Christianity 201

January 20, 2022

Water Into Wine?

Thinking Through John 2:1-11 (and also thinking about “Conversion Therapy”)

by Clarke Dixon

  • The sermon on which this is based can be seen here

If you were allowed just one of Jesus’ miracles today, would you ask for water to be turned into wine?

You have likely heard of WWJD, meaning “what would Jesus do?” As we read through the Scripture Focus for today let us ask WWBD, “what would Baptists Do?” (You can substitute your expression of Christianity if you are not a Baptist.)

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.

9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

John 2:1-11 (NRSV)

Had we been there when Jesus turned water into wine, we might have questioned what Jesus did. We may have asked:

  1. Why encourage the drinking of alcohol? It seems irresponsible.
  2. Why waste a miracle on a party? It seems inefficient. Wouldn’t healing someone from a terrible disease be more productive than providing wine for partygoers?
  3. Why use stone jars that were set aside for religious purposes? It seems sacrilegious. It would be like using a baptistry as a hot tub in our day.

Let us consider each of these questions.

Why encourage the drinking of alcohol?

Some Bible scholars point to the place of wine in the future Kingdom of God such as in this prophecy:

The time is surely coming, says the LORD,
when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps,
and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seed;
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
and all the hills shall flow with it.
I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.

Amos 9:13-14 (NRSV)

Amos prophesied that God’s people would experience judgement, primarily through an invasion of enemy forces. Though such an invasion would lead to the devastation of the land and therefore the ability to produce wine, the prophecy also looks beyond that devastation to a time of plenty, a time of blessing. When Jesus turned water into wine he gave a sign that such a future time of great blessing was near, and was coming through him.

Further, on the the day before his crucifixion, Jesus did this:

Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

Mark 14:23-25 (NRSV)

Again wine is linked with future blessing in God’s Kingdom. It is also linked here with the shedding of Jesus’ blood, through which that blessing would be made available.

According to John, the turning of water into wine was not just the first miracle of Jesus, but more importantly, the first sign. It was a sign of the arrival of the Kingdom of God. It was a sign that the Kingdom of God would come through Jesus.

Why waste a miracle on a party?

Our scripture focus begins with, “On the third day.” Perhaps John is hinting at something else that happened “on the third day.“ The resurrection of Jesus is worthy of joy and celebration! The “third day” was a great day for a party. This brings us to the next point, namely that Jesus did not waste a miracle at a party, but again, gave a sign that God’s presence, specifically God’s presence in and through Jesus, should be joyfully celebrated:

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they?

Matthew 9:14-15 (NRSV)

There is much to celebrate with Jesus and the coming Kingdom of God including resurrection, re-creation, and renewal. This first sign of turning water into wine, pointed to a greater sign, the resurrection of Jesus.

Why use jars specifically set apart for religious purposes?

That Jesus would use jars set aside for religious purposes suggests that the religious life of the people had become rather staid and stuck in formal ritual. The worship of the Giver of life, had become lifeless. People were trying to do the right things, but often failed to do the right thing.

We see this, for example, in the parable about the Good Samaritan. The priests and the Levites were known for doing all the right things, keeping all the rules about ritual purity. Yet in the parable of the Good Samaritan they didn’t do the right thing. In fact some Bible scholars point out that it was their attempt to do the right thing in keeping ceremonially clean, that caused them to fail to do the right thing, which would have been to help the man left for dead. It was the Good Samaritan, and Samaritans were known for believing and doing the wrong things, who did the right thing. Likewise, while the religious leaders often condemned Jesus for not doing the right thing when he broke Sabbath laws, Jesus pointed out how he was doing the right thing in healing people.

Jesus came to bring something that lifeless religion could not, namely life. So here he is at a party, doing something unexpected, something unpredictable, something life-giving, something that inspired faith in the disciples. Using stone jars set apart for religious purposes was not sacrilegious. Empty formal religion is sacrilegious.

So what would we Baptists have done had we been in Jesus position?

I’m guessing that at least some of us, instead of turning water into wine, would have gathered up all the wine at the party and turned it into water. We would have missed out on the sign, the signpost to the Kingdom of God, of the life-giving, lively, exciting, joyful nature of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus knew what he was doing. Perhaps we might have done something different, thinking we knew better, but not really knowing what we were doing. Perhaps we still do this. Perhaps there are some things we do as Christians, as Baptists, where we turn wine into water so to speak, where we could instead provide signs of God’s Kingdom.

One example where I think we have been turning wine into water.

During this past week, it became law that conversion therapy is now illegal here in Canada. That is, to put it as simply as possible, it is now illegal to try and help a gay person become straight. Therefore there has been a call for pastors across Canada, and the United States, to preach on sexual morality today.

What I find strange is this: a conversation about sexual morality, that is, how one honors God, others, and one’s self with one’s body, is a completely separate and different conversation than one about so-called “conversion therapy.” Since the law is about “conversion therapy” I’d rather focus on that today.

Perhaps an illustration might help us start this conversation.

I have been described as being excruciating shy as a boy. Report card after report card said “Clarke is too quiet.” In Grade 6 the teacher called me out to the hallway for a private chat. “What do you want to do for a living?” he asked. I told him I wanted to be an airline pilot to which he responded; “Airline pilot? How are you going to be able to do that, for airline pilots have to pick up the microphone and speak to people on the plane.” Thankfully, I didn’t become an airline pilot, so I didn’t have to worry about that. God obviously has a sense of humor. My quietness continued on into adulthood and on a personality test I scored 9 out 10 for introversion vs extroversion.

So, what would happen if we created a world where there is no room for introverts, where one’s introversion is seen as something that needs fixed? Perhaps someone might come up with a therapy that promised to help introverts become extroverts. Those who score 6 of 10 on the introversion scale may find themselves seemingly more extroverted and the therapy may be hailed as a success. But people like me, scoring 8, 9, or 10 out of 10 wouldn’t experience change. Now not only is there something fundamentally wrong with us that needs fixed, but now there is something doubly wrong with us, for we are not fixable. We would become very frustrated in not experiencing change, frustrated to the point of despair. Some of us would take our own lives.

This kind of thing has been happening with “conversion therapy” for gay people all along. Actually it has been worse than my illustration of introversion, for not only have gay people had the label “broken,” but also “evil.” Making matters still worse, where we might have no difficulty having conversions about introversion, conversations about being gay can very quickly cease to be conversations. Bottom line: conversion therapy has caused more harm than good. People have been hurt, badly.

Back to the story of the Good Samaritan. What if, the beat up person left for dead in the ditch is the gay person who has been beat up by efforts to change him or her? What if we Baptists have been the priest and Levite passing on the other side, or worse, the perpetrator of the crime? What if the Canadian government is trying to be a Good Samaritan here?

There may well be nuances on the wording of the law that needs attention, but much of what I’ve seen in the call to preach on sexual morality in response to the new law has not been honest discussion on how awful conversion therapy is, but rhetoric about how awful the “gay agenda” is, and how persecuted we Christians are. We are not the ones left for dead in the ditch.

Perhaps we need to do some thinking about where we identify in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Perhaps it is time to think about what it looks like to turn water into wine, what it looks like for there to be signs of God’s Kingdom within the LGBTQ+ community.

As a ban on conversion therapy comes into effect, instead of rushing to pulpits to speak about sexual immorality, perhaps we should begin by walking with someone who is gay, taking time to listen. That means making time to listen. That also means making room in our minds and hearts to hear what is said. Maybe listening could be one sign of the Kingdom coming?

I will never tell my gay son that he should not identify as gay. He will never tell me that I should not identify as introverted. I have never stopped being an introvert, but I have learned, with stumbling steps sometimes, how to survive and thrive as a quiet person in a noisy world. Maybe that speaks to what should be our focus, not how we get gay people to become straight as conversion therapy aims to do, but how do we help all people, gay or straight, walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love. What does water into wine look like in each person’s life?

