Christianity 201

April 1, 2020

Celebrating 10 Years of Christianity 201

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
 -Hebrews 12:2 BSB

Last week one of our contributing writers reminded me of a paragraph on our “about” page, I had forgotten,

Why “201” – A lot of energy is expended in the Christian blogosphere debating and discussing things that are either divisive or fleeting. I wanted this particular voice to be about things that were more lasting, and the possibility of God’s blessing on those who read this to be a realistic expectation.

That sums up why I started Christianity 201 on April 1, 2010, and it remains its purpose today.

The original articles weren’t formatted the same however. I didn’t demand of myself that each day include scripture — that came months later — but only that the focus be centered on Christ and His Church. So there were a lot of quotations. Here are some excerpts from some of the early posts:

On the first day of C201, April 1, 2010:

When we say we begin with God, we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God. Instead, we ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ. – E. Stanley Jones.

On the uniqueness of Christ:

If Jesus had never lived we never would have been able to invent him. – Walter Wink

On staying the course spiritually:

Collapse in the Christian life is rarely caused by a blowout. It is usually the result of a slow leak. – unknown

On the cross:

“I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the marketplace, as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a high cross between two thieves: on the town garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew, in Latin and in Greek…. At the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse and soldiers gamble. Because that’s where He died. And that is what He died about. And that is where churchmen ought to be and what churchmen should be about.” – George MacLeod

On Grace vs. Scripture:

The thing about grace is that it makes religion totally redundant. – Bruxy Cavey

On treasuring scripture:

“You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilization to pieces, turn the world upside down, and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of good literature.“ – Ghandi

On the Holy Spirit:

The Ten Commandments… are impossible to fallen people, but not God whose nature they are. …It is the indwelling Spirit of God who, alone, can reproduce and express the moral character of God within us. – Charles Price

On intimacy with God:

There is a way to read the Bible that keeps God at an arm’s length. If you primarily read the Bible as a book of principles to follow and people to imitate then your relationship with God won’t be intimate, it will be contractual. – David Paul Door

A guide for those who preach:

1. How often is Jesus mentioned?
2. If Jesus is mentioned, is he the subject of the verbs? In the sermon is Jesus and his work proclaimed… or is someone else and their work proclaimed?
3. What are those verbs? Are they that Jesus came, lived, died, rescued, saved, and the like? Are they biblical terms? – R. Alan Cole

On the nature of sin:

We never see sin correctly unless we see it as against God. – Jerry Bridges

On evaluating ourselves:

I don’t want to underestimate my sinfulness because all that does is cheapen the grace of God! But more importantly, I don’t want to underestimate the grace of God. We need to be reminded over and over again that the grace of God is so much bigger than our biggest failure! – Mark Batterson

On not worrying about what others see:

Both Blaise Pascal and Jonathan Edwards were known to arrive home with a couple dozen hand written notes pinned to their jackets. Yes, they looked like dorks, but we remember them hundreds of years after their deaths and don’t even know the names of the cool people anymore. – Tim Keller

The other thing that struck me about the early days of Christianity 201 was the use of music. Sometimes, in the early days, a post was simply an embedded video and a reflection on the lyrics. Ten years later, we have “the worship industry” and it’s far too easy for writers to be dismissive of the power a Christian song can have in the life of a believer, so few devotional writers include music. For an index of the songs we’ve used — updated last about a year ago — click this link.

I want to especially thank those who granted us permission to continually use their material here, and those who forgave us for the times we were on deadline and saw something we felt worth highlighting and pilfered it!

While some authors appear here with great regularity, I also want to express my special thanks to Rev. Clarke Dixon, whose material is featured here every Thursday. It’s such a good fit for C201 in many different ways.

Also, I want to thank my wife Ruth who at least once a month transcribes something out of a print resource that doesn’t exist online and is also a frequent contributor here. Click here for all her posts.

…Moving forward, we will eventually be converting to a five-days-per-week format, as do many other devotional bloggers. But in the present circumstances, I want to continue to be here for people 7-days-a-week if I am able.

Thanks again to readers and subscribers for your support over the past 120 months.

Paul Wilkinson


March 19, 2020

Investing Wisely (According to Jesus)

Today we’re taking a break from the special series of devotions we’ve been running in light of the world situation; though, with financial markets being the collateral damage of the pandemic, this is in its own way very timely.

by Clarke Dixon

With the markets being so volatile, there are those who are having trouble knowing what to invest in. I have no idea how my pension plan is doing day to day, I am just happy to have one! Many don’t. When we think of investments, we need not just think of wealth and money. We can also think of how we invest our time. The well-to-do and not-so-well-to-do alike have the same amount of time to invest. We can also think of how we invest our abilities and “gifts.” The well-to-do and not-so-well-to-do alike have much to offer, abilities to invest. So is there good advice for how we should invest? Should we invest in Apple, or in gold? Well, Jesus has something to tell us about investments:

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. Matthew 6:19-21 (NLT)

Jesus would have us choose investments in heaven. What does that mean? What it does not mean, is giving away all your money so that you will receive a bigger reward when you get to heaven. That is not the point. The point is, whatever wealth you accumulate on earth will not last. It can be destroyed by moths when it is precious fabric, a valuable investment in ancient times, it can be destroyed by rust when it is precious metal, another valuable investment in ancient times, and of course it can be destroyed by a market crash. And if our investments do not lose value in those ways, they will certainly be of no value to us when we are dead:

Those who are wise must finally die,
just like the foolish and senseless,
leaving all their wealth behind . . . .
People who boast of their wealth don’t understand;
they will die, just like animals. Psalms 49:10,20 (NLT)

“Treasures in heaven” are investments that last. They are not affected by moth, or rust, or market crashes. “Treasures in heaven” are investments of real heavenly value. We store up treasures in heaven when we invest in justice and peace, things that result in a lasting impact on people. We store up treasures in heaven when we invest in someone’s walk with Jesus, which will have a lasting impact on them plus the people in their sphere of influence. We store up treasures in heaven when we invest in someone’s opportunity to experience peace with God. That is a treasure that can never be taken away!

Jesus has more to say on the matter:

Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is! Matthew 6:22-23 (NLT)

This is one of those sayings that would make perfect sense to the people of Jesus’ day, but is harder for us to understand. Basically, a bright eye, or rather a “simple,” or “generous” eye, is an eye that can really see what is going on. I remember when the headlight burned out on my motorcycle. Since I only had one, it was dark, and how deep that darkness was! People with good eyes can see far down the road. They can see what their investments will accomplish. They can see the difference generosity will make.

