Christianity 201

May 22, 2018

Pluck Out the Eye that Causes Sin

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out”

by Russell Young

What is a person to make of the Lord’s admonition that it is better to cut off a hand or foot or to pluck out an eye if it causes him or her to sin? (Mk 9:47) This passage is easy to dismiss because it is so extreme and contrasts so greatly with the concept of God’s love, and the supposed freedom through grace given to believers. Like many biblical teachings, this one is easy to dismiss as an hyperbole certainly not as something that should be taken literally.

The Lord went on to explain that the consequence of practicing sin through the hand, foot, or eye would be “to go into hell where the fire never goes out.” (Mk 9:44) Surely teaching that advocates cutting off a body part or plucking out an eye cannot have literal meaning, and if it does, Christ must have been addressing “non-believers.” If sin has been pardoned once and for all, why would such an injunction exist for those who have confessed faith? If sin has been forgiven, why should a person consider plucking out an eye?

In light of current teaching concerning God’s grace, the Lord’s admonition does not make sense, after all the practice of sin is to have been forgiven and has no eternal consequence; it has been fully covered by the blood of Christ. It is not the admonition that lacks merit, it is the freedom offered by God’s grace that is misunderstood. Concerning “the end of the age,” the Lord has stated, “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” (Mt 13:41) Those who do evil and those who cause sin will not be part of his kingdom. Their eternal state will be dependent upon their actions. The very real possibility of missing his Kingdom is the reason for Christ’s admonition. The confessor’s hope is not to be achieved through an empty confession or pledge of Christ’s lordship but upon the testimony of his or her life practices and upon the honour that they have allowed the Spirit in their lives.

It is certain that the Lord does not want anyone to cut off a hand or foot, or to pluck out an eye. He is not really endorsing it. The point that is being made is that the practice of sin has serious consequences and should be diligently avoided and that confessors should give attention to the way they live their lives. Considering the possibility of enduring God’s wrath for disobedience through continued sinning, the confessor would be better off to be maimed than to be cast from his Kingdom. Paul told the Romans that he had been given “the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God sanctified [purified, made holy] by the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:16 NIV) Gentiles must become an offering suitable for God’s heavenly kingdom if they are to dwell there. The philosophical-theological perception that sin lacks consequence needs to be reconsidered. “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14) Holiness is developed through slavery to righteous living. (Rom 6:22)

John wrote, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning because he has been born of God.” (1 Jn 3: 89 Italics added) Either this passage is true, or it is false. It very well may be that current theological teachings have so missed the great truths of God’s Word and have given such licence to sin that little effort is being made to avoid its draw. Christ said, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24 Italics added.)

Sin is serious. John said, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:6) Those who claim the name of Christ and seek his kingdom must gain victory over the issues of the flesh. How should the believer deal with the admonition to cut off the foot or hand or to pluck out the eye that causes him or her to sin? They must learn to hear the voice of Christ through his Spirit and respond obediently as he leads. Peter has said that “[Christ’s] divine nature (his Spirit) has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” (2 Pet 1:3) He did not say that he has given us life and godliness. Those who proclaim that all sin ever to be committed has been forgiven should seek definitive, supportive scriptural evidence of that fact. The Word reveals that the righteous requirements of God as revealed in the “first covenant”, the Old Covenant, were forgiven (Heb 9:15; 2 Pet 1:9) and that under the New Covenant they are fully met through obedience to the Spirit. (Rom 8:4) Believers are to live in the light (1 Jn 1:7) and sin is to be repented and confessed. (1 Jn 1:9). The life of Christ is to be lived in the believer (Col 1:27; Gal 6:8; Rom 8:14;4, 1 Jn 2:6)

The admonition of Christ to pluck out the eye that causes sin was not meaningless. It is obviously very serious and would have been considered serious in his day. Those who had lived under the law of the covenant would have understood it as such. We are not freed from law under the New Covenant, but it is the law of the Spirit of life (Rom 8:2) or the law of Christ (1 Cor 9:21) that must be honored. Those who live humbly and committedly before God will not need to maim the body.

All scriptures NIV except as noted


Author Russell Young lives in Ontario, Canada and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  His column appears here every other Tuesday.  To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.  There is also a feature-length article at this link.

 

December 7, 2017

Praying for God to Come Down. Or Not.

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence. Isaiah 64:1

This may not be everyone’s favourite prayer. Some would find the presence of God to be a frightening experience and some would prefer God not exist at all so they need not worry about it. Some have deeply thought through positions of agnosticism or atheism. Many, however, land there having heard or seen slogans like “God probably does not exist, so stop worrying and enjoy your life”, and are quite happy to not give it much further thought. So please don’t talk religion, thank you. Why? Because people assume that if God exists, then they should worry. If God is alive and well, then while we are alive and well for now, all will not be well when we are no longer alive. There is a feeling that we would never be good enough, or could never be good enough to meet our Maker. So please don’t tear open the heavens and come down Lord!

However, there is a tone of confidence in Isaiah’s prayer which runs from Isaiah 63:15-64:12. Isaiah is confident that if God were more fully present, it would go well for His people. Is this confidence based on the goodness or righteousness of the people, or even his own? Far from it, in fact the prayer is full of honest confession:

6 We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
7 There is no one who calls on your name,
or attempts to take hold of you; Isaiah 64:6-7

Given the fact that God’s people have strayed far, praying for God to “tear open the heavens and come down” is sounding like a risky prayer to make indeed. Isaiah alludes to times in the past when God had “come down”:

When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. Isaiah 64:3

The prayer for God to come down could be answered like the time God “came down” at the Exodus. While that went well for God’s people, it did not go well for the Egyptians with plagues and a sea that closed in on the Pharaoh’s army. Given the sinfulness of God’s people as confessed by Isaiah, perhaps this time the plagues will land on them?

So where does Isaiah’s confidence in God come from if not in the righteousness of the people? Why does he pray with anticipation of good things, and not plagues? This prayer for help is not made with an appeal to the justice of God, to rescue the righteous. That option is not open for God knows too much! Rather it is made with an appeal to the character of God and the relationship God chose to have with His people. Consider the following references in this prayer:

For you are our father,
though Abraham does not know us
and Israel does not acknowledge us;
you, O Lord, are our father;
our Redeemer from of old is your name. Isaiah 63:16

Turn back for the sake of your servants,
for the sake of the tribes that are your heritage. Isaiah 63:17b

8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
and do not remember iniquity forever.
Now consider, we are all your people. Isaiah 64:8-9 (emphases mine)

Isaiah prays with confidence because he knows the relationship God has with His people is like that of a father to a child. While God as a perfectly just judge can expect, in fact must expect, perfection, a father can have compassion and mercy toward an imperfect child. So how can God be both perfectly just and yet act “fatherly”? How can God be both judge and “Dad”? The answer is given in God’s response to Isaiah’s prayer.

There is an answer to this prayer, but instead of the prayer being answered with plagues and punishment, it is answered with the arrival of a baby and the beginning of a new kind of Exodus. While the plagues on Egypt resulted in the firstborn of the Egyptians experiencing death, in this Exodus it is God himself that goes through it, both as the grieving Father, and as the dying son. Only a holy and perfect offering could stand in the place of sinful person, taking the consequence of sin. Only God Himself could do that, and in Jesus He has done that. In Jesus God is the perfect judge, taking care of sin at the cross, while also being the good father, being compassionate and merciful toward His children.

