Christianity 201

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.

 

November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving

We’re paying a return visit to Rick Morgan, who blogs in the UK at Digging The Word. Click the title below to read at source. This is very timely for our US readers for whom today is the start of the Thanksgiving holiday.  This is actually two different posts, we’re presenting them in reverse order to how Rick had them. Click the individual titles to read at source. Other titles in this series include A Heart of Love Has Peace, A Heart of Love Even When Life Is Difficult, A Heart of Love Joyfully Praises God.

A Heart Of Thanks: Refuses To Forget

Most people are quick to forget where the blessings come from.

Luke 17:11-19 As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, He reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. 12 As He entered a village there, ten lepers stood at a distance, 13 crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

14 He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy. 15 One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” 16 He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking Him for what He had done. This man was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you. “


You just met a man that you heard rumors about, and then sure enough you and your friends all cry out for healing, all ten of you get what you asked for.

Which leper are you? You just witnessed ten people healed simultaneously, you being one of them, what do you do?

Do you think the other lepers remained healed? If so, what was the benefit or blessing for the one leper who returned to give thanks?

Does living with a heart of thanks make a difference in your life?

I have been blessed beyond measure, I have been healed from the leprosy of sin, I need to give God thanks for what he has done and what he is still doing in my life.

Thank you Lord for healing me and bringing me back to life! I am an unworthy servant that seeks to obey you fully from a heart of gratitude.

I Will Give Thanks

I will give thanks to the Lord forever, I will give thanks
I will give thanks to the Lord forever, I will give thanks (repeat)

For He is good, And His love endures forever
For He is good, And His love endures forever

I will give thanks to the Lord forever, I will give thanks
I will give thanks to the Lord forever, I will give thanks

For the Lord has been so good to me
He has blessed my life abundantly
He’s provided, guided, lifted me, He is faithful through it all

O His love endures, yes His love endures
O His love endures, yes His love endures

Can we ever comprehend how good God is to us? I don’t think that we can comprehend or appreciate it before we get to heaven and meet him face to face. Then we will understand why the song says “I will give thanks to the Lord forever!”

Psalms 30:11-12 You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give You thanks forever!

As you count your blessings today don’t forget to praise and worship God for the gifts that are impossible to have without him. Things like salvation, true love, the ability to know him and relate to him, if we really appreciate these things then our desires for the stuff that the world has to offer will fade.

November 19, 2016

Do the Proverbs Come with an Iron-Clad Guarantee

Yesterday’s reading took us briefly into the book of Proverbs which we said weren’t hard and firm promises but statements of general principles. We quoted Paul Tautges and said we’d return to all six of the interpretive guidelines he gives for this book. This is his tenth time quoted here at C201; click the link below to read this (and more) at the website Counseling One Another.

Are Proverbs Sure-Fire Promises?

Last week, a church member emailed me this question:

I was having a discussion about a couple of Proverbs that I was reading with a friend and it came about in the discussion that he believed that Proverbs are promises. I had asked what his basis for believing that was. He told me because of the defined word “will’ which means it “will” happen if you do this or do that. Are the Proverbs indeed promises?

One of the ways I answered was to direct him to one of my top-three favorite commentaries on Proverbs, the Mentor Commentary, by John Kitchen. Here is how he helps us understand six principles for interpreting the book of Proverbs.

6 Principles for Interpreting Proverbs

“Proverbs can appear overly mechanical in its description of the universe, God’s sovereignty over it, and His dealings with man in it. Its observations are often stated in absolute terms, apparently leaving little room for variance. For example, consider the sequence in Proverbs 3, which demands that if one fears the Lord he will experience great health (v. 8), material prosperity (v. 10), peaceful sleep (v. 24), and protection from calamity (v. 26). How should we view such sweeping statements? Are these guarantees? Is any lesser experience a sign of moral and spiritual failure? To arrive at God’s intention, several observations should be kept in mind as one interprets and applies Proverbs.

First, the proverbs are consistent observations, not categorical absolutes. The proverbs are not always intended as promises, but only as observations of repeated phenomena. Take Proverbs 22:6: ‘Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.’ Many a parent has been told that, in this verse, God guarantees their wayward child will return to the fold. But, like so many other proverbs, its author is making an observation of consistent behavior and outcomes (i.e. normally children raised in godly homes end up walking with God themselves), not issuing an inviolable law.

It will take discernment to carefully draw the line between divine guarantee and divinely inspired observation. A helpful path to such wisdom is the balancing of individual proverbs with the fuller witness of Scripture. This leads to a second principle of interpretation.

