Christianity 201

January 16, 2023

Peter Wrote to an Ongoing, Continuing, Future Church

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. – Matthew 16:18 NLT

Did the epistle-writers (Paul, Peter, John, James, Jude) know that their words were not just for the immediate recipients of their letters but also “… your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call;” including you and me? In today’s devotional we get a sense of that. His generation would pass, but God was building his church; his gathered ones; and Peter had been told personally that nothing would thwart that…

Last year at this time we introduced you to Pastor Will who lives on the U.S. west coast. If you have time, check out his testimony. His blog is titled, Today’s Scripture. We plucked today’s devotional from the middle of a series on 2 Peter, all of which makes great commentary on the passage.

When We Listen

Read with Me

2 Peter 3:1-2 (HCSB)
Dear friends, this is now the second letter I have written to you; in both letters, I want to develop a genuine understanding with a reminder, so that you can remember the words previously spoken by the holy prophets and the command of our Lord and Savior given through your apostles.

Listen with Me

Peter knew two things very well. First, he knew that he was not going to live forever. This knowledge was underscored as he wrote this letter by the fact that he was now sitting on death row in a Roman prison. He knew that he would never deny Jesus to save his own life again, so he knew that he would make his transition the next world sooner rather than later.

But he also knew that the Church, the community of those belonging to God through faith in Jesus, would continue after he was gone. And he knew that, for that reason, he had a responsibility to ensure that the Christians of the future would be reminded of who they are and what they were charged with doing, even after he and the other apostles had passed on. That is the reason for his writing both of his letters, and it provides the context in which both are to be read.

Whereas neither Peter, nor Paul, nor any of the other writers of the New Testament epistles, ever sat down to write “Scriptures”, Peter also understood that what he was writing to pass down to future generations of Christians was not merely his own thoughts or opinions.

Instead, he knew that he was passing on the commands of Jesus that were being given to his people through the apostles. His words were not his own. He was just doing his best to pass on the words of the holy prophets of old, pure and untarnished, but made clear by the life and ministry of Jesus. And he was also working to make sure that he was passing on the words that Jesus Himself spoke, both while in the flesh and through the presence of the Holy Spirit, also pure and untarnished. And it was these words, not his own thoughts or opinions, that he knew would serve to stimulate his readers to genuine understanding, and would protect them from both false teachings, and compromises and corruptions of the truth.

Pray with Me

Father, reading these letters with Peter’s stated intentions in mind really does provide a content that makes them make a lot of sense. Peter was not only living focused on the present, but with an eye to the future; a future that includes me today. He was well aware that false doctrines were already arising, and that they would only multiply as time went on. So, he did his best to convey what Jesus revealed to him would help us to stay in the center of what is true and right, instead of allowing ourselves to be whipped about by the winds of changing worldviews and morphing doctrines. Thank you for Peter and his faithfulness. Amen.

 

January 5, 2023

How to Read the Bible (and How Not To)

by Clarke Dixon

The commitment to read the Bible daily may not be the biggest challenge of The OneYear Bible reading challenge I have set before our church family. The bigger challenge may be in understanding what we are reading, especially since we will be reading all of it and not just our favourite verses. We may be surprised to find within the New Testament things like “slaves, obey your masters,” and “women must be silent in the church.” What we find in the Old Testament may be even more surprising.

As we read through the Bible, let us keep in mind what the Bible is and what it is not. It is not one book dropped into our laps, pre-written in heaven. It is a compilation of many writings, written by many people at different times under different circumstances, and using different genres of writing. It is “God-breathed,” but it is not God-dictated.

We do well to understand how the various writings that make up the Scriptures came about. I am going to borrow from N.T. Wright here who in the book, The New Testament in Its World: An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians points to three words to keep in mind as we read the Bible, these being, not surprisingly, history, literature, and theology. Things happened in history (history). People had beliefs about what happened and what it meant (theology). People wrote about both the history and what it meant (literature).

Keeping in mind history, theology, and literature will help keep us from “adventures in missing the point” to borrow an expression from a book by Tony Campolo and Brian McClaren We can miss the point of the Scriptures when we fail to think through the context of their writing. We miss the point when we treat every word of the Bible as the very words of God for all people and all time rather than thinking of the writings as recording the response of people to what God was doing in their specific time and place, which does of course speak to us about what is true for all people and all times. There is a subtle and important difference there.

Let me give one example of missing the point, or of how not to read the Bible. Here is a quote I came across sometime ago, though I don’t remember the original source:

Since we cannot be absolutely certain that God finds the use of musical instruments an appropriate form of worship, then it seems quite foolish to risk His wrath by adding something which He did not clearly authorize us to do during collective worship. Our only assurance of practicing acceptable Christian worship is to disregard man-made creeds and turn to God’s Word as our only authoritative guide to worship. Unless we pattern our worship after the first century church, we can have no assurance that God approves of our assemblies

Source unknown

This makes God out to be a bit of a bully. Such a theology builds upon treating the Bible far too literally, and far too seriously as a bunch of God-dictated rules rather than a collection of God-breathed responses. Such a stringent view of the Bible, and God, messes with peoples heads, making understanding and living out every word of the Bible, neither of which can actually be done, the main goal. If that is our goal, we have missed the point. The key moment in history where God showed up was in Jesus, who took the nails. Bullies don’t get nailed to a cross and then given the chance to get even, offer forgiveness instead. God is not the bully we make him out to be when we don’t read the Bible well.

What does an adventure in getting the point look like instead? Let us consider the writing of someone who spent time with Jesus:

We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.

1 John 1:1-4 (NLT)

Something, or better, someone happened in history; Jesus. John experienced that and it was life changing, challenging and changing what John thought about God. Based on John’s interaction with Jesus what did John come to believe?

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us… Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world… God is love…

1 John 4:9-12,14,15 (NLT)

In reading the Bible, let us watch for how people responded to God who moved in history. This is more difficult in the Old Testament which spans a lot of rather complicated history. However, in the New Testament, there is one unique person who enters into history, Jesus. Because of Jesus, people changed what they were thinking about God and people changed. Then they wrote about it and because of it. Through their writings we discover the one who changes us. Reading the Bible well can change the world.


Before they appear here, Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon’s condensed sermons appear at his blog, Thinking Through Scripture.

January 4, 2023

Created by the Master Creator

Looking at today’s blog post, I was reminded of something I heard decades ago, where a young child turns to a friend — a friend who was possibly being a bit derisive — and said, “God made me, and God don’t make no junk!”

Today we’re featuring a writer who was new to us, but came recommended by one of our other writers. Joshua Jarvis can best be described as an entrepreneur with a background in various types of business ventures. He is also the author of Kingdom Driven Leader.

You can read more at his website, where he writes about God, Family and Leadership, or click the title which follows to get there via today’s article.

I Am A Masterpiece Created By God

Calling yourself a masterpiece feels a bit strange. However, the Bible is pretty clear that we were planned, handcrafted and that we have a purpose. While we might not feel perfect, God sees us differently. Let’s examine how He sees us.

You are a masterpiece.

For we are God’s masterpiece,  – Ephesian 2:10 NLT

A few years ago, I heard a message that really highlighted this verse and what it means.  It’s tough to take what a Pastor says and let it change the way you think when the messages are 30 minutes or less and it focuses only on a part of a verse.  However, I’ve personally always struggled with value and this message bounced around in my head for a long time.  Out of all the I am affirmations, saying I am a masterpiece feels weird.  I know that God has paid the ultimate price for me and I know He loves me, but if I’m honest, sometimes I need reassurance that I was made with a purpose in mind.

After that sermon, I wanted to dive in and find out what does the Bible has to say about me (and you) being a masterpiece.

We have become his poetry, a re-created people that will fulfill the destiny he has given each of us, for we are joined to Jesus, the Anointed One. Even before we were born, God planned in advance our destiny and the good works we would do to fulfill it! Ephesians 2:10 TPT

Almost every translation of this verse uses the word “workmanship.”  It’s pretty easy to see why anyone might have glossed over this verse.   I’m God’s workmanship reads like, “I’m a fantastic chair or object. ” I might be great but nothing that God is proud of, or at least nothing unique. Why then do only a few translations use the word masterpiece?   This is one reason why it’s worth looking into verses.  If the verse whispers to you, then spend some time there trying to understand it.

