Christianity 201

May 26, 2021

God is Sovereign over Popularity, Status, Platform, and Likes

Years ago, for Christian bands and solo artists, getting radio airplay was everything. Since most stations were programmed locally, it represented a concerted effort each time there was a new single, or a new album.  I attended a seminar for Christian musicians on the subject of promotion, taught by veteran CCM artist Scott Wesley Brown. He began with, “Did you know promotion is mentioned in the Bible?” Then he proceded to read Psalm 75:6,7 in the KJV:

6For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.

7But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.

A few years later I sat in a camp staff training seminar where the speaker said,

“If you see a turtle on a fence-post, you know it didn’t get there by itself.”

That little phrase is used to cover a wide range of applications, but certainly we’ve all met people who have “achieved” but only through the guidance and support of many others, and certainly some by the grace of God Himself. (Though the analogy breaks down quickly… What does the turtle do next?)

We often have the tendency to look at someone who has — for the time being — earned the attention and accolades of a large number of people, and say, “Why him?” Perhaps we compare that person’s talents to our own and say, “Why her?”

Psalm 75 seems to basically be saying that no one advances but that God has allowed it. Theololgically, people wrestle with things they think that God caused, but while God may not be directly causing everything he gets blamed for, he is definitely permitting things to happen, and I believe, he is constantly orchestrating things in our lives and the lives of others which we often do not realize.

This sovereignty (rule) is certainly reinforced by the appearance of Jesus before Pilate in John 19 (NIV).

10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above…

But the Psalm passage has an entirely different spin in the NLT:

6 For no one on earth—from east or west,
or even from the wilderness—
should raise a defiant fist.
7 It is God alone who judges;
he decides who will rise and who will fall.

And also in The Message:

He’s the One from east to west;
from desert to mountains, he’s the One.

God rules: he brings this one down to his knees,
pulls that one up on her feet.

The NASB is closer to the King James:

6 For not from the east, nor from the west,
Nor from the desert comes exaltation;
7 But God is the Judge;
He puts down one and exalts another.

So I’m not sure why the translations seem to differ in emphasis in verse six, though they both resolve the same way in verse seven. Perhaps the key is found in the verse which precedes six and seven, verse five, best represented by the NIV:

Do not lift your horns against heaven;
do not speak so defiantly.’”

It’s possible that when I question God’s decision to use someone who I might not have chosen, I am in fact speaking defiantly. Or in arrogance (NLT). Perhaps questioning why him or her is a road I should not want to go down. Have you ever questioned why God allows a certain author’s books to sell so well; a certain pastor to become so widely known; a certain individual in your church to gain such a key position of leadership? That might be speaking defiantly.

Now this is where it gets interesting: The “rock stars” of David’s time were kings. We might not hold politicians in the same regard today, but back then it was a different story. Recently, in our time, people questioned why God allowed a certain leader to come to power. I don’t wish to debate that here, but it’s important to say, regardless of which side of that issue you find yourself, that God is sovereign. He never stopped being God.

The same could be said for the pandemic. We can’t assert the sovereignty of God in some areas and suppress its applicability in other areas of life. If Psalm 75 is true in terms of leaders, it has to be true in terms of other aspects of life.

In his commentary on this package, Matthew Henry suggests that we, to put it in modern language, don’t try to be over analytical over why someone has come to power, prestige, popularity, etc.  Our objective should be to live in the present, not try to dissect the past.

I originally wrote these thoughts down ten years ago. What follows helps you understand why.

That weekend I watched an interview with an individual about whom I might have, at one time awhile back, asked the “Why him?” question. But as I watched him taking live questions I realized four things were present: (a) natural intellectual gifts; (b) natural speaking gifts; (c) an obvious command of scripture or what we sometimes call Bible knowledge; and (d) an understanding of the ways of God, which is different from the third point. While I never had major questions, some of my minor misgivings were alleviated.

God knows what He’s doing. He is the judge. He promotes some and holds back others. Richard Ritenbaugh points out that verse 6 mentions the east, the west, the south, but not the north. Why not the north? Because, he says, that’s where God’s throne is; that’s the truth of the next verse; that he loves everyone equally, and may have a “promotion” in some other arena of life just waiting for you.

~Paul

May 25, 2021

Choosing the Better Part

NIV.Luke.10.38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I spent a long time today trying to locate just the right devotional reading for us. This one is from Nehemiah Zion and the blog Raising Zion. This looks like a good resource, and you can start discovering more by clicking the header which follows.

How To Get Far Better In Life?

What does it mean to get far better? There are two kinds of Christians, one that seeks God more, another that seeks everything else more than God. Mary chose a far better thing by sitting at the feet of Jesus. Martha was loving too, but her concern was carnal rather than spiritual. (Luke 10:42)

We get far better in life at the feet of Jesus

What do we get at the feet of Jesus that makes us far better in life? I’d like to share five things we receive which makes us live a far better life in Christ.

Word of God (Deuteronomy 33:3) (Hebrews 4:12) (2 Timothy 3:15-17)

“Yea, he loved the people; All his saints are in thy hand: And they sat down at thy feet; Every one shall receive of thy words.” (‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭33:3‬)

Forgiveness of sins (Luke 7:47)

“Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” (‭‭Luke‬ ‭7:47‬)

Deliverance from bondage (Luke 17:12-14) (Luke 8:35,36)

“And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: and they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.” (‭‭Luke‬ ‭17:12-14‬)

Exposed self (Revelation 1:17)

“And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:” Revelation‬ ‭1:17‬

John beheld the glory of Jesus and fell flat as dead. It reveals how frail and undeserving we are of even being in His presence. Isaiah reveals how he was exposed of his unholy natures in the presence of God.

Rejoicing = worshipping (Matthew 28:9)

“And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.”(Matthew‬ ‭28:9‬)

There is adoration, and freedom at the feet of Jesus. Mary and the other Mary’s immediate response was worship as they saw their loving Saviour. As I write this my heart leaps in joy trying to visualize the scene. The very presence of Jesus is one of great peace, rest, joy and love.

As believers we live in the utmost joy that can come only from heaven. Believers who are unable to enjoy God’s presence are often found focused on carnal thinking and outward displays. So many are busy bodies (spiritually) but have zero fruit. Constantly quarrelsome and bitter in their hearts. Such can never begin to understand the joy of God’s presence.

Get down, let your tears wash the feet of Jesus. Spirit baptized believers are betrothed to Christ, eagerly awaiting His coming. Maranatha, Praise God and Amen!



Bonus item: This from Wisconsin writer Glenn Hager at his self-titled blog. He is the author of two books about his own journey An Irreligious Faith and Free Range Faith.

Christianity in 100 Words

Saw this somewhere and decided to take the challenge.

Jesus. Christianity is based on Jesus, not a church or a prescribed set of beliefs.

Love. Christianity is based on love, loving God, loving others (especially those we do not understand), and loving ourselves (in a healthy, non-arrogant sort of way, since he loves us).

Life. Christianity is woven into our lifestyle, not something tacked on, not something to sign off on, not something that happens on a special day or in a special place.

Grace. Christianity is based on grace, grace that always gives us hope, even in our darkest hours and deepest failures, and is extended to others.

March 28, 2021

A Week To Encounter and Respond to Christ

John 14 (The Voice)

Philip: 8 Lord, all I am asking is that You show us the Father.

