the attacks of the evil one on families. I pray fervently for many.

I have learned that prayer is the most needed thing today, as many of us are facing challenges to our ability to share the Gospel. We are often distracted by inner struggles, and the mission is put on the back burner.

Just as Paul called upon the Thessalonians to pray for him, I implore you to pray for me, and others who have taken on the ministry of prayer. We are dealing with supernatural pressures and there is no natural remedy.

Opposition is making it difficult to do the work, slowing the spread to a crawl. I pray over all those on my list, that they have opportunities to share the Good News, that they would do so with no inhibition, with boldness, that the message would indeed run swiftly to the ears of all who need to believe.

If ever there was a time to take up the full armor of God, it is now.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭6:12-13‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Often the opposition that we encounter comes from with in the church, and the family, as people whose god is the flesh have crept in and seek to disrupt the work of God. The attacks are personal and intimate.

Great care is needed in dealing with those in opposition, as we are on mission to lead people to Jesus, whether they be friend or foe. Most of those in opposition have no idea that they are pawns being used by the evil one. Great damage can be done with a single word.

“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.”
‭‭II Timothy‬ ‭2:24-26‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Brothers and sisters, pray that we keep our hearts open to those around us. The people who go against us have no idea of what the future holds, and no idea how much danger they are in. They are driven by raw emotions, and find themselves propelled to strike out against others they blame for damage brought on by their own sin.

I am willing to suffer all things if it means someone comes to know Jesus. God has built into me long suffering, as I have been chosen as one who prays. Pray for me. Pray for your pastors, for they are the essential, frontline workers in this rescue mission. Pray that we all remember that we are here to rescue people bound for hell.

My people, let us bear each others burdens, let us lift each other up, as the these times are draining. We all need endurance as time is short. We are nearing the end of a long, long race, and there is a great tendency to slow down, to ease up, to coast into the tape. We have so many saints who have gone before us, so many who gave of themselves with the fullest measure of devotion. Let us run, that the Gospel run swiftly and reach as many as possible.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭12:1-2‬ ‭NKJV‬‬


How to become a Christian:

Bernie ended his devotional with a link to a page called The Roman Road. (No, it’s not about the Catholic Church!) If you’d like to read more about following Jesus, click this link.

February 24, 2021

Spiritual Warfare: The Weapon of Lies

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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As we soon approach devotional #4,000, it amazes me how many times a reading is tagged with the words, spiritual warfare. Even on my other more topical blog, Thinking Out Loud, this is a theme which is constantly recurring

This theme appears in so many books. Most authors agree that the battlefield on which the warfare is enacted is our minds. Think of bestsellers such as Battlefield of the Mind or Victory Over the Darkness. Spiritual warfare need not be the province of Charismatic or Pentecostal authors however, and it’s a topic we shouldn’t back away from. The battle is real.

Today at Devotions Daily, there was an excerpt from a forthcoming book, Winning the War in Your Mind, by Oklahoma pastor Craig Groeschel. To read it in full, click the header which follows.

Old Lies, New Truth

…You are constrained by a lie, something that doesn’t exist. The Enemy has arranged enough hurtful circumstances, in key places of your life, in which you got just enough jolt — a bit of a shock, a sting of pain to your heart — that you have decided trying even one more time is just not worth the risk. What makes it worse is that the number of places where you have stopped trying is growing ever larger.

The greatest weapon in Satan’s arsenal is the lie.

Perhaps his only weapon is the lie. The first glimpse we have of the devil in the Bible, we see him deceiving Adam and Eve in the garden. He created doubt in Eve’s mind by asking her,

“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.

“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:1-5

What Satan did in the garden back then is the exact same thing he will attempt to do in your life today.

In 2 Corinthians 11:3, our thoughtology professor Paul said,

I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

Satan will whisper accusing questions and deceptive statements. He schemes to twist your mind, because if he can, he then

  • diverts you from your purpose,
  • distracts you from God’s voice,
  • destroys your potential.