The original Greek used the word poema, the root word for poem.  If you’ve ever had to write a poem you likely remember how intentional you had to be. Syllables, rhyming, rhythm, and flow, a poem is one big artistic calculation. Today if you write a poem it’s being typed into a document that lives on the cloud.  Every help is available at your fingertips. Thesaurus, dictionary, and grammar helpers all there making suggestions and allowing you to craft something truly better than it could be without that help.  However, when this verse was written, it was a time of intense artistry.  Every letter hand stroked by the author knowing that one mistake could ruin the entire creation.

You were planned

God says you were planned with the intentionality of a loving poem, a masterpiece. Masterpieces have to be planned.  Imagine if one day you just followed every whim you had in your mind.   While it might be fun to imagine, I can’t imagine any masterpiece coming from such a haphazard approach. Creativity is essential, but so is having a clear plan. Psalm says that he crafted us in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). God tells Jeremiah in verse 1:5, “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.”  You are not a mistake, God planned for you. He has a clear purpose for your life. God has a very specific plan for you but instead of telling you all about it, He wants you to discover it with Him. He’s inviting all of us on an adventure to uncover the story of why He created us.

You are a new creation

It might be difficult to call yourself a masterpiece when you think about your life and your own accomplishments.  We might view our life through a lens from the past, but God doesn’t do that.  When we accepted Him, we got a new life… we were born again.  This phrase isn’t just to identify weird Christians.  As a born-again Christian, I am a new creation.  I might have scars from my past but I am not defined by my past and neither are you.  Instead, God uses those scars to multiply what He wants to do through you.

You are perfect

Like any great work of art, you are perfect. No great artwork looks for ways to appear more beautiful or to improve itself. It just is. When you accepted the new life of Christ you became this perfect creation. This statement isn’t giving you permission to do whatever you want, I’m not saying you don’t have room for growth.  Instead, because you are perfect you now have abilities that you didn’t have before. You can now ACT perfectly, whereas before you could not. That doesn’t mean you’ll always act perfectly but that you have this ability. The great news is that God has already forgiven us for our past and our future.

Every time I struggle with this, I think about how I feel about my kids. Every new parent thinks their babies are perfect. Their children have done nothing to earn this praise and can do nothing to improve this view.  Parents see their children as masterpieces.   Imagine then, how God in His infinite love sees us!

You formed my innermost being, shaping my delicate inside and my intricate outside, and wove them all together in my mother’s womb. I thank you, God, for making me so mysteriously complex! Everything you do is marvelously breathtaking. It simply amazes me to think about it! How thoroughly you know me, Lord! You even formed every bone in my body when you created me in the secret place; carefully, skillfully you shaped me[c] from nothing to something. You saw who you created me to be before I became me! Before I’d ever seen the light of day, the number of days you planned for me were already recorded in your book.
Psalm 139:13-16 TPT

Takeaway:  You were planned intentionally. You are perfect in God’s eyes. There is nothing you can do to change His love for you.

 

January 1, 2023

Building a New Year with Materials that Last

The illustration which follows is not meant to be a description of how heaven ‘works.’

A man died and went to heaven and on arrival asked if it was true that there are mansions with many rooms with for all. An angel assured him that this was true and offered to guide him to where one had been prepared just for him.

They walked down a street filled with the finest mansions that would be the envy of the highest priced neighborhoods in the western world back on earth.

“Is my house here?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then entered a section of housing which would be compared to a North American upper middle class community.

“It’s here, then?” the man asked.

“Just a little further;” said the angel.

They then moved on to a group of bungalows that were not initially impressive, but, this being heaven after all, were no doubt adequate.

“So here we are;” said the man.

“No, just a little further;” said the angel.

It continued like this until the two of them ended up in an area where the houses — more like cabins — were not only much smaller, but there were only a couple of rooms and some elements of the walls, floors and ceilings were missing.

Pointing to a nearby dwelling, the angel said, “That one is your house.”

“There is no way,” said the man, “That I can live in something like that.”

“I’m very sorry;” replied the angel; “But we did the best we could with the materials you sent up.”

…This apocryphal sermon illustration is usually told in reference to Matthew 6: 19-20 which reads:

19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. NLT

But what constitutes treasure?

As we start a new year, I want us to produce something of substance. Sometimes I get feeling at the end of the day that I simply haven’t accomplished enough for the Kingdom of God. The sun sets or the ‘Goodnights’ are said or the computer is turned off and I ask myself, what did I really do today that was of lasting value or significance?

It’s not that I wasn’t busy doing Kingdom work, it’s just that I fear I wasn’t busy doing the right things. I feel that by not letting my talents be used to the maximum, I have missed the mark (the same idiom by which the word sin is defined in Greek) of God’s highest calling. You could say that I not only have ‘performance-based religion’ issues, but I’m additionally burdened with combining it with a Type A personality when it comes to what I would like to see happen.

So… I need to be reminded that God still loves me even I didn’t do all the the things or type of things that I thought God was expecting of me. I need to be reminded that it’s about what God’s wants me to be that matters.

However, I can’t just toss out the consideration (or self-evaluation) of what it means to give my best to God each day. I have to have certain goals or ideals or standards of attainment. The verses that I think match up best with the heaven story above are these from I Cor. 3 —

12 Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. 13 But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. 14 If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. 15 But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. NLT

Some of you know these verses from the KJ text as referring to: “Gold, silver and precious stones;” contrasted with “wood, hay and stubble.”

In the Christian internet world, a lot of what is written or spoken on podcasts is wood, hay and stubble. I started Christianity 201 because I wanted something that would be of substance; something of a more lasting quality than what I was producing on my other blog at the time; something made of gold, silver and precious stones.

So while Christianity is not performance-based, if we’re going to launch out into any endeavor at all (in response to what Christ has done for us) we should aim for that thing to be of the highest quality, the finest purity, the greatest depth and the most lasting significance. We can discuss other things, and comment on the issues of the day in religion, politics, social justice, the environment, church life, parenting, education, marriage, missions, theology, or even the weather; but at the end of the day, we need to bring something best to the table; something that not only people in our sphere of influence, but touches the heart of God Himself.

That’s living out our Christ-following at the next level or what I would term Christianity 201. And just as that name propels me to go beyond the basic, the elementary, the minimum; I encourage you to set up whatever reminder you need this year to do the same.

In the quotation of the lyrics from a very familiar worship song, I’ve highlighted four of the lines:

When the music fades
All is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth
That will bless your heart

I’ll bring You more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what You have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart…

When our works are “tested by fire” what is going to be left. Wood, hay and straw will be consumed, but gold, silver and precious stones can withstand the test by fire. Then we will have treasure in heaven.

December 31, 2022

God Introduces a New Beginning: The Second Adam

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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There is a sense in which a new year is an artificial construct. Your pet dog or cat has no sense of the end of one year and the start of the next; the routine is usually pretty much the same. But for those of us who mark the changing of the years, turning the page on the calendar represents a time to look back, look ahead, and push the “reset” button on a new beginning.

Today we look at the point in time where God pushes the “reset” button to mark a new beginning for His people.

We’re back for a third time with writer Mathew Simon at his blog, Revelation of God’s Love. Reading devotionals here where they first appeared sends both traffic and encouragement to the featured writers. Click the title which appears next.

God’s Love Through the 1st and 2nd Adam

In the beginning, God shows Himself as unconditional love to Adam.

He created the world and humanity in an imperfect form but He said it was good.

 “Genesis.1.31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. “

Look at the universe and see all of life – it is imperfect but it is very good in God’s eyes.

God created man out of dust as flesh and blood. He never created us as immortal beings but Adam was naked in the garden, signifying that he was imperfect but God never judged him. God has always accepted human beings as we are, loving us unconditionally.

God never told Adam to do anything to become perfect because humanity was loved unconditionally.