Jesus (to Philip): 9 I have lived with you all this time, and you still don’t know who I am? If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father. How can you keep asking to see the Father? 10 Don’t you believe Me when I say I abide in the Father and the Father dwells in Me? I’m not making this up as I go along. The Father has given Me these truths that I have been speaking to you, and He empowers all My actions. 11 Accept these truths: I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me. If you have trouble believing based on My words, believe because of the things I have done. 12 I tell you the truth: whoever believes in Me will be able to do what I have done, but they will do even greater things, because I will return to be with the Father. 13 Whatever you ask for in My name, I will do it so that the Father will get glory from the Son.

Jesus is telling his disciples that if they can’t trust his words, they can at least see that his actions back up what he is saying. And then he goes one step further, and tells them that if they believe they will be able to do even greater things. While that’s a treasured promise from the text, it also simultaneously suggests that some of his disciples were still not committed 100%; something that would change after the resurrection…

Everyone we meet, and we ourselves, needs to respond to the story that crosses our path this week: The Passion Week narrative. The song featured below asks the question — and it’s one of the most powerful songs I’ve come across — how do we respond to Christ incarnate? Will we recognize him as the Messiah? Will we make him Lord of our lives?

Jesus asked them this question as well.

As the Pharisees were regrouping, Jesus caught them off balance with his own test question: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said, “David’s son.” – Matthew 22:42 MSG

Before moving out of Toronto, we lived near a church which had this question on a neon sign, which read, using the KJV text, “What think ye of Christ?” It is after all the make-or-break question; how we respond to Jesus. I devoted entire blog post that sign’s question here in 2017

As any worship leader will tell you, Easter offers us music which best captures the essence of our faith; best captures the essence of the gospel. All worship should be ‘Christo-centric,’ but at this time of year the intensity of our worship seems so much better focused.

This is not a congregational song, but a performance piece called “How Could You Say ‘No?'” written by Mickey Cates and performed by Julie Miller. When my wife had a soundtrack for this, we were repeatedly asked to do it each year at the church we were attending; later on we did it with live music. There’s something about it that touches people at a heart level.

christoncross

The song asks the question: How can you see what Christ did for us on the cross and then just walk away, knowing it was your sin that put him there; knowing that he did this for you?

Take the next four minutes just to focus on this song and all that it means.

Thorns on His head, spear in His side
Yet it was a heartache that made Him cry
He gave His life so you would understand
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

If Christ Himself were standing here
Face full of glory and eyes full tears
And he held out His arms and His nail-printed hands
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

How could you look in His tear-stained eyes
Knowing it’s you He’s thinking of?
Could you tell Him you’re not ready to give Him your life?
Could you say you don’t think you need His love?

Jesus is here with His arms open wide
You can see with your heart
If you’ll stop looking with your eyes
He’s left it up to you, He’s done all He can
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

How could you look in His tear-stained eyes
Knowing it’s you He’s thinking of?
Could you tell Him you’re not ready to give Him your life?
Could you say you don’t think you need His love?

Thorns on His head, your life is in His hands
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

Oh, is there any way you could say no to this Man?

March 4, 2021

Should Have Seen It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

by Clarke Dixon

I should have seen it. It was a Friday the 13th a few years back when I did what many motorcyclists in Ontario do on Friday the 13th, we head to Port Dover. I was on my way home after a long day of riding and I didn’t see the sand on the corner. Going around the corner I hit the gas and the motorcycle hit the ground. Thanks to some people nearby who had duct tape I managed to get home okay. But I should have seen it.

Is that something that we may someday say at the end of the ride called life? “I should have seen it.”

There is a “should have seen it” moment in John’s Gospel:

Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him.

John 12:37 (NRSV)

By this time Jesus had a reputation for profound wisdom and miraculous healings. Yet many of the religious leaders had written him off. They explained away the miracles as works done by the power of the evil one. They tried to trip him up in his teaching, to prove that he was a fraud. But the life-giving miracles continued to give life and the profound teaching continued to be profound. You would think the religious leaders, rather than condemning Jesus, would at least be curious. Who is this Jesus, really?

Curiosity

Even now, there are good reasons to at least be curious about Jesus. Consider the impact of Jesus on people’s lives throughout history. Consider the impact of Jesus on society. Consider the evidence for the story about Jesus as recorded in the writings of the New Testament as being reasonable and true. Contrary to popular belief, Christianity is not a leap of faith contrary to the evidence. It is a reasonable step of faith because of the evidence. There are good reasons to at least be curious about the evidence, to at least be curious as to who Jesus was/is. There are many great resources that explain the evidence. One can start by Googling names like J. Warner Wallace and William Lane Craig, but there are many other resources. The signs are there for those whose eyes and ears are open, for those who are curious. It is far better to be curious now, than someday say “I should have seen it.”

Curiosity, along with open eyes and ears, is not just important for those who currently do not follow Jesus. Curiosity is important if we, who are Christians, never want to say “should have seen it.” We as Christians can fail to stay curious in our search for truth. When we do we mislead people, we can cause damage.

In my early years as a pastor I had the opportunity to lead a Bible study for people with mental health challenges. A local church was very good about picking many of these souls up every Sunday for church. However, as I got to know them, I discovered that many of them thought that if they could have more faith, and be more holy, that God would heal their minds. I believe that God will indeed heal our minds someday, but I also believe these poor souls were being fed very simplistic answers to complex issues. We face many complex issues in our day. Curiosity may keep us from someday saying “should have seen it.”

Some did see the where the signs were leading, but kept quiet:

Many people did believe in him, however, including some of the Jewish leaders. But they wouldn’t admit it . . .

John 12:42 (NLT)

Why were these, who did believe in Jesus, not willing to openly confess that belief? We want to be careful here to note that their “belief in” Jesus is probably not a full blown belief in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Let us remember that the events of Easter had not happened yet, nor had anyone fully realised the implications of those events. At this point “belief in” may simply be belief that Jesus is from God, and not a fraud as many of the religious leaders were claiming.

We need not conjecture as to why these believers remained quiet about their openness to Jesus, for John goes on to tell us why:

But they wouldn’t admit it for fear that the Pharisees would expel them from the synagogue. For they loved human praise more than the praise of God.

John 12:42-43 (NLT)

This helps explain why some are not open to Jesus today.

Fear of being put out of the synagogue

Fear can keep people from expressing faith in Jesus. What will my circle of friends say if I am curious about what they claim is a fable? Christianity may be dismissed vocally among friends and family. Christianity may be dismissed broadly within society. People are afraid to swim against the tide. Fear can kill curiosity, so no ones dares ask out loud “just who is this Jesus, really?” Eyes remain shut. No one sees it.

Fear can also keep we who are Christians from being honest about our questions. What if my church, or pastor, does not appreciate my curiosity? Yes, Jesus is my Lord and Saviour, but what is the truth with regard to all these complex issues? People have questions but keep quiet. No one sees it.

On keeping quiet out of fear of being put out of the synagogue; isn’t the synagogue the very place where there should have been a healthy curiosity about Jesus? When someone claims to be from God, teaches with profound wisdom and goes around doing miraculous and helpful works, shouldn’t that be “chatted up” in the synagogue? Isn’t the synagogue the very place where people should have been free to talk about Jesus, weigh the evidence, have conversations, ask questions, seek a better understanding, and keeping eyes wide open, be curious? Evidently the religious leaders who were quick to condemn Jesus, were also quick to stifle curiosity. People were afraid of them.

We could say in our day, isn’t the family, isn’t a circle of friends, a place where we should be able to talk about spiritually and truth, including curiosity regarding the claim that Jesus is more than a mere footnote in history?