Let us give an example. Suppose you invent something really useful, the best thing since sliced bread. From your invention you earn one million dollars every year for the next 100 years. You decide to invest all of it in a super-high interest account. Now just imagine how much that would be worth in 100 years! Now think how much it will actually be worth to you in 100 years. If you have a healthy eye, you will see that it will ultimately be of no worth to you, for you will be gone! And by the way, your grandchildren will fight tooth and nail over it. Now, what if it was invested in God’s great kingdom purposes? What good would it do? How many lives might it touch? How many families might be positively impacted when people learn to walk wth Jesus in faith, hope, and love? How many people might spend eternity with God as a result of investing in God’s purposes? Can we see the future returns on our investments? Let us keep in mind that our investments are more than just money, but also time and abilities. Do we see the future impact our investments can have?

Jesus has yet more to say on the matter:

No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. Matthew 6:24 (NRSV)

Let us note what Jesus did not say. He did not say “You cannot pursue both God and wealth.” Jesus is not commending here a vow of poverty. We can pursue both. But we can only serve one. Consider again the example given above about earning a million dollars a year. We can do that. It is not wrong to earn money. But where will we invest it? Will we serve God with our wealth? Or will we serve the wealth itself?

We can worship God every Sunday, be vocal about our trust in God for salvation, and follow all the rules. But we could be missing the mark in our priorities regarding wealth. We can be a people who worship wealth, trust it more than God, and fail to love people through it. Jesus is leading us to choose generosity toward God’s great kingdom purposes. Jesus is leading us to be the kind of people who worship God with our wealth, trust God more than our wealth, and love people with our wealth. Do we love the wealth we have? Or do we love people using the wealth we have?

Jesus had a great investment strategy. Jesus himself chose to store up treasures in heaven:

You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9 (NLT)

Jesus is the ultimate example of one who chose to store up treasures in heaven, who had a healthy eye seeing the impact of his investment, who served the Father, not wealth. He invested in us at the cross. That treasure can never be eaten by moths, destroyed by rust, or affected by stock market crashes. That was an investment with returns that last for eternity! Whatever we have that we can invest, whether financial wealth, time, or abilities and talents, let us invest like Jesus.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario; a small town about an hour east of Toronto, Canada.  He appears here most Thursdays.

For a limited time, the full sermon can be heard at https://podpoint.com/calvary-baptist-church-cobourg-podcast)

February 29, 2020

Moving to a 201-Level Christianity

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Earlier today I did a Google search for “Christianity 201” and found an article of which a very small excerpt appears below. (I hope it’s enough of a teaser that you truly desire to read the whole piece.) Greg has been writing at Inappropriate Conversations for ten years now and more recently podcasting.

Again, I encourage you to click the link in the header which follows, and read this complete.

Christianity 201: Time for Solid Food

It’s embarrassing to consider this possibility, but one of the differences between a 101-level and 201-level understanding of scripture is the answer to a couple of simple questions.  Did Jesus accomplish his mission and fulfill the law?  And when?

Matthew 5:17 – “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

John 19:30 – Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

I call the questions I raised embarrassing because they should reflect an elementary level of comprehension.  Jesus finished his work on the cross.  As Christians, we’ve -heard and said that phrase countless times.  Or, do we somehow doubt that Jesus truly is “Abraham’s seed” as specifically described by Paul (and, if you are a Christian, by Moses)?

Galatians 3:15-26 – Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it.  Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.  What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.  For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.

Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.  Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one.  Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God?  May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.  But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.  Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

Jesus fulfilled all of The Law.  Period.  Christianity teaches that we are justified by faith in Christ alone, and not by obedience to laws.  One line between heroes of the faith and heretics was drawn on precisely this point.  As human leadership perverted this doctrine, reformers throughout history have laid down their lives to restate Biblical truth.  Some were hanged.  Others were burned at the stake.  Shame on us for forgetting or feigning confusion.

I understand.  This can seem like a challenging concept.  So many believers who have specialized in Christianity 101 – taking the beginner’s course over and over again – have learned to rely upon The Law.  We erect statues of the Ten Commandments on the public square like graven images, in fact.  We’re willing to accept that Jesus fulfilled some of the laws.  It’s no trouble to walk away from dietary restrictions or guidelines about menstruation and participation in worship.  We’re failing at theology if we claim that Jesus did not fulfill them all…

…again, click the link in the title to continue reading…

February 28, 2020

Signs of a Healthy Church

Last Sunday, I attended the annual meeting of the church where my wife is employed, and where I’ve also been attending for nearly two years. It was my first such business meeting in a church of this denomination. Though required by law, the AGM (Annual General Meeting) is also a good opportunity for churches to step back and see the ‘big picture’ of church life, consider what God is doing through their efforts, thank God for His provision and look forward to the future.

The danger of course is to reduce meetings like this to statistics; to pie-chart and bar-graph church life to extremes. Often we rejoice in the reports of individual departments, but then the meeting really kicks into high gear when attendees are told to turn to the financial reports. Generally AGMs are all about numbers.

I doubt the first century church did this kind of record-keeping, and the Apostle Paul — who had a great mind when it came to understanding justification and atonement — was somewhat fuzzy on if or when he had baptized people.

Years ago we published an excerpt from an annual report from a UK church which began by reminding people of the marks of a healthy church. (The source blog is no longer online.) Check it out:

1. People are coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
2. Our missions program is expanding locally, nationally and globally.
3. People are making public professions of faith through baptism.
4. Attendance in worship services is increasing.
5. The worship experience is vibrant, enthusiastic and intergenerational.
6. There is broad participation in serving throughout the ministries.
7. New ministries are beginning as God imparts vision.
8. Guests are being connected to church life.
9. Covenant membership is increasing.
10. Our budgetary needs are being met.
11. Leaders are being developed and placed in ministry roles.
12. Scripture is central to our message.
13. Staff relationships are healthy.

That’s the kind of church I want to be a part of; though I think the eleven hour round trip would take its toll after a few Sundays. Although it represented a larger church, I believe these goals are viable at some level for churches of all shapes and sizes.