Conclusion

Had we been at the wedding at Cana, we might have done things differently, but Jesus, being predictably unpredictable, did what he did, and and it stirred faith in the disciples.

We ask “what would Jesus do?” He just might do something surprising, something unpredictable, something life-giving, something that leads to joy and celebration, something that points to the beautiful Kingdom of God.

While we began with What would a Baptist do, the question here is, what will we do, to show signs of God’s Kingdom?

January 7, 2022

Romans 12 as a List

Years ago I sat in a youth rally where a popular national speaker had been flown in to share his personal story and a challenge to the high school and college age students.

At one point he said, “Some say that Christianity is a list of don’ts. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. But Christianity is a list of ‘dos’ and if you do the ‘dos’ you don’t have time to do the don’ts.”

Okay. I think there might have been applause at that point. Here was Christian living in a nutshell: Stay busy and you won’t sin.

But yesterday in my reading I came across such a list of ‘dos.’ Romans 12 starts out with the familiar words,

NIV.Rom.12.1-2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Then in verses 3-8, there is a short teaching on spiritual gifts, the ones mentioned being prophecy, service, teaching, encouragement,  giving, leadership, and showing mercy.

He then shares an ethic of Christian living. It’s interesting that this falls right after listing spiritual gifts, just as in I Corinthians, chapter 12 (and chapter 14) deal with spiritual gifts, but the “love chapter” presents the model ethics and character of the Christ-follower.

To be fair, the special speaker of my youth might have mentioned that there are indeed some ‘don’ts’ in the Bible, and frankly, it would have also been great if he had mentioned some of the ‘dos’ instead of moving on to the next punchline.

Even in Romans 12 we have:

  • [Do not] be lacking in zeal
  • Do not curse
  • Do not be proud
  • Do not be conceited
  • Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
  • Do not take revenge
  • Do not be overcome by evil

but in the interest of “doing the ‘do‘s'” here is the text of the prescriptive phrases in this part of Romans 12. I’ve capitalized each one, and I’ve left the verse numbers in, but left the ellipses out to make it more readable

9b Cling to what is good.
10 Be devoted to one another in love.
Honor one another above yourselves.
11b  Keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
12 Be joyful in hope,
[Be] patient in affliction,
[Be] faithful in prayer.
13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.
Practice hospitality.
14a Bless those who persecute you
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice
Mourn with those who mourn.
16 Live in harmony with one another.
Be willing to associate with people of low position.
17Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
19b Leave room for God’s wrath
21 Overcome evil with good.

There are 18 “dos” in the section and only 7 “don’ts.” When you read the list, you can see how doing these things involves a life of sacrifice, and probably a good place to repeat the opening instruction from verse 1:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

That spirit of sacrificial living is going to be necessary to what he next says. In the first 7 verses of chapter 13, he talks about being submissive to governmental authorities. Not easy in his day. Not always easy in ours.

I’d encourage you read chapters 13-15, and to make it easy, here’s a single link to all 3 chapters. The minutes you spend reading them is more time you won’t have to “do the ‘don’ts.'”

December 31, 2021

God’s Blessings Package Kicks in Immediately

Mid-October, we looked at the actual promises embedded in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5. At the time we began with the notion that so much attention is paid to who the “winners” are in the scheme of God’s upside-down Kingdom, but when we look at God’s version of “cash and fabulous prizes,” we discover they are so much more valuable than anything the world has to offer.

I can’t imagine any true Christ-follower who wouldn’t want to have their hunger filled; to be called God’s children; to receive God’s mercy; to know God’s comfort; to inherit the earth; to partake of the Kingdom of heaven; to see God face-to-face.

If you missed that devotional, you can read it at this link.

So when do we collect?

The passage isn’t saying that we will be blessed, it’s saying that we are.

Without looking at the text, what would you say is the primary outcome of living out The Beatitudes as presented in the opening of The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5?

A simple answer would be, “If you do these things you will be blessed.”

Now when He saw the crowds, He went up on a mountain (as Moses had done before Him) and He sat down (as Jewish teachers of His day usually did). His disciples gathered around Him.

There on the mountain Jesus teaches them all. And as He is teaching, crowds gather around and overhear His teachings, listen in, and are captivated. This, the Sermon on the Mount, is the first of the five Mosaic-like sermons in Matthew.*

And He began to teach them.

Jesus: Blessed are the spiritually poor—the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
    Blessed are those who mourn—they will be comforted.
    Blessed are the meek and gentle—they will inherit the earth.
    Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness—they will be filled.
    Blessed are the merciful—they will be shown mercy.
    Blessed are those who are pure in heart—they will see God.
    Blessed are the peacemakers—they will be called children of God.
10     Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness—the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

11 And blessed are you, blessed are all of you, when people persecute you or denigrate you or despise you or tell lies about you on My account. 12 But when this happens, rejoice. Be glad. Remember that God’s prophets have been persecuted in the past. And know that in heaven, you have a great reward.  (The Voice translation*)

Now first of all, I want to address that doing things because you will be (at some point in the near or distant future) is misreading the text, because Jesus is saying that the people who do or are these things (show mercy, work for peace) are already blessed. (In a parallel passage in Luke, there are also a number of woes offered, in that case, they could be seen as portends of the future, not a present state.)

But the matter of blessing is not the whole of today’s focus.

A few verses down we read,

14 And you, beloved, are the light of the world. A city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden. 15 Similarly it would be silly to light a lamp and then hide it under a bowl. When someone lights a lamp, she puts it on a table or a desk or a chair, and the light illumines the entire house. 16 You are like that illuminating light. Let your light shine everywhere you go, that you may illumine creation, so men and women everywhere may see your good actions, may see creation at its fullest, may see your devotion to Me, and may turn and praise your Father in heaven because of it.   (The Voice translation*)

If God’s people live out The Beatitudes, we shine like lights, like a city on a hill. Yes, God is light but we are also lights. We’re lights in the sense that that our only major satellite — the moon — is our planet’s nightlight. God is the source, but we reflect that light to a world that needs illumination. (In the early days of the Jesus People movement, a band recorded a song called, “I’m Happy to be the Moon.” Sadly, it doesn’t show up on YouTube!)

Matthew Henry writes:

As the lights of the world, they are illustrious and conspicuous, and have many eyes upon them. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. The disciples of Christ, especially those who are forward and zealous in his service, become remarkable, and are taken notice of as beacons. They are for signs (Isa. 7:18), men wondered at (Zech. 3:8); all their neighbours have any eye upon them. Some admire them, commend them, rejoice in them, and study to imitate them; others envy them, hate them, censure them, and study to blast them…

…As the lights of the world, they are intended to illuminate and give light to others…

It’s interesting that elsewhere Jesus instructs us not to do our good works in order to be seen by other people, yet in this teaching it is central:

Henry continues,

See here, First, How our light must shine—by doing such good works as men may see, and may approve of; such works as are of good report among them that are without, and as will therefore give them cause to think well of Christianity. We must do good works that may be seen to the edification of others, but not that they may be seen to our own ostentation; we are bid to pray in secret, and what lies between God and our souls, must be kept to ourselves; but that which is of itself open and obvious to the sight of men, we must study to make congruous to our profession, and praiseworthy, Phil. 4:8. Those about us must not only hear our good words, but see our good works; that they may be convinced that religion is more than a bare name, and that we do not only make a profession of it, but abide under the power of it.

Secondly, For what end our light must shine—“That those who see your good works may be brought, not to glorify you (which was the things the Pharisees aimed at, and it spoiled all their performances), but to glorify your Father which is in heaven.” …

Of course, we can blend the two foci of this passage and say that the light that shines is really the light of Christ, that “Blessed are…” is to be recipients of that heavenly light shining in and through us and reflected for the world to see. We get that from Isaiah 60:

See truly; look carefully—darkness blankets the earth;
    people all over are cloaked in darkness.
But God will rise and shine on you;
    the Eternal’s bright glory will shine on you, a light for all to see.
Nations north and south, peoples east and west, will be drawn to your light,
    will find purpose and direction by your light.
In the radiance of your rising, you will enlighten the leaders of nations. (The Voice translation*)

So here’s a song which links the Beatitudes of Matthew 5 to the idea of being lights; of being a City on Hill. The group is The City Harmonic.