If he can get you to believe a lie, your life will be affected as if that lie were true.

Unfortunately, Satan’s lies are easy to believe. Why? Part of the reason is that because of sin, we have a flawed internal lie detector. God warned us:

  • “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9).
  • There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12).

That’s definitely the problem, so what’s our solution? How do we access God’s power to stop Satan’s lies? How can we demolish his strongholds in our lives?

If Satan’s primary weapon is lies, then our greatest counter-weapon is the truth of God’s Word.

Not just reading the Bible but learning to wield Scripture as a divine weapon. God wants us to view His Word that way. See how Hebrews 4:12 offers a direct solution to the warning of Jeremiah 17:9:

The word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.


Excerpts from Zondervan books are used with permission from HarperCollins Christian Publishing. Winning the War in Your Mind by Craig Groeschel, copyright 2021 Craig Groeschel.

February 22, 2021

Reaping Where You Did Not Sow

Titus 1:7

Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless–not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain.
(NIV)

dollar signNot wanting to overstate this, but in the past year we’ve watched as people who were stewards of ministry organizations, including those responsible for the finances of those same organizations, have proved themselves to be less than good stewards of what well-meaning donors had entrusted to them. Some have shown themselves, in their other endeavors to be “pursuing dishonest gain.”

This should not be. The ESV version of today’s verse says, “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain.

In a world of capitalism, there is a sense in which person “A” is exploiting person “B” by way of their possession of a scarce resource or a unique talent. My plumber or electrician (both Christians who have been very fair with us over the years) have skills and abilities that I do not have and the KJV scripture reminds us that “the workman is worthy of his hire.” (NIV/NLT: deserves his/their wages/pay.)

When found out, we sometimes expect God will just step in and seize control of the situation, but sometimes he allows things to go unchecked. One of the more interesting articles here at C201 is a 2014 one called “Why Did Jesus Allow Judas to Manage the Petty Cash?” Matt Perlman wrote,

Why did Jesus let Judas carry the money bag during his ministry, knowing in his omniscience that he was stealing from it (John 12:6)? One blogger humorously points out “one is tempted to offer the Lord some consulting on good stewardship.”

But then goes further,

…If it’s surprising that Jesus would have let Judas carry the money bag, it should be even more shocking that he let Judas be an apostle at all. For the task of going out and preaching the gospel, which Judas participated in, is even more significant than carrying the moneybag.

(Now you want to read the whole article, right?)

While we’re reminiscing about previous articles, a 2013 article from (re)Versing Verses which we called “Two Different Measures” looked at this verse:

You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. Deuteronomy 25:15 NIV

and noted:

The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him [Proverbs 11:1]. This is a matter of integrity, and often it’s so easy to gain a little here and there that we tend to do it naturally and think of it as harmless. It isn’t harmless though. It harms your integrity. The Lord frowns on it. It incurs the Lord’s wrath – For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly [Deu 25:16]. Let us learn to be honest and have integrity in small things and big things alike.

How do I know if my “gain” is “unjust”? A page at Knowing Jesus provides some scriptures to help us make the call. (They have 12 key verses, I added #3 and #7)

  1. It has come about through violence. “So are the ways of everyone who gains by violence; It takes away the life of its possessors.” Prov. 1.19
  2. It is achieved through misrepresentation and lies. “The acquisition of treasures by a lying tongue Is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death.” Prov 21.6
  3. It is accomplished through trickery and deception. “The LORD detests the use of dishonest scales, but he delights in accurate weights.” Prov 11.1
  4. It exploits the poor. “He who oppresses the poor to make more for himself Or who gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.” Prov 22.16
  5. It exploits done by others. “As a partridge that hatches eggs which it has not laid, So is he who makes a fortune, but unjustly; In the midst of his days it will forsake him, And in the end he will be a fool.” Jeremiah 17.11
  6. It involves not properly paying staff or contractors. “Woe to him who builds his house without righteousness and his upper rooms without justice, Who uses his neighbor’s services without pay and does not give him his wages” Jeremiah 22.13 also “Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord” James 5.4
  7. There are underlying, unjust motives. “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD.” Prov. 16.2

I think the word “pursues” is not to be overlooked in this phrase as well. See resources on this at OpenBible.info.