What else does a healthy church look like? I want to leave us with a look at how The Message translates two familiar passages describing the early church. Take your time with this:

Acts 2:38-39Peter said, “Change your life. Turn to God and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so your sins are forgiven. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is targeted to you and your children, but also to all who are far away—whomever, in fact, our Master God invites.”

40He went on in this vein for a long time, urging them over and over, “Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture!”

41-42That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.

43-45Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.

46-47They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.

Acts 4:31While they were praying, the place where they were meeting trembled and shook. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God’s Word with fearless confidence.

32-33The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, “That’s mine; you can’t have it.” They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them.

34-35And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person’s need.

February 19, 2020

Waiting Is Not a Passive Act

The website Broken Believers “is all about serving through a message of Christian discipleship and helping Christians with mental illnesses and other issues. Bryan is a pastor who also suffers from clinical depression and now ministers to those in need.”

This is our seventh time with Bryan Lowe. An understanding of the Hebrew word used in a very familiar verse really enhances its meaning. As always, click the header below to read this at source.

Braided Up With God

Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.

Isaiah 40:31, NASB

The particular word “wait” is a vital force. It’s definitely not a passive word in the Scriptures. It does not mean to be apathetic or lazy. Sometimes we wait in line at the grocery store or maybe waiting on a phone call. We regularly wait all the time, and usually, we don’t even realize it.

The Hebrew word used in v. 31 is ‘kawvah’ which means, ‘to bind together by twisting.’ It sometimes will mean, ‘to braid.’

It’s an interesting word picture, isn’t it? Sometimes we only take the English idea of waiting and turn it turns into a frustrating delay. Often this is why we lose out on what ‘wait’ is really about. I have to believe the Holy Spirit wants to teach this idea of becoming ‘braided up with God.’ All too often we are limited by our definitions and not God’s Word.

For those of us who are ill— physically or mentally, just to be told simply, “wait on the Lord” is a real challenge. Often, we will end up resenting this counsel (and the counselor) because we misunderstand what it means to really ‘wait.’

Yet when I truly wait on God, I’m actually weaving myself into Him. He becomes my strength; He is now the strong cord I am braided into. (Perhaps this is how He imparts strength and might to His people?) We desperately need this and the Lord is eager to lead us into this new intimacy.

The promise in Isaiah 40:31 tells us about new strength, the eagle’s wings, and holy stamina. This verse is relevant to us today, and we need this kind of strength now. I only want to encourage you in your own prayer time, to see yourself intertwined to the Lord, and to recognize the good gift of the Holy Spirit freely given.

“Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!”

Psalm 27:14



Mission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading. Your suggestions of articles and websites to consider are always welcome.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

February 9, 2020

Keeping Moral Purity

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
 – Jeremiah 17:9

For from within the hearts of men come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, arrogance, and foolishness.
– Mark 7:22-23

For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking and darkened in their foolish hearts.
 – Romans 1:21

Once again we’re back with Arnold Reimer, for many years the pastor of Bayview Glen Alliance Church in Toronto, and his blog titled Finishing Well.

Moral Purity

The news and the courts seem crowded with disturbing cases of sexual impropriety involving people of all social levels of wealth, fame, power and commonality. The number of women who have been violated is staggering. One wonders how so many have been so vulnerable, and where their parents, siblings, friends and associates were while all this was happening? It is not a happy commentary on family and social responsibility. After all, we really are our brothers’ (sisters’) keeper!

One thing is very clear: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?” Jesus spelled it out bluntly, “The things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man (or woman), for out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornication, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile . . .

Painful is the number of clergy and those of Christian profession who are found among the reprobates. Nothing reveals the depths of human depravity more than a person who proclaims the Word of God with its clear commands, calls for obedience to its truths, and warns of the consequences of disobedience, while living in moral hypocrisy. Great harm has been done to the cause of Christ because of it. No place on earth should be safer to be, nor persons safer to be with, than the church and its leaders. Thankfully, for the most part that remains true; but that is little comfort to the abused.

…I wish to underline some Scriptural/spiritual principles that bless and protect one’s moral purity. In a world that is increasingly becoming a cesspool of moral failure, misinformation, indecent dress and selfish unrestraint, we need biblical disciplines with boundaries strong and true. So . . .

1. KEEP YOUR HEART – with all diligence for out of it come the issues of life. Our Creator has set the standards and fixed the values governing sexual behaviour. Moral purity is suppose to be the norm. To aid and abet that, marriage is a sacred and exclusive relationship between one man and one woman. Sexual acts outside that bond are wrong. It is critical that we fill and guard our mind with truth. Learn the biblical principles and illustrations that teach and enable purity, loyalty and faithfulness. Meditate on them day and night. Listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and obey Him, while making no provision for the flesh. The Word of God, the work of Christ and the voice of the Holy Spirit are sufficient protection and guidance for every temptation we face.

2. KEEP YOUR EYES – Our eyes feed the thoughts which motivate our body. What and who we allow our eyes to look at indiscriminately will make a huge difference in how we think and what we do. A life informed by Scripture and yielded to the Spirit bears the fruit that starts with genuine love and ends with the strong disciplines of self-control. God wants us to see others as those He values and loves. No one is a commodity.

3. KEEP YOUR SPOUSE – Next to God, Himself, our relationship with our spouse is critical to all we are. There is a reason why God has instructed us to leave father and mother and to cling to our wife/husband in order to become one flesh. That takes time, love, togetherness, forgiveness, communication, trust, commitment, wisdom and understanding – a lot more, but nothing less! No one else is half as valuable to our well-being, and certainly not to the maintenance of moral purity. Nurture, build, protect, value and reward the spousal relationship.

To a large degree we are living with the consequences of a society that places little value on purity. Our laws, educational systems and social values have increasingly looked the other way as immorality infiltrates behaviour, especially among vulnerable youth. It is taken for granted in sex education that immorality will occur, to the point of aiding it in the hopes of limiting pregnancies or STDs. Little emphasis or consideration is given to the serious physical, psychological and social consequences of unleashed sexuality. The acceptance of homosexuality as normal behaviour has hugely complicated the issue. Its influence and demands are spreading at an alarming rate

Only a profound revival of biblical influence into our culture will save us from the devastating consequences of rampant, moral impurity. Critical to that will be strong, godly marriages and faithful churches committed to teaching and living the whole counsel of God. We desperately need to put on the whole armour of God, holding firmly the shield of faith to protect us from every flaming missile hurled at us. Sorely needed are prophetic voices warning of the consequences of moral impurity, and a multitude of saints demonstrating what it looks like.

