Christianity 201

January 3, 2022

Delta and Omicron: An Opportunity to Consider Alpha and Omega

A year ago at this time we introduced you to Alec Zacaroli, a former lawyer and former journalist, who was writing at the website Burke Missions, which is now at Burke Community. Often, I tend to dismiss articles which I think will become dated over time, but this one was so good on so many levels I decided to share it. Click through using the heading which follows to read this where we sourced it.

Delta? Omicron? How about Alpha and Omega?

Once again, our world has been thrown into turmoil by a tiny virus.  The emergence of Omicron, the latest variant of the COVID-19 virus, has resulted in renewed fears of illness and death, closed borders, financial turmoil, and new rounds of restrictions intended to curb its spread.

This is the second “variant of concern” on the Center for Disease Control’s list, the first being the Delta variant.  But CDC also is tracking “variants being monitored” by the names of Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Epsilon, Eta, Iota, Kappa, Mu and Zeta.

Are you thinking what I am thinking?

Right about now, what we really need is the Alpha and Omega!

I am not joking.  The timing of Omicron and Advent is more than a coincidence, at least in my view. It’s an opportunity (likely intended).

The latest iteration of the COVID-19 pandemic, once again, serves as a reminder that the world in which we live is out of our control and can inflict destruction at will, regardless of our human attempts to prevent it. And yet, the latest wave comes at a time when we also are reminded we have nothing to fear if we accept a few truths. Let’s revisit some of those:

“The earth is the LORD’s, and all it contains…”– Psalm 24:1

“For by Him all things were created, both in heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him. For He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” – Col. 1:16-17.

“I am the LORD, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these.”Isaiah 45:6-7

We could proof text God’s power over creation all day long, but I’ll spare you. Except for just this one more:

“‘I am the Alpha and Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” – Rev. 1:8

Depending on where you stand in relation to God, this truth of this verse is either the absolute greatest comfort you currently have or the greatest terror you may one day experience.  Either way, it renders Omicron yet another temporary minor disturbance. The only question is when you will come to terms with that reality.

Five verses before this one, the apostle John shares this: “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it, for the time is near.” – Rev. 1:3.  In other words, blessed is he who believes!

The prophecy, of course, is spelled out in overwhelming detail in the remainder of the book. (It’s a critical prophecy for every Christian to understand – I invite you to view Dr. Marty Baker’s series on Revelation, which you can find HERE.)  Ultimately, however, the prophecy is about one truth – the return of Jesus Christ.

He is coming… again!

He is coming to judge and destroy wickedness in the world (Rev. 17-18). He is coming to bind Satan and his followers, before casting them into an eternity of torment (Rev. 20:1-10). He is coming to judge the living and the dead (Rev. 20:11-15).

But He is also coming to redeem the faithful (Rev. 7), and to usher in a new heaven and earth – where He will dwell with His believers in peace, love and joy (Rev. 21).  Take a moment and reflect on the words from heaven that John so faithfully recorded:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.’” – Rev. 21:3-4

As I write this, the day is Dec. 1, 2021.  We are just 24 days from the day in which we remember, reflect upon and celebrate the moment Jesus first came into the world to save us.  But if you believe in Him, do you also believe in the totality of His salvific work? Do you believe not only in your personal salvation, but also in the fact that Jesus is “making all things new”, as He Himself told us? (Rev. 21:5)

I truly pray that the sheer joy of that truth will reside deeply in your heart this season, and every day beyond – because that is the true gift we’ve been given.

If you happened upon this post and have not accepted – or even thought about – the fact that Jesus is God, I hope you might.  The gift He offers is to redeem you to Himself and free you from the bondage of sin and the brokenness of this world.  When the Alpha and Omega reigns in your heart, the Delta and Omicron have no lasting consequence. I pray you will accept this gift even this very day…

December 11, 2021

The Church Around the World

I checked the date this morning and noticed it was two weeks before Christmas, and it struck me that this date is applicable to the Christian community around the world. It’s not a regional or local celebration, but one that is visible (at the very least) to the entire population around the globe.

In The Apostles Creed, we affirm that we believe in “the holy Catholic church,” which references this global fellowship. A 2008 article on the Christian History page of Christianity Today notes that,

…Millions of Protestants still repeat these words every week as they stand in worship to recite the Apostles’ Creed. The word catholic was first used in this sense in the early second century when Ignatius of Antioch declared, “Where Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church.” Jesus Christ is the head of the church, as well as its Lord. Protestant believers in the tradition of the Reformation understand the church to be the body of Christ extended throughout time as well as space, the whole company of God’s redeemed people  through the ages.

Protestants, of course, do not equate “catholic” with “Roman Catholic.” To avoid this misunderstanding, some prefer to say “holy Christian church.” While there is nothing wrong with this term, we should not be embarrassed by the older wording. The word catholic simply means “general, universal, concerning the whole.”…

There is a passage in Isaiah giving the people a song that they are to use to “taunt” the King of Assyria upon their promised release. While it is specific to that time, I believe the prophetic language has broader repercussions.