Likewise, isn’t a church the very place people should feel they can be honest in their exploration for truth, ask questions, be curious and in conversation? Shouldn’t a church be the very place we should expect to find a curiosity and a search for truth about mental health, racism, LGBTQ+, sexuality, finances, relationships, and anything and everything? Fear of being shunned can keep the curious quiet. Am I as a religious leader stifling curiosity? Am I, the pastor, the one causing fear in my day?

The love of human praise more than the praise of God

Those who believed that Jesus was from God were more interested in being seen as smart among their peers than in encouraging the search for truth. Appearing to be smart is often not the smartest thing to do! Pride can keep us quiet about the truth. Pride can keep us vocal about falsehoods.

Pride was at the root of why the religious leaders stood in condemnation over Jesus in the first place. Pride kept them from having a posture of curiosity in learning more about Jesus. Jesus, a man of great works and profound teaching, was exposing their works as less than righteous and their teaching as less than sound. Pride ensured a violent reaction against Jesus, instead of a thoughtful and soul-searching response to him.

If Jesus really was from God in some way, then many of the religious leaders needed to be able to say “I have been wrong.” That is hard to admit when you are a religious leader, when you are supposed to be an expert. Further, they would need to admit that “I have been misleading others.” That is hard to admit when you are supposed to be a leader. Further “In being wrong, in misleading others, I have done damage.” That is hard to admit when you are supposed to be a religious leader, a godly leader.

Pride kills curiosity and the search for truth. No one likes to admit that they have been wrong. Does pride keep people from trusting in Jesus? Does pride keep some of us from growing as those who trust in Jesus? Admitting when we have been wrong is part and parcel of repentance, learning, growth, and discipleship.

Pride can keep people from searching for the truth about God in Jesus. Pride can also keep those of us that have discovered truth about God in Jesus from searching for the truth in so many other things. Pride will lead us to someday say “should have seen it.”

Concluding Thoughts

We should see it now:

I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.

John 12:46 (NLT)

There are many who would rather remain in the dark about Jesus. Fear and pride can kill the curiosity that can lead people to God. We can be in prayer for a courageous curiosity and remain open to conversations.

We, who are Christians, may sometimes be the ones who would rather remain in the dark about many things. We can be in prayer for a courageous curiosity and remain open to conversations.

We don’t want to get to the end of our lives and say “should have seen it.”


Canadian Pastor Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays. The full video sermon on which this is based is also part of this online weekly worship expression.

March 1, 2021

The Test of Faith Was Both Abraham’s and Isaac’s

Could a familiar Biblical narrative had played out differently? We often consider the faith it took Abraham to be obedient to a horrid request, a demand concerning the child of promise given to him and Sarah. But Isaac was old enough that he could have rewritten the ending…

If you’re unfamiliar with Abraham’s test of faith in Genesis 22, click this link to read it in the Common English Bible (CEB).

by Ruth Wilkinson

Why did it have to be at the top of a mountain on a hot day, carrying all that wood?
His father wasn’t young anymore (had he ever been?) so Isaac took the load of wood himself.
Abraham went ahead, finding the path, carrying the fire for the altar. This was a long, long way
to come to make a sacrifice.

Isaac had seen his father make sacrifices to his god before, and it was always the same.
He’d build an altar, stone on stone ‘till it was right,
lay it with wood – first the tinder, then the kindling, then the fuel.
He’d choose the very best lamb he could find,
sometimes that took hours, talking to the shepherds, looking at hooves and skin.
If he couldn’t find the one he wanted, he’d buy one from a neighbour. That could take a day or two.

Once he’d found the one he wanted, he’d tie its legs with rope, lay it on the altar.
He’d cut the lamb’s throat quickly so it wouldn’t suffer and light the fire.
A complete waste, except it wasn’t.
It was a gift, a symbol of how nothing was more important to Abraham than his god.

But this one was different, not only the journey, but especially the fact that there was no lamb.
Abraham was always so picky about choosing just the right one, surely he didn’t expect it to
just be waiting there for him at the top.
Isaac had asked about that, but Abraham didn’t really answer,
so he dropped it.

Abraham was unusually quiet.
Anytime they’d sat or eaten or traveled together Abraham was full of stories
the time he’d tried to trick Pharaoh and his God had ratted him out,
the time he’d gone to war to rescue Uncle Lot and his God had given him victory,
the time his god had wiped a couple of entire cities off the earth,

and over and over and over again, the story of the son, the only son, the son their God had
given them, the son they loved, their miracle son.
The first star in his father’s sky of children and children’s children and
children’s children’s children.

Isaac had heard volumes about Abraham’s god. Sarah’s god.
But not today.

Today he was lugging a load of wood up a mountain, eyes on where he was putting his feet,
glancing at his father’s back.

Lots of time to think.
This god of his father’s was a strange one as gods went.
He didn’t seem to follow the same rules.
The other gods, the ones that ruled the lands around them, the ones that came into the family
compound with slaves from other places…
The other gods were tied to one particular nation or tribe or family. This one seemed to be
everywhere, involved with anybody he chose.
Isaac wasn’t sure whether he went ahead, or if he was following Abraham, but he had been
everywhere.

The other gods were distant and people did extravagant things to get their attention…
shouting, dancing, extreme sacrifices – even killing their own children to get their noticed.
His father’s god seemed to be waiting around every corner,
with something to say,
to ask,
something to offer
– kind of like Abraham was with Isaac.

But Isaac had never heard the voice his father heard.
Everything he knew, he’d learned from his parents’ lives and stories.
He’d lived his whole life from before he could remember by the words and ways
of his father’s god.

Abraham stopped walking. He looked around and said,
“We’re here.”
He told Isaac to sit down and have a drink while he built the altar.

Stone on stone ‘till it was right,

Then, he opened the bag of tinder,
untied the rope that held the bundle of wood,
arranged the altar, – tinder first, then kindling, then fuel.

He stood still, looking at it.

Isaac said, “Perfect! Now all we need is the lamb.”

There was a long silence. Abraham trembled, sat down beside his son, his only son,
the son his god had given him, the son he loved, his miracle son
the first star in his sky of children and children’s children and
children’s children’s children and told him about the lamb.
What he said cut Isaac open like no knife ever could.

Isaac was to be the lamb.

No.
That can’t be right.
All his life he’d been told how special he was.
His life was a miracle, an answered prayer, a promise kept.
He couldn’t die now!
It was too soon!
That can’t be right.
No.

His father was old, confused. Isaac was stronger, he could take him, maybe tie him up with the rope from the wood and get him home somehow. (On the donkey. That would work.)

To Sarah. Sarah would know what to do.
Isaac snatched up the rope, jumped to his feet ready for anything and in that moment,
he heard it.

He heard the voice – whispering somewhere inside him, behind him.
Whispering his name
“Isaac”

The whisper took over his heart and his mind and whispered to him in that split second every story his father had ever told him.

Every step of his father’s journey,
every promise made and kept,
every tear,
every laugh,
every surprise,
every demand,
every moment of forgiveness and starting over again and redemption.
Every star in his father’s sky.

And in that moment, Isaac knew he had a choice to make. A line to cross.

He had lived his entire life from before he could remember by the words and ways of his father’s god and
now
now
now he had to decide whether this god was his own.
Isaac had to choose.


“All the nations of the earth will be blessed because of your descendants, because you obeyed me” (God, v18)

January 2, 2021

Moving People Toward Belief

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. – John 20:30,31 NIV

I just finished reading (in one day!) the history of InterVarsity Press (IVP). I would hope that anyone reading a blog called Christianity 201 would have at some point in their life consumed several of their books and have them still on their shelves. They produce thoughtful books for Christians who think.

