Christianity 201

May 14, 2017

Contending for the Faith

by Russell Young

Believers are not called to a relaxed, passive life. They are called to fight, to contend for the faith. Jude wrote, “I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once entrusted to the saints.” (Jude 1:3 NIV) To contend literally means, ‘to compete for a prize, and figuratively means, ‘to contend against an adversary.’

Jude was encouraging believers to contend with “godless men, who change the grace of our God into license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” (Jude 1:4 NIV) That is, he was encouraging them to fight against those who misrepresented God’s grace allowing believers to feel free to engage in immoral acts. Giving this freedom was the result of allowing them to deny, reject, or disavow the sovereignty and lordship of Christ. Christ never lived, tolerated, or taught the allowance of immorality but condemned it. There are many today who preach Christ as saviour and reject the need to honour his sovereignty and lordship in their lives. Jude presented his admonition to contend for the faith to those who are “kept by Jesus Christ”, to believers.

The church has not done well at contending for the faith since the grace of God has been promoted as being a gifting that pardons all godless behavior that arises from the believer’s “doing” or practices, which results in freedom from judgment even for defiance of the Lord’s (Holy Spirit’s) right to their lives. The widely-promoted definition of God’s “sovereign grace,” as meaning ‘pre-creation election,’ has eliminated the need to recognize the practical lordship or sovereignty of Christ in the “believer’s” daily life; thus, it maintains that he or she will not suffer harm for any immoral behavior or unrighteousness of heart. Such teaching automatically gives license for ungodliness. However, Paul taught that God’s righteous requirements were accomplished through obedience to the Holy Spirit. “[H]e condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3─4 NIV)

The church has not contended for the faith, but has endorsed the freedom derived from definitions of “belief” and “grace” that have given “licence” for immorality. Such allowance has been given to build numbers in the kingdom of God and to dispense with the need for personal righteousness. Jesus said, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.” (Lk 16:16 NIV) It must be appreciated that no one can “force” or crowd himself into the kingdom. Entry comes through Christ alone as revealed in the truths of his Word; no one can enter without having satisfied the “righteous requirements” of the Law…not one “stroke” can be left out.

Why has the church not contended for the faith? The message that God’s “sovereign grace” has met a person’s needs is both appealing to teach and to receive. It seems, as well, that as people flocked to press their way into the kingdom, or were attempting to be pressed in by evangelists, proclamations of such hope became popular and its presenters were to some extent idolized and copied. Their gospel, even though not that of Christ, has become accepted.

Why have the students of God’s Word not raised a hew and cry about neglect of the need for repentance and the development of righteousness and holiness? Those who love the Lord and his gospel need to listen to Jude and make their voices known. Long-accepted teaching that licences the “believer” to fearlessly neglect the Lord’s sovereignty in life and that gives licence to ungodliness needs to be re-examined and rejected.

Paul taught that in the last days people would have a “form of godliness but denying its power,” and cautioned them to have nothing to do with them. (2 Tim 3:5 NIV) The “power” is the Holy Spirit (Christ in you) and his power for achieving a sanctified life is often ignored and its necessity denied. Paul also cautioned Timothy, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Tim 4:3 NIV) Has this time come? In these, Paul also proclaims the failure of the church to contend for the faith.

The LORD prophesied concerning the end times through Isaiah, “The earth mourns and dries up, and the crops waste away and wither. Even the greatest people on earth waste away. The earth suffers for the sins of its people, for they have twisted God’s instructions, violated his laws, and broken his everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse consumes the earth. Its people must pay the price for their sin. They are destroyed by fire and only a few are left alive.” (Isa 24:4─6 NIV) God will bring his wrath on humankind in the last days, not because they have rejected his “grace,” but because the earth’s people will have rejected his government…his laws, statutes, and everlasting covenant. His prophesy should not be taken as referring to the non-confessing people but to all people. By the end a great deal of teaching from “learned” men and women will have set aside the need to satisfy God’s laws, statutes, and everlasting covenant. The licence of which Jude spoke will have been fully realized. If God’s requirements are not made know, those who are seeking him will miss the mark.

The Lord said, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24 NIV) Matthew records this admonition as follows: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Mt 7:13─14 NIV) If an “effort” is required, its reality must be made known and not left hidden behind the curtain of God’s grace.

Believers must appreciate that their time on earth needs to be given to “contending for the faith” and the building of the kingdom of God. Judgment will befall those who neglect the service to which they have been called and for which they have been gifted. (1 Cor 3:14) That “contending” needs to be with those who have not heard the gospel, with those who have heard a misrepresented version of the gospel, and with those who are actively misrepresenting the gospel.


Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514

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

April 23, 2017

Unless You Repent

by Russell Young

Unless you repent you too will all perish.” (Lk 13:5 NIV) Jesus spoke these words while addressing the people of Jerusalem. The words sound very much like those that John the Baptist would have proclaimed. The need of God for repentance is very clear. Repentance requires a person to recognize an attitude or an act as being offensive to God, to seek forgiveness, and to discontinue its practice. Paul told King Agrippa, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove (perform repeatedly) their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20 NIV) Paul did not teach that a single act of repentance was acceptable, but that a person’s life practices were to change.

In truth, there is not much preaching today concerning the need for repentance. One is more apt to hear proclaim the need to invite Jesus into his or her heart, following which he will meet their need for eternal salvation and a blessed life. The call to repentance during the “camp meetings” of past years has been displaced by the overarching love of God. Rather than admonishing “believers” to walk circumspectly, to “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12), to be humble before God, to honour and obey the Lord, believers are being told that they are to trust God because they are loved by him.

Repentance requires that the believer walk closely with his or her Lord so that his voice can be heard and his heart known. Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice.” (Jn 10:27 NIV) He also said, “When [the Spirit] comes he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” (Jn 16:8 NIV) It is easy to restrict the Lord’s teaching of repentance to those who are acknowledged as not knowing him, who have not “invited him into their heart,” but the world includes those who have made a confession of faith as well. Sin is sin, it is rebellion against God’s government and those who do not repent of their evil deeds will one day do so on their knees before him. Sin is to be acknowledged as the Spirit leads to its awareness; it is to be acknowledged and humbly confessed. “John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9 NIV) Repentance is not conveyed merely by the mouth but is demonstrated by the deeds that follow.

In spite of teaching that negates a walk of righteousness or of “walking in the light” (1 Jn 1:7 NIV), the Lord requires righteousness leading to holiness. (Rom 6:19) The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New. The God that punished sin in the Old is the same God who will punish it even at the end. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please the sinful nature from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7-8 NIV) Christ’s admonition was that unless a person repents, they too will die. Do not be deceived!