*In The Voice translation, narrative sections are embedded in the text, and words or phrases are often amplified with additional text shown in italics.


For our daily readers, we wish God’s best to you in the new year.


Articles showcased here belong to their respective authors/blogs/websites, not Christianity 201. However, where you see an article that doesn’t begin with a link or the name of a writer or his or her source blog; or that is more of research article citing multiple sources, those are written by Paul Wilkinson and for those, you are free to use them on your own blog in their entirety provided no changes are made and there is a link back to C201. I believe that as freely as we have received, so we should freely give. Everything we have is on loan from God, and that includes what some hold so tightly to as intellectual property. Yes, I do work sometimes as a paid writer, but that’s not the motivation or purpose of C201. Bear in mind however that despite our best efforts, the photographs or graphic images that accompany articles here may have ownership we’re unaware of. If you see an image here that’s yours, let us know and we’ll remove it.

December 30, 2021

All That God Has in Store for You

The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me. LORD, your faithful love endures forever; do not abandon the work of your hands. – Psalm 138:8 CSB

Once again today we have a new writer to introduce to you. Joey Rudder is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and has several novels and novellas awaiting publication. She started an eponymous site, JoeyRudder.com this year, from which today’s devotional was selected, and also writes at Training for Eternity.

If 2021, didn’t bring you everything you had hoped for, and there are still dreams in your heart that lay unfulfilled, this encouragement is for you. Click the header which follows and read it at her site.

When It All Comes Together

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”

Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT.

What if all you’ve been working on, all the tiny threads of your life, and the dream God tucked into your heart so long ago are about to intersect and explode into a miraculous move of God?

Perhaps the time is approaching when all the sweat, all the tears, and all of your faithfulness as you kept your eyes fixed on your Heavenly Father as you persevered in your calling is about to come together before your very eyes.

You may not realize all that God has been working on behind the scenes in your life. Maybe you got the tiniest glimpse of it, like spotting a tiny droplet of water dazzling in the sunlight.

But a time is coming when God will lift your eyes from that droplet, revealing this ocean of a plan He’s been working on all along. It’s going to take your breath away and leave you standing in awe.

God’s love for you is like that too. More than you can possibly take in.

Oh, dear soul. This dream God planted in your heart so long ago is far more elaborate, intricate, and magnificent than you can possibly understand.

It’s been a struggle, a battle to get to this point, hasn’t it? The enemy has been pressing in against you, doing all he can to distract and discourage you. Satan has even twisted things, distorting your path, so you thought you were going the wrong way.

But you kept your eyes on Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of your faith. You spent time with the Father, seeking His face and His will. And you stilled yourself, pushing the world and all its demands away so you could hear the Holy Spirit speaking to your heart, encouraging you to keep going.

And you kept going.

Others may have ridiculed you, telling you it’s a silly dream or completely unrealistic. Maybe they even got angry with you because you disappointed them by not living up to their expectations.

But you weren’t worried about disappointing them. You’d rather disappoint the entire world than disappoint God. So you pressed on even when doubt crept in too close and you felt unworthy, drab, and withered like a dandelion in a field of colorful wildflowers. You felt out of place, out of sorts, and lost.

But you’ve never really been lost. God has been with you for the entire duration of your journey, hemming you in and drawing you closer. You clung to His hand and kept walking as He led.

And now it’s as if you’re on the threshold of something spectacular. The thrill of something new like a fresh wind is all around you. Something new and yet something so wonderfully familiar.

It’s as if you were born for this very moment in time.

All the hard work, all the tears and sleepless nights. All the dreaming and hoping and praying. None of it has been wasted because you surrendered it all to God.

Your time is coming, precious soul. The beauty of God working in your life and the amazing plan He has for you is so much more than a shimmer of light on a tiny droplet of water – it’s waves and waves illuminated by His love for you, saturating you and reaching those around you.

And what a glorious sight, a beautiful, soul-saturating moment with your God as you dance in the water and then drop to your knees in complete adoration for your Heavenly Father who loves you so much to create such a plan for your life.

The plan you were born to live that brings you and others closer to Almighty God, bringing Him honor and glory.

Take it all in. Breathe. And don’t forget that even this is only a glimpse of all He has for you – He has eternity in His presence waiting for you.

God loves you that much.♥️

December 15, 2021

Sin: The Great Separator

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But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. – Isaiah 59:2 NIV

Every so often I discover a writer online and wonder why we didn’t encounter them earlier. Doug Eaton lives in greater Los Angeles, and writes at Flight of Faith, and is also Director of Admissions at Trinity Law School, which upholds Judeo-Christian principles in legal training. (He’s also periodically writes about early CCM, Contemporary Christian Music.) The article below was a perfect fit for what we do here at C201, so we’re thankful to be able to highlight his writing. Click the header which follows to read this where we sourced it, and then take a few minutes to look around his site using the menu.

The Four Separations of Sin

Right now, you and I are experiencing the effects of sin, even if we are not conscious of it. When Adam fell and sin entered this world, it wreaked all kinds of havoc. One of sin’s most detrimental effects is that it causes separation, specifically, four types of separation. Francis Schaeffer once laid these out in his book, Genesis in Space and Time. Though all four separations are devastating, I will work from the least to most significant.

1. Separation from Nature

At this moment, nature is not at rest. As beautiful as it is and declaring the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), scripture says it is currently in the pangs of childbirth, waiting for all things to be set right (Romans 8:22). Sometimes referred to as natural evil, this world is filled with hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and many other natural disasters. Even animal life is red in tooth and claw. Humanity was created to live in harmony and dominion over nature. The creation mandate was to be fruitful and multiply and work the land as good stewards, Adam’s sin, along with our own, has perverted this work, and even nature is crying out for redemption. We must now work the land with the sweat of our brow, fighting against thorns and thistles which remind us that things are not the way they should be (Genesis 3:18). God is using nature to reveal his judgment against sin.

2. Separation of Mankind from Himself

We are also experiencing separation within ourselves. This is sometimes called psychological separation, but there is more to it than psychology. We are no longer at peace with ourselves. We have psychological issues. We deal with fear, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and many other issues. In our attempts to cover our internal conflict, we deceive ourselves and others. The truth we know about God we attempt to suppress to clear our consciences (Romans 1:18), but it will never work. In relation to the separation of sin in nature, even our bodies rebel against us; we must fight aging and decay. If that is not enough, we must also contend with disease and disorder. In the end, something will cause our bodies to die, which separates our souls from our bodies. The only reason this separation occurs is because of sin.

3. Separation from Each Other

Not only has sin caused separation within ourselves, but it also leads to separation from each other. We were created to live in unity, but sin made us skeptical of ourselves and therefore skeptical of each other. It did not take long after Adam and Eve fell for them to begin blaming each other (Genesis 3:12). And it was not much later the first murder took place, and that was between brothers (Genesis 4:8). All wars, racism, political hatred, to name a few social pathologies, grow from this root.

4. Separation from God

The fourth separation is the one most frequently cited. Sin has separated us from God; this is sometimes called theological separation. It is the most significant because the other three flow from this one. Instead of being in a right relationship with him, we come into this world at enmity with our creator (James 4:4). Not only do our sinful desires drive us to rebel against him, seek autonomy, and suppress the knowledge we do have of him, since God is just, it causes us to be under his wrath. A just God cannot simply ignore sin. A god who does not take sin seriously is not just; he is evil. For God to end our separation from him, he must be both just and the justifier of sinners (Romans 3:26). Though this may seem like an unsolvable logical problem, God speaks to us through scripture and says, “Come let us reason together, though your sins are as scarlet they will be white as snow (Isaiah 1:18).”

