Christianity 201

October 28, 2021

Praying for Those Who Hurt Us

Thinking Through Jeremiah 29:1-7

by Clarke Dixon

You’ve been hurt. Perhaps repeatedly, by the same person or people. You don’t think they deserve a relationship with you anymore. Perhaps they don’t. You don’t think they deserve God’s kindness in any way. Perhaps they don’t. You are done, finished, moving on. If there is a further move in the relationship, it will be you getting back at them. It will be them getting what they deserve.

Would it be really bad if God were to tap you on your shoulder and say “you know those who are experienced as a curse in your life? You need to bless them”?

We are going to be challenged by that time God tapped his people on the shoulder through the prophet Jeremiah. It happened at the beginning of what is called the Babylonian exile. God had promised to stick close to and protect his people who were dwelling in the promised land, if they stuck with him. They didn’t and the Babylonians came crashing in, looking to cash in.

It happened in stages beginning with some of Jerusalem’s people being deported to Babylon and Jerusalem itself being subjugated to Babylon. There were kerfuffles along the way and about fifteen years after the first deportation there was one final deportation and Jerusalem was destroyed along with the temple. There is a Psalm that captures well the mood of the people at that time:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.
Remember, LORD, what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
“tear it down to its foundations!”
Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.

Psalms 137 (NIV)

We may be surprised by the desire for infants to be killed, but that was what the Babylonians did. From Psalm 137 we can feel the passionate desire to settle the score, to see Babylon get what it gave. It does not capture the right thing to do, but it does capture the mood, the way the people were feeling. Perhaps it captures your mood. O Lord, repay them for what they have done to me. Let them get what they gave.

While Psalm 137 captured the mood of the people, a letter sent from Jeremiah captured God’s direction:

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.

Jeremiah 29:4-6 (NIV)

In other words, make yourselves at home among your worst enemy. Settle in for the long haul. Be willing to sit with those you can’t stand. But further:

Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.

Jeremiah 29:7 (NIV)

God’s exiled people were to pray for the enemy. That might be easy enough if they could pray for their demise. Psalm 137 indicates that such is what they would feel like praying. But they are to pray for the “peace and prosperity” of Babylon.

“Peace and prosperity” is used here to translate the Hebrew word shalom, a word which means much more than simply “peace” as in “the absence of war.” It has the idea of things going well and being harmonious. My motorcycle is at peace when it sits quietly in the garage. It is in a state of shalom when it is on the road with all its parts working together in harmony so that it can fulfil its purpose.

Now imagine how hard that would have been to pray for shalom for those who attacked, besieged, and destroyed your home and homeland, killing many of your people.

This was not the first, and won’t be the last time we hear God’s call to bless an enemy. We hear it again on the lips of Jesus:

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbour’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.

Matthew 5:43-45 (NLT)

Is there someone in your life over whom you feel like praying “repay them for what they’ve done to me, let’s get ’em back”? Maybe they don’t deserve a relationship with you, Maybe they don’t deserve God’s favour. Nevertheless, we are called to pray for their peace, their shalom.

Let us thank God for setting the example, when he did not treat us as our sins deserved, but endured the cross. Let us thank God that when he taps us on the shoulder and tells us to love our enemies, he set the example, by loving us despite our enmity towards him:

For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Romans 5:10-11 (NIV)

If we were raised in a Christian home, we might have trouble thinking of a time that we would have been comfortable with the title “enemy of God”. Even if we were once atheists, we might have trouble thinking of a time that would be an appropriate title. Perhaps we had apathy toward any notion of God’s existence, but not hatred. Here is another way to think of it; God came to us in Jesus, God the Son:

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

John 1:14 (NLT)

John could indeed say that “we have seen his glory” for John, along with the other disciples experienced Jesus’ teaching, miracles, and good works. John could have added another fact: “The Word became human and made his home among us, and despite seeing his glory, we killed him.”

The point is, God would have done the right thing, the just thing, if he had said “I’m finished with humanity, I’m done with you. Look what you did to me. You are finished!” But instead on the cross he said “it is finished,” that is, “what is necessary for our reconciliation has been done for you.” Through Jesus the One who could have destroyed humanity, the One who perhaps should have destroyed humanity based on what humanity did to him, worked instead for our shalom. God set the example of love for the enemy.

Jeremiah’s letter was a tap on the shoulder of God’s people in exile, and it is a tap on ours. Settle in, make yourself at home among enemies, taking a seat with people you might not be able to stand. Pray for the shalom of your enemies. Pray for the peace of the people who disrupt yours.


Regular Thursday contributor Clarke Dixon initially posts the devotions here at his own site, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. To watch the full sermon on which today’s writing is based, click this YouTube link.

October 1, 2021

Whose Name Is Slandered? Translations Vary

This is an amended version of one of the devotions posted here eleven years ago, when C201 was just starting out. It’s also one where we see clearly that not all Bible translations read the same on all verses, and a quick reading will leave readers walking away with different impressions as to what the verse refers.

James 2: 5-7 (New International Version)

5 Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?

Verse seven of this passage says it is the rich who drag you into court and slander… well, who do they slander? Is it the name of (a) God, (b) Jesus, (c) your family name, i.e. surname (d) your name?

I got curious after reading the new CEB, Common English Bible:

Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name spoken over you at your baptism?

I guess I read this in the context of certain cultures where the baptism of an infant is also a “naming ceremony.” With John the Baptist, this took place when he was circumcised at eight days old. (Luke 1:57ff)

The NASB has James 2:7 as:

Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?

The Message has:

Aren’t they the ones who scorn the new name—”Christian”—used in your baptisms?

The NLT reads:

Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?

The ESV renders this:

Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

The NKJV has:

Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?

The NCV puts it:

And they are the ones who speak against Jesus, who owns you.