Second, the proverbs must be read in context. Many view the aphorisms as individual nuggets of gold scattered randomly along the path of wisdom. There is, they assert, little help to be found in the context. However, each proverbial saying does reside within the whole of Proverbs and its teaching. They must be read against the balancing treatment of wisdom in Job and Ecclesiastes, as well as the fuller span of the poetic books. Then, too, the inspired Scriptural circle must be drawn to include the whole of the Old Testament and, ultimately, the entire Bible.

Third, we must understand that, by their very nature, the proverbs are truth stripped to the essentials. They are seldom qualified, balanced by surrounding statements, or extensively defined. They are stripped down, stated, and left to stand – all with the goal of arresting our attention and engaging our minds.

A proverb is truth in its most concentrated form, and thus expects us to add Spirit-illuminated reflection to come to full understanding. A proverb is designed to be ‘unpacked’ through much meditation, comparison with life, and with other Scriptures. Murphy well says:  ‘The proverb’s declaratory nature catches our attention, but it also conceals, for it achieves only a slice of realty…. The truth of a saying – call it a partial truth – usually needs another saying to counterbalance it.’

Fourth, though Proverbs can appear simplistic to the uninformed reader, we must realize that Proverbs does not intend to present life as void of ambiguities. Consider the juxtaposition of the seemingly contradictory words of Proverbs 26:4-5:  ‘Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, lest he be wise in his own eyes.’ The one who comes to Proverbs for simple answers requiring little thought will leave disappointed. We want to know, ‘Which is it!?  Do I answer him? Or do I not?’ Proverbs was written not merely to tell us what to do, but also to make us think. Pure pragmatists may find themselves frustrated, if unwilling to pursue reflective, Spirit-guided meditation.

Fifth, we do well to unearth the assumptions inherent to a proverb. Because a proverb is truth stripped to its irreducible minimum, all helpful qualifying and clarifying statements are implicit rather than explicit. Bullock helpfully observes: ‘The first hermeneutical principle is that the theological assumptions of the book are often more important than the textual context.’ For example, until we have carefully absorbed the instructions of Proverbs 1-9, we are not well positioned to rightly interpret the aphorisms of Proverbs 10ff. The theology of Proverbs 1-9 sets the stage for understanding the wisdom of the later sentence literature.  We must ask ourselves not only what is stated, but what is assumed about God, His relationship to, and role in, the world around us, and His purposes.

Sixth, while Proverbs is not highly prophetic in nature (though see Prov. 30:4 and the commentary there), it ultimately finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, who is the wisdom of God (Isa. 11:2; 1 Cor. 1:24, 30). ‘Lady wisdom’ in Proverbs 8 is probably best understood as a personification of a divine attribute for didactic purposes, rather than a reference to the second Person of the Trinity specifically (see the commentary at 8:1, 22). Yet, it is only as we embrace Christ through faith that we are then able to enter into the wisdom that His Spirit sets forth here. When Christ becomes our very life (Col. 3:4), we find Him to be the One ‘in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Col. 2:3). We should, therefore, look to the New Testament not only for clarification and balance, but for fulfillment of the wisdom so gloriously set forth in Proverbs.”

 

November 15, 2016

Prophecy: From God or Made Up?

This weekend at church we heard a message on visions and dreams. Not surprisingly, the word prophecy came up a few times. The following verse was quoted:

NLT Jeremiah 23:16 This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says to his people:

“Do not listen to these prophets when they prophesy to you,
    filling you with futile hopes.
They are making up everything they say.
    They do not speak for the Lord!

But immediately my thoughts ran to this verse:

NLT 2 Peter 1:20 Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, 21 or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.

So which is right?

Context immediately solves the problem, the Jeremiah passage is dealing with false prophets. (Most Bible discrepancies and apparent contradictions are resolved when context is considered.) If there’s any doubt, God disowns these prophets a few verses later:

21 “I have not sent these prophets,
    yet they run around claiming to speak for me.
I have given them no message,
    yet they go on prophesying.

Does that seem like God has lost control over the situation? No, his affirmation of sovereignty and omniscience follows:

23 Am I a God who is only close at hand?” says the Lord.
    “No, I am far away at the same time.
24 Can anyone hide from me in a secret place?
    Am I not everywhere in all the heavens and earth?”
    says the Lord.

Similarly, the 2 Peter passage has a context, and that context is recorded prophecy in scripture.  The Bible Panorama commentary notes that, “…there is a surer prophetic Word, the Bible, which guides us into God’s truth. Someone may mistakenly think he has heard a voice from heaven, but the Word of God can readily be seen and examined. God revealed His Word in the Bible by moving holy men, by His Holy Spirit, to record His infallible truth.”

Peter is writing about the prophecies concerning the coming of Jesus (and in a sense, the entire thread of Israel’s history leading up to that point.) The Biblical prophets spoke of things Peter and The Twelve had heard with their own ears and saw with their own eyes.