J. I. Packer said of the organization, “Some publishers tell you what to believe. Other publishers tell you what you already believe. But InterVarsity Press helps you to believe.”

It’s easy to tell people what to believe: ‘Here’s what you need to know.’ In the medium you’re reading (blogging) a popular type of article is a genre called listicles. These lists begin with phrases like “7 Things About…;” or “5 Reasons You Should…;” or “8 Most Important Lessons…” As someone who likes systematically organized information, I need to confess that I tend to gravitate to articles like this. It’s so easy to tell people the bullet points, or the talking points. And there is some value in informing people that the death and resurrection of Christ is key to beginning a faith journey.

But the Apostle Paul famously says in 1 Corinthians 8:1 that knowledge puffs up. It’s amazing how many modern translations retain that phrase with the runner-up being makes people arrogant. The context is about eating meat which has been offered to idols. I often wondered how someone could do this, but after learning more about the intricacies surrounding the interconnectedness of what I’ve called elsewhere “the sacrifice industry” with the manner of food distribution at the time, it’s easier to see why this is a moral, ethical and spiritual issue that would resonate with people and actually have more practical application than we realize.

Eugene Peterson goes well beyond translation into commentary rendering this passage:

The question keeps coming up regarding meat that has been offered up to an idol: Should you attend meals where such meat is served, or not? We sometimes tend to think we know all we need to know to answer these kinds of questions—but sometimes our humble hearts can help us more than our proud minds. We never really know enough until we recognize that God alone knows it all.

We can also, as Packer noted, tell people what they already believe. Again, in this (blogging) medium, we’ve seen over the years that online Christian community can become a vast echo chamber with people imagining they receive more points by quoting or re-publishing the most recent columns by prominent Bible teachers. It is often called, preaching to the choir. In yesterday’s look at an extremely popular passage, I tried to state at the outset that we would be taking a fresh approach, mapping the positive character qualities Paul was listing to negative character traits which show up in our modern world.

Some truths are profound however and cannot be stated enough. For example, God is love; but that reality often doesn’t challenge the intellect of some readers who immediately tune out. But when you go beyond the surface, you find that:

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.*

But what our aim should be is to help people believe; to inspire them to come to know Jesus in a personal way which makes their faith their own and isn’t just an adoption of our beliefs, our positions, our doctrine, our systematic theology.

A phrase you don’t hear often anymore — and one that only produced a mere eight results on Google — is “Making Jesus Mine.” I’ve often told my own salvation story in these terms, “Taking ownership of my faith.” It’s not hereditary. It’s not something you do as a community. It’s definitely not something you do with your spouse.** Rather, the Bible teaches a personal accountability for salvation (in an eternal sense) and stewardship of the life we’ve been given (in the present tense.)

In our opening verse John states that the purpose of his gospel all along has been, But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

In other words, John isn’t saying ‘Here’s what you need to know.’ Rather, he’s creating a spark and trusting that the fire will spread.

Similarly, we can play a role in pointing others to a belief that they own. We can disciple people, but we’re not the arbiters of their faith. Nor is any church body. Everyone needs their own direct line to God. We simply point them to Jesus and allow the Holy Spirit to work on their hearts.

 


*Frederick M. Lehman (1868-1953) “The Love of God” vs. 3 quoted
**There are many passages that apply to community, to actions taken by a community, and even the concept of household salvation; but we do eventually stand before God alone. In the past year, I’ve observed several cases where married couples have acted as though spiritual decisions are taken collectively, but this is an area where marital disagreement (i.e. on the deity and lordship of Christ) is not only healthy, but it’s positionally necessary.

 

December 5, 2020

When Communion Sunday Meets Advent

Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.  “Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came!
 – John 12: 25,27 NLT

As I type this, tomorrow is the second Sunday of Advent, but it’s also Communion Sunday among churches which observe the Lord’s Supper on the first Sunday of each month. So which is more important: Christmas or Easter?

The Billy Graham Association website notes:

Both are equally important, because both were an essential part of God’s plan. Without Christmas, there would be no Easter—and without Easter, Christmas wouldn’t matter.

It’s true. The birth of a baby in an inconsequential Jerusalem suburb would hardly be worth noting if were not for the events which followed. And the death of a self-proclaimed Messiah might not have earned a place in history were it not for the events which preceded it, which includes what turns out to be a somewhat miraculous birth.

As simple as that seems, I think it’s something that Christians need to own to a greater degree. I say that because in a search for the phrase, “There’s no Christmas with Easter and…” etc., all of the page one search results directed readers to a quotation by a former president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka Mormon) and some of its related websites. While the sentiment is true, I would like to have seen more mainstream Christian expressions of that truth on page one.

Or in these words, as we put it this time last year:

There’s no incarnation without atonement.
There’s no atonement without incarnation.

As I looked at that article again, I felt I should just continue where it led us a year ago:

…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 the “Linus” verses — 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 social media, 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:

 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

…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.

For churches where the Eucharist/Communion intersects with Advent/Christmas, the key is not to say, ‘How do I deal with this awkward placement of two very different parts of our church calendar?’ but rather to meet the convergence head on by noting that the gathering around The Lord’s Table begins with the gathering around the manger to look at the promised child; and the gathering around the baby in the manger is the beginning of the path to the gathering in the upper room where “on the night he was betrayed, he took bread and broke it and said ‘This is my body…'”

Both of which lead to a gathering around another table, a banquet table we’ve yet to experience.

 

November 15, 2020

Andrew Murray on the Names of the Holy Spirit

But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.
 – John 14:26 NLT

“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.
 – John 16:7 NASB

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
 – John 16:13 ESV

 

Ten years ago at this time I was slowly working my way through a classic; Andrew Murray’s book With Christ in the School of Prayer. For the two chapters, he was been looking at the passage that begins,If his son asks for bread will he give him a stone?This is paralleled in Matthew and Luke; and says that if corrupted and sinful parents like ourselves still give good things to their children, how much more will God give…to those who ask.

The Matthew section ends, How much more will your Father give good things…”   But in Luke the ending is different;How much more will you Father give the Holy Spirit.” Murray feels that the highest of the “good things” is “the Holy Spirit.”

He then has a paragraph where he lists the various gifts of the Holy Spirit.   He was writing in an era before bullet points — lapsing into point form or numbered lists wasn’t done in prose back then — but I want to spell these out for us today.   There aren’t cross-references, but you’ll recognize many of these:

  • The Spirit of grace — to reveal and impart all of grace there is in Jesus
  • The Spirit of faith — teaching us to begin and go on and increase in continuously believing
  • The Spirit of adoption and assurance — who witnesses that we are God’s children and inspires us to confidently say, ‘Abba, Father.’
  • The Spirit of truth — to lead into all truth, to make each word of God ours in both principle and action
  • The Spirit of prayer — through whom we speak with the Father; prayer that must be heard
  • The Spirit of judgment and refining — to search the heart and convict of sin
  • The Spirit of holiness — manifesting and communicating the Father’s holy presence within us
  • The Spirit of power — through whom we are strong enough to speak boldly and work effectively in the Father’s service
  • The Spirit of glory — the promise of our inheritance, the preparation and foretaste of the glory to come.

Murray states, “In the variety of gifts which the Spirit has to give out, He meets every need of the believer.  …The child of God needs only one thing to really live as a child:  To be filled with this Spirit.”

