Christianity 201

September 30, 2022

A Message of Love and Acceptance

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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This is our ninth time with Mark McIntire who writes at Attempts at Honesty. There were a couple of more recent devotionals, but this one challenged me to consider the things that I “do” or do not “do” in light of the relationship with Christ based on love and grace.

To read this where it first appeared, click the title below.

Missing the point

I have heard it said from a few pulpits (and I’ve said it myself) that the longest measurable distance known to man is the 18 inches between the head and the heart. The point being that what we think and what has been internalized can be vastly different.

This morning as I walked, I thought of an example.

In John 8, we are provided with the beautiful story of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus, in response to her sin said, “neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

Jesus expressed his love for the woman with the words, “neither do I condemn you.” The whole point of the story is a demonstration of the love of Jesus.

Paul tells us in Romans 5:8, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (ESV)

The love of God is not dependent upon our behavior. It is not dependent on how well we follow His commands. It is not dependent upon espousing good theology. It is not dependent on anything that we do or say.

I have been a believer in Jesus for almost 60 years. But I now realize that for all of those 60 years, I have put Scripture, and what people say through a grid that is neither right, nor helpful.

Jesus expresses his love for sinners in the words, “neither do I condemn you.” But what I internalized growing up in the church is “go and sin no more.” To focus on the latter outside of the former is to develop some weird pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps spirituality that is contrary to the Gospel.

Jesus is not telling the woman, neither is he telling me, that more effort is needed, but that is the way I have responded to Jesus’ statement.

When someone has an unrealistic expectation of me that I am trying to fulfill, I hear “go and sin no more.”

When I read Scripture and it highlights my failure, I hear “go and sin no more.”

When someone unfairly criticizes me, I hear “go and sin no more.”

When someone fairly criticizes me, I hear “go and sin no more.”

The list goes on, but I realize that I have put everything through the grid of “go and sin no more.”

That is not the gospel that I believe. I fully understand that I am only saved by Grace. I fully understand that it is God’s love the prompted him to reveal Himself in Scripture. I fully understand that Jesus freely offers grace to all who believe in him and that grace is not earned or deserved.

But there is a broken piece of me that still seeks the illusion of perfection. There is a piece of me strives to be above criticism.

The biggest problem with this is that it shifts my focus to performance and away from relationship.

The two great commands* are all about relationship, not about doing. But the grid I’ve used to evaluate my life switches this around and makes it all about doing and I lose sight of the relationship.

Perhaps in a future post, I will explore some of the reasons why I got into this ditch, but for now, I share this for the benefit of those who have internalized the same message.

I now chose to view Scripture as a message of love and acceptance rather than an impetus to try harder. In the face of Jesus we see one who loves sinners like me. In the face of Jesus, we see the God who loves us more deeply than we can ever imagine.

Rather than try harder, I need to take a deep breath and bask in the love of God.


NIV.Matt.22.34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

  1. Deut. 6:5
  2. Lev. 19:18

September 29, 2022

Anchored in Jesus

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Beginning a New Series: What Kind of Church?

by Clarke Dixon

Many people have become uncomfortable with the Church and churches to the point of being done with Christianity. They have seen too much politicking, hypocrisy, abuse, scandals, and the ignoring of science and education. One might wonder if Jesus himself would be comfortable in some churches.

While on Sabbatical I was grateful for efforts of our interim pastor Ray Jones who happens to be the executive director of an entity called Open Table Communities. What is Open Table Communities? There are many people known as the “dones,” that is, people who are done with churches and Christianity as a whole. While there is much more to it that what I’m about to say, I’d characterize Open Table Communities as saying, “before you throw out the baby with the bath water, let’s take a closer look at that baby, and the bath water.”

Open Table is guided by eight cultural statements. They are statements of “this is how we do things around here, this is the kind of community we are.” As I looked over the eight cultural statements, they struck me as being good, not just for a new kind of faith community like Open Table, but also for an old fashioned kind of church, such as we are at Calvary Baptist. Really they speak to a community that gets Jesus, his teaching and example, the kind of community Jesus would feel at home in, the kind of community many of us would feel at home in.

Therefore, over the next eight weeks we will be using of these statements as launching points for exploring the kind of church Jesus would feel at home in, the kind of church we want to be.

Here is the first statement:

We nurture cultures that are anchored in the Jesus story, his life, death and resurrection. We nurture a view of God that is seen through the lens of Christ, and consider how this way of seeing God, the world and human activity is conducive to all human flourishing.

Open Table Communities

Why anchor our faith and life in Jesus?

Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

Matthew 7:24-27 (NLT)

Why anchor our faith and life in Jesus? Because Jesus said it was the wise thing to do. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had already said several times “you have heard it said…but I say to you.”. Here in conclusion he is saying “Listen to me!”

Jesus later said,

I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.

Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)

The kind of church that “gets Jesus” is one that is anchored in him.

But why listen to Jesus?

Why listen to Jesus when we wouldn’t listen to any of our friends if they said the same things about themselves as Jesus said about himself?

In a nutshell, the resurrection of Jesus changed everything and the apostles knew it.

With the resurrection of Jesus, on top of his teaching, and on top of the miracles he performed, listening to Jesus became the natural thing to do. With the resurrection of Jesus it became reasonable to believe him when he said that all authority had been given to him. With the resurrection of Jesus the disciples knew it was time for new wineskins. Everything had now changed.

But why listen to what the early Christians said about Jesus?

The disciples were convinced about Jesus, but why should we be? How do we know the New Testament is not just made up?

There is enough to say here to write a book, in fact I’ve done that as have many others. For now, let’s just recognize that Jesus is unique in the history of the world and the history of people. Jesus deserves a deeper dive, a second look, in fact a third and fourth look.

Where else might we anchor our faith and life rather than in Jesus?

There are many other places we might anchor our faith, many places which actually are good sources of truth. For example, science. Science is a great and important source of truth, but it cannot tell us everything. Likewise, philosophy, tradition, and our own experience can all be good sources of truth though they cannot replace Jesus as the anchor. Some anchor their faith in what pop culture says, or in what their social media streams tell them. There can be truth there too, but they do not compare to Jesus as an anchor for life and faith.

