Christianity 201

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

October 2, 2016

Righteousness through Faith in Christ

by Russell Young

There are different understandings as to what righteousness through faith in Christ means.  Paul wrote: “But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Christ Jesus to all who believe.” (Rom 3:21─22 NIV) And, to the Philippians he wrote that he wanted to “be found in [Christ], not having a righteousness of [his] own that comes from the law, but that which us through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Phil 3:9 NIV)

Paul was clear that he did not accept that righteousness could come through the law, but that it came through faith in Christ.  Most believers would accept this to be true; however, it is true, as well, that ‘righteousness through faith in Christ’ is not well understood.  Although the concept may not be clear to many, believers commonly rest in the confidence of their trust in the Lord that he will unilaterally provide their righteousness; that is, his righteous life will become their righteous life. Such thinking is a mixture of truth and error, which in the end could be very destructive.  Greater understanding is necessary.

Since “faith in Christ” is necessary, this concept needs greater clarification.

Faith in Christ can be appreciated through the understanding that Christ is the Spirit. This truth must be grasped. When Paul teaches that faith must be rested in Christ, he is not speaking of the person and works of the fleshly Jesus who walked this earth without sin.  He is not speaking of the Lord’s sacrificial death on the cross as the means of achieving righteousness.  He is speaking of the Christ the Spirit.  Paul wrote: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:17─18 NIV) Faith in Christ is faith in the Spirit and it is through the Spirit that righteousness is gained.  Christ died so that we might be cleansed and given his Spirit and a new chance, a new birth.  The believer’s hope of righteousness rests in faith in the Spirit.  Those who fail to appreciate this truth are not likely to practice faith in Christ.

To further ground this truth, Paul affirmed in his letter to the Galatians, “But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” (Gal 5:5 NIV) Accordingly, his understanding was that the Spirit is the source of a person’s righteousness and that it had not yet been achieved by those to whom he was writing or by himself (Phil 3:12), but that its development was being waited …was yet to happen.

How is righteousness through faith in the Spirit (Christ) accomplished?  Does the believer become righteous merely by trusting that the Spirit will make him or her righteous? Absolutely, and unequivocally, NOT.

Faith is often presented as something that the believer must possess. Although this is true, faith is not merely belief or the accepting of an idea as being truth.  Faith does not exist unless the believer is willing to live and reveal his or her acceptance of that belief through their practices. That is, their behaviours and choices must reflect those things that they claim to believe. Faith is more than casual belief is it total persuasion and to the point that it compels action.  Without action faith is dead; it doesn’t exist. (Jas 2:17, 26) Obedience is faith in action and the writer of Hebrews has written that eternal salvation comes through obedience (Heb 5:9) or the practice of faith.  It is in regard to a person’s practices in obedience to the Spirit that “faith in Christ” takes on meaning. And it is in this sense that righteousness comes through faith in Christ. It is those who “are led by the Spirit” who will live righteously (Rom 8:4) and develop holiness and dwell with their God in his royal city, the New Jerusalem. The righteousness that brings eternal salvation is not imputed.

Faith in Christ is through conviction of the truth and claims of Christ to the point that obedience to the Spirit is practiced.


Regular Sunday contributor Russell Young has a book releasing this fall. Stay tuned for details.

October 1, 2016

“I Am Willing”

This is our sixth visit with Ben Nelson at the blog Another Red Letter Day. He has been faithfully writing since June 2012, and if you click the title below, you can then browse other posts.

I Am Willing

Join me in Mark 1 today and let’s think about what Jesus said in these three little words. But first … a little context.

And a leper came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” – Mark 1:40-41 NASB

Jesus ran into people every day during His ministry years. It is in fact why He came, to seek and to save the lost, to run into people and bring the kingdom of heaven into their lives. No two of the folks He encountered were alike. It was not as though everyone who came to Him for a miracle came with the same level of faith and expectation.

Some knew deep inside that if they could reach Him, they would find healing, like the woman with the issue of blood.

for she was saying to herself, “If I only touch His garment, I will get well.” – Matthew 9:21 NASB

Some were not even sure He had any power whatsoever.

“It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” – Mark 9:22 NASB

Some understood He was not limited to proximity, and could heal across the miles like the centurion.

But the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. – Matthew 8:8 NASB

So what about this leper we meet in Mark 1? He had a concern I often hear voiced in Evangelical circles. It’s common thought today that Jesus can still heal and does still heal, but it is linked to some sort of whim or fancy or divine fiat. We come to the Lord in prayer asking for healing as though we hoping He’s in a good mood and might just condescend to do us a little favor and heal our loved one.