With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray (various publishers); taken from lessons 6 and 7; some sentences mildly paraphrased to reflect modern grammar and vocabulary.

November 12, 2020

What Makes Us God’s People?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
Tags: , , ,

A Look at Philippians 3:1-11

by Clarke Dixon

What makes me a Canadian? Is it being born in Canada? I wasn’t. Is it having a Canadian accent, eh? Many don’t. Is it living here in Canada? Many Canadians don’t even do that. So what makes me Canadian?

We can also ask, what makes us God’s people?

In the earliest days of Christianity, before there was something known as the New Testament, the answer to that question for some people was very simple; if you are part God’s people you will act like God’s people as laid out in the only Testament available, the Old Testament. You will therefore be found keeping the covenant, keeping all the customs and traditions including dietary restrictions, festivals, and of course the mark of belonging for the males, circumcision. In other words, to be part of God’s people in Christ you must become a Jew, though a Jesus-believing Jew of course.

After all, some would have said, as God’s old covenant people we are considered to be the righteous ones, the ones in right standing with God, while the rest are the unrighteous ones, the ones not in right standing with God. Through Jesus you can duck under our Jewish umbrella.

But is that it?

This became a very important question among the early Christians. There was a discernment process which we read about in Acts 15. Here is the conclusion of the matter as written in a letter to Christ followers of non-Jewish background:

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.

Acts 15:28-29 (NIV)

Short, sweet, and to the point! You don’t need to become Jewish to be part of God’s people. But neither can you worship who, what, and how you once worshipped before walking with Jesus. This is why food, blood, and sexual immortality are mentioned, these all being part and parcel of the worship of the gods commonly worshipped in that time and place.

The early Christians realized that in Jesus God was not inviting people to get under the Jewish umbrella, but that there was now a bigger umbrella that now included non-Jewish people, just as they are, but now focusing their lives and their worship on Jesus.

Paul, knowing that it would only be a matter of time before the non-Jewish Christ followers in Philippi would be under pressure by some to become more Jewish, warned them very strongly:

Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved. For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us.

Philippians 3:2-3 (NLT)

Paul is reiterating here very strongly what was already recognized: you don’t need to become Jewish in order to become part of the people of God. Whatever makes us God’s people, keeping the customs of God’s old covenant people isn’t it.

If it was it, Paul could boast of the things that marked him out as truly belonging to God’s people:

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Philippians 3:4-6 (NRSV)

If being Jewish is what makes you righteous, if it is what gives you right standing before God, then Paul can boast of his Jewishness. But that’s not it:

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.

Philippians 3:7-9 (NRSV)

Paul knows that God doesn’t relate to him on the basis of his fitting in with Jewish society. God relates to him through Christ. Being God’s people is about “knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord,” and being “found in him.” It is about “faith in Christ.”

There is a challenge in translating “faith in Christ.” Some Bible scholars point to the possible translation of “faith of Christ,” that is, the faithfulness of Christ. So we could paraphrase it like this: “Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through the faithfulness of Christ, the righteousness from God based on God’s faithfulness to us.”

The focus is on the faithfulness and obedience of Jesus

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:6-8 (NRSV)

We should each ask, am I part of God’s people? Am I included? It is not by taking up religion. It is not by figuring out the right rules and keeping them really well. It is not by picking a Christian sub-culture and trying to fit in with what you wear and how you speak or what kind of music you listen to. It is by being “found in” Christ, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,” but one that comes through the faithfulness of Christ. It is by responding to the invitation of God and walking with Jesus. What makes us God’s people? God’s love and grace.


Clarke Dixon is, in case you missed the first paragraph, a Canadian pastor. His church is in a town with a latitude of 43.9667 (or 43.9598 depending on who you’re reading) which places it just a tad south of Eugene, Oregon; and Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The full sermon on which this devotional is based was shared on November 8th)

November 7, 2020

Malcolm Muggeridge Quotations

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , ,

“In the end, coming to faith remains for all a sense of homecoming, of picking up the threads of a lost life, of responding to a bell that had long been ringing, of taking a place at a table that had long been vacant.” – Malcom Muggeridge

One week today, November 14th, will mark 30 years since the passing of Malcolm Muggeridge (b1903), a great English thinker and author of at least two dozen books, whose conversion to Christianity marked a real turning point. His Wikipedia writeup notes:

An agnostic for most of his life, Muggeridge became a Protestant Christian, publishing Jesus Rediscovered in 1969, a collection of essays, articles and sermons on faith. It became a best seller. Jesus: The Man Who Lives followed in 1976, a more substantial work describing the gospel in his own words. In A Third Testament, he profiles six spiritual thinkers, whom he called “God’s Spies”, who influenced his life: Augustine of Hippo, William Blake, Blaise Pascal, Leo Tolstoy, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Søren Kierkegaard. In this period he also produced several BBC religious documentaries, including In the Footsteps of St. Paul.

The article also noted that he “helped to bring Mother Teresa to popular attention in the West.”

Here then, in no particular order are some of his words… read these slowly and thoughtfully.


I can say that I never knew what joy was like until I gave up pursuing happiness, or cared to live until I chose to die. For these two discoveries I am beholden to Jesus.


Christianity . . . sees the necessity for man to have spiritual values and it shows him how to get at those through physical sacraments.


All happenings, great and small, are parables whereby God speaks. The art of life is to get the message. To see all that is offered us at the windows of the soul, and to reach out and receive what is offered, this is the art of living.


Earthly authority displays itself in giving orders, in magnificent apparel, in hordes of servitors, in sycophantic addresses; the authority of Jesus disposes of is, by contrast, spiritual, and expresses itself in serving, not being served, in seeking to be the least instead of the greatest, the last instead of the first, in finding wisdom in the innocence of children and truth in the foolishness of men rather than in those who pass for being sagacious and experienced in the world’s ways. When we want to adulate men, we say they are godlike; but when God became Man, it was in the lineaments of the least of men.


The trouble with kingdoms of heaven on earth is that they’re liable to come to pass, and then their fraudulence is apparent for all to see. We need a kingdom of heaven in Heaven, if only because it can’t be realized.


One of the peculiar sins of the twentieth century which we’ve developed to a very high level is the sin of credulity. It has been said that when human beings stop believing in God they believe in nothing. The truth is much worse: they believe in anything.


As out of Jesus’ affliction came a new sense of God’s love and a new basis for love between men, so out of our affliction we may grasp the splendor of God’s love and how to love one another. Thus the consummation of the two commandments was on Golgotha; and the Cross is, at once, their image and their fulfillment.


Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message.


People think of faith as being something that you don’t really believe, a device in helping you believe simply it. Of course that is quite wrong. As Pascal says, faith is a gift of God. It is different from the proof of it. It is the kind of faith God himself places in the heart, of which the proof is often the instrument…


Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful, with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my seventy five years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained… This, of course, is what the Cross signifies. And it is the Cross, more than anything else, that has called me inexorably to Christ.


God, stay with me, let no word cross my lips that is not your word, no thoughts enter my mind that are not your thoughts, no deed ever be done or entertained by me that is not your deed.


Sources: GoodReads, Inspring Quotes, Brainy Quote, Grace Quotes, A-Z Quotes

September 29, 2020

The Mystery of Unanswered Prayer

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Keep trusting in God. Keep trusting in me.” – John 14:1

Every once in awhile, my mother speaks to me from the grave.

Before you change channels, let me explain.