God never told Adam to keep the ten commandments but to simply enjoy all of God’s gifts on earth in our life.

God never told Adam to fast, tithe, get baptized, pray, repent, love, or do anything.

God never intended man to live forever on earth because man is not immortal like God.

But Adam’s sin was to try to become perfect like God and attain immortality. He wanted to be like the perfect God and know what is right and wrong. You see, that God knows good and evil but He does not judge us.

The instant Adam knew good and evil, he became sin-conscious and knew his nakedness, being afraid of God’s judgment. God was never a judge but man’s sin corrupted his mind.

God then put humanity under the law so that all men were condemned as sinners.

 “Romans 3.19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.”

He had set a day of judgment to judge all men by the law.

 ” Romans.2.6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger…..it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.”

Nobody could obey the law in the flesh so then God sent His son, the 2nd Adam, Jesus Christ who obeyed the law and forgave all sins by His death on the cross. Jesus then gave His Spirit to His followers so that they would become perfect like Jesus if they stopped sinning and loved others like Jesus loved. If they did that then they would be saved because they would have been made righteous by keeping the law. The Law of Jesus would have declared them righteous at the judgment day.

But God never wanted to judge the world. It is because even the followers of Jesus were unable to become righteous and they stumbled in unbelief and sin, not being able to attain immortality.

In the end, the Bible came to a close. Jesus never came back and the Law passed away. The Adamic curse is gone.

God’s unconditional love has been revealed on the cross where Jesus forgave all our sins. We believe to experience this love of God.

You see, Adam did not understand God’s unconditional love and that is why He tried to become perfect by knowing good and evil.

So that is why God sent the 2nd Adam, Jesus Christ to show us God’s unconditional love.

We know what is right and wrong and may feel condemned. But when we know that Jesus has already forgiven us then we can know God’s love.

There is no future judgment day because the Law passed away in AD70.

God loves you unconditionally in all your flaws and imperfections, Jesus has already forgiven you.

 

December 19, 2022

Socialism in Scripture?

We’re back for a fifth time with writer and editor Rebecca LuElla Miller, whose blog A Christian Worldview of Fiction also gets into topical issues, Christian fiction reviews, and devotional insights. Although not active since April, we thought this article touches on a topic worth including here. Click the link which follows to read it where it first appeared.

What’s Wrong With Socialism?

On its face, socialism may seem to be a compassionate idea—a “no person left behind” idea. Some Christians even think it is Biblical. But is it?

Those favoring socialism may point to the first church—a group of Jews who responded to Peter’s sermon on Pentecost and put their faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us about that group of believers: they spent time together. They shared their stuff with each other, even to the point of selling stuff to help the people in need: “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.” (Acts 2:44-45)

Sounds like socialism, right?

Not really. This was not an economic plan instituted as a mandate. These were people with a common purpose taking care of one another voluntarily. We know this when Peter later addresses a couple who sold a house and brought part of the proceeds as a gift to the church. The problem was, they lied about the amount, claiming they had given the entire sum.

Before pronouncing judgment, Peter said, “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? (Acts 5:4a)

So nobody, not the government, certainly, and not the church, had mandated this principle of sharing. Rather God seems to lift up generosity, both from individuals and from church bodies. Paul, for example, praises the church in Philippi for sending him gifts from time to time. And Jesus Himself praised the poor widow for giving her last coin for the work in the temple.

In contrast to the instituted “sharing” of socialism, the Bible has much to say about the concepts behind capitalism.

  1. The one who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat.
  2. The worker is worthy of his wages.
  3. Our money should be invested and grow.

I know the parable of the talents that Jesus told had spiritual implications, but first, like all parables, it was grounded in the physical. The story Jesus told was about servants investing their master’s money. Two succeeded, one did not. The guy who earned no money actually hadn’t made an investment, and it was for this reason that his master punished him. He didn’t judge him because he made a bad investment but that he didn’t even do the bare minimum—he didn’t even put the money in the bank.

Beyond these basics, there is a fundamental issue that we shouldn’t ignore: man’s sin nature. Because we have this tie to sin, this dead weight that pulls us away from God’s holiness, we will never have a perfect system of finance or government.

Therefore, the bottom line is that in socialism, people will take advantage. They will try to get something for free, something they don’t deserve, and something they don’t need. In capitalism, some people will be greedy; they try to take advantage of others and get more and more and more, beyond what they need.

Because I live in California, I’ve seen a little of what “socialism” can do. The obvious problems are people lying to get “benefits” from the state. A friend related how her family, when she was a child,  signed the kids up for free lunches at school, even they they were not in financial need. They just wanted the free stuff. There are many, many, many more examples I could cite.

Of course, there is the dis-incentive for dads to be in the home because single moms get money for each child they have when the dad is absent. It’s financially profitable for moms to be single moms. That has serious repercussions for how children are raised, the values they learn, they goals and aspirations they have, the ethics and morality they believe in.

On the other hand, the government locks you into a level of poverty that you can’t climb out of. For example, if you are part of the Medical program or the Cal Fresh (food stamps) you can only have a certain amount of money in the bank.

For instance, a neighbor who is part of the Cal Fresh program, was notified that they would lose their benefits. They had a vehicle stolen. They received money from the insurance company and were looking for a replacement vehicle. Before they found one, the government was at the door telling them they would no longer qualify for the food program unless they spent that insurance money by a certain time. So how does anyone save for, let’s say, a down payment on a house or the first and last months’ rent or for a new car? They are essentially trapped at their level of poverty, unable to “get ahead.”

All that to say, socialism isn’t always beneficial even for the people receiving benefits.

Clearly the Bible points to people working and getting paid for their work. It points to both people and the Church being generous and helping those in need. But generosity is never mandated.

History only shows us failed socialist societies—the USSR, East Germany, Venezuela, etc. Perhaps the failures are due to the authoritarian governments that implemented the socialist policies, but there’s also the possibility that authoritarianism is the natural result of socialism. If the government owns all the banks or oil companies or transportation entities, doesn’t that lend itself to authoritarian control?

But even if socialism “worked,” I don’t believe the utilitarian outcome will supersede the Biblical models and mandates. There’s more we could add to this discussion, obviously, but hopefully this will start us all thinking more about the trends some in our country would like us to go.


■ For more about the economic system followed by the Jewish people, and also some further insights into the early church, consider this 47-minute message from Tyler Staton of Bridgetown Church in Portland. Click this link for both video and audio options.

December 17, 2022

The Trinity Both Is and Isn’t in the Bible

Just hours ago I had a conversation with someone who is trying to avoid Bible commentary written from a trinitarian perspective. It’s not the first time I’ve had that discussion, but the trinity is something that is so central to historical Christianity that it forms the centerpiece of the major creeds.

In some ways, I get it. The word isn’t in the Bible. Which means it’s not in your concordance, either.

But personally, I would argue the doctrine is there, somewhat unambiguously, even if the concept is difficult for us to wrap our heads around.

That got me thinking that perhaps we could look back at this topic as it has been discussed here.

In November of 2014 we began with a quote from Tozer:

Our sincerest effort to grasp the incomprehensible mystery of the Trinity must remain forever futile, and only by deepest reverence can it be saved from actual presumption.
~A.W. Tozer, The Idea of the Holy, chapter 4

and then continued to look at “who does what.”

In the Holy Scriptures the work of creation is attributed to the Father

Gen. 1:1 In the beginning, God created everything: the heavens above and the earth below

to the Son

Col 1:16 It was by Him that everything was created: the heavens, the earth, all things within and upon them, all things seen and unseen, thrones and dominions, spiritual powers and authorities. Every detail was crafted through His design, by His own hands, and for His purposes.

and to the Holy Spirit

Job 26:13     By His breath, the heavens are made beautifully clear;
        by His hand that ancient serpent—even as it attempted escape—is pierced through.

Psalm 104:30 When You send out Your breath, life is created,
    and the face of the earth is made beautiful and is renewed.

The article continues as a scripture medley worth checking out… continue reading here.