Here is another source of truth which is not to be the anchor: the Bible. Surprised? We are not Bible followers who look to Jesus to help us follow the Bible, but Jesus followers who look to the Bible to help us follow Jesus. There is a subtle but important distinction there. The Bible is “God-breathed,” and while that’s amazing and important, Jesus is “God with us,” and that’s even more amazing and more important. We Baptists like to say that the Bible is our authority. Sometimes what we mean, without our even realizing it, is that our understandings or interpretations of the Bible are the authority. Again, there is a subtle but important difference there. The Bible is so important for our faith. But it is not the anchor. Jesus is.

Jesus as the corrective lens.

If all we had was science, how would we view God, humanity, life, and everything else? If all we had was philosophy, how would we view God, humanity, life, and everything else. Or if all we had was pop-culture, social-media, or the Old Testament? We see what God is like through the lens of Jesus.

The corrective lens of Jesus, seeing everything through Jesus’ teaching, his life, his example, his death and resurrection, enabled Paul to say that “God is for us and not against us” (see Romans 8) and John to say that “God is love” (see 1st John 4). What does being anchored in Jesus enable you and I to say about God and our relationship with the Divine?

Since Jesus is the anchor, people are the focus.

Jesus said “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10 NRSV). When we focus on Jesus, his teaching, example, life, death, and resurrection, we see that Jesus was focused on us. Being anchored in the Jesus story means putting the focus on people, seeking human flourishing. There is a reason the only verb in the tagline of our church is “helping people.”

Here at Calvary, we want to be anchored in Jesus. We want to help people walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada; whose writing appears here most Thursdays. The sermon on which this is based can be see here.

September 28, 2022

The Bible: Reading it and Writing It

NIV Deut:1118 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.

NIV.Gal.6.11 See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

The picture above is of a scripture passage my oldest son chose to write out by hand eleven years ago and post on his bedroom wall.  It’s remarkable for two reasons, the first being that a few years before this his struggle with cursive writing would never have produced anything so legible, the second being the love that he has for the Word of God, evidenced by the time he spends in scripture each day.

Writing out Bible passages by hand has become somewhat archaic in a world of word processing.  But it’s just one of a number of subtle changes taking place in terms of our relationship with the printed word:

  • Many of us leave our Bibles at home on Sundays, finding it more convenient to use Bibles provided at weekend services
  • Many choose to use Bible apps on their smart phones instead of following from a print text
  • Many have their devotional and Bible study time driving to work using a an audio devotional downloaded, or a podcast
  • Scripture memorization has become less commonplace in our children’s and youth ministry programs
  • People like myself often ‘absorb’ scripture throughout the day through online articles and blogs but don’t directly read anything at source
  • Our worship music is ‘vertical’ which can derive from psalms and similar passages, but is therefore less reliant on the ‘Scripture in Song’ type of choruses that were based more directly on scripture
  • The giving out of tracts has died as a practice; many of these began with scripture and contained several Bible passages
  • The reading of Christian books has diminished in a screen-saturated world.
  • Scripture plaques, often seen in the living rooms and kitchens of homes have been deemed inadequate in a world of interior decorating and replaced by “inspirational” wall art with single word admonitions like “dream,” “believe,” “hope,” etc.
  • Where once people would add a scripture verse by hand to a greeting card, today — if we send cards at all — we purchase Christian cards with a verse already included

Combine all these, and the handwriting my son did might seem rather quaint. But I’ll bet that taking the time to do this means he knows this passage well.

Of course, more than writing scripture on the doorframes and gates of our houses, God desires for us to write his words on our heart. But how we do this if we don’t know the passages and precepts in the first place? God is revealed to us first and foremost in scripture; this is the primary revelation of God in our times.

So here’s the challenge.  Take a passage and write it out by hand today. Start with a short one, such as Titus 3: 3-8 or you might consider Colossians 1: 9-14 or the Galatians passage above, or a passage of your choosing.  (Those are just two of the first I did myself, so I’m not asking you to do anything I haven’t done.) Today my recommendation would include Philippians 2:5-11.

In 2019, before leaving for a one week intensive course on the book of Galatians, I copied the entire book from N.T. Wright’s Kingdom New Testament (since it was he who was teaching the course.) That took much longer than I expected. I now have a better understanding of what the scribes did. Consider doing this one of the epistles, or even hand-copying one of the gospels.

And then, having copied them on to paper, allow the words to be written on your heart.

September 27, 2022

You Will Get Through It

“No weapon that is formed against you will succeed; And you will condemn every tongue that accuses you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, And their vindication is from Me,” declares the LORD. – Isaiah 54:17 NASB

I loved the devotion we’re presenting you today from the very first sentence. We’re introducing another writer here for the first time. Shubricca L Bell (or just Bricca) was a Chef du Cuisne, managed two restaurants, changed careers and became a voice-over artist, has written four books, and hosts a podcast. Clicking the title which follows below will take you to where this appeared earlier today on her blog.

God will give you the strength to endure it, and the grace to come out of it

Oh, the weapons WILL form, but they WILL NOT prosper…

You know what I love. I love when when things that were supposed to take us out, actually makes us better. There’s no doubt that going through the unfortunates of life is wearisome, and we don’t understand it when we are going through, but if we could look through our spiritual lenses, we will see that it’s a set up for something GREATER!

Greater is coming…

You see, what was sent to take you out, God used it as ammunition to make you better. The Word of God says in 2 Corinthians 12:10, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

God will give you the STRENGTH to not only ENDURE the pain/test/trial, but He will give you the GRACE to COME OUT of it!

That’s right, you may be stuck between a rock and a hard place, but you’re coming out. On the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand!

The Word of God says in Psalm 118:22, “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.” This scripture is referring to Jesus, but guess what? You are in Christ Jesus, so I’m talking to you!

You may be overlooked, rejected, talked about, done wrong, betrayed, laughed at, mocked, spit on, abused, misused, misled, manipulated, kicked when you were down, frowned upon, shunned, I could go on and on… BUT GOD!

This is a reminder that YOU WILL, get through it! God didn’t promise us an easy life. Jesus didn’t have it easy, so what makes you think we will.

It’s all about our focus. Stay true to what God has called you to do in THIS SEASON. It may not make sense, but be obedient. Walk by faith, not by sight and not in fear.

You may feel like giving up, but God is saying keep going. You may not know where the heck you’re going, but keep going. You may not think you have the strength, but keep going. You may get sick, but keep going. You may be alone, but keep going. You may not know how you’re going to do it, when it’s going to happen, where it’s going to happen, what is going to happen, but you can be certain of who it’s going to happen to- you, and why it’s going to happen- God!

The favor of God is on your life! You shall live and NOT die! You will see the goodness of the Lord IN the land of the LIVING.