This phrase only comes up five times in the NASB and three of them are three accounts of this event. One is when Jesus is talking about John the baptist, explaining that he was Elijah who would come. The only other time we hear this phrase is in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus cries out to the Father:

saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” – Luke 22:42 NASB

Many have adopted this phrase as part of their prayer life.

Here’s the thing.

Jesus answered the question.

He answered this man in no uncertain terms.

He could have simply healed the leper to demonstrate His will without saying a word.

But Jesus—the Word of God—the very Will of God incarnate—the express image of God—Jesus—answered.

I am willing!

And if this doesn’t answer it for you with enough clarity, look at His ministry. He healed all who came to Him. Time after time we see Him heal them all.

The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them. – Matthew 4:24 NASB

But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all, – Matthew 12:15 NASB

We are not calling out to God for something unclear, or something unprecedented.

Jesus, in the Garden, placed Himself into a circumstance we could never see. He was facing separation from the Father, He was facing the cup of God’s wrath stored up against all our sin and the prospected was horrifying.

This is not our case when the come to the Lord Jesus for our healing. He told us His name is Jehovah Rapha – the Lord our Healer.

I understand that when we are talking about our future James tells us to leave it in the Lord’s hands.

Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” – James 4:15 NASB

But James is not teaching us to pray. He’s talking about our attitude toward life.

Jesus Christ who is the same, yesterday, today and forever, said without hesitation:

“I am willing; be cleansed.” – Matthew 8:3 NASB

Hallelujah! (That’s a place for shouting!)

September 28, 2016

So is it Law or is it Faith?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we are paying a return visit to Juli Camarin at JCBlog. One of the hardest things for us is returning to a writer we’ve used before, only to find ourselves catching them in the middle of a series. Romans is a great foundational book, and if you want to dig in more, I hope you’ll click the link below and then navigate the site to read more. Because today’s is shorter, you can also check out the study on the previous verse.

Faith Upholds the Law—Romans 3:29-31

“Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law” (Romans 3:29-31)

I remember the first time I really started studying the Book of Romans. I was learning so much and understanding the grace of Jesus in a way I had never imagined. But then I read this verse and it left me dumbfounded. Paul’s closing question, “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith?” I was ready to answer, “Yes”… but Paul answered, “Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.”

What?

Immediately after Paul makes the amazing declaration that faith alone justifies us before God, he wraps up the third chapter emphatically by declaring that faith in no way makes the law ineffective or useless—not the answer we expected in light of what he just said.

Does the Apostle contract himself?

After a careful examination, absolutely not!

So how does faith uphold the Law? In light of this, we must revisit the purpose of the Law. The Law has many purposes, and so here’s the short list:

  • To show what sin is (Rom. 3:20; 7:7, 13)
  • To arouse sin in us (Rom. 7:8, 9; Gal. 3:19)
  • To condemn (Rom. 7:10; Gal. 3:10, 23)
  • To crucify the sinful nature (Gal. 2:20)
  • To bring us to Christ (Gal. 2:19, 3:24)
One of the main points Paul is making is that we are justified by faith, and one of the main purposes of the Law was that it “was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24). So everything Paul is saying is actually upholding and supporting the Law and its purpose.

Both the Jews and Gentiles access God through faith: the Jews through the faith of their father, Abraham, and the Gentiles through their newly acquired faith. But in both instances, the same trusting faith is about firmly relying on Jesus Christ alone. By doing this, faith confirms, establishes, and upholds the Law’s original intent.

 

September 16, 2016

Our Faith Should Be More Than Just a Coping Mechanism

john-10-10When I have finished formatting a devotional study here, the last thing I do before scheduling it is to add the tags; the key words that can be used to locate the article in a search engine or internally. Many times I find myself writing trials, tribulations, suffering, difficulties, trials, etc. Often when I listen to a couple of preachers in my car, I notice they are often simply offering their listeners encouragement through desert experience, tough times, difficult circumstances.

I keep thinking there should be more.

I keep thinking that our faith should be more than just a mechanism by which we can cope with the hard times of life.