26 This is the plan determined for the whole world;
    this is the hand stretched out over all nations.
27 For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him?
    His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?

God’s hand is stretched out, and is plans and purposes will be seen not only throughout the whole world, but throughout the all ages of history. It is “determined for the whole world.”

As New Covenant Christians, our Good News is also to everyone, everywhere:

Matthew.24.14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Elsewhere we read,

1 John.2.2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

and again, in the epistles:

Col.1.3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.

“Growing throughout the world world” means our story began then and continues now to spread throughout the earth.

Paul again affirms the international scope of the Christian faith in another epistle:

Romans.1.16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

As we start to wrap up the implications of this “holy Catholic church,” three passages I know have already come to mind for you:

Mark.16.15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.

Matthew.28.19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Acts.1.8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The global nature of the Christian faith, starting at the time when we entered the New Testament era, stands in contrast to the Old Testament era, where the surrounding nations’ gods were localized and territorial. (Thus the need for so many, in contrast to the God of Israel who was/is one.)

With two weeks to go, we join the community of believers around the world in recognition of incarnation, through human birth the divine one has entered into our history, Emmanuel, God with us.

The opportunities this gives to share this good news at this time of year are immense, if we’ll only look for them and be prepared for them.

This we say:

Psalm.72.19 Praise be to his glorious name forever;
    may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
Amen and Amen.

December 9, 2021

Adjusting to the New Reality?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A Sermon for Advent

by Clarke Dixon

  • To watch the 17-minute sermon on which this devotional is based, click this link.

We live in a world where we are able to make changes, making all kinds of adjustments to all kinds of things to suit us. It might be changing homes, a job, career, the furniture, cars, or the TV channel. Sometimes, however, we must adjust to the way things are. There are things we cannot change or adjust, but rather we must adjust to. The pandemic has been one of those things for most of us. For some it is a medical diagnosis or the death of a loved one. There is nothing we could have done.

Which type of thing is God? Is God a notion we get to make adjustments to according to our desire and perceived benefit? Or is God a reality we must adjust to?

Keeping that question in mind, let’s go back to the first Christmas. Let’s see if everyone adjusted.

Herod

Herod did not adjust. Upon hearing from the magi that there was one “born king of the Jews,” he wanted this baby destroyed, worried that people might come consider this child to be the true king. Herod knew that he was king of the Jews only because the bigger power of Rome said he could be. He had no right to that title otherwise. Herod was paranoid of losing power.

Does concern for power keep us from adjusting to the reality of God?

The Religious Leaders

The religious leaders were able to tell Herod that the messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, just down the road from where they were, in Jerusalem. So why didn’t they go? If anyone should have taken an interest in the possibility that the messiah had been born, it is the religious leaders. But they didn’t go. Why not? We can just imagine their conversations around the water cooler: “What do you make of those magi?” “You mean those foreigners who have nothing to do with us, with our God, and our messiah?” “Yeah, the messiah will rescue us from foreigners, right!?” “Aren’t they astrologers? They don’t know our Scriptures!” “How could these guys possibly know anything about anything? What could we possibly learn from them?!” “Nothing!”

And so the religious leaders of the day missed the biggest event in the history of religion, in fact the history of the world.

Does pride in what we think we know about God keep us from adjusting to the reality of God?

Joseph and Mary

For Mary and Joseph, a pregnancy was a reality that they had to adjust to. Mary’s baby bump was no mere figment of her imagination. She really was pregnant, and the baby really was not Joseph’s.

There would have been a great temptation to not adjust. In fact Joseph at first did not and could not. He required the visit of an angel to change his mind. Why? The whole thing would have seemed crazy, and to Joseph, Mary would have seemed crazy.

Perhaps we sometimes imagine that young women like Mary were hoping to be the one to experience a virgin conception in fulfilment of Isaiah 7:14:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)

In the original languages, the word virgin can also be translated young woman which is how some translations have rendered it. Perhaps more importantly, when you read through the full prophecy of Isaiah chapter seven, we find that it is a prophecy that would have been fulfilled in Isaiah’s day. The sign wasn’t that a virgin would conceive, but that what God said would happen back then would happen before a newborn child could discern between right and wrong, that is, in a few years. Therefore no one in Joseph and Mary’s day were expecting a virgin conception, including Joseph and Mary. To the Christian looking back it all makes sense, as does Matthew’s use of Isaiah 7:14, but to Joseph and Mary, this pregnancy would have been unexpected, crazy, and terrifying!

Joseph was clued in by an angel. Would anyone else have had that help?

Does worry about what people think of us keep us from adjusting to the reality of God?

Where do we find ourselves in the Christmas story?

Are we like Mary and Joseph who were able to adjust to the new reality of this baby named Jesus?

Whatever people may think of us, the reality of this baby points us to the reality of the opportunity for reconciliation with God, the reality of the better way of Jesus in the way of love, and the reality of a better future. This baby points to the reality of God’s love. The idea of the Creator of the universe coming to us in a strangely-conceived-baby-laid-in-a-manger might seem crazy at first glance, but can we, like Mary and Joseph, let God be God, and let Him love us?