The TNIV says:

Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

The Louis Segond reads:

Ne sont-ce pas eux qui outragent le beau nom que vous portez? [name you are called]

The Amplified Bible blends the two aspects of this:

Is it not they who slander and blaspheme that precious name by which you are distinguished and called [the name of Christ invoked in baptism]?

I have to admit, I like that last one. The Amplified Bible seems to cover all the bases.

So what’s in a name?

The context of the passage is the rich exploiting the poor. That this is an insult to the character of the poor man so exploited.

Our name embodies who we are; our character is embedded in that name. And in addition to blending the two dynamics of this, The Amplified Bible (which I don’t use a whole lot) introduces the phrase, “name by which you are distinguished.” Your name marks you as different from everybody else. (Unless, I suppose, your name is John Smith…)

But we also bear another name, the name of Christ.

Any insult to us; any exploitation of you or me is an insult to Christ. I think the answer to the question I asked here is truly (e) all of the above.

But James isn’t just saying that we poor people are exploited. The earlier context (including verses 1-4) say that in the larger equation we are the ‘rich’ person in the story when we show favoritism, or when we marginalize those poorer than ourselves. (I wonder if some of the translations quoted take those earlier four verses into account?)

It’s easy to miss verse 6, sandwiched between verses 5 and 7. We’re actually the rich person in the story; it is us who are slandering the character of the poor; and thereby slandering the name of Christ by which they are called.


Here’s a different take on the subject of names from 2017; click here.

September 28, 2021

A Friend Will Challenge You

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. – Galatians 6:1 NIV

While rummaging through the book listings at a large online Christian bookstore a few hours ago, I came across a title which intrigued me: The 7 Friendships That Everyone Needs by Justin Erickson. The advertising blurb listed these:

7 Types of Friendships Every Man Needs:

  1. Godly mentor to Disciple you
  2. Faithful Disciple to follow you
  3. Solid Peer to Encourage you
  4. Best Friend to uphold you
  5. Courageous Brother to confront you
  6. Lost Seeker to hear you
  7. Gracious Savior to redeem you

My mind immediately jumped to Proverbs 27:17

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.  (NLT)

Of course the opposite is also true, as seen in Proverbs 13:20

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm. (NIV)

The other thing my mind immediately jumped to is the title of a popular Christian book from years back, Caring Enough to Confront. It’s one of those “Snakes on a plane” type of book titles that, once you’ve read the title, you’ve got the premise. If we care enough about people we will not be afraid to stand in their way when they’re going off the rails.

The principle is also in Proverbs 15:31

If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. (NLT) The NIV has heeds life-giving correction and the NASB renders it as listens to the life-giving reproof.

I was somewhat horrified to discover that in 11 years, the phrase “caring enough to confront” has never surfaced here. So today we correct that with a short devotional from 2006 published in Today the daily reading booklet given out by the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). The author is retired CRC pastor Arthur Schoonveld

Caring Enough to Confront

2 Samuel 12:1-7 ERV

The LORD sent Nathan to David. Nathan went to him and said, “There were two men in a city. One man was rich, but the other man was poor. The rich man had lots of sheep and cattle. But the poor man had nothing except one little female lamb that he bought. The poor man fed the lamb, and the lamb grew up with this poor man and his children. She ate from the poor man’s food and drank from his cup. The lamb slept on the poor man’s chest. The lamb was like a daughter to the poor man. “Then a traveler stopped to visit the rich man. The rich man wanted to give food to the traveler, but he did not want to take any of his own sheep or cattle to feed the traveler. No, the rich man took the lamb from the poor man and cooked it for his visitor.”

David became very angry with the rich man. He said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who did this should die! He must pay four times the price of the lamb because he did this terrible thing and because he had no mercy.” Then Nathan said to David, “You are that rich man! This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘I chose you to be the king of Israel. I saved you from Saul.

Key verse: Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” 2 Samuel 12:7

Sometimes we are almost completely blind to our own sins and shortcomings. It’s so much easier to see the faults and failures of others. And sometimes it takes someone else to make us see our sin. That’s how it was with David. When the prophet Nathan told him a story about a rich man who stole a poor man’s lamb, David was outraged. He could clearly see what the rich man had done, but he failed to see his own sin. The prophet needed to confront David before he realized that Nathan was talking about him.

In the book Caring Enough to Confront, David Augsburger talks about the importance of confronting people who live in sin. Sometimes we need to confront, and sometimes we need to be confronted. It’s not easy to confront a family member, a friend, or a coworker. Sometimes it’s easier to look the other way. Besides, we ourselves don’t like to be confronted. When someone cares enough to confront us, often our first response is “Who do you think you are? You’re not perfect either!”

God calls us to confront others who are in sin, and we need to learn to do so with gentleness (Galatians 6:1). We must also be willing to be confronted when we are blind to our own sins. God wants us all to help remove the barrier of sin that keeps us far from God.

Prayer

Father in heaven, make us caring enough to confront someone who is living in sin, and give us the grace to accept those who confront us. We ask all this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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November 8, 2020

When the Motivation is Encoded in the Description

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Bible translation is both an art and a science, and we see the possibilities in various ways of rendering the same Hebrew or, in this case, Greek text.

The third verse of the first chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians apparently offered translators a variety of options.  In the NIV, the verse reads:

We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Before we look at three distinct pairings in this passage, I want to point out that from my perspective, the words work and labor suggest the same thing. In some the second word is service. But even that is very similar, though not all work is an act of service, all acts of service certainly involve some effort.

The NIV would seem to say that faith, love and hope are the motivators or inspiration for work, labor and endurance.  Thus,

But in the ESV, we see the motivating characteristic embedded in the fruit that it produces:

To some of you it may be a minor nuance in the translation, but it certainly reads differently.