In her later years — and even some not so later ones — she had a habit of writing fragments of hymn lyrics on scraps of paper. Her thing wasn’t Amazing Grace or How Great Thou Art, but those older, richer hymns that nobody bothers with anymore unless Chris Tomlin ‘discovers’ them.

The green piece of scrap paper read,

Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

It’s a line from “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart” (full lyrics below) and it somewhat captures one of the things I’ve been wrestling with since the pandemic began. I’m convinced that what keeps people from crossing the line of faith, and what causes others to wander from the fold, is not the allegiance of Evangelicals with a particular political party, the injustice of police interactions with people of color, or the tornadoes, floods and brush fires.

I think it’s more personal. I think it’s unanswered prayer. The time they reached out to God and God didn’t appear to come through for them in the desired time-frame. (Click the date-links in each to read in full.)

It’s been a recurring theme here at C201.

In December, 2011, we quoted from Steven Furtick’s book, Sun Stand Still:

…I’ve seen couples who had been labeled infertile give birth to healthy boys and girls. I’ve seen people lose their job, pray, and quickly land a new job that paid twice as much and required a fraction of the travel as the last job.

Sometimes—a lot of times—it goes that way. Faith works. Prayers produce. Praise God. There’s nothing better.

But sometimes—a lot of times, honestly—it goes the other way. Sometimes the sun doesn’t stand still. Sometimes the sun goes down.

Sometimes you pray your best, most honest, heartfelt prayers—and there is no answer. Or the answer is no. Sometimes, even though your motives are pure, your desire is good, and your need is urgent, the breakthrough doesn’t come. The turnaround moment doesn’t occur. The cancer spreads. The finances get tighter. The marriage feels more lonely. The kids grow more distant…

Also in December, 2011, we borrowed from Jon Swanson:

Jairus had a dying daughter. He went to Jesus. Jesus started coming to his house. Jesus was distracted by a different miracle. And then someone says, “never mind, she’s dead. Leave him alone.”

Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid; just believe and she will be healed.” The next thing we read is that Jesus arrives at the house.

Between those sentences, between “she will be healed” and Jesus arriving was a very long walk for Jairus.

…“Just believe” was all that Jesus told Jarius to do. We often turn that into some kind of measure, and we think that if we believe enough amazing things will happen. If they don’t happen, it’s our fault, because we didn’t believe enough. In this case, believing was simple. It just meant walking with Jesus all the way home…

…Jairus walked home with Jesus, ignoring the apparent certainty of her death.

Not every child is raised. But every promise is kept.

In January, 2012, our guest author was Robert Moon:

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

There are many things that hinder answered prayer, one of which is praying prayers we shouldn’t pray. Some prayers involve other people, and we forget that GOD deals with each of us individually, and it is not our place to control other people. There are myriads of reasons for seemingly unanswered prayer, and one of the most difficult one is time, waiting until the time is right in GOD’S eyes and not ours.

It is good to have a scripture in mind with a promise of answered prayer before I pray, and yet the answer is not always apparent. When this happens I never allow this to affect my relationship with the Father for faith in HIM comes far ahead of faith for things. Learn this secret when praying whether successful or not, allow your faith to grow exceedingly in GOD for this is what James 1:3 was talking about “You know that such testing of your faith produces endurance” and that is truly important.

I have heard of mothers who prayed for their children for many years and some have died before their prayer was answered. It would have seemed to have been an ineffective prayer effort but in reality it was victory.

In March, 2012, some powerful thoughts from an anonymous writer:

“I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Philippians 3:13, NKJV)

We all go through disappointments, setbacks and things that we don’t understand. Maybe you prayed for a loved one, but they didn’t get well. Or maybe you worked hard for a promotion, but you didn’t get it. You stood in faith for a relationship, but it didn’t work out. One of the best things you can do is release it. Let it go. Don’t dwell on it anymore. If you go around wondering why things didn’t work out, all that’s going to do is lead to bitterness, resentment and self-pity. Before long, you’ll be blaming others, blaming yourself, or even God. You may not have understood what happened. It may not have been fair. But when you release it, it’s an act of your faith. You’re saying, “God, I trust You. I know You’re in control. And even though it didn’t work out my way, You said, ‘All things are going to work together for my good.’ So I believe You still have something good in my future.”

Finally (for today) from August, 2012 from Kevin White:

…God can seem alien to us at times, even cruel. His understanding exceeds our own far more than a human father’s exceeds that of the youngest child. His ways are infinitely more unsearchable than that of a dad who holds his kid down to receive a shot. Indeed, we would know hardly a thing about God unless he revealed it to us.

So sometimes, it is hard to see the goodness in what Cowper described as “a frowning Providence.” And yet, a key part of God’s self-revelation is that he watches his people, neither slumbering nor sleeping. Like a nesting hen, sheltering the hatchlings. He is a loving Father who gives good gifts. And yet the world is full of snakes.

This difficulty is made worse when we just don’t understand what is happening. When friends and family suffer. When natural goods, rightly desired, are placed out of reach. When we see that one of the greatest impediments to our flourishing is staring at us in the mirror. It is hard to see how a loving Father can be watching over all of that.

Instead, it is easy to covet, easy to resent. It is easy to say that it is all wrong, and should not be happening. Not in the sense of, “it is a fallen world and I long for paradise,” but in the sense of “what kind of God could allow this?” Or to wonder if our concerns are too small for God to notice. For the Christian, that attitude is doubly false, since Jesus Christ himself, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” says that God pays mind even to the fall of a sparrow.

And yet, there is an odd thing about invoking God’s providence in difficult times. It is a classic piece of bad comforting to simply tell someone, “God is in control.” Even so, recognizing, resting in, and/or wrestling with God’s control over circumstances can be a powerful form of reassurance. Why the disconnect?

I think it is because the trite statement is a shortcut. In some ways, it merely restates part of the presenting problem. How is this bread and not a stone? Too easily, it skips all the messy business of “rejoice with those who are rejoicing, mourn with those who are mourning.” It skips straight to the pithy takeaway and moves on.

Part of the answer is that we live in a sinful and fallen world. The restoration of all things is not here yet. All accounts will be settled, but we have at best a foretaste of that reality. Some of our suffering comes from our own bad decisions, or from our own weakness and limitation. And much more comes with living in a world that is systemically corrupted and distorted by sin and the curse that it brought…


Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.

Hast Thou not bid me love Thee, God and King?
All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see Thy cross; there teach my heart to cling:
Oh, let me seek Thee, and, oh, let me find!

Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The kindling of the heav’n-descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.

June 25, 2020

Spectacular and Sensational: Are Christians to Be Known Primarily for Working Miracles?

by Clarke Dixon

In these days of a pandemic, should we as followers of Jesus be known for doing spectacular and sensational things? Should we be fearless in the face of infection? We’ve prayed about it, we believe that God can protect us, so should we then act like we are immune? Should we declare the pandemic will be over soon? We keep praying it will be.

Of course, this is not just about the pandemic, but all of life. Is the working of miracles the Christian solution to all problems? Is the spectacular and sensational the defining mark of the Christ follower?

Jesus clarifies the defining mark of his followers in the Sermon on the Mount:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)

The defining mark of the Christ follower may not seem clearly evident here on first glance. Let us put ourselves, for a moment, in the shoes of the scribes and Pharisees. We have a passion for God’s law. We study it, memorize it, and teach it, hoping that our zeal for pleasing God is contagious.

Along comes Jesus, doing spectacular and sensational things, like casting out demons, healing people, and works of power. Yet he does some surprising things too, like healing on the Sabbath. Have you not read your Bible Jesus? Working on the Sabbath is forbidden.