In July, 2013 we looked at the idea of “One What and Three Whos” with this item by C. Michael Patton:

I believe in one God (ousia), who exists eternally in three persons (hypostasis) — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit — all of whom are fully God, all of whom are equal.

Spirit of GodSince there is only one God, one member of the Trinity, in his essence, cannot have more power, authority, or dignity than another. They all share in the exact same nature (ousia, ontos, “stuff”). I did not understand this until later in my Christian life. For many years I existed as a functional polytheist (a tritheist, to be technically precise). I believed the three members of the Trinity shared in a similar nature, not the exact same nature. In other words, just like you and I share in the nature of being homo sapiens, so the members of the Trinity are all from the “God species” . . . or something like that. But this is a bad analogy since, though you and I may be the same species, we are different in essence. You are you and I am me. I have my body and you have yours. But in the Trinity, all three persons share in the exact same essence. One in nature; three in person. One what; three whos…

For more on the idea of a hierarchy within the Trinity… continue reading here.

In February of 2011, we offered “The Trinity Collection,” to go-to verses in which all three members of the Godhead are referenced:

Matthew 3: 16, 17 NIV

16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Matthew 28: 19 NLT

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

John 15: 26 ESV

[Jesus speaking] 26“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

Acts 2: 33 NIrV

33 Jesus has been given a place of honor at the right hand of God. He has received the Holy Spirit from the Father. This is what God had promised. It is Jesus who has poured out what you now see and hear.

II Cor. 13: 14 The Message

14The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.

Ephesians 2: 17 – 18 TNIV

17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

I Thess. 1: 2-5a CEV

2We thank God for you and always mention you in our prayers. Each time we pray, 3we tell God our Father about your faith and loving work and about your firm hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4My dear friends, God loves you, and we know he has chosen you to be his people. 5When we told you the good news, it was with the power and assurance that come from the Holy Spirit, and not simply with words…

I Peter 1: 1 – 2 NIV (UK)

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world … 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Also included in this list is the longer passage at I Cor. 12: 4-13.

That’s pretty much the entire piece… read at source here.

Also in February, 2011, we had a discussion at Thinking Out Loud and noted that

…four of the seven statements in the National Association of Evangelicals Statement of Faith which specifically refer to God, Jesus and Holy Spirit, of which the first is primary for this discussion:

  • We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
  • We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
  • We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.

(For Canadian readers, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada Statement of Faith is identical.)

For that article… continue reading here.

In January of 2017, here at C201 we quoted Fred Sanders on Trinitarian Praise:

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the
Holy Ghost! As it was in the beginning, is now,

and ever shall be, world without end.

The glory of God is from everlasting to everlasting, but while the praise of the Trinity will have no end, it had a beginning. There was never a time when God was not glorious as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit. But there was a time when that singular glory (singular because, to gloss the Athanasian Creed, there are not three glorious, but one) had not yet disclosed itself so as to invite creatures to its praise. To join in the ancient Christian prayer called the Gloria Patri, directing praise to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is to come into alignment here in the world “as it is now” with triune glory “as it was in the beginning.” All theology ought to be doxology, but Trinitarian theology in particular is essentially a matter of praising God. This doxological response is the praise of a glory (ἔπαινον δόξης, Eph 1:6, 12, 14) that always was, and whose epiphany in time entails its antecedent depth in eternity. Those whom God has blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ are summoned to join that praise: “Blessed be God the Father, who has blessed us in the Beloved and sealed us with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph 1:3–14, condensed).

For more of that article… continue reading here.

Finally, here’s a link to a video teaching from Ruth Wilkinson. Shes looking at one of the most overtly trinitarian hymns we have, Holy, Holy, Holy, and an analogy you may not hear as often. Click the link for Part Two – Trinity

December 16, 2022

The Gadarene Missionary

Because of the graciousness of the writers whose content appears here, we give our articles a different post title than the original, so as to differentiate if someone is using a search engine to find the original. The first thing you’ll notice when you read the title which follows, is how it’s different — if not completely opposite — to the title we’ve given it. However (spoiler alert!) both descriptions are true. This man has a before-and-after story. Isn’t that the essential element of salvation? ‘I once was ________, but now I’m ________.’

Today’s devotional uses the King James Version of the Bible. If you’re a fairly new Christian, a person for whom English is a second language, or you just struggle with KJV texts, read the story first at this link.

Randy Livingston is a police chaplain in Florida who writes at From the Chaplain. You’re encouraged to click his title, to read this where it first appeared. This is his second time appearing at C201.

The Gadarene Demoniac

In Mark 5:1-20, the gospel writer records for us Christ’s encounter with “a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones” (Mark 5:2-5). The magnitude of this man’s evil predicament is that a multitude of demonic spirits had taken residence in him. We know this because when Christ had commanded the evil spirit to come out, he answered “My name is Legion: for we are many” (Mark 5:9).

The fact that a multitude of demons possessed this poor man was inconsequential to the Lord. They knew who Christ was and submitted immediately to his authority. “And all the devils besought him [Christ], saying, send us into the swine, that we may enter into them. And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea…and were choked in the sea” (Mark 5:12-13).

Those in the region having heard the news of the swine came out to see what had become of the man. They found “him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind” (Mark 5:15). After his great deliverance, the man sought to go with Christ back across the sea to Galilee. But the Lord gave him this command. “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee” (Mark 5:19).

There are two important points for believers to take away from this record when it comes to our witness for Christ. The first is the sphere of our witness. We are to “go home to thy friends.” Our primary sphere of intended witness is right where we live day to day and among those whom we know and see most frequently. Each one of us has a unique sphere of encounter and influence. God intends for us to “bloom” where he has planted us and “brighten the corner where we are.”

The second point is the content of our witness. We are not required to give some deep theological testimony of Christ’s great salvation. Rather, we are to “tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.” Note the words “for thee” and “on thee.” We are to tell what Christ has done for us! Yes, we declare that he can save. But, more importantly, he saved me. He died for me. He forgave my sins. Consequently, he can do the same for those to whom we testify.

Do you struggle with telling others about Christ? Begin by telling them what he has done for you. God will use every earnest testimony from a grateful child for his glory.

November 25, 2022

The Dual Nature of Jesus of Nazareth

TheMessage.Philippians.2.5-7 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges.

I like today’s article because it is willing to delve into a tough topic, and also because it gets my brain working! I went back and read several of the paragraphs a second time. I hope you’ll do the same.

Today we’re visiting, for the first time, a blog called Living as a Christian in This World. The blog is normally written by “Raymond the Brave” who calls himself a “Biblical Unitarian.” (We carry a wide swath of writers here at C201, so I decided, ‘Why, not?’) Today’s article is actually written by Sean Finnegan. You may click the link in the title below where you’ll find an email address for Sean if you want to ask questions or seek clarification.

Is Jesus Both God and Man?

“…How in the world could Jesus be omnipresent if he couldn’t be in two places at once?” I asked. “How could he be omniscient when he says, Not even the Son of Man knows the hour of his return? How could he be omnipotent when the gospels plainly tell us that he was unable to do many miracles in his hometown?” —Lee Strobel, Case for Christ, p. 158.

In the foyer of our church, is a tract that says on its cover “Did Jesus Think He Was God?”

Below, I have reproduced the chart found in it, enumerating 11 points as to why Jesus could not be God.

If Jesus is God then…

  1. How could he have a beginning (Matthew 1:18; Romans 1:3), since God has always existed (Isaiah 43:13)?
  2. How could he keep “increasing in wisdom”(Luke 2 : 5 2 ), since God’s “understanding is infinite” (Psalm 147:5)?
  3. Why did he say, “I can do nothing on my own initiative” (John 5:30), whereas God “can do all things” (Job 42:2)?
  4. Why did he spend “the whole night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12), as there is never a time when God prays, but only receives prayer from others?
  5. How could he learn obedience and become perfect (Hebrews 5:8 and 9), since God invented obedience and is already perfect (Matthew 5:48)?
  6. Why doesn’t he know the day and hour when he will return, and yet his Father, God, does know (Matthew 24:36)?
  7. Why didn’t he know who touched him (Mark 5:30), whereas God knows everything (Isaiah 46:10)?
  8. How could he be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1), yet “God cannot be tempted by evil” (James 1:13)?
  9. How could he die (Philippians 2:8), if God “alone possesses immortality ” (1 Timothy 6:16)?
  10. How could he be in subjection to the Father [if he were the Father] for all eternity, (1 Corinthians 15:28)?
  11. Why was he asleep on the cushion (Mark 4:38), yet God never sleeps or slumbers (Psalms 12:14)?