In John 10:10 Jesus said,

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (NIV)

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. (NLT)

One of the first sermons I remember was hearing this preached at an outdoor Christian music festival. The speaker said that in the original language the abundant life being discussed was:

  1. Abundant in quantity
  2. Superior in quality

We see picture of this abundance in quantity in the feeding of the 5,000

1 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near. 5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”

And we see a picture of the superior quality in the very first miracle at Cana

John 2:1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Both seem to be describing a feast. The latter, at the wedding is expected. The former, with each receiving “as much as they wanted” was probably a surprise.

In each case the final verse reveals the ultimate outcome:

  1. They recognize that he is the prophet, the one expected
  2. He reveals his glory and his disciples believe.

At the blog, Yeshua=God (also the source of today’s graphic image) the contrast in John 10:10 is fully highlighted:

Whenever John 10:10 is quoted, it’s usually just the first half about Satan, or the last half about Christ. It’s not often you hear the entire verse quoted together. But the Lord showed me recently in my personal study time that this Scripture is meant to reflect what Satan does compared to what the Lord does. It is meant to be read as a whole, to compare and contrast the enemy verses the Lord.

Let’s break it down –

The thief does not come except to STEAL, KILL, and DESTROY.
The Lord comes that they MAY HAVE, LIFE, MORE ABUNDANTLY

The opposite of steal would be to give. When our Lord says they “may have”, He’s referring to the gift of His salvation. Not necessarily “will have”, because some people don’t become Christians. Therefore He comes that they “may have” this gift.

The opposite of kill is to give life. Christ does give life, as He IS the Life. So while the thief wants to steal and kill, the Lord has come to give the gift of Life.

The opposite of destroy is more abundantly. To destroy something is to pull it down, wreck it, demolish, obliterate, or ruin it. To have something in abundance is to have plenty of it, it is lavished upon you, bountiful, copious, and plentiful.

Notice how the words are all present tense. Kill, steal, destroy – these are ongoing, they are in the here and now. He has not “stolen, killed, and destroyed”, it is what the thief continues to do. When the Lord gives His rebuttal, His words are present tense as well. May have instead of “have had”. Life that’s ongoing and eternal, rather than one that can be killed. And more abundantly instead of “in abundance”. It assumes a continuance of the abundance – “more abundantly” – as if the abundance is an ever-flowing fountain.

But then the author points out that the life we can expect is even more:

The Lord gives us life, and not just life, but life more abundantly. A better life than these 70-80 years on earth. A life that continues on into eternity. A life with blessings that never end (Ephesians 1:3).

We tend to focus on our pain and difficulties, but be encouraged to look for the signs of abundance.

I Kings 18:41 And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” 42 So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.

43 “Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked.

“There is nothing there,” he said.

Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”

44 The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.

So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’”

45 Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling and Ahab rode off to Jezreel

 

August 27, 2016

Redeem the Time

clock spiral

Well seize this critical moment, because the days are evil. (A Google Translate iteration of Ephesians 5:16 from Dios Habla Hoy, a Spanish Bible; could also be “this decisive moment.”)

Today’s thoughts continue from a topical article posted earlier today at Thinking Out Loud

…As Christians, the stewardship of our time is important. In the old KJV rendering of Ephesians 5:16, they used the phrase, “Redeeming the time…” More recent translators went with:

  • Make every minute count. (CEV, NASB, and others)
  • Make the best use of your time. (J. B. Phillips)
  • Don’t waste your time on useless work. (Eugene Peterson)
  • Make the most of every living and breathing moment. (The Voice)

The time factor figures into social media [such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, podcasts, etc.] but even more into addictive online behavior such as porn-related and game-related activity…

…While I’ve always used two major arguments in relationship to Christians viewing porn — the Bible’s teaching on lust and its teaching on self control — I think the stewardship of our time really needs to be added as a third reason to walk away from the computer, especially in view of stories about the hours and hours people spend glued to the screen.

Other verses come to mind, such as Psalm 90:12

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (ESV)

Other translations render this;

  • Teach us how short our lives are so that we can become wise.  (ERV)
  • Teach us to use wisely all the time we have. (CEV)

Some verses remind us of the brevity of life, such as James 4:13-15

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (ESV; some translations use vapor instead of mist.)

and Proverbs 27:1

Do not boast about tomorrow,
    for you do not know what a day may bring.  (NIV)

These reminders should make us want to consider where we invest ourselves in our daily schedule.

At the website BibleReasons.com, I found a list of Bible Verses About Time Management. I won’t reproduce it here, but encourage you to click through. One that struck me as we close here was about the idea of living with eternity in view:

NLT 2 Cor 4:18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

How are you redeeming the time in your life?

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