February 4, 2020

The Hurt of Rejection

Today again, an internationally-sourced devotional for you that’s new to us; this time from down under! Christianityworks is a non-denominational, global media ministry headquartered in Sydney, Australia. They have additional offices in the UK, India, and the USA.  To read today’s article at source, or listen to each on audio, click the individual titles.

Romans 5:7,8 Very few people will die to save the life of someone else, even if it is for a good person. Someone might be willing to die for an especially good person. But Christ died for us while we were still sinners, and by this God showed how much he loves us.

Honestly, I think that rejection is one of the worst things that we ever have to deal with in life. Sometimes it’s a big rejection, like a divorce. Other times, it’s just the little things. But whichever form it comes in, rejection is just the pits.

Have you ever been ignored by other people? It hurts, doesn’t it? You know – a bunch of people at work decide to go out for lunch and they forget to invite you. I even remember back when I was single, all the married couples would go out for lunch after church, but I wouldn’t be invited.

Man that hurts, because even though it’s not a big thing sometimes, those sorts of slights, if I can call them that, tell us that we’re not worth anything much to those other people and that, at the end of the day, we’re not worth anything much … period. You know what I’m talking about.

So the question is how do you deal with that feeling of rejection and loneliness? How do you stop it from eating away at you?

Well, it’s in that moment that you and I need to experience the magnitude of God’s love for us – not just in words or as a concept, but for real. Words are cheap. But God’s actions speak louder, much louder, than words.

This is how the Holy Spirit puts it in the book of Romans:

Romans 5:7,8 Very few people will die to save the life of someone else, even if it is for a good person. Someone might be willing to die for an especially good person. But Christ died for us while we were still sinners, and by this God showed how much he loves us.

Just breathe that in. Let God’s Word fill you with the love that you need when the rest of the world ignores you.


Here’s a bonus devotional for you from Christianity Works:

Forgiveness – A Surprising Twist

Matthew 6:14,15 Yes, if you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, then your Father in heaven will also forgive your wrongs. But if you don’t forgive others, then your Father in heaven will not forgive the wrongs you do.

There are many things we know that are incredibly wrong. Murder for instance. Rape. Adultery even. We know they’re wrong. And then there are the things that we like to sweep under the carpet. Things like, unforgiveness. Surely that’s not up there with those others.

One of the things that many so-called Christians are incredibly good at is ignoring the bits in the Bible that they don’t like. The bits that … Well they’re probably there for someone else’s benefit, but not for mine. We don’t like to think about it quite as brutally as that, but it’s the truth.

There are lots of very inconvenient things there in the Bible that we’re just dying to ignore – take for instance the whole thing about God’s forgiveness. The conventional wisdom is that if you believe in Jesus, then you’re completely forgiven, right? That’s what the Bible says. That’s the whole “saved by grace through faith” thing … correct? And nothing can ever get in the way of that. And yet, when Jesus was teaching His disciples how to pray, this is what He taught:

Matthew 6:12 Forgive us our sins, as we also have forgiven those who sinned against us.

That has a definite sting in the tail and just in case they didn’t quite get it the first time, He added this little bit – a surprising twist if ever there was one – to the bottom of the Lord’s Prayer:

Matthew 6:14,15 Yes, if you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, then your Father in heaven will also forgive your wrongs. But if you don’t forgive others, then your Father in heaven will not forgive the wrongs you do.

Now remember – Jesus said that. And there’s only one way to read it. What unforgiveness is rotting away there in your heart? And what’s it doing to your salvation?

January 11, 2020

Misreading Scripture with the Best Intentions

John 4:9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

A few years ago I had an interesting conversation after church.

The pastor had quoted the verse we commonly refer to as “The Great Commission;” the verse which reads,

Acts 1:8 NLT But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The person who spoke to me has a huge compassion for Israel and is willing to share this passion with any who want to know more about the various facets of how modern Israel fits into Old Testament history, New Testament studies, evangelism and missions, eschatology, etc. We’ve had some great interactions, and I’ve learned much about The Holy Land from our conversations and various items she’s given me to read.

She suggested to me that perhaps the passage in Acts 1:8 might actually be taken most literally. That we should be evangelists in Jerusalem.

Perhaps that has some appeal. As I write this, the forecast for tomorrow (Sunday) in Jerusalem is cloudy with sunny breaks and a high of 10°C (about 50°F for our U.S. readers.) Certainly milder than what’s predicted where I live.

I told her that neither those we call the “church fathers” nor modern commentators have interpreted this passage that way. I mean, it’s an interesting take on the passage, and certainly in first century context it is correct; but we tend to read their commission into our commission and when we do so, we tend to think of Jerusalem as the place where we’re standing or sitting right now. The place we call home. My Jerusalem is the close family, co-workers, immediate neighbors, etc. who in a sense, only I can reach.

Perhaps you grew up in a church where it was diagrammed something like this: City, then state (province), country, entire world.

Jerusalem Judea Samaria traditional interpretation

But people do read scripture differently, and many passages that seem straight-forward are subject to different understandings. So in Acts and Paul’s epistles, my friend at church sees Paul’s consuming drive to bring the Gospel to the Jews; whereas I read Acts and am struck by how Paul was compelled to go to Rome against all odds. (To be fair, both elements are present; “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”)

Driving home, my wife pointed out that a most-literal reading of the passage would be difficult since Samaria no longer exists and the “end of the earth” (ESV and NKJV) or the even more archaic “ends of the earth” (HCSB and strangely, NLT, above) no longer applies to an earth we know is round and has no ends. (I like the NASB here, “the remotest parts of the earth.” Good translation and very missional.)

I’m not sure I agreed with the pastor’s take on Samaria, however. He chose Toronto, a city about an hour from where we live, as our “modern Samaria” because of its cosmopolitan nature; because it’s a gateway to so many cultures impacting the rest of the world. Truly when Jesus met the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4, it was a clash of cultures in several ways at once.

But Samaria would not be seen that way by those receiving the great commission. In Judea they will like me and receive but in Samaria we have a mutual distrust and dislike for each other. Samaria is the place you don’t want to go to. Your Samaria may be geographically intertwined in your Jerusalem or your Judea. Your Samaria may be at the remotest part the earth and it’s your Samaria because it’s at the ends of the earth.