Christ also revealed that “[The brothers] have overcome [their accuser] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Rev 12:11 NIV) Overcoming Satan requires the word of their testimony as well as the blood of Christ. The testimony of their lives, their deeds, loudly proclaimed the word of God. (Note that he did not say, ‘the testimony of their word,’ but “the word of their testimony.”) The righteous manner in which the believer lives his or her life is important.

When asked if only a few people were going to be saved, Christ replied, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24 NIV) Note that the Lord required an “effort” to enter his Kingdom. Some will not put forth the required “effort” an will be left outside. The effort requires a victorious walk using all that the Lord has provided, especially his indwelling presence as Spirit. “He who overcomes will inherit all of this (life in the New Jerusalem), and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Rev 21:7 NIV) Victory can only be accomplished by defeating those practices and by disposing of those attitudes that are offensive to God through repentance and the demonstration of that repentance through a person’s deeds. God’s love does not cover defiance and rebellion which is blasphemy of the Spirit. In the end the believer is to be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Rom 8:29) by walking as Jesus walked. (1 Jn 2:6)


Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

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

April 21, 2017

Intentional Followership

Today we’re paying a fourth visit to Paul Steele at the blog Paul’s Ponderings. Usually at this point I encourage you to click the title below to read at source, but I also want to point you to a blog post Paul did in the form of an infographic. Before or after you’re done here, check out 6 Helpful Scriptures to Guide our Choices.

3 Components to Spiritual Formation

Intention in spiritual formation is essential. Our faith cannot, and will not, remain static. Every day our spirits are either being molded into the likeness of Jesus or into the likeness of the world.

Passivity is not an option.

Without intentional action our spirits will be conformed to the way of the world. If we are not moving towards Christ we are moving away from him.

The Apostle Peter was very aware of the importance of spiritual formation.

In 2 Peter 3:17-18 he wrote:

I am warning you ahead of time, dear friends. Be on guard so that you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
All glory to him, both now and forever! Amen. (NLT)

There is a great danger in not being intentional about our spiritual formation in Jesus Christ.

Peter pointed out 3 dangers that we face when we are not serious about our spiritual formation:  (1) losing our faith, (2) being led astray, and (3) living in error.

No matter how strong we believe our faith is right now, it is not enough to sustain us through all of life’s ups and downs. The faith that is sufficient today will not be sufficient tomorrow.

The writer of Hebrews shared a similar sentiment when he wrote:

 So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds* and placing our faith in God. (Hebrews 6:1, NLT)

God expects us to be engaged in spiritual formation. Maturity will only happen through intentional effort.

If we are not willing to do what it takes grow spiritually and to deepen our relationship with God, then we will continue to miss out on the life He created us to live. We cannot remain the same and remain with Jesus. Either we are moving with him or we are allowing ourselves to be left behind.

If spiritual formation is this important, how do we make it a part of our lives?

The entire Bible is filled with instruction and example of how we can partner with the Holy Spirit to bring maturity to our spirits.

Today I want to share with you a little bit of what the Apostle Paul told the Colossians about spiritual formation.

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.

Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers* of this world, rather than from Christ.(Colossians 2:6-8; NLT)

Let’s take a moment and examine what Paul wrote about spiritual formation:

1. We need to be consistent – Vs. 6

Faith is the key.

We came to salvation because we trusted in Jesus to deal with our sins. We experience spiritual maturity because we trust Jesus to lead us to the life God created us to live. Without this faith in Jesus we are unable to grow. If we cannot be consistent in our trust (trusting Jesus to take away our sins but not to lead us to life) means that we will be stunted in our maturity and our relationship with God will begin to die.

The consistency we need becomes visible through our obedience.  We need to ask ourselves these questions: Am I willing to follow Jesus wherever he leads me? Will  I risk my life, career, and reputation for the sake of the Gospel?

By being obedient we demonstrate that we trust God.

2. We need to be concrete – Vs. 7

Remember the parable Jesus told about the wise man and the foolish man?

The point of the story is people need to build on a firm foundation. The wise man is able to survive the storms because his house is built on the rock, which was able to withstand the power of the waves. The foolish man is destroyed because his house is built on the sand, which washed away with the raging water.

Being concrete is about holding on to truth. Jesus’ teachings are a firm foundation because they are truth. We receive truth through instruction, reading, relationships, and experiences. By constantly seeking and applying  truth to our lives we are building on a firm foundation. This foundation will provide us with the security we need to survive any situation.

3. We need to be cautious – Vs. 8

It is easy to be led astray by something that seems credible.

Proverbs 14:12 reads; There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.  (NLT). What seems to be right and what sounds good are not the best indicators of what is truth. We can get very lost following what seems to be right to us.

This is about influence. Who will we allow to influence us? What type of media will we use? Is their message in agreement with the message of Jesus?

The best way we can safe guard ourselves from being led astray is to know and live the teachings of Jesus. Only when we are familiar with the truth are we able to identify the lie.

Spiritual formation is essential for our relationship with God. We need to remain consistent in our faith, we need to be concrete in our belief, and we need cautious about what influences us.

These 3 components will help us stay on the path of spiritual formation. Without them we will be prevented from living the life that Jesus has for us to live.

Don’t neglect your spiritual formation. Be intentional about the person you are becoming and make an effort to become like Jesus.

 What is an essential component to your spiritual formation?

April 20, 2017

How Easter Cures Our Religion Addiction

by Clarke Dixon

We can become addicted to religion. Behind this there can be a sense of “if I do the right things, and say the wright words, God will have to love me and be good to me.” Religion has “me” as its focus. What I do. What I say. What I think I deserve. When we are addicted to religion we put ourselves, rather than God, at the centre.

The Christians in Colossae were being pressured into becoming more religious. Some scholars think that the pressure was coming from Jews who thought you needed to practice the Jewish religion to be a Christian. Other scholars think that it was an early form of the religious philosophy “gnosticism” that was the source of the pressure. Either way, in his letter to the Colossians the apostle Paul wants to set the record straight. In chapter two Paul lays out clearly our part in being Christian, but also what we cannot accomplish. Let’s take a look.

First out part:

Colossians 2:6-19 (NRSV) As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Notice, first off, that Paul’s encouragement is not “since you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, now get very religious, doing the right religious looking observances, saying the right religious sounding words.” That would actually be too easy, for you can do that kind of thing on your spare time. What is called for is something far more profound; “live your lives in him.” The requirement is not in doing religion, but living life. It is an every moment thing. The focus is not the religion, but the Person of Jesus. It is a relationship thing.

Sceptics like to say that religion is a man made thing. Paul would agree:

8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.

Paul is not speaking against philosophy as an academic endeavour here. Philosophy, like all the arts and sciences are worthy pursuits. Paul is warning against, more literally “the philosophy”, that is, a particular way of thinking being foisted on the Christians at Colossae. He is arguing against becoming too religious “according to human tradition.” Rather than pursuing man-made religion, we are to pursue Christ himself.