The GNT (Good News) expresses it yet differently again perhaps putting more emphasis on the motivation than the fruit:

The ISV (still not available in print) provides a more descriptive picture combining the motivation and the effect:

I think it’s a real blessing that certain passages can be read different ways, but also it challenges me to see the intertwining of the action and the motivator. Some people believe that as long as certain results are attained it doesn’t matter why. Paul certainly saw this as a distinct possibility:

ESV Phil 1:15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

But what a greater beauty awaits you when you see both the purity of the motive and the fruitfulness of the result; when you see them intertwined.

ESV Prov. 16:2 All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,
but the Lord weighs the spirit.

Unbeknown to most of us, the motivation (which is the word used in some translations of the verse above) is written into, or the actions we take, not unlike the genetic code is embedded or encoded in every cell in our body…

…As interesting as this is (to me at least!) we can delve into this and miss the obvious: Our lives should be characterized by the three spiritual fruit named: Faith, hope and love.

At least that’s how we say it. But in the text it actually reads: Faith, love and hope. Go deeper. Look again at the above renderings in different translations and ask yourself if perhaps there is a significance to the order in which these three are presented.

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November 2, 2020

The ‘Other’ John 3:16

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.
 – 1 John 3:16 NLT

This week’s look at the ‘other’ John 3:16 was prompted by something Ruth wrote for Sunday’s service, placing the thoughts of the passage into verse. But first, we’ll see what others have said about this verse. Because we can’t sing as much presently, Ruth has been teaching the congregation American Sign Language. The phrase this week and our theme today is,

I’ve been forgiven because of Jesus’ cross.

At KnowingJesus.com:

Many believers like to focus on the love of Jesus because they think that this will cause unbelievers to get saved but they prefer to allow Christ’s death, burial and resurrection to be side-lined in a blurry background, in case it offends or puts the unbeliever off the Christian faith!

But the shed blood of the incarnate Son of God Who was born into His own creation, and the immutable love of the eternal Father are inseparably interwoven and irrevocably united together.

It was love that caused the almighty God to send His only begotten Son into the world to become the sin-sacrifice for the entire race of humanity and it was love that caused the Lord Jesus Christ to lay down His life for us. It was love that caused the Lord Jesus to be crucified on a cruel cross — willingly, so that all who believe on Him might not perish but have everlasting life…  [click the link above for more commentary]

David Bartlett at WorkingPreacher.org

…Here we glimpse the depth of the gift and the gravity of the demand. Christ gives unconditional love for us, even to the point of death. And he demands our unconditional love for each other, even to the point of death.

Yet, as preachers so often do, the preacher who writes this epistle tries to show what love to the point of death might mean, not just at the extreme moments of sacrifice, but in the daily give and take of the loving life.

Concretely, such love means charity. “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and refuses to help?” (1 John 3:17) … [click the link heading this section for more on verses 16-24]

At BibleRef.com:

In contrast to the person who hates or murders (1 John 3:15), the ultimate sign of love is to lay down one’s life for others. Jesus gave the supreme example of this kind of love by giving His own life on behalf of the sins of the world (John 3:16; Hebrews 12:2). Jesus is the ultimate example of how we ought to live our lives (John 13:15–17).

But what does it look like to lay down our life for the brothers? John certainly had in mind more than physical death, though this could certainly apply. Verses 17 and 18 add additional details about how to help others in need, and to show that God’s love abides in us (1 John 3:17). This includes helping those in need through actions and truth (1 John 3:18). God desires believers to both know the word and live it out (James 1:22), not merely to “feel” love and not act to benefit other people (Matthew 15:4–9).

PreceptAustin.org quotes Steven Cole:

…If you’re running short on love, stop and meditate on what Jesus did for you. If the servant who had been forgiven the huge debt had stopped to think about it, he would have forgiven his fellow servant the lesser debt (Mt. 18:23-35)…If you lack love for someone, first make sure that you are born of God. Then, ask Him for it…

Cross-references from BibleHub.com

John 10:11
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.

John 15:13
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Philippians 2:17
But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.

1 Thessalonians 2:8
We cared so deeply that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our own lives as well. That is how beloved you have become to us.

1 John 2:9
If anyone claims to be in the light but hates his brother, he is still in the darkness.

The Cross: Forgiveness – by Ruth Wilkinson

He took my sin in His body,
His breaking makes me whole;
His wounds have been my healing,
The Shepherd of my soul.

My broken self is gone now
No longer am I slave;
Sin cannot command me,
It lies within His grave.

Jesus, my beginning,
My life now and my end;
I thank you Father, Holy Ghost
And Son, my Lord and friend

This is how I learned love:
He gave His life for me.
This is how I must show love:
Like Him, in truth and deed.

 

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July 27, 2020

Driven

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Sometimes I like to go back and visit sources from C201’s more distant past, and see what the writers are up to. In 2013, we quoted from Steven Ruff who is a Southern Baptist pastor in Florida. This article appeared five years later and I felt it was worth sharing here. Click the header below to read this at his blog, The Road Less Traveled.

We’re All Driven By Something

Have you ever thought about the things that drive you? Have you ever considered what motivates you to do what you do? The need for shelter motivates and drives us to seek a place to live. The need for financial income motivates and drives us to find a job. The need for higher education motivates and drives us to spend extra years in school beyond the required. The need for a healthier body motivates and drives us to exercise and diet. The need for companionship motivates and drives us to the do hard work building and maintaining relationships.

 For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. (2 Cor 5:14-15)

Paul deals with motivation in his letter to the church at Corinth. He was a driven and focused man. Paul tells us the reason for his drive and what motivation, “For the love of Christ compels us”The love of Christ kept him preaching when no one seemed to be listening. The love of Christ pushed him forward after being beaten and run out of town. The love of Christ kept the churches on his mind while facing his own death.

What motivated Paul motivates us today. The love of Christ compels the believer to tell others of a life-changing Savior. The love of Christ compels us to grant and extend forgiveness when the rest of the world simply says, “get even.” The love of Christ compels us to love our fellow man beyond what we can see on the outside. The love of Christ compels us to reach into the darkness of the nations and shine the light of the gospel. This love of Christ looked beyond us while we were lost, rebellious, and indifferent towards God.