For those who feel that they have wandered so far from God that they could never turn or return to Him, it has nothing to do with how far we have travelled away, and everything to do with how far God has travelled toward us. He answered Isaiah’s prayer and has come all the way from heaven to a cross on earth in Jesus, so that we could be reconciled to Him. Turning to God has nothing to do with impressing the judge with our own efforts, and everything to do with the love of a compassionate heavenly Father.

Maybe you don’t think of yourself as God’s child. An opportunity is before you:

12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13

Our relationship with God does not begin with our goodness. It begins with His.

However, even if you recognize that you are a child of God, you may think of yourself as the wayward child, the messed-up child, the stressed-out child, the foolish child, the undeserving child, or even the stupid child. On the one hand these might be accurate descriptions and we have room to grow like everyone else. On the other hand, The Lord’s Table while being a reminder of many things, is also a reminder that there are other adjectives that can be used to describe you. You are the redeemed child, the reconciled child, the forgiven child, the embraced child, the loved child.

Although the presence of God can, and should, be scary to someone who has rejected the Lord’s invitation to a father/child relationship, a child of God can pray with confidence as Isaiah did: “tear open the heavens and come down”. Being in Christ we can pray with confidence the last recorded prayer of the Bible:

20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen. Revelation 22:20-21 (emphasis mine)


All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Canadian Baptist pastor Clarke Dixon’s writing appears here most Thursdays; read more at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

September 5, 2017

The Issue of Forgiving

by Russell Young

(scripture verses italics added for emphasis)

All of those who have come to know God have recognized their sinful state. They know that their wickedness has separated them from his holy nature and being. What a blessing it is to know that despite our rebellion, the Lord forgives the transgressions of those who call upon him and has paid the cost of sin through the offering of his life on the tree. “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him.”  (Ps 32:1─2 NIV) Not only did he forgive our sins, he forgot them. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Heb 8:12 NIV)

The writer of Hebrews has provided additional insight into the benefit of God’s forgiveness. “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God.” (Heb 9:14 NIV) The conscience of the believer has been cleansed. He or she does not have to carry the dark burden of guilt that beleaguers the conscience concerning the acts that would have brought about his or her death.  The conscience must be clear and clean since God uses it to direct his people in pursuit of righteous living. When the conscience is troubled by many things, the leading of the Spirit becomes obscured and difficult. It is through knowledge of the Lord’s will, his leading, that the living God may be served. It is only the clean heart, a holy person, that God can use for noble purposes. (2 Tim 2:20─21)

What does the Lord require of the believer concerning the practice of forgiveness? The familiar words in the Lord’s prayer read, “Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.” (Mt 6:12 NIV) That is, our sins will be forgiven according to the measure that we forgive those of others. A few verses later the Lord clarified, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Mt 6:14─15 NIV) Judgment will remain for those who maintain hard and unmalleable hearts concerning a wrong once suffered.

A lot has been written about forgiveness and yet few people seem to understand its demands. Experience has revealed that many suppose forgiveness has been granted by making a pronouncement to that effect. Proclaiming forgiveness is easy; forgiving is difficult and a challenge to a person’s soul.  The practice of forgiving requires a poor memory.  The LORD said that he “would remember their sins no more.” Willingness to forget an offence, to never allow it to come to memory or to allow others to bring it to memory, is very difficult. It is easy to claim that a wrong has been forgiven but much harder to refuse to let it enter the mind further. In fact, forgiveness is a process not an event. When the wrong that has been forgiven wants to rouse itself in the mind, it must be blocked and dismissed. Wrongs can be painful and their effects even long-lasting.  To forgive demands commitment and perseverance to that end. Victory must be gained through battle.  The proclamation of forgiveness to an offender should not be repeated or need repeating (It is to have been forgotten after all.); however, reliance on the Spirit to produce the heart that truly forgives may need to be repeatedly sought. It is not a person’s words that testify of true forgiveness, but his or her heart attitude concerning the issue and it is the heart that the LORD will consider.

If the “forgiven” offence is ever raised again, the proclamation of forgiveness has been false.  Hurts are easy to remember. They can be used and repeated to gain the favor and sympathy of others or to infer an obligation from the forgiven one. They can be used to promote an attitude of personal righteousness. When the offence is repeated to others the motivation for “forgiveness” has not been to release the other from his or her sin, or to humbly honor the Lord, but for personal and selfish gain. Once an offence is forgiven it should never be allowed to resurface in mind or in word.

True forgiveness leads to the cleansing of the offender’s conscience. In fact, failure to forgive requires the offender to carry and to be subject to the penalty of his or her transgression. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven, (Jn 20:23 NIV) but neither will yours be. A clean conscience is very valuable. As stated, the conscience is the instrument that Christ uses to guide a person in the path of righteousness.

The offender must repent to enjoy forgiveness. The Lord stated, “Unless you repent (of your sins) you will all perish,” (Lk 13:3, 5 NIV) and he still requires repentance for unrighteousness acts. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9 NIV) Concerning the practice of forgiveness towards our brothers, the Lord admonished, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” (Lk 17:3 NIV) The Lord demands those who offend to repent. He also demands something of the one sinned against. He or she is to rebuke the offender, to make known the offence. Sin is not permitted to fester and engender malice. An offence that is unknown cannot be treated. Repentance acknowledges that a hurt has occurred and the offender’s sorrow for it. Where there is acknowledgement there is hope of a changed attitude and altered soul.  The one who offends and whose heart is hard and inflexible must remain in his sin as must the one who will not forgive; God knows the heart of both. (Ps 139)

The acts of true repentance and forgiveness should leave all parties with a cleansed conscience so that the hurt might not lead to death and might allow for noble service for the kingdom of the Lord. The offence is to be forgotten and never allowed to surface again, nor permitted to surface through the mouths of others. Offering true forgiveness is never easy; forgetting can be difficult. True forgiveness may require a struggle and power through the Spirit of life to accomplish. Only in the manner that we forgive others will we be forgiven. It was easy for those in the world to sin against God; the forgiveness that he offered was not so easy; his pardon cost the life of his Son and as he has forgotten your sins, you are to forget those of others.


Russell Young’s column appears on alternate Tuesdays. He is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo. 9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

August 14, 2017

Owning It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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In Daniel 9, we see Daniel praying on behalf of the nation:

“O Lord, you are a great and awesome God! You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your commands. But we have sinned and done wrong. We have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. We have refused to listen to your servants the prophets, who spoke on your authority to our kings and princes and ancestors and to all the people of the land.

I can’t help but think as I read this that what he prays collectively has to begin individually, it has to begin with me. This is often contrary to our nature. We think ourselves righteous. It’s harder to pray:

But I have sinned and done wrong. I have rebelled against you and scorned your commands and regulations. I have refused to listen to your servants…

And yet, each time I ignore the commands of God, or rationalize some behavior, or allow myself some license in some area of thought or action, I am scorning God’s commands.

When our pastor spoke on this on Sunday he said you can’t always choose the place you live in, but you can decide where you are going to live toward. He contrasted living toward Jerusalem with living toward Babylon.

Our service ended in a time of confession, and then I sought someone to pray with me individually. I admitted that I am not living toward Jerusalem 24/7. I am distracted by worldly ideas. If you’re a guy, are you tempted by the girl at the mall in the miniskirt? For me it’s ideas and concepts. One single phrase or sentence in an online article can be as devastating to me as the girl at the mall is to you. My worldview warps; my mindset skews.

Psalm 139 ends with the type of mind inventory I need constantly:

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

About two and a half years ago we looked at a quotation by Jerry Bridges where he says, “We never see sin aright until we see it as against God.”