NLT 16 For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes 17 when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” 18 We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.

19 Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place…

The challenge for the Christian in today’s world is that sometimes the lines are blurred. A modern day prophet may well quote scripture. They may speak of things which relate to the overall arc of the Bible story. Then, out of the blue, they might interject something which rings of truth because of everything said to that point, but is actually the starting point for a message that is heading off the rails.

On the weekend at Thinking Out Loud we spoke about discernment, which is key to untangling all of this. We ended with some verses I want to share here which mention this much needed gift. As we said there, in an internet-influenced world, so many voices are talking at once, and we need to be able to discern the difference between prophecy which is of human origin and prophetic words which are from God.

Here’s the first four of 71 verses on discernment from openBible.info:

1 John 4:1

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,

But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.                     (all ESV)

 

November 6, 2016

The Judgment of the Redeemed

     Sin or disobedience has never been “winked at” by God. Those who treat his holiness and his righteous requirements with disdain will reap the results of their folly.  God is holy and without holiness no one will see him. (Heb 12:14) That is, they will be separated from him. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “He will punish those who do not know [understand] 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 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.” (2 Thess 1:8─10)

Much of modern teaching has dismissed the need for a righteous walk and holiness with the affirmation of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness.  No doubt these proclamations are intended to bring God glory, however, they diminish him and his government.  After all, what would any nation become if law enforcers were to take the position that they love the offenders and dismissed any consequence of law breaking?  What happens in the family home if no rules are enforced? Even our limited understanding would inform us that anarchy would result, and God is much more knowledgeable of the human condition than we are. It is the evil imaginations of men that pain is heart. (Gen 6:6)

It is true that sins committed under the Old Covenant have been forgiven. (Heb 9:15) Such provision was made through the sacrifice of Christ so that a people might be delivered from the death sentence that awaited them and be given a second chance to live under the lordship of Christ who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:17, 18)  It is through obedience to him that the practice of sin can, and is to be, overcome.  Paul has referred to this aspect of God’s government as “the law of the Spirit of life” (Rom 8:2) and it is according to the law of the Spirit that the redeemed will be judged. James has called this the “law of the Lord” (NIV) or the “law of liberty” (KJV) (Jas 2:12).  Paul wrote, “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)

Peter has written, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”(1 Pet 4:17 NIV) Those who dismiss sinful practices with the understanding that they have been disposed of will be very disappointed when they face the judgment of Christ.  Peter wrote that “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” (2 Pet 1:3 NIV) A person’s defense cannot rest in the proclamation that they are merely human and lacking the ability to live a godly life.  The Spirit has enabled the believer’s needs to be met through his indwelling presence.

Christ was not only incarnated as a human being in order that he might be an acceptable sacrifice for the sins of people, he was incarnated so that he might understand the temptations of the flesh. (Heb 2:17─18) Having a body like our own, he was able to overcome the temptation to sin and he suffered in the pursuit of victory. (Heb 2:18) It is to the Lord with his understanding of temptation and the provision made that the redeemed sinner must address his defence.

Daniel wrote that when Christ returns, “[m]ultitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake; some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Dan 12:2 NIV) Shame and contempt will not be rested on those committed to the lake of burning sulphur, but on those who had failed to practice obedience to their Lord. Jesus himself testified: “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city [the New Jerusalem]. (Rev 22:14 KJV) and Matthew has record the Lord’s admonition: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:21 NIV)

The judgment seat of Christ is reserved for those who have pledged or have proclaimed that he is their lord and they will be judged according to the manner of their obedience.  It is those who walk in the light, those who obey him (the Spirit, 2 Cor 3 17, 18) who will find eternal rest for their souls. “…[H]e became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb 5:9 NIV)

The Lord spoke of a great deal of deception that would take place in the last days and it is certainly evident.  “Do not be deceived:  God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  The one who sows to please his 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) Judgment and eternal life or destruction will be levelled according to a person’s “sowing” or the things he or she does while in the body, whether he or she prac5tices righteous living or not. “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Rom 2:5 NIV)

Careful thought must be given to Paul’s teaching that following justification by the blood of Christ we should be saved from God’s wrath through his life. (Rom 5:10) His life is that which he is prepared to live out as the Spirit that indwells each confessor.  However, to avoid judgment and God’s wrath those who have professed his lordship must be prepared to obediently allow him to live his sinless life through them.