Though these reasons may appear very conclusive to most Unitarians and non-Christians, they are not by most mainstream Christians. When I speak to orthodox Christians along these lines, the person often responds “You misunderstand the dual nature of Christ.” Their reasoning continues, “In his divinity, he is God; but in his humanity, he is man. When he performs miracles, that is a manifestation of his deity. When he suffers or is limited in any way, that is a manifestation of his humanity.” Thus, a dual nature proposition is given as the explanation as to why Jesus did not exactly match the attributes recorded of God.

But why is this doctrine necessary? Why do people believe that Jesus is God? The main reason given for why Jesus would be God is that he did things that only God can do–he raised the dead, walked on water, exorcised demons, forgave sins, and lived perfectly. Each of these will be taken in its turn.

Jesus raised the dead. Jesus raised Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, and the widow’s son. If raising the dead makes Jesus God, then Elijah, Elisha, and Peter are also God, because they also raised the dead.

Jesus walked on water. Jesus confessed the source of his miracles when he said, “the Father abiding in me does His works” (John 10:25, 32, 37; 14:10) and, “the son can do nothing of himself” (John 5:19). Jesus walked on the water because God empowered him to do so. (And Peter walked on the water also.)

Jesus exorcised demons. Often, Jesus came face to face with the spiritual forces of wickedness. He never struggled but cast them

out with a few words. However, he is not unique here either, the 12 also cast out demons, as well as the 70. Besides, Jesus clearly stated, “I cast out demons by the spirit of God” (Matthew 12:28). God empowered His Messiah to do these things.

Jesus forgave sins. When the paralyzed man was brought to Jesus, he said, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). It is alleged that since all sins are ultimately an affront to God (Psalms 51:4), that only God can forgive sins. This reasoning is logical, but what if God conferred His right to forgive sins onto His earthly agent–the Messiah. “But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God who had given such authority to men” (Matthew 9:8). Similarly, the disciples of Christ are authorized to forgive or retain sins (cf. John 20:23).

Jesus lived perfectly. Adam was made in God’s image–perfect. God’s plan was for him to stay sinless, live forever, cultivate the garden of Eden, rule over the earth, and produce many children. Jesus also was made in the image of God (Colossians 3:10). He was divinely created [begotten] (Luke 1:35; Matthew 1:20) in the womb of his mother, Mary; Adam was also divinely made (Genesis 2:7). Thus, Jesus falls in the category of one who began as perfect and who needed to maintain his perfection (i.e. the second Adam), rather than one who had inherited the fallen sin nature. Because of what Christ has done, we can now mortify the deeds of our old man and live as he lived (Romans 8:10, 13).

One other argument that often surfaces is that if Jesus was not God, then his sacrifice would not have been sufficient to redeem all of humanity. This assertion seems logical on its surface, but there are four problems with it.

  • Nowhere in the Bible is this stated.
  • God cannot die (1 Timothy 1:17 says He is immortal).
  • A sacrifice is sufficient because God accepts it, not because its value equals the offense.
  • According to their view, only the body (the humanity) of Jesus died; his spirit (the deity) continued to live. Thus, the God portion of Jesus did not die.

Besides, is it fair to split Jesus in any way? If Jesus were fully God and fully man, then everything Jesus experienced, both his divine and human natures also experienced. For example, if I could ask them, “How can Jesus be God if he doesn’t know everything?” They would respond, “In his humanity he didn’t know, but in his divinity he is omniscient.” However, this is impossible. One cannot both know everything and not know everything at the same time! If Jesus had claimed ignorance about his second coming when he was really omniscient, would this not be deceptive? To illustrate this, consider the analogy below.

Fred asked Laura for $5, and she responded, “I don’t have $5.” But then 10 minutes later, Fred noticed that she was holding $5 in her hand and questioned her why she had lied. Laura replied, “When I said I didn’t have $5, I meant in my right hand I did not have it; although it is true that in my left hand I do have $5.” Would this not be immediately exposed as deception? Either the person has the $5 or not. One cannot both have and not have $5 at the same time.

Jesus always spoke the truth. If he said he did not know something, then all of Jesus did not know it. If he died, then he was not immortal. If he slept on the boat, then he cannot claim to be the God Who never sleeps, etc. All of this confusion can be avoided if we understand Jesus as a human–a sinless man who, like Adam, was directly made by God but, unlike Adam, did not grasp at equality with God. There is nothing complicated about that. Jesus is a real human who really died for our sins.

Our entire faith depends on this truth. It is a simple fact: if the whole Jesus did not really die, then the whole of our sins are not really paid for. Thanks be to God who would not leave us in such a predicament.

November 24, 2022

If I’m Being Honest

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Before we begin today, Clarke’s column today includes a reference to Acts 15, which contains one of my favourite verses:

NIV.Acts.15.19 [James speaking] “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God…”

The verses Clarke more directly mentions are:

Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them…

Click the link in the title below to read today’s devotional at Clarke’s blog.

Thinking Through Honesty in the Church

by Clarke Dixon

Everyone knew that God’s big plan centered on a particular people and a specific patch of land in the Middle East. Some dared to question that when they shared honestly – we have seen Jesus alive and we think that changes everything. – Their honesty led to a dark place, it led to persecution. It also led to a brighter future.

Everyone knew that Jesus was the fulfillment of the law, and that being a Jesus follower was tied up with being a follower of the traditions of being Jewish. But some dared to question that including Peter – I have seen a vision and we have seen the Holy Spirit move among the non-Jews. – Such honestly was shared during a time of division which can feel like a dark time. We can read about that Acts 15. Such honesty led to a brighter future.

Everyone knew that the traditions of the church were super-important, that the word of the Pope was not to be questioned. Some dared to question that – What we are reading in the Bible is not fitting well with the traditions. – And so Luther and many others came under persecution from the powers that be. The honesty of the Reformers led to the darkness of division and persecution. It also led to a brighter future.

Everyone knew that if you were English, the Church of England was your church and you need not question its theology or traditions. Some, like Thomas Helwys and John Smith did dare to question, to be honest about what they were thinking – What we read in the Bible does not fit with what we are being told. – And so the Baptist movement came to be, with Baptists becoming champions of freedom of religion and belief in the separation of church and State. The honesty of the early Baptists led to the darkness of division and persecution. It also led to a brighter future.

All through the history of Christianity, honesty has been difficult, but rewarding. Honesty has led to richer, deeper theology. Much of our theology, however, has been crafted, yes from the Bible, but by dead white men. In our day are we listening to the voices of the living including those who are not white men? Living people, looking at the Bible and life through other eyes, may see things many of us have not seen before. Do some people feel like they need to keep quiet, that their honesty will bring them to a difficult place?

Do you feel like you can be honest? Or does that seem like a dark place to go?

It is so very normal to have mixed thoughts and feelings about God, life, and our understanding about God, and life. It should be normal to feel comfortable talking about those mixed thoughts and feelings in Christian community without the fear of being shunned, or being made to feel stupid.

We may feel like being honest will lead us to a dark place, but sometimes our honesty comes from a dark place. I recently went to a concert by a country artist called Tenille Townes who told a story about playing a gig at a high school shortly after some students were killed in a car accident. She spoke of having questions and the importance of asking honest questions. Then she sang a song she wrote called “Jersey on the Wall,” which includes this question for God: “if you’ve got your hands on everything that happened, why couldn’t you stop that car from crashing?” Every time I hear that song I think of my best friend who died in a car accident when we were both in our early twenties. Perhaps there is someone you think of. Perhaps you ask the same question.