Or are we like Herod and the religious leaders?

If we were to attempt to adjust God to make God better, to change God so that God would be a better God for us, it can’t be done. If we think it can, then perhaps we have a faulty notion of God. The God who is, the God who has revealed in Jesus that the divine is for us and not against us, is a reality we cannot change, but a reality worth adjusting to, and worth celebrating.


Years ago we realized that Pastor Clarke Dixon’s devotional postings were a perfect fit for us at C201, and he’s been here most Thursdays ever since. To read more, visit Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

November 24, 2021

How Did They Miss That Sermon Reference?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine not knowing what you look like.

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

He needs a mirror.

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

She needs a mirror.

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

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

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

What would your excuse be?


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

November 11, 2021

The Greatest New Beginning Ever

Thinking Through Acts 1:1-5

What is the biggest new beginning the world has ever seen?

Some might point to the conclusion of WWII, ushering in a post-war era, or the the dropping of atomic bombs, ushering in the nuclear age and a nuclear arms race. Some might point to the Reformation, or the Enlightenment, or of course, the current pandemic. Has anyone in the world been immune to the changes it has brought?

Whatever we might think has been the biggest “new beginning” humanity has experienced, let me suggest that the biggest and greatest new beginning ever can be found summed up in the first few verses of the book of Acts:

In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven . . .

Acts 1:1-2 (NLT)

The writer, in speaking of a first book, is referring here to the Gospel of Luke in which he wrote about the birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. The biggest new beginning the world has ever seen is Jesus!

You don’t need to be a Christian to appreciate how Jesus has had a great impact on world history. Yes, Christians have sometimes had a negative impact, but there can be no doubt Jesus has changed the course of world history. Of course we can also think about the impact Jesus has had in many, many individual lives.

As the book of Acts opens, we learn about how Jesus has been the greatest new beginning ever seen:

During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles . . .

Acts 1:3 (NLT)

Central to this new beginning is the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. There are different ways of looking at how the death and resurrection of Jesus works, of how the events of that first Easter have brought a new beginning. Though there are others, here are three keys ways:

First, Jesus took our place, suffering the consequence of our sin, so that we may have eternal life.

Second, Jesus had victory over evil, sin, and death. Though it looked like the powers of evil had won at the crucifixion, actually it turned out that God had the victory. As Bible scholar N.T. Wright often points out, Jesus is not a failed messiah, but the true king. Good triumphs over evil in the end because God triumphs, and God is good. Love wins in the end because God wins, and God is love.

Third, Jesus is the example of what love looks like. God came to us in Jesus, we killed Jesus, God loves us anyway and offers reconciliation. If everyone responded to offence the way that God responded to the offence of humanity at the cross, what a different world this would be!

When we hold these three perspectives together we see a wonderful new beginning with the expectant hope of eternal life though we have not earned it, the knowledge that Jesus is Lord though we don’t always perceive it, and the example of the better way of love though we don’t always live it. The suffering and resurrection of Jesus has changed everything.

Let us continue in Acts:

. . . and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive.

Acts 1:3 (NLT)

It was obvious to the disciples and everyone else in Jerusalem that Jesus was killed. It likely took a wee bit more convincing that he was alive. However they were convinced, not that they had seen a ghost, nor that Jesus was simply resuscitated to life in the here and now, but that Jesus was raised to new life with a new kind of body. The disciples and many others were convinced enough to change their whole perspective, and convinced enough to suffer and die for what they knew to be true. The resurrection changed the disciples. The resurrection changed everything. It was a wonderful new beginning.

Let us continue,

And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.

Acts 1:3 (NLT)

We can take note that during the forty days between resurrection and ascension, the Kingdom of God was a special focus for Jesus as he taught his disciples. Therefore the Kingdom of God really ought to be a focus for Jesus followers today.

We may think the focus of Christianity is “how to get to heaven when I die.” We think, therefore, that the new beginning will be when we die. True, that will be a wonderful new beginning, but there is much more to it than that.

We are reminded of how Jesus taught us to pray “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What are we praying for when we pray that? Are we praying for the end of the world?

Here is one way to imagine “Thy kingdom come.” What do you imagine that future will look like, when we are with God in the age of resurrection?

Will there be poverty then?
No, so let us deal with poverty now.
Will there be racism then?
No, so let us deal with racism now.
Will there be abuse, sexism, discrimination, bullying, war or…?
No, so let us deal with these kinds of things now.

Will people be suffering from mental health and depression then?
No, so let us help people who suffer from these things now.
Will people battle addictions or other kinds of inner battles then?
No, so let us help people who are facing these kinds of battles now.

Will there be a concern for truth then?
Yes, so let us pursue truth now.
Will there be justice then?
Yes, so let us pursue justice now.
Will people feel free to be honest then?
Yes, so let us make space for people to be honest now.
Will there be a love for reconciliation, then?
Yes, so let us pursue reconciliation now.

Will we be a people of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and things like these then? (See Galatians 5:22,23)
Yes, so let us open our lives to the Holy Spirit to be nurtured in these qualities now.