Jesus demonstrated what true love looks like. Paul said, “and He died for all, that those who lives should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” Paul alludes to his previous motivation. At one time Paul was motivated by pride, hate, and religious tradition. He was living for himself. However, when the love of Christ spilled onto his life and it became personal to him, he quit living for himself.

We are no different. At one time we lived for ourselves and did everything that we thought was right and good. The day Jesus stepped into our lives and made us whole, everything changed. We are now under new management. The driving force that compels, urges, prompts, and pushes us to love, witness, preach, teach, and care is the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.


Unrelated: Last week I published an article at Thinking Out Loud which does not meet the criteria to be included here, but I thought some of you might be interested in it, especially if you enjoy hearing about new Bible translations. Well… this one isn’t new, and it’s not a translation that many of you would have on your shelves, but recently I learned that a very high-profile Christian sect updated their signature Bible edition back in 2013, so I decided to pay a close-up visit.

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January 18, 2020

The Difference Between a Friend and a Brother

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we return to Before the Cross, written by . This makes a great and timely point. Click the title below to read at source.

Real Community Shows When There’s Trouble

Our Community Group right now at Austin Life Church is going through the book of Proverbs each week. Recently we were covering Proverbs 17 and 18 and there was a part in chapter 17 that stood out to me.

Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

Other translations say a brother is born for a difficult time, or to help when trouble comes.

There’s a couple of things that stand out to me from this.

There’s A Difference Between A Friend And A Brother

After the invention of social media and the increase of technology, we find ourselves with many “friends” these days, but we know they aren’t really that close to us. They aren’t actual real relationships that experience life together. I’m afraid we are getting farther and farther away from real relationships with people, even though we crave this and want real community with others.

A “brother” (or sister), is someone who shows up. An actual real relationship that does life with you. He/She is someone you see or talk to with frequency. Someone you can be vulnerable with and not be afraid about being “the real you.” There’s a huge difference between someone who likes your picture online vs the person who’s in the picture with you.

Do you have someone like this in your life?

There’s Going To Be Times Of Trouble

As we follow Jesus, we are never promised a life free of issues. In fact, sometimes things can feel like they are getting “worse” because we see the real war that is taking place between making Godly decisions vs sinful decisions each and every day. In this life, in this sinful and broken world we still live in, with sinful and broken people, there will be times of trouble.

What is clear Biblically, is that we are not to isolate ourselves and do life alone. We are all different members of the same body (the church) and so when we isolate ourselves, we intentionally separate ourselves from the body.

We absolutely need brothers and sisters to walk with us in times of adversity. When trouble comes into our lives, we need help and encouragement to spur us on to love and good works

…let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. (Hebrews 10:24).

I’m convinced we all need a few of these close people in our lives as followers of Jesus. Not only for ourselves, but also to be that person for someone else or for multiple people. This is how the whole body of Christ works together.

If you don’t have people that close to you in your life, why not? Are you holding back? Afraid to be real with one another? Not connected to the local church? Been hurt by past friendships?

Let me encourage you that regardless of your past, you have full freedom and forgiveness from what Jesus has done for you and you have the power from the Holy Spirit to step into those close relationships, without fear of what “could happen.” It’s a step of faith on building these relationships around you, but Christianity is all a step of faith. Plus, you have so much to offer because God sees value in your life and He has wired you to compliment the body of Christ so we all have a role to play.

The fact is for all of us who follow Jesus, we are all going to be in heaven together for all eternity anyway, so we might as well get to know each other today.


Friendships: A Warning

While preparing today’s devotional, I found another reference to the Hebrews text presenting another approach. I thought it worth sharing here for those who want to look at this in an entirely different light.

“…spurring one another on towards love and good deeds.” (Heb. 10:24)

Bizarrely, the closer some relationships are, the more permissive they can become; and our passion to do what is right is diluted. As we feel able to relax completely with trusted friends, we can abuse the sense of ease by letting our behavior slip. Gradually language that we would never use in public slips into the conversation and off-white humour that we know is inappropriate becomes part of the common currency of our friendship, because we feel able to let our hair down. The friendship has now become one that gives permission (where we give each other a license to compromise) rather than providing exhortation (where we encourage each other towards character and excellence).

~Jeff Lucas, writing in Lucas on Life, devotional reading for Jan 20, 2005.

Friend Counting: Also in our blog archives this quotation:

I think about the number of friends I have who are that way, who would answer the phone if I were to call at 2 a.m. (and who may well get such a call before peace returns), who would listen and love me no matter what I say, what I do. At the drop of a hat I can tell you roughly how much money I own, the approximate amount of equity in my house, exactly how many frequent-flyer miles I have. But it takes some thought to conjure up the number of true friends, because I don’t think on them as often as I should.Their number is far greater than I deserve, and maybe just enough to carry me through to the end.

It’s worth doing such a heart’s accounting, now and then, to remind yourself how many people love you, how many people would welcome you into their homes, how many pray for you and think about you and take joy in knowing you are well.

And then to ask yourself how many people would consider you such a friend.

~Tony Woodlief

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January 17, 2020

The Best Proof for Christianity

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today is a revisit to the website Truth or Tradition, sponsored by Spirit and Truth Fellowship International.This is about half of a much larger article. If you read this, and fear rejection, click the header below to include the two sections on ‘having a thick skin’ and ‘having a thicker skin!’

Heart Matters

Proof of Jesus in our Actions 

Apologetics is the religious discipline of defending or proving the truth about one’s religion. Although some would argue that Christianity is not really a religion, there is information that every Christian needs to know to be able to defend and prove that Jesus Christ and his saving works are true. With all the different belief systems and ideas moving through our society, we need to be able to show others genuine and honest evidence that Jesus is who they need, that God is the creator of this universe, and that he is very real and alive and active in his endeavors to help them.