The Answer

One day, in the city of Bethlehem, a child was born: Christ the Lord. God himself, the second person of the Trinity, took on flesh and walked amongst us. His name was Jesus, and he came to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). He lived the perfect life we could not, then died on the cross, taking the wrath our sins deserved, making a way for us to be in a right relationship with him again. Those who place their faith in him will find forgiveness and become sons and daughters of God, no longer at enmity with him.

All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 1:13). We can live with him the rest of our days, finding peace with God, until he returns to set all things right. Eventually, all four separations caused by sin will be reconciled. Even death itself will be no more, for he defeated it on the cross and resurrected, never to die again. He is the firstborn of the dead, and all who believe in him will rise as well and live eternally with him (Colossian 1:18). Eventually, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, where the lion will lay down with the lamb, wars will cease (Revelation 21). Every effect of sin will be no more because Jesus conquered it on the cross.


Second Helping: We often leave you with another suggested article by the same writer, but this time we want to alert you to a sub-section of Doug’s website containing articles on the theme of apologetics. Or just go directly to this one.

November 26, 2021

David Jeremiah Quotations (2)

Nine years ago, we did a shorter version of quotations from David which was probably one of the first articles we did in the quotations series. (There were really only about six quotes.) So I decided to revisit this today.

David Jeremiah is a prolific Christian author, founder of Turning Point Radio and Television Ministries and senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church, on the southern edge of California bordering Mexico.

Note: As with all the quotations series, you’re encouraged to slow and read each one, and pause and think about it before rushing through to the next quote.


Head knowledge without heart knowledge is worse than useless; but when head and heart join forces, it changes our lives forever.

Integrity is keeping a commitment even after circumstances have changed.

Refresh your commitment today to test everything by the Word of God. The surest defense against spiritual deception is knowledge of spiritual truth.

Prayer is the way you defeat the devil, reach the lost, restore a backslider, strengthen the saints, send missionaries out, cure the sick, accomplish the impossible, and know the will of God.

God appeared to His people in the Old Testament and dwelt with His people in the New – and now abides in us by His Spirit.

You have inside you the capacity to invest your mental, emotional, and spiritual gifts in a way that glorifies God, impacts the world, and satisfies your own soul. I believe that-and I want you to believe it, too.

God created the heavens and the earth to reveal His glory. Don’t allow creation to eclipse and steal the worship God desires and deserves.

It’s not that your most important work is meaningless; it’s that your most trivial movements are also significant.

Don’t let obstacles along the road to eternity shake your confidence in God’s promise. The Holy Spirit is God’s seal that you will arrive.

Believers talk about trusting in the Lord with their whole heart and refusing to lean on their own understanding, but no one really knows what that means until circumstances cast them headfirst into a dark and painful place. If we give ourselves fully to God in those moments, we will obtain keepsakes of Him to treasure now and forever.

When you’re facing all the issues of life and you don’t know what to do, accept the fact that you are human. We all are. We don’t have the capacity to understand Almighty God. But you know what? We know Jesus Christ. He’s the wisdom of God. And He put His Holy Spirit in us. So having access to the Holy Spirit and Jesus, we can face the challenges of today with the wisdom of God.

The only way the corporate Body of Christ will fulfill the mission Christ has given it is for individual Christians to have a vision for fulfilling that mission personally.

When we share Christ, the Truth behind our transformation, we are offering people an opportunity to be transformed.

Your heavenly home was bought for a price, and that payment results in a title deed that can never be lost through foreclosure.

Many Christians have the mistaken notion that eternal life begins when they die. But that is not biblically accurate. Eternal life begins when we are born again into the Kingdom of God.


Sources: Quotes Christian, What Christians Want to Know, Inspiring Quotes, AZ Quotes, Good Reads, Quote Fancy.

There are more on our previous quotations page for David Jeremiah from May 2012.

See also David Jeremiah’s website for daily devotionals.  Here’s a sample from earlier this week:

They’re With Me

Today’s Scripture: Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. Romans 8:37

Recommended Reading:

For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith. And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.  1 John 5:4-5 (NLT)

Maybe it happens more in the movies than in our own lives, but it does happen. Someone important approaches the entrance to a restricted area where he is recognized and waved through. But the people with him are not recognized and are denied entrance. When the “celebrity” sees the problem, he turns and says, “It’s okay; they’re with me.” Suddenly the whole group is waved through. Knowing the right person has its advantages.

When Paul writes about hardships not being able to separate us from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:35-39), he says we can overcome them because “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us”—meaning Christ. He may have been thinking of Jesus’ words: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NIV). It’s as if you and I are with Jesus when we suddenly encounter some trouble. Trouble waves Jesus past, but then He says to trouble—gesturing at us—“It’s okay; they’re with Me.”

Jesus has overcome the troubles of this world. If you are in Him, you have overcome them as well.

The Christian faith is not a way to explain, endure or enjoy this world, so much as to overcome it.  – Vance Havner

 

 

November 25, 2021

Five Faith Journey Lessons

Today we have a special treat for regular readers of Christianity 201, as longtime Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon share his personal testimony. Hearing about God’s work in the lives of others can be both instructive and inspiring.

Three Important Years and Five Important Lessons in My Faith Journey

by Clarke Dixon

Rather than invite a guest speaker for our anniversary service, I invited two members to share about an important season of their journey of faith. The following is what I shared about an important season in mine.

Looking back there were five lessons in three years which set the course for my faith, but also my work as a pastor for the last twenty-four years.

You may assume I am referring to my three years at seminary. While my three years at McMaster Divinity College were indeed very important, I am actually referring to the three years prior in which I attended Trent University in pursuit of a Bachelor of Arts. Here are the five important lessons of faith impressed on me in those three years:

My Christian faith is about God’s grace, and not my attempts to impress God.

Two gentlemen from another faith tradition, which I’ll not name, knocked on our door. What followed was an interesting conversation, or rather a challenging conversation where one of the men in particular dismissed the Christian notion of grace. According to him, we had to earn a good standing before God. Immediately following that conversation I opened the Scriptures to Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians and began reading.

While the whole of Paul’s teaching in Romans was helpful, here is one quote to catch the gist of it:

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood.

Romans 3:23-25 (NLT)

While I already believed that our good standing before God was by God’s grace and not our effort, a deeper dive into Romans solidified this for me. Good teaching can help us learn things, but sometimes a challenge to what we are taught, or a seed of doubt, can really help us go deeper in our search for truth.

To some the teaching of God’s grace may seem like something that should be settled in Sunday school. However, I meet people, both within and beyond the Church, who think that Christianity is all about trying to impress God. When some people say “God is good,” they think mainly of God’s holiness. Grace is a very important part of God’s goodness, and holiness.

My Christian faith is about love, and I don’t mean love for rules.

One day while driving to Trent I was forced to take a detour because of a car accident. In turning back onto the street I saw the wrecked car and thought how tragic, that the driver was probably killed given the state of the car. I thought nothing more about it until I got home and discovered that the driver was my best friend from my last years at high school.

It is a normal response to the death of a loved one, especially an unexpected death, to consider your last words together, your last weeks, months, even years, and to reflect on your relationship. That evening, I’m not sure why, but I read 1st Corinthians, chapter 13. Let me quote a few verses:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NLT)

Prior to this moment I always thought of this famous chapter on love to be precisely that, a hymn about love. But this time in reading it, it became a chapter about me, about what I was, and what I wasn’t. By the normal Christian yardstick I was quite a righteous young man, not into drinking, pornography, drugs, and the like. But by the yardstick of love, I had a long way to go. Looking back, I hadn’t been the best of friends to someone who was the best of friends. This was the moment that my faith dropped from my head to my heart. Yes, I had known for a long time, or rather assented to the theological proposition that I had fallen short of the glory of God. But now I knew in a much deeper way that this was no mere thought, but a sad reality. While I was good at keeping rules, I was not doing so well with the greatest commandments which focus on love. Thankfully, there is grace and forgiveness and an experience of God’s love.