Your Samaria may be the guy in the next cubicle that you just don’t want to talk to about your faith, but feel a strong conviction both that you need to and he needs you to. Your Samaria may be the next door neighbor whose dogs run all over your lawn doing things that dogs do. Your Samaria may be the family that runs the convenience store where you buy milk who are of a faith background that you associate with hatred and violence. Your Samaria may be atheists, abortionists, gays, or just simply people who are on the opposite side of the fence politically. Your Samaritan might just be someone who was sitting across the aisle in Church this weekend.

And perhaps, just to make things interesting, with its heat, humidity and propensity toward violence, perhaps your Samaria actually is modern-day Jerusalem.

So perhaps you’re thinking, okay, I am going to be a missionary to Jerusalem (so to speak) and I’ll let you be a missionary to Judea. I don’t think it’s that simple. True, in a church setting people may find themselves specializing in different mission fields, but I believe each of us, over the course of our lives, is to be open to be finding ourselves in ‘Samaria situations.’

All David was doing was delivering a ‘care package’ of food to his older brothers, but he found himself on the front line of the battle against the Philistines, and in particular, their MVP, Goliath.

I believe a Christian life, lived to the full, will involve all four types of battle: On the home front, further afield, to the place we don’t necessarily want to go, and to those in places involving 30-hour flights or multiple airport connections.

At the very least, let’s be open to all of these.


  • Some of today’s article appeared previously in October, 2014 incorporated in a look at how this view of Samaria would have influenced the original hearers of The Parable of the Good Samaritan story. The full article was originally published in January 2011 at Thinking Out Loud.

December 29, 2019

When We Speak of Joining a “Faith Community”

He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.
 -Acts 9:2 NIV

At that point Felix, who was quite familiar with the Way, adjourned the hearing and said, “Wait until Lysias, the garrison commander, arrives. Then I will decide the case.”
 -Acts 24:22 NIV

This article took a long and roundabout route to get here. I do think his point is worth your time. Dr. Ed Searcy is a retired minister in the United Church of Canada in Vancouver. You can read more on his blog, Holy Scribbler. Or click the header which follows:

The Problem with Calling the Church a Faith Community

In recent years it has become common place in The United Church of Canada and beyond to speak of the church as a “community of faith” and to refer to congregations as “faith communities”. I suspect that this shift in language has been made in order to include ministries that are not patterned on a congregational template. This generic designation is also seen to allow for a sense of shared identity when in an inter-faith context. Some report it is language that is invitational to seekers. However, in adopting such a change it is worth stopping to note the problems inherent in calling the church a “community of faith”.

First, by speaking of religious communities as “faith-based” we reveal our captivity to modernity’s definition of faith. In this modern paradigm those who live in the “real world” of the market and of military might are not living by faith. Such people are “realists” who base their judgments on facts and figures. Yet coming to the conclusion that this “real world” is ultimate reality is itself an act of faith.  Everyone lives by faith in something or someone. There is no community that is not living by faith. The church is called to reveal the illusory nature of the so-called “real world” which pretends that it is not based on faith. Adopting contemporary culture’s designation of the church as a “faith community” suggests that we have forgotten that the offers of a good life marketed on all sides are offers based on faith. In such a world it is imperative the church bears prophetic witness that there is no such thing as a non-faith community. The question is not whether to have faith or not to have faith. The question is “In what or in whom will we place our trust.”

The second problem with calling the church a “faith community” is that this focuses attention on us. The issue becomes our faith or lack thereof. The human actors in the drama become the subject. Then theology (talk about God) is essentially anthropology (talk about us). We get to God through our faith. In this we imagine that Christianity is akin to every other religion. All religions, we assume, are about the human desire to connect with the divine. This is what we mean, so we think, when we identify ourselves as participants in a community of faith. Before we know it our worship and our life together puts the emphasis on us, on our needs and desires, on our doubts and our beliefs. God becomes the backdrop on which the human drama unfolds.

But the drama at the heart of Christianity is not human faith in God. The drama at the heart of Christianity is the faithfulness of God revealed in Jesus Christ. God is the subject, the church is the predicate. In Jesus’ life, death and resurrection we discover that the God who has promised to save and heal is carrying through on those promises. The faith of the church is the result of the faithfulness of God. Our faith is a sign of God’s faithfulness. Such faith as we may have in God is a gift the Holy Spirit – a gift from God. To say that the church is a community of faith is to say that it is a community that is always being formed by God’s faithfulness. The emphasis is to be on God’s faithfulness rather than on our response. Alas, while we may pay lip service to God our sermons and board meetings often move immediately to the matter of how we will accomplish what God is apparently leaving undone. Parker Palmer has called this temptation in the church our “functional atheism”. While we speak about God we do not act in ways that suggest we trust God to be redeeming creation and us with it.

We would be wise to remember names which have been used to identify Christian communities in the past (the following terms are described in more detail at the gathering). There is the name “church” derived from a Greek word meaning “of the Lord”. Not “people of faith” but “people of the Lord”. The first Christians were called people of “The Way” (Acts 9:2). This identifies disciples of Jesus as a people who think and act and live in the Way of Christ. This is much more specific than “faith communities”. It reminds us of the oddness that sets apart Christian communities because of the faithfulness of Jesus. Early Christians also called their communities “Ekklesia” (as in “ecclesial”). They borrowed this title – that means “called out to meet” – from the gatherings of free men who met to discuss matters of importance. Now slave and free, male and female, Gentile and Jew were gathering in a new kind of Ekklesia because Jesus, the Servant Lord, was the head of this surprising household (for a contemporary example visit the Ekklesia Project).

The oldest name for Christian gatherings was inherited from its Jewish roots. It is the word “synagogue” or “gathering”, often translated as “congregation”. The congregation is made up of those being caught up in the drama of the faithfulness of God. The recovery of names such as these is a useful corrective to the generic language of “faith community”. Along with recovering ancient names for Christian community I suggest we encourage one another to be creative with contemporary language in order to name something of the peculiarity, specificity and wonder of Christian communal life today.

 

 

December 25, 2019

A Devotional for those who Don’t Celebrate Christmas

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” – Isaiah 7:14

Increasingly among people with whom I come in contact, are those who, while they are committed followers of Jesus, do not celebrate Christmas in any form. After a half hour of discussing many faith related topics, one such individual reminded me, “We don’t do Christmas.”