Are we waiting to die before things can get better, before we experience a true new beginning? There is no need to wait, Jesus is already king, we are his kingdom people now.

It has often been said that there are two gospels, an evangelical gospel (you get to heaven when you die) and a social gospel (we can make this earth a little more heavenly before we die). In fact there is is just one gospel, the good news that Jesus is king, the Kingdom of God is here and near, and we are invited and enabled to be a Kingdom person forevermore, beginning here and now.

We are not done yet,

Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 1:4-5 (NLT)

This new beginning brought about a new normal which persists even today; the Holy Spirit is now running rampant in the world. This new beginning, this Kingdom, is not happening without God. It is not going to happen without us either.

In Conclusion.

With Jesus came a massive new beginning for the world. In Jesus God’s kingdom is both here and near. It is a massive new beginning that God is doing in the here and now, which will lead to something bigger in the there and then. It is a massive new beginning that we are invited to participate in. It changes the world, it changes our communities, it changes us, it changes everything.

Are you ready for a new beginning?


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

October 31, 2021

Forever Amen

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV.Matt.6.9 “This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one

For eight weeks, Ruth Wilkinson shared a worship teaching segment on Sunday mornings based in the Lord’s Prayer. This was week nine, and she knew for some people the series wouldn’t be complete without thinking about the phrase with which we commonly end when reciting the prayer.

In the NIV (above), it’s a footnote:

some late manuscripts: for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

The version in Luke 11 is even shorter. The phrase doesn’t occur in some earlier manuscripts, but in one of the earliest writings we have, the Didache, which we discussed here a few days ago, it does appear. The website Got Questions says the phrase “should not be discarded lightly” as there are “data points” on both sides of the discussion.

We looked at the first part, in a 2014 post entitled, For Thine is the Kingdom, and more recently in 2020, Clarke Dixon studied the phrase in a post titled, For Thine is the Kingdom, where he reminded us of this related scripture:

Yours, O LORD, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.

1 Chronicles 29:11 NRSV (emphasis added)

Ruth shared that part with the congregation the week prior. Today she continued considering the phrase “forever and ever, Amen.”

Forever

Some of the prayer is for this lifetime. It speaks of having “daily bread” needs met, of forgiveness and forgiving, and of God’s leading in our lives.

Some of the prayer is about things beyond this life: God’s Kingdom, His holiness, His will (plans and purposes), His majesty and power, and His glory.

Having a ‘forever’ perspective reminds me that

►Faith isn’t just rose coloured glasses wear to get through the day; rather it’s more like prescription glasses help me see better.

►Faith isn’t just a template to make the complicated world seem simpler; rather it’s a perspective accept the complications and find my path through them.

►Faith isn’t a crutch help us limp through; rather, healing lets me stand firm, run toward, walk without fainting alongside those in need

Faith makes difference starting now, continuing forever.

Eternity has implications for my everyday: what I say, do, spend money and time on, how I treat people around me, how I interact with the world of which I’m a part.

Faith is therefore a response to what I see in Jesus, how I follow his example and live out his teachings.

Amen

The final word we recite is also a name give to Jesus.

NRSV.Rev.3.14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation…

The more common use of Amen occurs in our worship as affirmation of something just stated, confirming that “this is truth” or “this will be.” We say it here for the prayers about this life and the things that are prayers beyond this life.

Amen.


Here is a very short look at the prayer which Ruth shared 10 years earlier while serving at a different church. Check out, Before You Say, “Our Father.”

October 25, 2021

First Century Church Members Handbook

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

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:45 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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

~Didache 1:1

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

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

(Random) Highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

October 22, 2021

Jesus: Inside or Outside the City?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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It’s been nearly a year since we last connected with veteran Christian musician and author John Fischer who is still writing faithfully at The Catch. This time around, there were two consecutive devotionals which were somewhat related, so I’ve taken the liberty of including both. Click on the headers which follow to read these where they originated.

Note: We usually offer bonus devotionals from some authors after you’ve finished reading, but if you want some earlier posts based on these same verses in Hebrews before you get started, click here and here.

Where grace meets disgrace

And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. Hebrews 13:12-13

What happened?

According to this verse there is something disgraceful about meeting Jesus outside the camp. Did we miss something? Do you feel like you are walking around in a state of disgrace? I think we are trying everything we can to avoid disgrace.

Have we so bought into the American myth of success that we are attempting to “market” Christianity as helping make you wealthy, healthy, and successful, when none of that is guaranteed in the Bible? In fact, the truth is more likely to call us into failure in order to learn how to depend on Him. Failure is a far better teacher than success.

I think some of this grows out of our culture. We’ve tried to make Christianity cool thinking we could attract people to Christ. I remember in the early years of my ministry I used to like making Christianity cool because then I could be cool, too. But Jesus was never cool, and following Him guaranteed nothing except a wild ride and eternity.

But ultimately, following Him was all about disgrace. Why is that? Because of the way it ended. He took on my sin, and when I meet Him there outside the camp, I realize it was my sin that did it. So a large part of my disgrace is my sin that crucified Christ, but if I continue through the cross to the other side, I am met with His grace. Jesus meets my disgrace with His grace, and nothing can take that away.