Your dreams will not die with you, but they will manifest through you, in THIS LIFE!

So, when you can’t do anything else, keep going. God will give you strength for the journey.

September 21, 2022

Pressing Past Defeat

Today we’re highlighting a new contributor, Roberta Elaine who is appearing here for the first time and writes at Purposeful Pieces. Clicking the title which follows will take you to where this first appeared earlier today.

The Viewpoint of Your Wins

Are you in a season where it feels like everything that you are doing is invaluable? You keep trying over and over again to no avail. Everything you are putting out has been met with defeat. It seems as if you are losing to everything that is surrounding you. During this season, God is setting you up for your major win in Him. Sometimes you have to lose the battle to win the war. You have experienced loss after loss, but God is reconstructing the viewpoint of your wins.

The losses you have been handed are bringing you closer to actively pursuing your assignment and purpose. Those moments hurt you. The failures constantly creep into your mind. You keep replaying different scenarios in your head on what you could have changed. Everything happened the way it was supposed to. Those constant closed doors were not in vain. The work that you have been putting in is not fruitless.

Yes, the results may say that you have been unsuccessful. The doors may have closed on you. Subsequently, this does not mean you will never succeed; seasons change. God is just equipping you for your purposeful breakthrough. God is preparing you to step into the thing that you have been praying about. This is your winning season. You have been struggling for so long. God has been there with you in the pit of your sorrow.

The empty battles that you have been fighting are part of His plan. God needs you to change your narrative of your losses this season. Your viewpoint is changing for a win. It is hard when you are looking at the barren mountains around you. Your attention has been focused on the desolate results. God wants you to realize that it is only a part of your story. Your depletion cannot last forever. You have to get up and keep trying.

You could be one step away from that life-changing moment. The losses are putting you in position for a monumental win. Something has to be untied and undone for it to be built. You have to experience disconnected pieces in order for something to come together. This process is pruning you. The development that will transpire will help you to change your viewpoint of your current disappointments.

God is with you. Although you are experiencing defeat in the small battles, you are getting ready to become triumphant in major successes. Your minor setback is setup for your win in this season. God is constructing your comeback. Doors are opening in your favor. The viewpoint of your wins will become the sight of the desires of your heart actualized.

“Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” -Psalm 126:5

“But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” -2 Chronicles 15:7

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” -2 Corinthians 4:16-17

September 13, 2022

Trumpeting vs. Illuminating

“You must understand that God has not sent his Son into the world to pass sentence upon it, but to save it—through him. Any man who believes in him is not judged at all. It is the one who will not believe who stands already condemned, because he will not believe in the character of God’s only Son. This is the judgment—that light has entered the world and men have preferred darkness to light because their deeds are evil. Anybody who does wrong hates the light and keeps away from it, for fear his deeds may be exposed. But anybody who is living by the truth will come to the light to make it plain that all he has done has been done through God.”  John 3: 17-21; J. B. Phillips translation.

The Bible makes a strong case that we’re not to “trumpet” our good works in order to get credit, or draw attention to ourselves. Nor, we are instructed, should we make a spectacle out of prayer, or giving. We are to approach God, and do acts of service with a humble spirit. We’re to take the back seat, though we might be asked to come forward.

But this passage, particularly vs. 21 “whoever lives by the truth comes into the light,” following on the heels of the popular John 3:16 text, tells us that we won’t stay hidden in the darkness such as those who do wrong (evil), but rather we will come into the light, because we are naturally drawn to be people of the light.

  • NASB: But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.
  • NCV: But those who follow the true way come to the light, and it shows that the things they do were done through God
  • The Message: But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.

One verse that comes to my mind in this context is in Acts 26 where Paul is speaking before Agrippa and Festus:

26 For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.

I deliberate chose the KJV for this one because I love the phrasing, “this thing was not done in a corner.”  But most of the translations — even the modern ones — keep this phrasing, with The Message rendering, “You must realize that this wasn’t done behind the scenes.” Just as ‘cream rises to the surface,’ so will the works of God be evident, even in an unbelieving world.

Here’s how the NLT and Amplified Bible render Matthew 5:15-16

NLT 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.

AMP 16 Let your light so shine before men that they may see your moral excellence and your praiseworthy, noble, and good deeds and recognize and honor and praise and glorify your Father Who is in heaven.

I can’t help but also think of the tension in 1 Peter 2:12 here as well. The world may on the one hand criticize and condemn us, but then on the other hand, they recognize the good that the presence of Spirit-filled Christians are doing in the world.

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (NLT)

Therefore:

  • We dwell in the light, not darkness
  • We reflect (or you could say, carry) The Light of God
  • We shine like light and are the light of the world

September 12, 2022

Too Much Milk, Not Enough Meat

In the Northern Hemisphere, as the school year begins, local churches also reset to begin a new season of ministry. It’s customary where I live for this to incorporate a series of sermons on the first principles of our theology and practices; with titles such as “Who We Are,” and “Why We Do What We Do,” and “The Bible is our Foundation,” and “Getting Back to the Basics.”

We also recognize that in the present “post seeker-sensitive movement” times, there is a realization that the person sitting across the aisle, or a few rows ahead of us might be attending church for the very first time in their life, and we need to define our terminology. There is also a long-standing idea that it doesn’t hurt the regular parishioners to review the fundamentals.

However, the past few days I’ve heard comments like,

  • “We’re doing another navel-gazing sermon series. It’s the same thing every year.”
  • “It seems like just days ago that he was saying the same things. It’s recycled notes with nothing updated.”
  • “I just wish he’d toss us something deeper somewhere in the middle of the sermon, for some of us to chew on.”

These represent three different people and three different churches.

The commonly used contrast between “basics” teaching and “deeper” teaching is the one the writer of Hebrews uses in chapter 5, distinguishing between milk and meat.

12 Although you should have been teachers by now, you need someone to teach you an introduction to the basics about God’s message. You have come to the place where you need milk instead of solid food. 13 Everyone who lives on milk is not used to the word of righteousness, because they are babies. 14 But solid food is for the mature, whose senses are trained by practice to distinguish between good and evil. (CEB)

(I did find it fascinating that the third comment above referenced craving something “to chew on.”)

While there is one verse in 1 Peter 2 which casts milk in a positive light — “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (2:2 NLT) — the picture of a milk diet is generally one of spiritual infancy. The scriptural model is growth or progress toward spiritual maturity.