We are concerned. Jesus is attracting people with the spectacular and the sensational, yet his track record of keeping the law and traditions we teach is suspect. Will the Jesus followers, of which there are now many, be all show, and no substance? Will Jesus be taking people away from righteousness through all the spectacular and sensational things he is doing?

To that Jesus says,

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 7:21 (NLT emphasis added)

The defining mark of the Christian is not the spectacular and sensational, though those things may happen. The defining mark of the Christian is the doing of the heavenly Father’s will. Jesus’ followers can not be described as “workers of lawlessness” (literal rendition of ‘evildoers’ in verse 23).

In other words, Jesus is not taking people away from God and godliness, Jesus is taking people deeper into God and godliness.

Let us remember what Jesus said near the beginning of his “Sermon on the Mount” back in chapter 5

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-20 (NIV emphasis added)

When Jesus speaks of the need for a righteousness that excels that of the scribes and Pharisees, he is pointing out that there’s is a faulty righteousness. There is something missing. They were all about the letter of the law, missing God’s heart.

When Jesus goes on in the Sermon on the Mount to teach about character, he is taking us toward a righteousness that captures God’s heart.

Here is the defining mark of a Christ follower; a character that captures God’s heart. In developing a character that captures God’s heart, the Jesus follower develops a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees. Of course eternal life depends on God’s grace and not our ability. However, salvation to eternal life does not preclude becoming more like our Saviour as we follow.

Yes, Jesus was going about doing spectacular and sensational things. And no, Jesus was not keeping the traditions in ways that would keep the scribes and Pharisees happy. However, Jesus was, and is now, calling people, not to be workers of the spectacular and sensational, nor to a wooden adherence to a set of rules, but to a deep righteousness formed of God.

What about us? What defines our Christian walk? Is it a focus on the spectacular and sensational? Do people know us to be a people who walk about with the expectation that God will hand out miracles like candy? Do we see miracles as the solution to all our, and the world’s, problems?

We should pray for miracles. I believe they happen. But while we pray for miracles, we can recognize how character that captures God’s heart solves many of our, and the world’s problems. We can think of problems in family relationships, marriage, race relations, and so much more. If our character is growing in Christlikeness, many of our problems wouldn’t exist in the first place!

We may think that we would be most like Christ if miracles would happen all around us, and through us. We are most like Christ when we love as Jesus loved, when we sacrifice as Jesus sacrificed, when we serve as Jesus served, when we forgive as Jesus forgave.

Ours is not to make people think we are the second coming of Jesus by the working of miracles every time there is a problem. Ours is to be a people who live in a deep relationship with God through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. We respond to every problem, including every pandemic, with Christlike character. We will be known as Jesus followers, not by our miracles, but by our character.


Pastor Clarke Dixon is the pastor of a Baptist church in Cobourg, Ontario. His family are currently riding out both the pandemic and the heat wave next to their pool. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

June 5, 2020

When Following Christ, Intellectual Depth is not Spiritual Depth

People who read a blog with a title like Christianity 201 often crave spiritual depth. They should have recent to expect to receive just that.

  • A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard.
  • A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment.
  • An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.”
  • An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths.
  • A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. And often, I must confess, I default to writers and articles which stimulate the spiritual intellect.

But talk to someone who has walked for decades with God, and you’ll see something else at work. Yes, there is a love for his word, the scriptures. But there is also, simply put, a love for Him.

Again, Spiritual depth isn’t depth of understanding, or depth of communicating truths, rather, it’s about depth of relationship with God; or depth of intimacy with Jesus. You see a person and say, “That person really knows God.” Or conversely, “That person is truly known of God.” Or better, “That person really loves God.”

And what happens in the mind, manifests itself in the life, and can be observed in one’s character. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. Or a situation where you’ve never sought forgiveness, or forgiven the other. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. Then this becomes a natural lifestyle. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” In the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve seen people spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post about them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never properly tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of their personal shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.

Conclusion:

We need to live our Christian lives not out of deep reasoning, or deep understanding of the things of God; rather, we need to live out of a deep conviction that comes from walking closely with God.

June 1, 2020

Just One Way: Through Jesus

Today we’re introducing a new website to you with the unusual title, Theist Thug Life. (I really wish there was an about page for this one!) Click the header below to read at source, then click the page header there to look at other articles.

The Exclusivity of Christ V. Religious Pluralism

“I am a Christian who believes that there are certainly many more paths to God other than Christianity”. – Oprah Winfrey

Immediately one may see the problem in Oprah’s statement above: A blatant contradiction.  Claiming to be a Christian she states that there is more than one path to God aside from Christianity. So what is she doing here? Oprah is advocating religious pluralism. Religious pluralism is generally the belief that two or more religious worldviews are equally valid or acceptable. This goes beyond simple tolerance (disagreeing but living peaceably together) but rather the very real acceptance of multiple paths to God (or gods) as a possibility. This is in stark contrast to those views that are exclusive, which is the idea that there is only one true religion or way to know God. Christianity is one such view that is exclusive. Immediately it becomes clear that her belief that there is more than one way to God is in opposition to her professed belief in Christ. In fact it is in blatant opposition to Jesus Christ himself. What do I mean? Christianity isn’t exclusive because Christians want it that way or because we are trying to come from a position of superiority of belief. No, Christian exclusivism just is because God has made it plainly known that he alone is God and there is only one way to him. One of the most prominent verses towards this end is found in John 14:6,

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The claim here made by Jesus is distinct and purposely narrow. It’s exclusive in that it leaves no room for another way.  In a world that has hundreds, if not thousands, of worldviews proposing the way to God (or gods or not gods) we must apply the law non-contradiction. This law essentially states that contradictory propositions cannot both be true ‘at the same time and in the same sense. Ravi Zacharias helps us understand this point here,

“Truth by definition is exclusive. Everything cannot be true. If everything is true, then nothing is false. And if nothing is false then it would also be true to say everything is false. We cannot have it both ways. One should not be surprised at the claims of exclusivity. The reality is that even those who deny truth’s exclusivity, in effect, exclude those who do not deny it. The truth quickly emerges. The law of non-contradiction does apply to reality: Two contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense. Thus, to deny the law of non-contradiction is to affirm it at the same time. You may as well talk about a one-ended stick as talk about truth being all-inclusive.”

Every worldview about God or how to get to God can’t be correct. Either Jesus is the WAY, TRUTH, or LIFE or he isn’t.

Now some may object here by saying that various religious views share certain values and agree on some social issues. Isn’t this religious pluralism? No it isn’t. While, for example, Buddhists and Christians both agree that helping the poor is important, such limited concord is not pluralism per se. Again pluralism has to do with lending credence to competing truth claims. It is a position that advocates the acceptance of diverse beliefs regarding God and salvation as being just as true as any other. However, worldviews contradict each other on a fundamental level. This doesn’t mean some religions can’t share some doctrinal beliefs (like there being only one God) but that the fundamental positions that each hold are irreconcilable. One or the other is true, not both.