We could sum up Paul’s line of thought here with “live your lives in him rather than practice religion.” That is our part. Next Paul points us to God’s part. Religion highlights the things we do. In the following passage I have highlighted [in darker type] the things God has done.

9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12 when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

The focus is on God’s activity. As Paul warns the Christians at Colossae against false religion, he puts the focus on what God has done in Christ. While religion points us to our activity, relationship with God as revealed in the Bible has always been first about what God has done. He created. He Made a covenant with Noah. He called Abraham with his promise of blessing that would touch the world. He rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt. He gave His chosen people the law at Sinai. He gave them the promised land. He called the prophets and gave them the words to speak. He came to us incarnate in Jesus. He, God the Father, raised Jesus, God the Son, from the dead. While religion has what we can do as its focus, Christianity has as its focus, something we could never do, that is, raise the dead.

Because Jesus is risen, we do not practice Christianity as a religion, we relate to Jesus as a living Person. We serve Him, we worship Him, we adore Him, we learn from Him. This may give the appearance of being religious as prayer, the Bible, and church become expressions of that. These religious looking things are not the practice of religion, but rather part of how we live our lives in Christ. Living our lives in Christ goes way deeper than doing “religious duties,” it goes to walking with the Spirit and being transformed from the inside out: “. . .the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) Compared to character transformation, being merely religious would be far too easy!

Paul continues his argument against being religious:

16 Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 17 These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.

Religion fills us with pride as we point to what we have done. The events of Easter fill us with humility as they point to what we have done. We committed a reprehensible crime when we crucified Jesus. We fell short of the glory of God. The events of Easter also point to what God has done. He has reconciled us to Himself. Our part is to live in Christ, “holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.” Are you addicted to religion? God has done for you through the events at Easter what religion never could. Why dedicate yourself to religion, when you can dedicate yourself to the One Who loves you?

(Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

Read more at Clarke’s blog Sundays Shrunk Sermon

April 2, 2017

Sin Separates

by Russell Young

David wrote of the agony of his soul and pleaded for the Lord’s mercy to be restored after his adultery with Bathsheba. He knew that he had transgressed God’s law. He knew that God desired righteousness. He wanted joy and gladness to be restored to him through a pure and cleansed heart. (Ps 51) His sin had brought him unrest, sleepless nights, and separation from the closeness that he had enjoyed with his God. Sin separates; it did then and it does today.

Many suffer from the same discomfort that plagued David. Their lives have become empty and unfruitful for the kingdom. They even find it difficult to bless their families or their friends. It is easy to get caught up in disillusionment and loss of hope when God seems quite distant and prayers are left unanswered.

Modern teaching would dismiss the possibility of a spiritual separation from God. Those teaching would cover sin with God’s grace and “unconditional love.” However, the Word reveals that destruction can come from sinful practices. Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived: God will not be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please the sinful nature from that nature will reap destruction. The one who sows to please the Spirit, from the spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7─8 NIV) And, “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” (2 Thess 1:8─9 NIV) God expects his people to walk fearfully before him, to be righteous in his sight. The believer is a slave to God. (Rom 6:22) Righteousness must be lived.

James wrote, “The prayers of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (Jas 5:16 NIV) James did not say that the prayers of “Christians” are powerful and effective but that their efficacy rests with the righteous. John taught, “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6 NIV) The grace of God provides all that is needed for life and godliness and the Lord’s blessings rest on those who are seeking his kingdom and his righteousness through an obedient walk.

The Lord has made many promises to the righteous. Matthew has recorded his words: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33 NIV) These things are food and clothing. They are fruits of seeking to live righteously and of seeking God’s kingdom. Some do not consider that their favorite sins are keeping them from enjoying the fullness and richness of God. Believers are cautioned against loving the world and the things in it. “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 Jn 2:15 NIV) Those who are surrounded by riches feel entitled to pursue them. In God’s sight such interest is sin. Believers are to perceive the world as from mountaintop to mountaintop with the world in the valley below. The Lord does not bless the one who craves the things of this world or their pursuit, but honours the person whose heart is established on righteousness, on him, and on kingdom purposes.

This truth needs to be taken seriously. God does not bless those who defy him. “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Pet 3:12 NIV) David had felt abandoned following his act of disobedience. His bones felt dry. Although we would not like to admit it believers can be too ready to excuse ungodly thoughts and actions especially considering the wickedness about them. God is not so generous, however. That lesson will be learned through his punishment and discipline either today or at his judgment seat. Distress in life is not caused by sin alone; however, those who are walking with Christ, even though suffering through tribulations will never feel abandoned but will recognize his presence and peace.

David repented and could find joy again. In fact, God described him as, “a man after [his] own heart.” (Acts 13:22 NIV) Believers are to be men and women after God’s own heart. They are to enjoy fellowship with him, never feeling the dryness in spiritual life that comes from separation. The point is that God does not bless wickedness regardless of the utterances of those who would profess otherwise. He demands righteous practices from his people and blesses those who forgo sin and pursue his kingdom purposes.


Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

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

March 23, 2017

Feeling Less Than Perfect? Romans 8: 4-14

 . . . so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:1-8 (emphasis mine)

by Clarke Dixon

There is good news here for those who “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” This of course will raise within the Christian the question “am I walking in the Spirit?” And to many, “how could I possibly be walking in the Spirit when I find myself, well, less than perfect?” This is a very important question to answer since most of us, when honest, find ourselves feeling less than perfect. Contrary to some eulogies I have heard, I have never officiated at a funeral for a perfect Christian. Experience teaches us that there has never been a perfect person except One. Are we walking according to the Spirit if we are less than perfect?

First off, we can note that the language of Romans chapter 8 does not push us toward thinking we ought to find ourselves perfect. To “walk according to” is not “to be just like in every way.” Similarly, “to set your mind” on something is not to be so consumed by something that you cannot possibly think of anything else. If you have no musical experience or instruments and you set your mind on learning guitar, you are going to want to walk out of a music store with a guitar and not a drum kit. You are going to want to sign up for guitar lessons, and not clarinet lessons. To do otherwise is to not have your mind set on learning guitar. But picking up the sticks and having a go on a friend’s drum kit is not inconsistent with having your mind set on learning guitar. Spiritually, being less than perfect is not inconsistent with having our minds set on the things of the Spirit. Of course we want to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48), however being less than perfect does not disqualify us from being people who walk according to the Spirit.