Paul strikes this contrast twice in 1 Corinthians:

Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.You are still worldly. (3:1-3a NIV)

Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. (14:20a NIV)

…The general direction of many churches has been to provide easily-communicated sermon content in the primary weekend gathering of the congregation, and then offer various other options for those who wish to go deeper. These might include,

  • a mid-week gathering for prayer and Bible study
  • home-based small groups studying a particular curriculum
  • adult elective classes earlier on Sunday mornings
  • enrolling the church in an online portal to free streaming of top teachers
  • book recommendations
  • podcast recommendations

To various degrees these provide the deeper teaching needed, but do so outside the context of the gathered body. I believe there is much to gained by coming under the hearing and teaching of God’s word corporately. (“Remember that time when the pastor explained how that passage was understood by the early church?”)

One of the best sermon summaries is in Luke 24:27, though sadly, the audience at that particular message was rather limited: “Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted for them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures. (CSB) Arrgh! If only Cleopas & Company had taken more notes!

I believe this is what our spirits long for. To long to know more about God, is to long to press in and know God himself more. As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.” This is what we crave. (Psalm 42:1 NLT).

…I realize that this may stepping on some toes, and that the annual “basics review” may be a sacred cow in your church. But what if? What if the church continued to probe the deeper things of scripture, and offered those who are beginning their spiritual journey the opportunity to understand the basics through;

  • a mid-week gathering for studying and asking questions
  • home-based small groups doing the Alpha Course materials
  • an alternative classroom situation running at another time or parallel to the church’s main meeting
  • encouraging newcomers to work their way through selected Bible Project videos
  • basic doctrinal book recommendations
  • a good podcast tailored for new believers; new Christians

Just an idea. What do you think?

 

 

September 6, 2022

The Day Approaching

The worldwide pandemic has certainly taken a toll on church attendance. And regular weekly attendance was already suffering, as some people took a more casual approach to the discipline of weekend gathering, while others found themselves compromised because of commitments to their job or their childrens’ sports programs.

A popular verse lately has been

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:24,25 (NIV)

I tend to remember this verse in terms of three parts:

  1. urging each other toward love and good deeds
  2. not forgetting to meet together
  3. encouraging each other

But there is a fourth element I realized I was overlooking

4. even more so now as we see “the day approaching.”

The Amplified Bible renders this as “the day [of Christ’s return] approaching;” while Phillips has “the final day drawing ever nearer.” Most others simply have “the day” or “the Day” (capitalized) leaving both new and veteran Bible students wondering what is in the writer’s mind.

Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer. – Hebrews 10:25 (CEV)

Personally, I think of this as, ‘Don’t stop meeting together… especially right now, of all times.’ Or, “‘… especially these days.’ I hear it as, ‘If ever there was a time we need each other and need to gather corporately, it’s now.’

Don’t you agree?

The idea here isn’t just that we (ourselves, personally) remember to keep meeting together, but that we spur (NIV) each other toward this, as the phrase is bookended by phrases about encouraging each other.

In November, 2013 we heard this from Jim Thornber who appears here frequently:

…Look at that word “spur.” It means to provoke, incite, irritate. When you gather with other Christians then you should be spurring them, provoking and inciting and even irritating them on towards good works. It also means when you gather you are willing to be spurred. But we cannot be spurred if we are not gathering, and we cannot be spurred or provoked towards good works if we only show up every once in a while to a church and leave as soon as possible. Still, this happens week after week in churches all over the world. But according to the Great Commission, to be a disciple and to make disciples means you are personally investing in the lives of others.

And this is terribly inconvenient. It means you will have to invest the one thing that means more to many of us than money – our time. We would rather pay someone to take our neighbor to the grocery store than actually drive them ourselves. We’d rather pay someone to work on the church than show up ourselves. We’d rather buy someone a book on finances than commit to going to their house for 12 weeks and taking them through the book and teaching them through our own example. I’m very glad that Jesus didn’t send someone else to earth to do His work. He came personally. He took time away from His throne in Heaven to invest His life, and then His death, so He could make disciples. That is what it cost Jesus. What are we willing to invest to make disciples? It will cost us our time, our talents, our personal touch and yes, even some of our treasure. But that is what it means to be a disciple. So ask yourself: “Am I a disciple, or am I just content with being saved?” I don’t know how anyone can think of the price Jesus paid to bring us to Heaven and be content with merely being saved…

In November, 2014, Ben Savage quoted this verse in an outline of six evidences of discipleship.  He simply called it “being present.”

  1. Connection through prayer
  2. Engagement with scripture
  3. Being present
  4. Acts of service
  5. Investment in others
  6. Worship through generosity

In July, 2015 we noted seven benefits of meeting together.

  1. Fellowship
  2. Corporate Prayer
  3. Receiving prayer ministry
  4. Corporate worship
  5. Corporate giving
  6. Confession
  7. Eucharist/Lord’s Supper/Communion

By April 2016, we noted that data collection organizations were classifying being in church only once or twice a month as “regular” church attendance. But writer Phillip Pratt refocused our attention that “the context here is not about clinging to a particular local church or congregation but about clinging to Christ.” Using the KJV wording of the verse, “Forsaking the assembling ourselves…” he wrote:

The book of Hebrews has a theme and it is not about religious attendance but about clinging to Christ, specifically the hope of Jesus Christ (verse 23)…

…“Forsake” in Greek is egkataleipō = quit, leave entirely, abandon completely, desert, to give up or renounce

The same word is found in Matt 27:46 My God, My God, why have You forsaken (egkataleipō) me? & also in 2 Tim 4:10 for Demas has forsaken (egkataleipō) me

Now, is someone who attends a church service once a month or once every 3-4 months completely abandoning or renouncing anything?

Hebrews was addressed to persecuted Jewish Christians who were completely (or considering) abandoning “faith in Christ”.

“Assembling together” is a one word phrase from the Greek word episunsgoge or episynagoge = to be gathered together but to who or to whom?

It can be found in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together (episynagoge) unto Him…

This verse is telling us to cling to & “gather ourselves unto Christ” & don’t be shaken. It has nothing to do w/ church attendance & everything to do w/ persistence to stay focused on Christ & His return…

We have to say here that yes; of course our motivation for gathering must be that we are gathering unto Christ. It also begs a question similar to the one I asked earlier, ‘How can we then simply be skipping church from week to week?’ We’re not reflecting a casual relationship to our local congregation, but a casual attitude toward God Himself.