In Psalm 51, David writes:

Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
    I have done what is evil in your sight. (v.4a)

but he realizes he needs help to get back to the standard:

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and make me willing to obey you. (v.12)

If I were truly, truly sorry for past sins, I would never repeat them.

In the linked piece above, we included this graphic image:

We have to be truly sorry for our sin. Not the collective our, but the individual our.

I have to be truly sorry for my sin.

Heb. 10:25 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.

Prov. 15:10 There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way; whoever hates reproof will die.

 

 

 

 

 

May 6, 2017

The One Who Never Sinned, Became Sin

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Cor. 5:21

Six months ago we introduced you to bestselling author and teacher Richard Rohr. His writing is posted at The Center for Action and Contemplation.

Jesus as Scapegoat

Practice: Standing at the Cross

Picture yourself before the crucified Jesus; recognize that he became what you fear: nakedness, exposure, vulnerability, and failure. He became sin to free you from sin. (See 2 Corinthians 5:21.) He became what we do to one another in order to free us from the lie of punishing and scapegoating each other. He became the crucified so we would stop crucifying. He refused to transmit his pain onto others.

In your imagination, receive these words as Jesus’ invitation to you from the cross:

My beloved, I am your self. I am your beauty. I am your goodness, which you are destroying. I am what you do to what you should love. I am what you are afraid of: your deepest and best and most naked self—your soul. Your sin largely consists in what you do to harm goodness—your own and others’. You are afraid of the good; you are afraid of me. You kill what you should love; you hate what could transform you. I am Jesus crucified. I am yourself, and I am all of humanity.

And now respond to Jesus on the cross, hanging at the center of human history, turning history around:

Jesus, Crucified, you are my life and you are also my death. You are my beauty, you are my possibility, and you are my full self. You are everything I want, and you are everything I am afraid of. You are everything I desire, and you are everything I deny. You are my outrageously ignored and neglected soul.

Jesus, your love is what I most fear. I can’t let anybody love me for nothing. Intimacy with you or anyone terrifies me.

I am beginning to see that I, in my own body, am an image of what is happening everywhere, and I want it to stop today. I want to stop the violence toward myself, toward the world, toward you. I don’t need ever again to create any victim, even in my mind.

You alone, Jesus, refused to be crucifier, even at the cost of being crucified. You never asked for sympathy. You never played the victim or asked for vengeance. You breathed forgiveness.

We humans mistrust, murder, attack. Now I see that it is not you that humanity hates. We hate ourselves, but we mistakenly kill you. I must stop crucifying your blessed flesh on this earth and in my brothers and sisters.

Now I see that you live in me and I live in you. You are inviting me out of this endless cycle of illusion and violence. You are Jesus crucified. You are saving me. In your perfect love, you have chosen to enter into union with me, and I am slowly learning to trust that this could be true.

Gateway to Silence:
Father, forgive them.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Jesus: Forgiving Victim, Transforming Savior,” Richard Rohr on Transformation, Collected Talks, Vol. 1, disc 1 (Franciscan Media: 1997).

February 26, 2017

The Continuing Sanctification of the Believer

by Russell Young

The Word of God speaks of the need for believers to be continually sanctified. Those who will dwell in his presence must be holy. (Heb 12:14) Although the believer was cleansed of all sin through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness at the time of confession of faith, Paul spoke of the need for him or her to be “kept” blameless. In his benediction to the Thessalonians he wrote: “May God himself, the God of peace sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23 NIV)

Since all people are prone to sin, a person’s sanctification must be maintained. The writer of Hebrews has recorded that “Since that time (when he offered himself as a sacrifice) he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Heb 10:13─14 NIV) Accordingly, a process has been revealed as necessary since he refers to those “who are being made holy” as being perfect forever. Perfection has a condition attached.

The Lord spoke of the necessity of continued cleansing when he washed his disciples’ feet (Jn 13:8) and told Peter that unless he washed his feet, Peter would have no part with him even though he had had a bath; had been cleansed all over. Christ often spoke of the need for obedience which is part of the sanctification process. (Mt 7:21, Rev 22:14 KJV, Mt 28:20, Lk 11:28, Jn 8:51, Phil 2:12, 2Thess 1:8, 1 Jn 2:5) Sanctification is the absence of sin and “being kept blameless” is achieved through righteous living and through fulfilment of the law. John wrote: “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” (1 Jn 3:4 NIV) A few verses later John wrote that “No one who lives in [Christ] keeps on sinning.” (1 Jn 3:6 NIV) All of this is to say that personal and eternal sanctification will not be achieved by Christ without the confessor’s ongoing involvement. It is thorough voluntary submission to Christ that identifies the confessor as a believer, and through which eternal salvation is achieved.

A great misconception has invaded some of the church–that Christ will unilaterally sanctify the confessor. A person’s failure to humble him/herself through obedience will ultimately result in eternal separation from the presence of their God and Creator.

Paul wrote to the Philippians “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.” (Philippians 2 12─16 NIV) Paul taught that the law–God’s standard of righteousness–was accomplished by the Spirit. “And so [God] condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3─4 NIV) That is, God’s righteous standards are to be achieved through the way a person lives.

God, the Spirit, can sanctify the believer “through and through” and can keep a person’s spirit, soul, and body blameless at the coming of the Lord provided that one is willing to be led, willing to be obedient, but being sanctified requires submission to the Lord, the one who accomplished it for himself and who is prepared to accomplish it for the believer. “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey-whether you are slaves to sin which leads to death or to obedience which leads to righteousness.” (Rom 6:16 NIV)

Popular Christian music readily praises God for all that he has done and for the redemption that Christ has accomplished through his sacrificial offering; however, the Lord’s continued work in the believer must also be appreciated by those who look forward to his coming and to their continued sanctification. His ministry in partnership with the believer has not been completed but is ongoing and essential for one’s eternal salvation. The Holy Spirit was given for that very purpose and he must be obeyed. (Heb 5:9) The thought continues to persist that Christ has done all that is required. He continues to enlighten, to lead and to empower the believer for victory but the victory over sin must still be fought if a person’s sanctification is to be completed.

February 7, 2017

When You Need a New Heart

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Once again we’re reconnecting with author and professional editor Katherine Harms at the blog Living on Tilt. What follows is one of at least two recent pieces she’s written on Psalm 51. It’s really the second one I wanted you to read, but it’s a bit longer than we usually run here, so we’re giving you this one, but hoping you’ll link to the second.

Everybody Needs a Heart Transplant

Psalm 51 is classified as a penitential psalm. The definition of penitence is sorrow for sin or faults. The psalm certainly lives up to that definition, expressing profound sorrow, but it does a great deal more than wallow in recognition of personal wrong-doing.

The header on this psalm links it to David’s adultery with Bathsheba, a sin that was magnified by the murder of her husband. Jesus spoke of the moment David fell into sin. Jesus said, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 ESV). Jesus said that David’s sin originated in his heart. In fact, Jesus said that the heart is the place where our sins are born: “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:10 ESV). Apparently, the problem with the world is sinful hearts.

When David wrote Psalm 51, he recognized his real problem. He confessed his sin and his need of God’s forgiveness and cleansing, and then he said, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV). David knew that his heart would continue to be a source of sin if something did not change. His heart needed to be different, and he knew he could not merely decide to be a better man.