This is the last in our series “What Kind of Church.”  Are we the kind of church where you can ask questions without fear of being shunned, or being made to feel stupid? Are we the kind of church where there is understanding when things are beyond understanding? Are we the kind of church where you can just be honest?

Sometimes being honest can be the scary thing, the thing we might think will lead to a dark place. But it usually leads to a brighter future.

In this series we have been considering the cultural statements of Open Table Communities and today’s is:

A Culture of Honesty
We nurture a posture of relational, emotional and intellectual honesty. We value relational honesty with others and self, emotional honesty in identification and expression of feelings, and intellectual honesty with regard to truth.

OPEN TABLE COMMUNITIES

 

 

November 19, 2022

A Promise with a More Sure Foundation

Wondering what this place we call “Earth” looks like at the end of time? You don’t have to read Revelation at all (though it helps!) to get a picture of what God has in store when he declares this chapter of our story done, and moves on to the next.

Today we’re back for a second time at the site Following Jesus Today, and the writing of David W. Palmer, who with his wife Rosanna are involved in itinerant ministry in Melbourne, Australia. Clicking the original title of today’s article below will allow you to read it where it first appeared in 2018.

Tribulation, Trumpet, Treasure, Triumph

(Matthew 24:29-30 NKJV) “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. (30) Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

Reading of Jesus’s triumphant return never gets old: the sun and moon will go dark, stars will fall, and powers will shake. Every eye will see the “Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” At that point, those in rebellion against his rule will have indescribable regret. Wow! I sure don’t want to be in their shoes.

Thinking about Jesus’s “coming on the clouds” helps us keep our focus on the big picture; which in turn, motivates us to keep our confession, walk in the spirit, and remain upright:

(2 Peter 3:10-12 NKJV) But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. (11) Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, (12) looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?

The Holy Spirit reminds us of the greatness of our majestic Lord, and our need to keep ourselves blameless and without spot:

(1 Timothy 6:13-15 NKJV) I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, (14) that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, (15) which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

We see that in this passage, the Holy Spirit urges us to keep “this commandment without spot.” What is it?

(1 Timothy 6:11-12 NKJV) But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. (12) Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

The Holy Spirit urges us to stay out of worldliness, to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness, and to “fight the good fight of faith.” He also reminds us of the incomparable and exceeding majesty of our glorious Lord, calling him “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords.”

When our magnificent Monarch returns, he will gather us out of the world before he does anything else:

(Matthew 24:31 NKJV) “And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Our “gathering together unto him” is going to be a glorious event; we are Jesus’s treasure—his bride. We sure wouldn’t want to miss the gathering he initiates, or be left out by any angelic neglect or laziness. (I’m not at all suggesting that any of God’s trusted angels would ever neglect their duty; I say it somewhat jokingly merely to set up a stark contrast in preparation for a point that’s coming.) Here’s what the Holy Spirit says about this “gathering,” meaning, “complete collection:”

(2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 NKJV) Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, (2) not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had [already] come.

Interestingly, the word for “gathering together”—used here for his gathering of us—is used again in the New Testament. But this time, the emphasis is on us gathering ourselves for worship and fellowship meetings:

(Hebrews 10:25-27 NKJV) Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (26) For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, (27) but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.

When Jesus’s angels gather us together at the sound of the trumpet, we sure don’t want to be forgotten, left out, or simply overlooked. Similarly, Jesus doesn’t want any of us to be absent when he calls us to gather ourselves together, regularly; he also wants a complete gathering—no one absent by neglect or laziness.

Why is he so motivated in this? The Holy Spirit says that when we gather—for church meetings, home groups, or fellowship with trusted, likeminded people of the same heart and spirit—he wants us to “exhort one another.” He also wants us to “motivate one another to acts of love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24 NLT). The Greek word behind this means: to incite or provoke each other into living right.

In Hebrews 10, the Holy Spirit follows his urgent directive about regular meetings with a warning. It begins with the word, “for,” implying that what follows is the reason we need to keep up the uncomfortable confronting meetings. What’s his reason? “For if we sin willfully after … certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.” Wow! This is heavy. The Holy Spirit implies that neglecting the meetings—where our feather’s are ruffled and our love is encourage—is the first step into “willful sin.” Let’s stay in the light, endure the correction, and put right what we need to. This, according to this passage, is necessary for staying out of willful sin.

The stakes in this are very high. If we stay in love and good works, and if we remain in Christ, walking in the spirit, and by his grace living a holy life, his return will be a glorious graduation into triumphant splendor and eternal rewards. But if we are drawn away by the rampant temptations in the season just prior to Jesus’s return, we will face the same fate as the world: “fiery indignation.”

Jesus assures us that God’s warnings about these things is not only very solemn, but that it is also absolute and final; it is more durable than even “heaven and earth:”

(Matthew 24:34-35 NKJV) “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. (35) “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.

To “endure to the end” through all of this, we will need God’s grace. Thankfully, our wonderful God has made this available, and we can access through faith at his “throne of grace” by his “Spirit of grace” and the “word of his grace” (See: Rom. 4:16, Heb. 4:16, Zech. 12:10, Heb. 10:29, Acts 14:3, 20:32).

What’s more we need—yes, according to the Holy Spirit we need—some other people in our lives who know us well enough to be in our face confronting us when necessary. For our success, it is essential that we have good, holy, sincere people for serious regular fellowship—those with whom we can formulate ways to exhort, provoke, and incite each other to holy living—love and good works. We need partnership with genuine believers with whom we can create a culture of Bible study, word meditation, prayer, worship and confession.

Today, we conclude with Jesus pressing us to “learn” and to be aware of the season:

(Matthew 24:32-33 NKJV) “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. (33) So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors!

And … remember that the word is permanent, the earth and the world’s system are no, so let’s focus on what is “more sure:”

(2 Peter 1:19-21 TLB) So we have seen and proved that what the prophets said came true. You will do well to pay close attention to everything they have written, for, like lights shining into dark corners, their words help us to understand many things that otherwise would be dark and difficult. But when you consider the wonderful truth of the prophets’ words, then the light will dawn in your souls and Christ the Morning Star will shine in your hearts. For no prophecy recorded in Scripture was ever thought up by the prophet himself. It was the Holy Spirit within these godly men who gave them true messages from God.

 

 

November 18, 2022

Why Was the Widow Down to Her Last Pennies?

In my part of the world the penny (one cent coin) was eliminated several years ago. Not having it certainly speeds up cash transactions, although most purchase payments are done electronically anyway. In the narrative today, a widow is down to her last few cents, and while her response to that situation is to be generous, you have to wonder how she got that low on funds.

Today we’re back for the eighth time at the website Borrowed Light, and for the seventh time with Mike Leake. Click the title to read this where it first appeared.

One Way Spiritual Abuse Happens

“But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.”Mark 12:42

Jesus goes on to tell us that she gave “out of her poverty”. She put in her last two cents. Yes, he commends her. But Mark also wants us to know that Jesus “sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put”. Mark places Jesus in opposition to this whole racket.

This text is not only a commendation of the widow’s offering. It’s perhaps even more an condemnation of the temple system. We should be asking, “why is this widow down to her last two cents?”

This is another one of those places in Scripture where the subheadings distract us from meaning. We’re supposed to read Mark 12:40 with this text: They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers…” As one of the most vulnerable members within what was supposed to be a God-reflecting society, she should have been flourishing and not down to her last couple pennies.

I imagine this widow to be a sweet and devoted woman. We have several of these women in our church. They are often the backbone of our ministries. Often they are bound by duty and dedication. It’s no surprise that Jesus commends this widow’s offering.

If we were to interview her about this gift she’d likely say something like, “it was my duty to do this. The leaders have told us that this is a way in which we can honor God. So I give because I love God. This offering is a gift to my LORD, and a reminder that He will take care of us.” As she says this she points to one of the religious leaders—adorned in gold, flowing robes, sitting at important seats and places of honor—“they help us know how to obey God”.

What is Spiritual Abuse?