In many ways these people have my sympathies. Let’s face it:

  • We can be almost 100% sure the date is incorrect.
  • There is no denying that many aspects of Christmas (and Easter) have their roots in pagan festivals taking place at the same time(s).
  • The commercialization of Christmas is rampant; a celebration of materialism and greed more than Jesus; something which we should all grieve.

That said however, in my personal life I find that with each passing year:

  • I am not celebrating the birth of the baby I came to know in Sunday School, but I am celebrating the notion of incarnation, the idea of God with us.
  • I am continuing to marvel at the grand story arc of scripture; a redemptive plan that was set in motion long before Adam took his first breath.
  • I am increasingly aware of God’s invitation to experience intimacy with him; that this is a God who can be known.

The story arc ends with God and mankind in absolute, unclouded, undistracted fellowship. Revelation 21:3

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.”

But eternal life with God starts now. John 1:14 states:

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.

In the first part of that verse, Eugene Peterson famously renders it as

The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.

Biblical commentators take this one step further and say, “God pitched his tent among us” as a shepherd would among the sheep in his care. Also, the comparison here between tent and the tabernacle of the Hebrew scriptures is not to be overlooked, and the appearance of tabernacle above in the verse from Revelation.

This is amazing! Marvelous! Beyond our scope or imagination!

While this is an Old Testament quotation, I believe it expresses God’s heart throughout time, Ezekiel 37:27:

I will make my home among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 

There are, I suppose many ways in which Jesus might have come among us, however he chooses to live, 100% completely, the reality of human experience beginning from birth; birth in an obscure place, at an obscure time, in less than ideal conditions (in so many ways.)

While you might not do Christmas, my prayer is that each day contains reminders of the reality of God with us.

God’s revelation to humankind in the incarnation is a cause for celebration, not on December 25th, but every day of the year.


– today’s scriptures are NLT


In case you missed it from Monday: There’s no incarnation without atonement.

December 23, 2019

There’s No Christmas Without Easter

Or, if you prefer,

There’s No Incarnation Without Atonement

This is a true saying, and everyone should believe it: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–and I was the worst of them all.

I Tim 1:15 (NLT)

I decided today to look at several things that were posted here during the first Christmas season of writing C201. I was under the impression my wife was doing a single song at the Christmas Eve service just days away. Then she informed me we were responsible for the whole service.

Hastily going through the files, we discovered that a short medley we’d done for 15 years prior. It was built around the worship chorus which perhaps was slightly more popular then than now, but still recognizable…

You came from heaven to earth to show the way
From the earth to the cross, my debt to pay
From the cross to the grave
From the grave to the sky
Lord I lift Your name on high.

The “Why” of Jesus birth is that Jesus was born to die. There is no particular cause to celebrate a Christmas unless there is an Easter.

Another song in the medley is the first verse of an old hymn,

One day when Heaven was filled with His glory
One day when sin was as dark as could be
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin
Dwelt among men, my redeemer is He

Living He loved me
Dying He saved me
Buried He carried my sins far away
Rising He justified
Freely forever.
One day He’s coming, oh glorious day.

The medley ends with the third verse of And Can It Be…

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace
Emptied Himself of all but love
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.

‘Tis mercy all, immense and free
For, O my God, it found out me.
Amazing love!
How can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me.

There are key scripture passages associated with this time of year that answer the questions as to how Christ came into the world. The incarnation is key to Christian belief, so we need to define that. There are verses that explain where Christ came into the world. There are verses that explain who was around when Christ came into the world. But we need to get past what I call the “Linus” versus — the verses that Linus in the Peanuts television special quotes from memory to Charlie Brown — and think about why Christ came into the world.

NIV Hebrews 1:1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

If you’re on Twitter, you know the phrase Direct Messaging. After years of speaking through the prophets, God decides it is time to send a DM, not only to his followers, but to all humankind.

John 6 gives us more details:

33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

Verses 33 and 38-39 are key: Jesus comes to give life, and to see the salvation (although the word isn’t used here) of His children on the last day.

In addition to bread, the gospel of John is filled with other images. such as light:

John 3:46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

The Apostle Peter talks about how angels longed to see the day when salvation would be offered in a new way:

1Peter1.3 …It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, 4 and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. 5 And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

8 You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. 9 The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.

10 This salvation was something even the prophets wanted to know more about when they prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you. 11 They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward.

12 They were told that their messages were not for themselves, but for you. And now this Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen.

As Jesus calls his first disciples, he ushers in this new way, an intersection of the heavenly realm and the earthly realm

Mark 1:15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

and urges his disciples this is the message they are to proclaim:

Matt.10.7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8b … Freely you have received; freely give.

Announcing the kingdom also is mentioned at the outset of Christ’s ministry, in his inaugural sermon:

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

These verses should begin our thinking as to why Jesus came, but trying to encapsulate everything in a short article is impossible. So multifaceted was — and is — the ministry of Jesus Christ that our words cannot contain the whole of it.

It’s so much more than a baby’s birth, and as mentioned above, while summaries of the gospel are challenging, I want to close with Bruxy Cavey’s “Gospel in 30 words.”

Jesus is God with us, come to

• show us God’s love,
• save us from sin,
• set up God’s kingdom, and
• shut down religion,

so we can share in God’s life.


Note: We’ll continue this theme tomorrow with 15 reasons why Jesus came.

December 22, 2019

An Advent / Prophecy Mix

Today, an original article from some previously published material invites us to think of ways the second coming of Christ could be similar to the first. But as you read this, remember there will also be dramatic differences…

Consider for a moment two aspects of the advent of Christ as it might relate to his second coming:

  • The timing of His coming
  • The nature of His arrival

The timing of His coming

I’ve heard many sermons about the fact that before the time of Christ, we find what Christians call the “inter-testamental period” wherein the prophets seem to be silent. It’s a kind of ‘calm before the storm’ before Jesus breaks on the scene and teaches like no other rabbi or prophet ever.

Will there be a calm before the storm before Jesus returns a second time? The voices (prophets if you will) of our day are being silenced. In the east because of the rise of militant Islam or religious radicals in places like India. In the west because of the rise of militant atheism or political correctness. Could it be that the second coming of Christ will take place in a time where the voices of the prophets are not heard in the land?

The nature of His arrival

We tend to think of Jesus’ arrival on earth at Bethlehem, but really Jesus arrived so to speak when He began His public ministry. You can date this arrival by His submission to John’s baptism and identification by John as “the lamb of God;” or you can choose the wedding at Cana or the beginning of His teaching ministry.