Your love Matters

I recently heard someone say that the best proof (apologetics) we have of Christianity being true and real is Christians themselves.  He said the way Christians act and relate to others is the best evidence to the world that Jesus is the answer, that Jesus is truth and life. Of course, this would mean that Christians are being good imitators of the love and kindness as shown by Jesus. One of the commands of our lord Jesus, and also one of the prayers by the apostle Paul for us, is that we have love for one another and love for all.

This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:12-13

and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you,

 1Thes 3:12 

We are truly living in some very good times to be able to display this love for one another and to those around us that have not named Jesus as lord, yet. No matter where we turn there is so much strife and conflict and uncertainty and division and…and …and. Your love for a hurt and confused and possibly hateful person will certainly stand out in blatant contrast to the minimizing and indifference that they might be all too aware of in their interaction with others. During these difficult days we need to not withdraw our attempts to love and reach out to others and help with their difficulties, but we need to be bold and confident because we truly have answers and help for a dying world…

Plant and Water

There is no way of knowing for sure what effect we are having on many of the people we interact with over the course of our lives. So many times I have wanted to be efficient with my time in finding people who are interested in repenting and getting saved, and I have hastily necessitated a decision or a commitment from them without allowing ample time for them to consider deeply what the decision will mean for them, without allowing them to being able to see my life and the fruit produced by following Jesus.

But in my attempts to be efficient, I have often damaged my ability to be effective. It is almost always impossible to be efficient with people because there are so many emotional loose ends that end up taking longer than we have scheduled. Often people need to not feel pressured into making a decision, to have room to consider what they are getting into. Better to be effective than efficient.

Many times we hear about spectacular conversions of people coming to Christ. And of course this does happen at revivals or other life altering events. We need to be ready to supply people with the truth at these times. However, there are by far more people who come to know Jesus over a course of time, and sometimes through many exchanges from many different people.  Jesus said that he would personally build his church, and something for us to remember is that Jesus brings people and situations together into the lives of the people we meet to help in his building.

On a construction site, usually there are many different contractors who bring different skills at the right time during the building project. The foundation people show up first, then the framers, followed by the mechanical people including plumbers and electricians. It is a process that requires time and planning. Our lord Jesus is very good at putting us into others’ lives at the right time so that we can be a part of the building process that results in God giving growth. Even the Apostle Paul knew that there are others involved in the growth process.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

1Cor 3:6-7

My wife and I were at a restaurant eating with a neighbor of ours that we have befriended. We of course have the hope of sharing the good news with her, and do so in little tiny bits. She has, through the course of our friendship, been very outspoken of her non-biblical views. She has listened briefly to some of the points we have made about God, but mostly changes the topic quickly. She also has a few tattoos that she has collected over the course of her life.

As we were at this restaurant, she mentioned the hostess who had these beautiful tattoos all over her arms.  She told us tattoos like those are called sleeves. As the hostess came by our table, our friend mentioned to the hostess how nice her tattoos were. This hostess asked if she could share the story of her tattoos with us. She sat down and started talking about her life and how she was into drugs and other very dark situations, and as she pointed to her arms, from one tattoo to another as they all tied together, she explained her journey out of darkness and into the grace and salvation of Jesus. Part of her tattoos where a stairway leading out of pain into light. Our friend was quiet and did not have much to say after the hostess left, until she changed the subject again.

This was such a great example to me of how our Lord is in the process of building his church and bringing different people together to plant and water.  We may not always be the one who gets the joy of seeing the actual conversion in another’s life, but we should be filled with joy that we get to be a part of the process of planting and watering, realizing that  we are not the whole process. In fact we need to pray that others will be sent to the people we love, so that there will be a concentrated effort leading them in the right way…

…continue reading here

75 Days of Christianity 201

On March 31st, 2020, Christianity 201 will have published a fresh devotional/study reading every day for ten years. On April 1st, Lord willing, we’ll still be here, but as I did with Thinking Out Loud, at the ten year mark I’m releasing myself from the obligation to post something every day. There will continue to be new content posting, as well as fresh articles by Clarke Dixon every Thursday, but not necessarily daily. If this is a subscription that you depend upon for daily input, I encourage you to start now following some of the other blogs which are featured here. Or consider writing for us to keep material coming! In the meantime, continue to enjoy “Digging a Little Deeper” daily at C201.

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July 10, 2019

A Theology of Hospitality and Recovery

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2

Several months back we introduced the devotional blog, Partners in Hope Today. You can also listen to today’s devotional.

I’d like to add something to the first paragraph below. It could easily be applied to introverts. I have a few of these in my family and I am only beginning to understand how that can limit some types of fellowship.

When you think about it, what other factors could limit someone’s approach to hospitality?

Click the header below to read at source.

Hospitality and Recovery

Some of us in recovery lack the quality of being hospitable.  We do not care to be around others.  We give our attention to our own needs and have forgotten, or perhaps never learned, the social skill of thoughtfulness towards others.  Our loving God created us to be in relationship with Him and with one another and we are out of sync with our humanness when we behave in other ways.

Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him.  He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. (Acts 17:26-27 MSG)

Although we may not vocalize it, some of us tend to think this way, “Why should God and others care about me when I really don’t care about them?”  However, we are made to be hospitable and care for one another.  Jesus gave us a commandment to love one another.  This is not a suggestion.  God knows what is best for us and He made us to live in community with one another.

This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you.  This is the very best way to love.  Put your life on the line for your friends.  (John 15:12-13 MSG)

Going to a recovery meeting for the first time can be intimidating, but if we are warmly greeted by others we will be encouraged to stay.  When attendees share their experience, strength, and hope with us, they are being hospitable, and desire that what they share will be of help to us.