So now… especially now… with all that’s going on in our world, and “as we see the day approaching,” let’s not be lax or casual in our commitment to the Body of Christ, His Church, and Jesus Himself. (capital letters intentional!)

As Danniebell Hall sang in 1974, “This is not the time for giving up, it’s time for holding on.”


Related: What did a commitment to church look like for First Century Christians? Check out a book called The Didache, introduced in this article here from October, 2021.
 

August 25, 2022

Christ: Our Place of Refuge

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NIV.Numbers.35.6 “Six of the towns you give the Levites will be cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone may flee.”

NIV.Numbers.35.11 “select some towns to be your cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone accidentally may flee. 12a They will be places of refuge from the avenger…”

Many features of life for the people of the Old Testament don’t exist in New Testament times, but the beauty of scripture is that we don’t need to exercise a great amount of imagination to see the equivalent for us today, and most often, we find the pattern or principle completed in Christ.

Today we’re back for our annual visit — and our tenth visit — to a source of devotional writing which you might want to know about for yourself, or share with someone with whom it will connect. The website Broken Believers states its purpose as “all about serving through a message of Christian discipleship and helping Christians with mental illnesses and other issues.” Click the title which follows to read this on their site, and then take some time to read other articles. The author today is Brian Lowe.

Our City of Refuge

Buried in the Old Testament is the idea of the Cities of Refuge.

They speak profoundly to our situation and bring real hope for us who struggle so. Six places of safety were given to protect those who accidentally killed another person— maybe an ax-head flew and hit someone, and they died as a result.

God told Joshua to establish cities of protection where one could be safe from an avenger. There were six of them, three on the east side of the Jordan river, and three on the west. The cities were pretty much covering Israel; each was spread out intentionally so they were always close. That city became a place of asylum for those guilty of manslaughter.

Us as believers, we know that we’ve committed crimes against God and other people. The burden we carry threatens to undo us. Satan (and his minions) want to destroy us—and honestly, we deserve it. We are essential ‘criminals’ who have hurt others and damaged ourselves in the process.

Outside of the city, we’re vulnerable—but inside those walls we find safety.

Those who have killed others are protected. If we venture outside, we find our adversary who is waiting. Scripture tells us that we must stay cloistered there until the current high priest dies. Upon his death, we’re released and may leave the city walls.

For broken believers, the whole concept rings true.

The text speaks for itself, and there is spiritual logic in all of this. We see parallels here that speak to our condition. We’ve messed up big time. We also carry issues that the enemy can attack. Depression, bipolar, trauma, and even thoughts of committing suicide—they can be a real part of our lives.

I must tell you that safety is found in only a place.

Finding God and abiding in him is our place of safety. His walls protect us, Jesus is our high priest, who never dies; that means we need to stay with him, permanently. I like Hebrews 6:18, LB:

“Now all those who flee to him to save them can take new courage when they hear such assurances from God; now they can know without a doubt that he will give them the salvation he has promised them.”

For us especially, we often have problems with the doctrine of assurance of salvation. Our enemy works overtime to accuse us (Rev.12:10). We’re his targets and the lies of many demons assault us. We can, at times, wonder if we’re really saved. We wonder if we are really forgiven, and we doubt our salvation. Satan’s efforts can be constant and crippling.

I encourage you to think this over and pray about this. Numbers 35 is a good place to start. That chapter is pretty clear. Look also at Exodus 21:13-14; Joshua 20:1-6; Deuteronomy 19:2-13.

 

August 22, 2022

As Ten Commandments Tablets Shatter

There’s a bad Sunday School joke that goes something like, “Who in the Bible broke all ten commandments?” The answer is Moses, when he returned from the mountain and exasperated over the sin of the people sent the tablets crashing to the ground.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

First of all, the giving of the commandments in a physical form does not mean that this is the first time God establishes moral and behavioral boundaries of the people of Israel. The website Life Hope and Truth states,

…The answer is found in a fascinating statement God made about Abraham, recorded in Genesis 26:5: “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”

This is significant because Abraham was born hundreds of years before Moses received the law on Mount Sinai!

In order for Abraham to obey God’s commandments, statutes and laws, he had to know what they were. This means that Abraham was taught the laws directly from God or from others (or possibly both). God was not giving Moses a brand-new law on Mount Sinai. He was merely giving a codified, or formal, version of His law so that it could be used to govern the emerging nation of Israel…

The article then goes on to illustrate instances of such laws existing prior to Moses.

Let’s pick up the store in Exodus 19 and Exodus 20

NIV.Ex.19.20 The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up 21 and the Lord said to him, “Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. 22 Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.”  …

NIV.Ex.20.1 And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before[a] me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.  …

It’s verses 4-6, which we call the second commandment — see the post from last month where we break them up into commandment 2a and 2b — where we want to focus. It’s reiterated in verse 22

22 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: 23 Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.

Then, for nearly a dozen chapters, God gives Moses instructions for worship, and also some amplification of the “big ten” commandments given. But then he tells Moses it’s time “get down to earth” because there’s trouble stirring.

NIV.Ex.32.1  When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

2 Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”…

…7 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt…

…15 Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. 16 The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.

17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, “There is the sound of war in the camp.”

18 Moses replied:

“It is not the sound of victory,
    it is not the sound of defeat;
    it is the sound of singing that I hear.”

19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.

Moses returns to see the people breaking the second commandment which was cited above. And he is livid. In his anger and frustration he shatters the “big ten,” which we’re told God Himself engraved.

It’s a very Moses thing to do. In his anger he will later strike a rock he is told to simply speak to, and that particular act of anger costs him entry into the promised land.

But here’s my point.

Before I started writing this, I gave it the title, “As Ten Commandments Tablets Shatter.” I was thinking about Moses and what the people did in his absence. But I was also thinking about pastors and church leaders today.

Depending on whose statistics you read, in North America 1,200 or 1,500 pastors resign (quit) from ministry each month. While conservatives are busy arguing about women in ministry, it’s probably a good thing some of those women are in place, because the mostly-men pastoral workforce is abandoning ministry in droves.

There are a number of reasons, but I’m sure one of them is frustration over the lack of spiritual dedication among the parishioners. Or, as Moses observed, a flagrant disregard for the will of God.

So figuratively, over a thousand each month are throwing the tablets up in the air and letting them crash to the ground while literally, they pack up of their church office library and dust off their resumés and begin to look for another career path.