Second, God’s leadership in our lives is never described in terms that would make us conclude that we will achieve instant perfection. We are now used to living in an instant world. It is with some excitement that I download updates to my phone’s operating system. Each update comes with old problems fixed and new features added. Perhaps we expect receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit to be exactly like receiving an update that changes everything instantly. While some people experience miraculous deliverance from addictions and the like when coming to Jesus, most of us don’t feel a big instant change. The Bible never suggests our relationship with God will be like a computer user receiving a big update. The Bible points instead to a shepherd with the sheep, a father with a child, and a vine with the branches. These are all enduring mentoring relationships which require time and lead to development.

It takes time for sheep to learn and know the voice of the shepherd. It will take us time to discern the voice of God in our lives. Of course vines and branches take time to bear fruit as any gardener can confirm. Likewise, parenting takes time. Parenting takes so much time, in fact, that on average, for a parent to raise a child from birth to the age of eighteen requires about eighteen years! No parent I know expects his or her child to be perfect over those eighteen years. Our relationship with God is consistently described in ways that point to the passage of time and to development. There is no promise of instant perfection.

So if perfection is not evidence of “walking according to the Spirit,” then what is? The evidence that a shepherd and sheep are in relationship is the sheep’s response to the shepherd’s voice. Our listening may not be perfect, but we will be listening. There is a desire to hear the Lord’s voice. The evidence that branches are abiding in the vine is fruit: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal 5:22,23) The Christian does not experience perfection in every way upon receiving the Holy Spirit, but in walking according to the Spirit will be developing in these character traits and more.

Perfectionism is not a fruit of the Spirit. In fact, perfectionism can be a tool of the devil. While I have largely given up on perfectionism, there is one area of my life where I am still a perfectionist. It is an area of my life in which I struggle with frustration and where I am most likely to sin through losing my cool: renovations. It is not that I cannot do it. It is that I cannot do it perfectly. My aunt expressed wonder at my recent bathroom renovation. By recent, I mean completed recently, though started three years ago! She exclaimed “Wow! You did this?” When I walk into that same bathroom, I see the poor drywalling work to the left and think, “yes, I did that.” Don’t fail to celebrate the fruit of the Spirit in your life because you are too focused on your imperfections. The devil is happy when we do. Perfectionism will not lead you into greater righteousness. An enduring relationship with God will.

As a rhythm guitar player I would be thrilled if my favourite guitar player, Peter Townshend, were to come to my home and offer to give me guitar lessons. I could be a glass-half-empty guitarist and say “I will never be able to play like that.” Or I could be a glass-half-full guitarist and say “with Pete’s help I will be able to play better today than yesterday.” Of far greater significance and wonder, the Lord of the universe has taken his place by our side, and on the inside, as our shepherd, father, and friend. We can be glass-half-empty Christians and say “I am not perfect and feel like I never will never be perfect. I therefore doubt I have the Holy Spirit and am beginning to doubt I am a Christian.” Or we can be glass-half-full Christians and say “I may not be perfect, but with the Holy Spirit on the inside helping me, I can be better today than I was yesterday.”

There is a wonderful affirmation in verse 9 “But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Since you have the Holy Spirit, since you have God inside, live as you are; not perfect, but a growing child of God. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” Romans 8:14

(All Scripture references are from the NRSV)

Click here to read this at Clarke’s webpage, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

March 13, 2017

Spiritual Drift

This article appears at BibleStudyTools.com. To read it there and read the comments simply click the title below. Chris Russell is an Ohio pastor whose biography states, “He believes that ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is one of his ‘spiritual gifts.'” You can also read it on his blog Sensible Faith.

5 Things That Cause Us to Drift Spiritually

Several years ago a friend of mine took his wife and kids to the ocean for a week of R&R. While they were there, they purchased a small, inflatable boat for recreational use on the beach. One day the wife jumped in the boat and launched out into the water to just lie back and soak in some sunshine. After what seemed like a short span of time, she opened her eyes and realized that she was several hundred yards away from the shore. In a panic, she screamed for help.

Only one person on the shore seemed to hear her call, and that was her husband. When he realized her predicament, he immediately attempted to swim out to rescue her. That did not turn out well, because he was soon in need of being rescued as well!

Fortunately the lifeguard was doing his job well that day, and he was successful in rescuing the husband and the wife. By the time he was able to get to the wife in the raft, they were nearly a half mile from the shore.

As I have thought about that experience over the years, it has often made me think about how Christians often drift away from the Lord spiritually. It really doesn’t take much time at all to drift so far from the shore spiritually that one can scarcely even see the land anymore.

As a pastor for the past couple decades, I have noted several key things that tend to cause Christians to drift away from God. Here are five of them:

1)  An Out-of-Control Schedule.

Ephesians 5:16
Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

One of Satan’s greatest weapons against our generation seems to be his ability to make good people busier than ever before. We so often sacrifice the best things in life by spending time doing things that are just “pretty good.”

If you desire to walk closely with God, you will absolutely, necessarily have to begin by taking a close look at your calendar. It is likely that you are currently doing too much. And it is also likely that your overly hectic schedule is affecting your relationship with God. So take out your pruning shears and begin to cut out any activities you can that will allow you to focus more time on your relationship with your Creator.

2)  Misplaced Affections

1 John 2:15
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

Be careful not to set your heart on things that really don’t matter. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen good people lured away from church life because they have fallen in love with things or activities that have no eternal merit. For example, children’s sports can certainly be a thrilling activity for your kids to pursue. But if those sports begin to adversely affect the spiritual involvement and development of your family, then pull the plug immediately.

3)  Discouragement

1 Peter 1:6,7 1
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

During the past couple decades that I have served as a pastor, I have often watched Satan using his weapon of discouragement to drag people away from spiritual activities. I have seen it many more times than I can number.

When the trials of life cause a person to become discouraged, he often begins focusing on those problems and takes his eyes off of Christ. It reminds me of when Peter walked on the water. He did great until he took his eyes off of Jesus and began looking at the waves beneath him and the clouds above him.

It is important for you to know that when life’s clouds grow dark and your trials become fierce, that is the time to run TO Jesus and not FROM Him.

4)  Abundance

1 Timothy 6:10
For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

We Americans are so fat with our own prosperity that we often make wealth our god and not the true King of heaven. This has also been a recurring theme throughout the entire Bible. People struggle, God blesses them, they become prosperous, and then they depart from God. Ironic, isn’t it?

The chances are great that you probably do not feel like you are prosperous. But the reality is that nearly all Americans are extremely blessed and have more abundance than the vast majority of the population of the planet. If you are an American, you are most likely already a “One-Percenter” (wealthier than 99% of the world’s population).

People of abundance often choose recreation over worship. Why go to church if you could be out golfing, boating, camping, or going to movies or sporting events?

Satan wants us to be prosperous, because our prosperity and abundance often lure us away from our Creator.