Love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  (1 Peter 4:8-9 NIV)

Hospitality is the human way of caring for one another.  It begins with one person helping another to find their way out of the maze of self-centeredness.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Sometimes I want to hide from others because of the guilt I feel about my past life.  Help me to accept Your forgiveness and live in the dignity of being Your child.  Help me to put Your Word and Your ways into practice.  Help me to be hospitable as I share the experience, strength, and hope I experience in belonging to You.  Amen


Related articles:


Go Deeper: 21 Bible Passages on Hospitality.

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May 10, 2019

Limited Love

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Jesus in Acts 1:8

Okay.

Wait a minute, Samaria?

No way!

…If there are situations you would prefer not to get into, and types of people you would prefer not to help, perhaps your love is too limited…


Today’s devotional comes from a source we frequently link to at Thinking Out Loud but not here at C201. The website A Life Overseas is an online point of connection for people in missions for whom “home” means two (or more) places. Today’s writer is Ivy Chiu whose background includes Taiwan, traveling by ship to different countries with OM, and now, as she writes this, living in Zambia. Click the header below to read at source and then visit some of the other articles by her and other writers.

Touch the Untouchables

To love God and His people is the core of missions. That’s why missionaries leave their homes and move to places far away from anything familiar. Love is the reason for this crazy movement.

Well, that sounds all great and wonderful. But as I’ve entered long-term missions, I’ve realised it’s not always natural for me to love the people I serve. I’ve found it’s possible to be on the mission field and do all the work but at the same time, not love the people. Instead, I’m there simply to fix a problem. Trying to understand people’s situations, but not wanting to really relate to them. Standing a safe distance away from the ‘untouchable.’

As an Asian with a lot of straight and silky hair (that is hard to braid), African hairstyles were a completely new territory for me. I am always amazed by the endless creativeness and possibilities with African hair. I enjoy watching the ladies braiding their hair, but I never tried it myself until one day a girl called my name and asked me to help her take off her weave. I said yes without realizing what I was getting myself into. The other lady knew this was my first time, so she gave me a warning “This is going to take some time and she hasn’t washed her hair for a while. It’s a bit greasy and messy.” Immediately, I felt the dirt with my finger and I could smell the grease on the wig which had been used by multiple people. To be honest, I was not comfortable, but it was too late to say no. With clumsy fingers, I dug in.

If I had thought about it before, I would not have agreed to help. I would have wanted to keep myself clean. Dirty hair might not sound like a big deal. However, this shows that in some parts of me, I still wanted to stay in my comfort zone. I wanted to make sure the ‘mess’ of people would not affect me. I didn’t want to take the risk. Deep in my heart, I still separated myself from the people I served. I might be friends with them, but I was not willing to put myself in their shoes. But this is not the attitude of love.

I also started working with people who are HIV+. I thought as a missionary I was totally ready to love these people who are often pushed away from communities – I was there to serve the outcasts with the love of God. The reality struck me when I had a few people over to my house. I am not proud of my reaction to that first visit. I freaked out over the possibility that someone would cut their finger and bleed and I would somehow come into contact with it. I have received many teachings and trainings about HIV – I knew I just needed to be aware. Even with all the knowledge in my head, my heart still panicked. Love should be without fear and there I was, a missionary afraid to get close to the very people she was called to serve.

‘’While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.’’ – Luke 5:12-13 (NIV)

Lepers were some of the most untouchable people in the Bible. Everyone was afraid to get leprosy, a sign of uncleanliness, and so lepers were often isolated from the rest of the world. To me, the most amazing part of the story in Luke is not that Jesus had the ability to heal the leper, but that Jesus chose to touch him. From other scriptures, we know that Jesus could heal people via simply speaking – it was not necessary for Jesus to touch a person for healing. However, He touched the untouchable as the way of healing. Jesus didn’t stand far off and pray for the man. He reached out His hand without fear. He loved this man and knew what the leper desired most. Jesus didn’t care what other people might think and He truly acted out the belief that the man was worthy to be loved and accepted.

This story brings me back to my knees in prayer for God’s forgiveness and love. My love is too limited and I need God to help me overcome the fear. It’s by God’s grace I am able to serve and love the people I work with because I am too weak. I don’t want focus on the work instead of the people; creating a comfort zone within the mission field. I need to daily remind myself that love is the reason why I am here and it’s risky. I know there will be times when I want to run away and pray from a distance, but instead I need to run to God and ask for His power and love to fill me and help me reach out my hand to touch the untouchable.

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January 19, 2018

The Struggle With Judging

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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So there I was at the devotional page at Daily Paradigm Shift, reading the devotional which follows and I was thinking that it was a bit shorter than what we usually use, but something about it struck me as worth bookmarking for later use.

Then yesterday, I came back to the site and reexamined the article, and discovered it was written by Rebekah B. who is only 15 years old, and I’m asking myself, ‘Why do I have so many problems getting adults I know to consider writing devotional pieces, when here is a 15-year old doing so well at this?’

Crickets.

Anyway, when not at Daily PS — or six other websites where her material has appeared — her own blog is The Narrow Road for Teens.

Should Christians Judge?

What does God say about judging others?

Christians sometimes get confused with the concept of judging. Biblically we are commanded to judge (John 7:24 says, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make it right judgement). Then at the same time we are biblically told that we are not to judge. (Matthew 7:1 NIV, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.)

So, which is it?

Jesus knew that we would struggle with judging.  This is why He gave us a strict warning in His Word saying, Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure that you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? … You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5 NIV)

This verse is not telling us that we should never judge. Obviously, we make judgments every day between right and wrong. What Jesus is telling us here is to not judge others hypocritically. He is telling us to remove the plank from our own eye so that we may help the other person.

We should not be judgmental of others when our own sins need to be corrected as well.

Just as we are commanded to not condemn others, we are also commanded to not ignore sin. This requires the act of judging others in a biblical way.