There was also a new way forward, of a life and faith focused on love. No longer would I would focus on keeping rules in order to be a good Christian. The focus was now on loving in order to be like Christ. The rules we tend to love so much in Baptist circles are not there to help us get to heaven, as some people suppose. The rules are there to help us express love.

My Christian faith makes sense, even when I can’t makes sense of everything.

While majoring in English Literature and Classical Studies, I took different kinds of courses and was exposed to challenges to religion in general, and my Christian faith specifically. What dawned on me, however, was how Christianity could stand up to scrutiny and critical inquiry. Christianity was reasonable and made sense.

This of course didn’t mean that I could make sense of everything. Who can really understand God? Who can really understand one’s loved ones? God is not an equation to be figured out, but a Person to be in relationship with. Sometimes it feels like God used artists, those familiar with mystery, to write the Scriptures, while we ask lawyers and engineers, those familiar with precision, to interpret them.

Yes, there are things best described as mystery, things hidden from our eyes and understanding. During those three years I learned that while there is mystery, there is nothing nonsensical or unreasonable about faith in Jesus.

In those three years I learned that I did not need to leave my faith in the parking lot of the university. Nor do I need to leave my brain at the door of the church.

My Christian faith leads to a mix of conviction about some things and humility about other things, but not certitude about everything.

The motto of Trent University is “nunc cognosco ex parte” which is a Latin translation from 1st Corinthians 13:9 meaning “now I know in part.” Here the apostle Paul demonstrates both conviction and humility. Paul came to know some very important things, but not everything. He knew that.

Some may assume that one attends a university to learn everything. Actually one attends university to learn how to learn, and the more you know the more you learn just how little you know! The same can be said of seminary. Some may assume that you go to seminary to learn everything there is to know about God, the Bible, and the life of faith. Rather seminary prepares one for a lifetime of learning, thinking, and rethinking. All theology is an exercise in deconstruction and reconstruction.

Sometimes Christianity is presented in a way that makes it seem that a Christian, especially a pastor, can and should have certitude about everything. Yet, if the Apostle Paul could say “now I know in part,” so can I. There are things to have conviction about. There are things it is better to have humility about. It takes wisdom and learning to know which is appropriate when.

My Christian faith is really about Jesus, and not Paul.

When choosing courses in my first year of Trent, one particular course struck me as particularly relevant: New Testament Greek. Problem was that I needed Classical Greek fist, so I ended up taking two courses in Classical Greek and one in New Testament Greek. This began a lifelong pursuit of, and love for, learning the Biblical languages. This also planted an important seed that would blossom later.

If you were to ask me in the early years of my growing faith what my favourite books of the Bible were, I would have said the letters of Paul. They seemed the most “theological” which appealed to me greatly. However, I had a problem; Paul’s letters are harder to read in Greek than the Gospels. So I began reading the Gospels more, which meant I was reading about the life and teaching of Jesus more. I came to realize that I had made Christianity about Paul when really it is about Jesus. I used to read Paul to understand Paul. I now read Paul to understand Jesus. This is a subtle, but important change.

Paul and the other apostles, in their letters, were working out the implications of the life, teaching, example, death, and resurrection of Jesus for the Christian communities of their day. We read them now to help us work out the implications of the life, teaching, example, death, and resurrection of Jesus for us in ours. It is about Jesus.

That Christianity is about Christ might seem like an obvious thing. However, I wonder if many Christians live a kind of Christian life that is really more about a certain expression of Christianity than about Jesus. I fear that some people live a kind of Christianity that is centered and focused on Paul, Luther, Calvin, Joel Olsteen, or anyone other than Jesus. My love of Greek brought me back to Jesus.

Conclusion

While my three years at McMaster Divinity College were very important for my growth as a Christian, God used the three years prior to help ground me in these five insights that set the course for my future.

Have you had a similar season that has been significant in your growth as a person and Jesus follower? Perhaps this next season will be it!

November 24, 2021

How Did They Miss That Sermon Reference?

The Voice – II Cor. 3:18 Now all of us, with our faces unveiled, reflect the glory of the Lord as if we are mirrors; and so we are being transformed, metamorphosed, into His same image from one radiance of glory to another, just as the Spirit of the Lord accomplishes it.

The Amplified Bible – II Cor. 3:18 And all of us, as with unveiled face, [because we] continued to behold [in the Word of God] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord [Who is] the Spirit.

With the pandemic, it’s been awhile since some readers here have been physically present in a worship service, but for a moment, imagine you there and the pastor is preaching and after awhile it occurs to you that the whole sermon seems to be directed at one particular person’s situation. It’s almost embarrassing. It’s like everyone knows the minister is referring to Derek or Sylvia or Maggie or Justin, so why doesn’t he just go all the way and use their names?

But then, imagine that mysteriously, you’re drawn into a long conversation with Derek or Sylvia or Maggie or Justin a few weeks later, and you get the distinct impression that the sermon hasn’t changed a thing in their life; that whatever it was that made it so blatant to you and everyone else that it was about them, seems to have misfired or otherwise not taken root.

I suppose there could be a number of possibilities here, of which four are:

  • They were tuned out for most of the sermon; not paying attention
  • The pastor’s remarks registered, but they assumed it applied to someone else, never considering it might be them to whom the sermon was most directly speaking
  • The application and needed next steps registered, but were eventually dismissed or forgotten
  • The cost of change or the price of obedience was simply too high

The Bible tells us we’re not simply to be hearers of the word, but doers of the word; but sometimes we mess up the hearing part which cancels out the rest.

James 1:22-24 (The Message) Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think… Romans 12: 3a NASB

Imagine not knowing what you look like.

People do this everyday however. The middle aged man steps into his souped up sports car, turns the music on the sound system up high, and believes he is still 18. He starts flirting with his assistant at work and with the receptionist at the dentist’s office, and forgets he’s graying; that he has a wife and kids.

He needs a mirror.

The woman who goes out to lunch to with four friends and then spontaneously offers to pick the tab for everyone’s meal before they embark on an afternoon of shopping, slapping down the credit card at store after store, forgetting that the bank has already canceled her other credit card because of too many missed payments, and her income prospects for the foreseeable future are rather dim.

She needs a mirror.

We all need a mirror. An accurate one. One that doesn’t distort the truth. The clearest, most focused mirror is God’s word. It shows us what right living looks like. It tells us where we’ve messed up. What we can do to get back on track. What it will take for us to stay on track. You can read more about this four-fold purpose of scripture by clicking here.

…Sometimes however, the sermon is about you. It’s like there’s no one else there. Imagine the same scenario, but it’s more like a bad dream. The pastor preaches a similar sermon, but everyone turns around stares directly at you.

But weeks later your life is unchanged. That would be a bigger nightmare.

What would your excuse be?


Want to further wrestle with the issue of how we see ourselves vs. how we really are? Consider the book by Brant Hansen, The Truth About Us. Here’s a link to a review of the book.

November 20, 2021

The Criteria By Which We Measure Worship Services

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

A year ago we introduced a new writer to you. Sam describes himself as ”a minister, teacher, husband, dad, artist, basketball fan, Ph.D., computer geek, and SG-1 fan;” and blogs at Word-Centered Living. Clicking the header which follows takes you to read this direct from the source.

Worship God in Spirit and Truth

“O clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with the voice of joy.” (Psalm 47:1-9, NASB)

Worship is an important part of human life. It’s not just for the religious but for all human beings. It’s because God created all of us, and we are commanded to worship Him and nothing else. You may argue that God doesn’t exist. But beware. Because if God is real, then you will be accountable to Him in the end.

Worship is the natural response of created beings to their Creator, and it is a command that we worship Him. So, how do we know what is the right way to worship?