  1. It exhausts you. “Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit. Prov. 23.4
  2. There is never contentment. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
  3. It can cost you your soul. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8.36 also Luke 18.25 “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.
  4. It may cause you to neglect the poor. “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.” Prov. 28.27
  5. It will divide your loyalties. “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Prov 16.13
  6. Achieving it may be elusive or temporary. “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Luke 12 18-20
  7. It can leave you miserable. “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Rev. 3:17

Growing up in the church founded by Dr. Oswald J. Smith, people were encouraged to invest their money, time and talents in world missions with this motto,

You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.

In other words, you can invest it in the Kingdom of God (“where moth and rust do not corrupt“) and where it lasts.

Someone else also shared with me that

The main thing that Bible teaching has against money is that it perishes with use.

A 2015 C201 post, “Proverbs on Poverty…and Riches” contained a number of scriptures on this (unfortunately without references) and ended with this one:

Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

So while we may have determined we have not pursued dishonest gain, we need to be careful we haven’t become caught up in pursuing gain itself.

February 14, 2021

As We Search Our Hearts

Two days ago we looked at our susceptibility to sin. There are a few verses I realized could have also been included, one of which follows in the excerpt from something by Elsie Montgomery we ran in September:

…Every day I need to ask Jesus what the psalmist asked: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24) This is one prayer that God is so faithful to answer quickly that I’ve often said if you pray it, you better duck!

I decided to continue tracing back the history of the particular scripture appearing here.

Just over a year ago, we shared a devotional from Gary Henry:

…We are hurt far more by the malignancies in our character than by the illnesses in our body. And it is the removal of these sins in the heart that God is concerned with. The Great Physician desires to restore our spiritual health and wholeness.

If we want to improve, we must be honest and open to the truth about our character right now. Not even the Great Physician can help us if we’re not willing to be examined. Trying to hide our symptoms and pretending that nothing very serious is wrong will only result in our getting worse. An accurate diagnosis will be humbling, to be sure, but we should still want to know the whole truth. David’s prayer is that of an honest man: Search me, O God, and know my heart . . . see if there is any wicked way in me (Psalm 139:23,24). We must desire to see ourselves as God sees us…

In December, 2017, Colin Sedgwick included this same verse, but looked at the life of Asa in both 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles and used the analogy of someone having what we call a Jekyll and Hyde character. More than anything else, God hates hypocrisy. Think of the word duplicity and the image is clear of a person who presents a double character. Colin also introduced the idea of a Asa as having an Achilles heel, a weak spot or vulnerability to certain types of sin. He wrote,

…I have to admit, that’s where his story strikes uncomfortably at my heart… Yours too, perhaps. As you search your heart and examine your life, do you see there a big, ugly “But”? Yes, you’re a genuine, sincere Christian. Yes, you want to please and serve God. Yes, you are happy to worship, pray and evangelise. But

If we fail to deal with that “but”, I’m not suggesting that we will lose our salvation. But there are, I think, two things we will lose.

First, our peace of mind. Like Paul in Romans 7:14-25 we will feel ourselves to be “wretched” because we are torn in two.

And second, we will lose our effectiveness for God. Putting it another way, our cutting edge will be blunted.