It is important to be able to discern the difference between the judging.  There is judging that is mentioned in Matthew 7:1-5 and the biblical kind of judgement mentioned in John 7:24 NIV.Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”

If I am to see a fellow believer sinning, I am biblically instructed to confront the person. In a respectful and loving manner of course.  Matthew 18:15-17 says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just go between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church, and if he refuses to listen to even to the church, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.  

The ultimate goal in confronting someone is to bring that person to repentance. We are called to judge sin with the goal of bringing repentance and reconciliation.

God commands us to point out the truth with hope, love, and Christ-like compassion.

Ephesians 4:15, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.

I hope this helped you understand the difference between biblical judgement and non-biblical judgement.

In closing I leave you with this verse. “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” – 2 Timothy 4:2 NIV

 

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July 6, 2017

On the Right Track: Love in John 13:35

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Staying on the right track spirituallyby Clarke Dixon

How do we know that we are on the right track in matters of faith? How do we know that we are “good with God?” Some will point to life experiences. If everything is going well for you, and your prayers are being answered, then obviously you must be on the right track. Others will point to spiritual experiences and say that if you can speak in tongues or have experienced some form of miracle then you must be on the right track. Still others will point to religious activity, that if you are keeping up with religious observances and practices, then you must be on the right track.

But how would Jesus answer this question? Thankfully he answered it long before we asked:

34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 NRSV

Notice that Jesus did not say everyone will know we are his disciples if our lives went smoothly, or if we showed ourselves to be be super-spiritually gifted, or really religious. Rather our love is the evidence we are His followers. John also links love with reassurance that we are on the right track:

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 1 John 3:18-19 NRSV

But don’t those who do not follow Jesus also love? My experience is that yes, people who have no interest in following Jesus are capable of being and often are loving people. So does this mean they are on the right track, living lives that please Jesus, and so are “good with God”?

Before we jump to conclusions we will want to remind ourselves of the important role Christianity has played in lifting up an ethic of love in our society. Thanks to the influence of Christianity our society has been “marinating” in an ethic of love. Christianity has added flavor to our nation and many others. So when the Beatles sing “All you need is love,” or when Katy Perry sings “I will love you unconditionally,” there is a Christian ethic shining through. People who have no time for Jesus are nevertheless enjoying a certain flavor he has brought to society.

There are societies which have not had so thorough a permeation of Jesus’ love ethic. You can think of areas rife with militant Islam where a strict interpretation and application of sharia law is seen as more honorable than an ethic of love. We all know where that has led and is leading. Or you can think of where a belief in karma can lead. If you are brought into life as an untouchable, born into a sorry state of affairs, you must deserve it. That’s karma. Jesus teaches grace. Jesus loves us regardless of merit and went to the cross for us. Though Christians can get it wrong, one cannot deny that Christianity has lifted up an ethic of grace and love in some societies in a way that other religions have not in others.

Still, we may be wondering if a person who rejects Jesus as Lord and Savior is on the right track by living a life of love. Actually, yes, they are on the right track. But they have not got on the train. We cannot love enough to go the distance and bring ourselves into the presence of God. We can devote ourselves to a life of love all we want, but when we refuse God’s love for us, we refuse God’s offer to carry us for the distance. We would rather walk, though the destination is far. Too far.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love is powerful evidence that we are on the right track. But being on the right track is not enough. This destination requires getting on the train.

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 1 John 3:18-23 NRSV emphasis mine


If the graphic looks familiar, yes it is an Amy Grant album cover, a supposedly rare cover without her name on the front (that we can see).  This article appeared previously at C201 in April, 2015 under the title Staying On Track. Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

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November 15, 2015

Q&A Was Still Open, But Nobody Had Any Questions

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we pay a return visit to Brandan Robertson at the blog Revangelical, now part of Patheos and renamed Nomad. This article was posted two weeks ago and is based on the Lectionary reading for November 1st. Click the title below to read at source.

The Flow of Love

Each Sunday, I take time to reflect on a sacred text, usually from the Revised Common Lectionary, in order to re-calibrate, challenge, and fuel us to continue on this rough and rocky journey of faith. Today’s reading comes from Mark 12:28-34:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

“From then on no one dared to ask him any more questions.” What could Jesus have done that caused such silence to emerge from this antagonistic crowd of religious leaders?  This is truly seems like a mic-drop moment. In an attempt to trip Jesus up, this young seminarian comes and asks Jesus what seemed to be an impossible question. Out of all of the Laws of the Hebrew Bible, which command was most important? I imagine any other religious leader would have stopped to think through what was written in the law. Could it be honoring the Sabbath? Worshiping God alone? Staying away from unclean foods and people? Which commandments carried the biggest consequences? Surely, that would help us determine what is most important to God.

Yet in one sentence, quickly uttered, Jesus silences all of the religious leaders of his day. “There is no commandment greater than this: love.” That was it. Love God. Love your neighbor. If you do this, you will fulfill all of the Law. In one sentence, Jesus shifts the focus from personal piety, seeking to obey every jot and tittle written in the Hebrew Bible, to a single broad principle that reshapes the rhythm of our lives than it tries to get us to obey an obnoxious laundry list of religious rules.

I was recently talking to a group of friends and we somehow stumbled onto the topic of “sin”. I voiced my critique of progressive churches, who often, in my opinion, focus so much on societal sins and systemic injustice that they neglect personal morality.  I offered the exact opposite critique of conservative churches, who seem to care little for systemic injustice and instead pour all of their time into keeping God happy through acts of personal piety. Both views of sin, in my opinion, are flawed and lead us away from walking in step with the rhythm of the Kingdom. Keeping the commandments is not rigid obedience to a laundry list of rules nor engaging in activism for the sake of activism. It is living life with an ethic of love.

Each day, in every action that we do, we should shift our awareness and ask ourselves whether or not our every move is motivated by and rooted in unconditional, self sacrificial love. Love that builds up, love that heals, love that encourages, love that unifies. When we live with a broad ethic of love, we will live holy lives that are pleasing to God and beneficial to ourselves and to the world around us. When we live lives of love, we live with awareness of our interconnectedness to all things, understanding that every choice and action we make has an impact on others.