It seems there are many ways of worshiping God. Some worship God with a quiet and solemn spirit, while others do it in a celebrative mood. What is your worship like?

Read the psalmist’s words today try to picture the kind of worship they experienced. In verse 1, he writes, “O clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with the voice of joy.” Again in verses 6-7, he writes, “Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a skillful psalm.” So, what do you think? What kind of worship did they experience? Is there one right way or many ways to do it?

Based on my understanding of the Scriptures, I would have to say that there are many ways but only one God who is to be exalted. For instance, there are different ways of worship based on human culture. Latino believers do not worship the same way Asians do. African believers do not worship the same way as the Americans do.

Even among the churches in America, we see different styles of worship between different cultures. Also, different denominations worship God differently based on how they view the workings of the spiritual gifts such as tongues, prophesying, and healing. We also have differences in worship based on musical accompaniment. Some churches use traditional instruments such as pianos, organs, and orchestras. Many contemporary churches use praise band types of worship with acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, drums, and keyboards. Some are liturgical and others are charismatic. Some are preaching-oriented, and others are singing-oriented.

I believe that all these ways are legitimate as long as you are worshiping the one true God. The criteria that we must measure our worship services ought to be based on the question: Is the worship service more about us or God?

If it is for God, then we must understand the kind of worship He desires and offer it to Him. And here is what Jesus said about the kind of worship that God desires. He said, But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn.4:23-24).

Worshiping in spirit gives us a lot of room for freedom. God desires His worshipers to worship Him using different languages, cultures, emotions, gifts, and abilities. We must allow the Spirit of God to lead our spirits in expressing our love, joy, and reverence for God.

Remember, what happened to Michal when she mocked David for worshiping in spirit and dancing before God. The Bible says, “And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death” (2 Sam.6:23). You cannot quench the Spirit of God when He is leading people in spiritual worship.

On the other hand, worshiping in truth gives us boundaries of what we can do and cannot do in worship. Remember what happened to Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, when they tried to offer up a strange fire before God. The Bible says, “And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD” (Lev.10:2).

And during the early church stage, a couple by the name of Ananias and Sapphira lied about their offering and were put to death by God (Acts 5:9-10).

Furthermore, Apostle Paul warned the Corinthian church that if they participate in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner, they may become sick or even die. He said, “For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep” (1 Cor.11:30).

God desires worship from us, and He wants us to worship Him in the freedom of our spirits and according to His truth.


Second Helping: Here’s another article from Word-Centered Living. I had a hard time choosing between two recent items, and maybe this one is needed by you today. It’s titled Don’t Panic.


What’s your library like? Today, for readers of Thinking Out Loud, I offered some general category suggestions in Building a Personal Christian Library.


Technical problems mentioned yesterday with our blog appear to be unique to Firefox. If you’re having problems, try using Chrome or Opera browsers.

November 16, 2021

Being a Living Sacrifice: 5 Characteristics

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.
  – Romans 12:1

“The problem with a living sacrifice is that it tends to crawl off the altar.” – source unknown

Hopefully the opening verse of Romans 12 is a recurring theme in your reading and study. It reminds us that worship is something we do, but rather worship is something we are. Years ago, Christian musician Chris Christian wrote lyrics which offer a physical posture to indicate a surrendered heart and will:

We lift our voices
We lift our hands
We lift our lives up to You
We are an offering1

I really try to eschew pithy illustrations and stories here at C201, but I always find this one most appropriate:

A chicken and a pig were discussing how they could do something for the farmer. Finally the chicken said, “He loves a good breakfast; why don’t we give him bacon and eggs?”

To this the pig replied, “That’s easy for you to say. All it demands of you is an offering, but for me it demands total sacrifice.” 2

Here are some things I think will help us remember what it means to live our lives as a living sacrifice. Each starts with the letter ‘s’ followed by a different vowel.

Sacrifice

If we are to judge it, the measure of a sacrifice is not the size of what is given, but the size of what is left over.

A sacrifice will cost us and it will be consumed. There is no taking back the investment of our energies, gifts or material possessions given up in the service and pleasing of God. The last distinction is important. In service we see tangible results. But God is sometimes pleased by our giving up of things. Ask yourself: How much cash would you put on the offering plate if, as it was in Old Testament times, what was giving was then burned? That’s what our Old Testament predecessors did with the best of their grain and animals.

Set-Apartness

If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

You have been set apart as holy to the LORD your God, and he has chosen you from all the nations of the earth to be his own special treasure. – Deuteronomy 14:2 NLT

He gave himself to rescue us from everything evil and to make our hearts pure. He wanted us to be his own people and to be eager to do right. – Titus 2:14 CEV

In a world that values conformity, no one wants to be the odd duck. Yet the book of Leviticus is essentially God wanting to insure that his people could maintain a distinct identity. It was all about showing yourself to be different.3

Sinlessness

Jerry Bridges has written,

Jesus said, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). We must honestly face the question, “Am I willing to give up a certain practice or habit that is keeping me from holiness?” It is at this point of commitment that most of us fail. We prefer to dally with sin, to try to play with it a little without getting too deeply involved. 4

Sovereignty

“There is a God. You are not Him,”

Many plans are in a person’s heart, but the LORD’s decree will prevail. – Proverbs 19:21 CSB

Jesus himself deferred to his Father on many occasions; providing us a reminder of who is in charge.

Surrender

When Abraham is asked to sacrifice is only son, we have the advantage that Abraham and Sarah didn’t; we know how the story ends. They did not, and yet Abraham is willing to do whatever it takes to obey God.5

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” – Genesis 22:2

Although we speak very different languages, two symbols are universal throughout the worldwide church. One is the word “Hallelujah” which I’m told is rendered the same in most languages. The other is lifted hands as a sign of surrender.

A writer at Charisma points out that our fingers, hands and arms are also most associated with human strength, power, creativity; both in a human sense and if we examine the Biblical record of God’s actions presented in a way we can best understand them. 6

 


1 Full video at YouTube.

2 This story is often used by leadership coaches as well. Here’s a longer version with the punchline contrasting contribution and commitment.

3 We looked at maintaining a distinct identity in this March, 2017 article.

4 We included more quotes from Jerry Bridges on this topic in this article.

5 This is excerpted from a fuller look at Abraham’s trip up the mountain with Isaac at this link.

6 See the full article about lifting hands at this link.

November 14, 2021

How Much Fruit are You Producing?

Today’s search to highlight new (to us) devotional authors took us to Following Jesus Today, and the writing of David W. Palmer, who with his wife Rosanna are involved in itinerant ministry in Melbourne, Australia. As winter makes it way into the northern hemisphere, Australia sounds like the ideal place, but even more so when you consider that they were previously involved with something called Surfcity Christian Church, as in “Surf City, here we come.” (Coveting is still a sin, right?)

Clicking the header which follows will take you direct to their page, rather than reading here. If you live an area like we do where there’s a chance of snow in tonight’s forecast, perhaps some of the warmth will flow through your internet cable.

The Living Word Produces the Fruit Father Seeks

(John 15:4 NKJV) “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”

In John 15, Jesus is addressing his apprentices on the night he was denied, betrayed, and arrested. While he had this final opportunity, he was imparting to them truths and values of ultimate importance.

In this chapter, the Master begins with a parable about a grapevine, a vinedresser, and branches. Our wonderful Lord is emphasizing the need to remain in him and to be fruitful. So far, he has mentioned removal of fruitless branches and pruning of the fruitful ones. Today, we are looking at him urging all of his devoted followers to remain in him:

(John 15:3–4 NLT) “You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. (4) Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.”

Yesterday, we saw that Jesus alerted all of us who are “in” him to focus on bearing copious fruit. The consequences of being in him—drawing on his life and nutrition—but not producing any fruit, is catastrophic:

(John 15:2 NLT) He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.