5)  Parasitic Sins

Hebrews 12:1
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,

Many people begin to drift away from God, because they have sins in their lives that cause them to feel guilt when they show up at church. And they feel reluctant to pray or read their Bible when they know they have these issues in their lives.

Recently, I stumbled upon the most revolting video I’ve ever seen (through my Facebook news feed). The video showed an eye surgeon removing a parasite from a human eye. I won’t go into detail. That brief description alone is enough to send chills down the spines of many. All I can say is that the video was even worse than what you’re thinking right now!

When I watched that video, it dawned on me that many people have sins in their lives that are damaging them just like parasites in one’s body. And those sins will almost certainly affect your spiritual vision.

The solution here is not to run/drift from God. The key is to confess your sin to God who will restore you and make you whole again (1 John 1:9)!

How have you done in your journey with God over the past year or the past few months? Have you drifted? Now is the time to return. Call out to God before you are so far from the shore than you lose all sense of spiritual direction.


1 In both versions of the original article Chris did not have a reference on his third point. We took the liberty of adding one. See A Diligent Heart or OpenBible.info for other related verses.

 

 

March 11, 2017

Jesus in Luke on Money: Part 2 – The Rich and the Kingdom of God

As we explained yesterday, through a friend I was introduced to the writing of Don Merritt. We asked him for permission to use two of them for which he graciously agreed, but then I decided to split these over the course of two days, since they were on the same topic. Don is working his way through the gospel of Luke, but his blog also features topical items as well. Click the title below to read this one at The Life Project, and then take a few minutes to look around.

The Rich, The Way and The Kingdom

Luke 18:24-30

Jesus was fully aware that the disciples would be confused after His conversation with the rich man because, as we noted last time, He had blown up a major cultural expectation of the time that the rich were more favored by God than others were. As a result, He begins to teach them, even while the man is standing right there…

Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (18:24-25)

The rich man hadn’t been overly enthused at the prospect of giving up all of his wealth, and Jesus underscored the difficulty that many have in entering the Kingdom and leaving the priorities of this world behind. Looking at His example here of putting a camel through the eye of a needle, I think we can safely say that He was engaging in a touch of hyperbole to make the point. The reaction of the disciples speaks volumes about the prevailing assumptions of that culture: “Who then can be saved?”

If you notice, Jesus in His answer blows up a second predominant assumption of that time:

“What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (18:27)

There are two cultural teachings that are being corrected here: First, that the rich are most favored by God, and the second is that a person can attain righteousness by reliance upon their own ability to keep the Law; both of these are false. This second teaching is still with us, sometimes it is obvious, and sometimes it is more subtle, we call it “works”. You cannot earn your way into the Kingdom by following the rules, “doing church right” or by doing good deeds, for you can only enter the kingdom by faith in God through Christ. Can the rich enter the Kingdom? Yes, they can, by placing their faith in God, and not in their earthly possessions and positions.

Peter is beginning to comprehend: “We have left everything to follow you!”  (18:28)

In reply to Peter, Jesus indicates that there may be more than just “stuff” that can get in the way…

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (18:29-30)

Notice the relationships that may also need to be left behind, notice also that they are in the same list as “home”, Matthew has “fields”, which is to say material possessions. The real point is that the follower of Christ must be willing to leave anything behind if it interferes with following Him, for with the Kingdom, you are either “all in” or all out. Aren’t these things that we all struggle with at one time or another?

This is one of those cases when the theology of the teaching is very simple, but living it can be difficult, yet with God, all things are possible. Consider this: The man who wrote Matthew’s Gospel was a tax collector. He was rich, he also had a family, friends and associates, but by the grace of God, he was one of the Twelve, and he wasn’t the only one. Remember Zacchaeus? Joseph of Arimathea? Saul of Tarsus?

With God, all things are indeed possible!

March 4, 2017

Maintaining a Distinct Identity

Distinct Spiritual Identity

For a certain period of my formative faith years, I kept running across the phrase, ‘Maintenance of a Separate Identity.’ You don’t hear it much these days, and when I ran it through a search engine it took more than 30 results before I found one in a Biblical context out of the 70-odd results located. (Most of the results were in reference to ethnicity and nation.)

John White, in his book Flirting With the World, relates his experience growing up as a boy in the 1950s. He tells us that his church knew what worldliness was back then: lipstick, make-up, short skirts, bobbed hair, wedding rings and jewelry, movies, and church kitchens. Then he makes this statement: “Church leaders who fought the liberalizing trends of education, affluence, mobility, and urbanization may have pitched the battle in the wrong places, but you can’t fault their instincts. They knew that something vital was at stake: the maintenance of a distinct identity.[source]

I started thinking about this yesterday in the context of 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:

Ex. 11:6 There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. 7 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.

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)

But I believe the underlined section in Ex. 11:7 above reverberates throughout Israel’s history. If you’ve ever read Leviticus and wondered, ‘Why, oh why all these obscure rules and regulations?’ the answer may be found in God’s desire to see His people maintain a distinct identity; to be distinct from their surrounding neighbors.

Of course, the mark of being God’s people today is not about dietary or clothing laws, though some people would quite susceptible to falling back into such regulation. Instead, we’re told,

“Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples–if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 NET)

and

Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: … he emptied himself… he humbled himself… (Phil 2: 5, 7, 8 CEB)

At the blog Steve’s Bible Meditations, Steven C. Mills writes about God’s Distinctive People (click to read in full):

You can’t be a child of God and a child of this world!

When your allegiance is with God and you belong to Him, He makes a distinction between His people and those who are not. His people receive His protection. God rescues His people! God redeems His people!

Exodus 12 describes the Passover process by which God rescued His distinctive people from the firstborn death plague: “The Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you” (vs. 12;23). Because Israel was God’s chosen people, God made a distinction between Israel and Egypt and, consequently, rescued His people from the plague.

So, the designation of Israel as God’s distinctive people was grounded in God’s redemptive act of the exodus of Israel from Egypt. God rescued Israel from the grip of Pharaoh! God redeemed His people!

The Apostle Peter reiterates that even today the distinction of being God’s people is the result of receiving God’s mercy.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10, NASB).

Now, God is still in the rescue business today. He still delivers His people from the grip of this world. And, when God redeems you, you become a distinctive person because He sends His Spirit to dwell in you.

The Spirit helps you maintain your distinctiveness by consecrating you to God and His way and strengthening you to remain separate from the world and its ways. And then the Spirit empowers you to proclaim God’s redemption to others!