Is what I am doing today liberating, healing, blessing, and encouraging others? Is it liberating, healing, blessing, and encouraging me? If so, I can be assured that I am walking in step with the Spirit. If not, may I be empowered to repent, or turn from the path I am walking down and chose the way of love. It will not always be comfortable or favorable, and it will always cost us. But “it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.”(The Prayer of St. Francis) In the subversive, upside down Kingdom of Jesus, when we are able to live lives to the rhythm of love, we align ourselves with the Divine Flow, and we will experience righteousness, favor, and an abundance of peace. And not only us personally, but our entire world will feel the effects of the Love that flows from our lives.

This command, the command of love, silences the most legalistic of people and liberates those who are weighed down by the burden of religion. This command opens us to lives of abundance and challenges us to ask different questions about the way we live, move, and have our being in the world. The way of love is the way of life. May we realign ourselves to be people of love today.


Ten Ways to Love

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May 19, 2015

What Impedes Brotherly Love?

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today you will have to click through to read the real meat of the article, but overall it’s not long.

Here’s how the article begins. Click the title below to start at the beginning, or the one at the bottom to continue to the five factors the author mentions. The article is by Nebraska pastor Erik Raymond and appeared at ChurchLeaders.com

How to Prevent Brotherly Love

Let brotherly love continue. (Hebrews 13:1)

Brotherly love is the love that comes from God and functions within the context of our new family, the church. And we come to experience and express this love by repenting of our sin and trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation. A love like this is so very precious. It is little wonder then that the author of Hebrews says, let brotherly love continue. It is something that is so very costly! Christ gave his own life; he died to purchase this love. This is not cheap, fleeting, diminishing love, but costly, enduring and replenishing love.

However, this verse indicates a potential for brotherly love to stop. This all-important, ever precious, God-reflecting love from within the church—could potentially come to a grinding halt. This is very concerning to the writer of Hebrews. This should be very concerning to Christians. This is why he urges his hearers, and all Christians who would come after them, to let brotherly love continue.

If we are going to persevere in this brotherly love amid adversity, we need to know what the problem is. What impedes brotherly love? What derails it? What suffocates it?

In short: selfishness.

In other words, we oppose it. The love of self will suffocate a love for others. John Calvin got it exactly right when, thinking about this verse, he said, “When someone thinks more of himself than he ought, he will love others less than he ought.”

Selfishness is such a helpful word when thinking about what impedes our progress in holiness. Selfish. It is to be focused on, preoccupied with, in love with, concerned with—self. It is the characteristic of a heart that is turned inward upon itself. We love self, preserve self, honor self, serve self and defend self.

Selfishness is actually self-worship. Anything we elevate above God and his commands is what we worship. So, if we don’t obey God’s commands because we don’t like how it will make us feel or look, or because we just don’t want to—then we have identified our selfishness.

What does this look like? What impedes brotherly love in the church? We could list 500 things, but here are five big ones…

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April 29, 2015

Staying on Track

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:37 pm
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On the Right Track: Love and John 13:35

Staying on the right track spirituallyby Clarke Dixon (Click title above to link)

How do we know that we are on the right track in matters of faith? How do we know that we are “good with God?” Some will point to life experiences. If everything is going well for you, and your prayers are being answered, then obviously you must be on the right track. Others will point to spiritual experiences and say that if you can speak in tongues or have experienced some form of miracle then you must be on the right track. Still others will point to religious activity, that if you are keeping up with religious observances and practices, then you must be on the right track.

But how would Jesus answer this question? Thankfully he answered it long before we asked:

34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 NRSV

Notice that Jesus did not say everyone will know we are his disciples if our lives went smoothly, or if we showed ourselves to be be super-spiritually gifted, or really religious. Rather our love is the evidence we are His followers. John also links love with reassurance that we are on the right track:

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 1 John 3:18-19 NRSV

But don’t those who do not follow Jesus also love? My experience is that yes, people who have no interest in following Jesus are capable of being and often are loving people. So does this mean they are on the right track, living lives that please Jesus, and so are “good with God”?

Before we jump to conclusions we will want to remind ourselves of the important role Christianity has played in lifting up an ethic of love in our society. Thanks to the influence of Christianity our society has been “marinating” in an ethic of love. Christianity has added flavor to our nation and many others. So when the Beatles sing “All you need is love,” or when Katy Perry sings “I will love you unconditionally,” there is a Christian ethic shining through. People who have no time for Jesus are nevertheless enjoying a certain flavor he has brought to society.

There are societies which have not had so thorough a permeation of Jesus’ love ethic. You can think of areas rife with militant Islam where a strict interpretation and application of sharia law is seen as more honorable than an ethic of love. We all know where that has led and is leading. Or you can think of where a belief in karma can lead. If you are brought into life as an untouchable, born into a sorry state of affairs, you must deserve it. That’s karma. Jesus teaches grace. Jesus loves us regardless of merit and went to the cross for us. Though Christians can get it wrong, one cannot deny that Christianity has lifted up an ethic of grace and love in some societies in a way that other religions have not in others.

Still, we may be wondering if a person who rejects Jesus as Lord and Savior is on the right track by living a life of love. Actually, yes, they are on the right track. But they have not got on the train. We cannot love enough to go the distance and bring ourselves into the presence of God. We can devote ourselves to a life of love all we want, but when we refuse God’s love for us, we refuse God’s offer to carry us for the distance. We would rather walk, though the destination is far. Too far.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love is powerful evidence that we are on the right track. But being on the right track is not enough. This destination requires getting on the train.

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 1 John 3:18-23 NRSV emphasis mine


If the graphic looks familiar, yes it is an Amy Grant album cover, a supposedly rare cover without her name on the front (that we can see).

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