Contemporary culture would have us believe that we can simply decide and then become. “If you can dream it, you can be it,” the culture says. Every person who struggles with diet and exercise can testify that dreams simply are not enough. David looked at himself and saw the way his attitude and behavior had been perverted by the lust in his heart, and he recognized that his heart was the problem. He also recognized that imagining himself as a better man would not fix his heart. He said, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5 ESV) David could see what Jesus saw in the heart—the source of his sinful thoughts, words and deeds. His heart needed to be fixed, and he could not fix it himself.

David turned to the One who could fix what was broken in his heart, and I find that I need to do the same thing. David could not fix himself, and I cannot fix myself, either. David cried out, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV), and I cry out the same way. My heart is a mess, just as his was, and I turn to the same source for help.

I share meditation on Scripture with an online group, and that means that when I read a text like this with the group, I benefit from the insights God gives to other people. In the group, many people recognized and rejoiced in the cleansing of the heart. That part of David’s cry was thoroughly celebrated, but one person saw the next level of blessing. She recognized that God did not merely cleanse David’s heart, but he “created” a new heart. We don’t simply get washed down. God does not merely paint over the scars of our sin. We get new hearts. She said, “He ‘created’ a new heart in me.”

That is the real blessing. I am not merely clean. I’m all new. I am like the advertising mantra “new and improved.”

Every time I read Genesis 6, I feel a pain in my stomach when I read, “GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5 ESV). Here, too, I am reminded that the heart is the origin of sin, and it boils out of us like an erupting volcano, ultimately destroying everything beautiful in the world God created. Fortunately, the Bible does not stop there. God’s story continues, and instead of despair, there is hope. David looked at himself and saw his own wickedness and evil, but he saw the hope. David knew God as a God who not only forgives us but makes us new. His experience foreshadows the coming of Jesus to work our salvation through Christ. When David asks for a new heart, he exercises the kind of faith that Abraham had, and Paul said that Abraham’s faith made him righteous, just as ours does. The author of Hebrews repeated that assertion that many people who lived before Christ had faith in God’s promise and God counted it as righteousness for them, too. The same faith worked for David.

There is only one way for us to be made clean, righteous, new, and that way is Christ. David’s prayer calls forth the same cleansing power as I experienced when I professed my faith and was baptized. God’s heart was broken by human sin in the Garden of Eden, at the time of Noah, when David took Bathsheba from her husband, and every time anyone chooses evil rather than good. Fortunately, because of the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, every human being can safely and confidently pray with David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV)

continue reading Katherine’s thoughts on Ps. 51 at Is the Book of Psalms Obsolete?

July 10, 2016

The Called and the Chosen

•••by Russell Young

An understanding of the difference between the “called” and the “chosen” will bring Biblical teachings into much clearer understanding.  “Calling” can have different applications.  It may refer to a person’s having been called to Christ, it may mean that he or she has been called to endure a specific tribulation (as in the case of Job), or it may refer to a person having been called to a specific ministry according to his or her gifting.

In the parable of the wedding banquet Christ said, “For many are invited [called, KJV] but few are chosen.” (Mt 22:14, NIV) Clearly, more are called to enjoy the wedding banquet of the Lamb than will be chosen to attend.  The difference will be the matter of righteousness.  In the parable mentioned above, the guest without “wedding clothes” was cast out. (Mt 22:12)

The chosen ones are chosen from those who have been called into fellowship with the Lord.  From those who have been invited few will be honoured or chosen for positions of privilege.  Those chosen to attend the wedding banquet will be selected because of their commitment to righteousness.

Who are the “called”?  All have been called to come to the Lord for cleansing, but not all have received the invitation.  As in the parable, God has commissioned His servants to go to the street corners and invite anyone that they can find.

The called who have accepted God’s invitation through confession and repentance are cleansed of all past sins and are given the Holy Spirit that they might walk righteously.  Many teach that once a person is redeemed, his state of holiness or moral purity remains one of consecration forever.  The Bible does not endorse such a view, however.

Peter wrote of the redeemed who have become entangled again being worse off than if they had not known the way of righteousness in the first place. (2 Pet 2:20-21) They are neither morally blameless nor are they consecrated to God, but have chosen to go their own way. The writer of Hebrews has revealed the “impossibility” of bringing back to repentance those who have fallen away. (Heb 6:4-6, NIV) They have been redeemed but have treated with disdain their gifting.

When a person is redeemed, he or she is cleansed from their “past sins;” however, that one’s state of holiness might not last.  There is a walk to be walked and a life to be lived.  John has recorded, “If we claim to have fellowship with him [Christ] yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 Jn 1:6-7, NIV) The fellowship that a person is privileged to enjoy with the Lord is dependent upon the nature of his or her walk.  Paul admonished believers not to mock God through living in the sinful nature. (Gal 6:7) The Lord proclaimed that some would be cast from him because they were evil-doers even though they had called him “Lord.” ((Mt 7:21-23)

Paul has reminded his brothers, those who have been called, that they have an obligation to be led by the Spirit and to “put to death the misdeeds of the body.” (Rom 8:14, NIV, 4; Gal 5:18)

There are many other passages that imply that not all of the called will be of the chosen.  Those who teach otherwise are offering false comfort, rather than truth, to their listeners.

To re-state the Lord’s words, “For many are invited [called, KJV] but few are chosen.”  Since there are more called than chosen, there are two ways of taking this passage.  That is, the chosen must either be of a group separate from the called or the chosen must be from the group of the called or invited but not all of it.

Called and Chosen

If two different groups are being referenced, it might be considered that some were “called” to be of the family of God while others were chosen.  That is, God might have directly chosen them according to his “foreknowledge” to be part of the family.  In such case, they would have become part without even having had to respond to His invitation while the other group would have been invited (called) but would not have had any hope of being chosen.

The other option is that God had called (invited) individuals to be part of his family but they must respond or accept the invitation.  (They would have had the option either to accept or reject it.)  From these and according to his foreknowledge, or knowledge before having chosen them, and according to his understanding he makes his choice.  According to the love responses of the called, God becomes informed of the confessor’s heart state and of his claim of repentance as revealed through his testimony.  God “knows” or becomes “knowledgeable” of that person’s spiritual disposition.  His Spirit is either being honoured or it is being quenched, denied, and/or blasphemed.  “Forsaking” the Spirit is considered blasphemy (Ezek 20:27) and leads to death.  Regardless, fewer are chosen than are called.

Some accept that by their good fortune and through God’s grace and mercy, he chose them before the beginning of time to be a member of his eternal family; however, this special application of God’s grace is not the teaching of God’s Word.  All have been invited (Rev 22:17; Titus 2:11; Mt 28:19) According to Paul’s teaching, “God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thess 2:13)

Although many understand Paul’s teaching of glorification to apply to all of those “called,” the passage really only offers hope of glorification, to those “called according to God’s purpose.”

In the parable of the wedding feast, the King had noticed a man who appeared at the banquet without proper wedding clothes.  This man was being disrespectful of the King’s standard of dress and of the King, and failed to acknowledge or to honour him through acceptable presentation.  He had taken no care and had shown no concern regarding the event or the person being celebrated.  He did not show up with an attitude of love or respect for his King but had treated the event and his Sovereign as common and ordinary.  He was thrown outside into the darkness.  The dress required for access to the wedding banquet is a white robe, the dress of righteousness.  Only those so dressed will be chosen to participate in the wedding banquet. “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14)

 

February 6, 2016

Responses to ‘Sin Boldly’

NIV 1 John 1:8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Two days ago we ran a devotional post centered on the phrase ‘sin boldly’ which is a modernization of words spoken by Martin Luther. You can read that post at this link, along with Luther’s original quotation. I realize that we only scratched the surface on this, and sensed through one posted comment and an email that a few of you would like to delve into this a little deeper. So today we’ll take some extra time to hear from several voices.