Vocational ministry life can be frustrating. I write that even as a member of my immediate family prepares to enter into a greater level of vocational pastoral commitment. I am sure that like Moses, I would get exasperated by what I would see and would want to toss the tablets up in the air as well.

In North America, October is designated as “Pastor Appreciation Month,” however if people were serious about appreciating their pastor, they would, to use an archaic word, “harken” more to the things about the ways of God that he or she is trying to teach the congregation. Yes, they should live a certain way because it’s what God desires and what God requires, but there should also be a recognition that the very reason this person has been set apart for career ministry is to teach them such things with the expectation that they will follow.

Otherwise it’s all just empty words and meaningless worship.

Are there “ten commandments” violations that you see that would cause your pastor/rector/priest to want to toss the stone tablets in the air?


Related:

 

 

August 17, 2022

Godless World Leaders

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re back with Arnold Reimer, who is a former pastor of one of the Christian and Missionary Alliance’s flagship churches, Bayview Glen Church in Toronto. His blog is called Finishing Well. Click the title which appears next to read this where it first appeared, along with other articles.

Godless

It is not always easy for us to understand the fierce judgment of God upon others, or upon an entire nation, even nations. But both Old and New Testaments have some strong things to say about the harsh dealings of the God upon those who perpetrate evil – the godless. Much of it has to do with protecting or punishing His people for disobedience, but sometimes it goes beyond that, due to the godlessness of a person or nation. There are numerous incidents of judgment in Scripture. Some Psalms especially speak to this, as do Peter’s letters and, most starkly, John’s The Revelation. In dangerous times like these it behooves us to think, pray, expect and act with understanding and wisdom.

Not since Hitler has there been a world leader as evil and heartless as is Russia’s Putin and his counselors. Under Stalin, many of the Russian people accepted atheism, the denial of God’s existence and rule. Millions of people died under his wicked regime. Now Putin is walking in Stalin’s shoes and the Ukraine people, and even some Russian people, are suffering unimaginable devastation and death. Putin is not the Anti-Christ we shall one day encounter, but he may well be the one who sets the stage for this winsome, but evil, peace-maker. He will first bring order out of chaos, and political solutions to global problems. But, once accepted and in power he will show his ugly side, and, as bad as Putin is, it will be even worse!

As followers of Christ Jesus how do we think, pray and act in times like these. Psalm 94 gives us some clear and important guidance:

“O Lord , God of vengeance; God of vengeance, shine forth! Rise up, O Judge of the earth; render recompense to the proud. How long shall the wicked, O Lord, how long shall the wicked exult? They pour forth words, they speak arrogantly; all who do wickedness vaunt themselves. They crush Your people, O Lord, and afflict Your heritage. They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the orphans. And they have said, ‘The Lord does not see, nor does the God of Jacob pay heed.’

Pay heed, you senseless among the people; and when will you understand, stupid ones? He who planted the ear, does He not hear? He who formed the eye, does He not see? He who chastens the nations, will He not rebuke, even He who teaches man knowledge? The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are a mere breath. Blessed is the man You discipline, O Lord, the man You teach from Your law; You grant him relief from days of trouble, till a pit is dug for the wicked. For the Lord will not reject His people; He will never forsake His inheritance. Judgment will again be founded on righteousness, and all the upright in heart will follow it. . .

(Read the rest of Psalm 94, and with it, Psalm 46.)

We are right to pray for the elimination of Putin, for an end to the destruction of the Ukraine, protection and provision for the displaced, and for peace in Europe. … We are right to examine our own political leaders, their rules and behavior, in the light of Scripture. They, too, for the common good need to be held accountable to the laws of a holy and righteous God, ruler of heaven and earth. “Righteousness exalts a nation, sin is a reproach to any people.”

It has been a long time since world affairs have been so troubled and uncertain. The voice of the Church must be heard with the clarity of truth, in humble repentance, and in exemplary talk and walk in righteousness. We must prepare ourselves to withstand the wrath of the ungodly. We must learn what it means to shine as lights in a dark world where pressure to be silent abounds. Increasingly evil reigns and, temporarily, seems to be winning. But, study again Ephesians 6 and put on the whole armor of God. Stand firm, dear saints, and remain standing! Fill your heart and mind with that blessed hope that encourages when all seems lost: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”

 

 

August 16, 2022

Elisabeth Elliot Quotations

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Be patient. Is God not fast enough? Are His answers too tough? A quick sympathy from a friend may suggest that you simply drop out, be good to yourself, get away from it all. Someone else will be sure to say, “You need counsel.” Are you sure? One hour at the foot of the Cross may obviate the necessity of professional counseling (no such thing existed until the twentieth century – what did folks do before then?). – Elisabeth Elliot

It’s been awhile since we presented something in our quotations series and with the news that a previously unpublished manuscript by the late Elisabeth Elliot had been discovered (publishing in September by Dayspring) it seemed to be a good prompting to hear some of what she had to say in her various writings. For those who don’t know, she was the wife of Jim Elliot who was one of five men martyred in South America by the Auca tribe, which is one of the most significant missionary stories in Evangelical Christianity.

Take your time to read these slowly. I’ve tried to group similar themes together. There’s not a particular scripture emphasis today, but we’ll be back to that format tomorrow.  Also, again be reminded each paragraph below is a distinct quotation which had its own context.


God is God. Because he is God, He is worthy of my trust and obedience. I will find rest nowhere but in His holy will that is unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what he is up to.

To be a follower of the Crucified means, sooner or later, a personal encounter with the cross. And the cross always entails loss.

All our problems are theological ones, William Temple said. All of them have to do with our relationship to God and his to us, and this is precisely why it makes sense to come to God with them.

The principles of gain through loss, of joy through sorrow, of getting by giving, of fulfillment by laying down, of life out of death is what the Bible teaches, and the people who have believed it enough to live it out in simple, humble, day-by-day practice are people who have found the gain, the joy, the getting, the fulfillment, the life.

Faith need never ask, ‘But what good did this do me?’ Faith already knows that everything that happens fits into a pattern for good to those who love God. An inconvenience is always, whether we see it or not, a blessed inconvenience. We may rest in the promise that God is fitting together a good many more things than are any of our business. We need never see what good it did, or how a given trouble accomplishes anything. It is peace to leave it all with Him, asking only that He do with me anything He wants, anywhere, anytime, that God may be glorified.

The Word of God I think of as a straight edge, which shows up our own crookedness. We can’t really tell how crooked our thinking is until we line it up with the straight edge of Scripture.