But know that the Lord has set apart the godly man for Himself.. (Psalms 4:3, NASB)


Related posts at C201:

  • Looking at the Amish (August 5, 2010) with song Refiner’s Fire by Brian Doerksen
  • Set Apart (February 14, 2013) with devotional by Charles Price

February 26, 2017

The Continuing Sanctification of the Believer

by Russell Young

The Word of God speaks of the need for believers to be continually sanctified. Those who will dwell in his presence must be holy. (Heb 12:14) Although the believer was cleansed of all sin through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness at the time of confession of faith, Paul spoke of the need for him or her to be “kept” blameless. In his benediction to the Thessalonians he wrote: “May God himself, the God of peace sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23 NIV)

Since all people are prone to sin, a person’s sanctification must be maintained. The writer of Hebrews has recorded that “Since that time (when he offered himself as a sacrifice) he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Heb 10:13─14 NIV) Accordingly, a process has been revealed as necessary since he refers to those “who are being made holy” as being perfect forever. Perfection has a condition attached.

The Lord spoke of the necessity of continued cleansing when he washed his disciples’ feet (Jn 13:8) and told Peter that unless he washed his feet, Peter would have no part with him even though he had had a bath; had been cleansed all over. Christ often spoke of the need for obedience which is part of the sanctification process. (Mt 7:21, Rev 22:14 KJV, Mt 28:20, Lk 11:28, Jn 8:51, Phil 2:12, 2Thess 1:8, 1 Jn 2:5) Sanctification is the absence of sin and “being kept blameless” is achieved through righteous living and through fulfilment of the law. John wrote: “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” (1 Jn 3:4 NIV) A few verses later John wrote that “No one who lives in [Christ] keeps on sinning.” (1 Jn 3:6 NIV) All of this is to say that personal and eternal sanctification will not be achieved by Christ without the confessor’s ongoing involvement. It is thorough voluntary submission to Christ that identifies the confessor as a believer, and through which eternal salvation is achieved.

A great misconception has invaded some of the church–that Christ will unilaterally sanctify the confessor. A person’s failure to humble him/herself through obedience will ultimately result in eternal separation from the presence of their God and Creator.

Paul wrote to the Philippians “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.” (Philippians 2 12─16 NIV) Paul taught that the law–God’s standard of righteousness–was accomplished by the Spirit. “And so [God] condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3─4 NIV) That is, God’s righteous standards are to be achieved through the way a person lives.

God, the Spirit, can sanctify the believer “through and through” and can keep a person’s spirit, soul, and body blameless at the coming of the Lord provided that one is willing to be led, willing to be obedient, but being sanctified requires submission to the Lord, the one who accomplished it for himself and who is prepared to accomplish it for the believer. “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey-whether you are slaves to sin which leads to death or to obedience which leads to righteousness.” (Rom 6:16 NIV)

Popular Christian music readily praises God for all that he has done and for the redemption that Christ has accomplished through his sacrificial offering; however, the Lord’s continued work in the believer must also be appreciated by those who look forward to his coming and to their continued sanctification. His ministry in partnership with the believer has not been completed but is ongoing and essential for one’s eternal salvation. The Holy Spirit was given for that very purpose and he must be obeyed. (Heb 5:9) The thought continues to persist that Christ has done all that is required. He continues to enlighten, to lead and to empower the believer for victory but the victory over sin must still be fought if a person’s sanctification is to be completed.

January 30, 2017

Christianity 201: Devotional # 2500

A man died and went to heaven and on arrival asked if it was true that there are mansions with many rooms with for all. An angel assured him that this was true and offered to guide him to where one had been prepared just for him.

They walked down a street filled with the finest mansions that would be the envy of the highest priced neighborhoods in the western world back on earth.

“Is my house here?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then entered a section of housing which would be compared to a North American upper middle class community.

“It’s here, then?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then moved on to a group of bungalows that were not initially impressive, but, this being heaven after all, were no doubt adequate.

“So here we are;” said the man.

“No, just a little further;” said the angel.

Then the two of them ended up in an area where the houses — more like cabins — were not only much smaller, but there were only a couple of rooms and some elements of the walls, floors and ceilings were missing.

Pointing to a nearby dwelling, the angel said, “That one is your house.”

“There is no way,” said the man, “That I can live in something like that.”

“I’m very sorry;” replied the angel; “But we did the best we could with the materials you sent up.”

…This apocryphal sermon illustration is usually told in reference to Matthew 6: 19-20 which reads:

19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. NLT

But what constitutes treasure?

As I consider 2,500 posts here at Christianity 201, I look back to when I started this, wanting to produce something of substance that would cause people to dig a little deeper or consider something they might not have thought of before.

I’m a person who can speak with spiritual confidence and authority to an individual or group one minute; and then be struck by a feeling of total inadequacy the next; a form of spiritual intimidation, or spiritual inferiority complex. Why is this? I think much of it has to do with feeling at the end of the day that I simply haven’t accomplished enough for the Kingdom of God. The sun sets or the computer is turned off or it’s time for bed and I ask myself, what did I really do today that was of lasting value of significance?

It’s not that I wasn’t busy doing Kingdom work, it’s just that I fear I wasn’t busy doing the right things. I feel that by not letting my talents be used to the maximum, I have missed the mark (the same idiom by which the word sin is defined in Greek) of God’s highest calling. You could say that I not only have ‘performance-based religion’ issues, but I’m additionally burdened with combining it with a Type A personality when it comes to what I would like to see happen.

So… I need to be reminded that God still loves me even I didn’t do all the the things or type of things that I thought God was expecting of me. I need to be reminded that it’s about what God’s wants me to be that matters.

However, I can’t just toss out the consideration of what it means to give my best to God each day. I have to have certain goals or ideals or standards of attainment. The verses that I think match up best with the heaven story above are these from I Cor. 3 —

12 Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13 But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. 14 If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. 15 But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. NLT

Some of you know these verses from the KJ text as referring to: “Gold, silver and precious stones;” contrasted with “wood, hay and stubble.”

In the Christian internet world, a lot of what is written — including what I myself post at Thinking Out Loud — is wood, hay and stubble. I started Christianity 201 because I wanted something that would be of substance, something made of gold, silver and precious stones.

So while Christianity is not performance-based, if we’re going to launch out into any endeavor at all (in response to what Christ has done for us) we should aim for that thing to be of the highest quality, the finest purity, the greatest depth and the most lasting significance. We can discuss other things, and comment on the issues of the day in religion, politics, social justice, the environment, church life, parenting, education, marriage, missions, theology, or even the weather; but at the end of the day, we need to bring something best to the table; something that not only touches readers, but touches the heart of God Himself.

That’s living out our Christ-following at the next level.

That’s Christianity 201.