First, Russell Young posted this (click the article link to read the full comment):

…There seems to be a common understanding that the believer is “free to sin.” This is not so! All, starting with the household of God, will be judged for the things done in the flesh whether good or evil. Will we sin? Yes! Can it be forgiven? John makes it clear that repentance and confession can result in forgiveness. (1 John 1:9) The believer must be led by the Spirit. He must be obedient and it is through “obedience” that he will gain “eternal” salvation. (Hebrews 5:9) The result of being led is that he will become a “son of God.” (Romans 8:14) If he lives according to the sinful nature he will die. He must put to death the misdeeds of the body if he is to live. (Romans 8:13) You are correct in stating that we cannot help but sin, but the Spirit, who is the Spirit of Christ in the believer, will not sin and will provide escape from temptations and recourse for those who do…

…Although there are a great many references to the need to walk in the light and under the leadership of the Spirit, these are being ignored as spiritual educators hang onto the teachings of Martin Luther, John Calvin, etc. and set the Word aside.

The Lord’s own teaching should give cause for concern: “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.” (John 8:34-35) A son is the one who is being led. Also, He revealed in His Revelation that it is those who “overcome” who will be allowed entry into His holy city, the New Jerusalem. (Revelation 21:7)

At the website, The Grace of God:

…Replacing the word “sin” with the word “murder” we have this:  Be a murderer and murder boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.  Or how about this: Be an adulterer and commit adultery boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. Or perhaps your favorite sin is lying:  Be a liar and lie boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.  Do you steal? Be a thief and steal boldly! Just make sure you believe and rejoice in Christ more boldly!

Some may accuse me of taking Martin Luther’s words out of context, but I assert that his words have been used as a license to sin by many, and indeed seem custom-made for the job!  He said you can murder a thousand times a day and still remain in Jesus Christ! Have you ever heard such blasphemy? I know Luther is a revered reformer, but Christ’s sheep hear His voice and they follow Him. They will not follow the voice of the stranger, and this is the voice of a stranger if I’ve ever heard one. Test the spirits by which men speak!  Never assume that someone honored by others is the friend of your soul.

To the shamed adulterer, Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11)

To the man whom He had healed from a 38-year infirmity, Jesus said, “Sin no more lest a worse thing come upon you.” (John 5:14)  What could be worse than 38 years of perpetual infirmity?

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.” (I Cor. 15:34)

He also wrote, “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” (Rom. 6:15-16)

Again, Paul wrote to Timothy, “Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ DEPART FROM INIQUITY.’”  (2 Tim. 2:19)

The Apostle John testified that he wrote his epistle “that you may not sin.” (I Jn. 2:1)

Peter wrote of false teachers who would deny the Lord who bought them, bringing on themselves swift destruction. How do they deny the Lord?–through disobedience and teaching disobedience to the Lord’s servants. For they profess to know God, but in works they deny Him. Some of their distinguishing marks are:  they will receive the wages of unrighteousness (because they are unrighteous), they count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime (not even blushing for their sins, but doing them boldly even in the company of the Christian church), and they have eyes full of adultery, and they cannot cease from sin (2 Pet. 2:1-14; Titus 1:16).

They cannot cease from sin! Though Jesus said to cease from sin and gives victory over sin to those who abide in Him, and though His apostles taught that we must cease from sin and obey Jesus, these teachers not only cannot cease from sin in their own lives, but they also teach others, “Be a sinner and sin boldly…as long as we are here, WE HAVE TO SIN.”

Do you hear the hiss of the deceiver in those terrible words? …

The website Confessing Evangelical quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s response to sin boldly:

…Is this the proclamation of cheap grace, naked and unashamed, the carte blanche for sin, the end of all discipleship? Is this a blasphemous encouragement to sin boldly and rely on grace? Is there a more diabolical abuse of grace than to sin and rely on the grace which God has given? Is not the Roman Catechism quite right in denouncing this as the sin against the Holy Ghost?…

Taken as the premise [for our doctrine of grace], pecca fortiter [sin boldly] acquires the character of an ethical principle, a principle of grace to which the principle of pecca fortiter must correspond. That means the justification of sin, and it turns Luther’s formula into its very opposite.

For Luther “sin boldly” could only be his very last refuge, the consolation for one whose attempts to follow Christ had taught him that he can never become sinless, who in his fear of sin despairs of the grace of God. As Luther saw it, “sin boldly” did not happen to be a fundamental acknowledgement of his disobedient life; it was the gospel of the grace of God before which we are always and in every circumstance sinners. Yet that grace seeks us and justifies us, sinners though we are.

Take courage and confess your sin, says Luther, do not try to run away from it, but believe more boldly still. You are a sinner, so be a sinner, and don’t try to become what you are not. Yes, and become a sinner again and again every day, and be bold about it.

But to whom can such words be addressed, except to those who from the bottom of their hearts make a daily renunciation of sin and of every barrier which hinders them from following Christ, but who nevertheless are troubled by their daily faithlessness and sin? Who can hear these words without endangering his faith but he who hears their consolation as a renewed summons to follow Christ? Interpreted in this way, these words of Luther become a testimony to the costliness of grace, the only genuine kind of grace there is.

At the website authored by J. P. Serrano:

…First, it is an indictment of who we are.  Luther is clearly saying to Melanchthon that we (people) are sinners and because of our fallenness, we will continue to sin until the second coming.  I believe that Luther is using a hyperbole here in order for us to understand exactly who we are.  Our sins are real; they are not unimportant nor minimal…they do matter. Luther is trying to tell those people who think they are pretty good, except for those little sins here or there, that they are in fact really big sinners and should see themselves as big sinners.  Hence why he says, “be a sinner.”  What I hear in this is an admonition for me to own the state I am in now and a recognition that I am not a saint on my own.  Nowhere in here do I hear Luther giving permission to sin–which is the way I hear the quote often used.

Secondly, we need to own our sin and understand it to be real, in order for grace to be real.  If we have fake sin, then we don’t need grace.  If our sin, however, is real, then we in fact need a grace that is real.  What I hear in this is more about God’s grace to forgive and continually seek me out rather than doing whatever I want (or as it is more popularly summarized: SINNING BOLDLY!)

Lastly, what is missed in not quoting the whole phrase Luther uses is the admonition to let our trust in Christ be stronger than the sins we commit.  Luther is telling Melanchthon (and us) that our trust in Christ is of first importance.  It is to be stronger than our sin, and it is to cause us to rejoice in victory.  This is important because I often I hear a defeatism in Lutheranism that keeps continually reminding people that we are sinners (which we are), but doesn’t in the same breath remind us that we are in fact freed from sin in Christ whom overcame.

I want to thank Deb for getting us thinking about this two days ago and getting us started on the path where we’ve ended up today. She concluded that we can’t be “avoiding life and people to protect ourselves from sin.” In the real world we’re going to get our hands and feet dirty. We need to acknowledge that, which is a very nuanced difference from accepting that.

January 13, 2016

Why People are Leaving and Churches are Dying

Today we pay a return visit to Shane Idleman, founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, California, just North of Los Angeles. (And this time we looked into it and no, Shane and Kyle are not related!) To read this at source on the church blog, click the title below; there’s also a related article by him linked at the bottom.