In August, 2017, I wrote a devotional based on a sermon I had recently heard, that was based on this passage:

“O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands. But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land. Daniel 9:4-6

I added,

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

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

In November, 2015, Rev. Gregory Crofford raised the dramatic account of Ananias and Sapphira whose duplicity cost them both their lives. He introduced this verse to the discussion:

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” 1 Peter 4:17, NIV, italics added

Way back in July, 2012, a writer we used several times but knew only as “Cloudwatcher” also touched on the Psalm 51 verse, but introduced this from James 3:11 as well:

Both fresh water and salt water don’t come from the same spring, do they?

I read that verse today and marvel at the duplicity that seems to spring forth from the accounts of fallen Christian leaders; how their words and their actions did not line up. There was, as one person voiced earlier this weekend, apparently a lack of “a congruent life.”

Going back to December, 2011; we come full circle with Elsie Montgomery who noted Spurgeon brought up this scripture in the context of taking a personal spiritual inventory:

Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds. -Proverbs 27:23

[Spurgeon] points out that a wise merchant occasionally takes stock. He opens his accounts, examines what is on hand, and determines whether his trade is prosperous or declining. This practice is easily transferred to those who belong to Jesus Christ. Those who are wise will often take stock to make sure that our hearts are right with God. We ask Him to reveal sin and life-patterns that need attention.

That’s all for today; I hope this leaves all of us with much to consider.


For those of you who read the tags which appear after the title, this devotional is tagged with an assortment of search terms from all the devotionals used!

Looking for more content? This weekend I listened to the second part in a recent sermon series, Unleashed by Kyle Idleman based on the Book of Acts. If you’ve got time, sit back and listen to Complacent to Committed.

 

 

 

 

January 31, 2021

The Roller Coaster Ride of Ministry and Missions

If you knew me many years ago, there was a period when I would always sign letters

I Corinthians 16-9

In my mind, I was hearing the KJV text from where I first learned it:

For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.

Today, I would probably refer you to a more recent translation, such as the NLT:

There is a wide-open door for a great work here, although many oppose me.

If you think about, this is the format of every missionary, church, or parachurch organization fundraising letter or ministry report you’ve ever received.

→ The good news is: God is working in the lives of people, we are seeing results.
→ The bad news is: We face [financial/staffing/logistical/spiritual-warfare/etc.] challenges.

There’s always a challenge. Today in church, the guest speaker shared this:

The greatest challenge in life is not having a burden to carry.

That’s right, without some mountain to climb or river to cross, our lives would actually be rather boring. Certainly there would be no growth. I discussed that quotation with a friend after the service was over, and he said, “Yes, but that’s we all want. We want it to be easy.”

Matthew Henry writes:

Great success in the work of the gospel commonly creates many enemies. The devil opposes those most, and makes them most trouble, who most heartily and successfully set themselves to destroy his kingdom. There were many adversaries; and therefore the apostle determined to stay.

Some think he alludes in this passage to the custom of the Roman Circus, and the doors of it, at which the charioteers were to enter, as their antagonists did at the opposite doors. True courage is whetted by opposition; and it is no wonder that the Christian courage of the apostle should be animated by the zeal of his adversaries. They were bent to ruin him, and prevent the effect of his ministry at Ephesus; and should he at this time desert his station, and disgrace his character and doctrine?

No, the opposition of adversaries only animated his zeal. He was in nothing daunted by his adversaries; but the more they raged and opposed the more he exerted himself. Should such a man as he flee?

Note, Adversaries and opposition do not break the spirits of faithful and successful ministers, but only kindle their zeal, and inspire them with fresh courage.

I checked out a number of commentaries online for this verse, and ended up pulling out several of my print commentaries. One of the greatest insights came at the bottom of the page of the NIV Study Bible:

many who oppose me. Probably a reference to the pagan craftsman who made the silver shrines of Artemis and to the general populace whom they had stirred up (Acts 19:23-34).

Interesting that what appeared to be spiritual opposition was actually rooted in commerce; people who had a vested financial interest in maintaining commercial interests in a pagan form of worship. Think about Jesus and the money-changers in the temple:

NIV Matt. 21:12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.