Even the branches of Jesus that do produce fruit, he prunes and cleans so they can increase their yield. Clearly, Father wants us to produce copious supernatural fruit for his kingdom. To emphasize this, Jesus earlier gave some focused parables:

(Luke 13:6–9 NLT) Then Jesus told this story: “A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’  “The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer.  If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’” (See also: Mat. 25:14–30)

In John 15, Jesus is addressing those who are “in me.” And because he is fully aware of Father’s desire for fruitfulness from the branches of his ministry, he urges us to “remain” in him:

(John 15:4 NLT) “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.”

Only as we continue in close connectedness with Jesus, the living word, will we be able to be productive at the level Father wants. Being connected without fruit is serious enough, but if we pull away from him—severing ourselves from his life-giving living words altogether—we are bringing disaster on ourselves:

(John 15:5–6 NLT) “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.”

Without the water of life flowing into us from Jesus continually, we will soon wither. Jesus explained that sadly, the only possible outcome for isolated, withered branches is to be “gathered” and “burned.” That does not sound like a joy-filled eternity. So, let’s remain well and truly connected to Jesus, his words, and his life.

Jesus continued this impartation session to his apprentices by assuring them of a particular stream of approved fruitfulness if they continue to “abide” in him:

(John 15:7 NKJV) “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.”

Here, Jesus specified the fruit that comes from successful prayer and faith. To double the emphasis of what we need to do to produce the type and quantity of fruit Father seeks, our Lord said both to abide in him and have his words abiding in us. He is the living word, so for us to abide in him, we need constantly to be in the word. To have his word abiding in us, we need to know it, understand it, believe it, and do it. Then, as his word comes to life in us, it is literally Jesus himself living in and through us. If he does, then he can continue his fruitful ministry here on earth.

Through the apostle Paul, the Holy Spirit put it like this:

(Galatians 2:20 NKJV) “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

The fruit of prayer and faith is supernatural. When we experience God’s supernatural work—which demonstrates his goodness, love, and majesty—we know we cannot take the credit for it; we give him the glory. When others see it, they too—given the right explanation—give him glory. Thus, the fruit of answered prayer and successful faith will glorify our heavenly Father:

(John 15:8 NKJV) “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.”

By saying, “You will be my disciples,” Jesus is saying that they would be doing things his way. In other words, he was showing them how he operated; this was exactly the way he had operated throughout his ministry on earth. He remained connected closely to his Father, drawing life from him through hearing, believing, receiving, obeying, and releasing Father’s words. As a result, God’s supernatural intervention was witnessed by all who encountered him: people received healing, saw miracles, heard the truth in love, understood mysteries, and felt God’s compassion and acceptance. Hence, God was glorified.

Today, let’s heed Jesus’s urgent plea to abide in him continually, and to have his word living in us. Then, along with this single-minded focus, we need humbly to accept his pruning while we live in abandoned obedience. This is the way to avoid withering, removal, and burning. This is the way to yield much fruit—fruit that remains, including the fruit of answered prayer and actualized decrees in Jesus’s name.


Second Helping: Abiding in Christ is a necessity to bearing fruit, but another part of the process, alluded to above, is the pruning process. (Sometimes as Christians, we don’t want to hear about that one!) The author of the above piece actually covered that two days before in a piece entitled Yield to the Father’s Pruning for a Fabulous Upgrade (click to link).

November 12, 2021

Wash. Cleanse. Repeat.

This is our third time with Mark Stephenson who writes at Fire and Light who is co-pastor of Horizon Church in Towson, Maryland. After we’ve confessed our sin nature to God and recognized only He can save us from it, we still need to confess the subsequent times we “miss the mark.” Someone has described this as “keeping short accounts with God;” or what Mark describes below as “the ongoing need for forgiveness, repentance, and cleansing from the muck of the world.”

Click the header below to read this where we sourced it.

Washing Feet – Revisited

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 

John 13:6-15

I love when the Lord shows me something new in a passage of scripture I’ve read a hundred times. I read the above passage the other day and felt like the Lord showed me something new. We tend to think of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet as an act of humble service whereby He then instructs His disciple to do the same for each other (that is, serve each other). But consider that there’s more that Jesus is addressing here.

We know that Jesus isn’t just talking about personal hygiene. And I believe He’s talking about more than just service. When He’s talking about taking a bath, He’s really talking about baptism/salvation. He’s talking about the cleansing of the Holy Spirit. This is why Jesus says, Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.

And when Jesus is talking about washing feet, He’s talking about the regular cleansing that we need even after we are saved. Jesus said, Those who have had a bath (been saved) need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean.” Meaning, we who are followers of Jesus have already been forgiven of all of our sin, and yet we still need a regular kind of cleansing because of our regular contact with sin and the contaminants of the world. We’ve been cleansed by the Holy Spirit from the inside out (our spiritual bath), yet we still get the muck and grime of the world on us simply by walking daily in the world. After we have had a “bath” we don’t need to get saved over and over again, but we do need a different kind of cleansing. We do need a foot washing.

We see this same kind of “dual cleansing” demonstrated by the priests at the Temple. First, they offered the sacrifices of animals to account for their sin. The spilling of blood addressed their guilt from sin. Yet, the priests also had to wash in the wash basin before entering the Holy Place. The washing with water addressed anything they may have had contact with that made them “unclean.” And these wash basins were made from bronze mirrors. They would have literally seen a reflection of themselves as they washed away the contaminants of the world with water. I don’t think it was an accident that a time of reflection accompanied this time of cleansing.

Jesus introduces a new kind of “dual cleansing” for the new priesthood of believers. First, baptism represents the full and total cleansing of our life from sin. Jesus’s blood is what would enable the Holy Spirit to come and bathe us in righteousness from the inside out. Then, a foot washing, which represents the ongoing need for forgiveness, repentance, and cleansing from the muck of the world.

Not only do we need a spiritual “foot washing,” a regular kind of repentance and cleansing, but this cleansing is something we believers can offer to each other. Jesus commands, “…you also should wash one another’s feet.” We not only are called to serve each other humbly, but we are called to participate in helping each other stay clean. The cleansing water is the Holy Spirit, and He does what only the Spirit can do. Yet, we can participate in this by metaphorically washing each other’s feet.

I have seen the reality of this kind of cleansing happen over and over in the prayer ministry we have at our church. People come in for prayer with the muck of sin and the muck of the world caked on them. They feel ashamed and defeated. They feel oppressed and depressed. They know there is more to this Christian life than what they are experiencing but they just can’t seem to tap into it. They are followers of Jesus who have been bathed in the waters of baptism, but they still need a foot washing for their soul.

Then we start praying, and the increased Presence of the Holy Spirit begins to be poured out. We as prayer ministers bend low to wash feet and the cleansing power of the Spirit does His work. I watch as time and again people get set free from sin, free from shame, free from unforgiveness and hurt, free from the heavy weight pressing down on their shoulders, free from the heaviness on their chest that keeps them from taking a full breath. As the cleansing water of the Spirit is poured out, the Light comes, lightness is felt, freedom is experienced, hope returns, and a cleansing takes place right in front of us.

When Jesus taught us to wash each other’s feet, I do think he had in mind humble service. But I also think He had in mind ministry that brings freedom and cleansing, ministry that one believer can offer to another. We have the honor of ushering in the cleansing power of the Spirit for each other if we are willing to bend low. This ministry of cleansing is the ministry of washing feet and inviting the Holy Spirit to come and wash souls.


Second Helping: Here’s an invitation to read more from the same author, this time on a very different subject. Mark writes, “People are dabbling in the spirit realm and then finding themselves bound by darkness and harassed by demons. They don’t need convincing that the spirit realm and the supernatural are real. They are fully convinced that the spirit realm is real because they experience the dark side of it daily.” Click here to read more.


What have others written about “keeping short accounts with God?” We looked at that in this article from February, 2013.