The Real Reason Churches Die and People Leave

Experts say that nearly 4,000 churches close every year in America and over 3,500 people leave the church every single day.

Church is boring, ​and many churches are dying ​because the power of God has vanished from the pulpit as well as the pew. Like Samson, they “know not that the Spirit of the Lord has departed” (cf. Judge 16:20). But there is hope if we once again seek God. “Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn” (John Wesley).

Shane IdlemanWe need genuine revival preaching: “Revival preaching is more concerned about an outcome than an outline. The revival preacher is more aware of his text than the time. He is bent on pleasing the Lord rather than pleasing men. His ear is tuned to hear and heed the voice of God” (Harold Vaughan). “We need more prophets in our pulpits and less puppets” (Leonard Ravenhill).

​Many know about ​2 Chronicles 7:14​ , but fail to apply it​​: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

God’s call is not to Hollywood, Washington, or the media, but to us. If “My people” turn back to Me I will heal and restore. We have a form of microwave Christianity. Service times are cut to just over an hour, prayer is glanced over, and worship is designed to entertain the masses. “People are bored,” they say, “so our services need to be more appealing.” You can increase attendance with slick marketing and entertaining services, but you’ll miss the heart of God. The church will be a mile wide but only an inch deep.

To seek in the context of 2 Chronicles 7:14 means to “find what is missing.” The Hebrew word for seek, baqash, has a very strong meaning. Imagine losing your child in a crowded mall. Your entire heart would be engaged. How would you spend your time? Where would your energy be concentrated? Now parallel this with seeking God.

I’ve often said that one of the most difficult challenges associated with pastoring is not sermon preparation, leading a church, or taxing counseling appointments; it’s witnessing the tragic results of spiritual dehydration—watching people die spiritually with living water just steps away. Sadly, we are too busy and too self-absorbed to truly seek Him.

In today’s culture, there are countless enticements that pull us away from God. It is my firm belief that, second only to salvation, seeking God is the most important aspect of the Christian life…to truly know God: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

Very few of us ever experience this close relationship with God because it involves things such as humility, dying to self, vibrant prayer, and heart-felt worship. This isn’t meant to discourage, but to convict. Conviction is a wonderful gift from God used to turn the heart back to Him.

Let’s be honest: how many can truly say like Jeremiah, “His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9)? How many have truly experienced Jesus’ words in John 7:38, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water?” How many can truly relate to “times of refreshing” found in Acts 3:19?

Many have head knowledge, but they’ve never truly experienced the presence of God. Often, it’s because of ongoing and unconfessed sin. Being tempted isn’t sin—surrendering to it is. Temptation is also an opportunity to do what is right by turning from it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 states, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

This “way of escape” is ultimately what tilts the scale toward seeking God. When we flee temptation, turn from sin, and seek God, the by-product is the filling of the Spirit. The door of temptation swings both ways—you can enter or exit. If we choose to enter, once inside, we may not see the exit sign so clearly again.

I’ll close with a correspondence I received from a man before he fully sought God with all his heart, “I had become someone I never thought I would become. I was in complete darkness…I would sleep in my clothes for as long as I could. I began wishing that I would die. The emotional pain was unbearable.”

Here is his correspondence after he passionately sought God and surrendered his life to Him. “I only wish that everyone could feel the love that I experienced. I’m able to forgive others and genuinely love them. I feel like I have been re-born…elusive peace has now been found.”

How long will you waver? If God is God follow Him (cf. 1 Kings 18:21). ​​

Shane Idleman is the founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, California, just North of Los Angeles. He recently released his 7th book, Desperate for More of God at shaneidleman.com


Related article by Shane: Why Do So Many People Hate Preachers?

Related: A.W. Tozer quotation at Clark Bunch’s blog.

 

November 3, 2015

Revival Starts with Church Band Members, Tech Team, Janitors, Secretaries and You

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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This appeared on the website ChurchProduction.com; a site for people involved in the music, sound, lighting and tech side of modern church life. Click the title below to read at source…

Revival on the Tech Team?

By Judah Thomas

If you have followed Christ for more than a few years you have probably heard people talk about how the want to see a revival in their region. Usually what they mean is that they want to see a large amount of people putting their faith in Christ. Throughout history great men and women have preached and sparked great revivals and awakenings, some which have spread like wildfire across the nation.

Well what does that have to do with you? You may be thinking that your role as a tech director is strictly behind the scenes — a support player; one that certainly aids in the communication of God’s Word but not one that would be the catalyst for such a movement.

The interesting thing is that although many of the great revivals that have happened have a preacher’s name and face associated with the inception of it, the truth is that the revival started long before in the hearts and prayers of people who’s names would never get mentioned. The thing that many people fail to realize is that true revival doesn’t start with “them” it starts in “me.”

Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. – 2 Chronicles 7:14

In this verse we see that it has to start from within us. We see four things that have to happen before the revival and restoration begins. The revivals of the past did not start on a stage in front of hundreds or thousands of people, but it started in a private place with one, two or a few people praying and humbling themselves before God — people who were passionately seeking the face of God and desiring Him to move in their lives in a real and powerful way.

Humble Themselves

Pride is something that plagues us all. In James 4 it says that God resists the proud but He give grace to those that are humble. We need to surrender our pride and ego and stop comparing ourselves to one another. As a tech person we live and breath comparisons: comparing features, knobs, and quality. This is fine when we are looking at a new piece of equipment, but not so good when we start comparing ourselves to someone else.

Pray

Is prayer a vital part of your life, or is it something that you rarely do? As a tech director you may never be on the stage in front of people, but the prayers that you pray can still accomplish powerful things in their lives. In James 5 it tells us that a righteous person’s prayer can produce great things. Even if you aren’t on stage your prayers can do great things for the Kingdom of God.

Seek My Face

What things are you pursuing in your life. Sure we are pursuing great sound, video and lights, but are we pursuing the face of God? Are we seeking God’s Kingdom above all else? God does not want us to have religion he wants us to have relationship with Him.

Turn From Their Wicked Ways

Repentance comes before revival. There is a big difference between sorrow and repentance. Sorrow is feeling bad for what you did, and it’s often just feeling bad that you got caught. True repentance is actually turning from those things that displease God. It’s a change of actions.

As we do these things revival is birthed in our heart. God then promises that he will forgive our sins and He will heal our land.

It doesn’t matter if you are a world-renown evangelist or if you are running lyric projection for your local church, you can light a spark of revival. As you humble yourself before God, pray, seek His face and repent of your sins God will move in a powerful way and will bring restoration and revival to many lives.

Judah Thomas is the Lead Pastor at Thrive.Church in Thomaston, CT.

August 28, 2015

Scripture Medley: Light

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Light is a factor in the name of the ministry organization which I work with.

Light is a factor in the name of the commercial ministry entity which occupies many of my waking hours. A searchlight can shine into the night saying, ‘something is happening here;’ but can also be mounted on a boat, airplane or vehicle to search for the lost. In today’s devotional, the meaning is different, the light of God is the light of truth, exposing and convicting people of sin.

It turned out we weren’t the only devotional website doing a scripture medley last week. Daily Encouragement spent two days considering Spiritual Troglomorphism. (Don’t worry, it’s not going to be on your systematic theology exam.) You can read the two articles here and here. Part two also contained an exposition of John 3 which follows.