We tend to think of Jesus’ second arrival as being signaled by the sound of trumpets and his appearance on a white horse.

I am not, in the following paragraphs, suggesting that it’s possible that Christ has already returned and is alive and on earth now; so please don’t write me off as a heretic.

For the next two paragraphs, play a game with me. Not because I personally believe this, but because it stretches our imagination.

What I’m wondering is, if it’s possible for Jesus to embed himself here on earth somehow for a short period of time, and then, suddenly, there is the sound of trumpets, there is the appearance of the conquering King on a white horse (as opposed to the submission symbolized by the donkey the first time around) and every eye sees and every ear hears. I say that only because that was the nature of His first coming. There was a beginning in Bethlehem that preceded — in this case by 30 years — the beginning of His taking up His spiritual office.

Before you jump all over this and find it full of flaws, remember, at the time of His birth, it is the belief of many commentators that nobody understood the “…then a virgin shall conceive…” passage as meaning exactly how we know today the story played out. There wasn’t the “messianic mindset.”

Bruxy Cavey is a pastor and author who maintains the prophecy should be read ‘backwards’ to see how God was in control all along, not ‘forward’ to try to predict the future. We can’t read forward. On the other hand, controversial author and pastor Rob Bell teaches that every Jewish girl envisioned herself as being “the one” who would give birth to the Savior. Though all was quiet on the western eastern front, there was great expectancy. None of this type of speculation discounts the aspect of “being caught up to meet Him in the air;” the idea that the quietly building return should not have its moments of drama. (We can’t edit out verses of scripture just because they don’t fit with our particular model!)

I’m just saying it would be most consistent if, in addition to the timing of His second coming following the pattern of His first coming; that the nature of His arrival should also include something that has an element of ‘process’ to it. That perhaps instead of looking “up” we should be looking to the left and to the right. Scanning the horizon for the Lion of Judah who has massed his forces, or, more likely, will mass his forces, right here prior to that moment when every eye will see and every ear will hear.

Or perhaps it’s something closer to the more traditional view, but there is a physical presence — similar to the angels at Bethlehem singing ‘Glory to God in the highest’ — followed by the taking up of the spiritual office. A period, a moment filled with signs in the skies followed by a dawning of the great significance of what is happening. Only instead of it taking up to a year for the Magi to arrive on the scene bearing gifts, we have CNN carrying the event live.

Either way of course, it will also be a dramatic intervention into world history on a par equal to His first coming; but seen and known by everyone instantaneously.

The point is, ultimately we just don’t know. However, though we don’t know “the day nor the hour,” we can know “the times and seasons.” And we can be prepared. Are you?

My point is to ask, “What if…?” We read scriptures with so many built-in assumptions — as I am sure Old Testament saints did with the writings available to them — and I think we need to be challenged to think outside the box, without tossing out the basic elements necessary for the Grand Story to play out to completion. Is it heretical to ask, “What if…?”? I think the next chapter will be full of surprises on so many levels.

I Cor 2:6 Yet when I am among mature believers, I do speak with words of wisdom, but not the kind of wisdom that belongs to this world or to the rulers of this world, who are soon forgotten. 7 No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. 8 But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord. 9 That is what the Scriptures mean when they say,

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared
for those who love him.” NLT

December 4, 2019

When Your Habits and Speech Have Morphed

Romans 12:2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.NLT

Romans 12:2 Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.The Message

Other than perhaps a much more liberal use of the word ‘crap’ in the last few years, I am somewhat guarded in my speech, at least when there are ladies, small children, or anyone else present.

As a writer, I’m also very conscious of changes taking place in language. So back a decade ago, I couldn’t help but notice the way the ABC TV show Extreme Makeover Home Edition with Ty Pennington advanced the broadcast use of the expression, “Oh, My God!” The show’s final segment — called “the reveal” — would contain at least a dozen utterances of this phrase which, unless the participants were truly calling on God to give thanks for the new housing they were about to receive, amounted to a needless invocation of God’s name that I believe the third commandment is referring to.

The proliferation in print and texts of its abbreviation, “OMG,” unless it a reference to the Ohio Macrame Guild, is equally disturbing.

There are some lines I am very assured I will never cross, and speaking the OMG line in either form or using it print is certainly one of those lines. Still, I often find myself falling into an OMG mindset, where I don’t audibly say the words, but think either them, or something reflective of the spirit of them. Unless I am truly crying out to God — and I wonder how many of us today really cry out to Him — I shouldn’t allow that phrase to be part of my unspoken vocabulary.

But what do I mean by the “spirit” of that expression?

I can probably best illustrate that with another three-letter text gem, ‘WTF.’ If you believe this has something to do with a wildlife federation, then I envy you, since such ignorance is truly bliss. It means something else. (Go to the last letter for clues…)

WTF is somewhat of an attitude. It expresses a familiar kind of bewilderment, but is in some respects a statement of a kind of confusion or Twilight Zone moment that didn’t really have a previous equivalent in colloquial speech.

Which is why I was rather amazed to hear it in church recently.

No, it wasn’t uttered out loud — either as an acronym or fully — but the highly respected Christian leader I was talking to was clearly dancing around it. You could feel the tension of the self editing taking place. The words used were different, but the articulation was intended to convey the spirit of WTF. The attitude was 100% present.

For the reference, file away the phrase “Twilight Zone moment” when trying to describe something of this ilk.

Another point — he said, anticipating the comment — is that if we really believe that in all things God is working for our good, should we really ever experience WTF moments? If we are trusting, clinging and relying on God, while unexpected things happen, and while they do bewilder and confuse, should we embrace the WTF kind of attitude? (A friend of ours call these “sand in the gears” moments.) Aren’t these weird and wonderful things the cue for a “count it all joy” attitude? And what about the idea that Christians are expected to “maintain a distinct identity” from the world?

I think it is only a matter a time before OMG and WTF arrive at church. As shows like Extreme Makeover program opens the door, this type of speech becomes more entrenched, and other broadcasters will follow the trends, at which point it’s easy to predict OMG being on the tongues of people at Sunday worship.

Another translator — it might have been the old Living Bible — put the verse I started out with this way…

Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold…

October 13, 2019

Jehovah Names of God

Today I’m repeating something from nine years ago, before we made it a house rule that posts here would generally be rooted in a particular scripture passage. So while we’re not addressing this passage directly — we have elsewhere — but it does tie in.