October 25, 2021

First Century Church Members Handbook

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. – Romans 12: 4-5 (NIV)

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 10:45 (NIV)

You are like a building that was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Christ Jesus himself is the most important stone in that building, and that whole building is joined together in Christ. He makes it grow and become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Christ you, too, are being built together with the Jews into a place where God lives through the Spirit. – Ephesians 2:20-22 (NCV)

In a blog post in December of last year, a word was used that has only appeared four times in the history of C201: Didache. The paragraph read as follows:

Didache (Training): Pronounced “did-a-kay” this is the mark of a Christian community in which members are being trained in the way of Jesus. Followers of Jesus are often called “disciples,” which means something like “apprentice.” At the end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus instructs his disciples, to go and make disciples themselves, teaching others to walk in the world as he did. The Christian way of life is not always intuitive; we need to learn the rhythms of mercy and grace, of radical love and extravagant generosity, of justice and righteous aligned with God’s dream and work for this broken and beloved world.

Alert readers will know this also refers to a specific book; a book which in January of 2011, I referred to as “the most important book you’ve never heard of.” Let’s revisit that article…

There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways.

~Didache 1:1

While New Testament scholars always knew it existed, it was not until 1873 when a dusty, worn copy was pulled off an Istanbul library shelf by an Archbishop who promptly left it on his desk to attend to other matters, where it sat for months before he finally grasped what it is he had discovered. In fact, the document whose lost text he had discovered was once considered for inclusion in the Biblical canon.

The Didache (pronounced DID-ah-kay) is only about half the length of the Gospel of Mark, but it provides an intimate view of Christian life and Christian community for the early church in the period following the apostles. There are many books on the subject, but a simple introduction — along with a copy of the complete text — is Tony Jones’ The Teaching of the 12 (Paraclete Press, 2009).

(Random) Highlights:

  • Let your alms sweat in your hands until you know to whom to give them. (1:6)
  • Do not be one who opens his hands to receive, or closes them when it is time to give. (4:5)
  • Do not give orders to your servants when you are angry, for they hope in the same God…  (4:10)
  • Your fasts should not be with the hypocrites, for they fast on Mondays and Thursdays. You should fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. (8:1)
  • [Concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way] “Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills and was gathered together and became one, so let your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom…” (9:4)
  • Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he must not remain more than one day, or two, if there’s a need.  If he stays three days he is a false prophet. (11:4,5)
  • Concerning Baptism, you should baptize this way: After first explaining all things, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit in flowing water.  (7:1, italics added)
  • Hate no one; correct some, pray for others, and some you should love more than your own life. (2:7)

The early Christians were also told to pray the Lord’s Prayer three times daily (8:3) and if they baked bread, to give the first loaf to the prophets (13;5). The translation above is from Tony Jones’ book, and seems to be closest to one online by Charles Hoole.

So in a post-DaVinci Code climate, where does a document like this fit in?

First of all, we have all we need in the Bible, and no one should feel compelled to read extra-Biblical writings like this, much less those on the periphery such as The Gospel of Thomas.

But for those who want a snapshot of post-New-Testament life, this document has the recommendation of many respected pastors, though don’t expect a movie anytime soon.

October 19, 2021

Deep Roots

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV.Col.2.6-7 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

NIV.Ps.1.3. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.

NIV.Jer.17.8. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.

This is our fifth time visiting the website Preacher Pollard but only the first time it has dawned on me that the Pollards are a bit of a dynasty, with five sharing writing responsibilities. This is our first time with Carl Pollard.

Clicking the header below will take you direct to today’s devotional on their page. You can then navigate around (click the blog banner at the top) and read other articles by each of them. They are shorter devotionals so you can read a half dozen of them, as I just did, in quick time.

Tap Root

There’s a tree in the Sonoran Desert called the Mesquite. This is a very hardy, drought-tolerant tree. It survives the harsh climate by drawing water up from the water table through its taproot. This root has been measured to reach upwards of 190 feet long.

How does a desert tree with a tap root apply to us? In Colossians 2:6, 7 there is a command to walk in Christ. How do we walk in Christ? Paul through inspiration explains that the one who walks in Christ is:

  • Firmly rooted
  • Built up in Him
  • Established in faith
  • Overflowing with gratitude, and
  • Rejects false doctrine

Being firmly rooted (I’m talking a super-long taproot) in what you believe is an important part of how to walk in Christ. How would we know how to walk in Christ if we didn’t believe in what we…believe?

Being built up in Christ, is like finishing a building that already has a foundation. If we are firmly rooted, then we must continue to build. It’s like buying a night at a hotel, and trying to stay a week. You can’t do that. We either keep paying the fee, or we’re kicked out. Or, applying it to Colossians two, keep studying and growing closer to Christ.

Being established in faith, we have the faith that the sacrifice of Jesus will keep us holy and blameless before God.

Overflowing with gratitude is a very important part of this. There is a saying that goes, “Some Christians don’t want to pray in the cafe. Dogs wag their tails when they get food, and pigs grunt. But what does man do?” Are we showing gratitude for what God has done for us? Can people see it in us?

Making sure no one takes you captive with false doctrine can be very hard. 2 Peter 3:17 warns, “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness.” False doctrines can be tempting because they appeal to what we want, and not what God wants. Rejecting these teachings takes a knowledge of the word, and a desire to do what God wills.

Today and every day, let’s practice walking in Christ using these principles from God’s inspired word.

 

October 11, 2021

Thankful for Everything

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:24 pm
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This is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. After 30 minutes looking for an appropriate devotional to share with you, I came across Joy in the Everyday, written by Janet who lives on Canada’s east coast.

Click the header which follows to read this at source, then take a few minutes to check out more of her writing..

give thanks

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. 1 Chron. 16:34 NLT

Wishing all of my Canadian friends a Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m sitting here enjoying the aroma of roasting turkey and anticipating a lovely dinner with family and friends who are family. Pumpkin trifle is awaiting final touches and I am relaxing until last minute work must be addressed. Admittedly, the last couple of years have not been easy ones, but I truly have so much to be thankful for.

I re-shared the give thanks graphic on Facebook this morning and thought of this post from way back when…

Have you ever been challenged by this quote:

“What if you awoke today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?”

I am guilty of taking little things and big things alike for granted.  While I am thankful for my wonderful family, a roof over my head, food on the table and clothes on my back, I do not always remember to show my gratitude to my Heavenly Father.  He is the giver of all good gifts.  And these items would definitely be on my ‘good gifts list.’

What about the little things?  I have never read Anne Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts:  A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, though it’s on my mental list of books I’d like to read … I can imagine from the title and gleaning from the thoughts of others that she challenges us to see beauty in the ugliness, and in the commonplace.

I’ve seen this quote: “Gratitude for the seemingly insignificant—a seed—this plants the giant miracle.”  Am I truly filled with thankfulness in each magnificent sunset?  For a day filled with love and opportunities to fulfill His purposes for me and in me? For that first sip of morning coffee?  For that hug and “I love you”  from my boy?  For my husband who reaches over to hold my hand?  For mounds of laundry…because this means my home is not empty, and we have the necessities of life, and the benefit of brilliant imaginations so that I don’t need to do laundry by hand?  For the opportunity to serve a sick neighbour, to show the love of Jesus? I’m trying to learn this lesson well, as the name of my blog suggests.  I pray that I would not only find joy in the everyday, but I would be thankful in it. A life lived in thankfulness is a life that is content and full of joy.

It’s easy to be thankful for good things.  FaceTime with grandlittles.  Visits with friends and family.  The precious gift of salvation.  What about the hard things?

I Thessalonians 5:18 tells us “in everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  We’ve talked (here, here and here) about difficult circumstances being occasions for God to draw us closer and to make us more like His dear Son.  I can certainly be thankful that He hears me when I cry out to Him in those troubling times, He sustains me in my trials and walks beside me as I face those hard things.  I do not face them alone.

God is good. May my heart be filled and overflowing with thankfulness to Him.

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