I’ll let Eugene Peterson re-phrase the Acts reference above:

23-26 …a huge ruckus occurred over what was now being referred to as “the Way.” A certain silversmith, Demetrius, conducted a brisk trade in the manufacture of shrines to the goddess Artemis, employing a number of artisans in his business. He rounded up his workers and others similarly employed and said, “Men, you well know that we have a good thing going here—and you’ve seen how Paul has barged in and discredited what we’re doing by telling people that there’s no such thing as a god made with hands. A lot of people are going along with him, not only here in Ephesus but all through Asia province.

27 “Not only is our little business in danger of falling apart, but the temple of our famous goddess Artemis will certainly end up a pile of rubble as her glorious reputation fades to nothing. And this is no mere local matter—the whole world worships our Artemis!”

28-31 That set them off in a frenzy. They ran into the street yelling, “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!” They put the whole city in an uproar, stampeding into the stadium, and grabbing two of Paul’s associates on the way, the Macedonians Gaius and Aristarchus. Paul wanted to go in, too, but the disciples wouldn’t let him. Prominent religious leaders in the city who had become friendly to Paul concurred: “By no means go near that mob!”

32-34 Some were yelling one thing, some another. Most of them had no idea what was going on or why they were there. As the Jews pushed Alexander to the front to try to gain control, different factions clamored to get him on their side. But he brushed them off and quieted the mob with an impressive sweep of his arms. But the moment he opened his mouth and they knew he was a Jew, they shouted him down: “Great Artemis of the Ephesians! Great Artemis of the Ephesians!”—on and on and on, for over two hours.

Some people believe that finding the heart of many world and regional conflicts is simply a matter of “follow the money.” The point is that we don’t know and we don’t always see why people are so very bent on opposing us in ministry. Not to minimize Matthew Henry’s interpretation, it’s simply too easy to say, ‘It’s the Devil;’ or put things into some general spiritual warfare category. Maybe your devout faith and witness are simply “bad for business” for someone nearby.

…My opinion would be that where ministry is taking place many challenges and overt opposition will occur. If it’s not, maybe you’re doing it wrong.

Greater opportunities = Greater opposition.

But the good news is that most of the time the opposite is also true.

Greater opposition = Greater opportunities.

Romans 5:20b (KJV) says,

But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.

Ministry life involves both: Great opportunities for harvest and life change, and many who would rather keep the status quo.


Earlier today I launched a fundraising page at GoFundMe for an orphanage in Haiti that we’ve come to know over the past seven years. Our oldest son Chris has been on the ground there twice now and participates in their fundraising activities back home in Canada. If God has blessed you and you’d like to make a difference, I invite you to click through to the page and then consider any encouragement you can give through your donation.

January 27, 2021

They Don’t Want Our Dirty Water

Last Thursday we were unable to bring you Clarke Dixon’s latest “Shrunk Sermon” so we’re presenting it today and hope to have the regular one here tomorrow as well.

Some Reasons People Are Not Into Church, and What to Do About it

by Clarke Dixon

Religion, and Christianity in particular, is not seen in too good a light these days. The statistics are not good. Every census reveals that more and more people are in the “nones” category, as in no religion, thank you very much.

We may want to blame the pandemic. We may want to blame people. Perhaps we, Christians, shoulder some of the blame? Perhaps we do things that make a lot of non-Christians look at Christianity and say “no thanks, we don’t want your dirty water.”

Perhaps we are too “stuffy,” for lack of a better word? Let’s be honest, some of us don’t seem like much fun to be around. We can come across as mean and angry. I used to visit a gentleman connected with our congregation who would tell me to never use humor in preaching because Jesus never used humor. He was not much fun to be around. Nor was he a gentle man.

Perhaps we are hypocritical and self-centered. A friend of mine put out a blog post at the end of last year lamenting the many public Christian leaders that had moral failures come to light in 2020. We can all think of Christians who used their positions in churches for money, sex, or power. People see things like that and say “we don’t want your dirty water.”