What I’ve just described to you is spiritual abuse. Here are a few of the better definitions (source):

“Spiritual abuse happens when a leader with spiritual authority uses that authority to coerce, control or exploit a follower, thus causing spiritual wounds.” (Ken Blue, Healing Spiritual Abuse, 1993)

“Spiritual abuse is when a Christian leader causes injury to others by acting in a self-centred manner in order to benefit themselves.” (Nelson, Spiritual Abuse: Unspoken Crisis, 2015)

“Spiritual abuse happens when people use God, or their supposed relationship with God, to control behaviour for their benefit.” (Diederich, Broken Trust, 2017)

You can see each of these definitions at play in the story of the widow giving her final two cents and Jesus’ words of condemnation for the Pharisees who are devouring widows’ houses. They used their spiritual authority for their benefit and not for hers.

Spiritual abuse is one of those things that happens not only at the hands of one particular person but it can happen through multiple hands within an unhealthy church culture. And often it is subtle. It can, at times, be hardly recognizable.

There are many ways in which spiritual abuse can happen, but today I will share with you one way in which it subtly happens within churches and communities of faith.

How does spiritual abuse happen?

We are on the road to spiritual abuse whenever we equate our ideas with the Bible’s imperatives. Let me explain.

Hebrews 10:25 tells us that we are to “not neglect to meet together” but instead we should be “encouraging one another”. From, this text you are safe to give this general principle: gathering with other believers is a vital component to being encouraged in the faith. Or to put it more bluntly, we are commanded by Scripture to encourage one another.

Biblical imperative: encourage one another through gathering together.

That is a non-negotiable. But watch what happens…

As a pastor I come along and take that biblical imperative and match it to a ministry idea:we should meet in weekly small groups for the purpose of encouraging one another in Christ.

Ministry idea: Small groups help us encourage one another through gathering together.

I might say something like, “at Calvary we believe God calls us to gather together to encourage one another, we obey this through weekly small groups.”

That sounds good, right?

Except nowhere in Scripture does it say, “obey this through weekly small groups”. It’s a great idea. I think it does help you obey this imperative. But the ministry idea itself does not have the authority of Scripture.

It turns into spiritual abuse whenever we use our authority (whether it be pastoral authority or the church’s cultural authority) to force obedience of a biblical imperative through our ministry idea. And people are wounded by this type of thing all the time. They experience loads of false guilt.

These things are subtle too. It is incredibly easy to merge a biblical imperative with a ministry idea, so that over time the ministry idea become synonymous with the biblical imperative. It happened to the Pharisees. And it happens within so many of our churches.

Conclusion

There are, I believe, two main solutions.

First, it would be good for leaders to slow our roles. We are not to be faith handlers. We must have the humility to acknowledge that our suggestions for how to obey an imperative do not carry the same weight as Scripture. We can be firm on what the imperatives are, but we must be humble in the specific way these are carried out.

Secondly, it is good for all of us to stop and ask questions of every thing we assume is an imperative. What exactly did God say? Part of the deception for the first couple was when they added, “we shall not touch”. God never said that.

As we begin to melt away some of the dross it is important for us to remember that imperatives really do matter. We should have a heart to obey what Christ has commanded us. But also the humility to let ourselves and others relationally work out what obedience actually looks like.

I am His.

So are you.

November 17, 2022

No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service: Inclusion and Exclusion in the Church

by Clarke Dixon

No shoes, no shirt, no service. We are used to seeing such signs on business doors, we are used to the idea that some people should be excluded from some places. When I joined Air Cadets I had to get my hair cut and agree to wear a uniform. The uniform was a sign of who was in and who was out. There was an expectation of uniformity among those who belonged. While one rarely sees a “no shoes, no shirt, no service” sign on a church door, do we have an expectation of uniformity among those who belong in the Christian Church?

We might have expectations of uniformity with regard to behaviour. For example, in days gone by everyone knew that Baptists don’t dance. We might have expectations of uniformity with regard to belief, with such beliefs being drawn up into a statement of faith. If you don’t act and believe just like we do, you don’t belong. But is that the way it should be?

Here is a Scripture that will help challenge our tendency toward uniformity and exclusion:

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.
Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”
When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

Matthew 9:9-13 (NLT)

There are a few things for us to notice here.

Jesus welcomed all who were sinners but who showed up to meet him.

Jesus called a tax collector, Matthew, to become his disciple and then he hung out with and ate dinner with Matthew’s tax collecting friends. Tax collectors collected taxes from Jews for the Romans and were known to give in to the temptation to exploit the situation. They were therefore despised as sinners, as greedy people. In those times eating with someone was taken as a sign of showing acceptance of, and solidarity with them. The religious leaders were not impressed with the Jesus’ lackadaisical approach in considering with whom he was willing to associate:

For John didn’t spend his time eating and drinking, and you say, ‘He’s possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man, on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’ But wisdom is shown to be right by its results.”

Matthew 11:18-19 (NLT)

Jesus welcomed all who thought differently but who showed up to meet him.

We can get caught up in the perceived sinfulness of the tax collectors as compared with the perceived righteousness of the Pharisees. But the difference goes beyond sinful versus righteous behaviour. The tax collectors thought differently than the Pharisees, they had a different perspective.

Pharisees saw Rome as the enemy and expected God to cast the Romans out of the land when he came to bring the Kingdom. Therefore Rome was not to be served in any way, including collecting taxes for them, In fact doing so would displease God and cause him not to act. Tax collectors, on the other hand, saw Rome as a fact of life, so why not make the best of it, and hope, as we all do today, that at least some of the taxes collected would benefit the people. They could point to the prophecy where Jeremiah told the Jewish exiles to settle in and pray for the peace of a far worse enemy from that day, Babylon (Jeremiah 29:7). So collecting taxes is what God would want us to do! That is a big difference in perspective.

When tax collectors and Pharisees were together, it was like Republicans and Democrats getting together in America today complete with a mixing of theology and politics, plus a desire to exclude one another. Pharisees and tax collectors would not welcome or eat with one another. Jesus welcomed and ate with tax collectors. Jesus also welcomed and ate with Pharisees.

Jesus invites us to his table.

We might get the impression that with Jesus anything goes. But that is not the case:

But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go.
“Which of the two obeyed his father?”
They replied, “The first.”
Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins.

Matthew 21:28-32 (NLT)

It is not anything goes, nor is it strict adherence to standards of uniformity. It is an invitation to life in the Kingdom of God. It is an invitation to take our place at the table with Jesus.

At Calvary our aim is not to make everyone look the same, think the same, and behave the same, but to help people walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love. There’s a big difference between demanding uniformity to religious traditions and inviting people to walk with Jesus.

With a focus on inclusion and exclusion we are thinking about hospitality which is the next topic of our series “What Kind of Church.” In this series we have been considering the cultural statements of Open Table Communities and today’s is:

A Culture of Hospitality
We nurture a culture of openness to everyone, including those who are different from us. This is accomplished through opening up our lives and homes to others. We choose to live in the tensions that come with inclusion rather than the barriers created by exclusion.

Open Table Communities


Clarke Dixon — who is celebrating a birthday today — is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario. Before appearing here most Thursdays, his sermon summaries appear at Thinking Through Scripture.

November 15, 2022

The King the People Wanted versus The King God Wanted

Back in April we reconnected with a guy we knew as Kuya Kevin aka Kevin Sanders who we had often linked to back in the day at Thinking Out Loud. Still faithfully writing online, his blog is simply titled Pastor Kevin Sanders, and you can read today’s post by clicking the title which follows.

The Blessings of 8th Place

1st Samuel 16 introduces us to one of the most well-known characters in the Bible: David. What you may not realize is just how unlikely a choice he was to be the King of Israel.

God told Samuel it was time to stop moping around and dwelling on the dismal leadership failures of Saul, Israel’s first king. Samuel was ordered to anoint another king, but this time it would be different. Saul was exactly the type of king the people wanted, but the new king would be the kind of man God wanted.

Samuel was told to go visit Jesse in Bethlehem. There he would meet Jesse’s sons, one of whom would be God’s choice for the next king.