So this is where we live, where grace meets disgrace. A guarantee that grace remains fresh. It’s not that my story is: 20 years ago, Jesus saved me. It’s more like 20 minutes ago, or 20 seconds ago. I live and walk in my deliverance. And my disgrace — His disgrace — plays an important part in that. And believe me, when you’ve been met on the other side of the cross by His grace, you have to tell the whole world about it!

No enduring city

For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:14

Outside. Everything happens outside. Jesus died outside the camp. We go to meet Him outside the camp where He meets our disgrace with His grace. Once that’s happened and that grace has turned us outward toward others, why would we want to go back inside? Everybody’s out here. People inside already know, and they’re pretty much just sitting there. Outside is where the action is.

Jesus is outside the camp, but most people who don’t know Him don’t know that. They think He’s inside some building because that’s what we’ve told them (“This is God’s house”); we’ve even invited them into the building to meet Him. Now of course that isn’t necessary because He is already outside the camp. We only need to introduce Him to people. But it’s important that we know how to do this. Positioning is everything. Are we looking down on people when we introduce them to Jesus? No. Are we looking across at them? No. We are looking up to them. We are looking up to them because that’s what grace does to us. It puts us with the lowest of the low. Like the publican on his knees crying out for God’s mercy, while the Pharisee is thanking God he is not like that poor miserable man. Until I realize that I am that poor miserable man, I do not know what grace is.

But once you know, how beautiful is this? You look up to everybody! Everybody looks good to you. No matter who they are, you’re looking up to them and telling them about God’s grace that’s bound to reach them because, lo and behold, it reached all the way down to you. So, as Marti says, you love them like no other.

And so the reason for our existence is not to stay inside and win some spiritual look-alike contest, but to turn grace outward to all those within our sphere of influence who have yet to know who Jesus is and what He has done for them. Otherwise, why are we here? We’re not here to set up camp, but to go outside the camp. That is why the writer of Hebrews says, “For here we do not have an enduring city.”

Your city — the city you are living in right now — will not endure. Everything here is temporary. That isn’t to say we abandon all responsibilities here on earth and wait for eternity. It’s really all about perspective. We have responsibilities to our address here in our city, but we need to remember this is not an enduring city. Our life does not end here. Turn up the fire under us! We are preparing for and helping prepare others for the enduring city that is to come.

October 16, 2021

Rescued from a Life Apart from God to a Life With God

Eleven years ago, in 2010, many of us were glued to a live CNN feed from Copiapo, Chile; watching the rescue of the 33 miners who had been trapped underground for 69 days. That got me thinking at the time about what it means to be rescued.

In Psalm 18:17 we read:

He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.

In II Tim 3 10-11 Paul tells Timothy,

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.

And Paul again, speaking in a broader sense in Col. 1:13-14 writes;

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The experience of the Chilean miners is similar to our own experience.  Maybe you became a Christ follower at a young age and didn’t experience much in the way of sin and depravity, but positionally, all of us were once captive and now we are numbered among the rescued. We’ve been set free!

But do we truly appreciate it? Instead of focusing on what you were saved out of, think of what you were saved from.  Think of what might have been — the things you were kept from and even today are kept from — were it not for the Holy Spirit working on and working in your life.

Let’s think about someone who knew exactly what she’d been saved out of. Consider this passage from Luke 7 — especially the climax of verse 47 — in the light of the personal rescue that has taken place just for you…

36Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

While I believe we have a picture here of a woman who has been transformed, or at the very least is in the process of transformation. But note that her reputation has continued to follow her. It would take time (and an endorsement from the Teacher from Nazareth) before that reputation would start to change.

Additionally, the rest of the people there had every reason to be thankful as well because, by the grace of God, they had not succumbed to a life that would bring societal and community condemnation.

But wait, there’s more!

The dichotomy of what we’ve been saved from versus that what we’ve been saved out of, pales in comparison to what we’ve been saved to.

By this I mean that instead of letting sin set the standard, and focusing on whether we came from a dark background or if we dodged the proverbial bullet (and letting that identify us), we should instead focus on the idea that we’ve been saved to a life in Christ, which includes 24-hour access to his presence.

We’re no longer looking back, but we’re enjoying the present and looking forward to the future.

The Chilean miners lived each successive day in the blessing of having been rescued, but I’m sure that this doesn’t define their lives today, eleven years later. Rather they are living in the present and looking forward to the future, and for them, I hope this also includes the life in Christ we’ve discussed.

 

October 5, 2021

Fearing and Trembling

Over the past year, in the wake of differing opinions on everything from health issues to politics, I have seen a great proliferation of new books being published on how Christians should work out their differences with other believers.

It’s hard to do this, because the answers are not always black-and-white; not always crystal-clear. Two people can have different answers to the WWJD? question. (We’ll get to that in a minute!)

1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT) states,

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Philippians 2:12 advises us to “work out” our salvation “with fear and trembling.” As other translations make clearer, this references what was translated elsewhere as “fear of God.”

Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. (NLT)

…Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. (MSG)

But sometimes, you find yourself fearing and trembling your fellow believer, especially when the “working out” means that you walk away from certain scripture verses with a different take on them than that of a brother or sister. I know fear of your fellow man wasn’t what the verse intended; but sometimes life seems to be play out like that.

In the early days of my other blog, I would spend over an hour some days catching up with moderating and reading and responding to reader comments. With a few of them, I would reach a point where we clearly agreed to disagree. But hopefully neither of us were being disagreeable.

It’s hard not to be passionate about our pet doctrines. I can easily fall into that trap. But it becomes even more difficult when people have grown up without exposure to anyone who feels different about a particular element of theology than their own.

And then there are the people who shut everything down with, “Well, that’s not in the Bible;” expecting that the scripture would provide crystal-clear guidance on things that weren’t invented or didn’t exist back then.

Guess what? You’re right. It’s not in the Bible. But other things are, and we can interpolate where the dots connect by reading what the Bible does say about very similar things.

Especially one thing: The mind and heart of God.

The popular bracelets, buttons and bumper stickers from two years ago asked the question, What would Jesus do? Sometimes we have to (with fear and trembling) figure that out by asking the question, What did Jesus do? Knowing how he did respond (and teach us to respond) gives us an idea how he would respond to what we face today.

We’re so quick to say that “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship;” but many people fail to express their faith in relational terms. To which I would say maybe you are missing out on something. To know what God feels about things in our modern context, you need to first know God as a friend. I have friends who I haven’t seen physically in a long, long time; others who I haven’t so much as e-mailed; but I know how they would respond and react in certain situations because I know them.

At this point however, it can still be a standoff, because the other person may feel they have as deep a knowledge of God and His will as you do. We know that while we may all stand in personal relationship to God; or if you prefer, to Jesus; the dynamic of that relationship may be quite different for different people.

So work out your doctrine with fear and trembling.

Work out your personal ethics with fear and trembling.

Work out your systematic theology with fear and trembling.

Work out how you respond to others with fear and trembling.

But remember, that all around you are other Christ followers — seeing as through frosted (or fogged up) glass — who are doing the exact same thing. With the cross of Christ in view, we will eventually find ourselves drawing closer to each other. But it may take time.

Our closing words are from the next chapter of Philippians. Here’s what Paul says in 3:12-14 (NLT)

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.


So should we just clam up and say nothing ever? Tomorrow we’ll look at the idea of “preaching to the trees;” affirming our faith in declarations even when it seems nobody is listening.

October 4, 2021

Truly Recognizing Sin and Guilt

Off and on the last few days, I’ve been looking at material from C201’s first year, and while the length, formatting, and sometimes lack of scripture content rendered those early articles ineligible for re-using today, I’ve used them as “blog prompts” to direct my thoughts on the same subjects in the context of what we now do here daily.

On one of the devotionals, I began with a story that was playing out where a military official was found guilty of murdering two women. Because the story was so significant in Canada, the media broadcast his confession, which ran 9.5 hours, and begins more in denial territory, and then over time he realizes that his guilt has been established. It’s a foregone conclusion.

The interrogator is very skillful in bringing the accused from thinking he is just being brought in for background information to the realization that his criminal actions are, in the minds of the police, an established fact.

If you’ve ever been involved in leading a person into that process we sometimes call ‘crossing the line of faith,’ you know that there are various steps a person needs to go through in order to have the fullest understanding of both our part and Christ’s part in the salvation of men and women.

One of the more simplistic devices — and there is always discussion about the danger of using “simple steps” devices — is called “The ABCs of Salvation.” Acknowledge, Believe, Confess.

Step one is acknowledging your sin and guilt as seen through the eye of a holy God. Those of us who have already crossed the line of faith often don’t think twice about this, but for those outside the fold, this is actually a fairly big step, because many see themselves as fairly good people. (This one of the major takeaways from Brant Hansen’s book The Truth About Us; we tend to grade ourselves as better than we are.)

To say this another way, we who have chosen to follow Christ recognize that before granting him lordship of our lives, we were positionally in a condition we call dead in sin. But for some who genuinely want to experience the peace and purpose we have, an admission of our natural fallen state is akin to suddenly changing the topic.

I wondered watching the news coverage of the story how people in the broader marketplace would fare if they were brought into a room with a “spiritual interrogator” not fully thinking that their guilt had been established, and how they would move through the process from innocence (think Adam and Eve just after they ate the fruit and nothing bad happened) to concern (think Adam and Eve covering themselves, even though nobody had ever suggested the idea of clothing) to being face to face with God (think Adam and Eve not responding at all once they are found out).

This is not an easy process. It was agonizing to watch the once giant of the Canadian military realizing the game was up.

Genesis 3:9 (NIV) But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”

God wasn’t playing hide-and-seek and asking Adam for his physical location; he was asking him where he was in relationship to Himself.

It’s possible that the difficulty we experience in ‘making progress’ in terms of ‘reaching’ our neighbors and friends and coworkers with an understanding of the Christian message of redemption is that they can’t bring themselves to the place where they admit their guilt. They’re “good.” They’re “nice.”