The life of faith is lived one day at a time, and it has to be lived – not always looked forward to as though the “real” living were around the next corner. It is today for which we are responsible. God still owns tomorrow.

The disciplined Christian will be very careful what sort of counsel he seeks from others. Counsel that contradicts the written Word is ungodly counsel. Blessed is the man that walks not in that.

I realized that the deepest spiritual lessons are not learned by His letting us have our way in the end, but by His making us wait, bearing with us in love and patience until we are able to honestly to pray what He taught His disciples to pray: Thy will be done.

“Is discipline the same as punishment?” a young woman asked me. She was troubled by the idea of God wanting to “get even.” I gave her 1 Corinthians 11:32 (NEB) “When…we do fall under the Lord’s judgment, He is disciplining us, to save us from being condemned with the rest of the world.” God’s “punishment” of His children is never retribution, but rather correction. We know that we are indeed His beloved sons, sharing in the discipline that all sons share – for a high purpose, namely that we may some day share in His holiness, “attain life.”

Waiting on God requires the willingness to bear uncertainty, to carry within oneself the unanswered question, lifting the heart to God about it whenever it intrudes upon one’s thoughts.

Faith does not eliminate questions. But faith knows where to take them.

In space, astronauts experience the misery of having no reference point, no force that draws them to the center. Where there is no “moral gravity” – that is, no force that draws us to the center – there is spiritual weightlessness. We float on feelings that will carry us where we were never meant to go; we bubble with emotional experiences that we often take for spiritual ones; and we are puffed up with pride. Instead of seriousness, there is foolishness. Instead of gravity, flippancy. Sentimentality takes the place of theology. Our reference point will never serve to keep our feet on solid rock. Our reference point, until we answer God’s call, is merely ourselves. We cannot possibly tell which end is up.

It is always possible to be thankful for what is given rather than to complain about what is not given. One or the other becomes a habit of life.

God has promised to supply all our needs. What we don’t have now, we don’t need now.

Do you often feel like parched ground, unable to produce anything worthwhile? I do. When I am in need of refreshment, it isn’t easy to think of the needs of others. But I have found that if, instead of praying for my own comfort and satisfaction, I ask the Lord to enable me to give to others, an amazing thing often happens – I find my own needs wonderfully met. Refreshment comes in ways I would never have thought of, both for others, and then, incidentally, for myself.

For one who has made thanksgiving the habit of his life, the morning prayer will be, ‘Lord, what will you give me today to offer back to you?’

George MacDonald said, ‘If you knew what God knows about death you would clap your listless hands’, but instead I find old people in North America just buying this whole youth obsession. I think growing older is a wonderful privilege. I want to learn to glorify God in every stage of my life.

Heaven is not here, it’s there. If we were given all we wanted here, our hearts would settle for this world rather than the next. God is forever luring us up and away from this one, wooing us to Himself and His still invisible Kingdom, where we will certainly find what we so keenly long for.

 

 


Sources: Quotefancy, Viral Believer, A-Z Quotes (prayer), A-Z Quotes (uncategorized), Grace Quotes, Quote Ambition; see also Good Reads, and Inspiring Quotes. Image: Quotesgram.

August 14, 2022

God Will Meet You Where You Are

We sometimes ask for God to ‘come’ to us, but in fact, he is already in our situation. He’s just waiting for us to acknowledge that; waiting for us to reach out.

Isaiah 30:18 —

Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!

So the LORD must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the LORD is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help. (NLT)

His desire is to grant us peace and rest.

Matthew 11:28 —

28-30 “Come to me, all of you who are weary and over-burdened, and I will give you rest! Put on my yoke and learn from me. For I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Phillips)

No situation escapes his vision.

Genesis 33: 13-14 —

The LORD looks down from heaven;
He sees all human beings.
From His dwelling place He gazes
on all who inhabit the earth.

This includes our times of trouble, but also the good things we are doing.

Revelation 2:19

I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.

Again, just as our salvation represents a time of turning to him, so also is our reaching out to him when we need him close.

Proverbs 18:10:

The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous man runs into it and is safe.


Ruth wrote this and shared it with the congregation where she was leading ten years ago. It was shared here then, but has never been repeated until now.

Met By God

Paul was met by God in his hostility
Zaccheus was met by God in his curiosity
Adam and Eve were met by God in their failure
Joseph of Nazareth was met by God in his disappointment

Where are you?

Jacob was met by God while running from his family
John the baptist was met by God before he was born
Elijah was met by God when alone and in danger
Jonah was met by God while going in the wrong direction

Where are you?

Moses was met by God on a mountain top
Joshua was met by God while on the outside, looking in
David was met by God while everyone else ignored him
Peter was met by God while simply earning a living

Where are you?

Abraham was met by God when he was content and at home
Sarah was met by God in her laughter
Hagar was met by God when she was dying of thirst
Mary Magdalene was met by God at the grave of a friend

Where are you?

~ ©Ruth Wilkinson

August 5, 2022

We Fall Short; Everyone Falls Short

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today is our first time at the blog Anthem Seed, written by J.A. Bowens. I encourage you to click that blog link or the one in the title below, and then explore other articles.

What is the Glory of God That Makes us Fall Short?

I was praying when I heard “all have fallen short to the glory of God.” It is an excerpt from Romans 3:23 that preachers use in sermons, but I guess I never really knew what it meant. So after being on my knees for a little while, I researched the Glory of God. The Christian explanation said its hard to define . It can mean beauty however, beauty is hard to describe. Since Paul wrote Romans and Paul was a Jew. I went to the Hebrew explanation.

Shekhina is the first word for the Glory of God. Shekhina means dwell or settle. The glory of God that filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34) was as a bright radiance, and the Shekhina is sometimes similarly conceived.

There is also an affinity between the Shekhina and the Holy Spirit, though the two are not identical. Both signify some forms of divine immanence, both are associated with prophecy, and both are connected with the study of the Torah.

Moses had a breathtaking encounter with God. There he met El Hakkavod, the God of Glory. Moses asked God to remain with his people Israel. When God promised to do so, Moses, seeking further reassurance, boldly asked, “now show me your glory.”

The Hebrew word kavod is the 2nd word for glory. The word originally meant “heavy, weighty,” like in reference to armor used in battle. Over time the word be-came linked with wealth, honor, dignity, and power, then eventually came to mean “glory.” All these attributes combine to describe God as El Hakkavod, “the God of Glory.”

Our righteous wallet is always inferior to God’s righteous wealth!