The meeting eventually happened, and Samuel was immediately presented with the most obvious choice: Eliab.

Eliab had won the genetic lottery in more ways than one. He was the firstborn son, which meant he would be the leader of the family once Jesse passed away. This also meant he would receive twice the inheritance of any other sibling. Even now, being first has its advantages: firstborn children tend to surpass their younger siblings in both leadership ability and intelligence.

Eliab had something else going for him: he was tall and handsome–an impressive physical specimen of a man.

All things considered, this alpha male was the obvious choice to be Israel’s next king. Even Samuel was impressed: he was ready to cast the one and only deciding vote for Eliab.

But God had a different plan–a plan so surprising that it had to be spelled out in no uncertain terms. God told Samuel that He was looking for something that Samuel couldn’t see:

 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

-1st Samuel 16:7

Eliab was clearly not God’s choice, so Jesse did the most sensible thing he could think of. He presented Samuel with the second-born, then the third-born, an so on until he had presented seven of his sons as potential candidates. God rejected them all.

“Are all your sons here?” Samuel asked. There was one more, but no one in the family thought he should even be invited. David, the youngest, had been assigned to watch the sheep while everyone else attended to these more important matters.

Samuel sent for him, and God made His choice clear: David would be Israel’s next king. He was anointed on the spot–right in front of his higher-status brothers.

Why David? Because God wanted a man after His own heart (1st Samuel 13:14).

David is an example of something we see repeatedly in the Scriptures: God delights in using the unlikeliest of people to do extraordinary things. Social status, appearance, wealth, or any other external measure of “success” are meaningless in His eyes. God looks at one thing above everything when deciding who He will use: the heart.


Thanks, Kevin.

Back in 2014, I had an unusual moment involving today’s key verse; looking for something to jump out at me in a fresh way.

I wrote:

I Samuel 16 offers us a verse we know but tend not to practice:

7bI do not judge as people judge. They look at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.

The Louis Segund translation renders it this way:

…l’homme regarde à ce qui frappe les yeux, mais l’Éternel regarde au coeur.

In English, it would read that man looks at what “strikes the eyes;” in other words first impressions and superficial indicators.

That’s even more true today as social media compels many to make a good impression, and many of us gravitate to people who simply look good.

God uses different metrics than we do. He looks at the heart.

November 13, 2022

Quotations: Thoughts on Grace

The difference between mercy and grace? Mercy gave the prodigal son a second chance. Grace gave him a feast.

~Max Lucado


The Law tells me how crooked I am; Grace comes along and straightens me out.

~Dwight L Moody


While our various guest writers’ material appears here only once, I do permit myself the luxury of a few “reruns” of some of the original devotionals here. That said, I’ve never circled back to any of the series of quotations by different writers or on different themes. Today’s quotations appeared in two different pieces, one from 2011 and one from 2012. (Apparently some were longer back then!) The authors are attributed on some (not all) where they’re linked with their names, just click.

Grace is at the heart of the Christian faith. It’s our distinctive. Part of our mission is to make people understand that salvation is not earned, it is the gift of God made available to us through Jesus Christ.

A scripture focus for today may be found at this August, 2015 blog post.


Grace binds you with far stronger cords than the cords of duty or obligation can bind you. Grace is free, but when once you take it you are bound forever to the Giver, and bound to catch the spirit of the Giver. Like produces like, Grace makes you gracious, the Giver makes you give.

~(Eli) E. Stanley Jones


We tend to give an unbeliever just enough of the gospel to get him or her to pray a prayer to receive Christ. Then we immediately put the gospel on the shelf, so to speak, and go on to the duties of discipleship. The grace that brought salvation to you is the same grace that teaches or disciplines you. But you must respond on the basis of grace, not law.

~Jerry Bridges


“The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of Karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law—each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.”

~Philip Yancey


‘He’s prone to stoop. He stooped to wash feet, to embrace children. Stooped to pull Peter out of the sea, to pray in the Garden. He stooped before the Roman whipping post. Stooped to carry the cross. Grace is a God who stoops. Here he stooped to write in the dust.’

~Max Lucado


“Romans 8 is all about living in a suffering world marked by brokenness… Verse 28 says: For those loving him, God works together all things for good. …Earlier in Romans 8, Paul discusses how things fall apart because the world is burdened with evil and sin. Things are subject to decay. Everyone will eventually experience the decay of their bodies; that’s the nature of things. The little grains of sand on the beach used to be a mountain. Everything falls apart; things do not come together. This verse tells Christians to get rid of the saccharine, sentimental idea that things ought to go right, that things do go right, and that it’s normal for things to go right. Modern, Western people believe that if things go wrong, we should sue, because things ought to go right. But Christians have to discard that idea completely. Christians have to recognize that if our health remains intact, it is simply because God is holding it up. If people love us, if someone is there to hug us or squeeze our hand, if someone loves us in spite of all our flaws—if someone loves us at all—it’s because God is bringing all things together. God is holding it up. Everything that goes well is a miracle of grace.”

~Timothy Keller


Grace is something you can never get but can only be given. There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about anymore than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks. A good night’s sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace. Somebody loving you is grace.

~Frederick Buechner


Grace is the incomprehensible fact that God is well pleased with a man, and that a man can rejoice in God. Only when grace is recognized to be incomprehensible is it grace. Grace exists, therefore, only where the Resurrection is reflected. Grace is the gift of Christ, who exposes the gulf which separates God and man, and, by exposing it, bridges it.

~Karl Barth


“…Jesus’ approach toward a decadent Roman empire, as well as toward individual sinners who must have offended him deeply, seemed almost the opposite of the self-righteous attitude of many evangelicals.  As I studied Jesus’ life, the notion of grace kept hitting me in the face.  All his stories made the wrong person the hero: the prodigal son not the responsible older brother, Lazarus not the rich man, the good Samaritan not the Jewish rabbi.  And I began to see grace as one of the great, often untapped, powers of the universe that God has asked us to set loose.  Human society runs by Ungrace, ranking people, holding them accountable, insisting on reciprocity and fairness.  Grace is, by definition, unfair.  That intrigued me.”

~Philip Yancey


Who can estimate the value of God’s gift, when He gave to the world His only begotten Son! It is something unspeakable and incomprehensible. It passes man’s understanding. Two things there are which man has no arithmetic to reckon, and no line to measure. One of these things is the extent of that man’s loss who loses his own soul. The other is the extent of God’s gift when he gave Christ to sinners…Sin must indeed be exceeding sinful, when the Father must needs give His only Son to be the sinner’s Friend!

~James Charles (J. C.) Ryle


“Most every cult you could name is a cult of salvation by works. It appeals to the flesh. It tells you, if you will stand so long on a street corner, if you will distribute so much literature, if you will sacrifice so much of life, if you will be baptized, if you will contribute your money, if you will pray or attend numerous meetings, then your good works and hard effort will cause God to smile on you. Ultimately when the good is weighed against the bad on the Day of Judgement, you will finally earn His favor. The result in that, I say again, is man’s glory, because you added to your salvation.

“Grace says you have nothing to give, nothing to earn, nothing to pay. You couldn’t if you tried! Salvation is a free gift. You simply lay hold of what Christ has provided. Period. And yet the heretical doctrine of works goes on all around the world and always will. It is effective because the pride of men and women is so strong. We simply have to do something in order to feel right about it. It just doesn’t make good humanistic sense to get something valuable for nothing.

“Please allow me to be absolutely straight with you: Stop tolerating the heretical gospel of works! It is legalism. Wake up to the fact that it will put you into a bondage syndrome that won’t end. The true gospel of grace, however, will set you free. Free forever.”

~Charles (Chuck) Swindoll


“You are loved by your Maker not because you try to please him and succeed, or fail to please him and apologize, but because he wants to be your Father. Nothing more. All your efforts to win his affection are unnecessary. All your fears of losing his affection are needless. You can no more make him want you than you can convince him to abandon you. The adoption is irreversible. You have a place at his table.”

~Max Lucado


 

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