But similar to the case of the televised confession I watched, the evidence has been weighed in the court of heaven, and the guilt has already been established: All have sinned and missed the mark of God’s glorious standard.

Romans 3: 21-24 (The Message) But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

Romans 6:22-23 (The Message) Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.

We can only live in denial of our sinful condition for so long. Eventually we need to do a self-assessment. We have to realize that in order to get to where we want to be, we need to look in the spiritual mirror and fully realize where we are.

Perhaps you are reading this and God is asking, “Where are you?” It’s not because he doesn’t know.

Or if you have a friend who truly desires to join you on the journey of faith, but no matter how good and nice they are, it begins with an acknowledgement of where all of us are when we start that journey: Sinners in need of mercy and forgiveness.

That’s not a concession to one particular doctrinal system’s soteriology, it’s just the way, with God, that things work.

October 3, 2021

Getting Younger with Each New Day

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
 – Isaiah 40:29 NIV

But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.
 – Isaiah 40:31 NLT

Years ago I had an interesting conversation with a guy who I figured to be at least a decade older than myself. When the conversation ended he left, but then he returned and said he just wanted to share a verse with me. He then quoted II Cor 4:16 to me from the KJV:

For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward [man] is renewed day by day.

Most of you would know this better from the NIV:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

He then went on to tell me that he has been told, and has felt that he is “getting younger.” He said he felt more rejuvenated, and more energetic than at any time in his life.

This is not the first time an older follower of Christ has told me something like this. A woman told me that she’d noticed that the new hair growth on her head was coming in darker, replacing the grey hairs.

Looking for a way to respond somehow, I told him — and I hope this didn’t sound too new age — that he was simply filled with fresh passion about his faith and that he was drawing on the energy from that passion. He didn’t argue that point.

That’s the kind of faith to aim for; a faith that is vibrant and exciting and informs the other areas that make up the four parts of you: your mind, your social interactions, your emotions; and even your physical body. (See this four-part division in Luke 2:52.)

Renewal Means Being Made New

There was once an SNL skit by the comedian who played a priest in which he talked about a planet where people reached a certain age and then started getting younger. The punchline was something to the effect that “you didn’t know if someone was coming or going.” It’s not applicable here except insofar as it introduces “outside the box” thinking. Renewal — if you really think about it — is just that; being made new.

Paul tells the Corinthians,

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (II-5:7)

I once heard someone say that the Greek on this passage is not talking about a metamorphosis like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, but more like a caterpillar turning into a “winged elephant.” In other words, anyone in Christ becomes (his words): “a species of being that never existed before.” So we are all not who we were, we are changed and are being changed.

The idea of “getting younger” goes against the basic rules of science, but with God anything is possible. In John 3:3, Jesus introduces Nicodemus to the idea of being “born again.” In the next verse Nick asks the obvious question,

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
 – NIV

In the upside-down kingdom Jesus brings, the new birth isn’t quite that dramatic, but it’s just as significant. The man I met said he is “getting younger” and frankly, I have no reason to believe he is not.

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
 – Isaiah 41:10 NLT

Renewal Means the Dead are Made Alive

A parallel comparison can be constructed from the more central idea of scripture that, rather than looking at the aged recovering youthful vigor, we should be looking at those who are spiritual dead — which was all of us at one time — being given new life.

This is the message of 1 Corinthians 15:22

Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. (NLT)

A new energy. A fresh start. A clean slate.

How can anyone walk way from that offer?

 

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 29, 2021

Letters to the Seven (or more) Churches in Revelation

This is a revisit to an article that was posted here eleven years ago. It’s been rewritten for clarity. It also features a graphic image at the bottom. When I tested the link, I discovered that the original site is no longer available, so I can’t give proper credit. Make sure you spend as much time looking over the chart as you do reading what follows…

(NIV) Rev. 1:9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Seven letters to seven different churches that existed when John received the vision, right?

Zoom out a little. There were a dozen or so well-established churches at the time. Could it be that the choice of “seven” means that these letters have application to the whole church? That the letters, like the rest of scripture, are not written to us but are definitely written for us?

Zoom back in. Some people teach that the seven churches represent different ages of the larger church over different eras. That this is a historical overview of church history. Perhaps. But there may be something more immediate for us to consider.

Zoom in again. Churches like the seven so-described exist today. If you’ve been around different denominations, or have attended a variety of churches, you might be able to put different names next to each letter.

Zoom in more. Even within an individual church, there are often different sub-groups to whom these different letters might apply. Or maybe they represent different stages in the history of that local church over time.

Zoom in tighter. We shouldn’t get caught up in the idea that the letters are a message that someone else needs to hear. That it’s for the church in the Middle Ages. That the message applies to the church down the block. Rather these letters contain a message that’s for me. These letters have application to each one of us. Maybe the message to the church at Laodicia is pertinent to you right now. Or maybe you’re at a Sardis or Ephesus point in your Christian life.

Zoom in!

…Here’s a bonus for you today…

If you didn’t grow up in church before the 1960s, here’s an example of the kind of visual presentation you missed out on when the letters were taught!