  • “You, Lord, are my lamp; the Lord turns my darkness into light” (2 Samuel 22:29).
  • “He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings utter darkness into the light” (Job 12:22).
  • “You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light” (Psalm 18:28)
  • “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20).
  • “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2). (This was quoted by Jesus when He began to preach Matthew 4:12-17).
  • “But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:23)
  • “When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
  • “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (John 12:46).
  • “I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:17,18).
  • “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12).
  • “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14).
  • “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).
  • ‘You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:5).
  • “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
  • “Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8)

John 3:16 is certainly one of the best known verses in the entire Bible. Most of our readers can quote it from memory and more than a few can go on and quote verse 17 as well, “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.”

However the understandable grandeur of John 3:16 may tend to diminish the rich, instructive material that follows. Bible students differ as to whether John 3:16-21 are the words of Jesus following His discourse with Nicodemus or whether these are the interpretive words of John when he wrote his gospel late in the 1st century. Either way they are God’s inspired Word!

Regardless of whether these are the words of Jesus or a part of John’s inspired teaching we should seek to understand this portion in its context. Today’s text is a macro assessment of the human race.

“This is the verdict.” (NIV)  Other translations render it “this is the judgment” (NASV, ESV), “The [basis of the] judgment (indictment, the test by which men are judged, the ground for the sentence) lies in this” (Amplified), “This is why people are condemned” (GW) The sense is that what follows is the explanation for man’s condition.

“Light has come into the world.” The Greek has the definite article “the” before light and we believe this is very significant. In the Gospel and Epistles of John “the light” is Jesus Christ (see John 1:4-9; 8:12: 9:5; 12:46; 1 John 1:5). The Light coming into the world is at the very heart of the Gospel message.

“But men loved darkness instead of light.”  Again we have the definite article in the Greek prior to both light and darkness precisely reading, “But men loved the darkness instead of the light.” (See here for Greek interlinear scrolling down to v.19.) This is a matter of fact statement that explains much about human nature and the response to the Gospel. Many people would prefer to live in the darkness rather than the light. This preference, a result of the fall, leads to spiritual troglomorphism.

“Because their deeds were [are] evil.” For those of us living in the glorious light of Jesus Christ we marvel that anyone would choose darkness but many do. The awful consequence of spiritual troglomorphism* is that the more one spends in darkness his eyesight for spiritual things is diminished and he increasingly becomes blinded.

The next verse continues, “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:20).  And, of course, many are unwilling to do that so they continue to live in the darkness. In fact they become spiritual nyctophiliacs who love the darkness.

When we come into the light we must deal with our evil deeds, confess, and repent. As we do so we experience another word with morphis in it, metamorphisis in Romans 12:2, which is translated transformed!

Today, we encourage believers all over the world to join us as we live in the light of Christ and walk according to the light of His Word! May this statement be true of us today, that we love light rather than darkness! We come under the truth of Jesus Christ: “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (John 3:21).

Be encouraged today,
Stephen & Brooksyne Weber


*You’ll have to click through to the original articles to get this!

July 12, 2015

Turning a Sinner — Who is Among You — From Error

NIV James 5:19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

The last two verses in the book of James are not typical of the way an epistle usually ends. They have been the subject of much writing. After clicking through more than a dozen options which I rejected (too long, audio link to sermons, forcing the text to address another agenda, etc.) I settled on these.

To kick things off, two short answers from a Catholic forum (yes really!) starting with:

This verse is somewhat ambiguous in the way that it’s written; given the way it’s constructed, it’s a reasonable question to ask “whose soul is saved? whose sins are covered? The revert, or the person who brought him back?”

Clearly, sacramental absolution — that is, ‘confession’ — is a necessary part of every Catholic’s life, and the letter to James isn’t suggesting an alternate path to forgiveness. With that in mind, and given some of the textual clues in the letter, it seems reasonable to suggest that a person who brings back a person to the faith is part of the process by which that person’s soul is saved, and is part of the dynamic by which that fallen-away Christian’s sins may be wiped away — none of which would have happened if that person didn’t bring the fallen-away Christian back into the fold!

And:

Scholars are divided to the exact meaning. What seems clear is the importance placed on the corporeal work of mercy of regaining a lost brother. “will save his soul from death” more likely refers to the lost brother’s not the re-gainer since the confession and apostasy seem to be chief concerns. “A multitude of sins”: some scholars say of the lost, some the re-gainer, some say both. The language is similar to 1 Pt 4:8 and Prov 10:12. These verses seem disconnected from the preceding ones. A practical thought might be that if your brother remained heretical, he may persuade others in his way, whereas due to your intervention, your brother returned and no longer persuaded others (that’s just a thought). But there is no question that the writers thought communally of both sin and benefit of fervent prayer.

Sorry, nothing definitive. Hope it helps.

Still with us?  Here’s a point-form outline from a local Church of Christ assembly that was simply immune to all attempts to copy and paste.

Finally, from the website Pure Unadulterated Grace, one more response. This is lengthier than I’ve reproduced here, so you’re encouraged to read it in context.

The word “save” in James 5:15 means exactly what it meant in verse 20.  Our opponents like to read, “save a soul” as meaning “saved from eternal damnation” but the context clearly does not allow for that rendering, as the “save the sick” in verse 15 clearly was not “saved from damnation.”  One can see that the “save” of verse 15 continued with the same meaning into verse 20.  The word “save” was already defined by the context (vs. 15), so if “save” in verse 20 referred to another type of saving then James would have made it clear.  The word “soul” had to do with the physical life of a person that flows consistently with the previous verses of one that was sick, and this was the saving in the context.  To read “saved or healed the sick” in verse 15, but “saved from eternal damnation” in verse 20 is simply being entirely dishonest with the context.

Verse 19 makes it clear that James was addressing “Brethren” who very well might “err from the truth.”  It would be another “brethren” (not God) to convert him from the “errors of his way” as it was not a “brethren” lost again being saved from eternal damnation.  This again flows with the context of restoration and not a person spared eternal damnation by hearing the gospel afresh.

People see the word “convert” and immediately assume that it refers to being saved by grace that is not in the context here, but rather it refers to the errors one has turned after.  It certainly can refer to one that is in darkness coming to see the light, but the context always determines that and never leaves us guessing.  Convert simply means to “turn back, to return.”  The brethren was to turn back to the truth and no longer the error he fell into, as this was not a “return back to eternal life.”  Nothing even states the loss of salvation.

Verse 20:  Who here is hiding a multitude of sins?  God?  No, He is not in the context here.  God forgives sins and not hides them.  Some try to say “hide” means forgiveness, but God does not merely veil our sins today but rather He takes them away.  You will find one parallel passage to what you read here in James 5:20 in 1st Peter 4:8:

8And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.

This paragraph is important: Was Peter saying that our love would cause God to forgive a multitude of sins of another believer?  No, so neither was James saying that our converting the “brethren” from error would cause God to forgive him of a multitude of sins, but that is what our opponents would like for us to think that James was saying.  This is not a brethren being forgiven again by God, but being restored by a fellow “brethren.”  This is not a believer being saved a second time from eternal damnation, but rather being restored by a fellow “brethren.”

…The person that erred was to be restored in love, and not with “turn or burn” type of nonsense.  This is a practice seldom seen in the church today, because the treatment a person receives for falling away can be quite abusive.  A person often is embarrassed to come back to the truth because of all the gossipers and the ill speech found in most religions today.  A person does not care to come back to the faith where they feel only judgment and glaring eyes await them.