Christian Core Beliefs

Christians are those individuals who have been forgiven of their sins. They are individuals who have entered into a close personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8–9Romans 10:9–10). Within the faith there are those beliefs that are essential and those that are non-essential. The non-essentials are those things that do not affect the salvation of an individual. Such things as dancing, head dressing, alcohol consumption, and so forth are not salvific issues. They are those issues that different Christians can disagree on but not divide over. Essential beliefs are those that are the core foundational beliefs that are paramount. These beliefs are something a person must fully accept as part of his or her own personal worldview to be called a Christian. The following are core beliefs:

• Jesus is the Son of God and is equal with God (John 1:149Luke 22:70Mark 3:11Philippians 2:5–11)
• Jesus was born of a virgin (Matthew 1:18Luke 1:26–35)
• Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life (Hebrews 4:15John 8:29)
• Jesus was crucified to pay the penalty for our sins (Matthew 26:281 Corinthians 15:2–4)
• Jesus rose from the dead (Luke 24:46Mark 16:6)
• We are saved by the grace of God; that is, we cannot add to or take away from Christ’s finished work on the cross as full payment for our sin (Ephesians 2:8–9)

Notice that these core beliefs of Christianity fly in the face of Oprah’s statement. While she claims to profess Christ she believes differently from what the core beliefs of Christianity are. Many people may indeed be ‘Christian’ in name but ignore or outright reject core beliefs that define who a Christian is. Truly if Christ is our only hope…our sole way of forgiveness of our sins and gaining redemption…then belief that we or others can go outside of Christ for hope and redemption is simply anathema. It does not follow. Such a person who advocates that there are other ways to God aside from Christ is someone who either doesn’t know what they are talking about, deceiving themselves, or they are outright lying and do not believe the truth.

Summary

Ravi Zacharias perfectly finishes off this article below with these last words,

“So where does that leave us? We must not be surprised at truth claims but we must test them before we believe them. If the test demonstrates truth then we are morally compelled to believe it. And this is precisely the point from which many are trying to run. As G.K. Chesterton said, the problem with Christianity is not that it has been tried and found wanting, but that it has been found difficult and left untried.

Christ is either the immeasurable God or one dreadfully lost. Apply the tests of truth to the person and the message of Jesus Christ. You see not only his exclusivity, but also his uniqueness.”

Note: While Christianity is exclusive in that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation it must be said that Christianity is perhaps the most inclusive faith. No matter your skin color, creed, where you were born, or social status you are able to come to Jesus. No one is turned away as long as they repent and believe the Gospel. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” -John 3:16

Further Reading and Citations

https://www.rzim.org/read/a-slice-of-infinity/point-of-exclusion

Here are 10 verses that speak to the exclusivity of Jesus.

  1. John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
  2. Acts 4:12 – And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
  3. John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
  4. Romans 10:9 – Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
  5. 2 Corinthians 4:4 – In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
  6. John 3:36 – Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
  7. Acts 10:43 – To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.
  8. 1 Timothy 2:5 – For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
  9. Romans 3:22 – The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:
  10. John 17:3 – And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

May 7, 2020

Should Christians Have All the Answers?

by Clarke Dixon

Do you feel that there are questions Christianity is not providing good answers for? Why would God allow a pandemic? Why do innocent children suffer while some evil adults do well? Why is God not hearing the prayers of Christians around the world for this pandemic to end? Why does God not seem to answer my prayers at all?

Should we, who are Christians, have all the answers? Should we feel like we are lacking as Christians if we don’t have all the answers? Or, is Christianity lacking as a valid worldview if some questions go unanswered?

I have often thought of the journey of faith as being like a jigsaw puzzle. You don’t open the box and suddenly all the pieces fall into place. There is a long process of getting the pieces together. We don’t simply start following Jesus and expect all the pieces to fall into place. We don’t suddenly know everything there is to know. Rather, we are on a journey of growth in understanding. This is reflected by the apostle Paul:

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

1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT)

There are three things for us to consider from this verse:

First, it is okay to not have all the answers. None of us have a completed puzzle yet! Even the greatest theologians and preachers have pieces still not placed. Those who think they have it all figured out, don’t. I don’t know about you, but when I work on a jigsaw puzzle, there are always pieces which I think belong in particular places, some of which can actually seem to fit, if you hammer them hard enough. But then, later on I find they are out of place. To be able to say “I don’t have an answer for that” may be better than having all kinds of pieces hammered in the wrong places. If Paul can say “now I know only in part” (NRSV), we can too! Here is that same verse in another translation to help us see Paul’s humility:

Now all we can see of God is like a cloudy picture in a mirror. Later we will see him face to face. We don’t know everything, but then we will, just as God completely understands us.

1 Corinthians 13:12 (CEV)

Second, it is okay to be puzzled about our own experiences in life. We may have a season like Job, where despite faithfully putting our best foot forward, we suffer. The suffering does not seem to make sense. An online attendee of our church family (he lives in a different nation!), David Hodgson, shared a post with our church Facebook group. I am sharing it here with his permission:

Imagine the MOST beautiful picture you have ever seen, landscape, person, pet, building – it doesn’t matter what your subject is. Now imagine getting that picture enlarged 10,000 times, and then getting the result turned into a 1,000,000 piece Jigsaw puzzle 😳 Some of the pieces individually would be dark, ugly, not make much sense on its own BUT the beautiful picture would be incomplete without it. Now imagine God, who sees everything – He has created a picture more beautiful than anything we can imagine and much larger than a 1,000,000 piece Jigsaw – now maybe the bad, dark, things that happen are like the individual pieces mentioned earlier – His beautiful picture would be incomplete without them and they look nasty and ugly on their own 😉 That’s how I look on life, and everything that happens in it – we don’t understand because we have NEVER seen the complete picture, BUT I FIRMLY believe that this helps to put EVERYTHING into context 😃

David Hodgson via Facebook

You might feel like your life is in a very dark place right now. This present darkness is part of a much bigger picture, a beautiful picture. In fact the darkness is a necessary part of that bigger picture. God will complete the picture at some point, then we will see how it all fits together.

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:12 (NRSV)

When we read through the Book of Job, we are not left thinking “ah, all that suffering of Job made sense,” but rather “there is so much we do not know, but we do know we can trust God.” We trust even though “now I know only in part.”

Third, Jesus has given us a wonderful opportunity to make great progress on the puzzle of life and faith. While we have thus far noted Paul’s humility in his knowledge and understanding, we can also note his conviction. Paul has great conviction thanks to Jesus. Because of Jesus there are certain things we do know. Consider these verses:

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.

John 1:18 (NLT)

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

Hebrews 1:3 (ESV)

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.

1 John 4:9-10 (NLT)

Jesus reveals God to us. What is God like? Through Jesus we learn that “God is love” (1 John 4:16). Because of Jesus, John, Paul, along with all the apostles, along with Christians down through the centuries, have had confidence that God is, and that God is love. It is like working on a puzzle, and getting the most important bits done. Being an avid motorcyclist I have a puzzle of a Triumph motorcycle. Coming to a knowledge of God and God’s love in Jesus is like getting the pieces that make up the motorcycle in place. Yes, there are unanswered questions, but they are the bits nearer the edges, out of the main focus of the picture.

The Lord’s Table is a reminder, that now we have great answers to the most important questions. Is there a God, and if so, what is he like? We are reminded that God came to us in Jesus, His body broken for us, his blood shed for the atonement of our sins. God is, and God is love. A pandemic may shine a spotlight on what we don’t know. The Lord’s Table shines a spotlight on what we do. Through Jesus we know what God is like. We know that God is love.

A pandemic may shine a spotlight on what we don’t know. The Lord’s Table shines a spotlight on what we do. Through Jesus we know what God is like. We know that God is love.

Have you ever been tempted to give up on Christianity because there are unanswered questions? It is okay to not have all the answers. But in Jesus we have the answer to the most important question of all; does God love me?


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service due to COVID-19 precautions. You can watch the full worship expression, or the reflection alone. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

Next Page »