We considered the seven letters elsewhere at C201. Here’s a link to Seven Letters: Seven Problem Churches (It’s a short article and uses the same scripture reference, so you’re already halfway through!)


If you’re reading this at the site and not as an email, there’s a formatting problem (depending on what browser you’re using and the size of your monitor) with the last ten or so articles that normally I can fix, but this time it’s not fixing. Thanks for your patience. If you wish the text of a particular article emailed to you, use the submissions and contact tab to request.

September 18, 2021

Ever Been Called, “Spiritual?”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Today we are highlighting and featuring the writing of Michael Pircio who is appearing here for the first time. Michael’s life took a strange turn about two years ago, and while he doesn’t give us all the details, you can read a quick summary here. His blog is named Something Extraordinary. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Christian Apologetics.

The article we chose was the first of two (so far) in a series called “Society’s Assumptions.” Send some traffic his way by clicking the header which follows and reading today’s devotional there.

Society’s Assumptions: Christianity = Spiritualism?

NIV.Eph.2.8a For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith

I was sitting with a friend the other day, whom many may define as a good person.  He told me “You know Mike, I’m not sure I could have gone through what you’ve gone through without your Spirituality, It’s a good thing you have it.” This is interesting, simply because I don’t consider myself a spiritual person. I don’t consider Christianity, God, Christ, good or evil spiritual things. I consider them just as tangible as you or I. The reason I believe in God is the same reason I believe in trees, or water, or the sky, no I can’t touch him, but I can see His work. I can’t hear Him, yet I can read His words. I can’t see him, but He knows where I go.

Likewise, Christ was a real man. He is still God. Many of historians from antiquity have written about Christ and the Christians or “followers of Christ”, so I know He isn’t just a myth. The same can be said for good and evil. Human beings, since the beginning of time, have considered whether there is good and evil, and what that looks like. They question such things as “Are humans substantially more evil than good?”, “Can people choose good without a benefit?”, or my favorite “Why is there evil if there is a benevolent, all-powerful, deity?”.

Dictionary.com gives us more modern interpretations of words and how they are used colloquially or in other words, as common words in  conversation. The site defines “Spiritual” in definition 6 as “of or relating to the spirit as the seat of the moral or religious nature.” And I would have to agree in this use of the word, as many people, especially my age may define themselves as “Spiritual, but not religious”. As a Christian, I should be neither spiritual nor religious in my beliefs. If I define Christianity as a tangible faith, then how could either of those (religious or spiritual) bring me closer to my Creator?

Neither of them can. Religion, is a system made of rituals and practices associated with worship. Christians should not practice religion. God doesn’t require us to sing or do anything except love him. As I went over in my love series, that means being the best ambassador of Heaven on Earth. We are to study about Him and read His word. We are to pray and talk to Him, just like any relationship, and we can embark on artistic ventures about Him if we want to, in order to worship him, such as music or artwork; however, if we aren’t talented like that, we should worship Him with diligence in doing “all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10:13)

God doesn’t even require us to have corporate worship, we however are commanded to gather with like-minded believers as that encourages us in our faith, but that doesn’t mean we have to go to church. God requires a personal relationship with us first, and then by that relationship we will want to spend time worshipping and fellowshipping with other like minded individuals.

So what’s the issue with someone calling us Spiritual? It seems harmless doesn’t it? It’s all about pluralism. Pluralism allows someone to serve two masters. It separates innate curiosity of the divine from the animalistic instincts that keep us from perfection. It allows us to follow man-made principles in satisfactory fashion allowing for our superficial concern over eternity to be quenched, but also allows for humanity to continue indulging in vices, questionable morals, and blatant rebellion without much consequence if any. People who are spiritual may believe in “God” as a higher power, but also subject themselves to eastern ideas such as karma and nirvana. They may even call themselves Christian, but when tasked with explaining their faith they can’t expound on it much more than being raised in a church.

People who are Spiritual consider themselves good people, and they have a morality that they believe to be right; Christians on the other hand cannot consider themselves to be good people, because we know we aren’t deserving of the title as sinners.

The whole point of this blog is to pierce right through what the church has neglected in so many years. Churches have gotten hung up on being “Spiritual” focusing on music, worship teams, and nice messages about how being good will please God, and following God’s rules make you a good Christian. As Christians we really need to take a stand against what society thinks of us and correct them. We are not spiritual, we simply serve a very real being who cannot be seen because of His holiness, who cannot be touched but can change lives in a very real way, and cannot be heard but has written down His word in a guidebook for our lives.

We are Christians, because we follow the Son of the being, known as God, who was sent to tell us exactly how His Father thinks, as He and the Father are one. We don’t follow Him because of His good ideas, or His compassion, or His Death. We follow Him because He is God.

Out of all this, the takeaway is Christianity isn’t spiritual, it’s not religious, it’s faith; a faith that is very real based on personal experience with a divine being who reached out to choose us to love Him and follow His plan on this Earth. While other religions espouse that they received their words from angels or men, we and our Jewish brethren are the only ones who can say we’ve received word directly from God himself.

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