I talk to people all the time that have been rejected by family and friends.  People do not want to stand before a large congregation and ask for forgiveness for whatever it was they did wrong, as religion abuses scripture and people.  These poor souls have no business confessing their sins before a large congregation, as they do not need reconciliation from Joe Smith that they do not know personally, and have not offended personally.  James 5:19-20 clearly was restoration and not preaching fear or guilt tactics.  The hiding a multitude of sins was the fellow brethren accepting the other brethren and their faults, and not God forgiving the person.

James 5:19-20 is not even remotely teaching eternal damnation, loss of salvation, the gospel, God forgiving the erring brethren, or saving him a second or third time from eternal damnation.  Once we stop adding words nowhere stated in the passage is when everything tends to clear up.  Our opponents focused on the words “saved from death…cover a multitude of sins” and have ran off with it ignoring the entire context.

It was the “brethren” that was doing the “converting,” it was the “brethren” that was doing the “saving,” and it was the “brethren” doing the hiding of a “multitude of sins” here.  Religion has allowed our eyes to see words and ideas nowhere presented in the context.  If this passage scared you before then read it again and notice that James preached no fear there at all, but loving restoration only.


I think that various commentaries can give us hints as to the meaning, but probably the framework through which you’re reading this may lead you to a more individual response. Like so many other scripture passages, I think this one is meant to challenge us to think! If you have any thoughts on this passage, be sure to leave a comment.

March 3, 2015

A Good Confession

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In a church we attended years ago, a part of the service called “The Prayer of Confession” was always followed by “The Assurance of Pardon.” Too many times I think confession ends without an opportunity to rest in the assurance of pardon, or as this article proposes, outright celebration.

A year ago Thinking Out Loud linked to an article by Cedric Lundy at the blog So Says Ced. He doesn’t post often, but I thought this piece was worthy of our consideration.  Click the title below to read at source.

What Makes For A Good Confession?

I would wager that if you surveyed evangelical Christians on what are the most difficult disciplines to incorporate into daily life confession would be high up on the list. Not because it isn’t widely practiced, but because there is little instruction on how to do it. Confession is so widely practiced we often take it for granted that people could do with some tips on how to do it well. I believe confession is difficult at times for a combination of three reasons. Maybe some of these will resonate with you.

We become overwhelmed with feelings of shame and guilt. While we should feel a certain amount of shame and acknowledge guilt (as opposed to shifting blame) we shouldn’t stay there. Romans 5.5 tells us that “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 10.11 reiterates, “everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” Confession is meant to move us past shame and guilt, not intensify it.

We often struggle with feelings of “here we go again” when dealing with recurring sin. We become frustrated with our inability to truly turn away from a certain behavior or, as Proverbs 26.11 so eloquently puts it, “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.” We wrestle with whether or not our confession is sincere and our desire to repent is serious if when certain sins become habits.

Last but not least, I think confession is often disconnected from God’s love. It is often the fear of God’s wrath and disappointment that leads to confession. The manner in which many of us practice confession seems to have more to do with clearing our conscience than it does with clearing obstacles to experiencing and knowing God’s steadfast love.

So how do we practice the discipline of confession in such a way that we don’t get hung up on those roadblocks that threaten to steal our joy and experiencing life regeneration that the Holy Spirit wants to bring about? I think we can learn a lot from the instructions given to the Israelites for the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16 & 23.26-44), their annual time of confessing individual and corporate sins, and making atonement for them.

  1. Preparation/No Distractions. The Israelites were to do no work and to fast leading up to the Day of Atonement. I’m not suggesting that any time we are going to confess our sins to God we take a day off from work and fast, but the purpose of Israel doing these things was to remove distractions. More times than I’d like to admit I’ve moved through many Christian disciplines quickly so I could get back to the things that were pressing for my attention. How much would we benefit from slowing down enough and refusing to let the urgency of the day impede on allowing us to have a good confession? Maybe the reason we don’t sense God’s presence in confession is because a part of us is somewhere else. Meditating on or memorizing Psalm 103 might serve as a way for us to focus our attention on the task at hand when it comes to confession and ushering us into God’s presence.
  2. Scapegoat/You Are Pardoned. An essential part to the Day of Atonement ritual as that of the scapegoat. There were two goats set before the Lord. One would be sacrificed for the sins of the people and the other was set free and sent away. It was a very visual reminder that one was sacrificed and the other was atoned for or pardoned. So often the practice of confession involves listing or naming what we’ve done but absent of an intentional reminder that we’ve been pardoned so that we can stay in the presence of the Lord. Moreover, the one who was sacrificed on our behalf is no longer dead but alive. Instead, much like the scapegoat, we go and wander back out into the wilderness away from God’s presence carrying our sins. We fail to realize that we’ve been pardoned in order to draw near to God. 1st Timothy 2.3-6 may serve as a good passage to meditate on and recite during our times of confession.
  3. Celebration. In Leviticus 23.33-44 the Israelites were instructed to celebrate the Feast of Booths five days after the Day of Atonement for seven days. The idea being that they would live in tents for seven days as a reminder of God delivering his people out of slavery in Egypt. As much as it’s never fun to deal with our junk how much healthier would it be if in the process of confession we ended on the positive note of our promised deliverance from sin and death? How much healthier would confession be if it included an intentionality of moving from solemnness to soberness to gratefulness to celebration? Celebration of what God has done and what Christ achieved not only on the cross, but also in leaving his tomb empty because he is alive?

In closing, a final thought, I would be amiss if I didn’t acknowledge that evangelicals typically treat confession as something solely between them and God. We recognize James encouragement to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” but I’m not convinced we practice it. This is something we ought to do. It should be steeped in moving us towards acknowledging and embracing God’s steadfast love and not simply clearing our conscience.e to his games. Here is a man who will have an extra-marital affair with a woman of black and Mexican decent buying her a house and a Ferrari, but had to make an out of court settlement on a racial discrimination suit where he is recorded saying he didn’t want black or Hispanic people in his apartments because, “they smell and breed varmint.”

February 22, 2015

The Bible on Depression

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During Sundays in February we’ve been visiting the blog Christian Fellowship Devotions.  Archives at the blog go back to 1996, and today I want to link you to their topical index.

For our final Sunday with them, I wanted to use an older item by Janice that deals with a topic I know is very real to many of you.  (I think by NNAS she is referring to the updated New American Standard.) Click the title below to read at source.

depression

Passages about Depression

Depression — it’s something many of us struggle with — yes, even Christians. Being depressed does not mean you are “not a good Christian.” In fact, some of the “heroes of our faith” went through periods of what used to be called “melancholy.” Sometimes depression is a result of sin, but at other times, it is as Christian psychiatrist Frank Meier says, simply “…the result of life stresses.” Here is a bit of what God’s word has to say about it.

Biblical Examples of Depression

Neh 1:3-4 (NNAS) They said to me, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are burned with fire. When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. Psa 13:1-3 (NNAS) How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death.

Psa 102:9-11 (NNAS) For I have eaten ashes like bread and mingled my drink with weeping. Because of Your indignation and Your wrath, For You have lifted me up and cast me away.My days are like a lengthened shadow, And I wither away like grass.

Prov 14:13 (NNAS) Even in laughter the heart may be in pain, And the end of joy may be grief.

What We Are to Do About Depression?

We should follow Nehemiah’s and the Psalmist’s examples, pouring our hearts out to God:

Neh 1:6-7 (NNAS) Let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father’s house have sinned.We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.

James 4:8-10 (NNAS) Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

Find things to be thankful for, even in the most painful times. God will honor that.

1 Th 5:18 (NNAS) In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Share with a trustworthy friend. Let him minister to you.

Rom 12:15 (NNAS) Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

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