When the music fades
All is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth
That will bless your heart

I’ll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart…

January 27, 2017

God Leads a Pretty Sheltered Life

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.  Hebrews 4:15 NLT

He was despised and rejected by others, and a man of sorrows, intimately familiar with suffering; and like one from whom people hide their faces; and we despised him and did not value him.  – Isaiah 53:3 ISV

…rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross!Philippians 2: 7,8 NIV

This essay predates email forwards or even the internet itself, but as I found it in a stack of papers yesterday, I couldn’t help think that while it wasn’t the usual type of thing we share here, it certainly provides food for thought. Immediate the above scripture passages came to mind.

God Leads a Pretty Sheltered Life

At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a
great plain before God’s throne. Some of the groups near the
front talked heatedly – not with cringing shame before God’s
throne, but with embittered belligerence.

“How can God judge us? How can He know about suffering?” snapped
a brunette, jerking back a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number
from a Nazi concentration camp.” “We endured terror, beatings,
torture, and death!”

In another group, a black man lowered his collar. “What about this?”
he demanded, showing the rope burns. “Lynched for no crime but being
black! We’ve suffocated in slave ships, been wrenched from loved ones,
and toiled ’til only death gave release.”

Hundreds of such groups were visible across the plain. Each had
a complaint against God for the evil and suffering He permitted in
His world. How lucky God was, they all seemed to agree, able to
live in heaven where all is sweetness and light, without weeping,
fear hunger or hatred. Indeed, what does God know about man? What
does He know about being forced to endure the trials of life?
After all, God leads pretty sheltered life.

So each group sent out a leader, chosen because he had suffered
the most. There was a Jew, a black, an untouchable from India,
a person who was illegitimate, a person from Hiroshima and others
who had tasted life’s bitterest dregs. At last they were ready to
present their case. It was rather simple: Before God would be qualified
to be their judge; He must endure what they had endured.

Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth
as a man. But because He was God, they set certain safeguards to be
sure He would not use His divine powers to help himself.

* Let Him be a Jew.
* Let the legitimacy of His birth be questioned.
* Let Him champion a cause so just, but so radical, it brings
upon Him the hate, condemnation and destructive attacks of political
and religious authorities.
* Let Him be indicted on false charges, tried before a prejudiced
jury and convicted by a cowardly judge.
* Let Him see what it is to be terribly alone and completely abandoned
by every living being.
* Let Him be tortured and … let Him die.
* And let His death be humiliating; let it take place beside
common criminals, while He is jeered at, mocked, and spit on.

As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs
of approval went up from the great throng of people. But suddenly,
after the last one had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a
long silence. No one uttered another word. No one moved. For suddenly,
all recognized the stark reality; God had already served his sentence.

– Author unknown


From Handel’s Messiah: He was despised.

December 28, 2016

Do We Need to Distinguish Between the Sacred and the Secular?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
-James 1:17 (NIV)

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
-I Timothy 6:17 (NIV)

Today we’re paying a return visit to Paul Burleson at Vital Truth Ministries. Years ago I was told that Americans tend to make a greater distinction between the sacred and the secular and that Christians in The UK tend to live their lives more holistically? Is that generalization true? This is a shorter article, but it contains something we need to consider. Click the title to read at source.  [Note: Paul really likes capital letters. I was going to edit this to conform to our style guide, but decided to leave it.]

A PERSONAL VIEW: MAKING NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE SECULAR AND SACRED!

I make no distinction between sacred “things” and secular “things.” ALL “things” ARE finite and only God is infinite. I view God as the “SOURCE” of all THINGS [The One from Whom all things come into being or are derived or obtained. See 1 Corinthians 3:21-23] ! And, I view all “things” as simply RESOURCES for life. [Things that are available for use or can be used for GOOD or BAD].

Romans 8:5 says this, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the THINGS OF THE FLESH, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the THINGS OF THE SPIRIT.” [ESV]

“Walking after the “things” of the flesh” [ a no-no] is simply using or seeing “THINGS” as the SOURCE for making life worth living. Any THING. American citizenship, family, appearance, relationships, job, recreation, preaching, church attendance, bible reading, giving, you name it, can be seen as the SOURCE for what makes life worth living and, thus, become an idol. That THING is then taking the place of God in life.

“Walking after the “things” of the Spirit” [a yes-yes] is simply using or seeing “THINGS” as a RESOURCE for making life a little better, but, all the while, seeing God as the SOURCE of it all. ANY thing, such as my American citizenship, family, appearance, relationships, job, recreation, preaching, church attendance, bible reading, giving, you name it. can be correctly seen as a RESOURCE for making life a little better or more enjoyable and, thus, would NOT be an idol. God Himself is correctly seen as the SOURCE for all of life!

All finite “things” will pass away. Only Infinite God will not pass away. Nor shall we, once our mortality [finite] has one day at the resurrection put on immortality [Infinite].

So the living of life ISN’T a list of things TO DO or NOT DO in terms of priorities. It is, however, experiencing and celebrating God in ALL THINGS in life and enjoying all those things as resources He has delivered to you in your particular realm of existence on planet earth.
[1 Corinthians 3:21-23]

AND, it is being a RESOURCE yourself for others along the journey choosing to introducing them to your SOURCE with the gospel message when possible. [Christ IS after all, the answer for life and life ABUNDANTLY.]

Thus, I make no distinction between SACRED “things” and SECULAR “things.” All of LIFE is sacred and seeing Him as the SOURCE and enjoying HIM is the purpose for any THING!


Previously at C201 by this author: Exogesis and Isogesis (Summer 2014)

On the author’s own blog: Of Cents and Siblings (a different emphasis of The Prodigal Son)


December 3, 2016

Wishing You Had Never Been Delivered

Today we have a new writer who came recommended to us. Colin Sedgwick is a lifelong Baptist minister who writes at Welcome to Sedgonline.

I gotta say this article had me from the first paragraph, where Colin asks a rather provocative question which does follow logically from the key scripture text. Click the title below to read more at his blog.

No turning back!

That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! … Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt”. Numbers 14:1-4

Here’s a question that calls (please) for a strictly honest answer: Have you ever wished you had never become a Christian?

It may not have been for long; maybe just a brief phase. But you thought to yourself: “Hey, this Christian life is pretty tough going! When I first got converted it was all so exciting, so new, so fresh! But today…”

Perhaps you thought of all those prayers faithfully prayed, but which never seem to have been answered. Or the meetings you went to on dark, rainy evenings, when hardly anyone else bothered to turn up. Or the tensions and disagreements which flared up from time to time. You might even have thought of all the money you had given over the years to the church and other good causes – boy, tot all that up and perhaps you could have had the same sort of car as sits on your neighbour’s drive…

And you looked back and remembered the things you enjoyed in your pre-Christian days, but which you chose to sacrifice for Jesus’ sake. Were they really so wrong? You looked at your non-Christian friends and family and thought, “They seem to get on perfectly well without God.” Mmm.

It happens. It happened in the early church. The whole of the Letter to the Hebrews is concerned with this very thing. Didn’t Jesus talk about it in the parable of the sower (see Matthew 13:18-23)?