Judgment is not only given concerning one’s state of holiness, it is also given according to his or her service or lack thereof in the building of the kingdom. (1 Cor 3:11─15)

Judgment awaits each, and the outcome will depend on the value and honour with which they allow Christ to minister for them in service to the kingdom, by his sacrificial offering, in and through them by his indwelling Spirit, and by engaging his ministry as high priest.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngRussell Young’s book is in stores and available now in print and eBook.  The title is Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? It is available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US


 

November 3, 2016

The Bible’s Proper Place

by Clarke Dixon

Imagine this scenario: The teenagers of our church have grown up into their twenties and have left town to attend colleges and universities elsewhere. Meanwhile society has shifted and governments have changed so that there is now a hostile climate for Christianity. In fact, officials have stormed our church service, rounded us all up and sent us to prison. We learn that we are all to be executed. We also learn that while things are not as bad for our youth away in other towns, things are not good there either. We can send a letter to them. What would you write?

This is not unlike what we have in the book of 2nd Timothy where Paul is in prison in Rome awaiting execution. He has the opportunity to send a letter to a young pastor in Ephesus named Timothy. What does he write?

10 Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions, and my suffering the things that happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12 Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 13 But wicked people and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15 and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. 2nd Timothy 3:10 – 17 (NRSV)

Let us summarize: “Timothy, you will be surrounded by bad people, but as for you, be good, keeping the scriptures central.” This is just as important a message for us in our day. In fact we can consider how “be good, keeping God’s revelation front and centre” is proper for us as individuals, families, churches, and as a nation.

For individuals – Be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

When Paul speaks of “the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” in verse 15, we may immediately think of salvation in terms of what it means for us when we die. The Scriptures do instruct us on such things as they help us see our need for, and God’s provision of, grace and mercy in Christ Jesus. But salvation is a two-sided coin. On the one side we may think of the destination, eternity with God. On the other we can consider the journey, life with God now. The Scriptures also instruct us for the salvation journey as the Holy Spirit transforms us step by step along the way. This second side of the salvation coin, the journey, is in mind when Paul goes on to say that

16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work

So as individuals, be good, keeping God’s revelation central!

For families – Be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

It is sometimes said that faith is a private and personal thing. This is actually a ridiculous statement for how can it be? As I respond to the call to be good, keeping God’s Word central, how can my family be unaffected? As God transforms individuals, He also transforms the experience of those in relationship with those individuals. There is a direct impact on my family and friends when I seek to be good, keeping the wisdom of the Bible central in things like avoiding drunkenness, alcoholism, gambling, adultery, pornography, and the like. There is also a direct impact when I seek to be good like Jesus, as I read about him in the Bible, learning to bear a cross, learning how to love and forgive, and the like. There is a direct impact on my family, friends, and even enemies, when my life evidences the fruit of the Spirit:

the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 (NRSV)

The Holy Spirit uses scripture to awaken in us a greater desire for such fruit than the kind of fruit Adam and Eve went after. It is good for families, indeed all relationships, to be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

For churches – Be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

Ask what makes for a good church and you can get a wide variety of responses like good parking, good facility, great speaking, great music, great programming and so on. You can build a great organization without ever cracking open a Bible. However, to form a good people you will need to open the Bible. The Church is not an organization that happens to made up of people, it is a people who happen to get organized. Though not very organized sometimes! To have a great church, we will want to be good, keeping the Bible central.

For our nation – Be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

What makes Canada great? Some people will say that it is our multiculturalism. However, are we really all that multicultural? There are things that appear to be acceptable, or even promoted in some other cultures that we would think barbaric here. Even the most ardent proponent of multiculturalism in Canada has their limits. So we are not as multicultural as we think we are, for there is a sense of Canadian culture, of limits in what is not acceptable. Where do we get this from? Though we are moving away from it, our culture still owes a great debt to Christian ethics. The Bible has given us a good foundation on which to build a nation. We should not be surprised by this as we are told the Bible is useful for “training in righteousness” (verse 16). Consider, for example, how the opening chapters of the Bible teach us about the dignity of every human being. Those who who would push us to become a fully secular state have difficulty accounting for why, objectively, we ought to value every person. This is just one example of many.

I am a secularist in the sense that I do not think a person should ever be compelled to be a Christian to be a Canadian. Nor should a non-believer be forced to pray a believer’s prayer. However, I also see how Biblical values have served our nation well. We are a nation that enjoys a bit of multiculturalism and a bit of secularism. We can appreciate that. But our nation has also been marinating in Christianity for a long time. So as a nation we can appreciate what Paul tells Timothy; be good, keeping God’s revelation central.

What Paul knew to be good in a time of crisis is good for all time including our time. Don’t be like the rest when the rest have lost their way. Be good, keeping the Scriptures central, sticking close to Jesus who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). And remember, we have the presence of the Holy Spirit. We also have the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ for when we fall on the journey and need to get back on our feet, dust off our Bibles, and start again.


Follow Clarke Dixon at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon or on Twitter

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