So in Romans 3:23 the passage Paul is saying no matter Jew or Gentile. Whether a person believes in Jesus as the Messiah or not. No one can stand in the presence of God and conclude they are equal because of how vast God’s honor and righteous wealth are compared to humans!! Our righteous wallet is always inferior to God’s righteous wealth! In worship or praise, a person can potentially feel Shekhina or the Holy Spirit. A person’s immediate conviction is how unworthy they are! No matter the habit of practicing steps towards holiness, a person can’t compare to the worthy or the honor of God. They are still in the suit of sin.

A person might ask “do we willfully sin since we can not measure to God’s love” (Romans 6:1-2; 1 John 3:4-10)? That can be answered by the original structure of parental love designed by God. A mother is an example of endless love while a father should be an example of tenacity love. A father’s actions express tenacity love in situations like “I’m coming to save you no matter the condition.” “I’m coming to provide for you no matter the circumstance family.” “I’m going to remain committed to our family no matter the temptation wife.” He can only be an example of tenacity love to his family if he has a relationship with the Creator. Then he is getting endless and tenacious love from God so he can be an example of tenacious love to his family. What does this have to do with sinning despite never measuring to God?

God’s agape love. You are committed to God because God gives you both perseverance and endless love. They work together to spark a believer’s ambition for divine fellowship with the Creator. A person might say “let me read my daily scripture for the renewing of my mind because God’s agape love is inspiring me to do better.” Or “let me fix my eating to respect my body” or “let me change how I’m parenting out of respect for God.” Therefore God’s agape love (which is endless tenacious love) promotes our desire to improve our spiritual consciousness.

God said, “be Holy as your God is Holy” (Leviticus 19:1-2). The Hebrew word for this means one. Be the same at all times as your God is the same. Yet even some occasions being the same is a struggle that takes us back to the awareness we’re not on the same level as God. Since our mark is God, we don’t need to lower the goal to be our neighbor’s performance for self-gratification or gloating. Don’t look to say “I am more holy than that person.” That is not the goal.

Our awareness of how short we always fall to God should make us more humble about our neighbor’s weaknesses.

“Hey man, I don’t measure up to God’s glory either. Don’t be hard on yourself.” Since there is no difference in one person’s sin nature from another, any progress over sin is not praise for the person but praise to the Glory of God. Only the Glory of God can give victory over a sinful habit, lifestyle, or nature.

So if the Glory of God is how we have victory over sin, do we stop learning how to improve our lifestyle? No, because learning promotes thinking. Thinking promotes application. The application of what we learn creates new habits. The body is still mechanical and human willpower is still immaculate! Yet the willpower is from God. And no matter how great a person’s willpower – when they come to Shekhina, they realize the determined will that astonished thousands on earth- is a reflection of God’s power in all of us. The fact any of us has mastered our infinite willpower is a testament to God, whom is perfect. No matter how great a person’s willpower- in the presence of God, they will become convicted in some areas of their life they fall short. At that moment, when they realize despite their greatness amongst humans- they aren’t perfect. God will lift their head and say “I still love you.”

The fact that any of us has mastered our infinite willpower is a testament to the creation of God which is perfect because God is perfect

The endless tenacious love of God (agape) should always inspire us to practice better lifestyles. When we feel the Shekhina of God, we learn we are never on the same level as God’s kavod simply because we can never be completely perfect like God. Yet despite that, God chooses to still Shekhina (dwell) with us.

August 4, 2022

Love for Christ; Love for One Another

Quantity is not quality when it comes to devotional writing. Sometimes we return to a previously-featured writer here and find they are not active online, but in their archives or most-recent postings there are things worth sharing with readers here. Today we’re back with the blog Ascents written by worship pastor Tim Adams. This appeared in February of this year. Click to read it where we did; and then take some time to look around.

Revelation 2 – Ephesus: A Church’s Love Abandoned

Recently, my daily bible reading schedule brought me to Revelation 2, where Jesus is speaking to the church in Ephesus. He commends them for their perseverance, intolerance of sin, and their testing of false teachers. Then in verse 4, He tells them what He has against them—that they have “left [their] first love.” I recall, some years ago, a sharp debate over this statement in Sunday school over whether their “first love” was love for Christ, or love for one another. What am I to make of this? The text itself implies that the Ephesian church would plainly know what Christ was referring to.

Is this an important issue? I believe it is, as it was enough for Christ to hold them accountable.  He tells them that, unless they repent, He will “remove [their] lampstand out of its place.” In other words, the church in Ephesus will cease to exist in Christ’s eyes.

How do I answer this apparent dilemma? I think I’ll let Scripture speak for itself.  Remember John’s words in the 4th chapter of his first epistle.

We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also, (1 John 4:19–21, NASB95).

This statement makes my love for God and love for my brothers and sisters in Christ, inseparable. I cannot love God without loving my brother. This leads me to another question. Is love what I do, or is it both what I do and feel. Scripture clearly tells us love is primarily something I choose to do, not always something I feel. In other words, it’s possible to love those I don’t necessarily, at a given time, feel affection for. That being said, my failure to love others demonstrates that my love for God is not real—remember, to love is a choice.

When asked for the greatest commandment, Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5.

Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:29–30, NASB95)

He then followed that up with the 2nd most important, quoting Leviticus 19:18.

“The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31, NASB95)

How, then, do I love God, whom I have not seen?

  • With my heart – a deep and heart felt affection for God, my Father.
  • With my soul – in response to the testimony of the Holy Spirit on my spirit that I am His child, (Romans 8:16).
  • With my mind – my thoughts, my meditations, my prayers will reflect a regard for God that is worthy of Him.
  • With my strength – the energy I expend, and what I choose to do, will demonstrate my love for God.

So then, how do I love my neighbor as myself? By applying the same effort in meeting the needs of my neighbor that I apply to meeting my own. In the 10th chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus was asked “Who is my neighbor?”.  Jesus responded with the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan. If I strive to love others in the same way as this Samaritan, that love will testify to a deep love for God.

The unfortunate reality is that all this is easier said than done. Why? The apostle Paul says it best…

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want, (Romans 7:18–19, NASB95).

So, we continue the struggle to be the people we are called to be.  I am encouraged know that Paul, this great man of God also tangled with his own failures.  Here’s his answer to the struggle.

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin, (Romans 7:24–25, NASB95).

He followed that up with this wonderful statement…

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death, (Romans 8:1–2, NASB95).

So, be encouraged. God will finish the work begun!

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