So if your answer to my question was “Well, yes, to be honest I have sometimes felt that way”, you can at least take some comfort from the fact that you are in good (or perhaps I should say bad!) company.

And here it is, tucked away also in the Book of Numbers. Remember the story…

God’s chosen people have been slaves in Egypt, but, under Moses and Aaron, God has given them a dramatic and miraculous liberation: the cruel tyrant Pharaoh has been humbled; the very sea opened up before them to give them a route out! They head into the desert with the faith that God will lead them to a wonderful new homeland, truly a “promised land”.

But… it won’t be quite yet. No, there will be a period of journeying in the desert, and that won’t be easy.

And guess what? They get disappointed and disillusioned.

And that leads to grumbling and discontent. And that, in turn, leads to outright rebellion.

You can read about the grumbling in (among other places) Numbers 11:4-6. Influenced by “the rabble” (presumably hangers-on who had joined Israel to get out of Egypt), they hanker after those lovely cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic they enjoyed in Egypt. They get fed up with that boring, tasteless manna stuff (heavenly bread, in fact) which God sent to feed them. “Give us meat and fish!” they cry.

The rebellion is described here in chapter 14. This Moses is rubbish! Why don’t we just die right here in the desert (don’t worry – that’s exactly what they will do)? And then these shocking words: “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.

What? What! They’ve witnessed the plagues in Egypt, from which they were protected by God. They saw with their own eyes the waters open up for them. They have rejoiced in the miraculous bread from heaven. They’ve met with God in truly awesome fashion at Mount Sinai. They’ve seen demonstrations of both God’s mercy and his severe judgment. And yet they can say, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt”. Can you believe it?

Suppose for a moment they had gone back to Egypt, tails between their legs, humbling themselves before Pharaoh. I can’t really imagine what life would have been like. But there’s one thing I’m sure of: it wouldn’t have been long before they were grumbling again. After all, they’ve got plenty of “previous” when it comes to that: see, for example, Exodus 15:24).

For us Christians, the issues are generally two-fold when we are tempted to “go back to Egypt”. It’s either the seductions of this corrupt world; or it’s the sheer hardship of the cross-bearing business of following Jesus. (We’re not talking here about intellectual difficulties regarding our faith, or about the kind of spiritual crisis that sometimes happens: they’re a different matter altogether.)

I can only say: if that temptation does rear its head, the thing to do is sit down with a cool, clear mind, to pray with an honest heart, to remember the emptiness of the time before you followed Jesus, to remember too the many blessings you have received. And then to – once more – pick up your cross. You won’t regret it.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the day you changed my life as I came to believe in Jesus and follow him. However hard the way may sometimes be, help me to remain faithful to him until that day I enter the promised land of your eternal kingdom. Amen.


Of course we couldn’t look at this text without thinking of this Keith Green song!

November 26, 2016

2-For-1 Devotional Special: It’s War/Hearing the Truth

Regular readers here are accustomed to this paragraph containing something like, “Today we return to the blog of _________…” It’s easy to work with writers we’ve worked with before, but I try to spend about 30 minutes each week seeing who else is writing good material that we can steal would be a good fit here. That often takes me to the #devotional tag on Twitter where sadly, most of the activity consists of people trying to sell their devotional book. (I have other avenues for blind searches which usually turn out to be more effective: Using the devotional or Jesus or Bible tags on WordPress, for example.)

So today’s new writer is Todd Sepulveda who lives in Houston and writes at Glorify God • Magnify Him. His writings are shorter — hence the reason you’re getting two today — but thankfully more substantive than many other things you encounter online. (Besides, I really enjoyed reading his personal story.) So click each of the individual titles to read these at source and then look around the rest of his site.

todd-sepulvedaIt’s War!

Scripture

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh,
2 Corinthians 10:3 NASB

Observation
There is a war going on, but most don’t realize it! I know that sounds like a line from a sci-fi movie, but it is true.

We live in two realms, the flesh, the things we see, touch, smell, etc…,and the spiritual, the things we don’t see.

The evil forces of the devil will do anything to keep you away from spiritual things and the things of God. You’ll find yourself wrapped up in debate, arguments, hate, worry, instead of walking in the Spirit and the things of God.

Application
Can you identify with the above paragraph? Do you find yourself focusing on the things of this world, when they will pass away, vs the things of God, which are eternal?

If so, you need to wage war! This is a purposeful, focused, disciplined way to live. Press into the things of God. Don’t let anything pull you away. Know that when things come against you, they very may be the work of Satan trying to derail your relationship with God!

Fight back! God is more powerful! You are His child! What Father wouldn’t come to the rescue and help of their own child?

Remember, this war is for eternal lives!

Prayer
Lord, help us to realize that we are in a spiritual war. You have given us everything we need to fight and stand firm. Give us strength and insight so that we don’t allow the ploys of the evil one to distract us from living for You.

Hearing the Truth is Tough

Scripture

5 Then Joab came into the house to the king and said, “Today you have covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who today have saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters, the lives of your wives, and the lives of your concubines, 6 by loving those who hate you, and by hating those who love you. For you have shown today that princes and servants are nothing to you; for I know this day that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased.
2 Samuel 19:5-6 NASB

Observation
David had to flee Jerusalem because His Son wanted to kill him and take the throne for himself. After David’s men defeated and killed Absalom, the only thing that David could do was weep. A day of great victory turned into a day of great mourning.

It would have been bad for David if Joab wouldn’t have given him some much needed advice.

David was heartbroken, understandably. But he should have also been grateful for everyone who put their life on the line to protect him and the rest of his family.

Application
Sometimes we don’t realize that we are off course. It is good to have people in your life that will tell you what you need to hear, even if you don’t like it at the time.

Be grateful for those people. Choose to listen with an open mind and be led by the Holy Spirit to see if what they are saying is from God. If it is, make the change, change your course.

The other side of this is that there might be someone in your life that needs to hear something that might upset them. Pray and ask God if it is something you should say. Then pray that the Lord gives you the right words to say.

Prayer
Lord, thank you for bringing people in our lives that are willing to tell us the truth. Help us to prayerfully consider what they say and help us to not be so into ourselves that we can’t identify You speaking. Also, help us to be that person for others. Give us insight and the words to say, that we would be a blessing and help someone get back on track with You.


Todd attended Houston Baptist University with a dual-major in religion/Christianity and Communications/Mass Media with an emphasis in TV production and journalism. He and his wife Belinda ran a group home for kids in Children’s Protective Custody for 11 1/2 years. They were the youngest group home parents the agency ever had, and he had to get an insurance waiver to drive the van. At the same time they planted a church which ran for 14 years.

 

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