ESV.Ex.34.5 The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.

I have to confess, I’m not deeply absorbed in the statistics for this particular blog. Today I decided to see what the all-time most clicked things were, and this one came in 2nd. The blog is still available, but has been inactive for a couple of years.

Here it is as it appeared in November, 2010:


I’m always amazed at the number of people who haven’t — somewhere — encountered teaching on the various names given to God beginning with Jehovah and followed by a word which describes an aspect of God’s character and nature.

Pastor Mike Stone of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Georgia posted these on his blog, and I thought it would be good to reproduce them here as well. For those who want to dig a little deeper; the second-last one is also the title of a very old hymn, which is how I came to learn of these names while still a teenager.

Genesis 22 – Jehovah Jireh – The Lord, my Provider

Exodus 15 – Jehovah Rapha – The Lord who heals

Exodus 17 – Jehovah Nissi – The Lord, my banner

Exodus 31 – Jehovah M’Kaddesh – The Lord who sanctifies

Deuteronomy 33 – Jehovah Chereb – The Lord, my Sword

Deuteronomy 33 – Jehovah Magen – The Lord, my Shield

Judges 6 – Jehovah Shalom – The Lord, my Peace

1 Samuel 1 – Jehovah Sabaoth – Lord of the hosts of heaven

Psalm 3 – Jehovah Kahbodi – The Lord, my Glory

Psalm 10 – Jehovah Malech-Olam – The Lord who is king forever

Psalm 18 – Jehovah Chezeq – The Lord, my strength

Psalm 18 – Jehovah Misqabbi – The Lord, my strong tower

Psalm 18 – Jehovah Naheh – The Lord who smites the enemy

Psalm 18 – Jehovah Seli – The Lord, my Rock

Psalm 20 – Jehovah Hoshea – The Lord, my Savior

Psalm 23 – Jehovah Rohi – The Lord, my Shepherd

Psalm 24 – Jehovah Milchamma – The Lord, mighty in battle

Psalm 27 – Jehovah Ori – The Lord, my Light

Psalm 89 – Jehovah Gannan – The Lord who is my defense

Psalm 91 – Jehovah Machsi – The Lord my Refuge

Psalm 98 – Jehovah Hamelech – The Lord, my King

Isaiah 40 – Jehovah Bara – The Lord, my Creator

Isaiah 49 – Jehovah Goel – The Lord, my Redeemer

Jeremiah 16 – Jehovah Ma’oz – The Lord, my Fortress

Jeremiah 23 – Jehovah Tsidkenu – The Lord, my righteousness

Ezekiel 48 – Jehovah Shammah – The Lord who is present


Did you read the list? You’re not done yet.

Take a moment to really consider these aspects of God’s nature: Provider, healer, battle flag, sanctifier, sword, shield, peace, Lord of heaven, glory, king forever, strength, strong tower, victor over enemies, rock, savior, shepherd, great in battle, light, defense, refuge, King, creator redeemer, fortress, righteousness, always present.

Lastly repeat this list — out loud if you’re in a place that’s possible — with the word my in front of each adjective: My provider, my healer, my battle flag… etc.

September 28, 2019

Motivation Matters

Can you do the right things for the wrong reasons?

I may have written about this verse before, but I wanted to circle back to it again today.

Proverbs 16:2

All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
    but motives are weighed by the Lord. (NIV)

People may be pure in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their motives. (NLT)

I like how Eugene Peterson takes this even one step further:

Humans are satisfied with whatever looks good; God probes for what is good. (MSG)

Each of us may easily rationalize or justify our thoughts and actions, but God is looking at underlying attitudes. I Samuel 6:17b reminds us that, “For man sees the outward appearance, but the LORD sees the heart.” Proverbs reiterates the truth of 16:2 in a lesser known, but I believe more powerful verse in 30:12, “There is a generation who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not washed from their filthiness.

We can fool some of the people some of the time, but we can’t fool God any of the time!

Weighed

Older translations incorporate the idea of our actions being “weighed” or “measured.” Think back for a moment to the the story in Daniel 5 from which we get the phrase, “the handwriting is on the wall.” What’s written on the wall is interpreted as “You are weighed in the balances and found wanting.” Verse 27 says, “TEKEL means that you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient.”  I Samuel 2:3 states, “Do not boast so proudly, or let arrogance come from your mouth, for the LORD is a God who knows, and by Him actions are weighed.

Consequences

Wrong motives can have a bearing not only on how God views what we do, but how he views our asks for the things we wish we could experience or the things we wish we could have. James 4:3 states,

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. – NIV

And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – NLT

Our various asks need to line up with his will. Those are the petitions he’s interested in granting. “And this is the confidence that we have before Him: If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” – James 4:3.

In 1 King 3, Solomon asks God for wisdom, and gets everything else thrown in. “The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for–both wealth and honor–so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.”

If ever a passage in the Hebrew scriptures was crying out for a cross-reference from the New Testament, it’s this obvious choice: Matthew 6:33, But put God’s kingdom first. Do what he wants you to do. Then all those things will also be given to you. (NIrV)

So above all, constantly chase after the realm of God’s kingdom and the righteousness that proceeds from him. Then all these less important things will be given to you abundantly. (Passion Translation)

Self-Monitoring

All of this brings me to a verse that David Jeremiah mentioned in a broadcast this week, I Cor. 11:31:

But if we had judged ourselves, we wouldn’t be judged. (CEB)

If we would examine ourselves first, we would not come under God’s judgment. (GNT/TEV)

Let me modify the verb tense on that slightly to the reflect the position we often find ourselves in: If we had examined ourselves first, we would not have come under God’s judgment.

The verse is quite sobering when read in full context:

The Voice.30 Because of this violation, many in your community are now sick and weak; some have even died. 31 But if we took care to judge ourselves, then we wouldn’t have to worry about being judged by another. 32 In fact, the Lord’s hand of judgment is correcting us so that we don’t suffer the same fate as the rest of the rebellious world: condemnation.

Conclusion

II Chronicles 16:9 is translated in the KJV as The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. and in The Message as God is always on the alert, constantly on the lookout for people who are totally committed to him.

God is watching.

Motives matter.

Hidden heart attitudes matter.

You can do the right things for the wrong reasons.

 

 

 

 

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