Perhaps we are just not good. Just recently the world watched the Capitol building in Washington being stormed. The world saw the political signs, white supremacist symbols, and a big banner declaring “Jesus Saves” all together in one place. More dirty water.

Two stories about Jesus from John 2 will help. Here is the first:

The next day there was a wedding celebration in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.”
“Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”
But his mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Standing nearby were six stone water jars, used for Jewish ceremonial washing. Each could hold twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” When the jars had been filled, he said, “Now dip some out, and take it to the master of ceremonies.” So the servants followed his instructions.
When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine, not knowing where it had come from (though, of course, the servants knew), he called the bridegroom over. “A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!”

John 2:1-10 (NLT)

According to John this is the first miracle of Jesus. Now if you were Jesus, what would you choose to do for your first miracle? I think I would find the person with the worst health and fix them up. But not Jesus. He turns water into wine to keep a party going. And he uses stone jars meant for religious use. The very first miracle is surprisingly irreligious. It would be a bit like using our communion cups as shot glasses. That is perhaps taking it a bit too far, but it is in the right direction.

Why would Jesus do this? Bible scholars point out that the miracle is a signal about what is about to happen in and through Jesus. The covenant of marriage at this marriage celebration is pointing to the New Covenant in Jesus, and this is worthy of a huge celebration.

While this is no doubt correct, I also think that Jesus turned water into wine because that is the kind of thing Jesus does. He was just being himself. We get so technical in our study of Jesus and his words we can forget just how approachable and down-to-earth he was. People who would not feel comfortable in churches in our day felt comfortable being with Jesus. Jesus was like a breath of fresh air. Are we?

There is a bit of fun, when Jesus takes something set aside for religious use, and uses it to keep the party going. Relationship with God is not a stuffy thing. Do we make it seem like it is?

Here is the second story from John 2 that will help us:

It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration, so Jesus went to Jerusalem. In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money. Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables. Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, “Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!”
Then his disciples remembered this prophecy from the Scriptures: “Passion for God’s house will consume me.”

John 2:13-17 (NLT)

Perhaps we are surprised at the anger of Jesus? We should be more surprised at what was happening at the Temple. Except, of course, that we are not. People were doing then what people often do; making it about themselves. The very place where people were to focus on God, became a place where people were focusing on themselves and what they could get out of it.

Yes, money needed to be changed, and yes, animals needed to be bought, especially for travelers coming from a great distance, but the location was all wrong. They had turned the area meant for non-Jewish visitors to be able to worship into a marketplace. It seems to be a human thing to take every opportunity to make it about ourselves, our people, our opportunity for gain.

This kind of thing still happens in our day, when people take ministries meant to help people connect people with God, and instead use them to get money, sex, or power. One wonders what tables Jesus would turn in our day.

Jesus displayed a zeal for what is right, what is good, a desire to see God’s intentions honored. Do we?

When we look at these two stories together we find they call us to a good balance. From the miracle of turning water into wine we learn that we might be taking ourselves, and our religion, too seriously. From Jesus driving out the money changers we learn that we might not be taking God seriously enough.

We find here, not a call to be more religious, to appease a God that is always frowning or scowling, but a call to be more in step with God who smiles on us. We may be guilty of causing people to think that God is always frowning on us and humorless, or that God just does not matter.

If people are not interested in Christianity in our day, maybe it is because our expression of Christianity is just not that great. We make it too stuffy. Perhaps we are taking ourselves, and religion itself, too seriously. Maybe we just need to lighten up. Or we make it too self-centered, using religion for our own advantage. What should be about God ends up being about us. Maybe we need to smarten up.

The solution is to focus on Jesus. When we focus on Jesus we won’t be stuffy or self-centered. If people don’t want our dirty water, maybe we should ask Jesus to turn it into wine.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. You can watch this message or see it in the context of this online service presentation.

 

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